Friday, June 7, 2013
I’ve visited the Eclat Chocolate shop in West Chester, PA a couple of times when I’ve been in the area. I’ve tried a wide variety of their truffles and a few of their hot chocolate sticks and other items. However, I’d never picked up their chocolate bars before.
When I placed an order with the PA Country Store back before Easter, I decided to rectify that omission by selecting the Eclat Chocolate Caramelized Hazelnuts 65% bar. The packaging is simple, a slim black paperboard box holding a mylar wrapped bar. Sadly it didn’t protect the bar from getting broken (but I was going to break it anyway).
Eclat Chocolate may be best known as the creator of one of the most expensive bars on the market filled with celebrity names, the Good & Evil Bar made from Peruvian Pure Nacional cocoa beans and retails for about $18 for 2.8 ounces. I’m not terribly interested in things that are notable for being expensive though I enjoy a good origin story. So I’ll stick with the Caramelized Hazelnuts for now. Here’s what the online description said:
The bar is attractive, a nice mold with well portioned segments. I prefer a thicker bar, especially when there are inclusions, but there’s something particularly stunning about such a large field of molded dark chocolate.
The scent is sweet, woodsy and a little buttery. The chocolate has a smooth and rather quick melt and an immediate sweetness. I don’t eat a lot of 65% chocolate, so I forgot how sweet it is. The inclusions are crispy and have a great deep toasted toffee and hazelnut flavor. I don’t know if I got the subtle difference of the Spanish hazelnut, but I liked what I was tasting.
I would have preferred slightly larger pieces, I found the ratios a little off, but then again, I think I would have preferred a bit darker chocolate, too. However, if you’re a milk person, this is a great munchable dark bar that doesn’t feel too dense or difficult. I had no trouble at all eating my way through it, especially because of the excellent melt of the chocolate and lack of overall bitterness.
I mentioned I’d been to the shop before. I’ve picked up bonbons there on two occasions, though they weren’t for review, just for eating. They’re well priced for an artisan confection. The boxes are well put together to highlight the chocolates and it traveled very well (first by car around Central Pennsylvania for several days and then flying back to Los Angeles).
I picked out varieties such as Beer, Star Anise and Single Malt as well as the classic 73% Dark Ganache and Dark Caramel. The flavor infusions were not overwhelming to the chocolate and the piece size, though on the small size, meant that I could eat quite a few pieces for maximum variety.
I believe my box was $25.00 in the store. I’ve also bought their hot chocolate sticks, which I find exceptional though expensive. I like making my own hot chocolate, because then I get to control the milk (lactose free, please) and these sorts of “melt it at home” products make for a far richer experience than the powders. At $4.50 each, it’s more than you’d spend at a Starbucks. But sometimes it’s nice for a splurge.
If I’m in the area, it’s a stop I’ll continue to make. It’s a great little pick me up before I get on the Turnpike and is a great place to pick up a few hostess gifts. I posted a few photos of the shop as well.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
I found them at the Baywood/Los Osos Farmer’s Market where Danna J. Dykstra Coy sells them in all sorts of formats. She makes her vegan/gluten free cups from mostly organic ingredients and whenever possible, from locally grown produce. (The chocolate is from Guittard.) For a handcrafted confection, I found them very affordable. The peanut butter cups come in three different sizes. I opted for a box called the JoybittyBox 16 which has the medium sized cups with four each of the four different flavors. I paid $13.00 for my box of goodies, which I thought was pretty fair. I also picked up two of the large sized cups (like a traditional Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup size) for $3.00 for a pair.
The cups are tucked into the rather small, unbleached kraft paper box, stacked two deep. There are Traditional Peanut Butter, Olallieberry/Raspberry, Blueberry/Lemon and Local, Raw Honey. The design on the tops of the cups are just decorative, the only way to tell them apart is the color or design on the fluted paper cup.
Each little cup is about 3/4 of an inch across on the bottom, which is about the same as a foil wrapped Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup miniature. However, the top is like a spilled over, generous muffin top.
The most notable flavor of the set is the Peanut Butter & Olallieberry/Raspberry. The Olallieberry is very popular on the central coast. It’s a curious hybrid berry that’s best illustrated by this genealogical chart on Wikipedia. I’m going to start with that, because all of them effectively tasted like raspberries were somewhere nearby, even if some cups were seedless.
The peanut butter is soft and creamy, not at all dry. The seeds are large and a bit distracting, but at least tell me which variety I’m eating. The chocolate is smooth and creamy and a little cool on the tongue; though dark chocolate, it’s not too dry or intense for the combination. There are a few little crystals of sea salt in there too, which provide a strange little crunch a pop of flavor.
Traditional Peanut Butter lives up to the reputation of a tried and true comfort candy. The creamy chocolate, the salty peanut butter is all just about balanced. If I had any complaint, it was that biting into the pieces was difficult because the tops always smashed the rest of the cup, whether bitten right side up or upside down. If you find there’s too much chocolate for your ratio preference, it’s pretty easy to either pop the top off or nibble around the edges for an added treat.
Peanut Butter & Blueberry/Lemon is fresh tasting, the little hint of zest just gives it a little pop that goes well with the sea salt. The blueberry could easily be mistaken for the scent of the raspberry, as I didn’t notice any actual blueberry bits in this one but the slight note of iced tea was there that I always associate with blueberries.
Peanut Butter & Local, Raw Honey - honestly, I’m not sure which one this is. I tried two that were what I’d call plain. The one I think is the honey cup is much smoother. I didn’t get any honey notes on any of them but there was a buttery, beeswaxy note to it.
The big issue I had was figuring out what I was eating. The first few I knew what cup color I picked out, but later as there were fewer in the box, they tumbled out of their cups. It would make much more sense if the designs on the top said what they were.
I don’t know if I’d order these via the web, but that’s mostly because I have such issues getting chocolate in good condition in Los Angeles (it’s hot here and every delivery company seems to insist on driving my packages around in a hot vehicle for about 6 hours before delivering, even if it’s an overnight package). If I’m back in the area, I’d definitely find a way to hit the local shops or farmers market that carry these cups. They’re just different enough from the commercial fare and the fact that they’re ethically sourced makes the price tag seem inconsequential.
