Wednesday, September 24, 2008

New York, part 1: Jacques Torres Chocolate

My dear friend Heidi and I ran off to the Big Apple last weekend for 2 days of indulgence. We left our children behind with our good and encouraging husbands and set our minds on what we could experience in such a short time. Just to cut the suspense, I'll tell you right now: it was a lot. We squeezed as much as we could out of our weekend and slept a total of 11 hours over 3 nights (granted, it was really good sleep, the kind you can only get on perfect mattresses, crisp sheets, and no children within earshot).

Neither of us had ever visited New York City prior to this trip, so this heightened the anticipation, and we each felt like the stereotypical small town girl walking into the big city, excited and naive. It was an unavoidable sensation, but delightful in its own way.

We had three main goals: have fun, eat a lot of good food, and do a little shopping. And go see Wicked at the Gershwin Theatre. Four...we had four main goals. And we happily accomplished them.

It may seem simple to write a blog about my experience, but, as you know, I do like to go on and on about food, so I will not attempt to do too much at once. Instead, I'll just do little installments until I've taken care of everything. And, except for today, I'll just start at the beginning and go through each meal.

Today, however, I'm starting with what may have been the best episode. I'm talking about the Jacques Torres chocolate shop. You're probably aware of my love for good chocolate, so this opportunity was an absolute delight. In fact, we enjoyed it so much that we went back a second time – the only place to score that ranking.

Jacques Torres has three locations, all in New York, and two in Manhattan. The nearest location to us was also their newest, on Amsterdam between 73rd and 74th. One of the treasures of visiting New York for the first time was jumping on the subway to go to a district, walking out of the station, and seeing something completely different than wherever we'd just left. Our stop at Amsterdam and 72nd was the most pleasant of all these surprises. It is a beautiful area of New York City with amazing architecture (which really can be said of most of the city) and a very clean feeling to the streets. It felt energetic to be there, but still quaint with its wrought-iron fencing and garden area around the station entrance.

The chocolate shop is small and non intimidating. It has a little counter for drinks and a separate counter for chocolate truffles, pastries, and cookies. The walls are lined with ready-to-purchase delights: white, milk, and dark chocolate bars; mendients (more on those in a sec), malt balls, chocolate pretzels, chocolate gingerettes, chocolate macadamia nuts, hot chocolate, cookie mix, brownie mix, and chocolate for baking. There are two stores I would have gladly purchased the entire contents of while there, had I the ability, and this was one of them. (You'll have to read my future posts to know the other.)

Between the two trips to the store, I purchased (to bring home) a couple of chocolate bars, a 2-lb. bag of dark chocolate disks, a box of hand-picked truffles, and a small bag of mendients. Mendients (which I'd not heard of before visiting the shop) are small squares of chocolate each topped with a pistachio, an almond, and candied ginger. They are small-bite size, and like getting a taste of a good truffle at a discount. I purchased them when we first visited the shop, and then went all out for a box of chocolates upon returning, as I preferred them to the well-known (and somewhat garish) Teuscher chocolates I sampled at Rockefeller Center. Though it wasn't the price that swayed me, I was thrilled to pay a mere $1.50 per chocolate for such quality. And, really, all the contents of the shop were very affordable – another plus.

While there, Heidi ordered the frozen hot chocolate and I ordered the classic hot chocolate. Incredible. I wouldn't so much call mine "hot chocolate" as maybe "drinking chocolate", but I appreciate their lack of pretension in naming it. It's quite thick, very intense, and amazingly, beautifully rich. I would even say it's the best hot chocolate I've ever had. The frozen hot chocolate was irresistible; with conflicting emotions Heidi finished it off, though it upset her empty stomach. You can buy a bag of the hot chocolate mix there. Heidi did, and she said that it did indeed taste just like it did there. The ingredients are just chocolate, milk powder, and cornstarch. And if I have a list of ingredients, you can bet I'm going to get to work replicating.

It didn't take me long. I worked on it today, and I'm very happy with the result, so I'll be sharing that recipe with you at the end of this post. If you like eating really good chocolate, it's like that but better. I could really go on and on, but it would get old and it would be much better if you make it yourself. But I will add a note about the recipe: I used a chocolate that is about 62% cacao, and so I included a teaspoon of cocoa in the recipe to make it dark enough. If you use a chocolate that is over 65%, you might just try it without the cocoa first, as it will likely have the right depth of chocolate. My husband and daughter have both already had it and love it.

