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Chocolate charms

By Fan Zhen and Sun Ye | China Daily | Updated: 2012-11-11 09:17

Chocolate charms

Valrhona chocolate buffet at the Writers Bar at Raffles Beijing brings warmth to winter evenings. Photos by Fan Zhen / China Daily

Chocolate charms

Chocolate macaroon cakes. [Photo by Fan Zhen/China Daily]

The skies are gray, the winds are icy and winter has arrived with an early coat of snow, but there is a warm spot in the heart of Beijing fueled by a decadent temptation. Fan Zhen and Sun Ye are drawn to the heat.

Chocolate charms

Chocolate lollipops [Photo by Fan Zhen/China Daily]

If you think chocolate lovers crave it because of its palate pleasing sweetness, stimulating caffeine content, and health-boosting antioxidants, you miss the point. These are only the accidental benefits. What drives the passion is the total sensory pleasures that chocolate offers.

At the beginning of another round of winter chill, the Raffles Beijing is tempting chocolate lovers with an irresistible Valrhona buffet at the Writers Bar, during the evenings.

Latte, mocha and chocolate mousse come served in delicate crystal.

Small chocolate buttons start us on a discovery of origin, moving from a dark chocolate made from Madagascar beans that are acidic and bitter in intensity, and then to a stellar sweet with 64 percent cocoa solids that strikes just the right balance.

You get the high sugar content but it is the very distinct cocoa taste that lingers.

Multiple layers of flavors enrich every mouthful: Bitter sweetness slowly lingers with an earthy aftertaste that gently nudges at the sweet flavors and takes precedence as the chocolate melts on the tongue.

"The quality of chocolate is a little bit similar to wine," says Pierre Tabarie, brand manager of Valrhona in the Asia-Pacific region.

"When you have wine, you tend to have a long aftertaste. It's the same with the chocolate. When you finish a good chocolate, after one or two minutes, you can still feel the aftertaste. With a regular chocolate or wine, you will lose the taste just after you finish eating it or drinking it."

With the bouquets still lingering in our mouths, the host leads us into another room where the secret feast is unveiled.

It is a long table laden with all the delights made from Valrhona chocolate: pink and brown lollipops, dark and white chocolate fondue, and chocolate cheesecakes topped with oranges and strawberries. Even the glittering gilt photo frames are made of chocolate.

Chocolate charms

Souffle in the oven [Photo by Fan Zhen/China Daily]

Among these beauties, the cracked chocolate bars with Sichuan pepper are a knockout.

Chocolate is just right for the chilly weather and so is Sichuan peppercorn, known to dispel cold and usually used in Chinese hotpots to spice up meals in winter. These two now collaborate to fend off the chills.

Dried peppercorns are buried in bars of Valrhona milk chocolate, and make their presence felt with the slight crunch in every bite or two.

The combination doesn't soften the pepper's pungent fragrance. In fact, the aftertaste here belongs to the palate-numbing spice, while the dutifully sweet and silky chocolate takes a secondary role.

Another indulgence is the souffle fresh from the oven. Crusty on top, the hot pudding tastes light at first, but as you slowly spoon the liquid lava into your mouth, you are once again transported to chocolate heaven.

Winter may be gloomy and gray, but when there are these dark, dense delights to start your taste-buds singing, and dance a little waltz in your mouths, even the season's blackest evenings will take on a sweet sheen of anticipation.

Contact the writers at fanzhen@chinadaily.com.cn and sunye@chinadaily.com.cn.

Chocolate charms