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Top Pick Of The Week

February 5, 2008

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Burdick Chocolate

Larry Burdick’s classic, French-style chocolates.

WHAT IT IS: Classic, European-style chocolates and confections with contemporary flair, handmade in small batches in New Hampshire.
WHY IT’S DIFFERENT: New world chocolates made by an American with old world (Swiss) training, using classic Felchlin (Swiss) and Valrhona (French) couvertures.
WHY WE LOVE IT: Quality, elegance and charm in every bite. Don’t miss the mice!
WHERE TO BUY IT: BurdickChocolate.com
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Burdick Chocolate:
Confection Perfection

Larry Burdick was a pastry chef in New York City when he chose to focus on making chocolate. Then, he decided to focus on making it in quieter, gentler New Hampshire—in the old “mail order” days, before the Internet, when those in the know might get a holiday catalog. Today, it’s easy for chocolate connoisseurs everywhere to visually feast on his wares. Order online or by phone and beautiful catalogs will be mailed to you as well. If you happen to be in Walpole, New Hampshire or Cambridge, Massachusetts, you can feast in person at Burdick’s restaurant and café, destination spots for many fans.

Burdick is one of the senior statesman of great American chocolate. Even if your palate doesn’t covet his sophisticated bonbons, marvelous marzipan and pert pâtes de fruit, his famous, ganache-filled chocolate mice and penguins (and seasonal bunnies and ghosts) are irresistible. His hot chocolate was our winner in a field of 60, and is a prior Top Pick Of The Week. Read the full review below, and separately, check out the hot chocolate. Your Valentine will appreciate both.

     
THE NIBBLE does not sell the foods we review
or receive fees from manufacturers for recommending them.

Our recommendations are based purely on our opinion, after tasting thousands of products each year, that they represent the best in their respective categories.

 

Learn More About Great Chocolate

Discover Chocolate - Clay Gordon The New Taste Of Chocolate - Maricel Presilla Chocolates & Confections - Peter Grewelling
Discover Chocolate: The Ultimate Guide to Buying, Tasting, and Enjoying Fine Chocolate,
by Clay Gordon. A chocophile shares his enthusiasm for learning about the world of fine chocolate. Click here for more information or to purchase.
The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes, by Maricel Presilla. A seminal book for learning about chocolate, from one of the most respected industry experts. Click here for more information or to purchase. Chocolates and Confections: Formula, Theory, and Technique for the Artisan Confectioner, by Peter P. Greweling. This is the book used at Culinary Institute of America. Maybe you’ll be the next L.A. Burdick. Click here for more information or to purchase.

Burdick Chocolate: Classic Confections

INDEX OF REVIEW

MORE TO DISCOVER

It’s no secret that France and Switzerland are chocolate pioneers celebrated the world over. French gastronomic principles inculcate attention to detail, and teach one to focus on intricate interplays among flavor components. Chocolate bars by Michel Cluizel, Valrhona, Pralus and Bonnat are eagerly sought after for their complex flavors. And bonbons by La Maison du Chocolat, Richart Design et Chocolat and Christian Constant are highly reputable for their unique and elaborate flavorings.

Switzerland, on the other hand, has been more inventive. This is the birthplace of the milk chocolate bar, as well as the conch, the machine responsible for achieving smooth and silky textures in all chocolate. The conch also allows chocolate makers to add extra cocoa butter to cocoa liquor to increase the chocolate’s fluidity for enrobing purposes. This sort of technical genius and resolve for refinement made Swiss chocolate forefathers (Rudolph Lindt, Daniel Peter, Philippe Suchard, etc.) successful in the late 1800s. Their legacy lives on today: Teuscher’s dense and French-style bonbons, Neuhaus’ sweeter Belgian-style chocolates, Felchlin’s dark chocolate bars and couvertures, Suchard’s hugely popular Milka line, Jean Tobler’s Toblerone and Lindt’s vast array of products, to name but a few examples.

French gastronomy and Swiss technical genius by themselves are unique and important, but when combined with American imagination, creative wit and a burning desire to offer the best of what other European venues do as well, a distinct recipe for success results. Nestled in the small town of Walpole, New Hampshire is L.A. Burdick, a veritable cornucopia of haute cuisine that can be enjoyed and admired without the need of a passport or traveler’s checks. 

