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Top Pick Of The Week

September 18, 2007

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Recchiuti Chocolates

A selection of Recchiuti’s gourmet chocolates. Start with the Burgundy Box, 32 assorted pieces.

WHAT IT IS: Artisan chocolates and confectionary from one of America’s top chocolatiers.
WHY IT’S DIFFERENT: Recchiuti’s broad artist’s palette ranges from delicate, “Impressionist” bonbons to rockin’ burnt caramel almonds and peanut butter pucks.
WHY WE LOVE IT: With so many different products, there’s something special to focus on every month of the year—and you can, if you sign up for Club Recchiuti’s monthly shipments (also available in 3- and 6-month subscriptions).
WHERE TO BUY IT: Recchiuti.com.
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Recchiuti Confections:
Bay Watch

CAPSULE REPORT: San Francisco is more than a great restaurant town or the gateway to wine country: It’s a gourmet chocolate lover’s paradise. Michael Recchiuti is a prince of paradise, San Francisco’s most prolific artisan chocolatier. His collection is ample, from bonbons filled with delicate ganaches crafted from local fruits and herbs, to gourmet chocolate bars and intense hot chocolate. Then there are the confections: fleur de sel caramels, pâtes de fruits (fruit jellies), chocolate sauces, a s’mores kit and a knockout peanut butter puck (lest you think it’s all for chocolate highbrows). At the end of the day, why make a decision? Beg for a year’s membership to Club Recchiuti and have it all. But first, read the full review below. And whatever you do, don’t miss the Burnt Caramel Almonds.

  • Read reviews of more of our favorite gourmet chocolate in THE NIBBLE online magazine.
  • See the Table of Contents of the September issue of THE NIBBLE, plus the prior issues archive and our most popular articles.
  • All of the Top Pick Of The Week newsletters are permanently archived on TheNibble.com, in chronological order and by product category.
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.

 

More Great Chocolate

The Essence Of Chocolate Chocolate Obsession Chocolate and Vanilla
Essence of Chocolate: Recipes for Baking and Cooking with Fine Chocolate, by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg. 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. 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 pâtissier), this book provides many hours of happiness. Click here for more information. Chocolate and Vanilla, by Gale Gand. 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.

Recchiuti Confections: Bay Watch

INDEX OF REVIEW

MORE TO DISCOVER

While most people might name Brussels, Paris and New York as the top havens for chocolate epicures, San Francisco has staked its claim. It is the perfect place for chocolatiers to express their creativity. Not only is the weather wonderful year-round, inspiring people to purchase a quarter-Mappound to enjoy on a bench in the fresh air amid the flora and fauna. But the innovative culinary scene, known for its locally-grown foods and a population accustomed to a wide variety of fresh produce, handmade cheeses and fine wines, has created an educated population, always hungry for more. Where else could you find a store like CocoaBella Chocolates, dedicated to showcasing the finest artisan Belgian chocolates (including brands most Americans have never seen, unless they’ve spent time in Brussels) alongside artisan American brands like Christopher Elbow. Or true specialists liked XOX Truffles, wonderful nuggets of ganache in 25 flavors, and the addictive sea salt chocolate tiles of Poco Dolce. Go north across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin and you’ll find the headquarters of Coco-luxe. East across the Bay Bridge in Oakland is Michael Mischer, with his artistic chocolate bars; Charles Chocolates is nearby in Emeryville. The two great American producers of couverture chocolate are local: Guittard in San Francisco and Scharffen Berger in Berkeley. There are dozens of other artisan chocolatiers: One could forgo visits to Alcatraz and Gump’s and spend two weeks in San Francisco on a chocolate safari.

Perhaps the first—and last—stop on the safari is the shop of Recchiuti Confections in the Ferry Building—our favorite food hall in America. Inside the building is a wealth of leading American artisan purveyors (including Scharffen Berger, Tsar Nicoulai Caviar and Cowgirl Creamery); and outside, two days a week, farmers and other artisan food producers offer their wares at the farmers’ market. If you visit San Francisco, plan to go (Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Saturday from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.—the early bird catches the best products, including outstanding empanadas and baked goods, and you can lunch on them overlooking San Francisco Bay).

But back to chocolate. A native Philadelphian, Michael Recchiuti came to San Francisco in 1987. He felt that the art and music scene made the city amenable to chocolatiers. As he soon would discover, it was the year-round availability of fresh ingredients and the exotic flavors available that would inspire him to new heights.

