Not that we ever need an excuse to eat chocolate, but today is World Chocolate Day, which means you should be making an extra effort to get your hands on the beloved confection. Devil's Food cake? Mousse? S'mores? Truffles? Anything will do! But in case you're looking to expand your cocoa-flavored horizons, we chatted with Alexandra Leaf, culinary historian and chocolate expert, about her current favorite treats. As the director of The Big Chocolate Show, a major chocolate trade show taking place in New York in early October (you can buy tickets online now), Leaf is familiar with companies both big and small from all over the world. Read on below for her top picks.
Fruition Chocolate, launched by American maker Bryan Graham, is a small batch bean-to-bar workshop based in the Catskill Mountains of New York. “Bryan is a former pastry chef, and I think that extra training really gives him a great background in his chocolate making,” says Leaf. “The quality of the beans, the resoureces, the integrity, the care, the flavor—it’s just a fantastic company.” Try Fruition’s award-winning Hudson Valley Bourbon Dark Milk bar, which contains roasted cocoa nibs that have been aged in Tuthilltown Spirits bourbon barrels for three months. ($10; tastefruition.com)
2. Stick With Me Sweets
The founder and head chocolatier of New York-based Stick With Me Sweets is Susanna Yoon, the former chocolate maker for renowned Michelin-starred restaurant Per Se. Today, she makes some of the most gorgeous bon bons around, all painstakingly decorated by hand. "The taste is incredible, and the complexity is really mind-boggling: they are miniature pastries," explains Leaf. "If she has a lemon meringue pie flavor, that bon bon has a pie crust, a filling, and a merengue top, which is then encapsulated in a Valrhona chocolate shell." Try a 12-piece box with innovative flavors like black sesame and passion, kalamansi meringue pie, and speculoos s’more. ($49; swmsweets.com)
Unbeknownst to us, the Swedish coffee chain Fika is also producing some incredible chocolate. “The bon bon maker is a friend of mine, and I’ve spent a lot of time in his workshop; he just does beautiful work,” says Leaf. “The flavors are great and they’re great looking, too.” One of Leaf’s favorite items is a Hazelnut Quinoa bon bon studded with caramelized puffed quinoa: “It has this delicious crunch and consistency.” Fill a 24-piece box with other unique bites like lingonberry, key lime pie, and goat cheese. ($44; fikanyc.com)
Bonnat Chocolatiers has been producing quality French confections since the 1800s. "They do a great line of milk chocolate with 65-percent cocoa content, which is very high. This is actually considered a ‘dark milk’ bar, which makes sense because the French aren’t really interested in milk chocolate," says Leaf. "The other thing that’s really interesting about Bonnat is that, for several years now, they’ve been making a Haiti bar. The Haiti bar began as a humanitarian mission, and the beans are just absolutely beautiful. It’s fruity and fudgy, with deep, satisfying cocoa notes. And Bonnat uses extra cocoa butter, so there’s a nice richness, a luxurious mouth feel," Leaf explains. For a taste of Bonnat’s dark milk chocolate, try the floral Asfarth bar, which contains cocoa harvested in Sumatra. ($5; bonnat-chocolatier.com)
5. Idilio Origins
Swiss company Idilio Origins produces chocolate made with beans from all over the world and focuses heavily on a connection with nature (according to the site, the Spanish word Idilio “refers to a small poem that sings the romance of living close to nature, a sweet experience, a gem”). "They make great bars using beans from places like Peru and Venezuela," says Leaf. Order a Super Starter pack for a little taste of everything Idilio has to offer. ($50; idilio-shop.ch)