Monday, February 22, 2010

chocolate gourmet - ugly truffles and damn good cookies

Chocolate Gourmet Ugly Truffles
All photographs
©2010 Ron Dunlap/Doglight Studios
During my teenage years of angst, no matter how many times my mother told me that "true beauty comes from within", I never really got my arms around the concept. Who cared about within when your exterior was without? How could your life really ever be meaningful if you didn't have high tops which you would leave undone and hanging open to indicate to all your maximum coolness and insouciance? Or a Michael Jackson Thriller style leather jacket? Or Earth Shoes? Come on - at least Earth Shoes! How could any self-respecting teenager not have a pair in blue or brown suede? (Sadly, my parents were steadfast in the matter of Earth Shoes. None of us ever got a pair, no matter what angle we tried or how hard we begged.) However, I do believe that if I had sampled a Chocolate Gourmet Ugly Truffle way back then, the notion would have been crystal clear and the trauma of not owning a pair of Earth Shoes would not have affected my life as profoundly.

Chocolate Gourmet Ugly TrufflesChocolate Gourmet 's Ugly Truffles do their best to live up to their name. They simply aren't pretty. Even though some of the Ugly Truffles are technically round, they are still lumpy and bumpy, and more often than not resembled deflated soccer balls. But once you opened the box and smelled the chocolatey goodness and then put the most misshapen Ugly Truffle in your mouth, (to put it out of its misery, which is similar to the reason you need to bite off the head of your Easter bunny first), how these truffles looked goes right out the window. These are great truffles that don't need fancy outfits. Each truffle is meaty, flavorful and deeply satisfying. I think of them as "comfort chocolate" similar to the concept of comfort food but, the kind of comfort food that your grandmother (or great grandmother) used to make from scratch, with wholesome ingredients, before the advent of TV dinners, cream of mushroom soup casseroles (with potato chips on top) and cake mixes.

Chocolate Gourmet Damn Good CookiesWe sampled the 9 piece box, Living Dangerously, which came with Oozy, Boozy Caramel, Gordita Picante, Morning After Merlot, Messed Up Mocha and Put Your Clothes on Chocolate. (In case you are wondering, we tried the last with our clothes on.) We loved that there was a "something, something" in each truffle that made it extra special. For example, Oozy, Boozy Caramel has a hint of brandy and Morning After Merlot is rolled in red velvet cake crumbs. My favorite was the Gordito Picante: smooth cinnamony Mexican chocolate with chili spices and toasted corn tortillas. Yes, toasted tortilla chips! This neato ingredient, which goes so surprisingly well with chocolate, needs to be immediately recognized as one of the great inventions of this century, if you ask me. Even better than the Internet even if Al Gore invented it!

Chocolate Gourmet Damn Good CookiesOnce you've had Chocolate Gourmet 's Ugly Truffles, you will be glad their offerings include Damn Good Cookies too. While, I am sure your parents told you never to swear, they probably told you to always tell the truth as well, and these sassy cookies are really that good. These cookies have ganache centers sandwiched between little bittersweet, soft, luxuriously chewy cookies generously studded with thick chocolate chips. The ganache comes in four divine flavors, each flavor better than the next: chocolate, raspberry, peanut butter (my husband's favorite) and mint. Be prepared though. Due to their diminutive size, you can easily cram a Chubby Wubby in your mouth but, they pack a powerful chocolate punch, enough to knock the unsuspecting off their feet.

Only available by mail order to guarantee maximum freshness!

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

ginger elizabeth

Ginger ElizabethThere is a famous Confucious saying, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." However, in our case, the journey was wasn't quite a thousand miles. It was about 90 miles each way but still it took over three hours which I think counts as extra miles.

Now, you may wonder why four fairly intelligent adults, (OK three), a quartet that included two surgeons would undertake a three hour trip from San Francisco to Sacramento. Your answer is because we all happened to be
attending the San Francisco Tribal Arts show, because we are die-hard chocolate aficionados and mainly because of the Ginger Elizabeth Palet D'or Entremet Cake.

