Complete Chocolate Lover’s Guide for the San Francisco Bay Area

Phillip Ashley bonbon

5-star white chocolate


Cheerleading some white chocolate trends

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The second TasteTV competition I judged this year was the 2021 Best White Chocolate Awards, and surprisingly to me, there were a lot of entries that would have been awarded 5 stars if I was the sole judge.

Local chocolate

There were 2 SFBA entrants in the white chocolate competition, and I loved both of their entries. In my book, they were each a solid 5 star rating.

Smoke gets in my eyes

CocoTutti 3-5 cup chocolatier, Brisbane, submitted an unusual liquid caramel bar. The Coffee by the Fire Cold Smoked Caramel with Espresso was very pretty with red speckles on the flat side of one of their signature 5-pocket CoCoQuintet bars.

CocoTutti Coffee By The Fire
CocoTutti’s Coffee By The Fire had an unusual combination that really clicked

The smoked espresso flavored liquid caramel inside was interesting and delicious. Espresso matched beautifully with the smoked flavor, and the savoriness cut the sweetness of the caramel and white chocolate. I never would’ve thought to put espresso and smoke together, but they worked well and tasted great.

The Coffee by the Fire bar was awarded Gold for Most Unique — as it should — plus it received Silver for Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Taste, Best Texture, and Best White Chocolates; and rated 4.5 stars.

You can buy CocoTutti chocolates online, locally in some stores, at special events, and at their kitchen by appointment.

Sweet & savory

Kokak ChocolatesSan Francisco, submitted their White Chocolate Umami Snack Bar. This white chocolate bar was flavored with white and black sesame seeds, salt, candied ginger, orange rind, and some unusual ingredients: shichimi togarashi (Japanese chili spice mixture), masago arare (crispy rice pearls), and nori (dried seaweed). Some of the ingredients were mixed into the white chocolate itself, while others, like the candied ginger and crispy rice pearls, were sprinkled over the top. It was interesting looking, and that ingredient list was intriguing. Before I tried it, I thought it could either be amazing or appalling.

Kokak Unami Bar
Kokak’s Unami Bar was a creative savory success

Not to worry: Initially, it was a good savory white chocolate with sesame and slight seaweed flavors. Then the heat appeared (from the candied ginger and spices) and built to hot and a little salty. The bar had a small crunch from the sesame seeds and rice pearls. It was an interesting, flavorful trip.

Kokak did a great savory white chocolate with this Umami bar. I wish more chocolatiers would temper the sweetness of white chocolate with savory additions; and if they are looking for inspiration, they should try this bar. It did well in the competition too: winning Gold for Most Unique, and Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best White Chocolates; and it rated 3.5 stars.

You can buy the Unami bar and other Kokak treats online and at their SF shop in the Castro District.

Other awards show veteran favs

Continuing my surprising streak of finding white chocolate entries worthy of 5 stars were the entries from some veteran competitors who can usually be counted on for good chocolate.

Tandem Apricot Elderflower
The decal on Tandem’s Apricot Elderflower bonbon represented the delicate balancing act of the flavors inside

Light touch

Tandem Chocolates, Reno, NV, submitted a pretty Apricot & Elderflower bonbon. Inside the pretty continued with an apricot colored extra soft ganache with a slight jam texture and defined apricot flavor.

It was a well made bonbon with a thin shell of quality white chocolate. It was not too sweet, and the elderflower toned down the fruitiness. The Apricot & Elderflower bonbon was awarded Silver for Best White Chocolates; Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Taste, and Most Unique; and and an Honorable Mention for Best Texture. It rated 4 stars.

You can buy Tandem Chocolates online or at their storefront in Reno.

