Entries from May 29th, 2009

Valrhona Demo – A Surfeit of Chocolate

May 29th, 2009 · 35 Comments · Events, Tools

Orangenamelakabyanitachudessertfirst

My take on the Valrhona Damas

Hi dear readers! Sorry this post has been a long time in the making, but I had a lot I wanted to share with you all!

A few weeks ago, I got an invitation to attend a dessert demonstration by Valrhona. Valrhona is, of course, considered among the creme de la creme of fine chocolate; appending "Valrhona" to the ingredient list of any chocolate dessert is like shorthand for the most luxe and elegant of indulgences.

Valrhona chocolate can be pricey, but in their case you truly get what you pay for: beautiful, full-flavored chocolate that tastes dreamy and performs wonderfully. Whenever I get to use Valrhona in my baking, I'm a happy girl.

I was especially excited to attend this demonstration because not only was Valrhona unveiling some new products, but they were bringing in some of their in-house pastry chefs to demonstrate how to use them. Another thing that impresses me about Valrhona is their dedication to the industry and art of chocolate: they are involved in both the production and harvest of cacao beans around the world, as well as the creative and thoughtful use of the created chocolate in pastry. Valrhona has a chocolate school, l'École du Grand Chocolat at their headquarters in France, that provides classes in patisserie and confectionery to professionals and enthusiasts.

One of the chefs from the school, Philippe Givre, was flown all the way to the Bay Area to lead this demonstration, along with Derek Poirier and Alex Espiritu, pastry chefs for Valrhona's USA division. Needless to say, what an exciting opportunity!

Valrhonademoe

Chef Philippe Givre. Looks like the quintessential French pastry chef, no?

Really, the demonstration was more like an intense four-hour pastry class taught by a master – I got a lot more technical information and baking tips than I thought I would from a demo, which was great. Chef Givre went into very detailed explanations of the importance of ingredient temperatures, especially when making ganaches, custards, and mousses; how to whip cream properly to maximize its volume, and even a mini-digression into the the importance of dry to liquid ratios in making ice creams and sorbets. Hey, after this I am fully convinced that going to l'École du Grand Chocolat would be an awesome experience(not that it would take me a lot of convincing to go to chocolate school).

In four hours, Chef Givre and his two assisting chefs blitzed through three plated desserts, demonstrating numerous techniques and also explaining how each one utilized different Valrhona products. And yes, we got to sample everything! I think everyone was on a sugar high by the end of the demonstration!

Valrhonapineapple

Here's the first dessert: Diagonale of Candied Pineapple with Whipped Lime Ganache, Almond Shortbread, and Fromage Blanc and Lime Sorbet. The idea is really cute: A U-shaped base of shortbread (you can see Chef Poirier making it in the next pic) with piped lines of milk chocolate and lime ganache, topped with candied pineapple and a scoop of sorbet. The ganache is made of cream infused with lime zest, then combined with Valrhona Tainori 64% and Jivara 40%. The mixture is then refrigerated before being whipped to a light, pipable texture – something I haven't done often, but which I'm now obsessed with! Chef Givre indicated that this recipe was specifically created to utilize the Valrhona Tainori, a dark chocolate with notes of almond and yellow fruits, meant to work best with citrus fruits. Of course it's a great way for Valrhona to illustrate their long line of chocolates, but I like the point that not all chocolates are the same and it would be a educational experience to taste different chocolates you use and consider which ones might work with different ingredients.

Valrhonademoderek

Here's Chef Derek Poirier showing the U-shaped metal molds used to form the shortbread bases. By the way, he was really concerned that I was going to take a photo of him with his eyes closed. So I hope this one is satisfactory to him!

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Chef Givre plating the dessert.

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This is the second dessert, called "Damas", consisting of an emmanuel curry sponge base topped with almond mousseux, a milk chocolate namelaka, and orange jelly. This was probably the most adventurous of the desserts and also the one I liked best, so I spent last week reproducing it! Compare the one I made in the first photo to this one; what do you think?

