More than 40 chocolatiers tempted attendees at the annual San Francisco International Chocolate Salon. I was one of the lucky (or maybe crazy) judges who attempted to taste nearly all of the hundreds of chocolate goodies on display.
The biggest trend? Chocolates with a spicy kick. Habanero, mole, cayenne, curry. Yep, looks like spicy is the new salty. Some chocolatiers have mastered the chili; others, not so much.
To see the Chocolate Salon official winners, go here and click on “SF Salon Awards.” To see my personal top 10 picks for the most luscious, chocolaty goodness, keep reading:
- Quail Point Their Marrakesh filled chocolates blew me away. The ganache was creamy and melting, while the layers of flavor from the house-made ras el hanout spice blend kept evolving to a big a finish. Great tea-infused chocolates, too. And will somebody please send me their 12 Days of Christmas bonbons this holiday season? Please?
- Marco Paolo The thin, chocolate-covered coconut nectar brittle from this SoCal company re-defined toffee for me. Wow, was it good! Just the right amount of “burnt” notes to give it character, with the perfect proportion of chocolate to toffee. Sensational!
- Casa de Chocolates These Salon newbies have some amazing genre-busting, chocolate-covered caramels. Their style is to keep the caramel creamy and unctuous, rather than the stick-in-your-teeth variety. On top of that, they’ve created a spectacular goat’s milk caramel filling and another infused with smoky chipotle. Their other filled chocolates draw from Mexican heritage with ganaches like Mole, Tamarindo and Mezcal.
- Smitten Artisan Truffles Luscious, luscious, luscious! Their Passionfruit and habanero truffle made me swoon — a great combo of spicy, tart and sweet. Like Quail Point’s, their creamy ganaches flow across your palate the minute you take a bite.
- Socola It’s always fun to see what the Socola folks will come up with next. This year, it was a vibrant, sinus-clearing fresh mint truffle that tasted like they’d made it just seconds before I popped it in my mouth. Fabulous — but not for wimps.
- William Dean Besides being one of the nicest, most enthusiastic guys you could ever chat with (this year he was over the moon about his chocolates appearing in The Hunger Games), William Dean turns out beautifully crafted confections and packs them into boxes worthy of jewelry. And he actually made me like something covered in white chocolate (yick!) — his key lime bonbon.
- Neo Cocoa Artisanal marshmallows are all the rage over in France, and Neo Cocoa is now incorporating layers of them into their truffles. I’m not much of a marshmallow fan, but their combos actually worked for me.
- Jade These folks continue to have fun and innovate. Their Pop Rocks Lollies were all gone by the time I hit their booth, but I enjoyed their bittersweet-covered Chocolate Mango Orchids.
- Marich This Hollister company specializes in chocolate-covered nuts, doing it far better than the cheap versions this genre usually offers. I particularly fell for their Dark Chocolate Chipotle Almonds, which are first covered with a sweet-spicy glaze before getting enrobed with chocolate. What? The bag’s all gone? Say it ain’t so!
- Landru I couldn’t keep my mitts out of the bag of Landru’s Salt-N-Pepper Toffee, either. Based on the name, I wanted to hate it (What? You’ve combined the old trend and the new trend?), but they absolutely nailed a perfect alchemy of sweet, salty and spicy.
Bonus: Almanac Beer Co. Partnering with Dandelion Chocolates, Almanac created their Biere de Chocolat with a goal to balance sweet and savory. Success! There’s a great bitter-chocolate finish, but you don’t feel like you’re drinking a candy bar.
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