A quest for the truly original: For my entry in C.C.C. Degustation 2012, I decided to craft chocolate from scratch, starting by growing my own cocoa beans for the first time.
I began by asking a cocoa-hunter friend to gather cocoa beans optimally
suited to my goals from throughout the world, and chose only the best from
among these. The beans I selected were from the jungles blanketing the
foothills of the Sierra Nevada range in Colombia. I matured these beans,
primarily of the Trinitario variety, over six days, keeping a close watch on
their fermentation and minutely adjusting the amount of air. Cocoa beans are
in fact a very juicy fruit, and I wanted to keep them that way.
I roasted the beans lightly to retain their acidity. To achieve full-bodied
chocolate, I roasted the cocoa nibs to 12.5% before hulling them and
roasting them just a bit more. This process resulted in delicious and finely
balanced cocoa beans with a gentle sourness like dried fruit.
My hope is for chocolate lovers to fall in love all over again with a
chocolate that announces its own arrival like the sun trumpets the start of
a delicious new day. With this in mind, I titled it L’aube (Dawn). I am
proud to kick off my new chocolate collection with this original treat.
Salon du Chocolat, Paris, 2012 Limited-edition product
Madagascar 70% Criollo cocoa
In search of the perfect cocoa bean… In the summer of 2012, I visited Madagascar, home to some of the world’s finest cocoa. Madagascar is a tropical jewel of an island in the Indian Ocean, carpeted in vast, dense jungles. The Sambirano River Valley in its northern region is known for producing the elusive and highly-prized Criollo bean, recognized as the world’s finest.
I employed the same Criollo beans from Madagascar in the chocolate I created for C.C.C. Degustation last year. This time, however, I had the opportunity to see the cocoa-producing lands of Madagascar with my own eyes, behold the breathtaking tropical scenery, and above all to meet and talk with a great many proud and passionate cocoa bean cultivators from the region. By getting a feel for the native soil and tropical warmth that produced these precious beans, I was able to craft chocolate bonbons quite different from last year’s, despite using the same bean variety.
I think what’s most striking about these chocolates is their refreshingly fruity acidity, reminiscent of red berries such as raspberries and currants. The flavor makes a dazzling entrance, and then gently radiates the spicy aroma of cinnamon. Its elegant sweetness, free from bitter or distracting tones, reminds one that the cocoa bean is truly a fruit of the tropics. I hope you enjoy this lovingly crafted, bite-sized homage to the cocoa bean, one of nature’s finest gifts.
In Japan, fukinoto (Japanese butterbur shoots) herald the arrival of spring, bravely poking their little heads up from the thawing snow after a harsh winter. Could the distinctively wild and exquisitely bitter flavor of fukinoto and the silky smoothness of milk chocolate be a match made in heaven? Acting on this hunch, I experimented in the kitchen until coming up with this blend.
The recipe begins with baking freshly-picked fukinoto in the oven for an hour at 100 degrees Celsius. After being dried out in this way, the shoots have their essence infused into fresh cream, which is mixed in a ganache (chocolate-cream icing) along with milk chocolate. The perfect partner to the subtle and unique astringency of butterbur turned out to be Valrhona Jivara Lactee, 40%-cocoa milk chocolate with a deep, smooth sweetness. To top it off, dried fukinoto powder sprinkled on top of the ganache coating makes a rough-and-ready contrast to the sweetness of the milk chocolate, maximizing the impact. The result is a singularly sublime creation that remains unmistakably milk chocolate while at the same time evoking the untamed splendor of Japanese spring.
What is fukinoto?
Fuki, or Japanese butterbur, is a wild spring vegetable that sends up shoots all over Japan during the winter thaws of February and is harvested until spring draws to a close in May. It begins as a young sprout, gradually growing and sending out leaves until it matures into fuki proper. Fukinoto are the plant’s stalks, prized for their unique fragrance and astringency, and enjoyed as tempura, pan-fried with miso, and in other forms.
We usually associate the word “praline” with almonds or hazelnuts, but when I decided to make Japanese-style pralines, the first thing that sprang to mind was kingoma (golden sesame seeds). Sesame is a popular Asian ingredient, but white and black sesame seeds are the ones in general use, while golden sesame is a delicacy, a whole world apart in fragrance and flavor.
