Food Buzz

Because maybe you do care what I had for lunch...

Monday, August 27, 2007

Charles and the chocolate factory

The highlight of my weekend -- maybe even the whole summer -- was touring the kitchen at Charles Chocolates. Owner Chuck Siegel just opened a new shop/cafe/factory in a cute, industrial section of Emeryville (Scharffen Berger is just up the street) and is offering tours on Saturdays and Wednesdays.

Of course, it's more a kitchen than a factory, since everything is made by hand. And we don't really get to enter the kitchen. Would you like random strangers breathing over your ganache? Seigel had a long window built running alongside his kitchen so visitors can watch his confections being made. He gets on a PA system in the kitchen and leads you thought the process. After the tour he lets you ask as many questions as you want.

Unlike many candy makers, Siegel is very forthcoming about his process. And for good reason; hearing about his fresh ingredients and innovations is great advertising. He also buries you in samples. Just in the shop there were trays of four different chocolates (try doing that at Leonidas!). And when Chuck delayed starting the tour for two late attendees he apologized, sending around a tray of his fleur de sel caramels. You can opt for a tasting after the tour during which he tells you all about the confections you're sampling.

So here's what I learned:

Salt caramels: the reason why chocolatiers started adding sea salt to their caramels is to cut the bitterness in the burnt sugar. Siegel doesn't sprinkle his salt on top; he mixes it directly into the caramel instead. He doesn't like the way plain salt burns the toungue. I recently tried some of Fran's salt caramels and felt like a philistine scraping the salt from the tops. I'm glad Chuck is with me on this one.

Marzipan: Chuck (he lets us call him that) never liked marzipan because it's too sweet, has that burnt almond flavor, and that play-dough consistency. One day a pastry chef said to him, "Marzipan is just almonds and sugar. What's the problem?" And so he made his own marzipan with less sugar, a more appealing consistency, and without the almond extract. It's just like marzipan, only better.

Pate de fruit: These are like gumdrops, only much better and, by the way, made from fresh fruit, no flavorings. Chuck offered to send us the recipe if we e-mail him. Seriously! I think I may take him on on that, too, because Jasper looooves the pate de fruit.

Shelf life: Charles Chocolates are made with fresh ingredients so you have to eat them all up right away.

Finally, Chuck has kids of his own and was very nice about my taking Jasper along (Lane was at an art museum). I had to duck out a few times and I definitely found it more interesting than Jasper did. But he still had fun. He took the picture above all by himself and is emmensely proud of it.

Obviously I can be bribed into doing a little advertising for Chuck. Did I mention you can get his chocolates at the Chelsea/Union Square Whole Foods in New York?


Anonymous said...

Sounds like I might have to make a trip to California in the near future. (drool, drool)

Luisa Perkins said...

Yum city. Please share the pate de fruit recipe when you get it; I always enjoy those at Picholine and Alain DuCasse. (Because I'm there so often.)