My Tasty – Though Hasty – Valentine Comes with a Love Poem (and a Dash of Chagrin)

Chocolove Belgian Chocolate Bars (Oops, Not Made in Brooklyn)SOME YEARS I JUST CAN’T BE THE VALENTINE GIVER I’D LIKE TO BE. Flu, deadlines, house guests, or no excuses, it just happens. So this year, on the way home from the Q train, I’m skidding into Natural Land on Flatbush Avenue to pick up some chocolate I’ve been eyeing from time to time. The flavors sound good and there’s a little notice on the outside of each package: “love poem inside,” it says, and sports an embossed heart-shaped seal as well as a cute little ersatz postmark and flavor-naming stamp. Definitely an effort has been made here, though not as classy as Mast Brothers’ paper wrapping. Still, I think how the oversized, artisanal-style Chocolove bar will look on Sweet Lover’s pillow tonight, Valentine’s Eve. Um mmm, good. Very intentional looking, getting a slight jump on The Day.

Mae West’s husky voice comes to my mind’s ear: “Too much of a good thing is…wonderful.” Full of devotion and other emotion, I buy three. I wonder if each flavor has its own love poem or are they all the same.

Only as I am setting out the chocolate bars on Sweetie Pie’s pillow right under the reading light do I discover the shocking truth! These chocolates were not made in Brooklyn. Boulder, Colorado–whoa, that’s Wa-a-ay Outer Brooklyn. How can a founding team blogger of Brooklyn Artisan have made such a mistake? It may not even be fair-trade cocoa!

If the love poetry is to be read aloud, best to peel open rather than tearing it.

If the love poem is to be shared aloud, best peel rather than rip it open.

Desperately, I turn over each bar: It is the same story.  “Belgian chocolate made from Javanese and African beans,” the Hazelnuts in Milk Chocolate bar confesses. Dark Chocolate bar murmurs, “African cocoa beans.” Coffee Crunch in Dark Chocolate hisses, “Dark semisweet chocolate with roasted coffee bean bits”– no hint of country of origin from this one, no naming of the transport (sailboat or otherwise), no high-minded bearded brothers.

My Sugar Love discovers me thus, with a lapful of rogue chocolate. He is happy! He tears open Coffee Crunch in Dark Chocolate and the outside wrapper falls aside. He offers me a row of squares. I find it is delicious, and he agrees. Crunching this guilty pleasure, I rescue the torn wrapper. It is a little hard to read “Sonet VI” [sic] by Robert Louis Stevenson, but we manage.

“O strange chance more sorrowful than sweet,” the poet wrote, but my minor misadventure has turned out just the opposite: There are worse things than crunchy chocolate crumbs in the bed.

(Photographs by Brooklyn Artisan Photo Pool)

Sweets for Your Sweetie

HOW DO I LOVE THEE? LET ME COUNT THE CHOCOLATE-Y WAYS.

Brooklyn bakers and chocolate makers are busy dreaming up all sorts of delights for Valentine’s Day. Here’s just a sampling.

Nunu-chocolates-salt-caramels

Nunu-heart-lollipopNunu Chocolates will package its salt caramels (above) in a heart-shaped box (6 pieces/$14, 12/$24). They are  hand-dipped in dark chocolate with a dusting of fleur de sel on top—I personally find them irresistible any time of year. Or how about giving all your beloveds a heart-shaped dark chocolate lollipop for just $2 a pop?
529 Atlantic Ave., Boerum Hill
917-776-7102

Mast Brothers Chocolate will have Valentine’s truffles and bon bons in its case.

Mast-Bros-Counter

250-MastBrothersValentinesCakeAnd they’re baking an over-the-top Valentine’s Day treat: a chocolate caramel layered cake with King’s County Distillery bourbon, buttercream filling and shaved chocolate on top. Call to reserve your cake; it is available for store pick-up only.
111 North 3rd Street, Williamsburg
718-388-2644

val-heart-cookiesBetty Bakery has hearts galore to choose from: a floral-embossed Victorian Heart—an orange-coffee cookie dipped in white chocolate, a Linzer Heart— sandwiched with raspberry jam, of course, and an Iced Sable Heart—hand-decorated in shades of pink, red and white ($3.95). But wait, there are small heart cookies by the pound ($32) and heart cakes, as well: the Romantic Quilled Heart Cake is an iced chocolate cake with raspberry buttercream, the Giddy Heart Cake is a yellow butter cake with fudgy chocolate ganache, iced in red rolled fondant …All this is making me feel a bit giddy myself. How about a chocolate dipped strawberry ($1.95) as a palate cleanser?
448 Atlantic Avenue, Boerum Hill
718-246-2402

