Chocolate by the Bay Your guide to chocolate in the SF Bay area Wed, 03 Feb 2016 02:17:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Warm up in the Richmond Wed, 03 Feb 2016 01:50:49 +0000 Jade Chocolates Tile

On our latest trek to our dentist in the Richmond District, Ronnie & I stopped by Jade Chocolates (conveniently located next to our bus stop at Geary & 6th Ave.), to see what’s new and stock up on their Southeast-Asian inspired chocolates. [caption id="attachment_8052" align="alignright" width="420"]Jade Chocolates Tiles The variety of Jade Chocolates tiles on our recent visit included an interesting range of tropical fruits, nuts, seeds, spices and herbs.[/caption] Mindy Fong, Jades’ owner & head chocolatier, did not disappoint and had a new line of chocolate tiles, which she is experimenting with by topping dark chocolate with a variety of tropical fruits, nuts, seeds, spices and herbs. When we visited, she had 10 varieties, ranging from a simple Toasted Cacao Nibs with Smoked Sea Salt to the unusual herb combination of Ajwain & Sumac. Mindy said that ajwain is described as tasting similar to anise (licorice), but it’s different. It’s currently her favorite flavor that she’s experimenting with.

Reminds me of...

To me, ajwain tasted more like caraway than licorice, more savory than sweet, and made me think of rye bread or roast beef on weck (a childhood-in-Buffalo reference to sandwiches made with rolls that are sprinkled with salt & caraway seeds, which supposedly can’t be made anywhere else). Ronnie said it reminded him of Indian spice mixes. Mindy said it reminded her of the after-dinner candy/seed mix offered at most Indian restaurants. It is unusual, and I’ll be interested to see what she does with this unexpected flavoring. The fruit options — Pineapple Black Pepper, Banana Walnut, Apricot Cumin, Ginger, and Chili Lime Dusted Mango — reminded me of fruit dipped in chocolate, but most had an added spice twist to make them more interesting. I especially liked the chili lime mango tile. Of the nut/seed options —Pumpkin Curry & Fleur de Sel, Macadamia Black Lava Salt, Pistachio & Pink Peppercorn — I liked the pumpkin-seed-studded tile best, which was spicy (and seemed slightly anise-y too) and not sweet. In fact, on the whole, the tiles are not very sweet. If you find most chocolates too sweet, I recommend that you check out Jade for less sweet options that are more interesting than straight-up high cacao bars.

Cold-fighting chocolate

The less-sweet theme extended to Jade’s hot chocolates too. I don’t often drink chocolate because it’s usually so sweet and rich that it makes me nauseous, but when Mindy suggested we try one of her 15 kinds of hot chocolate, I was game. Ronnie & I were both battling colds, and I had just read about the study by the Imperial College of London that claims to prove chocolate is more effective than codeine. With that in mind, it seemed right to have chocolate that was warm to aid our over-taxed immune systems. With an eye to the medicinal, I picked the China Red Pepper hot chocolate; Ronnie got the Ginger hot chocolate. Mindy makes the drinks to order. In addition to the red pepper, mine had cinnamon and smoky chilis, so it had a nice heat that felt good on my throat and a more complex taste than just peppery. Ronnie’s Ginger drink had a nice balance between the chocolate and ginger bite. The hot chocolates are thick and smooth and very Jade: not too sweet Asian-influenced combinations. If these flavors don’t spark your interest, the list of 15 flavors range from dark spicy drinks like Mint, Tumeric & Black Pepper, Cardamom, and Saigon Cinnamon, to green tea & chocolate combos, a tropical fruit choice, and 2 white chocolate drinks. Next time I plan to try the Thai Red Curry on Mindy’s recommendation (and San Francisco Magazine). She said the hot chocolates are some of her most popular items, and she has regular patrons who come only for the hot chocolate. It makes sense: the Richmond is usually cool, so even in summer hot chocolate is a reasonable drink if you’re strolling around the neighborhood — or headed to the beach at the end of Geary. Alas, this time we were just waiting for the bus to head back home, but the cup of warm chocolate was perfect to make me feel better and give me an extra kick to stand up to the commuter crush that is BART during rush hour. Jade Chocolates, 4207 Geary Blvd, is open Tues.–Sat., 11:30-7 (except Thurs., 11:30-6), and they are at the Clement St. Farmers Market Sun., 11–2.]]> 0
Great, Danes! Fri, 22 Jan 2016 22:09:38 +0000 Summerbird back label

[caption id="attachment_8026" align="alignleft" width="420"]Summerbird Bars Summerbird goes full chocolate-nerd on their bar wrappers — down to listing the particle size of the cacao.[/caption] A friend brought us back a couple of chocolate bars from her recent trip to Scandinavia. I found them to be good and unusual (but in a good way). In researching the chocolate, I found that the maker, Summerbird, is a long-time artisan chocolatier in Denmark. So while we can’t buy them in the States, I thought they might be of interest to other chocolate aficionados, especially those with a European vacation in their future (or for ideas if you’re making your own bars).

Full disclosure

The first thing we noticed about these bars was how informational the wrappers were. I’m not sure how the graphs were calculated, but they chart over time and intensity (I’m guessing) the flavor notes you experience in the chocolate. The 2nd graph line is labeled “Acidified,” but I’m not sure of the meaning here, since acidifying food to me means making it sour (more acidic). Maybe they mean bitterness? These guys are already out-nerding me, and that’s with their visuals alone. The rest of the wrapper is equally uber-informative. going beyond the now-expected percentage and country of origin to include bean type (useful), conching time (okaaay...), and particle size (whaaa?), plus a descriptive taste profile and basic product information. Wow. Summerbird has totally got the mad-scientist part of making good chocolate. But that alone won’t make for delicious chocolate, so how does it taste? We got a couple of friends to share the experience with us, which included a couple of surprises before anyone even took a bite. [caption id="attachment_8027" align="alignright" width="320"]Summerbird Tray Is this the darkest chocolate you’ve ever seen or what?[/caption]

Black as coal

When we slid the 71% out of its wrapper, I was surprised at how dark it was: It was so dark, it looked black. Literally black. I’d never seen chocolate so dark before. Then we realized that what we were looking at wasn’t the chocolate itself, but a plastic tray holding the chocolate. Turning it over, we saw that the chocolate bar was a very normal dark brown. Whew. I haven’t seen this treatment before, but I think the tray is there for technical reasons. Summerbird bars are very long and thin, like maybe 1/8" thick. They only weigh a little over 2 oz. each; most artisan chocolate bars I’ve seen are 3 oz. or more. So the tray is used to support these slender bars, which might be more prone to breakage than a typical chocolate bar.

