Chocolate Bars and Champagne Truffles
In 2010 Stephanie took a business trip to Basel and brought back a box of Sprüngli Champagne truffles for me. You could say she had me at "confiserie". That same year, the youngest competitor in the Scripps National Spelling Bee, an 11 year old from Canada, misspelled "confiserie". It seemed like a spellable enough word--then again I had been extracting one beautiful truffle a night, savoring the smooth, silky chocolates with the Confiserie Sprüngli logo on the box for weeks. This wasn't my first taste of luxury chocolate and it certainly wouldn't be my last.
According to The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, the chocolate bar was invented in 1847 by Joseph Fry with the creation of a paste of cocoa powder, sugar, and cocoa that could be pressed into a mold to form a chocolate bar. Next came Rodolphe Lindt's invention of conching, a process that rendered chocolate creamier, followed by Milton Hershey's purchase of his own conching machine and the mass marketing of milk chocolate bars in 1905. The birth of American Chocolate Bars would proliferate in the 20's and 30's with iconic examples like Snickers, Milky Way, and my favorite, the Kit Kat bar which my grandmother and mother both handed out to trick-or-treaters on Halloween.
Of course my tastebuds tend towards the luxury market and I've discovered a few favorites over the past decade. One summer in Stone Harbor, Steph and I stumbled upon the small, bite-size dark chocolate "tiles" from Poco Dolce. The brand name is Italian for "not too sweet" or "just a little sweet"--which is exactly the way I like everything--my champagne, my breakfast cookies and my apple pie. Poco Dolce is headquartered in my absolute favorite city--San Francisco, near and dear to me as the city closest to my Monterey birthplace and the setting for one of the most engaging book series ever written, Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin.
Vosges is another amazing chocolate bar. I bought my first one in the airport in Chicago. I'm partial to Mo's Dark Chocolate Bacon Bar, but there are lots of super cool flavors to contemplate and enjoy. The Wild Ophelia collection of American inspired combinations like Peanut Butter and Banana, Beef Jerky, and BBQ Potato Chips are a few. Here's all you need to know about founder and chocolatier, Kristina Markoff: She moved to Paris to embark on her culinary dreams and began her world tour with an apprenticeship under the legendary Spanish chef Ferran Adriá; her mission statement is "Peace, Love, and Chocolate".
After I write this I'm heading out into the dismal drizzle and oddly humid late October afternoon to score myself a luxury candy bar as reward for finishing my blog. I'm not driving all the way to Louisa's Chocolate Bar in Cape May where I first discovered Compartés, but it would be worth the distance. This company has had a celebrity cult following since the 50's with fans like Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, and Elvis Presley. Contemporary fans include glitterati like Elton John and Oprah. Food blogger Susan Welsh (see what I did there?) believes the combination of sublime chocolate and high-concept wrapper design makes it one of the most exquisite chocolate bars on the market. My obvious choice, the California Love bar. Pretzels. California. Love. What more do you need to know?