Complete Chocolate Lover’s Guide for the San Francisco Bay Area

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Sweet torture

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People read a lot into chocolate. Of course, it’s tasty and satisfying, but it’s also a special treat, comfort food, a link to happy memories, etc. And all of those mental and emotional associations can come from a single plain square of chocolate. But if you really want to up your chocolate experiences, you should try a La Forêt allocation.

spring 2020 allocation

La Forêt’s Spring 2020 allocation was a treasure trove of tastes & textures

Allocations aren’t a new type of chocolate; they are sets of bonbons, but they are “extra” and ephemeral. La Forêt produces 4 sets of allocations each year — one for each season — consisting of 10 unique flavors. They make one batch of each allocation, and when they are sold out, they are gone.

As I write this, I just received an email that their Spring 2021 collection is now available for shipping March 9. If you miss that, you might be able to snag a box at their shop in Napa that first week, but once those are sold, that’s it; there’s nothing until the summer allocation of 10 new flavors in June.

I have tried 2 of their allocations so far, and they were both top notch. But also kinda saddening and maddening because no matter how much I liked certain pieces, I probably can never experience them again.

That’s because La Forêt doesn’t sell bonbons the rest of the year — if you visit the shop, you won’t see any display cases of bonbons to peruse like in most other chocolate shops — they have legitimate concerns about the quality and freshness of bonbons stored in a case for days before they are sold. So La Forêt only makes bonbons for the allocations and aims to make just enough of those to send out immediately to people who have ordered them.

It’s an interesting approach to selling bonbons. La Forêt sells other types of chocolate and confections year round in their shop and online, but bonbons are special limited edition, limited time offers.

Spring forward

The first allocation I tried was the Spring 2020 collection, a box of 25 pieces, so there were at least 2 bonbons of each of the 10 featured flavors. Wendy Sherwood, founder, owner, and head chocolatier at La Forêt, told me she usually develops a theme each year for the allocations, and since she started La Forêt in 2010, the 2020 theme was to feature flavors from previous allocations, so each allocation had one flavor from each of the 10 preceding years.

Devonshire Cream

For example, the Spring Allocation’s 2019 piece was Devonshire Cream, described as a clotted cream ganache white chocolate in a 70% shell. It was a subtle piece with a milky tasting ganache (as opposed to a milk chocolate ganache) covered in a thin shell of dark chocolate that gave a nice hit of chocolate against the milky ganache. It reminded me of bonbons we got in Paris: well made with subtle flavors, not too sweet, and a thin but substantial enough chocolate shell.

avocado

Avocado was surprisingly fruity

Avocado

I was intrigued by the 2018 piece: Avocado and lime in white chocolate ganache in a dark chocolate shell. I expected a savory bonbon, but the green-tinted white chocolate ganache had a refreshing, tropical fruit flavor with just a little avocado taste at the end. I was only 2 pieces into this collection, and I was already feeling nostalgic for flavors I would never taste again.

Balzac’s 50 Cups of Coffee

The allocation continued to impress and make me happy, The 2017 piece was called Balzac’s 50 Cups of Coffee from La Forêt’s Famous Authors Collection. A somewhat unassuming outside consisting of a milk chocolate square splashed with a line of espresso powder hide a layered interior of white chocolate ganache in between 2 layers of 85% Valrhona Abinao coffee flavored ganache. It had an immediate coffee flavor enhanced by a slightly grainy texture and buttery overtones. The 3-chocolate combo moderated the espresso so it evoked the taste of a cup of coffee with milk and sugar.

PB & Purple

I was excited about the 2016 selection: PB & Purple, a milk chocolate peanut butter ganache with blackberry pâte de fruit in a dark chocolate shell. It was another layered piece with peanut butter ganache and pâte de fruit layers. It was very peanut buttery tasting with an authentic peanut butter texture. The blackberry came after the peanut butter and was slightly tart: a good combo with the peanut butter. And this peanut butter lover loved that the peanut butter taste was the one that lingered. I’d call this piece addictive, except that I cannot have it again because, allocation.

Maui Gold

The 2015 Maui Gold piece was a white ganache of pineapple roasted with cane sugar molasses in a 38% milk chocolate shell. It was so pine-appley! Both in flavor and texture. The taste reminded me of the tiny pineapple turnovers my aunt used to make when I was a kid, and the slight pineapple texture was awesome. The milk chocolate was a very light flavor in the piece; the pineapple dominated and lingered. I loved it.

sakura

The glowing Sakura

Sakura

The 2014 Sakura was a pretty piece with an opalescent white shell dome topped with a glittery pink “petal.” I wasn’t sure I would like it because the ingredients included marzipan, which I don’t care for. And inside the white chocolate shell there was indeed a layer of marzipan on top of a buttercream layer flavored with cherry blossoms (Sakura is Japanese for cherry blossom) and including bits of preserved cherry blossoms.

