Michael Mischer’s Spicy Mango bar is one of the best-sellers. All photos by B.A. Van Sise.
|WHAT IT IS: Silky, sophisticated Belgian-style chocolate truffles (bonbons) and fruit, nut and toffee-laden chocolate bars.
WHY IT’S DIFFERENT: Made of top-quality Felchlin couverture from Switzerland, a chocolate relatively new to these shores; and creatively enhanced by the chocolatier.
|WHY WE LOVE IT: Beauty and taste! The Felchlin chocolate is superb, glorified by Mischer’s fruit and nut toppings and flavored ganaches.
|WHERE TO BUY IT: Telephone Michael Mischer Chocolates at 1.510.986.1822 (7 days, 12 noon to 9 p.m. Pacific Time).
Michael Mischer Gourmet Chocolate: The Designer Touch
CAPSULE REPORT: Beautiful bars, tasty truffles, and lots of thinking about how to advance the cause of fine chocolate. That’s what you get from Michael Mischer, a European pastry chef long relocated to California. And although the Bay Area has no paucity of fine chocolatiers, Mischer makes his mark with stylish ganache-filled bonbons and innovative chocolate bars that combine dried fruits and nuts, both sweet and savory. He’s not just another designer chocolatier, though: He’s Christian Lacroix.
Try the bittersweet chocolate with cayenne-spiced mango. Or with almonds, spiced with cayenne, salt and garlic—unusual but once you get used to the idea, it’s the cutting edge of great. More traditional-minded chocolate-lovers can bite into the best-sellers: 38% Milk Chocolate With Toffee, 68% With Caramelized Nibs and 72% With Montmorency Cherries. Be sure to buy extras of these: Even though the 3.5-ounce bars are a generous size, they won’t last long. Read more in the full review, below.
More Great Chocolate
|Essence of Chocolate: Recipes for Baking and Cooking with Fine Chocolate, by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg. Just published. America’s preeminent maker of gourmet baking chocolate launches its first cookbook, with more than 100 recipes for classics as well as Chocolate Chunk Challah, a homemade version of Oreos and savory dishes made with chocolate like Tortilla Soup and Chile-Marinated Flank Steak. Click here for more information or to purchase.
|Chocolate Obsession: Confections and Treats to Create and Savor, by Michael Recchiuti and Fran Gage. The top chocolatier makes it possible for amateurs to achieve his artistry in dipped chocolates, truffles and molded chocolates. With his recipes for Earl Grey tea, burnt caramel and tarragon with grapefruit ganaches, plus some delicious baked goods (Recchiuti is also a patissier), this book provides many hours of happiness. Click here for more information or to purchase.
|Chocolate and Vanilla, by Gale Gand. Just published. James Beard Award-winner Gand, host of the Food Network’s Sweet Dreams and co-owner and Executive Pastry Chef at Chicago’s Tru, dazzles as usual. Recipes are both delicious and visually arresting. Those who are chocoholics may discover their inner vanilla-holic in this book, which gives equal attention to the spice that Gand considers even sexier than chocolate. Click here for more information or to purchase.
Michael Mischer Chocolates: The Designer Touch
Michael Mischer opened Michael Mischer Chocolates in Oakland, California in 2004. If you’re a chocolate-lover visiting greater San Francisco, you might want to take a trip to his shop, have some chocolates and other goodies on the menu—which currently include cookies, chocolate-dipped potato chips and gelato from Gelateria Naia, a hot spot with several locations in the Bay Area. The Designer Chocolate Bars can be found throughout the Bay Area: at Fog City News in San Francisco, Draeger’s in San Mateo, Sigona’s Farmers Market in Palo Alto and a few other stores. But for freshness (Mischer wants them eaten within a week), the truffles are only sold at Mischer’s shop. A pastry chef for 25 years, Mischer has strict standards.
He also has a modern palate and an artistic bent, and pays homage to his European training by using couverture from Swiss manufacturer Felchlin, a high-quality producer without a high profile among consumers. While the couverture is European, Mischer uses local ingredients whenever possible: the marzipan, for example, uses almonds from California’s Central Valley and kirsch from St. George Spirits in Alameda. But whatever the fusion, the result is worth seeking out.
There’s no glass case of chocolate at Michael Mischer’s: one of each flavor is presented on a plate like a work of art, so you can appreciate the sculptural aspect as you contemplate the flavor choices.
The dark chocolate truffles are infused balls of silky ganache in sophisticated, Belgian-style chocolate shells (i.e., the shell is thick, providing a good taste of chocolate to contrast with the center). Flavors include a blend of classic and contemporary flavors: Calvados, Champagne, Chipotle, Coconut, Espresso, Green Tea, Hazelnut, Honey Lavender, Key Lime, Lilikoi (Hawaiian passionfruit), Poire William, Raspberry and Salted Chocolate Caramel, among others (flavors change seasonally). The chocolates are available in 6, 12 and 18-piece boxes, and should be eaten within a week, two at most (as do all ganache-based products made with no preservative). There are also other popular fillings like marzipan to tempt the palate.
The Nib Bar is one of the best-sellers.
