Elegantly Crafted — and Still the Best.
A dozen years ago, RFT Editor Bobbie Hasselbring wrote the regional bestseller, The Chocolate Lover’s Guide to the Pacific Northwest, and named Fran Bigelow, founder and the creative genius behind Fran’s Chocolates (Seattle and Bellevue) Best Chocolatier in the Northwest. After sampling her newest line of chocolates, our realfoodtraveler editors conclude: Fran Bigelow is still the best. She’s the Queen of Chocolate in the Northwest. While it seems impossible, Fran’s chocolates have gotten even better, more sophisticated, and more delectable.
Every Fran’s chocolate is a tiny, elegantly crafted surprise — incredibly fresh, with flavors and textures perfectly matched. Her thin coatings of fine dark or milk chocolate (couverture) blend effortlessly with centers that are rich and subtly flavored. These aren’t chocolates you gobble down. Fran’s Chocolates are meant to be savored, melting on the tongue so you can appreciate their rich complexity.
So what’s Fran’s secret?
The veteran chocolatier and graduate of the prestigious California Culinary Academy insists on using only the finest ingredients — high quality European, Caribbean, and South American chocolates. In fact, Fran’s dark chocolate and milk chocolate couvertures are specially blended to her exacting specifications. She also uses fresh, local, (and often organic) cream, butter, nuts, and fruit, such as Calimyrna figs and Blenheim apricots. There are no huge industrial machines in Fran’s operation. She makes her chocolates in small batches. These little jewels are handmade, hand-dipped, and even boxed by hand for an experience you won’t soon forget.
Our editors sampled a wide range of chocolates available in Fran’s current catalog, including: Assorted truffles. Fran’s truffles are tinier than you’re probably accustomed to and that’s fine because it enables you to sample a variety of flavors. Every truffle is filled with silken ganache (cream and chocolate) and perfectly paired with fruits, espresso, liqueurs, and roasted nuts. They’re coated with either dark 64% chocolate or rich 38% milk chocolate. In her signature style. Fran’s truffle centers melt almost instantly in the mouth, leaving tiny shards of thin chocolate coating lingering on the tongue.
The Raspberry Truffle is an explosion of fresh raspberry flavor dipped in dark chocolate. Hazelnut Crunch, an editor favorite, features toasted and caramelized pieces of hazelnut that offer a lovely textural contrast to the silky milk chocolate couverture. Pure Bittersweet is heaven for true dark chocolate lover’s with dark chocolate ganache dipped in dark chocolate for a bold dark chocolate treat.
The Single Malt Whiskey Truffle, another of our favorites, is a soft rich ganache with a lilt of whiskey that comes on as a lovely finishing note. This truffle makes us hope that Fran will incorporate more interesting liquors and liqueurs into other truffles. The Pure Milk Truffle features Fran’s velvety deep milk chocolate with the flavor of fresh cream. Her Orange Truffle, which incorporates the tiniest bits of orange zest, has fruity, floral notes that satisfy. Espresso comes in both milk and dark. The milk variety tastes like a rich cup of espresso with a hint of cream. The dark espresso, even more intensely flavored, will surely be a hit with coffee fans.
Oolong Tea Truffles feature cream steeped in floral oolong tea. While the ganache was good, we felt the oolong tea flavor was too subtle for us to declare this one distinctive enough for our taste. In contrast, the Chocolate Caramel offers soft buttery caramel with thick chocolate ganache coated in milk or dark chocolate that is flavorful enough for any caramel lover.
Salt Caramels. Our editors never fully understood the use of salt with chocolate until we sampled Fran’s salted caramels. The salt in both her gray salt caramel in dark chocolate and her smoked salt caramel in milk chocolate offer a symphony of flavors and textures. These salted caramels have become favorites of President and Mrs. Obama (he the milk chocolate; she the dark chocolate). The Gray Salt Caramel is a soft caramel coated in 64% dark chocolate with a sprinkling of Brittany gray sea salt. The caramel has just the right buttery chewiness and the salt offers a briny saltiness and a crunchy texture. The Smoked Salt Caramel, the President’s favorite, is a slightly softer caramel enrobed in silky, rich milk chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt that’s been smoked over Welsh oak.
Double chocolate figs. These are big, plump Calimyrna figs filled to the brim with a thick chocolate ganache and then half-dipped in dark chocolate. The figs offer a crunchy, chewy contrast to the soft, intensely flavored ganache. These figs weren’t our favorite, but fig lovers will find them winners.
Dark chocolate bars. For those who love the snap and intense flavor of great chocolate, Fran’s offers 1.1 oz. dark chocolate bars. Simply made with 64% cacao, these bars are elegant looking with a stair-step edge and Fran’s name in script etched into them. They have a rich, slightly fruity flavor that’s perfectly balanced.
Salt thins. Fran makes two different salted thins, 1 inch squares of milk or dark chocolate in 1.5 ounce packages. The Gray Salt Thins, our favorite, feature a blend of smooth dark Venezuelan and Caribbean chocolate that’s laced with gray salt, giving it a slight crunch and a tang that emerges on the back of the tongue. The Smoked Salt Thins are a smooth 40% Venezuelan milk chocolate topped with a sprinkle of smoked sea salt. While neither RFT editor is a milk chocolate fan, Fran’s milk chocolate salt thins could make us converts.
Real bottom line: If you want fine, elegant chocolates, you won’t find any better than Fran’s Chocolates. Each of her chocolates is a miniature gift that you can give yourself or your loved ones that will leave you wanting to try another and another.
You can visit one of Fran’s beautiful chocolate boutiques in Seattle or in Bellevue or you can order online. —BH