Jacques Torres Chocolate Meetup

Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven tour

If it weren’t for some New York Times food writer, there wouldn’t have been a Jacques Torres chocolate shop in New York. In 2000, the famed pastry chef decided to make his own chocolate for quality control purposes. This was a huge undertaking, since there are only about 10 chocolate makers in the U.S., as opposed to chocolatiers (aka chocolate melters or re-packagers).

When Times writer Florence Fabricant got wind and asked Jacques when his store would open, he threw out a random date in December. He never intended to welcome visitors; he situated his factory in seedy DUMBO (“Down Under the Manhattan Bridge” in Brooklyn) because rent was cheap, and he could easily transport his wholesale chocolates to other storefronts. But when you have Ms. Fabricant on the phone, you do your best to impress.

During the construction process, Jacques literally had to babysit equipment that was dumped on the sidewalk. He had asked for outside delivery because it was $1,000 cheaper, but it didn’t seem like a bargain as dusk approached. Jacques and about five other guys couldn’t get the machinery to budge. Then he desperately started pulling out $20 bills from his pocket.

“How many of these do I need to give so you can help me move my equipment?” Jacques asked strangers. He finally got a dolly/lift and has accepted in-store delivery since then.

Jacques renovated much of the store himself, armed with a pastry bag and an off-set spatula. He piped out cement (or caulk, or whatever constructors use) from the bag and smoothed it out, just like icing on a cake.

On “opening day,” Jacques placed some chocolates on display and hid an empty shoe box behind the counter as a makeshift cash register. After his first customer bought $20 in chocolate, Jacques did the happy dance. In the following months, customers thanked him for his charming shop. Jacques couldn’t understand why people were handing him money and thanking him for it.

In 2004, he opened a second storefront in Manhattan, Chocolate Haven. I visited on Saturday, during a private tour for the NY Metro Discover Chocolate Meetup.

Jacques Torres showing us behind the scenes in his factory
Jacques Torres showing us behind the scenes in his factory

candied oranges and other pastry equipment
Candied oranges are boiled in syrup for so long that all the moisture is replaced by sugar.

chocolate melter
Chocolate melter

candy wrapper

wrapping machine
This machine wraps more than one bar a second, if I recall correctly.

During the tour, Jacques talked about the history of his business and how to choose chocolate for eating. When he first made truffles, Jacques blended Valrhona Manjari and a 70% chocolate (probably Le Noir Amer). While the materials and technique were good, a pastry chef friend told him that the truffles tasted horrible. As noted in my chocolate database, both of these bars have fruity and spicy undertones. These strong flavors are fine for plain eating, but they’ll muddle the flavor of say, coffee truffles.

tasting chocolates
We compared the 60% house blend, the fruity Peru, and the earthy 72% Ghana.

For most of his truffles, Jacques now uses his own neutral 60% blend. This way, the said flavors explode and don’t interfere with the chocolate. For his passion fruit truffle though, he can get away with using fruity Peruvian chocolate.

As for when to use cocoa powder versus chocolate, Jacques only puts chocolate in his hot, frothy drink. Cocoa leaves the throat feeling dry, since it doesn’t have cocoa butter. Also, since cocoa powder is the unfinished ground bean, it doesn’t have as much flavor as chocolate that’s been conched (stirred) for several hours. That’s not what a low-fat baker wants to hear, but it has interesting implications. If a cake recipe calls for butter and chocolate, try keeping the chocolate and reducing the butter, rather than keeping the butter and swapping in cocoa powder.

One and a half years ago, I thought Jacques’ chocolates were very good for the money. Now I think they’re very good, period. Before, I felt that the presentation was good, but I could hardly distinguish one truffle flavoring from another. On Saturday, the Hearts of Passion went “POW!” and the Heavenly Hazelnut tasted like a European Reese’s peanut buttercup. The couvertures (base chocolate) also tasted stronger and had a thick texture. Jacques said he hasn’t changed his recipes, but he did refine his techniques. One secret was vacuuming all the air out of his ganache (truffle filling), so the aromas won’t evaporate.

Jacques conducts free demos in his Chocolate Haven store every couple of months. It’s always worth a trip to meet this enthusiastic story teller and teacher. He’s like a kid in a grown up’s body. That’s what a lifetime of chocolate does to you!

