Holiday Chocolates

Holiday Chocolates
Holiday Chocolates -beats cookies any day!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Forget Cookies- Make Chocolate!

I haven't blogged for a while, but that doesn't mean I haven't been eating chocolate. I haven't really been out on the prowl lately seeking the world's best chocolate, but I have made a few nice discoveries: I was gifted a bar of Chocolove Organic 72% that was really quite lovely; I was also gifted some Burdick's chocolate-dipped orange peel that turned my world upside-down. Never would I have suspected that I would become an orange-peel fan. I've always believed that orange peel and candied ginger are for the "Greatest Generation", i.e. those over 80 years of age. And yet, just yesterday I found myself on a quest for whatever chocolate-covered orange peel I could find. I ended up with a bar of Caffe Tasse Noir Orange from my local chocolate dealer, Chocolate Now, and quite a few pieces of actual candied peel dipped in chocolate. I though those two purchases would hold me over for a few days. I was wrong. They lasted about two hours. I don't know what is wrong with me. Perhaps I have simply grown up and finally developed a taste for the finer things, such as candied orange peel, as opposed to water melon-flavored Bubble Yum. Or perhaps it is a sign from the Big Man Upstairs: here is a fabulous and simple idea for Christmas gifts!
Today, on an impulse, I went on down to my local King Arthur Flour shop ( a little name-dropping) and bought three kinds of chocolate, candied orange peel, candied ginger, and little paper cup liners for my mini-muffin pans. I came straight home, melted the chocolate in a double-boiler, filled the mini-muffin cups 2/3 way full with melted chocolate and then decorated each one with a choice of the following: the candied ginger, orange peel, dried raspberries, dried sour cherries, almonds or pecans. A little sea-salt is another choice. Now all I have to do is fill a few tins, write a nice note, and get down to the post-office to send them out to family and friends in far-away places. I don't often have Martha-Moments, but this was a brilliant one!
My particular project was a little pricey because I bought all of my ingredients at King Arthur, which is not cheap. However, the quality of the chocolate (Guittard and Callebaut chocolate for chefs) is superb. But you can easily make these for half the cost using chocolate chips from the grocery store. They come out looking like little Reeses' peanut-butter cups with pretty things on top. In fact, you can probably make little peanut-butter cups by letting the first layer of chocolate harden and then adding your peanut butter and a second layer of chocolate. You could also make two-tone chocolates: a layer of dark chocolate followed by a layer of milk. Lots of room for creativity here. Imagine the joy of opening a tin of hand-made chocolates instead of sugar cookies with red and green sprinkles! Not that there is anything wrong with those.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Black Flower Chocolate - Lavender & Wild Blueberry

I am truly blessed. Today I received a package with two bars of Black Flower Chocolate. The one I am sampling now is Lavender & Wild Blueberry. Seriously. There is lavender in this chocolate. I love the bath. But this is another masterful blend by Black Flower Chocolate: a subtle floral, just enough to let you know that you can indeed eat lavender, yet not enough to over-power the chocolate. And then punctuated by little zings of wild blueberry. I've seen bars with lavender in them and I must admit the idea didn't quite appeal to me, so I am so glad this bar was sent to me. I would not have tried it otherwise. Lavender is never going to be my favorite flavor, but this bar is done very well. I am really impressed with Black Flower's ability to do flavor in an artful and subtle manner. It reminds me of French ganache: just enough to compliment the chocolate yet never getting away from the main point, which of course is the chocolate. Black Flower uses a well-balanced 70% cacao in all their bars and there is mention of a possible 85% bar in the works. I'm really looking forward to that! But I am beginning to understand that 70% is probably the best place to start when flavors are to be incorporated. Just as the flavors should not over-power the chocolate, the chocolate should not over-power the flavors. This is truly an art, and Black Flower Chocolate is well on the way to mastery! I highly recommend adding this small, Vermont-based company to your Christmas-shopping list. These bars would make wonderful holiday gifts! Take a peek here.
Stay tuned for the review of the next Black Flower bar: Espresso Bean & Cocoa Nibs!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Black Flower Chocolate - Artisanal Bars from Vermont!

