(This article appeared in the Winter 2020 issue of Pastry Arts Magazine)
With healthy choices currently a priority for consumers, combining antioxidant-rich dark chocolate and extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is offering enticing opportunities for chocolatiers and pastry chefs who are creating silky smooth bars, bonbons, and desserts that are delicious and likely beneficial. A 2017 study by the European Society of Cardiology found that olive oil enriched chocolate was linked with an improved heart health profile in volunteer subjects at cardiovascular risk, but long before that in olive oil producing Italy and Spain, chocolatiers were substituting extra virgin EVOO for traditional cocoa butter.
“Like velvet exploding in your mouth” was the way one fan described the Cremino made with gianduja, EVOO, and sea salt, by Turin’s Guido Gobino and declared winner of Best Praline in the World by the London Academy of chocolate in 2008. Vanini, another Italian company near Lake Como, is promoting a line of “simply healthy” pralines with dark chocolate shells and creamy milk chocolate olive oil infused fillings. Their fruit and spice tinged flavors include black cherry and black pepper, pink grapefruit, Mandarin and ginger, and blueberry.
In the United States, it was the serendipitous collaboration of Tuscan olive oil producer Armando Manni and multiple Michelin star chef Thomas Keller that launched K + M Extravirgin Chocolate, a collection of high-end single origin bars heralded as ‘Good for the Body, Good for the Soul.’ The brand was conceived almost a decade ago when Keller and Manni, whose olive oil Keller had been using in his restaurants, were chatting about the synergy between the complementary antioxidants in chocolate (flavonoids) and those in olive oil (polyphenols). During five years of research in conjunction with the University of Florence, the team sourced beans from farmers in Peru and Ecuador that contained the highest antioxidant content along with complex, aromatic flavors, and discovered methods to minimize the loss of antioxidant during processing. The olive oil does not alter the flavor, but gives K + M bars a melt-in-the mouth texture.
Since its introduction in 2016, the collection has expanded to a dozen tablets ranging from 75% Dark Ecuador – winner of Specialty Food Association award in that category last year – to the just released Milk Chocolate, Coffee + sea salt, all made in a dedicated factory in Napa.
Chicago-based Vosges Haut-Chocolat is also weighing in with Olio d’Oliva 72% cacao dark truffles “loaded with benefits,” incorporating Vosges’ signature offbeat flavors like chia seed, red miso, and Blue Majik, 72% dark chocolate with freshwater algae and spirulina.
Masia el Altet, the Spanish company that produces outstanding olive oil favored by another multi Michelin star chef, the late Joel Robuchon, has opted for a simpler flavor profile for its Ol Choco Sal bonbons, 75% dark chocolate, olive oil and salt flakes. Ol Choco Sal aims to evoke nostalgia for a traditional snack of toast with olive oil and chocolate, popular in an era before the advent of industrial bakeries. That snack was the inspiration for Pa Amb Xocolata, an iconic dessert always on the menu at Chef Jose Chesa’s acclaimed restaurant Ataula in Portland, Oregon. Chesa, originally from Catalonia, recalling his favorite after school treat, has fine-tuned the classic version, using 68% dark chocolate, Arbequina olive oil gelée, Caviaroli olive spheres, and sea salt, accompanied by brioche crackers, made without yeast, rolled very thin, and sprinkled with cane sugar before baking.
Prominent pastry chefs are also adding olive oil to their pantries. During this year’s Starchef’s Congress in Brooklyn, attendees tucked into Mocha Verrine, which Dan Kleinhandler at Charlie Palmer’s Aureole prepared with chocolate olive oil cremeux, devil’s food cake, mocha mousse, whipped espresso, and cocoa meringue. At the new Manhattan restaurant Intersect by Lexus, where rotating global guest chefs plan the menu, Intersect’s resident pastry chef, Kazuo Fujimura, fashions desserts to complement their cuisine. During the three month stint of Argentinian chef Tomas Kalika, Fujimura’s collaborations included an elegant chocolate tart with tahini and chocolate ganashe, olive oil crème, and candied Buddha’s Hand, garnished with powdered harissa.
Chocolate olive oil cakes abound. At Nashville’s Lockeland Table, Jaime Miller’s cake is made with Cacao Barry dark cacao powder with salty caramel, chocolate sauce from hometown Olive & Sinclair Chocolate Co, candied pecans and mascarpone whipped cream. For the gluten-free, followers of the British chef Nigella Lawson swear by her almond flour, dairy-free cocoa powder and olive oil cake. Frog Hollow Farm, olive oil producers in California, also use almond flour and all organic ingredients for their gluten and dairy-free Triple Chocolate Olive Oil Brownies, hand made in small batches in the farm kitchen.
Several other western olive oil producers like Wild Groves in Newcastle, CA, Olive Pit in Corning, CA, and Queen Creek Olive Mill in Queen Creek, AZ, have gone a step further, bottling chocolate-infused olive oil. Sharon Elliott, Queen Creek’s Marketing Manager, suggests there are many ways to use the oil, including drizzling over ice cream or fresh fruit, as a butter substitute in baking, and in savory recipes, for instance, to add character and depth to roasted meats.
Heart-healthy, or just a great pairing, top quality olive oil has joined fine chocolate in the professional kitchen.