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Chocolatier

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Leonardi Cioccolatini

I hinted heavily after Christmas to my husband (well, via the blog anyway) that I was pretty keen on trying some of the sale items from Dean & Deluca. He came through with every one of them. This is the Leonardi Cioccolatini Aceto Balsamico di Modena (Chocolates with a glaze of Balsamic Vinegar from Modena).

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Balsamic vinegar seems like a new thing to throw in chocolates and I’ve had a few of them now. Often they’re quite tart or acrid, I don’t think the acidity of the vinegar always goes well with chocolate. These came in a pearly paper tube with a sealed plastic bag inside holding the individually red mylar wrapped pieces. They smell of smoky chocolate and carnations.

imageThese are generous two bite pieces. The outside shell is a nice mild bittersweet chocolate that holds a wonderful dense creamy classic truffle center (there are eggs in here).

The balsamic vinegar is not overwhelming, instead it provides a smooth sherry-like background. A little sweeter but also with a slight almost alcoholic bite.

These are really good.

They were originally $42 but are still on sale at $10.50 for the 8.8 ounce container. (Mine are good until March 13, 2007 ... as if they’ll make it to the end of the week.) This might be the deal of the season for Valentine’s Day.

Name: Chocolates with Balsamic Vinegar
    RATING:
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 6 TEMPTING
  • 5 PLEASANT
  • 4 BENIGN
  • 3 UNAPPEALING
  • 2 APPALLING
  • 1 INEDIBLE
Brand: Leonardi
Place Purchased: gift (Dean & Deluca)
Price: $10.50
Size: 8.8 ounces
Calories per ounce: unknown
Categories: Chocolate, Italy

POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:49 am     Comments (3)

CocoaVino

I got this fabulous box of from CocoaVino as a Christmas gift. Cocovino is one of those companies that sells the story & the experience as much as the product. The pride themselves on their Eco-Forward ideals (organic ingredients, fair trade, wind powered kitchen and environmentally sensitive packaging).

image

The collection is simply called BonBons. The array features six different flavors arranged in pairs, each with a different chocolate and spirit/wine combination.

Bacchanal - Malbec and dark chocolate - dark and complex, it has a lot of the fruity raisin and plum flavors you’d expect from a wine grape.

Roman Holiday - espresso and Sambuca - a mild chocolate and coffee mix, nice and smooth without bitterness.

Tango Nostalgico - dulce de leche and Spanish Mintilla Moriles wine - interesting, but I don’t think the tang of the wine mixed well with the caramelized milk.

Raspberry Beret - raspberry, as you’d expect. Fragrant and fruity, a classic combo with chocolate. Not much of a tangy bite, but that’s no problem for me.

Baci al Limone - limoncello in white chocolate. I’m a big fan of limoncello (though I find it a bit too sweet and like to add some extra lemon zest to it) and of course the smoothness of a white chocolate is a great base, especially with the balance of the dark shell.

Queen of the Harvest - Sherry and dark chocolate - even darker than the other chocolates. I wasn’t able to get many of the sherry notes as they blend so well with the normal chocolate flavors. Tasty.

The other item on their site that intrigues me is their Fig Caramel. (Please chime in if you’ve tried them.)

As a Valentine’s gift, these are an excellent idea for a foodie or as a sensual gift to share with someone special. The BonBon box comes with each of the flavors in pairs, so it’s a natural idea that you could both have one and discuss the different textures and notes that you sense. They’re a bit on the expensive side (this box retails for $31) but then again everyone is getting paid a living wage and someone had to build those windmills.

Name: CocoaVino BonBons
    RATING:
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 6 TEMPTING
  • 5 PLEASANT
  • 4 BENIGN
  • 3 UNAPPEALING
  • 2 APPALLING
  • 1 INEDIBLE
Brand: CocoaVino
Place Purchased: gift
Price: $31.00
Size: unknown
Calories per ounce: unknown
Categories: Chocolate, Coffee, United States, Organic, Fair Trade

POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:31 am     Comments (4)

Boxed Chocolates in Short

Today I’m going to do all boxed chocolates all day long. Perhaps a half a dozen of them. However, there are a few chocolatiers that have entered my radar (mostly from the Fancy Food Show) that I can offer little bites on (to supplement the Chocolate Gift Guide):

Bissinger’s - it appears that this 80-year-old St. Louis, MO, chocolate company has reinvented itself, with a more modern look and updated flavors. The catalog they sent me after the Fancy Food Show was certainly tempting. I tried some of their marshmallows, and Spa Chocolates as well as their tasty Green Tea Gummi Bears. Order online of locate one of their retail stores. Moderate prices and elegant/fun packaging.

