by Valerie Beck, Chocolate Expert and Chocolate Broker
New York City – the “Big Apple” – turns into what I call the “Big Truffle” every summer during the Fancy Food Show. Chefs, brands, and chocolate makers from across the country and around the world set up displays, so that retailers, the media, and brokers can come see and sample what’s new.
As a chocolate consultant and broker, who never misses a chance to visit friends, clients, and my favorite shops and museums in NYC, the Fancy Food Show is a joy every year.
The trends I focused on at the Show this year were craft chocolate (small-batch chocolate made from fair trade or direct trade cacao), fine chocolate (made with premium ingredients for chefs and consumers), and fine pastry and dessert (made with premium ingredients).
While in NYC I also received a special delivery of a new Dutch chocolate brand not yet sold in the States, attended a mini college reunion for classmates who live in or near New York or who like me were traveling there, and did some chocolate scouting (click here for the separate blog post on the heavenly chocolate and pastry I scouted) – scroll on for Fancy Food Show deliciousness!
Starting with standouts in craft chocolate:
Some favorites in the fine chocolate category, also organic of course:
Some fine pastry and dessert hits:
I love placing great artisan brands into great upscale stores, and am already looking forward to the next Fancy Food Show.
We didn’t have a white Christmas in Chicago this year, but my family did have a delicious white chocolate bread with peppermint hot fudge on our dessert table, so we counted that as a blessing indeed!
What is white chocolate? And is it really chocolate?
It is and isn’t chocolate, depending on the quality, and the semantics. Here’s what I mean:
There’s premium quality white chocolate, and commercial grade white chocolate, just as with milk and dark chocolate. Premium quality white chocolate is made with cocoa butter, which comes from the cocoa bean from which all chocolate is made. Mix cocoa butter with milk and sugar, and you have quality, delicious white chocolate.
Commercial grade white chocolate is usually made with palm oil and other ingredients that do not come from the cocoa bean. If it doesn’t come from the cocoa bean, it isn’t chocolate. It gets worse: palm oil is a saturated fat that is bad for our health, and it is farmed in such a way as to be harmful to the environment, to animals who live in the rainforest, and to workers who in some cases aren’t paid a fair wage. The World Health Organization recommends avoiding palm oil. This means we want to be careful of palm oil in milk and dark chocolate, as well as white chocolate.
So, if you have good quality white chocolate, with cocoa butter, is it chocolate? It depends on your semantics. When chocolate is made, the cocoa bean is ground up and the white (or more accurately: ivory colored) cocoa butter is separated from the solid brown cocoa mass. White chocolate doesn’t contain the cocoa mass, though it does contain the cocoa butter, so chefs sometimes call it “chocolate-less chocolate!”
Was that answer confusing enough? Bottom line: read your labels. If you pick up a white chocolate bar and see that it’s made with cocoa butter, with no vegetable oil, you’ve got a delicious chocolate product. If the label says vegetable oil, that generally means palm oil, and you may want to back away from the bar, and proceed quickly to your nearest artisan chocolate shop or bakery to find the real thing!
Meanwhile, snow or no (and I like to call snow “white chocolate from heaven!”), I wish you a beautiful and delicious new year!
Some people call New York City the Big Apple. I call it the Big Truffle, because of its enormous number of top quality chocolate shops and bakeries!
I usually visit New York a couple of times a year, generally in summer for the Fancy Food Show, and in November for Veteran’s Day weekend. It’s always a treat visiting old friends and meeting new ones, and tasting what everyone has been up to.
Before I started my chocolate services business 9 years ago, I was a corporate lawyer (and of course already a chocolate maniac). While employed at a large law firm in Chicago, I once spent a winter in the New York office, doing aircraft leveraged lease deals (don’t ask). I worked more or less around the clock, and what kept me more or less sane was sneaking out of the conference room for a Teuscher Champagne Truffle. Now when I visit NYC, it’s all chocolate all the time – well, not quite: I always make time for New York’s amazing art, architecture, and fashion, so that the overall theme is “sweet and chic!”
I love New York, and my most recent trip this past Veteran’s Day weekend was inspirational. Here are 3 chocolatey NYC neighborhoods I visited, and the shops that make these areas sweet:
1. Chelsea / Greeley Square
Walking from the Eventi Hotel in Chelsea toward Midtown, I let the Chocolate Fairies of Sweet Serendipity lead me to the Broadway Bites outdoor foodstalls market. Once I discovered it, I couldn’t stay away! Favorites at B’way Bites:
Sigmund Pretzels not only makes delicious, buttery, soft pretzels in creative flavors such as pumpkin seed, they also make creative cookies, such as the Wancko Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Cookie, which contains a pretzel. Yes, soft pretzel bites are IN the chocolate chip cookie! Delectable.
