Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Piece, Love, & Chocolate

I was in Boulder, CO recently for a conference, and while there I found what I think is my favorite chocolate shop I've been to yet. It's the closest I've seen to what I would want if I finally gave up on grad school and opened my own chocolate shop:

Piece, Love, & Chocolate

Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera on me, and they don't seem to have any photos of the shop on their website. Which is a shame, because it's quite lovely. Probably a little more hippie than I would lean with the decoration, but it is Boulder. But it had loads more personality than most chocolate shops I've been in!

Then, of course, there was the chocolate. There's a counter with an array of pastries as well as a long line of truffles, a revolving cake display, and a menu of chocolate beverages. Then opposite the counter is the retail area - in the back, they have their own line of chocolate bars (with real examples of each framed on the wall, which was a cute touch), and next to that a wall covered in an array of truly high-end chocolate bars, probably the best collection I've ever seen. You won't find any Ghirardelli here - I don't think I even saw the higher-end grocery store brands like Scharffen Berger or Green & Black. Start with Vosges and Valrhona, then work your way up in price from there. The selection was dizzying!

Along the next wall you'll find even better goodies for the hobby chocolatier - an array of couverture discs, cocoa nibs, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, etc, in bulk baggies. Not things you find in most chocolate shops I've been to! Next to that, some savory chocolate items, such as chocolate pasta or cocoa-infused olive oil. On the floor between all this are shelves piled high with a variety of packaged tasties both from the shop's own brand and other small chocolatiers.

The truffle selection in the counter display was lovely. So many independent chocolate shops I go to have a huge selection, but it's the same 150 things you find everywhere. Worse yet, much of it looks mass-produced and possibly even made with "candy coating"instead of real chocolate. Not so here. They have a lineup of a few dozen flavors, and it's clear that each one was made in small batches with attention to detail. They do sell a few other companies' products here, but most are made in-house. And the flavors range from the expected to the hard-to-find, such as Blood Orange or Bakhti Chai.

Sadly, we didn't try any of the truffles. We'd just finished dinner and decided to focus our limited stomach space on the pastries. My husband got a slice of their huge chocolate layer cake, while I got a caramel and sea salt "cookie torte" - two chocolate cookies dipped in ganache, with a layer of caramel mousse in between. We also each got a mug of sipping chocolate; mine with cinnamon, his with mint.

I had seen a package of the sipping chocolate for sale, so I knew it was 85%, but apparently this fact didn't make an impression until after I'd tasted it. It really is 85% dark! I'm more of a 70% girl myself, so I put a couple packets of sugar in mine - if you can do that to coffee, you can totally do it to hot chocolate, right? (The cinnamon probably added a bit of extra bitterness.) It was incredibly thick and rich, though, even more than I was expecting. We brought leftovers home in travel cups and the next day it was just as good, if not better, eaten with a spoon after it had thickened in the fridge.

The cake was great. The mousse layer was also a smidge less sweet than I was expecting from it, but still delicious. The cake itself was dense, and the frosting was thick and fudgy. But I have to say that my cookie torte was my favorite. The caramel and sea salt mousse was amazing (and, in fact, I found that I liked it mixed with the thickened sipping chocolate...), and there was just the right amount of it to smear on the cookies without overwhelming them.

So basically: These people are serious about dark chocolate. More than you might be expecting when you place an order, but that's not a bad thing. Just a surprise!

One last touch that my husband and I loved (in fact, he just came and reminded me that I had to mention it - like I would forget a thing like this): For $20, you can buy a huge three-dimensional chocolate (about 10" long and 5" diameter) molded into the shape of a cocoa bean. There are a million things in here to buy for a chocolate-loving friend, but that might be the ultimate chocoholic gift.

I am so excited to have found this place, and I'll be making a beeline the next time I'm up in Boulder. In fact, given our family's biannual trips to Denver, I may have to find my way up to Boulder just to come back! I just hope that next time I come with an emptier stomach and plenty of spending money.

