Shock-olate, Part II: Molecular gastronomy at DC Duby
It's March. Time to finish off Valentine's Day chocolates! We've been savouring the DC Duby Harvest collection of chocolates, and by now we've had at least one of every type.
This was our first taste of DC Duby's work, and it's obvious they take great pride in what they do: the chocolates were even accompanied by a numbered letter hand-signed by both Dominique and Cindy Duby. The word "harvest" really encapsulates the overall feeling of these chocolates: rich, earthy, fresh, artisanal. It's interesting that we liked the chocolates that seemed to have the most "pop" in their flavours -- this might be a result of being used to one-note chocolates where there's a single clear flavour. We didn't like all of the chocolates in the collection, but most had real complexity and depth, and some of the flavour combinations -- apricot, plum wine, and chanterelle springs immediately to mind -- were both novel and startingly good.
Rachel's theory is that the Dubys structure their chocolates like a wine, with different layers of flavour harmonizing within a main body. This should come as no suprise given the couple's expertise in pairing the two. Treating chocolate like wine is a recent phenomenon, and chocolatiers such as Michel Cluizel are using the oenological concept of terroir to produce bars of grand cru chocolate made exclusively from the cacao grown on a single plantation (one divine street in Paris, rue Saint-Honoré is home to the shops of both Cluizel and Jean-Paul Hévin, perhaps the finest ganache-maker in the world; his macarons are also prized). For the dedicated chocophile, these bars are a delicious way to explore the differences in regional chocolates and to discover new favourites.
Here are some more descriptions of their unusual flavour combinations (for the rest of the box, click here).
Parsnip, Pear and Vanilla Emulsion (pictured at top) -- Hmm, where were the flavours of the parsnip, pear, or vanilla? Rachel said she could taste the pear, particularly in the slight grittiness, but I tasted nothing but chocolate and a general sweetness.
Apple Red Cabbage Gelee and Chestnut Praline -- Along with the apricot/chanterelle/plum wine reduction and the mincemeat/caramel/butternut squash, this was one of the best chocolates. This is essentially two candies enrobed in chocolate, both of which taste wonderful and, more importantly, both tastes are complementary. The apple and red cabbage gelee is a deep red jelly, with tart and sweet notes. The chestnut praline is both its flavour and textural opposite: rich and fatty with a little graininess to it. This just works.
Barbecue Tomato Jam and Matcha Lime Emulsion (pictured above) -- More so than any other chocolate we tried, this may be the one with the most pronounced flavours. The only problem is that I'm not sure how I feel about those flavours. I found the matcha to have something of a harsh, herbal bitterness, and though I liked the citrus kick of the lime, the barbecue tomato notes did not work for me, either on their own or in combination with the other flavours.
Sweet Pea Emulsion & Almond Nougat -- I enjoyed this chocolate though I was unable to detect the sweet pea. The almond flavour may have overwhelmed its partner. This chocolate was also crowned with a salted nut (a pine nut, I think, though I'm not sure), and I found the saltiness of the nut muted the actual flavours in the chocolate. Rachel found it all unpleasantly bitter.
Morel Icewine Emulsion and Walnut Panko Toast (pictured above) -- This was nice but not particularly distinctive. We were hoping for a nice crunch from the walnut panko toast, but the chocolate was fairly smooth throughout.
Black Truffle, Orange and Cinnamon emulsion -- Spice is nice, I
suppose, but this chocolate was suprisingly bland. No flavour asserted
itself in this fairly forgettable effort.
Kabocha Coconut Milk and Sweet Curry Emulsion (pictured above) -- Rich and redolent of coconut, this was very tasty, with a slight hint of curry at the end (we've had stronger-flavoured curry chocolates before, and it can be a strange combination if used with too heavy of a hand). Kabocha is a type of Japanese pumpkin, and, having never had it before, it was hard to distinguish.
Mincemeat Caramel and Butternut Squash Emulsion (pictured above) -- Yum! Christmas fruit cake in a chocolate. The mincemeat gives body and bright flavour, and the caramel is a really nice match both in taste and in texture. This one was a highlight, and had us wishing there were more than one piece in the box.
Our overall impression is positive: most of the chocolates are a real delight, with new and enjoyable flavour combinations, a myriad of textures, and a visual appeal born of genuine artistry. If we could change one thing, however, it would be to include more information about the thought process behind these chocolates. In a previous post, we discussed Heston Blumenthal's white chocolate and caviar recipe. Part of what made the experience so enjoyable was understanding the logic and the science behind that combination. I know that's a lot to ask from a box of chocolates, but molecular gastronomy is so intriguing because it demands careful consideration both on the palate and in the mind.