Hot Tempered Lemon Thyme
Hot Tempered’s Lemon Thyme bonbon was as interesting to taste as to look at

Flavor globe

Hot Tempered Chocolates, TX, also submitted a pretty bonbon: The Lemon Thyme Bonbon was decorated with an eye-catching swirl and splash of earth colors. The thin shell held a very smooth ganache with some dark bits mixed in (thyme maybe). It smelled lightly citrus, and had a pleasant balance of flavors with a slightly licorice taste at the end.

The Lemon Thyme Bonbon was unusual and interesting; and received Honorable Mentions for Most Unique and Best White Chocolates. It rated 4 stars.

You can contact Hot Tempered Chocolates via their Facebook page to inquire about ordering their bonbons.

Seleuss Bauta Bar
Seleuss’s 4″x6″ Bauta Citron & Poppy Bar looked as delicious as it was to taste

Chocolate cake

Seleušs Chocolates, Seattle, WA, often submits very experimental chocolates to these competitions. I never know what to expect, but their Bauta Citron & Poppy Bar was great.

The large bar had a strong citrus smell and was loaded with poppy seeds. It had a great citrus and poppy seed taste, with a little crunchy poppy seed texture in the smooth yellow-tinged white chocolate. They really captured iced lemon poppy seed cake in a chocolate bar. It was sweet but not over the top; the citrus helped cut that down. The Bauta Citron & Poppy Bar was awarded Honorable Mention for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best White Chocolates; and rated 4 stars.

Seleušs Chocolates are not currently available online, and their stores are closed due to COVID. Check their website for updates.

Banyan Tree Banofee Pie
Banyan Tree’s Banofee Pie bonbon had a subtle glow

Hidden depths

Banyan Tree Chocolate, Sarasota, FL submitted a very simple looking piece that gave no hint of the complexity inside. This piece, called Banoffee Pie, was a slightly sparkly white shell that held 3 layers inside: a layer of dark Dulce de Leche, over a light yellow banana ganache on a crust of graham cracker crumbles. Banana was the dominant flavor and lingered in an overall creamy tasting filling with a slight crunch from the graham cracker.

The Banoffee Pie bonbon was awarded Honorable Mention for Most Unique, and rated 4 stars.

Banyan Tree sells its bonbons and other chocolate treats online and at their café in Sarasota.

EHChocolatier Caramelized White Bar
If it didn’t list it  in the ingredients, I wouldn’t have known EHChocolatier’s Caramelized White Bar was a white chocolate bar

Disappearing chocolate

EHChocolatier, Cambridge, MA, entered a Caramelized White Bar, but that name is too modest. In addition to the caramelized white chocolate, the bar had cacao nibs and fleur de sel liberally mixed in, so it was salty immediately (but in a good way).

The combo made for a pronounced salted caramel taste, slightly smoky, with a pleasant crunch from nibs. The salt and nibs cut down some of the sweetness — honestly, it was like they removed the white chocolate entirely — and the salty caramel tasted lingered. The Caramelized White Bar was awarded Honorable Mentions for Best Ingredient Combinations and Best White Chocolates; and rated 3.5 stars.

You can buy EHChocolatier bars and other chocolates online or at their shop in Cambridge.

Repeats that redeemed themselves

It can be hard to judge entries without prejudice, when I’ve had less than optimal experiences with the competitor’s entries in previous competitions. But I’m basically an optimistic person and have generally found that chocolatiers who like to experiment show improvement over time — or at least come up with some winners along with their weirder, less palatable offerings. This competition, there were 2 entrants I was nervous to see, but who pleased me with these entries so much I ended up rating them 5 stars.

Signature Chocolates
Phillip Ashley’s stunning Signature Chocolates

Signature chocolates

I first encountered Phillip Ashley Chocolates, Memphis, TN, in a bonbon competition, and it was a shocking encounter. I like to think that I don’t hold grudges, but ha! I still think about that abominable cornbread & collard greens truffle years later.

This time, no collard greens; instead he presented his Signature Chocolates collection of white chocolates: A box of 6 pretty bonbons, all were made with the same twisted square sided dome mold, but had their own colorful airbrushed and hand-painted designs.

