Christmas 2011: From around the world

As promised, items handmade at our Edmonton shop will be out later next week, just in time for the 1st of December. For now though, we thought we’d showcase holiday themed items that have arrived from various parts of the globe. First up, Italy.

Our two favourite Italian manufacturers, Amedei and Venchi, have sent us some great chocolates this season. As per usual, Porcelana, Chuao and ‘9’ bars are on the shelf from Amedei, in addition to their Toscano and Gianduja bars. We’ve also brought back their classic ‘For You‘ drinking chocolate – 63% chocolate combined with finally ground almonds and hazelnuts for a decadent, warm sipping experience. Finally, 70% Toscana Black Napolitans are stacked in the shop, ready to head into dark chocolate lovers’ stockings.

Along with their gianduiotti and White Chocolate Hazelnut Spread, Venchi has sent on festive gianduja nutcrackers, enrobed in dark chocolate for Christmas enjoyment.

More ‘Pyramides‘ from France’s François Pralus have also made it to the shelves, this time with a new addition – the Pyramide Biologique. This version features 75% organic chocolate from Ghana, Ecuador, Dominican Republic, Tanzania and Madagascar. Have a serious chocolate fiend that needs to be satisfied? The classic Pyramide de Tropique features all ten of Pralus well loved single origin chocolates, so you can travel around the globe right from the Christmas tree.

For those that may have been relegated to the naughty list, they still deserve a little chocolate, right? We have just the thing, courtesy of Michel Cluizel. Coal is out, potatoes are in… chocolate hazelnut potatoes that is. Adorably wrapped in sacks by our staff, perfect for stockings of all shapes and sizes.

Zotter of Austria has released new artwork for the holidays, and we’re expecting brand new Marc de Champagne with a New Year’s theme, along with fun Christmas caramel bars and familiar favourites any time now.

Our neighbours down south have created some truly beautiful gift boxes and treats this season. From long time favourite, Patric, comes new additions to his OMG lineup – a dark chocolate laced with mint, an aptly named mocha bar, and finally, a cappuccino bar that will have you enjoying its beverage namesake in solid form from now on.

From Askinosie, the most adorable gift box we have come across (and believe me, we see a lot) – the Chalk-late Box. This one is filled with four of their award winning dark single origin bars. Best of all, you get to leave the recipient a message… I think the one Rachel left (above) sums up our feelings…

Finally, we must hand it to Theo for their excellent Christmas creations – a milk Gingerbread bar and a dark Peppermint bar. We’ve been loving the latter, but we’ll let you be the judge.

We know there’s a lot to choose from, so to make it a little easier, we’ve created totes and gift boxes that are ready to go. They’re all available in shop, but for a little preview, feel free to check them out over at

There you have it. All of these items are sitting amongst the garland and Christmas lights now adorning the shop, waiting to be scooped up. We love helping to create custom gifts for the chocolate lovers in your life, so be sure to ask myself (Marianne), Rachel or Maite for a little assistance if need be. See you at the shop soon!

Meeting Stephane Bonnat

[This post was from early November 2011, but was delayed due to difficulty from posting from Madagascar, which has unreliable power and internet services! Stay tuned for the Madagascar reports coming soon.]

We all drove up in the alps to a place called Voiron which is the home of Stephane Bonnat and the House of Bonnat. Clay Gordon had made the introduction, and Mr. Bonnat himself called us after Cyrus left a message in French on his answering machine. It was pretty amazing to me that we would meet the man behind some of my favorite chocolate.

When we got to his shop we were invited to wait in his office, which had the feel of some undetermined era. There were old family photos on the wallpapered wall and other paraphernalia collected over the decades including framed chocolate bar wrappers and what appeared to be a golden ticket! When Br. Bonnat entered the room through a creaky wooden door in the back of his office, he explained that the door suffered some damage from a storm that blew through the town the night before. “It’s the only thing that’s happened around here in 100 years”, he said jokingly.

Mr. Bonnat is 4th in line to run his family’s chocolate company. His great grandfather started it in 1884 and it is the oldest family run chocolate company in France. Stephane Bonnat takes the tradition of chocolate making very seriously. In excellent English, he told us that one of his goals is to make chocolate that creates the feeling of nostalgia by allowing people to taste what their parents had tasted: “the first time you eat chocolate, it leaves an indelible mark” he said “and I want people to experience that every time”. As we were listening to Mr. Bonnat, he was beginning to leave an indelible mark on us too — that perhaps this was Willy Wonka in the flesh.

Stephane Bonnat is highly energetic and enthusiastic about everything. He believes that great chefs need to be interested in many things (He is crazy about chocolate but he also loves riding motorcycles and traveling). It is this curiosity that triggers his imagination because “chocolate is imagination”. He is also a bit of of a mad scientist drawing his inspiration from antique chocolate making equipment which he collects and restores. As we walked around the factory floor, he would point to a machine and say, “this is another old new machine I bought”. He believes that old equipment makes better chocolate and after years of loving his chocolate, I am in full agreement.

