ulling over the leap of imagination that occurred in the minds
of the early people of Mesoamerica when they identified cacao as
a food of the gods still fascinates many chefs and chocolate lovers
the world over. It’s conjectured that they went from handling the
almost-foot-long red, yellow or orange seed pods of the numerous
cacao trees to tasting the sweet, juicy pulp within.
In Chocolate: The Nature of Indulgence (Henry Abrams, Inc.,
2002), food historian Ruth Lopez sets the stage: “One can imagine
a scenario in which the bitter seeds, discarded in a fire pit, began
to release the seductive chocolate aroma that continues to cast
its spell today.” Then, the natives intuited the fermentation and
drying techniques necessary to produce chocolate.
Volumes have been written about the processes
developed throughout history on various continents
to create innumerable iterations of one of our favorite
addictive substances. Today’s pastry chefs are appreciative
of the fine quality of available product, including
Dutch cocoa, and, more recently, caramelized white (or
CHOCOLATE MASTER CLASS
Gale Gand is in awe of those Olmec, Maya
and Inca men and women whose imaginations led
to developing those first steps. “It’s unbelievable
we even have chocolate,” she says. As a Chicago-based chef/restaurateur/cookbook author/teacher,
she’s pleased to share that history with numerous
students who come her way.
Recently, she held a chocolate master class at
Elawa Farm, Lake Forest, Illinois. She included
details of the dutching of chocolate devised in the early
19th century by Dutch chocolatier Coenraad Johannes
van Houten. “The chemical reaction between the acid in
the cocoa and baking soda caused a red hue. The original
Red Velvet Cake was a celebration of the acid in cocoa,”
Gand says. “Over the years, when cocoa got dutched to
produce a mellow cocoa powder, it no longer got red.”
Gand is a major cheerleader for her city’s unique black
cocoa, produced since 1939 by the Blommer Chocolate
Company. “It’s pitch-black—think Oreo cookies,” she says.
“It’s used in the making of cakes with whipped cream layered
between chocolate wafers that are made with black cocoa.”
She invariably uses black cocoa powder in place of un-dutched
cocoa powder. And for her special-occasion chocolate cake, she’ll
opt for black cocoa every time. In classes, Gand uses Ghirardelli,
purchased at retail. “It’s gettable and affordable, so my students
can get in the kitchen and have a happy life,” she says.
During an online class that Gand recently presented for
Craftsy.com, she focused on creating showstopping do-ahead
desserts, including chocolate cannoli incorporating dark, milk
and white chocolate. “The shell is a netting of those three types
of chocolate filled with chocolate bourbon mousse,” she says.
There’s been more than just talk among pastry chefs that
caramelizing white or blonde chocolate is worth the effort,
because the process creates a host of new taste sensations. It’s
proven to be an interesting and flavorful option for many pastry
chefs, including David Collier who, thanks to a Valrhona demo
he watched about a decade ago, has been a fan ever since. Over
the intervening years, caramelization of white chocolate has
become commercially available from various manufacturers, so
high-quality finished product is not hard to get.
For many a chocolate cognoscenti—and the FDA until 2002—
white chocolate was not chocolate. Today, it can be called white
chocolate if it contains a minimum of 20% cocoa butter. Collier,
pastry chef at 1789 in Washington, D.C., learned of browning white
chocolate in 2009 while attending a demo at the World Pastry
Forum in Phoenix. He felt that the process made the white chocolate
less sweet while creating greater depth. “Now, you can get it from
the manufacturer, and it will be more consistent,” he says.
“Most of what I do is plated desserts, so I’ll incorporate
caramelized white as a cremeux or mousse or ice cream, although I’ll
tend toward dark chocolate for baking—typically from semisweet,
50%, not cocoa powder.”
OPPOSITE: David Collier’s banana pudding—banana cremeux (blonde caramelized
white chocolate), cream trimoline, liquid glucose, gelatin, banana puree and milk.
ABOVE: Chocolate cannoli from Gale Gand.