1.11.2011

Chocolate-Making Classes


Clive (my partner) is teaching beginning chocolate-making at our shop in Berkeley. 


Learn the tricks and techniques of making delicious chocolates!


This one day, 3 hour hands-on class covers:

* chocolate structure and tempering

* making ganache and truffle centers

* using molds to make bon-bons

* enrobing and dipping



Offered Monday & Wednesday evenings

6-9pm

Cost $110

Includes notes and recipes and a take home box of chocolates you made, or a selection from our case.

Class limited to six people

No chocolate experience necessary



Call 510 525 9626 to reserve or email cliveeta(at)yahoo(dot)com

1709 Solano Ave Berkeley CA 94707

www.thexocolatebar.com

1.05.2011

2011 Chocolate Trends

Greetings from La Serena, Chile! I´m down here visiting my grandparents and decompressing from a more than hectic December. As you may or may not know, the chocolate business is extremely seasonal; as soon as the weather chills we work nonstop until Christmas. We participated in a number of craftsfairs as well as having the shop open and I´m happy to say that sales were up almost 50% from last year!!

I got to thinking about what´s in store for 2011 and here´s what I predict:

Out with the Old?:
As a creative person, it can be extremely frustrating to find out that what you thought was unique is actually commonplace. When we first began making chocolates in 2006, only a small handful of chocolatiers was experimenting with unusual and exotic flavor combinations like we were. Now you can´t buy an organic espresso without running into a chipotle-smoked salt-something-or-other. I love experimenting with new flavors but alas, a few ingredients have peaked and passed on to practically snore-worthy status: Bacon, salt, chili peppers & lavender. Perhaps they´ve reached the status of "New Classics," but they´re certainly not raising many eyebrows in Berkeley anymore.

Vegan goes Mainstream:
We´ve been feeding the masses vegan chocolates since 2006 and mostly keeping it secret because many of our clients are afraid of the word. Now it seems that veganism has been accepted by the popular media and I predict a glut of artisan chocolatiers will soon enough flood the market with non-dairy treats.

Back to Basics with the Volume Turned Up:
Did I just quote the Barefoot Contessa? Oh yes I did. If food television has taught me anything, it´s that the most mouthwatering recipes are those that you can actually imagine. Sure, a Buddha´s Hand truffle tastes amazing, but when you´re describing it to someone who´s never tried one, the magic is lost in translation. Our most popular flavors have been tried and true classics with a gourmet twist. For example, our number one seller is now our "OMG Bar": everybody´s favorite salted caramel with the crunch of honey roasted almonds. Perhaps the Great Recession has made us all a little less willing to take a risk on a wild flavor we may not like. I predict that many chocolatiers will be trying to reinvent the Snickers Bar in the coming months.

12.08.2010

This Month's Box, December 2010

This time of the year we put together our "Best of The Xocolate Bar" collection--our top 10 most popular flavors out of the hundreds we've tried since our inception. It even comes with a flavor guide so you know what's what :-).
Happy Holidays from Malena and the gang at The Xocolate Bar. May you have peace and joy

11.21.2010

Holiday Madness


We've been making chocolates like mad!
We've got some great events lined up this season and we hope you can join us. Here's the schedule:

November 27 & 28:
Celebration of Craftswomen
Herbst Pavillion, Fort Mason, San Francisco
Amazing juried art fair benefiting The Women's Building

December 3, 4, & 5:
Dance Palace Crafts Fair
Point Reyes, CA
A sweet little holiday fair in bucolic West Marin
(CANCELLED)

December 3 & 4:
Richmond Art Center Holiday Arts Festival
Richmond, CA
Benefiting the Richmond Art Center

December 4 & 5:
Second weekend of Celebration of Craftswomen
Herbst Pavilion, Fort Mason, San Francisco

December 11 & 12:
KPFA Crafts Fair
The Concourse, San Francisco
An awe-inspiring juried art fair benefiting KPFA 94.1fm free speech radio

11.08.2010

Spices Galore in Santa Rosa

Our beloved helper, Shana, turned us onto a new destination in Santa Rosa called Savory Spice Shop. As soon as you walk in you're greeted by the heady scent of hundreds of different herbs and spices.

The walls are lined with jars of freshly ground seasonings, which the friendly staff gladly lets you taste if you ask nicely. They have everything from black cardamom and authentic wasabi to hickory smoked barbeque rubs and candied ginger.

The highlight for me was the cinnamon section, which had 4 or 5 different varieties on display. My favorite was the Saigon cinnamon which has a natural sweetness to it followed by a red hot sting. I think it's the same type of cinnamon they use in those gummy Red Hot candies. We picked up some of that to put into our chocolates, along with organic mace for my pumpkin pie truffle, organic sage and a Moroccan spice blend.

The chili section was especially well stocked, and though I was tempted by the ghost chilies (over a million scoville units), my better judgement decided against it. Check out this video of a man eating one; the fireworks start at around the 1 minute mark and go on to totally ruin his day.