Valrhonanewopera

The last dessert was what Chef Givre dubbed "New Opera", a reimagined version of opera cake. The traditional version of opera cake is layers of almond genoise layered with coffee buttercream and chocolate ganache. In this deconstructed version, a layer of chocolate cake is topped with a square of tempered chocolate. The piece on top is whipped coffee ganache sandwiched between pieces of coffee nougatine. Finally, the cake is served alongside a coffee granité topped with more whipped coffee ganache. I think I counted about four different kinds of chocolate being used in this dessert. Chef Givre said he wanted to play around with textures while preserving the original flavors of the opera cake. It was a really playful, modern take on an old pastry warhorse; I especially liked the granité with the whipped ganache.

Valrhonademophilippe

Here's Chef Givre putting those little millefeuiles of nougatine and ganache together.

In addition to these three desserts, the chefs also presented a taste testing of chocolate cake and chocolate ice cream made with Valrhona's newest chocolate, Coeur de Guanaja 80%. Without getting overly technical, this is a dark chocolate specially formulated with lower cocoa butter content, which can allow for a stronger chocolate taste in desserts. Basically, since cocoa butter is a fat and is solid at room temperature, it increases the firmness of pastry items like cakes and ice creams. Since fats can also dilute the purity and intensity of flavors, more cocoa butter can also decrease the strength of chocolate flavor in a dessert. That's why some recipes using chocolate sometimes call for cocoa powder, since it provides chocolate flavor without adding any fat.

Coeur de Guanaja was developed especially to address this issue – it has a lower cocoa butter content, so you can use it and get a strong chocolate flavor in your pastries without compromising the texture of the final result. The taste tests really helped illustrate the difference: a chocolate cake made with Coeur de Guanaja had distinct, chocolately flavor, and was also moister and softer than a cake made with cocoa powder, which was slightly tougher. Chocolate ice cream made with Coeur de Guanaja had a pure, almost bitter chocolate flavor (80% cacao content is pretty dark) and a long, smooth finish, while ice cream made with a regular chocolate had a lighter, sweeter flavor.

I found this all very educational. Even if you don't have the luxury of choosing between ten different chocolates when baking, it's always good to increase your knowledge of how ingredients, especially one as complex as chocolate, works. Then when you want to tinker with your recipes to get different results, it's easier to figure out what you want to change.

Valrhonademochefs 

The chefs were kind enough to pose for photos at the end of the demo. From left to right, Chef Alex Espiritu, Chef Philippe Givre, yours truly, and Chef Derek Poirier. Yes, I know I look really short compared to all of them. The tall chef's hats probably don't help.


Valrhonabars

Deborah, the public relations contact, was also kind enough to send me a box of samples from Valrhona's current line after the demonstration. Talk about unexpected Christmas, a big box of Valrhona is enough to turn any day into a celebration! What I love is that Valrhona used to provide chocolate exclusively for professionals, but they've really reached out to the consumer market, producing both bars for eating and bars for baking – you don't need to have a contact in the food industry to procure Valrhona or be forced to buy giant five lb bars (fun, but hard to store at home). They have 70g Grand Crus bars in eight of their signature blends, including their famous Manjari, Caraïbe, and Jivara Lait, 250g baking bars in dark, milk, and white chocolate, and Gourmet Grand Crus bars, their very sophisticated version of candy bars. I've been enjoying the Manjari Orange, with pieces of orange inside, and Jivara Pecan, embedded with pecans, for the last week.

Chocandorangepeel

Ok, so I mentioned that my favorite dessert at the demo was the "Damas" – I really loved the texture contrasts of the sponge cake and the mousseux, and the curry was an inspired touch. Unfortunately, I didn't have the right spices in my cupboard (Chef Givre suggested using madras curry powder), but I had my own idea on how to spin this recipe.

