Anybody longing for the 1970s should get a kick out of today’s food holiday: February 5 is National Chocolate Fondue Day!
Fondue pots (along with disco, polyester, and Bert Reynolds movies) might be synonymous with the 70s, but fondue has been around for a lot longer. The Swiss have a lot of cheese, you know, and needed a way to use it up once it became hard, so they figured they could melt it down and dip things in it. Surprisingly, even though Switzerland is just as well known for its chocolates as for cheese, it was a restaurant in New York City called Suisse Chalet that actually created chocolate fondue. Chef/Owner Konni Egli was looking for inventive new dishes to promote his restaurant in 1966, and turned to the Swiss National Tourist Office, conveniently located a block away. They were looking to promote a new chocolate bar called Toblerone whose oddly-shaped triangular pieces were meant to be eaten individually, each one resembling the Matterhorn (the mountain in Switzerland, not the theme park ride in Disneyland). Konni hit upon the idea of melting down the chocolate and creating a new type of fondue, one that was sweet instead of savory.
Incidentally, Toblerone chocolates were at the heart of a Swedish political scandal in 1995 when Mona Sahlin, a candidate for Prime Minister, used taxpayer money to purchase two Toblerone bars. She ended up dropping out of the race. Which begs the question: if the chocolate is known for its distinctive shape and tastes so good you’d risk your political career for a bite, why were the chefs at the Swiss Chalet trying to melt it down in the first place? But they were, and they did, and the rest is chocolate fondue history.
When we were discussing what to dip in our chocolate fondue, I suggested apples. Tara thought that was an odd choice, but it turns out apples and other fruit (strawberries and bananas) are popular accompaniments, as are marshmallows, pretzels, and graham crackers.
I decided, in the interest of authenticity, to make Konni Egli’s original chocolate fondue recipe, using Toblerone, heavy cream, and a splash of brandy. We don’t own a fondue pot, which is a bit shocking considering
our (ok, MY) penchant for anything retro. But I set up a poor man’s double boiler (a small pot inside a big pot), melted the chocolate, added the cream, and – voila! We had a chocolate fondue dish that would make ol’ Mr. Egli proud.
By the way, the Toblerone chocolate bar itself? Out of this world! I balked at the $2.69 price tag, but man, that’s some seriously good chocolate. And the little chocolate triangles really do look like the Matterhorn. Groovy.