The Art of Chocolate

It's one thing to make chocolate delicious, it's another to make it beautiful - so beautiful it's kind of a shame to eat it



Photo by Christopher Carlson

They call their chocolate "a feast for all the senses" - taste, of course, the most important. But the look of it is a close second. That's especially true with these hand-decorated artisan bars.

Using glacé fruit, fresh roasted nuts, crystalized flowers and mint, Ellen Byrne, co-owner with her husband Christopher Carlson of Byrne & Carlson in Portsmouth and Kittery, creates a work of art. "I rely on my background in fine arts and painting to create designs that are inspired by various artistic traditions, Art Nouveau among them," she says. She also uses calligraphic techniques.

They use some of the finest chocolate - Belgian dark chocolate, bittersweet French chocolate and Venezuelan extra-bitter chocolate - in different blends with varying cacao percentages to make the artisan bars. They are made in small batches, all by hand. Byrne says, "This is artisanal production at its best, a method steeped in the traditions of the elegant chocolate houses of Europe and old-fashioned seaside candy shops."

Byrne says her work with chocolate began early, with a summer job when she was young. She adds, "After my training in fine arts, I continued my interest in chocolate and went to Ecole LeNotre in Paris and apprenticed in Lyon."

Her husband Christopher is a master confectioner, well known for his caramels and pure fruit jellies. Other shop specialties: truffles, marzipan-filled chocolates nuts and leaves, almond buttercrunch, gianduja, turtles and pralines.

There are eight different artisan chocolate bars - Pansy, Belgian dark chocolate embellished with crystallized pansy and mint leaves; Violet, candied violets and mint leaves set in Art Nouveau botanical motifs; Mendiant, bittersweet French chocolate decorated with candied violet, dried fruit and fresh-roasted nuts; Orange Cherry, glacé orange, dried cherries and candied orange peel in Belgian dark chocolate; Seashell, Belgian dark chocolate decorated with seashells made of milk, white and dark Belgian chocolates; Venezuelan, extra-bitter chocolate sprinkled with cacao nibs; Chipotle Sea Salt, Venezuelan extra-bitter chocolate spiced with chipotle pepper and garnished with Welsh sea salt; and French 68 with Sea Salt, a blend of French chocolates sprinkled with fleur de sel sea salt. Prices range from $8-$14

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