Thursday, May 10, 2012

My Dark Habit

Last summer my extended family, around sixteen of us, gathered in a beach house in Virginia playing a game. I don’t recall the name of the game, but the way it works is everyone takes a turn answering a question posed anonymously by one of the players. It’s a lot of fun and you tend to learn some surprising things about each other! One of the questions was: If you had to pick two foods to eat every day for the rest of your life, what would they be? I didn’t have to think too hard about this one. Bread and dark chocolate, without a doubt. I already eat them every day, and if I happen not to for some bizarre reason (like being incapacitated by a stomach bug), I sorely miss them.

I consume a few other foods pretty much every day too: salad greens, olive oil, and orange juice come to mind. But I don’t relish them in the same way that I relish bread and dark chocolate. Bread, “the staff of life,” holds no shame. When made from whole grains, my preference, it can be very nutritious. Chocolate is more questionable. In my defense, the chocolate has to be dark, preferably at least 70% cacao. Anything with a hint of milk or less than 60% is simply candy. Dark chocolate, on the other hand, is a food, and a magical food at that. Anyone who appreciates dark chocolate knows what I’m talking about (right, ladies?). Lately it’s been touted as healthy, and one of the beautiful things about dark chocolate is that it takes only a small amount to satisfy. The idea of consuming an entire bar in one sitting holds no appeal. But a square or two after a meal is divine.

In France, chocolate is an art form rivaling haute couture, for example these chocolate shoes we saw displayed in a Parisian chocolatier’s window.

When we were living in Paris back in the fall of 2010, there seemed to be a chocolate shop every few blocks. Entering one felt like stepping into a high end jewelry store, with the selection arranged seductively in glass cases and the atmosphere hushed, almost reverent. The chocolate was undoubtedly excellent, and the girls and I found a few favorite shops, namely Puyricard and Pierre Hermé. We also paid a visit to the annual Salon du Chocolat, a huge festival celebrating all things chocolate, including a fashion show of chocolate inspired gowns.

Ok, it was a little over the top, and the girls and I returned to our apartment giddy from countless chocolate samples and the head-spinning muchness of it all. I was determined to learn the secrets of French chocolatiers, though, so I signed up for a chocolate making class at Le Cordon Bleu. It was more relaxed than I expected, and a fun way to spend a day, but the chocolates I brought home, although delectable, were lumpy and lopsided. Hand dipped chocolates that look perfect in a shop are a complicated challenge to make yourself.

Besides, who has the time to make homemade chocolates on a regular basis? Fortunately back in Vermont we have Daily Chocolate (aptly named). The chocolates created at this tiny shop located off a side street in Vergennes are every bit as good as the ones I savored in Paris.

Their dark chocolate is ideal for my palate at 72% cacao. It’s complex in flavor, highly fragrant, and tempered to perfection, resulting in that coveted snap when you bite into it. Quality ingredients are key: Daily Chocolate uses locally produced cream, butter, and maple syrup, and organic ingredients whenever possible. Their products are also GMO and corn syrup free.

I particularly like their barks, such as the classic Dark Almond Bark and the more unusual Moroccan Bark: dark chocolate studded with pecans and raisins, and seasoned with garam masala, a spice blend of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, black pepper, and coriander. This bark achieves just the right amount of spices so they’re present in every bite without overwhelming the superior quality of the chocolate.

I sometimes mix it up and get the Lemon Lavender Bark made with white chocolate. In general I find white chocolate to be overly sweet and cloying, but in this smooth bark, the sweetness is cut by whole roasted almonds coated with tamari, imparting a hint of salt. Lavender buds are also generously sprinkled throughout. I’m partial to the floral, almost musky flavor of lavender in foods, and here they bring depth, which is further enhanced by a splash of lemon oil that helps blend all the flavors together.  It’s a trip to Provence in one sweet bite.

Buttery, burnt sugar Toffee is another favorite, along with the Rum Caramel with Sea Salt. The caramel is gooey and intense, providing a lush contrast in texture with the snappy dark chocolate coating. The flavor of rum is subtle—there’s just enough to be aware of it—and it’s all topped with a sprinkling of coarse sea salt. Heavenly.

My chocolate habit could get quite expensive if I let it, so I don’t indulge in Daily Chocolate regularly. Chris knows just where to go on holidays though. On a daily basis, I satisfy my craving with a handful of economical chocolate morsels, my favorite being Ghirardelli’s bittersweet chips (a respectable 60% cacao). They suffice, although they’ve been a source of embarrassment to my daughters. One of their friends recently caught me in the act and asked incredulously: “Are you eating morsels right out of the bag?” I have no shame.


  1. Loved this post, Sheila. One problem, though: I have an insatiable chocolate craving after reading it. It's 10 p.m. and there's no chocolate in the house. Now what do I do? :)

    1. Desolee, Linda. We'll just have to share some at the tea house sometime soon!

  2. Jennifer Gibson BlackMay 13, 2012 at 6:32 AM

    I also LOVE dark chocolate. I love it straight up but I also adore dark chocolate covered almonds- both foods are good for you so the combo is uber healthy- right? If I can just limit it to a small handful.

    1. Uber uber healthy, especially with the almonds. Just had a handful of those after lunch!