I’m going to say that these are all natural, however, I’m not certain about the colorings used in the transfer designs on the tops, so if you’re sensitive, ask first.
For the record, as far as the raspberries go, I’m most fond of Black Raspberries.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
Beverly Hills is a different world from the funky and uneven aesthetics of Silver Lake where I live, even though they are only about twenty minutes apart by car. While Silver Lake has a few chocolatiers and bakeries that carry fine confections, Beverly Hills has been at it far longer and has international muscle behind many of its biggest names.
For quite a few years folks have been telling me to try Teuscher. People rave, far and wide, about their Champagne Truffles. I even went into the Teuscher shop in Rockefeller Plaza in New York a few years ago but the shop was packed with people and the ambiance was a little too fussy, confining and precious for my tastes.
As the years went by the fact that I hadn’t tried their chocolates was becoming a glaring omission in my chocolate experiences. So when I was contacted by a representative of the Beverly Hills outpost of the Swiss-based Teuscher, I thought the time was ripe. I arranged to visit their petite shop and cafe in Beverly Hills located on the corner of Brighton Way and Camden, a scant block off of Rodeo Drive.
Teuscher is a Swiss chocolatiers but they have fourteen North American locations in addition to their shops in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. All chocolates are made in their Zurich facility and express shipped regularly (usually once or twice a week) to the shops. Their array of chocolates is rather standardized, regardless of the location. They make a variety of truffles, nut-based confections like marzipan and gianduja. They also have classics like candied fruits (dipped in chocolate), nut clusters and novelty molded chocolates (usually seasonal selections).
I was introduced to Avivia Covitz, the owner of the Beverly Hills shop. She charmed me with her tales of pairings of chocolates, eating two at a time to increase the vast variety that already existed in single pieces to create even more unique confectionery experiences. (Kind of like me and my mash ups ... though I’m sure she’s classier and doesn’t actually smash them together.) She guided me through the offerings and I chose about 15 pieces (from the dozens available) as an introduction to the fine chocolates.
Since their Champagne Truffle is so well known, I picked up three - two in milk chocolate and one in dark chocolate. They look more like rum balls that truffles to me, especially the milk chocolate ones which are very light brown with a white confectioner’s sugar dusting. They’re not round, more narrow and tall. It’s a sweet flavor right away as well, but my concerns about it being too sweet were quickly dispelled. The flavor isn’t quite champagne but more of a deep yeasty and white wine grape note. There’s no fizz or bubble, but a crisp and dry finish.
The dark, in my opinion, was even richer and a little more yeasty. They’re dusted in cocoa, so far less sweet right when it’s placed on the tongue. The texture is smooth, with a little pop of flavor at the center where the champagne cream center is.
I also tried their newer truffle, the Vodka Truffle. This one was wrapped in silver foil and after being unsheathed the molded sphere looked rather like a Lindt Lindor truffle though the center was vastly different. The dark chocolate had berry notes and a little astringency. The truffle center was quite gooey (Aviva cautioned me that it was to be popped in the mouth whole, no biting in half) and had a strong alcoholic bite along with a smooth dark chocolate liquor flavor.
I’m a huge European nougat fan, so seeing this piece was encouraging. Also seeing the wide use of nuts such as pistachios, walnuts (even though I can’t eat them), hazelnuts, almonds and of course hazelnuts made me happy.
The Montelimar nougat is dipped in chocolate on all sides except for the top. (which is a little dry). It’s a little grainy but still soft and chewy. The nuts (pistachios and almonds) are fresh and the honey notes are definitely a plus. The nougat still has a wafer on it, which kind of confusing because it doesn’t seem to be necessary and creates a kind of cereal flavor to the chew.
One of the big things I noticed in the Teuscher line is the liberal use of honey, which I think is far under-utilized in chocolates.
The Honey Caramel covered in dark chocolate was delightful. I love honey, I love chocolate and I love caramel. That doesn’t always mean a good combination will result, but in this case it does. The caramel has a dark flavor, a malty note and the beeswaxy and floral vibe of honey. There are also little bits of almond in there, which bring the whole thing together with a bit of texture.
There’s a large array of marzipan at Teuscher, which I found fascinating. The little logs like this are simply adorable and promised to have a large proportion of chocolate to the almond paste filling. (I believe it also came in pistachio.)
Sweet with a powerful almond extract flavor. The dark chocolate is creamy and offsets the sweetness well. The texture of the marzipan is dry but holds together without being sticky.
I also tried a Zebra Gianduja which is a striped combination of milk, white and dark hazelnut paste neatly dipped in dark chocolate similar to the Montelimar. The hazelnut notes were lost in the sweetness and the texture was just a little dry. Still, the nut notes were very fresh.
I was fond of the idea of these. They’re simply called Crunchy Chocolates and they come in milk and dark chocolate. They’re a homey dab of chocolate studded with little crunchy bits of honey and nuts. It’s like comfort candy. They’re basically everything I’ve always wanted a Toblerone to be. The chocolate is smooth and creamy with its own flavors. The honey bits give an added flavor punch and almost a salty note. The almonds give crunch and their own buttery note. I liked their thin shape, which made it easy to bite but thick enough to have lots of inclusions.
I always like to try the candy kitchen classics when I go to a new chocolate shop. I feel like I can learn a lot about the attention to detail when a chocolatier does something as simple as candying some orange peel or ginger. There are lots of ways to do it well, so it really just gives me a sense of where their sensibilities are.
Teuscher’s sensibilities in the candied fruit rind arena are right in line with mine. The Candied Orange Peel is dipped in dark chocolate. Moist and almost jelly-like, there’s no hint of sugary grain. It’s rather sweet but all of the zesty notes of the orange are preserved and just a light hint of the bitter orange oil. It goes well with the dark chocolate couveture.