A new day has dawned: I have finally discovered a small, Vermont-based artisanal chocolate company! This was truly a magnificent find. There I was, minding my own business while strolling through King Arthur Flour on the hunt for another bottle of Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla when lo and behold, a little basket with pretty colored envelopes lay before me. What are these lovely little things? I thought. Well, blow me over! Chocolate bars! Artisanal chocolate bars! From Vermont! Beautifully packaged in colored envelopes were 70% bars from Black Flower Chocolate with names like Mayan Spice and Mangosteen Crunch. I took a deep breath and said to myself: they will still be here tomorrow - just take one! I chose the Mayan Spice and then made my way over to the vanilla before I lost my composure and bought the other three: Mangosteen Crunch, Espresso & Cacao Nibs, and Green Tea & Almonds. Yes, I will go back for those, but I did make it out of the store with only the one bar, which is a huge achievement for me.
Black Flower Chocolate is owned and run by a woman in Charlotte, Vermont with a passion for the culinary arts. Her 3 oz. bars are made from Ecuadoran chocolate and are made in small batches and then packaged in envelopes of a color that corresponds well with the theme of the chocolate: red for Mayan Spice, green for Green Tea & Almonds, etc. They are beautiful to behold and filled with exotic ingredients. The Mayan Spice bar is a treat for any spicy chocolate fan. The heat slowly builds, rather than the Big Bang effect of Grace Under Fire by Lake Champlain Chocolates. I love placing a square of chocolate on my tongue, tasting the chocolate and cacao butter, the sugar, and any other ingredients present, and then suddenly: whoa! here comes the heat! There is a little cinnamon and nutmeg in this bar, but it is quite subtle. There are some Mayan themed bars out there that are more strongly flavored with orange and clove, but this one is all about the heat! A definite winner, in my book! This bar is an artful approach to subtlety in flavor with a heat that builds and hangs steady as you go. I am very much looking forward to the other bars!
Black Flower Chocolate creates several other exotically flavored bars, truffles, and fruit and nut barks. Check them out here.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Debauve & Gallais

Alas, I have come to the very bottom of my bag, the very end of my forray into French chocolate. Yet, I have finally arrived at the chocolatier to royalty. That would be Louis XVI and Marie-Antoinette. Debauve & Gallais were the first to create chocolate for the royal court of France in the 1700's. Chocolate was a novelty, coming from the New World, and because of its rarity was really only available to aristocrats at that time. Debauve & Gallais were pharmacists primarily and as such easily got their hands on new materials, like chocolate. They were the first to create chocolate confections for the Queen, who required chocolate wafers to get her medicine down. These little wafers are still being created by Debauve & Gallais and can be purchased at any one of their shops, one of which is on Madison Avenue in New York. All of their chocolates are gorgeously packaged and frightfully expensive. I happened upon a Debauve & Gallais shop on my last day in Paris and purchased a little box of squares of all different percentages. I also bought a small 99% bar that I really liked. I didn't think anyone could do 99% as well as Michel Cuizel, but this was an extraordinary specimen that I managed to gobble up awfully fast. This surprised me as 99% is not exactly a gobble-up kind of bar. I believe this Debauve & Gallais 99% has more sugar in it than the Cuizel and I would recommend it to anyone venturing into that percentage category.
As for the 85%, it too is rather sweet and velvety smooth. In my little sample pack, there was 85% chocolat and 85% amer (bitter). I found it difficult to detect much difference between these two, but I did prefer the amer. It seemed a little richer to me, and I like my chocolate really dark. Unless you are really paying attention, though, you might not be able to tell the difference!
I saved the rest of my sampler squares for last and did a succession of tasting, from 45% milk chocolate up to 72%. There were two different 45% milks in there: one plain and the other with sesame seeds. The plain one was no great shakes, in my opinion. Certainly a good-quality milk chocolate but most likely not worth the price. The 45% with sesame seeds was divine! I don't think I have ever had sesame seeds in my chocolate and it trumps nuts! If you ever come across a bar with sesame seeds, get it!
The 60% dark starts out with a sweet note of vanilla. It is a traditional dark chocolate before dark chocolate got hijacked by all of us choco-snobs in the dangerously-high-percentages group. As such, it is too sweet for me and has too much vanilla. I love vanilla, just not in my chocolate. As such, I would rate this 60% as not worth your money, since you can buy comparable chocolate elsewhere for half the price.
Next up was the 72%. Now we're talking. A little darker. A little less vanilla, but still traces of it. Very smooth with excellent melt-in-your-mouth feel. This is the bar I would buy at one of their fancy shops to give as a gift or to just gobble up when no one is looking.
What I like most about Debauve & Gallais is their history as one of France's first chocolatiers and the chocolatier to Marie Antoinette. I love their fancy packaging, too and if you happen to run into one of their shops, you really must go in. However, there is so much really good chocolate out there that rivals, if not surpasses, the creations of Debauve & Gallais. Their prices are steep, and I think I would rather drop cold, hard cash on Amadei or Pierre Herme (I've GOT to get another one of those salt bars!). But I would definitely purchase a few more of those 99% bars and a few sample packs to give as gifts. Debauve & Gallais is definitely a gift-giving chocolate rather than an every-day bar. For a quick visual on their gorgeous presentation click here.
As a company, Debauve & Gallais prides itself enormously on their history, their fancy shop and their fancy packaging. I found the shop atmosphere in Paris rather cold and unfriendly, which really struck me as the other shops I visited were quite friendly and accommodating. Perhaps they know they have a lot of stiff competition these days! About their chocolate I can say this much: they truly do produce a smooth chocolate with excellent mouth feel, something some of the newer chocolatiers have not yet mastered. On the other hand, there seems to be a lot of sugar and vanilla going on. Chocolate that contains a lot of sugar and vanilla is often masking inferior beans. Chocolatiers who take pride in the sourcing and roasting of their beans rarely use much vanilla and take it easy on the sugar, hoping that you will experience the bean itself. I'm not saying that Debauve & Gallais use inferior beans....I''m just saying.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Jean-Charles Rochoux: Venezuela 72%

