I love reading about food and chefs and the whole crazy business that we call the food industry. I also love traveling. On every trip I take, I visit some special restaurant, bakery, or gourmet shop. Along the way, I started to think of these places as “culinary meccas”. When my family and I dined in Washington, DC at Red Sage, we took pictures of our meals. (This was the closest I would get to Coyote Cafe until I visited the Las Vegas location.) I was breathing the same air that the incredible Mark Miller (an Alice Waters comrade) breathed. At the French Laundry in Napa Valley, California, my mother wrote down every delicious morsel that we put into our mouths. THAT was some meal!!! So when in Paris I visited La Maison du Chocolat for the first time, I felt as if I had reached the chocolatier of chocolatiers. Most culinarians would agree that Monsieur Robert Linxe has created some of the ultimate chocolates in the world. I am much more of a pastry and cookie gal than a candy person, but there is nothing like a raspberry ganache chocolate from La Maison du Chocolat.
Recently, a relative visited from NYC. I made 2 requests: chocolates from La Maison du Chocolat and half sour Guss’ pickles. I received both and have been rationing myself so they will last as long as possible. I am down to my last 2 chocolates. All of the chocolates made at La Maison du Chocolat are made with Valrhona chocolate. You don’t put one of these in your mouth, chew, and swallow. No way, you would miss all of the flavor and smooth luxury of this chocolate. So I put one in my mouth and allow the chocolate to melt slowly so I can savor the deep fruit and nut characteristics that come from using high end specialty cocoa beans.
At home you can learn to recognize these differences for yourself by purchasing a few different types of chocolate to compare them side by side. Try some American milk and European milk chocolate. Then venture into the various cocoa mass levels starting at about 42% (an average chocolate chip) and move up to a chocolate bar with about 70% cocoa mass. If you can take it, 85% chocolate is available for eating but it is extremely bitter and intense. Finally, you can also compare chocolates from different regions of the world and notice the subtle and not so subtle traits. Ponder chocolate for a bit and later on I will describe the odyssey of Laduree pastries!
Marla Scissors, who teaches baking and pastry classes at Kitchen Conservatory, contributes occasionally to What’s Stirring.