November 10, 2009


I first heard about Dar because she made a mutual friend some chocolate truffles that looked something like this.

Incredible, right? When Dar agreed to be interviewed, however, she offered to cook one of her vegetarian interpretations of a classic French stew. Thank goodness she changed her mind. I mean, I’ve got nothing against meatless cassoulet, but chocolate truffles? NO CONTEST.

And these truffles are, in a word, sensuous. They are beautiful—not surprisingly, because Dar is a graphic designer—but their taste! Intense and smooth, layered with one flavor after another. Bite into one truffle and taste the richness of caramel, then a touch of crunchy salt; another gives you first a wave of coffee, then a hit of cinnamon, then a flush of cayenne heat. And who knew white chocolate, usually just painfully sweet, could taste this complex, infused with saffron and honey? Sigh.

Where was I? Oh, yes, Dar. The woman behind these truffles grew up in northern New York state, about an hour south of Montreal, in a family of food-lovers. Case in point: her French-Canadian grandmother, who frequently set aside her meat, potatoes, and cornichons to travel and send postcards home that were “pithy,” Dar says, and indicative of her priorities. “Didn’t care for Hunan cuisine. Enjoyed Szechuan.”

So it’s not weird at all that cooking and baking were the extracurricular activities of choice for Dar and her brother and sister as they were growing up—“how we amused ourselves after school,” she says. They helped get dinner on the table, too, and we’re not talking cube steaks or Tater Tots. Dar liked to make chicken piccata and lasagne. Her brother tackled a bûche de noël when he was 12 or 13.

Dar cooked her way through Italian dishes; Indian; her Polish grandmother’s repertoire of pierogi, latkes, and cheesecake (“Try as I might,” Dar says, “it’s just not same when I make it.”). Along the way, she became a vegetarian, and spent a couple years in Eastern Europe, cooking lots and lots of root vegetables.

But chocolate was always the constant. Years ago, Dar and her mom had started a tradition of making candy during the winter holidays. Over time, Dar moved beyond nut clusters to truffles and mousse, experimenting with ideas she picked up from chocolate shops like the defunct Joseph Schmidt Confections in San Francisco, where she used to live, and our local mecca, Burdick’s in Walpole, New Hampshire. “I’m kind of embarrassed to admit it, but I probably eat chocolate every day,” Dar says. “It’s my comfort food. And I tell my mother it’s medicinal. She likes that.”

Dar hopes to someday open a little chocolate shop of her own, which is why, sadly, she is declining to share her truffle formula. But instead, behold: chocolate mousse!

Chocolate Mousse

(Adapted from Chez Panisse Desserts by Lindsey Remolif Shere)

3 oz. semisweet chocolate
3 oz. unsweetened chocolate
2 Tbsp. cognac or your liqueur of choice
2 Tbsp. brewed coffee
4 eggs
1 cup whipping cream

Separate the eggs and set aside. Chop the chocolate into small pieces. Melt chocolate with the brandy and coffee in a double boiler over low heat until it is smooth, glossy, and lump-free. Remove from heat and whisk the egg yolks into the chocolate. Whip the cream until it holds a soft shape. Heat the egg whites until they are barely warm by swirling the bowl above a burner/gas flame. Beat them until they hold soft peaks. Stir about a quarter of them into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the rest. Fold in the whipped cream. Pour into individual serving bowls, or into a large serving bowl. Chill and serve with fresh whipped cream and/or fruit.

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