Chocolate Dinner: A Beautiful Marriage of NYU’s “Materials and Experimental Design” Course and Mast Brothers Chocolate

Sunday, February 5th, 2012 | chocolatiers, Events | 4 Comments

Bear with me as I describe the provenance of a “Chocolate Dinner” I attended in late December.  NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Graduate Program (a “Center for the Recently Possible”), has some of the most interesting course choices on the planet, including: “Animals, People and Those In Between,” “Making Pop-Up Books,” “Time,” and the somewhat normal-sounding “Materials and Experimental Design.”  Last semester, the professor of this Materials class chose a most peculiar material– chocolate!  I scored a press pass to their final presentations, which were held at their chocolate supplier, Mast Brothers, in Williamsburg.

The presentations were extremely diverse, and only a select few produced edible chocolate (which I couldn’t help enjoying the most).

One team created different types of paper out of cocoa bean husks. You couldn’t eat the paper, but the team kindly prepared a side of Hungarian chocolate truffles (a student’s mother’s recipe!) which were made with paprika and thyme.

One student created chocolate cups that held what appeared to be rainbow sprinkles.  On biting into said cups, however, I discovered that the sprinkles weren’t sugary, but were instead not-unpleasantly tasteless, and blew around everywhere like beautiful sparkles.

Another team distilled chocolate down to its essence using a perfumer-looking setup with beakers, funnels, and tubes.  The result was a chocolate-smelling water that they put into tiny individual corked tubes– would one be the perfect talisman for a dessertatarian to wear around her neck?  I think so.

Another team created a box which could hold a chocolate inside and was equipped with a GPS system.  The catch was that the box could only be opened once the GPS indicated that it was at a certain destination.  I suppose you could use this box to creatively propose to someone, or perhaps to kick off a great scavenger hunt.  Since I have no will power whatsoever, I would probably smash the box with a hammer to try to get at that chocolate as soon as possible.

One team produced an amazing contraption that I would imagine would be popular as a party game.  Directions: take lots of foodsafe light bulbs (if there is such a thing); melt some chocolate, then dip the bulbs in; let the chocolate cool and harden, then suspend the bulbs in a line on cords connected to a giant pipe; support that pipe with two other pipes; place a bunch of plates of strawberries in a line underneath the bulbs; flip the switch; wait a bit; and lo and behold: chocolate covered strawberries!  It was a messy contraption, to be sure, but if any restaurants are looking for some last-minute Valentine’s Day decorations, this would be a good choice.

The last project of the evening showed how our experience of chocolate can be manipulated physically to create different textures and by pairing it with unexpected foods to enhance, even change, its taste.  The student first showed us how to create tiny spheres of chocolate using calcium chloride.  She dropped a chocolate mixture into a chemical bath, and the chocolate immediately became a ball, which she called “caviar.”  The balls tasted like absolutely nothing when just sitting on the tongue.  Only a bite would release the taste of the chocolate inside the suspension, kind of like biting into a fish egg.  She also made chocolate “chantilly” by whipping chocolate, water, and an emulsifier.  The resulting taste was similar to chocolate ganache, but without the heaviness of cream.  Her weird pairings spread included anchovies, mushrooms, and black truffle oil, all of which you could place upon chocolate tongue-shaped tuiles.  Each ingredient helped to bring out different unknown notes in the chocolate.  My husband enjoyed how the mushrooms highlighted the earthiness of the chocolate.  I couldn’t help but like the somewhat less adventurous combination of Madeira wine and chocolate.

What a fascinating evening– and all within the gracious setting of Mast Brothers chocolate tasting room, where sacks of cocoa beans from Belize await their roasting, grinding, and tempering, and a kitchen awaits people hungry to try out the resulting treats.