I came across this cake while surfing the web for new and exciting chocolatiers and was instantly spellbound. This chocolate cake had me at hello.

Ginger ElizabethAmong other things, the Ginger Elizabeth Palet D'or Entremet Cake was offered especially for Valentines Day as an "expression of fine chocolate" -- which is a terrific concept. I can definitely get my arms around the concept of a Valentine's Day cake.

There was the description, a
"65% Maracaibo Venezuelan Chocolate Mousse, layered with Bittersweet Chocolate Ganache, Chocolate Dacquois, and Crunchy Chocolate Shortbread inspired by our popular Palet D’Or truffle and similarly garnished with gold leaf, this cake is made with a 65% bittersweet chocolate from the prized Maracaibo cocoa growing region in Venezuela."

And then to seal the deal there was the intriguing name Palet D'or which means disc of gold in French and I think perfectly romantic.

Ginger ElizabethFor all these reasons, I felt I had to have this cake and immediately campaigned for the side trip. (We had to pick up the cake ourselves because it's fragile, must be eaten immediately and Ginger Elizabeth does not ship the cake.) Surprisingly or not surprisingly, after everyone looked at the online picture and read the description it actually didn't take much convincing. I was honestly prepared for a much lengthier campaign.

The Ginger Elizabeth shop is located on a side street near the Sacramento Capital buildings (I wonder if Arnold comes by for a chocolate fix) with lot of nice restaurants around, not that you need any other type of sustenance when there is a chocolate shop nearby.

The minute we entered the store, we knew our decision had been a good one. The store is small but charming, complete with vendeuses dressed in matching white outfits and little white gloves. And, there is a wonderful selection of chocolates and gifts that could keep any chocoholic engaged for hours if not days.

Ginger ElizabethOur cake was waiting for us as promised and looked "just like the picture." While we were torn about whether we would eat it right there on the spot in a completely uncivilized manner, we decided it would be best to take the cake back to our hotel and enjoy it after dinner.

After dinner, some of us were daunted by the quantity of chocolate so we invited a friend and her daughter to share the Ginger Elizabeth cake, which ended up giving us all the perfect amount of cake.

The cake as you can see in the picture is exquisite. The ganache is perfectly smooth, with an artistic ribbon of chocolate and an artfully placed foil of gold. When a cake is this beautiful, you don't want to make a mistake slicing it, so we enlisted the surgeons to cut the cake into six neat pieces. Then, we took our first mouthfuls. As we experienced the creamy mousse, the silky ganache, the texture of the dacquois and the buttery, and slightly salty crunch of the shortbread, so light and airy you feel you could eat a thousand cakes, a silence descended in the room. The Ginger Elizabeth Palet D'or Entremet Cake is easily the best cake I and everyone else had ever had: a cake to end all cakes; a cake that when you look up "cake" in the dictionary, you see its picture next to it; a cake where, if you love chocolate, you truly must have one slice in your lifetime.

After the last slice had been eaten, and the plates literally licked clean, our friends said they would be happy to drive back next year for another Valentine's Day cake. I think a new tradition has been born.

Ginger Elizabeth

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Monday, February 15, 2010

pure dark = pure ectasy

Pure Dark
All photographs
©2010 Ron Dunlap/Doglight Studios
For all you chocolate lovers who think you have seen it and done it all, all I can say is, you need to try Pure Dark chocolate. Immediately.

Pure Dark chocolate comes in several forms but I am especially enamored with the slabs. The slabs are massive, thick pieces of chocolate, pocked and rippled like a moonscape. They basically look like what a chocoholic caveman might eat if he were a foodie.

