Johnny's Chocolates and Pralines Survival Guide


FAQ About Chocolates

A Short List of Chocolatiers

Taster Opinions

Where To Buy


Selected Web Resources

License & Disclosure

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; Gregg Easterbrook 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 Valrhona's 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 Godiva; they're probably the easiest to find. If you have a few days, I'd get a ballotin of the Neuhaus 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 Short List.

  • 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 unpretentious. 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.