From left to right: truffles, bars, nuts
I met Isabella Valencia back in 2007, not long after she’d launched her gourmet chocolate businessDallmann Confections
in El Cajon. She comes honestly by her passion. Her grandfather, Guenther Dallman, opened a pastry shop in Austria that became known for its fine ingredients and attention to detail. Her parents expanded that business and are widely recognized for their Mozart Travel Cake and Mozartkugel class, which teaches the basics of making the renowned Saltzburger Mozartkugel—a sumptuous blend of hazelnut nougat and pistachio marzipan wrapped in bittersweet chocolate.
Valencia arrived in San Diego in 2006 and opened Dallmann Confections, where she makes an ever-expanding line of fine chocolates—truffles, bars, chocolate-covered nuts, hot cocoa mix, and macaroons. Since moving into her elegant new retail digs in Del Mar’s Flower Hill Promenade on Villa De La Valle a year ago she has been holding hands-on chocolate making classes and tastings that pair her chocolates with champagne, cheese, wine, beer, port, and even sake. That last tasting is coming up June 7. Her chocolate and beer tasting will be on May 31.
The chocolates are still made by hand with ingredients that range from marzipan and rosewater to coconut and cayenne. You can take a virtual trip around the world based on these ingredients and the results are as exquisite to look at as they are to eat.
Valencia has dozens of flavors in her repertoire but has about 20 or so on hand at any given time, changing them monthly. I loved the wedge that is Spicy Passion, made with 60 percent dark chocolate, passion fruit, caramel, and a line of togarashi—a Japanese seven-spice blend that includes red chile flakes, dried orange peel, white and black sesame seeds, nori flakes, poppy seeds, and ginger. Lots of chocolatiers have a great Fleur de Sel. I enjoy the Dallmann version and the secret, Valencia says, is that she heats the caramel almost to the point that it burns to extract the most flavor. Love gooey? Try the Caramel Latte, with a heavenly mocha ganache and sea salt caramel that oozes out. The sea salt is from local purveyor, Salt Farm. You can buy boxes ranging from $18 for nine pieces to $63 for 36 pieces.
I love having chocolate bars at home. After dinner I can just snap off a small piece to enjoy and it gives me that sweet exotic burst of flavor I need to feel like I’ve had the treat of dessert. Valencia has created five unique flavors—Acai and Blueberry, Goji Berry and Pink Himalayan Salt, Valencia, Provence, and Cardamom & Orange. The Valencia, with its mix of star anis, cloves, and cinnamon, actually tastes rather like chocolate gingerbread. The Acai and Blueberry has just the subtlest overtones of these berries and smooth cocoa. Valencia has a light touch with the Provence bar—just enough lavender for that floral wave of flavor, but offset by a hint of Fleur de Sel. The bars are $7 apiece.
Nuts were meant to be enrobed in chocolate. Valencia dips hazelnuts, macadamia nuts, almonds, and coffee beans in dark chocolate, and also takes a turn with the almonds in milk chocolate. What I appreciate with these is that the nuts don’t play the usual supporting role. They all have big fresh flavor. In fact, I’ve never been a huge hazelnut fan, but she toasts these to perfection before they meet the chocolate so you get a crispy crunchy bite of nut that is then embraced by the chocolate. I’m now a convert. These make a perfect hostess gift and are $10 for a package.
Photos by Caron golden