This past weekend was all about chocolate, since I participated in two events, both having chocolate as theme.
On Saturday, I took a short class called "Build your own chocolate bar" at Coco-luxe Confections. The certificate for the class was my very first purchase on Groupon, back in January. What attracted me to the class was the chance to play with chocolate — and play I certainly did.
After the introduction, each participant was given a tray with six molds. Each working table had a selection of ingredients to be used to enrich the bars: from nuts to crumbled fortune cookies, from dried tart cherries to cayenne, smoked salt, and sage. The photos are not great, partly due to the light, partly to the need for me to concentrate on what I was doing (photographing while working with food still does not come natural to me), but they show the combination of ingredients I chose for each bar.
This is the list of added ingredients by bar (left to right; click on a thumbnail to view photo):
- pistachios (pistacchi), cocoa nibs and a hint of smoked salt
- toasted coconut (noce di cocco), sage (salvia) and a hint of red salt
- banana chips and cocoa nibs
- tart cherries, almonds (mandorle) and cayenne
- crumbled fortune cookies and cayenne on one side, white chocolate (cioccolato bianco) and allspice on the other
- crystallized ginger on one side, sage and pistachios on the other.
The hazelnuts (nocciole) and peanuts (arachidi) in the last two molds are used as indicators (one side has one nut, the other side two), since one side has different ingredients from the other. Thinking about flavor and texture pairings was totally absorbing and really fun.
Once we finished preparing the molds, we lined up to fill them by ladling dark chocolate (61% cacao) from the tempering machine. Each tray was then placed on the vibrating table to let air bubbles come to the surface and escape. The trays were then cooled to let the chocolate set, and finally we unmolded our bars.
Before we got busy packaging our creations, our instructor talked about how to temper chocolate at home. The rationale behind tempering was not new to me, but the presentation was interesting as I learned useful bits of information to remember later when I try doing this at home.
The first mold I filled, I went a bit overboard, as it is clear from the flaps of chocolate around the sides, but then I got better and the other bars came out nicely. The little holes on the surface indicate that the bars could have used a bit more vibration. We were given foil, boxes and labels to package the bars and personalize them (see the last photo of the set). While working on our bars, we tasted some of the truffles that are produced by Coco-luxe. The pretty decoration on the top clearly identifies the flavor of the filling.
We also played a game: we were given samples of four kinds of dark chocolate bars to taste and we had to guess the percentage of cocoa in each one of them. I did my tasting and my guessing and when the answer was revealed, it turned out that I had guessed correctly (apparently, the first one to do so since they started the game). I won't reveal the answer here, since I assume that they will continue to play the game. It was actually a very interesting exercise for our taste buds.
On Sunday, I visited the San Francisco Chocolate Salon. I had been there two years ago and enjoyed myself, so I was looking forward to my visit. Overall, I must say that this time I was disappointed. According to this list, there were 41 companies, out of 75 participants, that presented products that had to do with chocolate. Since that was public information, the responsibility is mine for not considering it carefully. Still, I am wondering what was the role of the other vendors, like wineries and vacation resorts, in the context of an event about chocolate.
I focused my tasting on solid chocolate, which is where my interest lies. Of the previosly unknown to me brands that I tried, I did not like any (and some were really unpleasant to my palate). The best part of the morning was talking to some of the vendors, all of chocolate that I already knew and liked. Here are some details:
Madécasse: If you are not familiar with this company, they are quite unique in the bean-to-bar world, because they have the whole production in Madagascar, from cacao tree growing to chocolate making and bar packaging. As you may know, cocoa beans are harvested but usually not processed where they are grown. I discovered Madécasse chocolate some time ago in a store in Berkeley (it was actually the bar packaging that first attracted me).
Other companies whose chocolate I know well are Alter Eco, Divine and Taza. In different ways, they all pay special attention to the well-being of the cacao producers and at the same time make chocolate that I like.
I also want to mention Vice Chocolates: their bars (made using chocolate from Venezuela) have interesting flavors, my favorite being the one with dried figs and anise seeds. Chocolatier I-Li Brice is usually at the Temescal farmers' market on Sunday, which is where I first met her and her products. I love chatting with her when I stop by to get some bars and truffles.
I decided that I prefer Italian chocolate festivals, like Eurochocolate, which happens in October in my home town of Perugia, and Cioccolatò, which happens in the spring in Torino (Turin). Kathy of Food Lover's Odyssey visited this year's edition of Cioccolatò and wrote this post, which includes some nice photos. Torino is a city with a long tradition of chocolate making: It was there that gianduia and gianduiotti were created. This video shows in fast motion how the big chocolate scupture representing the 20 regions of Italy was assembled. This was part of the celebrations for Italy's sesquicentennial. Torino was the first capital of the newly born country.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the un weekend di cioccolato audio file [mp3].
[Depending on your set-up, the audio file will be played within the browser or by your mp3 player application. Please, contact me if you encounter any problems.]