Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My Mom's Flourless Chocolate Cake

So my mom makes a flourless chocolate cake.  A parve flourless chocolate cake.  And it is seriously among the world's greatest chocolate products.  When photographed by a terrible photographer using the world's worst camera phone, it looks like this:


The recipe can be found here.  Now the secret is out.

One time I tried to make a vegan version of this cake for a friend.  Instead of eggs, I tried using flax and water.  Smart idea.  What I didn't know was that to use that combination to replace eggs, the two must be very vigorously stirred together until they form an egg-like consistency.  So instead I half-heartedly stirred them and threw them into the mix.

So anyways, that is a story about how I boiled a cake.

Bottom Line: I don't even try to bake anymore.  But you should, using this recipe.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

How to the Throw a Chocolate Seder

Happy Passover! I hope your holiday is off to a good start. I'm enjoying Passover so far, but perhaps not as much as I enjoyed it the time that David and I hosted a chocolate seder.

Today I'm going to walk you through what our seder table looked like, just in case you, too, want to have a chocolate seder. (Hint: you probably do.)

We did a lot of reading about chocolate seders before we embarked on our own, and by and large what we found was that other people would have chocolate seder plates but would just eat normal festive meals. We wanted to go harder than that. (Surprise.) So we set ourselves a challenge: every dish on the table must include chocolate.

Chocolate NYC: go big or go home.

Here's how we did it.

Instead of four glasses of wine... drink four glasses of chocolate milk.

Instead of matzah... buy chocolate matzah, or make your own.

On the seder plate:
- In place of an egg, use a Cadbury Creme Egg.
- In place of bitter herbs, you can use shaved unsweetened chocolate. Or you can melt down a bar of bakers chocolate and mix nibs into it, if you want a more spreadable texture.
- For greens, use green M & Ms or other little colored candies. Or, just use celery and parsley like normal, but dip them in a bowl of chocolate syrup with sea salt, rather than a bowl of salt water.
- Make normal haroset, then throw in some mini chocolate chips once it's done.
- The shank bone is a challenge. We could not find a shank bone-shaped chocolate bar. Instead we just bought a block of white chocolate and carved it to resemble a shank bone, as our friend Kasey models here:

For the festive meal:
This is where the going gets tough. The most obvious choice for a main course is chicken mole, since mole is, after all, chocolate sauce. However, if you're drinking four cups of chocolate milk and you keep kosher, you need a meat-free meal. So, unfortunately, no chicken mole.

Here's what we did, instead:

-Salad with chocolate dressing.

-Gluten-free gnocchi that we added some cocoa powder into. I should note: this tasted terrible. Gluten-free gnocchi is challenging enough to get right. Once you start throwing in cocoa powder, you're really in No Man's Land.

A better suggestion would be to just make the gluten-free gnocchi-- or even invest in some of that yucky store-bought kosher-for-Passove spaghetti-- and then make a chocolate sauce to go over it. I used a chocolate tomato sauce recipe from the Ghiradelli Chocolate Cookbook that wasn't as chocolate-y as we'd wanted, but here's a recipe for chocolate hazelnut cream sauce that seems like it might work better.

-A sweet kugel (like this one, for example) that we thew chocolate chips into.

For dessert, you can't go wrong. We served David's mom's famous flourless chocolate cake. But you could also do fruit with chocolate fondue, or chocolate sponge cake with chocolate whipped cream, or chocolate mousse... I mean, it's dessert. You've got this.

BOTTOM LINE: There is no holiday that, with a little ingenuity and effort, can't be turned into a chocolate feast.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Returning Home

Washington, D.C.

From Chapel Hill, we drove up to Washington, DC.  This is another tale about the value of friendship: I did not have time to procure any chocolate for myself, but my friend Mick came through in the clutch (again) and delivered three chocolate bars (of which I selected two to keep)!  They were both from Salazon Chocolate Co.  

is it weird to review gifts?

The first was "sea salt and coffee," which does not sound like something I would like, but I found myself shocked to be enjoying it thoroughly!  It's easily the best coffee-infused chocolate bar I've ever had, though in all fairness this is a low bar.  The other bar was pure sea salt.  And I mean that (almost literally).  It is honestly one of the saltiest things I've ever tasted.  Like, it's saltier than just eating table salt.  Which is something I've been known to do.  But my personal problems aside, this bar is for the intense salt fan, who does not stop at pouring bottles of Morton's down his or her throat.


I finally returned home, accompanied by the tiniest baby.  Waiting for me at home, to my near-chagrin, were boxes of chocolate.  My real estate agent, with whom I have not spoken since getting my apartment over 6 years earlier, had sent me a box of Richart bonbons.  