In either of their two restaurants (the other—a café, actually—is located in Cambridge, Massachusetts), you can enjoy assorted pastries, grilled sirloin and rich hot chocolate, all under the same roof. At the heart of these establishments, however, is the company’s thriving chocolate business, which was launched in New York City in 1987, by Larry and Paula Burdick, who then moved it to New Hampshire.*

*The Burdicks moved their business to Walpole, New Hampshire in 1992. The restaurants were opened in 2002, and a grocery store was added in 2004.

Macaroons
Macaroons, or Luxembourgers, are available at the two Burdick cafes, and can be ordered by mail as well.

The business was a response to what Larry felt as a lack of quality in American chocolates. Containing more sugar than cacao, American chocolates in the 1980s were a far cry from the more serious and intricate bonbons that Larry encountered while visiting France in the late 1970s and while training as a chocolatier in Switzerland during the early 1980s. Here, he noticed attention to detail, complicated interplays of flavor and a special personality unique to each city, such as Bern, where he trained.

America simply lacked these unique places and opportunities for an aspiring chocolatier to cull inspiration and to learn the necessary skills. The American penchant for sugary milk chocolate has a historical foundation laid out by Milton Hershey, who in the early 1900s revolutionized the chocolate industry in America with his mass-produced milk chocolate bars (prior to then, chocolate was an unaffordable treat for the common man). Unlike Europe, which has vast culinary traditions dating back hundreds of years, as well as long-established chocolate customs, America in the early 1900s was still a young country with territory expansion on its mind rather than gastronomic perfection. With no more space to expand, post-World War II America has been playing culinary catch-up, and is now running neck and neck with its European counterparts.

While the Burdicks were in Europe, they studied philosophies and perspectives that shaped not only the way they decorate their stores and cook their food, but also how they create and flavor their chocolates. In France, Larry learned to appreciate dark chocolate for its subtle nuances and detailed flavor profiles. In Switzerland, he trained as a chocolatier, learning techniques and recipes that provided a foundation for his chocolates.

From the early days of Burdick Chocolates, in New York City, Larry practiced French and Swiss traditions and hand made his chocolates in small batches, using the finest ingredients available. Success was so great that he ultimately needed to hire a chocolate and pastry chef (Michael Klug). Yet, despite the company’s growth over the last 20 years (approximately a 20% growth per year), everything is still made by hand, in small batches.

Like most chocolatiers, Burdick uses a selection of couvertures to create his ganaches and to enrobe chocolates and other confections. Couverture contains more cocoa butter than a bar of chocolate and will therefore give off a shinier surface and crisper snap when broken or bitten into, and will flow with less viscosity when melted. These are properties that chocolatiers need when creating thin shells and shiny bonbons, and when intricately-shaped molds are used. But each couverture is individualistic, and will vary with flavor profile, fluidity* and cocoa content. This makes the use of different brands and types of couverture within each brand necessary, especially if the chocolatier’s repertoire includes a wide array of flavors. Valrhona and Felchlin (French and Swiss, respectively) have a wide selection of couvertures available, so are a natural fit to Burdick’s needs (not to mention, inspiration).

*A chocolate’s viscosity level usually depends on three factors: (1) Soy lecithin. Derived from soybeans, soy lecithin lowers the surface tension of a liquid, granting greater fluidity. This makes it easier for liquid chocolate to flow through machinery and to settle into molds. Up until a few years ago this was standard practice, but nowadays an increasing number of chocolate makers are omitting lecithin altogether. (2) Amount of cocoa butter. If too little is used, the chocolate will be thick and/or grainy (a classic example of the former is Domori and the latter, El Rey). (3) Hardness of cocoa butter. Butters extracted from beans from different parts of the world will have varying hardness levels that may affect the fluidity of the chocolate (but most definitely impact pharmaceutical goods such as soaps and emollients).

Chocolate Mouse
One of the famous mice being enrobed in couverture chocolate. You can see the finished mouse and his
white and dark chocolate companions in the photo
below. The white mice are popular wedding favors.