Recchiuti Chocolate
Shown from top left, clockwise: Force Noir,
Cardamom Nougat and Fleur de Sel Caramel.

As a young chocolatier itching to explore and combine these new “culinary media” with chocolate, it was an exciting time. After 10 years of honing his skills, in 1997 Recchiuti and his wife Jacky founded Recchiuti Confections. They sold chocolates from a van on Saturdays at a farmers’ market and eventually relocated with the market to its current location in the Ferry Building. Recchiuti relinquished his spot to give a local farmer a chance to sell his products. But when the Ferry Building itself was renovated into a marketplace for the city’s finest food artisans, he moved inside to a storefront, where he could be found every day by throngs of San Francisco foodies, tourists and locals from the city’s adjacent business district who visited daily. He would soon become one of the city’s leading chocolatiers (and in a few years, thanks to e-commerce, one of the nation’s).

The Recchiuti Style

For those who keep track of “food miles” (i.e. the distance food travels to get to your table) Michael Recchiuti is perhaps the most carbon-conscious chocolatier we know. Because of San Francisco’s agricultural abundance, he sources fresh herbs and fruits from farmers’ markets. Local chocolate companies Scharffen Berger and Guittard supply Recchiuti with much of his couverture—the large blocks* of chocolate that are molded into chocolates (bars and other shapes), used to enrobe caramels, nuts, fruits and other confections and turned into bonbons—both the ganache centers and the chocolate that covers them and other filled chocolates. or while the great Venezuelan chocolate producer El Rey is used whenever milk and while chocolates call for it.

*Smaller amounts of couverture are also sold in disks (coin-shapes).

While most chocolatiers use couverture from just one company, Recchiuti uses four.

  • Bonbons. The less acidic and gentler nature of Guittard’s E. Guittard line is predominantly used for the bonbons. Ganaches—the chocolate cream filling inside bonbons—require a couverture that will enhance (or at least not interfere with) the infused flavorings. For this purpose, Guittard’s flavor profile is a particularly good choice.
  • Chocolate Bars. The bars are a blend of Scharffen Berger, Valrhona and other couvertures, depending on the bar. For a chocolate bar, a chocolatier ideally wants a balanced profile between the cacao’s flavor components and acidity. Scharffen Berger provides plenty of fruitiness and intense profiles. Valrhona’s black fruits complement Scharffen Berger’s red fruit profile, and provide Recchiuti with great room to experiment.
Recchiuti Bonbons
Bonbons filled with ganaches flavored with local fruits and herbs. The standard collection is supplemented with seasonal specials. For purists, there are all-chocolate ganaches, including “varietals” from single-origin cacao.

 

  • Milk Chocolate & White Chocolate. El Rey is credited with making the best white chocolate—it is the only brand on the market made with undeodorized cocoa butter (the white chocolate is called Icoa, after a native goddess who is the protector of those who travel by rivers and lakes). It has more flavor and aroma than any other white chocolate.† Here’s why: White chocolate has no cocoa solids (chocolate liquor)—it is made from cocoa butter, milk and sugar (or other sweetener). Other companies remove the volatile aromatics  through a process called deodorization. By leaving them in, Icoa has a flavor intensity that some feel approximates the flavor of a mild milk chocolate. El Rey also makes one of the better, less-sweet milk chocolates on the market. For a chocolatier as scrupulous as Recchiuti, turning to El Rey for his milk and white couverture is not surprising.

† White chocolate is made of cocoa butter, milk, sugar and vanilla, plus lecithin as an emulsifier. El Rey alone among chocolate manufacturers does not deodorize the cocoa butter used in its white chocolate. Other manufacturers deodorize all of their cocoa butter (which is pressed from the cocoa bean), to remove all of the flavor. They do this because their purpose is to add this cocoa butter back into the chocolate liquor to increase is fluidity (creaminess) without affecting flavor. To this end, a deodorized, flavorless cocoa butter is perfect for milk chocolate and dark chocolate production. But, it makes white chocolate, which has no chocolate liquor, taste more bland. That’s why Icoa is considered the paragon of white chocolate among connoisseurs.

