Bakers Journal

Trends in chocolate

October 17, 2022
By Karen Barr

Chocolatiers discuss what’s new and what their customers are craving

“We like using white chocolate as a base for flavour, so many of our inspired white chocolate bonbons are deeply flavoured with fruits, spices, teas and high-quality spirits,” says Dallas Southcott, The Chocolate Lab. Photos: The Chocolate Lab

Chocolate, the ever-loved ingredient for chocolatiers and pastry chefs, is always evolving in how it is used and presented in the marketplace. What are the latest trends in chocolate? What are consumers craving the most?

“We see trends out of necessity. There are more customers now than ever before who have developed a sensitivity or allergy to nuts, gluten or dairy. People have also made lifestyle changes, like choosing to be vegan. I certainly keep all of this in mind when sourcing new raw materials and developing a new product,” says Anna Stubbe, sixth-generation chocolatier, who opened Anna Stubbe Chocolates, in Ottawa. 

Anna completed her apprenticeships in pastry and chocolate in Germany before moving to Canada in 2002. Then, she worked with her father, German-born master chocolatier Heinrich Stubbe, of Stubbe Chocolates, also in Ottawa. After 12 years she opened her own shop. 

Dallas Southcott, a former master chocolatier at Bernard Callebaut, opened his Calgary-based shop The Chocolate Lab, with his wife Eva. What started as a tiny mom-and-pop shop in Chinatown, today is a 6,500-square-foot factory, with their products sold in multiple retail stores. 

“This growing segment of the chocolate-eating population that is interested in making plant-based dietary choices, and dairy-free and vegan chocolate products, including milk and white chocolate, are capturing more interest from top manufacturers,” Southcott says.

The biggest shakeup in the chocolate industry recently was the introduction of Ruby chocolate. Chocolatiers and pastry chefs waited in anticipation for the release date of this innovative fourth type of chocolate. How has this affected the Canadian market?

In his opinion, Dallas says, “Ruby chocolate has given chocolatiers and pastry chefs another tool to work with. With its light fruity, and slightly acidic taste, it presents new opportunities for pairing, especially with fruits and spices. Its natural pinkish hue allows for a natural colouring that is pleasing for dessert toppers and chocolate decorations.”

Anna agrees, adding, “Ruby did not have an impact. Not in my shop. I only sell Ruby in bar shape, plain, and topped with hibiscus and sea salt.”

So just what is trending? When it comes to bonbons, Anna says, “The most popular flavours are the familiar ones, with caramel fillings or nut fillings. The Caramel Sea Salt Bonbon with its dark chocolate shell is by far the most popular flavour. The Liesel (named after Anna’s great aunt, who was also a pastry chef and chocolatier), is a milk chocolate shell with soft Hibiscus caramel.” Then, she adds her personal choice: “My go-to is the Hazeldean Bonbon, with a smooth hazelnut coffee filling. It works for any mood and time of day.”

“It is very important to start the bonbon-making process with super clean and polished moulds,” Anna says, sharing one of the keys to her success. “If the moulds are not polished the shine will not come through nicely.”

After polishing, Anna makes sure the cocoa butter is coloured and tempered. Then she splatters the moulds. “Once set, I spray in the solid colour with an airbrush. When the colour is set, I cast the moulds with chocolate to create a thin shell that will hold the filling. I fill the shells and it has to set for a few hours, before closing the bonbons with the same chocolate as the shell. That’s when the moulds go in the fridge for a while. Unmoulding the bonbons is the most rewarding part of it all! The shine, the thin chocolate shell, the smooth filling – it all comes together.”

The Chocolate Lab carries 32-plus flavours of bonbons. “Our darks are rich and chocolatey, and we often use our own single-origin chocolate produced in house from the bean, as the taste of freshly produced chocolate is much more impactful. We like using white chocolate as a base for flavour, so many of our inspired white chocolate bonbons are deeply flavoured with fruits, spices, teas and high-quality spirits. We have flavours for both the chocolate purist and the wildly adventurous.” 

If he had to pick just one bonbon, Dallas says, “One of my favourites is our Thai Stick. It’s a Thai green curry inspired white chocolate bonbon, infused with lemongrass, lime, ginger and Thai bird’s eye chilis. Having worked extensively in Asia previously, my palate is trained for Asian flavours, and I often bring flavours from my past travels and work into play when creating new recipes.” 

Dallas says the creation of his bonbons is a multiple-day process, with the colour application taking the largest segment of time. Each bonbon is hand painted using tempered, coloured cocoa butters. These mini works of contemporary art are crafted using such tools as brushes, sponges, and stamps, “We use a commercial HVLP spray system to create the thin coloured spray transitions and effects.”

It takes practice to craft the perfect bonbon shell. A shell that is too thin cannot hold the filling. One that is too thick loses the delicate bite. “We use large industrial continuous tempering machines to cast shells, which fits the volume of our production; however, most of this process can be done by hand.” The Chocolate Lab creates tempered ganaches, pralines, giandujas, caramels, nougats and other fillings using traditional techniques.

As for top-selling truffles at her shop, Anna says: “All the dark chocolate truffles. The cognac with 70 per cent dark chocolate is the most popular. Followed by the Gewürztraminer, a marbled white and dark chocolate, filled with dark chocolate Gewürztraminer ganache. Also, the Specials, a milk or dark chocolate shell filled with a mixture of three different chocolates.

The shop also sells Florentines, confections of honey caramel, with almonds, that are finished with dark chocolate dipped on the bottom. Then there are orange peels dipped in chocolate. “The Mozart Kugeln, soft hazelnut nougat surrounded by pistachio marzipan and dipped in dark chocolate, is another. If I had to choose one item to eat for the rest of my life, it’s for sure the Mozart Kugeln.”

Customers can purchase tortes at Anna Stubbe Chocolates, such as the traditional Sacher Torte, a light chocolate sponge cake with layers of apricot jam. “The Cointreau Torte, chocolate almond sponge cake soaked in Cointreau, with layers of dark chocolate ganache and orange marzipan, is also popular,” she says.

Dallas says, “Our award-winning Caramel Latte Hazelnuts and PB&J Malts are our top-selling dragee products. With our tablets, some people gravitate towards the premium dark chocolate bars. We make these using chocolate, crafted in house from the whole bean using direct-trade, ethical cacao. Others love our inspired flavoured bars, like London Fog and Lemon Rosemary.”

As for custom work, Dallas shares some fond memories, “We created a sculpted replica model of the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701a, from the Star Trek IV film. We also created a replica bust of the City of Calgary’s iconic lion head,” he remembers. He adds, “We hand painted a giant chocolate egg, with a panda bear scene, for the Calgary Zoo launch of the panda bear exhibit.”

Chocolate is one of the most beloved sweet treats in the world. Offering customers more of it, in inspired ways, will be rewarded with smiling faces and repeat business.

Karen Barr writes about arts, culture and cuisine. She is a graduate of George Brown College and a Red Seal pastry chef.

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