It smelled like marzipan and old-fashioned cherry throat lozenges (a smell that triggers pleasant childhood memories for me). The cherry cough drop flavor dominated the sweet-almond flavor of the marzipan, so I didn’t mind the marzipan. Plus this marzipan wasn’t dry or hard. It melted in my mouth. I surprised myself by liking it — and I’m beginning to suspect I’ve only had bad marzipan up to this point in my life.

Crunchy Rhubarb Crisp

Rhurbarb Crisp

The 2013 Rhurbarb Crisp was a cool looking piece consisting of a thick white chocolate disk topped with what looked like the oatmeal topping on a fruit crisp doused with cream. Inside was rhubarb and vanilla pâte de fruit and more vanilla in buttercream. It smelled very vanilla and oat-y. The first flavor impression was tart, then came the oat and cinnamon crunch from the topping. It was not overwhelmingly tart; it was more on the white chocolate and oatmeal crisp range. It was a fun piece and tasted good, but I would have liked more rhubarb flavor.

Rosemary Almond Praline

The 2012 Rosemary Almond Praline is a flavor that you can get year-round (in theory) because it is the same flavor as La Forêt’s Florentine Almond bar. In the bonbon version, the dark chocolate shell enclosed a square of milk chocolate and almond praline and was garnished with rosemary and cumin salt. The praline smelled very nutty (though if I didn’t know, I wouldn’t have guessed almond) and was full of finely chopped nuts. It was a savory, not sweet piece with the first hit being rosemary, then cumin with a citrusy overtone. It had a nice texture from the chopped nuts (which definitely tasted like almonds). And the rosemary lingered along with the almond taste.

Les Baies Roses

The 2011 Les Baies Roses was a pink peppercorn infused dark chocolate ganache in a dark chocolate shell. The simplicity worked because it had an immediate distinctly pink peppercorn flavor with slight heat coming after, and the flavor lasted a long time.

Salted Butter Caramel

The last flavor of the batch, the 2010 Salted Butter Caramel was the piece that started it all, as Wendy developed it when working at the French Laundry and the experience was inspirational in starting her own chocolate shop. It is also the one bonbon that you can at La Forêt; I assume because it is more shelf stable than the other flavors. It’s a soft buttery caramel. Unlike other salted caramels, there is no salt sprinkled on top and it’s not salty tasting. Instead the salt lifts the butter caramel flavor. The flavor of the dark chocolate shell comes after and blends into the caramel for a long aftertaste.

Fall back

The other allocation I tried was the Fall 2020 collection, which also featured 10 unique flavors from the past 10 years of allocations. And like the Spring allocation, it came in an elegant clamshell (solander) box (which cacaopod is reusing to store small artwork in) wrapped with an attractive strip of marbleized paper. Allocations would be ideal extra special gifts for chocolate lovers on your list.

L’Abricot

The 2019 L’Abricot was an apricot pâte de fruit and dark chocolate ganache in a dark chocolate shell. It had a good peach/apricot smell, and a dominant dark chocolate/mild apricot taste. It had a soft smooth texture that melted easily, and the subtle peach/apricot flavor lingered.

Kokoa Kamili Fermentary

The 2018 Kokoa Kamili Fermentary was a single origin bonbon that Wendy and her crew roasted and refined the beans for in-house(!) to make a 70% ganache in a dark chocolate shell. The ganache was very dark, almost black, with a rich fermented flavor that was just enough to taste extra chocolatey. It went from fermented to fruity as it melted. It was a very smooth, creamy ganache in a nice thin shell.

tonka chai

The Tonka Chai bonbon featured an unusual ingredient

Tonka Chai

The 2017 Tonka Chai was a beautiful piece: a dark chocolate dome with a bold indigo swirl. While I know what chai is, I had to look up tonka bean, which is what flavored the other half of the piece. Turns out they are like vanilla beans, but are generally banned from import to the US, so I guess that’s why I never heard of them.

The piece itself contained a milk chocolate ganache flavored with black tea and chai spices and a salted butter caramel flavored with tonka bean. It was a good chocolatey chocolate (one of La Forêt’s strengths is their house-made couverture) and had a distinctly chai flavor with soft vanilla caramel undertones. Like La Forêt’s OG Salted Butter Caramel bonbons, it wasn’t salty, except it had a tiny salty end, while the chocolate and chai flavors lingered.

Orange Torres

The 2016 Orange Torres was just the ticket for orange chocolate lovers with house-candied Valencia orange peel and Spanish bitter orange liqueur ganache in a dark chocolate shell. Those double doses of orange made for a very orangey initial hit, which transitioned to bitter orange, then turned super chocolatey. It had a little more texture than a typica ganache but they must have cut the candied orange peel super fine because the texture was on the level of sugar granules.