Since the main flavors in the dessert were almond, milk chocolate, curry, and orange, I chose to eliminate the curry from the sponge and add in candied orange peel and cocoa nibs. Emmanuel sponge is a type of sponge cake made very similar to madeleines. You make the batter and let it rest overnight, which helps the flavors intensify and lets it bake up better the next day. Chef Givre indicated that this is a nice alternative to genoise, since genoise batter cannot be stored and can be finicky, requiring closer supervision while baking. Emmanuel sponge batter can be made ahead of time and bakes up quickly without much fuss. I'll admit the orange-and-cocoa-nib version was amazingly addicitive; I kept snacking on it without the rest of the dessert components!

The almond mousseux is a mousse made of almond paste, milk, and cream, mixed with a bit of gelatin and allowed to set. The cut cubes look a bit like tofu, don't they? And they should have the same perfectly silken texture – it's important to make sure there are no hard bits of almond paste floating around in the mix. I'd never made a mousse with almond paste, but this was light and airy, and delicious topped with some orange jelly.

Finally, you might be wondering what "namelaka" is – I know I hadn't heard of the word. Namelaka is the Japanese word for "creamy", and this little daub of chocolate is meant to embody "creamy". When I saw that it was made of milk chocolate, milk, glucose, cream, and some gelatin, I didn't see how it was different from a mousse. But the proportions of the ingredients means that the result should be very, very melt-in-your mouth, with no cloying taste. It requires some attention and precision – the mixture needs to absolutely, 100% smooth – Chef Givre used a stick blender to finish the mix off, and you can't add too much gelatin or it will be stiff and gummy. But I knew it was something good when I gave the boyfriend a spoonful and he remarked on how light and -yes!- creamy it was, before I had described what it was supposed to be.

This is definitely a small project of a dessert, but it's actually not that difficult to make, and it's become one of my favorites because of its elegance and flavor combinations. I'm really glad to have gotten a master lesson in chocolate and recharged my creative juices- and I hope it's inspired you to experiment with your favorite brands!

Orangenamelakacloseupbyanitachu

Damas – Emmanuel Sponge with Candied Orange Peel and Cocoa Nibs, Almond Mousseux, Valrhona Orizaba Lacteé Namelaka, and Orange Jelly

(note: All recipes adapted from the official Valrhona versions. Original measurements were in metric so if you want to be more accurate, use those!)

Emmanuel Sponge

makes one half sheet (13"x17") of cake, about (24) 2 1/2" square pieces


1 cup (238 g) cake flour

1/2 cup (116 g) powdered sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons (10 g) baking powder

3/4 teaspoon (3 g) salt

238 g eggs (about 5 eggs)

1/2 cup (126 g) trimoline (invert sugar – you can buy this online)

1/3 cup (74 g) whole milk

13 1/2 tablespoons (193 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

3 tablespoons candied orange peel, finely chopped (I estimated)

1/4 cup cocoa nibs, finely chopped (I estimated)

1 1/2 cups streusel, see recipe below

Sift the cake flour, powdered sugar, baking powder, and salt into a bowl.

Combine the eggs and trimoline in a stand mixer and beat with paddle attachment until combined.

Add in the flour mixture and mix until combined.

Add in the milk and m ix until combined.

Add in the melted butter and mix until combined.

Pour batter into a container and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours or overnight before baking. (Note: This really does make it bake better!)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a half sheet pan with a silicone baking mat.

Pour the batter into the pan and spread it out evenly. Sprinkle the orange peel and cocoa nibs over the batter (I'm afraid I didn't keep accurate measure of how much I used – just enough so that the cake is pretty evenly covered, but you don't need to blanket the batter, or else there'll be too much add-ins and not enough cake! Just think of adding nuts to a cake batter – similar idea).

Sprinkle the baked streusel over the top of the cake.

Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes, rotating halfway. The top should be firm and lightly golden brown.

Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack before cutting. This is a fairly sturdy cake and should not fall apart or stick, but if you're going to store it, it might be easier to cut into smaller pieces and store them in an airtight container layered between parchment paper.

