Chocolate Nonpareils: Without Equal
Can You Say That?
We have a popular and fun chocolate item in our stores and on our website that no one, including myself, really knows how to pronounce. It is the nonpareil. I’ll add the pronunciation here, mostly for my own benefit, taken from Merriam-Webster, so we can all be on the same page: ˌnän-pə-ˈrel. Or in easier terms non-pa-rel. Does that sound familiar?
Which Nonpareil Is it?
You may have guessed the word comes from the French, and it means without equal. It’s a pretty great name for a chocolate, isn’t it? I wish I had come up with it myself. When used as a noun, it can mean two things – either the teeny-tiny baubles of sugar, often white but also rainbow-colored, used to decorate chocolates, cakes, and cookies, OR the second definition is a chocolate disk, a quarter- to a half-inch flat sphere, dipped in the tiny, round sugar sprinkles.
At Dean’s Sweets, we use the tiny nonpareils to decorate from time to time. Our vanilla buttercream, for example, has a few white nonpareils on top. Our holiday trees are created with a lot of nonpareils – either all white or multi-colored – red, green, and white. Nonpareils are made from sugar and starch and coloring. They are not considered vegan because of the glaze used to make the sugary drops shiny. They are, however, gluten-free.
In addition to using the tiny baubles to decorate, we also make the chocolate disk versions and decorate them in vibrant colors – the fun, popular item mentioned above. They come in 70% dark chocolate (the most traditional), and also in milk and white chocolate. To me, they are cheery in their assorted colors and perfect in their bite-size sweetness.
How Long Have These Little Things Been a-Round (get it?)?
The first nonpareils may have been in use as early as the 17th century, made perhaps as a pharmaceutical use of sugar in creating comfits, a sugary confection that holds together dried fruit, nuts, or spices (read here why Dean’s Sweets NEVER uses nuts in any of our chocolate). An 18th century American recipe calls for white nonpareils as a decoration for a tiered wedding cake. By the 19th century, when color became available, a well-known confectioner, Eleanor Parkinson from Philadelphia, published a recipe to make your own nonpareils in The Complete Confectioner. The recipe calls for numerous pots of boiling syrup, so be careful it you try this at home. And whether you make them or not, I can assure you from years of use, the pesky little sugary things have a way of rolling everywhere. If you decorate with them in December, you will keep finding them until June.
What Else Are They Called?
There are various names for the confection, both the rolly kinds and the chocolate kinds. In Germany, the round decorations are called Liebesperlen, or love pearls. The chocolatier, Rudolf Hoinkis, whose family has made them in Görlitz, Germany since 1896, purportedly claimed to his wife that he loved her “like these pearls.” She liked the name so much that it continues to be used to this day. In Australia and New Zealand, they are called “hundreds-and-thousands” (see note above about how they escape and spread out everywhere), and are often eaten on buttered bread, a kids’ treat at birthday parties. In the Netherlands, you’ll see them at the breakfast table, waiting to be sprinkled on toast, though they are usually sugar-coated anise seeds.
The chocolate disks also go by many names, such as chocolate “freckles” in Australia, and “Jazzies” or “Jazzles” in the UK. The Canadians simply call them “Yummies.” Most likely you’ve run into the American version, Sno-Caps, at the movie theater concession stand or in your grandparents’ pantry.
There are also “sprinkles,” just to confuse things, but sprinkles aren’t nonpareils at all. They are softer, more oblong, and they are made of chocolate (or a chocolate-sort-of-ish thing) with a color coating. Sprinkles can be used for decorating cookies and cakes and chocolates just as nonpareils are, but sprinkles are best-known for their use on ice cream. We’re getting off topic here, but my favorite summer ritual is black raspberry frozen yogurt from Beal’s Ice Cream in downtown Portland, made even better with chocolate sprinkles on top.
A New Wave of Unequaled Goodness
Nonpareils, for as long as they’ve been around, are now kind of a throw-back. They have an old-timey feel. Lots of people remark when they see them at our stores that these are “my dad’s favorite,” or “my grandmother used to always have these in the house.” To that point, non-mass-produced chocolate nonpareils (say that three times fast) are hard to find. That’s also why we love making them. In fact, we might even be shepherding in a comeback – a nonpareil reawakening – of the little chocolate disks, and we couldn’t be happier to be a part of that revival. Afterall, these chocolates are simple, cheery, and yummy. They are dark, milk, and white. And now, as we are extra-confident pronouncing the name, we can say for sure, they are without equal.