The vast majority of golden sesame is imported, but the Japanese kingoma used in these pralines comes from the town right next to eS Koyama. I’m delighted that it’s so easy for us to obtain the freshest and most aromatic sesame seeds.
The tempting fragrance of this kingoma is perfectly complemented by 38%-cocoa milk chocolate made from rich, smooth Criollo cocoa beans from Madagascar. It stunningly highlights the depth and complexity of golden sesame. The scent and satisfying crunch are heightened further with the addition of caramelized kingoma to the chocolate-cream ganache. A single sesame seed is certainly tiny compared to an almond or hazelnut, but we think you’ll agree it makes a king-sized impression in these tantalizing treats.
What is kingoma?
Naturally occurring sesame varieties include white, black, yellow、 and brown sesame. Kingoma, or golden sesame, is a specially bred improvement on existing species, and is head and shoulders above the rest in terms of aroma and richness. The kingoma used in these pralines was harvested in my mother’s hometown of Nishiwaki, Hyogo Prefecture, and I’ve been numerous times to visit the grower and sample his wares. While 99% of golden sesame is imported, we insist on using the rare and uncommonly fresh, aromatic native Japanese kingoma.
Sake-kasu are the lees, or solid sediment, generated during sake brewing. The lees of premium-quality junmai ginjo sake, brewed from Kitanishiki rice harvested in the town of Sasayama near eS Koyama, give this chocolate its marvelous sophistication. In the process of brewing junmai ginjo sake, fermented grain mash is pressed only lightly to retain purity of flavor, meaning it remains juicy with liquid sake and leaves behind velvety sake-kasu with a smooth, mellow flavor reminiscent of cream cheese.
These sweet creations feature two layers of chocolate-cream ganache, the lower layer containing these sake-kasu, to which is added caramel infused with 35%-cocoa Valrhona Ivoire white chocolate. The caramelization of sugar is minimized so as to accent its richness and bring the flavor of sake-kasu to the fore. The upper layer contains Valrhona Manjari chocolate made with 66% Madagascar cocoa, adding a rich, dark exclamation mark to the singularly subtle sweetness of sake.
What is junmai ginjo sake?
Junmai ginjo is a variety of sake made only with rice milled to 60% or less (meaning at least 40% of the hull has been removed), koji rice mold, and water. It is slowly fermented and matured at low temperatures in a painstaking process that produces a sophisticated sake with a rich, well-rounded palate and festive, fruity bouquet.
To suffuse food with the savor of wood smoke, giving it a whole new dimension… The idea of infusing chocolate with the scent of smoldering wood struck me in Spain, where I was bowled over by Basque cuisine grilled over hot wood coals.
After this began a process of trial and error, in which I fed chips of Japan’s beloved cherry trees into a specialized smoke machine and attempted to transfer just the right fragrance to chocolate-cream ganache. Eventually, I hit the jackpot with a mixture of 50%-cocoa milk chocolate, containing mainly Ecuadorian Arriba Nacional beans with a floral flair, and 72%-cocoa dark chocolate, shredded and slow-smoked for several hours. This produced the ganache I had been seeking, with a smoky taste that was soft, subtle and didn’t assault the senses. Sprinkle some Guérande sea salt, also cherrywood-smoked; coat the surface, and voilà.
The name Ninja was inspired by the Japanese ninja technique of escaping from enemies by disappearing in a puff from a smoke bomb. It sprang to my mind, perhaps illustrating just how inextricably intertwined ninja and smoke are in the Japanese imagination. The name also gives a playful hint of how I’d like people to feel when biting into one of these chocolate bonbons: charmed, bewitched, as if by a ninja smokescreen.
What is a ninja?
The ninja were specially trained spies, adept at espionage and assassination, in the service of Japanese feudal lords from the Kamakura Period through the Edo Period (from the late 12th until the mid-19th centuries). Clad all in black, they were masters of specialized weapons such as ninja swords and throwing daggers. Intensively trained until they had seemingly superhuman powers, ninja are said to have produced smoke and fire at will and even walked on water. Since time out of mind, all young boys in Japan have gone through an aspiring-ninja phase, and ninja are recently enjoying renewed popularity with the success of animated sagas such as Naruto.