Brazil: The Bad

Thursday, August 4th, 2011 | chocolatiers, Travel | 3 Comments

I know that I’m jeopardizing Brazil’s status as one of the world’s great dessert oases and will therefore lose some of you readers here, but it simply must be said: there is almost no fine chocolate culture in that country.  I confirmed this with the American owner of our bed and breakfast in Paraty (the fabulous Pousada Guaraná), who had to go all the way to São Paulo for a decent-enough cocoa to make his chocolate breakfast cake.  He said there just isn’t the demand for fine chocolate as there is in New York, for example, where even the lowliest of bodegas at least stocks Lindt. 

As far as I could tell, if you’re on the hunt for chocolate, you have two choices: Garoto or Cacau Show.  Garoto is your average, run-of-the-mill, store-bought chocolate that comes in all manner of Euro-style bon-bons and bars, sort of like Cadbury’s in the U.K. or Hershey’s in the U.S.  But I tell you this:  Garoto is not even as good as Hershey’s.  It’s a little gritty, totally waxy, and flavorless– like cheap Polish or Russian chocolate.  Are you shocked that it’s now owned by Nestlé after being founded by a German-Brazilian in the 1920s?  If you’re hankering for chocolate, eating some Garoto will be such a frustratingly bad experience, it’s probably not even worth it.  You’ll moan and cry in despair and hope that at least there’s a Cacau Show store in town somewhere that you can hop a cab to.  Cacau Show is the only “high-end” chocolate chain that I could find.  It was actually founded by a 17 year old Brazilian kid in 1988 and is still wholly owned by the original company, which is a real feat in the monopolistic world of foodstuffs.  The chocolate is unevenly good.  The bars and individual chocolates were a disappointment and lacked a rich cocoa flavor.  The brightly-wrapped truffles, however, were actually quite good and come in flavors like coconut, chili pepper, and hazelnut.  They were probably the only chocolate I had in Brazil that I enjoyed and filled that terrible void that I was beginning to feel very desperate about.

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Gayle’s Chocolates: A Detroit-Area Treasure

Friday, January 21st, 2011 | chocolatiers, Travel | 1 Comment

My mom’s the best.  Several years ago, she sent me back to Brooklyn with a humble-looking bar of something called “Gayle’s Chocolates.”  She always sends me home with so many wonderful sweets, that I didn’t think anything of it other than “Yay, chocolate.”  We’ve got some of the best chocolate in the world here in NYC: Jacques Torres, La Maison du Chocolate, and L.A. Burdick, to name but a few.  So when I finally opened my little dark chocolate bar of Gayle’s and took a bite, imagine my surprise when it turned out to be… not just good, but absolutely exquisite.  Smooth, sweet, and decadent, it was the perfect chocolate.  How could I have made light of my mom’s taste?

On my next trip (and subsequent visits) back to Motown, my mom took me on a Gayle’s pilgrimage.  The maroon-colored store is a soda-shoppe/café/lounge mix with lots of chocolate molds of shoes in clear handbags decorating the walls.  It’s so darn cozy and inviting, I would like to move in.  Observe:

Accustomed to Jacques Torres’s insanely good chocolate chip cookies, I had to see if Gayle could pick up the gauntlet– turns out she can.  That cookie was almost just as good– it was maybe just a tad too salty.  But it had the same soft butteriness and the same actual layers of chocolate.  In fact, the chocolate layer was so pronounced, the top and bottom of the cookie actually separated at one point.  Extreme!

One confection I’ve never seen before: the Cakeless Fruit Cake, containing “All the good stuff without the bad!!!”  This chocolate-covered treat must have been created using a sweet little bundt pan and is indeed fruit cake-like, with dried apricots, pears, cherries, plums, peaches, nectarines, brandied cherries, and pecans, all sitting atop a soft gingerbread cookie.  Of course, the candy makers couldn’t resist putting a huge dollop of chocolate ganache in the center.  My head spin-eth.

