two of my favorite barcelona stops: xocoa and casa gispert

ah, el born.  like the marais in paris, one of my favorite places i’ve ever been to while traveling, and i’m lucky enough to have been able to go back to both.  you can walk south from eixample (the extension or newer part of the city) or east from the cuitat vella (old city) to get to this lovely old neighborhood known for being the heart of the trades, or where all the artisans set up shop eons ago.  it reminds me a little of venice without the water, all of these interconnected unmarked passageways that you can duck into and reappear on another short, narrow cobblestone street.  i loooovvveee it.  wherever i am during the day, this is where i head at dusk.  you can pop up at jaume I subway station just west of it or i like to meander south through sant pere and work my way down montcada, and where that ends around santa maria del mar is where these two wonderful places reside.

casa gispert

this old shop, dating back to 1851, is one of those places you enter and feel the care, artistry and integrity of all that passes through its doors.  right off the bat, it’s the smell that hits you:  spices, oils, roasted coffee beans and nuts, chocolate and other sweets lining the counters.  i seriously considered walking out with a wagonload and shipping it all home, which would have cost a small fortune but been so worth it.  as it was, i bought a bunch of chocolate truffles, marcona almonds, some kind of marzipan-nougaty looking thing i can never remember the name of (all of the above eaten the day i bought them), and then their own sea salt with truffles, pepper and pepper mill (sorely needed) and saffron which all made it home intact despite stinking up my suitcase.  and the prices are very reasonable.  this kind of stuff is what nyc boutque-places make a killing on, but there it’s just a carefully curated shop of culinary goods.  i went back twice for more munchies, don’t know how i lost weight on that trip.

which brings me to xocoa (ditto above, must have eaten my weight in chocolate in a week’s span)

the spanish brothers (kind of like brooklyn’s mast brothers) who currently helm this time-old shop are known for their cool chocolate bars of all varieties and interesting flavors in retro-looking pop wrappers, but it’s the cases in the front of the store that stop me in my tracks outside the window looking in.  awe.  this place is the stuff.  they have the bars, truffles, assortments, little boxes of chocolate covered nuts (i brought back some white chocolate covered hazelnuts with caramel powder for gifts), and then all the mongo sized goodies in the open front area.   a couple cookies, a few of those sputnik things in the middle and two of the ventalls (their signature, recipe below) later, i left the store purring like a kitten, happily working my way through my first ventall as i wound my way back to hostal girona.  perfect.

Ventall (serves 4 when cut in quarters)

3 oz/100g egg white
3 oz/100g unrefined caster sugar
6 oz/200g double cream or crème fraîche
10 oz/300g best bitter chocolate (54 per cent is dark enough for this)
icing sugar

Preheat the oven to 250C/450F/gas mark 8. Whisk the egg whites until stiff then stir in the ground almonds slowly and gently. Pipe or spoon into two equal circular bases on silicone paper on a baking tray. Cook for 5 minutes in the very hot oven. Leave to cool.

Melt the chocolate with the cream over a bowl of simmering water then leave to cool and refrigerate until it is cold and set but pliable enough to mould half of it into a circular dome. Place the dome on one of the bases, put the second base on top of the chocolate dome then flatten a thin layer of the chocolate mixture over the top.

Sprinkle with icing sugar and serve cut into quarters.

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