Streusel

makes about 1 1/2 cups

1/3 cup (75 g) light brown sugar

1/3 cup (75 g) almond meal

1/4 cup (68 g) cake flour

1/4 teaspoon (0.5 g) salt

1/3 cup (75 g) unsalted butter, cold, cut into small cubes

 Combine all ingredients except butter in a food processor until finely ground and combined.

Add butter and process just until the streusel starts to come together into lumps.

If the mixture seems very soft, refrigerate for about an hour to firm up.

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with a silicone baking mat.

Spread streusel evenly over the sheet. Bake for about 6-8 minutes, until it is golden brown and baked all the way through.

Crumble into smaller pieces as necessary for sprinkling.

Almond Mousseux

makes one 8×8 square, about 25 pieces

This is basically a frozen mousse. It helps if you have a cake pan with a removable bottom – then it's easy to push the mousseux out from the bottom and cut into pieces. Otherwise, the mousseux will be frozen into the pan and you'll have to cut it out piece by piece.

1/2 cup (125 g) almond paste (Valrhona recommends their 70% paste, you may have to add sugar or use less paste depending on strength of flavor)

1 1/3 cups (300 g) whole milk

1/2 tablespoon (6.5 g) gelatin

1 cup (250 g) whipping cream

Process almond paste in a food processor until it is soft and pliable.

Add in milk and process until combined and smooth (You may have to do this in batches if your food processor is small). Alternatively, combine in a large bowl with a hand blender.

Combine gelatin with just enough water in a cup to let it bloom.

Heat about 1 cup of the almond milk in a saucepan over medium heat. Add in the gelatin and swirl pan until it is fully melted and incorporated.

Pour heated milk back into main milk mixture and mix to combine. Let mixture cool to about room temperature.

While you are waiting, whip the whipping cream in a mixer to soft peaks.

Fold the whipped cream into the almond milk.

Pour the mixture into an 8"x8" pan with removable bottom and freeze overnight. Note: After it sets, you can store it in the freezer.

Valrhona Orizaba Lacteé Namelaka

makes about 3/4 cup

This recipe uses Valrhona Orizaba Lacteé 40%, but you can use another milk chocolate if you like. Also, one important tip is that in order for the whole mixture to set up properly, you should pour out in a thin even layer, so a wide shallow pan works better than a tall narrow container (if it's too deep the center won't set). I used a 9 x 13 pan and it worked well.

3/4 cup (200 g) whole milk

3/4 tablespoon (10 g) corn syrup

1 teaspoon (4.5 g) gelatin

13 ounces (375 g) milk chocolate

1 3/4 cups (400 g) whipping cream

Melt chocolate in a double boiler or in a metal bowl placed over a pan of simmering water.

Add corn syrup to melted chocolate and stir to combine.

Combine gelatin with just enough water in a cup to let it bloom.

Heat milk in a saucepan to boiling. Add in the gelatin and swirl pan until it is fully melted and incorporated.

Pour the milk mixture over the melted chocolate in increments, stirring to combine and emulsify each time. It's important to combine the two mixtures slowly and make sure they are fully incorporated or the texture won't be right.

Process the mixture with a hand blender to ensure smoothness.

Pour mixture into a shallow pan and refrigerate overnight to let set.

To assemble the dessert:

Take out the mousseux and namelaka. If they have been sitting in the refrigerator a while, they may need a little time to warm up and soften. However, don't leave them out too long or they'll melt.

Cut the sponge into 2 1/2" square pieces.

Cut the mousseux into roughly 1 1/2" square pieces. Place one cube of mousseux on top of each sponge.

Scoop the namelaka into a piping bag fitted with a round tip. If it seems firm, or chunky in the texture, place in a food processor and process to soften up. Pipe a big drop of namelaka on top of the mousseux.

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In Which A Busy Week Is Capped With An Unexpected Surprise

May 18th, 2009 · 20 Comments · Cakes, Personal

Strawberrycreamcakebyanitachudessertfirst

First, thank you to all of you for your very sweet birthday wishes – I'm consistently amazed and touched by the well-wishes I receive from fellow pastry lovers from around the world. Thank you for making my birthday that much more special!