Recchiuti does not have a culinary school degree, an illustration that talent rises to the surface whether or not one has a formal education. It is natural creativity and a palate, and a unique perspective—along with dedication, enthusiasm and a nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic—that propel people to the top of their trade, be they chef or chocolatier. It’s not that Recchiuti stepped out of high school and into a chocolate shop: He has a lifelong history of working with food, whether as a boy helping his grandmother bake wedding cakes or as an adult working professionally in pastry and chocolate. You could say he has had his finger in every pie.

The Box Of Bonbons

The first step in getting to know Michael Recchiuti is to explore a box of bonbons. There are four choices of boxed chocolates, ranging from 8 pieces to 32 pieces. The user-friendly website shows you exactly what is in each box. Regardless of what you think your favorite flavors are, do order the large box and give each piece the attention it deserves. You’ll also see why, in the world of artisan chocolates, Recchiuti is the King of Contrast: He highlights textural contrast (e.g., crunchy and soft) along with flavor contrast (in one piece, some flavorings shout out while others are accents). Yet as a chocolate artist, his palette is delicate, pastel and herbal.

The chocolates are, in a word, elegant. Each dainty chocolate shell is subtle in intensity as it complements the flavored ganache inside. There are two schools of thought in flavored ganache: subtle and flavor-forward. Recchiuti, in the former camp, flavors his pretty bonbons with a gentle hand, which is interesting, because the rest of his confections—the Fleur de Sel Caramels, Burnt Caramel Almonds, Pâtes de Fruits, etc.—are assertive, in the latter camp. These are bonbons for those who wish to indulge in a chocolate that is sumptuous yet graceful. They do not bombard the palate with bold expressions of fruit, nut or herb. In a sense, he is an Impressionist.

Lemon Verbena Ganache
Lemon Verbena: The herb design on the top of the chocolate indicates the herb-flavored ganache inside.

His style of “art” is further defined by ganaches that have a soft, creamy texture (many chocolatiers make them dense and thick). Thus, in the mouth, the bonbons dissolve quickly—although the pieces are usually large enough in size to provide a good enough mouthful of flavor. While the flavors tends to be soft-spoken, pieces that contain nuts, nibs, grapefruit peel and other elaborations provide more to contrast and ponder.

Recchiuti’s skill and innovativeness are clear with each piece. He has balanced each component marvelously, right down to the thin chocolate shell (which should always be thin—that’s part of the chocolatier’s skill) and the texture and flavoring of the ganaches. People who prefer a flavor-forward style might prefer that the intensity of the ganache were turned up to high, but for those who prefer the softer, more elegant side of chocolate will find that this style fits the bill perfectly.

Rex Ray Collection
San Francisco artist Rex Ray’s artwork appears
on smoky Burnt Caramel, Recchiuti’s most popular chocolate.

The themes of contrast and the use of savory (herb) ganaches are reminiscent, though not as extreme, as the great Parisian chocolatier, Richart Design et Chocolat. And the delicacy of flavor and airiness of the ganache is similar to Jin Patisserie’s chocolates, a favorite Venice, California destination. But Recchiuti remains unique. His emphasis on textural stimulation against a backdrop of elegance is one that few other chocolatiers explore. In addition to the classic beauty of his core collection, he uses cocoa butter transfer sheets to explore the bold colors and whimsical images created by San Franciscan artists, such as Rex Ray and Liz Saintsing. A new artist joins the “edible gallery” every six months. Other pieces are molded and colored in distinct geometrical shapes, contours, patterns, and textures that hint teasingly of the artful flavors inside.

Let’s take a look at some of the pieces from the main collection that illustrate this contrast of textures and flavors. You can see each piece on the Recchiuti.com website.

  • Ginger Heart is a beautiful white chocolate heart speckled in orange and topped with edible gold leaf. The dark chocolate ganache has been infused vibrantly with fresh ginger, while the white shell makes for an arresting contrast.
  • Another white chocolate piece, the Rose Caramel, has somewhat of a triangular shape and a multicolored design. An orange sponge effect seems to have been decorated at the base, which then tapers off into the white chocolate canvas onto which it was applied; finally a dark chocolate stripe caps the piece. Once in the mouth, the white chocolate marries delightfully with the buttery and runny caramel while a hint of rose conveys a sense of the abstract.

These two pieces are definite highlights for us, but a treasure trove awaits.

