A friend and I went to the grocery one evening in search of ice cream and hot fudge. The ice cream part was easy; we picked a good one right away. The chocolate sauce was another story. We spent a lot of time reading all of the ingredient lists looking for the one with the fewest (and most pronounceable) ingredients. The one we finally settled on was okay, but nothing to write home about.
When I asked Marc Cooper—who goes by Coop—what he was looking for when he created his hot fudge, he told me he wanted something all natural. There’s no legal definition of “all natural” but Coop’s personal definition is that there are no chemicals used in any part of production, and all of the ingredients are processed as gently as possible.
Let’s start with the chocolate.
Cocoa powder is simply ground up, roasted cacao beans with most of the fat (in the form of cocoa butter) removed. To get “natural” cocoa powder, that’s all there is to it. The flavor ends up being very bitter and pretty acidic, much like cocoa beans themselves. However, around 90% of all cocoa used today is alkalized (also sometimes called Dutch processed, because it was invented by a Dutch guy). Alkalized cocoa has been treated with chemicals to make the cocoa less acidic. It has a milder flavor and darker color. Alkalization also makes cocoa more soluble, so it’s easier to mix it into liquids, making it especially popular for use in ice cream and with dairy products.
Coop uses a natural, unalkalized cocoa powder to avoid that chemical processing. Each new harvest of cacao beans is a little different from the one before due to weather and processing conditions, so periodically he’ll test out new cocoas to make sure he’s got one that gives the rich, complex, chocolatey flavor he wants. He’s opted for a cacao from Ivory Coast which is processed into cocoa powder in Holland. When he tried making his hot fudge with cocoas from Central and South America a few months back, he found it created a more fruity flavor that didn’t have the richness he wanted.
Besides the chocolate, there are only four other ingredients.
The first two are cream and butter. It took Coop a while to find the dairy products he wanted. Most commercial dairies these days pack the cows in tightly and then ultra pasteurize the milk to kill off any pathogens. (Take a look the next time you’re picking up milk at the grocery; nearly all organic milk is ultra pasteurized.) Ultra pasteurization is different from regular pasteurization in that it heats up the milk much hotter for a shorter period of time. The process can make the milk shelf stable for months, but it changes the flavor and texture of milk. In particular, it can alter the whey proteins that give milk its creaminess, requiring the addition of congealing agents like guar gum or carrageenan to achieve the original texture. Coop uses cream and butter from a local Massachusetts dairy that pasteurizes more gently. There are no congealing agents, nothing added, nothing removed.
The last two ingredients are white cane sugar and brown cane sugar (which is actually just white sugar with some molasses mixed back in). Coop prefers to use cane sugar rather than beet sugar since all beet sugar in the US is GMO. He’s also careful to only use sugar that is processed in the US because a lot of the cane sugar processed in other countries is treated with charred cow bones (which help to take out the natural tan color of sugar to make it snowy white; American-processed cane sugar uses charcoal instead). Most chocolate sauces contain corn syrup (either instead of or in addition to sugar) which helps to keep them from recrystallizing and becoming grainy; Coop uses the molasses in the brown sugar to achieve this effect.
Coop is a poster child for small batch production.
A while back, one of those TV shows about how things are made gave Coop a call. They were interested in featuring his hot fudge production in an episode. “They like to see a lot of production lines and machinery,” Coop told me. “When I told them all I have is two vats that each produce about four gallons of hot fudge at a time, they decided not to come and film us.” Coop and his three employees produce three or four double batches of fudge per day, four days a week—that adds up to about 1,200 jars weekly. On the side of each jar you’ll find the hand-written initials of the person who made that particular batch.
Coop’s hot fudge business was actually an off-shoot of the ice cream shop he opened a few decades ago. “I wanted to be able to keep my staff busy in the off-season,” Coop told me, so he started playing around with a hot fudge recipe. His plan worked, and the hot fudge became so popular that about five years ago the fudge production split off from the ice cream shop to become its own business.
And how does it taste?
Coop’s hot fudge is thick, luscious, intensely chocolatey. It’s insanely good heated up—microwave the whole jar or a smaller bowlful for a minute or less and you’re good to go. And then what to drizzle it on? “Our hot fudge will make any ice cream better,” Coop told me proudly. Then he added, perhaps a bit apologetically, “even Zingerman’s gelato.”
There are a lot of products we sell that I’d say you could eat on a spoon out of the jar. This one tops that list; I never put the spoon in the sink without licking it first. I’ve drizzled it over coffeecake and strawberries. It’s killer slathered on toast . Or chocolate covered pancakes?!