Wednesday, 27 September 2006

Brownie tour

I've just returned from the most wonderful holiday. Road trips do it for me everytime. I love the way everything feels so free! No one knows you, the ones that do don't know how to get hold of you, you don't know where you're going to end up at the end of the day and...anything can happen!

One thing that struck me was the light. There is a technicolour vibrancy to the sky that we in England are rarely blessed with. Its gently pink-purple arrival in the mornings, then its brazen stretch over the whole day. Stark, wide, clear clear blue that seaps behind the horizon at night. And the air! It was kind of...marbled, warm in some steps, with refreshing streams of coolness in others.

We met lumberjacks and gold miners, cowboys and naked hippies. We ate beautiful succulent steak and wild salmon, hash browns and omelettes and fresh, ripe(!) avocados. We feasted on porcini lasagne and slurped up creamy clam chowder - and all the time there was delicious wine at hand. 'Clean Zins' and powerful Syrahs...and by day those oh-so-gluggable Pinot Gris'.

Most importantly though - and what with being a professional chocolate enthusiast - I was eager to get my chops round any piece of it that so much as winked at me. It was always catching my eye - from the velvet-like bittersweet chocolate custard at Chez Panisse to the heavenly chocolate haystacks in the Chocolate Haus in Mendocino - and I was up for it all. Black & White milkshakes, chocolate bananas, cocoa nib meringues and chocolate waffles all came into the equation, but it was the brownies that really got me going. It's not that I always physically required one, more that I felt compelled to get one - even if it meant three in a day - just so I knew...

You see, I have this fascination with what makes the perfect brownie (anyone that knows me will vouch for this) - and each one is so different. In London we have a myriad of choice but I can only think of one brownie (Choc Star excluded) that cuts it and this was made for me by a really great pastry chef who I hope to work with very soon! The rest are either delicious but dry, delicious but not cooked, delicious but more like a fondant, delicious but cakey, delicious but corrupt (who puts hazelnuts in a brownie?!), way too heavy on the vanilla, way too heavy on the VANILLIN or just absolutely wrong.

In San Francisco they love to put 100% cacao in them. This way more sugar can be added without being too much, meaning denser, fudgier brownies. My top three of the trip were from Poulet Deli (Berkeley), Citizen Cake (San Francisco), Scharffen Berger (Berkeley), with Recchiuti and Tartine's also very yummy.

I also discovered a hotbed of exciting new chocolate. As well as new bars from Scharffen Berger (loved the Las Islas and Kumasi Sambirano blends), I was delighted to discover new makers through Adam at Fog City News and Michael at Cocoa Bella, both in San Francisco. Just tucking into a Havana Heat 'Bistro Bar' by Chocolat Moderne of New York before my dinner...gotta run!

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