Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Chocolate Adventure 2010 is all about cupcakes

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending an event* at Elizabeth Falkner's Orson in San Francisco to celebrate the launch of the fourth annual Chocolate Adventure, a contest sponsored and run by Scharffen Berger Chocolate and Tuttifoodie (with some help from the Tablehopper). The contest is all about experimentation and finding new flavor combinations for chocolate and/or cocoa. To participate, contestants submit a recipe before January 2, 2011 that contains Scharffen Berger chocolate or cocoa and one or more of the "adventure" ingredients. This year's list includes adzuki beans, coconut milk, saffron, Meyer lemon and ten others.

At the event, attendees enjoyed adventurous cupcakes from Orson's kitchen and some adventure-ingredient inspired cocktails from the bar (like the "English Breakfast," a concoction of tea-infused bourbon, molasses and oatmeal stout). In addition, there were blind tastings of current and previous adventure ingredients (like cocao nibs, bee pollen, and sumac), with the finalists going up against Chef Falkner.

In previous years, the contest was pretty much "anything goes" — desserts, main dishes, side dishes, cocktails — with subcategories for sweet, savory and beverage (but a different set of categories each year). This year, the contest focuses on cupcakes, a limitation that looks to me as a blessing and a curse for the contestants and judges. On the one hand, it focuses the mind and evens the playing field: instead of designing or judging two very different dishes —  like roasted chicken with chocolately mole sauce and a peanut soup with cocao nibs and a dusting of cocoa powder — it's cupcake vs. cupcake. On the other hand, it will be challenging for contestants to break away from "one from column A, one from column B, one from column C" formula and create cupcakes that can get the attention of the panel of expert judges (or perhaps the cupcake craze in recent years has created an innovative spirit among home bakers that will lead to entries without too much trouble).

I don't know if I'll be organized enough or persistent enough to create and entry. So far, I've been experimenting a little bit, appreciating the idea of focus, taking the chance to improve my baking in one small area instead of the usual scattershot approach of a wildly different baking project every weekend (my results so far have been "interesting" at best). The contest is yielding additional benefits, such as the great basic cupcake recipes from baking guru Alice Medrich (author of some of my favorite dessert cookbooks, including "Pure Dessert") on the Chocolate Adventure site (there isn't really a link, you need to click through a few pages, starting with the "Explore Ingredients" area at the bottom). The Interactive Cupcake Builder also looks handy, with tips on how to incorporate this year's adventure ingredients into batters and topping — for example, if using almond flour in a batter, for each quantity of almond flour you want to add, subtract one-half that much regular flour. So even if you don't have any interest in contests but like to bake, the Chocolate Adventure site is worth a look.

* Disclosure: I attended the event at no charge and received various products from the event organizers.

Random link from the archive: Tempering Chocolate

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