Chocolate: the next coffee

Ginger Elizabeth

Photo By Larry Dalton

I recently read that chocolate connoisseurs are increasing at an exponential rate. It used to be that wine, cheese and coffee were the topics of culinary appreciation. Now, fine chocolate seems to be on everyone’s tongues, literally. In New York, at least a dozen new boutique chocolatiers have opened in the last few years. And locally, Ginger Elizabeth makes chocolates for her new company, Couture Chocolates. She spends her days perfecting the art of making chocolate. To get your own stash, visit her Web site, at

How did you get into the chocolate business?

I have always been fascinated with chocolate and its beautiful and complex characteristics. When I was 16, I took a truffle class in Sacramento at the Learning Exchange. Then, I took some classes at the CIA [Culinary Institute of America] in Napa while I was in high school and went on to study in New York, working for two world-renowned chocolatiers: Jacques Torres and Daniel Budd. I was hungry for more knowledge on the subject of chocolate, so I headed to Chicago and got a job at the Ritz-Carlton, working for the top pastry chef in the world at the time, En-Ming Hsu.

How are these chocolates different from others out there?

All of my chocolates are made by hand, using traditional, artisan methods of chocolate making. I find the world’s finest bourbon, vanilla, beans, liquor, cream, butter, sugar and chocolate. The chocolate, however, is what really makes the biggest difference. I use only couverture chocolate, which contains at least 35 percent cocoa butter. Most store-bought chocolates do not; in fact, they use confectioners chocolate, which contains hydrogenated oil, leaving a waxy residue in your mouth. Couverture chocolate melts just below body temperature, so it instantly melts in your mouth, making the chocolate very enjoyable.

How are your chocolates made?

I start by melting the chocolate to 120 degrees. The chocolate becomes agitated and is cooled to around 86 degrees and warmed back up to about 90 degrees (depending on the type of chocolate that I am using—dark, milk or white). The whole process is called tempering, which basically leaves the chocolate feeling smooth in your mouth and having a nice shine. From there, the chocolate is put into molds and set. I make the filling and pipe it into the centers and let them sit for about two days. The centers are covered with more tempered chocolate, released from their molds and packaged.

How long does that take?

I make about 250 chocolates at a time, within a span of three days.

Is chocolate really an aphrodisiac?

Chocolate contains a chemical called phenylethylamine, a so-called amphetamine that causes changes in blood pressure and blood-sugar levels, leading to a feeling of excitement. Phenylethylamine is also the “love drug” because it causes your pulse to quicken.

Where can your chocolates be found?

Currently at Whole Foods in Sacramento and the Cantinetta at Masque Ristorante in El Dorado Hills. They’re great as wedding and party favors, too. And, of course, you can go to my Web site.

How much do they cost?

A three-piece box is around $6, a nine-piece box is $18, and wedding favors are anywhere from $3 to $6 each.

Why do you think there is an increasing number of chocolate connoisseurs these days? It seems like chocolate is becoming as popular as wine and cheese once were.

Wine, cheese, along with coffee, chocolate, bread and beer—they all have one thing in common: They all require fermentation or aging. To make any of these beautiful products successfully, artisan techniques and time are essential. I think because there’s an emphasis on educating the public on these products and what it takes to make them, more people are becoming interested and really enjoying the quality of their food.

What’s trendy in the chocolate world right now?

Bittersweet chocolate. Other trends right now: cocoa nibs, which are broken up beans after they are roasted. They are very bitter but have great texture. Great in ice cream, cookies and truffles.

What are your goals for Couture Chocolates?

I started Couture Chocolates to bring awareness to couverture, artisan chocolates to a growing cosmopolitan city, Sacramento. I want my chocolates to be and remain one of a kind, the top of the line. I want to turn Sacramento into a city of gastronomes. My overall goal is to reach not only the highest chocolate standards in Northern California, but in the world.

Ever thought about teaching?

I’m actually teaching chocolate-dessert classes at Whole Foods on February 4 and at Williams Sonoma on February 13 with more to come.