Art of Chocolate

This post originally appeared in the Bloomington Herald Times on January 26, 2005

They say it’s a mood altering drug, and I believe it. Full of more than 300 chemicals it revs up your heart, increases your sense of well-being, and makes you feel like you are in love. They also say it would take 25 pounds of the stuff to get you high, and I say that’s okay with me. In the immortal words of our president, “Bring it on.”

Because, of course, we are not talking illegal street drugs here. We’re talking chocolate. The good stuff. Rich, dark, mysterious and complex. So intense and stimulating to the nervous system that 2 ounces can kill a 10 pound dog. It doesn’t kill people though (unless, maybe, you eat those 25 pounds.) It just makes us happy.

Because no sacrifice is too great for this column, I am having chocolate for breakfast this morning. I have in front of me three bars of 70 percent premium bittersweet chocolate, one each from Italy, Spain, and Belgium. If any chocolate could crank out the endorphins, this is it. I’d been hoarding these bars, a gift from a friend, until the right moment arrived. After a mouthwatering morning reading up on chocolate, the moment is clearly now.

I hear the snap as I bite into the first bar, but I don’t chew it. Eyes closed, I let it melt dreamily, creamily on my tongue. It’s bitter in the back of my mouth, like ground coffee or burnt sugar, soothed with a sharp sweetness and dark nutty overtones. I’ve never eaten chocolate this way before — mindfully, really paying attention. It’s a revelation. I try another bar: more rounded and vanilla-like, sweeter, more friendly to my mouth but less complex and interesting. A final one: intoxicating, potent, astringent and raisiny. It’s less creamy than the others, almost powdery, and in fact it’s too strong for me, too disturbing. One thing for sure: It’s no gentle Hershey’s kiss.

Hershey’s kisses, of course, are milk chocolate which doesn’t, in some aficionados’ minds, even qualify as chocolate. Milk chocolate is only required to be 10 percent cacao tree product (like cocoa and cocoa butter), the rest is sugar, milk solids and flavorings (like vanilla).

Serious chocolate fanciers like it dark and bitter, which means more cacao, less sugar, less flavoring. No milk. Dark chocolate or semisweet has from 15 to 35 percent cacao content, bittersweet has at least 35 percent. Baking chocolate has no sugar and usually no flavorings; it’s 100 percent cacao. (And white chocolate, of course, is not chocolate at all, just cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla and milk.)

Cacao content doesn’t account for all the differences among chocolates, however, since beans from different plants in different parts of the world can taste very different too. Like wines and scotches, there are blends, as well as single-bean varieties. A serious chocolate fanatic can spend a lot of time, money and calories tasting them all. See, just for example, www.xocoatl.org.

Serious fanatics in Bloomington don’t have to go to extremes to taste some pretty darn good chocolate, however, since the chocolate season is very nearly here. February, after all, is the month for lovers in general and chocolate lovers in particular. To mark the occasion, Options for Better Living, a Bloomington nonprofit that seeks to improve the lives of people with disabilities, is holding its Eighth annual Chocolate Fest Feb. 5 at the Bloomington Convention Cente (for more, see On The Menu below), which will give us all a chance to indulge in an orgy of chocolate eating. 

But this year, Options takes chocolate tasting to an even higher level with The Art of Chocolate — a separate fundraising event 5-8 p.m. Sunday at the Indiana University Fine Arts Auditorium. The Art of Chocolate is a gala evening of chocolate consumption, featuring a dozen chefs from Bloomington and Indianapolis and their extravagantly delicious desserts. There will also music from the Andy Cobine Trio, and a silent auction where you can bid on fabulous food packages, including a Caribbean Cruise, a five course dinner for four with wine from Restaurant Tallent, a boat rental and beach barbeque for ten from Fourwinds Resort, a catered dinner for ten from the Encore Cafe, a four course dinner for two with wine from Scholar’s Inn with tickets to a performance at the auditorium, a chocolate tasting for eight from BLU Culinary Arts, appetizers and wine tasting for ten from Limestone Grille, dinner at Deer Park Manor with Bloomington’s most eligible bachelor, Joseph Fitzgerald, and lunch with the Mayor at Tortilla Flat.

But auction fun aside, the heart of the event is the chocolate. The chefs have been asked to show off their skills, to put their talents to beautiful, creative and splendid use. Oliver wines will be paired with the desserts and hors d’oeuvre provided by Terry’s and KRC will be served for those who think they need something more than 12 chocolate desserts to sustain them for the evening.

