Finally, though, after nights of hanging out in seedy on-line chocolate chat rooms, I finally got a solid lead in the form of a cryptic email from someone named W. J. W. Whoever they are, they meant for me to come alone.
[e-mail on computer screen]
Dear Mr. Brown,
I have what you need.
Meet me under the Cacao
Tree at Botanical Gardens.
W. J. W.
P.S. COME ALONE
GUEST: William J. Wonka
| It seems that, like a lot of old stories, the story of chocolate starts with a
tree. So, Theobroma cacao.
WILLIAM WONKA: Food of the gods.
When the stranger finally showed up he was, well, pretty strange.
AB: Huh. Yeah. Supposedly a gift to the Maya from the god, Quetzalcoatl.
WW: Who then disappeared into the ocean.
AB: Yeah, but not before promising to return.
WW: Which is why the Aztecs mistook Cortez for a god and gave him all their chocolate.
AB: Yeah, just before he wiped out their civilization. Say, who are you anyway?
WW: The cacaos are califorous, you know. The fruit grows straight from the trunk and stays in fruit from the time they're five well into their thirties if, of course, the midge population stays healthy.
AB: Midge? Midge who?
WW: Little flies, the sole pollinator of the cacao. Go ahead. Take one.
AB: The pod looked and felt like a petrified Nerf football.
WW: Each pod takes 5 to 6 months to ripen.
AB: And it was even uglier on the inside.
AB: Sweet. But, that ain't chocolate.
WW: Animals and early man came for the pulp. Nobody really knows who figured out that the real magic lay in the seeds.
AB: I don't know. I'd sure like to see this [fruit] turn into this [chocolate bar.]
WW: Oh, would you now. Well, then you should meet some friends of mine, part of the chocolate underground, you might say. [hands AB a Golden Ticket with the word "WONKA" on the back]
AB: San Francisco?
WW: I think you'll find their chocolates to be, how shall I say, good eats? [disapperas in the blink of an eye]
Do [attempts to ask a question, but WW is gone] ... Hey. What the devil?
Driven as if by a '67 Mustang convertible, I headed west to ...
... Scharffen Berger Chocolate and a really big bridge.
GUEST: Robert Steinberg, Chocolate Maker
I got to Scharffen Berger Chocolate just in time to catch one of the owners, Robert Steinberg, check on a roasting
batch of carefully blended beans from around the world. It was hard to believe the alien pod I held three time zones ago had yielded these fragrant
jewels. As we watched the vintage German roaster cool beans, heh,
Steinberg explained that roasting is where the magic of real chocolate happens.
Don't roast far enough, and the chocolate will be bland and two dimensional. Go too far and it's toast. Just right is a narrow river of joy that
runs between the two.
From there the winnowing machine literally shook the outer shell off the seed revealing the the nib inside.
Then came the melangéur which gets medieval on the nibs by grinding them with coarse sugar under the weight of two granite wheels. As the cocoa butter inside the nibs combined with the cocoa solids, what started as brown gravel became a glistening smooth paste. This is what chocolate insiders call cocoa liquor. It doesn't contain alcohol. But if a chocolate bar was a cocktail, this stuff would be the booze.
Steinberg explained that different chocolates have different percentages of cocoa liquor from bitter chocolate which can have a much as 98% of the stuff down to milk chocolate which may have as little as 10%. White chocolate contains cocoa butter but no chocolate solids at all.
Next came conching, a mixing and heating that drives off bitter compounds and smoothes the chocolate out to
a velvety elixir of love. The conching process can last a day or more in good chocolates. Any chocolate that ends up in bar form has to be
tempered, or heated and cooled, until all the different fats kind of synchronize their melting points. Skip this and the chocolate will never
set into a shiny, snappy bar.
Then, Steinberger [sic] showed me the secret to Scharffen Berger success: beans, lots of beans. But, why would he save the beginning for the end?
RS: Because this is the most important part of the process. This is where we keep the beans that go into the chocolate. And without the beans, without good beans, you can't make good chocolate.
AB: So, this is really the secret then, huh?
RS: In a sense, it is. I mean, people who make chocolate are very careful about protecting their sources of beans ...
RS: ... and we're using beans from a lot of different places.
AB: How many different places?
RS: I think 5 or 6 different countries. But, even within an individual country the beans may vary from one farm to another.
AB: So in a way, this is kind of like coffee beans the way people roast and blend coffee?
