I would like to invite you to my new site The Urbane Grandmother. I hope that you will enjoy her adventures as much as you have enjoyed the Culinary Muse's. I promise chocolate is in her future and yours.
Okay, all you chocolate connoisseurs, the time has come to
put your vast chocolate experience to the ultimate test.Guess the origin of the cocoa beans
that Amano Artisan Chocolate used to create their new chocolate bar and you
will win a ‘one year’s supply’ of Amano Chocolate?How much is that? Ten bars per month for a year, over $800
of chocolate.And not just any chocolate,
my friends. Some of the finest chocolate made.
Just take one look at the picture of the cocoa beans and you
can already imagine the deep, rich chocolate flavor with hints of fruit.Good luck, dear readers.Make me proud!
While Parisians are sipping rosé this summer and New Yorkers are knocking back iced coffee, we San Franciscans will be huddled over our favorite summertime drink: Hot Chocolate. Whether served in a mug with a shot of bourbon or in a paper cup, there is nothing better to ward off the bone-chilling effects of San Francisco’s dense summer fog.
If you plan to be in the City in June, July or August, here are a few hot chocolate stops that you won’t want to miss:
Empirical evidence shows that the Ferry Building Marketplace has the highest ratio of gourmet hot chocolate per square foot than any other place in San Francisco, maybe even the world. On a typical Saturday morning there are five places that you can purchase a cup of over-the-top, to-die-for, hot chocolate. Blue Bottle Coffee has three locations where you, too, can queue up for twenty minutes for your chance to order hot chocolate made with chocolate from confectioner Michael Recchiuti . Rumor has it that if your cup is not deemed perfect by the barrista it will be tossed away and a new one will be constructed.
If you would rather sit while the magic of creating a perfect cup of thick hot chocolate is performed, then Boulette's Larder is the place for you. Not quite a sidewalk café in Paris but pretty darn close. Better even. Boulette’s is more like a carefully curated culinary museum where you can eat the exhibits. Their hot chocolate tastes as though they have melted a bar or two or three of fine dark chocolate into the best organic milk you can imagine.
If you had something more quicker in mind, then Peet’s is the place for you. The line moves fast, so within 5 minutes you will have a perfectly delicious cup of hot chocolate made with Scharffen Berger dark chocolate. I know someone who then heads outside to one of the benches overlooking the bay and discreetly slips a shot or two or three of Maker’s Mark into the her cup. I doubt that you would ever tag this French Market Basket toting grand dame as a lush as she weaves her way through the aisles.
Now, if you are in Union Square there are two great choices within the same block. Crepe O Chocolat at 75 O’Farrell Street has two different hot chocolates to choose from. One is listed as ‘Homemade Hot Chocolate’ and the one that I recommend is the ‘Melted Chocolate Drink’. It might be billed as a drink but I would argue that it is just one tablespoon of hot milk short of a pudding. A few doors down at Cafe Madeleine they start their drink with a generous spoonful of ganache - a thick concoction of chocolate and heavy cream that has been whipped together – to which they add hot milk.
Mark Twain may have complained that the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco but that’s only because the he didn’t know where to find a great cup of hot chocolate.
Can't get to San Francisco this summer? Then try our recipe for hot chocolate for one:
1 c milk
2 heaping T unsweetened cocoa
1 T sugar
pinch of salt
In a small saucepan, stir together ¼ c milk, cocoa, sugar & salt to form a smooth paste. Whisk in the remainder of the milk. Heat over low heat until it reaches a simmer, stirring constantly. Serve in a heated porcelain tea cup. Enjoy!
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I have used many words to describe the chocolate pairing experiences I have had over the years.Fruity. Smokey. Citrus. Divine. I have never used the words ‘fungal’ and ‘shocking’. Until last Friday night, that is.Our friends, T & P presented us with a bottle of Hanahato Kijoshu Sake.This aged sake (eight years) has a beautiful amber color, the taste of a dry sherry and the nose of fungus gone amok.I have never sniffed and then tasted any liquid for which the nose had no relationship to the taste.I poured each of us a small portion. We all took a sniff and then started laughing. Could anything that smelled this bizarre have any redeeming culinary value? After a couple of sips it was clear that we had to try this with some really good chocolate, as suggested by Beau Timkin at TRUE SAKE . I went into my chocolate stash and pulled out a bar of AMANO CHOCOLATE'S Jembrana 70% Dark Chocolate.We each took a small bite of chocolate, allowed it melt for a moment on the tongue and then took a sip of Kijoshu.That is when this, excuse the analogy, magical mystical mushroom trip began. The sake brought out the cherry in the Jembrana.What cherry, you Jembrana fans might ask?Exactly. Alchemy and magic at work.