The Jean-Charles Rochoux shop on rue d'Assas in Paris is tiny, with dark wood paneling and a certain masculine aura about it. This shop is well known in Paris as the go-to shop for gifts for men. There are some really amazing chocolate sculptures in this shop, giving it a museum-like quality, but what I remember the most was the Habano and Bourbon ganaches. The popular gift for the new father is a box of these chocolates. The Habano is a cigar-flavored ganache, and the other decorated with a little red dab of wax like a sealed liquor bottle, is the Bourbon flavored. On the chocolate tour I was the only one brave enough to try the Habano. How can you pass such an opportunity??
The French do ganache in a very different manner than Americans. Our flavored ganaches are bursting with the intended flavor, rendering the quality of the chocolate irrelevant at best. The French prefer to maintain the quality of their chocolate by flavoring ganaches in the subtlest way, forcing the consumer to slow down and pay attention or you might miss the experience! Often, flavors are chosen by their compatibility with the chocolate. In other words, if the chocolate has a natural bright and fruity characteristic, that will be the one chosen for fruit-flavored ganaches. If it is a dark, earthy or nutty character then that will go with the coffee, caramel or nut-flavored ganaches. Makes perfect sense to me, but it then becomes painfully clear that many chocolatiers outside of France pick a chocolate and use it for all their ganaches, since the burst of flavor is going to overpower the chocolate anyway!
The Habano had a fresh cigar-like flavor to it, like the smell of a very fine cigar before it is lit. If you didn't tell people that was what they were going to experience, they might miss it unless they are paying close attention! The Bourbon was a little more up front, but in a pleasant way, not at all a boozy presentation. No risk of being pulled over for a DUI with a box of these in your car. I thought they would make a really nice after-dinner chocolate. In fact, I though they would both be great after dinner (but then again isn't all chocolate great after dinner?).
I did not buy filled chocolates in Paris for fear of not getting them home in tact, so I bought a bar, or tablette, at Jean-Charles Rochoux. I bought the Venezuela 72% which comes in a silver package with the texture of crocodile skin. Inside, the bar is covered with one piece of cellophane, over the top. This looks spectacular, but unfortunately does not keep the chocolate very fresh. Had I known there was so little packaging, I would have consumed this bar first, maybe even while I was still in Paris. Unfortunately, I saved it for one of the last and it sort of has that "kept in storage too long" flavor about it. Underneath the initial staleness though, is a well-balanced, sweet dark chocolate. It has a very nice mouth-feel (listen to me! I mean, really! What have I become??), and a dark, almost earthy taste, as opposed to the brighter, fruitier dark chocolates. It leaves a lightly bitter, but not at all unpleasant after-taste.
If you travel to Paris, this shop is not to be missed! Located at 16, rue d'Assas in the 6th arrondissement, the sculptures alone are worth the visit. Try a Habano so as not to appear a "light-weight", and buy a tablette - just eat it right away. Visit his arty website here.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Richart-Santodino 82% Dominican Republic

