Saturday, March 03, 2007

Charles Chocolates

I haven't been doing much cooking worth noting lately (unfortunately)... just a lot of the same old standbys. I HAVE, however, done some eating worth noting.

A local chocolatier whose bars I've always enjoyed is offering free chocolate tastings every Saturday in their new location. They're still in the midst of construction on the factory/cafe bit, but the guy behind the counter told us all about it, and it sounds like it will be really cool - all one big room with a (plexi?)glass divider between the cafe and the factory floor, so you can watch the chocolates being made while you have your coffee and nibble your treats. Heavenly.

We went to one of the tastings last weekend (and then again this weekend, with friends... for research purposes, of course) and it was fabulous. I went in with my husband, thinking we'd each try a peanut butterfly - last weekend's featured treat - and then be moved along, maybe buy a chocolate bar or something so as not to feel guilty for just snagging free sweets. But the guy at the counter was really cool and kept giving us other things to try. Among the things we sampled:

Triple-chocolate covered hazelnuts, and almonds: Basic, but really delicious.

"Orange twigs": which I thought would be chocolate covered bits of candied orange peel but were actually orange-flavored chocolate ganache covered with regular chocolate.

Mojito chocolates: Beyond amazing, a mojito-flavored chocolate ganache with a dark chocolate coating. The flavor was spot on and incredibly intense, and the juxtaposition of mojito and chocolate was shocking, even though I was expecting it! My husband tried the passionfruit one, which was similarly intense, but tasted a lot like raspberry to me.

Fleur du Sel caramels: Really complex - I thought about these for a long time. I knew that I liked them at first bite, but I couldn't figure out why; I nibbled away at it really slowly but even by the tenth bite I couldn't describe what made them so different than other caramels I've had. It might be the sea salt, but there was a depth to the flavor that I couldn't quite figure out. Probably something to do with the temperature that they take the sugar to, or maybe the proportion of butter/cream that they use? At any rate, I was impressed.

The peanut butterflies: Described as "grownup Reese's peanut butter cups", but that doesn't quite do them justice. The chocolate butterfly shells were filled with a caramelized peanut praline that's a little crunchy rather than smooth, and again, the depth of flavor was amazing.

This week's featured item was rolled truffles (I had wondered whether they meant cocoa-rolled truffles but apparently not; these were, like the mojito chocolates, coated in a solid dark chocolate) in five flavors. I tried the ginger and Kahlua ones, but they also had mint, Earl Grey and lavender honey. The ginger was strong but not overhelming, and the Kahlua was predictably delicious. I also tried a jasmine chocolate from their Téance line, which was funky... I'm not such a huge fan of floral flavors in any food, let alone chocolate, but it was subtle enough that I enjoyed it.

We also sampled a caramel, similar to the Fleur du Sel, coated in chocolate and rolled in splintered almonds, which was not on the menu last time, but was, for lack of a better phrase, real good (I'm running out of unique ways to say "delicious").

So yeah, heads up to anyone in the Bay Area, get over to Charles Chocolates next Saturday for some decadent freebies... and to anyone not in the Bay Area, I can assure you that you wouldn't regret ordering something from their website. I'm definitely going for the Easter treats, but I think that'll be my last apppearance... if I keep going back, they're going to ban me. We did buy a 1/2 lb. box at our first visit, so I don't feel TOO guilty about sampling so many. And now I'm giving them free publicity, right? Totally worth my weight in chocolate.

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