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.
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 248-398-0001 http://www.gayleschocolates.com/ Also at DTW