You won't just drop into Thomas Haas Chocolates. You have to find your way to North Vancouver, to be exact, unit 128, 998 Harbourside Drive to feast on the delights of this cafe, pastry and chocolate shop. This I did recently - along with a steady bustle of cafe customers picking up desserts and chocolate, or settling in at one of the tables for a latte and almond croissant.
[caption id="attachment_79" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="The famous almond croissants are in the lower right corner. But everything in this showcase is delicious with a cappuccino or latte."]
As the morning moved into lunchtime, the choice was freshly made sandwiches, quiche, pastries and espresso, some to enjoy on site, some to go.
[caption id="attachment_80" align="aligncenter" width="450" caption="If you like, your sandwich can be toasted in the sandwich press."]
"I like a busy place", recounted Haas,"people don't just come in to buy chocolates." That busyness created by the cafe/pastry and chocolate shop combo is something he learned from his father whose Konditori in the Black Forest Haas , the only son, was supposed to take over. As for some inner sanctum of chocolate "with brown squares", it's not his style, although anything created in the Haas production rooms behind the cafe is the equal of chocolate shops anywhere.
Busyness aside, you're enveloped in the aroma of chocolate as you enter, and excited by chocolate, its abundance, and its colour. It was the run-up to Easter when I visited Haas, and along with the Haas selection of hand made chocolates, his own line of chocolate bars, baking chocolate and hot chocolate, the counter held a controlled riot of bunnies, eggs, ducks, race cars, nests. Equally joyful were the colours, spring bright yellow, orange, green and even some reds. Haas explained. "Christmas is more serious. People are buying chocolates for presents. But at Easter, you can have more fun. It's for the kids."
[caption id="attachment_82" align="alignleft" width="450" caption="There's no doubt about what season it is! These chocolate masterpieces created by Haas and his chocolatiers change with the seasons and holidays. The "Powered by Chocolate" shirt is a hint of another passion of Thomas Haas - cycling."]
[caption id="attachment_83" align="alignleft" width="450" caption="Behind the scenes, chocolate racing cars wait to be packaged."]
[caption id="attachment_84" align="alignleft" width="450" caption="To be a chocolatier, is to be an artist and love colour. "]
For chocolate, Haas sources premium Valrhona from France and Felchlin, a celebrated niche manufacturer in Switzerland. Why these two? "I buy from them because they buy mostly fair trade cocoa beans, no child labour involved. They conche (slowly churn the chocolate for smoothness and flavour enhancement) for a full 72 hours as opposed to other chocolate manufacturers whose the conching process lasts 3 hours. Quality depends on the best cocoa beans, then the length of conching time."
[caption id="attachment_85" align="alignleft" width="450" caption="Bars come with playful comments such as "your recommended daily dose" and "sleek, slender, easy to hide from your friends"."]
For Haas, it's this quality that really counts. "I don't want to be big, I want to be good."
[caption id="attachment_86" align="alignleft" width="450" caption="While the photo doesn't do justice to Thomas Haas, it captures his grin, and shows his generous spirit and playfulness. Between the production room where he is standing and the cafe on the other side is a pass-through cupboard. On its shelves Haas delights in putting chocolate treats. He swivels the shelves so the treats are accessible from the cafe. Kids love to find these little bonbons, theirs for opening the tiny doors on their side of the wall. Bet older kids do too."]
Creamy Dark and White Chocolate Mousse
Several years ago Thomas Haas shared a recipe for a chocolate mousse martini for a Christmas issue of Canadian Living. It's hard to forget how delicious it was. To simplify for today, I've reduced the original three to two layers of chocolate, but haven't left out the flowing Grand Marnier sauce, a citrussy contrast in flavour and texture, Haas designed to float over the chocolate.
White Chocolate Layer:
8 oz (250 g) white chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup (50 mL) milk
2/3 cup (75 mL) whipping cream
Dark Chocolate Layer:
8 oz (250 g) bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup (125 mL) milk
1-1/3 cups (325 mL) whipping cream
Grand Marnier Sauce:
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup (50 mL) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (175 mL) whipping cream
White Chocolate Layer: Place chocolate in heatproof bowl over saucepan of hot, not boiling water; heat, stirring occasionally, until half melted. Remove from heat; stir until completely melted.
Heat milk until just warm to the touch; pour over chocolate. Whisk briskly until smooth. Let cool completely; chill until thickened enough for a wooden spoon to leave a trail in the bowl that fills in slowly.
Whip cream; fold half at a time into the chocolate mixture. Divide among 8 to 10 demitasse cups. Set on rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate until set, about 40 minutes.
Dark Chocolate Layer: Prepare following instructions for White Chocolate Layer. Spoon or pipe over White Chocolate Layer, smoothing top with back of small spoon if necessary. Refrigerate until set, about 1-1/2 hours. (Make-ahead: Cover with plastic wrap; refrigerate for up to 1 day.)
Grand Marnier Sauce: In heatproof bowl whisk together egg yolks and sugar; whisk in cream. In saucepan wide enough to hold bowl with enough rim to grip the bowl, bring about 2-inches (5 cm) water to a simmer. Place bowl over the water. Heat, stirring often, until the sauce thickens enough to coat the back of wooden spoon, about 6 minutes. Strain into clean bowl; stir in Grand Marnier. Cover surface directly with plastic wrap and chill. (Make-ahead: Refrigerate for up to 1 day.) Spoon over chocolate.
Makes 8 to 10 servings you can even stretch to 12 if you use little pot de creme pots or smaller ramekins. The idea of the dessert is to have a delectable taste of something fine. Replace the Grand Marnier Sauce with 1 cup (250 mL) whipped cream scented with Grand Marnier if you don't have time to make the sauce. Garnish if you wish with curled strips of orange peel.*
*To make the curls, cut 3-inch (8 mL) long strips of orange rind from orange. Trim each strip into 1/8-inch (4 mm) wide strips to make a strip for each serving. Wind firmly around handle of wooden spoon. Wrap with damp towel, then plastic wrap; refrigerate for up to 1 day. Unwrap and arrange a curl over each serving.