It actually did rain on my birthday, but it seems like the birthday fairies decided to make up for it by sending a stretch of luxuriously balmy weather afterwards, capping off with a positively scorching weekend. Mmm, I can almost feel summer around the corner!

Sadly, I've been quite busy this last week, so haven't had much time to enjoy the weather except to keep drinking water to try and stay hydrated. I also haven't had the chance to properly document my latest kitchen brainstorm, so here, finally, are a few pictures.

Since it's full-on strawberry season (overflowing their baskets at the farmers' markets, beckoning from roadside stands in the suburbs), I am constantly being tempted into buying way too strawberries and then trying to figure out what to do with them. I remembered this cake I had seen in a Hong Kong bakery, layers of delicate sponge cake sandwiching fluffy strawberry cream and frosted with whipped cream, and decided to have a go at recreating it.

The result ended up resembling a cross between an opera cake and the layered fruit-and-whipped cream cakes found in many a Chinese bakery. The cake, an almond genoise, is the same as the one used in a traditional opera cake. Spread thinly with pureed strawberries, and then a layer of strawberry buttercream, the light cake provides the perfect base for intense strawberry flavor. The topping is made from whipped cream and just a little confectioners' sugar, since I didn't want a heavy frosting to weigh down the cake.

Strawberrycreamcake2byanitachudessertfirst

I think this cake really captures a lot of strawberry flavor, without being too rich or heavy – just right for summer. I'm still tweaking the recipe, so I'll try to get posted here sometime tomorrow.

And, as a capper to the week, I discovered that the fantabulous Jen of Use real butter, one of my favorite blogs, was in town! After some furious planning, we arranged a blogger meetup with me, Jen, and Lisa of I Must Have a Lot of Time on My Hands, another amazingly talented cook/baker/blogger that I adore!

Lisa was kind enough to play hostess, so Jen and I got to visit Lisa's place, meet her beyond adorable doggie Lucca (honestly, go to her page and once you lay eyes on Lucca you will be smitten), and sample Lisa's excellent coffee cake and macarons. This girl can seriously bake! Thanks so much Lisa, and I'm hoping to return the favor soon!

Jen is just as funny and real as she is on her blog – I feel super lucky that I found her blog, and got to become friends with such a great person! Hope you had a great flight back home, sweetie!

Lisa has already put up an account of the meetup on her blog, so go read if you want to see what three foodies were up to one Saturday morning! It was definitely the panacea to cure a long week of work, and now I'm ready to bake up some more sweets again!

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Birthday and Cake

May 4th, 2009 · 55 Comments · Cakes, Chocolate, Recipes

Jasminechoccakesbyanitachudessertfirst

One always hopes for nice weather on one's birthday – that's natural, don't you think? I imagine for those born in the months of winter, perhaps a picturesque fall of snow might be more appropriate, but since my birthday is in May, I always thought that sunny skies on my birthday wasn't too unreasonable a wish.

However, I'm not sure since my birthday falls right at the beginning of May, that sunshine always seem to be a 50/50 proposition. Perhaps it's all those April showers still carrying over – I recall a equal number of beautifully blue-skied birthdays as well as overcast, drizzly ones.

Mother Nature has decided to make it suspenseful for me this year by sending a spate of rainy, windy weather through the weekend. By the time most of you read this, I'm sure it will be Monday morning and I'll be peeking outside the window to see whether I'll be wearing birthday galoshes or not.

Regardless of weather, I've already been treated to a very nice pre-birthday dinner – I might review this place in a later post because I enjoyed it so much, and I got to enjoy the company of dear friends, which is always the most precious of birthday presents to me.

And, I have to admit that gloomy weather has made it easier to stay indoors and work on kitchen projects – my own little birthday cake to myself has been an experiment I've been working on since my last trip to Hong Kong. It's not quite perfect but it's in a pretty tasty stage right now – a little more tweaking and hopefully I'll reach what I'm envisioning in my dreams.