There are three varieties of slabs but the one I enjoyed the most was the Serious Dark Chocolate with Caramelized Nibs and Coarse Sugar. The caramelized nibs along with coarse sugar add a wonderful texture that combined with the deep, rich chocolate gives you an unearthly, primordial chocolate experience. After savoring a chunk you feel as if you want to beat your chest and holler.

But, Pure Dark slabs are not for the Miss Manners and gracious living crowd. In order even to break off a chunk, you will need to reach down into your inner caveman because they're not fooling around with these slabs. The slabs are almost 1" thick. I recommend a cutting board and using a fork, pushing downwards (interesting, a knife doesn't work well). However if you are serious about chocolate, I have faith that after your first piece you will find a quick solution even it is to just to pick up the entire slab and gnaw on it - not that I would ever do something as crude as that.

For those with less Herculean strength, Pure Dark offers Rounds, Fruits and Nuts and Bark.

What is great about Round and Fruits and Nuts is that they are perfect on-the-go chocolates. Everyone knows that any chocoholic worth their salt needs to have an on-the-go chocolate. This is the kind of portable chocolate that, among other qualities, is small enough to secrete in your purse or briefcase and lends itself well to road trips.

Pure Dark Bark is a thinner chocolate (but then again anything is thinner than the Pure Dark Slab) and the sophisticated cousin to the Pure Dark slab. It is studded with plump dried fruits, toasted nuts and what I think makes the bark really special, the caramelized nibs. I never thought I would say this, but I heart the caramelized nibs. Let's just say if the nibs were running for office, even with the fruits and nuts as second in command (which is of course not much different from our government), they would win by a landslide.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

guittard chocolates - the motherlode- part II

As you read these new posts, many of your may exclaim "Wow! Your photography has improved! These pictures look great!" However, as much as I would like to take credit for the amazing photos you will see in my next two blogs I can't. First because I didn't take them. And second, it is unlikely I could get away with it. These are all the work of Ron Dunlap. You can read more about Ron Dunlap, Doglight Studios and Ron's adventures at the end of this blog.

If you've read my last post, "Guittard chocolates, The Motherlode - Part I", you will already know that I received an eleven pound box of Guittard chocolates a week ago and have basically been in a chocolate coma ever since. This week I decided to tackle their chocolate bars, which all feature single origin cacao beans.

I already know your next question. "What is a single origin cacao bean and how can I use this new information to make my cocktail conversation more scintillating and make myself appear more knowledgeable and wordly?" Well, like like grapes or coffee, cacao beans have different nuances depending on where they were harvested as well as their post-harvest process. And that's it. It is as simple as that. Waving your hands around a lot helps for dramatic effect as well.

In my insane eleven pound box, Guittard included eight (8) bars. Because of the quantity, (yes even I can only eat so much chocolate), I had to assemble an impromptu, rag-tag, tasting group which included our enthusiastic neighbors, a foodie who has been hanging around ever since she saw my box of chocolates, and a few friends from the gym. None of us are trained connoisseurs, but the taste test was revealing and surprisingly entertaining. The more we ate, the more giddy we got and the more giddy we got, the more enthusiastic the proclamations. Honestly, a chocolate tasting ala E Guittard would be a great party theme, and you could introduce wine too, though might have to peel a few people off the ceiling afterwards. But, I digress. Back to the bars.

The eight bars we tested were: Ambanja, Chuchuri, Nocturne, Orinco, Quevedo, Quetzalcoatl, Sur del Lago and Tsaratana.

Guittard Chocolate Ambanja

E. Guittard Ambanja 65% Cacao Bar
"Fruity and wonderful"
We started with Ambanja which is a city in northern Madagascar. This bar was a favorite among all of us and my personal favorite. It had a taste of fruit and the chocolate was rich and creamy. I could eat several bars of this in a row and I liked that I also liked that I could pronounce the name with some flourish.

E. Guittard Chucuri 65% Cacao Bar
These beans are harvested in the San Vicente de Chucuri Valley of Santander in Colombia. The chocolate has a sweet, honeyish taste. We all felt it was mellow and delicate and what a connoisseur would enjoy. I could imagine curling up on a cool summer evening with a good book and nibbling this chocolate.