Oh, snap

I’m not sure the tray is needed because when we tried to break off pieces to sample, it required real effort to snap. This might be the thinnest bar I’ve ever seen, but it was also the hardest. Hella hard. But when it finally did snap, it had a nice crisp sound, just what you want to hear to signify well-tempered chocolate. Being super-hard meant that the chocolate took more time to melt in our mouths before we could taste or feel anything. All of this — the mad-scientist label, the black plastic fake chocolate, the hard-as-brittle chocolate — gave me a sense of foreboding. It wouldn’t be the first time I spit out well-intentioned, but inedible, chocolate. I’m glad to report that Summerbird is good! Both the 71% and 61% that we tried were exceptionally smooth (I guess you can ask your chocolate maker to keep their particle size in the 20-22 micron range if smooth is important to you). And the flavor profiles were spot on: The 71% was fruity and slightly bitter. I loved it. The 61% was spicy and definitely sweeter, a little too sweet for some of our tasters, but I still liked it. Summerbird makes a wide range of chocolates: bars, truffles, dragées, molded chocolates, spread, hot chocolate mix, and more. Flavors are usual culprits: fruits, nuts (including marzipan), mint, and... licorice (? hmm... have to try that sometime). Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like Summerbird ships to the U.S., but if you, my friend, happen to visit Copenhagen, I know the perfect gift you can bring back to me...]]> 0
The raw and the cooked Fri, 11 Dec 2015 02:08:28 +0000 General's Residence

[caption id="attachment_7916" align="alignnone" width="630"]The Generals Residence at Fort Mason The General’s Residence at Fort Mason was the new location for the Fall Chocolate Salon.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_7941" align="alignright" width="240"]interior Great space: Look at those lovely floors. And comfy chairs![/caption] The 6th Annual Fall Chocolate Salon, Sunday, Nov. 15, was held in a new, more comfortable venue. The General’s Residence at Fort Mason is a little hard to find, but once inside, it’s an attractive vintage space with lots of windows overlooking the Bay, and it had the one thing that’s been missing from most chocolate salons: seating! This time, it was easier to spend more time at the event because we could rest our feet and chat. We hope this becomes the location every fall. As always, it was a smaller event than the spring International Chocolate Salon. With 30+ vendors, only 13 of them were local chocolate makers/chocolatiers/candy makers, so I could easily meet all the SFBA vendors and try almost everything I wanted. There were other great chocolate vendors there, like Amano Artisan Chocolate and Marco Paolo Chocolates, plus other complementary product vendors, like wineries and perfume makers. We were happy  to see some new local chocolate vendors come to the show (Alexander’s Patisserie, CaCoCo, Firefly Chocolate, and Heavenly Taste Toffee), and to meet some new-to-us vendors (R & J Toffees and Kindred Cooks). There was a nice variety of chocolate too, ranging from the raw versions by Endorfin and CaCoCo to the cooked: a lot of brittle, toffee, and caramels (from CocoTutti, Fera’wyn’s Artisan Chocolates, Heavenly Taste Toffee, Kindred Cooks, NeoCocoa, and R & J Toffees). Sprinkled in the mix were artisan chocolatiers (Alexander’s Patisserie, CocoTutti, Fera’wyn’s Artisan Chocolates, flying noir, and NeoCocoa), larger chocolate makers (Alter Eco, TCHO, and The Tea Room Chocolate Company), and the very health-conscious bean-to-bar maker, Firefly Chocolate. [caption id="attachment_7924" align="alignleft" width="420"]Kasie Epperly Kasie Epperly (left) assembles a box of her pretty chocolates with help from her fellow patisserie co-workers.[/caption]

On with the show

The very first chocolatier we talked to was Kacie Epperly of Alexander’s Patisserie. This new patisserie opened a year ago in Mountain View, and in addition to its full line of French pastries and macarons, they also carry a line of truffles in 25 flavors, ranging from classics like Fleur de Sel Caramel, through tropical fruits, teas, and an extensive selection of alcohol-enhanced flavors, to the more unusual like honey fennel pollen and hemp seed with almond praline. Kacie developed all the flavors, which include one seasonal Chef’s Special. At the salon, the special was Pumpkin Spice. Kacie’s truffles are tasty, beautiful hand-decorated orbs.  Depending on your point of reference, they resemble planets or superballs. Nestled in their slots in simple black boxes, they would make a stand-out gift. However, Kacie told us that these truffles have no preservatives, so they are best enjoyed within 1-2 weeks of purchase, so we CBTB-ers enjoyed our show purchases all by ourselves. [caption id="attachment_7926" align="alignright" width="320"]Alexanders bonbons Alexander’s Patisserie chocolates make an eye-catching gift box.[/caption] What we liked most about these truffles is their freshness, the flavors are bright, and you know what you’re tasting. They start with a good base of Valrhona chocolate, which  enhances the flavors Kacie adds to the truffles. We especially liked the “Gin Me Up Scotty,” which is very refreshing with its mix of lemon, cucumber and gin in a milk chocolate ganache and dark chocolate shell. And the Chef’s Special, which was a buttery, gingerbread-flavored caramel, that wasn’t overly sweet. The Honey Fennel got the most divided comments of our group: Some liked its fennel taste a lot, others thought it too herb-y or a little bit like soap. Alexander’s Patisserie (209 Castro Street, Mountain View) does not have an online shop, so you must travel to Mountain View to purchase Kacie’s truffles. They are open Tues-Sun, starting at 8am and are open through dinnertime, so we encourage you to find the time to visit and try their chocolates yourself.

