New Orleans has an outsized reputation for many things: it's a world-class party destination with great parades featuring lots of beads, great music, great food, low-class strip/clip joints, and a fascinating history, not to mention drive-through daquiri bars.
The list of culinary classics on the savory side of the menu from this part of the south is almost endless. But from a dessert perspective, New Orleans' rep does not shine nearly so brightly. Apart from the Bananas Foster it's hard to name a truly great New Orleans dessert. And yes, I know of the beignets at Cafe du Monde with their heavy dusting of powdered sugar. And although you can order the beignets at the Cafe du Monde most any time of the day or night, the best time to eat them is in the stillness of the very early morning before the heat of the day starts to enervate the Quarter's inhabitants; washed down with a cafe au lait where the cafe is laced with chicory - so I don't really think of them as dessert.
The one confection that New Orleans is known for is the praline (pronounced praw'-leen). Real New Orleans-style pralines resemble large cookies, but these cookies are made from boiled sugar in which you can find swimming pecans. The best pralines are really quite good, but for every place that makes a good one there are dozens that don't measure up. One of the best-known makers of pralines in New Orleans is Laura's Candies
. While they do sell what they call truffles at Laura's, they fall into the category of "hometown favorites" and are best compared with the products of other companies at their price point, such as See's.
From 2000-2005, the "Best Candy Shop" in New Orleans (as voted by the readers of Gambit magazine) was Blue Frog Chocolates
. I would also categorize Blue Frog as being a hometown favorite, but one with aspirations to reach beyond their hometown. The signature Blue Frog chocolate is a molded frog made from white chocolate that is colored blue. From what I can see from the pictures on their site, these will turn your tongue blue - which may be their major attraction. Other Blue Frog specialties I would call "novelty" chocolates: molded alligators, Mardi Gras gelt, chocolate voodoo dolls, and such like. In addition to these novelty products, Blue Frog also sells products made by other companies, most of which command a higher price point. Brands include Joseph Schmidt, Green and Blacks, and Michel Cluizel. They do, however, carry one very downmarket brand of truffles imported from France, Chocmod Truffettes. Many flavors can't even be called chocolate because they don't actually contain any cocoa mass (the ingredients list for their "Original Flavor Truffettes de France is: partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, sugar, low fat cocoa, whey powder, cocoa powder, emulsifier: soy lecithin, natural flavor: vanilla). To be fair, the ingredients list for their Organic Truffles (note truffle, not truffette - a real giveaway) is not at all bad: organic cocoa mass, organic coconut oil, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa powder, organic cocoa butter, soy lecithin.
With the opening of Sucré (French for sugar) in April 2007, New Orleans finally has a local artisan chocolatier that it can truly be proud of. Located betwixt and between the Garden District and Uptown on Magazine St just two hops, three skips, four jumps and some bon temps (not to mention TurboDogs) from Tipitina's. Sucré is the handiwork of successful local restaurant entrepreneur Joel Dondis and Pastry Chef/Chocolatier Tariq Hanna formerly of MotorCity in Detroit.
(By an odd coincidence, I happen to have spent some time with Tariq in the Arizona desert in 2005 when he was a contestant on a Food Network Challenge that was being filmed at the Marriott Desert Ridge during the World Pastry Forum, just before the National Pastry Team Championships.)
The physical presence of Sucré is quite impressive as the following photos of the exterior and chocolate case attest to. In addition to their chocolates, they make traditional breakfast pastries (Viennoiserie), a range of petit pastries, entremets (cakes), macarons, pate de fruits, chocolate-covered nuts, a selection of seasonal gelatos and sorbets, in addition to coffees, teas, and drinking chocolates, rounded out by a lunch menu that includes sandwiches and soups.
I received a nine-piece selection of their chocolates for review. Reflecting the clean, clear lines of the store, the packaging is straightforward and attractive (as can be seen in the product photo, below).
Where Sucré really shines is when it turns its attention to the flavors that New Orleans and the South are best known for - which is sort of odd when you think about it because Tariq is not a name common in cajun country. A case in point is the Blangé, Sucré's interpretation of the Bananas Foster in a confection. Also in this category is the piece called Avery, a milk chocolate and caramel ganache with a pinch of Avery Island salt (Avery Island is the home of the McIlhenney company, makers of Tabasco hot sauce which uses a lot of Avery Island salt). Sucré's Magnolia pays homage to that most southern of nuts - the pecan. A final piece, Meuniere, combines the signature ingredient of the sauce, browned butter, in a white chocolate ganache infused with the flavor of toasted almonds, a common sauce meuniere garnish.
The ganaches are all smooth as silk with varying densities ranging from quite wet (in the shell molded pieces) to quite firm (in the enrobed pieces). The collections all display nice variations in shapes as well as surface treatments and so are visually quite pleasing. Based on the descriptions, much if not all of the chocolate used is Felchlin, including the Bolivian Cru Sauvage
and the Maracaibo Clasificado
(Venezuela) 65%. If Chef Hanna consistently uses Felchlin, then the milks available to him, the Criolait (38%) and Creole (49%) are two of the best going. It sure is easier to make great confections when you start with great chocolate.
Very Good to Superior
3025 Magazine St
New Orleans, LA 70115