Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Kiwi Travels and Chocolates

A few nights ago, after a series of twists and turns and minor revelations at the enchanting Pagoda Lodge in the Bay of Islands, I sat on my private balcony with a plateful of Makana truffles—vanilla, orange cream, cherry Armagnac, and lemon. My visit to the Makana factory and shop on the edge of Kerikeri the previous day brightened my dim view of the chocolate scene in New Zealand.

During my earlier investigations of Kiwi chocolate, I found that Bennetts of Mangawhai flaunts better quality packaging than ingredients, and that Schoc—while admirably creative with its flavor combos—relies on a sugary and gummy sub-par couverture. I had found a couple of places that could make a decent hot chocolate (Il Buco in Auckland uses Callebaut, Coffee and Spice Central in Napier opts for Dagoba), but I uncovered many more blind devotees of Cadbury.

Makana is something else entirely. Their ganache is silky, smooth, and full-bodied, made from Guittard couverture. (I was absolutely delighted to see an American artisanal chocolate put to use on this side of the world.) The Makana headquarters on Kerikeri Road are modest, with a spotless, glassed-in workshop where a few women in white hand-dip the little balls of ganache before placing a decorative swirl of couverture atop each one. This place has absolutely the right idea—they keep it simple with only about twenty different bon bons and candies, they don’t make grandiose claims, and they do it all out in the open. Something worth meditating over.

New Zealand is a funny country. It’s hailed by many as a land of endless solitude and wilderness, but, on the ground, that image can seem like little more than a marketing campaign. Sometimes I found it hard to get off the tourist track, but I did find a few people who led me in the right direction. Not only was I lucky enough to stumble onto Kathy and Stephen Frewen of the Pagoda Lodge, but I also discovered a Maori Food Trail, led by Chef Charles Royal.

Charles is a tour guide with moxie (he wears camouflage shorts and a starched chef’s jacket), years of experience in the kitchen, and great connections. He introduced me to Rae McGill and Michael Kelly, the husband and wife who run two luxury lodges in the Rotorua area, Accolades and 199. The first thing that I noticed when I walked into the sun-drenched, Polynesian-influenced Accolades was that a plate of homemade fudge awaits guests in each room. It’s Michael’s own recipe, which he graciously provided it to me as a parting gift.

Accolades Dark Chocolate Fudge
400 grams of good dark chocolate
   (I use 72% cacao minimum but do like 84% for the
   bittersweet tang)
80 grams of butter
1 tin of sweetened condensed milk – 395g
Hazelnuts – about 40 chopped roughly
Sliced almonds – about 70 grams
Dried figs, chopped – about 5 or 6 whole figs
Good Fiji rum, 58 proof
   (Mount Gay may be a close substitute but in the
   interests of research I have had the pleasure of making
   the acquaintance of some very fine light Cuban rum).
   Use a jolly good splash (1/3 cup to 1/2 cup - it is up to you).

Use a double boiler of course.
Toast the nuts on cooking paper and set aside.
Melt the butter.
Add the chocolate, let it melt and blend. (Blend means stir gently with a clean spoon.)
Add the condensed milk and blend.
Add the rum and blend in nicely.
Now add the nuts and figs, and stir together.
Put into a slice tray lined with cooking paper and let it set for 2 days.
If you use candy molds instead, remember to coat the molds with pure melted chocolate first, allow to set and then add the fudge. When turned out, this adds a lovely initial “crunch” of pure chocolate followed by the fudge.

To make Michael's white chocolate version, use the same amount of white chocolate in place of the dark, only sixty grams of butter, macadamia nuts instead of hazelnuts (the 70 grams of sliced almonds should remain the same), a mixture of dried fruits in the place of the figs, and a splash each of Malibu rum and peach schnapps instead of the Fiji rum.


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