The next time you're sharing chocolate, impress your friends with your knowledge of "conching." Before Sprüngli & Son came onto the scene in 1845, chocolate was mainly enjoyed as a drink. The Swiss pioneers paved the way for future confectioners by crafting some of the world's first chocolate candies. Soon after, the company partnered with Swiss confectioner Rodolphe Lindt, the inventor of the conching method, which is still the cornerstone of chocolate-making today. This hours-long churning process incorporates cocoa butter into the cocoa mass, resulting in smooth "melting chocolate" that's easy to mold. Today, Lindt & Sprüngli offers an overwhelming chocolate bar menu. Our favorites include their Excellence 85 per cent Cocoa Bar and Excellence Intense Orange Bar. We used to have to import Lindt bars from Europe, but these days they are ubiquitous, sold at supermarkets and chain stores.
You can’t really make a bad choice at Boise’s The Chocolat Bar. Since 2004, this shop has been using local and organic products to allow the lusciousness of chocolate shine through. The top highlight at this shop is the Nipples of Venus truffle, which features dark chocolate ganache topped with white chocolate and Madagascar vanilla with a tiny dot of white chocolate on top. The barks are also worth traveling to Idaho for, with unique combinations like red chili pistachio and lemon lavender almond.
At 255 years old, this candy shop on Rue du Faubourg-Montmatre is the oldest in Paris, and luck for everyone who visits, it’s precious façade is historically landmarked and it’s interior lovingly preserved. On the shelves at À La Mère de Famille sit sweets and treats of all kinds, including bars of 100 percent pure origin Venezuelan cocoa. Surprisingly melty and vibrantly aromatic, the plain chocolate is smooth, while the inclusion bars are beautifully strewn by hand with whole hazelnuts, almonds, and tidy little chunks of candied ginger.
John Scharffenberger, already a big name in the wine world, decided in 1997 to try his hand at artisanal chocolate-making. Using a vintage German melangeur — a machine that slowly grinds cacao beans into a chocolate liquor — and personally sampling beans from more than 150 international cacao farms, he and partner Robert Steinberg sought to bring traditional European chocolate craftsmanship to the States, proudly emphasizing cacao content on the bars' labels — a first for American chocolatiers. The San Francisco team also became the first American bean-to-bar manufacturer in 50 years. Now a member of the Hershey family, Scharffen Berger produces a modest but exquisite selection of bars and tasting squares sold at stores like Whole Foods including a crunchy Milk Chocolate Bar with Sea Salted Almonds.
Candinas Chocolatier is a small manufacturer run by Markus Candinas. His truffle assortment includes two very nice nut pieces, with a very fine crunchy texture and good flavors. The truffles have thin shells and medium-strength flavors. Another piece was sweet and fruity, quite appealing. However, without a chart, you do not know what to expect. The web site also offers no selection of pieces. The marzipan piece I liked seems to be gone. Much of the assortment is plain or mild ganaches or other “just chocolate” pieces that do not interest me. Given that, though, the milk chocolate truffle was spot on, and the flavors are nice.
Ginger Elizabeth Hahn has produced molded and flavored chocolates since 2007. Today, her shop specializes in bonbons in California-inspired flavors like Eureka lemon, raspberry rose geranium, brown butter, buttermilk lime, and olive oil sea salt. Macarons, chocolate bars, and ice cream are also on offer, though only the chocolates ship coast-to-coast. Orders are shipped the day after they’re received, with the exception of Thursday through Saturday orders, which ship the following Monday. 1801 L St. Suite 60, Sacramento, CA
Because Jacques Torres is as serious about technique as he is about fun, it’s possible to walk out of one of his eight New York City stores without a pure, single origin bar of dark chocolate and a bag full of chocolate-covered Cheerios (the idea for which he had when a mother quieted her wailing baby with a handful of the cereal.) His 80 percent Porcelana cocoa bars are unusually sweet and silky for chocolate with such a high cocoa content, but Torres says the qualities of these rare, special beans allow him to ratchet up the cocoa without adding more sugar.
If you get a huge box of chocolates and can’t finish them in two weeks, you can store them in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. After that, the flavors of the creams and ganaches can turn stale. When storing chocolates in the refrigerator, take the same steps you would when refrigerating chocolate bars. Be sure to wrap the box very well in plastic wrap, and seal in a zip-top plastic bag. Prior to eating, let the chocolates come to room temperature before unwrapping to avoid any condensation.