RS: I don't think they are tasted as much in the process of roasting as cocoa beans are. You basically decide which ones you're going to use and you create a blend and then taste them and then probably go back with coffee. Once we've decided on beans, we then roast by variety and we check the beans, I would say, as many as 5 or 6 or perhaps as many as 10 times in the last few minutes of roasting to determine when they are done. Because there really is a moment when they taste kind of flat and then a moment when they are overdone and in the middle of that is the time when they're done and they have this incredible sweetness that comes out.
AB: So, it happens very, very slowly and then it happens very, very quickly.
RS: Right. To me it's like broiling fish where, you know, one moment it's way underdone and the next moment it's completely dry and overcooked and then there's a point in the middle when it tastes good.
Speaking of shiny, snappy bars I'd had about a dozen of them and was feeling a little, well, queasy. So, I decided to drop by my doctors.
Caroline Connell, Dietitian
PSYCHIATRIST: [shows AB a
AB: Hmm, chocolate Easter bunny.
P: Very interesting.
AB: Oh come on, Doc. Give it to me straight. I have OD'd or not?
P: Well, chocolate contains many things. Apart from the, uh, stimulants, caffeine, and theobromine, there is the phenylethylamine, the love hormone. [flashes card]
AB: Chocolate éclair. Love hormone?
P: Yeah. Combines with dopamines. Strong stuff. And then there is the anandamide ...
AB: Ana, ana, ana, anaconda?
P: Works on the brain like some narcotics.
AB: Narcotic, huh. How much of that would I have to eat?
P: About 25 pounds. [flashes card]
AB: Uh, chocolate Santa. In a year?
P: Uh, oh. No. In about one sitting.
AB: Oh. Well I guess my brain checks out then. But, Doc, what about my body?
CAROLINE CONNELL: Let's get this in perspective. Cocoa butter contains steric acids and steric acids don't raise your serum cholesterol. it has phenols in it and phenols are antioxidants. Antioxidants are good for your heart and they also decrease your risk of cancer. One ounce of cocoa has less caffeine than an entire cup of decaf. It doesn't cause acne, it increases energy so it's not that bad.
AB: And, who might you be?
CC: I'm a nutritionist.
P: Yeah. She shares the office. We car pool.
AB: Now, of course, Doc, it could dilate his blood vessels so he may get some more headaches.
P: Yeah, yeah. But this ... [flashes card]
AB: Looks like a mousse. Looks like a beautiful, chocolate mousse. That's it. Why didn't I think of it. I mean, what could be easier. What could more delicious. Chocolate mousse. Um, docs. Sorry. Um, our time is up for this week, okay? Bye.
The average Brit eats 30 lbs. of chocolate a year ...
Three times more than the average American.
GUEST: Shirley O. Corriher, Food Scientist
Mousse, that's French for 'froth' which is exactly what it is. When it's good it's light, it's airy, it's melt-in-your-mouth. And it only takes a handful of ingredients and two techniques which are, I don't know, the basic knots of the dessert world: whipping cream and melting chocolate. Now, anybody who's tried melting chocolate has probably run into those twin specters seizing and burning. And when chocolate burns, the cocoa butter literally runs out and the solids kind of coagulate. It's ugly. It's inoperable. And it happens at a very low temperature, as low as 130°.
Now, this leads us to law number one of chocolate melting: start small. Now that there are quality chocolate chips on the market, they're a great place to start. They are little, they're uniformly shaped and we're going to use about 12 ounces of them for our mousse.
12 ounces semi
Which leads us to the second law: go slow. I like to use a simple double boiler. It's just a
stainless steel bowl over simmering water. Now, there are cooks out there who swear by the microwave or the oven. I don't know about you, but I can't
stir chocolate from inside a microwave and stir you must. It's the only way to evenly distribute the heat. Now, if you don't have chips, don't worry.
You can use bar or block chocolate. But chop it up as fine as you can with a heavy knife beforehand.
Now, this is when I usually add a little bit of salt. Chocolate loves a little salt.
Now, this may be a great method but it does lead us to the danger of breaking rule number 3 which is, don't get it wet. Do'h. Now, if one drop of water can turn a whole pot of chocolate into Chernobyl then why is it there are so many chocolate recipes that have liquid in them, ours included? Luckily in my line of work there are always food scientists dropping by and hanging around.
AB: So, Shirley, what's the deal? What happened to my chocolate?
