Extreme chocolates in the Baltic States

Didn’t the Baltic series end a few weeks ago? you may be wondering if you saw the title. If you haven’t checked out my series on the cuisine of the Baltic States, please do so. Tabling a discussion on Baltic chocolates felt appropriate to include in Chocolate Month.

The Baltic States certainly are not world-renowned for chocolate. I’m not going to make the claim that Baltic chocolate is the next Belgian or Swiss chocolate either, but I want to share my finds in hopes that anyone who happens to make the Baltics a vacation or business destination knows exactly where to go and what to try to satisfy those chocolate cravings! Overall, as throughout Europe, chocolate shops – from in-house chocolatiers to manufactured retail – are a fixture on the streets of the three capitals. Supermarkets, too, prominently feature a wide variety of local and imported chocolate products from elsewhere in Europe (and yes, European-made American classics like M&Ms are easy to spot). I found the quality and variety of local products to be pretty great, and unique flavor combinations typically were well executed.

Chocolate bars: The local brands Kalev (Estonian) and Laima (Latvian) are ubiquitous in their own countries, but you can find Kalev chocolate in Finland and Laima in Lithuania fairly easily as well. Grocery stores are a good place to get their chocolates – whether for your own cravings or for a gift for a chocolate loving friend back home! Marzipan covered in chocolate also falls within this category; what I found unique was the range of flavors infused in the marzipan, including actual liqueur. Kalev’s Vana Tallinn and Irish Whiskey flavored marzipan were both addictive (yes, you could taste the liqueur clearly), but Laima’s cranberry marzipan tasted like bitter cough syrup loaded with alcohol. Skip that one!

Estonian brand Kalev offers a variety of bar chocolate, some with decorative packaging (a reasonably priced gift!). My first try was a dark chocolate with cherry. Scarred by a recent experience of terrible, medicinal “raspberry” fruit flavor in Bolivian chocolate, I was pleasantly surprised to find a real concentration of what appeared to be natural cherry flavor. Though Kalev substitutes dried apples with cherry flavor for actual cherries, it weaves true cherry flavor throughout. Yum. Their dark chocolate with apricot also was pleasant. It wasn’t the richest quality chocolate, but its price point did not intend it to be so. A white chocolate bar studded with blueberries is great for those who prefer sweet white chocolate.

Latvia’s Laima sells its products throughout supermarkets in Latvia and Lithuania, but its retail stores offer more variety and higher-quality chocolates. My favorite was a seasonal (autumn) very large dark chocolate bar with dried cranberries and crumbled gingerbread pieces. It was an absolutely outstanding holiday treat, especially nibbled with a cup of hot tea or coffee. Another seasonal offering was a gingerbread-flavored wafer kuka (cake), along with a variant that more resembled a square gingerbread Kit Kat – crispier, individual portioned squares covered in dark chocolate. I would take that over a Kit-Kat any day. I was slightly disappointed with a chalky dark chocolate bar with pomegranate and hazelnut; it was 70% cacao but did not have the creamy, soft mouth feel of a better quality chocolate with the same cacao content. Laima’s mass-marketed Serenade chocolates are very good with an unexpected hint of apricot.

AJ’s Sokoladas is a chain of chocolate shops that more resembles a Belgian chocolatier or confisserie, as its focus is more on its selection of individual chocolates and truffles and less on pre-packaged goods (though one of the items in the featured photo, above, is a packaged chocolate-cherry biscuit/cookie from AJ’s). I dearly miss florentine cookies topped with a dollop of chocolate mousse and enrobed in dark chocolate with spicy chilies. It was sweet, spicy, nutty, and rich simultaneously. Their tangy bleu cheese-filled chocolate cups, topped with a single walnut, were a unique marriage of sweet and savory.

When in Estonia, trying a hot chocolate or coffee with local Vana Tallinn licquer is a must! It complements the chocolate quite well, surprisingly.

But THE best hot chocolate I’ve had outside of Brussels is also a wonderful destination for anything chocolate. Chocolats de Pierre claims to have been in business since 1937 here in Tallinn. It is the perfect bohemian hideaway, tucked back in the Master’s Courtyard off of Vene Street in Old Town Tallinn. Its chocolate offerings are much wider and more delicious than the well-advertised Bonaparte, also located in Old Town Tallinn. I sampled a Dusseldorf torte on my second visit – rich, ganache-like torte with a thin layer of almond-accented cherry and walnut with a thin, somewhat forgettable chocolate cake base. Never mind the base, the rich ganache had me at the first bite! An Irish Coffee torte had the consistency but not bite of cream cheese, deadly dark chocolate, and just hint of Irish whiskey. Their white chocolate cheesecake is light and really does melt in one’s mouth. Their homemade chocolates and an array of cheesecakes, quiches, and deadly-sinful chocolate concoctions were as good as anything in Belgium or France. But the creme de la creme was the kuum sokolaad (hot chocolate). No matter how one orders it, it is fantastic. Made with homemade chocolate sauce, cocoa, and steamed milk, describing it as drinking a melted chocolate bar doesn’t even begin to do it justice. Just fabulous!

And don’t even think about those calories. In my opinion, calories in the Magical Kingdom (Republic of Estonia) don’t count!

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