Chocolate pairing: Chocolate and Basil

Last week, The Boy and I had dinner at Ten Tables Cambridge, a neighborhood restaurant and bar that specializes in seasonal, local foods in an elegant but unpretentious setting.

The occasion was special for a few reasons – we were treated to the dinner thanks to a gift certificate from a friend, we were celebrating milestones in our work lives, and, just that afternoon, we had seen the first crocus and daffodil buds beginning to sprout. It has been a long, cold winter here in New England and even though I know that, come summertime, I will feel nostalgia for the reflective peace of quiet evenings when snow floats down by moonlight, our friendly neighborhood iceberg/enduring snow bank has really started to bring our spirits down. It’s gone from pretty to ugly and now spends its days shvitzing dirty puddle water onto our feet. Those plucky baby flowers poking out of the cold earth are so very welcome. (I still squeal “Ooooh!” every time I catch sight of a patch while walking around the city.)

The food at Ten Tables was lovely (a 4-course vegetarian tasting menu for $30/person) and the service was absolutely excellent. I was most excited to try the dessert, of course, something that I have had my eye on for some time now:

chocolate terrine with sea salt and Thai basil ice cream


The dessert was a study in flavor contrasts and complements. The chocolate was dark, heavy, and rich. The Thai basil ice cream was sweet, fresh, and peppy; the basil’s flavor hints of anise and mint just peeked through. I also noted the occasional crunch and flavor of the sea salt, a nice contrast to the sweetness of the dish. Many thanks go to Alison Hearn, Ten Tables’ Dining Room and Pastry Chef, for this fabulous dessert, which delighted our palettes and inspired this post!

It was the dessert’s somewhat unusual flavor pairing that got me thinking about the combination of chocolate and basil more generally. The two flavors really work well together, much like chocolate and mint seem to do so naturally. And the flavor possibilities are almost endless, with so many varieties of chocolate and basil to choose from. For example, what might the chocolate terrine have tasted like with a darker, earthier chocolate flavor? Or a brighter, fruitier one? What might an Italian sweet basil in the ice cream have done for the flavor of the dish?

I’ve been plotting a first attempt at urban container gardening for a while now and, with spring and summer just around the corner, the notion of having fresh grown basil to experiment with is almost irresistible. Naturally, I turned to the interwebs to see where other folks’ imaginations have led them in the kitchen.

What did I find? 16 mouthwatering recipes that feature chocolate and basil. (To be clear: none of these are my creations, I have simply linked to them here.)

Chocolate Basil Cake with Chocolate Sour Cream Frosting
from Enlightened Cooking
Chocolate Basil Crinkles
from Baking Obsession
Chocolate Basil Muffins
from Christie’s Corner
Flourless Chocolate-Basil Torte
from hogwash
Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes with Basil
from Cupcake Project
Sweet Basil Chocolate Martini
from Recchiuti Confections
Hazelnut and Dark Chocolate Cakelettes with Basil Buttercream
from Desserts for Breakfast

Bittersweet Chocolate Basil Tart with Honey Grapefruit Sauce
from O Magazine
Zucchini Chocolate Loaf paired with Mascarpone, Basil, and Peaches
from Fork Spoon Knife
Chocolate Basil Brownies
from Slightly Organized Chaos
Raw Vegan Basil Chocolate Fudge Brownies
from Vegan by Valerie
Chocolate Basil Ice Cream
from Fine Diving Chicago
Black Pepper Chocolate Cake with Basil Mousse
from The New Vegan Table
Rose and Basil-Dark Chocolate Macarons
from Desserts for Breakfast
Dark Chocolate and Basil Truffles
from Webstyle Magazine
Thai Eggplant Green Curry Chocolate Cake with Coconut-Thai Basil Ice Cream
from Raspberry Eggplant

Thinking back, I remember that I once sampled another approach to the chocolate and basil combination at Kee’s Chocolates in Manhattan. Kee’s Lemon Basil bonbon (photo here) features dark and white chocolate combined with fresh lemon and basil.

No doubt there are many other options out there. (For example, it looks like Theo Chocolate did a seasonal basil bonbon in the past.) I would love to hear about more treats like these, so please do send any recommendations on over.

An urban myth suggests that there exists a type of basil that smells like chocolate (not true, though that’d be very cool), and dozens of gardener’s forum posts are devoted to the impossible-to-find herb. These two fabulous flavors have even found musical expression in French punk rock/indie band The CHOCOLATE’s song “Basil” (ha!).

As a side note, I should point out that almost none of the recipes listed above turned up when I searched using Google’s new Recipe View, which has been in the news quite a bit lately, and which many are, understandably, excited about. The search function has great potential to help in weeding through dense web results. Unfortunately, a search on Recipe View brings up a limited number of recipes that are not nearly as inventive as those I found through a standard Google search. The problem: for now, at least, Google’s Recipe View algorithm searches mostly big name recipe sites, neglecting the many high-quality food blogs out there. Techies and food bloggers can learn more about the plusses and pitfalls of Google Recipe view via two incredibly helpful posts from Food Blog Alliance and foodblogforum. This is definitely something to keep in mind when recipe searching online – chocoholics shall not be limited by search engine snafus!

Looks like I’m in for a busy summer of pairing basil with chocolate. YUM!

chocolate terrine with sea salt and Thai basil ice cream


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    Bittersweet Notes is an open source research project on chocolate, culture, and the politics of food. I invite you to join me as I explore the story of chocolate and the life stories of those involved with chocolate at its many stages of production and consumption.

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