Local chefs have a different appreciation of our favorite Valentine’s Day treat.
As if we needed scientific reasons to deepen our love for chocolate, study after study touts its near-magical health powers.
One recent study even found that chocolate contains a chemical similar to the one our own bodies release when we fall in love.
No wonder it’s so popular for Valentine’s Day.
The passion inspired by the cacao-bean-based wonder literally strays all over the map, though die-hard afficionados and chefs often cite the “Big Three” – Belgium, Germany, and Austria – as having the best chocolatiers, says chef Bruce Sy, head of the culinary arts program at the new Art Institute of Tucson.
“Belgian chocolate is usually seen as the best in quality, though Austria and Germany also have really good chocolate,” says Sy, a chef for 40 years who in 1996 founded the Arts Institute of Phoenix’s culinary arts program. “Basically, European chocolate is just higher quality chocolate. It’s just made better.”
Tucson chef Jeff Glomski, who assembles custom chocolate creations for customers of Barrio Food and Drink, echoes Sy’s statements.
“I use only Belgian chocolate. It’s the best,” says Glomski, owner of Barrio, 135 S. Sixth Ave. “I use two or three brands, but it’s always from Belgium.”
Though enjoying chocolate is as easy as unwrapping a good bar, cooking and baking is an entirely different story, particularly with couverture chocolate, an ultrarich type often used by professional chefs, says Thayer Johnson, executive chef at the Lodge on the Desert, 306 N. Alvernon Way, whose dessert menu one day last week featured chocolate truffles, chocolate cake and a Mexican brownie with habanero.
“It’s a really fickle product to work with, really sensitive to heat and cold,” Johnson says of working with chocolate in general. “The difference between making something amazing and something terrible can be pretty small.”
Though Johnson also prefers European chocolate, he opts for a Mexican variety he favors when he wants to infuse his baking with a Southwestern edge.
“I love Ibarra Mexican chocolate, which you can get at just about any grocery store,” he says. “It’s infused with chile and cinnamon, and it’s not good for everything, but it’s just absolutely amazing for hot chocolate and brownies.”
A CHOCOLATE WORLD
Here’s a smattering of chocolatiers from around the globe. Chocolate is made from various cacoa beans.
Zotter: Confectioner Josef Zotter’s line of bitter chocolates with unique flavorings are well known in Austria and other parts of Europe, but are just starting to take hold in the U.S.
Cot d’Or: Two chocolatiers established this revered company, known for bold chocolate, in 1883. It now is owned by Kraft Foods. Its name is from Ghana, the “Gold Coast” of West Africa
Dolfin: Founded less than 20 years ago by two brothers whose parents once owned Neuhaus, a world-renowned Belgian chocolate maker, chefs and chocolate experts frequently rank it among the world’s best chocolatiers.
A.H. Chocolate Santander: Made by the 88-year-old Compañia National de Chocolates strictly from Colombian cacao beans.
Vintage Plantations: From Rancho San Jacinto, it is certified by the Rainforest Alliance, which guarantees responsible growing and harvesting practices.
Cadbury Dairy Milk: One of the most popular candy bars in the world, it has produced the Dairy Milk brand since 1905.
Bernaird Castelain Artisan Chocolatier: Its dark chocolate bar is made from “Grand Crus,” or “cream-of-the-crop,” cocoa from South America and central Africa.
Valrhona: A French pastry che founded it in 1924 and it is one of the world’s leading chocolate producers. It maintains the École du Grand Chocolat, a school for professional chefs with a focus on chocolate-based dishes and pastries.
Chocolat Weiss: Founded in 1907 in the Saint-Etienne region, which has a history of more than three centuries of chocolate making.
Hachez: Founded in 1890, it long has been noted not only for its quality but also for imaginative flavor combinations.
Amedei Chuao: Founded in 1990 by a brother-sister duo, it won a gold prize at a recent chocolate competition for its single-plantation chuao chocolate.
Lindt: It was founded in 1845 as Lindt & Sprüngli. Since 1997, it’s acquired the noted chocolatiers Hofbauer (of Austria), Caffarel (Italy) and Ghirardelli (U.S.).
Chocolove: This respected chocolatier from Boulder, Colo., uses all-natural ingredients from South America in its Beligian-style Chocolatour line.
Scharffen Berger: It is of 12 American companies that imports raw cacao beans, then manufactures the chocolate. It uses Beglian chocolatier techniques and equipment.
Chocolates El Rey, C.A.: The company was founded in 1929. In its new Apamate line, it uses the famed carenero superior cacao bean from the north-central Barlovento region.
Chocolate is made from various cacoa beans. The greatest difference in edible chocolates is the percent of chocolate liquor and cocoa butter.
Here’s a primer:
Unsweetened: Chocolate in its rawest form, it’s made from pure chocolate liquor and contains 50 percent to 55 percent cocoa butter. Also known as baking, plain or bitter chocolate, it’s used as the base for cakes, brownies, confections and cookies.
Dark: Also known as “plain chocolate,” it has no milk additives. The U.S. calls this “sweet chocolate” and requires it have at least 15 percent chocolate liquor, while the Europe Union requires a minimum of 35 percent of chocolate liquor.
Bittersweet: Excellent for baking, as it contains a little sugar, vanilla and cocoa butter. The best flavors are had with 55 percent to 70 percent cocoa solids.
Semisweet: Similar to bittersweet, but with a higher percentage of sugar and a lower percentage of cocoa solids. Usually the cocoa solides are 35 percent to 54 percent.
Milk: A combination of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, vanilla, milk solids and lecithin. The U.S. requires a 10 percent chocolate liquor content, while the EU requires a minimum 25 percent. This is essentially why many people prefer European to American milk chocolate.
Couverture: Used by professional pastry chefs, it’s produced with premium cacao beans and a high percentage of cocoa butter and also contains a higher fat content, about 30 percent to 40 percent, making it more difficult to work with.
White: Not really chocolate at all, as it lacks chocolate liquor, it’s a combination of cocoa butter, sugar, milk solids, vanilla and emulsifiers. Good-quality white chocolate is made entirely from cocoa butter with no added vegetable fats.
Compound: Essentially, the cheap stuff, made from combinations of cocoa and vegetable fat, usually tropical fats and/or hydrogenated fats, as a replacement for cocoa butter. It’s primarily used for candy bar coatings, but because it does not contain cocoa butter, it is not called “chocolate” in the U.S.
Sources: Chocolate World (www.chocolate-world.net) and Taste magazine (www.taste.co.nz)
ON THE WEB
• Chocolate Bar Database: www.ceder.net/chocolate
• Josef Zotter: www.zotter.at
• Cot d’Or: www.cotedor.com
• Dolfin: www.dolfin.be
• A.H. Chocolate Santander: www.chocolatesantander.com
• Vintage Plantations: http://vintageplantations.com/ (under construction)
• Cadbury Dairy Milk: www.cadbury.co.uk
• Bernaird Castelain Artisan Chocolatier: www.chocolat-castelain.com
• Valrhona: www.valrhona.com
• Chocolat Weiss: www.chocolatweiss.com
• Hachez: www.hachez.de
• Amedei Chuao: www.amedei-us.com
• Lindt: www.lindt.com
• Chocolove: www.chocolove.com
• Scharffen Berger: www.scharffenberger.com
• Chocolates El Rey, C.A.: www.chocolates-elrey.com