The Chocolate Dipped Candied Ginger was a similar glace style. Tiny little ropes of roots, simmered in sugar until tender, then dipped in chocolate. These had a little extra flair with the white chocolate racing strip around the bottom. It was just a little accent that didn’t detract at all from the dark chocolate and the earthy notes of the ginger, just a little tip of milk flavors into it.
Belle Epoque was the only other truffle I picked up, again it was an alcohol inspired and infused one. This is a dark chocolate ganache with Gran Marnier. I loved the look of it and have found that I prefer enrobed or dipped truffles to molded ones.
There is a strong whiff of alcohol and orange zest. Little notes of tobacco and oak along with chocolate pudding. It’s definitely one of my favorites and would probably win out on my list of things to eat from there on a regular basis because it was just less sweet than the Champagne. (And given the choice, I’d probably opt for an aperitif of Gran Marnier over a flute of champagne.)
After completing my selection of the complementary fine chocolates, I also decided to also buy a few other items to get a sense of the rest of the Teuscher line of offerings. One of the charming items that vary from season to season are the molded chocolates. When I was in the shop before Thanksgiving, they had turkeys.
I was drawn to the Chocolate Bees. (I have no idea if they have a formal name, as there’s nothing on the package.) They came in a double layer mounded on a four inch by six inch gold foil tray. That was wrapped in clear cellophane and decorated with a narrow, yellow gossamer ribbon.
The milk and dark chocolate bees have a wingspan of two inches. But they’re not just milk and dark chocolate novelties. They’re dotted with honey crystals and almond bits. The texture wasn’t quite as dense and flavorful as the Crunchy chocolate pieces mentioned above. Instead these were a bit more like a Toblerone piece. Not quite as vibrant or intensely textured. Still very pretty and fun.
I also picked out a few straight Gianduja (they pronounce it John-Do-Ya) hearts. They’re beefy, over two inches wide and almost an inch high. One was milk chocolate (blue) and the other dark (orange).
The flavor was more milky and sweet chocolate in the milk chocolate than hazelnuts. This was my feeling about all the gianduja items from Teuscher. I’m assuming this is just the Swiss style, though I also noticed it with the Belgian brand Leonidas as well. Since I prefer more hazelnut and darker chocolate flavors, even then dark version here didn’t quite satisfy me and I didn’t end up finishing them. (Part of it is that I was so enamored of the Pralus Creme de Noisette that it’s going to become one of my standards.)
Orange Marzipan covered in Dark Chocolate
The final item I picked up, also foil-wrapped like the above hazelnut hearts, was an orange marzipan piece. This was more like a decadent candy bar. The marzipan was moist, a little sticky but with a great citrus zest note instead of amaretto. The almond texture and flavor still came through, but without the bitter almond flavoring that so often pervades European marzipan. This is definitely one of the highlight pieces for me. I liked that it wasn’t fussy and if I were wandering around Beverly Hills and wanted something to go with my coffee (they do have a highly regarded coffee bar), this is a good impulse item for me.
My hesitations with the products are really minor. I’m not that keen on the packaging or the design of the shop. The confections are well labeled in the chocolates case, which is great for people like me who must avoid a particular item like walnuts, but the rest of the items were not. The foil wrapped items were just color coded and once you left the shop, well, you’d better have a good memory. The little trays of molded items are see through, so you can, well, see them but no ingredients or even product names. My feelings are that the look and feel of the place is dated, but if you’ve been shopping there for a dozen years, you might feel like they’re dependable and consistent ... so I can’t really fault them for that.
The milk chocolate and hazelnut items were on the sweet side for my preferences, but the dark truffles, especially the Belle Epoque are right up my alley. I will definitely plan on trying more of the flavored marzipans and the caramels since I was so fond of the Honey Caramel.
The prices are on the high side at over $70 a pound (an 8 ounce box of 16 Champagne Truffles is $37.50) and the website doesn’t allow you to build a custom box. However, in the store you’re free to get exactly what you want. I think the Champagne Truffles are worth the diversion if you’re in Beverly Hills (or any other neighborhood that has a shop) but I don’t think I’d special order them on the internet unless I was certain they were going to be spectacular and just what I wanted.
My trick when visiting Beverly Hills is to park in the valet parking garage on Dayton Way just off Rodeo Drive. It’s free for the first two hours during the day. Teuscher looks like a great spot to hang out sipping coffee at the sidewalk tables and sampling a little box of chocolates while people-watching.
teuscher chocolates Beverly Hills
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Payard Patisserie was at the top of my list. Started by French pastry chef Fran?ois Payard, he grew up immersed in confectionery and pastry from an early age in his grandfather’s shop. Since the New York City Payard shop closed, the Caesar’s Palace location is the only place to get the full Payard experience in the US. (There are shops in Japan and Korea.)
I had a tough time finding the shop, as it’s tucked in the immense Caesar’s Palace maze of casinos and restaurants. The Payard website is no help, as it doesn’t even say where it is in Las Vegas, and the Caesar’s website is equally vague. So I just wandered, starting at the main entrance and winding my way through the labyrinth. Once I did find it, it pretty much stopped me dead in my tracks. The curving facade in rich brown hues, the ornate light fixtures, the long glass counter filled with pastries & treats and the sheer size of it are quite breathtaking.
It is a full French bistro with soups, sandwiches and crepes but the displays definitely focus on the decadent desserts, confections and chocolates.
Luckily I’d briefed myself on their website before going, so I knew what I wanted to pick up, what I wanted to see in person. Of course I also go to most shops with an open sense of exploration - I’m ready to be enchanted and sucked into it all.
I picked up one dessert and a one half pound ballotin which seemed to highlight most of their chocolates well. (I briefly considered their Bergamot Truffle Perfume as well, but realized, I like to eat chocolate, not smell like it.)
The dessert was a decadent piece, mostly a firm chocolate mousse with a core that featured a hazelnut nougatine. It was much larger than I think one person needs to eat, but for only $8.00 it actually felt like a good value for Las Vegas (and upscale chocolate in general). The chocolate was deep and rich, the heavy cream was evident and the texture, besides the crispies mixed in the center, was velvety smooth. Considering all the walking I did (about three miles just that night), I didn’t feel at all guilty about eating it.
