On our recent vacation on California’s Central Coast, Cacaopod and I enjoyed some local chocolate, along with the beautiful weather and invigorating sights.
Just a pinch
Based in Aptos (near Santa Cruz), Ashby Confections offers truffles and chocolate “snacks.” They have a retail space shared with a patisserie in Aptos, plus several local stores carry part of their line. They also have an online store.
Ashby uses a Grand Cru couverture for their chocolates. Made from criollo beans (the best), this is a delicious choice to start with. They hand-make their candies using fresh, local (as much as possible) ingredients and no preservatives.
Pretty gift idea
We tried some of their snacks and salted caramels. The Monterey Bay Salt Caramels come 5 to a pack for about $11. The clear box with the chocolates lined up on a layer of excelsior and tied with an orange bow makes for a very attractive gift for friends who like assertively salted caramels. We liked the dark chocolate and thought the chewy caramel was just the right texture, but the candies were too salty for us. And we both thought they would taste great with nuts.
Gift for me
Lucky for us, Ashby also makes “Tortoises” (over-sized pecan turtles), which were a good combination of fine dark chocolate, chewy caramel and pecans. They also feature Monterey Bay sea salt, but for us at least, it was too much of a good thing. Less salt would make these perfect for us.
We also tried the dark chocolate Rocky Road, but think the balance of the ingredients could use tweaking — there’s so much chocolate that instead of enrobing the marshmallow and almonds, it’s more like a chocolate bar with ingredients sprinkled on top (probably not a problem for most chocolate lovers). And the marshmallow was so light, it disappeared. We like a chewier pillow with some flavor of its own. And again, the sea salt was more pronounced than enhancing to our tastes.
But these are picky criticisms, the chocolates are delicious; and since Ashby chocolates are handmade, we probably just hit on a batch that was a little heavy on the salt. Next time I’ll select ones with the lightest sprinkle. Because otherwise, I think Ashby Confections is a good find. I look forward to trying their other chocolates.
Like Grandma used to make
Lula’s Chocolates was a find for us last time we visited the area. We were happy to discover this time they have their own shop now in Carmel-by-the-Sea, which carries their full line of truffles and other chocolate treats. Opened in November 2011, the chocolate boutique is conveniently located across the street from Carmel Plaza (home to the Fountain of Woof in the dog-friendliest town in the U.S.).
Lula’s Chocolates are old-fashioned chocolates: think big, sweet, with heavy shells. We tried their 70% assorted mix which includes caramels, nuts, and creams.
As before, we liked their chocolates with macadamia nuts best. The macadamia caramels had good caramel and a nice amount of nuts. But I think they need to upgrade the chocolate they use for their shells.
If they switched up their chocolate, I’d recommend these for people who like their chocolates on the sweet side, but still want handmade chocolates with healthy ingredients.
On our trip down to the Central Coast, we stopped in Los Gatos at Fleur de Cocoa Patisserie Chocolaterie to try their famous butter croissants and get an assortment of their bonbons for the road.
Fleur de Cocoa is a cute little place on the main drag of town, full of wonderful French pastries, both the morning and dessert kinds, plus a full range of coffee drinks, a French bistro range of lunch choices, ice cream and chocolates — everything made in-house.
It’s quite ambitious, but it seems to mostly work. Very popular items sell out quickly (we could only get mini croissants on our first visit), and the croissants were delicious.
Their chocolates were a mixed bag for us. A plus is that they taste like what they are supposed to be. The raspberry bonbon tasted like raspberry, the cinnamon-hazelnut tasted like hazelnut with a hint of cinnamon. But for the most part, they were too light on chocolate flavor. The balance was definitely toward the filling. The chocolate used for the shells is not intense enough for our tastes.
What to look for
But there were some winners: The Brenton, which looks like a Dalmatian with its white coating with dark spots, is a soft salted caramel and was our favorite in this assortment. And Dream, which is a banana caramel, is a tasty bonbon version of banana cream pie. Cadria was good too: It was a two-layer candy of extra dark chocolate ganache and bourbon praline. It had a nice little bourbon burn and the extra dark ganache more than compensated for the less-than-ideal chocolate shell.
It looks like flavors change periodically, so we’ll be sure to stop by next time we are in the area to try their new chocolates — and get a couple of their classic butter croissants.