(I'll be sure to bring a camera next time, too...)

Monday, December 5, 2011

Ghirardelli bittersweet chips now at Costco

I'm so excited! Costco now carries Ghirardelli Bittersweet chips - 3.5 lbs for only $10!

These are our go-to for candymaking, especially at Christmas when we make tons of chocolates for our families. It's rare to find them for less than $2.50 per 11 oz bag ($3.63/lb), and the cheapest I've ever seen them - only once or twice - is $2/bag ($2.91/lb). $2.85/lb is an excellent price for a very tasty chocolate that melts well for dipping and candymaking. And big bags are perfect when you're making as much as we do for the holidays!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Happy Halloween! Chocolate/Pumpkin Swirl Bread

I think pumpkin and chocolate are a massively underused flavor combo, so I wanted to correct that this Halloween. It doesn't hurt that the orange-and-black (well, dark brown) swirls are very in season!

The stars of our show:

I based it on recipes from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (one of my all-around faves). For the chocolate bread, I used the Nut Bread recipe, which is right there on the same page as the pumpkin bread recipe! This is my standard go-to quickbread recipe, I've used it to make blueberry bread and cranberry-orange bread in the past. This time I subbed 1/3 of the flour for cocoa, and of course skipped the nuts - worked like a charm!

The tricky part was that the nut bread recipe is for one loaf, while the pumpkin bread recipe is for two - and I only wanted a half a loaf each, so I had to halve one recipe and quarter the other at the same time. You better bet I was triple-checking each ingredient before it went into one of the four bowls involved! Luckily. It all went as planned, and the batters were perfect for swirling in the loaf pan. The result was a moist and delicious holiday snack!


Monday, July 25, 2011

Water Mousse

My newborn son seems to have a dairy protein intolerance, which means that I have to cut all dairy out of my diet until he grows out of it! This is a scary prospect for someone who is a strict proponent of real butter, never shortening, in my baking (not to mention a huge cheese fan), but it's also an opportunity to experiment.

Our go-to mousse recipe has been Albert's Mousse, from (what else?) Alice Medrich's Bittersweet. (If you are new to this blog, this is my chocolate bible.) Now, Albert is the author's dairy-intolerant brother, so already this mousse is done in the classic French style of nothing but dark chocolate, sugar, eggs, and water, so it would be fine (and trust me, it is more than fine).

But a few months ago, I was led to this recipe using nothing but chocolate and water. We definitely wanted to try this!

It's as easy as it sounds - boil water, melt chocolate, whip. We used Valor mint-flavored 70% bars that we bought at Whole Foods. Note that there is no added sugar in this recipe, so whatever chocolate you use is what you get!

Unfortunately, I overwhipped it (using an electric beater because we don't have a whisk right now). My advice to avoid this: At first, it will seem like nothing is happening, so, like me, you'll probably turn your beater up to high. That's fine, but as soon as it does start to thicken turn it back down to med or low. Then, the instant that it looks like "thick whipped cream," stop! I kept going maybe another 20 seconds, and while it tastes lovely, the texture was not at all mousse-like. It crumbles like wet, clay-y dirt, but was smooth and soft in your mouth. Definitely not unpleasant, but not mousse.

You can see, this texture is not as pictured on the recipe page:

The end result was tasty enough, though, that I think this solves a problem for me. I've been wondering what could possibly be a dairy-free substitute for ganache, particularly in truffles. Taste and texture wise, I think this would be excellent! The only question is how to assemble them - I don't think that this form would pipe well, and I think it would be too delicate too roll into balls. And unlike ganache, I don't think you can pipe this while it's more liquid and let it set up - it depends on the whipping for stiffness. But I'm sure I can come up with something. And the end result would be surprisingly delicious vegan truffles!

