Lifestyle

Exploring delectable tours and tortes

Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Eileen Mintz’s chocolate torte with Creme de Menthe and Creme de Cacao. -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Eileen Mintz’s chocolate torte with Creme de Menthe and Creme de Cacao.
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Eileen Mintz
On Food

One of the best tours in town begins and ends at the Chocolate Box, Valerie and Michel Brotman's newest venture in downtown Seattle. Together they connected the city's most esteemed chocolatiers and filled their candy store with every delight imaginable. They also coordinated a multi-point, cross-town CHOCOLATE TOUR that combines city sightseeing, chocolate history, production and, best of all, chocolate sampling. It's called Tour de Chocolat SEATTLE, and I highly recommend it to you as a great activity for out-of-town guests.

The professionally guided tour, led by Customized Tours, is designed for groups of 10 or less, but bus charters can handle up to 20 people. Tours begin at 8:30 a.m. every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday during March, more often during the summer season. The tour is ongoing and additional dates will follow.

It all begins at the Chocolate Box, located at 108 Pine Street near the Pike Place Market. The chocolate tour lasts around three hours. Participants need to be at least 10 years of age and children between the ages of 10 and 16 need to be accompanied by an adult. Ticket prices are $59 but that includes chocolate samples at each stop and a fabulous goodie bag (worth at least $25) to take away with products from each participant, plus a Chocolate Box souvenir. Ask about a discount for parking downtown too.

We began the tour with an introduction to Fiori Chocolatiers. It was created two years ago by former pastry chef Lee Johnson. Last month, Fiori launched an haute line of 1.75-ounce chocolate bars in milk, dark milk, dark and extra-dark chocolate. They also make chocolate candy with selected organic fruits, herb and spices.

The next place to visit on the tour was the Theo Chocolate Factory and their store in the Fremont district. Founded in 2006, it is the country's only known roaster of Fair Trade-certified cocoa beans. Here we toured the facility and learned how they make their chocolate. We also sampled and tasted very delicious fusion blends. We continued the tour with visiting the Fremont Troll and Bridge as well as the Lake Washington Ship Canal and University Village.

While in the "U. Village," we stopped at Fran's Chocolates, LTD, the flagship established by Fran Bigelow. In 1982 she set up a small-batch chocolate production based on European tradition. Her kitchen is now famous for its Gold Bars as well as its dark chocolate caramels and decadent handmade truffles. They use the finest chocolate and fresh, organic cream that is infused with natural flavors. We sampled the award-winning grey salt caramels while being instructed as to how to eat them. We were told to turn them upside down, slowly turning upright while eating small bites. It was hard not to throw the whole caramel in my mouth!

Off now to the historic Madison Park neighborhood and the Oh! Chocolate candy store. Oh! Chocolate was founded by late Mercer Islanders, Carl and Gertie Krautheim, who passed on their chocolate making to their children. We spotted melted chocolate for dipping with a graham cracker, cookie, caramel and truffle all ready for our hand-dipping lesson. We were all kids in this candy story and loved it! We left with a bag of our hand-dipped treats and smiles on our faces. Margo and Nola, along with their grandsons Christian, Nicholas and Conner, carry on the tradition of producing the finest handcrafted chocolates available. Their other stores are on the Island and in Bellevue Place. Check out www.OhChocolate.com.

Brotman, of Chocolate Box, told me that his wife went into labor with their daughter Samantha while in the Oh! Chocolate store on Mercer Island. "We just had to have Oh! Chocolate in our store."

When we returned to the Chocolate Box, our starting point, we sipped premium drinking chocolate from Seattle's Chocolate Vitale. Founded by Jim and Jennifer Schneider, Chocolate Vitale offers fine European drinking chocolate and amazing teas, made from Venezuelan cocoa beans.

"I am powerless around baked goods," said Brotman. "Stay away from our carrot cake cupcakes if you do mind gaining weight!" I noticed gelatos and croissants, fudge brownies and chocolate chip cookies at the Chocolate Box too.

To book a tour, contact www.toursofseattle.com or call Laurie Reeves of Customized Tours & Charter at (206) 878-3965. Check out the Chocolate Box online at www.sschocolatebox.com for all of the chocolates that you will find in the Brotmans' absolutely beautiful store.

EILEEN MINTZ'S CHOCOLATE TORTE WITH CREME DE MENTHE AND CREAM DE CACAO FILLING

If you keep this cake well covered in the refrigerator, it will last for days. Serves 12 or more. If you can't make it from scratch, buy a Devils Food Duncan Hines Premium Cake Mix. Be careful as boxed cakes are very MOIST and tend to fall apart more easily when sliced horizontally.

