Not Your Ordinary Chocolate Fix

Not Your Ordinary Chocolate Fix

When your taste buds crave a little something more creative.

Nothing beats a bite of rich, melt-in-your-mouth chocolate—except that same chocolate used in inventive ways. We asked Panera Bread® head baker Tom Gumpel to spark our imaginations with new ideas for indulging in the good stuff. He was more than happy to tempt us.

“Dark chocolate, milk chocolate, bittersweet, or white—whatever your preference, there’s probably a thing or two about chocolate you’ve yet to learn,” says Tom. For example, did you know that bittersweet chocolate is a complementary flavor to grilled eggplant? Or that chocolate-covered bacon is a perfect pairing of savory and sweet?

The truth is, chocolate is a versatile ingredient that works in a myriad of unexpected ways. And while you may already enjoy its decadence in something sweet, don’t be surprised to find it in dishes on the savory side of the menu as well.

“The best way to expand your chocolate palate is to host a tasting,” says Tom, who suggests roughly chopping bars of white, milk, dark, and unsweetened chocolate on a cutting board and placing the samples in front of your guests. “Start with the milder, gentler flavors of white chocolate. Take small bites and let the chocolate melt in your mouth. Don’t chew; let your taste buds capture the flavor.”

As you make your way through the tasting, take note of which flavors you prefer. Once you find your favorites, you may want to try a few of Tom’s other suggestions.

Make a chocolate appetizer. Dip grapes in melted chocolate and dust them with cocoa powder, or roll a log of goat cheese in crushed cocoa nibs—the nibs’ nutty texture and flavor complement the subtle tangy flavor of the cheese. Or stir ¼ cup of heavy cream into 4 ounces of melted dark chocolate, spread the mixture over toasted crostini, and top with a pinch of coarse sea salt.

Add a savory-sweet twist to the main course. Two ounces of bittersweet chocolate makes a flavorful addition to your favorite chili or barbecue sauce recipe. But if you want to try something a little more unique, a white chocolate sauce drizzled over poached or grilled salmon is sure to impress. Here’s a recipe to try:

INGREDIENTS

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup fish broth (or water and broth powder or cube)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 ounces white chocolate
1 tablespoon green peppercorns
Salt (optional)

DIRECTIONS

1.  Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and mix well. Add the broth and stir until the flour is incorporated.

2.  Reduce the heat to low and cook the broth mixture for about 15 minutes, stirring regularly.

3.  Add the lemon juice, chocolate, and green peppercorns. Season to taste with salt and stir until the chocolate is melted. Spoon the sauce over the prepared fish.

Yield: 1 ¾ cup, ¼ cup each serving.

NUTRITIONAL INFO: 128 calories, 2g protein, 10g carbohydrates, 9g fat, 17mg cholesterol, 261mg sodium, 0 dietary fiber.

Dress up your drinks. Adding chocolate to drinks—like white-chocolate-and-raspberry smoothies—is another satisfying approach. “Let your imagination guide you,” says Tom. “There are so many ways to enhance the flavor profile of chocolate beverages.” Try using white or bittersweet chocolate when making hot cocoa. Add a pinch of cinnamon, chile powder, cardamom, or cloves for an interesting twist. 

Expand your notion of dessert. “Two words,” says Tom: “chocolate fondue.” It’s a simple, fun dish that can involve family and friends. Plates of cubed sponge cake; candied, dried, or fresh fruits; berries; marshmallows; pretzels; caramels; and Panera’s Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Bread are a few suggestions for dipping. “Fondue is also a great way to do a chocolate tasting,” says Tom. “Set up three different stations and let guests choose their favorite.”