The more often I go to the Fancy Food Shows, the more select I become.In the early years I would eat myself silly.Sure, I would love a hand full of jelly beans with that Polish Sausage Sandwich. And could I have an espresso to wash it all down with?
After years of acid indigestion which seemed to linger for weeks after the show I knew that I needed a different strategy. So, one year I decided to limit myself to the International Aisles.This showed a lot of promise. The olive oils alone could take a half a day to taste. The Italians loved pouring wine. And the cheeses from the British Isles!I ate so much Neal’s Yard cheddar one year that I swear my heart started skipping beats. But this was still too much.It would be one thing if I was the food buyer for a gourmet food shop and was trying to stock the shelves.I was just an inquisitive chef roaming the aisles for inspiration.
The narrowing of my tasting focus happened naturally the year that I started this website.I tried all the chocolate confections.ALL OF THEM.It took two days.But at least they were all in the chocolate family. There are a lot of confections that should be avoided at all costs.However, I couldn’t report on what I thought was the best unless I tried them all, right?Down one aisle.Up another.Masterpieces of construction from Spanish confectioners were sampled beside hand dipped artisan chocolates from Oregon.Chocolate with chilies.Chocolate with cheese.Chocolate with smoked pork products. I traded acid indigestion for a near diabetic coma.
The 2008 Fancy Food Show was held in San Diego, not San Francisco.The year off gave me a break to think about what I was trying to achieve in my tasting.Was it breadth or depth?Did I want to know about every fine and/or wacky chocolate combination on the planet?Or did I want to winnow it down to the essence of chocolate?Pure chocolate in a bar.Not flowing from a fountain.Not shaped into the Eiffel Tower.Not paired with Cabernet Sauvignon and poured over ice cream.No. I turned down an event where the host wanted only chocolate and champagne pairings.No.Not for me.What I want now is pure chocolate.The essence.Stripped down and bare. No inferior chocolate hiding behind nuts and chilies and cheese and pork.
So with that criteria, I went a’tasting.And this is what I found. I tasted only pure chocolate.These are my favorites in no particular order:
MICHEL CLUIZEL : Oh, those French! So elegant. So refined. A guided tasting of five ‘1ers Crus de Plantations’ plain chocolates took less than ten minutes yet transformed me into a Cluizel groupie. This was one of the best guided tastings I have ever experienced.Starting with Los Ancones – Santo Domingo – 67% cacao, we worked our way around a tasting map that took us to Venezuela, Madagascar, New Guinea and Sao Tome.
AMANO ARTISAN CHOCOLATE : Art Pollard always continues to amaze.This year he added a fourth chocolate bar to his repetoire.JEMBRANA, 70% minimum cacao, is produced from beans that Art sourced from the Regency of Jembrana, on the southwest coast of the Indonesian island of Bali.This is a gentle bar of chocolate.Nice fruitiness with a hint of nuts and a background of vanilla that rounds out the flavors.
TAZA CHOCOLATE : This was the ‘wow’ moment for me at the show.Stone ground chocolate so the texture is rough, not smooth like chocolate that has been conched.Only four ingredients: cacao beans, cane sugar, cocoa butter and whole vanilla beans.When I tasted the 80% Dark Stone Ground Organic Chocolate Bar I could taste cherries.Added? No.I was just tasting the terroir of the beans.
If all this talk of chocolate has you drooling then you won’t want to miss the SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL CHOCOLATE SALON which is happening this Saturday, March 21.This year it is being held in a larger venue than in past years.More room to roam around in a chocolate coma.I will be there as a member of the tasting panel. See you there!
people, especially in this current economy, to pay $55 to watch a guy stand in
front of a room and talk for two hours? Chocolate.But, most importantly, chocolate as
interpreted by Michael Recchiuti.Over 20 people sat in a cool room (ambient temperature 65 degrees) in an
industrial building in San Francisco this afternoon and watched while Michael
demonstrated how to temper chocolate, how to form a tuile, how to make a
perfect ganache and transform it into a truffle and what to do with unhopped
barley-malt syrup:Oh, yeah, and then there were those triple chocolate cookies
and chocolate bark.
