Milk chocolate gets a
Myth #1: milk chocolate is too sweet. This is sometimes true, but only because there’s so much bad milk chocolate out there. And, the FDA only requires milk chocolate to contain a minimum of 10% cacao solids (from the cacao bean) and 12 percent milk solids, leaving the door wide open for mass-market chocolate companies to add a bunch of sugar, fake flavors, and additives you can’t pronounce.
Myth #2: milk chocolate is juvenile. Dark chocolate is perceived as more sophisticated and therefore, inherently better than milk. All those research studies linking dark chocolate to heart health don’t help, either.
When I was in culinary school, I learned that the tools of any pastry chef are flour, butter, milk, and eggs. With these four ingredients, you can make nearly anything in a pastry shop: flaky croissants, moist cakes, toothsome breads and more. The ingredients are few; the execution nuanced and complex.
Similarly, with two basic ingredients: cacao beans and sugar, plus the occasional dash of lecithin or vanilla, bean-to-bar chocolate makers create chocolate. Cacao beans are fermented, dried, roasted, and crushed into small pieces called nibs. The nibs are then ground into a paste, to which sugar and lecithin is added, and the resulting chocolate is refined until it’s silky smooth.
In the examples below, these chocolate companies add salt and nibs to their chocolate. The result is chocolate in two forms—the kind that melts on your tongue, plus the kind that crunches between your teeth—kicked up with a salty crackle. And tasters diligent (or curious) enough to pry the nibs from the bar can taste chocolate’s more primitive form.
If licorice conjures memories of movie theaters and popcorn, then turn your thoughts to the dark side. The distinctive flavor of black licorice is usually associated with chewy candy, but there’s so much more to it. Salted licorice offers a satisfying chew that’s part savory, part sweet. Anise seeds have an earthy, almost spicy character. Fennel gives two more options: Raw, it has a crisp, bright taste and cooking brings out its syrupy sweetness. Star anise makes for a pretty garnish, but it also has a delicate sweetness. And tarragon’s subtle licorice flavor is tempered with herbaceous notes.
Given the versatility of licorice flavors, it’s a prime candidate for combining with chocolate. It can be tricky to pair the right type of licorice flavor with the right type of chocolate, but in the hands of these three chocolate companies, the results are something to savor. MORE
Peanuts get a bad rap these days, from outright bans at schools to bags of Halloween candy proudly declaring their peanut deficiency. But when I was a kid, the more peanuts, the better. I present for your deliberation: Mars versus Snickers. Mars bar? Cloyingly sweet with an oddly slick texture. Snickers bar? Caramelly, chewy, and delicious—and stuffed with peanuts. I rest my case.
If peanuts are good, then peanuts and chocolate is better. There’s a reason that Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups have endured since 1928, and it isn’t because my college roommate used to—and probably still does—eat them compulsively. MORE
If we’ve learned anything from the locavore movement, it’s that relationships are important. Those heirloom tomatoes, the ones with furrows like a bulldog’s forehead? They’ve been imbued with the passion of the tomato farmer, whose face may or may not be equally wrinkly. That tomato is the vehicle for a relationship—one between you and the tomato farmer. Logically, that relationship extends to other foods, like eggplants, kale, and strawberries. But when it comes to food other than produce, such as cheese, wine, or chocolate, things get a bit more complicated.
Consider the chocolate truffle. If you take pains to shop at local businesses, then you probably know the person who made it. This person is a chocolatier—someone who buys chocolate and uses it as an ingredient. For example, they can add mint-infused cream and a knob of butter to make mint truffles, or dapple a thin layer of chocolate with fruits and nuts to make bark. Or they can pour liquid chocolate into a mold to have it emerge as a hoppy bunny or bearded man. MORE