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Top Pick Of The Week

April 17, 2007

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Kee's Chocolate - Black Sesame TruffleThe Black Sesame Truffle is actually a “black and white,” as you can see. The texture and flavors—the crunch of sesame against the bittersweet chocolate ganache—make it a highlight of the collection.
WHAT IT IS: Fine Belgian-style chocolates, handmade fresh daily.
WHY IT’S DIFFERENT: Extremely fresh ingredients, delicate ganache, Asian and classic flavors.
WHY WE LOVE IT: These are some of our favorite truffles—creamy insides and crunchy outsides—and perhaps the greatest filled chocolate ever, the Crème Brûlée.
WHERE TO BUY IT: KeesChocolates.com.
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Kee’s Chocolates:
Keys To The [Chocolate] City

 

Kee Ling Tong makes what many people regard as the freshest fine Belgian-style chocolates in New York City. Six days a week, she infuses ganaches with seasonal ingredients surrounded by thin, molded chocolate shells. Or you can enjoy your ganache as round truffles—some enrobed in chocolate, some in toasted nuts and other coatings. This short menu of products (along with tiny caramel pecan turtles), packaged in plain kraft paper boxes tied with raffia string, has lines of fans waiting quietly to be served in her small SoHo shop—and New York crowds are not known for waiting quietly.

Kee’s Crème Brûlée bonbons are legendary. They sell out faster than they can be made; many people arriving at her shop have never seen one, and wonder if they really exist. (We can attest: They are memorable.)

With Mother’s Day upon us, this is the last chance of the season to get Kee’s Chocolates by mail: She doesn’t ship her delicate candies during the warm months.

  • Click here to read the full review below. (If your e-mail client does not support anchor links, scroll down.)
  • Read reviews of more of our favorite chocolates in THE NIBBLE™ online magazine.
  • See the Table of Contents of the April issue of THE NIBBLE online magazine, plus the back issues archive and our most popular articles.
THE NIBBLE™ does not sell the foods we review
or receive fees from manufacturers for recommending them.

Our recommendations are based purely on our opinion, after tasting thousands of products each year, that they represent the best in their respective categories.

 

Learn To Make Your Own Chocolates

Chocolate Obsession Making Artisan Chocolates
The Art Of Chocolate
Chocolate Obsession: Confections and Treats to Create and Savor, by Michael Recchiuti and Fran Gage. Even amateurs can achieve professional results with the guidance of two top chocolatiers, San Francisco’s Michael Recchiuti and Seattle’s Fran Gage. The book covers both chocolate and pastry. $23.10. Click here for more information or to purchase. Making Artisan Chocolates, by Andrew Garrison Shotts. Shotts, the former pastry chef for Guittard Chocolate and the owner of Garrison Confections (one of our favorite boutique chocolatiers), shows readers how to create extraordinary chocolates at home through the use of herbs, flowers, chiles, spices, vegetables, fruits, dairies and liquors. $15.74. Click here for more information or to purchase. The Art of Chocolate, by Elaine Gonzalez. A cooking teacher with decades of experience, Elaine Gonzalez has devised innovative techniques to put the art of working with chocolate within everyone’s reach. Even novices will soon be able to roll, curl, twist, coax and nudge chocolate to incredible heights of fantasy. Beautifully photographed. $16.47. Click here for more information or to purchase.

 

Kee’s Chocolates: Keys To The [Chocolate] City

INDEX OF REVIEW

MORE TO DISCOVER

Since she opened in 2002, Kee’s Chocolates (originally called The Chocolate Garden) has become a chocolate destination in New York City. To a small storefront in SoHo, the chocolate faithful arrive, never quite certain as to whether their favorite flavor(s) will be in the glass case, but happy to get in line and buy whatever is there when their turn comes.

Kee Ling Tong is the second New York finance executive we know who has given up Wall Street and become an acclaimed chocolatier: Like Joan Coukos of Chocolat Moderne, she sought a change of profession and found it in chocolate. The path was not entirely straight: She enrolled in the French Culinary Institute’s pastry course, then interned in New York with a prominent wedding cake designer and in the pastry kitchen of Todd English’s restaurant, Olives. After returning home from a pastry job in France, she realized she preferred working with chocolate and found her shop on Thompson Street.

