If the graphics seen commonly on greeting cards are any indication, Valentine’s Day is the season of Champagne and chocolate. While you can opt for a bottle and a box of gourmet truffles, it’s never been easier to combine the two. Artisan chocolatiers across the country are incorporating Champagne to make exquisite creations.
But infusing chocolate with sparkling wine is not without challenges.
“It’s like walking a tightrope with Champagne,” says Valerie Gordon, co-founder of Valerie Confections. “You want the full flavor, but if you put too much alcohol in it, you get collapsed truffles. You see cracks or a depression in the top of the truffle. That happens due to evaporation.”
The correct Champagne is key when added to chocolate. According to Mary Leonard, owner, founder and chocolatier of Chocolat Céleste, sweeter wines make for a better treat.
“The Champagne is meant to blend, and not compete, with the chocolate,” says Leonard. “I believe it should always be two sweets with each other, not competing, like [they would] with a brut that’s dry.”
Leonard points out that while spirits like whiskey and Frangelico blend with chocolate to enhance flavors, wines like Champagne tend to offer contrast.
“With Champagne, you are tasting two separate flavors in your mouth,” she says. “[They] interact with different parts of your palate. The different flavors pop in your mouth, and you don’t taste them at the same time. You’re left with two different tastes.”
For Kee Ling Tong, owner/chocolatier of Kee’s Chocolates, the flavor pairing draws on psychology.
“It’s more a mindset,” she says. “People associate Champagne with celebration. That pairs well with chocolate. Chocolate makes you happy, and Champagne makes you happy as well.”
Gordon agrees. “I think it’s a flavor pairing, but also, it’s the idea of the two things that works the best. As a society, we hold both chocolate and Champagne as a treat. By infusing chocolates with Champagne, you’re checking two boxes with one box of chocolate.”
Kee’s Chocolates Champagne Chocolates
The striking pyramid shape is the first indication that Kee’s Chocolates are crafted with impeccable attention to detail. Tong works seven days a week to keep her two New York shops stocked with fresh chocolate.
Kee’s Champagne chocolates are based on a recipe that Tong received in baking school, with her own unique twists and original creations. She starts by boiling down Champagne to reduce the alcohol content before it’s added it to a dark chocolate ganache.
“You want the sweetness to come through with the Champagne and balance off the dark chocolate,” says Tong.
“Because I do things daily, I don’t make a large batch. There’s a little bubble to them, [so] you can tell it’s fresh. People love the chocolate. They say it’s the freshest thing they’ve ever had. It’s like drinking Champagne with chocolate.”
Chocolat Céleste Champagne Truffles
“The flavor lasts on the palate for so long due to the dark chocolate,” she says. “When people taste my chocolates, they are truly amazed and surprised by the flavor.”
Leonard’s truffles have only a slight sparkling wine flavor, due to Minnesota laws that restrict alcohol levels in foods. She uses a sweet sparkling wine from Toad Hollow Vineyards in Sonoma County, California, for her confections.
“The biggest thing [sparkling wine] does is add a different consistency,” she says. “The effervescence opens up the ganache to air bubbles, which makes it softer on the palate as far as mouthfeel.”
Champagne is one of Chocolat Céleste’s most popular truffle flavors, and there’s an uptick in demand around Valentine’s Day. “For this holiday, it just sounds so darn romantic to have Champagne and chocolate together,” says Leonard with a chuckle.
Piece, Love & Chocolate Bubbly Champagne Truffles
“If I could only have one truffle in the entire case, the Champagne is the one I would take,” says Greg Amorese, co-owner of Piece, Love & Chocolate in Boulder, Colorado. “When we first opened eight years ago, it was one of the first four [chocolate] flavors we made: milk, white, dark and Champagne.”
Amorese says Champagne is the ideal pairing partner for various chocolates because it helps maintain a neutral palate to best experience the different flavor notes. Piece, Love & Chocolate’s truffles are made with a 54% dark chocolate ganache infused with Champagne Cognac.
“That Cognac maintains that nice, smooth Champagne flavor,” he says. “It’s an enhancement without being too dominant. Cognac is a nice complement to chocolate.”
Valerie Confections Champagne Truffles
For Gordon of Los Angeles-based Valerie Confections, her Champagne truffles stand out from the crowd thanks to their heavy incorporation of sparkling wine.
“There’s an enormous amount of Champagne in the Champagne truffles,” she says. “My main goal, when you bite into the truffle, is that there’s no mistake what you’re biting into. There’s a clear and exciting amount of Champagne.”
Gordon accomplishes that impressive flavor with a non-traditional technique. She replaces some of the cream in the ganache with sparkling wine, which serves as an emulsifier. The truffles also include brandy, which backs the wine’s flavor on the palate.
“Having an underbelly of brandy projects the Champagne flavor more distinctly and preserves it,” she says.
While most chocolatiers pair sparkling wine with dark chocolate, Valerie Confections’ truffles feature a milk chocolate shell.
“I think Champagne in ganache form plays better with milk chocolate,” says Gordon. “I find the acid fruit notes you get in bittersweet dark chocolate downplay the Champagne. The flavor can become muddy. By blending Champagne with milk chocolate, you taste more Champagne, and you also get the creaminess.”