The Pecan Penuche also plays on local products, Georgia pecans. Its flavor makes nice use of pecans but is a little sweeter than I would like. Two pieces make excellent use of spices. The Aztec has a deep chocolate flavor, strong enough to stand up to the blend of six chilies and spices that kick in after a few seconds. In the Cayenne Passion Fruit, the cayenne and passion fruit play nicely with and against each other and with the chocolate. I often find that “hot” spices detract from chocolate, but Hard has blended these well.
Pastry chef Christopher Elbow worked at the American Restaurant in Kansas City, Missouri, until the demand for his chocolate petits fours convinced him to launch his own candy business in 2003. His beautiful hand-painted chocolates come in creative flavors like bananas Foster and caramel apple. Elbow also makes fantastic chocolate bars, including the favorite among F&W editors, No. 6 Dark Rocks, made with dark chocolate and popping candy. elbowchocolates.com
The gourmet cookies from San Francisco’s Salty Sweet Bakery are for the cookie-loving kid in you with tastes that are all grown up. You’ll know it from your first bite as the cookie flavors reveal themselves like a chorus line of CanCan dancers on your tongue that finishes with the ephemeral taste of real vanilla and the final flirty curtain call of salt. These sweet but not too sweet cookies tend toward the soft-baked to chewy spectrum. Each are topped with a sprinkle of delicate sea salt flakes.
Tessa Halstead grew up in the chocolate business: Her father ran a chocolate shop in Dallas a generation ago. Today in Austin, she’s built Chocolaterie Tessa into a community hub. Halstead and her crew produce chocolates on a larger scale than most, and offer single-origin bonbons in addition to assorted flavors that change seasonally. The always-in-season salted caramel is a favorite, but customers also come for the strawberry basil in the summertime and autumn’s cinnamon spice. Nationwide shipping is available. 7425 Burnet Road, Austin, TX
Since 1997, this confectionery inside the Ferry Building on the Embarcadero has been putting artistic touches on their small batch yet exquisite chocolates, caramels, bars, sauces, fruit/nut mixes, and truffles. Their top-selling Fleur de Sel Caramels are covered in dark chocolate with a well-blended balance of salt and sweetness. For Valentine’s Day, their Hearts in Motion box provides a whole lot of lovin’—burnt caramel truffles embellished with Picasso-esque images. Grand Amour Box holds three layers of popular truffles like Ginger Heart, Piedmont Hazelnut and Force Noir.
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.