UPDATE: We tried it again, this time with a bar of 70% Ghirardelli. We stopped mixing much sooner, but to our surprise it kept firming up after we stopped! The difference was that we could get it into the pretty glasses while it was still shaped like mousse instead of having to scoop lumps into the glasses. :) This is good news, though, as it means that piping it into molds for truffles while it's still soft should work beautifully!

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Cream Puffs: In Which Alice Medrich Continues Her Reign as Chocolate Goddess

As I've mentioned before, Alice Medrich's Bittersweet is my personal chocolate bible.

I recently bought another book of hers, Chocolate Holidays: Unforgettable Desserts for Every Season, which is the paperback form of A Year Spent in Chocolate. I'll save a full review for after I've tried a couple more recipes, but I will say that if "Chocolate cream puffs with spun sugar" is any indication, my faith in Ms Medrich is well-placed.

I've never made cream puffs or puff pastry of any sort before. The only time I've seen them attempted was when a friend in college, who was born in France, tried to make some from an original French cookbook and failed miserably. I hope she's since found a recipe as easy and detailed as this one! As usual, the dense recipe text leaves nothing to chance, and my puffs puffed up in lovely fashion.

The chocolate custard filling was exactly what I expect from a Medrich recipe. It did an amazing job of highlighting the flavor of the chocolate I used (my standby Ghirardelli 60% chips) rather than overwhelming it in egg flavor. It was also surprisingly rich for having no cream or butter in the recipe - in fact, I used a mix of skim and 2% milk rather than whole! I think you could easily make it with all-skim and be perfectly happy with the results.

Happily, my camera is working again (it's been broken since Christmas, hence the lack of photos in recent entries). Here is a shot of the filled puffs, with custard oozing out of their little holes:

I was making these to bring to school to pass out, so I skipped the caramel glaze and spun sugar meant to turn the puffs into a croquembouche and dipped the tops in a simple ganache. Although made with the same chocolate, the ganache and the custard had distinctly different flavors, which was a nice contrast. Here are the final, dipped puffs:

Overall, these were a huge success! And if you thought people were impressed by homemade cheesecake (which they always are), wait til you hand them a cream puff!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Chicago Luxury Ice Cream Festival Roundup

Tonight we went to the Chicago Luxury Ice Cream Festival. For $25/person, you could indulge in all-you-can-eat taster sizes of a dozen different gourmet ice cream brands, plus a small amount of alcohol and pizza. A few of the highlights:

The Winners:

- When I read that Vosges would be there, I assumed they'd be giving out chocolate samples. I did not realize that they are making ice cream now! Their chocolate chili was one of the top flavors of the event, hands-down. We went back for MANY refills! They also had coconut curry (called "Naga" on their site). I'm not a big coconut fan, so I wasn't terribly impressed with that one.

- Sassy Cow Creamery had two winners with Ginger Pear and Cherry Dark Chocolate - but the cherry ranked in my top five overall. Whatever dark chocolate they used in it was terrific.

- Ciao Bella Gelato had a Valrhona chocolate ice cream that may have been the only one to top Vosges. Dark and very creamy, my one regret of the night was that I didn't get a second cup. I also had their mango sorbet, which was tasty.

- I am a sucker for cinnamon ice cream, and Homers' had the excellent idea to add white chocolate chips to it. They were clearly creamy real white chocolate, and they went amazingly well with the cinnamon.

- Oberweis Dairy may have been the least "gourmet" (or at least, most mainstream) entry, but their mango-pomegranate sorbet and chocolate peanut butter ice cream were still at the top of the charts. They also apparently had a blue-and-white birthday cake ice cream that was excellent (according to the girl ahead of us in one line), but we didn't get to try that one.

- Unfortunately, neither of us remembers the name of the creamery who featured chocolate ice cream with sour cream and sea salt, but it was very good! The sour cream gave it a bit of a tang, and chocolate/salt is always a good combo.

