AT ALMA CHOCOLATE, a boutique house of cocoa worship in Northeast Portland, chocolatier Sarah Hart transforms chocolate into devotional relics. Literally. Her edible 23-karat gold icons of glowing Virgins of Guadalupe line the walls next to rotund, laughing Buddhas made of chocolate. For the agnostic indulgers, there’s an aphrodisiacal selection of treats in all shapes and sizes, from dark Thai peanut butter cups gushing with nutty, complex spices to a soul-warming Caramelita hot chocolate, spiked with cosmic swirls of caramel-habanero sauce.
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Even for Hart, who’s been doing this for almost eight years, tempering chocolate and brushing miniscule flakes of edible gold is a painstaking process. But turning out divine confections at home need not be so complicated. For February’s Valentine’s Day cocoa deluge, Hart prefers something more forgiving. She settles in for a simple yet decadent holiday at home with this foolproof chocolate bread pudding recipe—it’s hard to overcook, and you can even melt down leftover truffles, neglected caramels, or long-forgotten Easter bunnies into the custard base.
The most important thing, says Hart, is the chocolate. For her predominant base, she uses a 75-percent-cacao single-origin Ecuadorean bar from Vintage Plantations in Portland. “It’s like making beef bourguignonne,” she says. “You can use a cheap wine, but if you spring for a good bottle it makes all the difference.”