Lillie Belle Farms - based in Jacksonville, OR, this chocolatier uses organic (and fair trade when possible) ingredients, many of which are grown on the farm. Innovative flavor combinations, tasty caramels, smooth truffles ... I really liked the black pepper truffle I tasted at the Fancy Food Show. Order online or find in stores in Oregon. Moderate to expensive.

Valerie’s Confections - Los Angeles based toffee-maker and confectioner,  they have a great sense of elegance paired with comfort-candies. They have a special Valentine’s confection assortment (free local delivery if you use the code VAL when ordering $40 or more). Order online or pick up at a local store. Expensive. (Full review of other items here.)

B.T. McElrath - a Minneapolis-based chocolatier. I tried a few of their assortment at the Fancy Food Show and was pleased with them. The truffles and seasonal offerings are lovely to look at. They’re sold via their website and I saw many of their smaller mixed chocolate boxes at Whole Foods last weekend. Expensive.

If you’re looking for some other opinions on fine chocolates, check out these stories:

Consumer Reports tries out fine chocolates (from 2006), and a second write up based on the NY Chocolatiers mentioned.
This year NPR tried out some of the big names as well. I can’t say I agree with all their assessments, but they have a very nice list. (There are a few on their list that I still haven’t tried.)

UPDATE: February 12, 2007: Consumer Reports has done another taste test. Though you have to be a full subscriber to see all the results, here’s a brief report of how everyone did.

POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:14 am     CandyChocolatierReviewValentinesChocolate7-Worth ItShoppingComments (0)

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

Joseph Schmidt

Joseph Schmidt is a high-end chocolatier based in San Francisco and known for their stunningly beautiful sculptural creations of chocolate. I went to their shop and picked up the ugliest chocolates I could find, cuz I’m like that.

image

Okay, maybe they’re not the ugliest chocolates I’ve ever had, certainly some of my homemade creations have been pretty homely. The candy above is a strange disk of chocolate referred to as a Batik Slick. Sounds as good as it looks, eh?

It’s simply a very flat truffle. The disk has a little batik-inspired pattern on the top and a lightly flavored ganache in the center. It’s a lot of chocolate and very little filling.

image

They came in a box of four, weighed in at 3 ounces and had a strange design of bats made from artisan paper and gold googly eyes on the outside. (I bought them on November 1st ... they were from Halloween and 25% off). I have no idea what the different flavors are.

Dark Chocolate with Yellow Tulip may have been rum. Sweet and mellow, a bit creamy and with no real notable flavor except for maybe a hint of bubble gum. Milk Chocolate with Full Moon tasted a bit like coconut. Very sweet and a little greasy. Red-Centered Chocolate Blob had a nice milk chocolatey taste, smooth and creamy. Yellow Burst with Green tasted like lemon. How nice! I like lemon. The dark chocolate was very sweet but creamy and set off the zesty taste.

imageThe truffles are a bit more traditional, except for the fact that they look like the nose cone of a missile. I’ve never been fond of molded chocolates, for some reason I prefer enrobed or dipped chocolates. I don’t know if it’s the rustic look or there’s actually some difference in the chocolate structurally. I’ve had Joseph Schmidt truffles before a few times but I’d never been able to pick them out myself. So at the store I picked the “mini” version because I thought the large ones were just so freakin’ huge that I’d want to eat them with a knife and fork ala Mr. Pitt.

This one is Raspberry Brandy and is nice and dark with a soft and flowing ganache. The shell cracks and falls apart quite easily but has a nice mellow and smoky taste to go with the raspberry infusion.

image

The other flavors were just as acceptable though nothing thrilling. Pecan Praline was sweet and woodsy, but more maple flavor than nutty. All Dark gave me a good sense of the chocolate, which is Belgian and smooth but the ganache was more buttery than chocolatey. Grand Marnier was ordinary, a touch of orange but it seemed lost in the butter and underwhelming chocolate.

