My universe came full circle today, in one of those tiny little ways that’s just big enough to make you take pause. I spent this morning at Dandelion Chocolate in the Mission District of San Francisco, learning how to make their famous peanut butter and jelly ganache brownie. The same amazingly delicious pastry that was featured on the Cooking Channel awhile back. Back when I worked for their parent company. Back when I was leading a completely different life. And I had no idea.
Only through my “Googling” (as my mom loves to call it) did I learn that today I made exactly what the TV cameras devoured years ago. I used to be on that side of those cameras, coincidentally (or maybe not) in almost that very same spot on Valencia Street where Dandelion Chocolate and Mission Cheese live now. We filmed part of the San Francisco episode of Andy Bates’ Street Feasts there for Food Network UK, where the Pizza Hacker (who now has his own shop not too far away in Bernal Heights) made pizzas with Andy on the street in his awesome make-shift oven that he used to take to parties. That was three and a half years ago. And here I was today, making pastries in a professional kitchen only steps from there.
I met the executive pastry chef for Dandelion Chocolate at a charity fundraising dinner I volunteered at a few weeks ago. We were both in the kitchen (she, working her magic and I, trying not to drop things or cut myself with knives), and she and her team created a pumpkin spice cake with chocolate caramel ganache that changed my life. The world is blessed with some amazingly talented people who are also amazingly nice, and Lisa is one of them. She invited me to come to the shop, tour the factory part of it where they make the chocolate (yes, they make the chocolate right there on Valencia Street, starting with the dried beans), and spend some time in the kitchen with the pastry chefs. YES! Today was that day.
I won’t even begin to attempt to describe all the steps that they take to turn a dried bean into a bar of chocolate because they explain it much better than I ever could. But I will say that it was fascinating. And maybe a little life changing, too. I learned that chocolate actually comes from the seeds of a fruit that grows on trees (right about now you might be thinking, “How did she never know this? The gal who has been making chocolate cake since she was in the womb?!” — but I honestly never knew that… blasphemous, I know) and that a gorgeous machine called a melanger grinds the nibs into liquid luxuriousness. They have six giant melangers in the factory and one tabletop-sized machine in the pastry kitchen, which we used to make chocolate for macaroons. Chocolate nibs stay in the fancy big ones for three days (three days!), where the sugar is added and the whole lot is refined into perfection. I tasted a few different chocolates from the melangers, and while standing there, I couldn’t help but think that the entire process isn’t that dissimilar in steps and precision to that of making wine. Hmmm…
And then I got to make ganache. Not just any ganache. Peanut butter ganache. And raspberry ganache. All for… you guessed it.. their peanut butter and jelly ganache brownie sandwich. YUM. As any good American would be, I’m obsessed with peanut butter. And I love baking with it. I tried to get my friends across the pond to eat it when I lived there (and I put proper American peanut butter in my purse), but only a few took the bait. Not one to give up easily, I found some American ex-pat bakers who happily worked with me on perfecting peanut butter frosting one night in the basement of their London bakery during the London riots of 2011. They had a baseball bat and endless jars of imported Jif peanut butter and somehow everything was OK. And we came up with a damn good frosting. But I digress… I love peanut butter. I love jelly. So transforming both of those magical condiments into ganache form was right up my alley (substitute with “right up my street” if you’re in the UK). And now my mind is filled with dozens of other things I want to transform into a ganache. They won’t be as magical as Lisa’s, but not one to give up easily, I sure as heck will try.