Finding the Perfect Partner
Pastry chefs play matchmaker with new twists on Chocolate.
Chocolate, like romantic love, can become overbearing without a bit of surprise. I learned the latter the hard way and the former from a dense mousselike confection called chocolate marquise, which I offered at many restaurants and in many guises in my career as a chef.
On its own, the marquise—like some chocolate-centric desserts—is almost too much in its one-dimensional richness, so I was always experimenting with sauces and garnishes to keep it lively. Hazelnut brittle or espresso crème anglaise worked well. Fresh strawberries or mango puree, not so much.
My marquise days came to mind recently when I was served a whimsical bittersweet chocolate torta studded with pistachios and candied cacao nibs at Shakewell in Oakland, and a nearly identical cake garnished with pomegranate seeds at Danville’s Bridges Restaurant and Bar.
Each dessert was so good yet the garnishes were so different. How did the chefs know what made for a winning combination?
It turns out, seasonality is key. “I do it backwards,” says Stephanie Yu, pastry chef of Bridges. “I’ll see what’s in season and then figure out what chocolate works with that.” Winter’s citrus, for instance, might inspire burnt orange ice cream. That idea gets Yu fancying milk chocolate with qualities that “bring out the floral profile in the citrus.” Yu completes the circle by creating a milk chocolate cake paired with the ice cream and caramelized Rice Krispies clusters. This creates and highlights contrasting textures and temperatures.
Christopher Blue, founder of Chocolatier Blue in Berkeley and beyond, suggests following the season because it “forces you to come up with new ideas.” Blue’s holiday truffle selection included figgy pudding, poached pear, and even sweet potato casserole. Complex flavors such as these (the Comice pears are poached in thyme and Chardonnay; the fresh figs are roasted for hours with cloves and red wine) might come with a mild white chocolate filling in a thin milk chocolate shell. He reserves dark chocolate, with its varying degrees of bitterness and acidity, for subtle or single-note flavors, such as lemon verbena or crushed red pepper.
For Mary Jo Thoresen, one of the two pastry chefs at Berkeley’s Chez Panisse, “it’s how everything tastes separately and how it tastes together,” she says. “I might think I’d like candied almonds on a particular dessert, but after tasting the whole dessert together—this happened just last night—they put it out of balance. So plain toasted nuts it is.”
At Chez Panisse, seasonality is paramount. On the cusp of winter, Thoresen’s warm chocolate fondant might bed down with pear sherbet, while a mignardise—a bite-sized confection—of tangerine peel would find a dark chocolate coat. Thoresen also finds flavoring inspiration in the liquor cabinet. “One of my all-time favorite combinations with chocolate is Chartreuse,” she says. “Whether it’s a Chartreuse ice cream with chocolate cake or Chartreuse ice cream in a profiterole with chocolate sauce, it’s delicious.”
Chartreuse, a botanical liqueur made by Carthusian monks, seems the unlikeliest of catalysts for a sinful dessert—or so I thought until Michael Iles, executive chef of Build Pizzeria Roma in Berkeley, showed me his dessert menu. Iles’ perennial favorite is a dense cakelike creation called “Chocolate Insanity.” Depending on the time of year, Iles might serve it with a sauce of burnt maple and candy cap mushrooms, or a bitter-sweet chocolate sauce spiked with candied jalapeño. I lack Iles’ imagination, but his approach is basically the same as mine: Find enticing twists for a signature dessert.
For all this creativity, the flavor accompaniment deemed most popular by local chefs is toasted nuts covered with silky caramel. That pairing constitutes the cuddling partner for chocolate—a practical and comfortable marriage that apparently packs enough excitement to keep the attraction going.
Pastry chefs’ passionate explorations with chocolate just might hold the key to a truly stimulating and long-lasting relationship: Keep it fresh. Keep it interesting. And in
the end, make sure it’s about the chocolate.
Sourcing the Chocolate:
Christopher Blue says big-name European chocolate factories have become massive, old, and revenue focused. When choosing a cooking chocolate from the aisles of most gourmet markets, “you might as well throw a dart at a board; they are all the same.” But three artisan producers newly founded in America are making chocolate “above and beyond any other in the world.”
In San Francisco’s Mission District (information on tours, classes, and local retailers available online), dandelionchocolate.com.
In Denver, ritualchocolate.com.
In Salt Lake City, solsticechocolate.com.
Scroll down to find recipes for Mary Jo Thoresen’s (Chez Panisse) ganache tart; spiced truffles from Chocolatier Blue’s Christopher Blue; and chocolate cherry scones courtesy of Bridges’ pastry chef Stephanie Yu.
Makes about two dozen 1-ounce truffles
This recipe comes from Christopher Blue, owner of Chocolatier Blue in Berkeley. You can use a favorite herb or spice in place of the red pepper flakes and/or substitute a small amount of liqueur for cream.
1 cup cream, preferably from Strauss Family Creamery
Good pinch of fleur de sel (gray sea salt)
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1½ cups melted high quality 75-percent cocoa dark chocolate
1 stick butter, preferably from Strauss Family Creamery
High-quality cocoa powder for coating
- In a saucepan, heat cream, salt, and red pepper flakes to 180 degrees. Allow to steep for two minutes.
