Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Sweets for the sweet: chocolate and its rivals

In my recent post about chocolate and its supposed health benefits, reader Ben-David has this to say:

I think your [inability to eat chocolate] can be seen as a spur to creativity. So many unimaginative menus conclude with a chocolate dessert, instead of something that draws on seasonal or exotic flavors.

Yes I like chocolate. But I also like halvah and anything with sesame, and I love lemon-flavored desserts (especially after a heavy meal).

You can't always wear a little black dress...

Well, if I kept eating chocolate and all those other wonderful desserts you mention, I probably wouldn't ever be able to wear a little black dress. It would have to be a great big one.

But seriously, Ben-David (and this is a serious matter, this matter of chocolate deprivation), I appreciate your concern. Rest easy--I have no problem finding other desserts to enjoy.

But, you know what? I still miss chocolate--there's something uniquely delectable about it.

I've thought about what that thing might be--and so have scientists. This article features a few of their theories. I do indeed love some of the very things you suggest: anything with lemon is great, fruit pastry and pies, sorbet, and I have a special fondness for caramel sauce over vanilla ice cream (although these days it's hard to find a high quality caramel that isn't just corn syrup and artificial flavorings). But since I've been off chocolate (several years now), I've discovered that these other sweets are somehow sweeter than chocolate. Often, they're just too sweet, even cloying.

So I've concluded that chocolate's wonderfulness lies partly in the fact that there's something about the bitterness and depth of the chocolate taste itself that grounds the sugar in it. The taste is complex, and simply magnificent.

So, although I greatly appreciate your attempt to comfort me and expand my horizons (and my waistline), it ain't gonna work. There's nothing like chocolate.


At 3:19 PM, March 01, 2006, Blogger gcotharn said...

My friend once attended a dinner party which was quite luxurious: several courses, several wines. At the end the hostess served everyone a large flower for dessert - I can't remember what type. Supposedly, ancient kings ate flowers for dessert. Then the host brought out cigars, and everyone, men and women, sat around and puffed. Ever since, I've always had in mind to do that: serve guests a flower for dessert - then cigars for everyone. It seems quite fun.

At 3:34 PM, March 01, 2006, Anonymous Ben-David said...

Thanks for quoting me, neo - and better your waistline than mine!

You're right about chocolate's complexity. This is also the appeal of coffee.

Both of these have been further layered with other aromatics in different cultures - from Mexican mole sauce to Pennsylvania-Dutch chocolate-spice cookies to Middle-Eastern coffee with cardamom (my current boss's favorite, and a very common and pleasant aroma here in Israel's cafes).

This is also part of the magic of your caramel sauce - which I also love: simple sugar takes on a complex mix of sweet and bitter flavors as it browns.

So a creme brulee and a chocolate bar share the same "pattern" or flavor orchestration - bitter and sweet smoothed with creamy.

So here's a non-chocolate dessert recipe along these lines that I first met in a special feature in Good Housekeeping magazine - and was happy to find on the internet... a taste of the Middle East via Paris and New York. Enjoy:

At 5:10 PM, March 01, 2006, Blogger Cappy said...

What is Halvah? It used to be an object of derision of MAD Magazine during MAD's golden era. I always thought it was mined deep underground in Turkey and Armenia, but appatently it's the Middle Eastern answer to fruitcake.

At 9:46 PM, March 01, 2006, Blogger Assistant Village Idiot said...

I know you are somewhere in New England, so I will recommend Lalas' (Hungarian Pastries) in Manchester, NH to you. It is as good as Ruzswurm's in Budapest.

Ladi's got a pretty good story about walking out of Communist Hungary, too.

At 1:27 AM, March 02, 2006, Blogger Ymarsakar said...

Can you still eat chocolate ice cream or vannila? Does that tide you over?

At 8:28 AM, March 02, 2006, Blogger Jerub-Baal said...

I seem to remember reading somewhere (and it was recently) the chocolate affects the same pleasure centers in the brain as alcohol. To follow up on Ben-David's notes on the complexity of flavors, maybe you should try a good single-malt. I'm partitial to The Glenlivet, French Oak Finish, not too expensive with floral and soft fruity tones that finishes with a mellow touch of spice.

It's enough of a treat (cost wise) to be special and prevent over-consumption, to pervent an 'expanding' head the next day, or an expanding waist-line (from the high calories) over time.

At 11:31 AM, March 02, 2006, Blogger Van said...

I think that, if necessary, I too could live with out chocolate. After all there is a myriad of other delicious delights for the belly.

Let's not forget about pie. Dutch Apple with Vanilla Ice Cream - yummy.

But the one thing that I wouldn't live without is that little brown been magic called coffee. Of course it's not just the taste, but the aroma alone can ispire the consciousness and animate the senses.

There is no substitute for a rich cup of coffee, especially after a heavy meal.

"The morning cup of coffee has an exhilaration about it which the cheering influence of the afternoon or evening cup of tea cannot be expected to reproduce." ~Oliver Wendell Holmes

At 9:00 PM, March 03, 2006, Anonymous Will Franklin said...

I once went several years without chocolate. Still rarely eat it. Don't drink coffee, either.

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