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Local makers redefine, and refine, holiday chocolates

If your childhood chocolate memories include foil-wrapped Santas and giant assortment boxes passed among the relatives, you’ll be glad to discover that holiday chocolate has grown up with you.

Two local chocolatiers are offering alternatives to traditional Christmas sweets in the form of epicurean bonbons and truffles (bonbons are the square chocolates; truffles are the ones with the rounded look) confected with pure, rich chocolates and sometimes-offbeat fillings, plus sophisticated decorations. By bumping up cacao content, choosing local ingredients, and using processes that are both high-tech and highly customized, these makers take their place with the new generation of foodies.

"Part Art Supply, Part Food"
Chocolate pairs naturally with the holidays because, according to Brian McElrath of Minneapolis-based B.T. McElrath Chocolatier, it’s actually close to magical. “Chocolate is an amazing medium,” he says. “It’s alive. It’s very earthy. It’s warm and fluid and liquidy one minute and the next minute it transforms. It can be a little thicker, almost plastic, and you turn your back and it’s hard as a rock. It’s just an amazing thing. It’s part art supply and part food.”

Both McElrath and Mary Leonard, founder of Chocolat Céleste in St. Paul. have produced creative works of confection with this dark, flavorful “art supply.”

Local, Sustainable, Dark, and Rich

As a local chocolatier with broadening regional appeal, B.T. McElrath’s innovative flavors, local ingredients, and commitment to sustainability set it apart from the mass-produced chocolate it shares shelf space with at retail locations, including Lund’s, Berkley’s, coops, and specialty stores. The company’s website offers a full list of retail locations as well as online ordering information.

McElrath is offering three holiday options. One product features five 70% dark chocolate pieces are filled with red raspberry and black currant ganache topped with a naturally colored cocoa butter poinsettia design. Peppermint buttercreams contain white chocolate peppermint ganache wrapped in 70% dark chocolate with peppermint crunch topping.  And wrapped with a satin bow, its nine-piece 70% cacao chocolate ganache truffles are covered with a 70% dark chocolate shell.

The company’s products are sustainably sourced and made with products from local farms. Some of its packaging is also produced from Sustainable Forestry Initiative materials. McElrath combines state-of-the-art machines, which make large quantities of chocolates with great precision, with by-hand craftsmanship.

The Home of the Jasmine Plum Wine Bonbon

Chocolat Céleste, of St. Paul, is the brainchild of Mary Leonard, who makes custom chocolates for more than 100 local firms, using edible transfers with company logos. Shoppers who custom-order their chocolates can personalize their purchase with a range of transfers and unique flavors.

For the holidays, Leonard is offering 10-piece .5 ounce bonbon selection decorated with a stylish holiday-lights transfer. Other gift boxes contain selections of decorated truffles and bonbons.

You can find Chocolat Céleste online or shop in person. Shoppers who visit Leonard’s store can mix and match from at least 26 flavors that you won't necessarily remember from Christmases past, including Irish cream, jasmine plum wine, lime, and lemon. (There's milk chocolate too, for the traditionalist.)

Leonard says her chocolates have a robust flavor and are more moist than shelf chocolate because they’re “geared toward immediate enjoyment.” She also features a selection of single-origin chocolates with unique flavor. “I think every chocolate tastes different based on what the soil was and the amount of sunlight and the indigenous flavor of that kind of bean, plus how it was handled all the way to market,” she says. “How it was fermented and how much it was roasted--light roast or dark roast.”

Call them “4G” chocolates—new-generation confections that benefit from advanced technology, pure ingredients and creative craftsmanship.

Susan Klemond's last article for The Line was a profile of chocolatier Anna Bonavita, in our October 5, 2011 issue.

Photos, top to bottom:

Mary Leonard of Saint Paul's Chocolat Céleste

Rows and rows  of Céleste truffles

Coating Céleste truffles using a touch of technology

Poinsettias adorn McElrath's dark-chocolate-clad red raspberry and blackcurrant ganache pieces.

Chocolat Céleste photos by Bill Kelley; McElrath photo courtesy of B. T. McElrath Chocolatier

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