Posts Tagged ‘petits pots de crème’

Confessions of a Sweet Obsession: A Longstanding Love Affair with Chocolate, Chocolat, and Schokolade

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

Chocolate ginger cake with rum caramel sauce, ginger confit, and ripe persimmon

Deep in the heart of winter, the month of February has evolved into a comfort food fête and feast in North America. From the festivities surrounding the American National Football League (NFL) Super Bowl game and the commemoration of love and affection in all its various forms on St. Valentine’s Day, people celebrate the special occasions with food and wine, from fabulous finger food fare and cool, creative, liqueur-based cocktails to sophisticated, ambrosial, aphrodisiac delights and refined, recherché artisan wines. But one of the most highly prized foods which continues to be enamoured by people not only in North America but also all around the world is the legendary luxury delicacy of chocolate. Over three millennia, people have found ways to cultivate and consume the essence of the hallowed cacao. In its multitudinous manifestations, from simple drinks to elaborate pastries, the cherished chocolate has become the ultimate, soul-satisfying comfort food for many. February has been deemed as national chocolate month. As a tribute to this year’s twenty-nine-day celebration of the “food of the gods” and in honour of my undeniable eternal love affair with this intensely idolized food item, I retreated to the kitchen and rolled up my sleeves to handcraft from scratch several chocolate-oriented delectables.

Flourless chocolate-walnut cookies

In the decadent world of assorted sweets and desserts, the simple yet sophisticated cookie, is adored and devoured around the globe. Every culture has its own take of this ubiquitous bonne bouche which comes in a sweeping array of shapes, sizes, and styles, from the celebratory Chinese hau siu zou or xiào kŏu zăo in Mandarin (笑口棗), diminutive, deep-fried “laughing” cookie balls encrusted in sesame seeds, and the cute Persian nan-e nokhodchi, small, ceremonial crumbly chickpea tidbits perfumed with cardamom; to the coveted French macarons, elegant, ethereal almond-meringue sandwich confections filled with buttercream, fruit jam, or ganache, and the all-time American icon, the crispy, chewy “Nestlé Toll House” chocolate chip cookie dotted originally with chopped nuts. From the extensive, wide-ranging repertoire of recipes for sweet, unrisen cakes which continues to expand and evolve, the signature drop cookie creation of world-renowned genius pâtissier François Payard caught my fancy and captured my imagination. His chocolate-walnut cookie, which continues to be a huge hit and a scrumptious sensation at his eponymous bakery-café haven and “chocolate” jewellery shop” François Chocolate Bar in New York City as well as his namesake pâtisserie-and-bistro outpost at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, represents a clever reinterpretation of the Scorie du Vulcan, a chocolate-hazelnut specialty of rural central France, famous for its rugged landscape of volcanic plugs and pinnacles. Based on the French pastry chef’s gluten-free, grain-free, and dairy-free recipe which is generously divulged in his cookbook Chocolate Epiphany, the flat cocoa lava stones were replicated with effortless ease and straightforward success. Flourless and butterless, the baked puddles of chocolate, with their crisp, crackled, and glossy surface and dark, chewy, and gooey interior, were studded with toasted walnut nubs which lent a rocky crunch. Rich and intense in flavour yet light and airy in texture, the irresistible comestibles, which straddle the line between a soft meringue and a fudgy brownie, were so addictive that all of them vanished before they could be placed in the destined cookie jar.

Chocolate gingerbread bundt cake with rum caramel sauce

In pursuit of pleasures involving sugar and spice and everything nice, I turned my epicurean attention to the festive gingerbread, which has branched out into numerous types of cookies, biscuits, bread, and cakes, such as the Polish pierniki toruńskie, the treasured Toruń treat sweetened with honey and enlivened with oriental spices, and the German Nürnberger Elisen-Lebkuchen, the Bavarian “bread of life” oblate variant made with minimal quantities of flour and finely ground nuts and heightened with candied citrus peel and noble spices, to name a few. Among its various forms, the soft, ginger spiced cake has maintained its prestigious place among the popular winter dessert delights in the United Kingdom and the United States. My chocolate bundt cake variation of the timeless classic, a ravishing riff on the traditional American molasses-flavoured version, combined a generous amount of ground ginger with a handsome helping of grated freshly ginger for a double dose of delicate, exotic zing and subtle sweet heat. Rich and robust, the dense, dark delicacy, with its balanced blend of fragrant, warming winter spices which intensified the prominent chocolate flavour and imparted further complexity and depth to the sumptuous concoction, was finished with a liberal drizzle of delicious caramel sauce. Tinged with vanilla and laced with black rum, the glorious glaze topping not only added another layer of richness and lusciousness but also elevated the grand, gorgeous gâteau into a divine, dreamy dessert.

Petit pot de crème au chocolat et au matcha

As I continued to succumb to the sweet, seductive enchantments of chocolate, I yearned for something that was more intense in chocolate flavour and more concentrated in cacao content. To assuage my incurable sweet obsession, I returned to the kitchen to conjure up another tantalizing treat inspired by the simple and sublime petits pots de crème, a quintessential French crème dessert customarily served in little lidded pots. In my capricious chocolate rendition of the time-honoured Gallic gourmet delight, the silken, smooth bittersweet chocolate custard, set in small, elegant ramekins, was infused with Japanese matcha green tea and embellished with a generous dusting of green tea powder and a toasted pecan caressed with cinnamon and gin. Voluptuous and velvety, the luxuriously rich, French-style cream pudding was a chocolate lover’s dream, and I savoured and relished each spoonful of pure heavenly indulgence in rapturous silence and euphoric delight. C’était l’extase.

Classic hot chocolate at Juliette et chocolat

The desirability of chocolate is universal. As I sipped leisurely my bowl of heart-warming hot chocolate at the bustling café Juliette et chocolat in the Mile End district of Montreal and glanced around the convivial milieu packed with people who were enjoying their choco-centric selections, I reflected on the wonderful world of chocolate and how a humble, bitter, tropical Theobroma cacao seed could capture and conquer the hearts of people all around the globe and have a strong, dramatic impact on the world. Versatile and accessible, chocolate has endured the fickle vagaries of foodie fashion and continued to remain one of the indispensable, privileged, if not also hedonistic, pleasures of life. It not only soothes but nourishes the body, mind, heart, and soul. According to the critically acclaimed American humorist, songwriter, children’s author, and illustrator Sandra Boynton, “Research tells us fourteen out of any ten individuals likes chocolate.” What would the world be like without this exquisite sweet delicacy? Let’s celebrate our love for chocolate and continue to revel in this remarkably revered food of the historic past, the unfolding present, and the developing future.

Related Posts with Thumbnails