I love food nerds. We're an odd group, nomads mostly, traveling from city to city, restaurant to restaurant, cameras in hand, scrawling notes and demanding answers from an already flustered wait staff. Always hungry, always searching, never satisfied. So when you bump into another one, there's a moment of recognition, like ex pats meeting in a foreign country, "You speak my language" our smiles seem to say. This moment occurred when I walked into Intemperantia in the Pacific Palisades. I had come to check out the vegan truffles and French hot cocoa, because though I'm not a vegan (bacon! cheese! sushi! not together, but individually they get in the way of any possibility of veganism) I truly appreciate food that's good not in spite of its challenges, but because of them. In LA, there's no excuse for crappy vegan food. Our produce, resources, and creativity should be more than enough to get past the "no animal product" caveat, and the results can be as good or sometimes better than their derivative. End rant, back to the chocolate. I bumped into the Heidi, the owner, who was in the middle of heating up their vegan hot cocoa. She explained that their vegan chocolates utilize the cocoa butter, the vegetable fat extracted from the cocoa beans and what makes white chocolate "chocolate," for that smooth ganache texture that cream usually provides. The result is pure chocolate flavor, with a clean richness from the cocoa butter. When I approached the French hot cocoa and Heidi spooned a thick, sonorous ladleful into my cup, she told me about the origins of her recipe. Pulled from a French cookbook published in 1820, her hot cocoa emulates the thick, rich cups served in shops before coffee and cafes replaced them in the 19th century. Brillat Savarin, the ultimate food nerd, explains it best:
"Chocolate crossed the mountains with Anne of Austria, the daughter of Philip II., and wife of Louis XIII. The Spanish monks also made it known, by presents to their brethren in France. The Spanish ambassadors also made it popular, and during the regency it was more universally used than coffee, because it was taken as an agreeable food, while coffee was esteemed a luxury...Thus to make chocolate, that is to say, to make it fit for immediate use, about an ounce and a half should be taken for each cup, which should be slowly dissolved in water while it is heated, and stirred from time to time with a spatula of wood. It should be boiled a quarter of an hour, in order to give it consistency, and served up hot. "Monsieur," said madame d'Arestrel, fifty years ago, to me at Belley, "when you wish good chocolate make it the evening before in a tin pot. The rest of the night gives it a velvet-like flavor that makes it far better. God will not be offended at this little refinement, for in himself is all excellence."
Instead of blending my hot cocoa mix with water like they did at Versaille, I chose almond milk for a fuller flavor. The results were pure old world Europe. Simple and decadent, with little getting between you and the chocolate. For vegans and the rest of us alike, these truffles and hot cocoa are a unique treat. Enjoy!
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