My idea of heaven: walking amidst 100 acres of cacao trees, their delicate little white flowers turning into football-sized, purplish-red pods that cling to the trunk and branches. They don’t smell like chocolate but are bursting with the promise of what’s to come.
Completing the Valrhona Master Chocolatier program this spring was both exciting and intimidating. At l’École du Grand Chocolat in France, Chef Christophe Domange began by having us make a “chablon,” a paper-thin sheet of chocolate on a large square of acetate.
My daughter, my sister, and a good friend kept urging me to learn how to make caramel. Just about everybody loves caramel, they insisted, even if I don’t. Well, I guess they were right, because salted dark caramel was my top seller this holiday season. Two people alone bought a total of 33 boxes.
People often ask me what the “best” chocolate is; my usual response is whatever chocolate you enjoy most. But there are big differences in the chocolates we eat, and some are made with barely any real chocolate. A quick way to tell is to check the list of ingredients.
Although I love creating different flavor combinations with chocolate, sometimes the chocolate itself is so good it deserves to stand entirely on its own. That’s the case with the Peruvian Gold bonbons I’ve been making with a single-origin chocolate produced with Gran Blanco cacao beans from the tropical forests of northern Peru.
Combining unusual flavors with chocolate, especially savory ingredients, is a growing trend. I’ve tasted a few that I really like—curry or wasabi, for example. Others, such as Parmesan cheese, truffle oil, or caramelized garlic, completely undo the pleasure of chocolate for me. Yet part of the fun of making chocolates is dreaming up flavor combinations in your head, then trying to create something that lives up to the taste you imagined.
I’m always on the lookout for new chocolates to taste. Every once in a while I find one that makes me swoon. Madre Chocolate’s Likao Kula Farm 70% bar, made with Kona cacao beans from Hawaii, has a wonderfully full chocolate taste and a smooth texture.