Online & Wholesale
After years of exercising her math and science skills working for Dell, Dian VerColen finally discovered a satisfying outlet for her artistic side. Now she uses both sides of her brain, dealing with the science as well as the art of fine chocolate work. Though she has yet to quit her day job, VerColen spends her nights and weekends creating boutique chocolates in a commercial kitchen leased at the Page House, a graceful Victorian estate on a hill overlooking Georgetown. The stately mansion is a popular venue with Central Texas brides, and wedding guests there were among the first customers to swoon over VerColen's signature chocolate creations – chocolate-covered cherry cordials, chocolate-dipped fresh strawberries, and hand-rolled truffles.
Until recently, VerColen's chocolates were only available at Page House events and at the Red Poppy Coffee Co. inside the Georgetown Public Library (402 W. Eighth). However, the newest facet of her business is a brand-new website, where customers can check out her product line and place orders online for overnight or next-day air shipping. For Valentine's Day, VerColen is offering boxes of creamy cherry cordials, beautifully dipped chocolate strawberries, and assorted boxes of her marvelous and lovely caramel, fondant, and cream truffles. The caramels are my particular favorite. – Virginia B. Wood
Pastry-chef-turned-chocolatier Ginger Berryhill's talents have contributed to the success of more than one Austin business over the years. She made pastries at Chez Fred when their desserts ruled the city, and she helped entrepreneur Rick Bristow develop the luxurious bonbons that became known as SXUL Chocolate a few years back. These days, Berryhill has a product line all her own, and the aptly named Tempt Chocolates will very likely make her famous in her own right. Berryhill's Tempt line debuted just before Christmas, and we quickly became addicted to her concoction of Fritos drizzled with premium dark chocolate and lightly dusted with chipotle chile powder. The Fritos are only one from a tasty selection of packaged barks – chocolate poured over popcorn, peanut brittle, toffee, peppermints, even organic goji berries.
Valentine's Day specials include a line of exquisite molded bonbons artistically decorated with dainty hearts. Retailers will be carrying the bonbons in boxes of six for $12.95, but assortments of 12 and 24 are available on the brand-new Tempt website. Look for the entire line of Tempt Chocolates at the Fresh Plus in Clarksville (1221 West Lynn), Cissi's Market (1400 S. Congress), and Spec's stores in Houston and Austin, or order by phone or online. – V.B.W.
Edis ChocolatesSunset Valley Farmers Market at the Toney Burger Center, Saturdays 9am-1pm, 452-6748
In chocolate, as in many other things, once you get used to the Good Stuff, there really isn't any turning back. Once you've savored a box of Edis Ferreira's handmade, 100% Belgian chocolate truffles, the term "fancy chocolates" has a whole new definition.
When properly made, chocolate truffles are dark, sensuous, creamy, and outrageously rich in cacao. Many large confectionery companies have tried to break in on the luxury chocolate action, but the result is never quite the same; there's something about handmade chocolates that can't be duplicated by machinery. Ferreira painstakingly makes each small batch to ensure perfection, and the results are heavenly.
Ferreira uses only the purest Belgian Callebaut chocolate. Each opulent golden box contains a mixture of flavors: dark chocolate, blackberry, Grand Marnier, Mexican vanilla, espresso, hazelnut, framboise, and coconut. The truffles are available in boxes of two ($4), six ($10), or a dozen ($20), or you can buy them unboxed for $1.50 apiece.
For Valentine's Day this year, Edis has added three entirely new flavors: cardamom-ginger, strawberry, and black tea. The ginger flavor is delicate, just barely perceptible behind the dark chocolate; the black tea has clear notes of harmonious tea essence; and the strawberry is as luscious as it sounds. "I am also going to have red boxes, embossed with little hearts," Ferreira explains in her lilting Portuguese accent.