FanyBrownieRobicellisRobicelli’s is offering a special dozen cupcakes in Valentine’s Day flavors—Strawberry Champagne, The Eve (walnut cake with pomegranate cheesecake buttercream), The Ebinger (chocolate, chocolate, chocolate), Creme Brulée—with a personalized card, ribbon wrapping and delivery ($50).Or how about a 4-pack or 12-pack of Robicelli’s Fany Brownies—named after Fany Gerson, aka La Newyorkina, whose kitchen and expensive equipment to make her Mexican ice pops were destroyed by Sandy. Robicelli’s dark chocolate brownie base is “spiked with Mexican cinnamon, swirled with sweet sexy cajeta.” A portion of the profits will go to La Newyorkina. Order cupcakes and brownies by 2 pm Tuesday, February 12, for hand delivery.
Bay Ridge, 917-509-6048
info@robicellis.com

The Owl’s Head / Wine Bar in Bay Ridge is hosting a pop-up dessert event with Robicelli’s on Valentine’s Day. You’ll need to make reservations— call 718-680-2436—for one of two limited reserved seatings: 7 pm  and 9:45 pm. An advance reservation for two people includes three shared Robicelli’s dessert courses and 4 oz drink pairings for each person for $75 (not including tax and tip). Just look at this menu…

First Course: Pear MascarponeTheOwlsHeadWineBar
Mascarpone panna cotta, roasted pear compote, spiced pear chip
Served with: German Gilabert Zero Dosage Cava Brut Nature 2011

Second Course: The Noah
Apple galette, goat cheese mousse, roasted candied bacon, bourbon brown sugar sauce
Served with: Niepoort 2001 Colheita Port

Third Course: Car Bomb
Jameson whiskey, Bailey’s Irish Cream & Guinness stout opera cake, Guinness beer nut praline
Served with: Sixpoint 3beans über-porter

No reservations, no problem. Walk-ins are always welcome for drinks and bites. There should even be some desserts available à la carte. Lovers and lonelyhearts, go have some fun!

The Owl’s Head / Wine Bar
479 74th Street, Bay Ridge
718-680-2436

The Chocolate Factories of Brooklyn

Day Twelve 12 Tastes of Brooklyn
Behind the tasting room at Mast Brothers: sacks of cacao beans and staff wrapping chocolate bars.

Behind the tasting room at Mast Brothers: sacks of cacao beans and staff wrapping chocolate bars.

dec17IT’S BEEN TWELVE YEARS SINCE MASTER PASTRY CHEF Jacques Torres shocked the culinary world by quitting his high-profile job at Le Cirque to open a factory in DUMBO (DUMBO???) to make high-quality handmade fine chocolate. Who knew he’d eventually be joined by so many other adventurers in chocolate-making?

For Rick and Michael Mast, of Mast Brothers Chocolate, the adventure goes well beyond the distinctive flavor notes of their chocolate. Last year, to save energy and appeal to their environmentally aware customers, they sailed The Black Seal, a 70-foot schooner, down to the Dominican Republic to pick up 20 tons of organic cacao beans they were purchasing from small cacao farmers there—and sailed it back to Brooklyn.  There, in their Williamsburg factory, they roast, winnow, grind and age the beans to make their dark chocolate bars.

A mural across the street from the Cacao Prieto factory in Red Hook. The painting was commissioned from artist Sebastian Gross Ossa.

A mural, commissioned by Cacao Prieto from artist Sebastian Gross Ossa, across the street from its factory in Red Hook. When we went by the other night, it seemed to have survived Sandy quite well.

Daniel Prieto Preston, owner of Cacao Prieto in Red Hook, makes his bars and bonbons (and liquors) from beans and sugar cane grown on the cacao farm in the Dominican Republic that has been in his family for 100 years. But with an eye to vertically integrating his business, Preston, an aerospace engineer and an inventor with 100+ patents to his name, also designs and custom builds production machinery for chocolate manufacturing.