Healthy hot chocolate

The next chocolate we tried went in a different direction. CaCoCo is a raw chocolate maker based in Santa Cruz, which co-founder Tony Portugal described as “Willie Wonka meets Indiana Jones.” CaCoCo uses an heirloom variety of cacao to make 3 different drinking chocolates, two 65% versions and an 80% version. Tony described the mostly-organic ingredients: “It’s cacao powder, cacao butter, coconut crystal sugar, vanilla and salt. Some are infused with herbs and spices.” They make their chocolate without roasting. After grinding and mixing the ingredients together, the resulting mass is “formed into a huge brick, which we then grind into a powder.” [caption id="attachment_7913" align="alignleft" width="320"]CaCoCo We liked the wabi-sabi aesthetic of CaCoCo’s drinking chocolate as much as we liked its taste.[/caption] The powder is not a fine grind like most cocoas and chocolate drink mixes we’re accustomed to. Instead, it is a beautiful mix of different size chunks and finer grinds, which means that to make a cup of drinking chocolate, Tony advises to follow James Bond’s instructions, “It should be shaken, not stirred.” We tried all 3 varieties of drinking chocolate, but found the 65% versions too sweet. Surprising to me that I preferred the 80% because I usually find anything above 75% too bitter — especially with raw cacao. But the 80% has a rich, chocolately taste with a nice, thick texture. It reminded me of European drinking chocolates. It’s definitely for people who like dark chocolate (like me). We bought a package of the 80% and made it ourselves. The printed proportions seemed wrong: 5 tablespoons of chocolate to 2 ounces of hot water, but I followed them exactly. I didn’t quite go James Bond on it. Instead, I used my handheld milk frother to meld the rough chunks and water together. It worked beautifully, and my cup was every bit as thick, creamy, and delicious as the sample at the Salon. If you want to eat raw chocolate for its health benefits, but want it to be tasty, I can recommend CaCoCo. CaCoCo drinking chocolates are available online and at natural food stores, mostly in Santa Cruz. [caption id="attachment_7920" align="alignright" width="320"]Endorfin Packaging Endorfin displayed their new packaging at the Salon[/caption]

More chocolate you can feel good about

Endorfin, the almost-raw chocolate vendor at the Salon (they don’t roast their beans, but they do ferment them), didn’t have their drinking chocolate when we stopped by their booth because they had sold out after doing a vintners event the same weekend. So we couldn’t do a straight-up comparison with CaCoCo, but we remember enjoying Endorfin’s hot chocolate at a previous Salon. At this show, Brian Wallace, Endorfin’s founder and chief chocolate maker, showed us their new packaging, which extended the shelf life of their bars, and sampled a new product, Bliss Butter, a combination he described as “cashew, coconut sugar, and cacao nibs stone ground with the melanger I use for grinding our cacao. I grind it smooth, then add cacao nibs, flax and chia seeds. It has a kind of cookie dough flavor. You can spread it on apples, bananas, and toast. He recommended putting it on ice cream, “It turns into a shell like Magic Shell®. It firms up and you can crack it with a spoon.” [caption id="attachment_7930" align="alignleft" width="320"]Endorfin bars That’s not a misspelling on Endorfin flavored bar packages.[/caption] We didn’t get to try it with ice cream, but it is a more interesting treat than any cashew butter I’ve tried before, with more flavor (hey, it’s got chocolate mixed in) and a slightly crunchy texture. It’s not available on their website yet, but keep your eye out for this new treat. We tried a couple of Endorfin’s flavored bars, which are labeled “Dark Mylk Chocolate,” which was a head-scratcher for me until Brian explained, “We start with 60–70% cacao and add coconut milk, so it’s dairy free. The ‘mylk’ spelling is because it’s non-dairy. Federal regulators prohibit calling something ‘milk’ if it’s non-dairy.” The coffee drinkers among us loved the Turkish Coffee bar; the coffee made it taste like a darker chocolate. Brian said it’s their most popular bar, and that “people were grabbing them by the handful [to buy].” The Passion bar got a more mixed reception. Most of us thought the ginger and rose were nicely balanced, but some thought the ginger overpowered the rose and was too harsh. With both bars, the texture was smoother than most people expected from raw chocolate. Endorfin has an online store where you can buy their bars, monthly chocolate subscriptions, and bulk chocolate supplies. [caption id="attachment_7918" align="alignright" width="320"]Jonas Ketterle, Firefly Chocolate Jonas Ketterle makes Firefly Chocolate in a traditional Mexican-inspired way.[/caption]

Traditional techniques

Firefly Chocolate is a new chocolatier we met at the salon. Jonas Ketterle, Firefly’s Founder & Chief Chocolatier, just started selling his 85% cacao bars in June. While his bars aren’t raw, he focuses on the health aspects of chocolate, which he calls, “an amazing superfood.” He spent 3-1/2 years learning the art of chocolate making, which he described as “making dark chocolate that people love by picking the right bean and roasting it to eliminate acidity.” He explained, “I roast at low temperature. You don’t need a French roast, but I believe fire is part of the alchemy of making chocolate. I learned to make chocolate in Oaxaca, Mexico the traditional way and that includes fire roasting.” He uses organic cacao that he sources from a cooperative of 300 farmers in Belize. The chocolate has a fruity taste. His sweetener is coconut palm sugar. He currently offers 6 different bars, which he designed for different occasions, such as his Spicy Chai: “It’s great in the morning; I melt it into a drink.” Of the flavors I tried, I liked the Coconut best, which was smoother and sweeter than the other flavors. Jonas explained that it was because of the added coconut, which adds lots of fat and sweetness without added sugar. This bar isn’t widely available yet. The other bars we sampled were too bitter for me (my sweet spot: 55-75% cacao). And in general, we thought the bars would be better with more cocoa butter and some added vanilla. The Maca, which Jonas described as a superfood that he recommends eating when you’re going to be active and that has a malted flavor was interesting, but I bet it would be better combined with the coconut bar. Good thing he’s contemplating a whole line of coconut bars. Firefly bars are available at The Scarlet Sage Herb Co. in SF, some select stores, and online.