Kee’s may be the most minimalist shop in SoHo. While all the other windows flaunt their expensive handbags, jewels, garments and tablewares, there is nothing in Kee’s window—the space is used as a window seat by some of the throng. The shop itself is furnished only with the chocolate case at the rear, a plain sideboard or two on the left wall and a small wine refrigerator (wine caves have excellent humidity for storing chocolate). One longs to add a Victorian, plum-velvet chair where, in a quiet hour, a customer could taste the flavors in her purchased box of chocolate and perhaps decide what else to buy for friends and loved ones. But, perhaps there are no quiet hours at Kee’s. As it is, the shop is spacious enough to accommodate all of the respectfully quiet and hopeful customers (as long as it isn’t right before Christmas or Valentine’s Day) who line up against the right wall.
Kee's Chocolates - Champagne
Champagne: dark chocolate ganache spiked with
Champagne.

Since Kee makes her chocolates fresh daily, and uses only fresh ingredients—herbs, fruits, lychees, and nuts that she fresh-roasts herself—the chocolates taste very fresh indeed. In a town with world-class chocolatiers like Michel Cluizel, Pierre Marcolini and Richart, this point of differentiation may be what has catapulted her shop to a score of 29 out of 30 in the Zagat Marketplace ratings. Her ganache is more delicate than most, employing more cream, worked into super-softness (not quite as ethereal a ganache as Kristy Choo’s infinitely silky chocolates at Jin Patisserie, but in a class by itself anywhere east of Venice, California).

Given the high turnover of the merchandise at Kee’s Chocolates, you pretty much can be confident that the chocolate you buy today was made in the shop today—or at the outset, yesterday. Kee uses Cacao Noel chocolate as her couverture—another reason her chocolates taste different. We don’t know of any other chocolatier we’ve written about who use Cacao Noel, a quality brand favored by top European patissiers (and famed as the chocolate used for baking on the QE2). It has the personality of West African Forastero cacao, with subdued herb and earth tones. But the brand currently does’t offer single origin cacaos, which are the trend in chocolate, so it isn’t making inroads among American chocolatiers.

Most of the chocolate used is the 72% couverture, which provides a lovely bittersweet taste (it’s 72% chocolate liquor, 44% cocoa butter; the white chocolate is 30% cocoa butter). Milk chocolate fundamentalists will not be jonesing over Kee’s Chocolates: There’s very little in the standard line, nothing enrobed in milk, just a turtle and a few filled pieces with a mixed milk and dark chocolate ganache.

Kee’s Chocolates Flavors

The line is largely ganache: bittersweet, mixed milk and bittersweet, and white chocolate, plain and infused. The style is Belgian: thin chocolate shells that give you just enough bite of chocolate to contrast delightfully with the filling.

The website “menu” is just a reference point: There are 20 or so selections available every day, and Kee's Chocolate - Passionfruit Heartsthey depend on what’s in season (key lime, raspberry or yuzu, for example) and what hasn’t been sold out (the ever-popular Crème Brûlée for starters, of which there is no more today). But if you’re in the shop, wait and more will come out, freshly unmolded by the hard-working Ms. Tong. As we buy the last Cognac truffle and our box is being tied, an assistant arrives with a tray of Passionfruit hearts (photo at right). We want to buy another box and start loading it with Passionfruit, a favorite; but the line is long, we have one large box, and we are humane. We leave hastily so that others will not be disappointed.

At the risk of going out on a limb (and making Kee’s life more difficult by creating even more demand), we opine that the Crème Brûlée is one of the most outstanding filled chocolates we will ever taste. Keylime and Passionfruit are other crowd favorites—and we like them too—but Crème Brûlée is a unique experience. For this piece, Kee makes custard and enrobes it in a dark chocolate shell. When you bite into it, your mouth is filled with hard chocolate and soft custard. For lovers of crème brûlée, it is an experience that will be memorialized for life. Alas, it cannot be repeated with a dish of crème brûlée and a piece of chocolate: The “burst factor” is something special.