I guess I just don’t understand the fuss about Joseph Schmidt. They’re interesting and certainly less expensive (about $25-$55 a pound) than some of the upscale chocolatiers out there makin’ noise. I have nothing against the tried-and-true flavors either (I’m a See’s nut, remember?) I just wasn’t satisfied after eating them.

Name: Batik Slicks & Assorted Mini Truffles
    RATING:
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 6 TEMPTING
  • 5 PLEASANT
  • 4 BENIGN
  • 3 UNAPPEALING
  • 2 APPALLING
  • 1 INEDIBLE
Brand: Joseph Schmidt
Place Purchased: Joseph Schmidt (San Francisco)
Price: $11.00 & $1.00 each
Size: 3 ounces & unknown
Calories per ounce: 133
Categories: Chocolate, United States, Chocolatier

POSTED BY Cybele AT 8:27 am     Comments (14)

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Charles Chocolates

imageOn my last San Francisco visit, after the night of the chocolate induced coma, I went to visit a chocolate factory. Unlike the Scharffen Berger factory that I saw last year around this time, I went to a place where they make more than just bars. Charles Chocolates in Emeryville makes heavenly concoctions under the direction of Chuck Seigel composed of fine chocolate, premium nuts (roasted on the premises), fresh fruits, teas and of course lots and lots of sugar & butter.

What sets Chuck apart from some other chocolatiers I’ve met is his lack of pretension (he admits not only to eating Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and Snickers, but he likes them!) but also his conviction to make candies to his standards and no one else’s. By example, we were talking about the new craze for salted caramels. He makes his own (chocolate and plain - review below) but doesn’t bother with the little salt crystals on top because he thinks that the texture gets in the way of the pure caramel and salt experience. He also makes his own marzipan from scratch and infuses it with citrus. I watched as they made a batch of lemon marzipan, and if I ever said here that I didn’t like marzipan, it was because I hadn’t tried Chuck’s. It’s sweet, mellow, nutty and zesty without that bitter medicinal taste of amaretto that so many others have.

imageChuck is known for his nuts, which are roasted a little darker than others, he says to bring out more of their intrinsic flavors. I’m actually a big fan of raw nuts, so I was worried that these would be burnt and acrid tasting.

My problem with roasted nuts up until Charles Chocolates has obviously been quality control. His Triple Chocolate Almonds were divine. Instead of being just dark or milk chocolate, it’s both. There’s a rich milk chocolate layer and a dark chocolate layer (or maybe two, who knows, I couldn’t be bothered with dissecting them) and then they’re rolled in cocoa.


imageThe Triple Chocolate Hazelnuts were gone long before the Almonds. These darkly roasted nuts remained crunchy and sweet and still managed to assert themselves under the luxurious coatings of chocolate.

The little tin they come in is pretty fun too. They’re sealed in not only with a plastic wrap around the whole cylinder, but there’s also a little plastic cap inside the metal one. Air is the enemy of nuts, so Chuck has done his utmost to keep rancidity at bay. Not that I had them long enough. Of the haul that I left the factory with, this was gone within the first week ... and I only begrudgingly shared.

image

One of the other items sold in a tall clear tube are one of Charles Chocolates signature items, the Orange Twigs. It’s a milk chocolate ganache infused with orange and then dipped in dark chocolate and rolled in confectioner’s sugar. They look a bit like little twigs, I guess.

I wasn’t that keen on them. They were sweet and yes, the orange flavor came through, but I didn’t get a lot of chocolate to the whole thing.

imageIf you’re curious about the box shown above, yes, that’s made entirely of chocolate. The bottom is made from fine dark chocolate and the lid of white chocolate. Inside were two layers of salted caramels. The caramels are small and soft, then covered in a thin layer of dark chocolate and decorated with a lightly embossed design.

The soft chew of the caramels was definitely buttery and creamy, but also had a slight grain to it. The salt hit was mild and pleasant and set off the chocolate well. But I didn’t care that much for it. Though the flavor was there, something a little off to the texture. It was like the whole thing wasn’t properly emulsified.

imageThe chocolate caramel was interesting, but an intense buttery mouthfeel and a dark smoky taste to it. It also had less chew to it than the salted caramel and while I enjoyed the flavor, the texture just wasn’t for me.

