I don't like the taste of alcohol. This is something that is true of most people when they are children, but they're assured that they will grow out of it when they reach adulthood (in the real world this means they're going to have to pretend to have done so by the first week of college at the very latest in order to keep up with their peers). I'm sure this does happen, because most people seem to enjoy drinking, or at least the results. I, on the other hand, retain the exact same reaction I did when I was a kid and I took a big swallow of the clear liquid from a glass on the table that I thought was water and turned out to be white wine...yech. Actually, I had the same experience with Coke, which I was given with no warning as to what the experience was supposed to be like, and I have hated soft drinks ever since. Perhaps my real problem was unexpected novelty. Like many children, there was one stretch where I ate only one thing for lunch, ever.
As a grownup who is overly fond of cream and sugar, I will tolerate one type of drink. Every so often I will poor some Bailey's into a large glass of chocolate milk, and I will sip that for a bit, and then I will be done with alcohol for another three to six months. This isn't exactly a pressing need. We ran out of Bailey's over a year ago at my apartment and it has not ended up on my shopping list, in large part because you can buy a lot of chocolate with the money for a bottle of liquor. Cognizant of my preferences, two Christmases ago my parents got me a container of Turin Bailey's Chocolates. I snacked on a ton of them while I was home, but had forgotten their existence until I saw via Candyblog's Twitter feed that En Chocolat had reviewed them. En Chocolat's writer is one who can find all sorts of ways to talk about the chocolate-tasting experience and that's something I often envy. Cybele agreed that she, too, thought they needed more alcohol and less sugar. I have to say that it never crossed my mind that I would want to eat a candy that had the "burn" of liquor. I do find that feeling refreshing for about 2.4 seconds, but I like to eat chocolate for a significantly longer time than that. For my part, I was a bit weirded out that they'd approximated the Irish cream flavoring so closely, didn't think the chocolate was any great shakes but didn't expect it to be, and appreciated the fact that I wasn't drinking so I didn't have to think about getting nauseated for once. At the chocolate salon, the last thing I did was sip a shot of something called Vermeer, a chocolate liquor with an extremely high alcohol content for a sweet drink. The chocolate is Dutch processed so it has very little content to get in the way of the alcohol, which burned a hole through two hours of solid snacking and also buzzed me immediately. It was the right way to end the affair, but it wasn't something I would want to be doing in the same way I eat candy. If I want a drink I"ll finally pay for that bottle of Bailey's. If I want a dessert drenched in alcohol I'll order bread pudding. To each her own.
Although I will never understand the urge to make things less sweet than they otherwise would be (it's probably more sophisticated, but I'd generally rather take the jeans and t-shirt version of dessert), Poco Dolce ("a little sweet") makes a mean chocolate-covered toffee. This local chocolatier keeps its kitchen in the Dogpatch district, which is also the home of the San Francisco Food Bank if you're interested in stopping by and helping bag some dry goods for the community. Volunteering at the Food Bank is one of the most fun ways to make a difference in just a few hours.... Then you can really feel you earned your super chile toffee square (delayed dry heat that's aggressive but not overwhelming) or burnt caramel bittersweet tile (haven't tried it but anything with burnt caramel ought to be good, right?). The same flavor is used in the company's straight-up toffee, if you're not in the mood for slightly less chocolatey experience. These little numbers are not cheap ($16 for a tin of toffee squares according to the website), but would make a nice gift or indulgence, plus you're supporting the San Francisco economy.
"I forgive the French a lot, particularly at mealtime." -Calvin Trillin
And I can forgive not only an overly cutesy name but an overly precious overall concept in the name of truly standout fudge. This offering was one of the stars of the chocolate salon.
One of the reasons I came out of this event woozy was the high percentage of candy relative to products with a little more heft. Here's the lowdown on some of them:
I like my brownies cake-consistency rather than fudge-consistency, and the ones baked from the Chocolate Bliss cookbook were exactly right. There's a testimonial on the site from someone I think is supposed to be Maria Sharapova. Believable that she'd like chocolate, but they spelled her name wrong....
Lavender was a prime ingredient at the Salon and one of the stars were buttery cookies with just a hint of lavender from a mix made by Little Sky Lavender farm in Santa Cruz.
I've been staring at Kiki's Treats products for years without ponying up the money to buy them, but perhaps I wasn't missing anything after all. Its shortbread cookies were grainy and dry, and the chocolate coating was bitter.
In the oddball category, Plush Puffs set up a little marshmallow toasting station so passers-by could sample their wares. Coconut was a popular flavor, and the bits that got crunchy when held over the flame were surprisingly buttery and delicious. The slightly lesser-cooked middle, however, was chewy and unappetizing. Make sure to almost burn the outside and you might get a better tasty ratio.
Original Beans is a European chocolatier that produces bars which are ultra-single origin, choosing beans that come from one tree for each bar. The result belies the idea, sometimes promoted by me, that origin doesn't really matter, creating a unique bar that mostly lacks the overly fruity, wine-like undertones of most very expensive chocolate in favor of a self-contained and pure flavor profile. Original Beans is also a company that was founded with conservation in mind. That kind of attention to detail makes these bars out of the everyday price range ($12.50 here and more in normal retail locations). Tasting chocolate that costs this much is a major reason to pay the Chocolate Salon's cover fee.