Hot off that stunninig success, I was quite excited.  Alas, even the "pure" chocolate pieces were not rich enough, and the flavors were uninteresting.  It came with a sheet of pure chocolate, which was a little waxy.  Perhaps Richart in the US is very different from the Richart in France.

That said, I also had waiting a box of Chocolate Bar bonbons, which knocked Richart right out of the park.  They were excellent. 

They were not quite at the level of, say, Stephan Dumon, and they were about a half-step behind the offerings at the Chocolate Door, but they were still really excellent -- closer to the near-perfect Dumon bonbons than to the box of Richart I'd just sampled.  This is our third time reviewing Chocolate Bar, and we've had consistently great experiences.

But honestly, that was just the beginning.  There was also a milk chocolate bar, from Anne Taintor, which was almost indistinguishable from the one I bought at the Belgian tourist shop -- same ingredients, with the same cacao content.  

The US bar had a slightly creamier texture, but they were so similar that it would be impossible to pick a favorite between them.

I also received a Fairytale-brand brownie.  

Actually, two of them.  They were surprisingly excellent, not just for prepackaged brownies, but for any brownie.  They were fudgey, fun, and delicious.

Lastly, my friend Ellie brought over her amazing chocolate cake and her dad's literally professional chocolate mousse.  Wow.

Seriously, guys.  Friends: I recommend them.

Chocolate Tasting:

Finally, I had a chance to sit down with Leila and my friend Austin and do a tasting of a few of the chocolates I'd saved from Europe.

First, we went over the five bars from Del Ray in Antwerp.  This was an interesting experience, because first we ate them in decreasing percentages, but then i did a blind taste test to pick favorites.  I never believed that the order was too important, but boy was I wrong.  When you do a blind taste test, switching back and forth among the different percentages until you settle on an ordered list of favorites, it becomes very clear that the sweetest will win.  If you eat a piece of chocolate and follow it up with a higher percentage piece, it just won't taste as good.  While my initial list was probably 66% Carribean, 72% Venezuelan, 54.5% Blend, 70% Sao Tome, 85% Ecuador, my blind taste test list was 66% Carribean, 54.5% Blend, 70% Sao Tome, 85% Ecuador.  Basically, the 72% Venezuela bar really suffered for its higher percentage.  That said, the lower percentage bars here were truly excellent.  When I tried the blend, I was shocked at how uncandy-like it was given how sweet it was.

Leila and Austin did not agree with me, but they didn't like any of the bars as much as I did.  Their order was the same -- Venezuela, Sao Tome, Ecuador, Carribean, Blend.  They did not appreciate the sweetness of the lower percentage bars.  That said, we all generally agreed that the Sao Tome was just sort of a more bland version of the Venezuela

We made a spreadsheet of our comments:


Anyways, we also taste-tested three different mint-flavored bars.  I didn't like any of them.  But we all agreed that the Zaabar bar was the best, followed by the Dolfin bar, and the 1888 bar wasn't even in the running.  We all hated the 1888 bar.  Leila noted that it tastes like the Dentist.  The Dolfin was definitely the most complex flavor wise.  I was dubious of the overly-natural taste in the Zaabar bar, but Austin and Leila loved it.

We also tried the two "original recipe" bars from the Choco-Story Museum.  Both were stone ground, which Leila cannot tolerate and Austin thought was weird.  The Aztec bar was more finely ground than the Spanish.  But flavor-wise, we all agreed that the Spanish combination of flavors was vastly superior.

Whichever peppers and spices they put in there were definitely a historical improvement.  I actually enjoyed it, despite the spice, which I never would have expected.

Lastly, we reviewed my top two truffles from Europe.

We agreed that the Mary truffle tasted like fudge, and childhood.  I preferred it slightly, but Leila and Austin agreed that Chapon had created pretty much the Platonic Ideal of the truffle.  Hard to dispute.

Bottom Line: I lead a very difficult life.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Bergers Cookies

My friend and fellow dessert-lover Kate raved to me about Bergers Cookies for ages. Kate is the girl who once led all her friends on an eleven-stop cupcake walking tour around NYC for her birthday. So I know that if Kate recommends a baked good, I should take it seriously.

Bergers is a Baltimore institution, dating back to 1835. They have won all sorts of "Best in Baltimore" awards over the years. As far as I can tell from their website, all they make is various iterations of this one cookie, which are prepackaged and sold through loads of grocers and retailers throughout the Mid-Atlantic region.

Kate got married last month, and she had her aunt bring a box of these cookies to the wedding for me from Baltimore. A lot of effort went into getting these Bergers Cookies into my hands. That is true dedication, since Kate had other stuff on her mind at the time; for example, getting married.