The Mixed Bags:

- Nice Cream had an odd setup. Rather than a table where you could grab a cup on your way past, they had two tables at which they sat four people at a time, where one of their staff served everyone four flavors individually. This resulted in a long line (we waited over 20 minutes, and it was the only one we waited in for more than about two), and most people in line were confused about exactly what the line was for. The event's website promised a tasting contest where you could vote for your favorites, and people thought that this was the line to participate in that. But no, it was just another company. Anyhow, their four-flavor lineup had two winners and two losers. The peaches & cream, made with sour cream, was excellent. As with the other sour cream entry, it really added to the flavor (and I don't like sour cream by itself). The chocolate and sweet basil was the other winner - it's easy to forget that basil is in the mint family until you taste it with the chocolate! I don't think I could eat a large bowl of it, but a small amount was surprisingly good. The blueberry pie ice cream was good (and had a surprisingly "pie"-y flavor), but didn't stand up to the intense festival competition, while the strawberry and angel food cake was rather bland.

- Clandestino was clearly positioning itself as the gourmeter-than-thou entry. First was its chocolate chili, which won third place last year - but Vosges' much creamier version outshone it this year. Then was the one ice cream I tasted all night that was just bad - blueberry huitlacoche. What is huitlacoche? I wish I'd asked before I tried it, and I might have been prepared - it's a fungus that grows on corn. And yes, the ice cream tasted... fungusy. Mildewy, almost. *shudder* Luckily, they made up for that with their serrano cornbread ice cream, which was savory rather than sweet and was really very good! Cornbread is a nice sweetish savory taste well-suited to ice cream, and there was just a hint of serrano heat running through it. Wish I'd had a second cup before they ran out!

Worth a quick mention as well were the banana chocolate chip from Mitchell's and the very rich and flavorful vanilla from Shawn Michelle.

Dinner was taken care of by small slices of spinach stuffed pizza from Edwardo's, there was a table with taster cups of wine, and a table at the center of the upstairs room was handing out cups of champagne with peach ice cream in them, which Robbie says were excellent. They certainly had one of the longest lines in the place going! They did have a table pouring cups of water for those needing a non-alcoholic drink to cut through all the dairy. We also got a chance to walk around the nature museum it was held in, which was a nice bonus.

I recommend getting there early - we got there about 6:35 (doors opened at 7), and there was already a long line to get in. But once we were through the doors, we started upstairs where it was less crowded and were rewarded with almost no lines for the first half hour or so. By 8pm, it was getting pretty full.

Overall, they still have a few logistical kinks to work out (we paid at the door, but as we were headed in realized it would have been absurdly easy to sneak in because of the way they had it set up), but we had a lot of fun and ended the night plenty full!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Moser Roth 70%

We were surprised to find nice chocolate at discount grocer Aldi, of all places. They actually have two "store brands" - Moser Roth and Choceur. Moser Roth is definitely the better of the two, and is made in Germany.

The 70% has a lot going for it, though not everyone will like it. The flavors are very subtle, none of the obvious fruitiness that a lot of better dark chocolates have. Because of that, some people will probably find it bland. I quite liked it, though - it's not as bitter as many 70%s while also not being sweeter than you'd expect, and the predominant flavor seems to be pure cocoa. It's nice and crisp, a lovely texture.

After just eating it, we also tried baking with it. We tried making a flourless chocolate cake using this recipe, and the massive amounts of butter and egg just totally overpowered the subtle flavor of the chocolate. The recipe needs something bolder and a bit lower-percentage, while the chocolate needs to be used only in recipes that really let it shine rather than burying it. Perhaps in Alice Medrich's "Albert's Mousse" from Bittersweet.

Overall, at $1.30 for a 4.4-oz bar, this is a great deal for good 70% chocolate. It's clearly not as good as bars that cost 4 times that, but it's at least as good as many that cost twice that. There is also an 85% available, milk chocolate with toffee, and a few other varieties.