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1 cup water

1 cup cooled coffee

2/3 cup cooking oil

1 tsp. vanilla

Grease and lightly flour two 9x1 1/2-inch round cake pans; set aside. In a mixing bowl, stir together flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add water, coffee, oil and vanilla. Beat with an electric mixer on low to medium setting just until combined. Pour batter into prepared pans. Bake cake layers in a 350-degree oven for 35 minutes or until cake is done. Cool on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove from pans; cool completely on racks.

FROST TORTE: Cut cake layers in half horizontally. Place one layer on a platter; spread with 1/4 of the Liqueur Cream Filling not quite to the edge. Repeat three more times.

CREME DE MENTHE AND CREME DE CACAO FILLING

1 envelope plus 1 tsp. more of Knox unflavored gelatin powder

1/4 cup cold water

1/3 cup white creme de cacao

1/2 cup green creme de menthe

2 cups heavy whipping cream (1 pint)

Soften gelatin in the cold water. Heat together the creme de cacao and creme de menthe in a small saucepan to burn off the alcohol. Add softened gelatin; stir until gelatin is dissolved. Cool pan on counter for around 35 minutes. Don't let it jell.

Whip cream by first whipping on low, then medium to high speed. Add in powdered sugar on medium speed, 3/4 cup or more, according to your desired sweetness. When cream becomes stiff, add in gelatin/liquor mixture. Mix slowly until all blended together. Chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes before frosting torte. Keep cake carefully covered with foil in the refrigerator.

KASPAR'S CHOCOLATE ESPRESSO BROWNIES

Kaspar Donier of Kaspar's Catering & Special Events always sends me a treat. These are by far the most incredible espresso brownies. You can find these brownies on the sweet table at his EASTER SUNDAY BUFFET. Check out his Web page at www.kaspars.com to see all that is being served.

2 1/2 ounces dark chocolate

4 ounces unsalted butter (one cube)

3 1/3 ounces all-purpose flour or 6 TBS. plus 2 tsp.

1/4 cup cocoa

1/2 tsp. salt

3 eggs

1 tsp. vanilla

9 ounces granulated sugar (3/4 cup plus a heaping 1/3 cup)

2 1/2 ounces chocolate chips (1/3 cup, plus a dash more)

1 TBS. espresso powder per batch

Melt chocolate and butter over a double boiler. Sift together the dry ingredients. Whisk together the eggs, vanilla and sugar until well combined. Add the melted chocolate and butter, a little at a time so as not to curdle the eggs. Add the dry ingredients. Add chocolate chips and mix well to combine. Put into a 9-inch square pan and bake at 325 degrees for 35 to 45 minutes.

KASPAR'S SWISS CHOCOLATE MOUSSE IN A PISTACHIO PHYLLO CRUST

Serves 12.

Kaspar has cookie classes in the summer for kids. Check out his Web site at www.kaspar.com. He told me that he taught this recipe last year and kids loved it.

SWISS CHOCOLATE MOUSSE

1 pound semi sweet chocolate, chopped

5 egg whites

6 TBS. granulated sugar

1/4 cup water

1 quart heavy cream

In a glass or metal bowl, melt chocolate over barely simmering water, stirring occasionally. (The water shouldn't touch the bottom of the bowl or the chocolate will burn.)

Turn off heat and let the chocolate rest over the warm water until ready to use.

Using the whisk attachment of an upright mixer, beat the heavy cream on low speed until thickened enough not to spatter.

Increase the speed to medium-high and whisk until thick and mousse like.

Keep in refrigerator until ready to serve.

Put egg whites in a clean, dry bowl for use with the upright mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.

Place water in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and stir in sugar to dissolve. (Use a clean, wet pastry brush to wash any sugar crystals down the sides of the pan.)

Cook sugar water over low heat until sugar dissolves. DO NOT STIR.

Turn up heat to medium-high and use a candy thermometer to monitor the temperature.

When sugar reaches about 200 degrees, start whipping egg whites on low speed.

Once whites are foamy and start to thicken, increase speed to medium high.

When whites are at stiff peak stage, add a pinch or two of granulated sugar. Whites must be at stiff peaks before you add sugar syrup.

When sugar is at softball stage (235-240 degrees), slowly add the sugar syrup, pouring down the side of the mixing bowl, as whites to continue to whip.

When it is mixed well and cooled slightly, add it all at once to the chocolate and gently fold to combine.

Add whipped cream half at a time, and fold to combine.

Refrigerate until ready to use.

PISTACHIO PHYLLO CRUST

8 sheets Phyllo dough

1/2 cup shelled pistachios

2 TBS. sugar

1 stick of butter

Place pistachios and sugar in a food processor and pulse until the nut mixture is as fine as breadcrumbs. (Do not over-process or you will have a paste.)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Melt butter in a small saucepan. On a dry work surface, lay out one Phyllo sheet. Brush the entire sheet with butter and sprinkle with about 1/6 of the pistachio mixture. Repeat this step with a second and third layer of Phyllo. Cover with a fourth layer and only brush butter on top.