Unfortunately, I did not love the Bergers like Kate does. They are plain vanilla cookies with gobs of chocolate fudge on top. One of my co-workers described them as tasting "like the black side of a black-and-white cookie."

This is just a personal preference thing, because I don't really like black-and-white cookies. I don't even like fudge, as it is usually too sugary and not enough chocolatey. With the Bergers, the cookie itself tasted too plain and boring to me. Plus, it's prepackaged by necessity, and I'm afraid that never does any favors to a cookie's freshness and moistness. And the fudge on top wasn't a rich enough chocolate for my tastes. I even found myself pulling off some of the fudge topping; the cookie tasted too saccharine with all the coating on.

Kate grew up with Bergers, and I imagine that plays a role in our discrepant fondness, as well. I grew up with Oreos, so I still love them. But I think if you gave a fully-formed adult with an adult palate an Oreo for the first time, he or she would not be impressed.

BOTTOM LINE: If you're a fan of black-and-white cookies and/or chocolate fudge, Bergers may be the cookies of your dreams. But if you're looking for a darker, less sugary chocolate, these are probably not for you.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Clinton Street Baking Company Pancake Month

This is not a useful thing for you to know right now, but it will become a useful thing for you know in roughly eleven months: February is Pancake Month at Clinton Street Baking Company. Every day they offer a different, amazing pancake, including a few with chocolate. For example, this year they offered one option that was German chocolate pancakes with roasted organic pecans, caramel, fresh coconut, and bittersweet chocolate sauce. And they offered this one on the day that my friends and I went:

"What is that monster?!" you are wondering. Promotional copy from the Clinton Street Baking Co.'s website tells us it's "crunchy bananas with cinnamon-chili-chocolate sauce." I would add that it's phenomenal. The chocolate sauce was so high-quality (and not spicy-- don't let that "chili" put you off), and the fried bananas were a work of art. Fried bananas plus high-quality chocolate sauce plus some of NYC's best pancakes equals one of my favorite meals of the year. Because, did I mention? It's pancakes. Not just chocolate. Therefore this is dinner. Not just dessert. Yes.

BOTTOM LINE: Time to start counting down the days until Pancake Month 2014...

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Baked Hot Chocolate

When I saw a recipe on the Huffington Post for a dessert called baked hot chocolate, there was no doubt in my mind that I needed to make it. There was no doubt in my mind, even though this thing could clearly kill you. Let me level with you here. This recipe calls for four ingredients. They are as follows:

1) eggs
2) butter
3) sugar
4) chocolate

It's really hard to figure out what the make-believe health food is in here. You know, like when you bake brownies and put walnuts in them and you get to be like, "Oh, the walnuts have protein"? Or when you eat chocolate-covered strawberries because strawberries are a fruit and probably have antioxidents or something (don't quote me on that)?

Yeah. This recipe doesn't have any of that.

What it does have going for it is that it tastes amazing. The article about it says, "Maybe you're in the mood for hot chocolate. Maybe you're in the mood for chocolate pudding. Maybe you're in the mood for molten chocolate cake. How about all three together?"

Allow me to simplify that statement: this is a bowl filled exclusively with a chocolate substance that tastes like the inside, hot, melty bit of a chocolate lava cake. There's just none of that cake bullshit dragging it down.

BOTTOM LINE: If you have heart problems, don't eat this dish. What are you, suicidal? But if you're me, and you just came home from a full sixty minutes of Pilates and therefore feel like you're entitled to eat anything in the kitchen, then what are you waiting for? You can make this. It only takes four ingredients.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Chocolate Door, Chapel Hill

I flew from Belgium to Atlanta, and quickly hitched a ride up to North Carolina to hear some crazy people preach the good word.  I met up with our Favorite Commenter, who tipped me off that there was an excellent chocolate shop next door!  It was closed that evening, but I made sure to stop by the next morning before our drive to DC.

everything inside of here was delicious.

We arrived just before it opened, and they were in no mood to let me in a few minutes early, despite that we were on our way out of town.  We waited, and once they opened up they sort of unceramoniously gave me a box of some remarkably exquisite bon bons.  I felt like I was back in France, both from the quality and the unfriendliness!  What a perfect segue back to the US.

I also discovered that the shop was to close in less than two weeks time, which I understand it has since done.  So this review is basically just to rub in your face that even after my return to the US I was eating delicious chocolate that you can't have.

