If you saw my dining room table recently, you would have thought Willy Wonka had set up shop in my house.
Truffles, chocolate bars, nut brittle, bonbons, and more covered it from one end to the other. And yes, I had to eat all of it. Well, at least try each and every piece.
It was all part of my judging duties for the fourth annual San Francisco Chocolate Salon, the sugaraholic’s dream event where chocolate makers show off their wares to media and members of the public, who get to sample and vote for their favorites.
Yours truly was on the team of expert panelists. For those, like myself, who couldn’t make it to the actual event this year at Fort Mason, the event organizers had the chocolate samples sent to our homes instead. Hence, the veritable candy shop in my dining room.
Here’s the list of winning chocolates from the event. And below, find my picks for my new favorite chocolate products.
What: Montana’s Posh Chocolat’s Artisan Sea Salt Caramels (photo above)
Why: Five different exotic, soft, sticky caramels enrobed in dark chocolate, each topped with a different sea salt. Think White Truffle Oil Caramel with Hawaiian Pink Sea Salt. It sounds weird, and it is different. But wow, is it elegant and memorable. And yes, you can really taste the pungent truffle oil. $15 for a box of 10.
What: Palo Alto’s Gateau et Ganache’s Handmade Marshmallows
Why: OK, how cute are these? Shaped like pastel daisies, the spring assortment comes in flavors of lemon, passion fruit and strawberry. They’re light, springy and very fruity tasting. Nine marshmallows are $12.
What: Jade Chocolates of San Francisco for Chocolate-Covered Edamame and Dragon’s Breath, Kuro Genmai, and Mahal chocolate bars
Why: Fusion often leads to confusion. But Jade takes the distinctive flavors of Asia and adds great chocolate to the mix. Chocolate-covered edamame are almost barley-like in flavor, with a great crunch, and the bittersweet taste of cocoa. All the chocolate bars are unusual. My favorite is the Genmai, which melds the nutty, toasty taste of Japanese brown rice with dark chocolate. Each bar is $6.25. A 6.5-ounce box of the edamame is $10.50.
What: Coco-Luxe of San Francisco for its new Sugar Pine Bark
Why: Been there, done that with most other nut brittles. These shards of toffee, however, are loaded with pine nuts and sage, and coated in dark chocolate. The result is a bark like no other, with the taste of a wild forest.
What: Kika’s Treats of San Francisco for Caramelized Graham Crackers
Why: Hands down, the best graham crackers you’ll ever eat. Forget the ones you were lulled with in kindergarten. These are very crisp, with autumn spices, and a lovely coating of dark chocolate. They sent only three. I could have eaten three dozen. A bag of five is $7.50.
What: Clarine’s Florentines of Berkeley
Why: These palm-sized rounds of brittle are covered in thinly sliced almonds. You can taste the quality of the butter and the Guittard bittersweet chocolate that coats the back of each one. $13.99 per bag.
Why: Hand-crafted, single-origin chocolate bonbons in such exquisite flavors as intense Passion Fruit and Absinthe. The Honey Vanilla Caramel with Walnuts and Fleur de Sel is outstanding. A nine-piece box is $20.
Why: First, you gotta love the names of these bonbons: Violent Heart (caramel and chipotle peppers), M. Butterfly (white chocolate ganache, lemongrass, coconut milk and kaffir lime), and Goddess (milk chocolate ganache and oolong tea). Second, the bold names live up to the intense taste. A four-piece box is $10.
What: William Dean Chocolates of Florida for its Lotsa Matcha Bar
Why: These chocolates have always made you stand up and take notice, both in looks and taste. The new white chocolate bar is no different. It tastes like a creamy Starbuck’s green tea latte. It will make your mouth go “Wow!”