Tag Archives: christopher-elbow

Chocolate vocabulary lesson

I throw a lot of terms around, like “bean-to-bar” and “confection,” and I’ve never really sat down and defined what I mean by those terms. I’ve defined three words: chocolate makers, chocolate blenders, and chocolate confectioners, to the best of my ability. I’ve also listed some of my favourites in each category. These are not exhaustive lists, and I know that I’ve forgotten (or simply don’t know about) some great stuff out there. If I’ve offended you…well, that’s just too bad.

Anyway. Here we go.

Chocolate makers

Also called bean-to-bar producers, chocolate makers actually make chocolate. They start with cacao beans and process them into the delectable thing that we know as chocolate. Typically, the chocolate comes in the form of chocolate bars, or chocolate pistoles (giant, flat chips). This chocolate is sometimes sold to consumers, while some is sold exclusively to industry folks.

Chocolate makers buy dried, fermented cocao beans from farmers, though their level of involvement in the growing, fermenting and drying process can vary. Some chocolate makers work very closely with farmers, while others deal exclusively with bean brokers and never meet the growers.

Chocolate makers are one part agricultural expert, one part production engineer, and one part artisan. They need to understand cacao (an agricultural product), be able to transform it through a series of steps (that’s the engineering part) and create something delicious, nuanced and distinctive at the end (definitely an artistic pursuit).

Some of my favourite small-batch producers: Amano Artisan Chocolate, Soma Chocolatemaker, Claudio Corallo, Theo Chocolate, and Askinosie Chocolate. I’ll also admit that I’m partial to working with Valrhona chocolate, thought they’re far from small-batch.

Chocolate blenders

Chocolate blenders don’t make chocolate, but they buy chocolate and blend it. This is less lame than it sounds. It’s not quite bean-to-bar, but there’s still a fine art to blending a chocolate mixture that is delicious and distinct. Think about an artist’s palette; while the colours come in a tube, the right mixture of colours can express something that stock colours can’t.

I don’t taste as much blended chocolate as I do bean-to-bar chocolate, but I was impressed with Chocolove’s 73% organic dark chocolate bar. You can read about it here.

Chocolate confectioners

Chocolate confectioners are what most people think of when you say chocolatier: someone who takes chocolate and creates bonbons, pralines and truffles. Way back when, the term chocolatier meant someone who took chocolate from bean to confection, but not anymore.

Chocolatiers don’t typically make their own chocolate. It’s partly economic, and partly because the two tasks are so very different. The equipment required is completely different, and it really doesn’t make sense to have the equipment to process chocolate and turn it into bonbons. (Two exceptions: Soma Chocolatemaker and Theo Chocolates are both bean-to-bar producers and chocolatiers.)

Quality confectioners work with quality ingredients: chocolate, but also with cream, sugar, spices, fruits, nuts, and liquor. Beware of fondant, corn syrup, or – to quote Michael Pollan – “anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize.” The lack of preservatives in quality confections means that these treats have a limited shelf life: 3 weeks, at most.

There are a lot of folks out there masquerading as top-end chocolatiers. Some of them are pretty good – say, an 8 out of 10. And then, there are some whose attention to detail, flavour profiles and execution are all there. If you want to impress me, bring me something from Thomas Haas, Christopher Elbow, Norman Love, Kee’s Chocolates, Vosges, or La Maison du Chocolat.

P.S. Thomas Haas is opening a new location in Vancouver, next to Lumiere. Boss-man says that it’ll be open in mid-October. Wheee!

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Happy birthday, Chocolopolis!

Hey Seattle folks, you should make your way down to Chocolopolis lickety split. As in, sometime in the next week or so. They’re celebrating their first birthday today (wheee!) and are saying thank you with a whole week’s worth of great tastings and events.

They’re featuring Norman Love, Christopher Elbow, Lillie Belle Farms and Michel Cluziel treats in the confection case. They’ve also just re-formulated their in-house single-origin truffles. And did I mention the deliciousness that is their chocolate-covered vanilla and strawberry marshmallow?

Their anniversary week events are posted on their homepage.

Chocolopolis
1527 Queen Anne Avenue North
Seattle, WA
(206) 282-0776.

Caramel is magical, and science is delicious

I’m a big nerd. I may not wear a lab coat anymore, but I’m still conducting experiments all the time. Case in point: when I visited a friend in Boulder, Colorado, I knew that it was one mile above sea level. The first thing that popped into my head was “high-altitude baking experiments,” the results of which I still have to document.

When it comes to food, I’m always thinking about the science behind it.

Take caramel, for instance. It seems simple, right? Put sugar (white, crystalline) into a pan and heat it up to 165 degrees Celsius. The resulting caramel (brown, liquid) looks, tastes and smells nothing like sugar. How did it do that? What were the molecular changes? At what temperature? It gets me every time. I think it’s magical and fantastical.

And then there’s Christopher Elbow‘s vanilla bean caramel. It’s lovely, honest flavour. In fact, this chocolate was missing from my chocolate menu and I had to guess what was in it. Sometimes, this is fun; often, it’s a crapshoot as flavours are muddy or, ahem, overly subtle. Well, this was clearly vanilla bean caramel. The caramel was rich and buttery, and just sweet enough. The fragrant vanilla floated on top of the caramel – and who doesn’t love seeing vanilla bean seeds in their food?