Richart is a shop I just happened to run into while strolling down the Blvd. St. Germain last spring. A lovely, airy shop on a lovely, airy boulevard. I picked up a few "tablettes", and this was one of them (the other I sadly gave away - what was I thinking??). This Santodino bar is a single-origin chocolate from the Dominican Republic. It is smooth and dark with a touch of sprightliness to it. It is a super good pick-me-up on a hot afternoon! If you are a lover of very dark chocolate, this one is for you. While I did not sample the 70% (the one I gave away), I feel confident that it too must be a lovely bar. This is very good quality chocolate and I would recommend this shop to anyone visiting Paris: it's easy to find and has an assortment of different chocolates to choose from. Strangely, it was not included on the chocolate tour, but the Spirits were obviously on my side by placing it right on my route one particular morning. I just love when that happens!
Richart prides itself on being among the first, if not the first, to create single-origin chocolates, a trend which has caught on with all the high-quality chocolate shops. This is a very good thing, as cacao beans used to come in large quantities from all over the place, and all mixed together, including some old and moldy ones! It was up to chocolate houses to figure out what to do with endless shipments of beans that varied so widely in quality. The best chocolate-makers figured it out, the not-so-good chocolate-makers just added more sugar and soybean oil! Yuck. Now, the trend in single-origins has lead to chocolate manufacturers having a great deal of control over the quality of beans as well as the fermenting and roasting process. Of course you pay for this extra quality-control feature, but the price is well worth it! Richart is definitely in the elite category of chocolate. Not only have they made fine chocolate available to us, they are actively encouraging us to learn how to taste chocolate and to compare not only different percentages but different origins. My bar came with a little insert that instructs how to taste and rate chocolate - no kidding! It has categories for you to fill out such as Taste and Flavors (salty, sweet, acidic, bitter); Aroma (balsamic, fruity, herbaceous, floral, spicy; Tactile sensation, or what we usually call "mouth feel" in English (smooth, silky, granulated).
For more information take a peek at their website (English version), here.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Pierre Herme - Sao Tome a la Fleur de Sel 75%

I can't figure out how to make those little accent marks above the "e", dammit. I used to know how to do that, and I really need to figure it out since I still have quite a bit of French chocolate to write about! So, Pierre Herme (accent over the last "e") makes a line of chocolate bars called, "Meditation". They are single-origin chocolates that we are supposed to savor and discover the finer nuances of a fine chocolate. Sao Tome (accent over the "e")is a Portuguese-speaking island nation in the Gulf of Guinea, off the western equatorial coast of Africa. (I lifted that last sentence right off of Wikipedia - I couldn't have said it better). So this is essentially an African, probably forrestero, chocolate. It is laced with "hand-harvested French sea salt". This chocolate is smooth, dark and well balanced and the fleur de sel just pops out at times. Chocolate with salt is a magical combination: think chocolate-covered pretzels and then take it up a notch and you have a truly exquisite product. This is a 75% chocolate done really well. I usually find 75% bars to be too sweet, but this one is just right and the infusion of salt makes it even better! The texture is of the highest quality, impeccably smooth. I seem to only have one of these bars in my French collection. Big mistake. I think I would give up the rest of my collection for just two more of these!
Pierre Herme is quite the esteemed patissier and chocolatier, and he has several books out on his creations. He has many boutiques in Paris and even one in both London and Tokyo. However, none in the good ol' USA. I have tried, so far unsuccessfully, to see if there are any American distributers of his chocolate bars. No dice. For eye-candy though, you can have a look here: Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme

Friday, June 18, 2010

Grace Under Fire! Lake Champlain Chocolates

Well this has been an exciting month! My favorite Vermont band, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, just released another great album which everyone should hop on over to itunes and purchase right away. (Go on, I'll wait). Lake Champlain Chocolates, a Vermont chocolate company, created a limited edition chocolate bar to go along with the self-titled new album and it is exciting! The bar is called Grace Under Fire and is a 54% bar with pistachios and hot pepper! I generally don't care one way or the other if my food is spicy, but I have developed an affinity for spicy chocolate. This chocolate has a subtle hint of cinnamon and maybe even clove or allspice, with a nice crunch from green pistachios and a big bang of red pepper. It is hotter than the Venchi bar I love so much, but only because the pepper is not as evenly distributed. The Europeans like to blend their flavored chocolates for an evenness throughout, while the American style tends to be "throw stuff in and let stuff happen"! So you may initially think Grace Under Fire is not too spicy only to hit a big hot spot and have to run for the garden hose! Remember that this is a limited edition bar which means we really do not know how long it will be around, so head on over to Lake Champlain and purchase your bars here
Also, don't forget to check out the video on the Lake Champlain site of Grace making her own chocolate!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Pierre Marcolini - Fleur de Cacao 85%

