Sunday, May 31, 2009

Maison Bouche

I have a soft spot for France. Like many a food enthusiast, I spent a year there in college and returned not only with a beret - but a new love for fine chocolate, gourmet cheeses and Cote du Rhone. A new French chocolate caught my eye at Miette Confiserie last month, Maison Bouche. At least it looked French (with no English flavor explanations), but I was surprised to learn the bars are made not on the banks of the Seine but right here in downtown Oakland.

As Malena from the Xocolate Bar pointed out, the East Bay is now the place for budding chocolatiers to set up shop. Cheaper rent, easier parking, warmer weather - and hordes of Berkeley parents to please. The founder of Maison Bouche, Diane Beaty, is a graduate Tante Marie's pastry program. She has been in the chocolate business for 3 years, and just this year dedicated herself on a full time basis. Though her mixing bowl is in Oakland, Diane's heart is most definitely in France, with Paris as her favorite European food town. Her company (literally translated as "house of the mouth") is named after the sumptuous kitchens at Versailles.

The 18th century French influence is evident in each bar's elegant packaging and the Maison Bouche web site. Think "shabby chic" meets Marie Antoinette. Diane confesses she loves anything Baroque - including architecture, art, clothing and of course confections. One of her favorite creations is the Amandes Cacaotees, fashioned after one of Marie Antoinette's much loved candies. These almonds are caramelized, then dipped in dark chocolate and dusted in cocoa. Her unusual Langues de Chat ("cat tongues") is another popular French candy from the past.

I sampled three small Maison Bouche bars ($6 each): Sables Croquants, Tilleul, and Pamplemousse Rose. Yet this is only the beginning; Maison Bouche offers 16 different flavored bars, many available in both "noir" and "lait." All of her noir (dark) chocolate bars are 55% cacao, created from a proprietary blend of French couverture. If it's difficult for you to choose, the two most popular are the Fleur de Sel and the Sables Croquants (crunchy butter cookies). Thankfully, the flavor addition does not overpower the smooth and creamy chocolate taste. Because of Diane's subtle touch, I have no fear that her "basilic au poivre" would overwhelm my taste buds with unwelcome spiciness.

Maison Bouche bars and confections are available online and at just a handful of retailers. For those in the Bay Area, Miette is the place to go. Weddings, tea parties, bridal showers, gifts for Francophiles...think Maison Bouche.


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