The Best and Worst Chocolate Pairings (from a Chocolatier’s Perspective)
If you had a test kitchen for chocolate, what would you make? What ingredients would you pull off the shelves and put in the mixing bowl to produce the best chocolate confection ever? How do you predict what might sell?
In attempting to answer these questions over the years, we’ve come up with some the best chocolate pairings—and a few losers, too. Some combinations have surprised us. Others have amazed us. And others… well, not so much.
Try, try again – bacon and chocolate
In the early days, around 2008, the bacon fad was *really* big. There was bacon in everything—ice cream, whiskey, lip gloss. We wanted to be part of that trend, too.
Sadly, our first attempts at a bacon truffle didn’t work. Each time, the bacon came out mushy and weird, like you were eating smoky, salty gum drops in a chocolate ganache. Yuck. Should we add salt? Cook the bacon longer? Add eggs and call it breakfast? Dean even tried a bacon balsamic vinegar truffle.
Nope. Nothing Dean did made it any better.
Like any good problem solver, Dean went back to the drawing board. He reasoned that the best bacon should be crunchy—really crunchy—and have a strong flavor that could hold up to the sweetness of the confection. He had a toffee recipe he used to make back before we started the business. The recipe calls for pecans, but because in any of our products, he thought bacon would be a perfect substitute.
Through rigorous R & D (tough job, we know) he found Benton’s bacon from Tennessee which also had a serious smokiness to it (and no nitrites or nitrates). Bingo. On our fifth or sixth try, we finally had a winner. We call it Bacon Buttercrunch, and it’s one of our best sellers. It’s also one of the confections we’re most proud of—a super-intense combination of smoky, salty, crunchy, and sweet.
The frat house effect – beer and chocolate
One day, I walked into our store kitchen and it smelled like a frat house—like cheap beer had soaked into an even cheaper couch. Fighting the urge to turn and run, I asked Dean what he was making.
“A chocolate stout truffle,” he said.
“Oh, boy, really? You sure about that?” I responded, not excited about this latest experiment.
“Just you wait,” Dean said.
Dean went on simmering and reducing the beer in a big saucepan. Then he added the bubbling brew right into the chocolate. Overnight, this very liquid-y combination solidified into a deep, rich chocolate ganache. Surprisingly, the beer helps to bring out the yummy bitterness in the dark chocolate, while leaving just the slightest hint of stout beer as a finishing note. For as long as we’ve been making stout truffles, we’ve used Allagash Black—brewed right here in Portland, Maine—as our beer of choice. And because we use beer instead of cream in this truffle, it’s vegan too.
The process still makes our kitchen smell (temporarily) like a long-forgotten keg party, but the result is truly astonishing. Who knew chocolate and beer paired so well? Dean, apparently!
Cheese and chocolate? The jury’s still out.
One of our most complex and popular creations is our lemon apricot chevre truffle. Take a bite and the flavors roll out sequentially as if on a conveyor belt. Up front is the lemon. Next is a distinct apricot. Finally, there’s the tanginess of the mild goat cheese. It’s a lovely ride for your palette and, in my opinion, pairs beautifully with a glass of Malbec.
We first introduced this chocolate in 2009 and though it clearly has a lot going on, Dean didn’t struggle. He nailed the ratios easily and quickly—as he often does.
Flash forward ten years. Dean came out of the kitchen grinning with what looked like a small slice of one of our buttercreams on a plate (one of my favorite things). “Here, try this,” he said.
I put the dark chocolate slice in my mouth. The flavors landed with a wham. I had no idea what was going on. I couldn’t identify a single flavor. The combo hit my taste buds like peat moss and Pop Rocks at the same time. I’m sure I made a face. “What is this?” I asked, trying not to sound too distraught.
“It’s a blue cheese buttercream,” Dean announced, still grinning. He was clearly a fan. I was not.
We had a fundraising event to go to that night. A fun wine-cheese-and-chocolate pairings holiday party to support Full Plates Full Potential, an organization that supports kids and families facing food insecurity. In the mix of the crowd, it was the perfect time to do an informal taste test. Willing and eager participants agreed to taste the new chocolate without an explanation first.
The results? Half the people *loved* it, while the other half politely said, “It wouldn’t be my first choice.” A 50-50 split – what we might call decidedly inconclusive.
Days after the event, we were still getting phone calls from some of the pro-blue-cheese taste testers looking to order more buttercreams. They said it was the best they’d ever had, so unique, so interesting. They wanted to serve it at their holiday parties and give it as gifts to their blue cheese-loving friends.
We sold all the blue cheese buttercreams we had that holiday season. Naturally, we made more, right?
We never did. We couldn’t get over the fact the 50% of our tasters *didn’t* like it. But we still have the recipe. Should we make more? Would it sell? We keep talking about it. Maybe it will appear again, perhaps with another surprise element.
What do you think about adding . . . lobster???