Jasminechoccakebyanitachudessertfirst

This cake is inspired by one of my favorite teas, jasmine, infusing a base of milk and whipped cream. It's meant to be airy, delicate, floral, and sweet – just like spring. For taste and texture contrast I made a layer of chocolate cake – almost genoise like in texture, and spread with a layer of melted chocolate and feuilletine.

Cakeingredientsbyanitachudessertfirst

For those of you who haven't used feuilletine, it's made of thin cookie-like sheets of butter, sugar, and flour, crushed into tiny flakes that resemble corn flakes. Feuilletine adds an intriguing, delightful crunchiness to desserts – it's usually mixed with ganache or sprinkled as a layer in cakes, to provide a surprising contrast. It's especially effective in mousse cakes like this jasmine cake, because the cream is so smooth and creamy, that the crunch of the feuilletine provides a fabulous extra dimension to an otherwise homegenously-textured dessert.

You can find feuilletine online, or you can also substitute Rice Krispies – that was what Pierre Herme used in his home recipe for his famous Plaisir Sucre in his Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme book, and it works beautifully.

The chocolate cake is rich, earthy, and grounds the ethereally-light jasmine cream without overpowering it. The feuilletine adds a nice crisp touch. The first few times I made the jasmine cream, the flavor came out too light, so be sure to taste the infused milk before you use it – if it seems too subtle, let it steep a little longer. When I can taste the jasmine against the chocolate, it's tastebud-tingling happiness.

Well, whether it's sunny, rainy, or cloudy, I'm looking forward to another sweet year. Thanks to all of you for keeping me company on this journey – you're the best!


Jasminechoccakescutbyanitachudessertfirst

Jasmine Chocolate Cake

makes (6) 2 1/2 cakes

Chocolate Cake

1/4 cup cocoa powder

6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature

1/2 cup sugar

2 large eggs

3 tablespoons buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8×8 baking pan with parchment paper.

Sift cocoa powder, flour, baking powder, and salt together in a medium bowl.

In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

Add in eggs, one at a time, mixing to combine thoroughly.

Add in vanilla and mix to combine.

Combine buttermilk and vanilla together in a small cup.

Add in flour mixture and buttermilk to batter in 5 alternating additions, beginning and ending with the flour. Mix after each addition just to combine. The batter should be very liquidy.

Pour batter into prepared pan and spread out evenly.

Bake in oven for 15 to 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool on wire rack.

Feuilletine Layer

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 cup feuilletine or Rice Krispies

Combine chocolate and butter in a metal bowl and place over a pot of simmering water to melt. Let chocolate butter and melt together, stirring to combine.

Remove bowl from heat and stir in feuilletine until combined.

Spread the mixture in a thin layer over the top of the cooled chocolate cake layer. Let set for about 30 minutes.

Place six 2 1/2 diameter cake rings on a baking sheet. Line the rings with acetate strips on the inside for easier removal of the cakes.

Cut out circles from the chocolate cake layer and place into the cake rings, fitting them snugly into the bottom. (Prepare the rings with the cake layers before you make the jasmine cream).

Jasmine Cream

3/4 cup milk

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup jasmine tea

1 tablespoon powdered gelatin

1 1/2 cup whipping cream

Combine milk and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat.

Remove from heat and add in vanilla and jasmine tea. Cover saucepan and let steep for 15 to 20 minutes.

Combine gelatin with 2 1/2 tablespoons of water in another small bowl.

Strain out jasmine tea from milk. Bring milk back to a boil.

Add in gelatin and stir until it is fully melted and combined.

Remove from stove and let mixture cool to room temperature (do not let it completely cool and start setting up).

In a stand mixer with whisk attachment, whip cream until it holds soft peaks.

Add in jasmine milk mixture a little at a time, folding it into the whipped cream carefully until it becomes a liquidy mixture.

