Artisan Confections. Chocolates or miniature artworks? The line blurs with these confections, which have the most beautiful decorations: tiny, colorful, repetitive patterns or swirls of color atop. The ultra-thin chocolate shells encase fillings such as the light-hearted PB&J, a two-layer piece that bears little resemblance to the sandwich you ate as a kid. Try the Lemon Hazelnut or Coffee Caramel, too: Whatever you choose, you’ll receive elegance in a box. These are chocolates made by someone with a quiet confidence in what he does, and that confidence is well-justified. Retail store: 4815-B Lee Highway, Arlington, Virginia 22207, 1.703.239.0616.
Chocolat Frederic Loraschi. Frederic Loraschi’s chocolates are beautiful to behold. There’s a judicious use of exterior decoration, so the chocolates have just the right combination of eye-catching color and subtlety. But the truth is, I’d much rather eat these chocolates than look at them, because there are some excellent flavors to be found here. My favorite piece has to be the deceptively-simply-named Mango, with a filling of mango and passion fruit caramel blended with white chocolate and enrobed in dark chocolate. I don’t usually like passion fruit in my chocolates, but here it merely tones down the sweetness of the center’s other components: You get a burst of intense fruit flavor that’s neither too sweet nor too sour and goes perfectly with the dark chocolate. The Cappuccino and Pistacao (yes, that’s the spelling—a filling of cream, white chocolate, Sicilian pistachios and cinnamon) are also wonderful examples of M. Loraschi’s artistry.
Chubby Chipmunk Hand-Dipped Chocolates. Nobody would call Mary (“Chip”) Tautkus’ truffles understated—nobody who wanted to be believed, anyhow. These golf ball-size confections are not neat or precise. They’re gaudy, show-offy, split-‘em-with-a-buddy truffles that have a sense of fun as big as they are. I usually go for subtlety in chocolates, so I wondered why I liked these so much until I realized they just plain taste good. Despite their size, the exterior shells aren’t too thick, a definite bonus. Go for the Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter or the Dark Chocolate Coconut; if neither suits you, Mary has a long flavor list that will leave your head spinning as you try to decide. If you’re a kid at heart, these chocolates will make your eyes light up. Retail store: 420 Cliff Street, Deadwood, South Dakota 57732, 1.605.722.2447.
Cocoa Dolce Artisan Chocolates. Wichita may not be a place in which you’d expect to find a boutique chocolatier, but that just proves that fine confectioners are popping up everywhere. Beth Tully’s chocolates are a delight. They may look simple, in that they’re not heavily decorated, but I’d go big distances to have another of her Coconut Cream pieces (shown at left): dark-roasted almonds, moist shreds of coconut and a just-right bittersweet chocolate shell holding it all together. If you remember the coconut candy bars of your youth with fondness, don’t miss this. There’s a terrific Classic Truffle, too, and an equally good Mocha. I like the enthusiasm I find here. Retail store: 7730 East 37th Street, Wichita, Kansas, Suite 400 in Siena Plaza, 1.316.866.2906 or toll-free, 1.866.505.9214.
Coco Délice While this is just one of many chocolatiers based in northern California, Coco Délice has an approach I admire. They’re committed to using as many local resources as possible (including much of their fruit and all of their cream), and their gift boxes are intended for recycling (no plastic trays or excess packaging). But rest assured their name wouldn’t be appearing here if their chocolates didn’t merit it. I have a special fondness for their Framboise piece, an organic raspberry purée and black raspberry liqueur combined with a soft milk chocolate ganache, enrobed in dark chocolate. Beautiful! There’s a very nice Kahlua and Coffee piece, as well. I haven’t tried their truffles, but their Caramelized Chocolate Covered Hazelnuts really made my heart flutter (photo at right). It’s easy to go wrong when making these, but here they are just right: crunchy, sweet with the caramelization and a perfect match with the dark chocolate that enrobes them. I ordered these as an afterthought but have refused to share a single nut!
French Broad Luscious Chocolates. This really is the name of this company, I promise. It’s not a derogatory comment on the women of France; instead, Jael and Dan Rattigan live in a town through which the French Broad River runs. But never mind the name; the truffles are the important matter here. They’re organic, made with local ingredients when possible, good-looking, and even better tasting. Go for the Café au Lait Truffle, my favorite to-date (shown at left), with its locally-roasted coffee beans and a hint of Bourbon. Or try the Fresh Raspberry: There’s a very strong raspberry presence here, but it works beautifully with the particular chocolate used. For something different, hook up with the Mimosa or Indian Kulfi. If you’ve ever wanted to try single origin chocolate but weren’t sure how to start, French Broad offers five different single origin truffles, so you can conduct your own tasting. The care I see put into these products does my heart good.
Gâteau et Ganache Fine Cakes & Chocolates. Pastry chef and owner Anni Golding produces a line of confections that are modest in number and more understated in decoration than some others, but they’re far from retiring where it really counts: in taste. You’ll find outstanding, true flavors in these chocolates, which give them extraordinary appeal. By all means try the La Vanille, with a filling of vanilla and dark rum; or go for the sensational L’Orange Sanguine (blood orange). Many citrus-flavored ganaches are too sharp or acidic, but Anni manages to keep the good flavors of both blood orange and chocolate, without having one overwhelm the other. If you enjoy a well-crafted marshmallow, I can recommend the half-dipped chocolate marshmallows available here. One note about these chocolates: Most of the boutique chocolatiers I’ve listed will allow you to customize your selection, but, except in case of allergies or a “no alcohol” preference, customizing is not generally an option.
Krishon Chocolates. The percentage of cream that Eric Johnson uses in his ganaches must be phenomenally high: The centers of his truffles literally melt in your mouth. Krishon Chocolates features truffles created only from organically-produced ingredients. That includes their chocolate, of course (the couverture is Michel Cluizel), but also their cream, butter (which Mr. Johnson makes himself), vanilla beans, coffee beans, hibiscus blossoms, cinnamon, tea, etc. The company also attempts to use less paper, ink and other resources in its packaging and production. What to try here? Go for the White Chocolate Truffles. White chocolate isn’t usually my favorite, but these are something special. The chewy, buttery Caramel is mighty fine, as well, with an enrobing of dark chocolate (it’s what the well-dressed caramel is wearing these days). Krishon products use no soy lecithin, making them ideal for those who can’t have soy products, and only rarely do any products here include nuts. Most truffle flavors tend to be seasonal, so grab ‘em while you can. Check out the Chossils (chocolate models of fossilized sharks’ teeth), too.
Do You Love Artisan Chocolate?
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