While her Asian roots have inspired many of the flavors—Earl Grey, Ginger, Green Tea, Honey Kumquat, Jasmine, Lemongrass Mint, Mango Green Tea, Maxito (Tamarind), Pineapple Lychee, Thai Chili and Yuzu, the classics are there too. One need never step foot off the European continent—metaphorically speaking, you need never leave Europe to to enjoy a box of bonbons flavored with Cappuccino, Cherry Cordial, Hazelnut Praline, Lavender, Mint Mocha, Mousse, Orange Confit, Tiramisu and those adorable miniature turtles, classic chocolate, pecan and caramel.

Truffles

Pistachio Truffle
Above, Pistachio Truffle. Below, Green Tea Truffle.
Green Tea Truffle

We are unabashed fans of the truffles: balls of bittersweet ganache covered by almonds, coconut, pistachios, sesame seeds and occasionally, other choices. Each topping provides a completely different personality. The nut and seed coatings are an exercise in texture: The ganache melts in your mouth while the coating provides crunch. Almond with White Chocolate is wonderful: People who think they don’t like white chocolate* may well change their minds. Black Sesame—which is actually black and white sesame‚ has a great toasty flavor and a texture and crunch that is in perfect contrast to the bittersweet ganache.

*Much of this may be due to experience with vegetable oil-based chocolate. Since white chocolate was long classified as confectioner’s coating, not as “real chocolate,” manufacturers were allowed to substitute vegetable oil. Unfortunately, the Candy Manufacturers Association has petitioned the FDA to allow vegetable oil substitution in all chocolate. You can read more about it here.

As with the filled chocolates, the truffles are made in a garden of flavors; some are more subtle, some more flavor-forward. Our favorites include Blood Orange with Grand Marnier, a rush of orange flavors, and Mango With Green Tea. Regular Green Tea, a green tea-white chocolate ganache enrobed in white chocolate, is so wickedly rich, we could almost imagine Jean Harlow in “Dinner At Eight” tossing out her regular bonbons and eating a box of them.

Filled Chocolates

The same ganache—and some variations such as whipped cream fillings—is piped into thin chocolate shells. Variations include different flavor infusions:

  • Balsamic Vinegar is an interesting sweet-n-tart play of flavors, with a pecan added for depth.
  • The bittersweet ganache in the Champagne pyramid is so sophisticated. You can taste the hints of Champagne, though we’d be happy for a bit more.

  • Because there isn't enough saffron chocolate, Honey Saffron is a special treat—a great pairing of flavors.

  • Smoked Salt combines two of our favorite flavors. This is not a fad: salted chocolate is here to stay.
  • Thai Chili has a serious kick. If you want to eat only one piece a day, the finish on this is so long, it will sustain you for some time. 

  • Blended Peppercorns, a new flavor, has crushed peppercorns in the ganache that provides texture as well as spicy pieces that linger on the palate to create a very long peppery chocolate finish. A winner that will have us making chocolate peppercorn mousse this weekend.
 

Creme Brulee Truffle
Above, looking simple and mysterious, the famed Crème Brûlée chocolate; below, the very popular but seasonal Keylime.
Keylime Truffle

Chocolates should be refrigerated if the room is warm, and consumed within a week.

 

How Much Do You Know About Chocolate?
Our Chocolate Glossary is a real eye-opener.

 

If keys to the city were given for outstanding artisan products, Kee’s Chocolates certainly would be an honoree. But, decide for yourself: You can order them online, or if you’re in New York City, visit the shop in person at 80 Thompson Street, between Spring and Broome Streets, in SoHo. SoHo is New York’s great upscale shopping mall (no roof though—just go street to street, boutique to boutique). The store is open Tuesday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. The early bird gets the Crème Brûlée.

—Karen Hochman

FORWARD THIS NIBBLE to anyone who loves chocolate.

KEE’S CHOCOLATES

Filled Chocolates, Truffles & Turtles

  • Box Of 12
    $21.00
  • Box Of 16
    $28.00
  • Box of 18
    $31.50
  • Box of 24
    $42.00

Purchase online at KeesChocolates.com.
Telephone 1.212.334.3284.

Shipping additional. Prices and product availability are verified at publication but are subject to change.

 

Back to Index

Kee's Chocolates
Kee’s standard packaging is plain but pretty. And the chocolates won’t be around long enough for anyone to notice the box.

Read more about our favorite
chocolates and other sweets
in THE NIBBLE online magazine.


Check Out These Other Top Pick Of The Week” Chocolates:

 

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