Landing on her feet

Next to Firefly at the Salon was the recently uprooted flying noir, who lost their kitchen this year when Coco Délice closed, where they had been renting space. Chocolatier Karen Urbanek told us that while things were a bit chaotic these days, they had found a place to land: “We’re moving to Oakland near the airport [how appropriate!]. We will share a commercial kitchen with Nuttyness. They are building out a space. They also rented from Coco Délice, but they moved out in January. The space is close to finished, and we should be moved in in December.” [caption id="attachment_7933" align="alignleft" width="320"]flying noir box Some boozy bling in a box, courtesy of flying noir.[/caption] She’s looking at the forced move in a positive light: “At the new space, I will have a table I can call my own 24-7.” While all of that has been going on in the background, Karen has continued to make her hand-decorated-with-natural-colors/ingredients chocolates, experimenting with new flavors and textures, a line of boozy chocolates, and a drinking chocolate flavored with tropical fruits. “Everyone gets excited when I mention booze,” Karen explained when describing her new line of chocolates flavored with unusual spirits. Of the ones I sampled, I liked The Few the best. It’s a dark chocolate ganache flavored with Few-brand bourbon and encrusted with a textured shell of sugar & salt. It’s a sweet, crunchy, then boozy treat (Karen said it’s about 15% booze, and she recommends eating this line of chocolates quickly because she’s not sure how long it will be before the taste fades). I also liked the Brasilao, which had a nice burst of lime in a milk chocolate ganache mixed with cachaça, a spirit distilled from sugarcane. You can buy flying noir chocolates online or at Bi-Rite Market.

Painted pillows

[caption id="attachment_7937" align="alignright" width="420"]CocoTutti bar CocoTutti proves that both the front and the back of a bar can be beautiful.[/caption] Another very artistic chocolatier at the Salon was Elyce Zahn of CocoTutti 4-cup chocolatier, who had 5 different flavors of her bonbon/bar hybrids (CoCoQuintets) at the Salon. The bars are basically 5 attached bonbons, which she developed for people who think a box of chocolates is a gift for someone else, while a bar is a treat you can buy for yourself. She has been putting her most popular flavors into bars for about a year now, and while she still has some kinks to work out, the bars themselves seem to be accomplishing her goal. I know I treated myself to a couple of bars. Like her individual chocolates, Elyce hand-decorates the bars which is proving challenging due to the small spaces between the flavor-pillows and those little pillows themselves. She’s experimenting with application methods, such as airbrushing through cheesecloth or stamping colors on with tiny sponges. What’s also interesting visually is that the backside of her bars are often interesting too because that’s where she applies the textured bits to the bars, such as the peanuts in the Thai chili/ginger/peanut bar or the freeze-dried, ground raspberries on the raspberry bar. We tried the raspberry, Pink Pigeon Rum, and peanut butter bars. We loved the raspberry (but we always have), with its bright raspberry balancing the chocolate. If you like fruit and chocolate, we think this is the perfect after-dinner treat. We also liked the rum bar, which mixes the rum into a creamy chocolate caramel, which made for a flavor experience that started with chocolate and ended with a nice lingering rum aftertaste. The peanut butter was a nice, straightforward classic combo of milk chocolate and homemade peanut butter, but I’d really like to try that in a dark chocolate sometime. In addition to the bars, CocoTutti also had a seasonal dark chocolate bark flavored with a housemade 5-spice mixture and sprinkled with roasted pecans and dried cranberries, which was so tasty we came dangerously close to just inhaling it. You can find CocoTutti chocolates online and at a lot of chocolate/food-oriented events. They will next be at the KPFA Winter Crafts Fair, 12/19 &12/20, at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond. A perfect chance to get some special holidays gifts (including for yourself).

Real food wrapped in chocolate

Another local artisan chocolatier we saw at the Salon who will also be at the KPFA Winter Crafts Fair is Fera’wyn’s Artisan Chocolates [caption id="attachment_7968" align="alignright" width="320"]Autumn Brittle Fera’wyn’s Autumn Brittle will make you forget traditional brittles.[/caption] We talked with David Whittingham, Fera’wyn’s co-chocolatier/owner with his wife Joanna, and he told us that in addition to selling online and at the Walnut Creek Farmers Market, they are doing more shows: “We just came from the NorthWest Chocolate Festival in Seattle.” They had a range of their truffles at the show, from the ever-popular Limocello and extra-hot Naga Chili to the seasonal Pumpkin Pie, Gingerbread and Mint Frost, plus the enigmatic purple-swirled Willow, which David revealed is made with blueberry & elderberry balsamic plus chartreuse. It makes for a very blueberry experience. One of the things that Fera’wyn’s does to make their truffles stand out is that they often incorporate ingredients that give texture, not just flavor to their ganaches. For example, the Gingerbread truffle has real gingerbread inside and the Pumpkin Pie truffle contains “actual pumpkin puree, which gives it a nice texture,” David explained. We agree. So many things nowadays are pumpkin-pie-spice flavored (often with artificial flavors) that it’s nice to have something not just flavored but actually closer to the real thing. The puree texture is different than a typical smooth ganache and does make the truffle seem more akin to an actual piece of pie (but with chocolate, so it’s even better).

It’s not chocolate, but we love it

But what we are really excited about from Fera’wyn’s isn’t a chocolate item at all: Their Autumn Brittle is a pumpkin/sesame seed brittle that we fell in love with. It is crunchy, but not dangerous to your teeth, and it has a nice spice mix with the seeds giving a more subtle flavor than the typical peanut brittle we grew up with. Its also visually appealing with a cute stamped design on the pieces, and it’s packaged in a pretty wrapper. This is brittle adults can appreciate. Among the people who tried our sample, everyone like it — even those who don’t usually eat brittle. It’s worth seeking out for gift-giving or for yourself. [caption id="attachment_7946" align="alignleft" width="320"]Heavenly Toffee Matt Elkins and his line of heavenly toffee.[/caption]

Local candy

This leads us into the not-strictly-chocolate portion of the event. There were several more-candy-oriented local vendors at the show, and we tried them all.

