Saturday, December 01, 2012

Just in Time for the Holidays: The Top 10 Chocolate Indulgences in Brussels

The holiday season is the perfect time to enjoy the finer things in life and in Brussels (one of my favorite cities), one of them happens to be chocolate. The world's chocolate capital boasts a wide variety of exclusive boutiques where you can give in to your sweet cravings and purchase deliciously unique presents. But where should you head to first? And when you've shopped and tasted to your heart's content, where can you discover more about chocolate? From the best chocolatiers to the most interesting workshops, here are the city's top ten chocolate indulgences. I'll even tell you where you can eat chocolate and drink champagne!

Neuhaus has been making chocolates since 1857, yet one of the company's biggest successes came in 1912 when Jean Neuhaus Jr. made chocolate history by inventing the first bite-sized, filled chocolate and naming it the ‘praline’. To mark this centenary, the Precious collection was created. It features five stunning, jewel-like shapes, each with its own name and distinct flavor. Packaged in a gorgeous keepsake gift box, it’s a great holiday present for the stylish chocoholic. Neuhaus has various locations scattered all over the city, but make sure you stop by the original shop located under the prestigious fin-de-siècle arcade known as the Galerie de la Reine.

Mary Delluc can rightfully be called the ‘Grande Dame of Belgian Chocolates’. She opened her first shop in 1919 on the Rue Royale, not far from the Royal Palace. At the time, chocolate was still regarded as a medicinal product, yet Madame Delluc succeeded in changing its status to that of luxury item. Her chocolates soon became the choice of Belgian royalty and in 1942, Mary was awarded the Royal Warrant of approval by King Leopold III.
Everything at the exquisite boutique attests to the brand's finesse — from their Rococco style furniture to their Boîte Prestige boxes which are nothing short of a gourmet’s dream. Available in three sizes, the white boxes with gold detailing are filled with an assortment of Mary’s finest products. No wrapping necessary — these beauties will look wonderful under the tree just the way they are.

After graduating in Medieval History, Laurent Gerbaud decided to follow his heart and become a chocolatier. Inspired by the flavors of the Far East, his biggest claim to fame is creating a sublime marriage between chocolate, fruits and exotic spices. Gerbaud uses only the noblest ingredients and shuns any artificial flavors or preservatives. For the holiday season, he created the Esprit de Noël blend with dark chocolate, warm, aromatic spices such as ginger, cardamom and cinnamon and two holiday classics: candied oranges and crunchy Belgian speculoos. One bite of these delectable treats is guaranteed to feel like instant Christmas!

Pierre Marcolini opened his first store in Brussels in 1995 with a mission to produce only the best. On his website, we read: “ Perfection is not of this world, they say. Perhaps not, yet that is what we aim for, because my very raison d'être is to offer you a dream’. And a dream is exactly what his chocolates are. For those who enjoy a good after dinner digestif, Marcolini has combined two realms of pleasure in one sophisticated morsel. His Rare Whiskies and Rums collection features six decadent liqueur chocolates: four with single malt whisky (Arbelour, Oban, Ardeg, Yamazaki) and two with rum (Trois  Rivières and Chamarel). Not only a distinctive gift idea for the connoisseur, but also an elegant ending to any festive meal.

At only 21, Jean Galler launched his own chocolate enterprise founded on three principles: passion for chocolate, pride in perfection and constant creativity. The last one is especially evident in his Kaori box. Meaning ‘fragrance’ or ‘scent’ in Japanese, the concept behind Kaori is that chocolate should represent freedom. With this unique product, 42 flavor combinations can be created by dipping six thin chocolate batons (ranging in taste from mild to strong) in three different flavor pots. Galler also offers a wide range of products including truffles, tablets, pralines and 22 signature bars available in dark, milk and white varieties. Another charming holiday gift is their Boule de Noël. They come in two sizes and can be filled as you wish. 

A Chocolate Pause Gourmande
In need of a decadent pick-me-up after walking through the chocolate capital? Head to Wittamer’s elegant café (located above the classy shop on the Place du Grand Sablon) and order a cup of thick, creamy ‘véritable chocolat chaud’ to go with one of their excellent pastries. Wittamer opened in 1910, but the café, which also serves breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea, dates back to 1950.

Learn More About Chocolate
Have you ever wondered about the origins of chocolate? Located on the Rue de la Tête d’Or, not far from the Grand Place, you’ll find the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate. Learn more about the product’s history and cultivation, feast your eyes on a variety of objects including scupltures and even dresses made of chocolate, see a demonstration on making pralines, taste and shop — it’s all possible there!

The Maison des Maîtres Chocolatiers Belges located on the Grand Place, joins the expertise of ten of Belgium's top chocolatiers under one roof and aims to share the knowledge and promote the art of chocolate making. Go there to indulge in a cup of  hot chocolate, sample and buy some of the artisan’s creations or join in on the 'Discovering Handcrafted Chocolate’ demonstration held on Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays at 16.00hrs. After a presentation covering topics such as moulds, tempering machines and the history of chocolate, the moulding of caraques and pralines is explained. Of course, no demonstration would be complete without a tasting.

Make Your Own Chocolates
Created by François-Jean Decarpentrie in 2007, the name Zaabär was inspired by Istanbul’s Spice Bazaar. Zaabär’s chocolates feature exciting flavor combinations with ingredients such as pink peppercorn, coriander and lemongrass. But Zaabär offers more than just mouthwatering creations. The Chocolate Academy, invites people of all ages and levels of expertise to take part in a wide variety of workshops. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, there is a one-hour workshop where you can learn to make your own truffles, spiced chocolate bars and mendiants.

The Ultimate Pleasure
What could be more luxurious than combining exceptional champagnes with fine chocolate? At Alex & Alex both products are their passion. The champagnes come from small producers and can be paired with the chocolates made by top chocolatier Frederic Blondeel. Step inside and let them show you how. Their cozy chocolate and champagne bar may just be the most perfect place to toast the holiday season and your stay at the world’s chocolate capital!

So there you have it! Consider this mini Brussels chocolate guide as a sweet holiday present from me to you! 

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