The zChocolat collection of chocolates combine with Valencia almonds, Piedmont hazelnuts, quality French butter and cream in the ganaches are world renowned. These are not your typical box of chocolates as you can expect caramels, pralines, Chocamandine, Orangettes, Pistachio-almond marzipan sprinkled with pieces of caramelized pistachios, passion fruit caramel, Venezuelan dark chocolate ganache, Hazelnut praline infused with coffee ganache, gifts catered to Valentine's Day with heart shaped chocolate and more. zChocolat is also unique in that it's made in the purest form, low in sugar, with no preservatives, no coloring, all natural ingredients, no alcohol and 100% pure cocoa butter.
Let’s be honest, all chocolate is good, but the true artisans make chocolate that transcends good---taking us into the realm of speechless. The chocolates featured in this story were tasted, debated over, and tasted again. If they delivered on impact, richness and the element of surprise, they made the cut. One final note, almost every chocolatier made a spicy chocolate offering—and only one, Chuao, pulled it off in a delicate, surprising (not punishing) way. Heat in a chocolate truffle can border on cruel sometimes. It was also nice to see that bacon and chocolate have parted ways--as we did not receive any pork-inspired truffles this year. Otherwise, it was a very nice showing. Happy indulging.
I recommend Bridgewater’s assorted chocolates, including the toffees, which you can buy separately. However, their marzipan, truffles, and bars do not impress me the same way, although nothing is particularly wrong with them. The truffles had an airy mousse-like filling. The orange truffle was pleasant, but the hazelnut and raspberry were distant in those truffles. The bars with bits of various fruits, nuts, or other items had a more appealing chocolate flavor than most chocolatiers’ bars. The fruits added a bit to the flavor but were a minority portion. The marzipan was standard.
There may be bars with frillier packaging and more envelope-pushing additions, but when it comes to pure, classic chocolate, Bonnat can lay claim to the crown. This family company began in 1884 and was beloved by Jackie Kennedy Onassis who gave bars to White House guests during the holidays. The Juliana bars are made from specially-grown Brazilian cacao beans, fermented, then dried in the sun slowly, over seven days. Back in France, the beans are painstakingly refined and tempered over five days. It’s an intricate process but, as Stephane Bonnat says, “In the Alps, we have time.”
The chocolatier, William Dean Brown, plays with a variety of flavors in the assortment. The pieces included Cappuccino, Apple Pie, Hazelnut, Grapefruit and Tarragon, Strawberry Caramel, and more. I regard the Apple Pie highly for execution of its theme; it contained an apple layer and a crumb layer that were faithful to the theme, but the chocolate had a minor role in that piece. Indeed, the amount of chocolate flavor in the assortment varied and was not always the star.
Those were my favorites of the Bean to Truffle Collection. They are novel enough that I am pleased to have tried them once, but the exceptional price prevents me from recommending the collection. The other pieces in my box were well done but not highlights for me. The Pistachio Marzipan did not present the pistachio or marzipan flavors well, the Nougat Torrone does not feature much chocolate flavor, and the Gianduja seemed very slightly bitter.
Sometimes, the best chocolate shops around the country have been in business for generations, descended from old-style candy-making facilities. Sometimes they’re no more than a few years old, started by artisanal chocolatiers, some with formal training and others with little more than a love for chocolate and a desire to learn. Sometimes they’re even local branches of large chains.
Connecticut is apparently so well known for its chocolate shops that it has a bona fide tour route for sweet confections called the Connecticut Chocolate Trail. So how does Bridgewater Chocolate in West Hartford stand apart from the crowd? Its stunning packaging, for one. But the chocolate tortels, truffles and dark chocolate-covered cherries on a milk chocolate heart are luxurious and rich.