We have put together a glossary of confections that explains what each confection is and what to look for in a fine confection.
Ganaches - Ganaches are the classic artisan confectionery center. They are an emulsion of chocolate and cream. Ganache can be flavored with fruit, nuts, spices, herbs and aromatic liquids such as liquors or teas. Fine chocolate makers use a couverture chocolate for each ganache that is specifically paired with a high fat content cream that contains less water as well as natural ingredients for flavorings. Some fine chocolatiers will only source their flavors from their region. Ganaches are highly versatile and can be piped, slabbed or shell-molded, but the most recognizable form is truffles. While ganaches most often refers to cream combined with chocolate, they can also be made using a combination of cream, butter and/or eggs.
Truffles - As mentioned above, truffles are a member of the ganache center family. But they have a unique history. Originally truffles were piped onto a baking sheet and once the centers were hardened they were shaped into balls and rolled in cocoa. Because of their uneven and rough surface, truffles were named after the real truffle, the fungus from France. Now truffle centers can be hand-formed, cut into squares and enrobed or piped into round chocolate truffle shells. The advantage of these truffle shells is that softer centers may be used.
What to look for in fine ganaches and truffles - with all varieties of ganache centers, freshness and flavor are the benchmarks. Fine chocolate gananches have a very limited shelf life and should be eaten quickly for the best flavor.
Examples: So many great examples to choose from as ganache and truffle centers are a speciality of many fine chocolatiers. Here is just one example from Norman Love Confections - their classic dark chocolate Palet D'or.
Creams and Butter Creams - A creamy fondant sugar paste flavored with fruit, spice or nut flavors. Favorite cream flavors are raspberry, maple, orange and vanilla. Commercial cream center examples are peanut butter cups and Peppermint Patties.
What to look for in fine creams - a creamy melt-in-your-mouth texture. The inherent sweetness of the sugar will be carefully balanced with the addition of the flavoring as well as the flavor and amount of chocolate that covers the center.
Examples:South Bend Chocolate Company has a good example of raspberry creams.
Caramels - Caramels are made with cooked sugar, corn syrup, butter and dairy. They are cooked at a lower temperature than their cousin, toffee, and therefore contain more water and have a soft, chewy texture. They can be flavored with vanilla, spices and sometimes fruit.
What to look for in fine caramels - the flavor should not just be of sugar but have a rich cooked flavor - even close to burnt in some products. The chocolate coating should be a thin shell that allows the flavor of the caramel to be predominent. Any hint of grittiness indicates the caramel is past its prime.
Example: Fran’s Chocolates have won numerous awards for her classic caramels flavored with Gray and Smoked sea salts.
Toffee or Brittle - Hard caramel that contains much the same ingredients as soft caramels but in different proportions. Toffee is cooked to a significantly higher temperature, it contains less water, browns more, and has a much harder texture. Toffee is usually cooked in a copper kettle, covered in chocolate and rolled in chopped roasted nuts.
What to look for in fine toffee - as toffee is a cousin of caramel the flavor should not just be of sugar but have a rich cooked flavor and could taste close to burnt in some products. Nuts are traditionally paired with toffee. They should be toasted and without a hint of stale or bitter flavor. The chocolate coating should be balanced in both flavor and amount so it doesn't overpower.
Example: B.T. McElrath, award-winning Minneapolis chocolatier, is known for three kinds of all-butter toffee: Toasted Almond, Macadamia and Ginger. At the core of each buttercrunch square is creamery butter from family-owned farm neighbors in the heart of dairyland, Minnesota. European couverture chocolate is the finishing touch—milk for the Toasted Almond, dark chocolate striped with milk chocolate for the Ginger, and a thick blanket of dark chocolate for the Macadamia.
Turtles - rich caramel, toasted nuts, usually pecans, and chocolate create a classic, familiar combination.
What to look for in a fine turtle - Fresh, toasted nuts balanced perfectly with chocolate and caramel. The nuts are the key and must be the highest quality.
Example: Kee’s Chocolates in Soho are reknown for not only their divine ganaches, but also their miniature turtles of caramel, pecans and milk or dark chocolate.
Sponge Candy (also called cinderblock, seafoam or honeycomb) - is a crispy sugar candy that is the perfect foil to smooth chocolate. It is a simple confection consisting of caramelized sugar, almost molasses-like flavor with a very unusual, crisp at first then melt-away texture.
What to look for in a fine sponge candy - crispness is key. A well made and fresh sponge candy will not have any chewy characteristics.
