Chocolate. Certainly an object worshipped by many, not all of whom are primitive, yet some of whom would absolutely extol its magical powers. I have friends and known others, fools or not, who flaunt an excessive devotion to this “food of the gods”, willing to forgo most other pleasures for this sacred delicacy. And as a true fetish, many have laid claim to its reputation as an aphrodisiac, seducing a lover with a drizzle of warm chocolate sauce or a box tied up in gold ribbon.
Chocolate, that most mysterious of foods, both soothing and sinful, comforting and decadent all at once. Passionate and inspiring, it stirs up more emotion than any other food; it is the downfall of many. No wonder it has also often been called the “food of the devil”.
Chocolate, whether bold and bitter or smooth and sweet, crunchy, crispy, hot, warm or cool, light or dark, has been the source and inspiration for books, films, forums, salons, clubs. And a multitude of medical studies. Some like to claim that they eat it for this healthful property or that, that it brings on a sense of wellbeing or even euphoria. But all that takes away from its underlying power, its seductiveness. Deep down, chocolate pulls us into a dark, almost spiritual realm, a source of intense craving that no substitute can appease.
But whether chocolate is consumed for its psychoactive or cognitive-enhancing properties, its magnesium boost, as some kind of holistic medicine, as a tool of sexual conquest, or as a substitute for lunch dates with friends or lonely evenings in front of the television, savored with a glass of wine, neck-deep in bubbles, no one can deny the passion that it stirs up in each of us.
Standing in the Home Ec room watching my very elegant 8th-grade French teacher Miss Moore roll up chunks of deep, dark chocolate in pale, moist, out-of-the-can biscuit dough, must have been my first experience with something I considered so sophisticated, so very French. I pushed myself up on tippy toes trying to capture each and every movement of her hands as she created this special treat for a roomful of impatient students anxious to savor their very first taste of France. Our only experience of that foreign, most romantic of countries was between the pages of our French book where a very properly dressed Sylvie went to the piscine with her brother and watched la télévision while maman prepared dinner. Photographs of lovers strolling along the Seine, tumbles of flowers spilled out of market stalls and the French Président going to work on a bicycle inspired me, instilled an urge, a wanderlust… it was all so beautiful, so chic, so far away from this beachside town, hot and unsophisticated. This treat, so French, transported me if only in my young mind, if only for the time of a class.
Yet years later there I was, on the streets of Paris tenderly clutching a flaky, crisp pain au chocolat, rather stunned that I was actually, finally there. My very first day, I stumbled into the nearest corner boulangerie – as was the thing to do on one’s very first day in Paris, bien sûr -and pointed, grinning, at the plump, golden pastry, just a teasing hint of the chocolate peeping out from between the folds.
Bread & Chocolate stirs up visions of tow-headed children on Parisian streets, elegant little children in shiny Mary Janes or black brogues dressed in pleated navy skirts and Loden coats, their excited after-school chatter filling the void between honking cars and city sounds, each enfant cheri clutching a hunk of baguette, dense, warm from the boulangerie, a long, narrow bar of chocolate sticking out for all the world to see. Watch them as they bite into the crispy crust, crumbs hurriedly brushed away, joyously ripping into the tender center, crack into the slender bar of chocolate Maman or nourrice has so lovingly tucked inside and all thoughts of sharing a crêpe and a glass of wine with a chic young parisien fall aside: this is picture-perfect French romance itself.
Childhood Delight, Adult Necessity
I have one son that likes nothing at all. Oh, of course that is an exaggeration but when one’s parents and only sibling love almost everything, are open to new taste sensations, new cuisines, all foods with little exception, and one limits one’s likes to a mere handful of choices, it goes without saying.
He has no sweet tooth. He could truly do without sweets, no cake, no cookies, no candy, no ice cream. He is quite content with a fistful of breadsticks, a bowl full of olives, a slice of bread smeared with hummous. A tuna fish sandwich, extra mayonnaise, please. Which is even odder what with all the desserts, tarts and sugary things the rest of us consume.
Yet once in a blue moon, he will request a sweet treat, either for a special occasion, his birthday, or to carry to friends. And every now and then (when cows do fly) he actually has a craving. And it is without fail, unequivocally, unshakably chocolate. And more exacting, more demanding one child cannot be. A simple chocolate layer cake – just chocolate, no coffee, chestnut, rum or Cointreau blended in – with a very simple chocolate buttercream. The normal chocolate cake, if you see what I mean. A pan of brownies with, yes, chopped pecans but heaven help us nothing else, nothing foreign, nothing weird. A good, deep chocolate flavor, the texture neither too gooey nor too cakey. Just brownies. Or something chocolate chip… chocolate chip cookies will be gobbled up quick as greased lightening. Or chocolate chip banana bread, the tiny chocolate chips in perfect balance with, just the right proportion to the banana.
And that’s it. Chocolate.
I drank this type of chocolate one damp and cold November afternoon in the north of Italy, until then I had only had the more licquid kind that you drink in Sweden (very good too, especially so when served with whipped cream on top) and my encounter with dense chocolate to drink resulted in instant love! Here in Italy you can buy it in powder and all you have to do is to mix it with milk and warm it up but I prefer the homemade version, mostly because I can make bigger portions!
ILVA´S DENSE HOT CHOCOLATE
2 rather big cups
4 tblsp high quality cocoa powder
3-4 tblsp sugar
4 tblsp corn starch
400 ml/1,7 cup milk
spices or some other desired flavour
Mix cocoa, sugar and corn starch very well. Pour milk into a pan and then add the dry ingredients while you whisk. Bring to the boil under constant stirring until it has reached the desired density.
Drink and enjoy!