Taza Chocolate, located in Somerville, Massachusetts, might be a bit too big and successful to be considered “boutique” (boutique meaning, “small, exclusive and handmade”) these days, however, their small business attitude paired with an intense focus on quality ingredients and sustainable production make them a company that we can’t stop talking about. And luckily, the chocolate speaks for itself.
The founders of Taza sought to re-create the chocolate that they had tasted while spending time in the Oaxaca region of Mexico. There, it is tradition to drink chocolate rather than to bite into a bar as we often do here in the United States. The founders even took their company name from this practice, as the word “taza” actually means cup, and refers to grabbing a mug-full of the hot chocolate drink.
Taza Chocolate is likely to be pretty different from the chocolate you are used to, even if you prefer high quality, high cocoa chocolate bars. Most Americans were bred on sweet milk chocolate from the likes of Hershey, though later in life, you may have found yourself falling for dark European chocolates. Taza Chocolate is made in the Mexican style, which means that they light-roast their organic beans (shipped straight from places like Mexico, Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic) and use very simple methods of stone-grinding the beans and transforming them into chocolate. The result is a slightly fruity product with a somewhat gritty texture from the rough-ground beans and the organic cane sugar used by Taza.
By doing things a bit differently, the company soon gained a fan base, and Taza quickly realized that their consumers wanted to know more. So the team developed factory tours which, admittedly, totally plays into my childhood fantasy of visiting a chocolate factory a la Willy Wonka. Now everyone can visit the factory and taste their way through the facility like I did, all while avoiding a Veruca Salt-like experience in the Chocolate Egg Sorting Room. Instead, while on the tour, I learned about the roasting process and simple ingredients that are added to the chocolate, and saw how the finished products are wrapped (by hand, of course) and shipped to stores and individuals across the country.
Lucky for me, the tour ended in the pretty new retail space, where I bee-lined to the table featuring the addictive chocolate-covered cocoa nibs, which are tiny pieces of roasted cocoa beans that have been dipped in Taza chocolate. The crunchy bits of cocoa bean impart a nutty, fruity taste, and the creamy Taza chocolate shell sweetens and smooths the taste. When I got home with my newly procured nibs, I found myself using them in cookies or quick breads instead of chocolate chips and sprinkling them over ice cream for a nice crunch. I hear from Maggie (Eat Boutique’s founder) that they are also very nice to use with whole grain pancakes. However, the best recipe using cocoa nibs I have come across so far is probably the Racines Chocolate cake from David Lebovitz.
After blog-stalking David for a few years now, I finally purchased my first Lebovitz cookbook, Ready for Dessert, as a little gift to myself in the days following Christmas. Flipping through the pages, I made plans to try his Ricotta Cheesecake and a ridiculous-looking Banana Cake with Mocha Frosting, as soon as I could come up with a crowd to eat the results. When I landed on this chocolate cake and noticed he recommended using cocoa nibs as an optional topping for this cake, I was hooked.
I have since made the Racines Cake twice, for two different sets of guests, and all agreed that it was fabulous. (My photo didn’t turn out as lovely as Jennifer Perillo’s, from In Jennie’s Kitchen, version – so we thank her for permission to use it above!) Personally, I’m not sure how I can break myself away from this recipe to try something new. I know that I must, but for now, I think I will go get myself another piece of this cocoa-nib laden chocolate cake.
- Cocoa powder, for preparing the pan
- 10 ounces (280 g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped (I used quality semisweet chocolate chips here)
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces/115 g) salted butter, cut into pieces
- 1 tablespoon freshly brewed espresso (I used ½ tsp espresso powder)
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
- 1/4 cup (50 g) plus 2 tablespoons (30 g) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons (20 g) cocoa nibs (optional) (we used Taza chocolate covered cocoa nibs)
- Powdered sugar, for dusting the cake (optional)
- Whipped cream (David recommends adding a bit of orange blossom water to the cream before whipping. We used Fiori di Sicilia extract, which is either similar or the same product. Anyone know?)
Preheat the oven to 350 °F (175 °C). Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch (23-cm) springform pan, dust it with a bit of cocoa powder, and tap out any excess.
In a large heatproof bowl, combine the chocolate, butter, and espresso. Set the bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir occasionally until the mixture is melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the vanilla.
In a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment, whisk together the egg yolks and the 1/4 cup (50 g) granulated sugar on medium-high speed until the mixture is light and creamy, about 1 minute. In a clean, dry bowl and with a clean whip attachment, whisk the egg whites on low speed until they begin to hold their shape. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons (30 g) granulated sugar and whisk on high speed until the whites hold soft peaks. Fold the beaten egg yolks into the melted chocolate mixture, then fold in half of t he whipped egg whites. Fold in the remaining whites, mixing just until there are no visible streaks of egg whites. Don’t over-fold.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, sprinkle with cocoa nibs, if using, and bake until the cake feels as though it’s just barely set in the center, about 25 minutes. It shouldn’t feel too firm. Let cool completely. Run a knife around the sides of the cake to help loosen it from the pan. Release the sides of the pan and just before serving, dust the cake with powdered sugar, if using.
Top with whipped cream (particularly nice with a slight dash of Fiori di Sicilia or the orange blossom water that David recommends). The second day, we warmed it up and added a small spoonful of vanilla ice cream with excellent results.
For more recipes using Taza chocolate products, check out the recipe page on their website.
Interested in tasting Taza Chocolate? See Taza’s online store, visit a local shop that carries Taza, go on a tour of their factory, or simply purchase one of Eat Boutique’s Valentine’s Day gift boxes, or ask someone special to send you one!
We’d like to give credit for these lovely photos: Both photos of David Lebovitz’s Racines Cake were taken by Jennifer at In Jennie’s Kitchen; the tiny cup of hot chocolate is by Swamibu on Flickr; the gentleman in the Taza apron is by Brian Rutledge on Flickr; the Taza nibs were photographed by Maggie Battista; and the Taza chocolate bar photo below is by Emilie Hardman on Flickr.