A few years ago, on a trip to Sicily with a group of friends, we visited Modica, a little architectural jewel of a town, famous for a number of delicacies. The highlight of our time there was our visit to a tiny old chocolate shop, called Antica Dolceria, where chocolate artisans create delicious confections (including the freshest and most fabulous cannoli) using centuries old techniques.
Its charming owner, Signori Franco Ruta, treated us to a fascinating backstage glimpse of how they make their chocolate, which begins with grinding the cocoa beans by hand on heated ancient stone slabs to render the pure chocolate paste. They then mix the paste with sugar…
(Ah, there’s the rub!)
…and various other delectable stuffs and turn it into the most fabulous little cocoa bars imaginable–some scented with cinnamon, others with hazelnut, and still others (and my personal favorites) touched with cayenne powder.
At last we were treated to a tasting that I can sum up in one word: Nirvana!
The bars were sweet and dark and with a bit of finely-grained crispness to their bite that reminded me of my grandmother’s fudge, which to this day is in my view the best fudge ever created. These bars were the closest anything has ever come and I confess that we departed the shop with a stack of them.
I can wax positively poetic about chocolate, which is why I read with great interest a piece by Christine Muhlke in the New York Times Sunday Magazine of February 12, 2006. Entitiled “The Sweet Tooth Fairy” it focused not only on the finer points of chocolate, but on the life and times of Chloe Doutre-Roussel, a former French agronomist, chocolate buyer and taster for London’s legendary Fortnum and Mason department stores, and above all, a passionate chocolate connoisseur. Ms. Doutre-Roussel has recently released a book, called The Chocolate Connoisseur, with which my darling husband gifted me for Valentine’s Day. (He’s taken to buying me books about chocolate in lieu of the real thing.)
The book is a treasure trove of information about how to select and enjoy chocolate and contains a wealth of recipes. While many of the recipes will require a bit of low-carb alchemy to make them something I’d feel okay about eating often, for a once a year (or once in a great while) special-occasion splurge, I might even make some of them just the way they are and shave carbs elsewhere.
Reading about chocolate is almost as much fun as eating it. Almost. How long is it till Easter?