But let’s get to the cool science. The mouthfeel was amazing. It was perfectly smooth, but not oozy. As I do with my chocolate tastings, I cut this one in half to get a cross-section view. The caramel looks solid in the shell: it flows a little bit, but it stays in the shell. But then you pop it in your mouh, and your tongue is, quite literally, bathed in liquid caramel. It’s partly to do with the heat of your mouth, but there’s also the molecular structure of the caramel. The study of things that are sometimes liquid, and sometimes solid, is called rheology. I think it’s pretty freaking cool.

But even if you don’t, appreciate this: it makes for lovely caramels.

Christopher Elbow: the classics

Sometimes, I have so many things running around my head that I’m not sure which one to tease out first. In context of this here blog, I have so many notes on delicious, chocolatey things that sometimes it’s hard for me to know which one to talk about first.

In Alice in Wonderland, the Mad Hatter says, “Oh dear. Well start at the beginning and when you get to the end…stop.”

(It also happens to be an email signature of a good friend of mine, so it’s not like I’m always thinking about the Mad Hatter. But hey, I do have high hopes for this movie.)

So, I will begin at the beginning, with Christopher Elbow‘s classic flavours.

Exhibit A: champagne. It’s a milk chocolate-based ganache, which is a good choice – dark chocolate probably would have overpowered the delicate champagne flavour. In fact, “delicate” is an excellent word to describe this confection. There’s a very subtle champagne aroma to the ganache, and it’s like it was constructed by fairies with tiny hands. It’s tastes of delicate, fragrant champagne, and the effect is incredibly elegant. You taste a bit of alcohol, but this is far from boozy. There’s a lovely acidic finish, and – believe it or not – a bubbly sensation just before the flavour dissipates. It’s like champagne, transmogrified into chocolate form.

Exhibit B: raspberry. The description, “raspberry pate de fruit topped with dark chocolate raspberry ganache,” is pretty straightforward. There’s no flowery language, no cutesy name, no marketing buzzwords. And once I tasted it, I understood why.

This chocolate doesn’t need a description. It’s full-frontal raspberry, but in an incredibly refined, elegant way. It’s fruity, bright, clean, and positively juicy. Other chocolatiers make a similar product, but the pate de fruit can be a bit too stiff or gelatinous. Elbow’s pate de fruit is, well, almost al dente. It has a bit of give and texture, but it’s delicate enough to meld seamlessly with the ganache. The ganache itself has a pop of fresh raspberry.

And the most impressive thing with all these chocolates? The finish. These chocolates take you through a very deliberate, well-executed flavour profile…and then they’re gone. The crispness of the finish is really quite remarkable. If you’ve ever been to the symphony (and I hope you have – go once, just for the experience) and have seen the artistry in making all the instruments go quiet at the exact. same. time., then you begin to understand just how deliberate these chocolates are.

Scarecrows and chocolate

When I think of hotbeds of chocolate goodness, a few cities come to mind: Paris, New York, San Francisco. Vancouver’s nice and all, and there are some interesting chocolate makers here, but I don’t think we have quite the reputation as other cities.

But how about Kansas City? Erm. I hear there are wizards and scarecrows there. Or maybe that’s just Kansas in general.

Kansas City is also home to Christopher Elbow, who makes exquisite chocolates. The flavours are clear and pronounced, but still elegant and refined. The textures and technique are impeccable. And, let’s be honest, they’re freaking beautiful. His wife is a graphic designer, and has designed stunning cocoa butter transfers for the chocolates.

The chocolates are a mixture of classic flavours (single-origin chocolate, champagne, caramel), new-fangled exotic flavours (yuzu, Russian tea) and modern twists (strawberry balsamic caramel, rosemary caramel). And while I went through them all with a very critical eye, I don’t have a single bad thing to say. Except, maybe, that I didn’t get to try every single flavour, and that is almost tragic.

Chocolopolis

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m a culinary tourist. I know most people head to new places with lists of museums, sights, or shopping districts. I prefer to arm myself with lists of restaurants, bakeries and chocolate shops.

Well, when I was in Seattle last month, I headed straight for Chocolopolis. And let me tell you, I was not disappointed. Not only did I get to speak to the lovely Lauren Adler, but she told me about the artisan chocolate makers that she gets to work with. The store is stocked with artisan chocolate bars that I’ve never even heard of, much less tasted. And the confectionary case is stocked with a rotating selection of offerings from top-notch chocolatiers. When I was there, they had Theo Chocolates, Norman Love Confections, and Christopher Elbow Chocolates.

Christopher Elbow was in the store the previous day, doing a tasting and demonstration. I missed him by 18 hours.

I drowned my sorrows in a mug of warm drinking chocolate, served with a homemade vanilla-strawberry marshmallow. A double-layered marshmallow that tasted like fragrant vanilla and juicy strawberry, dunked in thick, luxurious drinking chocolate: it was like a warm, adult version of neopolitan ice cream, eaten straight from the bucket.

And then I carted home a bag stuffed to the brim with artisan chocolate bars.

Chocolopolis
1527 Queen Anne Ave. N.
Seattle, WA 98109
(206) 282-0776