Conventional wisdom has it that the world’s best chocolate comes from Belgium. But try telling that to the chocolatiers at Konditorei Heinemann in Düsseldorf. Locals ‒ and visitors with a sweet tooth ‒ have been enjoying its Champagne truffles since 1968. These are just one of a wide array of delicious Konditorei Heinemann specialities, including baumkuchen, or tree cake, named for its rings which resemble those of a tree trunk, and herrentorte, or men’s cake, a layered, bitter chocolate creation which the company invented. In May you can pick up chocolate beetles and, during asparagus season, white chocolate asparagus spears. Who needs real vegetables?
Commitment to chocolate
The company has been experimenting with chocolate and cake since 1932, so the team has had plenty of time to practise: no one more so than Heinz-Richard Heinemann, its creative head. He is the son of Hermann and Johanna Heinemann, who launched the company from their then small bakery in nearby Mönchengladbach. Heinemann recalls how he would help in the bakery, the store or the café after school. Whatever he did, he says ‘it was always connected to work – but never stressful. It was always playful and beautiful.’
As a small boy, coming home to a world of chocolate must have been heavenly for Heinneman, though he was careful to ration his own children’s intake. When they were three years old he started to give them a small piece of dark chocolate a couple of times a week. He says it was an education in appreciating cocoa quality rather than indulging in quantity.
Years of experience
Not that Heinemann himself didn’t pay his dues in terms of education: he was apprenticed to master confectioner Robert Mojonnier in Lausanne for three years; the kind of hard but rewarding learning process that, he notes, is rarely followed today, especially in his field. That old-school attitude feeds into Konditorei Heinemann’s approach to making its confections. In fact, more than half of the recipes it uses are unchanged since the early 20th century and most are as secret today as they were then.
‘It’s important to me that we are not expensive,’ says Heinemann. He points out that, per 100 grammes, Konditorei Heinemann’s prices are little different to supermarket chocolate prices. The important difference, though, is that Konditorei Heinemann’s products are handmade and fresh. ‘We process unadulterated food,’ he says, pointing out that the company does not use the additives that are often included to extend the shelf life of other foods. ‘We don’t use industrially prefabricated commodities. The large amount of fruit, such as cherries, strawberries and raspberries, that we need, we buy from farmers and freeze ourselves. Apples for our apple pies are freshly peeled each day. We make all our chocolates and truffles freshly each day, too.’ The customers, he says, tend to eat them very fresh as well.
German chancellors, Helmuts Schmidt and Kohl among them, were said to be devoted to the company’s Champagne truffles. After a five-year study and 57,000 samples, the Club des Croqueurs de Chocolat du Japon actually named them the best in the world. Pope Benedict XVI preferred Heinemann’s stollen, or fruit bread.
There are several branches of Konditorei Heinemann in Düsseldorf but it is far from being the city’s only purveyor of fine chocolates and cakes.
The best of the rest
Take, for example, Otto Bittner, which celebrated its 110th anniversary in 2015. This company also offers a delicious line in Champagne truffles, and its nutty black diamond truffle and Jan Wellem chocolate balls are among its biggest hits. The Mailänder (Milanese) marzipan cake and Schwarzwälder kirschtorte (Black Forest gateau) are among its more spectacular cake creations.
Those who want to sample the hard stuff should visit the Gut & Gerne chocolate shop, which offers 200 varieties of what it calls its ‘chocolate treasures’, from top international brands including Domori, Valrhona and Amedei, and those such as Maglio and Dolfin which are appreciated by connoisseurs. But then there are plenty of connoisseurs in Düsseldorf. Perhaps this is small wonder given that, much like afternoon tea in England, coffee with cake or chocolate is something of a ritual in Germany. Known as kaffee und kuchen, it’s an indulgent rite that offers the twin hit of sugar and caffeine: exactly what you need to get you back on your feet and off to the next confectioner’s.