E. Guittard Nocturne 91% Cacao Bar
This bar is for serious dark chocolate lovers only. I imagine this is the kind of chocolate that the Mayans would have eaten. It has a primitive, exotic taste, wonderfully sour and bitter at the same time. It's the kind of chocolate a real chocoholic worth his/her cacao bean enjoys -- a tough chocoholic, not a dandified sophisticate, the kind of chocoholic who would eat the bar and then might grunt at the end to show you that he (or she) can take real chocolate and not just sissy chocolate.

E. Guittard Orinco 38% Cacao Bar
This bar vanished within moments of its unwrapping. It had the best of the best milk chocolate qualities: creamy, nutty, buttery and subtle and silky. And to me it has all the hallmarks of being an excellent "I feel sorry for myself" chocolate. The kind of chocolate you eat when nothing is going your way and it really should because you know, you're a good person and what happened to karma anyway? For wallowing in self pity, I recommend six bars (adjust as necessary and grab a box of tissues.

E. Guittard Quetzalcoatl 72% Cacao Bar
Legend surrounds this bar. It is named after the Mayan god Quetzalcoatl who traveled to earth with a cacao tree imported from paradise and, as the legend implies, this chocolate is paradise for a dark chocolate aficionado. It has a dark, rich powerful taste that starts off nutty and ends with a satisfying bitter aftertaste. It does the Mayans, who worshiped cacao and the legend of Quetzalcoatl, the justice they deserve. A terrific bar that gets it just right so that despite the high cacao content, all the milk chocolate fans in our taste group gravitated to this bar.

E. Guittard Quevedo 65% Cacao Bar
"I don't know why, I just like it."
What makes this quote stand out is that it is from a taste tester who reluctantly admits he generally only consumes mass chocolates. Still, this was his favorite bar. The chocolate was mellow, smokey and nutty with a creamy texture. It is an excellent bar to introduce someone to the joys of dark chocolate -- unless of course your philosophy is thatif someone doesn't like it, there is more for you.

E. Guittard Sur del Lago 65% Cacao Bar
These beans are harvested from Venenzuela's Sur Del Lago region. We all felt there was an interesting complexity to this bar - a slight nutty and berry taste -- that made us keep coming back to this bar, over and over.

E. Tsaratana 61% Cacao Bar
We ended our chocolate odyssey on the Tsaratana bar and it was a wonderful. It was sweet like a flower and had a taste of vanilla. How to describe it? Does "mmmm, mmmm, yummy" work? It is the kind of bar that delivers on that abstract idea you have in your mind about the promise and experience of chocolate. This chocolate would work well both as a good "Sweetheart I Love (or Seriously Like) You" or "I am Really Sorry, Will You Please Forgive Me" chocolate, however in the latter case you I recommend at least two bars.

All the wonderful photos you see here are the work from Ron Dunlap who happens to be a hero of mine. At 60 he got his masters in Archeology and now every year travels to Egypt to photograph objects that we will not see in our lifetime from the ongoing pyramid excavations, as photographs that document his travels to the far east which you can enjoy at RGD Travels.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

guittard chocolates - the motherlode- part I

Have you ever received a really great gift that was truly a surprise? Something you have never thought of asking for but that turns out to be one of the bestest gifts you have ever received? A gift you know you will remember forever and ever -- even when you are old and gray and living with 100 cats and the neighbors have called the authorities, numerous times? Well, this is what happened to me last week when I opened my door to find a box on my doorstep marked, "Guittard Chocolates". Now while this label was terrific in and of itself, it’s always happy times when chocolate shows up at your door, what made it truly exceptional is another marking that read, "eleven (11) lbs." Eleven lbs of chocolate. Do you have any idea of what 11 lbs of chocolate looks like? I will tell you what it looks like – it looks like you’re going to have a good day – or week, depending on how long the chocolate lasts.

