April 29, 2006 | Episode 17

An assortment of chocolates
Chocolate is always better when shared.
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Try a Chocolate Tasting Plate

A decadent dessert made easy

If cakes, pies, cookies, or cheese seem too, well, obvious, why not end your next dinner party with a chocolate tasting? It’s fast and easy, and the only preparation involves a little savvy shopping at your local specialty grocery or chocolatier.

The Chocolate

A well-balanced plate offers three to five different kinds of chocolate, says T’ai Chopping, the executive pastry chef at New York City’s Del Posto restaurant, which features a chocolate tasting on its dessert menu. When shopping, pick out chocolates with a range of cacao percentages for a range of flavor intensity. (The higher the percentage, the more bitter the flavor.) Plan on serving one ounce of each type of chocolate per person, and buy accordingly (for example, if you have a total of six people, you’ll need 6 ounces of each variety). J. Bryce Whittlesey, the executive chef at the Wheatleigh Hotel, in Lenox, Massachusetts, which serves a seasonal chocolate tasting menu, recommends including a white chocolate (0 percent cacao), a milk chocolate (at roughly 36 percent), a dark chocolate (at 60 to 65 percent), and a bitter (as high as 72 to 80 percent). Choose various origins, too, says Chopping, who suggests a plate mixing European and South American chocolates. “For example, a plate with French, Belgian, Swiss, Ecuadorian, and Venezuelan chocolates would be very nice,” she says.

The Accompaniments

Add a garnish on the plate to accent, says Chopping, including candied fruit, chestnut honey, or nuts. Choose whatever you like, but stick with only one, says Whittlesey: “If you have a plate with all of these wonderful raw chocolates, you really don’t want to distract your palate with too many other ingredients.” Liquor is another great complement to chocolate. Chopping’s plate at Del Posto is paired with aged rum, but she also recommends chilled amaretto. Whittlesey recommends fortified wines, such as Madeira and port, with his sweets. And don’t overlook mixed cocktails, says Monika Chiang, the general manager and proprietor of the Double Seven, in New York City, where classic cocktails are paired with French chocolates. According to Chiang, bourbon, scotch, and rum cocktails make great chocolate companions. One of Double Seven’s most popular matches: The Gold Rush cocktail — 2 ounces bourbon, 3/4 ounce fresh squeezed lemon juice, and 3/4 ounce honey syrup (3 parts honey to 1 part hot water) — shaken and served over a large chunk of ice.

The Serving

Arrange a stack of 1-ounce tastes of each chocolate on a plate clockwise from lowest cacao percentage to highest. When tasting, start with the lower percentages and move higher — you can expect more concentrated and complex flavors as you move around the plate. “With each taste, you’ll note the different characteristics and personalities of the samples,” says Whittlesey, who compares this to a wine tasting. “Are there nutty notes or hints of licorice, coffee, or fruit?” There are, of course, textural differences as well, says Chopping: “It’s interesting to measure the fattiness of a Swiss chocolate, say, with the earthiness of a South American chocolate.”

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