Divine on its own, chocolate lends itself perfectly well to a fine pairing, too
Love and marriage, horses and a carriage, coffee and donuts—there is no doubt that some things were just made for one another. When it comes to chocolate, however, purists might say that there is nothing quite like an unadulterated bar of the dark stuff made from beans from a single plantation.
Yet for centuries, chocolate has found delicious flavour partners in numerous fruit and spices that continue to delight palates today. The ancient Mayans of Central America, widely recognised as the discoverers of cocoa, famously added chilli peppers to their traditional chocolate drink. They also tempered their dark elixirs with vanilla, honey and floral nectars.
No surprise, then, that the pairing of chocolate and chilli continues to inform chocolatiers today, from Jacques Torres’ Wicked Hot Chocolate powder spiked with allspice, cinnamon, and ground ancho and smoked chipotle chillies, to Teuscher’s Dark Chocolate Chilli Bar. Cast your eyes over the showcases of chocolatiers the world over and you’re likely to spy delicate squares of chocolate bon bons infused with the ubiquitous spice.
The pairing isn’t limited to the sweet stuff. In fact, early chocolate and chilli pairings were savoury affairs. The most popular of which is mole, that traditional Mexican sauce imbued with unsweetened cocoa and a bevy of chillies, nuts and seeds. To experience a modern yet authentic-tasting version of it in Singapore, head down to the newly minted Superloco at Customs House and ask for the Mole Oaxaqueno. Thirty ingredients, including the likes of mulato chillies and sesame seeds are stewed for hours, pureed and then enriched with chocolate and vinegar to yield a delectably complex sauce served with warm tortillas as a comforting snack.
Tea has been yet another longstanding match with chocolate. Unlike coffee, which is typically used to enhance chocolate’s depth in baked goods, tea has a cleaner, smoother taste. The crisp acidity in green tea is a great complement to milk chocolate, while the smokiness of a black tea such as oolong lends dark chocolate a longer finish. Like wine to food, tea can intensify a chocolate’s breadth of flavours, bringing out hidden notes like charcoal and fruit.
Both tea and chocolate companies are tapping on the increasing popularity of their coupling. French chocolatier Valrhona, for instance, recently created a limited edition Tea and Chocolate Pairing Box comprising three teas from Palais des Thes (Grand Yunnan Imperial black tea, Pure Indulgence Pear green tea, and The du Hammam green tea) along with bars of its Alpaco 66 percent dark chocolate, Jivara 40 percent milk chocolate and Opalys 33 percent white chocolate.
With its accents of bergamot, Earl Grey makes a particularly winning combination with chocolate. Naturally, then, it is a beloved match at dessert shops all over Singapore. At Parisian-style patisserie Antoinette, its eponymous entremet comprises Earl Grey tea-infused milk chocolate mousse laid on a chocolate biscuit and enrobed in a dark chocolate Earl Grey Tea creameux. Elegant to behold—and to eat—it is kissed with the gentlest tinge of the tea’s flowery, citrus tang that imparts an acidic freshness.
Fruit And Nut
The relationship between citrus and chocolate go back a long way. The fruit of its most famous pairing is perhaps the humble Jaffa Cake, which was introduced by McVitie & Price in Britain in 1927. Named for the Jaffa oranges that flavour their sweet centres, Jaffa Cakes comprise a sponge base, a layer of orange-flavoured jam and a coating of chocolate. This iconic candy remains a beloved treat in the United Kingdom almost 90 years after the Brits had their first taste of it.
The vibrant acidity of oranges and other citrus fruit are great for brightening the deep flavours of dark chocolate. This explains why chocolatiers dip their dried peel into dark chocolate so they can be snacked on like luxe fruit leather.
Conversely, nuts—with their earthy, toasty taste profiles—play well with chocolate for the very opposite reason. Nuts temper the vigour of sweeter chocolates while offering the textural contrast of crunch. Confectioners like Cadbury and Nestle have long made candy out of this popular blend. Bars like Snickers, Pay Day and Baby Ruth are so well loved that chefs have created their own odes to these childhood treats in their fine dining restaurant menus.
Over the years, chef Andre Chiang has created modern permutations of the Snickers bar by reconstructing its various components, namely chocolate, nuts, caramel and nougat. His Snickers dessert has been variously encapsulated in a “crystal” sphere, artfully arranged on a plate as soil with paper-thin slivers of chocolate biscuit, or served in a pudding-like mound on a smooth clay boulder. Similarly, chef Julian Royer’s signature dessert at Odette is the Choconuts Gallery, a peanut and almond praline with Kayambe chocolate and Tonka bean ice cream.
All of which just goes to show that chocolate, at its heart, is an ingredient that inspires deliciousness no matter its pairing partner. Far from monogamous, chocolate is that captivating temptress who is impossible to resist. And like any good seductress, even when you’ve had her, it’s simply impossible to get enough.
This was first published in Wine & Dine’s November 2016 issue: ‘A Many Splendored Thing’ by Annette Tan