SHIRLEY CORRIHER: It's called seizing and it happens when you've got dry, dry particle—and that's what we got in chocolate—dry, dry particles in this rich, rich fat cocoa butter. A tiny bit of moisture glues these dry particles together. Let me just show you with the sugar here. If you put a lot of water in, it dissolves. No lumps. But, if you take your spoon and stir your coffee and have just a little water look at all these clump, lump, lumps.
AB: So, how do I fix it?
SC: More liquid ...
SC: ... and it will all be all right.
|AB: We've got 3 ounces of espresso, 1 tablespoon dark rum, 4 tablespoons of butter. So is that going to do it? Is that enough?||
3 oz Espresso
|SC: Oh, yes. Your magic amount is one tablespoon of water type liquid for every 2 ounces, by weight, of chocolate and that will be enough to wet everybody down and prevent seizing.
This is why having your own kitchen scientist is the best accessory money can buy.
1 TBSP Liquid Per 2 OZ
Well, what do you know. She was right. We're smooth again. Of course, if we had melted all these ingredients together
in the first place it would have been smooth all along and this all would have happened a lot faster.
We can go ahead and take this off the heat. The few chunks that are still there will melt with an occasional walk-by stir. We need to let this cool down to just above body temperature anyway. So, leave it alone. And next up, the cream.
French painter Henri Talouse-Lautrec is credited
with inventing chocolate mousse.
Now, a good mousse rule of thumb is to use the same amount of whipping cream as chocolate and since "a pint's a pound the world around," that means 12 ounces or a cup and a half.
12 OZ = 1 1/2 Cups
Now, pour off a couple of ounces of this into a metal measuring cup and refrigerate the rest.
Okay, if there were a trick to chocolate mousse, and I'm not saying there is, but if there were it would be powdered gelatin. Odds are you've
pondered this stuff in the store. Why would you? It's flavorless, colorless, odorless, it's a veritable Ninja. But what it does is bind moisture
which, if you're chocolate mousse, is a pretty cool thing. Take about a teaspoon. Now, before this can be dissolved it has to bloom, or soak,
in cold liquid like cream. It will take, maybe, 10 minutes. Just forget it's here. Besides, whipping time's here.
You're going to need the remainder of the cold whipping cream, a decent mixer—I like a hand-held model—and a stainless steel or copper bowl, no glass or plastic. And anything that comes in contact with the cream needs to be chilled thoroughly in the freezer, please.
Why bother with this? Well, the answer my friend is floating in the cream. It's all about fat and air. See, when you start whipping cream you're mainly, well, blowing bubbles. You do this on a low setting just to kind of get things frothy. Not too fast, just enough to get some bubbles worked in. Take your time. And as soon as you get a good, well, kind of a Mr. Bubble Bath thing going give it the gas.
This is a newly formed bubble inside whipped cream. We've got air in the middle, walls of water and these little blue guys are fat globules just kind of hanging around the border. Now, the more air you whip into the cream the more bubbles you make. But, there's only so much water to go around. So these bubbles get smaller and smaller and smaller until eventually these billions and billions of bubbles are so small that bingo, the fat globules touch and you've got stable whipped cream suitable for any dessert topping or even frosting a cake.
Now, if you keep whipping this the little fats will eventually squeeze out all the water and all the air and you'll have made butter. This is a very good skill if you live in the Little House on the Prairie but for making chocolate mousse it's not that valuable.
Now, since this structure depends on fat we want to do everything we can to keep that fat from melting. That's why the chilled bowl and beaters. Now, we've got medium peaks which is good. We could go all the way to stiff peaks but then the cream would loose all of its elasticity and we're going to need that elasticity when we fold this in later. Now, right now this is a stable, thick cream and adding the gelatin into the chocolate is going to keep it that way.
See, without some kind of stabilizer eventually physics would win and the water trapped in our whipped cream would weep out which would wreck our mousse. Enter the gelatin. That little teaspoon will stabilize all that water but it has to be dissolved first which you can do over direct heat. Just keep moving it around until you don't see any more grain. Be careful not to boil it because that would damage the gelatin.
Okay. Chocolate is still at a good temperature so we're just going to pour the gelatin mixture in and stir. Now, you gotta know when to hold them and when to fold them and now is time to fold them.
Bringing these two kids together is kind of like a culinary blind date: it could be magic or it could be disaster. Why? Well, we've got light, fluffy, airy on this side, dark, dense, sticky on this side. So, before we bring them together in culinary matrimony we're going to lighten up the chocolate mixture with a little bit of the cream just so that they are more alike in texture. So, we're going to add about a quarter of the cream and just stir it into the chocolate just to lighten it a little bit.
