Artful Gourmet Chocolate
CAPSULE REPORT: No one who sets eyes on a box of Coco-luxe can fail to be attracted—nay, can fail to want to snatch a piece. This young company has succeeded in creating a line that looks like nothing else in Chocolatedom: a marriage of the gourmet chocolate movement with 1970s Pop Art. While younger folks will want a box because the chocolates look so cool, they are definitely connoisseur-level fare.
If you’re like us, there are “dream sweets” that make you beg for more, break diet oaths, sneak and otherwise behave unlike your generally circumspect and ethical self. Maybe it’s a towering chunk of richly-frosted devil’s food cake or a double malted milkshake. Perhaps you’d go postal without those white chocolate ganache truffles, enrobed in bittersweet chocolate. Whatever your sweet tooth craves, there’s a chocolatier, patissier or glacier who answers specifically to you.
Stephanie Marcon, founder of Coco-luxe Confections, answers to clever, stylish people who seek a chocolate experience that is gourmet, fun, and a bit transcendental. These bonbons are in nostalgic flavors, representing a wide range of desserts and treats that every sweets lover has enjoyed at one time in his or her life. Whether it’s angel food cake or a banana split, a gingerbread man or a cup of chai to go with it, Marcon’s chocolates have personality: Each square bears a jaunty illustration of the flavor. It takes but an instant for the newcomer to figure out that that piece with an espresso pot is espresso-flavor, the angel on white chocolate is angel food cake, and the malted milk is...malt! But fun aside, not once do the chocolates veer from the standards of high quality. This is the best of both worlds.
Marcon, like Chocolat Moderne’s Joan Coukos and Kee’s Chocolates’ Kee Ling Tong, is another executive who left Corporate America for the “dark arts” (i.e., making artisan chocolate). Marcon traveled extensively during her 10 years of employment after earning an M.B.A. and was charmed and inspired by chocolatiers she frequented in Paris. She returned to school to earn a culinary degree from the Culinary Institute of America. Prior to launching the innovative Coco-luxe, she worked in the kitchen of San Francisco chocolatier Michael Recchiuti. As an M.B.A., she knew that the first thing a new business needs to get noticed is a unique selling proposition—something truly differentiated that no one else is producing, something that is distinctively one’s own brand. With Coco-luxe, she has joined chocolate to iconic graphics in a nouveau Pop Art fashion. It’s fresh, it’s fun and if anyone else is doing anything remotely like it, we haven’t seen (or tasted) it.
Coco-luxe offers an assortment of boxed chocolates, nine pieces organized according to theme: milk chocolate, dark chocolate, assorted, peanut butter and “afternoon chocolates,” a charming concept you’ll read about in a moment.
Pink Box: The “Dessert” Collection
Treat yourself to Coco-luxe’s “dessert chocolates”: Three white chocolate pieces, three milk and three dark, each a different flavor.
After Dinner Mint Bonbon. If you like strong mint and dark chocolate, you’ll like this piece. It was just a little too strong for us, but next time we have one we’ll follow the advice of its name and eat it after dinner.
Angel Food Bonbon. Light in flavor, just like the cake, this white chocolate ganache is enhanced with vanilla. Despite the light flavor, it’s probably the thickest on the tongue, and actually tastes richer than it should.
Banana Split Bonbon. A bit light on the banana flavor and almost negligible cherry, the milk chocolate did most of the speaking here. It’s nice regardless, but there are brighter highlights in the box.
Devil’s Food Bonbon. This is a basic dark chocolate ganache and would appeal mainly to the purists. It’s definitely good and worth the calories, but unlike the passion conjured by the thought of devil’s food cake, wasn’t one of our favorites.
Double Cherry Bonbon. Talk about a flavor explosion! The cherry and dark chocolate seem to fight for dominance here—and we like the battle. A very forceful and perky piece that refuses to be ignored.
Dreamy Orange Bonbon. This white chocolate and orange piece tastes so similar to an orange Creamsicle, we were tempted to freeze it!
German Chocolate Bonbon. The coconut accented the milk chocolate quite nicely. The toasted pecans are too underplayed—we didn’t know they were included in the piece until after reading the description.
Gingerbread Bonbon. The white chocolate tends to dominate, but the spices and molasses can be easily detected underneath. These are usually dominant flavors, but they have been tamed masterfully here. We liked this balance, and would certainly eat an entire box.
