Chocoholics pay attention! Next time you have that hankering for serious chocolate, run over to treat yourself and your best friends to the extraordinary Belgian style, hand filled, preservative free chocolates at Belgique Chocolatier.
Belgique is familiar to some chocolate lovers in Fairfield County who have enjoyed the chocolates, fine pastries and ice cream at Susan and Pierre Gilissen’s first location in Kent, CT. After searching for a storefront in Fairfield County, they landed on a jewel of a space set back from Elm St. in New Canaan. This location opened in mid-September and is 100 % about the chocolate. Before opening in Kent in 2001, Chef Pierre Gilissen served as Executive Chef and Manager at the Residence of the Netherlands Ambassador to the U.S. in Washington, D.C. There, he prepared all meals, receptions and teas for the Ambassadors, their families and up to 1,000 guests. His passion for chocolates began during his years there.
Upon entering the bright and simply designed shop, I was greeted by an enveloping, seductive aroma of cocoa. I was invited to taste the silky, dense and rich Hot Chocolate topped with a dollop of fresh cream, which was rated one of the top 10 Haute Chocolates IN THE WORLD by VIVRE catalogue in 2004. I can’t say I have had the pleasure of comparing it to the other nine winners, but it was truly unlike any liquid chocolate I have ever tasted. Anticipating more tasting ahead, I had asked Gilissen for just “ a few sips.” In her generous style, she delivered a full cup instead, and without a bit of self control, I sipped straight through the 6 ounces without any hesitation. It was as pure and pleasurable as any liquid could possibly taste. And that was just the beginning.
Susan Gilissen took me on a tour of the compact shop, explaining that her husband Pierre is the chocolate maker responsible for the artistry and flavors of all of the chocolates in the brightly lit and beautifully displayed, refrigerated cases. With only one other employee working with him, Pierre makes these exquisite artisan chocolates 5 days a week in Kent. Belgian chocolate is strictly regulated, requiring 100 % cocoa butter. The absence of vegetable oil explained the creamy, smooth texture, specifically, the absence of any waxy sensation on the tongue. Making chocolate is a three step process which requires very specific conditions, including low humidity. When Susan and I shared a moment of appreciation for the clear, cool morning, I assumed that she was welcoming the chillier fall days because shoppers will surely stream in for Belgique’s addictive hot chocolate. In fact, a dry day implies a great chocolate making day and Susan knew Pierre would be relieved to be hard at work after a string of wet, fall days.
Belgian chocolate indicates the highest quality of chocolate and the fanciful, intricate, molded shapes. Fillings are de rigeur and may include creamy hazelnut, dark chocolate or caramel ganache, coffee buttercream, or fruit jellies. The shapes are creative and inspired by the seasons. Delightful sea shells in dark, milk or a combination of swirled milk and white chocolates, seem like the perfect summer hostess gift. There are edible chocolate containers in shapes that celebrate the season or occasion, all of which may be filled with smaller chocolates. Clam shells, pumpkins, cocoa pods, round “boxes” with incised wood grain and heart shaped vessels are each $15 and provide the perfect edible gift box. Fill them with your choices of long, gleaming, sea shells or pistachio and apricot studded, solid disc mendiants (also called Little Beggars), or milk chocolate hearts filled with creamy, dense, milk chocolate ganache. In addition, there are non-edible boxes that may be purchased to present these exquisite molded chocolates in. Elegantly patterned papers line oval 8-10 inch hat boxes and suitcases. They are trimmed in leather and would make a colorful and original presentation.
Other fanciful and original shapes, all in solid chocolate, include pianos and violins for music lovers, walnuts and chestnuts, molded gift wrapped boxes, treasure chests, pyramids and dominoes. For the drama queen /princess there are Cleopatra’s in dark chocolate filled with passion fruit essence and dark chocolate ganache. It is easy to find the connection between a lucky gift recipient and any of the fanciful shapes and flavors presented at Belgique. Pierre was asked to create the lion crest (chocolate and orange liqueur with dark chocolate ganache) for the King and Queen of Belgium. He has also prepared chocolates for Queen Elizabeth and both President Bush’s.
Most unique flavor? I love the fleur de sel , a creamy milk chocolate ganache with delicately flavored sea salt in a milk chocolate shell. The complexity and balance of the flavors was unique and worth savoring. I also loved everything with hazelnut, which Gilissen explained, is a most typical filling in Belgian truffles. For those who want to mix it up by including non-chocolate items, there is an elegant selection of sugar dusted, marzipan fruit shapes in bright colors and bursting with fruity flavor. Shapes include strawberries, apricots. raspberries, cherries, pineapple, oranges and green apples.
As the seasons change, fall and winter celebrations begin. Consider chocolate ghosts, pumpkins or black cats for thrilling, rather than spooking your guests. Intricately molded turkey shapes in milk, dark and white chocolate are available in three sizes as are cornucopia horns which would make an extraordinary centerpiece overflowing with a tantalizing selections of smaller chocolates. The feast day of St. Nicholas is December 6 and may be celebrated with Belgique’s rotund figures measuring 4, 8 or 12 inches. Want to entertain the kids with your centerpiece? Why not line up a series of chocolate choo-choo trains in milk, dark and white chocolate down the center of the table? These varied train car forms include animals peering from behind bars on circus cars and a caboose leading the way.
In keeping with Belgique’s concern for purity and using only the finest ingredients, an insert is included with each purchase. It lists all ingredients and the best way to store these heavenly morsels at home. The pralines are filled with fresh cream so they need to be stored in the refrigerator and eaten within two weeks. No problem!
Belgique Chocolatier 88 Elm St., New Canaan. 203.801.0538
open Wednesday-Sunday 10-5