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Monday, July 13, 2009

Battle Chocolate

I can't remember exactly how it came up. Mike G. and I were chatting a couple months ago. We have what I'd call your typical producer/editor camaraderie. That means I talk to the back of his head, he nods sagely, pushes buttons and moves the mouse. We choose shots or agree that certain copy is simply not working and, before you know it... television is made. But every so often, maybe while we're waiting for a render to finish or the Avid has crashed, we'll get to talking about food.

We both like to cook, and eat of course, so we've had wide-ranging discussions about such things as the validity of deep dish pizza, where to go for dim sum here in San Francisco, the pros and cons of owning a brulee torch, and one day...the many wonders of one of our favorite ingredients...chocolate.

We compared notes on various recipes we'd tried. His seemed much more, well... adventurous, and improvisational than mine. I'm not super confident about baking as I've noted here before, so if I find something that works, I hang on for dear life. For me...improvisation works in cooking, but not, in baking. Somehow we came to the conclusion that it would be a cool idea to put our favorite chocolate recipes head-to-head. Maybe stage a little blind tasting to see exactly who could showcase this most magical of ingredients best. Battle Chocolate was born.
(I started out calling it the Chocolate Smackdown, but then we decided that the Iron-Chef model of a gentlemanly competition based on a main ingredient sounded more civilized.)

We opened the 'competition' to the rest of our co-workers and decided on a date. One Monday afternoon in June, (what better way to enjoy the start of the work week?) we'd gather in our dining area at work and everyone would taste whatever entries were submitted. It gave everyone the weekend to bake to their hearts content.

From the very start, I thought victory could be had with the Chocolate Truffle Tart. But, Mike G. was making me nervous. In addition to being a fearless baker he had started experimenting with ice cream and gelato. Meanwhile, word of Battle Chocolate was spreading like wildfire. People told me stories of a bacon-chocolate concoction he'd brought in for everyone to try last year. The man had invented one of the most delicious cupcakes I've had in ages: a S'more cupcake. I wavered and started surfing cooking blogs and looking through my cookbooks. For a very brief moment, the week before Battle Chocolate Monday, I was convinced I could win with a bundt: this Chocolate Stout cake. I kept looking at the photos of the homely bundt and decided to stick with my original plan. Mike sent a document outlining Rules of Engagement. Ohdear.
He suggested contestants have the option of submitting two entries.
TWO entries?! Absolutely not!

The weekend arrived. I shopped for ingredients. The week before, my shipment from Spice House (my beloved spice purveyor in Chicago) arrived. It did indeed feel a little like heading into battle.

Sunday morning was spent baking. Everything went according to plan. I had a good looking tart on my hands. I decided to garnish with a dusting of cocoa powder AND fresh whipped cream. I felt good.

I was petrified of one of the "Rules of Engagement" though -- prepare your submission in 40 'tasting' portions. The tart was round! How the hell was I going to slice it up? I debated...wedges, cut up into small slivers? A checkerboard? After some consultation with friends, I decided to go with the checkerboard.

Monday afternoon: we're frantically plating up our desserts.

Ballots have been designed (thank you Mike's girlfriend!) and signs identifying only the name of the dessert put out. Precisely at 2:30 PM, the dining area is swarmed! Happy co-workers are tasting their way through a panoply of chocolate, trying to guess who made what, writing out their ballots. Chocolate creates good buzz -- it is wonderful.

And, drum roll were the results:

FIRST PLACE: Chocolate Truffle Tarte made by Marcia

SECOND PLACE: Nutella Tart
made by Mike G.

THIRD PLACE: Mint Chocolate Deliciousness
made by Amy

FOURTH PLACE: Chocolate Mocha Chip Surprise
made by Rose

FIFTH PLACE: Mint Chocolate Chip Brownie Bonanza
made by Dallas

SIXTH PLACE: Chocolate-Peanut Butter Mochi
made by Lisa

I won! What a thrill...and what delicious fun.

We agreed right off the bat that the winner would have bragging rights. But then, I got to work one day and found that Mike had made a trophy. It is totally awesome.

(That's 100% pure Styrofoam in the base!!) I'll hold on to the trophy until the next Battle.
Possible ingredients? Battle Cardamom. Battle Vanilla. Battle Citrus. Battle Bacon.

The discussion continues...

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