Naturally fruity dark chocolates can taste very different from the more straightforward “chocolatey” dark chocolates most of us are used to--so different that it’s tempting to think of them as a different food altogether. Of course, they’re still chocolate, but the fact remains: their flavors are new to most of us, and we may not know quite what to do with them. At times like these, a little guidance is in order; hence, this guide.
Rather than present specific pairing suggestions, which may or may not apply to the particular chocolate you have on hand, the guide provides broader concepts you can use to make the fruit-froward branch of the chocolate family shine. I hope these tips and ideas help you to fully appreciate this unique side of chocolate--even if your loyalty to bars with more “classic” flavors remains strong.
If you’re looking for information about where the fruitiness in some chocolates comes from, or how to track down chocolates that deliver it, see my post about finding fruit-forward dark chocolate.
Tip #1: Pair it with nuts
Sometimes opposites attract, as in the case of sweet, tangy, chewy dried fruit finding its unique synergy with savory, dry, crunchy nuts (the enduring popularity and flexibility of trail mix is proof enough). Since fruity chocolate brings to mind dried fruit flavors in particular, it makes an especially good match with nuts.
The sensation is of eating three things--dried fruit, and chocolate, and nuts--when in fact you’re only eating the latter two. How’s that for a culinary magic trick? Just about anything we call a nut will do, from peanuts to tree nuts to coconut.
Tip #2: Pair it with fruit-based adult beverages
More often than not, "like goes with like" is a successful pairing strategy. And when it comes to alcoholic beverage pairings, fruity chocolates just work better with drinks born of fruit: think wine over beer, and brandy over bourbon.
Of course, the range of tasting experiences in wine, for example, is incredible, and in general you’ll want to steer towards fruitier, sweeter wines rather than dry and tannic examples.
Grain-based beverages like beers and whiskeys can be wonderful with chocolate, but generally work better with more nutty or classic chocolate flavor profiles. There are always exceptions...and should you find fruit in unexpected places, say, from a Japanese whiskey, trust your tastebuds and break the rules.
Tip #3: With wine, match sweetness levels
I’ve said it before, and I’m sure I’ll have occasion to say it again: pairing chocolate and wine is tricky. But, fear not, it gets easier (and more rewarding) with practice, and I’ve been practicing in the hopes of saving you some time.
Here’s the challenge with wine and fruity chocolate: lower percentage fruity chocolates (70% or less) can come off surprisingly sweet. So sweet, in fact, that they'll obliterate most wines, making them taste sour, or like not much at all relative to the chocolate.
With this reality in mind, for fruity chocolates in the 70% or less range, pair with unabashedly sweet wines: think fortified wines (including port and certain madeiras) or wines made with late-harvested and/or botrytized grapes (such as ice wines, Sauternes, and Tokaji).
What about darker fruity chocolates? Boldly sweet wines aren’t necessary, but do pick a bottle with soft tannins and at least a blush of sweetness.
Tip #4: With drinks, mind the alcohol content
Hard alcohol’s interaction with fruity chocolate is nuanced. The first few sips seem to intensify the chocolate’s buoyant fruit flavors, as if the volatile alcohol is carrying them up into your nose for amplification. But, as you keep sipping, curiously, the alcohol starts to anesthetize the parts of your tasting apparatus that are sensitive to brighter notes. What remains, then, are the chocolate’s base notes--the deeper, typically more “classic” flavors.
Use this knowledge to cater to your tastes. If you’d like to tone down the fruitiness, or are simply curious explore the flavors lurking beneath it, pairing fruity chocolate with hard alcohol can work wonders. Alternatively, to keep the chocolate’s fruit at the fore, pick a companion drink with a lower ABV (or limit yourself to a well-timed sip or two of the harder stuff).
Tip #5: Age it
In my experience, fruity chocolates--and especially brightly fruity chocolates with an acidic component--have the most potential to change with age. The experiment is easy enough: buy at least two bars of the same fruity dark, enjoy a bar now, and put the other(s) in a cool place for 3-6 months (being mindful of any best by dates). After those months have slipped by, taste again.
Every chocolate is different and I can’t promise you'll notice a shift every time, but I’ve certainly seen changes happen in bars I've made. After 6 months, my Belize 68%, for example, has lost some of its brightness but gained a caramel note; a Papua New Guinea bar I once made went from bracingly tangy (fresh lime) at birth to softly earthy (worn leather) with age.
A related tip: if you find that a bar is too bright for your tastes, let it rest for a couple months--it may become more to your liking.
Note: since chocolate can experience textural degradation about a year after molding, I don’t recommend aging it for more than a year.
Tip #6: Surprise your guests, gently
In another guide, I recommended offering 100% dark chocolate during social engagements because it breaks with flavor expectations enough to get people talking. The same idea applies to naturally fruity chocolate.
However, unlike 100%, which can overwhelm, fruity chocolates are capable of being every bit as approachable as they are novel. So, if you want to serve interesting chocolate to guests with a more conservative palate, what could be better than a fruity--but not too dark--dark?
Tip #7: Bake with it (sometimes)
On the whole, I discourage cooking or baking with top-shelf chocolate. For one thing, it can get expensive (who really wants to make a $50 pan of brownies?), and for another, the added ingredients and processing can flatten the chocolate’s nuances.
However, there are some exceptions: namely, recipes that make chocolate the star, without requiring massive amounts of it. Think of chocolate chip cookies, or pain au chocolat. The flavors of fruity chocolates can absolutely shine through in such applications, contributing a dried fruit flavor to the finished product.
Alternatively, enjoy fruity chocolate with, rather than in, plain baked goods, like croissants or shortbread cookies.
Tip #8: Melt it over vanilla ice cream
Fruit and ice cream are one classic combination; chocolate and ice cream are another. And with the right fruit-forward chocolate, you can have both at once.
No elaborate recipes here. Just melt the fruity chocolate over very low heat or in a double boiler, then drizzle it over ice cream (or your favorite dessert in the ice cream family).
In my book, the plainer the ice cream flavor, the better--the chocolate should be allowed to speak. As for the chocolate in this combination, bars containing berry-like flavors are my top pick.
Tip: for a thinner sauce, add a splash of warm milk, cream, or water to the melted chocolate, and stir until smooth.
Tip #9: With coffee, go big(ger)
I’m talking about volume of liquid. Coffee works so well with chocolate in large part because it’s warm. Warmth hastens chocolate’s melt, and a faster melt means a faster delivery of flavors--but not just any flavors. Bright, fruity flavors in particular are intensified by heat.
My hunch is that this happens because the chemicals responsible for fruity flavors volatilize easily, and a blast of heat is all it takes to send them racing around your mouth and up into your nose, the true seat of taste. Whatever the mechanism, it works--but you need a robust volume of liquid, and with not too overbearing a flavor, to get the best melting and volatilizing effect.
Espresso? Too small, and too strong. Save it for a round of sip-bite-sip with more grounded chocolate. For fruity chocolates, grab a latte or a generous pour of black, set a bite of the chocolate on your tongue, draw in a mouthful of the warm liquid, and let the flavors take flight. Repeat as needed.
Tip #10: Enjoy it on its own, if you please
It’s no secret that some of us favor “classic” over fruity flavors in our chocolate, and in many respects, this guide exists to help the pro-classic crowd access fruit-forward chocolate in rewarding new ways. But if you’re among the many who have found love at first fruity bite, by no means let my suggestions lead you astray from the simplest approach: enjoying fruit-forward chocolate on its own, whenever you please.
Pictured throughout this guide is my Belize 68% dark bar, a fruit-forward chocolate with notes of blackberry, custard, and candied pineapple.