“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”
– Charles M. Schulz
Roses, diamonds, love letters – all beautiful things on Valentine’s Day.
But what could be better than a handcrafted decadent chocolate sweet for your sweet on the most romantic day of the year?
“Chocolate makes people happy,” said Marianne Banes, corporate pastry chef for Kingfisher Bar & Grill and Bluefin Seafood Bistro. “Chocolate makes you feel good.”
Most days, Banes is up to her elbows in chocolate. Triple layer chocolate cake, chocolate torte, chocolate pie, chocolate sauces, syrups, cookies, mousses, frostings and, of course, chocolate ganache.
“Where in the world would we be without ganache?” Banes said.
Banes, who has been cooking and baking professionally in Tucson for 30 years, with 20 of those years at Kingfisher and more recently Bluefin, appreciates the complexity of the flavor of chocolate. “I love that there is so much I can do with it.”
While chocolate is an element in many of her decadent creations, it is the bittersweet star of her popular flourless chocolate torte at Bluefin and her dark chocolate layer cake with red wine raspberry filling and mocha buttercream at Kingfisher, recipes she developed over the years.
Amidst the aromatic flurry in the Kingfisher kitchen, Banes recently poured a silky river of ganache over a flourless chocolate torte and tapped it firmly on the counter, making the ganache smooth as glass before encrusting the sides with bittersweet chocolate shavings.
“I always baked as a kid, and I grew up baking with my grandmother,” recalled Banes.
Baking is an art of trial and error, and becoming proficient in chocolate requires reading a lot of cookbooks and taking classes, if you can find them. Banes is a reader of cookbooks, with more than 300 in her collection. Among her favorites is “The Joy of Cooking.”
“I rarely follow a recipe exactly as it is,” Banes said. “I’m always tweaking.”
It’s important to get to know different types of chocolate. “Personally, the more bittersweet, the better,” said Banes, who uses Guittard chocolate from California. She suggests trying out different cacao contents, but always with the same advice.
“Buy the best chocolate you can afford.”
Juliana Desmond finds joy in working with chocolate. Desmond, owner of Jupiter’s Dream Chocolate, specializes in edible geometry with 3-D chocolate forms, including cactus, crystals, flowers and more.
“I have always loved chocolate,” Desmond said. “I fell in love with it traveling in Mexico. I went to little chocolate factories in Oaxaca, and I saw them grinding the cacao beans, and learned about the entire process.”
Desmond, who calls herself a chocolate shape-shifter, was a ceramic sculpture artist and was looking for new mediums when she discovered chocolate art. She is drawn to what she calls “the sacredness of cacao.”
“It was used in ceremonies and as currency in ancient Mexico, and the sacredness is being honored more recently with people understanding the health benefits,” Desmond said. “It’s not seen as junk food.”
Desmond creates food-safe silicone molds for her designs. “I am always getting inspired and coming up with new designs. It’s a really fun part of my creative process,” she said.
Some designs are patterned on forms that are in tune with the Fibonacci sequence. “I try to capture the beauty and symmetry of nature.”
And it tastes darned good, she says.
She uses sustainable sources of chocolate from Ecuador, and sells her chocolate art online, by phone, at the Tucson Botanical Gardens and at special events, including the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.
She suggests using only pure ingredients – cacao butter, cacao mass, cacao liquor, powdered cacao, cane sugar and essentials oils. The tempering process can be tricky, requiring the right equipment. An incorrect temperature can result in ruined chocolate.
Desmond uses a hand-held laser thermometer to ensure the correct temperature, and never uses water to thin the chocolate, resulting in a hard mass. She suggests following recipes carefully and working in small batches.
“I feel very blessed to work with this medium because everybody loves chocolate, and it brings pleasure to people who get to try my creations,” she said.