Cayenne and chipotle are spicy enough for me :-)

11.07.2010

This Month's Box, November 2010

Bonbons (left to right):

~Rum Raisin  (golden raisins soaked in caramelly Dominican rum, then pureed with dark chocolate)

~Moroccan Spiced Date (with cinnamon, turmeric, nutmeg, mace, white pepper, galangal, black and green cardamom, ginger, anise, allspice, rose petals & cloves)

~Gianduja (smooth organic hazelnut chocolate filling)

~Pomegranate (dark chocolate and pomegranate syrup ganache in a white shell)

~Saigon Cinnamon (sweet/hot cinnamon ganache in dark chocolate)

~Almond Butter Cup (organic almond butter, maple sugar, brown sugar & sea salt)

~Midnight Truffle (80% cacao)

~Brandied Cherry (plump black cherry soaked in homemade brandy syrup)

~Sage Truffle (a delicate herbal white ganache in a dark shell)

~Pumpkin Pie Truffle (with organic pumpkin puree, brown sugar, Saigon cinnamon, Mexican cinnamon, mace, and Chinese 5 spice)

~Maple Walnut Caramel (with a bit of puffed rice for a crispy chew)

As always, the fruits, nuts, herbs, cream and agave nectar are organic whenever humanly possible.

Bar:

~Homegrown Fig Bar (Dark chocolate sprinkled with dehydrated fig slices, grown on our friend Elizabeth's tree)
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11.01.2010

Dia de los Muertos

chocolate calaveras
With the spookiness of Halloween behind us it's time to celebrate one of my favorite holidays: Dia de los Muertos.

While I love costumes and candy, I'm the type of girl that has nightmares for months after seeing just a preview of a horror flick. That's what I love about Dia de Los Muertos: it's not scary!

November 2 is a day to celebrate the memories of your departed loved ones, make sugar skulls, build little altars, and get a bit more comfortable with the idea that death is part of life.

A couple of years ago I had an altar-crafting party where my friends came over with their dearly departeds' favorite food and drink. We feasted and then glued glitter, sequins, feathers and found objects to the sugar skulls I'd made in advance. The idea was to invite our friends in the spirit world to come party with us. We all had a fabulous time.

This year I have my tia Miriam to commemorate...garlic, onions, cinnamon and dulce de leche will most certainly be on the menu. Who will you be celebrating?

10.09.2010

Places and Tastes, Part 2: Paris

 This is the second installment in the series "Places and Tastes," about places from which I've drawn inspiration. You can see the first installment here.

Paris: Deep Dark Truffle, Fleur de Sel Bar, Perfect Sipping Chocolate


Chocolate sculpture at Salon du Chocolat



Ganesh mold scored at
Salon du Chocolat

It was last October that Clive and I spent a week in Paris for a whirlwind chocolate immersion. We timed our visit with the Salon du Chocolat, a ginormous chocolate salon at which all the premier European chocolatiers and chocolate makers exhibit. The flavors on display were mostly classic, but their presentation was inspiring. Tables overflowed with marshmallows, candied fruit, pralines, truffles, and beautifully packaged bars. There was an impressive gallery of skillfully constructed chocolate sculptures which I'd love to try my hand at.

Chocolate judges


The Salon hosts a "World Chocolate Masters" competition where teams of top chocolatiers from various countries work at break-neck speed to prepare chocolates, pastries and showpieces for an ominous panel of funny-hatted chefs. I can't remember who won, but my favorite was the Mexican chocolatier, Oscar Ortega. He was the only one who dared present the stuffy judges with exotic flavors like pink peppercorn and chipotle (a man after The Xocolate Bar's heart).



Marzipan with chocolate core

We nearly broke our feet with the amount of walking we did, but it was worth it to witness a true chocolate mecca. Almost every block of Paris has an exquisite chocolaterie with its own house-made, fine quality confections. The window displays are like art galleries, each with its own distinct and luxurious style. While not the most innovative of chocolatiers when it comes to taste, the Parisians do set the standard for traditional flavors. At the Salon du Chocolat it seemed like every single vendor was sampling the same flavor: hazelnut praline. It was good, but not inspiring. Still, being there taught me the importance of having some well-executed classics available. Before I went to Paris we never sold a plain dark truffle (bor-ring)...but now I've come to accept its place in the chocolate universe.

The second flavor was hatched at a Monoprix supermarket when I happened to be behind a French woman who was buying a stack of Lindt Fleur de Sel bars. I hadn't seen those stateside and though I'm not a fan of Lindt, I decided to give it a try. The texture was luxuriously smooth and I loved the hidden bursts of salt that lured my tongue to the next bite. The downside was the flavor of the chocolate, which in my mind has a distinctly fecal aftertaste. I decided to recreate the bar with our house blend of chocolate when I got home.




