Single, partnered, blissfully in love, or miserable and lonely… It doesn’t matter: I’ve never been a fan of Valentine’s Day. Never have I been more sure than when I was a chocolatier. You might think that it’s fun being a chocolatier before Valentine’s Day, that you are in the enviable position of making people’s romantic dreams come true.
You would be wrong. In reality, it was weeks on end of stockpiling truffles and writing trite nothings on chocolate hearts. It was trying to explain to manic men at 5 pm on February 14 that no, there were no more chocolates in the back and yes, the florist next door was open for another 30 minutes (but they were probably out of red roses).
I can’t shake the idea that there must be something more fun—for the chocolatier and the customer—than bonbons in a heart-shaped box. And with that in mind, here’s a list of seven chocolate choices that don’t take themselves too seriously.
1. Gold-leafed icons from Alma Chocolate
Before walking into Portland’s Alma Chocolate, place tongue firmly in cheek. That’ll help you appreciate owner Sarah Hart’s slightly off-beat sense of humor, and keep you from drooling puddles all over the store. Alma’s gold-leafed icons are available all year, but they seem especially appropriate at Valentine’s Day. Single-plantation 74% dark chocolate cast into custom molds, then finished by hand with 23 karat gold leaf? That’s a labor of love.
2. Teeny mice from L.A. Burdick’s
I dare you not to squeal when you open a box of L.A. Burdick’s chocolate mice.
As if it weren’t enough to have ganache-filled mice staring sweetly at you, you have your pick of three flavors: dark mice with orange filling, milk mice with mocha filling, and white mice with cinnamon filling. Slivered almonds fill in as ears, with silk ribbons for tails. If mice aren’t your thing, this Boston institution also makes pudgy little penguins.
3. Chocolate frogs from Black Dinah Chocolatier
In the original Grimm Brothers version of The Frog Prince, the frog turns into a prince when his spoiled princess throws him at a wall in disgust. She may not have been a fan of amphibians, but she’d probably be quite pleased with a box of chocolate frogs from Black Dinah Chocolatier. With six large frogs filled with peanut butter (Peepers) and 26 miniature solid frogs (Frogletiers), they’re just the right mix of unexpected, sardonic, and delicious.
4. Anatomical hearts from Lagusta’s Luscious
In New York State’s Hudson Valley, Lagusta’s Luscious makes vegan, fair-trade and organic-certified chocolate confections and bars. If the list of feel-good descriptors makes you break out in a rash, don’t worry, because the folks at Lagusta’s also have a subversive sense of humor. For your consideration: chocolate bonbons in the shape of anatomical hearts, each one filled with an intense combination of cacao nibs, coffee, black salt and dried cherries. This takes heart-shaped chocolates to a whole other level.
5. Peanut butter cups from Theo Chocolate
I used to have a serious addiction for a certain brand of peanut butter cup, until I realized that they tasted an awful lot like crayons. Cue Theo Chocolate to the rescue. Since 2006, the Seattle-based company has been making chocolate dreams come true with factory tours and sustainably sourced cocoa beans. These peanut butter cups
are in the shape of a chubby heart, and while the milk chocolate version comes the closest to that childhood taste memory, the dark lends a certain grown-up-ness to the whole affair.
6. Whiskey pairing collection from Michael Recchiuti
Of all the ways to pair chocolate, whiskey has to be one of my favorites. And San Francisco chocolatier Michael Recchiuti makes it easy. This nine-piece box
includes three pieces each of his Kona coffee, honeycomb malt and fleur de sel caramel, along with suggested pairings and tasting notes. This collection isn’t expressly for Valentine’s Day, so I can forgive the fact that it includes three pieces of each. Think of it as one for you, one for me and one to represent our eternal, lasting love. (In other words, I’ll rock-paper-scissors you for the leftovers.)
7. Mexican-style sipping chocolate from Askinosie Chocolate
If the Valentine’s Day marketers are to be believed, we should spend our February 14th with a loved one, gazing longingly into each other’s eyes in a wholly romantic and not at all creepy way. Well, you might as well have fun while you do it, and Askinosie’s sipping chocolate should do the trick. Askinosie’s Tanzanian chocolate (sourced directly from farmers) has fruity notes that play nice with a touch of cinnamon, and a kick of ancho pepper. Pro tip: a sploosh of bourbon is a nice touch.
Eagranie Yuh is a chocolate expert and the author of The Chocolate Tasting Kit (Chronicle Books, 2014). Her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, Eater, Best Food Writing 2012 and 2014, and more. Previously a chemist and chocolatier, she is the senior editor of Edible Vancouver & Wine Country and delinquent blogger at thewelltemperedchocolatier. She loves whiskey, random acts of dancing and dogs with short legs.