Charles Chocolates is the resurrection of one man’s fervent passion and dedication to chocolate. A self-taught chocolatier named Chuck Siegel (a.k.a Charles) has been pumping out gourmet confections since 1987, when at the tender age of 25, he started Attivo Confections in San Francisco. There, he pioneered then trend-setting treats such as gourmet s’mores on homemade organic graham crackers, with homemade marshmallows and bittersweet chocolate (the recipe is available on the company website); and “The Apple,” an extra-large Granny Smith apple coated in fresh cream caramel, dipped in bittersweet chocolate, and then coated with macadamia nuts or crumbled biscotti. Folks living in the neighborhood—before websites and e-commerce made ordering from all corners of the country a snap—certainly were lucky!
Chuck can still be found in California, but don’t go looking for Attivo: He sold the business in 1995. Recently, he moved from Charles Chocolates’ original location in Emeryville, near Berkeley, into San Francisco.
Charles Chocolates is one of numerous fine chocolate companies in the Bay Area working with fresh, local ingredients. Beginning three years ago with chocolate bars, he now has an extensive line. He uses top couvertures—Cacao Barry from France, El Rey from Venezuela and Guittard from nearby Burlingame, California, based on which chocolate best suits the particular product. Where should you begin? Let’s start with the bonbons, since that’s what we did!
Strong and vibrant, fresh and crisp, they practically scream on the tongue and might even make your mouth pucker. But then they’re gone, leaving no lingering flavors on the tongue (“finish”) to remind you that they were there.
On the other hand, the round bonbons, such as Mint, Earl Grey and Kahlua, are slightly less flavor-forward but richer. With a thicker texture and longer length, they give you more time to enjoy them. The highlight of these is definitely the Mint, with its remarkably fresh mint flavor that is the result of an infusion of real mint leaves, not mint oil.
Caramels are always popular, and the standard pound box currently has three: Milk Chocolate Caramel, Poire William Milk Chocolate Caramel and Espresso Caramel. The first two caramels are mixed with a milk chocolate ganache, which gives them a thicker texture and are softer in flavor. Although they’re very good, they pale in comparison to the Espresso Caramel. This one is strong on all fronts—chocolate, caramel, espresso—and would be snapped up by coffee-lovers if it were available in pound boxes all by itself.
For a special gift, give Charles Chocolates in an edible chocolate box (see photo at top of page). The lids are typically white chocolate with seasonal designs, topping a semisweet chocolate box.
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