When I was growing up, I couldn't wait for Hanukkah. I looked forward to lighting candles on the menorah and to oil-crisped potato latkes topped with applesauce. But more than anything else, I yearned for the chocolate. My parents would give my brother and me mesh bags of foil-wrapped chocolate coins as gifts, which we'd use as edible ante while spinning the four-sided Hanukkah top, the dreidel. I indulged heartily in my winnings, littering tabletops with piles of glinting wrappers and savoring the snap of each delicately molded coin between my teeth and the rush of sweet chocolate that followed.
We were delighting in a centuries-old tradition. The practice of exchanging these chocolate coins, known as gelt (“money” in Yiddish) can be traced to 18th-century Eastern Europe, where Jews gave small monetary gifts on Hanukkah. After many of those Jews immigrated to America, where Hanukkah assumed the role of Christmas' seasonal counterpart, American candy companies quickly recognized gelt-giving's potential and made the first chocolate versions in the 1920s.
Since then, gelt has become an international business, and today, many of the millions of pounds of gelt eaten in the States every year are mass-produced, waxy, and not very good. So I've been thrilled that artisan chocolatiers from all over the world have started creating top-notch chocolate coins (see five favorites below) that have me pining for dreidel games all over again.
1. Artisan du Chocolat ($5 for a 2-oz. bag) This London chocolate maker blends its own chocolate for these creamy milk chocolate coins.
2. Debauve & Gallais ($36 for a 4-oz. box) Made by a Parisian chocolatier, De Marie Antoinette dark chocolate coins, embossed with the chocolatier's coat of arms, are flavored with Earl Grey and orange blossom.
3. Divine Chocolate ($3 for a 1.75-oz. bag) A Ghana-based cooperative supplies Fair Trade-certified cocoa butter for this fruity, wonderfully chewy milk chocolate gelt.
4. Phillips Candy House ($35 for 100) These small-batch milk chocolate coins, made by a fourth-generation Boston chocolatier, have notes of caramel.
5. Veruca ($18 for a 3.2-oz. box) This silver-tinted milk chocolate variation from Chicago is molded to resemble ancient Judean coinage.