Bottom Line: If they had been a little nicer, I'd be quite broken up about the fact that they no longer exist.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Belgium #4

Alright, guys.  We're almost out of Europe.  I know, it's been an ordeal.  Who needs their socialist chocolate, anyways?

(I do.)



Del Ray:

I got off the train from Bruges and landed back in Antwerp.  I was short on time, so I hightailed it to Del Ray, the top recommendation of basically everyone.

I got a chocolate cake thing.  It was incredible.  The second best of the trip, after Peclard's.  I got a chocolate macaron that was totally up to Parisian standards.  I got a good, but not great, truffle.  And I ordered a dark chocolate bonbon, but they gave me a hazelnut one, and it was still pretty good.

I also got a pack of five origin chocolate bars, which I ate with Leila upon my return:

this blog is basically the usual suspects minus kevin spacey and a plot.

That review is forthcoming.

Overall, Del Ray was probably my favorite in Antwerp, but as a patisserie more than as a chocolatier.


I walked around for a bit, looking for Chocolatier Burie.  I found two stores right next to each other -- Chocolatier Burie and Confiserie Burie.  To this day I'm not sure whether this was a Dumon situation or whether the two were related.  If they were related, they were set up very differently.  The confiserie was basically a candy shop.  They sold lots of bars of Cafetasse-brand chocolate.  I bought some milk chocolate and dark chocolate hands.  The milk was better -- it reminded me of the European chocolate my family would bring back for me as a kid.  The dark chocolate was good too, but a bit brittle -- it reminded me of the chocolate at Stef's.  I also got a dark truffle, which was okay and a milk truffle, which was not great.

Chocolatier Burie looked like a much more serious... chocolatier.  I bought a 73% bonbon, and it was excellent.  The best bonbon I got in Antwerp, near the level of Dumon in Bruges.

dressed to impress.

I also bought a bar from each of the two places:

i found most bars in belgium were pretty hard to distinguish, once unwrapped.
From L to R: Chocolatier Burie, Confiserie Burie, Chocolate Line (from Bruges)
I liked the bar from Chocolatier Burie better than the bar from Confiserie Burie, though this was far from consensus.  The Chocolatier bar was more serious, definitely legit, and way better than even the one from the Real Dumon.  The other was sweeter, which made it relatively popular.  It was definitely not bad.

Chateau Blanc:

I raced to make it to Chateau Blanc before it closed.  I did not succeed.  But they had a stall still open at a nearby market/carnival, so I went by and sampled some truffles.  The dark chocolate truffle was only okay, but the heavily-dusted Cacao Truffle was truly excellent.  The best I'd had since Brussels.

Paster Snack:

After doing the Antwerp Circuit, I met up with my cousins.  They, as I've mentioned, are chassidic, so we rolled into an extremely kosher pizza place and ordered chocolate cake and ice cream.  There was a lot of hubbub.  I am still not entirely sure what was going on.  About an hour and a half later, one of their employees comes in the door with a container of ice cream.  We think they ran out to the store to buy some?  Anyways, the ice cream was not important.  The cake was actually surprisingly good, given that I had just eaten twelve million pounds of chocolate, plus dinner.  It just confirms Our Favorite Commenter Veronica's point that it's the kosher parve stuff that's not so good -- when milk is allowed, kosher desserts are fine.


But my cousins were far-from-finished.  They loaded me up with kosher Belgian chocolate for the road.  Along with a seriously adorable note made by their children:


But if we ever wanted evidence of Veronica's point, this is it.  Actually, the best stuff they gave me here was the white chocolate -- and I have never said that before in my life.  Particularly the white chocolate with the milk chocolate/hazelnut filling.  That was just amazing.  But even the plain white bar was great.

The dark pieces were ok, but they had lost their tempter, were very sweet, were brittle and dry, and were not the highest quality.  Of course my friend Annie loved them.  Even the dark chocolate filled with dark chocolate/hazelnut filling was not so good... way worse than the white chocolate, and dry.  Parve strikes.

You may actually notice some milk chocolate there.  I don't know what it tasted like, because it got eaten along with the gelt.

I was also given some Mazel Tov-brand chocolate ruggelach, which was also parve and also not good.  Or chocolatey at all.  It tasted like regular bread.  Which I guess isn't so bad, now that I think about it, but it's not chocolate.

But I don't want to get down on the stuff I was given, because that is seriously some of the best white chocolate I've ever had.  A new discovery!

Bottom Line: Taking all the cities in Belgium together might not get you the sheer quantity of ridiculously high quality chocolate that you have in Paris alone, but it's Bruges and Antwerp that just really cannot begin to compare.  Brussels is actually pulling its weight nicely.  So, my review of Belgium: worth a trip, if you're already in Europe.