Malted Milk Bonbon. A definite highlight of the collection, this perhaps is closest in flavor to its corresponding dessert. Why we, a dark chocolate fanatic, liked a milk chocolate piece this much is still a mystery—but we’ll leave the question unanswered.
Green Box: “Afternoon Collection” of “Drinkable” Chocolates
If you’d rather have a pick-me-up instead of dessert, Chai Tea and Green Tea and Mocha fill up this box: three pieces of each flavor. We thought this collection was more enjoyable than the Pink Box, mainly because we believe that Coco-luxe has captured the essence of each flavor more clearly. Arguably, it’s easier to infuse chai, green tea and coffee into ganache rather than to capture the essence of a banana split or devil’s food cake.
Chai Tea Bonbon. Dark chocolate pairs smoothly with chai spices and creates a piece that most chocolatiers usually deliver in milk format (i.e., a milk chocolate bonbon with chai ganache). This is a smart move by Coco-luxe: Chai spice tastes more sophisticated with the dark chocolate, and the milk chocolate is put to much better use with a different pairing, Mocha.
Green Tea Bonbon. White chocolate is an outstanding match for the subtler green tea. Here, the tea was used to tint the white couverture chocolate a lovely shade of green. Milk or cream doesn’t taste particularly good in a cup of green tea, but here it is resplendent—rich and creamy.
Mocha Bonbon. Coffee and milk chocolate: Who can argue with this combination? Coco-luxe does not disappoint in this satisfying piece. Milk chocolate is normally mild, but here it has been fortified with coffee to deliver a wallop.
We’d be the first in line if Coco-luxe were to expand this concept and develop more “drinkable” chocolates.
Yellow Box: PB Bite, Peanut Butter Delight
The PB Bite is the only piece you’ll find in a Yellow Box, but after you taste your first one you’ll discover that the remaining eight are far too few. Indeed, this is where Coco-luxe truly shines. In terms of flavor, think of an ultra-high-end Reese’s peanut butter cup topped with roasted and salted peanuts to provide not only textural contrast, but bursts of nutty flavor. The result is as you would imagine: astonishing. PB Bites aren’t loaded with sugar either, which is what confections of this persuasion tend to be. Thank you, Coco-luxe for making these!
There are other “colored” boxes of nine pieces that slice and dice the flavors in different ways—usually three pieces each of three different flavors.
A six-ounce bag of these nuts is certainly not enough once you experience the first taste. Add these to the list of sweets you’d beg for and sneak—because the nuts are powerful and crunchy and the chocolate enrobing with a mild dusting of cocoa powder is just enough contrast to make them a pardonable misdemeanor. The overall flavor sensation is just that: a sensation.
Block Party Almonds features cinnamon as the accenting flavor, while County Fair Peanuts puts the spotlight on cayenne for a subtle heat and additional savory contrast. The nuts are roasted, then candied with their respective flavoring, and finally receive their chocolate coatings and dusting of cocoa powder. The winner of these two is, hands, down the Peanuts—they’re just too irresistible and easy to eat. So when ordering these items, you may want to add an extra box or two to your final order. If not, you’ll regret it.
Coco-luxe’s chocolate bars with mix-ins are a bit of a departure from the sophistication of the bonbons, chiefly because the dark chocolate used as the base is just a little too sweet for our palates. (The milk chocolate was also sweet but par for the course in a milk bar.) For the dark bars, we would have preferred something with more cacao intensity, along with more quanity of mix-ins, and more flavorful mix-ins. But these bars are sure to please those who love their chocolate on the sweeter side and those still hesitant about exploring exotic flavor combinations (i.e., anything beyond nuts and crunch bars), because the mix-ins are fairly subtle in strength. You won’t be overwhelmed by ginger, goji berries or cacao nibs.
We like the concept of these bars, but we’d like to see some tweaking.
In the interim, there’s more than enough to keep us in luxe chocolate at Coco-luxe. You can even drink Coco-Luxe: They’ve introduced a hot cocoa mix (called HOT) that makes a luscious, milk-chocolaty special occasion cup. There’s a hint of allspice in the nose; the palate makes you think someone melted down your favorite milk chocolate bar.
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