Grandma started it all

Matt Elkins, the owner/candymaker of Heavenly Taste Toffee, told us he started his business a year ago using a “third-generation recipe that Grandma invented, and Mom has made it for the holidays for 35 years. “I use Guittard chocolate, real butter, real sugar — none of the fake stuff.” He currently offers 8 flavors with plans for more. He told us his favorite is the white cherry pistachio, but the most popular is the dark almond toffee. The one we liked best was the espresso toffee with biscotti, which had homemade almond biscotti ground and spread on top of the dark toffee. You can buy Heavenly Taste Toffee at several local farmers markets and retail outlets or order it online.

Family tradition

We also met caramel maker, Kindred Cooks founder Jeri Vasquez, who started the business 2 years ago and currently offers 8 kinds of caramels from the traditional to the bacon-flavored. Jeri explained that she started the business using a “Traditional recipe handed down to me: it’s generations old. I always made it for the holidays, but the list kept getting longer and people begging, ‘Don’t drop me from the list.’ It became ‘If not now, then when?’ so I jumped in. And now, the caramels sell themselves.” We tried her caramels that were flavored with chocolate: Bacon with Chocolate and Sea Salt with Chocolate. They both have a very soft texture, but still chewy. Of the 2, we liked the more classic sea salt best, which makes sense since she told us her regular caramel with sea salt is her best seller. Over the 2 years she’s been in business, she’s expanded her line of caramels: “We now have spicy hot, vanilla chai, and bacon. The next flavor will be espresso, and I plan to rotate flavors because people always ask for what’s new.” [caption id="attachment_7947" align="alignright" width="320"]R&J Toffee Understated packaging shows off R & J Toffees.[/caption] Kindred Cooks caramels are available in specialty stores and online.

Toffee to die for

The candy discovery of the event for us was R&J Toffees of San Jose. Although they have been at other food events (and were featured in a KRON4 piece on a previous salon along with Elyce Zahn of CocoTutti) and been in business for almost 9 years in San Jose, this was our first time trying this toffee. We are so glad we didn’t wait any longer. R&J makes one product only: their Premium Almond Toffee. It is so good, I can see why they don’t bother with anything else. It is a delicious traditional-looking toffee (although more almond-encrusted), full of chocolate and almond flavor with a long buttery aftertaste.

Better with age

We asked Sarah Mardaraswala of R&J why their toffee is different from others we’ve tried: “We age our toffee before we sell it for 8-9 months to give it a strong toffee, buttery taste.” I am used to vendors at the Salon urging me to eat my purchases quickly because they use no preservatives. Sarah advises the opposite for their toffee because aging it further will deepen the buttery toffee flavor: “You can freeze for up to a year, and it keeps in the fridge for 8-9 months.” R & J Toffees was a big winner with everyone we shared samples with. Everyone loved the buttery aftertaste, and a lot of people were surprised that such an unassuming-looking product could be so addicting. The only way anyone suggested it could be improved would be if they did a salted version. Not only did everybody enjoy it, they wanted to know where they could get it themselves. Sarah told us that they do salons and festivals frequently, and it’s also available online, in local Whole Foods and the Ritz Hotel in Half Moon Bay. Visit their website to find other locations. We can highly recommend R & J Toffees as a treat for yourself, and — with its long shelf life — as a gift you know will be enjoyed and appreciated. [caption id="attachment_7944" align="alignright" width="240"]NeoCocoa Marshmallows NeoCocoa Marshmallows are irresistible.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_7943" align="alignright" width="240"]Neo Cocoa Toffee Nib Brittle Neo Cocoa’s Toffee Nib Brittle is a nice twist on tradition.[/caption]

Neo candies

Combining toffee and brittle into one addictive treat is Neo Cocoa’s Toffee Nib Brittle. Maybe it’s the addition of nibs, but we really enjoy this variation — it’s got a satisfying crunch that’s not as hard as brittle, and the nibs are a great substitute for nuts (especially if you love chocolate). If you don’t like nuts, try this toffee treat instead. Christine Doerr, Neo Cocoa’s founder/chocolatier told us her toffee is a Good Food finalist. Winners will be announced in January. We wouldn’t be surprised to see this win. Neo Cocoa has a line of chocolate bars. Christine debuted a gingerbread bar at the show. “I make gingerbread, crumble it up & mix it into milk chocolate. It’s a take on cookies & milk,” she explained. “I decided on milk because dark chocolate overpowered the gingerbread.” Our crew agreed that milk was a good choice for this bar that had a nice crunchy texture that reminded us of rice crispies. We also liked the balance of spices with the milk chocolate; it did have a very gingerbread-y taste. Christine also makes marshmallow confections. Her seasonal choice at the Salon was a Marshmallow Cranberry Orange truffle, which featured an orange-flavored marshmallow sandwiched between 2 slabs of cranberry ganache and doused with cocoa powder (Neo Cocoa truffles aren’t encased in chocolate). This was a good reminder of the season with so much flavor from the tart cranberry and orange fruit. But our favorite Neo Cocoa marshmallow treat are the big chocolate-covered marshmallows. The chocolate is a delicious dark chocolate that makes the perfect thickness shell over the soft pillows of marshmallows. Christine told us, she likes them so much, she eats them like apples. One of our CBTB chocolateers described them as “portable chocolate mousse.” Neo Cocoa chocolate is available online, and at local chocolate hotspots like Bi-Rite Market, La Cocina’s kiosk, Star Grocery, Chocolate Covered, and more.

Big-business chocolate

Finally, at the Salon were 3 local-but-large companies with their chocolate wares: TCHO, Alter Eco, and The Tea Room Chocolate Company. We didn’t try the Tea Room bars this time, but they had their entire range of tea-infused bars at the Salon. We did sample TCHO and Alter Eco bars.

