What makes our chocolates different? 10 corners that we don't cut!
What, technically, makes our bonbons different from everyone else's? If you've asked me in person, you've probably gotten an answer at random, depending on the day. Here is a small list I've compiled over the years:
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1. We use real ingredients, not extracts. When I attended pastry school at Le Cordon Bleu in France, I was taught to make a basic ganache, then to "perfume" it as desired with oils and extracts made for pastry chefs. A coffee ganache was attained by adding coffee extract to plain ganache, peppermint ganache by adding peppermint oil, and so on. Later, as a pastry cook at Chez Panisse, I learned techniques passed down from Lindsey Shere for infusing ingredients to make ice creams, like steeping freshly-roasted coffee beans or local herbs in cream. These techniques produced much more vibrant flavors expressing their own terroir, and I have never used an extract since.
2. We make our own pralinés and fruit purées. Most chocolatiers use the same generic frozen fruit purées and buckets of praliné. We believe that in order to build truly unique flavors we need to process our own ingredients from extra special fruits and nuts. We highlight these ingredients simply, rather than combining many generic ingredients together. These fruits and nuts, along with the infused ingredients, are the source of inspiration and differentiation for our bonbons.
3. Only the best chocolate. This means the most expensive chocolate, chocolate that you would enjoy eating "out of hand", which expresses the terroir of its origin. We only use Valrhona from the Rhône valley, and TCHO from Berkeley, and sometimes we make single origin bonbons using chocolate from small craft makers. Most chocolatiers use a chocolate that is one step down from delicious, thinking that somehow, through all the sugar and glucose and extracts, you won't be able to taste the difference anyways.
4. Different coatings for different flavors. This is a subtle yet important difference. Large chocolate factories generally have 3 "lines" of enrobers (chocolate waterfalls, to the layperson), through which they send their centers for coating: a dark chocolate, a milk chocolate, and a white chocolate. Thus, each filling coated in dark chocolate gets an identical dark chocolate coating. This doesn't bother most chocolatiers. They view the coating primarily as a way to seal the ganache and don't want the coating to impart a flavor to the bonbon. Since our bonbons are made in small batches, we use smaller machines and are able to switch out the tempered chocolate completely between batches. We choose the coating chocolate that has the best synergy with the flavors in the filling. Much as you might carefully select the color of a mat to frame a painting.
5. Our coatings are slightly thicker. Chocolate is often the most expensive ingredient in a ganache, so most makers shake their bonbons to keep the coating as thin as possible. They also don't want to bring the coating taste too far in to the foreground, since this taste would be identical on every bonbon, and probably not very good. We like to have a thicker coating of chocolate (not too thick, obviously) so you can taste it.
6. No glucose or trimoline! Glucose and trimoline are "invert" sugars, sugars that have been made into a gooey paste. Melt them into a ganache and they extend shelf life and reduce ingredients cost. But they also create a gel-like texture that makes your ganache reminiscent of gel toothpaste. Our ganaches are not stabilized with glucose. The ganache is a living thing. Delicate flavors bloom and dissipate. The texture is magically cooling and refreshing on the tongue. This luscious quality cannot be maintained for more than a few days - and sometime it is even best in the first two/three days, as is the case with our Meyer lemon ganache.
7. We don't remove air from our ganache. Most professional chocolatiers make their ganaches in a sous-vide ganache machine, which pulls air out of the ganache as it mixes it together. This prolongs the shelf life. We whisk by hand in a bowl, resulting in a rich, fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth texture. We designed our business model around our ganaches - making them in small batches at the last possible moment and shipping overnight - so that you can experience this unique texture.
8. We make them with our own hands! At the end of an intensive day leading up to Christmas or Valentine's Day, my hands are buzzing when I get home. It's hard work! Instead of an enrober, we use a dipping fork. We use molds only sparingly. Instead of filling empty round chocolate shells, we hand-roll ganache centers, then do two separate coats. The process takes hours. We could technically make bonbons with machines, but then we wouldn't have so much control over their cute swirls, and we would be a factory, not a cute jewel-box sized chocolate shop.
9. We don't "fridge & freeze". Most chocolatiers will make their Christmas products over the course of many moons before Christmas, freezing either slabs of ganache or their entire finished collections, to pull out of deep freeze in December and make mad profits disproportionate to their physical capacity. Freezing compromises the flavor and texture of our ganache, so we make everything at the last minute. (The only exception is if we want to capture the flavor of a fresh summer berry and freeze its puree until winter).
10. Our packaging is bespoke. I dreamed up the interlocking hand-folded boxes taking cues from Italian paper boxes, and the decorative tapes were inspired by Japanese packaging, where every element must be both beautiful and functional. My box designs were brought to life by local die-cutters, and the lids were letterpressed on an antique press by Kim of Loyal Supply Co. Most chocolatiers opt for generic cardboard boxes that are glued together at a factory, and the outside is wrapped and glued on with printed paper. I wanted our packaging to be as full of integrity as our bonbons, so that the inside of the box is the same paper as the outside, and there is no hidden glue or tape.
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There are even more corners that didn't make this list! We could go on and on, but we probably won't have time if you ask us in person, because we'll be elbow-deep in chocolate. So thanks for reading, we really appreciate it! See you at the shop!