The Chocolate Life

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How do I explain this one? A sixth sense for cacao? An exquisitely attuned nose that enables me to detect almond paste from over 400 miles away? Faith that any place in France is going to have to-die-for bonbons?

When I booked my trip to Biarritz, I knew rugby, pelote and thalassotherapy spa treatments were big. But I had no idea that the region had a storied chocolate history. I swear.

It was only on the TGV from Paris, furiously cramming to create my two-day itinerary, that my eyes came across this info and my heart skipped a beat: a chocolate museum? Vraiment?? And when I was searching for my hotel and passed three chocolatiers within 100 yards of each another, well, it was only then that I believed my beach weekend was taking a delicious detour (bikini be damned!).

The chocolate museum, Planete Musée du Chocolat, is (no pun intended) a sweet little place. It starts you off with a film about where and how chocolate is produced and then offers a handful of galleries devoted to chocolate molds and sculptures (created by Serge Couzigou), vintage advertising and packaging, and tools and machines from around the world and through the eras. At the end of the visit, you’re rewarded for your attentiveness with a cup of rich hot cocoa. And, of course, you’re spit out into the museum shop, where you can buy the house chocolate bars, bonbons, cocoa and cakes.

I skipped the shop to do my chocolate shopping at the local chocolatiers.

Henriet and Adam are located across the street from each other, reminding me of separated lovers—Henriet, traditional and decorated in pretty blue.

And Maison Adam, dark, sleek and contemporary.

Both have similar selections—chocolate bars, bonbons and bouches; marzipan molds and bricks, and pastries including the regional specialty, Gateau Basque.

The Gateau Basque comes in several variations. One, a drier, circular shortbread cake is filled with cherry preserves. The other is also made with shortbread pastry, but it’s a flatter, denser square slice that sandwiches a lemony custard filling. The former is from Maison Adam, the former from Henriet.

At both chocolatiers, the pates d’amandes—one of my favorite things—came in a spectacular array of flavors and varieties: raspberry, lemon, pistachio, pine nut, vanilla, chocolate…

Sometimes it was sliced and packaged like a chocolate bar, sometimes smaller bite-sized pieces were rolled in sugar and sold like a bag of suckers. It was delicious both ways.

And the chocolate bonbons were equally adventurous and divine: milk chocolate with passionfruit ganache, dark chocolate with African tea, praline with lemon and coriander, salty, floral, spicy… really, had I known I was training straight into chocolate paradise, I would have stayed for more than a weekend.

There was no time for La Maison de Kanouga or Daranatz (with those cheerily wrapped chocolate bars).

But, now that I know Biarritz’s sweet secrets, I’ll make sure the next visit is for an entire week.

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Tags: Biarritz, Cake, Chocolate, France, Marzipan, Museum


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Comment by Sweet Freak on May 26, 2009 at 11:36am
Gwen, I know - how lucky can a girl get??

Clay, can you suggest any other under-the-radar chocolate capitals? Or, any must-sample choco capitals?

Comment by Clay Gordon on May 25, 2009 at 6:32pm
SF -

It's actually not surprising that there is a lot of chocolate in Biarritz as Bayonne (less than 10km inland) is the ancestral heart of the chocolate industry in France. Sephardic Jews fleeing the Inquisition in Spain settled in Bayonne and brought with them the "secrets" of chocolate.

:: Clay

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