The location is not right off any casino floor, so it’s quite quiet and would likely be a great spot to sit and enjoy a coffee drink and sweet. It’s not quite a sidewalk cafe, as it is actually inside and there’s something about carpeting that can really suck the bustle out of a crowd.
The Half Pound Ballotin features about 25 pieces of chocolate, and from the website sounded like a good variety of items. Also, at $28 for the box I was actually convinced it was a good deal. It’s like a little brick, about 4.5 inches long and 2.5 inches high but of course weighing a little over 8 ounces with packaging.
The box is actually crammed full of chocolate. It’s in three layers, each separated only with a bit of waxed/corrugated paper. There are no goofy preformed trays or fluted paper cups. Just a box of chocolates.
There was also no guide, though when I asked at the counter when I purchased it, I was told there was one in there. So I have to simply guess at a lot of these. The chocolate did pretty well. Though it was in the 80s during the day in Las Vegas, I kept the box in my hotel in an insulated cooler, just in case the air conditioner (set on 76F when I was out) didn’t kick in.
Mendiant Noir - Dark chocolate wheel, topped with dried fruits and nuts
I love mendiants simply because they show their cards. It’s a disk of chocolate with some fruit or nut stuck in it. They’re like elegant chocolate bark in easy to eat pieces.
As you might be able to tell, I got two pieces in my box, one white and one dark. The white one had pistachio, almond and yellow raisin. The white chocolate was smooth but sweet, the nuts set it off well. My dark chocolate piece had hazelnut, almond, yellow raisin and walnut. So I broke off the piece with the walnut in it and ate the rest. The dark chocolate was velvety smooth and the hazelnut took center stage as the predominant flavor and texture with a little chewy raisin with some wine notes towards the end.
Also in the box were two orangettes - generous strips of candied orange peel covered in dark chocolate. They were soft and chewy and not overly sweet.
Each of the chocolates in the box are rather small. They’re one inch square and about 1/3 of an inch high.
Chagall - Milk chocolate wafer with praline covered in dark chocolate
This little piece was delightful. The center is a praline, which is a bit of crispy wafers all smashed into teensy bits (think of the wafer of an ice cream cone or a Pirouline stick). It has it’s own toasted flavor and of course a bright and satisfying crunch. It’s mixed in with a milk chocolate paste with a slight sugary grain to it. The dark chocolate keeps it from being to sickly sweet, as does the minute portion.
I was surprised that the Payard name was on this one in particular, I would have assumed it would be a plain or classic ganache version.
Degas - Dark and milk chocolate ganache with coffee beans covered in dark chocolate
This one was easy to pick out of the mix since it said cafe on the top. The flavor was quite mellow and thankfully the coffee was fully integrated and there was no hint of graininess or chewy fibery bits.
Monet - Milk chocolate and cinnamon ganache covered in dark chocolate
This piece has a textured top, kind of like the chocolate version of a 70s hologram sticker. The scent is quite cinnamony, so I was able to assign this one to its name rather easily. The ganache center is lighter and sweeter than some of the others without as much chocolate richness.
Palet d’Or - Vanilla rum ganache covered with dark chocolate, finished with gold decoration
If I didn’t know there was a vanilla rum ganache bonbon in this mix, I wouldn’t have been able to peg this one. It tasted like a rich, dark chocolate truffle. I didn’t get the buttery hints of molasses or alcohol from it, but it sure tasted like rich chocolate. One of the pair that I had was a little grainy.
Gauguin - Milk chocolate ganache, flavored with Kirsh and Grand Marnier covered in dark chocolate
I enjoyed the light touch of orange essence in this bonbon, it was a well rounded flavor without overpowering the chocolate notes. I got a slight bit of grain to it around the edges, but also a bit of zest, so I didn’t know if there was actual candied orange peels in it.
Van Gogh - Pistachio almond paste covered in dark chocolate
This one was in the top layer and I was a little scared when I saw that they were a tad bloomed. Luckily they were an isolated incident. The chocolates are a pistachio green innard that tastes distinctly of pistachio - that fragrant and grassy flavor. The texture is marzipan but also a bit of a grain from sugar (or it had crystallized). I wasn’t that fond of these pieces.
Bonnard - Milk chocolate ganache and caramel covered in dark chocolate
I believe this is the piece with the script P on it. The ganache is rich and buttery with a very slight velvety grain and a burnt sugar flavor. There was also a light bitter note towards the end.
Picasso - Dark chocolate ganache infused with Earl Grey Tea
This beautiful piece was spot on perfection. The shell was nicely tempered, the center had an immediate blossom of bergamot when I bit into it. But instead of just being a citrus peel flavor, it was an actual black tea, the whole cup, if you will. The dark chocolate maintained its own flavors of dark berries and had a bitter woodsy note while the black tea flavors and tannins did their part. Silky smooth melt and refreshing dry finish.
Rocher Noir - Dark chocolate mixed with a crispy wafer
I was a bit surprised when I got to the bottom and found these. They look kind of prickly. The chocolate coating looked thin and cheap.
I was very wrong to judge these based on appearances.
The milk version is light and crispy with an insane buttery flavor & fattiness to it. The crispy wafer bits are those same dark toasted bits, but larger here than the other nougatine ganache. It’s a definite cereal taste. The chocolate isn’t really a note here, it’s more like a malty flavor.
In the noir (dark) version it looked like a coconut haystack. Instead it was the malty & crispy wafer bits with a mellow cocoa flavor. The decadence comes from a slick and sweet chocolate that holds it all together. It’s a bit cool on the tongue and is very satisfying.
Finally, at the bottom with the rochers were the classic chocolate truffles. These little handformed spheres are darling.