Bigtime bean-to-bar

TCHO is a big wheel in the local bean-to-bar industry. They have done a lot nationally to raise awareness of single-source chocolate making, but at the Salon, we found we actually liked their blended milk chocolates best. [caption id="attachment_7994" align="alignnone" width="630"]tcho TCHO has expanded from simple bean-to-bars to “futuristic, fun” bars.[/caption] They offered a tasting range starting at 99%, which they sourced from Ecuador & Peru: Yuck. If you survive that, you proceed down the chocolate range from 70% to 46%. It wasn’t until we hit the 53% Cacao, a mix of beans from Peru & Ecuador that we found something memorable. It’s a lush, fudgy, dark milk chocolate. Their best-selling Mokaccino is also a good milk chocolate, same mix of sources, that uses local Blue Bottle Coffee for the mocha taste. What’s new with TCHO is flavored bars, which they’ve offered for about 1 year. At the Salon, they had Strawberry Rhubarb Pie, which includes crunchy pieces of pie crust in milk chocolate; TCHunky TCHOtella with hazelnut, sea salt, and hazelnut butter; and Galactic Gelato, which adds mint astronaut gelato (anyone remember astronaut ice cream? Same thing) to dark chocolate. We tried the Galactic Gelato because it seemed like the most unusual and found it a cool mint chocolate with chewy/crunchy bits of freeze-dried gelato. They told us that next year they will be expanding the line of futuristic chocolate in fun flavors, so look for them.

100% organic, down to the wrapper

OK, maybe 100% is a stretch, but the fact that Alter Eco packages their truffles in compostable wrappers made of eucalytus and birch that decompose in 60 days was a definite talking point at the Salon to differentiate their product. Because the fact that they are also organic, fair trade, non-GMO, gluten free, and soy free is not so unique anymore, I guess. Alter Eco doesn’t manufacture their chocolates in SFBA — they are Swiss-made chocolates — but they are attuned to Bay Area sensibilities. In addition to the aforementioned attributes, Cat Gieser, Alter Eco Marketing Coordinator, explained to us that their truffle ganache is made with the trendy superfood coconut oil and most of their bars are vegan. They had their full line of bars at the show, including the newest Brown Butter and Burnt Caramel bars (definitely not vegan). And they probably had the best deal at the show: 4 full-size bars for $10 total. We like Alter Eco bar. They don’t make us swoon, but they are a solid choice if you’re concerned about sustainability but also wants something that tastes good and is reasonably priced. [caption id="attachment_7995" align="alignnone" width="630"]alter Eco bars Alter Eco had quite the show deal: 4 bars for $10.[/caption] You can find TCHO, Alter Eco, and The Tea Room Chocolate Company products in places too numerous to mention, across the country and beyond.

Chocolate history lesson

In addition to meeting all the local chocolate vendors at the Salon, we also got to hear an entertaining presentation by Jessica Ferraro of Bar Cacao on craft chocolate (think bean-to-bar), which — while the scope was international — did mention some local makers, including Dandelion and the still-missed trail-blazer Scharffenberger. Jessica gave a short history lesson on the recent boom in craft chocolate and handed out samples of some of the chocolate to reinforce her points. She gives these talks around town, sometimes including a tour of local chocolate makers. She’s an entertaining speaker and worth checking out.

Latest tours of local chocolate scene

We also gave a presentation at the show, DIY Chocolate Tours of the Bay Area. This was an updated version of the presentation we did at last year’s International Chocolate Salon featuring new and updated tour stops from our DIY tour suggestions. We have been asked to give this presentation again at next year’s International Chocolate Salon, March 5, 2016, but if you can’t wait, you can plan your own local chocolate tours using our DIY tour suggestions.

Local chocolatiers’ Fall Luxury Salon awards:

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House of happy smiles Mon, 30 Nov 2015 22:31:47 +0000 Maison Bouche Absinthe

[caption id="attachment_7885" align="alignnone" width="630"]Maison Bouche bars Just a sample of Maison Bouche’s chocolate bars (clockwise from top left): Vanilla with Malt Crunch Milk, Absinthe Dark, Peach Blossom Milk, Rosemary Almond Dark, Cardamom with Candied Orange Dark, Lavender from the High Alps with Sea Salt Dark, and Geranium Bourbon Milk.[/caption]  Maison Bouche (“Mouth House” in English) is an East Bay chocolatier with a French accent. From the chocolate’s names to the pretty packaging to the quality flavor ingredients blended into superb chocolate, it is very evocative of a French chocolate experience. Maison Bouche offers 30–40 bars online, plus molded chocolates, caramels, cookies, cakes, and postcards of vintage images. Their bars are also available in stores around the country (see their website for exact locations). We recently bought some at Chocolate Covered in SF.

Great for gift-giving

My first thought on seeing the selection of Maison Bouche bars at Chocolate Covered was that these would make simple, attractive and unusual gifts for chocolate lovers. The flavors sound special, the packaging looks French, and the color combinations of the labels with the colored foil wrappers are very pleasing. And the price ($6.50 for a 2.2 oz. bar) is comparable to other high end chocolate. There is a lot of variety to the bar flavors, so you can find something to please everybody on your list. The website divides bars into categories that include holiday (and seasonal) flavors, spices, flowers, fruits, crunches, and an “after-dinner” group of dessert- and drink-flavored bars.

Great for keeping to yourself

The bars themselves are divided into 8 little pillows that are the perfect size for melting in your mouth, which is the optimal way to experience these flavored bars. As they melt and the chocolate fills your mouth, some hit you first with one flavor, roll through a middle flavor, then end with something else. In general, all of the bars I sampled had a lingering aftertaste. Combined with the quality chocolate (nice flavor, smooth texture, good temper), it made each pillow in a bar very satisfying. These are bars to savor. [caption id="attachment_7889" align="alignleft" width="320"]Rosemary Almond Maison Bouche’s Rosemary Almond Dark Chocolate Bar is a good savory chocolate combination.[/caption]

Add some spice to your life

Of the ones I tried, I could see making the 2 Spice bars a regular treat. The Cardamome et Orange Confite (Cardamom with Candied Orange) Dark Chocolate Bar has visible slivers of candied orange peel, which translated to a bright orange flavored bar, The cardamom flavor was more subtle and came through after the orange. The Rosemary Almond with Sea Salt Dark Chocolate Bar had visible almond bits with a toasted almond flavor that hit first, followed by rosemary that lingered (an unusual flavor for chocolate, but it worked). It was balanced, the rosemary flavor was not overpowering or too herb-y, and the sea salt was understated, just there to enhance the other flavors, not call attention to itself.

