Scharffenberger Bakery Tour and Class with Yigit Pura

What is your favorite chocolate treat? Cake? Cookie? Pie? Ice cream? Do you have a go-to recipe that you make all the time or that has been passed down? My go-to chocolate recipe is brownies because I like the moist density of them.

Every year Scharffen Berger chocolates holds a chocolate recipe contest. The last few years it was Chocolate Adventures, where you had to use their chocolate and a couple of unusual ingredients from their adventure list. I entered it two years ago with my peanut butter filled chocolate mochii. This year they decided to change things up and the contest is Elevate a Classic Dessert. The idea is to take a classic chocolate recipe and pump it up somehow to make it something truly new and outstanding.

As a kickoff to the contest, which was posted to their site on October 1st, Scharffen Berger invited a bunch of food bloggers and media to a San Francisco bakery tour. We visited four bakeries that use Scharffen Berger chocolate in their products. Each bakery created a new recipe just for us. After the tour we then returned for a cooking class with Top Chef: Just Desserts winner, Yigit Pura.

I arrived at Scharffen Berger's store at the Ferry Terminal Marketplace to find about 20 people going on the tour. We all climbed aboard a converted cable car/trolley for our trek about the city.

Our first stop was Anthony's Cookies, which I was unfamiliar with. Anthony Lucas started selling his cookies from his car while attending San Francisco State University. In 1997 he opened a storefront in the Mission district. He focuses on a concept I can get on board with - the milk and cookie experience. He credits his mathematician mind with his logical approach to recipe development.

Anthony made us a batch of double chocolate chip cookies using Scharffen Berger's 62% Semisweeet Baking Chunks. We had samples of the cookies at the shop and then one to take home as well. At the shop they were fresh with the chunks still nice and melty. It wasn't until I was on the drive home to Sacramento that I got a true appreciation for them. The cookie texture was that perfect crisp on the outside and chewy moist on the inside. More importantly, I could appreciate the complexity of the chocolate in the batter and then in the chips. Suddenly I was hit with chocolate overload - in a good way.

Our next stop was Citizen Cake to meet famous dessert chef Elizabeth Falkner. For fans of shows like Top Chef: Just Desserts, you will recognize her. Here was a chance to take an item off of my SF eatery to-do list. Citizen Cake had recently moved locations so that Falkner could add an ice cream parlor/soda fountain. For our tour she decided to share an ice cream treat versus a baked one.

Falkner has a giant tank of liquid nitrogen in a corner behind the counter. All of the ice cream/gelato made at the shop is done using liquid nitrogen. Falkner explained that she didn't want to take up valuable space with giant ice cream machines and instead prefers to make small batches. Using the nitrogen means they only make about 2.5 quarts at a time. She explained that not only is the nitrogen method faster, but it creates a much smoother texture to the finished product.

using liquid nitrogen for ice cream

Our treat was a sundae made with chocolate gelato, chocolate cake crumbles, and housemade marshmallow cream. The gelato used SB's 41% Extra Rich Milk Chocolate and 82% Extra Dark Chocolate while the crumbles used their Unsweetened Natural Cocoa Powder. It was also topped with a 70% Bittersweet Chocolate sauce and chocolate nibs.

I'm not a fan of chocolate ice cream, mousse, or pudding. Not sure why, but I just don't care for soft chocolate. Anyway, I took a taste and found that the gelato was, indeed, super smooth, with rich, complex chocolate flavor, but not very sweet. I would never eat it alone because it wasn't sweet enough. But finished desserts are a sum of their components and with all the other elements there was no problem with sweetness and varieties of texture.

The trolley took us across the city to Ghiradelli Square next to stop at Kara's Cupcakes. I am familiar with Kara's because they also have a cupcake truck. They made us a Candybar Cupcake with SB's Unsweetened Natural Cocoa Powder filled with caramel and topped with a milk chocolate peanut butter ganache frosting and then sprinkled with sea salt. A great cupcake although I'm not a peanut butter fan, so I would have liked caramel frosting.

We were behind schedule and so our visit to Miette back at the Ferry Terminal was simply to grab a box with a slice of the triple chocolate cream cake. This was a true chocolate overload when I ate it for breakfast this morning.  (Yes, I eat dessert for breakfast. :-D) It was so rich that I could only finish half of the cake, and for me, Ms. Dessert Sweet Tooth, that's saying something. But damn, it was good!

The cake used Unsweetened Natural Cocoa Powder, 70% Bittersweet and 62% Semisweet Chocolate Chantilly cream mixed with roasted cacao nibs and a 62% Semisweet Chocolate ganache.
We were an hour late for our class with Yigit Pura and are so grateful that he stuck around for us. Turns out he later missed his flight to Florida and spent a a good amount of money having to buy another ticket. Thank you, Yigit.

Pura made a Chai tea-spiced chocolate cake with a dark chocolate ganache glaze. He said that the chocolate cake recipe is his base recipe that he just tweaks to suit the need of individual desserts  - flavor, garnishes, etc.

He provided us with quite the baking lesson. I wish I had been able to take notes. I learned about inverted sugar, which was a baking concept I was unfamiliar with. Inverted sugar is a mixture of glucose and fructose, is sweeter than sugar, and is less prone to crystallization. Professionals use trimoline, but home bakers can use nature's version - honey. 

Pura also told us his motto when making cakes, "Don't piss off the cake", which basically translates into leaving it alone. He says too many home cooks overmix their batter, open their ovens too often, and rotate pans or mess with the cake in some way that inhibits a perfect bake. While he mixed the ingredients he said that when he incorporates the dry ingredients into the liquid ingredients he always hand mixes. The reason is that you don't want to overbeat the batter because that will make the protein in the flour create the gluten strands that make the finished product dense and chewy instead of light and crumby. Once it is in the oven, don't touch it and don't open the oven to check it until you can see that it has created the risen dome. If you mess with it, you jeopardize the integrity of the still unbaked center and that creates the sunken center you sometimes get.

describing his cake recipe

Pura also gave tips on tempering chocolate and products used for creating chocolate garnishment. His favorite place to check for new chocolate molds and forms is the hardware or plastics store. In his bake shop he uses the plastic covers for overhead fluorescent light fixtures. Those texturized plastic panels are perfect for spreading the chocolate, giving it a textured design, and reusable. He cut out decorative circles and then brushed them with gold disco dust.

The finished mini-cakes we each got had a caramel center and the chocolate ganache. Dense and rich, there was a subtle hint of the chai spice.

I was forced to make a hasty departure as we were an hour late and I had to rush to visit the food trucks at Off the Grid. We each received a goodie bag with some Scharffen Berger chocolate baking ingredients, an apron, and a new whisk.

I must admit that I've been a tightwad even when it comes to cooking and have rarely used quality chocolate. This, I know, needs to change. I also want to put together an entry for the Scharffen Berger Elevate a Chocolate Dessert recipe contest. I have two recipes I could play with and possibly improve, so we'll see.

As a foodie with a serious sweet tooth, I couldn't have asked for a better way to spend a beautiful, sunny Friday in San Francisco. I thank Scharffen Berger for the opportunity.