Rich, Spicy, Sweet

Whether you like your chocolate savory or sweet, satisfy your culinary cravings by properly pairing the flavor notes.

Spicy Diablo Cake with Italian Meringue

Photos by Jennifer Chase

For many of us, dessert isn’t dessert unless it’s chocolate. And in fact, chocolate is an incredibly versatile ingredient, pairing well with an astonishingly wide range of other foods. To create memorable chocolate desserts, you need to identify its flavor notes and match them with the right partners.

Chocolate is made by drying and fermenting cacao beans, a process that brings out complex flavors ranging from fruity to bitter. Sugar was an afterthought—the Aztecs drank their chocolate unsweetened, with cinnamon and ground chiles. The Mayans blended it into a smoky, earthy sauce called mole. “Chocolate doesn’t need sugar to bring out the flavor notes, but it’s harder to find higher quality chocolate without the sugar added,” says pastry chef Jason Reaves. 

Jason Reaves, executive pastry chef

Reaves is a culinary school-trained pastry chef renowned for his award-winning theme and wedding cakes. At the Salamander Resort and Spa outside of Middleburg, he works with chocolate to create his signature truffles, cakes, and other desserts. “Chocolate is my favorite ingredient,” Reaves says. He chooses different types to contrast or complement with other flavors in a dish. “For example, in a dessert with lime I’d use a chocolate with fruit flavors in it so that they kind of go together,” Reaves explains. “The contrast comes from the tartness in the lime and sweetness of the chocolate, but you still have complementary flavors from the fruit in the chocolate and fruit from the lime.”

Not surprisingly, higher-quality chocolates have the most complex flavors. “If you make something with chocolate as a main ingredient, don’t buy that baker’s block of chocolate at the grocery store,” says Reaves. “In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that much more expensive to buy higher-quality chocolate.”

For professional-level results, learn to identify the subtle flavor notes in high-quality chocolate and then contrast or complement those undertones with your other dessert ingredients. Here, Chef Reaves and the Salamander staff share some of their favorite chocolate recipes.

Chocolate Lavender Panna Cotta

Chocolate Lavender Panna Cotta

Fruit flavors go well with lavender, especially blueberry. Look for a fruity chocolate with berry notes for this recipe.

12 ounces heavy cream

½ cup granulated sugar


1 tablespoon dried lavender buds

1 ¼ teaspoon gelatin powder

2 tablespoons cold water

6 ounces 64-70 percent dark chocolate

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

In a saucepan, combine the heavy cream, sugar, and a pinch of salt over low to medium heat until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and add lavender buds. Cover pan and allow to steep for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, sprinkle the gelatin into the cold water and allow to sit for 5 minutes. Strain out the lavender and reheat the cream until just before it boils. Remove from heat and whisk in the gelatin, chocolate, and vanilla until smooth. Divide evenly among six half-pint ramekins or glass serving containers. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until fully set, about 1-2 hours. Serve cold. 

Serves 6

Gold Cup Barrel Aged Manhattan

Gold Cup Barrel Aged Manhattan

By Jacob Musyt, director of food and beverage, Salamander Resort and Spa

Jacob Musyt, director of food and beverage

2 ½ ounces aged whiskey 

2 drops chocolate bitters

2 dehydrated tart cherries 

In a mixing glass, combine whiskey with ice. Stir counter clockwise for 22 seconds, or until chilled. Strain into a rocks glass over ice. Add bitters, and garnish with dehydrated cherries on a bamboo skewer. 

For the aged whiskey:

6 cups Woodford Rye Whiskey

2 ¼ cups Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth

3 vanilla beans, split

¼ cup dark-roasted espresso beans

In a two-liter American oak barrel, combine all ingredients and allow to age for 16 days. Then, empty from barrel and strain.

Double Chocolate Lime Madeleines

Here, the bitterness of the cocoa powder contrasts with the sweetness of the chocolate chips and lime.