The chocolate box itself was very good. I was afraid it was going to to suffer from being “functional first” but the chocolate was so good that over Thanksgiving the family busted up the box pretty quickly while there were still caramels inside. (Yes, I was sharing!) The white chocolate top wasn’t quite as notably tasty, I’m not sure why, but it tasted a little musty. White chocolate is tricky stuff, because the cocoa butter will absorb nearby scents and odors. I transported and stored the chocolate box in a cooler that also had some coffee infused bars, and I think there might have been some “contamination” there.

Other items that I tried and can heartily recommend are the Pate de Fruit (both fruit and wine flavors, so true to life), The Tea Collection (flavors that complement and rival the chocolate without overpowering it) and of course the boxed chocolates (many of which I sampled at CocoaBella - post #1 & post #2).

Charles Chocolates aren’t cheap at $54 per pound, but comparable with other high end chocolatiers. Some chocolatiers (like Recchiuti, another Bay Area chocolatier) are very focused on spices or fruits, Charles Chocolates seems to do a great job at raising mundane and common ingredients to gourmet levels, giving the ordinary like almonds luxury treatments.

You can order from their website, some of their products are carried at CocoaBella and at many local stores in the Bay Area and beyond.

Name: Triple Chocolate Nuts, Orange Sticks & Fleur de Sel Caramel
    RATING:
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 6 TEMPTING
  • 5 PLEASANT
  • 4 BENIGN
  • 3 UNAPPEALING
  • 2 APPALLING
  • 1 INEDIBLE
Brand: Charles Chocolates
Place Purchased: samples from Chuck Siegel
Price: varies
Size: varies
Calories per ounce: unknown
Categories: Chocolate, Caramel, Nuts, United States, Bay Area

POSTED BY Cybele AT 3:08 pm     Comments (3)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Ethel Holiday Assortment

Lest you think that my upscale chocolate heart is only in San Francisco, I was recently sent a box of ethel’s chocolate from Chicago by, you know, some of ethel’s peeps.

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They sent along the new Holiday Collection, just in time for a Thanksgiving review. The sassy half pound + box includes four each of six flavors, all with a holiday sugar and spice theme.

imageCinnamon & Sugar -A dark chocolate shell with a cinnamon and sugar spiced butter cream. Though all the chocolates look a little “manufactured” to me because they were so crisp and regular, the tastes were definitely authentic with all natural ingredients as far as I could tell. The dark shell was silky smooth and mellow. It had a slight bitter bite with offset the supersweet but superbuttery center well.

imageCranberry - a milk chocolate shell with a cranberry buttercream center. I was surprised at how “cranberry” the center of this one looked when I bit into it. The buttercream has an immediate and sharp berry bite, but the heavily dairy milk chocolate balances is pretty well. Though the flavors feel realistic, milk chocolate doesn’t feel like a good match for cranberry, maybe it’s because the dairy flavors and the tartness of the cranberry make me think of spoiled milk.

imageDreamy White - I don’t know what this one is, I couldn’t quite figure it out from the brochure that came with it. As far as I can tell it’s white chocolate with a milk chocolate center. The center wasn’t up to the sweetness of the shell and felt a little greasy and flavorless.

imageEgg Nog - dark chocolate with a egg nog flavored white chocolate ganache. I’ve always been a sucker for egg nog, it’s like drinkable spiced butterscotch pudding. It’s usually too sweet as a drink and I used to cut it with milk (or sometimes half and half) but I love the nutmeg on top. The dark chocolate shell here combines wonderfully with the rum and spice of the center.

imagePecan Pie - a milk chocolate shell with a pecan and spice filling. This one worked surprisingly well. I was afraid with a milk chocolate outside it would be too sweet, but it’s not. The filling isn’t as sticky sweet as a real pecan pie is, this instead has a great pecan taste to it, with that nutty feel on the tongue and woodsy hit.

imagePumpkin Pie - white chocolate with a spiced pumpkin buttercream. As with the other pie chocolate this was surprisingly good. The buttercream wasn’t just those pumpkin spices (nutmeg, clove, cinnamon) but it also had that real pumpkin taste to it (pumkin is on the ingredient label) that gave it more of a custardy feel than a ganache.

