My priest said that 80% of the people who give up something for Lent give up chocolate. I guess that is not so surprising because it does seem to be a guilty pleasure for many people. Coffee is another one the people give up. I, Epicurian that I am, did not give up chocolate or coffee (I'd commit crimes against humanity if I gave up coffee). Anyway, it's good to give up small, daily pleasures during Lent.
Having said that, I'm going to torture those of you who gave up chocolate by writing about it. Please don't consider it torture, but consider it looking forward to Easter!
My dear sweet parents sent me a box of gorgeous chocolates for no particular reason other than my mom thought they would make me smile. Right she was! Last week a box of 21 chocolates from a new chocolatier in Kansas City (of all places) named Christopher Elbow arrived. These are not Russell Stovers (also from Kansas City). Rather they are individually, hand-made chocolates of fresh ingredients. The fillings are not your run of the mill strawberry, vanilla creme or caramel but rather strawberry and balsamic, caramel with pear and cinnamon, and Tahitian vanilla bean. My mom's favorite one is rosemary caramel. I am saving it for last. Some of the flavors are more interesting than delicious like the Russian tea chocolate which was chocolate flavored with bergamot tea. Strange but still delightful even though I wouldn't eat a whole box of bergamot flavored chocolates. The best part of Elbow's chocolates (besides the word "chocolate") is that they are so pretty. Each one looks like it was hand-painted with bright colors and even gold dust. Christopher Elbow's web site shows the various flavors and their pictures and you can order them online.
My other very favorite choclates are from England and are called Charbonnel et Walker. Charbonnel et Walker is the grande dame of English chocolatiers. Before Cadbury there were Mme. Charbonnel and Mrs. Walker. When I was a student in England, I would take the train from Cambridge (where I lived) down to London several times a week for my evening classes. Very often I would go down early to wander the streets and museums. One of my favorite rambles is around Bond Street where Charbonnel is located. I was broke, being a student and all, so I could only buy one or two chocolates at a time. The Charbonnel chocolates employ more cream and butter than Mr. Elbow's. They also tend towards more traditional fillings. Mrs. Walker would probably turn in her grave at the very idea of a chocolate bonbon filled w/ hot chili pepper. Imagine my delight, thank goodness for the information superhighway, to find that Charbonnel et Walker has a web site and they take international orders. What cracks me up about Charbonnel is that they sell 2KG boxes of chocolate. That's like 4lbs of chocolate. I love chocolate but how what would one do with 4lbs of very expensive chocolates? The great news is that Charbonnel has a brand, new store in NYC called Cafe Charbonnel. It's located in Saks Fifth Avenue at 611 Fifth Ave. Besides the boxed chocolates they sell homemade chocolate desserts and hot cocoa.
My very favorite chocolate wonder is the truffle. And I don't mean some gargantuan thing w/ a hard chocolate shell. I mean those ugly, little pure chocolate and butter balls covered in messy cocoa without nuts or alcohol. I've eaten truffles all over and I've even made them myself. Talk about a big mess in the kitchen! I had melted chocolate and butter up to my shoulders and all over my face and hair. I guess it's no bad thing to be covered head to toe in chocolate. BUT make it easier on yourself and just run down to A Southern Season in Chapel Hill and buy their own brand of truffles. Words cannot describe how tasty they are. They are melt-in-your-mouth fabulous. A Southern Season also sells them online. If you try them, just get the traditional ones and not the ones with caramel or chocolate nibs (what is a nib?).
Belgian chocolates underwhelm me, even when I've been to Belgium. They all taste the same: that is full of hazelnut ganache. Not a bad thing but I'll take my hazelnut/chocolate combo in Nutella, thanks.