Raaka Chocolate makes its “virgin chocolate” an unusual way—with unroasted beans. Cacao beans present a tremendous variety of flavors, according to founder Ryan Cheney. “Virgin chocolate lets the different flavors really stand out.”

Raaka-cacao-bean1912

A cacao pod, with beans visible inside, at the Raaka booth at Columbus Circle Holiday Market in Manhattan.

Cheney considers the cocoa farmers’ welfare part of his company’s mission: The farmers from whom Raaka purchases its beans receive at minimum $500 above market price per metric ton of beans, which at today’s cocoa prices is equivalent to a 20% raise. At the other end of the production, Raaka donates its leftover cocoa husks from the Clinton Hill factory to the  Edible Schoolyard NYC at P.S. 216’s after-school to use as mulch and fertilizer.

nunu-hokey-pokey1255Justine Pringle of Nunu Chocolates became a chocolate maker when she and her husband, Andy Laird, a musician, were trying to think of something more interesting than T-shirts to sell at his music shows. Before they knew it, chocolate making had taken over their life. They use a single-origin cocoa bean  from a sustainable and family run farm in eastern Colombia. Go to their tiny storefront on Atlantic Avenue, and you can sip a glass of wine or a brew or a hot chocolate (yes!) with a view of the chocolate making in the kitchen out back.

OK, OK, so you want to know about the chocolate. Here are some of our favorites, all carefully tasted by yours truly and her friends. With packaging that is “font-snob-worthy gorgeous,” as one writer put it, these chocolate bars make great gifts—or an affordable little luxury (usually $8–$10 for bars; $2/piece for bonbons). And besides, think of all those health benefits.

jacques-torres-choc-santa1533

Jacques Torres Chocolate snowman and santa for sale at the Dumbo store

Cacao Prieto’s Pistachio and Apricot bar, one of five very tasty fruit and nut bars, all made from 72 % dark chocolate. Can’t decide? Try the sampler with all five! Certified kosher.
—Available online or at the factory’s storefront in Red Hook.

Jacques Torres’s Chocolate Snowmen and Chocolate Santas. The 4-inch snowmen ($8) come in milk, dark or white chocolate, with contrasting decoration. The hollow giant Santa, in milk or dark chocolate with a beautifully detailed flowing white chocolate beard, stands more than a foot tall, and contains two pounds of chocolate ($45, or $25 for a medium-size one).
—Only available in the stores, since they are too delicate to ship.

Mast Brothers Chocolate’s Stumptown Bar and Salted Caramel Bonbons. Collaborations like this one with Stumptown Coffee Roasters lead to some great flavors. The caramel bonbon is not chewy, as I expected, just melt-in-your-mouth paradise. For a bar with seasonally appropriate hints of cranberry and cinnamon, stop by any Shake Shack for the special edition Mast Brothers made for them.
—Buy at the tasting room attached to the factory, online,or at stores like Dean & Deluca, The Chocolate Room, Brooklyn Larder, Whole Foods.

Nunu Chocolates’ Hand Dipped Salt Caramel bonbons and the Craft Beer or Booze-Infused Ganaches. The salt caramel is Nunu’s best seller, with fleur de sel sprinkled on top. Absinthe ganache? Mezcal chili? Who can resist? Nunu uses 53–65 % cacao in their chocolates, which they find goes best with the flavors they add.
—Order online  for pickup in the store or at these stores.

Raaka Chocolate’s 71% with Sea Salt bar and the Bourbon Cask Aged (83% cacao) bar. Sea Salt is Raaka’s most popular bar; the  bourbon bar is aged in Tuthilltown casks. Deservedly, we think, it’s up for a Good Food award.
—Buy online, at Whole Foods or markets and small groceries around town.

Cacao Prieto
218 Conover Street, Red Hook
347-225-0130

Jacques Torres Chocolate
62 Water Street, DUMBO
718-875-1269

Mast Brothers Chocolate
111 North 3rd Street, Williamsburg
718-388-2625

Nunu Chocolates
529 Atlantic Avenue, Boerum Hill
917-776-7102

Raaka Chocolate
Clinton Hill
917-340-2637

Photographs by Basia Hellwig. Date stamp typographic design by Joy Makon Design.The font is Mason, by Jonathan Barnbrook, Emigre, 1992.

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