Downey ChocolatesPretty chocolate shells made of delicious couverture are filled with a variety of fine centers—lemon caramel, chocolate ganache, cherry cream. And that’s just for starters at Downey’s Chocolates.




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KAREN HOCHMAN is Editorial Director of THE NIBBLE.


February 2007

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Chocolate

Downey’s Chocolates

A Serious Belgian Chocolatier In Sunny Laguna Niguel


Tracey Downey-Racen closed her chocolate shop and cafe at the end of
December 2008. However, she is still giving chocolate-making classes at the
Ritz Laguna Nigel Hotel.


CAPSULE REPORT: It’s so rewarding to find a fine chocolatier who turns out serious bonbons but also makes homey favorites like turtles, toffee and “big crunchy things” called the BigMouth Collection that are a specialty of the house. We love that the fine chocolate, caramel and centers can be enjoyed without an excess of sugar: everything is in perfect balance, never too sweet. If you’re in the neighborhood, you can stop by and take a class in chocolate-making. Until then, you can have some of everything shipped to you to enjoy at home.

A couple of years ago we were invited to spend a long weekend in California at the Ritz Laguna Niguel. Not being a tennis player or a sun-worshiper, we felt the hours spent flying cross-country were not worth the trip. Had we only known about Downey’s Chocolates, we would have had much more incentive. Residents of Laguna Niguel

Tracey Downey-Racen began making chocolate as a hobby: her husband missed his grandmother’s soft vanilla caramel, which Tracey set out to recreate. Achieving success, she started to make chocolates as gifts for friends, and, based on the enthusiastic reception, became a serious student of the craft. Today, she teaches others to make chocolate, holding courses for both adults and children.

Tracey practices the Belgian style of chocolate-making: outer shells of chocolate couverture are molded in a variety of artistic shapes, and a good percentage are enhanced with edible paints. The couverture is a custom blend of two of the world’s finest chocolates, Callebaut from Belgium and Weiss from France.

The Signature Collection of bonbons is a wonderful trip through chocolatedom. While the box contained many alluring pieces, we began with the plainest, which looked like a miniature Reese’s peanut butter cup. Surprise: it was a gourmet milk chocolate peanut butter cup, with quality ingredients that Reese’s could only dream of. Lovers of the genre may want to order an entire box of these.

Working our way through the box, we enjoyed a crunchy almond praline, a cappuccino cup with a tiny crunchy coffee bean, delicious chocolate ganaches (one can never have enough of those!).  We had been warned in advance by chocolatier Tracey Downey-Racen to enjoy the signature Raspberry Symphony in one bite. We obeyed: a liquid raspberry essence burst into our mouth, a perfect complement to the chocolate shell. Its bright red sibling held creamy cherry liquid—a sophisticated riff on the old chocolate-covered maraschino cherry. Yet another had a tasty brandied cherry. We wished for another, and another of the lemon caramel, too.

Those who want other than a box of bonbons will have fun digging into the rest of the collection.

Espresso Almond Turtles. A very plump turtle, made of of creamy caramel with a light touch of espresso. The moment you bite into the turtle’s milk chocolate shell, you get a big mouthful of caramel; and the fresh-roasted almond head and limbs are a fine taste and texture counterpoint. The turtle swims atop a sea dark chocolate, another nice flavor contrast. Adorable by itself, you can march several around the rim of a cake (the dark chocolate base is 2-1/2" in diameter).

BigMouth Collection. The BigMouth collection is named for Tracey’s late father, Morton Downey, Jr., an entertainer, politician and prominent 1980s talk show host.

Chocolate Turtle
A turtle making a b-line for a piece of toffee.
Caramel Mocha Shortbread
Caramel Mocha Shortbread, left, and the Signature Big Mouth each supply two delicious, big bites.
The Signature BigMouth looks like a jumbo, chocolate-covered marsh- mallow, but it’s something much more special. There’s a bottom layer of crisp rice crunch, topped with a layer of creamy caramel and a layer of natural-roasted peanut butter, and covered in a delicious milk chocolate. It delivers a couple of big bites of texture, crunch and chocolate without being obviously sweet or rich: a hallmark of fine candy-making. The BigMouth collection also includes delicious S’Mores (a chocolate-covered graham cracker topped with a jumbo homemade marshmallow and enrobed in dark chocolate), and Caramel Mocha Shortbread, an impressive mouthful of double chocolate shortbread (with chocolate chips) topped with a layer of espresso caramel and enrobed in dark chocolate.

Almond and Pecan Toffee. It’s nice to find pecan toffee—while the ubiquitous almond toffee is delicious, the Southern nut is a lovely complement to toffee and chocolate. The buttery toffee has just the right consistency—not too hard, not too soft—and like everything else here, made with restraint. We love Downey’s Chocolates example of holding back on the sugar so that the more expensive ingredients—the chocolate, the nuts, the butter, the centers—can shine through.

If you are in Laguna Niguel, there are chocolate-making classes for adults on Monday nights, for children on Sunday afternoons. The chocolate shop and café are open Tuesday through Sunday. One hundred years ago, every fine town in America had a Downey’s Chocolate, where the large coffee chains would have reason to shudder.

Fine Chocolates

  • Signature Collection
    6 Pieces
    15 Pieces
  • Espresso Almond Turtles
    6 Pieces
  • Almond Or Pecan Toffee
    8 Pieces
  • BigMouth Collection
    4 Pieces

Downey's Chocolates
The 15-piece Signature Collection.


Purchase online at Other Sizes Available.

Shipping additional. Prices and product availability are verified at publication but are subject to change.


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