Couvertures from Valrhona and Felchlin are dark, intense, complex in flavor and offer many types of chocolates to fit various personal preferences and flavor families (fruity, floral, herbal, nutty, etc.). Valrhona is highly fruity while Felchlin is slightly spicier and more raisin-like in flavor. Also, Felchlin plays a key role in Burdick’s unique sourcing practice that sets the company apart from just about everyone else.

Burdick has been sourcing cacao beans directly from the Grenada Chocolate Company,* the tiny island nation in the southeastern Caribbean, just off the coast of Venezuela, since 2002. The beans are received from Grenada already dried and fermented, and then shipped off to Felchlin’s headquarters in Switzerland for processing into couverture. However, in 2004, Hurricane Ivan devastated the Spice Isle and left cacao plantations in ruin, diminishing production significantly (80% of the country’s agricultural trees were destroyed). While Valrhona and Felchlin continue to make up the bulk of Burdick’s chocolates, production in Grenada had been steadily increasing each year. Hopefully, with just a few more years, Grenada can sell more beans to Burdick to strengthen this unique practice.

*Grenada Chocolate Company is a Grenada-based chocolate-making company that sources locally and organically grown cacao from a 100+ acre farm (Belmont Estate). It uses solar-electric energy to power their refurbished, antique chocolate-making equipment. Grenada is the second-smallest independent country in the Western Hemisphere, after Saint Kitts and Nevis. It is located north of Trinidad and Tobago, south of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and just north of Venezuela on the South American continent.

Felchlin Chocolate
Blocks of couverture chocolate are melted to create bonbons, chocolate bars and other confections.

Boxed Chocolates

Burdick’s chocolates are dainty pieces, about half the size of what you might find at another chocolatier’s shop. But don’t let their small size fool you. Each piece is practically a thunderous blast of chocolaty flavor, conveying power and vigor in each bite. In this respect, they’re masculine, powerful chocolates with a lot to say—but there’s a yin to this yang. Flavorings are mild and subtle, a gentle susurration to an otherwise loud piece, and the decidedly feminine counterpoint. (By the way, we’re coming down in favor of smaller-size chocolates. We’d rather have bites of more flavors.)

This is the way Burdick prefers his bonbons. The chocolate should enjoy center stage, while its complementary ingredients act in supporting roles. After all, these are chocolates, and the whole point is to taste the chocolate first and flavorings second. As a result, pieces never come off as ambitious or pretentious, but rather straightforward, regardless of flavor. There is dignity without the nouvelle adulation that many chocolatiers gravitate towards these days.

Ganaches are perfectly proportioned, and definitely in the French style. They’re firm and dense, melting reluctantly and decadently, allowing plenty of time for flavors to shine through despite the small size of the piece. Shells are thin (as they should be) and not so thick that you have to bite it open to get to the good stuff inside. They melt easily and quickly, exposing the interior in no time, and providing just enough chocolaty pleasure before you taste the ganache.

Burdick Chocolate
Burdick’s signature wood boxes can be repurposed
after the chocolates are gone. Shown, Petit and Large boxes. A milk chocolate mouse (yellow tail) and white chocolate mouse (pink tail) peep out.

Despite Burdick’s French stylistic orientation, there is not much similarity to other leading French chocolatiers. For example, La Maison du Chocolat is not nearly as dense and intense; Richart is experimental and packs a flavor explosion; and Jacques Torres is far too subtle in both departments, flavorings and chocolate. Burdick is more like the local chocolatier found in smaller French towns. There’s no flash or ostentation, no fancy cocoa butter transfer decor, no spiffy molds: just traditional, time-honored French-style chocolates with a strong, chocolaty personality. Think of Walpole, New Hampshire, as your small, French town—surrounded by farm-fresh cream and regular shipments of Felchlin and Valrhona.

Because Burdick’s bonbons are so small, a lot of pieces fit into one box. No matter which assortment size you choose, there will always be plenty for everyone—even a quarter pound selection contains 20 pieces.

