Alma Artisanal Chocolate: Truffles, Bon Bons, Barks, Bars, & Toffees

It’s not your imagination, chocolate artistry evolves more quickly than iPod models. A prime example is Alma Chocolate out of Portland, Oregon.

Sarah Hart started Alma Chocolates out of her kitchen, producing molded shapes and painting them with edible 23K gold leaf.  I usually find molded chocolates banal, and avoid them in favor of almost anything else; but, Sarah’s are extraordinary. For starters, she uses one of the following couvertures: Valrhona’s Araguani, Jivarra, Felchlin’s OG Dominican, Cru Savauge Bolivian, El Rey Icoa or Apamate. Then, she fills unusual, symbolic molds she had commissioned, like: Ganesha, Kuan Yin, Buddhas, the Virgin of Guadalupe, Flaming heart, etc. with one of these very high end chocolates.  It’s the final stage, painting them with 23K gold leaf that sets them apart from the rest of the pack. Each one is like a piece antique jewelry, stunning.

For those of you interested in adding some chocolate to your Sanskrit mantra practice, Sarah will happily provide a gold leafed Kuan Yin. I’d suggest reverentially eating it while mentally practicing:  Namo Kuan Shi Yin Pusa. Translation: “I hail to the Bodhisattva who listens (with mercy) to the voice of the world.” This invokes Kuan Yin’s protective energy.  If Kuan Yin doesn’t excite you, how about my old favorite Hindu god, Ganesh(a)?  Here’s the mantra to invoke Ganesh(a)’s healing energy: Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha. Rough Translation: ‘Om and salutations to the remover of obstacles for which Gum is the seed.’ Ganesh(a) is known as the remover of obstacles. (FYI, after age 28, the endings of many mantras should be changed to Swaha from Namaha. The mantra to the elephant god Ganesh(a), is an exception to that rule. Keep Namaha at the end whatever age you are.) It is standard practice to repeat the mantra 108 times, a double rosary, or one strand of mala beads, for 40 days.

Sarah is an inspired chocolatier, and creates far more than molded icons. Her Salty Nutty Toffee mini bar won the “Rising Star” award in NYC at the 2008 Next Generation Chocolatier Awards, and you will see why with one taste. Actually, you can see why with one glance, but eating it will make a convert out of any dark chocolate lover. Is it the shards of perfectly made crunchy-buttery-shatter-in-your-mouth toffee?  Maybe it’s the the roasted pistachio nuts, hazelnuts, or the sea salt? The combination left me mute and hopelessly enamored.

I also sampled the Toffee with Pistachios. I often find toffee a bit unctuous, but Alma’s is perfect: not too sweet  (it breaks in your mouth not all over you), and crunchy (but not tooth-breakingly so).  I have never had a better rendition, period. The bottom of this crunchy slab is coated with a thin layer of excellent dark chocolate.

Her bonbons and truffles are also superb. My favorites, of the selection I tried, were: the two peanut butter cups, one plain and one with Thai spices, as balanced as a gymnast. The butter and honey and dark chocolate truffle: “Chloe,” was a luscious mix of flavor and texture. Her Mexican Truffle with cinnamon couldn’t have been more alluring or satisfying, and the Habanero Caramel Crown painted in 23K gold leaf, was excitingly hot–but not over the top. I also loved Ginger Ginger. The jewel of the day was Cardamom Burnt Sugar Sesame. This dark truffle came adorned with a tiny triangle of crisp burnt sugar sesame toffee–beautiful and fantastic.

Sarah uses organic butter and cream, as well as ingredients from local producers in the Oregon area. If you live anywhere near her shop, lucky you. She has a bakery, where creativity reigns supreme, with options from Triple Chocolate Brownies with Fried Marcona Almonds and Sea Salt, to Chocolate Bread Pudding; and she offers all sorts of incredible sounding drinks.

The name Alma comes from the Spanish noun: soul and the Latin verb: to nourish. Sarah’s chocolates really do nourish your soul.

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