The dessert lineup includes Dark Chocolate Cake with Grand Marnier Caramel Ganache and Chestnut Cream from chef David Fletcher of BLU Culinary Arts;, Chocolate Pate by chef Allen Edwards of the Fourwinds Resort; Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse Tartlets from chef Tad DeLay of the Limestone Grille; Chocolate Ganache Tarts with Salted Caramel from pastry chef Kristen Tallent of Restaurant Tallent; Rainbow Pastry – a dense almond cake layered with chocolate, strawberry and white chocolate butter cream, wrapped in marzipan, glazed with chocolate from chef Mark Brethauer of the Scholar’s Inn Bakehouse; Tribeca Chocolate Torte filled with chocolate custard and chocolate mousse, topped with chocolate ganache by chef Michael Cassady of the Uptown Cafe; Chocolate Velvet Torte from the Runcible Spoon and the R Street Bistro in Bedford by chef Matt O’Neill; Bittersweet Chocolate Panna Cotta with Hazelnut Caramel from Elements in Indianapolis by pastry chef Nicole Ankney; Chocolate Petit Fours from Rene’s Bakery in Indianapolis by chef Albert Trevino; as well as desserts prepared by chef Dan Borders of the Encore Cafe, chef Matt Smith of Truffles and chef Dan Dunville of Dunaway’s in Indianapolis.

I’m betting every one of them will be a work of art.

Christine would love to hear from you about food. Contact her at cbarbour@heraldt.com. Food Fare partner Jennifer Piurek will be visiting with the waitress she says is the best in town in next week’s column. 

Sunday Delight

WHAT: Art of Chocolate musical dessert and silent auction.
WHEN: 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday.
WHERE: Indiana University Fine Arts Auditorium on Seventh Street
HOW MUCH: $35: tickets available at Options for Better Living,
200 E. Winslow Road.  Seating is limited.

Sweetheart’s Chocolate

The desserts at the Art of Chocolate will be beautiful, sophisticated creations. Go and enjoy them. But if you want to make something a bit simpler for your honey at home this Valentine’s Day, try this Chocolate Cherry Trifle. It tastes like a rich, lush and creamy bowl of chocolate covered cherries.

Chocolate Cherry Trifle

Vanilla Bean Custard (prepared according to recipe below), cooled to room temperature

1 bag of ripe cherries, pitted and halved (about 5 cups) You can use fresh raspberries or strawberries instead, or you can use dried cherries (soaked in kirsch if you prefer) but they will change the texture of the dessert a bit.
1 chocolate pound or sponge cake, purchased or made according to your favorite recipe
1 jar tart cherry jam (or raspberry or strawberry)
1/2 cup kirsch or other cherry liqueur, optional (substitute Chambord if you are using raspberries)
whipped cream

Slice the cake into 1 inch slices and spread thinly with the cherry jam. Cut into cubes. Fit a layer of cake cubes into the bottom of a large glass bowl or individual bowls or goblets. Sprinkle with the kirsch if you are using it. Layer halved cherries over the cake, then pour a layer of custard over them. Repeat until ingredients are used up. Refrigerate 6-8 hours or over night. Pipe whipped cream around the top and serve with additional whipped cream.

Serves eight.

Vanilla Bean Custard

2 3/4 cups milk
1 cup half-and-half
1 vanilla bean split lengthwise
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn starch or 1/2 cup all purpose flour
pinch of salt
4 egg yolks at room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In a heavy saucepan, combine two cups of milk, cream and vanilla bean over medium heat until bubbles form around the edge of the pan. Remove vanilla bean, scraping all the tiny seeds from inside into the milk. Keep warm.

In another heavy saucepan or in the top of a double boiler, mix sugar, cornstarch or flour, and salt. Stir in remaining 3/4 cup of milk and whisk until smooth. Add egg yolks and whisk to blend. Strain warm milk mixture through a fine mesh sieve and slowly add to sugar mixture, whisking the whole time.

Place saucepan over low heat or simmering water and cook until thickened, whisking constantly. This will take about 10 minutes. Don’t get impatient and raise the heat: you DO NOT WANT this to boil or scorch. The results will be so worth the time you take now. When it is thickened, cover and cook over the same low heat about 8 minutes more, whisking several times. Keeping it on the heat, beat with a hand held mixer for two minutes until very smooth.

Remove from heat, add butter and vanilla extract, and stir until butter is melted. Allow to cool to room temperature and use in trifle recipe. Alternatively, you could just chill and eat it — this is perfect homemade vanilla pudding.

Recipe from James McNair’s “Custards, Mousses and Puddings,” Chronicle Books, 1992.

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