Many of the bonbons are inspired by classic European flavors, incorporating ingredients such as liqueurs, cherries, raspberries and orange. Others have somewhat of an Asian flair, and there are some pieces that seem outright eccentric, which is evidence of a playful charm and melding of American imagination.

  • Chamomile adds a soft, lemony note to roasted almonds in the Almond Chamomile piece.
  • Baton Framboise is a definite highlight. Its fresh raspberry notes are strong, while the soft butter undertones cut into the chocolate complement peacefully, making for a somewhat Burdick Chocolatesassertive piece overall and a departure from Burdick’s normal fare. Raspberry seeds provide textural crunch and additional hits of fruitiness; the top is sprinkled with chopped pistachio. The shape is a “baton,” a thin, tall rectangle.
  • Brazilia harmonizes espresso, kirsch (cherry liqueur) and anise for another unusual but highly accessible piece. The espresso adds substantial heft, while kirsch and anise lend a dainty lightness.
  • Coconut is on the delicate side, a milk and dark ganache made with coconut milk.
  • Earl Grey is an old favorite, subtly executed but equally delicious.
  • Ginger has waves of fresh ginger.
  • Jaffa, a sleek bonbon with striking angles, merges vibrant orange from freshly-squeezed orange juice with the potent dark ganache.
  • Orinoco contributes a Caribbean panache with a kiss of rum and spice, as well as a subtle crunch, enrobed in dark chocolate with an additional chocolaty hit from cacao nibs.
  • Pistache blends sweet and savory, in a white chocolate ganache flavored with lavender, pistachios and herbes de Provence (rosemary, marjoram, basil and thyme). Although subtle in taste, the piece is a highly original work of art, with a lingering milkiness left over from the milk chocolate shell.
  • Richelieu is a little more unusual blend of sweet and savory: a baton cherry liqueur and cumin provide a sweet yet uniquely savory contrast, topped with a dried cherry.

Get the larger box and you’ll find Fig, Hazelnut, Pavé (a ganache of cocoa butter, dark chocolate, Cognac and saffron), Rosehip Tea and Trinidad (dark ganache, honey, Caribbean spices and chopped hazelnuts).

All these bonbons have been simply molded into rectangles and squares and decorated either Chocolate Micewith chocolate stripes, flecks of ingredients (such as coconut or nuts) or toppings such as nuts, petals and dried fruit. However, two pieces stand tall among their peers, fashionably shaped into adorable figures of penguins and mice that might almost be too cute to eat. The penguins are filled with lemon-accented chocolate ganache, while the mice have three treatments: dark chocolate ganache with orange, milk chocolate with espresso and white chocolate with cinnamon. The dark chocolate version tastes similar to the Jaffa bonbon, but the milk and white siblings are unique. The espresso-accented milk chocolate is a refreshing balancing act, while the cinnamon and white chocolate combination is even tastier than you might imagine. One mouse is included in each quarter pound box and two mice can be found in the half and full pound assortments. But be forewarned, these are so good, you might want to purchase your own litter of mice, available in single-piece, nine and 16-piece boxes (warning: buy lots). The penguin are equally charming. The white mice and penguins are popular wedding favors, and either would make a hit-of-the-party place setting or accompaniment to after-dinner coffee.

Chocolate Covered Nuts

Chocolate-Covered Nuts
Nut Trio: roasted, caramelized cashews, almonds and hazelnuts.

Burdick offers three types of chocolate-covered nuts; but if you’re like us, you’ll want the Nut Trio, which includes all three varieties in a generously-sized and stylishly-crafted one-pound box. Although the chocolate coating isn’t thick at all, its cocoa content is high enough for the product to achieve a great balance between chocolate and nut. The nuts are strong and assertive, presenting muscular blasts of nut and chocolate in each bite.

  • Almonds have been treated with cocoa powder, creating a simple yet deep flavor—the most serious of the three.
  • Cashews are dusted with powdered sugar, adding a cool, sweet dimension to the flavor.
  • Hazelnuts, whose chocolate coating is spiked with coffee, have a strong flavor as well, but balanced by the lighter nature of the hazelnut. Because of their snackable size, once you start, you can’t stop!