A word on the shape of their chocolate bars, which aren’t the usual large, thin rectangle model.  They are, instead, reminiscent of gold bars in their thickness.  While I respect their attempt to be different from the likes of Hershey’s, there’s a reason to keep your bars thin: you have to be able to easily break off pieces.  With Gayle’s, you’re either forced to chomp down on the bar yourself, all but guaranteeing that you gobble the whole thing up by yourself, or share it with someone who doesn’t mind your copious amounts of mouth-watering-induced slobber – OR – you have to harness the power of a thousand suns and try to break it yourself, perhaps wedging it against a hardwood floor or jabbing at it with the back of a hammer, and just about suffering an exploded brain or broken hand in the process.  Gayle’s: please change this.  Are you trying to force me to buy one of your soft truffles instead?  Because I will.  So help me God I will.

Even if you’ve got no plans to head over to Royal Oak, MI any time soon to check out the Detroit Zoo, fear not: you can order Gayle’s online, and there are several locations at Detroit Metro Airport, so you can grab some to sustain you on your flight to Osaka.

Gayle’s Chocolates
417 S. Washington
Royal Oak, MI  48067
Also at DTW

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British Sweeties: Candy Bars and Biscuits

Friday, April 30th, 2010 | chocolatiers, Store-bought, Travel | 1 Comment

Since Kraft recently bought Cadbury, I’m extremely worried that the Flake bar will start tasting like American cheese, so I decided to stock up while I was in Scotland a month ago.  It was ’bout time for a tasting:

Wispa & Flake bars are basically textured Cadbury chocolate.  It just goes to show what a difference texture makes, because I’m not a huge fan of plain Cadbury chocolate, which they sell in the form of the Dairy Milk bar.  I think it’s too rich, milky, and it has a tinge of raisin flavor.  Wispas & Flakes solve this problem by making the chocolate lighter.

Wispas are full of tiny little air bubbles, which somehow produce a light and silky chocolate taste– almost like a meltaway.  I adore them, but they are pretty hard to get in the U.S., so my aunt kindly brings me yearly stocks of them, which I gobble up faster than I care to admit.  The only person I’ve ever shared them with is my chocolate-crazy niece, Maddy, who eats them in quiet reverence at the tender age of seven.  Well done, little one!  For some insane reason, Cadbury stopped making the Wispa in 2003, but a public outcry caused them to come back “for a limited time” in 2007.  Then after more squirming and rage from the public (why must they play with our minds with this whole “limited time” thing?!?!?!), the world gave a great sigh of relief when the Wispa was brought back permanently in 2008.

Flakes are made of bark-like ribbons.  Buying an intact specimen in the store, far less keeping that way across the Atlantic, is almost impossible, but somehow the one in the photo made it, that is until I ate it.  It must be pointed out, by the way, that a soft serve ice cream cone in Britain without a Flake sticking out of it is like a kitty without fur: naked and sad.

Double-Decker bars get their name from the iconic British double-decker buses.  They have a layer of crunchy, chocolatey biscuit, and a layer of nougat.  I do get that hint of raisin flavor somehow, but I like it here.

The Crunchie claims to be a chocolate bar filled with a honeycomb center.  Since chewing on wax is out of the question, the next best thing is chewing on something called a honeycomb, but is actually a super crunchy, tooth-achingly sweet, golden candy.  Thank goodness for the nice amount of chocolate coating to provide some balance.

While doing a scotch of research for this post, I discovered that Kraft also owns: Lu (makers of the wonderful Petit Écolier chocolate biscuits), Côte D’or (the Cadbury’s of Belgium), Marabou (the Cadbury’s of Sweden), Milka (the Hershey’s of much of Europe), and Toblerone (the triangular-shaped Swiss chocolate bar with crunchy bits of nougat).  Kraft’s all like, “Bring it, Nestlé.”

I also would be remiss if I didn’t write a quick word about Britain’s love of biscuits, which are often a chocolate & dry cookie combo and can be eaten at almost any time of day, but most often make an appearance at tea times.  Digestive Biscuits, a deceptively healthy sounding example, are my favorite.  They’re simply delicious.  You can get them without chocolate, but why would you?  They’re like wheat cookies or something– still sweet, but also a bit worthy, as my mother says.

