So much time, so many places, so much chocolate!
February in France is one of my favorite months. Perhaps that’s because it brings back memories of chocolate. It’s the month of Valentine’s Day and my birthday. Just a week apart.
I love February because I give myself permission to splurge on chocolate. Starting with a box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day and finishing with the last morsel of chocolate fudge cake on my birthday, I cram as much of my favorite sweet into a month as possible.
As I embark on my new “season” of chocolate, I’m bringing back memories of my favorite chocolate experiences. There have been many to sort through. Here’s a go at it.
Visions of Chocolate
Visions from years ago take me to the 5 & 10 stores my father owned in North Carolina. When I was barely old enough to reach the top of the counters, I could easily scoop out candies from behind the glass case in the front of the store. Those days, the “good” chocolates were sold in shiny boxes stacked on shelves. Candy counter chocolates that I recall were wafer-thin and coated with multi-colored sprinkles. Other favorites were chocolate-covered raisins and nuts.
Later in my chocolate years, I discovered the most heavenly fudge. On vacation in Cape May, New Jersey, I found the creamy chocolate delicacy made daily with fresh dairy cream. (1)
While living in Minnesota, our family’s favorite stops were at the General Mills’ Pillsbury Pie Shops. Customers lined up in twenty below-zero weather to buy the velvety French Silk Pies. (2)
Ricotta-cream-chocolate chip cannolis with dark chocolate-dipped shells, found at Ferrara‘s in New York’s Little Italy, were totally irresistible. (3)
Then there was the chocolate chiffon creme pie my mother made from this recipe. I have kept the “Fidelis Bible Class” Cook Book from Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte since 1954! (Recipe below)
So much time, so many places, so much chocolate.
Now that I live in France, it’s not surprising that I would have my most exhilarating chocolate experiences here.
Chocolate Highs: February in France
The first chocolate memory in France was shortly after I arrived to live in Uzès. I was entertaining new expat friends, and we drove to one of my favorite places — San Quentin de la Poterie. The small town is famous for its potteries, where craftsmen often are found busy at work in their shops.
On this particular day, it was quite windy — “Le Mistral.” My guests and I bundled up with hats and scarves before we left Uzès. While walking through the narrow, winding streets of San Quentin, we knew the sharp wind would surely turn too cold for comfort. Soon, we stopped at the store where I had shopped for a few items for my apartment. I reminded them about the little daybed they’d admired.
When we opened the door, tingling bells announced our arrival. The shopkeeper appeared almost immediately. She was as delightful as I recalled. Inviting us in to get out of the cold, she asked if we would like a beverage? “Tea? Cafe? chocolat chaud?”
“Chocolat chaud?” we answered almost in unison.
“Oui,” she said .. followed by something else in French.
Let me stop here momentarily to confess I don’t speak French — try as I might. That’s another story.
While trying to disguise that I understood only one-tenth of what the shopkeeper was saying, my friends told me later that she said that she makes each cup of chocolat chaud from scratch with melted chocolate.
After taking our order, the shopkeeper set off for the kitchen, and we busied ourselves rambling through the store. It was filled with pretty little antique items, nostalgic home decorations, delicate lace items to wear, and an array of tableware arranged perfectly with new and vintage linens. It was like visiting inside a life-size doll house.
Just as I was lifting a wine goblet out of its place to examine it more closely, our hostess approached and led us to a small alcove in the store. The cozy space was decorated like a Victorian sitting room. She sat us at a petite wrought iron table in the center of the alcove. When we removed our coats and were comfortable, she brought the first of our giant cups of chocolat chaud. She placed it in front of me. She served another, then the last. Each fine bone china cup was the size of a soup bowl. Each was filled to the brim with steaming hot chocolate. Saucers beneath each cup held two dainty shortbread cookies.
Holding my cup by its handle, supported by my hand on the bottom, I sipped the heavenly brew. “Oh my!” I exclaimed. “Surely these cups with beautifully hand-painted, gold-leaf laurels have never held such a delicacy.” With the next sip, my tastebuds burst open from the subtle sweetness, then the flavor of chocolate — deep, rich cocoa. With another bigger sip, the velvety liquid filled my mouth. I was delirious. How could anything taste this good? I glanced at my friends to see their reaction.
“This is the best ‘chocolat chaud’ ever!” we all chanted.
When I turned back to closely examine what I had put into my mouth, I noticed how the thick, smooth mixture clung impishly to the vessel’s sides. Minuscule specs of chocolate floated on top and down into the center of the devilish concoction as I stirred the drink with a spoon. The consistency was like rich, creamed soup, which caused me to take a few spoonfuls instead of sips. The taste reminded me of every piece of fabulous chocolate I had ever eaten. Memories swam in my head as I gazed into the masterpiece before me.
“Can I stay here forever?” I pleaded with the shopkeeper.
Switching between drinking and spooning the heavenly delight.. and ignoring my friends and all around me … too soon, I saw the bottom of the cup. It was over. That was it.
“It may be a long time before I taste chocolate this good again,” I said sadly.
“Lucky you,” joked one friend. “You can come back here anytime,” she said in a jealous tone.
“Exactement!” I exclaimed in my poor French. “San Quentin de la Poterie is almost next door!”
My second chocolate high in France was visiting Angelina in Paris.
“From its opening, Angelina became the inevitable rendezvous of the Parisian aristocracy. In its salons, Proust, Coco Chanel, and the greatest French designers met… who jostled there to come and taste the famous Mont Blanc and the unforgettable hot chocolate known as “L’Africain.’ “
The day I discovered Angelina was on one of my favorite visits to Paris — just me and little Fanny in January. The lovely hosts welcomed us both. What a delight!
Note: The chocolat chaud recipes are top secret. Do you have a favorite chocolate recipe you would like to share?
Here’s one from 1954!
Fidelis Bible Class
Myers Park Baptist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
Chocolate Chiffon Cream Pie Circa 1954
1 envelop unflavored gelatine
1/2 cup cold water
2 squares (2 ozs.) unsweetened chocolate
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup milk
2 eggs – separated
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup cold evaporated milk, whipped (or 1/2 cup heavy cream, whipped)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Soften relative in cold water. Combine chocolate, 1/3 cup of the sugar and milk in top of double boiler; heat over boiling water until chocolate is melted; beat with egg beater until smooth. Beat egg yolks. Slowly add to chocolate mixture, stirring until well blended. Return to double boiler, cook, stirring constantly for about 3 minutes. Add softened gelatine and stir until dissolved. Chill until mixture is the consistency of unbeaten egg whites. Add salt to egg whites and beat until stiff but not dry. Gradually beat in remaining 1/3 cup of sugar. Fold beaten egg whites and whipped evaporated milk or cream into chocolate mixture. Add vanilla. Filling for one ten-inch pie crust.