Chocolate. The small batch, ethically sourced foodstuff du jour.
Roald Dahl would be proud. Forty-five years since Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, he should see that really great chocolate can still make your troubles go away.
Last year in Park City, Utah, young chocolate barons Anna Davies and Robbie Stout opened Ritual Chocolate, a mini version of Charlie’s factory except that these candy makers use traditional European methods, with 60-to-100-year old machines. Inside, the seductive aroma immediately lets you know they are on to something.
They are part of the artisan movement of small batch, bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers. Step up to the retail counter and order a silky mocha, an espresso, or a smooth, thick, sipping chocolate—the “espresso” of hot chocolates—and then press your nose to the glass partition that separates the retail store from the nerve center of the chocolate factory in back. In this hard-to-find storefront, “making chocolate” means they make the chocolate.
Cacao beans from farms in Madagascar, Peru, Costa Rica, Belize, or Ecuador— single origin beans the owners consider to be in the 99th percentile of all cocoa farms—spill out of burlap sacks and turn into 1.5-ounce bars. They roast, winnow (use air to blow away the cracked husks of the cacao beans), grind, mix, refine, conch, temper, mold, and wrap.
Do not leave Ritual without the Balao chocolate bar. After my first straight-up bite, and then another, I understood why Stout claimed that the Balao bean from Ecuador is the most revered across the chocolate-making world. It is their darkest bar yet and on your tongue so intensely rich from the high ratio of cacao, 85%. Yet, there is sweetness, and, surprisingly, a strong citrus taste.
I thought that tiny bits of orange peel probably rested on the bar’s solid chocolate foundation. Not there. Ritual only uses two ingredients, cacao beans and organic sugar, and adds nothing. That citrus flavor comes from a single farm in Ecuador in a lush growing region nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Andes Mountains. It’s the terroir that creates the orange taste.
The French word terroir doesn’t have a literal translation—nothing in the French language seems to—but for Stout it includes everything: how the soil changes the way the plant develops; what type of yeast is present; how long the fermentation period lasts; how often they stir; the way people do things in different places, like processing cacao beans or using innovative post-harvest techniques; if the soil is higher in limestone. If the soil has more potassium. If the soil is more volcanic. And, of course, the weather. “If there’s more rain, like in Papau, New Guinea,” Stout said, “the beans can’t air dry. So they smoke ‘em.”
Stout can get really nerdy about chocolate, and digress about the number of molecules that contribute to flavor. Take the one hour tour, it’s a great education from blossom to bar. You too might come away thinking that yes, money does grow on trees.
What I knew walking in was that the story of chocolate started with a small tree of cacao beans. What Stout didn’t mention, yet he most likely knows, is that in 1735 Linnaeus designated this tree Theobroma cacao. Theobroma, the genus name, is from the Greek. Theo being the Greek word for “god” and broma meaning “food.” It translates to “food of the gods,” a designation that chocolate-lovers would agree is befitting.
What Stout knows and practices is so over your head, believe me, it will only enhance the 85% intense bittersweet mouthfeel.
At Ritual, the Balao bar sells for $6.75 but since it costs $9.00 from the local Whole Foods, you might want to buy up and tuck a few more away. http://www.ritualchocolate.com
Ritual’s Cacao Nib and Dark Chocolate Gluten-free Brownies
Underneath the crackly, firm top, the small amount of banana flour goes a long way to making the fudgy, dense, cacao nib-studded brownie hang together. Cacao nibs are essential here because they give it crunch. For easy portioning, freeze brownies before cutting into small squares.
8 ounces Ritual Chocolate’s Mid Mountain Blend
¼ cup organic butter
1-1/2 cups brown sugar
¼ cup water
½ cup Ritual Peru Cacao Nibs
¼ cup WEDO Gluten-free Banana Flour (another Park City-based company)
¾ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda
- Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Melt the Mid-Mountain blend chocolate and butter and set aside.
- In a separate bowl, using a whisk or mixer, beat the brown sugar, eggs, and water. Add melted chocolate and butter to the sugar, egg, and water mixture. Stir until fully incorporated but do not overmix.
- Add remaining dry ingredients (nibs, banana flour, salt, and baking soda) to brownie batter and stir until fully incorporated but do not overmix.
- Lightly grease or line a 9-inch by 13-inch pan with parchment paper; add brownie batter to pan and distribute evenly. Bake for 18-22 minutes or until firm, or until toothpick comes out clean.