The Charm of Jacques Pépin & Scharffen Berger Chocolate

I went to a blogger's chocolate lunch on Monday with Scharffen Berger chocolates that was tied into the release of the Julie & Julia film. Chef Jacques Pépin did the cooking at the French Culinary Institute. What struck me was how, as usual, Chef Pépin stole the show. Armed with some kick-ass chocolate, he presented a number of sweet and savory recipes that were so simple, and elegantly prepared I was almost convinced that chocolate for lunch was a good idea.

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John Scharffenberger led us in a breezy and friendly tasting of four different chocolates. Turns out, unlike with wine, at a chocolate tasting John likes to begin with the most intense chocolate, which in this case was an 82% Cacao Extra Dark. Then a 70% bittersweet and and a 62% semi-sweet.

Finally, the most interesting story came with the last chocolate, a milk chocolate. Scharffenberger was hesitant to produce a milk chocolate but was persuaded by his business partner who pitched the idea of doing it with very little sugar. The milk is organic and grass fed and the result is not the sickly-sweet milk chocolate you're used to from childhood Easter baskets. I might even consider this chocolate for cooking.

Here's what we ate:

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A chicken liver pate with cocoa powder and cacao nibs and a zillion other ingredients. This was delicious, but I can't say it's something I would try verbatim, rather I might riff on the theme of a pate with unsweetened chocolate elements. Serving it on toasts rather than jicama as the recipe suggests was a good move.

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A tri tip roast dusted with a cacao nib rub: another great reason to keep cacao nibs in your pantry.

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The plate of sweets, minus the effortless crepes Chef Pépin prepared and handed out to audience members.

The Chocolate Raspberry Gratin was impressive in that you literally could prepare it in 10 minutes, given you had frozen raspberries, some cookies and good quality chocolate on hand.

The Rochers, little lumps of chocolate covered nuts and cereals, were also examples of how lickity-split making chocolate desserts can be. The warm chocolate cake, again, was incredibly easy to prepare with very few ingredients. I liked the idea of a dollop of sour cream on top as suggested in the recipe, below.

Finally, the little chocolate cups get the prize for easiest fancy-pants dessert: melt chocolate, pour in little candy cups (like a mini muffin paper) and while the chocolate is still liquid, plop in dried or fresh fruit, nuts, mint, etc.

Here are the recipes:

Pâté de Faux Gràs a Ma Façon (This recipe was part of a recipe contest sponsored by Sharffen Berger)
Cacao Nib Rub and Tri Tip Roast
Chocolate Raspberry Gratin
Chocolate Rochers with Hazelnuts and Cornflakes
Warm Chocolate Cake with Apricot-Cognac Sauce (recipe, strangely with some amounts missing) and a video of Chef Pépin preparing the cake (listen closely, ingredient amounts will be revealed!)

Related: Jacques Pépin on Winging It

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