Of the whole set it was just the Dreamy White that bugged me, the rest I ate without complaint with the first to be devoured Egg Nog, Pumpkin Pie and Pecan Pie.

ethel’s chocolate is part of the Ethel M company, which in turn is the upscale boxed chocolates company founded by Mars. The new line of shops and chocolate lounges are less fussy and perhaps more fun than the Ethel M company. Their aesthetic is spare but with a great deal of attention to detail and attempt at brand unification. The selection in this box bodes well for my actual visit to one of their Lounges (right now just in the Greater Chicago area and Las Vegas). Their other selections include traditional spherical Truffles, a set called American Pop which appears to take comfort candy to a new level, Cocktail which feature mixed drinks and wine, Fruit which contains chocolate and fruit combinations and Nuts and Caramel which appears to eschew walnuts, much to my pleasure.

If I can make an observation, it seems that many of the new chocolatiers are chefs of one sort of another. Instead of coming out of a candy manufacturing tradition or perhaps baking, I feel like there are more chefs out there dipping their toes into the chocolate pools. I don’t know if this was always so, or if it’s just the publicity machines make more of the culinary curriculum vitae of the creators. ethel’s chocolate creative voice is Jin Caldwell.

The price of ethel’s chocolates is kind of up there, at $27.00 for the assorted box of 24 pieces (8.5

lbs

ounces). More than See’s, less than CocoaBella or Vosges. I was pleased enough with this box to want to give the Nuts and Chews a go next time the opportunity presents itself. I also desperately want a chocolate lounge in my neighborhood.

Name: ethel's Holiday Collection
    RATING:
  • 10 SUPERB
  • 9 YUMMY
  • 8 TASTY
  • 7 WORTH IT
  • 6 TEMPTING
  • 5 PLEASANT
  • 4 BENIGN
  • 3 UNAPPEALING
  • 2 APPALLING
  • 1 INEDIBLE
Brand: ethel's chocolate
Place Purchased: samples from ethel's
Price: $27.00
Size: 8.5 ounces
Calories per ounce: 143
Categories: Chocolate, United States, White Chocolate

POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:17 pm     Comments (12)

Saturday, November 11, 2006

CocoaBella “World’s Best Box”

Yesterday I told you about the Night of a Thousand Chocolates. Today it’s all about the “World Geatest Box of Chocolates” and the Artisan Picks of 2006 from CocoBella.

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The box is interesting. It has a heavy focus on nuts with half of the offerings featuring nuts in them (hazelnuts as the top favorite).  Here’s the lowdown:

DSC05028r - Marquise de Sevigne Praline Noisette - France (Hazelnut paste enrobed in Chocolate) - mellow with a sweet and smooth paste center with a healthy dose of hazelnut but really not a sugary sweetness (or so it seemed).  It balanced really well with the thin coat of rich chocolate. The nicely toasted nut on top gives this candy my pick as the candy I would most like to wear as a hat.

DSC05038rMarquise de Sivigne Orange Amer - Belgium (Orange ganache in Dark Chocolate) - This one was fascinating. It tasted like orange juice - more like a whole orange than a caramel or ganache. It was kind of like the custardy filling of a lemon meringue pie (only orange) because of the tart bite to it. The mellow dark chocolate with its bitter bite pulled it all together.

DSC05025rKnipschildt Chocolatier Hannah - US (Liquid Caramel with Pink Hawaiian Sea Salt) - this one doesn’t look like much. I’d never had a Knipschlidt chocolate before, so I thought this would be interesting. It truly was. Lately I’ve been eating a lot of salted caramels and this one was interesting. The center was a soft, custardy caramel with a good rounded sugar flavor, maybe with a hint of molasses. The salt was not too much and did actually have a little mineral hint to it.

DSC05036rMichel Cluizel Vesuve - France (Madagascar Dark Chocolate Ganache) - A simple single origin dark chocolate truffle. It was soft and had a good mix of bitterness, acidity, dry finish with smoke and woodsy notes. I realized that my less than stellar experience with the Cluizel nibby bar last year should not dissuade me from trying more of their truffles.

