Owned by a couple for 30+ years, this beloved shop focuses on both chocolates and pastries. The confectionery menu features a plethora of truffles, fondants, and marzipans, as well as specialty treats such as marzipan critters, florentines, and meringue balls. Pâtisseries also make for good eye candy, from chocolate cakes to fruit tartelettes and French macarons.
Jacques Torres’ products are excellent, and there is not much to detract for that. A correspondent recommended the Alizé Heart of Passion, but the nut pieces are my favorites, with the Heart and other fruit pieces second. Most of the nut pieces, such as the Heavenly Hazelnut, had the fine crunchy texture of a praliné. The Cinnamon Praline was also a great nut piece, with hazelnuts. The European Peanut Butter had sort of an airy taste to the peanut butter. The Heart had a nice pop to the passion fruit flavor enveloped by chocolate flavor. The Creamy Raspberry, Fresh Squeezed Lemon, and Love Bug were also excellent fruit pieces.
The Swiss came up with the idea to add cocoa butter and the method to do it which gave chocolate a much nicer texture. The Belgians invented the praline, the chocolate truffles and many different exotic fillings. There are several differences between Swiss and Belgian chocolates. The beans for Belgian chocolate come mainly from Africa. The Swiss acquire them from both Africa and Latin America. Texture, storage and the use of milk in chocolate are other distinctive features of these great chocolates. The Swiss chocolate has usually a smoother texture and would rather avoid using artificial emulsifiers. Swiss tend to produce milk chocolate, and in general they contain more sugar and less cocoa than Belgian chocolates, which are often dark. Belgian chocolatiers have a competitive advantage when it comes to pralines.
At her beautiful Atlanta boutique, owner Kristen Hard refuses to use anything but dark chocolate in her amazing bean-to-bar chocolates and playful desserts, such as a chocolate faux salami flecked with biscotti. To win over milk chocolate lovers, she says she “slowly ratcheted up the cacao percentages, and no one noticed.” Many chocolate artisans spend years training with masters, but Hard is almost completely self-taught. “It used to make me feel insecure,” she says. “But it’s also why I’m unique.” She now spends six weeks abroad each year sourcing beans directly from farmers, creating outstanding bars like one with Venezuelan cacao and raw sugar. cacaoatlanta.com
I visited Melt while in transit through London and was only able to sample a few pieces. My favorite was the Crispy Croquant, a hazelnut feuillantine with superb texture, excellent hazelnut flavor, and a nice scent. The Raspberry and Mint marvelously combined those flavors with a soft raspberry ganache and crystallized mint leaves in a white chocolate shell. The Sea Salted Praline and Gianduja Dome were also very good. The Sea Salted Caramel trailed a bit behind. It lost points for falling apart when bitten into and a strong note in the caramel that did not quite harmonize with the rest of the piece for me.
My wife and I purchased a Chocolate of the Month Club for her Grandmother who lived in another state. It was a great gift, easy and convenient for us, and as a chocolate lover, she was thrilled. The best part was that every month, when she would receive her next shipment, she would call us and tell us all about it, and it gave us a chance to talk, catch up on her life, and stay connected. We hadn't anticipated the extra benefit of choosing that gift, but we truly appreciated it.
The Peanut Crunch started with a good light crunch and revealed distinct but light toasted peanut flavor. That was my favorite, and I also enjoyed the Apricot Cream, Marshmallow Cream, and Tart Cherry. I would prefer stronger chocolate flavors in Anette’s chocolates. The Dansk Bar sounded promising with “chocolate truffle layered over marzipan and vanilla caramel,” but I was disappointed. The flavors were not brought out well, and the texture was firmer than I expected. I also found the Triple Berry Cream too sweet to enjoy the fruit and chocolate flavors, so I recommend you select your favorite pieces from the case if you are in the store.
I enjoy finding artisan chocolatiers when I travel. Chocolat Abeille (French for bee) is a gem in downtown Omaha. Their general assortment includes a variety of beautiful pieces including fruit, tea, and other flavors. Among these, the Caramel Ganache presented its chocolate flavor nicely, while others tended to be stronger in their fruit or other flavors. They are made in small batches and may sell quickly; the pieces that were available varied slightly over several visits in the course of a week. My favorite was a larger special piece (priced to match), the Hazelnut Banana Crisp, with a nice balance between its banana, hazelnut, and chocolate flavors.
American consumers are expected to spend an astonishing $1.8 billion-plus on candy for the holiday this year, and about 75% of that will be on chocolate. Mass-market confectioners like Russell Stover, in business since 1923, will account for most of the sales. (The company, which also owns the Whitman’s brand, is the largest boxed-candy manufacturer in America.) Most smaller chocolate shops prepare special Valentine’s Day assortments and/or other chocolate-related gifts, though, and these tend to offer greater variety and utilize better-quality chocolate.
Elk Candy Company makes fine chocolate and marzipan. I do not think marzipan is very interesting when it is plain or merely coated in chocolate, so it is nice to find a chocolatier that has developed their marzipan further, as Elk Candy Company has done with their flavored marzipan rolls. I like marzipan this way. Elk sells it in slices. Flavors include pistachio, truffle, hazelnut, and orange.
When we heard she was debuting Wild Ophelia, an American-inspired “sister” line to Vosges, we were excited to try it for ourselves. Intended as an “American road trip through chocolate,” Wild Ophelia aims to connect the American farmers’ movement with chocolate. The 41 percent cacao milk chocolate bars feature all-natural ingredients such as New Mexican pecans, California almonds and Michigan cherries sourced directly from small farms across the USA. Markoff first gained fame with offbeat creations like the Mo’s Bacon Bar, so it’s no surprise that Wild Ophelia features unexpected flavors such as BBQ Potato Chips, Beef Jerky and Peanut Butter & Banana.
The selection at Chocolate is vast, everything from a simple chocolate-dipped fortune cookie for less than a dollar, to a 200+ piece Valentine's assortment of gluten-free chocolates for over $300. We did notice that none of their categories included two of the most popular “candy holidays”, Halloween and Christmas, but Easter chocolates are sold year-round.