Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Two Chocolateers: Boule and L'Artisan du Chocolat

I loooove chocolate. I mean, I really love chocolate. I mean, I love chocolate in a way that only women are supposed to love chocolate. I love to eat it in all its forms, from the humble Hershey's Kiss to the finest Ecuadoran, single farm, 68% cacao bar. I love to cook with it, from the humblest toll house cookies to the finest pot du creme.

But most of all, I love the truffle. The creamy chocolate ganache of a perfectly done plain chocolate truffle is probably one of the best single bites of food in the world.

Recently, I sat down with a selection of every truffle available from two of my favorite chocolatiers: L'Artisan du Chocolat, (on First Street east of Virgil) and Boule (on La Cienega).

L'Artisan is a hole-in-the-wall chocolate store in an unlikely little strip of First Street just east of Virgil. They make only truffles and have a wide variety set out in a traditional chocolate store setting. You can often see them making the truffles in the back of the little storefront while you order.

Boule is less a store than a museum, with truffles, pastries, tarts, macaroons and gelato carefully displayed as if they were part of a special exhibit at a new branch of LACMA. Everything is presented and packaged beautifully, making you feel as if you were buying jewelry instead of chocolate.

Well, it was quite a burden to wade through the entire truffle offerings of each store, but I managed to shoulder it. I have to say that both of these purveyors make fabulous, though very different styles of truffles, and if you are lucky enough to happen upon either one, you will not be disappointed.

L'Artisan creates a dense, super-chocolaty truffle. They have many variations on the plain chocolate truffle and it hits you with that strong dense wallop of chocolate that every chocoholic seeks.

They are also flavor experimentalists. Sometimes the products of their flavor lab don't work so well (I wasn't thrilled with the garlic [yes, garlic] or tomato truffles), but sometimes they do (kalamata olive is surprisingly good). Either way, however, I enjoy the whimsy and creativity that goes into the flavorings.

Where L'Artisan is about super strong chocolate, Boule is about light and creamy. Their beautifully adorned truffles have a lighter than air quality. You bite in and you get a silky smooth, almost foam like lightness that you want to hold in your mouth and savor, but before you can, it has evaporated, so you take another bite and hope to experience that sensation for a little bit longer, an on it goes.

Boule's flavorings are subtle, not overpowering. Pistachio is one of the best, creamy and nutty all at once, I wanted to bathe in the filling.

I did a few side by side tastings of my favorite truffles made by both chocolatiers.

Plain Chocolate

I'm something of a purist, so I am drawn to the plain chocolate truffle, a ball of dark chocolate ganache (i.e. chocolate mixed with cream) rolled in cocoa powder. This truffle is about chocolate, pure and simple. No flavors, no shell, just show us your best take on the primary ingredient.

In this case, I think L'Artisan wins out. This is really their home turf, dense, strong, chocolate. Boule's was good, but Boule's trademark lightness just doesn't work as well on this type of purist chocolate truffle. If chocolate is a drug, then L'Artisan's truffle is pure heroin, while Boule is what you get at the methadone get some of the feeling of the strong stuff, but not enough to satiate.

Salty Caramel

Salty caramel has been a fad for about ten years now. A chocolate coating filled with caramel with just a touch of sea salt (usually some fancy fleur de sel). Like many, I've totally fallen for this mixture of sweet, rich and salty.

Boule and L'Artisan, true to their styles, make totally different salty caramels. L'Artisan's is characteristically dense, a rectangular chocolate with a rich caramel flavor and just a touch of salt, enhanced by a few sprinkles on top. Boule's is characteristically light and creamy, a soft, luscious caramel filling with perhaps a bit less salt than the L'Artisan version.

In this case, I'd call it a draw. These are two very different but very good caramels.

So, if you need a gift for that special someone (even if that special someone is you), check out one of these two fine chocolateers. All for one and one for all!

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