I came to realize that my camera is “not ready for prime time” for food photography. Although, it has high optical zoom and I was making pretty good pictures with good lighting, it is far from being sufficient for my poppy seed cake, dobos torta or linzer cookies. So, I am back to the “shopping board.” While I am reading, studying, reviewing, comparing and window shopping for a new camera, I will write a couple of posts with information that may interest you, but may not necessarily need the visual assistance, photographs provide.
Everyone loves a Top 10 list. Who are the top 10 chocolatiers in the U.S.? I’m basing my list on taste, appearance, and originality. Appearance means appearance of the chocolate, not the packaging. While it’s important, and may add to the perceived value of the product, I personally don’t enjoy eating boxes. The list is compiled with the assistance of family members, friends and chocolate expert buddies; each entry must have received the most votes We evaluated only truffles, bonbons, and pralines—not solid bars. And while there are a lot of terrific European chocolatiers (and some that made the list are from Europe originally) why pay for overseas shipping when we have so many local artisans to choose from. To make the list, the chocolatier had to either be based in the U.S. or have retail stores here.
I would also like for you to chime in with your own nominations for top chocolatiers, and I’ll present a reader’s top 10 list. The chocolatier must sell in the United States.
I’ll be putting up the list in stages over the next few days. Without further ado, the official and authoritative Chocolate and Figs Top 10 chocolatiers of 2010 begins with No. 10.
The Tenth Best Chocolatier in the US: L. A. BURDICK
Larry Burdick’s chocolates are handmade in small batches in New Hampshire. The chocolates are elegant and sophisticated, yet also fun and playful.
Larry Burdick was a pastry chef in New York City when he chose to focus on making chocolate. He decided that if he wanted to concentrate on making high quality tasteful chocolates he needed to be in a more serene surroundings than New York City can provide, so he moved to Walpole, New Hampshire where he still maintains his headquarters.
Burdick sourced his cacao beans directly from the Grenada Chocolate Company, in the southeastern Caribbean, until 2004, when a severe hurricane devastated the island and ruined the cacao plantations. Dried and fermented beans were shipped to high quality couverture producer Felchlin in Switzerland for processing.
As of today, Felchlin and Valrhona make up the bulk of Burdick’s chocolates, but production in Grenada had been steadily increasing each year, so they hope that the trend will continue. Burdick likes to use minimally sweetened chocolate which allows him to create unadulterated chocolate flavor.
The bonbons/pralines/truffles of Burdick are delectable, but about half the size of what you might find at another chocolatier’s shop. However, despite their small size, each piece delivers a blast of great chocolate flavor. The ganache is always perfectly proportioned, and definitely in the French style. They’re firm and dense, yet melt decadently, allowing plenty of time for the flavors to shine through. The shells are thin, melt easily and quickly, and provide just enough chocolaty appetizer before the main course, the ganache.
One of the benefits of small sizes is that you can fit plenty of pieces into one box (even a quarter pounder contains 20 pieces). Burdick likes to incorporate liqueurs, cherries, raspberries, orange, and the like into the ganache, but he never allows them to overpower the chocolate. Many of his chocolates use traditional flavors, but he does a few “eccentric” pieces like a combination of milk and dark chocolate interior with cherry liquor, cherries and cumin seeds or the white chocolate ganache infused with lemongrass and a touch of vodka decorated with pink peppercorns.
We selected the following bonbons as their “Top of Line”, although it was not an easy task:
- Baton Framboise
- Earl Grey
Baton Framboise is made with fresh raspberry in which the seeds provide a wonderful textural crunch and additional hint of fruitiness; the top is sprinkled with chopped pistachio. Brazilia harmonizes espresso, kirsch (cherry liqueur) and anise for an unusual but highly enjoyable piece. The espresso and kirsch add some kick (hopefully the FDA won’t be banning this alchohol/caffeine combo) and anise delivers a light and flavorful accent. It is absolutely delicious. The Earl Grey with bergamot is simple but refreshing (and I love the aroma of bergamot). The Orinoco with Caribbean spices and a touch of rum is a unique work of art; the cocoa nibs hold off the melting of the combination of milk and dark center which allows the explosion of flavors linger indefinitely. Richelieu is also a combination of sweet and savory, with quite unusual ingredients (this is one of those that I call eccentric); it blends cherry liqueur with cumin, milk and dark chocolate interior to provide a sweet yet uniquely savory contrast, and the coverture is topped with a dried cherry. You should certainly try it; you may be surprised by its delicacy and the lingering taste.
You can also find other interesting pieces, like Pavé Glace (dark chocolate, cocoa butter, cognac, saffron and a touch of butter), Trinidad (a baton of dark ganache with cinnamon, cardamom and chopped hazelnuts) and Fig (you knew that I will mention this) with dark chocolate ganache balanced with a flavorful fig and port wine.
However, three pieces stand tall among their peers, fashionably shaped into adorable figures of penguins, mice (with silk string tails) and honey bees, that are almost too cute to eat. The penguins are filled with lemon-accented chocolate ganache, the honey bee contains its namesake ganache with almond wings and the mice have three treatments: dark chocolate ganache with orange, milk chocolate with espresso and white chocolate with cinnamon.
The dark chocolate version tastes similar to the Jaffa bonbon, but the milk and white siblings are unique. The espresso-accented milk chocolate is a refreshing balancing act, while the cinnamon and white chocolate combination is tastier than dark chocolate lovers (like me) dream of in their philosophy. One mouse is included in each quarter pound box and two mice can be found in the half and full pound assortments. These little creatures are so good that you might want to purchase your own litter of mice; the penguin are equally charming. I was told that they are making additional seasonal figures, (e.g. snowman, turkey, etc), but I have not seen or tasted those yet.
How to Order:
One can order online http://burdickchocolate.com, or by phone: 800-229-2419 and a beautiful catalog will also be mailed to you. If you happen to be in Walpole, New Hampshire, Cambridge, Massachusetts, or New York City, you can feast in person at Burdick’s Chocolate Shop and Café, http://www.burdickchocolate.com/stores-and-cafes-nyc.asp, destination spots for many fans.
PLEASE NOTE: There was absolutely no monetary or any other related exchanges involved in these posts.