Now, we're going to fold in half of the whipped cream. Just split it down the middle and fold it in. Now here's the trick: we're not going to stir we're going to fold. Put the spatula down, up and over. It's just turning over the mixture, literally. Cut into the middle and over. We're not really worried about getting it fully integrated right now. The best mousses I've ever had have had little streaks of cream in them, little streaks of chocolate. The main thing is we don't want to overdo it because if we do we're going to beat all that air out of the whipped cream which is not what we want.
That's enough. Now, go ahead and add the rest of the cream. And repeat. Just fold over. Turn and fold. This is, by the way, the exact same procedure you would use for building a soufflé, a soufflé omelet or a, gosh, any of about 50 meringue desserts that have this same procedure. So, if you can get this one down it's a really, really great technique to have, a basic.
Now, we're almost there. The overall color is good. It's still light and fluffy and like I said, I don't care if I've got a few flecks of white. We're there.
Now, if you're anything like me you'd let this whole thing set for, hmm, maybe an hour and then you'd eat it. [sigh] Or, you could shun the binge and spoon it into martini glasses admittedly a better single serving. Now, just put these into the refrigerator for about an hour until the mousse sets and then take them out, put some plastic wrap over them and refrigerate them again. The plastic wrap will make sure that the fat in the chocolate doesn't pick up any funny flavors like, oh say, garlic or fish. Then again you could just eat it all.
Chocolate is the world's third largest export crop after sugar & coffee.
[Alton is reading Larousse Gastronomique, by Prosper Montagne, 1938]
I would have stopped with the mousse if it hadn't have been for an unexpected piece of airmail. [a paper airplane flies onto his book] Hey, what is this? Some kind of golden ticket? Wonka. Huh. Hey, some kind of recipe. Wait a minute. The guy at the Botanical Gardens. You don't think ... Sure enough, William Jefferson Wonka. I'd better get cooking.
I rushed to the kitchen to assemble the mysterious recipe. After preheating the oven to 375, I set up a double boiler and melted 8 ounces of chocolate and 1 stick of butter. Since it's about 18% water, the butter would provide enough liquid to keep the chocolate from seizing. To round out the flavor I added a teaspoon of vanilla extract. What the heck, Wonka would never know.
8 OZ Chocolate
|I loaded up my sub-nosed hand mixer, gathered the rest of the hardware and software I knew I'd need and then settled down to figure out what I was concocting. A half a cup of sugar would add sweetness and keep the cakes moist. A tablespoon of natural cocoa promised deep chocolate flavor. A measly 4 tablespoons of all purpose flour would provide some structure but, boy-howdy, these suckers were going to be dense. Wisely, a quarter teaspoon of salt was called for to highlight the other flavors. So far, so good.||
1/2 Cup Sugar
|I took the chocolate off the heat and smoothed it out with a Kitchen Aid set to stun. Next came 4 eggs, each one fully incorporated before the next one took the dive. Yolks would at richness and the whites would leaven by holding on to air just like a soufflé.||
Finally, I sifted in the dry stuff, just a little at a time. No lumps today, thanks. All that
was missing now was the air. So, I opened up the mixer and gave the batter what it needed, a good beating. Five minutes later it was right where I
wanted it, light, creamy and thick.
I let the batter chill and turned my attention to the muffin tin. I buttered the cups using my favorite butter-in-the-bag trick then I sprinkled on a hefty load of cocoa powder and spread it around. I figured a disher would make fast work of that sticky batter and I picked out a nice 4 ouncer so the nice little cakes would have plenty of room to rise.
I set my timer for 10 minutes and made a sauce, just in case. Nothing fancy. Just a cup of vanilla ice cream melted over low heat and a teaspoon of instant espresso powder. Cheap trick but it works every time.
1 Cup Vanilla Ice cream
The first "eating chocolate" appeared in London coffee houses in 1674.
Hmm, crusty sides, wobbly centers. Perfect. It was time to face the muffin. The crust soon yielded to my spoon's advances revealing a soft, oozing lava flow of love inside. Had I finally found what I was looking for? I was home and I didn't have to share with anybody.
So, our story ends as it began: man alone with his chocolate. I never saw that Wonka fella again but I was
thankful for what he'd given me, an easy, top-notch chocolate fix out of the oven in a quarter hour.
I close with wise words from Lucy Van Pelt of Peanuts fame, "All you really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt."
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Last Edited on 08/27/2010