Edible bouquets

The other herb-y bar I tried, which is in the floral category, was Lavande des Hautes-Alpes et Fleur de Sel (Lavender from the High Alps with Sea Salt) Dark Chocolate Bar. It had a very strong lavender flavor, which I think will please chocolate lovers who also really like lavender. I shared all of these bars with other people, and this one drew the strongest negative reactions. But if you or someone you know likes lavender, this could be the bar to buy. Personally, I might like it better if it was a darker chocolate and lighter on the lavender. [caption id="attachment_7893" align="alignright" width="320"]Peach Blossom Peach Blossom does not taste like peaches, who knew?[/caption] The 2 other florals we tried were both a little surprising, but big hits. The Fleur de Pecher (Peach Blossom) Milk Chocolate Bar is flavored with — as it says — peach blossom, not peach. They are distinctly different flavors. The peach blossom reminds me of peach-flavored black teas I’ve had. It’s more floral than fruity. And for me, I’d love to pair this bar with a cup of strong black tea. The Geranium Bourbon was surprising because the Bourbon in the name doesn’t refer to whiskey, but to the Bourbon Islands (now La Réunion), as in that is where the geraniums used to make the flavor are sourced. So instead of any boozy flavor or buzz, the bar had a very nice, distinct floral taste first, that was balanced with the creamy milk chocolate. Even people who thought they wouldn’t like a floral bar liked this one.

Mild to wild

The last 2 bars we tried were both good but in distinctly different ways. The crunchy Vanilla et Malt Croquants (Vanilla with Malt Crunch) Milk Chocolate Bar was a lightly malted, very milky chocolate with a long vanilla aftertaste. It’s very good for your risk-adverse chocolate lovers, and a bit of a comfort food for the rest of us. The Absinthe would be a good match for your more adventurous palates: It has a nice woody licorice taste that works well with the dark chocolate. This is one delicious, unusual bar.

See for yourself

Maison Bouche chocolate is worth seeking out. The exceptional chocolate combined with interesting flavors that balance and complement each other and the chocolate makes for an outstanding series of chocolate experiences. I look forward to trying more of these. I think you will too. Bon Appétit!]]> 0
The Chocolate Garage Fri, 13 Nov 2015 22:21:50 +0000

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When worlds collide Tue, 06 Oct 2015 18:11:13 +0000 Ferrero Lee Min Ho

[caption id="attachment_7727" align="alignright" width="320"]Lee Min Ho with chocolates Lee Min Ho makes a good case for chocolates being the international language of love.[/caption] Today my life-long obsession with chocolate and my recent obsession with K-dramas collided when I read that Ferrero Rocher has hired Hallyu star Lee Min Ho as their spokesmodel. According to Adrienne Stanley, contributing editor at KDramaStars, Lee Min Ho will star in Ferrero Rocher’s Christmas and Valentine’s Day commercials. The first ad in the “Italian Flair” campaign shows the popular actor preparing for a date in Rome that includes a box of chocolates. Most chocolate lovers are probably already familiar with Ferrero-Rocher’s ubiquitous holiday commercials, if not with the chocolates themselves. And if you know who Lee Min Ho is, you probably can’t wait for the ads to air on a TV station near you. It’s not clear from the news reports however, if the ads are strictly for the Asian market or will air worldwide. For those who don’t know who this Korean Wave actor is, I’d like to suggest a couple of his TV dramas as introduction: Faith, 2012, an action/supernatural thriller in which he plays a time-traveling warrior from 1300s Korea; and City Hunter, 2011, a revenge drama in which he plays an assassin-by-upbringing with an over-the-top wardrobe. Don’t forget the bonbons! Photos: Starhaus Entertainment]]> 0
Stuff like that Fri, 25 Sep 2015 01:25:33 +0000 haggis

Continuing our series of “I can’t believe what somebody thought of to put in chocolate” (British edition), Chocolate Tree just announced that their Haggis Spice Chocolate Bar is a semifinalist in the Great British Spiced Chocolate Challenge (GBSCC). Yup, that’s right. Alastair & Friederike Gower of Chocolate Tree, Edinburgh, Scotland’s only bean-to-bar maker, produce a chocolate bar that includes all the common ingredients in haggis, that traditional Scottish dish of sheep liver, heart & lung, cooked with oatmeal & spices in the sheep’s stomach — minus the minced offal and intestine casing. (Does that make it vegan haggis?) [caption id="attachment_7702" align="alignnone" width="519"]Haggis Spice chocolate bar “What makes you feel like doing stuff like that?” — Quincy Jones lyric (Photo by Chocolate Tree.)[/caption] Somehow I missed this bar before, but it won an International Chocolate Award in 2013, and is now receiving recognition in the GBSCC. According to the GBSCC website, the Great British Spiced Chocolate Challenge is in its 2nd year and features “over 100 professional and amateur chocolatiers competing alongside each other to create a new spiced chocolate.” Preliminary judging was on Sept. 3, with the final challenge taking place during National Chocolate Week, Oct. 12-18, 2015. The winning chocolatier will receive a 7-day trip to Grenada (a producer of spices and chocolate) plus their chocolate “will be fast-tracked into a top London food hall in time for Christmas 2015!” If the contest is for a new bar, and Haggis Spice has been around a while, it seems like they need to change things up a bit. My suggestion: Since haggis is typically consumed with a glass of Scotch, maybe they should add whiskey to the bar? Might make the bar more approachable for the haggis-averse crowd. [Previous entries in the “What are they thinking?” (British edition) include the Francis Bacon-themed chocolate with no bacon, but including edible charcoal, hay-flavored chocolate, and Truffle Sprouts (chocolates made with Brussels sprouts).] (Featured image of haggis on front page from Wikipedia by zoonabar. Title: Haggis. Taken on: April 27, 2006. Original source:]]> 0
Chocolate Bacon Fri, 28 Aug 2015 23:51:54 +0000 Francis Bacon Figure in a Landscape