Upon the first bite these were not plain dark chocolate. They’re boozy, but not stinging with alcohol. The significant notes are vanilla and tobacco with deep oak and cherry in there. They’re supposed to be Vanilla Rum, but they’re like pushing my face into a bag of pipe tobacco. Not unpleasant at all, but quite dense and difficult to tease out all the flavors and complexity.
For those looking for Payard in Caesar’s Palace, I recommend this map (which I found when I was trying to write this up). The bistro is located on the main level, just off Appian Way (where the statue of David is) and across from Rao’s restaurant.
I can’t vouch for the bistro food, but the desserts do look luscious and I was very happy with mine. I wish they offered the chocolates by the piece, but if you’re shopping for a gift, they’re definitely a great place to stop in and get something truly worthy of the Las Vegas prices. There’s obviously a lot of care and thought that goes into the creation of these bonbons. I also tried the Parisian Macarons, which was a little too brightly colored for my tastes (yes, I mean taste) but wonderfully scrumptious single bites. (I recommend eating those immediately, they do not keep more than 3 days.)
I would definitely visit again if I were in Las Vegas, though I don’t know if I would order from them online as I have a lot of options available locally. But it’s nice to know that option is available.
UPDATE 10/29/2009: Payard may have a new Manhattan location soon called Francois Chocolate Bar at Mauboussin Jewelers on Madison Avenue. Opening November 4th. (NY Times DinersJournal.)
Friday, August 21, 2009
Sometimes I buy things that I think are insanely expensive. This little box of Recchiuti dragee are just such a purchase. I saw them mentioned on CHOW and filed it away in my head that I should pick it up when I saw it.
The assortment is called Asphalt Jungle Mix. It features a riot of burnt caramel hazelnuts & almonds, cherries two ways and peanut butter pearls.
So when I found them at a little gourmet shop in Los Olivos on the last day of my vacation, I wasn’t quite sure what to do. Partly because what I really wanted to try was the Peanut Butter Pearls. But this mix, besides having an awesome name, also featured hazelnuts & almonds ... but then there were cherries. I actually like real cherries and dried cherries are a pretty good approximation of the real thing ... so instead of getting the singular Peanut Butter Pearls I got the Asphalt Jungle.
The price online is $12.00 for 6 ounces. The price at this shop was $14.00. Yes ... insane. But I was also on vacation, and I’m also the Candy Blogger. Into the basket they went.
The assortment is pretty and luckily it was easy to figure out what everything was at a glance.
A beautiful little sphere, about the size of a pea. They’re a dark milk chocolate and rich peanut butter and a teensy cereal crisp center.
The effect is quite addictive. They’re barely sweet and even have little pops of salt sometimes. This is excellent movie food. I will buy these in the separate box.
These were inconsistent, but it really didn’t matter because they were also great. Some tasted like dark chocolate covered roasted hazelnuts, but every once in a while I got one that has a bit of a toasted sugar crunch to it.
I preferred the sugared ones. In the end, though it was very high quality I think I prefer the really chocolatey ones from Charles Chocolates (also made in the Bay Area and also similarly expensive).
Like the hazelnuts, these didn’t always seem to have their burnt sugar coating.
They chocolate was salty and dark and the cocoa on top of that wasn’t too powdery. The crunchy combination of all the flavors was nice and more on the savory side than sweet.
This was one time when I was a bit disappointed in the package. While it was pretty snazzy, I liked the spare design and minimalism, I actually wanted more information. The entire back of the box is blank except for a little footer at the bottom that has the Recchiuti logo & location. This would have been the perfect spot to include this little tidbit of info that’s on the website: dried Michigan tart cherries and candied wild Italian cherries drenched in dark chocolate with a light dusting of cocoa powder.
Both versions were tart, chewy and intensely cherry. They were like the best most cherry-ish Raisinets ever. (You know, if Raisinets were made with good chocolate.) Not quite for me, but excellent.
I liked this opportunity to try four different products in one package ... it saved me a lot of money because now I know that I want to eat the Peanut Butter Pearls for the rest of my life - they straddle that perfect line between decadent sweet and tantalizing savory. Perfect for sharing and though completely munchable and addictive, the 6 ounce package and the size of your bank account will keep your waistline in check.
Finally, I don’t know why I have an issue with paying this much for panned chocolates. I’ve been the to Recchiuti shop quite a few times and bought chocolates there that are $55 a pound ... why should I take issue with a variety mix for only $32 a pound? Is it because each one isn’t handcrafted like a truffle is? I don’t know ... but I hope I can get over it because it is good stuff. It might be because I’ve had excellent stuff at half the price (or even smaller fractions of the price) ... but good is good.
Thursday, August 13, 2009
Last year I made a trip up interstate 101 from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Yes, it’s actually longer than taking I5, but I thought it would be interesting to stop at a few candy shops along the way. One that I was interested in was Sweet Earth Chocolate at about the halfway point of San Luis Obispo.
At that time they were operating out of a space in Splash Cafe in SLO. A few months ago they moved into their own candy kitchen and cafe space just down the street. (More about that here.) I was eager to see the expanded offerings from this unique confectioner that uses organic and fair trade chocolate.
Their new storefront is charming and inviting ... and large! You can get coffee drinks, sit and enjoy your purchases but I was there for the chocolate to take on my vacation.
Their candy cases had a nice mix of both comfort candies (chocolate dipped pretzels, house-made jellies, chocolate covered cookies, turtles and marshmallows) and truffles. What sets them apart from many chocolatiers is their line of vegan items. (Here’s the in store menu.)
The store is more than just chocolate though, there’s also information about how fair trade directly affects the communities that participate and some other fun and unique gifts.
Bakers will also enjoy access to fair trade baking chips & cocoa. For those in a hurry who don’t want to select their own box, there are also packages of pre-packed candy cups, chocolate covered goodies and of course their line of chocolate bars.
I picked up quite a bit of stuff. First, I selected a few items from the “comfort candies” section for me to munch on while on vacation. This included their chocolate dipped pretzels, toffee & chocolate dipped pretzels and some turtles. Since those weren’t for review I also got a box of nine truffles.