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Roni-Sue’s Chocolates – the Bacon Speaks for Itself

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009 | chocolatiers | No Comments

I realize the whole “bacon for dessert” thing is a bit played out at this point, but that doesn’t mean it’s not still delicious! Roni-Sue’s Chocolates, located in the Essex Street Market, lets both the bacon and the chocolate sing in its “Pig Candy.” Crispy bacon strips are hand-dipped in either milk or dark choclate. The saltiness of the bacon makes your mouth water, then the smooth chocolate melts and you have a heavenly bite indeed. I wish this could become a fixture on my brunch plate!

Since I’ve been dipping my bacon in maple syrup since I was a kid, I also had to try the Maple Bacon Lollipop. Holding it up to the light, I was reminded of those novelty lollies which contain horrific grasshoppers or worms. No bugs here, though, just visible chunks of bacon <sigh of relief>. The maple candy itself I found to be a bit too strong, like molasses– perhaps they use a very dark grade of maple syrup. But I found that once you make your way down to the bacon chunks, the flavor balances out.

Hie thyself to the Essex Street Market and get thee some bacon treats!

Roni-Sue’s Chocolates
Essex Street Market
120 Essex Street (at Delancey) – closed on Sundays, btw


D.C. Dessert Roundup – Capital Confections Part 1: Artfully Chocolate Kingsbury Confections (aka A.C.K.C.)

Monday, November 16th, 2009 | chocolatiers, ice cream, Travel | 4 Comments

We didn’t see Michelle or Barack, but we did have delicious desserts.  Read on…

A.C.K.C. is a total dessert cuterie (if you don’t know what a “cuterie” is, think of the chocolate shop in Chocolat).  They’ve got everything: display cases filled with fancy chocolates & baked goods, tables overflowing with chocolate bars & gifts, friendly dessert-istas, cheerful autumnal decorations, and… naughty mosaics depicting frolicking males.  A.C.K.C. is apparently the brainchild of a chocolatier, Rob Kingsbury, and an artist, Eric Nelson.  The chocolate and the art are for sale– great concept!

The “Divas” are a menu highlight; they can come in the form of blended ice cream and toppings, crowned with whipped cream, and served in gorgeous margarita glasses ($4.25 each).  We tried The Bette Davis: “milk chocolate infused with almond syrup, topped with toasted coconut flakes.”  It was light and tasty, but nothing much to write home about.  Next was the Marliyn Monroe: “a bold, white-chocolate base with a flip of crème de menthe finished with crumbled Oreo cookies.”  What a frothy, refreshing, minty delight.  And great texture from the cookie and white chocolate chunks.  Last of the Divas was the Rita Hayworth: “semi-sweet chocolate infused with clove, orange and caramel, drizzled with caramel sauce.”  This was the best of all.  The flavors all zinged together, with the orange hitting you first, then the chocolate, then the clove, of which there were whole buds, which sent spicy shivers down my spine.

Even though we were bursting with our stomachs’ discoveries of their inner Divas, we thought we must try some of their hand-made chocolate.  We picked the weirdest sounding one: “creamy brie with apricot dropped in toasted black sesame seeds.”  Well, I never thought I’d live to see the day that I’d have brie and chocolate in one bite, but there it was– that cheesy funk with that bitter chocolate.  I’m not sure how well the flavors married, and no one tasted the apricot, but it was worth it for the experience.

The last thing we tried was their smoked bacon chocolate bar: “rich milk chocolate couverture mixed with smoked Turkish paprika, dried apple, and caramelized bacon.”  I couldn’t detect a hint of bacon or paprika at all (maybe they forgot to add them?), but the chocolate itself was smooth, wonderful, and rich, and the apple chunks were a nice little surprise.

This was a perfect start to our dessert adventures!

A.C.K.C. (DC location)
1529C 14TH Street NW
Washington, DC 20005

Next stop: Good Stuff Eatery (post coming soon)

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