Although I am not one of them, there are many out there who might see a gigantic box of chocolates as a thoughtless sabotage of their fitness goals. A small box of Edis Chocolates is a nice alternative: outrageous chocolate pleasure packed into a virtuous number of bonbons. Unless you plan to eat some yourself – in that case, get a dozen! – Kate Thornberry
Arte y Chocolate657-8098, 913-3559
Arte y Chocolate is named in tribute to the raw chocolate that comes from Central America and to demonstrate the owners' desire to pair chocolate with art. Austin native Krystal Craig and New Yorker Lila Browne met in 2004 and put their mutual interest and experience together to form a fine-chocolate company. They spent a year researching the best chocolates, equipment, trends, techniques, and people in the industry. With technical advice from Jacques Torres and inspiration from the work of Jean Pierre Wybauw, Arte y Chocolate was born in 2005.
AYC's handcrafted products use dark chocolate from El Rey, Valrhona, and Schokinag. Many of the chocolates are covered with beautiful printed patterns whose colors and designs hint at the flavors inside. They use 24-karat edible gold; luster dusts; dried flowers; organic ingredients like butter, cream, flavoring oils, toppings, and honey; candied orange and lemon peel from Paris; feuillantines from Belgium; and local ingredients such as Tito's Handmade Vodka and Ruta Maya coffee. A variety of vegan, gluten-free, and dairy-free products is available.
For Valentine's Day, AYC is offering chocolate barks such as pink peppercorn-caramel, toffee-almond, cinnamon-pecan, and coffee-crepe crunch (3-ounce bags, $6.50; 4-ounce bags, $8.50). Bonbon assortments include raspberry, cognac-marzipan, PatisFrance orange peel, full-bodied espresso, blackberry, gardenia, and lavender honey with peanut butter (available in eight-, 12-, and 16-piece boxes, $18, $26, and $34, with larger sizes available).
AYC products are available online and at Talulah Bleu Tarrytown Florist, 2815 Exposition, and Prima Dora, 1912 S. Congress. AYC is currently building a retail facility on Hamilton Pool Road, scheduled to open next summer. – MM Pack
Brown Paper Chocolates866/540-4BPC (4272)
Richard Kaplan, founder of Brown Paper Chocolates, banked on a 20-year career as a chef in elite New York and Key West restaurants before finding his way to Houston's popular River Cafe, where he gained a reputation for innovative creativity. Now he's the chef/owner of Acute Events & Catering and Acute Cafe, but his passion for chocolates created another thriving new venture. In 2004 he began experimenting with combinations of artisanal chocolates with nonprocessed, gourmet ingredients, and Brown Paper was born. Since then, the company has been nominated for the Gallo Gold Medal Award, a national award for artisanal food producers, and sales have gone nationwide.
Kaplan makes 2-inch-square blocks of uniquely flavored blends: Imagine inventive flavor combinations such as milk chocolate with caramel, cashews, Jack Daniel's, and sea salt; dark chocolate with ancho chiles, almonds, and añejo tequila; or white chocolate with candied fennel, Pernod, and pine nuts. We're looking forward to the return of a fall flavor: dark chocolate with candied pumpkin and ginger, brandy, toasted pumpkin seeds, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Kaplan recommends serving slices of any of the flavors with wine or shaving them over coffee or desserts or even over salads or savory dishes; we prefer gnawing the blocks whole, caveman-style.
For Valentine's Day, they have two special seasonal flavors: a white-chocolate block bursting with candied strawberries, fresh mint, marsala, and balsamic syrup and a dark-chocolate block fragrant with framboise, fresh raspberries, and macadamia nuts. All of the 3.5-ounce blocks ($6.99) come wrapped in foil, inside a distinctive and hip brown-paper box. You can view the entire lineup of some 18 flavor combinations in dark, milk, and white chocolates at their website or buy selected flavors locally at Central Market, Whole Foods, or Spec's. – Mick Vann
Sweet Venus Delights
The brains and mouth behind the sweet treats of Sweet Venus Delights is Achim "Chef Keem" Thiemermann, the affable and indefatigable creator of Agasweet. Agasweet is a low-glycemic, agave-nectar sweetener, and Chef Keem spends a lot of time and energy extolling the health and flavor virtues of the organic sweetener. When he's in a more indulgent mood, however, Bavarian-born Keem creates bars of lusciously flavored, Guittard-based chocolate. Fillings include blackberry, black walnut and jalapeño, rum raisin, and our personal favorite, Southern pecan, caramel, and coffee bean. The bars come in a justifiable 3.5-ounce size and the throw-caution-to-the-wind 7 ounces.