Divide the jasmine cream among the prepared cake rings, filling them to the top. Smooth out the tops and chill cakes in refrigerator overnight to let the cream set. Remove cakes from rings before serving.

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{Product Review} Meeting the Minds Behind Socola Chocolatier

May 1st, 2009 · 6 Comments · Reviews, Tools

Socolachocolatesalon
I got the opportunity to attend the San Francisco International Chocolate Salon about a month ago – a day long festival celebrating all things chocolate. With over 50 chocolatiers and confectioners, many of them local artisans, the variety of truffles, bars, and other chocolatey delights on display was sugar-shock-inducing.
It must have been unique challenge, as well, for all the chocolatiers: chocolate may be the most popular candy around, but when everyone around you is peddling theobroma cacao, you need to make sure your chocolate stands out. 

One of the most memorable chocolatiers for me was Socola Chocolatier, whose eyecatching truffles had a distinctly Asian bent: guava, lychee, tamarind, Vietnamese espresso. While Asian fusion is still a hot-running trend in the culinary world, it takes a deft touch and expertise to take the combination of east and west beyond mere gimmick.  Socola’s chocolates are the genuine article. I knew Socola was special when I kept wanting to reach for another sample; I was thrilled to discover that Socola is a small local company, the brainchild of two sisters, Wendy and Susan Lieu. After speaking to both of them, I had the opportunity to sit down and have a further talk with Susan, the company COO, about this delightful line of truffles.
The Socola Sisters
Photo courtesy of Socola Chocolatier

Talking to Susan makes me feel like I’ve just had a glass of Vietnamese espresso: smart, articulate, and fantastically enthusiastic, she displays an impressive zeal for Socola and life, with a dizzying list of goals, Socola prominently featured among them. For Susan, Socola is not just an entrepreneurial endeavor but a fun adventure with her sister, an opportunity to create outrageously named chocolates, and to share them with their friends. Her excitement and optimism is truly infectious: she’s the perfect spokeswoman for Socola, as well as motivator for anyone needing a little push on their own life goals!

The roots of Socola can be traced back in Susan and Wendy’s family line: their grandfather in Vietnam was a sweetsmaker.  Along with their family, the sisters immigrated to the US when they were children to start a new life. Growing up in Santa Rosa, they were fascinated by the See’s chocolate store across the street from their parents’ store. Wendy, the culinarily-minded of the pair, was inspired to create her own chocolates, using her great-grandmother’s recipes. As word of the chocolates spread, Susan and Wendy decided to band together and start Socola Chocolatier in 2001. Fittingly, Socola is the Vietnamese word for chocolate. In the last eight years, their homegrown venture has blossomed into a successful business.

Socola box
Photo courtesy of Socola Chocolatier

I learned that Wendy is a graduate of Tante Marie’s Professional Pastry Program – it’s always to a thrill to discover fellow alumna! I really love Wendy’s palate and eye for detail; her flavors meld seamlessly with the chocolate, making ultra-flavorful ganaches. The chocolates are perfectly tempered, and beautifully decorated. I loved the sprinkling of gold luster dust on the Guinness truffles, and the red Hawaiian sea salt scattered across the burnt caramel and sea salt chocolates. My favorite, though, would have to be their guava chocolate, which has a sublime guava pate de fruit on top of chocolate ganache. The chocolate is stamped with a winged alpaca, the mascot for Socola. To learn more this eclectic mascot, you can visit the Socola website and learn about her!

Socolasignature
Photo courtesy of Socola Chocolatier

Socola Chocolatier is based in Oakland, and currently is sold at select stores in the East Bay. and online. Soon the chocolates will be available in San Francisco as well. Wendy and Susan have just created a special Mother’s Day Collection, 12 chocolates in six flavors, including Front Porch White Peach, Give It to Me Guava, Luscious Lychee, Matchmaker Matcha, Pretty in Pear, and Tango Tamarind. You can order this collection on their website – the deadline is today, but if you miss it, do try some of their other fantastic selections!

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