What says Valentine’s Day like chocolate? Well, things like wine, flowers and intimate dinners probably carry a similar sentiment, but the thing about chocolate is that you can pair it with all three of those things.
And while snacking on a hunk of premium chocolate is delightful by itself, just imagine chocolate with something special in the middle — think peanut butter, nougat or a hazelnut paste. Or what about something fruity, like chocolate-covered blueberries or cranberries?
The Hippo spoke with Jeff Bart, whose family owns Granite State Candy Shoppe (www.nhchocolates.com) in Concord, about the ins and outs of chocolates that contain a tasty, and in some cases particularly inventive, center.
This year, Bart’s shop is making three new pieces, including a chocolate Vienna nougat, which is a “very light, fluffy, aerated nougat center. We make the nougat, then form it into small pieces and coat it in milk and dark chocolate,” Bart said. “That’s a new fun piece we’re making right now.”
Granite State Candy Shoppe workers call a couple other new morsels “meltaways,” which aren’t exactly truffles. There’s one with a chocolate and hazelnut paste center. Chocolatiers use a mandoline to cut the chocolate-covered goodies into pieces. The shop makes a similar piece with a peanut butter center, which is coated in only milk chocolate, Bart said.
Those are the new ones, but the shop has more than 40 pieces on the list of chocolates it makes on a regular basis, including buttercreams, blueberry creams, wintergreen or peppermint patty, as well as raspberry, lemon, coffee, maple and of course caramels, Bart said.
“The caramel patties are like turtles,” Bart said, adding that the shop has a full line of fruit and nut clusters, where patrons can pick up combinations of raisins, cranberries, peanuts and cashews, to name a few.
“They’ve always been popular,” Bart said. “People certainly come to us for our homemade chocolate. ... We roast all of our own nuts. We make fudge, peanut brittles, lots and lots of other homemade candies and confections for each holiday season.”
For Valentine’s Day, the shop will be dipping thousands of strawberries in chocolate.
The Granite State Candy Shoppe isn’t the only place inventing unique centers for chocolates. Van Otis Chocolates in Manchester takes pumpkin cream for a center and covers it in white chocolate to make a pumpkin pie cream. Van Otis (www.vanotischocolates.com) also offers truffles with strawberry cheesecake, cappuccino and amaretto centers.
Swan Chocolates (www.swanchocolates.com) in Merrimack features a series of truffles, including Tahitian vanilla bean truffles and peanut butter truffles.
Burdick Chocolate in Walpole creates dark chocolate mice, which have a whipped orange interior. The milk chocolate version of the mice have a mocha center, while the white chocolate ones contain a cinnamon center with a “touch of port,” according to www.burdickchocolate.com.
For a particularly unique take on inventive centers, there’s Dancing Lion Chocolate (www.dancinglion.us) on Elm Street in Manchester. Owner Rich Tango-Lowy, a former Hippo columnist, has offerings so unique he makes each one just a single time. In one simple bonbon, he uses chocolate that’s “very plummy,” and the center has just two drops of a thick blueberry honey from Quebec. “It’s a little crunchy,” Tango-Lowy said. “And then you get this beautiful, clean, bright chocolate, with a little bit of sweet blueberry.” Tango-Lowy also has a chocolate with rose hips, which he said are very difficult to work with, black peppercorn, green cardamom and Tasmanian leatherwood honey. He got the honey from a chocolatier friend in Australia. As of last week, Tango-Lowy was still working on a combination of caramelized yuzus, a Japanese fruit, and a bottle of 25-year-old balsamico. He hadn’t finalized which chocolate he would pair with that combination.
The Granite State Candy Shoppe is extraordinarily busy at this time of year getting ready for Valentine’s Day. It packs a variety of heart-shaped boxes with all kinds of chocolates, along with preparing all kinds of solid chocolate-molded items, like cupids and other fun things.
The Valentine’s Day push is exemplified perhaps no better than with strawberries dipped in chocolate — the strawberries, to make sure they’re fresh, are dipped in chocolate a relatively short time in advance of the holiday, and there are thousands of them that undergo the dipping.
To determine how to fill up the center of a chocolate, Bart said he gets customer requests and staff suggestions. So if you have an idea, don’t hesitate to make it known.
“Of course, we’re always looking to introduce new and different products,” Bart said. “We have access to a lot of different resources... We’ll confer with friends in the industry to see what works well for them. Certainly, there’s always some variation ... from one region of the country to another.”
“We have perennial favorites, things that are always popular regardless of the time of year, like almond butter crunch...,” Bart said. “Because we have such a large variety of homemade chocolates, people love to come in and hand-select them from the showcase and make up a custom box of chocolates for themselves or for gift-giving.”
If you’re looking to try making some of your own chocolates, complete with your own choice of a sweet and tasty center, Bart provided an outline for the process. Let’s say you were interested in chocolate-covered cranberries or blueberries. Not surprisingly, to get the ball rolling, he suggested stopping by the Granite State Candy Shoppe to pick up some milk, dark or white chocolate breakup. Purchase some dried cranberries or blueberries at the grocery store. From there, take 75 percent of the chocolate and melt it “very, very slowly” in a double boiler, Bart said. “Very gently and slowly.”
Then take the remaining portion of chocolate and cut or chop it finely. When the other chocolate is melted, pour out most of it onto a cool surface, such as some kind of stone work surface. Then add some of the shaved chocolate into the melted chocolate and mix it up. Once you have a thicker consistency, go ahead and add your cranberries or blueberries and mix it together, Bart said.
Take the cranberry and chocolate mixture and dip it out into little clusters or spread the entire mixture on a thin pan or another work surface. If you choose the latter, before the mixture has hardened completely, score it into squares or pieces, before you cut the layer into bars or random chunks.
The process is called tempering: “If you don’t temper the chocolate, you won’t get a product that is shiny when it’s hardened,” Bart said.
It’s ambitious, Bart said, and it would be important to take your time. When making more inventive centers, like a hazelnut meltaway, it’s important to have the correct ratio of ingredients. It’s not as simple as just lining up a series of ingredients. There are a number of steps. At Bart’s shop, chocolatiers coat each piece by hand. It’s painstaking work, but patrons stand to enjoy the benefits.
To embark on a chocolate journey, check out the state Division of Travel and Tourism Development’s chocolate and martini tour. Visit www.visitnh.gov and click on “Itineraries.”