Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Chocolate! Chocolate! Chocolate! Aack!

In an episode of my new favorite show 30Rock, Tracy Jordan compares Liz Lemon to the Cathy cartoon above. This reference might not mean anything to you, but Cathy’s exclamation “Chocolate! Chocolate! Chocolate! Aack!” is probably universally understood by all women. And my sister B and I shouted the line all weekend in anticipation of our chocolate-making course at Delightful Pastries bakery in Jefferson Park’s Polish neighborhood. For two relatively health-conscious girls who are unable to resist sweets, a chocolate-making course is an occasion met with mingled excitement and apprehension. But on Sunday, we did not plan to resist the chocolate or to feel remorse for eating it.

In the midst of a snow storm, B and I entered the warm bakery that smelled of rising dough, sugar cookies and chocolate. On our way back to the kitchen, we stopped to admire rows upon rows of colorful pastries and truffles and fresh breads, feeling the snow melt away and the cold leaving our limbs. I am convinced that baking is one of the noblest professions there is. Nothing imparts as immediate a sense of well-being as a warm loaf of bread or cookies with bunny faces.

The kitchen was taken up by a long, wide table flanked by glass-fronted refrigerators filled with stacks of chilled dough. Utensils and cutting boards dangled from the walls and bowls and baking sheets and pots and pans were jammed this way and that into high shelves. Sixteen people crowded around the table and each of us had a baking sheet with two pastry shells and a sheaf of recipes. B and I took our places at the end of the table to watch our instructor Dobra plop truffles from a pastry bag onto a baking sheet with an expert flick of the wrist.

Dobra opened Delightful Pastries in 1998 with her mother Stasia. Dressed in a white chef’s apron with her hair pulled back into a messy ponytail, Dobra is a tough-looking woman in her late 30s with large hands rough from mixing and lifting and kneading. She speaks with a gruff Polish accent, inflected with a dry sense of humor. Dobra led us into the back of the kitchen, past a giant mixer with giant attachments that put F’s pink mixer to shame and made me weak in the knees.

We crowded around a little furnace to watch Dobra mix chocolate into a battered pot. B and I stood on our tiptoes to see into the pot as she described the desired temperature and consistency of the chocolate-caramel sauce sputtering over the stove. The scent of hot caramel filled the back room and made me very hungry, even though we had just eaten lunch at the Irish pub down the street.

All memory of lunch evaporated as B and I were caught up in the flurry of tastings that followed. Caramel sauce, truffles, ganache, whipped cream, chocolate mousse, cream cookies, chocolates, caramels and pie crust—we tasted everything without a trace of guilt.

We also learned things. We didn’t so much create chocolate desserts as assemble them from the ingredients that Dobra had already prepared. This was fine with us. It was warm in the kitchen and snowing outside and B and I were content to whisper to each other and do anything that Dobra told us to do.

Dobra gave each pupil five chocolate truffles and we cheerfully dipped them in melted chocolate.

When they had dried, we coated them with cocoa powder and nuts. B and I split a nut-covered truffle, expecting the plastic spoon to bend as it cracked through the lump of chocolate. But the spoon crushed smoothly through the truffle, and we each took half. It was sweet but not too sweet, soft but not mushy. “Chocolate should be bitter,” Dobra said. “And chocolate should not be hard. You know chocolates that are tough when you bite them? That’s no good. Chocolate should be soft when you bite into it. It should be soft trickling down your throat so you think, Aaah, that’s a good truffle.”

Next, we assembled chocolate mousse pies. Dobra passed around a bowl of mousse and we scooped generous portions into our pie shells.

Then she passed out a bowl of heavy whipped cream to top the mousse. “Fancy people buy cakes,” she said. “Cakes can be fancy, but pies should not be fancy. A pie should be a mess. In the pie shell, you put good, simple fillings. Chocolate, apples, anything you want. Then whipped cream. You just put it all together and then it’s done. It goes out on the shelf just like this,” she held up a pie shell filled with a mound of mousse and cream, “And it’s just perfect.”

You can tell a lot about people from the way they decorate desserts. Once we had covered our mousse with cream, we decorated the tops of our pies. The woman next to me carefully painted chocolate into a tribal pattern of thick stripes along the rim and spread a dollop of chocolate in the center. The organizer of the event—K—sprinkled cocoa powder over his, then added nuts, then drizzled chocolate, then a dollop of mousse, followed by a chunk of bitter chocolate. His young daughter carefully arranged nuts over the top of her pie, piece by piece.

I drizzled chocolate over the top of mine, while K watched in amazement. “Look what you’re doing!” he crowed. “That’s great!” He whipped out his camera and snapped photos while I flicked chocolate across the top of the pie. He made me clear my baking sheet so the pie stood out against the white parchment paper, and took another photo. Everyone watched as my face turned red. My fussy nature was clearly written in my chocolate drizzle.

Next, we poured ganache into the smaller of the pie shells and learned how to cut caramel into squares (run the knife under hot water and dry off before cutting).

I could have stayed at Delightful Pastries all day. The kitchen was comfortable. The equipment was well-worn and well-loved, the counters cluttered with recipes and bits of chocolate, the refrigerators filled with cookies and dough and sheets of colored sugar. B and I lingered in the front of the bakery, reluctant to leave behind the warmth and the scent of sugar that clung to our clothes and hair.

Whether it was the sugar, the time with B, or the fact that the blizzard had finally stopped, I left Delightful Pastries feeling delighted. B took her truffles home to NYC and I sent most of the pies and chocolates to work with F on Monday. But we kept half of a chocolate cream pie for ourselves.


  1. chocolate chocolate chocolate, Ack!

    what a perfect day of chocolateering.

  2. I still have my truffles. I am controlling myself so welllllll.