Cut the Phyllo rectangle in half lengthwise and in thirds crosswise to make six squares. Repeat the entire process with the remaining four sheets of Phyllo, making it a total of 12 squares.

Brush 12 muffin cups with butter and gently mold each pastry square into the muffin cup. Bake in a preheated oven for 25 minutes or until lightly browned.

Fill with Swiss Chocolate Mousse.

CHOCOLATE BOX'S FROZEN HOT CHOCOLATE

This recipe yields two sweet and refreshing beverages. It is divine; we all sampled it after the tour.

2 ounces Chocolate Vitale Sipping Chocolate

2 ounces whole milk

3 ounces Half & Half

1/2 ounce pure cane syrup

8 ounces ice

Put all together in a strong blender and enjoy!

RAHLA TURCK'S FAVORITE HAMANTASCHEN

This recipe turns out to be a favorite of my dear friend, Rahla Turck, who used to live on Mercer Island. Rahla is a fabulous baker, and it just thrills me to know that she highly recommends my cookie recipe. The secret ingredient is O.J. concentrate.

As history tells us, the Jewish holiday of Purim begins at sundown on the 13th day of the Hebrew month of Adar or on Thursday, March 20, this year. It is a celebration of good over evil. The story from the Megillah in the Book of Esther is read at Herzl-Ner Tamid Synagogue that evening. Everyone reacts to hearing Haman, the villain's name, by drowning it out with noisemakers. Adults and children are in costumes, and after the Megillah reading the popular sweet to eat is Hamantashen or Haman's Hats. Another way to have Hamantashen is to purchase them at Albertsons' bakery department.

MINTZ HAMANTASHEN FOR PURIM

4 eggs, large

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

1 cup vegetable oil

4 tsp. baking powder

3 TBS orange juice concentrate (slightly defrosted, out of the can)

1 tsp. vanilla

4 1/2 cups to 5 cups flour (use 4 1/2 cups and add more for rolling out)

Beat eggs until fluffy. Add sugar and beat again. Add oil and mix. Add O.J. Concentrate, vanilla and mix. Mix together flour and baking powder, and then add to Mixmaster. Blend well. Cover bowl and refrigerate pastry dough overnight or for three hours; can try and use it right away.

Put into food processor to mix together any of the filling. Use one tablespoon for each circle (3 inches). Fold round dough into triangle-shape Haman Hats. Fill with choice of filling. Crease and pinch ends together. Bake in 350-degree oven for 15 to 20 minutes.

PRUNE FILLING

1 pound pitted prunes

1/2 pound golden raisins

1/2 cup jam or preserves such as apricot/pineapple

Juice and rind of one lemon, optional

JAM FILLING

20 ounces jam mixed with 1/3 cup cornstarch to stiffen it up.

POPPY SEED FILLING

12-ounce can Solo Poppy Seed Filling (easy method)

1 cup raisins, plumped in hot water for 15 minutes

Rind of 1 lemon

Rind of 1 orange

CHOCOLATE CHIP FILLING

4 tsp. cinnamon

4 TBS. melted butter, cooled

1 (12-ounce) package semi-sweet chocolate chips

3/4 cup toasted and chopped pecans (toast in a 300-degree oven until lightly browned)

3 TBS. freeze-dried coffee instant crystals

1/2 cup sugar

CHEF DEAN JAMES MAX'S PERFECT LAMB FOR EASTER SUNDAY

2 Large Lamb Racks

1 bunch rosemary

1/2 bottle of red wine

2 shallots, chopped

2 cups chicken stock or veal stock (chef prefers veal stock)

2 TBS. fennel seed

1 TBS. coriander seed

1 bay leaf

6 TBS. olive oil

2 TBS. butter

Clean the bones of any fat. Season the rack with a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and some of the chopped rosemary. In a roasting pan, sear the lamb rack on all sides with some oil over medium-high heat to seal in the juices. Cook the lamb in a 350 degree oven for 12 minutes until medium rare. Remove the lamb from the oven and place it on a cutting board to cool. Keep warm for serving. Serving is two chops or more chops.

SAUCE

Saute the trimmings with a touch of oil in a small saucepan, and when the lamb trimmings are dark brown, add in the shallots and spices. Deglaze with the red wine and reduce until it is almost gone. Add in the veal stock and reduce by half. Season with salt and some fresh rosemary, then whisk in 2 tablespoons of butter. Strain the sauce and keep warm.

PLATE

Serve each person a few chops from the rack of lamb and spoon the sauce over them. Chef Dean suggests a potato gratin and green beans as nice accompaniments.

Eileen Mintz can be reached by phone at 232-1984 or by e-mail at eileenmintz@comcast.net.

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