The truffles are well priced at 1.50 each though I found them a tad on the small size but mercifully free of the “too hot for the box” styles that chocolatiers have been using lately with artificial colors & cocoa butter ink transfers.
The Espresso truffle was one of those rare modern truffles that actually looks like a truffle. The small sphere smelled woodsy and sweet. The bittersweet chocolate shell gave way to a smooth center with a good pop of espresso flavor. A little acidic but a crisp finish with a little fruity twang. There were a few fibery bits of the coffee beans though at the end.
This dark chocolate triangular piece holds a sweet if slightly grainy cream with a light touch of ginger.
I liked the texture and the woodsy flavor of the ginger. It didn’t have a warming burn, but a pleasant note of the root mixed with a not-too-sweet fondant-like cream. The dark chocolate shell was thick enough that there was no leakage and also provided a bittersweet background to the earthy flavors.
It was a good sized piece as well.
This was definitely one I was looking forward to. I love the combination of cardamom and chocolate.
The center of this truffle also had a bit of a graininess to it, I think, because of the crystallized ginger.
The cardamom was quite overwhelmed by the chocolate & ginger flavors at first, but emerged later and gave me a fresh & lingering aftertaste.
I admit that I was confused by this one. I couldn’t for the life of me remember what it was when I got home. I don’t think it did well on the trip either, something about the central coast being very humid this time of year made the outside tacky.
So when I took it out to photograph it, I was puzzled. So I bit into it and yes, the flavor did remind me a bit of a Milky Way, but I still didn’t put it together until days later when I was trying to write this up and looked at the Sweet Earth Chocolates website.
Anyway, it was sweet and milky and yes, it did have a little malty hit to it. But the outside was like the sticky, stale inside of a seafoam candy so the whole thing was a bit chewy. Not unpleasant, but not “truffle-like.” I’ll give it another go though, as I’m always game for some malt.
Sweet & slightly grassy tasting center with little bits of hazelnuts. Milky and entirely addictive.
This would make an excellent chocolate cup too, I would love a bigger bite ... or more of them. And maybe some in dark chocolate. Yes, a true winner. (I’m wondering if you can make a dark chocolate gianduia that’s vegan.)
Finally, I got two of the classic dark chocolate truffles. They come in a full cream version and a vegan version.
The Vegan Dark Chocolate truffle is cute, a small hand rolled sphere with a flurry of zigzags of chocolate for decoration. The aroma is dark and woodsy chocolate. The bite is soft and the center is smooth. It’s barely sweet and has a strong woodsy & tangy flavor that comes through ... then a note of coconut and a rather bitter & dry finish.
The dairy Dark Chocolate truffle has a similar look, with its decoration mostly parallel stripes. The center seemed just a bit softer but also a bit smoother. The tangy bite wasn’t there at all. The chocolate flavors seemed more pronounced, though the chocolate shell still participated with quite a bitter chocolate bite & dry finish.
On the whole, I find the Sweet Earth Chocolates 65% dark chocolate a bit on the astringent side. The dairy cream centers worked well with this and some of the flavors combined well to tip it more towards woodsy or berry/raisin.
What’s so refreshing about the shop & the chocolates is that they’re so approachable and fresh-tasting. I didn’t feel assaulted by political messages about fair trade and organics - for the most part the shop is about the wholesome enjoyment of freshly made chocolates ... that happen to be organic and fair trade.
If you’re in San Luis Obispo or passing through during business hours, give it a try:
Saturday, May 9, 2009
Though I wouldn’t call Los Angeles a candy city, we certainly have our share of sweet spots. I’m more likely to go to San Francisco for candy adventures than the west side, but after promising for several years I finally made it to Compartes Chocolatier to pick up some items for Candy Blog.
This wasn’t actually my first visit to the Brentwood shop, but certainly the first one in this century (I was a D-Girl in the 90s and my office was not far from there). I had to see the place since the new generation, Jonathan Grahm expanded the classic line of stuffed fruits & novelty molded chocolates with truffles & ganaches with inventive flavor combinations.
The shop is compact but has a lovely display area on the wall of the chocolates and the main counter that appears to be divided in to two areas: classic offerings and modern. (My distinctions, not theirs.) They serve gelato so there are a few tables inside and out front. (For those who follow Compartes on Twitter, I did spot Jonathan at his laptop tucked in the corner at one of the tables.)
The classic products are sold by the pound (as fruits & nuts tend to come in various sizes) while the truffles & bonbons are sold by the piece. The classics were $35 a pound and the bonbons were $2 each. I left the shop with $50 worth of chocolate in one rather large & heavy box.
The fig is glossy is and sticky. It looks like a light fig (green) like a Kalamata. I prefer black figs (Mission) mostly because they have darker flavors ... it’s like the difference between golden raisins & regular raisins. It’s very sweet at first, the figgy flavors are tangy, a little grassy from the seeds with some raspberry & floral-like green tea flavors. The dark chocolate offsets this well, especially by bringing in the creamy melt.
It’s definitely show-stopping beautiful. Best eaten fresh & quickly.
These tiny little fingers were wonderfully shiny on the peel edge. It was all peel, too, cooked in sugar syrup to a light and translucent tenderness - no trace of acrid & foamy white pith. The dark chocolate looked silken brown. Each piece was a combination of bitterness from the orange oils and dark chocolate, vibrant zest and sweet citrus & cocoa flavors. The texture was chewy & a buttery creaminess. Perfection.
Hazelnut & Orange in Dark Chocolate (not pictured)
These were simple little dark chocolate cups that could have easily been coconut haystacks. I was hoping that the combo of the chocolate & nuts with those awesome orange pieces would work ... sadly the whole thing tasted a bit “cheesy” and I couldn’t figure out why ... something about the hazelnuts lacking their nuttiness. I’ll pass on these in the future.
The ginger coins are tender and soft, a bit juicy. With citrus notes and a warm woodsy burn, the sweet candied ginger goes well with the bittersweet chocolate that has a slightly dry finish. There’s no trace of sugary grain here, it’s more of a smooth jelly texture. Beautiful to look and and expertly made.