DSC05019rCorne Port Royal Rocher Noir - Belgium (Hazelnut Praline in Dark Chocolate)  - another hazelnut chocolate, this one was more like a hazelnut halvah. It had an interesting crystallized texture. The nutty flavors combined really well with the shards of sugar, though I would have preferred a little more toasty caramel flavor to it. The chocolate was nice and mild and set off the sweetness really well. It was a good chocolate, but I don’t know if it’s among the best hazelnut chocolates I’ve ever had. (And I’m the girl who likes Perugina Baci.)

DSC05022rCharles Chocolates Almond Cluster - US (Lightly Salted Roasted Almonds in Milk Chocolate) - it’s not the most elegant looking piece of chocolate, in fact, there’s very little chocolate here at all. Everyone keeps going on about how nicely Chuck Siegel roasts his nuts, and though I agree, the milk chocolate just isn’t doing anything for me here. Too sweet. (Have no fear, I’ll say nice things about Chuck’s nuts in a few days when I get to that review!)

DSC05003rCary’s Toffee - US (English Toffee topped with Almonds) - I was surprised to see toffee there. I was also pleased. This generous bar has a wonderful caramelized scent with an immediate hit of butter. The toffee itself had a wonderful gentle cleave, breaking into shards when bitten. The dark chocolate really helped to bring out the darker smoke notes of the sugars. The extra nuts on top could stay or go as far as I was concerned, in fact, they kept falling off.

DSC04999rMaglio Tartuffini - Italy (Caramelize Dark Chocolate Almonds) - chocolate covered almonds rolled in cocoa. Simple. The nuts were more like the buttery

Carmona

Marcona ones I’ve had at tapas bars, and the different flavor of them and density of oils really set off the slightly salty zing of the cocoa outside.

DSC05009rChristopher Elbow Strawberry Balsamic - US (Strawberry Puree with Caramel and Balsamic Vinegar) - a lovely looking candy with an inventive design that really screams balsamic vinegar. But here goes ... I’m not fond of vinegar and chocolate. I’ve tried a few in the past year and maybe there’s one out there that will make me happy, but this one isn’t it. The center was a little too tart for me and the white chocolate a little too sweet. I think I would have preferred everyone compromising a bit in the middle. Perhaps a milk chocolate and a caramel with more butter to balance the acids.

DSC05015rChristopher Elbow Aztec Spice - US (5 Spice Blend with Ancho and Pasillo Chilis) - this one was lovely, one that I’ve actually had several of now. The spice is mellow and robust at the same time. I could make out the caramelized flavors of the roasted chilis and the cinnamon and allspice gave it a good woodsy boost.

DSC05006rChristopher Elbow Rosemary Caramel - US (Caramel infused with Rosemary) -  The caramel in here is the slow flowing kind with a slight grain to it and a strong infusion of rosemary. However, the white chocolate added no vanilla balance but a pure sweetness that just drowned out the balsam qualities. This chocolate with its eighties style gemtone brushstrokes of color gets my pick as the one that I would least like to wear as a hat.

DSC04993rValentino Framboize - Belgium (Whole Raspberry with Raspberry Buttercream) - I was really looking forward to this one. I have to say that it didn’t look very appealing to me, but the thought of a whole raspberry made me look past its bulging belly like a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. Aside from that, it was nice and floral with a really good raspberry flavor, but again too sweet for my tastes. I wanted more chocolate and less of the buttercream, I guess.

DSC04997rMarquise de Sevigne Creme Brulee - France (Caramelized Butter Ganache) - More like a praline than the custard I was expecting (like the Kee’s one I tried in NYC). Caramelized, a little grainy but rather light. Tastes a bit like coconut but not in a bad way. It kind of grew on my after I got past my expectations. It was more like the sugar crust of a creme brulee than the custard itself.

DSC04982rAmadei Supremo - Italy (Milk Chocolate Espresso Ganache) - simple and divine. I’d leave it at that, but the way I’ve laid out this page I kind of have to go on about each one the same amount. It’s not the prettiest one of the bunch, being from a rather common stock mold, but the milk and mellow ganache go well.