In the Roald Dahl book, the character of Willie Wonka is paranoid about spies and infiltrators who want to steal his recipes. Stephane Bonnat is very open about his chocolate. He gave us a full tour of his facilities and even told us the ratio of beans to sugar and cocoa butter that he uses in his bars. He is however, suspicious of chocolatiers who make claims to having the best chocolate in the world, namely some unnamed Italians. In his opinion, the difference between French and Italian chocolate is that “the French are innovators and the Italians are followers” To him, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting, or in the taste of the chocolate, in this case. The Bonnat family has been making chocolate for 137 years and that’s a long time to perfect a recipe!

Some things we learned about our visit to the Bonnat shop and Factory:

1. His dad started making single origin bars in the 80’s, which was revolutionary at the time.
2. They support programs in Peru to reduce cocaine production by having farmers plant cocoa trees instead of growing coca.
3. They still produce a complete line of Bon bons and pastries which they sell in their tea and chocolate shop in Voiron.
4. They have 2 retail locations in Tokyo that are run by local partners.
5. He uses organic and kosher milk powder in his milk chocolate bars.
6. Bonnat is very concerned about allergens. He doesn’t add soy lecithin to chocolate and his dark chocolate bars are made in a special room to avoid cross contamination.

Thanks to Clay for the introduction, and thanks to Mr. Bonnat and the House of Bonnat for their hospitality. We really loved our visit. Vive Bonnat!


What is Gianduja anyways?

We have lots of gianduja hanging around the shop for the holidays, so we thought we’d better re-introduce this amazing treat so you can get to enjoying it.

Gianduja was first invented in Turin, Italy by Paul Caffarel in 1865. By grinding hazelnuts into a paste and then adding it to chocolate and sugar, he was able  to produce a creamy, nutty treat. Originally this confection was shaped into gianduiotti (below)almost like an upturned boat – then wrapped in foil. Today though, it comes in an array of forms, including bars and spreads.

Which gianduja do we love?

From Venchi, classic gianduiotti wrapped in gold, both in small and larger sizes. They also sent us holiday Nutcracker boxes, with 10 pieces of gianduja festively bound. And finally, jars of white gianduja spread (think Nutella), with a hint of vanilla.

Amedei boasts one of the best gianduja bars we’ve ever tried, combining beautiful hazelnuts with their amazing craft chocolate. They also produce a drinking chocolate that combines finely ground hazelnuts with their 63% dark chocolate – a serious treat to sip during the cooler months.

And finally from French maker François Pralus, Barre Infernales. These beauties come in a brick style shape, and feature a hazelnut gianduja paste, studded with whole hazelnuts, all enrobed with either milk or dark chocolate. We can never get enough of either.

So there you have it. Hopefully you’re able to sit down over the holidays to savour this Italian beauty. We promise you will be hooked forever.

Drinking Chocolate Flights – Saturday, November 19th from 1-5pm

Whilst in Portland, I got to visit Cacao Drink Chocolate and taste the most amazing Flight of three drinking chocolates (below). So, as a nod to this Portland shop’s genius (and to celebrate the first snow and cooler temperatures), we will be offering Drinking Chocolate Flights this coming Saturday, November 19th, from 1-5pm. Guests can sample three types of drinking chocolate for $5. Here’s what’s on the menu:

Amedei’s “For You” Classic – This is the ultimate, folks, straight from Tuscany.

63% percent chocolate with finely ground hazelnuts, almonds and a little vanilla bean.

Vosge’s Bianca Couture Cocoa – The lightest of the three, this

concoction contains white chocolate, lemon myrtle and lavender.

Chocophilia Spiced Drinking Chocolate – Our house version of the

Mayan classic, with a hint of cayenne to warm up cold fingers and toes.

We will be putting out a couple tables so you can sit down and savour each elixir. Hope you will join us!

Tell us about your favourite bar…

We’ve been choosing our favourite bars over the past few months, and for December’s ‘Pick of the Month’, we’d like a little help.

Leave a comment below (or e-mail us at marianne [at] kerstinschocolates [dot] com) telling us why your favourite bar should be December’s feature. We’ll pick the most passionate response and give the winner their favourite bar on the house.

There are a couple caveats:

Firstly, no Porcelana.

Secondly, we like to use the monthly features to highlight some of our single origin/imported selections that people might not normally pick up. So no Chocophilia bars, please.

Other than that, any bar in the shop is game. We’ve now received all our Amedei, Amano, Madécasse, Askinosie, Bonnat, Michel Cluizel and François Pralus, so there’s lots to choose from. Happy tasting!


Edit: Here’s a list of bars currently at the shop. Madécasse has been left out since they were featured in our November pick.