The Tate art museum in London opened a new exhibit this week that attempts to engage more of your senses when viewing the art in the exhibit. According to their website, the Tate Sensorium, open through 9/20/15, “is an immersive display featuring four paintings from the Tate collection. You can experience sounds, smells, tastes and physical forms inspired by the artworks, and record and review your physiological responses through sophisticated measurement devices.” One of those works is Francis Bacon’s 1945 “Figure in a Landscape,” which to this former art student looks like one of his typical unsettling, why-does-he-always-dismember-his-models works. They’ve paired it with chocolate. [caption id="attachment_7679" align="alignnone" width="543"]Francis Bacon Figure in a Landscape Figure in a Landscape, 1945, Francis Bacon[/caption] Other artworks are paired with sound, scent, smell, and touch. Why they chose to pair chocolate with the most depressing piece in the exhibit, I don’t understand. Maybe they are trying to cheer us up when we are looking at the piece. Or maybe it’s simply that the exhibitor heard the term Bacon Chocolate and thought it would be a funny twist. The chocolate doesn’t have any bacon in it. Instead, they were trying to evoke the painting’s “dark nature” by flavoring the chocolate with sea salt, cacao nibs, lapsang souchong tea and edible charcoal. Edible charcoal? Sounds like they’re trying to mess with the enjoyment of chocolate experience as much as Bacon messed with the representation of the human form. In case that isn’t enough to color the experience, they also have “mechanized, industrial sounds” playing and scents wafting around the image that include grass, dirt, and “an animalic, horse-like scent.” I’m starting to think somebody doesn’t like chocolate very much.]]> 0
Chocolate heartbreak Wed, 22 Jul 2015 18:39:41 +0000 Coco Delice

Chef Dennis Kearney of Coco Délice sent out an email, July 15, 2015 announcing the sale of this SFBA artisan chocolate institution. The letter mentions personal reasons for the sale, plus the difficulty of “achieving a consistent and positive cash flow” and the need for more capital investment. We at CBTB are sad that such a fine chocolatier is leaving the business. Chef Dennis makes elegant, delicious chocolates that win awards and fans. I am personally going to miss his great peanut butter chocolate Easter bunnies the most, so I am hoping he shares the recipe with whoever buys the business. [caption id="attachment_1632" align="alignnone" width="630"]Coco Delice bunnies Coco Délice peanut butter bunnies: my favorite local chocolate covered peanut butter treats.[/caption] The letter, in its entirety, is printed below: Hello Friends and Colleagues- I am reaching out to let you know that due to personal reasons (mostly good) I plan to sell Coco Delice.  It has been a great run (almost 10 years!) and I have grown a lot as a person and as professional.  I am hoping that you or someone you know, might want to purchase either the entire business or some of our products to help expand your own product line.  While it would be great to keep the Coco Delice name going, I would certainly understand the desire to absorb the products under another company’s name. As they say, timing is everything.  Coco Delice started getting its momentum just before the recession hit.  Since then, finding the money to grow faster and larger has been very challenging, as many of you know.  As some of you may know, the company evolved out my own need to get in touch with my creative self, when I was working a full-time job that was far from fulfilling.  I never had a solid plan for Coco Delice (mistake #1), but the company continued to grow organically with limited marketing and I went with it, learning lots along the way and making plenty of mistakes. Please note that achieving a consistent and positive cash flow has continued to elude me as the owner of this business. There are a number of reasons for this, but the main reason was lack of proper planning and lack of capital to implement growth-inducing measures. Hence the low asking price below. However, Coco Delice has some amazing products (award winning beer chocolates for example) great customers (Whole Foods, Pasta Shop, Carneros Inn) and a very loyal following. I would prefer to sell the company and its assets (equipment, recipes, and customers) in one transaction but would consider all reasonable proposals for the various components.  In the right hands, the company could become a mainstay in the artisan chocolate marketplace. Sale price: $123,500 I know some of you might be interested in some of the assets-we have lots of molds, packaging, equipment, etc., please let me know your interests and I will let you know what is available depending on if a buyer steps up to purchase everything or not. While the decision to move on is bittersweet (pun intended!), the journey has been amazing and I have enjoyed  getting to know many of you. Please feel free to forward this email to anyone that may be interested. Warm regards- Dennis ______________________________ Dennis Kearney | Founder Coco Délice Fine Chocolates 2014 Good Food Award Winner! Black Magic Beer Chocolates Visit Us On Facebook! CocoDelice]]> 0
Why? Mon, 29 Jun 2015 21:14:02 +0000 why poop

[caption id="attachment_7619" align="alignright" width="320"]mickeys updates Somebody’s idea of a new fun way to eat chocolate.[/caption] This seems so wrong, I can’t ignore it. According to the New York Daily News, this month Disney World in Orlando, FL, has been selling chocolate treats shaped like animal dung. They don’t name them as such, instead the “Match the Species” desserts are labelled with the names of animals. For example, “elephant” is a blob of chocolate peanut butter fudge rolled in oatmeal and coconut flakes. “Giraffe” is smaller pellets of caramel chocolate fudge. But just one look and you know this isn’t some chocolate version of animal crackers. I’m not sure what public reaction at the park was like to these new treats during the 2 weeks they were sold at Zuri’s Sweets Shop in the Harambe Marketplace of the Animal Kingdom section, but as of June 29, 2015, Disney will no longer be selling the faux poop. [caption id="attachment_7621" align="alignleft" width="400"]Putting the “gag” in gag gifts, Disney’s “Match the Species” desserts are supposed to look like poop. Putting the “gag” in gag gifts, Disney’s “Match the Species” desserts are supposed to look like poop.[/caption] If you’re sorry you missed this limited-time treat, watch TheTimTracker and his wife Jenn try all 4 types of the scat-themed desserts in Eating Animal Poop At Disney's Animal Kingdom?!? (You can stop watching after 6:37 when they ramble on to other areas and topics.)]]> 0