  • In Sesame Nougat, candied sesame crunch adds textural contrast to the otherwise smooth ganache, with a sweet and savory nuttiness for added oomph. Cardamom Nougat offers a similar sensation but nibs provide the crunch here, as well as an extra hit of chocolaty flavor. A refreshing taste of India is achieved through spicy cardamom.
  • Then there’s the spectacular Piedmont Hazelnut, a classic flavor combination which has never tasted better. An angular, multi-sided dome houses a lusciously thick gianduja (a smooth nut paste made of roasted and finely-ground hazelnuts, chocolate and sugar), which in turn surrounds a whole toasted hazelnut from Piedmont, the major hazelnut-producing area of Italy. This piece is all about contrast, both in texture and flavor—it’s not to be missed.
  • Lavender Vanilla and Spring Jasmine Tea bring home flavors that are familiar by themselves, but exotic when combined with chocolate. You’ll discover that each floral component is a natural pairing with cacao. Lavender and jasmine are actually quite calm in nature, but in large doses they can be overbearing. Recchiuti has achieved a good balance in both pieces, so you’ll never feel smothered in flowers.
  • Star Anise & Pink Peppercorn is another exotic yet familiar pairing; anise adds a splash of licorice to the backdrop of bittersweet ganache. This bonbon, enrobed in milk chocolate, is a tad on the sweet side, but the anise picks up where the chocolate slacks off and ultimately makes the piece refreshing.
Lavender Vanilla
Lavender Vanilla.
  • Bergamot Tea finds a home in a dark ganache, making for a citrus pronunciation that lovers of Earl Grey will adore. This piece is simple but well done, balanced nicely between the chocolate and the bergamot. Kona Coffee is a towering triangular bonbon infused with a coffee-infused ganache. It’s not overly strong on the coffee, and thankfully so—this piece is huge! Lemon Verbena contrasts a lilt of lemon against dark chocolate. It’s not common to encounter lemon ganaches, so this one was welcomed with open arms—or rather, open mouths.
  • All-Chocolate Bonbons. Purists can rejoice too, for there are all-chocolate pieces: bittersweet ganaches enrobed in bittersweet chocolate. Force Noir is a blended 70% cacao ganache infused with whole vanilla bean. Then there are four varietal bonbons, featuring the single-origin cacaos of Madagascar, Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador. If comparing the pieces, each one should be tasted in the order presented here, from the lightest (Madagascar) to the darkest and boldest (Ecuador). The inherent flavors of the single-origin cacao are partially lost in the ganache, so don’t seek to differentiate them by flavor profile. Their intensity, however, is noticeable.
Single Origin Bonbons
Varietal Bonbons.

Confections: Thinking Outside The Box

For those thinking outside the box (boxed chocolates, that is), there is plenty more to choose from. Recchiuti’s expertise is not limited to ganache.

Burnt Caramel Almonds
Burnt Caramel Almonds.

  • Burnt Caramel Almonds. There’s something to be said about Bay-area talent for making chocolate-covered nuts at the quality level of the finest chocolate. Charles Chocolates’ almonds and hazelnuts, Coco-luxe chocolate-covered peanuts, and Recchiuti’s Burnt Caramel Almonds are all must-trys. Recchiuti’s are complex, seductive, addictive. The first taste is strong cocoa, then a crunch that releases saltiness and chocolate. Although no coffee is added, the final flavor has striking coffee accents. Maybe it’s the Pernigotti cocoa powder dusting each almond, maybe it’s the thin coat of dark chocolate. With a confection this bold and addictive, there’s no time for questions: There’s serious munching to do! These are strapping, masculine dragées with a distinct savory edge. We could probably live on this product exclusively.
  • Chocolate Bar Trio. There are three bars to choose from, or if you love all three (or dislike making decisions), you can simply opt for the bar trio. Bittersweet, Fève‡ and Dark Milk Chocolate bars are fashioned from a blend of different couvertures. The Dark Milk Chocolate (55% cacao) is intensely fruity for a milk chocolate, delivering cherry and strawberry notes with a satisfying chocolaty impact that makes this bar a decisively grown-up treat. Instead of offering the usual 70% bar as most chocolatiers do, Recchiuti prefers a stronger 85% Bittersweet and 85% Fève, which is the same blend as the Bittersweet but delivers additional chocolaty bursts and crunch by way of cacao nibs.
Chocolate Bars
Enjoy All Three Chocolate Bars.

The inherent flavor of both 85% bars is highly fruity and acidic, highlighting raspberries, plums and various tropical notes that create, ironically enough, a sweet impression. This allusion of sweetness makes both bars extraordinarily approachable given their high percentage of cacao. Indeed, they will cause you to rethink the “bitter” of 85% bittersweet chocolate.