I would buy a pound of these. Ginger is a root vegetable, right?
Mexican Hot - (skull & crossbones)
A strong mix of cayenne & black pepper notes in dark chocolate. The ganache is smooth while the dark chocolate flavors are woodsy with a slight tannin to go with the earthy pepper flavors.
Original - (blue stripes)
I try to buy these wherever I go. It’s always good to try the base for everything else. The chocolate enrobing was perfect, the little design on top was cute and easy to remember. The dark chocolate flavors were mild, the ganache was very buttery with a good smooth and quick melt.
Vanilla & Black Pepper - (stripes with dots)
I should have taken a photo of this, I didn’t realize it would be a white cream center until I bit into it far from the camera. The immediate hit was of vanilla and butter, in a cupcake sort of vibe. Then the peppercorns kicked in, giving the vanilla more of a rum & woodsy moderation. Rather sweet, but with a lingering brightness from the pepper & vanilla pods.
Jasmine Tea (pink flowers & blue lines)
The dark chocolate takes a back seat to the strong & musky floral notes of the jasmine. The tea adds a little pop of acidity to it that gives a fresh lingering feeling to this. The ganache is silky smooth and not too sweet.
Blackberry & Sage (blue & purple square mosaic)
The blackberry is a dark and jammy flavor with a light tangy touch, the sage brings it back around with an herbal splash - a bit on the strong side, so much so that I’m not sure I’d know that it was blackberry without a key. Still, a sage truffle is great.
This little ganache center was topped with some lightly candied (glazed) fennel seeds (instead of the brightly colored candy shells that most of us are familiar with). Fennel on its own has a light sweetness and anise flavor. These brought out the dark licorice and molasses notes of the chocolate. Smooth and satiny with a curious fibery crunch from the seeds.
Lavender Marshmallow in Dark Chocolate
Yes, it’s a bit jarring to see that bright lavender center. The marshmallow was moist, fluffy but dense. Sweet but not sticky, it had a good bite. The flavor was woodsy & floral - but a bit odd combined with the chocolate. The whole thing reminded me of bug spray ... though not in a bad way, just that the floral notes weren’t quite as balsam-ish as I’d hoped.
Coffee & Cacao Nib and Coffee
The ganache in this pair is flavored with real coffee, so there’s a slight grain to the otherwise silky center. The flavor was good, rich & bold. I liked the crunchy nibs but I’m not that fond of eating coffee beans when it messes up the texture of well-tempered chocolate.
Fleur de Sel Caramels
I’ve made it pretty well known that I favor “wet” caramels, that’s the chewy stuff that has a good stringy pull and long, smooth chew. These were the “short” caramel style and have a strong butter flavor. I wasn’t fond of the texture, which was a cross between fudge & caramel and the lack of toasted sugar notes.
Shichimi - (the spice dusted one) this is made of seven spices: red chili pepper, roasted orange peel, yellow and black sesame seeds, Japanese pepper, seaweed, and ginger. The spices here angle towards the toasted sesame and chili peppers. I didn’t get much citrus out of it. The whole thing kind of left my lips burning, but the chocolate & fatty ganache balanced it well. The only issue here was that the spices kind of got out of their cup and I caught a few of these flavors in the other chocolates I ate.
Smoked Salt - (square with black crystals on top) delicate and light chocolate ganache with an earthy & metallic aftertaste to the salt. I’m beginning to think that I don’t care for smoked salts. Often they remind me of a campground in the morning, that lingering scent of a fire gone out mixed with damp sleeping bags from the morning dew & coffee made in an aluminum pot.
Cashew Fruit - (gold sphere) - this wasn’t a ganache but a bit of gooey cream center, kind of like a runny creme brulee. The flavor was a bit like green bananas. Smooth, a touch of grassy brightness and sweet milk.
I loved the classic items. I’d go back and buy the orange peels (some of the best I’ve ever had), figs (though I’d like to have some candied figs too) and ginger medallions in a heartbeat. I thought the price was really competitive and fair ($30 when sold in full pound boxes) for a line that is so labor intensive and requires top quality ingredients.
The truffles & bonbons were good and I enjoyed some of the flavor combos and of course the plain one. The price was a bit higher than I’m willing to do for such small items unless they’re particularly unique. The great option though is that it’s a fun shop to visit, they’re very knowledgeable about their products (they’re made right there, after all). They also have a line of African-themed bonbons called Chocolate for a Cause that are made with African-sourced flavors (mango, coconut, cardamom, plantain, grains of paradise, red rooibus tea). They’re a fundraiser for Relief International and their projects in Darfur and include a bead bracelet. After getting emails about these for year and pretty much going there to pick up a box ... they were sold out.
If I’m in the area, I will definitely visit again. The bonbons change constantly as new produce comes into season & Jonathan experiments with new combinations so I give them a 7 out of 10. I’ll probably continue to taste the bonbons but will go home with the fruits/ginger so they get a 9 out of 10.
Compartes Brentwood Boutique Chocolate Lounge
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Recently Kohler Chocolates has started selling online and appearing at trade shows to promote their products nationwide. (Which often means an appearance in Oprah Magazine. I’ve never read Oprah’s publications and don’t know much about her taste in candy and don’t usually follow recommendations of talk show hosts.)
Last year I got a hold of one of their bars via All Candy Expo, but it was a cherry one, so I didn’t think that’d be a good introduction so I waited. This year, just a few days before Valentine’s Day I got a nice selection of their boxed chocolates: Garden Ganache Truffles and Dark Mountain Toffees. They also make Terrapins (like Chocolate Turtles), chocolate bars, trail mix and a variety of barks.
The Garden Ganache Truffles are stunning. The box is a large tray with huge dome-molded truffles in bright colors. It’s presented with a clear top for maximum impact. It’s one of the rare instances where the product looks exactly, if not better, than the photos on the website.
The website is a bit vague, however, on the array in their Garden Ganache. The ten piece set features flavors inspired by spices, tea, coffee, nuts and fruits. The package is also maddeningly vague on the ingredients. It mentions the fillings, I believe, but none of them mention the actual chocolate ingredients.
