Did you know that because it contains more than 500 flavours, chocolate's the most complex food in the world?
Like coffee, chocolate's all about the bean. Grown in equatorial countries, the cacao bean comes in several varieties, the most highly prized being the criollo. Once ripe, it's processed into non-alcoholic cocoa liquor (also known as paste or mass) and cocoa butter, the bean's all-natural fat.
Up until the 19th century, chocolate was used only as a nourishing hot drink, but by 1840 familiar names like Cadbury and Rowntree in Britain and Nestlé in Switzerland were recombining cocoa liquor and cocoa butter -- along with sugar, milk solids, vanilla and lecithin -- to create what's now known as chocolate.
The better the chocolate, the higher the cocoa butter content. Cocoa butter melts just below human body temperature, and the best chocolate begins softening as soon as it's touched or popped into your mouth. Although it's best stored refrigerated or frozen in an airtight container, chocolate should always be served at room temperature.
Use all your senses when conducting a chocolate taste test. It should look glossy and sleek, with no dull spots, and smell, well, like chocolate -- not burnt. Its aroma can suggest fruit or spice, just like a fine wine. Chocolate should snap sharply and not be brittle or crumbly. Once it's in your mouth, let it sit on your tongue so you can savour its texture and taste. Chocolate should be smooth, not waxy or gritty. If other flavours are added -- nuts, fruit, liqueurs -- they should complement the chocolate and not overpower it.
Here's a survey of treats, from traditional to contemporary, available at chocolatiers around town.
Chock-lick (1) bittersweet chocolate-dipped spoon, ($3.75), a white chocolate truffle (2) infused with fusiony lemon zest and thyme ($1), bittersweet mocha (4) mixed with milk chocolate ($1) and Bowled-Over (9) edible dark chocolate bowls ($4.25 to $21.50) are found at J.S. Bonbons (163 Dupont, 416-920-0274).
White chocolate Heart (3) with smooth hazelnut praline centre ($1.80) and traditional foil-wrapped dark chocolate cherry Cordial (11) are both from Godiva, (Toronto Eaton Centre, 220 Yonge, and others, 416-593-0300).
Stubbe Chocolates (253 Davenport, 416-923-0956) carries a berry-topped white chocolate bar (5) studded with nuts ($3.50). The pink Kir Royale truffle (10) frosted with cassis sugar, white chocolate zigzag-garnished truffle (13) with cognac ganache, and apricot brandy truffle (12) coated with rich dark chocolate shavings sell for $1.10 each.
The Cerise (6) brandied cherry in kirsch in moulded dark chocolate shell, faux walnut-shelled Caprice (8) with almond and chocolate cream, and boozy liquid-centred Scotch whisky cream (7) go for 80 cents apiece at the Belgian Chocolate Shop (2455 Queen East, 416-691-1424).