Enclosed in the box were chocolate bars, cacao wafers, cocoa powder, drinking chocolate and chocolate chips, basically everything a chocoholic needs in case of a natural disaster.

Clearly, in order to review them all properly I had to immediately start on sampling them individually (and due to the quantity of chocolate, this review will span more than one blog post).

The first things that caught my eye were, the big boxes of E.Guittard Cacao Wafers: White Chocolate (31%), Milk Chocolate (38%), Semisweet Chocolate (61%) and Bittersweet Chocolate (72%). The boxes were nice and hefty, which I found deeply satisfying. I liked lifting them up and wielding all that chocolate. It gave me a sense of power and invincibility.

The wafers are marked “for baking and eating” and they are also outstanding just by themselves. All the chocolates are creamy and have a luxurious chocolate/nutty aftertaste. If you were so inclined to share, they would be lovely in a candy dish for guests. However, I was more intrigued by the recipe on the back: E.Guittard Chocolate Cupcakes and White Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting (though I used Milk Chocolate instead of White Chocolate for the frosting though.)

The recipe is very simple but produced great results (I have copied it below because I can’t find it currently on the Guittard website, but I encourage you to visit their site for other recipes created in their own kitchens). The wafers all melted so easily in the double boiler and the cupcakes turned out “delish.” The cake part of the cupcake was moist, flavorful but not too sweet and the sour cream frosting had a great balance of sour and sweet. The only thing lacking was my frosting skills, a deficiency that was probably were exacerbated by the fact I just let the frosting cool and didn’t beat it and refrigerate it overnight as the recipe calls for. But as my mother always said (while my sisters and I were beating each other for the best slice of frosted birthday cake, which is the corner slice that has the flower), it all looks the same when it’s in your mouth

While the cupcakes were cooling and awaiting frosting, I decided to make some drinking chocolate. You have to have something with your chocolate cupcake – right?

The drinking chocolate is heavenly from the moment you open the canister and inhale the rich chocolatey aroma to when you are sipping the unusually rich drink. Usually when I make hot chocolate, I make a mini paste of cocoa, sugar (& sometimes cinnamon) with a small amount of milk and then add it to my heated milk. But no matter how I beat the mixture, I always end up with sad little clumps of chocolate at the bottom of my pan. In contrast, this drinking chocolate just mixes so easily with no clumping – a real treat on many levels, including the assurance that you've got all the chocolate.

I know what some of you are thinking: hot drinking chocolate with a chocolate cupcake with chocolate sour cream frosting...chocolate overload. But for me, I say, bring it on.


E.Guittard Chocolate Cupcakes
A rich chocolate cupcake is complimented with the color and flavor of white chocolate sour cream frosting. Makes 12 cupcakes.

1 ½ cups (8 ounces) E.Guittard 72% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Wafers
½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
¾ cup unbleached all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line 12 cupcake forms with paper liners

Melt wafers and butter in the top of a double boiler over low heat, stirring constantly until melted and smooth. Transfer to a large bowl and beat in sugar, then eggs and vanilla until glossy. Stir in flour just until incorporated.

Fill lined cups ¾ full. Bake 25 – 30 minutes or until tops are rounded and puffy. A toothpick inserted in center will still have moist crumbs clinging to it. Cool completely before frosting tops.

White Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting
1 cup (6oz) E.Guittard 31% Cacao White Chocolate Wafers
½ cup sour cream
1/8 tsp vanilla extract

Melt white chocolate and sour cream in the top of a double boiler over low heat stirring constantly until smooth. Stir in vanilla, transfer to a large mixing bowl and chill for 2 hours or overnight. Whip for about 1 -2 minutes at high speed, stopping to scrape bottom and sides as needed, until frosting lightens in color and a good spreading consistency is achieved. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Frosting can be prepared in advance.

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