Friday, March 26, 2010

Favorites from the Chocolate Salon

Did you make it to the Chocolate Salon this past weekend? It just gets better and better every year. There are salons held in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle and Las Vegas annually. In addition to trying tons of chocolate, one of the best things about attending a Chocolate Salon is that you get to meet many chocolatiers in person.

This year I was a judge and got a chance to try pounds and pounds of chocolate even before the actual event. I discovered there is a lot of very mundane chocolate, but also some amazingly good stuff from new confectioners who have only been open for business for barely a year or two.

A perennial favorite of mine is Amano, and this year they took many of the top awards. But since I've written about Amano before, I'm going to focus on chocolatiers that were new to me. Keep your eyes open for their fantastic chocolate and chocolate confections!

William Dean Chocolates
Bill Brown is the soft-spoken chocolatier behind William Dean Chocolates, named after his two grandfathers. His chocolates are exquisite and beautiful too! The popular peanut butter and jelly chocolate is what first grabbed me. His talent really shines in everything he makes with fruit, even pate de fruits. I also loved the bitter green tea white chocolate bar and the tropical caramel because they were not too sweet.

Clarine's Florentines
Clarine's Florentine's cookies dipped in chocolate are hands down the best florentines I've ever tried. There is something to be said for doing one thing, and doing it very well. The cookies have tons of toasted caramelized flavor and the chocolate is rich and luxurious. Like taking a little vacation in cookie form. Made in Berkeley.

Vice Chocolates
Oakland based Vice chocolates are really something special. Named Vice because the chocolatier found on an elimination diet that chocolate was one thing she could still eat. The dark chocolate, fig and anise seed bar was a unique combination of flavors and textures. It's dark, sultry and exotic, a most sophisticated fruit and spice bar. All the chocolates are very adult and intense. When it comes to the bon bons, I especially liked the Domina, a dark chocolate ganache infused with tangy crème fraîche, black tea, bergamont, and orange oil and the Violent Heart, filled with a chipotle infused caramel.

Quite a few of my favorites also happened to be local to the Bay Area:

Her Coconess made me rethink rocky road. High quality ingredients is what makes it so good. Imagine super toasty fresh almonds, delicate marshmallows all wrapped in dark chocolate. Mmmmm!

The Cocoa Delice cognac truffle was the best truffle at the show, in my opinion. Not too boozy, but very rich.

Dolce Bella made the crispiest toffee. A nice light crunch, very buttery, but not the kind of toffee that sticks in your teeth.

Another toffee-like treat was from Kika's Treats--caramelized graham crackers dipped in dark chocolate. A brand new comfort food, I could nibble on these all day.

Coco-luxe's cinnamon chocolate almonds are a nice twist on the usual chocolate almond. Very snackable (if that's a word).

A couple honorable mentions:
Kay Dillon's confections were surprisingly good, especially since they are vegan. She uses coconut and all organic ingredients. Dillon is a seasoned pastry chef with a wedding cake business, but her caramels and ganache are also wonderful.

Alter Eco fair trade certified chocolate has come a long way. The smooth textured Blackout bar has deep cocoa powder flavor and the Velvet bar has a touch of milk chocolate but also a very creamy smooth texture. The Quinoa bar is like the best ever version of a Nestle Crunch. These bars are a very good value and can be found at supermarkets.

Check out all the award winners.