If licorice conjures memories of movie theaters and popcorn, then turn your thoughts to the dark side. The distinctive flavor of black licorice is usually associated with chewy candy, but there’s so much more to it. Salted licorice offers a satisfying chew that’s part savory, part sweet. Anise seeds have an earthy, almost spicy character. Fennel gives two more options: Raw, it has a crisp, bright taste and cooking brings out its syrupy sweetness. Star anise makes for a pretty garnish, but it also has a delicate sweetness. And tarragon’s subtle licorice flavor is tempered with herbaceous notes.
Given the versatility of licorice flavors, it’s a prime candidate for combining with chocolate. It can be tricky to pair the right type of licorice flavor with the right type of chocolate, but in the hands of these three chocolate companies, the results are something to savor.
Recchiuti Confections Star Anise & Pink Peppercorn, Tarragon Grapefruit
Michael Recchiuti’s tarragon grapefruit confection is a labor intensive creation. First, he infuses cream with fresh, local tarragon, and blends it with extra-bitter chocolate to make a silky smooth ganache. Atop each ganache square is a strip of candied grapefruit peel, made in-house. Finally, the whole confection is enrobed in 64 percent semi-sweet chocolate.
It’s labor- and time-intensive—especially the candying process—but it pays off. “This is one of my favorite chocolates,” says the San Francisco-based chocolatier. In his shop, he uses chocolate from the California’s Guittard Chocolate Company, France’s Valrhona, and white chocolate from Venezuela’s El Rey.
Recchiuti also makes a star anise and pink peppercorn confection that looks like a grown-up, unwrapped Hershey’s kiss. It highlights the floral spice of pink peppercorns and the subtle sweetness of star anise. “Star anise isn’t as savory as other types of anise flavors, so it works well with chocolate,” he says.
Chocolopolis Anise Ganache Figs
Star anise is front and center in Chocolopolis’ anise ganache figs. Underneath a thin chocolate shell is an entire black mission fig, and inside the fruit is a star anise truffle. Think turducken, but way better.
Owner Lauren Adler got the idea from a fig-fennel bread she tasted in Vancouver, Canada. “When we opened the store I thought, we have to do an anise ganache and put it in a fig,” she says. She uses black mission figs for their sticky, molasses-like flavor, star anise for its classically licorice notes, and Valrhona chocolate for its superior quality and pure chocolate flavor.
Chocolopolis has a tidy line of in-house goodies that includes single-origin truffles, and they also bring in confections from some of the country’s most renowned chocolatiers. However, Adler’s shop is best known for its extensive selection of bean-to-bar chocolate, as well as its frequent chocolate tastings that educate customers on where chocolate comes from and how it’s made.
Even though she’s surrounded by more than 200 bars of chocolate every day, Adler still loves the anise figs. “I’m really proud of them. If you ask me about my favorite treat to eat, they’re my go to.”
Askinosie Chocolate Dark Milk Chocolate + Dark Licorice CollaBARation Bar
It’s an unlikely combination: a collaboration between Askinosie Chocolate in Springfield, Missouri, and Swedish licorice maker Lakritsfabriken. “Our distributor in Sweden also has a licorice factory, so it was a combination that made sense for us,” says Shawn Askinosie, company founder and chocolate maker. “We add aniseed to it and combine it with our dark milk chocolate. It just works.”
Where Recchiuti and Adler buy high-quality chocolate from others, Askinosie makes his own. Askinosie, a former criminal defense lawyer, is part of a small group of American bean-to-bar chocolate makers. (In fact, you can find his wares at Chocolopolis in Seattle.) He sources cacao beans directly from farmers, and at the end of each season, profit shares with them. Each single-origin bar bears the photograph of the farmer, and customers can trace their bar through the supply chain via a “choc-o-lot” number.
To make his dark milk chocolate, Askinosie uses cacao from Davao, Philippines. Dark milk chocolate is basically dark chocolate with a dose of milk powder, and where most makers use cow milk powder, Askinosie uses goat. It doesn’t taste distinctly goaty, but there’s definite depth of flavor to pique your interest.
Says Askinosie, “[This bar has] been one of those things that’s hard to keep in stock.” So here’s a tip: if you can get your hands on it, get two (or three, or four). Between the melty chocolate, whole aniseeds and teeny chunks of salted licorice, it’s the sort of thing you find yourself chewing compulsively—before realizing you’ve eaten the entire bar.