Amano – Ocumare 70%, Ocumare 30%, Dos Rios, Guayas, Morobe, Cuyagua (Limited Edition), Montanya (Limited Edition)

Domori – Lattesal, Biancomenta, Cappuccino, Latteamaranth, Peperoncino, Biancoliquiriquia

Amedei – ‘9’, Chuao, Toscana Black 70%

Michel Cluizel – Los Anconès, Concepcion, Vila Gracinda

Bonnat – Madagascar 75%, Asfarth (dark milk), Surabaya (dark milk), Java (dark milk)

François Pralus – Indonesie, Tanzanie, Trinidad, Colombie

Askinosie – Del Tambo, Tenende Tanzania, Nibble-bar

TAZA – 60%, 70%, 80%

Patric – 75% Madagascar, PBJ OMG, Mint OMG, Mocha OMG, Cappuccino

Visiting the Valrhona factory

I made sure to brief the kids before we toured the Valrhona factory. I was especially concerned that Ilona would do some damage so I explained to her that we would be visiting a chocolate factory kind of like Willie Wonka’s factory except that there would be no Oompa Loompas. To that she said, “I’ll be the Oompa Loompa”, which I thought was cute. I told the kids that this visit was very important to me and that in a way, I had won the golden ticket. This piece of information got their attention pretty quickly. I told them that they had to behave and reminded them of what happened to the kids in the story who didn’t follow Mr. Wonka’s rules. “Do you remember what happened to Violet Beauregard when she refused to stop chewing gum?” I asked. “She turned into a giant bubble and flew away” Ilona said. “And do you remember what happened to Charlie?”. “He got to keep the factory” Darius said. “Exactly” I said, “Except I don’t think we will be able to keep the factory, but you might get something good”. The next day, the kids put on their protective clothing not once, not twice, but three times and listened quietly as our guide, Luce, walked us along the gleaming factory floors explaining the functions of many different machines including roasters, conchers, and winnowers. I think their favorite machine was the robotic arm that picked up boxes and piled them neatly into stacks to be shipped. “I think that’s your Oompa Loompa”, I told them.
Here’s what Darius had to say about the visit:
Valhrona chocolate factory

I thought the Valhrona chocolate factory was very interesting. I still can’t believe the effort you need to put in to make good chocolate. After this tour it became obvious to me why Valhrona is so much better than the leading mass chocolate enterprises who value speed and money over quality and ethics.
From my point of view, there are four things Valhrona does that the leading brands of low-quality chocolate do not do, (among many other smaller things.)
1. Unlike other chocolate factories, Valhrona takes the time to make their chocolate perfect. It takes them 8 to 10 to days to get the finished product. Other bigger companies can make a bar of chocolate in only 1 or 2 days. But, if they really cherish quality other companies would take their time.
2. Valhrona staff will go straight to the producers to ensure good quality, safe working environments, and consistency in their chocolate. They also always get the cacao strait from the plantations and co-ops, rather than buying it from a cheap provider and not knowing where the chocolate is from. This is why Valhrona is much more ethical then the other large chocolate companies.
3. They education pastry chefs how to properly work with chocolate and improve their techniques. This is vital if you want the future generations to continue the chocolate legacy.
4. It tastes so darn good!!!!! Valhrona puts in so much quality that when ever you bite down on a piece of chocolate, you feel like you are in heaven! And the gianduja !!!!!




Maggie Walt’s Hidden Gems Bazaar

We’re excited to be participating in Maggie Walt’s Hidden Gems Bazaar this year! Eleven other local businesses will be on hand at Maggie’s Fashion Underground (11217 Jasper Avenue) to offer up their wares on November 4th and 5th.

There will also be goody bags and door prizes (including a Milk and Dark Chocolate Lover’s Box from us), and fun presentations on both Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. Plus, we’ll be handing out samples of our Spicy Drinking Chocolate to take the chill away (it looks like it’s coming this weekend, folks).

We hope to see you there!

Friday, November 4th from 5-9pm

Saturday, November 5th from 10am – 6pm

November Bar of the Month: Madécasse 67%

Madécasse sent us a brand new shipment towards the end of October, and we quickly re-fell in love with their 67%.

All of Madécasse’s bars are not only made with Madagascan beans, but are manufactured in Madagascar as well, a practice which is thankfully becoming more common with dedicated chocolate-makers. It’s always helpful to know that chocolate can be an ‘ethical idulgence’!

Many of you know and love the overt tart flavour typical to bars from Madagascar – the Pralus and Patric versions, both fast sellers at the shop, are probably the most notable among citrus-lovers. This 67%, I think, is a step in a different direction. Aromas of berries and wood dominate, and while one might expect punchy citrus and bold sour notes up front, this bar is a bit slow to develop (Madécasse characterizes it as ‘mellow & subtle’). First to appear on the tongue are tart berries, almost astringent, which lead into a deeper, more complex raisin-y quality, suggestive of red wine. Last comes a cedar woodiness (reminiscent of the Cocanú Holy Wood that Marianne brought back from Portland) coupled with a slight tobacco edge to finish off, drying out the mouth a bit like most Madagascars will do.

Overall, this bar is a great example of how chocolate makers can coax out the most subtle flavours in cocoa beans and bring them to the forefront, making a bar that truly stands apart from the rest. For Madagascar devotées, this bar has enough of a familiar flavour to keep you happy – but for those who like a richer, fuller chocolate, this is definitely one to try. And make haste! This particular bar, along with the 63%, is currently being phased out by Madécasse – we’ve got plenty right now, but they’ll go fast.