DSC04988rMaglio Stuffed Fig - Italy (Almond and Lemon with Fig) - when Michael Freeman was presenting the box and he got to this one I was just itching to bolt across the room to wolf one down. Billed as a dried fig stuffed with candied lemon and almonds, I was pretty much sold. Upon trying it was I in love with the figs and chocolate (as I’d already been downing the Trader Joe’s ones in my motel room earlier in the day) but didn’t get the lemon and almond notes I was promised. Don’t worry, I didn’t demand my money back. The dark chocolate was absolutely wonderful. I am surprised that I actually shared this with the neighbors (it’s pretty big and easy to cut into pieces) but I felt bad because someone pointed out that Amy spits out a lot of stuff I give her.

DSC04979rMichel Cluizel Champignon Caramel - France (Caramel Mushroom with Almond Praline Cap) - Were you wondering if I was saving the best for last? There actually aren’t in any particular order (I think the order I took the photos in). I didn’t know what it was, I think my mind was still on the fig thing when it was mentioned in the presentation. It looks like a mushroom. The stem is a wonderful firm caramel covered in mellow white chocolate. The cap is a little half-sphere cup of almond praline (like the florentine cookies) filled with a truffle ganache and then coated in chocolate. Genius. Cute and absoutely an incredible combination.

There was another walnut item in the box which I didn’t try.

On the whole, the box isn’t my favorite. However, after sampling the wares at CocoaBella, I know that Michael Freeman has good taste. I find boxed chocolates frustrating on the whole, because there’s usually such an assortment, as in this one, once you hit on a favorite you’ve eaten it and have to move on. The good thing is that it’s a great cross section of a lot of different chocolatiers that I probably never would have recognized before that are now on my “seek out” list.

So, my tip is, if you have the money, dive in and take a chance. If you don’t and you still want to explore, try the CocoaBella “Build a Box” feature on their website (or go into the store). The pre-selected boxes don’t actually tell you what’s in there but do have some good indicators (Dark Chocolate, Exotics, Milk Chocolate, Truffles and Wine Pairings). I think if I had to pick a box out for myself, I’d try either the exotics or the truffles.

POSTED BY Cybele AT 8:05 pm     Bay AreaCandyChocolatierReviewCharles ChocolatesMichel CluizelCaramelChocolateNutsWhite Chocolate8-TastyBelgiumFranceItalyUnited StatesComments (8)

Friday, November 10, 2006

CocoaBella - The Night of the Chocolate Hangover

It finally happened. I ate too much chocolate.

I had always figured that my first chocolate overdose would happen with a giant Toblerone or a bag of Hershey’s Kisses. This was the happiest surprise of all, it was with some of the best chocolates on the planet.

CocoaBella - The Night of the Chocolate Hangover

On November 1st I attended CocoaBella‘s unveiling of the “World’s Greatest Box of Chocolates.” This box is the culmination of Michael Freeman’s tastings of hundreds (probably thousands) of chocolates from some of the best chocolatiers. Instead of just shoving a box in the mail with some literature, Freeman and his PR team held a reception to introduce not only the chocolates but also the aesthetic and even three of the chocolatiers.

CocoaBellaCocoaBella Chocolates bills itself as a purveyor of the best small batch artisan chocolates from all over the world. They carry Amadei, Christopher Elbow, Michel Cluizel and Charles Chocolates, among others. What’s different about them instead of going into all of those shops to find your favorites is that you can create your own box with chocolates from any or all of the chocolatiers. One stop shopping, if you will.

The evening began with the normal press recieving line where we were given our name badges as we entered the little shop in San Francisco. I was offered wine and given an overview of the evening. We would start with browsing and we were free to try ANYTHING in the shop. The chocolates for the box unveiling were located along one wall, but anything behind the counter was also available. There would be a presentation by Michael Freeman and three of the chocolatiers were actually present, Christopher Elbow of Kansas, Chuck Siegel (Charles Chocolates) of Emeryville and Jacques Dahan of Michel Cluizel Chocolates (Paris).

It was clear since the shop still didn’t have that many people in it and there were many name badges laid out on the table that there would be some mingling until everyone arrived. I browsed. I took photos. I didn’t touch anything. It smelled good and looked fantastic. There were other bloggers there, so I began to relax. It was no mistake that I was there.

imageAt the back counter there were two men working to create and plate chocolates. I recognized both of them. On the left was Chuck Siegel and on the right was Christopher Elbow. Since other folks were talking to them, I sidled up and listened in. They were creating three fresh creations for us to try, nothing that either of them were ever going to include in their chocolate lines, just one-offs. I chatted with both of them and some other writers and then started trying some of the chocolates. I started with the nutty items, I had to pace myself. I got four chocolates under my belt when the presentation began.

