Richard Donnelly’s chocolate bars. All photos by Melody Lan.
KAREN HOCHMAN is the Editorial Director of THE NIBBLE. She did have to eat all the bars in pursuit of this story.
Passing The Bar (The Donnelly Chocolate Bar!)
CAPSULE REPORT: Amid all of the tourist candy, every great beach town should have a great chocolatier; Santa Cruz, California has Richard Donnelly. Donnelly started his career at the top—briefly apprenticing in Paris for one of chocolate’s royalty, Robert Linxe of La Maison du Chocolat. While he learned great craftsmanship there, he also learned the French art of restraint, something that is evident in the set of chocolate bars we purchased.
We love flavor-forward chocolate: hit us over the head with Aztec spices, let us know you’re loaded with lavender, and we love you. Richard Donnelly does exactly the opposite and it works for us, too—especially in his bar chocolate, where there’s just the bar and the spice—no ganache or other material to get in between the chocolate and our taste buds.
While he makes traditional-flavored bars—dark chocolate bars in Bittersweet and Almond, milk chocolate bars in Almond, Hazelnut Almond and Toffee, Donnelly also makes bars with seasonal spices and exotics, infused with spices and herbs like cardamom, Chinese Five-Spice, cinnamon, coconut, lavender and orange. He produces no more than fifty pounds of chocolate a day, of which a reasonable amount includes the delicious set of 1.6 ounce chocolate bars we bring back from our annual trip to Fog City News, a great chocolate bar store at 425 Market Street in San Francisco.
The bars are made from Valrhona couverture. When you know Valrhona as well as you know your first cousins, you can appreciate the strong, clean flavors of the bars and how the chocolate lets the articulations of the seasonings shine through. The amounts of spice used are just enough to remind you that you’re not eating a plain bar. A slight nod to the
- Cinnamon is a perfect complement to chocolate, and we wish there were more cinnamon bars around. This is a good bar to raise to. It was our favorite flavor but, surprisingly, it is not a popular seller.
- If you want something a little more exotic, the Chinese Five Spice contains clove, black and white pepper and cinnamon with a top note of anise.
The dark bars, made with Valrhona couverture, showed pure, smooth Valrhona qualities (for those who already know and love this top-quality French couverture), with subtle tinges of their flavorings.
The milk chocolate bars are made of Cocoa Barry couverture, a sweeter style of chocolate than Valrhona. We selected the Coconut bar, which was packed with shredded coconut.
Candied ginger, enrobed in dark chocolate.
In contrast to the smooth, restrained dark bars, it was textured, showy and sweet—we wish it had been a tad less sweet, but it was very satisfying, and we were sorry when it was gone.
The bars are beautifully wrapped in Japanese rice paper, shown below.
At the 1998 EuroChocolate Festival in Perugia, Italy, Donnelly chocolates were named Best Artisan Chocolates at the festival. In March 2001, Chocolatier Magazine selected them as one of their ten favorite chocolate artisans in the United States. If you’re in Santa Cruz, do drop in to the retail shop to experience the whole line and see how it ranks on your list. It’s at 1509 Mission Street on Highway 1, on the way to Half Moon Bay (closed Mondays). Call ahead: perhaps you can schedule your visit for a day when Richard is giving a chocolate-making class.
DARK CHOCOLATE BARS In Bittersweet, Cardamom, Chinese Five Spice, Dark Almond, Ginger, Orange
MILK CHOCOLATE BARS in Almond, Coconut, Hazelnut Almond, Toffee
LIMITED AVAILABILITY Cinnamon and
- Set Of 6 Chocolate Bars
1.6 Ounces Each
Choice Of Flavors
- Not all flavors are listed on the website, so e-mail or phone your preferences
Pretty rice-paper-wrapped bars.
Prices and flavor availability are verified at publication but are subject to change.
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