Example: Many believe Sponge Candy originated in Buffalo, NY. Spongecandy.com is a good resource for additional information about this delicious treat.
Nut Clusters and Nut Bark - Clusters and barks are merely chocolate and roasted nuts either mixed or layered together.
What to look for in fine nut bark - a perfect balance of chocolate to nuts as well as lightly toasted, very fresh nuts.
Example: Andrew Schotts of Garrison Confections offers a fine example of nut bark with his Fruit and Nut Tablets.
Fudge - the created in American favorite is made of a combination of chocolate, sugar syrup, fat, dairy products and flavoring. It is recognized by its smooth, dense texture, and is most commonly paired with nuts. Fudge was said to be invented by Ivy League college students. In spite of the ‘homemade’ origin, making excellent fudge is not a simple feat.
What to look for in fine fudge - fudge inherently has both a smooth and sugary texture. The sugar is kneaded until the crystals are tiny which takes time and labor. Chocolate fudge should be very smooth with a rich chocolate flavor.
Example: John Kelly Chocolates in Hollywood creates all natural chocolate fudge in 10 flavors, each bite has a long finish—not of sugar, but of top-quality chocolate, as it should be. The fudge comes in two versions, one enrobed in semisweet chocolate, one unadorned.
Meltaways - a cross between truffles and fudge. Mint is king (think Frangos). They get their melting quality because of eutechtics of incompatible fats. When cocoa butter and another fat such as coconut or palm oil are mixed the resultant combination melts at a much lower temperature in your mouth, resulting in a "melting" mouth feel.
What to look for in a fine meltaway - deep chocolate flavor that comes through even a strong flavor like mint and melting texture leaving no residual taste of fat in your mouth afterwards.
Example: Frango mints are the most recognized version of this type of confection.
Cordials - simply put, cordials are chocolates with a liquid center. Liquor cordials are a liquor flavored sugar syrup enrobed in chocolate. A familiar example is brandied or maraschino cherries combined with a sweet creamy fondant filling then covering in chocolate.
What to look for in a fine cordials - very good quality chocolate and a balance of the flavoring (liquor or fruit) and sugar syrup.
Example: Roberto Catinari Arto del Cioccolato's liquore are beautiful both inside and out in flavors such as champagne, cognac, limoncello, grappa.
Marshmallow - Marshmallows date back to ancient Egypt, where the sap from the root of the marsh mallow plant was mixed with honey to create this confection. Modern marshmallow is made using sugar, corn syrup, gelatin and flavoring. Many artisan chocolatiers are creating amazing marshmallows flavored with fresh vanilla bean, spices, nuts and fruit essences.
What to look for in a fine marshmallow - artisan marshmallows are formed into slabs and cut rather than extruded into cylinders like mass-produced marshmallows. They should be pillowy soft with no dried out edges.
Example: Recchiuti Confections fresh Marshmallows come laced with real Madagascar vanilla bean and are handmade using traditional French techniques.
Nougat - Nougat is one of a family of aerated confections. The word nougat is derived from the Latin word nux, meaning ‘walnut.’ History suggests that nougat was made using egg whites, honey and nuts. This is no longer its defining quality. Modern nougat is a foam aerated with egg whites and containing cooked sugar, corn syrup and honey in varying proportions. It may be firm and white with dried fruits and nuts like Torrone, or soft and airy like the familiar 3 Muskateer bar.
What to look for in fine nougat - the quality of the nuts and fruits is paramont balanced by the right amount of sugar foam.
Example: Torrone Nurzia White "classic" nougat with peeled almonds.
Marzipan: A mixture of blanched almonds and sugar ground to a paste, marzipan has a long history. There is dispute about its origin, but not about its methodology. While a staple of confectioners in Europe, marzipan has not enjoyed the same popularity in the U.S.
What to look for in a fine marzipan - the quality of the nuts balanced with just the right amount of sugar.
Example: Lake Champlain Chocolates’ Dark Chocolate Covered Marzipan is a classic example of this simple, balanced confection.
"While I tend to take a Groucho Marx view towards any organization that would claim to want me as a member, this is one association I am proud to say I am part of. A nicer group of people you couldn't hope to find anywhere. The depth of available knowledge about all aspects of the chocolate industry, from packaging to sourcing to technique - from each and every member- is so vast that the true benefits of being part of it cannot be measured." Jeff Shepherd, Lillie Belle Farms