Macaron Parlour‘s pastry chefs make exquisite macarons with lovely texture. Their combination of pumpkin and chocolate – a pumpkin macaron with chocolate pumpkin ganache – plus the hand-drawn pumpkin illustration on each cookie, won me over instantly. (What’s the difference between a macaron and a macaroon? I wrote a brief post about it; click here!)
Breads Bakery had a sign in front of their Broadway Bites foodstall announcing that they make the best chocolate babka in New York according to New York Magazine. Their chocolate babka was $5 a slice, and it was worth it. Dense yet light, flavorful and not sweet, and ultra-chocolatey, I was tempted to buy a few loaves and throw a chocolate babka party in my hotel suite. I’m serious!
2. Midtown / Fifth Avenue
Michel Cluizel is a longtime favorite of mine, because this family-owned brand believes in chocolate sustainability, fair trade, and traditional French fine-chocolate magic, with no soy lecithin. (For my post on why I don’t want soy lecithin in my chocolate, click here.) Their Fifth Avenue store carries their charming macarolats, macaron-shaped chocolate bonbons with fillings such as raspberry, and also carries an abundance of their incredible chocolates, macarons, and more. They have a chocolate-making facility and museum in New Jersey, 30 minutes from Philadelphia, that we’re invited to visit next time – join me!
Jacques Torres goes by the nickname “Mr. Chocolate,” and his Rockefeller Center store reflects his sense of fun and his love of quality. Once, after chatting with the man himself at a chocolate show in New York a few years ago, I saw that he noticed a scrap of paper on the floor near his booth. He bent down, picked it up, and threw it away, showing in that tiny motion that he has the humility of the great.
Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery has transformed whimsy into a Michelin star. I love Chef Keller’s transformation at Bouchon of well-known commercial candy bar and dessert concepts, into exquisite upscale versions made with premium ingredients. For example, the “Oh Oh” dessert in the photo was a heavenly chocolate-coated swirl of cream and cake. We visited his Beverly Hills Bouchon on the Beverly Hills Bakery Tour that I whipped up for one day only, last spring. Let’s do it again – cross-country Bouchon!
3. Brooklyn / Williamsburg
Getting off the train in Brooklyn, I turned right instead of left, and found myself at Woops bakery. Thank you, Chocolate Fairies of Sweet Serendipity, for leading me to this gem. Not only were the macarons well-textured and tasty, but the alfajores were nicely not-too-sweet, the decor was refreshing, and the staff were helpful with directions. I know Manhattan but was a relative newbie in Brooklyn and clearly lost – yet found!
Among the pioneers of the bean-to-bar chocolate revolution are chocolate-making brothers Rick and Michael Mast of Mast Brothers. I’ve been a fan of their chocolate bars since they began making them in 2007, so what a treat it was to go behind the scenes at their Brooklyn manufactory, where I saw the care that goes into each stage of operations (cocoa beans are sorted by hand, sea salt is sprinkled by hand onto finished chocolate bars), and where I tasted their chocolate in flowing form, straight out of the grinder, where fairtrade cocoa beans are mixed for 3 days with sugar and nothing else. I also felt the love that everyone at Mast Brothers has for the art of chocolate. Their brewed chocolate drinks at their drinking-chocolate shop a couple of doors down were also phenomenal, as were their chocolate chip cookies, bonbons, and of course chocolate bars.
My mission has always been Uplift Through Chocolate, and it was exciting to experience and taste chocolate love in many innovative forms on my latest trip to New York. For more photos, see #NYCNovember2014 on twitter or Instagram, where I post as @chocolateuplift.
Save the date of next Veteran’s Day weekend, and join me for another set of sweet and chic adventures in the Big Truffle – email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the list.
Macarons have become a popular treat in the US, and perhaps this popularity is at the root of some confusion over what constitutes a macaron with 1 o, versus a macaroon with 2 o’s.
They are indeed 2 different cookies, though both almond-based:
Macaroons (2 o’s) originated in Italy, and are light yet dense cookies covered in coconut and often dipped in chocolate – the best part, right! They’re usually made from egg whites, sugar, and ground almonds.
Macarons (1 o), on the other hand, were popularized in France. They are delicate, meringue-based sandwich cookies made from almond flour, and are usually filled with jam, buttercream, or ganache. They are made in many colors and flavors, including chocolate of course.
