When Forrest Gump said life is like a box of chocolates, we can only hope he meant the kind being crafted by a new wave of Canadian small-batch chocolatiers. Richer, smoother and more colourful and unexpected than those boring cherry-filled drugstore varieties, these treats layer bold visual appeal with creative flavour combinations and quality base ingredients.
These experimental chocolate-makers use traditional methods such as tempering, a heating and cooling technique that results in glossier candy with a satisfying snap, and ingredients like couverture—a type of chocolate that contains more cocoa solids and cocoa butter for extra smoothness—as a jumping-off point. And they play around with unusual, even savoury, tastes and ingredients such as yuzu, soy, mirin and fennel seeds.
“It’s extremely labour-intensive,” says Sarah Keenlyside, creative director and co-owner of Toronto’s CXBO Chocolates, which turns out 5,000 to 7,000 chocolates and 350 to 600 bars each week. She paints each confection by hand, using tools such as airbrushes and even toothbrushes. As a comparison, Hershey’s produces more than 70 million Kisses each day at its Hershey, Penn., manufacturing plant alone—or 70,000 times CXBO’s output.
The main drawback, though, is that without preservatives, these sweets don’t have the same long shelf lives as their mass-market counterparts. But that’s not a bad thing: just think of it as a built-in excuse to gobble them up fast.
4 Canadian Chocolate-Makers
1. CXBO Chocolates, Toronto, Ontario
Brandon Olsen and Sarah Keenlyside’s hand-painted treats incorporate flavours gathered from around Toronto. The Kensington Bar is spiked with apricot, ancho chili and coffee, ingredients all sourced from within blocks of their Kensington Market location. They also do limited collections with local collaborators.
2. Karat Chocolate, Kelowna, B.C.
“All you’ve got is one or two bites, so the taste has to be intense,” says Kelowna’s Julian Helman of the colourful bonbons he hand-crafts. Starting with high-quality Valrhona chocolate, he infuses his confections with a dash of the unexpected, such as Cabernet Sauvignon grape must in his Terroir bar.
3. Fairmont Chateau, Whistler, B.C.
Fairmont Chateau Whistler’s executive pastry chef Anup Chaubal, doesn’t have far to go for the honey in his Honeybear Blonde Chocolate bars—it comes from the hotel’s rooftop hives. The five varieties of bars also include ingredients sourced from the hotel’s garden, such as berries and edible flowers.
4. JACEK Chocolate Couture, Edmonton, Alberta
Jacqueline Jacek crafts her chocolates and confections to be stunning in both flavour and appearance and goes by the title Cocoanista—a fusion of chocolatier and fashionista. Find collections and bars such as The Audrea Bar, a vegan treat made with cherries and pistachio.
[This story appears in the February 2020 edition of WestJet Magazine.]
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