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Savoring Madeleine, the ultimate chocolate

By Paul Sussman for CNN

Madeleine
The Madeleine is the most expensive chocolate in the world.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- For those whose experience of chocolate extends no further than the occasional box of supermarket pralines and the odd half-melted vending machine candy bar, the creations of Fritz Knipschildt will come as a revelation.

Nick-named the "Willy Wonka of Connecticut," Danish-born Knipschildt, 30, is widely regarded as one of the finest "Maitre Chocolatiers" of his generation.

And of all his many mouth-watering creations, it is the "Madeleine" -- a 42-gram (1.5-ounce), hand-crafted dollop of pure sugary indulgence -- that most warrants the title "ultimate chocolate," both for its sumptuous taste and because, at $250 a go, it is the most expensive item of confectionary in the world (it was recently listed as such in Forbes Magazine).

"What is so beautiful about the Madeleine is its simplicity," explains Knipschildt.

"It is a dark, classic truffle confection; extravagant certainly, but at the same time elegant and clean and unfussy. Eating it really is a unique experience."

As you would expect at that price, the Madeleine contains only the very finest ingredients.

The basic ganache, or chocolate paste, is made using French Valrhona chocolate -- probably the best in the world -- mixed with fresh cream that has stood for 24 hours infusing the flavor of vanilla pods, and a few drops of pure Italian truffle oil.

The ganache is then shaped around a French Perigord truffle -- the latter alone can cost up to $1,000 per pound (454 grams) -- and the whole dusted with cocoa powder.

The ingredients, however, are only a part of the story. What really earns the Madeleine the accolade of ultimate chocolate is the time and skill with which those ingredients are crafted.

The ganache, for example, has to be repeatedly whipped and folded by hand to make it as soft and silky as possible. So smooth does it become that Knipschildt then has to move into a specially refrigerated room to mold it around the truffle, the cold air hardening it slightly and thus making it more workable.

"It is a long and painstaking process," says Knipschildt. "When you understand how much work has gone into it you realize that it is worth every cent."

Magical lady

Confectionery, and in particular chocolate, have been a lifelong passion for Knipschildt.

Although he trained as a traditional chef -- learning his craft in Denmark, France and Spain -- he realized early on that it was with high-end sweet making that his destiny really lay.

Truffle
At the heart of the Madeleine is a French Perigord truffle.

"The period when I was learning to be a chef saw something of a chocolate revolution in Europe," he explains. "Before that everything had become a bit boring, a bit predictable, with everyone using the same old Belgian and Swiss sweet chocolate.

"Then people started experimenting with new types of chocolate, particularly dark chocolate, and new ways of using it. Suddenly it became interesting again, full of challenges and possibilities.

"You couldn't help but feel excited. Chocolate is such a magical lady, but so temperamental as well. It takes a long time to get to know and understand her, to realize her real potential."

After moving to the U.S. in 1996 Knipschildt established his own chocolate house in Norwalk, Connecticut in 1999 -- Knipschildt Chocolatier -- with an avowed mission to "impress, surprise and provide customers with the ultimate chocolate and confection experiences."

Since then his reputation has swiftly grown, his confectionery attracting widespread praise both for its quality and its unusual fusion of ingredients.

"The flavors that Fritz Knipschildt combines in his handmade chocolates sound plain weird," wrote one reviewer in Oprah Magazine, "fillings infused with caramel and lavender, tangerine and red chili, raspberry and black pepper.

"Taste them, however, and you realize that these odd couples are matches made in heaven."

Irish cream and red wine

He recently extended his Norwalk base to include a European style cafe -- Chocopologie -- where customers can sip warm drinks and actually watch his confectionary being made.

Fritz Knipschildt
Chef Fritz Knipschildt at work in his kitchen in Norwalk, Connecticut.

If his interests cover the full spectrum of confectionery, however, chocolate remains Knipschildt's main passion, and the thing for which he is best known.

And with the Madeleine he has created a unique and unforgettable chocolate experience, a fact emphasized by the personally signed card that accompanies each one explaining how it was made and giving it its own personal serial number.

"This is no ordinary chocolate," he insists. "This is an event. It is not made just to be stuck in your mouth and swallowed.

"I would suggest you serve it on a silver platter, cut it with the best knife you have in the house and eat it with a wonderful bottle of red wine.

"The flavors are just so amazing, the ingredients so special that it deserves to have a ceremony made of it."

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