On the Chocolate Trail in Brooklyn
Stories of New Yorkers and their chocolate abound so we followed the chocolate trail there. A long heritage of Brooklyn chocolate production and innovation precedes today’s bean-to-bar, artisanal, and industrial chocolate enterprises. All the way back in the late 1800s immigrants to Brooklyn succeeded in the chocolate, bakery and candy businesses. Now Brooklyn hosts Valhrona, Raaka, Mast Brothers, Marie Belle, Madelaine, Madecasse, JoMart, Nunu, Jacques Torres, LiLac, Cacao Prieto in addition to a chocolate café culture such as that found at the Chocolate Room.
Brooklyn’s chocolate mixes the old world with the new. It reflects cultural and religious shifts, along with changing appetites and economies. The older narratives include, among others:
U-bet Chocolate Syrup: In 1895 Herman and Ida Fox developed Fox’s U-bet Chocolate Syrup in Brooklyn. The family-owned company still manufactures in Brownsville.
Tootsie: In 1896, Leo Hirshfield opened a small candy shop in Brooklyn. There, he concocted his Chocolate Tootsie Rolls, one of America’s most beloved sweet treats. The company is now centered in Chicago.
Bartons Bonbonniere: Founder, Stephen Klein, fled Vienna the day after the 1938 Nazi march into Austria known as the Anschluss. At one point Bartons produced its Viennese style chocolates from three factory locations in Brooklyn. The company is no longer family owned.
Ebinger’s: While the bakery no longer exists, the memory of its chocolate Black Out Cake, first baked in Flatbush, lingers.
Despite the demise or move of several of these companies, fortunately, a lot of chocolate making still happens in Brooklyn.
JoMart Chocolates: Founded on April 15, 1946, by Martin Rogak with his cousin Joe on Franklin Avenue, JoMart now crafts chocolate in Sheepshead Bay. Martin‘s son Michael has a team pouring out chocolate bars and confections, including a ganche filled chocolate covered fig. He is a self described “Son of a son of a candymaker.” His apprenticeship as a chocolate maker started at birth and he has grown into a teacher of chocolate making classes.
We looped into Dumbo to see what we could find at Valhrona, a high quality French chocolate only to find that it is only an office and commercial chocolate training space. Go if you would like to sign up for high end chocolate making classes.
Greens & Ackerman Bakery: We went hunting for the famed source of many New York relabeled fancy chocolate babkas. Using the Hungarian recipes of newcomer and matriarch, Chana Green, the company still whips up chocolate babka, and a lot of other baked goods, out of its Franklin Avenue location. We easily would have passed by the signless facility had a corner door not been opened where one baker was working. When we asked for the office, that hair netted worker simply rolled up the door and invited us in. We then wandered among a hodgepodge of packaged baked goods, a cookie wrapping station and a woman stirring a pot of icing. We finally found the office and connected with the current owners to finagle some contact information for future conversations.
Just a few blocks away a small Satmar Hasidic owned and run bakery, Oneg Heimische, features babka and kakosh, a flatter version of delicious, chocolatey, sweetness. We were able to catch video of the baker in the small back area rolling the dough over the filling. Our six babka tasters named this the best, selected out of the eight babkas offerings a couple of years ago.
Maribel Lieberman’s year old store, Cacao Market, on the edge of hipster Williamsburg in Greenpoint boasts on-site chocolate making and a very cozy seating area. Select from over fifteen hot chocolate options and taste an array of candies and baked goods. If you don’t want to venture out to Brooklyn for Marie Belle, head to her equally elegant and tasty shoppe in Soho.
Another confectionary with a Brooklyn/Manhattan connection is the venerable Li-Lac, “Manhattan’s Oldest Chocolate since 1923.” If you want Li-Lac in Manhattan, head either to Grand Central Market, Chelsea Market, or the stores in West Village or Greenwich Village. The Brooklyn Factory store is housed in Industry City, itself offering some fun food options. Don’t expect discounts however.
In downtown Brooklyn we couldn’t resist venturing into Sahadi’s to gaze at their bulk chocolate covered nuts and fruits. Most importantly we needed to stock up on their unique peanut butter ground with chocolate.
Brooklyn’s chocolate mixes immigrant history with hipster, classic, cutting edge tastes.
Launching The Chocolate Babka Project
Admittedly, by heritage I am more a German kugelhopf than an Eastern European babka. I remember eating homemade kugelhopf and bundt cake at family celebrations in Los Angeles. When I mentioned babka to my German speaking father, he looked puzzled and asked, “What’s a babka?” Babka, much less chocolate babka, was just not in our pastryRead more ›
On the Chocolate Trail in Belize’s Jungle
Mark and I happily signed on for three distinct rainforest chocolate experiences within a 15 mile radius of our home base, the romantic Cotton Tree eco-lodge which is nestled among Mayan villages near the Caribbean in the Toledo District of Belize. Not only did Belize envelop us in an exotic rainforest experience, our tourism contributedRead more ›
Is that coffee or chocolate?
Having just eaten my daily portion of chocolate covered coffee beans, I am primed to consider the questions I hear about coffee when I teach on the chocolate trail. How do the two foods really differ, other than taste? I think back to when the layout for On the Chocolate Trail was being designed andRead more ›
A Chocolate Cake for October’s Tricks: Devil’s Food
Heading into October and its culmination in Halloween, I find myself hankering for Devil’s Food Cake, despite its initially derogatory name. Supposedly in 1690 Pilgrims traveled to Plymouth Rock via Amsterdam. They stayed in a house near the city’s biggest chocolate houses and called that chocolate “the Devil’s food.” Later, a chocolate cake, perhaps simplyRead more ›
Some Previous Posts
(in alphabetical order)
- A Chocolate Cake for October's Tricks: Devil's Food
- Announcing Second Edition: On the Chocolate Trail
- Book Optioned: Museum Exhibit
- Celebrating Ice Cream Month with Chocolate
- Choco-Travel Tips
- Chocolate Exhibit Hits the New York Times
- Chocolate Trail Broadens: "Semi[te] Sweet: On Jews and Chocolate" Travels
- Chocolate, Coffee, Tea and Me
- How About Some Mindful Chocolate Tasting?
- Jews on the Chocolate Trail
- Lunch & Learn: Central Synagogue
- Lunch and Learn: Tasting the Best Chocolate
- Mothers and Survival by Chocolate
- No End to Chocolate Exhibits Part III: Visits #3, 4 & 5
- Of Chocolate Exhibits There is No End: Part 2
- Super Food Chocolate for Super Bowl Sunday: Three Recipes
- Talking Chocolate in February
- Warm Up: 3 Historical Drinking Chocolate Recipes