Chocolate Rules

In every sense of the word.

I love chocolate. I do. So what I’m going to say next is going to sound a little like heresy.

Chocolate on chocolate is wasted. Get another flavor in there, and the contrast helps you appreciate the complexities of the chocolate. Chocolate, whether dark or milk or any of the variations on the spectrum, is lovely and rich and decadent. You’ve got to give it something to play off, for it to really sing.

I used to order desserts like “death by chocolate” and “the chocolate wall,” with chocolate mousse and chocolate cake and ganache and chips and fudge and wafer cookies and whatever, and in the end, I’ve realized it’s too much of a good thing.

This has become, for me, a deeply held belief. People who eat out with me hear about it, at dessert, when we talk about sharing something sweet: “I’m up for any of these three things.” “Not the chocolate cake?” “No— it violates chocolate rules.”

This earns me a lot of in-public eye-rolling. In fairness, if it’s your birthday or we’re celebrating you, I’ll cave and have a bite, but really— let’s just each get our own, or skip it.

To me, it’s the taste equivalent of writing with too much emphasis. Everything with exclamation points, italicized, underlined, in bold and flashing. Suddenly nothing stands out. Variation in texture is not enough. A little raspberry filling in that cake, in place of the fudge, and suddenly you’re in business. Some salted caramel. A little peanut butter. Orange. Not the same note, only louder—different notes in harmony. Something bright. Something tart. Something spicy. Something nutty. Some cream cheese frosting— anything.

To me, chocolate cake with chocolate frosting is only a half-step up from white cake with white frosting. Kind of boring, only richer. Barely worth the calories, on a good day, no matter how good the cake, no matter how good the frosting. Brownies kind of fall into this category for me. There’s a genius to a good brownie, but… it’s kind of a lot.

Sometimes chocolate-chocolate-chip gets a pass from me. Especially in ice cream. But only if I’m desperate.

Chocolate cake with cream cheese frosting? Hello! A little German chocolate action? Yes, please. If you must do chocolate with chocolate, make the cake a marble cake— the flavor you add doesn’t have to be the thing, it can be a foil for the chocolate. A little almond, a little vanilla. I make a toffee with saltine crackers as the base, and that little bit of plain saltiness elevates the chocolate. (Not that the buttery toffee doesn’t help.) To me, this is the genius of the chocolate chip cookie. Melty chocolate, set against the warm butter/vanilla/brown sugar of the cookie dough. There’s a reason it’s a classic.

If you must do chocolate on chocolate, go for elegance. Chocolate mousse with chocolate curls, topped by a fresh raspberry. A truffle— just a perfect bite, no more. My sister-in-law’s fudge— a bite of decadence that needs nothing to improve it— not even another bite. Don’t go for quantity, go for quality.

Unless it’s your birthday. In which case, get whatever you want.


3 thoughts on “Chocolate Rules

  1. I totally agree. Not remotely heresy to me. And, also, not all chocolates are created equal. I dislike almost all of Hershey’s chocolate. It’s bitter and the texture is waxy and unpleasant.

    • I agree that not all chocolate is of equal quality, though I don’t think you’d find a ton of argument there— the enduring presence of higher-priced alternatives makes arguments to the contrary much harder to win. I don’t like Hershey’s and other mass-market chocolate largely because of the abuses in their supply chain (there’s well-documented use of child slavery to produce most widely available brands.) Here’s another good reason to avoid Hershey’s, Mars, Nestle, and other giants in the industry: Here’s a more recently updated article about what brands do and do not use child slavery to produce chocolate: My research indicated that African-produced chocolate is much more likely to include slavery in the supply chain, so I try to buy free trade and certified slavery free, where I can get it. Otherwise, if I’m buying, it’s organic chocolate. When I researched it (a couple of years ago), all organic chocolate was produced in South America, where slavery in the supply chain is not an issue.

      • True. Very good point. I don’t buy much chocolate, period, if I’m being honest, but, i do try to be conscious of these things. Most of the chocolate I end up with I get as gifts, and I ration it.

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