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There's nothing like chocolate for Valentine's Day
By Ruby Gao

PASTRY chefs love using chocolate to create sweetness on Valentine's Day, not only because of its so-called aphrodisiac effect but also because chocolate is very versatile in taste and texture. It's a great medium for a creative chef.

Ranges of dark, sweet chocolate can be made into molten chocolate cake, crunchy bars, smooth mousse, cakes and fudge brownies. It can be combined with fruits, nuts, whipped cream, seasonings and with liquor and liqueur. Chocolate martinis are sweet and powerful.

To provide visual and taste variety, chefs present chocolate in new ways, while preserving the dark classics.

"I believe the best way to present chocolate in the world of pastry is with truffle chocolate cake," says Julian Hutchings, executive pastry chef at Le Royal Meridien Shanghai. The cake consists of chocolate truffle layered between chocolate sponge cake. Only cream is added so the natural chocolate flavor is not watered down.

Whether simply chocolate or chocolate-flavored pastry, layers are the key to quality flavor, texture and appearance, says chef Hutchings.

Chocolate shavings, powder, glaze and icing are built up in layers of presentation. Tiers of flavor are created by mixing chocolate and other ingredients.

Hutchings suggests what he calls "husband-and-wife" combinations, giving more complexity and balance.

One combination is dark (more than 65-percent cocoa) chocolate and raspberry. The fruit acidity reacts with the bitterness of chocolate, creating a pleasing taste, starting out as bitter, then slightly sour and finally sweet.

Another such combination is sweet milk chocolate and sweet strawberry.

White chocolate (which is not real chocolate with cocoa) goes well with pistachio since the intense sweetness of chocolate is nicely cut by the bitterness of the nut.

The art and challenge is balancing chocolate and the added flavor, says Laurent Merdy, pastry chef at Andaz Shanghai.

Various nuts, such as hazelnuts, peanuts and walnuts, give layers of texture to each bite.

Chef Hutchings says premium chocolate contains more than 65-percent cocoa and is made from beans picked at a single plantation.

"Chocolate is a little similar to wine in that many producers blend cocoa beans from different areas to create the flavor they want," he says. "However, those picked from a single plantation taste much purer and clean."

Using chocolate with higher cocoa content (above 72 percent) has cardiovascular benefits, in small portions.

Using chocolate with higher cocoa content is also a culinary trend. Some desserts are made with as much as 80-percent cocoa, making the taste somewhat bitter. Sugar is added.

This more intense chocolate is served in smaller portions.

This week we explore three newly created "chocolate art pieces" made by hotel pastry chefs for Valentine's Day.

Chocolate heart cake

The heart-shaped chocolate mousse cake contains a layer of white chocolate mousse, a layer of raspberry jelly and a layer of dark chocolate mousse. There's strawberry on the top. It is created by French chef Van Der Laan Rembrandt.

"A red heart in a heart-like cake is my expression of romance," the chef says.

It's only available in chef's Valentine's Day set menu pricing at 2,188 yuan + 15% per couple.

Venue: Allure French Dining Restaurant, Le Royal Meridien Shanghai

Tel: 3318-9999 ext 7022

Address: Lobby, 789 Nanjing Rd E.

Chocolate Martini

Martini was recently launched for Valentine's Day by Bastiaan van Opstal, the hotel's assistant bar manager. Milky, sweet chocolate is combined with chocolate liqueurs, vanilla vodka and chocolate milk. Vanilla vodka goes will with chocolate. Vanilla goes well with sweet, milky, creamy chocolate and adds a zing to the taste.

Opstal says it's more suitable for women because it's sweet.

Venue: 789 Nanjing Road Bar

Tel: 3318-9999 ext 56500

Address: 65/F, 789 Nanjing Rd E.

éclair Chocolate Collection

The collection features some modern flavors, including passion fruit, Wuliangye (Chinese distilled spirit made from sorghum), Sichuan pepper, lime, sesame and espresso. Chef Merdy recommends passion fruit for Valentine's since it represents the passion of love.

Each piece costs 15 yuan. Customers can select a box of 12 for 170 yuan.

Venue: éclair, Andaz Shanghai

Tel: 2310-1720

Address: 1/F, 88 Songshan Rd

Customer Service: (86-21) 52920164