Molecular Gastronomy meets Chocolate?

A plate made of a gelatin-like substance
Yesterday I took a class at Le Sanctuaire, a hidden gem of a shop that sells AAA grade spices, molecular gastronomy supplies and esoteric cookware. The class was "Ideas in Food: Aroma" taught by Alexander Talbot, kitchen alchemist and one of the two bloggers behind IdeasinFood.com.

Food geeks, scientists and chefs gathered to watch him pour bubbling liquid nitrogen over chorizo before pulverizing the meat in a Vita-Mix and sprinkling it over melon, among other things.

I could have done without all the chorizo experiments--egg yolks poached in chorizo fat, powdered chorizo, chorizo whipped "cream"-- although the tricks learned along the way made up for the greasy taqueria stench.

My favorite was an ice cream flavored with California bay, true laurel, mace, star anise and pine needles. It tasted like Thanksgiving, and I know it would totally work with chocolate.

I also love the idea of using the chamber of a whipped cream dispenser to infuse ingredients under pressure. The Ideas in Food cookbook comes out this Christmas and it's already on my wish list.


Super Easy Vegan Chocolate Sauce Recipe

Yum! Chocolate!The triple digit temperatures have me screaming for ice cream. If you're like me, you're looking in the non-dairy section so here's a super fast, no-cook vegan chocolate sauce to match. Try it on Coconut Bliss ice cream for a decadent indulgence.

1/2 cup organic Agave nectar
6 Tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder***
1/8 teaspoon salt
pinch of cayenne pepper

***All the chocolate flavor comes from the cocoa powder, so it's important to find one you really like. It has to have a strong chocolatey taste and a superfine grind, or you'll end up with flavorless gritty sauce. I like a combination of Scharffen-berger and Valrhona, personally.

Use a fork to mix all the ingredients together in a bowl until smooth. Start out gently so you don't end up engulfed in a cloud of cocoa powder.

This sauce will keep in your pantry for months--just pour it into a jam jar and you'll have it on hand whenever the craving strikes you.


Back to School

Craving a break from chocolate and a chance to hone my other art skills, I signed up for classes at College of MarinIronically my first sculpture project is in wax which looks just like chocolate and feels just like caramel.

The food here is surprisingly mediocre, but I've managed to come up with some new flavor ideas nonetheless.

Flavor: Rum Raisin + Pretzel

Ritter Sport Rum Raisins Hazelnut Chocolate 100 gThe school cafeteria has an interesting selection of German sweets, among them Ritter Sport varieties which I've never seen before. The wrapper was entirely in German (even the ingredients) but I deciphered from picture on the front that the flavor was rum raisin hazelnut.

As I checked out, the vaguely Persian cafeteria operator swooned, "that is my love; I hand pick all these sweets."
Opening the wrapper revealed a hunk of chocolate that had seen better days. Patches of bloom on already pale milk chocolate gave it a diseased look and I could already smell the rancidity of the nuts. Still, I bit in.

The rum raisins were surprisingly pungent; they actually tasted as though they'd been soaked in real rum (odd choice for a school cafeteria).  I ate around the rancid hazelnuts and would have enjoyed the rest if it wasn't so excruciatingly sweet. Luckily I had a bag of salty pretzels near by and a crisp bite of those was the perfect chaser for the mushy, pungent sugar bomb that came before.

With some decent dark chocolate, this has the potential to be a damn fine bar snack.

Flavor: Bacon Balsamic

Mmm...BLTMy aim at the cafeteria was to order something that's hard to screw up and will not likely carry a food borne illness, so I chose a BLT with oil and vinegar side salad. The meal was surprisingly good (probably due to my rock bottom expectations) and I quite enjoyed dipping my deep fried day old bacon into the vinegar to cut the grease and give it some tang. I can imagine just how good it would be if it was Niman Ranch applewood smoked bacon and 30 year aged balsamic.

I know the bacon trend is on it's way out (if not already gone), but part of me hopes it's more of a newly discovered classic than a passing fad. I love salt with my sweets and bacon, just like chocolate, is one of those things that makes everything taste better. They're made for each other.


Foraging for Flavors

eucalyptusI went for a walk on the hill behind my house hoping to find a rogue fruit tree my eye had previously missed. Instead I found Eucalyptus and California Bay Laurel trees galore. I grabbed two fistfuls of leaves and set off to make chocolates.

Both types of leaves are incredibly fragrant--once you break them and release their oils it's hard to escape their heady aroma. I minced them up and poured organic agave nectar over them to make two infusions. With lavender or rosemary, I have to let the mixture steep overnight to capture the essence of the herbs in the agave. With eucalyptus and bay, the agave was powerfully flavorful within minutes.

CA Bay Leaf image from Chow.com
Halfway through chocolate-making I began to get an unusual headache; my sinuses ached sharply and all I could smell was bay leaf. That prompted an emergency google session--are these leaves actually safe to eat?!?  

Turns out they are...in moderation. Bay Leaf is a common culinary herb but its volatile oils can cause headaches when inhaled in excess. Eucalyptus leaf is safe and medicinal in small quantities, but the concentrated essential oil (which I did not use) can be toxic. Children and people with inflamed kidneys should avoid eucalyptus, and for that reason I decided to take the eucalyptus truffles off the shelf. We can't be interviewing every customer about the state of his or her kidneys, and I'd rather be safe than sorry.

It's a bit of a shame, as the finished truffles taste like a walk in the California woods (while eating chocolate, of course). First you get the dark chocolate and smooth sweetness of the agave, then comes a burst of herbal flavor followed by more pure chocolatiness. The bay truffles are still readily available, but you'll have ask at the counter if you want to try the eucalyptus.


This Month's Box, August 2010

Our first Community Supported Chocolate box contains:

Bonbons (left to right):
Classic Salted Caramel
Lavender Walnut Truffle
Strawberry Cream
Lemon Ginger Truffle


Bonus gift:

Most of the fruits and herbs are homegrown by us or our Berkeley & San Rafael neighbors. The rest are organic from the San Rafael farmer's market. We use Clover Organic cream and Madhava Organic Agave Nectar. The nuts are from Whole Foods or Berkeley Bowl, products of CA. Our couverture is manufactured in Burlingame.

News & Notes
It's been a tumultuous few weeks at The Xocolate Bar and in between everything else I've been trying to promote our new CSC program (Community Supported Chocolate--a chocolate CSA).

Early on I was scooped by SFoodie and then, by some miracle, Inc. Magazine! I'm not sure the story will make it to print, but being interviewed by my favorite entrepreneurial magazine was gratifying in itself.


Wild Fennel Truffle

FennelWe have a major invasion of wild fennel behind our store. The stalks are about 8 feet tall and their fronds form a dense, lacy jungle.

Now that they've flowered, Clive has collected the pollen and infused it into organic cream for a dark chocolate ganache.

The mild anise-like herbal flavor of fennel pollen paired with rich dark chocolate is divine. Maybe that's why the flowers grow so high up in the sky ;-}