‡French for cacao bean.

  • Dark Hot Chocolate. If your will power is strong, you might actually be able to make a cup of this delicious hot chocolate rather than munch away on the little chocolate pistoles, the coin-shaped drops or discs that are designed to melt easily into a rich beverage. Recchiuti opts for this format rather than cocoa powder to create a genuine hot chocolate experience. Once prepared, the drink can take on two personas, depending on method of preparation. The European style calls for water. Here the body is somewhat thin, but the flavor is stronger and more chocolaty than with the American method. The American version uses milk and imparts a richer, thicker consistency, but a much more subdued chocolatiness. The choice is yours, but if you prefer to snack on these pistoles straight out of the canister, we won’t blame you. They’re addictive!
Hot Chocolate
Dark Hot Chocolate.

If you’re the lucky recipient of a Dark Hot Chocolate Indulgence Box, you can sip your hot chocolate from two ceramic cups crafted by Heath Ceramics of Sausalito, California. These stylish, black espresso-sized cups hold just the right amount of hot chocolate. After all, this isn’t Swiss Miss—it’s meant to be treasured, enjoyed in small amounts. Also included in the box are eight handmade vanilla bean marshmallows (also included in the S’mores Kit) and a sachet of Burnt Caramel Almonds, which enhance the hot chocolate experience. With so many goodies, you may want to invite a friend. Or not.

  • Pâtes de Fruits. Amid all the chocolate, you’ll be delighted to find an assortment of Pâtes de Fruits, jellied fruit purées, cut into bite-size pieces. These melt in the mouth as they capture the essence of their respective fruits: apricot, blueberry, cassis, Morello cherry, passion fruit and pear-lime. Recchiuti’s most elegant of fruit jellies are a satisfying nibble, but are also perfect at the end of dinner along with (or instead of) petit fours. (If you’ve never had pâtes de fruits and these look like Chuckles to you, you are in for a wonderful surprise.) Not included in this assortment, but found in the boxed chocolates, is the Cassis Strata, the cassis pâte de fruit enrobed in dark chocolate. It’s a beautiful piece, a serious surge of jelled cassis and bittersweet chocolate contrasting both texture and flavor to great success. If someone would like to send us a few dozen, we’ll be glad to supply our address.
Pate de Fruits
Pâtes de Fruits.

Peanut Butter Cups
Peanut Butter Pucks.

To end on a note that will tug at the heartstrings of many, one of the special items for September is:

  • Peanut Butter Pucks. These peanut butter pucks are pretty spectacular. We hand-carried supplies back from a visit to San Francisco and almost started a riot on the plane—in First Class—when we started to snack on a few and the scent pervaded the small cabin. We’ve never found a better rendition of a plain milk chocolate peanut butter cup (assuming that one prepared with organic peanut butter, El Rey chocolate and fleur de sel salt qualifies in your book as “plain”). They’re available through the end of September, and we suggest that you lay in a supply—although not much more than 60 days’ worth, since, like all Recchiuti products, they are preservative-free.

We could go on—and we will, by pointing you to our review of Recchiuti’s S’mores Kit, a prior Top Pick Of The Week that makes us very happy every time we order one. Now you’ve got the hard work to do: deciding what to order first. If your pockets are deep enough, the wisdom of Solomon says to go for Club Recchiuti: You’ll get all of these products over the course of the year. And if you’re as happy as we think you’ll be, you can rejoin again 12 months from now.

— Peter Rot

FORWARD THIS NIBBLE to anyone who love fine chocolates and confections.

RECCHIUTI CONFECTIONS

Gourmet Chocolate and Confections

  • Boxed Chocolates
    $22.00 to $80.00
  • Burnt Caramel Almonds
    ~40 Pieces, 4 Ounces, $10.00
  • Chocolate Bar Trio
    12 Ounces, $20.00
  • Dark Hot Chocolate
    12 Ounces, $16.00
  • Pâtes de Fruits
    18 Pieces, 9 Ounces, $22.00
  • Peanut Butter Pucks
    4 Pucks, 3 Ounces, $11.00
    Seasonal Item—Click On Link To
    Purchase

Buy online at Recchiuti.com

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

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Recchiuti Burgundy Box
The Burgundy Box has the largest assortment of bonbons, plus pâtes de fruits: 32 different flavors.


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