In a small shop on a small street, a Belgian chocolatier works and creates his pieces. This is not a dark, dreary and uncomfortable shop, nor is it garish, loud and rushed, with no room to poke about or hold conversations. It is an alter to chocolate and everything that that implies: joy, pleasure and the promise of happiness, all within the mouth’s reach.
Calle del Bonetillo, very close to Plaza Mayor, is one of those small, winding streets of Madrid that wanders through the intricate space between two larger roads. On one side there is a discrete sign that alerts us to the presence of Chocolala Belga, a cozy cave of wonders where a kind genius conjures up bonbons, truffles and bars of chocolate.
This human with magical powers does not wear a turban, rather the dark hat of a Master Chocolatier, but he also grants wishes: he gave us the first upon crossing the threshold of his hospitable lair was one of his latest creations: a (Belgian) chocolate bonbon filled with beer (Belgian, of course). Delicious. With that, Paul Hector Bossier, the name of the great inventor, had us in the palm on his hand.Bossier, originally from Ghent, is a lean man with an aquiline nose. He is a globe trotter –Switzerland, Austria, Paris, Barcelona (where he worked as a pastry chef)—who speaks Spanish well with a slight French accent (and a hint of Flemish?) who transmits soundness to his explanations of chocolate. Really, who better than a Belgian to talk to about cocoa in all of its renditions and varieties? And that is what we did with him on a cold, sunny Madrid afternoon, surrounded by the irresistible aromas of his shop.
“In Belgium I was a pastry professor for deaf and blind students,” he tells us after offering us a bonbon filled with the essence of violet, like the typical candy of Madrid. “I created this thinking of the upcoming San Isidro holidays,” he adds in a demonstration of his business acumen. And how is the business going? “It’s going. I can’t complain.”
THE BIRTH OF CHCOLALA BELGA
Bossier decided to settle down in Madrid after attending a food fair in the city. He opened his store on December 22, 2010, and is still here, working like a modest artisan who opens the way thanks to his imagination and creativity (it was not in vain that he studied Fine Arts at the Complutense University, in one of his Hispanic-Belgian comings and goings), transformed into fabulous products that become famous by word of mouth.Our genius offers the essential classics, and the typical black chocolate is one of his strong points. Among his top pieces are the truffles: “I make them filled with a cava, orange, coco or coffee mousse, and people love them, like the bonbons.” Among those, the “almond praline with a reduction of balsamic vinegar from Modena stands out.” And what is he doing now? “I am working on a bonbon filled with lime and cachaça, the Brazilian liqueur. Of course, the Brazil World Cup is coming up…”
In his alchemical kitchen-laboratory, which can be seen from the counter of the store, Bossier uses cocoa from two places: mostly from the Ivory Coast, and also from the Dominican Republic (he stresses that this is ecological.)
THE CHOCOLATIER’S SECRECY
Where does the justified fame of Belgian chocolate, for many, the best in the world, come from? It first appears in records from the area in 1635, with a purchase made by an abbot from Ghent (Bossier’s city). The Spaniards had taken it to Belgium from America, and in the 19th century, the Belgians took advantage of their presence in the Congo to expropriate the regional cocoa, but the key date is 1912. That year, Jean Neuhaus II created the praline, a chocolate bonbon with a soft, hand-made paste inside, adjusting the flavors by changing the proportions of sugar and cocoa. Today, Belgium produces 172,000 metric tons of chocolate a year and there are more than 2,000 chocolate shops in the country.
Our particular Master explains the process of that singular quality to us, responsible for a worldwide success: “How the cocoa bean is toasted is crucial. There you must play with the temperature and time, in a way that is usually kept secret. As a matter of fact, the profession of toasting cocoa beans is much respected.”
Bossier continues. “The bean is then flattened and the cocoa butter and paste are separated. Temperature and time are also important factors here. The paste is “conched” (boiled) at 140ºC and is stirred, the heat evaporates the acidity of the bean and the continual stirring allows oxygen to enter, which produces a type of controlled fermentation. The temperature is then lowered to 40ºC.
Let’s think of wine: to make it is very simple, but to create a good wine is very difficult and depends on the nuances. It’s the same for chocolate, and that is why the producers keep the details of their work a secret. The speed at which the temperature of the paste is lowered from 140º to 40º is very important, and how long it takes. The speed at which you stir the past so that more or less oxygen enters is also important. These are the factors that determine the final quality of the product.” This process set by the intimate wisdom of each professional is around 72 hours.The cocoa butter is refined so that is as pure as possible and is mixed with the paste in a percentage that, breaking the secrecy of the chocolatier, should appear on the packaging. The final step is to enjoy the chocolate, perhaps accompanied by a good red wine or dry port, beverages Bossier considers appropriate. Any particular pairing? “Duck ham goes very well with dark chocolate. I mixed them once and the result was delicious.”
Upon saying good-bye, maybe tired from so many hidden recipes and mysterious flavors, this good-natured artisan from Ghent reveals his biggest secret: “I’m not a chocolatier at all! I prefer ham.”
Calle del Bonetillo, 1. 28013, Madrid.
Would you like to try some?
The selection includes:
2 bars of dark chocolate, 100 gr. each
1 bar of chocolate with bits of orange, 130gr.
1 bar of chocolate with almonds, 130gr.
1 bar of chocolate with slices of dried tomatoes 130gr.
1 bar of chocolate with prunes, 130gr.
Price: 24.95 Euros (The price includes delivery to your home or wherever you tell us. Don’t forget to give us a delivery address.)
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