Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Two Great Tastes: Gourmet Chocolate and Peanut Butter

Every Halloween my Mom set out a bowl of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups by the front door. We waited and, invariably, no kids came a knocking. Who could blame them? "Hurricane Hill" was almost thirty minutes away from Falmouth's top Halloween destination, the Foreside, where Moms dressed up as witches and you could fill your candy bag in a single block. But no matter, the day after Halloween meant plenty of leftovers. I ate quickly, knowing it would be another year until I could savor the taste of chocolate and peanut butter again.

I've always thought Reese's Peanut Butter Cups were a part of the Hershey empire, but not so at first. In the 1920s, H.B. Reese quit the dairy farm business and moved to Hershey, Pennsylvania to produce peanut butter cups. In the 1930s they sold for just a penny a piece! It wasn't until 1963, when the popularity of the peanut butter cup was well established, that Hershey purchased the H.B. Reese Candy Company for $23.5 million.

Now that I've entered the world of slow, artisan produced, local, organic foods (i.e.,Food Snobbery), a peanut butter cup is a guilty pleasure. And while I still love the taste of peanut butter and chocolate, I don't like to think of all the sugar and additives in each Reese's Cup. So this Halloween I scouted out my favorite SF chocolate shops for the gourmet take on chocolate and peanut butter. While doing so, I learned that this combination is a decidedly American taste. Richart, my favorite French brand, does not dabble in peanut butter. And my gianduja loving friends at Teuscher almost laughed at the idea. "The Swiss consider the peanut an inferior nut, but Americans are always asking for it." And just what makes a nut superior?

My husband and I sampled filled chocolate from 6 different companies, and here are our finds:
#1 - Our Favorite
Joseph Schmidt Peanut Butter Chocolate Prailine
Schmidt's signature egg-shaped truffles are hard to resist. We liked this one the best because it didn't try to do too much with a classic flavor combination. Under the milk chocolate couverture, the dark chocolate forms a thin shell around the creamy peanut butter center. Yum!

#2 - Second Best
See's Peanut Butter Cup
I'm not a huge See's fan, but I knew they would succeed with an American favorite. See's offers, not one, but three chocolate peanut butter combinations. The saleswoman said "this one tastes like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup, this one tastes like a Snickers and this one tastes like a Butterfinger." In that case, why don't I save my money and go by some candy bars? We liked the round peanut butter cup best, and actually didn't mind the 50 cents price - a bargain in the gourmet chocolate world!

Vosges Organic Peanut Butter Bonbons
I am a sucker for marketing, and am always drawn to Vosges and their seductive packaging. Their copywriting is over the top but fun to read: "The Outcome: unparalleled, rich peanut butter-goodness, enhanced and intensified on your palate by mineral salt. Old fashioned tradition meets slight obsession." If only they had held back on some of those mineral salts. We felt Vosges went a little crazy with the pink Himalayan salt and the Fleur de Sel salt - too much, too jarring a taste next to the peanut butter and chocolate. Available at Fog City News.

Recchiutti Peanut Butter Puck
I was prepared to love the Peanut Butter Puck, which Recchiutti tells me is always a best-seller in the fall. This enormous truffle is meant to resemble a hockey puck, a perfect shape for an American pleasure. But there was a peculiar taste to the filling, maybe it was simply the Fleur de Sel, that led us to leave much of it in its wrapper.


Godiva Peanut Butter Cup
Godiva's "fresh" peanut butter cups were the real losers in our tasting. And at $4 a piece, they were also the most expensive. Godiva lays these treasures out by the window next to the chocolate covered strawberries and the pot of melted chocolate. Each is a large dark (or milk) chocolate oval filled with peanut butter and decorated with thin stripes of chocolate on top. It tastes simply like gooey natural peanut butter on a piece of chocolate, and it is very messy.

Next time the chocolate peanut butter urge hits, I hope you'll try some of the gourmet options I've suggested. And leave the Reese's for the Harry Potters and the Princesses with simpler tastes!

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