Jacques Torres
Jacques savoring his own chocolate.

Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven
350 Hudson at King Street (1 block South of Houston)
New York, NY 10014
212-414-2462 phone

Jacques Torres DUMBO
66 Water Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
718-875-9772 phone

Related posts:
Chocolate Haven Tour
Chocolate Christmas tree demo

Resources:
Video interviews from Epicurious
Chocolate with Jacques Torres (Food Network show)
Passion for Dessert with Jacques Torres (Food Network show)
Blue-Chip Cookies for the NY Times

Books:
Dessert CircusDessert Circus Dessert Circus at HomeDessert Circus at Home

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Chocolate Haven tour

Chocolate Haven sign

As promised, here’s an extended tour of Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven in Manhattan. Part storefront, part chocolate factory, an outside glance of the building showcases its industrial side.

industrial interior

Can you guess which part’s the inside and which part’s a reflection from the outside?

oompa loompa

Large windows allow passersby to spy the inner workings of Jacques’ store. Here, an “oompa loompa,” as he calls his employees, pops the chocolate out of its mold.

Unlike most chocolatiers, Jacques makes his own chocolate from scratch, all the way from bean selection to the roasting, grinding, conching, tempering and molding. (From what I’ve heard, most chocolatiers buy chocolate from somewhere else and then re-melt them into truffles.) In a recent chocolate demo, Jacques said that making chocolate didn’t make sense from a business standpoint. It would be a lot cheaper to outsource the chocolate, but Jacques loves the craft of chocolate so much that he can’t wait to come in every morning and smell the beans that have been conching (a process to smooth the gritty beans) all night.

conveyer belt

A chocolate conveyer belt, in which goods are packaged.

Chocolate Haven entrance

Upon entering the store, a large welcome mat and bright red walls whet the visitor’s appetite for chocolate.

branches

Here are more chocolate teasers: a two-foot tall bag of cocoa beans, molinillos (wooden Mexican whisks used to froth hot chocolate) scattered on the wall, and a metate y mano (a stone rolling pin traditionally used to mash cocoa beans into chocolate).

cocoa press

Before modern machinery, chocolate making was literally a hands-on process.

truffles

One of Jacques’ biggest draws are his truffles. I don’t know what’s more exciting: the exotic flavors like passion fruit, European peanut butter (hazelnuts and chocolate are a winning combination, as proven by my love for Nutella) and wicked fun (chili), or their $1 price tag! Yes, Jacques’ truffles are cheaper than Godiva’s!

more truffles

More truffles.

chocolate bark

Tower of chocolate bark.

milk-chocolate covered cheerios

Jacques also has a collection of ever-changing candy. Here, the chocolate-covered Cheerios show off his sense of humor.

mini cookies

In addition to the chocolate, the store has baked goods, including mini-cookies…

pastries

…and full-sized pastries if your wasteline can handle them.

Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven
350 Hudson at King Street (1 block South of Houston)
New York, New York 10014
212.414.2462 phone
212.414.2460 fax

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Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven demo

Jacques and me

Jacques Torres is my hero. I grew up watching his PBS show, Dessert Circus, where he made whimsical desserts, such as chocolate checkerboards with playing pieces, chocolate cages and croqombouche (a pyramid of cream puffs surrounded by spun sugar). The man can pipe out an entire batch of macaroons in one minute. I’ve made about a thousand macaroons, and it still takes me several minutes to form them.

Even more astonishing than Torres’ skill is his eagerness to share knowledge.  Besides serving as Dean of Pastry Studies at New York’s French Culinary Institute, Torres gives free Saturday demos about once a month at his Chocolate Haven store.

This week, he showed a crowd how to make a chocolate Christmas tree.

tempering chocolate

First, Torres explained that you must temper chocolate to realign the crystals…

…so it snaps cleanly when you break it.  Untempered chocolate develops white streaks (called bloom) on top, because the solids separated from the fat.  Once hardened, untempered chocolate won’t pull away from molds, so you’ll have to give people your molds along with your truffles, Torres said. His preferred method of tempering is melting chocolate over a double boiler and then adding solid chocolate to the liquid.  Then, use an immersion blender to break up the chocolate bits and circulate the good crystals.  Continue adding solid chocolate until the liquid measures 88F (for dark chocolate) or 86F (for milk and white chocolate).  To test the temper, dab some chocolate on the tip of a knife.  It should set up within one minute.

