I can’t remember how I discovered this small chocolatier in NYC, but I’m glad I did. Joan Coukos is the mastermind behind these fabulous treats. (You can read all about her and view the full range of her products on chocolatmoderne.com)
If you’ve seen any of my other posts you know I have this Calvinist streak that kicks in when things are very expensive, so I was delighted to see that Joan offers many of her divine flavors in filled bars. These come attractively packaged in little square boxes and are perfectly molded into nine bite-sized squares that break cleanly without spilling any of the centers.
All of Joan’s chocolates are enrobed in Valrhona 61% which has just the right amount of snap, and intensity to set off her not-too-sweet fillings. Roasting the nuts allows their complex layers of flavor to shine and imbues them with extra crunch. At the same time, blending the nut pastes with milder chocolates gives them some creaminess. When that filling hits your mouth its intense earthy nuttiness will transport you, too.
Joan is clearly a creative force using very good ingredients and no artificial flavors or preservatives. Her chocolates are made fresh daily and you can taste that in every bite.
Here’s a rundown of the flavors I tried and what I thought:
Hazelnut Hysterie is a delicious blend of hazelnut paste and milk chocolate. Hazelnut praline is fairly ubiquitous these days, which is why I thought this was very good but not as exciting as some of Joan’s other creations.
Pumpkin Pique-nique is pumpkin seed paste with milk chocolate and pumpkin pie spices. If you love pumpkin seeds (they’re said to be especially healthy for the prostate) try this; otherwise, I’d skip it. It was my least favorite of the bunch.
Sesame Samba is a sesame paste, yes, just like halvah, but with milk chocolate. Sadly, very few halvahs get to reside in Valrhona chocolate shells. It’s an appealing combination, especially if you like sesame.
Parlez Pistache is one of my new cravings. It’s a pistachio paste, as Joan calls it, and I was shocked to see it contains white chocolate, as I have a visceral negative reaction to that bland substance. But, if I hadn’t read it on her site I never would have known. The pistachio’s beautiful green color is a visual delight against the dark chocolate, and its quintessential nature really stands out. Yummsville.
Mme. Xtasy is filled with espresso caramel. I am very sensitive to caffeine, but I tried this one, anyway, and it was a perfect marriage of silky, dark ganache with coffee and a hint of fleur de sel. If you’re a java junkie this will be an immediate favorite.
Raspberry Rendezvous is a very credible raspberry ganache, truffle, filling. I like it but not as much as our next bite-sized treat.
The Player’s center is a single malt scotch infused ganache that is remarkably satisfying. Again, the balance of flavors and the absence of extra sugar make this an excellent truffle.
La Dolce Grapefruit has a lovely caramel center with a subtle, but still discernible grapefruit flavor. I am quite fond of this little number and the next one.
Caramel Caresse with its pear caramel satisfies my yen for something different, but still delivers Joan’s excellent caramel: soft, smooth, and slightly sweet. The addition of Poire William and Eau de Vie add to the gentle complexity of this bar.
Apricot Bask houses an apricot caramel with Bas Armagnac. Again, the fruit flavor is subtle, but you’ll notice it.
Banana Flambee is a Courvoisier enhanced banana caramel. I like it but not as much as some of the other choices.
If you feel like having a little fun with your chocolate I’d heartily recommend these. They offer excellent quality with off-the-beaten-track fillings. Yes, they’re still a splurge when you add on shipping and NY taxes, but they are very satisfying and special.