Asian Spice (Burnt Orange) - this was the first piece I tried because it smelled the strongest out of the box. The aroma of star anise was quite overwhelming, so I thought in order to preserve the flavors of the rest, it had to go.
It’s a wonderfully solid truffle, about 1.5” across and wonderfully tempered. The shell isn’t that thick, but has a nice snap and with all the truffles there was no sign of cracking or leaking.
Though this was the first truffle I tried, I didn’t realize at the time that the center was different from the rest. It was thick and almost fudgy or like a dense brownie. Not quite grainy, it was a bit crystalline when I bit into it, but it melted quickly. The five spice was very pronounced, with the licoricey anise and fennel elements at the forefront. There was only a slight hint of cinnamon and cloves to it, and of course the chocolate flavors of smoke, cedar and coffee.
Creme Fraiche (White) - this was a wonderfully light truffle that allowed the flavors of the chocolate to come through. The ganache was very creamy and had only the slightest dairy tang to it.
This was quite vivid. The center has a nice jammy raspberry component - no seeds but a good authentic berry profile with a slight tangy note and strong florals.
Passion Fruit (Light Orange) - this was one of the few white chocolate centers. It had a wonderful musky/herbal scent that reminded me of mango skins. The nice thing about passion fruit candies is that they always seem easier to eat than actual passion fruits.
This was a good mix of sweet and tangy with some strong zesty notes with just a touch of milk. I was really surprised by this, I’m not ordinarily a fan of tropical fruits mixed with chocolate.
Pear (Light Green) - this one seemed to be more themed like a pear liqueur than a pear puree. The center is a chocolate ganache with fragrant & fresh touch of pear flavor, it’s almost fresh fig meets banana.
Chai Tea (Green) - the spice flavors here were strong. It tasted mostly of gingerbread, the dark chocolate flavors subbed for the molasses notes and ginger with a touch of cinnamon & nutmeg dominated.
Earl Grey (Blue) - I’m definitely a bergamot fan. This didn’t disappoint. The chocolate is strong and the dark balsam zest notes blend well with it. The black tea flavors of Earl Grey are kind of missing, but I didn’t really expect them to make a strong showing (as they didn’t appear at all in the chai either).
The coconut flavor was deep and round, though it still had some dark rum notes to it, but it didn’t verge into Pina Colada territory.
Macadamia (Tan) - this was the other white centered piece. It’s also the only one with actual nuts in it. Macadamias remind me a bit of coconut, with its strong oily flavor and crispy crunch, this was rather similar to the coconut in that respect. The nuts were fresh and had a bit of a green banana flavor to them as well. Not too sweet, it was a nice change from the darker and spicier varieties.
Hazelnut Coffee (Brown) - this has a pleasant hazelnut liqueur aroma. The center was just bit firmer than the others, but quite silky once it melted. There is more than a touch of espresso flavors giving this a much better profile than that sometimes artificial quality that hazelnut flavoring can do. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get any real gianduia elements here (but that’ll be later with the toffees).
Here they’ve taken tiny chunks of toffee (most look like little cubes) and molded them with a touch of dark chocolate at the base. They call them Dark Mountain Toffee and they come in six varieties. Like the Garden Ganache, they’re boxed with a clear top to highlight the actual candies. They were a little puzzle to figure out which was which (and I successfully avoided the walnut one).
Tiny little cubes of perfectly toasted sugar & butter toffee is mixed with chopped hazelnuts and candied orange peel and then drenched in dark chocolate with a teensy little snow cap of white chocolate.
While this sound like a riot of flavors, everyone has their part to play and it becomes more like a harmony. The dark and bass tones of the of the toffee and dark chocolate set the stage. Then the high citrus zest of the orange peel comes in followed by the spirited twinkle of the hazelnut crunch.
Cocoa Nibs was a very simple treat. The addition of the buttery crunch of cacao to the sweet toffee gave the whole thing a less-sweet taste, though I didn’t really get a lot of flavor from the nibs themselves because the chocolate is pretty strong as it is. If there was one that could be labeled the “plain” variety, this would be it ... not that there’s anything wrong with just having two elements: toffee & dark chocolate.
Mint - ordinarily I wouldn’t think that toffee and mint would go together. This has dried mint leaves though, which adds a more “tea-like” flavor to it and less like the potent mint-oil blast that many candies employ. While I liked the leafy tannins, the dark burnt sugar flavors and the rich buttery chocolate, the actual leaves in there bugged me a little bit. Not enough that I didn’t finish it, mind you.
Coconut had a very strong tropical taste to it, even though there didn’t seem to be more than a dusting of coconut flakes on the white chocolate drizzle there were more flakes inside. I would have preferred a more toasted coconut vibe to it, as I think that would go better with the darkness of all the other flavors, I wouldn’t kick this out of my cabana.
Hazelnut was radically different than all the rest. Mixed into the tumble of toffee cubes was some soft and buttery gianduia. The hazelnut & chocolate paste was nicely highlighted by the toasted butter flavors and then the extra cocoa buttery chocolate. The bite on this one was much softer, almost like a granola instead of a cluster. (Which makes me wonder if anyone has made a hazelnut paste granola before ... as if granola isn’t fatty enough.)
I’m really impressed with the presentation, the unique styling of the candy that highlights the combinations and the bright flavors.
For folks who are lamenting the loss of Joseph Schmidt (news here), these are definitely truffles that highlight the silky quality of chocolate without being overly sweet or flavored and are generous pieces. (Though they’re also more expensive and can only be ordered online or purchased in a scant few shops in Wisconsin.) The array of Garden Ganache I tried retails for $24.95 for 7 ounces (making them about $57 a pound) . The Dark Mountain Toffees are also quite impressive, though I’d prefer being able to just order the Orange Hazelnut one by the box. The pieces aren’t quite as weighty as the truffles (and probably require quite a bit of handwork) - the box of six retails for only $9.95.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.