Besides being extra pretty, these were well made and delicious. They ranged from the subtle Top Shelf Margarita which was a smooth, not boozy rendition that was lightly lime with some pops of salt; to the more assertive Burlesque Wild Strawberry Vanilla Bean with its pink very strawberry tasting ganache that was somewhat tempered with vanilla; to the unusual Savoy French Bleu Cheese with its bluish gray ganache that smelled like blue cheese.

Savoy French Bleu Cheese bonbon
Savoy French Bleu Cheese bonbon was an excellent savory chocolate

Nervous that this could be a repeat of the collard greens experience, I am happy to report that this is a good, slightly savory bonbon. It tasted sweet at first, then the mild cheese took over; but it achieved a good balance between the sweet and cheesy. The other bonbons in the pack were just as good if more straightforward flavor combos. This would make for an impressive gift for chocolate connoisseurs.

Phillip Ashley’s Signature Chocolates box dominated the awards, receiving Gold for Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Taste, Best Texture, and Best White Chocolate; and Silver for Most Unique. It rated 5 stars — the highest rating, and one I wholeheartedly agree with.

Phillip Ashley Chocolates are available online or by appointment at his kitchen in Memphis (and he still offers the cornbread & collard greens piece, so order carefully).

Delysia Caramel Toffee Coffee bark
Delysia’s Caramel Toffee Coffee bark comes in a reclosable plastic box that keeps it fresh

Splash-proof latte

The other redeeming entry was from competition veteran, Delysia Chocolatier, Austin, TX. They are known for pushing boundaries in their ingredients, but the results are extremely uneven, sometimes inedible in my opinion. So their Caramel Coffee Toffee Bark entry surprised me with how tasty it was.

It had a mild coffee flavor with a nice toffee crunch. Like most Delysia barks, it was thicker than I like for easy breaking or biting. While sweet, it was made with good white chocolate; and the coffee helped tone down the sweetness. I feel like they captured the experience of a caramel latte in chocolate.

The Caramel Coffee Toffee Bark was awarded Bronze for Best Ingredient Combinations, Best Taste, and Best White Chocolates; and an Honorable Mention for Most Unique. It rated 4 stars.

Delysia chocolates are available online only currently, while their shop in Austin is closed due to COVID.

A runner-up

Panache Honeysuckle
Panache’s Honeysuckle bonbon’s decoration reminded me of a struggling combover

Finally, I want to mention a couple of entries by veteran competitor, Panache Chocolatier, Leawood, KS, who makes big beautiful bonbons in small boxes. While I didn’t rate these 5 stars, they were solid 3’s in my book and did even better in the competition.

The Honeysuckle globe of white chocolate contained a very smooth, light yellow ganache. It had a mild, lightly floral flavor with honey as a second taste, which was nice because honey is often too subtle in chocolate. But the piece was just too sweet for me.

Panache Rum Raisin
Panache’s Rum Raisin bonbon was a nostalgic taste to me

I liked the Rum Raisin better. The first taste from the smooth, tan ganache was rum, then spices like pumpkin spices — cinnamon and nutmeg were top notes. I was disappointed that a small piece of chewy raisin on top was the only raisin texture. I would have liked more raisin bits.

Both pieces were pretty and well made, but ran too sweet for me. They were both rated 3.5 stars; and the Rum Raisin was awarded Honorable Mention for Most Unique.

Panache Chocolatier’s website is still under construction, so you have to call or visit them in person if you want to order something.

Last note

This was an amazing competition this year: so many attractive and tasty entries. I especially love the trend toward using high quality white chocolate (there is such a thing) and toning down the inherent sweetness of white chocolate couvertures with savory and complex combinations.

I only covered here entries that I personally rated 3 stars or higher. You can see the full list of winners on the 2021 white chocolate awards page.

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Published October 12, 2021