Overindulgence could be the culprit behind the weeklong lapse in entries to this blog.
Regular readers probably recall that I served as a judge for last weekend’s Oregon Chocolate Festival in Ashland. If you haven’t already, check out my Facebook photo album of winners and courses served for the Chocolate Makers Dinner at Ashland Springs Hotel.
Forgive me if it sounds like whining to complain of a solid, two-hour tasting session of chocolate entries. I already disclosed that chocolate isn’t one of my favorite flavors, not that I don’t enjoy really good examples of cocoa. But if you eat enough of anything — chocolate included — in a short enough time period, it’s going to overwhelm the palate, and every bite starts to taste the same.
The weekend’s exception took home the prize for best use of chocolate in a baked good: SunStone Artisan Bakery’s chocolate-stuffed pretzel bread.
Sampled about halfway through our chocolate parade, this bread was a standout for so many reasons. It combines sweet and salty, a popular trend in desserts and candies. And the texture was impeccable: leathery like a great bagel on the outside, tender-crumbed on the inside with a filling of chocolate ganache.
I wanted to eat the whole roll but knew it would compromise my stomach capacity for more chocolate. I wondered if I could set it aside for later but figured that could come off a bit gauche. So in the end, I reluctantly relinquished the rest to our judging facilitator.
If I wasn’t already a fan of pretzel bread, this pastry would have made a distinct impression. SunStone has been baking plain pretzel bread for a couple of years but recently perfected the chocolate version.
This centuries-old German bread has been steadily gaining in popularity across the American food scene for several years. I recall first tasting pretzel bread as a dinner roll with butter at a Las Vegas casino-hotel’s casual restaurant and didn’t have a better bite of food for the rest of the weekend.
Menus at more than 1,000 Blimpie restaurants feature pretzel bread as part of a turkey, bacon and cheddar sub sandwich, according to The Associated Press. Before that, the bread was a signature item at Corner Bakery Cafe, a Dallas-based restaurant chain, since the early 1990s.
Pairing the bread with deli meats and cheeses is a no-brainer because pretzels go so well with mustard, food-industry sources say. And while its soft interior is perfect for soaking up condiments, pretzel bread’s chewy exterior ensures it doesn’t go soggy. It’s far from a hard sell, either, considering Americans’ familiarity with pretzels as mainstays of fairs and sporting events.
Yet pretzel bread is different enough to pique people’s interest, says Tom Vaccaro, senior director of baking and pastries at the Culinary Institute of America, explaining that it simply has all the attributes of great bread.
We at the Chocolate Festival agreed and even awarded SunStone, an Ashland business, runner-up as overall best in show.
Now if they’d just make a cheese-stuffed pretzel bread. Hold on a minute, isn’t the Oregon Cheese Festival almost here?