Chocolate Supremacy in Surprising Places

The best hot chocolate ever. If you know the recipe for Slovakian hot chocolate, please share!

German chocolate, Dutch chocolate, Swiss Chocolate and the top-of-the-world fabulous chocolate caramels served up at the little-heralded Chocolat shop at 703 Fort Street in Victoria, British Columbia – these are few of my favorite things.

After swooning to the wonders of German chocolate, I was not expecting to find anything comparable in Europe, much less Slovakia, but it turns out I was wrong about that.

Seated in the snug Cukraren na Korze in Bratislava’s historic district, we devoured the best chocolate ever. I use the word “devoured,” but it could just as easily be said that we sipped on it. The chocolate was a hot chocolate beverage topped in genuine whipped cream, and while many have used the term “you could stand a spoon up in it,” only as a descriptive for richness, Cukraren’s hot chocolate really can support a spoon.

It raises the question: Is it hot chocolate? Or pudding? I don’t know. I don’t care. I just love it. I’ve been trying to figure out the recipe all this month, but so far it eludes me.

My father was Slovakian by birth, and he went to school in Bratislava, but of all the great food he put on the table, he never produced a cup of hot chocolate like this. I think he knew I had a weakness, and that bringing Bratislava’s hot chocolate too early into my life could lead to things, like not being to find a bathroom scale able to register my weight.

If you go to Bratislava, you’ll find Cukraren (with more accents and strange squiggles on its signage that my keyboard will allow) on Michalska, just a few doors down from St. Michael’s Gate and across from these ugly gargoyles. I don’t remember what the hot chocolate costs, but I didn’t particularly care after tasting it.

 

 

This little guy obviously wants more hot chocolate.

 

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Unlauded Swiss Chocolatier Gives the Germans a Run for the Title

Looking down from the ride up in the funicular at Biel.

Inside of the span of 24 hours, we weathered a windstorm that pushed over giant trees, rain that fed the canal waters to the point where we mused about what would happen if the water spilled its banks, and then snowfall.

We almost felt as though we were back on the Canadian prairies.

All this lousy weather meant that we were honour-bound to head outside (really, we were – click here to see why).  We hit the Jura Mountains for a hike, powered by the greatest food combination known to the modern Euro-world: Knoblauchbrot. It is a half-loaf of French bread (or, should we say Swiss bread?) saturated with butter, garlic and herbs. We’re not sure of the recipe, but my guess is a half-pound of butter goes into every serving.

Then we took a funicular ride up the mountains north of our town. Yes, I said we were going hiking, but it’s steep up them thar hills, so we ride up and hike down. It was at the steeply pitched village of Evilard where we discovered a chocolate maker who just may have bumped Germany off its pedestal as best-chocolatier.

We found the chocolates at Lanz Baclerei Konditorei  (a pastry and bakery establishment) in an unassuming corner of what appeared to be a white plaster apartment building, its chief decorative element being a rolled-up orange and brown awning.  The shop gal assured us the chocolates in their display case were all made in the shop. Having discovered a true family/boutique chocolaterie, I was not about to miss out on an impromptu taste-test.

Note to the wise: When the Swiss label their liquor chocolates, they mean it. It’s not just liquor-flavoured, it’s a quarter-shot of booze in every bite. Adjust consumption levels accordingly.

We bypassed the serious liquor chocolates and had truffles instead. Their ranking: Fabulous. Maybe even better than the German chocolates but in the interest of judicial impartiality and rigour, I would have to go back to Germany for further testing. It would only be right.

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Chocolate Champions

German chocolatier working at his craft.

Mercy is called for when judging chocolates, because all chocolate is good, aside from some hideous holiday-related confections that seem to be made primarily of wax and some brown food colouring poured into bunny and poultry moulds.

If you grew up in the United States or Canada, you will know of which chocolate brand I speak, but because I am a trained journalist and therefore familiar with the laws and statutes under which I could be sued, although unsuccessfully, because I know I’m dead right about this, I am not going to reveal the manufacturer who may or may not be based in Mississauga, Ontario.

So, to all the chocolate manufacturers of all nationalities who did not win my The World, Nay The Universe Best Chocolate Ever competition, don’t feel bad, and if you do feel bad, eat chocolate. It ups your serotonin levels, leading to a feeling of well-being. And while you’re feeling so good about yourself, maybe you can concoct a better chocolate recipe for the next time I’m in your country.

And the winner is: Leysieffer of Germany, with Canada a close second.

Leysieffer’s every chocolate is a revelational experience  from their champagne white chocolates to their mocha truffles and onward. It’s the sort of chocolate that can make a person rethink their life goals. They have even redeemed orange-cream chocolates, a flavour to which many chocolate-makers add too much sugar.

Leysieffer had some tough competition in the form of Canada’s Chocolat de Chocolaterie’s caramel-filled chocolates, which by themselves are better than anything Leysieffer has to offer, but when taking each chocolatier’s ‘menu’ as a whole, Leysieffer has the broadest selection, all of which are very good indeed. At Chocolat de Chocolaterie, anyone not a big fan of caramel will still come away happy with the other offerings, but not quite as much as if they had jumped on a plane and headed to Germany, or maybe just gone online and ordered some at Leysieffer’s website.

The French, whose Paris and Besançon chocolates were sampled, will also be very ticked off to learn that not only are the Germans amazing with chocolate, they also make the best croissants on the continent. Possibly, they stole a few French secrets during the Second World War, showing that the real reason Germany invaded France was not in a bid for global domination, but to grab their recipes. But let’s not mention The War.

Judging criteria included texture, taste, body and flavour mixes.

The runner-up is Canada, with Chocolat de Chocolaterie* at 703 Fort Street in Victoria, British Columbia serving the best chocolate in that nation, with their buttery caramel chocolates melting so blissfully in the mouth that it is not safe to operate a vehicle while enjoying them. Even people who do not like me become fast friends when I feed them Chocolat’s caramel-filled chocolates.

Sorry Quebec, but Chocolat de Chocolaterie is Canada’s best, after a three-decade-long, coast-to-coast taste-testing tour. Quebec can take consolation that they had the best cheesecake in Canada, found at Dunn’s Famous restaurant in Montreal. To be truthful, though, that part of the taste-testing tour took place at the beginning of the tour in 1981, so things might have changed since then. **

Switzerland is a natural home to fabulous chocolates, but testing the products of numerous independent chocolate shops in countless Swiss villages, as well as giving their top name brands a fair test (Merkur, Cailler, Lindt), nothing could be found to carry the same fine balance of sweet against cocoa on a bed of creamy fats.

Further testing of Swiss product is ongoing.

It should be said that even though Switzerland did not obliterate the Germans in this contest, Swiss chocolate is still mighty fine, and there is no question that the widening distribution of their homegrown brand, Lindt, has upped the chocolate experience of North Americans who up to recent times were making do with some rather diluted product.

I won’t name names. Remember, I am avoiding a lawsuit.***

*Canada owes its second-place finishing solely to Chocolat de Chocolaterie. Its chocolate are better than any we’ve found in Switzerland, however, Swiss chocolatiers beat all other Canadian chocolates.

**France and Quebec can still claim a moral victory, because I suspect the owner/operator of Chocolate de Chocolaterie is actually French. I don’t know this for sure.

*** In my last post, I promised to reveal a never-before realized source of unbelievable chocolate. Here it is: The Church of Jesus Christ – Latter Day Saints in the little town of Kenora, Ontario, Canada. Yes, the Mormons. They’re not just good at choral singing. This church at one time had a women’s fundraising group that produced boxes of homemade chocolates that could make a Baptist rethink their views on Mormon theology.