At La Charlotte de l'Isle

The puffy jacket and rosy cheek weather had us craving the perfect cup of sipping chocolate, which we found at a whimsical little shop called La Charlotte de l'Isle. Papier- mache figurines suspended from the ceiling made me feel like I was in the movie Being John Malkovich.  The decor is eclectic, to say the least--probably in an effort to distract you while you wait in the hour-long line to sit down. Collapsing off of our aching feet, we hunkered down at a wobbly table, smashed beside a tourist from New York. We could have easily been disappointed, but as soon as we took the first sip the black clouds moved from over our heads. Poured from mismatched vintage vessels into demitasses, rich, dark, decadent, deeply chocolatey and hardly sweet at all, it truly was the perfect hot chocolate. We hoped for the same thing at the much ritzier and more famous Chez Angelina, but alas the chocolate was a bit too sweet.

Eiffel Tower, as seen through iPhone 3

Chez Angelina












 

10.03.2010

This Month's Box, October 2010



Bonbons (left to right):
~Chinese 5 Spice truffle with star anise, clove, cinnamon, fennel, and black pepper
~Passionfruit truffle in a bloody Halloween heart shape
~Salted Chile truffle with Kashmiri chile and Maldon sea salt
~Candied Ginger bite with organic crystallized ginger
~Salted Honey bust with Marshall's honey and Maldon sea salt
~Calimyrna Fig dipped in dark chocolate
~Candied Orange Peel, diced and sprinkled in dark chocolate
~Espresso truffle with Mr. Espresso's oak-wood roasted organic blend
~Apple-Cinnamon truffle with organic Gravenstein apples from Sebastopol
~Cardamom truffle

As always, our bonbons are made with Madhava Organic Agave nectar or Clover Organic cream.

Bar:
~Fleur de Sel, which is our 70% cacao blend lightly sprinkled with sea salt (inspired by a trip to Paris)

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9.26.2010

Places and Tastes, Part 1: The Tropics

Juicy cacao fruit
I'm often asked, "How do you come up with all these flavors?"  Part of my inspiration comes from travel. Here are some of the places I've been and the flavors born from them, starting with the tropics:

White sands and warm water make it easy to dream and scheme. It was on a beach in Phuket in 2006 that Clive and I hatched the plan for The Xocolate Bar. Inspired by Buddhist imagery and tropical fruits, we went home and made Tamarind-Mango Buddhas. It was the first flavor we ever made and is still one of our most popular.


Bali: Balinese Vanilla Bean; Balinese Cacao; Sea Salt from Amed.

Wild cacao in Bali

Denpasar market was where Clive haggled mercilessly for a kilo of vanilla beans. The earthy, fragrant pods have worked their way into our truffles, bars, bottles of whisky, and jars of sugar.


Bali is one of the most magical places I know, with a truly reverent culture of artisans and rich, volcanic soil that overflows with life. Imagine trees dripping with avocados, lush rice paddies, more exotic fruits than you can name; and villages that specialize in handicrafts ranging from bone-carving and batik to silversmithing and glass fusing.


different cacao varieties
on the same land

Cacao trees grow wild on the Balinese hills alongside coffee and cloves, apparently left from when the Dutch planted them.  It was here that I first tasted raw cacao, which tastes nothing like chocolate. The fruit within the cacao pods is white and mildly flavored, like a cross between lychees and honeydew melon. The beans themselves are flavorless until fermented, dried and roasted.

On a recent trip to Bali, Clive and I met with a high powered cacao dealer, whose home was a slice of paradise (think: koi pond and maid). He specialized in high-end, fragrant beans and got our imaginations flowing with the possibility of bean-to-bar production. The bean-to-bar manufacturing process turned out to be a bigger can of worms than we anticipated, but the nibs are still lovely by themselves or sprinkled into E. Guittard.


On a road trip through eastern Bali, we stopped off at the salt flats of Amed. Villagers followed us with bags of hand-harvested crystals that resembled French Fleur de Sel. We couldn't resist bringing some back to sprinkle onto our caramels and into our chocolate bars.

Once the Eat, Pray, Love hype dies down, I highly recommend going to Bali. You can even get Clive to give you a "Chocolate and Volcano" tour in April. Just email cliveeta[at]yahoo[dot]com for details.


Dominican Republic: Brandy Alexander, Dominican Rum Truffle.

Family farm in Dominican Republic

This trip was partly a "cacao research" expedition and partly a much needed holiday. Clive and I spent a lot of time sipping endless Brandy Alexanders (Brandy with milk and cinnamon) at a beach resort in Punta Cana, mentally planning how to we would translate them into chocolate upon our return.



The highlight was an excursion with Bavaro Runners which entailed climbing aboard an off-road truck with a jolly tour guide who freely passed around Dominican rum as we bounced and dipped to the sugar cane fields. The guide was proud of his country's rum, and I had to admit it was more caramelly and easier to drink than any other rum I'd had.



Porcelana?

After the sugar cane fields we visited a family cacao farm where once again I tasted the fruit in its freshly picked state. I also tasted hot chocolate made from freshly roasted beans. There's nothing quite like it.