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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Chocolate on a Sunday

It is a lovely, rainy, Sunday night. There is something appropriate about rain on a Sunday night. I have spent the day immersed in thinking about chocolate. I read an article about Ginger Elizabeth this morning. She is a chocolatier who grew up in the Sacramento area, and after studying chocolate in California, New York, Chicago, France and Belize, she has returned to home to educate Californians about high quality chocolate. Her chocolaterie, named after her, is a small establishment on L street, between 18th and 19th. 

After spending a good portion of the day reading my mother the menu, which includes American hot chocolate, thick, decadent bittersweet European sipping chocolate, and Oaxacan semisweet hot chocolate infused with cinnamon, chiles, vanilla bean and ginger, I finally managed to convince her to head out of the house into the rainy streets to indulge with me.

 Ginger Elizabeth specializes in unique chocolates made with organic milk from local dairies, and flavoured with ingredients that sound more like the lines of a poem than like chocolate flavours. I had a dark chocolate flavoured with rose and raspberries. The rose made me feel like I was standing in a garden inhaling deeply, and the raspberry added a sweet tartness that was a perfect combination. The chocolate had a creamy consistency, and melted easily in my mouth. Some of the other flavours Giner uses are Myers lemons, lavender and mint. One of Ginger's most uniquely flavoured chocolates is her fennel caramel grapefruit. Apparently it is her favourite. I will have to taste it on my next visit, which will be soon.

Since the primary purpose of our outing was for hot chocolate, my mother ordered a cup of Oaxacan spicy hot chocolate, and I ordered European sipping chocolate. We were offered an option of fresh whipped cream or house-made vanilla bean marshmallows as garnish. We both went for the cream. I have not had a richly flavoured cup of hot chocolate since arriving in Sacramento, but both of our hot chocolates were delicious. Mine was rich and creamy, and my mom's was spiced enough to create a subtle, distinctive flavour without being overpowering.

My one disappointment was the setting. The pictures on Ginger Elizabeth's website show clean lines and lots of glass, with a large circular window looking into the kitchen so that customers can watch the chocolates being made while they enjoy their hot cup of hot chocolate or indulge in one of Ginger's chocolate creations. I wanted to be immersed in another world when I entered the front door. The atmosphere itself was actually quite elegant. There was a lot of glass, and I could have watched Ginger making chocolates if she had been making them. What was problematic was the lack of seating. The chocolaterie only had four stool-like chairs drawn up at two long narrow bars lining the front and side windows. Mom and I had planned on meeting two friends there, and when we first arrived, two of the four stools were already occupied. Fortunately our friends were late, and by the time they arrived the two other stools were free, but I do not think I would go back with friends expecting to sit down to enjoy the chocolates there. While we were there eight other people came through to buy chocolates to go, so there was a waiting line standing next to us for a good portion of the time we were there, which made it hard to settle in and immerse ourselves in the experience. The chocolate was so good that I will go back for more, but I do hope that they expand some day, and move into a space that I would feel comfortable relaxing in while I indulged!

This evening I went to a talk by the Ginger at a local bookstore. The talk was very well attended, and Ginger gave an energetic, engaging and enthusiastic talk about chocolate, sharing photographs that she had taken in Belize of how cocao is grown and harvested. Ginger is obviously very knowledgeable about chocolate, and did an excellent job of educating us about the process of making chocolate as well as what we should look for in a good chocolate (creamy consistency that melts in the mouth), the importance of the story behind the chocolate, the maximum length of time she would keep chocolate if she wanted to enjoy its fullest flavours (3 months), and the influence that mixed versus single source beans has on the flavour (the greater the diversity, the more interesting and rich the flavour). She obviously has a very refined taste in chocolate, but is no chocolate snob, and spoke with candor, humility and humour.

My conclusion: the most flavourful chocolate varieties are grown in Latin America. Mixing sources combines more fruity and more acidic varieties, and makes for a more full-bodied and interesting flavour. The best chocolateries (in Ginger's opinion) are in France, and the way to distinguish between high quality and mediocre chocolate is to look at the percentage of cocoa and cocoa butter. Higher amounts of cocao in relationship to sugar means richer chocolate, and chocolate made with cocoa butter is creamier than chocolate made with other vegetable oils. Cocoa butter has a sharp melting point, which means that it can only exist as a solid or a liquid, and it changes from one to the other very quickly. The reason that chocolate seems to dissolve when we put it in our mouths is because it melts at precisely the temperature of the human tongue! Sound too good to be true? I thought so too, but the experience of chocolate melting on the tip of the tongue has now been backed up with scientific proof. Melt away!

I am ending my day feeling pampered, and looking forward to trying more of Ginger's delicious creations in the near-future! 


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