While grocery shopping the other day, my wife asked me if I’d eat something containing “77% dark chocolate”. I replied casually, “No, my limit’s more like 72%”. To those in the know, the percentages refer to the cacao content; not the broader term “chocolate”. And that level of technical shows you how far I’ve come from the 3 Musketeers bar of my youth.
Each of us taps into our particular coping mechanisms as we deal with impacts of the pandemic. My wife spends countless hours playing brain games on her iPad. More of my neighbors take daily walks than I’ve ever seen before. Me? I’m getting lost in a few rainy-day projects, but more to the subject at hand, I’m tapping into my dark chocolate stash. There’s something therapeutic about a small square of the good stuff slowly dissolving on the tongue. Dark chocolate is medication for troubled times. It sates my soul.
I can’t recall when I graduated from “candy bar” to “chocolate bar”, let alone dark chocolate. Like most kids of the 1970’s, I was drawn to Milky Way, Snickers, Nestle Crunch and the like, due to an annual dose of “fun-size” every Halloween. But somewhere I had an epiphany and realized chocolate was pretty good all by itself. The clincher: studying abroad in Italy during college. Overnight it seemed, I graduated from the products of Hershey’s and Mars to the more refined of Perugina and Ferrero.
The Wall Street Journal recently interviewed Thierry Muret, the executive chef chocolatier at Godiva, and after reading the article I thought, “Now there’s a dream job”. Not so fast, Mr. Goodbar. Turns out Monsieur Muret is an industrial chemistry grad who leans heavily on his knowledge of science to create Godiva-worthy delicacies. Muret’s all about “molecular gastronomy”, or decomposing/recomposing the very elements of chocolate to develop new textures and tastes. Think about that the next time you bite into a Godiva truffle.
This much I know. Chocolate’s most common varieties are “milk”, “dark”, and “white”, and while each contains cocoa butter, they’re better defined by their other ingredients (i.e. the dairy in “milk”). My taste for dark chocolate evolved over a lot of years, the way my coffee matured from “instant” to “espresso”, and my wine from “Chardonnay” to “Cabernet”. The basic versions simply don’t cut it anymore.
Thanks to Monsieur Muret, this much I don’t know about chocolate. There’s a tight temperature range (65°-75° F) where fine chocolate can be “tempered” (shaped into truffles, etc.) without altering its delicate flavor. There’s also a tight time frame to temper, because you don’t want the temperature to fluctuate more than a degree or two. But Muret colors outside of the lines. He throws temperature and time frame to the wind to concoct new textures and tastes. He once spent an entire year perfecting a single ganache. Whoa; that’s taking it to a whole new level.
The path to chocolatier typically goes through culinary school, not the chemistry lab. You start with a pastry degree (pastry degree?) and then specialize in chocolate/confections. Nope, not what I studied in college – not even close. But I do deserve a “tasting degree” for my years of experience.
If the pandemic goes on long enough, I may find the shelves of our grocery store devoid of dark chocolate. No problem: I’ll settle for a good ol’ 3 Musketeers bar instead. Milk chocolate (not to mention the dose of childhood nostalgia) is a passable backup coping mechanism.
The so-called experts say there’s “no high-quality evidence that dark chocolate provides health benefits”. With coping in mind, I couldn’t disagree more.