FAQ About Chocolates
- What are pralines?
In Belgium, pralines is a general term for chocolates (a.k.a. chocolate
candies) with centers that are whipped and creamy. Elsewhere, pralines
refers to a particular kind of chocolate candy, one with nuts in them.
In most of this web page, I'll use pralines and chocolates interchangably.
However, you should probably differentiate between the two when talking
to salespeople in the U.S., to avoid confusion.
- What's a ballotin?
This is the box a box of pralines comes in.
Nice ballotins are deep and have big flaps on them.
- What is a chocolatier?
I guess it's someone who makes chocolates.
- What distinguishes gourmet pralines from regular chocolates?
Taste and price (better and higher). And oh, I guess also nutritional impact
(which is bad bad bad). Ah, the benefits of cream and butter;
calls Belgian pralines "depth charges."
- What goes into good chocolate?
As a general rule of thumb, good chocolate should have a
high percentage of cocoa. Chantal Coady feels 55-75% to be a good
number. Of this, some 30% should be cocoa butter. Most of the remaining
25% or so of the bar consists of sugar. The cocoa content of
lower quality chocolate will be "cut" with extra sugar, and cocoa
solids will be replaced with other milk solids and vegetable fats.
When looking for good chocolate, Coady recommends to start first
with dark chocolate. Of these, she ranks
Grand Cru as among the best. With regards to milk chocolate, Coady also
gives kudos to Valrhona for their bars (in particular, their Jivara
Lactée). She also likes Lindt milk chocolate.
Valrhona is a French producer, while Lindt is Swiss. Other good
brands are El Rey and Callebaut. An excellent web review of
chocolate can be found at
Cloister's Chocolate Reviews.
By the way,
when chocolate is used by a chocolatier to create chocolates,
it is called couverture.
- How do I choose good chocolates?
Lesly Berger advises that good chocolates should be "shiny."
This is an indication of the cocoa butter content (which is higher if it
is shiny). If it is "whitish" or has a "grayish cast" don't
bother...the chocolate has seen its better days. This is called
"bloom." Chantal Coady warns that the most destructive type of bloom,
sugar bloom (when the sugar crystals rise to the surface of the candy),
can develop if moisture contacts the chocolate (which is not that hard
to have happen in the refrigerator if you're not careful).
Besides this, be aware of how the chocolates taste and smell.
Berger and Coady do an admirable job of describing how to go about
tasting and smelling the chocolate, so I'll let you read in detail what
they recommend you look for. Ultimately though, taste and smell is
rather personal; if you (or the person you're buying for) likes the flavor
and aroma, you'll do fine.
- What different types of pralines are there?
Chantal Coady identifies the following major types of chocolates
and their fillings:
- Boilings: Filled with caramel, butterscotch, and like fillings,
with milk products added.
- Creams and fondants: Filling of sugar, sugar syrup, and
more sugar, with flavorings added.
- Croquant: Filled with a mixture of sugar and nuts. Also
known as a nut brittle.
- Gianduja: Filled with finely ground nuts (such as almonds)
mixed with chocolate.
- Marzipan: Filled with molten sugar and ground almonds.
- Praline: Filled with nuts.
- Nougat: Filled with egg whites, nuts, and boiled honey.
- Truffles, plets, and ganaches: Filled with
mixtures of more chocolate and cream.
- How should you store pralines?
They need to be kept around 60°F, at a relative
humidity no more than 65%
(Lesly Berger recommends 50%).
While chocolate itself will keep in this environment for over a year,
chocolates (i.e. chocolate candies)
should be eaten the same day you buy them.
If you can't find a cool room or cabinet like this,
you can store the chocolates
in a refrigerator or freezer (the freezer is the better option of the
two). However, you must make sure to protect them from the
possiblity of moisture accumulation.
If you put it in the refrigerator, Berger suggests wrapping the
chocolates in aluminum foil, then putting them in a plastic bag, and
then putting them in an airtight container (whew!).
To store in the freezer, she recommends wrapping each chocolate
individually in aluminum foil, then putting it in the freezer.
Thaw one day before consuming.
- I've heard some chocolatiers coat their chocolates with
paraffin. Could you tell me more about this?
Taster J sent in the following thoughts:
"... some chocolatiers use paraffin in their
candy-making. This helps to
keep those cute little shapes stable during storage
& shipping. Godiva,
Joseph Schmidt (to a lesser degree), and Teuscher
are famous for that.
Although allegedly harmless to eat, I believe it
gives the chocolate a kind
of `waxy' taste & texture, which gets in the way of
the total chocolate
experience (for me) .... One way to test is:
after biting into a piece, if the chocolate doesn't dissolve in your mouth
right away (seems a bit chewy) and kind-of sticks to your teeth, it's
probably got paraffin."
- Help! I need a box of nice chocolates in a
hurry. What would you recommend as an "emergency" buy?
Sorry I don't have more knowledge to share. But I guess some advice
is better than none at all ... since time (and not quality) is the
main constraint, I'd recommend you to go to
they're probably the easiest to find.
If you have a few days, I'd get a ballotin of the
Traditional Collection; you can easily
get a box since they're accessible from the U.S., but at the same
time your gift will have an European aura. If you're not interested
in the "import" factor, I'm sure you'd do fine with any one of the
North American chocolatiers listed in the
- What are your
own personal favorite pralines?
Still need to do more "tasting" research to answer this question :).
However, Fran's in Seattle is a consistent favorite
of mine. Their chocolate is quite smooth, affordable, and
Chocolaterie Durig is very good, one of the
best I've tasted, but as they're located in Lausanne, Switzerland,
U.S. customers will have a harder time finding their chocolates.
Generally I prefer less bitter chocolates, and thus
milk chocolates are more up my alley.
- These chocolates really taste good, but I just can't
afford them! What can I do?
Well, there aren't a whole lot of options; you pay for quality.
However, here's one hint from a friend of mine:
go to the chocolate shop right after a major holiday. All their
seasonal goods will be discounted, sometimes up to 50% off. One note
of caution: don't ever give one of these discounted chocolates
to your girlfriend as a gift. It looks really tacky to give cheap
gifts, and she'll figure it out since she'll be receiving
a box of Valentine chocolates on February 15th.