Spend a month in Vietnam, and you’ll fall in love with the people, the food and the landscape. The country will call you to return years later.
At least, that’s how I feel about it.
While that explains why I’m at places such as Sandwich Hag (and Mot Hai Ba when I want just a Vietnamese influence in food), it also explains why there’s one chocolate in town I constantly crave.
The Hanoi fudge at Dude, Sweet Chocolate is inspired by the Vietnamese-style coffee you can find in this beautiful country. Over ice or served hot, a strong French roast coffee is poured into sweetened, condensed milk.
Here — in the storefronts in Bishop Arts or downtown — you can find it in the Hanoi fudge.
“Stephan [Pyles] and I went to Southeast Asia … Bangkok, Siem Reap, Hanoi, Singapore. We were on a food and ruins tour,” says Katherine Clapner of Dude, Sweet Chocolate, rolling out and endlessly layering pastry dough in her chocolate factory. Apron covered appropriately in flour, she’s prepping for a Sunday event as she goes back to discuss the inspiration for this chocolate.
They experienced Vietnamese coffee multiple times during their quick visit to Hanoi, while learning about the culture and its food.
“Everybody’s had Vietnamese coffee … most of the coffee is a French roast,” she says. “French influence in Vietnam is everywhere … it’s magical.”
In Vietnam (and elsewhere in Asia) you don’t see a lot of dairy. The sweetened condensed milk looks different, too. Clapner noted something I hadn’t previously thought about: The reason why in America it appears a pretty strong white, and in Vietnam, it's more like a light brown is that it’s “cooked in the cans from the heat” of the weather there.
And that leads to how it’s used in this rich truffle, specifically a dulce de leche.
For the coffee, Clapner went to Noble Coyote, where she got an Ethiopian French roast.
“We didn’t get rid of the coffee,” she says of her process.
Take a bite, and you’ll see what she means: The small bits have a texture like a cocoa nib, then the bitterness is released through the sweet chocolate around it.
Yes, it’s heaven.
“[Noble Coyote] got the grind right where I wanted. It gives it a slightly unrefined quality,” Clapner says.
The Hanoi fudge joined the chocolate list at Dude, Sweet shortly after her Southeast Asia trip roughly seven years ago.
“I wanted to replicate that in chocolate,” she says.
And the common process for her, when coming up with the Hanoi fudge or other chocolates, is that it “resonates with the public, but still has my personal opinion and integrity.”
So the public likes it, and so does she.
And Now for Some New Chocolate
I’d end it there, but on our visit, she had me try new chocolates that made me want to switch my story ideas around, so I’ll just keep writing.
She’s currently using her development process on two chocolates you’ll find at the downtown location: a matcha chocolate and a chai chocolate, both bars.
“We all know I don’t like milk chocolate,” Clapner says. “This milk comes from an all-woman dairy co-op ... it tastes like sweet cream, not sugar.”
In four weeks — through packaging, etc. — you can find more of these chocolates at the Bishop Arts store. But go downtown today and get each of these. You won’t hate me, I promise.
When I lived in the Philippines, I remember the day I walked to the store and found these green tea Kit-Kat bars. They’re fine, somewhat addictive. Clapner’s version doesn’t elevate it, it completely expands and matures it to an enticing texture with a flavor profile that evolves as you experience it. And the creaminess of it lasts so it just won’t let that experience end quickly.
The chai chocolate engulfs you in an abrupt, restrained sweetness that circles into a spice that’s perfectly complemented by a hit of salt. It’s all cohesive in the chocolate, perfectly mixed for each bite to get that experience each time.
The two together are called Pebbles (the chai) and Bamm-Bamm (the matcha).
That will make for good Valentine's Day shopping as the two were boyfriend and girlfriend.
Even for milk chocolate, these are pretty damn good.
Dude, Sweet Chocolate, 1604 Main St. (downtown) and 408 W. 8th St., Suite 102 (Bishop Arts District). The Hanoi fudge is $5 for one truffle, $12 for four truffles.