I have taken two
other classes from Michael.He did
a similar class to this one when his cookbook first came out.There was also an amazing
chocolate/wine pairing class that he did with the Ferry Market Wine Merchants
two years ago.I take Michael’s
classes for two reasons. He has an alchemist’s aptitude for combing flavors
(i.e. ruby red grapefruit and tarragon and for controlling fire. As I watched him make the
Burnt Caramel Base(a signature Recchiuti Confections flavor) I was reminded of
one of my cooking school chefs who taught me how to burn onions for the best
onion soup.It was at that moment,
years ago, that I understood where flavor is developed.It is developed at that precipice where one might panic and turn back. It is the moment when you think the onion
might be burning or the croissant is getting too dark (see Tartine Bakery), or
the sugar is about to burn beyond recognition.Good chefs brown.Great chefs burn.
classes check out their website. The questionnaire passed out at the end of the
class asked which topics we would be interested in for future demos.I vote for Chocolate Pairings, Savory
& Sweet Chocolate and Demos involving chocolate and other non-chocolate
items (herbs, salts).
When I heard the news , I felt as though someone had told me that a good friend was moving away.I was shocked especially since just the week before, at the Fancy Food Show, the local Scharffen Berger folks confidently told me that business was good and ‘chocolate is recession proof’. It is clear that their bosses waited until after the show to make the announcement. Am I surprised that they are whisking our own Scharffen Berger away?Not really. When some one as big as Hershey’s goes shopping to create a portfolio of special chocolates and confections to create an Artisan division we can’t be too surprised when they eventually decide to take their purchases home, literally. California is a very different place to do business.I once worked for a San Francisco cooking school that was purchased by a company based in Mississippi.Talk about culture shock.They kept sending us recipes that included cups and cups of mayonnaise and cream of mushroom soup.They didn’t know why we wanted to keep the recipes that include crème fraiche.I got out of there as soon as I could.
The discussion of whether or not the founders of Scharffen Berger sold out is moot and boring. Would you, could you turn down millions of dollars for a business you had worked hard to build? Nevertheless, this latest turn of events just doesn’t feel right. I think that we in the Bay Area are offended by the buying up local food businesses because we have a proprietary attitude toward our bounty of food riches.We are the ultimate Culinary Benefactors. We pride ourselves in recognizing a quality product when we taste it. It is our enthusiasm and our dollars that help these businesses to succeed.Employees take a chance and hop on board because they are told that they are on the ground floor of something exciting and new. They work just a little bit harder.And in the end, they are rewarded with a severance package and a not so chocolate-covered future.
It is rare that a food writer would presume to also offer
financial advice.While I don’t
pretend to be able to tell you where you should invest what is left of your
stock portfolio, I can tell you that the best place to invest the money you
have left is in your own education.Now is the time to figure out how to prepare for the future when the
money starts to flow again.I know
from experience that this, too, shall pass. After a particularly rough
financial time during the early 90’s I vowed that if I couldn’t read it, eat it
or wear it I wouldn’t spend money on it. Because, in the end, they can’t take
your education away from you and I have yet to see someone try to repossess a
meal or my Blahniks.
While the current economic climate might preclude you from
dropping $350 for lunch at Per Se or $800 on a new pair of Pradas, I do know
the one place to invest $425 with a guaranteed return.And it is only one click away.Enroll in David Leite’s Eight-Week Online Introduction to Food Writing Course. I took my first food writing class from David in 2005 and I
can still hear his voice every time I write a piece.Take this class if you have ever toyed with the idea of
becoming a food writer.It will
give you a real life education in real time.And it is worth every penny.
It has been quite a year, dear readers. The Muse couldn’t let 2008 slip past without getting a few last words in. I am happy to say that for every low this year there has been an equally great high.A rollercoaster comes to mind. I know the same has been true for many of my friends.Parents have died.A baby was born.A house was sold. A new career was launched in the same month that a job disappeared.An engagement, a wedding and new friendships have been formed.And what have I concluded after such a tumultuous year? That in the end the only thing that truly matters is love.
May the New Year bring you the comfort of love, the luck of good health and the joy of a meal or two or three shared with loved ones. See you in 2009!
Our reviews are a highly personal view of what pleases our palate and amuses our sensibilities. There is no pay for play. You will only find us spending time with the chocolates and chocolate related books, links and people that tickle our fancy. If we can't find something nice to say, we just skip saying anything at all. No chocolate bashing here. Life, as we all know, is too short.