Michael Freeman explained the chocolate shop, where he carries at least 300 different items. It sounds like exhausting work traveling Europe and the States to find some of the little chocolatiers and he insists that you can set down any of the chocolates he carries in front of him and he can identify it on sight.

Jacques Dahan did a little tasting of three of the Michel Cluizel single origin chocolates. I felt a little smug, as I’d already tried these as a tasting kit a few months back, but was comforted to see that my tasting notes of the time still held up. Dahan reiterated some of the literature in the tasting kit, that Cluizel fosters relationships with the plantations, just as I imagine great sommeliers do with wineries. There’s a great deal of pride involved in this upscale chocolate. What I found particularly refreshing though, was the openness and the nods that each of the chocolatiers were able to give to each other.

There were Siegel and Elbow, two men who might be regarded as rivals, happily collaborating on a set of chocolates for the evening.

imageOh, and what were those chocolates? The little one is a simple dark ganache with a dollop of fresh mango and ginger chutney. Fresh and earthy, the bitterness and complexity of the chocolate was set off nicely by the rooty balsam flavors of the chutney. Then there’s the fresh fig, split open filled with a white chocolate ganache then dipped in dark chocolate. Wonderfully fresh, and the mild sweetness of the fig itself was set off well by the truffle cream, which happily was not sickly sweet. The dark chocolate wasn’t as powerful as I’d hoped, but maybe I didn’t pick one out that had been dipped enough.

The last one was a little mousy looking and they were pretty quiet about what it was. Just a peanut praline with a surprise. The next day Siegel explained a bit more about how praline is made, basically they take raw nuts and throw them in a copper kettle with sugar and heat it all together. As the nuts roast the sugar caramelizes. Then it’s ground together to make a paste that has little flecks of the sugar in it. This little square had an extra bonus though, at first I thought it was just something like the center of a Butterfinger bar, but then it popped. Then there was a lot of popping in there. Unflavored Pop Rocks. It was an interesting combination (and was a great help for my novel).

After the presentations it was back to the chocolate floor. I took photos, of course, and now that I had a better understanding of what Freeman was up to, I started really examining the offerings behind the counter. I also started tasting. I started tasting things that weren’t in that box. I knew that I was going to try more of Charles Chocolates the next day (yes, there’s still more to tell from my San Francisco trip!) so I looked at the other chocolatiers.

CocoaBellaAt first Elbow’s were missing the mark for me, they were very sweet (but they’re so darned pretty). Some that I tried that were fantabulous, most notably was the Orange Honey Blossom, which was a half-sphere button with a drippy honey cream center with a true honey taste and texture. I regret not trying one of the Bananas Foster. The Cluizel was fantastic and so incredibly specific. It finally dawned on me the unique position Cluizel is in, because they make their chocolate, from bean all the way to the final truffle creation. There are so few actual chocolate factories on the planet, and the fact that this one creates more than just the bars and couverture for the rest of the industry sets them apart. (And I need to pay more attention to them now.)

Fact is, I was seriously overloaded with chocolate. I wouldn’t call it a chocolate high, more like a chocolate sedation. I wanted it all, but part of my brain wasn’t working well enough to figure out where to put it. I couldn’t possibly fit any more in my tummy. I had a half a glass of wine during the presentations and after that a bottle of sparkling water. A glance over by the door though, and I saw that the name badges were replaced with gift bags ... with a box of chocolate to take home. I sighed in relief. As much as I didn’t want to leave, because the Golden Ticket would be voided the moment I stepped outside the door, I had to go. The wine had worn off at least a half an hour earlier and it was time to go back to the motel.

I lost count with how much I ate. It was probably a third of a pound of chocolate in two hours. Good thing I didn’t have any lunch or dinner.

Here’s the full review of what’s in the box (but here’s a visual preview).

I'd consider this night a 10 out of 10.

POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:05 am    

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Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.

 

 

 

 

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ON DECK

These candies will be reviewed shortly:

• Eat with your Eyes: Nougat

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