6 ounces all-purpose flour

¼ cup cocoa powder

½ teaspoon + ⅛ teaspoon baking powder

9 tablespoons butter

1 cup + 1 tablespoon sugar

2 eggs

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon lime zest

5 tablespoons cold milk

1 tablespoon lime juice

¼ cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and baking powder, then set aside. In a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Slowly add eggs, one at a time. Mix in vanilla and lime zest, then add the milk and lime juice. Add the flour mixture to the batter, mixing just to combine, then add the chocolate chips. Spoon the batter into non-stick silicon madeleine pans, filling each shell three-quarters full. Bake until lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before popping the madeleines out of the molds.

Makes approximately 36 cookies

Spicy Diablo Cake with Italian Meringue

Spicy Diablo Cake with Italian Meringue

Chocolate was brought to Europe by the Aztecs, who drank it unsweetened with cinnamon and chiles. Here, the Italian meringue enhances the sweetness of the dessert. Choose a chocolate with herbal and earthy flavor notes. 

2 ½ ounces water

9 tablespoons sugar, divided

6 ½ ounces 70-74 percent dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces

5 tablespoons butter

¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

3 eggs

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Lightly spray a 6-inch baking pan with vegetable spray and set aside. In a small saucepan, bring the water and 6 tablespoons of the sugar to a boil. Remove from heat and add the chocolate and butter, stirring until melted. Whisk in the cayenne pepper and allow to cool to just warm. In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, combine the eggs with the remaining sugar, and whip on high for 3 minutes. With the mixer on low speed, add the chocolate mixture and mix until evenly combined. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Place the pan in a baking dish filled partway with water. Place the cake and water bath in the oven and bake until firm and fully set, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove cake pan from the water bath and allow the cake to cool on a rack while still in the pan. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Unmold the cake the next day by dipping the pan into hot water briefly, then turning it over a plate.

For the Italian meringue:

1 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar

2 ½ ounces water

3 egg whites

In a small saucepan, heat the sugar and water over high heat without stirring. Using a candy thermometer, cook the syrup until it reaches 235 degrees. Remove from heat. Using a mixer fitted with whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium speed until frothy. Turn the mixer to medium-low speed and slowly pour the sugar syrup into the bowl without allowing it to hit the whisk. Then, turn the mixer to high speed and beat until the bowl is no longer hot. Use immediately to top the cake. Toast the meringue briefly with a torch until it browns lightly.

Makes one 6-inch cake

Chocolate Espresso Sauce for Steak and Short Ribs

By Ryan Arensdorf, executive chef, Salamander Resort and Spa

A basic dark chocolate will work here, as the bitterness of the chocolate will contrast with the rich fattiness of the beef trimmings and demiglace. 

Ryan Arensdorf, executive chef

½ pound beef trimmings, cleaned of fat and sinew

salt and pepper

1 tablespoon olive oil 

½ carrot, sliced

½ stalk celery, sliced

½ onion, sliced

1 clove garlic, crushed

½ tomato, diced

1 ½ cups red wine

1 quart demiglace

2 shots espresso

1 tablespoon bittersweet dark chocolate

Pre-heat a large stainless steel or ceramic saucepan over medium-high heat. Season beef trimmings with salt and pepper. Add olive oil to pan and heat. Add beef and slowly caramelize, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. When the meat is caramelized and the bottom of the pot is a nice and even brown, add the carrot, celery, and onion. Caramelize the vegetables for 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and tomato, then sauté for 2 minutes. Deglaze the pan with the red wine, scraping the browned bits off the bottom of the pot. Turn the heat to simmer and reduce the liquid by half. Add demiglace and bring to a boil. Then, reduce to a simmer and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain the sauce and discard the solids. Return the sauce to the pot and whisk in the espresso and chocolate to finish. Pair with your favorite steak or use as a braising liquid for short ribs.

This article originally appeared in our February 2019 issue. Ready to try these recipes, but don’t know where to start? Click here for Tim Gearhart’s tips for chocolate tasting.

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