This past weekend I had the opportunity to be a judge at a chocolate contest! I have to thank my good friend Bun – who is the amazingly creative chef that runs Miya’s, a sustainable sushi restaurant that has the largest vegetarian sushi menu in the world (I love it!) – he was unable to attend and I was his very happy pinch hitter!
After tasting 21 different chocolate cookies, candies and cakes, I had two very clear favorites.
Number one for me was a Sarah Bernhardt Cookie made by Carol Merriman from The Whitneyville Market. Sarah Bernhardt (c. October 22, 1844 – March 26, 1923) was a French stage and early film actress, and has been referred to as “the most famous actress the world has ever known”. I have read that the cookie’s origin is both Dutch and Danish – which is correct, I am not sure. Apparently, while Sarah was touring in Amsterdam or Copenhagen, she sampled this delectable creation and fell in love with it, causing the owner of the shop to promptly name it after her. This cookie had never entered my life before this tasting, but I definitely hope it makes more appearances from now on! I love almonds and I love chocolate, so like Sarah Bernhardt, I love this cookie.
Number two was a layered hazelnut delight made by Jean Peirre of Union League Cafe. From the 1880’s through the 1940’s, Union League was a private civic and social club. My father’s father (better known as Upstairs Poppy) belonged to this club where he drank manhattans while my dad chowed down on French fries. There was also bowling downstairs where kids set the pins back up by hand for the members. I think I may have a new place for tea and dessert in New Haven.
There are many wonderful chocolates that I love; here are a few of my favorites…
My friend Fritz makes inventive, fun and delicious chocolates that can be purchased at his South Norwalk, CT restaurant Chocopologie, on his website, or at many partner stores such as Whole Foods Market. His chocolates are named after women; and while he does have an Amanda (lemon verbena ganache), my favorites are the Hannah (burnt caramel and Hawaiian sea salt), the Patricia (dark chocolate filled with chile and tangerine ganache), the Keiko (strawberry ganache topped with peppercorns), the Kelly (strawberry lemon-thyme ganache), and the Le Femme (white chocolate filled with passion fruit ganache). Is the fact that he is one of the best chocolatiers in America why we are friends? Of course not 😉
Another chocolatier that I absolutely love is Christopher Elbow (we are not friends – yet!). I highly recommend: Fresh Mango (Caramel blended with butter and fresh mango), Fresh Lime (Milk Chocolate ganache made with fresh squeezed limes), Rosemary Caramel (A soft caramel infused with fresh locally grown rosemary), Balsamic Caramel (Sweet caramel with a tangy balsamic vinegar), Caramel with Fleur de Sel (A soft caramel ganache made with French sea salt), Venezuelan Spice (Dark ganache infused with a chili-spice blend), Passion Fruit (Caramel made with the tropical taste of passion fruit), and Raspberry (A layer of fresh raspberry pate de fruit topped with a dark chocolate-raspberry infused ganache).
In NYC, Kee’s Chocolates makes me smile, especially the Black Sesame (Dark chocolate truffles coated with toasted white and dark sesame), the Crème brûlée (Dark chocolate bonbon filled with creme brulée), the Green Tea (White chocolate truffles rolled in green tea powder), the Kaffir Lime (Fresh Thai lime infused with dark chocolate), the Passion Fruit (Bonbon chocolate filled with dark chocolate ganache) and the Thai Chili (Dark chocolate ganache with infused chili).
One of my favorite chocolate shops, which carries many great products from chocolatiers around the world, is Cocoa Bella in San Francisco; the online store allows you to build a box selecting your favorite chocolates. Designing my own personal box is so much fun!
As for chocolate bars, here are a few that I like…
Chocolate has a long and rich history starting thousands of years ago in Mexico. Today scientists study the effect cocoa consumption can have on blood pressure, cancer, psychological health and even chronic fatigue syndrome. Chocolate has it all: taste, possible health benefits, and overall awesomeness….chocolate makes me very happy!! Even the chocolate fruit tastes good! I recommend going out and buying some chocolate for someone you want to make happy!