Chef’s choice chocolates
Timothy Adams Chocolates, located 1/2-block off University Ave. in Palo Alto, is the kind of chocolate shop I wish we had more of in SFBA: Locally owned, the proprietor on-premise making chocolates by hand with great chocolate and locally sourced ingredients, a unique selection, friendly staff and a comfy place to buy and taste chocolate.
We visited Timothy Adams recently and got a chance to talk to the chocolatier, Timothy Woods, and sample some great handmade chocolates.
All natural from A to XXX
As a former chef doing farm to table, Timothy brings that culture to his chocolates. “There’s nothing artificial in any of my chocolates,” he said.
And with a range that stretched on the day we were there from Absinthe to XXX (99% chocolate ganache) and including fruit, nuts, spices and herbs in the mix, that’s an impressive feat.
He starts from a good base for his truffles: “I use a variety of chocolates, depending on what I’m adding in: E. Guittard single-source chocolates, couverture from the French company Cacao Barry, single origin El Rey — the Venezuelan chocolate I like for its dense, chocolate flavor — and local supplier TCHO.”
Also local are most of the other ingredients that go into his truffles, such as fresh mint, quince, pistachios, and spirits from St. George Spirits of Alameda.
The hand of the artist
Part of Timothy’s culture is to make everything he can on-site and all by hand: Nut pralines are made with hard caramel, spread on a baking sheet to set, then coarsely ground and mixed into ganache, which is then hand-rolled, dipped in chocolate and decorated. On the day we were there, he had a walnut praline, hazelnut, pistachio, and peanut butter.
To complement pistachio’s mild flavor, he used a white chocolate ganache with the crunchy pistachio praline. It’s a milky, sweet truffle, with the praline reminding me of peanut brittle. And there was an extra, subtle flavor note: “I put a tablespoon of rum into the pistachio ganache,” Timothy revealed. “That’s not much. One batch makes 33 truffles so it’s the same as putting vanilla into it.”
Putting it over the top
The rest of his wide range of flavors are similarly crafted. To make the bright-tasting mint, he soaks fresh mint in creme for 24 hours to make the infusion that flavors the ganache. No cooking this delicate herb, because cooked mint tastes different and “smells terrible.”
This willingness to put extra effort into his truffles — ganache cooking time alone averages 4-5 hours — pays off. The mint truffle had a strong, fresh mint flavor and ended with a strong dark chocolate flavor leading one of our CBTB chocolateers to declare it, “The best mint I’ve ever had.”
Selections change frequently, so Timothy uses a rubber stamp system for designating flavors in the shop’s display case and in boxes of truffles. “My chocolates change so much,” he said. “I use 1 or 2 new stamps every other day.”
With a range from white chocolate through milk and dark to XXX (99% ganache in a 72% shell), Timothy’s truffles appeal to everyone.
There are single-source truffles, so you can savor the distinct terroir of each chocolate. We sampled the Ecuador, which had a smooth ganache in a buttery/creamy hard shell. It was a fruity chocolate with a coffee-like end.
The XXX is not exactly bitter, but it is so tart, it gave me the same sensation as eating an unripe persimmon. But when it’s mixed with something else, like the dried fig which was one of the day’s options, it mellowed out the tart. It’s still a strong, strong chocolate, but the chewy, sweet fig balanced it nicely.
Making a convert out of me
Among the alcohol-based selections, if gin is available, I recommend it — and this is from someone who doesn’t drink gin. I don’t know what magic Timothy does to it, it can’t just be the lime zest, which is the top note in these chocolates, but he makes gin taste delicious to me. There is no alcohol burn in these truffles, they are not boozy at all. But they end with a definite gin flavor that surprised me in how much I liked it.
Sign of a good chef: he makes everything — even things you can’t imagine liking — tasty.
And get this: He makes it all up as he goes along. “I have no recipes. There’s nothing written down in this kitchen.”
That can be hard to believe, but it speaks to his training as a chef and experience cooking with local, seasonal foods. Another sign that there’s a chef behind these chocolates is the layering of flavors in many of them.
The Mascarpone was a good example with the chocolate and cheese flavors appearing first, then honey, which was almost toffee-esque, came last. Or the Creme Fraiche, made with E Guittard’s Kokoleka milk chocolate which starts out tasting like straight milk chocolate, but ends with the mild cheese tang.
It’s not only truffles to die for
Timothy also makes some good caramels. We really liked the Dark Salted Caramel. Instead of a liquid caramel (which I often find too messy) or a hard caramel (which I consider another candy entirely) this semi-soft caramel had just the right amount of chewiness to make it very satisfying. Plus the salt was nicely balanced with the dark chocolate and caramel — not an easy trick I think given the salty caramels we’ve encountered from other chocolatiers. Seek these out.
We also liked the Vanilla Caramel Truffle, which is a sweet truffle, that Timothy described as reminiscent of Latin America desserts, like flan or dulce de leche. And we can recommend the Dark Creme Caramel, which boasted a thicker shell surrounding creamy caramel folded into chocolate ganache. It had a smoky, real cocoa flavor.
In addition to the truffles and caramels, there were also barks and chocolate-dipped fruits in the display case. Timothy gave us a sample of the dark chocolate-dipped quince he’d just finished. The quince was cooked long enough to give it an almost jellied texture and an apple/pear-like flavor. Again, here’s the good chef making something I considered yucky as a child (I was happy my dad would give our neighbor all the quince that grew in our yard) into something delicious.
So many good choices
With 25-30 varieties of fresh, hand-made chocolates for sale, you can imagine the dilemma of deciding which to buy in a box of 12 pieces. Can’t decide? Do what we did and have Timothy put together your purchase for you. Based on what we told him we liked and his own perceptions about people and food, he put together a selection he knew we’d enjoy.
For a shop that just opened this summer, it’s all pretty impressive. The space is attention-getting with hot pink and cobalt blue patterns that pulse. (The Adams of Timothy Adams is Adams Holland, an interior designer.) And the range and quality of the chocolates is impressive. They already have a loyal following.
But the business is still developing. Right now you can buy their truffles, caramels, barks and hot chocolate in the store only. And bars are coming. The molds arrived the day we were there, and they plan to debut their bars at Filoli’s Holiday Traditions Christmas Fair. But there’s no shipping or online store yet, or a Facebook page or other way to find out what today’s treats are.
It doesn’t matter. If you’re in Palo Alto or can be, stop by the shop and experience these chocolates yourself. Get Timothy’s recommendations, and you can be assured of some great chocolates to enjoy yourself or share with others.
How great? We four CBTB chocolateers rate Timothy Adams Chocolates 4 candy cups.
Timothy Adams Chocolates, 539 Bryant St. (cross street University Ave.), Palo Alto. 650-323-8282.
A writer/designer, Nancy lives in Oakland with Ronnie (AKA cacaopod), her husband of many years & fellow chocolate enthusiast.