Both cookies can be creative and delicious, yet macarons are definitely having a moment. I’ve started a hashtag to differentiate macarons on twitter and instagram: #macaronsnotmacaroons.
By Valerie Beck, founder of Chicago Chocolate Tours – rebranding to Chocolate Uplift chocolate services
Have you ever had dessert for dinner?
How about 7 desserts for dinner?
I’m excited to tell you about an evening of pastry paradise at top-rated NoMI restaurant at the elegant Park Hyatt Chicago last month. Star pastry chef Meg Galus generously invited 6 of her pastry chef pals from other Chicago restaurants to join her in creating exquisite dinner courses made of scrumptious desserts! The event – part of the Park Hyatt Masters of Food and Wine series – was called “Dessert Degustation,” and it was magnificent. Thank you to NoMI and Chef Meg for the invitation!
Here are the delicious details:
I brought my mother (chocolate mania runs in our family!), and joined around 20 other dessert lovers at NoMI. After a delightful appetizer reception with savory hors-d’oevres and a lovely cider, Chef Meg greeted us warmly. She is incredibly talented, hard-working, and innovative. I loved chatting with her at the chocolate pop-up she’d created at the Park Hyatt for Mother’s Day, and was excited to see what she’d been up to recently.
I’ll admit that when I saw the elegantly printed Dessert Degustation menu, I was surprised at the lack of chocolate. I’ve always said that dessert without chocolate isn’t dessert – it’s salad! For example, what does my family do with perfectly good apple pie at the holidays? We pour chocolate sauce on it, naturally! Chef Meg mentioned too that she was surprised at the general absence of chocolate when the other chefs told her in advance what they were going to create. Her plan was to let the other chefs send in their ideas first, and then she would fill in any gaps. The gap was chocolate (I know: still shocking!) and she filled it in magnificently.
Of course, each dessert was delicious, chocolate or no. The chefs were amazing, and thoughtful, and creative, and it was a pleasure to hear each of them describe their dessert-as-dinner creations. Plus, each dessert was paired with wine, and the sommelier was there to answer any questions about the beautifully-matched choices.
My 3 favorite desserts of the evening, in order of presentation, were:
1. Grapefruit Meringata by Amanda Rockman of Nico Osteria
This course consisted of grapefruit sorbet, white chocolate, basil, and Turkish delight. It was light and airy, with just the right balance of sweet and tart. Is white chocolate really chocolate? That’s a topic for a separate blog post (short answer: yes, if it’s premium white chocolate made from real cocoa butter as this was; no if it’s commercial white chocolate made from an oil and chemical concoction). This dessert-as-dinner course was so refreshing it could have been dessert-as-breakfast!
2. Chocolate Mont Blanc Tart by Meg Galus of NoMI
Chef Meg’s dessert was the delicious and gorgeous grand finale, and provided the first milk or dark chocolate all evening. It was worth the wait! Her dessert was composed of milk chocolate cremeux, chestnut-rum mousseline, and Tahitian vanilla, topped with edible gold leaf. The chocolate-chestnut combination was pure autumnal genius, and the dessert was rich, flavorful, and satisfying. Did I finish each of the desserts that evening? No, because when tasting professionally I’ll often have just one bite to taste, and one more bite to develop. Then, if I want to eat more of the item personally instead of professionally, I may do so. Did I eat this particular dessert personally after tasting it professionally? Absolutely!
3. Chocolate Pumpkin Nut Macaron by Toni Roberts of The Wit
What comes after the grand finale? The thoughtful take-home dessert! This mega-sized macaron-shaped dessert was filled with a pumpkin caramel hazelnut center, coated in chocolate, and presented on a bed of gold-leafed crushed peanuts. I sliced it open to a cross-section and plated it so that you can see all of the elements. Did I then eat the entire fun and delicious super-cookie? One guess!
At the end of the evening, we also received a delightful chocolate-themed mug filled with Chef Meg’s housemade hot chocolate mix and marshmallows. When I sampled a bit of the mix dry, it was so delicious and luxurious that I could have eaten the entire bag dry, without adding water! (I like my hot chocolate with water, though you could certainly have blended this mix with milk, almond milk, etc.) My mother loved the hot chocolate – and the rest of the Dessert Degustation – too, and commented that the evening provided something for everyone.
There’s something for you too, because the Park Hyatt, NoMI, and Chef Meg are always creating something new and delicious. Check out their schedule of Masters events here, and for details on their Sugar and Spice holiday chocolate pop-up click here.
See you next time, and keep eating – and drinking – chocolate!