Imagine the aroma of the chocolate and its seductive taste as it melts in your mouth. What are the sensations all about and what exactly is chocolate?
Cocoa beans, the fruit of cocao trees, are processed into nibs, the "meat" of the cocoa bean. The nibs, which contain more than 50% cocoa butter, are ground, generating enough heat to liquefy the cocoa butter and form the bitter chocolate liquor. Cocoa powder is what remains when most of the cocoa butter is removed. The type of chocolate, such as "dark" and "semi-sweet", is dependent upon the percentage of liquor and the sugar that is added to it. Milk chocolate has added milk solids and is much sweeter than any of the dark chocolates. Think of this process as making peanut butter. The heat and grinding of peanuts is what produces the peanut butter. After that, sugar, salt and sometimes other ingredients are added.
When it comes to suppliers, there are only about a handful of businesses in the U.S. that actually start from the cocoa bean. These companies then sell a supply of their bulk chocolate to “mom and pop” stores that melt, remold and decorate the chocolates.
One such store, Aigner Chocolates, is located at 103-02 Metropolitan Avenue in Forest Hills. Originally called Krause’s Candy Kitchen in 1930, the Aigners, who first worked there became responsible for introducing all of the European chocolate recipes. 2009 gave the name change from Krause’s Candy Kitchen to Aigner Chocolates. It was several years later when the family decided that it was time to retire. Rather than simply close down they put this chocolate gem up for sale. Mark Libertini, a trained pastry chef, had a life- long dream of being “drenched in chocolate”. Coincidentally, he was at the store to buy chocolates for his fiancée, Rachael Kellner when he saw a “for sale” sign. Two weeks later, he bought the store, did some renovating and had Rachael sign on as the co-owner.
Using the passed down recipes and most of the same traditional machines, the store is now a mini version of a chocolate factory. I, being a chocoholic, found it very necessary to visit and “taste”. As I looked around, I noticed that there was a front corner of counter tops with seats. Do people eat plates of chocolate? Then I took notice of a long sign and coffee machine. Aside from the having lattes, etc. there was a Hot Chocolate made with the chocolate that they sell. Now, that’s true hot chocolate!
I first browsed the store. White chocolate (fie on that…there is no cocoa liquor in this…but good for those allergic to chocolate), milk chocolate (too sweet for me), and dark chocolate (now that’s my style). It appears that the only form of chocolate without anything in or around it is one called Cats Tails. I tried that and determined that it was a good grade of chocolate.
Much of the store displays the chocolates already packaged. You can always tell which holiday is coming up! Really, how can you go wrong by giving chocolate as a gift? With the Christmas season, it turns out that Chanukah came early. Aha! Chocolate dreidels complete with the chocolate “gelt”, “Chai” in Hebrew and a box of my favorite chocolates with hazelnut paste (the box and top of chocolates was decorated in the Israeli colors of white and blue).
The fun of buying chocolate is in being able to pick out exactly what you want and have them bag or box it up. Most barks (not of the dog ilk) were of chocolate and a particular type of nut. Over near the coffee area, I viewed barks made with white chocolate, macadamia nuts and mango, a dark chocolate with pine nuts and fig, and another of cranberries and pecans.
Hot chocolate is on its own. If you’re having coffee here are some perfect accompaniments: chocolate covered oreo cookie; chocolate covered graham cracker; chocolate covered pretzel.
Much to my surprise, Mark told me that milk chocolate is much more popular than dark. I guess I can see that in their peanut butter cups. Salt and caramel may have gotten popular, but not on my list. However, if you’re into it, there are enough choices to indulge in.
Some of my favorites include: marzipan, cherry cordials, orange peels, and ginger. Don’t forget yourself when it comes to giving a gift. As for me, I felt like a kid in a candy store. Oh, good, they’re opened every day in case I need my theobromine fix! 718-544-1850 www.aignerchocolates.com