- Meanwhile, in a separate saucepan, gently melt dark chocolate with butter.
- Mix the cream and chocolate mixtures together with a hand blender and pour into a small bowl. Cover and let sit in refrigerator for 12 hours.
- Scoop with a melon baller, dipping the melon baller in simmering water in between scoops.
- Drop the truffle in high-quality cocoa powder and roll around until fully coated.
- Store in refrigerator but serve at room temperature.
Chez Panisse Chocolate Ganache Tart
Makes one 9-inch tart
This recipe comes from pastry chef Mary Jo Thoresen of Chez Panisse in Berkeley: “We often serve this with a clear caramel sauce flavored with liquor, espresso, orange, or tangerine juice. For garnish, we really like candied tangerine peel or candied nuts, and we serve lightly sweetened crème Chantilly on the side. We often put a piece of silver or gold leaf on the tart. It looks stunning.”
While the ganache recipe yields enough for a single 9-inch tart, the pâte sucrée recipe makes enough dough for multiple large tarts or tartlets. You can store any extra dough in a plastic freezer bag for up to two months.
Ingredients for the pâte sucrée:
1 pound butter
8 ounces sugar
1½ pounds flour
½ teaspoon salt
1 whole egg
Method for the pâte sucrée:
- In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugar until smooth but not fluffy.
- Toss flour with salt and add to mixture, stirring just to combine.
- Add egg to bind.
- Weigh out dough, usually one ounce per inch of tart shell. Form into balls, flatten, and chill for at least an hour.
- Roll each out on a generously floured board and line tart shell(s). Freeze about 30 minutes or until completely firm.
- Heat oven to 325 degrees. Bake 20–25 minutes, or until golden brown.
Ingredients for chocolate ganache:
10 ounces of the best tasting chocolate you can find. (We like to use Amano Guyas or Dos Rios. You can combine bitter and bittersweet, or semisweet. It depends on your taste.)
10 ounces cream
- Chop chocolate into small and even pieces. Put into a heatproof bowl.
- Bring cream to a boil and pour it over the chocolate, making sure all the chocolate is submerged. Cover with a piece of plastic and let it sit for a minute or two.
- Remove plastic and stir with a whisk in a small circular motion, starting in the center and stirring slowly until the ganache comes together.
- Pour into the prebaked tart shell(s) and put in a cool place to set until firm. Do not refrigerate. It’s best to slice with a very thin sharp knife. Dip knife in hot water and wipe clean before cutting each slice.
This incredibly rich dessert is easy to make, but does use raw eggs and a lot of pans. It can be made well ahead and frozen. The recipe is from the Masters restaurant at the Westin Kauai resort. Serve it with your favorite sauce and/or garnishes.
10 ¾ ounces good-quality chocolate
14 egg yolks
14 ounces (2 cups) sugar
24 ounces butter
9 ounces (2 2/3 cups) unsweetened cocoa powder
4 cups heavy cream
- Melt chocolate in microwave or gently over a double boiler. Let cool slightly.
- With an electric mixer, whip egg yolks and sugar until pale yellow and custardlike (about seven minutes) and transfer to a very large bowl.
- Melt butter and combine with cocoa powder in a bowl.
- Whip cream in electric mixer until just stiff.
- Fold melted chocolate into egg-sugar mix.
- Fold butter-cocoa powder mixture into chocolate-egg-sugar mix. It will look broken, but don't worry.
- Whisk in a third of the whipped cream. Fold in the rest.
- Line a standard bread pan with plastic wrap, letting excess wrap hang over sides.
- Transfer marquise to bread pan and tap pan on counter to settle the mixture. Cover top with excess plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours. Will keep for three days in refrigerator or for a month in freezer. If frozen, let soften in refrigerator overnight before serving.
- To serve, remove marquise from bread pan and unwrap. Cut into eight 1-inch slices and then cut each slice in half (or slice what you need and return the rest to refrigerator). Place half-slices onto chilled plates. Sauce and/or garnish as desired. Finish with a light dusting of cocoa powder or powdered sugar.
Cherry Chocolate Scones
Makes 12 scones
This recipe comes from Stephanie Lu, pastry chef at Bridges Restaurant and Bar in Danville. It is adapted from a recipe by The Cheeseboard Collective.
3½ cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¾ cup sugar
8 ounces cold butter, cubed
½ cup mini chocolate chips
½ cup dried sour cherries
¾ cup cream
¾ cup buttermilk
One egg, beaten
Turbinado sugar for garnish
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar.
- Add in butter and mix on low speed until pea sized but still cold.
- Stir in chocolate chips and dried cherries.
- Add cream and buttermilk, and mix on low speed until dough comes together.
- Scoop with a 4-ounce ice cream scoop onto a parchment-lined cookie tray and brush each scone with egg wash (beaten egg).
- Sprinkle with turbinado sugar and bake at until golden brown, about 15 minutes.