Initially, it looked like a shiny, brown stick. I wondered why it was on the workspace next to baking molds and a bag of chocolate. When I learned it was actually toffee-covered-bacon, I wondered how this news had not made its way to my mouth, or at least my inbox. I took one bite, and my understanding of what candy can accomplish was elevated forevermore.
Miel Bon Bons Fine Chocolate and Artisan Bake Shop opened in Carrboro in 2008; this year, Bonnie Lau moved the shop to Durham. The shop feels more like a confections boutique than a bakery, although it sells all things sweet: couture wedding cakes and petit fours, French macarons and handmade truffles, more than 30 kinds of cupcakes, French press coffees and sipping chocolates.
But candy ranks high in the pecking order.
Lau is originally from Hong Kong. Her career has long centered on food and hospitality, taking on many iterations. She worked in quality control for General Mills, and her job required her to travel frequently to Asia and the Middle East, where she was exposed to an infusion of spices and herbs in desserts.
At one point it clicked. "I realized I was still that little girl," Lau said, her shiny black hair casually pinned up, tresses falling in her youthful face and eyeglasses perched atop her head.
To prepare for a career in baking and candy-making, she attended several prestigious culinary schools. Though she already had experience as a pastry chef at a five-star resort in San Diego and briefly owned a restaurant in Charleston, S.C., she honed her skill at Ferrandi, the famed culinary school in Paris, and also at L'Ecole Lenôtre, where many instructors are recipients of the Meilleur Ouvrier de France in cooking, pastry, confectionery and ice cream.
Lau is quite particular about her chocolate, preferring Valrhona for many recipes and tasting each batch for quality control. Each one tastes different, she said, and she needs to trust her palate. She extensively studied the art of French chocolate-making; her wares have earned approval from world chocolate expert Laura Florand, a Durham resident, Duke lecturer and author of novels titled The Chocolate Thief, The Chocolate Touch and The Chocolate Kiss.
"They're true quality," Florand said of Miel Bon Bons. "It's like finding a taste of Paris right here in Durham."
Lau begins playing Christmas music long before Thanksgiving to get her in the mood to make her special holiday candies, most of which are infused with some type of booze: Kir Royale, Chambord, ruby port, whiskey, eggnog, cognac or Grand Marnier.
Other confections, such as the coffee-cup-shaped truffle filled with espresso-infused ganache, are also available year-round. A recent batch was further bedazzled with blue-and-pink peep-toe pumps. Solid chocolate cell phones and violins were on display as well.
Lau insists she can make anything upon request. She created chocolate coins for a recent event at the Ackland Art Museum at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A 3D image was used to create a mold of a Roman coin dating from 500 B.C. And voila—a chocolate replica was made. For spiced chocolates, Lau uses ginger, cardamom, curry and lavender, garnishing them with candied rose and lavender petals.
"Each morsel is like awakening your senses," she said. "I don't let anything come between me and my chocolate."
This article appeared in print with the headline "Bon bon voyage."