NEEDHAM — Strawberry Cheesecake. Lemon Meringue Pie. Creme Brulee. S’mores. Now imagine each of these desserts as a stunning bonbon. Chocolatier Liron Gal makes more than 50 intriguing varieties, with luscious, layered fillings surrounded by beautiful, hand-painted chocolate shells.
Gal (who also uses her hyphenated last name Pergament-Gal, but prefers the simpler Gal) started her company ChocAllure a year and a half ago. But she spent the past 15 years learning the trade, including attending chocolate classes at Lenotre in France and at various programs in the United States, all while pursuing a career in the cybersecurity field. Working from home during COVID allowed the now 39-year-old mother of two to consider her options. She chose the path paved with chocolate.
One glance at the almost-too-pretty-to-eat bonbons will have you wondering how she does what she does. Simplifying what amounts to a three-day, labor-intensive process, Gal sprays or hand-paints (or both) the insides of chocolate molds with colored cocoa butter. Then she ladles melted (and tempered) chocolate into the molds, coating them with a thin layer, pouring out and scraping off the excess. In each chocolate shell, she pipes one, two, or three fillings, in precise layers, so each bite offers a delectable and discernible combination of flavors and textures. After the fillings have set, which can take up to 12 hours, Gal seals the molds with a thin layer of chocolate. When the base is set, she carefully releases the bonbons from the molds.
Behold, for example, the three-layer S’mores, filled with vanilla bean marshmallow, dark milk chocolate ganache, and graham cracker crunch, and Salted Caramel Cheesecake, with muscovado caramel, cream cheese ganache, and Biscoff cookie layer. And the heavenly two-layer Dulce de Leche Latte made with goat’s milk dulce de leche and espresso ganache.
“I am very focused on making every chocolate an experience,” she says.
Gal, who hails from Israel and moved to the United States 10 years ago, explains that there’s been a lot of innovation in modern American bonbon-making. While most chocolate-covered confections are filled with French ganache, an emulsion of chocolate and cream, they’re typically dipped in or enrobed with melted chocolate. What sets her molded (versus dipped) bonbons apart, and those of similar innovators, are the more intricate fillings and hand-painted shells.
Because ganache is at the heart of most of her chocolates, Gal, a student of engineering, has spent a good deal of time perfecting its creamy texture. She mixes in flavorings and additional fat and sugar depending on the flavor and consistency desired. The chocolatier makes over 20 different types of ganache, including caramelized hazelnut, single-origin Madagascar, and caramelized white chocolate and vanilla bean. She also makes 20 different caramels, eight marshmallow flavors, 10 different crunchy layers, and 10 pate de fruits (French fruit jellies).
The artistry of painted bonbons starts with colored cocoa butter, a product that wasn’t readily available until about 15 years ago. Gal buys dozens of colors from the Las Vegas-based company Chef Rubber. For every effect — stripes, brush marks, star-like splattering, overlapping circles, shimmery colors, and more — there are techniques Gal has practiced thousands of times, using specific tools and ingredients. She only buys molds made of sturdy polycarbonate. Each cavity is “polished” with an alcohol spray and wiped clean with cotton pads. “Polished molds and proper tempering of both the cocoa butter and chocolate will give you shiny bonbons,” she says.
Tools of her trade include small paintbrushes, Q-tips, wood skewers, droppers, tape, and various nail art tools. More expensive needs include an airbrush (and a new spray gun) for spraying cocoa butter; an EZtemper machine to keep cocoa butter at the perfect creamy consistency; an infrared thermometer to quickly assess the temperature of melted chocolate; and a dehydrator for keeping the colored cocoa butter she’s using in a melted state.
In case there was any doubt, Gal is extremely methodical about what she does. “There are steps you can’t skip over,” she says. And for the best quality chocolate, she only uses Valrhona.
While the bonbons reflect Gal’s zeal for artistry and style, the fillings are her priority. “I spent years perfecting fillings before I even bought an airbrush,” she says. “This isn’t art you put up on the wall, it’s something you eat.”
And her goal is to delight the bonbon eater. “I take desserts I like and do my own interpretation in a bonbon,” she says. Strawberry Cheesecake boasts a trio of creme fraiche ganache, strawberry pate de fruit, and graham cracker crust. Pecan Pie is a rich combo of muscavado caramel and a crispy caramelized pecan layer. “I always like to have a contrast,” she says, of her pairings of creamy and crispy as well as sweet and tart. Her Lemon Meringue Pie bonbon features sour cream and lemon marshmallow, milk chocolate-lemon ganache, and graham cracker crunch. Earl Gray offers a subtle Earl Gray tea ganache topped with bergamot (citrus flavored) pate de fruit. In a nod to her Israeli heritage, Gal created what she calls Halva Circus: halva marshmallow, milk chocolate and halva ganache, and crunchy halva brulee crisp.
Precise in both her work and intent, Gal even considers how flavor notes hit the taste buds. As creamy chocolate melts on your tongue, it might be chased by intensely flavored fruit jellies or dark caramel. The chocolatier redid her Raspberry Lemonade bonbon (raspberry and Chambord pate de fruit with dark milk chocolate-lemon ganache) numerous times before she was satisfied with the balance of fruit.
Gal credits four innovators with helping her get to her level of expertise: Luis Amado, who runs the Luis Amado Chocolate Academy in Michigan, for his artistry and design work; Melissa Coppel and Ramon Morato for their scientific approach to fillings; and world-renowned Belgian chef and educator Jean-Pierre Wybauw.
Of today’s modern-style chocolatiers, she says five or six would get her stamp of approval. “They not only make pretty chocolates, but they taste good and are interesting,” she says. “And they’re all women.” She names four as representative of the work she admires: Stick With Me Sweets in New York City; Bliss Chocolatier near Kansas City; Sugoi Sweets in Naperville, Ill.; and Mellis Chocolate in Toronto. Happily, we don’t have to travel very far. ChocAllure is right here in a Boston ‘burb producing mini edible masterpieces for us to enjoy.
Lisa Zwirn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org