Cioccolato , cocoa, cacao, chocolate, chocolat…xocolatl or cacahuatl – came from the ancient culture of Mesoamericans. The scientific name Cacao Theobroama means ‘Cacao ; food of the Gods’. There are three varieties – each grown in different parts of the world. Criollo comes from Central America, Venezuela, Colombia, and parts of Asia. While Forastero originates in the Upper Amazon. Within the Forastero group are cacaos from Brazil, West Africa, Equador, Latin America, Java, and Sri Lanka. The third group, Trinitarios, is the result of breeding between Trinidad Criollos and Amazon Forasteros. The Aztecs used cacao beans as currency.
The purported health benefits of eating chocolate (dark chocolate) are lowering of blood pressure and providing antioxidant benefits. However for the most of us, we know it as simply a wonderful piece of chocolate – and nothing beats that. They come in many shapes , tastes and forms – with nuts, or as truffles, as bars, an ice cream flavour, a drink, to name a few.
Last week, Henrik travelled to Syria , Damascus for business – and was introduced to a local chocolatier – Ghraoui. Who would have thought? The land of confectionery more to the leanings of maamoul, assabe, baklava. These exquisite chocolates started in 1931 by Mr S Ghraoui who came from a trading family that can be traced back to 1805. After visiting France, he wanted to introduce chocolates to the Middle East. To entice the consumers of the new market, sterling silver scissors or a golden letter cutter was included in each box of chocolate. Gharoui’s products were sold in Harrods, Fortnum and Mason and Selfridges in London, while in Paris, they were sold in Fauchon and Hediard. Besides chocolates Gharoui also produces other luxury confectionery like Palmyra (glazed dates with a hint of clove) . You can read more about in their website.
That sparked me to write a bit about chocolates and the best of what I have tasted so far…I highly recommend the following shops to get the best chocolates :
1) Teuscher (Switzerland)
Their truffles especially champagne truffles.
2) La Maison du Chocolat (France)
Truffles, pralines and ganaches – ok almost everything in their shop!
3) Summerbird (Denmark)
Great marzipan chocolates – yummy and floedeboller/snowballs (they are whipped soft merengue on marzipan base covered with dark chocolate) – see picture
4) Romanicos Chocolates (USA/Venezuela)
Truffles and truffles …
5) DeBondt chocolates (Italy)
Chocolate bars, stecche, spezzato…
On a cold winter day or night.. nothing beats a good hot chocolate. I like my hot chocolate thick enough and tastes like melted chocolate , velvety and yet without being too starchy (something closer to Italian version of cioccolata and not to the end like the spanish version) . Top it up with whipped cream. Yumm… There are many delicious cafes around where I live in Venice here – although they serve very good coffees – the hot chocolate can be a bit of a hit and miss thing. Cioccolata calda, the best ones have been in Dersut coffee houses, Dogado (on Strada Nova, next to Billa), Impronta Cafe and Vizio Virtu (chocolate shop) in Venice. Outside Venice, at least what I have read and noted down in my ‘to-do’ list are :
- Jacques Torres Wicked Hot Chocolate
- Angelina (Paris , France) – baroque tea room and its chocolat africain is so thick you can eat it with a spoon
- Cacao Sempaka (Barcelona, Spain) – by Ferran Adria’s brother
- Churreria El Moro (Mexico City, Mexico)
- Pejrano (Torino, Italy)
The list will be further updated as and when I discover new places – great secrets that bring happiness should be shared! What about a good recipe for making your own home made hot chocolate? Here is one –
100 g sugar
1 ltr of water
50 g of good quality cocoa powder (non sweetened)
270 g of dark chocolate (with at least 60% cocoa butter content) – break them to small chunks.
Boil the water, add the sugar – when sugar is dissolved , whisk in the cocoa powder. Pour the cocoa liquid bit by bit into the dark chocolate chunks in a heat proof bowl. The hot liquid should help melt the chocolate slowly. Do not pour all in at once, making it difficult to mix well. Whisk it as you mix the two. If they don’t dissolve, do a bain marie over hotwater in a pot on top of a low fire. Continue whisking, make sure it does not boil over.
The luxury bit is to have a chocolate pot or moussoir & pot – that will help froth the chocolate mixture further and it becomes ‘light’. Otherwise the modern version from Bodum a chocolatierre would be an added bonus.
Top your chocolate with fresh whipped cream and dust with any spices you like! Enjoy…