Love lessons pulsate through Denise Acabo’s chocolate shop, A l’Etoile d’Or, Montmartre, Paris. Baby-faced Denise, who may be in her 80’s, has tended to customers and chocolate for the last 40 years costumed in her braided hair and school-uniform kilt skirt. Against the backdrop of her carefully curated chocolate offerings, she preens for the camera:
I take one … mmmm, when you eat a palet d’or (chocolate ganache topped with gold dust) like this, made by my friend Bernachon in Lyons, of the best of the cocoa beans, chuao, the best there is, like a grand cru, the best champagne. Don’t eat it fast. Feel it at the top of the mouth, at the back of the mouth and at the sides of the mouth. Incredible. Don’t eat anything else for a while. When you have something so good, it gives the impression of an embrace. I have a chocolate here. When I eat it, it is like an orgasm — the best in life — because when I taste something so good, it is like being embraced by my mother …
Acabo’s ardor for chocolate reminds me that it was Valentine’s Day that had led us to Denise. It was on Valentine’s Day that I chanced upon a National Public Radio report about Parisian chocolate shops by food author, David Lebovitz. When we learned about it, Mark and I rerouted our upcoming European tour to include Paris. I located Montmartre and Denise’s shop, L’ Etoile d’Or, on my map so we could feel the love of that chocolate. We loaded up on the highly rated Bernachon especially since it cannot be found anywhere outside of Lyon. We have secured the Bernachon cocoa powder in our home pantry where it awaits these Chocolate Red Chile Bizcochito Cookies for Valentine’s Day.
A l’Etoile d’Or
30, rue Fontaine (9th)
Tel: 01 48 74 59 55
Open daily, except Sunday, and occasionally closed Monday)
(Call before coming on Monday, as hours may vary)
Red Chile Bizcochitos (Little Cookies)
Use a heart shaped cookie cutter for these red-hot butter cookies.
1⁄4 cup unsweetened quality cocoa powder
3 cups flour
11⁄2 teaspoons baking powder
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
3⁄4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
11⁄4 cups butter
1⁄4–1⁄2 teaspoon ground dried red chipotle chile, to taste
1⁄4 teaspoon vanilla extract
11⁄4 teaspoons aniseed
1 large egg
6 ounces dark chocolate, broken into pieces
Preheat the oven to 400°F. Sift together the cocoa powder, flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl and set aside. Combine 1⁄4 cup of the sugar with the cinnamon in a small bowl and set aside. Put the butter, ground chile, and the remaining 1⁄2 cup sugar into the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and beat on medium speed until fluffy, about 1 minute. Add the vanilla, aniseed, and egg and beat, stopping the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula, until well mixed, about 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low, then gradually add the flour mixture, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed, and beat until the dough begins to gather into a ball and comes cleanly away from the sides of the bowl, about 2 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and divide in half. Shape each half into a smooth ball. Cover with a clean dishtowel and set aside to rest for 15–20 minutes.
Roll out half of the dough on a lightly floured surface or between sheets of parchment paper to a thickness of about 1⁄8 inch. Form with a cookie cutter and arrange 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake until golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer the cookies to a wire rack and sprinkle lightly with the reserved cinnamon-sugar mixture while still warm. Repeat the process with the remaining half of dough. Cool completely.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or waxed paper. Melt the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring until smooth. Dip the cookies halfway into the melted chocolate and place on the prepared baking sheet to cool, or place the cookies on the prepared baking sheet and drizzle the chocolate on top of the cookies with a fork. The chocolate will harden as it cools.
Quantity: 3–5 dozen, depending on the size of the cookie cutter