It’s easiest to keep the chocolate at the correct temperature if you work with a lot of it.  If you only temper one cup of chocolate at a time, it will cool down and harden too quickly…

pouring chocolate

…which is why Torres tempered about seven pounds of chocolate for the Christmas tree base.  If you have leftover chocolate, pour it in a pan and let it harden.  You will have to re-temper it if you work with it again.  What a pain.  Now I know why chef David Lebovitz hastily dips everything in leftover tempered chocolate.

Note: you only have to temper chocolate if you’re making candy or need a hard, glossy surface.  You do not need to temper chocolate for cake batters, mousse or ice cream.

staying clean

The hardest part about working with chocolate is staying clean, Torres said. When I’m at home, I lick my fingers rather than wiping them (shh, don’t look).

Christmas tree stencil

To make the Christmas tree, temper white chocolate and pour it into a pan so it’s about 1/4-inch thick. Then cut out a stencil out of wax or parchment paper.

eating your mistakes

Lay the stencil on top of the chocolate and use a paring knife to cut around it. Don’t cut all the way through the chocolate on the first pass, or else it will crack. Just score the chocolate and go over it a couple times. But if your chocolate does crack, it’s okay, because you can always eat your mistakes, Torres said as he showed off his belly.

heating the cutter

To make holes in the tree, heat up a metal cutter.

too hot

Oops, that was too hot.

cutting the white chocolate

Then use the cutter to plop out holes.

chocolate glue

Torres made “glue” by putting melted chocolate in a parchment cone.

steadying the tree

Torres and his assistant steadied the tree on top of the circular base and “glued” it in place.

gluing on bon bons

Then, he glued truffle “ornaments” into the holes and on the ends of the tree.

one more hole

Oops, one hole didn’t quite make it.

cutting the hole

It was time to use some more fire power.

painting the leaves

Next, Torres painted leaves…

chocolate dye

…by using a mixture of powdered food coloring and melted cocoa butter.

painting the ornaments

Lastly, he painted some ornaments.

notice how the one on the left looks better

The finished product, along with a tree that was made earlier. Can you guess which one was prepared beforehand?

No, we did not get to eat the demo, but his staff did pass out samples of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts and peanut butter cups. The peanut butter cups were what Reese’s were meant to be: intense peanut flavor without being overpowered by high-fructose corn syrup. The milk chocolate was a little too creamy for me though. I would have preferred it to have the snap of well-tempered chocolate.

autographed chocolate

Afterwards, I proudly bought a two-pound bag of dark chocolate.  At $6/pound, it’s the best bang for the buck, especially since Torres claimed it was fair trade.  Chances are, non-fair trade chocolate is made through child labor.  I’m not talking about young farmhands helping out their family.  I mean child slavery, in which children are reportedly bought for about $30 and forced to carry bags that are bigger than they are.  But that’s another post.

Torres’ “pistoles” were well-tempered (he practices what he preaches!) and had hints of caramel and coffee flavor.  I’m no expert on tasting chocolate, so excuse my description.  There were no patches of bitterness or acidity, but instead it was almost too neutral.  Of course, the last chocolate I used was Valrhona guanaja, which spoiled my tastes.  Guanaja’s flavors are so multi-faceted that eating it is a cerebral experience.  The taste lingers long after the chocolate is swallowed.  It’s a little bit woodsy and cherry like.

P.S.-If you look at the first picture of Torres and me, he’s wearing different clothes.  That’s because I met him during another demo in the summer.

Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven
350 Hudson at King Street (1 block South of Houston)
New York, New York 10014
212.414.2462 phone
212.414.2460 fax

Shows/Recipes:
Chocolate with Jacques Torres
Passion for Dessert with Jacques Torres
Blue-Chip Cookies for the NY Times

Books:
Dessert CircusDessert Circus Dessert Circus at HomeDessert Circus at Home

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