Sweet Spots For All Things Chocolat

BY Sandra Chambers

Want to visit a grown-up version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory? You won’t even need a golden ticket. Simply gather a group of 10 to 16 friends and head downtown to a little pink house on Orange Street for light hors d’oeuvres champagne a tour of the kitchen and a bit of chocolate history. Then don a head scarf and dig those hands into homemade dough roll it into bite-sized balls and learn the perfect dipping technique as you plunge the dough into a pool of dark chocolate creating the most exquisite chocolate bonbons this side of France.

“It’s a dying art to make a hand-dipped chocolate bonbon ” insists Charlene Dupray who is the southern part of the South ’n France confectionary business she and her French husband Pascal Siegler opened in 2006

“In France bonbon is the universal word for candy ” Siegler explains. “It literally means ‘goody goody.’ But from a French culinary perspective the bonbon is defined as a sweet dough or confection that has been dipped in an outer layer of chocolate.”

Last October South ’n France took its bonbons to the Philadelphia National Candy Gift and Gourmet Show where it won Best in Show (chocolate category) in the New Products Round-Up.

While South ’n France has put Wilmington on the map for bonbons The Little Dipper has made its mark with its award-winning chocolate fondue. Voted Grand Champion at last year’s Chocolate Fantasy Adventure The Little Dipper’s chocolate fondue comes in five different delectable blends of chocolate sauce with dippers such as cream puffs marshmallows pretzels strawberries bananas and pineapple.

“We opened on Front Street in July 2005 ” says Kristen Gruodis one of the restaurant’s seven owners. “Fondue has always been a family tradition during the holidays — it’s a very social activity and a very romantic one also. Many people come in just for the chocolate fondue dessert which can be served in the main restaurant the bar or on the back deck.”

With more than 1 800 square feet of chocolate Just Because Chocolates has been offering some of the best handmade treats since 1997. “I was born on Valentine’s Day and I was destined to make chocolate ” says owner Milli Walton alias Milli Wonka. “People started calling me Milli Wonka and it has stuck. In fact I have a license plate that says ‘Ms. Wonka.’”

The Skinny on Chocolate

• The fruit of the Cacao tree grows directly from the trunk and looks like small melons and the pulp inside contains 20-50 seeds or beans.

• It takes about 400 beans to make a pound of chocolate.

• Chocolate is America’s favorite flavor. In a survey 52 percent of U.S. adults say they like chocolate best.

• Seventy-one percent of American chocolate eaters prefer milk chocolate.

• Dark chocolate possesses the highest antioxidant content of any food—more than green or black tea red wine and blueberries.

• Chocolate contributes less than two percent of the fat in the American diet.

• Chocolate contains very little caffeine—50 M&Ms have about as much caffeine as a cup of decaffeinated coffee.

Compiled from www.squidoo.com/chocolate and used by permission.

About 10 years ago Walton started making candy with her grandmother in Salisbury. “Out of granny’s kitchen came Just Because Chocolates along with some of the best chocolates pecan brittle turtles and chocolate-covered pretzels ” Walton says.

Visitors can come into the store located on Fountain Drive year round to create their own made-to-order gift packages Walton points out. But Valentine’s is one of the busiest seasons. “Just before Valentine’s Day we have a line of people out the door just waiting to create their own special Valentine baskets ” she says.

Just Because Chocolates also offers children’s birthday parties and adult chocolate fondue parties for up to 15 people. “It’s all you can eat ” says Walton. “We give you a bowl of chocolate with strawberries apricots brandy-soaked cherries marshmallows bananas pretzels and potato chips for dipping.”

“My grandmother used to tell me ‘I make them [chocolates] for you…‘just because.’ Now after her passing God has given her gift to me and she in turn would want me to make them for you…‘just because.’”

Looking for chocolate…in all the right places

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner most gift-givers know that chocolate ranks right up there with roses as the most romantic gift one can give. Most do not know that this traditional gift of love which bears the botanical name of Thebroma cacao means “Food of the Gods.”

According to legend the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl descended from heaven on a beam of the morning star carrying a cacao tree stolen from paradise. The Aztecs believed that wisdom and power came from eating the fruit of the cocoa tree and that it had aphrodisiac qualities.

Throughout the centuries various countries and cultures have improved the taste of the original “bitter water ” as it was called in Mayan culture making it smooth and delectable for chocoholics worldwide.

Several local chocolate dealers shared with us their most popular chocolate item for Valentine’s Day. With so many possibilities purchasing just the right chocolate for your special Valentine should be a breeze.

Candy Store at Hummingbird Station
339 North Front Street (Cotton Exchange)
Double chocolate truffles
$1.99-2.15 per truffle

Carolina Candy Company
2323 S. 17th Street
Tarheel Toffee covered in milk chocolate
$14.99 lb.

Edible Arrangements
The Galleria 6766 Wrightsville Ave.
Valentine Berry Chocolate Bouquet
(Pineapple melon and gourmet chocolate strawberries)

Just Because Chocolates
4549 Fountain Dr. behind McAllister’s
Create your own Valentine basket with homemade chocolates dark and milk chocolate
$25 and up.

Kilwins Chocolate & Ice Cream
16 Market Street
Chocolate-covered strawberries
$17.95 lb.

The Little Dipper
138 S. Front Street
Chocolate Fondue
$10 for 2 people; $14 for 4 people

Lindt Chocolate Shop
3500 Oleander Dr. (Independence Mall)
Heart-shaped truffles in special heart-shaped box

1125 Military Cutoff Road
Moonstruck 10-piece heart collection of chocolate truffles

South ’n France
Bucket o’ Love—ribbon-laced pink bucket with choice of bonbons

Temptations Gourmet Foods & Café
3501 Oleander Drive
Lake Champlain Chocolate Truffles
$1.90 per truffle

Toffee Talk
Sold at Pine Valley Markets
3520 South College &
114 Dock Street
350-3663/ 251-7890
Homemade toffee with semi-sweet chocolate and almonds
$8 ½ lb.

— Sandra Chambers