Baklava

The 2015 Baklava was amazing. From the start: Where does the idea to put flaky baklava in a bonbon come from? And to be able to execute the idea successfully? Wow. Wendy put crisp filo shards, walnut praline, and crystallized honey powder in a milk chocolate ganache in a milk chocolate shell, and made it work. It was crispy to cut and smelled of nuts and honey. It was super crunchy, and tasted like chocolate covered baklava. And unlike some baklava I’ve had, it was not too sweet or sticky. It had a pronounced honey walnut taste in a good light milk chocolate. One of my favs and a really cool piece.

Mariage Fréres

The 2014 Mariage Fréres used the French brand’s Earl Grey tea to flavor the ganache. It smelled chocolatey along with that distinctive Earl Grey bergamot smell. It tasted mostly of chocolate with a light Earl Grey flavor from the middle to the end. It was just the right amount of Earl Grey; distinct, but not perfume-y.

baci nocciola

My camera doesn’t do the Baci Nocciola’s luster justice

Chicory Café au Lait

The 2013 Chicory Café au Lait had a laid back feel to it with a milky, mild coffee flavored white chocolate ganache in a dark shell. It tasted mostly chocolate-y and ended with that mild coffee flavor from the chicory/coffee combo. All it needed was a beignet covered with powdered sugar. (I miss traveling.)

Baci Nocciola

The 2012 Baci Nocciola was a very pretty swirled ball covered in gold luster. This seemed to me like a prettier and crunchier take on traditional chocolate candies with a tasty, extra crunchy hazelnut praline in a milk chocolate ganache and shell. It was a satisfying nostalgia trip.

root beer float bonbon

Just the cutest root beer float bonbon you will ever see

Root Beer Float

The 2011 Root Beer Float on the other hand, was the bomb! It looked like a mini-cupcake with its white chocolate frosting-like swirl on top dotted with a chocolate pearl. The piece itself had root beer pâte de fruit pieces floating in root beer infused white chocolate ganache. It was sweet, because of course a root beer float is sweet — it’s ice cream and soda. And it was yummy with that distinct root beer float flavor.

But what made it extra special was its texture: the slippery pate in the buttery ganache imitated fuzzy soda and ice cream. So cool! Wendy totally captured both the flavor and experience of a root beer float in this one. I am so sorry neither you or I will ever experience this again.

Smoked Maple Pecan

The last piece, the 2010 Smoked Maple Pecan, while not the bomb, certainly held its own. Described as applewood-smoked pecan praline cream in a milk chocolate shell, it was a very flavorful maple and sweet pecan experience. The finely chopped praline gives a satisfying small crunch, and the maple was distinct. I think it’s hard to get maple right in chocolate — it can easily become like maple candy, grainy and super-sweet, or just be indistinctly sweet — but this was good. It had an accurate maple flavor without excess sweetness, and the piece had a buttery ending like butter brickle ice cream.

Chocolate experiences

fall 2020 allocation

The Fall 2020 allocation was just as fun as the Spring allocation

La Forêt chocolates are great. I’ve tried some of their bars and other confections, and they were all excellent, and available year-round. But the allocations are truly special.

The bonbons have very evocative tastes, both of what they are labeled — the Baklava tastes like baklava — and the experiences I associate with those tastes. And it’s not just flavors but textures are a big deal. For example, I love Michael Mischer’s root beer bonbons, but they are simply a root beer infused liquid caramel in chocolate. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but La Forêt’s Root Beer Float was a whole root beer float flavor AND texture experience.

I am not a chocolatier, heck, I don’t even cook, but I can only assume that producing these allocations is very labor intensive because they are so intricate. That could be another reason they are one-offs — too much work! And even the simpler, more subtle pieces hit all the marks for excellent chocolate: the appearance, the thin shells, the distinct but balanced flavors; Wendy is trained in French-style chocolate which is probably my favorite, and I think her chocolates are on par or better than what I’ve had in Paris.

I felt a little torn writing this review because it’s like writing about a dance performance or an historic event. You kinda had to be there because it’s not going to happen again. I am sad that I can’t experience these chocolates again; and I don’t know if this is just frustrating to read when you can never experience them.

However, as I mentioned at the start, you can order upcoming allocations and experience those. Sign up on La Forêt’s website, so you can be notified when it’s time to order the next allocation.

You have to act ASAP if you want to order the Spring 2021 allocation. The theme is Shop Small and features ingredients from small producers of fine foods. You can order the standard 25-piece box, or there is a new smaller box option this time that contains 16 bonbons. You can find more information on their website.

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About chocolatte

A writer/designer, Nancy lives in Oakland with Ronnie (AKA cacaopod), her husband of many years & fellow chocolate enthusiast.

View all posts by chocolatte →

Date posted: February 25, 2021. This entry was posted in Featured, Front page, Listed chocolatier, Listed confectionist, Local chocolate, North Bay, Review, Wine Country and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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