Marzipan

In Europe (especially Germany), marzipan is a widely-popular confection made with ground almonds Marzipan(at least 50% mass) and sugar, and sometimes flavorings such as pineapple or orange. It has a soft but slightly grainy texture, and a unique, delicious almondy flavor. Marzipan hasn’t caught on as a popular confection in the U.S., but this is a delicacy that demands to be tried, especially in the hands of Larry Burdick. His is softer than most marzipan; it’s amazingly light and fluffy, dissolving the instant it touches the tongue. The flavor, however, is anything but soft, slamming you fairly hard with not just the marzipan’s flavor but also the fruit accompanying it.

  • Apricot and Cherry are the strongest pieces, perhaps too strong for the much more delicate marzipan, but they still work well and are equally as delicious as the other flavors.
  • Lavender and Pistachio are just right, achieving a better balance between the fruit and marzipan, perhaps because of the softer nature of the flavor. Overall, these are uniquely fresh and absolutely marvelous, so much so that our satisfaction was matched only by our sadness when the box was empty.

Nougat

Nougat, also known as torrone, is a stiff and chewy confection made with whipped egg whites, Nougathoney and sugar. Other ingredients are usually mixed into nougat as well, such as hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios and dried fruits to add flavor and textural dimension. Not many chocolatiers attempt this craft, so we were thrilled to learn that Burdick does. The nougat is a Provençal style, using lavender and Provencal honey as well as almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios, cranberries and candied orange peel—practically stuffed to the gills. The result is a flavor explosion of various nuts and candied fruits, with just a subtle hint of lavender and a lack of cloying sweetness this confection can sometimes deliver. Our only complaint is that we didn’t have enough since it was gone within minutes of opening!

Pâtes de Fruit

These are French-style fruit jellies that many chocolatiers create, with varying degrees of success. Not only does one need to achieve an intense and fresh fruit flavor, but also a supple and smooth Pate de Fruittexture that isn’t too gummy, thick or grainy. Many pâtes de fruit are thick in the mouth and weak on the fruit component. But Burdick’s are all about a blistering onslaught of fruit and a texture that actually melts in the mouth. Pineapple, raspberry, apricot and cassis (black currant) are captured accurately and intensely, making us think that Burdick simply puréed the fruit with sugar and pectin, then molded the mixture into cubes. With such a distinctively fresh and vibrant flavor, you might agree.

The Marzipan, Nougat and Pâtes de Fruit are available in a gift trio, a lovely gift for anyone, but especially for people who don’t care for (or can’t have) chocolate.

But we’ve only scratched the surface of the massive inventory Burdick has available. Pull up the website, and you’ll discover just how extensive his culinary expertise is. Swiss and Austrian inspired desserts abound such as Luxembourgers (actually, they’re macaroons—and not of the chewy coconut persuasion but delightful meringue sandwiches—read the History Of The Macaroon), chocolate-lemon cake, Linzer Torte, to name a few. Gift baskets are available to send to your favorite chocoholic, or gift certificates can be purchased for someone with pickier tastes. Nut flours, couverture blocks, fondue sets and even books are available for one-stop shopping.

—Peter Rot

FORWARD THIS NIBBLE to lovers of fine chocolate and confections, and to those who need to give gifts to them.

Burdick chocolate
Boxed Chocolate, Chocolate-Covered Nuts, Marzipan, Nougat, Pâtes de Fruit

  • Boxed Chocolates
    $18.00 To $61.00
  • Mice & Penguins
    $3.25 To $46.00
  • Chocolate Covered Nuts
    $15.00 To $31.00
  • Marzipan, Nougat, Pâte De Fruit
    16 Pieces
    $12.00
    Gift Trio
    $36.00
  • See More Products On Website, Including
    Truffles

Purchase online* at BurdickChocolate.com

Burdick Hot Chocolate
Burdick’s hot chocolate, another NIBBLE Top Pick Of The Week.

*Prices and product availability are verified at publication but are subject to change. Shipping is additional. THE NIBBLE does not sell products; these items are offered by a third party with whom we have no relationship. This link to purchase is provided as a reader convenience.



Check Out These Other Top Pick Of The Week” Chocolates:

 

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