Thick Chocolate, Clear Ideas
A Spanish proverb asserts "Ideas should be clear and chocolate thick" (las cosas claras y el chocolate espeso).
My first taste of chocolate was a Hershey Kiss. That is probably true for most Americans. It is the ubiquitous choice found on the counter at your Insurance Agency or as a small treat from your Nana. My taste for chocolate has evolved from milk to a rich smooth dark variety. The turning point was at a small chocolatier tucked in a corner of the lobby at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan. It was my first encounter with the concept of multiple types of chocolate. Think 1972. The glass displays showcased each truffle as a miniature work of art. It was intimidating and intriguing. I offered up $1.75, a staggering amount, for a Champagne Truffle. That one bite of bliss forever changed my chocolate eating habits.
Recently Charles and Victoria Hamilton of Nutmeg Foods continued my education along with the education of ten very enthusiastic guests at Cellardoor Vineyard. It turns out that there are many similarities between wine and chocolate. They require patience, passion, science, and artistry to produce the many varieties available in the market.
Charles walked us through a flight of chocolate with a Callebaut white to start and a seventy-percent Cacao from a Colombian plantation to finish. It was similar to a wine tasting that begins with a Vidal and ends with a Syrah. It is rare to have instructors who can transition between the almost academic aspects of a product, in this case chocolate, to its use in recipes that the home cook can prepare with confidence. We began with dark ganache tarts accented with raspberries or strawberries. The fruit complemented the dark, creamy filling with a pop of color, texture, and flavor. The tarts were demolished with multiple yums and wows. The menu continued with a chocolate butter cake infused with orange oil, and layered with marmalade and whipped ganache.
The fun became serious when we donned gloves to roll dark truffle centers coated with cocoa powder, chocolate nibs or nuts. We groaned as we continued to sample each truffle variety followed by strawberries dipped in chocolate and sprinkles the colors of spring. The most avid chocolate lover among us was satiated but Charles and Victoria had one more trick up their sleeves.
Our final dish was molten chocolate cakes cooked in a variety of oven safe porcelain. Each ramekin, cappuccino cup, and crème pot held four or five bites of a cake, pudding concoction that melted on the tongue. In spite of our protests each cup sampled was emptied. Did we over indulge? Probably. Did we have any regrets? I’d like to be noble and say yes but the truth is there are no regrets.
Lee Heffner is the senior vice president of operations at Cellardoor Vineyard, Lincolnville. Cellardoor's next cooking class features Italian dining with Chef Chris Bassett of the Azure Cafe on March 15.
Molten Chocolate Cake
1 stick butter (4 ounces)
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
2 eggs (room temperature)
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons flour
Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat butter and chocolate in a double boiler until chocolate is almost completely melted. While that is heating, beat together eggs, yolks, sugar, and vanilla until light and thick.
Beat together the chocolate and melted butter — the mixture should be quite warm. Pour in the egg mixture, then quickly add in the flour, just until combined.
Butter and flour 4 molds or ramekins. Tap out the excess flour then butter and flour again. Pour the batter into the molds. The molds can be refrigerated at this point and brought back to room temperature before baking.
Bake the molds on a tray for 6 to 7 minutes. The center will be quite soft but the sides will be set. Invert the mold onto a plate and let sit for 10 minutes. Unmold by lifting one corner of the mold. Serve instantly.