A taste of Belgium coming to Elm Street
Belgique Patisserie & Chocolatier is coming to 88 Elm St.
Owners Pierre and Susan Gilissen hope to open a New Canaan outpost of their artisan Belgian chocolate shop -- which has a cozy, pastel yellow flagship store 55 miles north in Kent -- by the end of July.
"We're fortunate that we have people who travel from ... New Canaan and Darien and Greenwich and all over the state to come to Kent for our chocolates," said Susan of the decision to expand the 10-year business to a second location. "This will make it easier for them, because we don't do any shipping. We like New Canaan because it has a very small town feeling and we're a small store with a quaint, country feeling. We just think our business is going to fit in very well here."
The chocolate shop specializes in handmade ganache-stuffed pralines molded into tiny, precise shapes like dogs, cats, pyramids and crowns.
Among the selection is a jewel-shaped dark chocolate candy filled with creamy dark chocolate ganache and a few drips of violet essence. There are pralines filled with coffee buttercream, amaretto and hazelnut flavors and a delicate mixture of passion fruit essence, cream and dark chocolate ganache inside a chocolate crust shaped like Cleopatra.
Susan said the most unique chocolate crafted by Belgique (a French word for "Belgium") is called Fleur de sel: creamy milk chocolate ganache and sea salt in a milk chocolate shell.
Pierre, born and trained in Belgium, spends about three to four hours making each batch of chocolate.
"They key thing is that they're fresh," Susan said of the coin-sized candies. "They're made with fresh cream and the buttercreams have fresh eggs in them."
Susan recommends customers store the chocolates in a wine cellar or refrigerator. The ideal storage temperature is 55 degrees. Under those conditions, they stay fresh for two weeks, she said.
In Kent, the couple makes and sells about 8,000 pounds of chocolate each year, according to Pierre. They are sold individually by weight, with the average price per praline rounding out to about $1.95, according to Susan.
In addition to homemade pralines, Belgique's New Canaan shop will sell assorted packaged chocolates imported from Belgium, hot chocolate, iced chocolate, coffee ($1.65 for a medium, eight-ounce cup) and iced coffee with frozen coffee cubes.
"The coffee is sold by the cup or beans and it's imported from Belgium," Susan said. "We're the only ones in the country that import it. It's stronger than American coffee, but it's very smooth. It's not quite as roasted as Starbucks."
Susan said she and Pierre, her husband, plan to add yellow clapboards to the exterior and hang as awning over the door of what now is an empty corner storefront.
"The colors and the country style are kind of the image of the store: warm and friendly," she said. "We will use yellow, red and black: the colors of the Belgian flag."
The shop will likely open five days a week in New Canaan, Susan said. The days are to be determined.
Susan succinctly describes Belgique like this: "Everything is like you would find it in a chocolatier in Belgium, without having to take the flight there."