Walk through the doors of "Chocolate Box" and you'll enter another world. But this is not the zany fantasy world of Willie Wonka. It's a chic showroom...
Walk through the doors of “Chocolate Box” on 108 Pine St. in the Pike Place Market neighborhood of downtown Seattle and you’ll enter another world. But this is not the zany fantasy world of Willie Wonka. It’s a chic showroom, where espresso drinks and gelati augment shelves laden with sophisticated chocolates, affording grown-up chocolate lovers a chance to experience the latest in chocolate delights.
And what struck me, as I perused the products, was that most of the chocolates in the shop were made right here in Seattle. Seattle, so famous for its coffee, has become an urbane center for chocolate lovers on a par with Perugia or Paris. For more than a quarter century, Fran Bigelow, considered one of the finest chocolatiers in the country, has been making extraordinary chocolates in Seattle. Years ago, we swooned over her Gold Bars, and more recently, her Smoked Salt and Gray Salt Chocolate Caramels became the taste to beat.
Theo Chocolate, a relative newcomer, has been pushing the bar ever higher. Billing itself as “the first roaster of Fair Trade Certified cocoa beans” and the only roaster of organic cocoa beans in the United States, Theo might sound like “chocolate with a conscience,” and I suppose it is. But it’s also chocolate with an attitude that ranks with the best chocolates I’ve ever tasted. Unlike most commercial chocolate, which is made with a blend of beans from various sources, Theo’s “Origin Bars” claim a pedigree. Each one is made with cocoa beans from a specific region. And with cocoa contents ranging from 65 to 91 percent, these are definitely not kids’ stuff.
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Theo chocolatiers are also responsible for the avant-garde flavors under the 3400 Phinney label. Named after the street address of the Theo Chocolate factory, these chocolate bars feature whimsical additions like Chai Tea, Coconut Curry and buttered artisan bread crumbs. But our favorite Theo product might be the Chipotle Spice Sipping Chocolate. (Chocolate Box is the only place in Seattle besides Theo’s headquarters to carry it.)
Once Fran started adding gourmet salt to her chocolate caramels, I guess it was only a matter of time before someone — make that almost everyone — would start adding an array of spices to theirs. Chocolate and spice is hardly a new combination; the Aztecs were blending chocolate and chilies when Spanish explorers first encountered them in the early 1500s. And Italian-inspired local chocolate maker Fiori Chocolatiers makes a “Peperoncino Spicy Drinking Chocolate” with hints of cinnamon, allspice and hot pepper, which can also be found at Chocolate Box. Colorado-based “Chocolove” has recently introduced a bar called “Chilies & Cherries in Dark Chocolate.” The combination is compelling. Last year, I caught the bug and started stirring a little cinnamon here and a little cayenne there into my homemade chocolate truffles. My kids balked at the thought, but nibbled them contemplatively nonetheless. My wife thought they needed something more. Lately, she’s acquired a taste for totally unsweetened cocoa nibs, which we have been stirring into cookie batters and sprinkling over chocolate bark, exploring ways to enjoy these nutlike nubbins. Once I added some of those to give the truffles a little crunch and a bitter edge, she was sold.
Greg Atkinson is author of “West Coast Cooking.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Barry Wong is a Seattle-based freelance photographer. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Recipe: Spiced Chocolate Truffles with Cocoa Nibs
Makes 36 bite-sized candies
Cocoa “nibs,” which are roasted and crushed but otherwise unprocessed cocoa beans, are slightly bitter. For hard-core chocolate lovers, they represent the ultimate chocolate experience. Spices and cocoa nibs combine to make these chocolate truffles an adults-only treat.
For the coating
¼ cup cocoa nibs
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
For the filling
½ cup whipping cream
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1. Line a sheet pan with baker’s parchment or wax paper. Prepare the coating mixture by combining the cocoa nibs, cocoa powder, cinnamon and cayenne pepper in a small food processor or coffee mill; pulse the motor on and off to break up the nibs and combine the ingredients, but don’t pulverize the nibs entirely; they should keep some of their crunchy texture.
2. To make the filling, heat the whipping cream in a small saucepan until it is steaming hot. Whisk the egg yolks in a small bowl with the vanilla, cinnamon, salt and cayenne pepper. Incorporate a little of the hot cream into the egg yolks to temper them, then stir the mixture back into the saucepan and cook, stirring gently with a heat-proof silicone spatula until the cream is slightly thickened, about two minutes. Do not let the mixture boil.
3. Take the pan off the heat and stir the chopped chocolate into the cream mixture until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Continue stirring until the mixture has begun to cool. Move it to a pastry bag or a 1-gallon, freezer-strength, ziplock bag and pipe it onto the sheet pan in 1-inch dollops.
4. Let the dollops of filling cool to room temperature, then roll them into balls. Roll the balls in the cocoa nib mixture. Keep the finished truffles cold for up to a week; warm them to room temperature just before serving.
Greg Atkinson, 2008