BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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All It’s Choc-ed Up To Be

Walk two steps into your average supermarket, corner store, or pharmacy, and you’re liable to trip over a stand of assorted chocolate temptations. The field has grown at an exponential rate ever since the first bite of tempered cacao passed through discerning lips, and that explosive growth shows no sign of slowing down. It’s impossible to keep up with all the new varieties proliferating from old favorites, let alone stay in the loop about fledgling brands. Any reasonable person can at least appreciate a good square of chocolate, so it doesn’t take much to explain the steady upward trend.

Valentine’s Day is a particularly good excuse to single out some exceptional chocolate options, should you need a reason to indulge in the first place. Gourmet truffles represent the height of the art form, but for the more casual chocoholic, a whole world of superlative bars now exist within easy reach, right on shelves alongside more accessible sweets.

Better known for their whole grains, Alter Eco has colored countless meals with their rainbow of quinoa options, but also pours that same passion for quality into their chocolate molds. Carefully, consciously sourced in order to support the farmers and workers contributing to every step of the process, it’s a brand I feel especially proud to call local to the San Francisco bay area. They truly put their money where their mouth is… In between bites of luscious cacao, of course.

Not all their confections are vegan, but the dairy-free options are so dark, rich, and deeply satisfying that it’s hard to understand why they would need such a crutch at all. Look no further than the Quinoa, Mint, and Orange varieties to see for yourself.

Move over Crunch and Crackle! The most unique option of the three, popped quinoa offers all the crispy texture you love, with the sophisticated, slightly bitter chocolate you crave. Just sweet enough to take the edge off, it’s the darkest of these three, which makes even a tiny shard quite satisfying. The quinoa adds very little flavor, but big visual and textural impact. You get all the whimsy of a childhood classic but with serious chocolate taste.

Mint chocolate is perhaps one of the most perfect flavor marriages in my mind, and this rendition does not disappoint. Luscious herbal aroma perfumes the air as soon as the seal is broken, revealing a flawlessly molded bar. Tempered to a crisp snap, it has a smooth, creamy melt with a refreshing, bright, but not overpowering undercurrent of mint. Well-balanced sweetness highlights the fresh flavor while rounding out the chocolate profile.

Substantial, chunky pieces of candied zest immediately gleam across the surface of the orange twist bar. Subtly smoky, woodsy chocolate lends a more earthy essence to contrast with the bold taste of citrus. The orange itself is relatively subdued, but still clean and fresh. Those whole pieces are the best element, adding a bit of chew and excitement into the experience.

Even bad chocolate is generally pretty good, but with so many exceptional options to choose from now, why settle for second rate? It doesn’t need to be a special occasion to indulge in any of these delights.

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Drowned in Cacao

Considering the thrilling news about my book and the rising temperatures outside, it’s no surprise that ice cream has been on my mind lately. Starting off the season on a high note with one of my personal favorites, an affogato is the perfect transitional dessert for a lingering spring with a few sudden heat waves thrown into the mix.

Classically prepared with vanilla ice cream, the frosty scoops are unceremoniously drowned in steaming hot espresso, mingling for those few fleeting seconds to create a sensation that vacillates between hot and cold, cold and hot, and finally hot once more. It’s the kind of dessert that you can’t get wrapped “to go” at a restaurant, that you can’t get prepackaged; it must be enjoyed immediately, but above all else, thoroughly. Perhaps I love it so much because it really forces you to be in the moment, rather than mindlessly munching on stray cake crumbs or a few leftover cookies. It’s more of an experience than dish, when you get right down to it.

Of course, I’m hardly the sort to do anything traditional when it comes to food, so my flavors vary as wildly as the weather. The only constant has been that strong, dark shot of espresso poured on top… Until I discovered there was such a thing as chocolate tea. Pacha provided me with the opportunity to sample their cacao infusions, providing the inspiration for my inverse affogato. Instead of pouring espresso on top, why not freeze it as the ice cream instead? Steeped for twice as long and at double-strength, the chocolatey brew marries harmoniously with the creamy coffee ice cream, giving life to a new mocha flavor, as delicate as it is complex.

If the world is not black and white, why should all affogato remain merely vanilla and espresso?

Inverse Affogato

Espresso Ice Cream:

1 Can (1 3/4 Cup) Full-Fat Coconut Milk
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoons Instant Espresso Powder or 1 Tablespoon Instant Coffee Powder
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot Powder
1/4 Cup Kahlua or Coffee Liqueur

To Serve:

Strong Brewed Cacao Tea, Hot

To make the ice cream, simply toss all of the ingredients except for the liqueur into a medium saucepan and whisk thoroughly. Make sure you break up any clumps before turning on the heat to medium. Whisk periodically until the mixture comes to a boil. Cook at a full boil for 2 additional minutes, and then remove the pan from the burner. Add in the liqueur last, stirring to incorporate. Let cool to room temperature and then chill thoroughly for at least 3 hours before churning in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Once churned, transfer the fresh, soft ice cream into an air-tight container and stash it your freezer for at least 3 hours before serving.

To serve your affogato, simply scoop the ice cream into a heat-safe dish and pour as much of the hot cacao tea on top as desired. Eat immediately!

Makes About 1 – 1 1/2 Pints Ice Cream

Printable Recipe