The Designer Chocolate Bars
Mischer makes “Designer Bar” line bars in three intensities of single origin cacao: a 38% dark milk chocolate, a 65% Venezuelan and a 72% Ecuadorian Arriba. While Mischer (and his supplier, Felchlin) call all three Criollos, the Ecuadorian Arriba bean is not a Criollo: The rest of the world acknowledges that it is a Forastero bean. It is a rare subspecies of Forastero that has the delicate flavor of a criollo, but it is a Forastero nevertheless, as all other sources will attest.
Discrepancies as to bean parentage notwithstanding, as you can see in the photos, the couverture is first-rate, the bars are lovely to look at, and Mischer’s added flavor elements make them worth the trouble to track down. (Read more about the different types of cacao beans.)
Mischer has a current repertoire of some 20 bars, including:
- Milk Chocolate: 38% Cacao With Almonds, With Toffee*, With Hazelnuts, With Nut Combo, With Salt and Toasted Almonds
- Semisweet Chocolate: 65% Cacao With Blueberry and Dragonfruit, With Cranberry and Blueberry, With Nibs*, With Orange and Cranberry
- Bittersweet Chocolate: 72% Cacao With Cayenne-Spiced Mango, With Crystallized Ginger, With Orange Slices, With Montmorency Cherries*, With Spiced Almonds
We’ve tasted about a dozen to-date and liked every one except the 72% With Orange: the flavor of the dried orange pieces on the bar aren’t well-integrated with the chocolate (in fact, they fight it), and those who like orange-infused chocolate won’t find it as pleasurable as other orange-chocolate experiences.
The 72% Spiced Almond Bar: Salt, cayenne, garlic and chocolate may not be everyone’s dream combination, but it’s exciting!
Here are the bars we look forward to having again:
- 38% Milk Chocolate With Toffee and Milk Chocolate With Almonds. Though we are not “milk chocolate people,” the creamy Felchlin milk chocolate and Mischer’s enhancements are very appealing. We didn’t have Salt and Toasted Almonds the first time around: Given our love for salt and chocolate, we’re chomping at the bit.
- 65% Semisweet Chocolate With Montmorency Cherries and Semisweet With Nibs. Two more terrific flavor pairings. The nib bar is unlike most other nib bars, which simply mix in plain nibs that provide a bitter contrast to the chocolate. These nibs are caramelized, a perfect companion to the couverture: The result is a gourmet version of a crunch bar.
- 72% Bittersweet Chocolate With Spiced Almonds. This one took getting used to: We expected sweet spiced almonds, but these are savory—with salt, cayenne pepper, even garlic. Then, we were transported to the faraway land of El Bulli. We’re hooked.
The Felchlin couverture itself is lovely, very creamy (you can find bars and pistoles at fine baking suppliers, and more chocolate specialty shops are beginning to carry the bars and sampler sets). The 72% Arriba from Ecuador has notes of blackberry, licorice, prune and walnut. The 65% Maracaibo Clasificado from Venezuela is a bit more raisin-plummy, with notes of coffee, cinnamon, orange blossom and a strawberry finish. The 38% Maracaibo Criolait, also from Venezuela, has traditional cream and caramel notes with an added accent of raspberry. The nose hints of vanilla and honey.
Bars have a shelf-life of many months (plain chocolate, stored well, will still be good a year or two later, but nuts and other ingredients with no preservatives will begin to decline after 6 months or so). So store your bars in a cool, dry place away from direct light (not the refrigerator, but wine storage units are a good choice) and eat up within four to six months for peak flavor.
Mischer also offers two plain sugar-free bars, in milk and dark chocolate. For those people who can’t have sugar, they’re a step up from much of what is out there, although surprisingly, the Felchlin sugar-free is not as great as we might have expected. The 38% milk chocolate is more interesting than the dark: It has caramel notes and layers of typical milk chocolate flavor. The 62% dark bar has a one-dimensional chocolate flavor, but without any aftertaste. Both have a decent texture and mouthfeel, and if you or someone you know can’t have sugar, they’re well worth trying.
Overall, though, there are more exciting sugar-free products like Chuao Chocolatier’s sugar-free chocolate bars: Spicy Maya Bar and Coffee & Anise Bar. The added flavorings really compensate for the lack of sugar—you can’t even tell they’re sugar-free bars.
The next time you’re looking for something different to give your chocolate-loving friends, think Michael Mischer bars (and order a box of the fragile ganaches for yourself, to eat immediately upon arrival):
- For everyday glamour, the best-selling bars—Toffee, Nibs, Montmorency Cherry
- For sophisticated tastes, Salt and Toasted Almonds, Spiced Papaya
- For a memorable experience that will be talked about for years to come, Spiced Almond.
What more could a designer offer, or a customer desire?
FORWARD THIS NIBBLE to people who love chocolate in exciting flavor combinations and beautiful visuals.
MICHAEL MISCHER CHOCOLATES
Chocolate Bars and Truffles
- Designer Chocolate Bars
- Plain Chocolate Bars & Sugar-Free Bars
Purchase by telephone during store
hours: 1.510.986.1822. Note that
some of the bars described above
may be exclusive to Fog City News
and thus not available at Mischer’s
Visit Michael Mischer Chocolates
3352 Grand Avenue
(At Elwood and Lake Park Avenues)
Oakland, CA 94610
Open 7 days 12 noon to 9 p.m.
(The website is under development, currently just a simple home page with address, phone number and hours of operation.)
Handsome clear plastic packages display the beauty of each Designer Bar.
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