I also purchased in the shop two other delights. The first was an almond paste-filled pastry. I think the pastry was pâte à choux, which is what is used to make éclairs, or it may have been a puff pastry. I know they're completely different, but it was a bit confusing, and it seemed like a crossover between the two. Not possible, I know. In any case, it was delicious. I also had a chilled chocolate chip cookie (your choice of chilled or warm), which was, I promise you, the very best chocolate chip cookie I've ever had. I brought five home. It was buttery and chewy and heavy on the chocolate. The form of chocolate they use is called a fève, a wafer about quarter size that is very thin, and this is the bag of chocolate I purchased there, specifically for recreating the cookies at home. The benefit to this form is that each bite can have a great deal of chocolate in it while still having a luxurious amount of buttery, chewy cookie.

Lucky for all of us, the recipe for this cookie and an accompanying article was posted in the New York Times earlier this year, and I'm also including the recipe here. The salt content looks high. When I made them a month or two ago, I really liked the extra salt on top, but by the next day, there was no distinct saltiness, just a well-balanced cookie. If you try it, I hope you enjoy it. I do still really like my other chocolate chip recipe, but I'll be making this one again soon to see if I can get it to be as nice as my experience in New York.

To view a printable version of the following recipe, click here.

Drinking Chocolate

1/2 t. cornstarch
1 t. cocoa (or 1/2 t. cocoa if the cacao content of the chocolate is over 65%)
1/4 c. finely chopped bittersweet chocolate, at least 60%*
1/2 c. whole or lowfat milk

Stir together the cornstarch, cocoa, and chocolate. Whisk into the milk in a mug. Heat the mug in the microwave on high for 1 minute and 30-40 seconds, stopping to whisk every 20-30 seconds, until thickened slightly, melted, and smooth. Serve.

This recipe can be doubled, tripled, etc., and made on the stovetop (carefully).

*To measure the chocolate, I place the cornstarch and cocoa in the bottom of a 1/4 c. measuring cup, then add the chocolate on top, pressing and crunching it down to get it very compact.

To view a printable version of the following recipe, click here.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from Jacques Torres

2 cups + 2 T. (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 3/4 cups + 2 T. (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate wafers, disks, or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

(note: 2 oz. cookies (about 1/4 c.) are also a nice size. About 8 fit on a tray.)

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.

Note: Disks are sold at Jacques Torres Chocolate; Valrhona fèves, oval-shaped chocolate pieces, are at Whole Foods.


Heidi said...

I didn't finish the frozen hot chocolate because I couldn't...but, I did make myself sick from trying! :) YUM. Excellent post. I linked to it from my blog. Love ya!

Rachel said...

So, I made the cookies today. Actually, I made them yesterday and baked four off today (so far!), and they're fantastic. Just a couple of notes:

Mine were slightly crispy dark golden on the underside, which may have come from opening the oven once or twice, so avoid that. I might preheat baking stones in the oven on the lowest rack to keep heat from hitting the bottom of the pan too directly when the element comes on to reheat the oven.

The cookies I brought home tasted a touch butterier, so I think Jacques Torres may have used culture butter (European-style). It's not necessary, unless you want to get the world's best cookie, and then it probably will be. I'll have to try it that way in the future.

My cookies took a bit longer to bake, about 22 minutes I think. This may have come from opening the oven door to check on them, but I didn't do that at all until 16 or 18 minutes, so I doubt it. My oven does sometimes cook slowly, but I have checked it (very important!) to make sure it's heating to the proper temperature. You can do this with an oven thermometer. Taylor makes a good one that is meat or candy appropriate, though not as handy to work with as anything else I own.

Rachel said...

oops - cultured, not culture!

Anonymous said...

I made the Drinking Chocolate the other day (minus the cocoa). I made a larger batch on the stove and it worked just fine. I did stir it almost constantly.

It is delicious! I call it Warm Chocolate Lava. If you really like dark chocolate, this is great.

Unknown said...

These are our favorite cookies EVER.... This recipe will not let you down