In the summer of 2003 I spent a beautiful week in Italy. I had flown from Edinburgh to Naples, where I met up with my friend Ruxandra. After wandering around in Naples we took a train to Aquafredda di Maratea on the following day – a picturesque small town between Maratea and Sapri in Southern Italy – to attend a conference. The hotel Villa del Mare fed us enormously well, just like expected – I had been to another conference there in May 2000, also organised by ESF – and knew that we’d be pampered with spectacular food in even more spectacular surroundings.
On the way back to the UK we spent another 2 days in Napoli. We had pizza in the claimed birthplace of Pizza Margarita. The pizza was good, but as every other tourist was trying to eat pizza at the same place, the service was extremely slow and a bit on the rude side and the pizza we had in an unnamed pizzeria in the maze of Naples streets a week earlier was just as good. I remember the ridiculously overpriced cocktails in Naples marina. The freshly prepared lemonade outside Pompeii. The exciting buzz of the Napoli market where I admired – and bought - fresh pasta in all shapes and colours and encountered stalls offering an extensive range of fresh fish totally unknown to me. And then there was the visit to Gay Odin chocolate shop.
I cannot remember where I read about Gay Odin, but it was jotted down in my notebook as ‘definitely try to visit’. Apparently they did a mean Cioccolato con Peperoncino – chocolate with chilli – and I was determined to try that. I found the shop – with its dark old-fashioned wooden interior and its huge array of flavoured chocolate and I was charmed. Now, I’m a self-confessed chocoholic (you know, "a chocolate a day keeps a doctor away" kind of girl) which means that I could have spent lots of time and money in that shop. However, as it was in the height – and heat - of July and I still had a whole day worth of sightseeing ahead of me, I opted for one fat 200 g bar of the very same Costa d’Oro Cioccolate con Peperoncino that was the reason for visiting the shop in the first place. The wrapping depicted an African girl with big golden earrings, a desert landscape, a palm tree and some cacti (?):
It also states “Ingredienti: pasta di cacao, burro di cacao, zucchero, aromi naturali, peperoncino”. And a sticker emphasises that it’s “tavoletta piccante”, though I didn’t pay much attention to that warning at the time. I had it wrapped in extra parchment paper and tried to avoid the direct sun all afternoon, so the chocolate wouldn’t melt too much.
Back in Edinburgh I opened the chocolate bar with excitement. I didn’t mind that the chocolate bar had lost all its indented lines in the Naples heat after all. I had a big bite of my self-bought food gift. And that was it. You see, Estonian food is tasty, but very bland. We use mostly salt and pepper, plus herbs. If we want some spice with our food, we add a sprinkle or two of sweet Hungarian paprika powder (well, I’m slightly exaggerating here, but you get the point). My years in Edinburgh have familiarised me with a wide range of different spices that I had previously only heard or read about. I still remember my first visit to one of the Mexican restaurants here where I couldn’t eat more than half of the enchilada on the plate in front of me, as it was simply far too spicy. I’m glad to say that as long as I stay away from the _really_ spicy-hot dishes, my taste buds are fairly spice-loving by now. But nope, that chilli-flavoured chocolate just wouldn’t agree with me.
I tried to use it couple of more times – in a Mexican-style hot chocolate and threw a piece into the saucepan whenever I made chilli. But most of the time that big fat chocolate bar was hidden away in my store cupboard. Somewhere in a big plastic box together with all other odd bits and pieces that you don’t really need or use, but can’t throw away either, should they come handy one day. For almost two years it didn’t.
Until last week. Being very new to the food-blogging world, I was going through the archives of Chocolate & Zucchini trying to learn from the masters when I came across Clotilde’s recipe for Chocolate Chilli Bites. Heureka! The fate of my Cioccolato con Peperoncino was sealed. On Friday evening I rummaged through my cupboard, retrieved the long-forgotten chocolate bar and started baking. I halved Clotilde’s recipe, and omitted the chilli powder.
Clotilde's Chocolate & Chilli Muffins
100 g unsalted butter
100 g Cioccolato con Peperoncino (alias chocolate with chilli)
125 g superfine sugar
2.5 eggs (I used 2 eggs and an egg yolk)
just over 0.5 tbsp of plain flour
a pinch of salt
I melted the butter and chocolate over a low heat, added the sugar, then the eggs one by one, and finally salt and flour. After mixing everything thoroughly I divided the mixture between 24 paper-lined mini muffin cases, and baked the whole lot in a 200˚C pre-heated oven for about 10 minutes.
There was a distinct smell of chocolate and a waft of chilli in the air. The tiny – but fierce – chocolate muffins raised nicely to the occasion and resulted in a batch of beautiful moist muffins with just slightly crisp tops.
After letting them cool on a metal rack for a while, I had a bite. Slightly suspiciously, as my previous encounters with the given Gay Odin chocolate were not too positive.
Well, what can I say. As Clotilde wrote, the initial taste is just of rich chocolate. And then – slowly, but steadily – the chilli starts tinkling your taste buds. The muffins have almost brownie-like consistency – glossy and moist. Beautiful. And I’m proud to report that there are none left – and that’s me writing less than 24 hours after baking them. Given, I had some help, but if I’m in Napoli any time soon again, I will very probably look up that Gay Odin chocolate shop again.
Fabbrica di Cioccolato
Via Vetriera 12, Napoli
Napoli: Via Cervantes 37, Via Toledo 214, Via Toledo 427-428, Via Colonna 15/B, Centro Direzionale, Via Luca Giordano 21, Via Cilea 189
Roma: Via A. Stoppani 9