Have you ever noticed the way people react when you mention the word “chocolate”? Faces flush, eyes soften to a heavenly gaze, and a grin on one or both sides of the mouth emerges. Make chocolate the topic of conversation and watch even the most uptight, buttoned-down, pragmatist slip into dreamy, moon-beamy magical thinking. The break in reality is for good reason. “Chocolate,” literally translated from ancient Greek means “fruit of the gods.” Before the Greeks knew that chocolate released endorphins, or even knew what endorphins were for that matter, they were convinced that chocolate produced an intoxicating effect on anyone who ate or drank it.
I too get drunk on chocolate. I eat chocolate on a regular basis, especially when writing. For some reason, chocolate seems to lubricate my thinking. It shouldn’t surprise you to know that tiny shards of dark chocolate have somehow found their way betwixt the “j” and the “k” and the “e” and the “r” keys of my computer keyboard. An occupational hazard I suppose. I bring this to your attention only to illustrate my deep, abiding devotion to chocolate in all its gooey and godly forms. Setting aside all personal biases, I’d be remiss if I didn’t make some suggestions on how to entertain with chocolate at this time of year. The month of February is, after all, synonymous with love and chocolate.
Whether it’s with chocolate ganache cake, hazelnut cream truffles, praline filled bonbons or Mississippi Mud Pie—there are countless ways to feature chocolate in your entertaining. One of my favorite chocolate desserts is a twist on the traditional Mississippi Mud Pie called “Oreo Mudslide Pie” created by our Executive Pastry Chef Michael Martins. This version is relatively simple to prepare and perfect for any special occasion. Among the many books on chocolate currently available — “The Essence of Chocolate” by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg is one of my favorite resources for finding many other fine chocolate recipes.
Another great way to entertain with chocolate is by hosting a “chocolate tasting.” Hosting a chocolate tasting has been in vogue for the last several years in reaction to the increased popularity of artisan chocolates. Now, there are literally thousands of varieties—single plantation, mixed origin, dark, white, milk and the new “milk dark” chocolate. Hosting a chocolate tasting is a great way to indulge friends, sharpen palates, and stimulate conversation.
Here are a few tips: I would suggest including dark, milk and white chocolates. Divide the tasting into thirds. Make tasting portions small so guests won’t fill up or get too wired on sugar. Provide plenty of room temperature water for palate cleansing between courses. Festive notepads will double as party favors and also serve as a place for guests to jot down their tasting notes. Encourage guests to be as specific as possible when addressing the chocolates’ taste and texture. Provide them with starter vocabulary such as bitter, salty, velvet, smooth, smoky, malty, nutty, winey, and grainy. Allow your guests to be as formal or informal in regards to their note comparison. Some may prefer to mingle and discuss as they nibble on samples. Others may have a more systematic approach to note sharing. Either way, palates will perk and conversation will flow.
Recently, our Creative Director Steve Welsh, with the help of our Executive Pastry Chef and team, took entertaining to a new extreme by creating a table environment made from chocolate. We literally coated our dining room table in thick milk chocolate. Then, we created placemats, chargers, and place cards using chocolate from the very same batch. Everything looked chocolate – right down to the dark chocolate-colored Chiavari bar stools, “truffle” salt and pepper shakers, and milk chocolate faux suede napkins. To create a more intimate setting, we even surrounded the room in walls of chocolate colored drape. This sweet creation garnered three National awards and dozens of compliments. For a more dialed down version of our over-the-top tablescape, you might feature a couple of chocolate-inspired table elements for your gathering. Milk chocolate-colored dinner plates; white chocolate candle votives; and a clear, contemporary, bowl of bright red M & Ms for a centerpiece would create the same bold effect on a much smaller scale.
Whether you’re hosting a chocolate tasting party or a dinner with a chocolate-inspired theme—send your guests home with an individually wrapped chocolate bar as a parting gift. Amedei is my favorite bean to bar chocolatier. They turn rare Venezuelan cacao beans into a subtly spicy, bittersweet dark chocolate bar called the Porcelana bar at their bean to bar factory in Italy’s Chocolate Valley. This bar is arguably some of the best, single-origin chocolate in existence. Guests will truly appreciate having artisan gourmet chocolate to nibble on the next day at the office or, more likely, in the car on their way home from your event.
OREO ® Mudslide Pie
10 oz. OREO ® Cookie Crumbs, finely ground for base cake
3 oz. Melted butter
3 oz. Kahlúa ® liqueur
4 oz. Heavy cream
4 oz Butter
16 oz OREO ® Cookie Crumbs, medium ground for filling
16 oz Milk chocolate, melted
32 oz Whipped cream, divided
4 Tbsp Bailey’s ® Original Irish Cream ®
2 Tbsp Hershey’s ® Chocolate Syrup
As needed OREO ® Chocolate Sandwich Cookies
1.To prepare the crust, combine the finely ground OREO crumbs and the melted butter; pack into the bottom of 2-10” x 2” greased round cake pans. Bake in a preheated 350º oven for 5 minutes, set aside until needed.
2.To prepare the filling, combine the Kahlúa, heavy cream, and butter in a saucepan; bring to a boil; remove from the heat and add the medium ground OREO crumbs, milk chocolate and 16 oz. of whipped topping. Divide the mixture into the reserved crusts and place in the freezer for about 2 hours.
3.To prepare icing, combine the Bailey’s Original Irish Cream, Hershey’s Chocolate Syrup, and the remaining whipped topping in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a whip; run on high speed until stiff.
4.Remove the pies from the pan; spread icing over each pie reserving enough to top around the top. Garnish each dot with an OREO Chocolate Sandwich Cookie.
Tony Conway, CMP, formed A Legendary Event in 1997, which has grown into a multi-million dollar full-service event enterprise, handling more than 1,200 events a year. Known for his Midas touch, Tony is admired by top CEOs, celebrities and politicians because of his attention to detail and penchant for providing fresh, trend-setting and uniquely presented fare, always with the client in mind. A Legendary Event is located in Atlanta and can be reached at (404) 869-8858. For more information, please visit www.alegendaryevent.com.