The following post was published in Foodista, the online cooking encyclopedia July 17, 2011
As readers of my previous posts on chocolate may know, my favorite all time chocolate maker is Christopher Elbow, whose chocolates are so stunning they could accessorize a Chanel suit. (And taste so good I’ve already decided that if I should ever find myself on death row, my last meal will be five pounds of his assorted chocolates.) So you can imagine how thrilled I was to hear that he’d left his Kansas kitchen and was in Seattle last Saturday to help celebrate the third anniversary of Chocolopolis, the designer chocolate shop that also ranks high on my grooviest things in this world list
(largely because they stock Elbow chocolates).
So I snatched up my camera and crossed town in the drizzle to play groupie to the chocolate rock star whose colorful airbrushed chocolates shine as if they’d been dipped in glass and taste as if they were made by angels. I wanted to know, how does he get such a perfect temper, so shiny and so delicate? How does he master those ganaches – fillings that taste so fresh you’d swear the chocolates were picked from a tree that very morning, with textures that feel like satin slowly sliding from tongue to memory? And when would he put out a chocolate book telling me exactly how to make these masterpieces in my own Chocolate Covered Kitchen, so that I could die knowing I’d achieved the perfect confection?
Despite the drizzle and gray of a typical Seattle day, the store was crowded – with women. There was only one man, Christopher Elbow is after all, a chocolate lover’s rock star, and we, his groupies. I slowly meandered up to the table where dice-sized bites of his chocolates were artfully offered – a dark chocolate, a nutty something or other (I was too star struck apparently to recall what it was exactly), a mint and a lemony white chocolate. The chocolate wizard could wait; first things first. I will confess I would probably trample the man himself just to get to his delicious chocolates, and the chance to eat them for free? Why it’s right up there with winning a trip to heaven, all expenses paid.
Each bite was perfect, none too sweet, all so fresh, the mint tasting like the leaves had just that moment been crushed, the lemon tasting like a fresh picked Meyer lemon, it’s sugars delicately sweetened by the sun. My tongue was so excited it nearly fluttered right out of my mouth and licked my face (and the display table) clean and asked for more. While the women ate and chatted among themselves, the sole man in the crowd wasstanding next to me, quizzing up Mr. Elbow about chocolates and wine.
“I don’t think wine goes well with chocolate,” the master said, heretically. Were my ears playing tricks on me, again? Please, tell me Christopher Elbow doesn’t insist we wash his chocolates down with water; that is just so not right. Then again, I don’t drink, or rarely so, so what was it to me? I could still sit back with a few flame colored Passion Fruit truffles and black and white Caramel Fleur de Sels and a pot of Harney tea, and no one would be the wiser. Still, I have great sympathy for those who do drink wine and the thought of all those yuppie wine and chocolate tasting parties come to an end made me sad.
“You don’t pair wine with chocolate?” I interjected, incredulously (throwing in the verb “to pair” to mark me as a connoisseur, damned the abuse to the English language).
“Not really,” he said, “I find that you taste the chocolate, then the wine, then go back to the chocolate, and the taste of the wine has changed your palate, and it changes how you taste the chocolate. But there is an exception,” he added with the slightest hint of the devil in his eyes, “Moscato!”
“Moscato?” I asked, curiously, wishing we had a carafe and a box of chocolates right that very minute to sit by the fireside and tell sad stories of the deaths of kings. It seemed fitting at the time. I imagined a delicious sparkling Asti Spumante with a plate of his Grapefruit Campari chocolates, or a small glass of a vintage sweet fortified Moscato with his Cinnamon Hazelnut and Bananas Foster confections.
“Yes, Moscato isn’t always that good on its own, but with chocolate, it works.” He went on to say that spirits of any kind are also great with chocolate – Scotch, Cognac, or even a vintage Port, but definitely not red wine. I was suddenly reassessing this not drinkingthing and considering taking up cigars. But back to the chocolates themselves, and my quest to pry from him his secrets.
So I blurted out, “How to you get such a great temper? Is it true you don’t wash your molds?” Like seasoning a cast iron skillet or a wok, polycarbonate chocolate molds acquire a cocoa-butter patina with age, and whether or not to wash with soap is a topic as divisive among chocolate makers as whether to hang the toilet paper on the outside or underside is among obsessive compulsives.
He then proceeded to spill all his chocolate making secrets, unaware that I would blog them to half a hemisphere and let Norman Love in on how he does it. The secret, it appears, is in the flour sack
towels, along with a dummy batch – pouring chocolate into the mold and turning it out, unfilled (re-melting the chocolate, which remains in temper). The dummy batch leaves a fresh coat of cocoa
butter and preps the mold for show time.
The searing white streaks on his geometric Fleur de Sel chocolates? Far too white to be white chocolate, I wondered did he drizzle them with White Out? White dyed cocoa butter from Chef Rubber
And the ganache? Ah, now that is easy. He has a machine like a vacuum cleaner that sucks out all the air and concentrates the flavor. Now I was beginning to wonder if he wasn’t putting me on. What was next, his transfer sheets were really temporary tattoos and his purple-haze hued Lavender Caramel dyed with Goofy Grape Kool-Aid? What did it matter, I’d fall for anything at that point, I realized as if I were watching a magician saw his wife in half and pull his mistress out of a hat. But I realized as he described the Rube Goldberg gizmo he’d invented that unless Williams Sonoma comes out with a chocolate air sucker for the home kitchen, I could never replicate Christopher Elbow chocolates and might as well just buy them.
Which is exactly what I did, begging for his autograph as if I’d just run into Picasso (and which I promptly smeared, which isn’t half as bad as the time my brother threw his bandana hand-signed by Ken Kesey, into the washing machine and obliterated it with super-powered Tide). Then I went home, greedily holding my box of Christopher Elbow chocolates tightly in my hands like a miser running home with a bag of gold. But my daughter tossed aside her M&M’s and forced me to share. And share we did, each and every exquisite last bite. When the last of them was gone, I pulled out
the chocolate molds that have been idling in their hideaway, waiting for me to get back to business and turn out something rich and fattening and worth every pound of flesh they cost me.
And as for that chocolate making book to teach me how to do it? Not yet, it appears, he’s too busy making chocolates. But that’s alright; I know it’s only a matter of time. And once he gets around to it, look for it in the fine art section, right smack dab in the middle of Tiffany glass and Cartier jewels, because that’s where Christopher Elbow chocolates rightfully belong.