Year round, the bars are bound in foil and custom wrappers and available at Farm to Market Grocery, Whip In, the Bob Bullock Texas State History Museum, Maria's Taco Xpress, and Live Oak Market. Come Valentine's Day, though, Keem pampers his romantic side and creates heart-shaped treats of the glossy chocolate with a petite portion of filling. The plump confections are nestled in red excelsior in a clear, slender column that makes for a simple and elegant presentation. The gift boxes will only be available at Farm to Market Grocery at 1718 S. Congress, but this will give you an excuse to browse the jewel of a store and maybe pick up a bottle of bubbly or wine to accompany the gift box. – Barbara Chisholm
Chocolatier Trish Cremers started Babycake about six months ago, and the business has been growing steadily ever since. Her product is remarkably trufflelike in appearance and beautifully covered and decorated, but the first bite reveals an extraordinarily moist and rich interior. It's like combining the best aspects of a delicate and rich mousselike pudding, a light cake, and a soft truffle: dense and gooey while light as a feather and oh-so dark-chocolaty. It's one of those products that defies description but is addictively delicious.
Right now Cremers produces her truffles in four varieties. Original has a dark-chocolate center with a milk-chocolate shell and a white-chocolate drizzle. Cheesecake has a plain milk-chocolate shell. Macadamia is dusted with crushed nuts, while amaretto is liqueur-flavored and dusted with crushed hazelnuts. Plans are to expand the flavor line as soon as she gets a chance to breathe.
Her bestsellers are two-truffle ($4) and four-truffle ($8) boxes presented as guest gifts at weddings and showers, but she also sells what she calls Naked Truffles ($18 per dozen), truffles in plain packaging, meant to be placed on serving trays at events. For Valentine's Day she has a special of 24 truffles in a gorgeous, pink-and-brown-striped box with a satin bow for $36. If you get your order in by Feb. 12, it will be delivered with a gift card to the central-city area for free.
Babycake Truffles are available online and at Cork & Co., 308 Congress. – M.V.
Fat Turkey Chocolate Co.1300 S. Pleasant Valley #178, 637-0479
Fat Turkey Chocolate Co. (so named for owner Jennifer Flood's propensity for doodling fat turkeys) was founded in 2001 by Jennifer and her mother, Kathy Holberg. Now Jennifer and her spouse, chef Steven Flood, run both Fat Turkey and the annual Austin Chocolate Festival (see p.51). The Floods concoct their fine chocolates using only Belgian chocolate, premium liquor, fine liqueurs, Texas wines, fresh cream, and premium spices. The chocolatiers recommend enjoying their products fresh, because they contain no preservatives or added sugar.
In addition to the extensive year-round array of chocolate truffles and other treats, Fat Turkey is offering a variety of special products for Valentine's Day, including a charming I Love You Breakaway Bar in molded dark chocolate ($15), molded smoldering Hot Lips filled with habanero ganache ($12 for four), a heart-shaped chocolate box containing six truffles wrapped with a chocolate ribbon ($20), their bestselling Nutty Chocolate Caramel Corn laced with tiny pink and white chocolate hearts ($8), and the extra-special rose-shaped chocolate truffles filled with a choice of flavored ganaches, presented in a red chocolate box ($35). They also offer two Valentine's truffle assortments in heart-shaped boxes: 1 pound in traditional red and gold ($55) or half-pounds for $35.
Fat Turkey Chocolates are available online and at Flora & Fauna, 904 W. 12th Ste. B; Cissi's Market, 1400 S. Congress; Therapy Clothing, 1113 S. Congress; Viva Day Spa, 1811 W. 35th; and Cups & Cones, Steiner Ranch, 2900 N. Quinlan Park Rd. #290. – MM.P.
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