In 1948, Michel Cluizel took over his family's pastry business in Normandy, France, where travelers still flock to learn the secrets of chocolate-making at his "Chocolatrium." In 2012, Cluizel opened a second Chocolatrium; in West Berlin, New Jersey. (The only other American outlet is their Manhattan storefront.) Visitors to the European and American Chocolatriums (or is that Chocolatria?) are walked through the chocolate creation process and the history of the Cluizel brand, offered a sneak peek into the Cluizel workshop, then feast on fanciful bonbons like caramel mushrooms, "cappuccinos" filled with coffee ganache and macarolats — macaroons with different flavored coatings and fillings.
We saved the biggest for last. Levain’s gourmet cookies push the limits of the definition of cookie. They have been described as “Molten Cookie Dough” for their barely baked middles that ooze with warm, sweet goodness. Weighing in at 6 ounces each they are the size of generous muffin tops. Each flavor is rich, buttery, super-decadent. We had the fun of standing in line to enter the teeny tiny New York store to order one of each flavor—Chocolate Chip Walnut, Oatmeal Raisin, Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip and Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip. I was lucky to have a posse of eager tasters with me. The edges have a slightly crisp cookie texture that gives way to an interior of cookie/cake-y crumb. The cookie’s center is a barely baked oooey goooey celebration of sweet. This is not a cookie for the faint of heart.
Something was also lost in presentation. The uniformity of the pieces made for a bland appearance. An open box showed an array of blocks. The nearly identical undecorated chocolates lacked the attractiveness of of other chocolatiers’ colorful pieces with diverse shapes and decorations. And, while creative effort has clearly gone into zChocolat’s collection, I found the pieces pleasant but not compelling.
The milk chocolate orange truffle is also excellent, but I am not as fond of the others. I had to work to taste the hazelnut in the milk chocolate hazelnut, and the chocolate flavors did not seem strong to me in the milk chocolate, dark chocolate, or darkest dark chocolate. I wonder if the cream they are using is a little unusual. (The web site gives a hint: In addition to heavy cream, the truffles contain butter and butterfat.)
This line of chocolates began with an international love affair. After debuting his winning pralines at the World Fair in Brussels in 1910, Greek-American Leonidas Kestekides fell in love with a local Belgian girl and opened a tea room in Ghent. After his pralines again won gold at the Ghent World Fair in 1913, Leonidas began selling chocolates from his storefront "guillotine window," then expanded his operation to tea houses in Brussels and Blankenberge. Today Leonidas sells chocolates at over 1,500 storefronts worldwide, but the prolific brand's humble beginnings are never too far away — "democracy in chocolate" is their motto, meaning that the good stuff isn't only reserved for the rich. Purists will appreciate his Tablette Noir bar, which features 70 per cent cocoa.
All the while, I’d been looking at the red heart-shaped objects that were floating in the two big jars. I kept thinking about the Aztecs. At last I asked Alessio what they were. “Cacao pods,” he said. “In formaldehyde so they do not dry up.” The one off in a corner behind the door was a unique Venezuelan variety called Porcelana. The other, placed on a low table next to all the trays of chocolate, gleamed and glistened like a trophy. That one was Venezuelan too, Alessio said with a smile. It came from Chuao.
This box is an excellent choice for anyone who enjoys a variety of chocolate textures or simply as a perfect addition to your next party. It features milk, semisweet, bittersweet and dark chocolate pieces, meaning there is something for everyone and it’s an ideal one-stop chocolate shop for wine pairing. Everything is gluten-free and made from the highest quality artisan cocoa. The chocolates feature both a presentation and price point that really push this product over the edge and help to make it some of the best gourmet chocolate out there.
Using natural ingredients like cream from a herd in central Illinois and local wildflower honey, this sweet shop produces hand-dipped truffles, soft honey-caramels and pillowy marshmallows with seasonal or year-round flavors. Inventive flavors include a goat cheese walnut truffle, a banana bourbon caramel, and champagne marshmallow. The shop’s European-style drinking hot chocolates mixes are made with ground chocolate, in offering a cup of full of “wow.” Order one to sip there—Salted Caramel and Mexican, Chai Tea or Hazelnut—and then pick up a canister to go.
Who would think we would be singing the praises of Canadian chocolate? Soma, which began in 2003, describes itself as a place to "eat, drink, and worship chocolate". Visitors can experience their small-batch chocolate-making up close at the micro-factory on the Toronto store's premises. Their menu boasts an impressive display of mind-blowing creativity, like "Sparky" Gianduja pralines laced with Pop Rocks, Gooderham Worts Whiskey truffles and the 8-Year Aged Balsamic Vinegar truffles. Bars are available in rectangle or circle form — Soma's Chocolate Possible Worlds bars come as 200-gram oversized disks, such as the "Ruby Red" bar topped with wild cherries, cranberries, barberries and dusted with Sumac powder. O Canada!
The makers were recently crowned the best of the best at the International Chocolate Awards, the biggest and most comprehensive global competition in the world. Soma Chocolatemaker, based in Toronto, was named best chocolate maker in the world for its dark milk chocolate bar made with cocoa beans from Guasare, Venezuela. Omnom Chocolate from Reykjavik, Iceland, took parallel honors for its milk chocolate bar featuring Icelandic milk powder and cocoa from Nicaragua.
We cut the chocolates into quarters so that more than one person could taste all of the offerings while also trying to avoid palate fatigue. While this may sound like a silly problem, it can be quite frustrating when your taste buds become overstimulated mid-tasting and fail you. To try to limit this, Saltines and club soda were set out to help tasters pace themselves.
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