10 Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Desserts You Need to Try

How the artisanal movement is improving sweets around the U.S.
February 9, 2015
by Megan Giller

Chocolate is having a moment. And no, not because it’s Valentine’s day. We’re thinking even broader. Young American chocolate makers like Mast Brothers are starting from scratch with cacao beans, grinding and winnowing them down to create stunning artisanal chocolate bars (the official term is “bean to bar”). Now restaurants and chefs are joining the trend too, by using those bars in high-end craft-chocolate desserts. Here are 10 must-try creations around the country.

Chocolate Sundae at OddFellows, Brooklyn

The Chocolate: You might already know Brooklyn's Mast Brothers for their high-end chocolate and beautiful packaging, but there’s no reason to stop there. The brothers are constantly creating new single-origin bars as well as delicious combinations like vanilla and smoke.

The Sweets: OddFellows uses Mast chocolate in their over-the-top hot fudge sundae. Owner Mohan Kumar says they wanted to work with someone local but that they chose Mast “because of their attention to detail, which shows in their product and quality.”

Toast Basket at Intelligentsia, Chicago

The Chocolate: In 2005, owner Shawn Askinosie left his job as a criminal defense attorney in Springfield, Missouri, to make bean-to-bar chocolate. Like many of the makers here, Askinosie Chocolate uses direct-trade methods to source his cacao, working directly with the farmers to make sure that they are paid a fair wage.

The Sweets: Thick-cut toast has expanded from San Francisco to Chicago. Check out this basket with chocolate-hazelnut spread, made in-house with Askinosie cacao beans from Davao, in the Philippines.

Brownie Flight at Dandelion Chocolate, San Francisco

The Chocolate: Dandelion founders Todd Masonis and Cameron Ring are purists. They only use two ingredients in their bars: cacao beans and sugar. No vanilla, no cocoa butter, no soy lecithin: just the pure, unadulterated stuff.

The Sweets: The brownie flight highlights chocolate from three different countries, so you can really get a sense of the tasting notes of each region’s cacao. The Madagascar bite is fragrant with red-berry notes, the Papua New Guinea bite is delightfully smoky and the Ecuador bite is the rich chocolatey taste we know and love so well.

Molten Chocolate Cake in a Jar at Hot Cakes, Seattle

The Chocolate: Chef and owner Autumn Martin was the head chocolatier at Theo Chocolate, and she still uses the local maker’s chocolate in her baked goods.

The Sweets: Everything on the menu entices, but we’re gonna have to go with the original creation: the molten chocolate cake in a jar, gooey with melted Theo chocolate.

Mocha at Stumptown, Portland

The Chocolate: Also from Portland, Woodblock Chocolate comes in cute, blue-and-white packaging that reflects the thoughtfulness of owner Charley Wheelock. Think single-origin bars from Venezuela and Madagascar as well as flavors like salt and nibs, toasted sesame and dark milk.

The Sweets: Calling this “just” a coffee drink is like calling the Pope just a priest. Woodblock’s rich dark chocolate makes the mocha a dessert in itself. Stumptown uses Wheelock’s chocolate for all of its chocolate-related drinks.

Gelato With Chocolate Shavings at Zingerman’s, Ann Arbor

The Chocolate: Raaka describes their chocolate as “virgin,” which means they don’t roast the beans. Instead they use natural sugars like maple syrup and add-ins like cask-aged bourbon to enhance the natural notes in the beans.

The Sweets: Zingerman’s boasts an enormous, serious chocolate menu as well as occasional chocolate tastings with makers like Askinosie. One of our favorite desserts is their gelato topped with chocolate sauce and Raaka chocolate shavings.

Chocolate Ganache Cake at Tilth Restaurant, Seattle

The Chocolate: One of the bigger makers in the country, Theo was the first organic and fair-trade bean-to-bar chocolate factory in North America.

The Sweets: Theo chocolate lends this chocolate ganache cake its rich, creamy texture. The chocolate cookie with cocoa cream is just lagniappe.

Askinosie Dark Milk Chocolate Ice Cream at Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams, Atlanta

The Chocolate: Didn’t think dark chocolate could include milk? Think again. The percentage of cacao in this bar from Askinosie is high enough that the chocolate is still considered “dark,” and the milk lends the stuff a sweeter, creamier texture. That’s probably why dark milk is the trend du jour, with makers creating new versions every day.

The Sweets: Jeni’s uses Askinosie’s dark milk flavor to create a decadent, fudgey ice cream that is pretty perfect on its own and even better with toppings (more chocolate, of course).

Brownie Ice Cream Sundae at Eleven Madison Park

The Chocolate: Mast Brothers makes another appearance, this time for its single-origin Madagascar chocolate. Pastry chef Renata Ameni likes it for its “wonderful citrus notes.”

The Sweets: A decadent chocolate brownie made with the Madagascar chocolate comes topped with vanilla ice cream, walnuts and salted-rum-caramel sauce, served inside a sphere of solid chocolate.

Budino de Coco Y Chocolate at CasaB, Somerville

The Chocolate: Taza makes their chocolate in the old Mexican style, by stone-grinding it. That means it’s grainier than the average bar, with granules of cacao beans and sugar.

The Sweets: The coconut-chocolate bread pudding is made with Taza chocolate and topped with guava sauce and toasted coconut shavings.