How could I possibly resist a chocolate bar called "Fleur de Cacao"?? Plus the fact that it comes packaged in a jet-black box, and I'm sold. I am a sucker for sexy packaging and a good name. This is another Belgian Marcolini bar. These bars come as a block of 9 squares: each square has a letter on it, and since there are exactly nine of them, they spell Marcolini. I have eaten the M-A-R-C so far.
This bar also begins with an almond-like flavor. I think I have figured it out: Tahitian vanilla. I don't know anything about Tahitian vanilla, being a Bourbon fan myself, but because its presence is announced proudly on the ingredients list I'm willing to bet that that is the source of the sweet, almond-like essence that takes over your mouth right from the get-go. This bar is not bright and acidic like the other Marcolini-Alto Piura. But it is really sweet. On the face of the packaging it says:"Mariage de la Puissance des Cacaos Rebelles d'Afrique et de la Subtilite de ceux d'Amerique Latine". Roughly translated this means: "A Marriage Between the Power of Robust Cocoas from Africa and the Subtlety of those from Latin America". In other words, this bar is made from a blend of African foresterro beans and some others, most likely trinitarios from Dominican Republic.
I prefer this bar over the Alto Piura because it doesn't have that acidity thing going on. This is more of a dark roast chocolate flavor, but the sweetness of it reminds me of 70% bars, not 85%. I keep checking and rechecking the package, and it keeps saying the same thing: 85%. If you are trying to watch your sugar intake, these may not be the best bars, because I swear they are loaded with sugar. If on the other hand, you would like to enjoy chocolate with higher cocoa content but just can't seem to get past 75%, this is the bar for you. You will never know you are eating 85%!
My gut feeling about this bar is that you are paying a premium for fancy packaging and wording but receiving mediocre chocolate in return. African foresterro is just so-so. Foresterro is the cacao hybrid that is the heartiest and most disease resistant. It grows in any tropical climate. But the price of a well adjusted tree is often a fruit that lacks much interest. Most chocolate makers will receive huge batches of foresterro beans that are a mix from many different plantations and are of dubious quality, one load from the next. The Latin American beans are probably trinitario beans, a foresterro-criollo hybrid, from multiple plantations. The problem with huge loads of mixed beans is that you never know what you are really getting. The job of the chocolatier is to figure out how to make the most of it. The Tahitian vanilla may lend it that "fleur" quality, I suppose, and the sugar disguises any off-tastes. (Boy, I really have become a chocolate snob, haven't I?) Truth be told, I will usually eat just about any chocolate, even if I don't give it great reviews. So this is a perfectly fine chocolate to eat, but you can get the same thing for a lot less, minus the fancy packaging and the marriage of power and subtlety.
If I could rebuild this chocolate, I would replace the Tahitian vanilla with Madagascar Bourbon vanilla (in keeping with the Africa theme, if you will) and adjust the sugar downwards a notch or two. On the other hand, if that almond-like flavor is indeed coming from the Tahitian vanilla, lots of fun could be had with it, like mixing it with milk chocolate and gently roasted almonds perhaps. But as usual, I digress.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Pierre Marcolini-Alto Piura, Peru 85%

We're moving back down the ladder, closer to more respectable levels of cacao. After hiding my chocolate bag from Paris in the basement for a while, I have crept back down, reached inside and, voila, I have retrieved the Marcolini bar. Pierre Marcolini is actually Belgian, but in my opinion Belgium is close enough to France so Marcolini made it on to the chocolate tour. I also happen to have an affinity for Belgium, and those little dark-chocolate-covered caramels from Cote d'Or that are seemingly impossible to find outside of Belgium!
This Alto Piura 85% is one of those "Limited Edition" bars you may have come across in fancy chocolate shops. It usually means the beans come from a small, independent plantation and therefore are in limited supply. These are "criolo blanco" cacao beans. Criollo are the rarer beans, due to the delicacy of a plant that does not travel well or handle hurricanes with grace. So most criollo bars are considered special and rare, which of course is reflected in the price of the finished product. I was not able to find out what exactly "criolo blanco" is, and whether it is any different from just plain criollo. In general, Criollo is supposed to have a wonderful, low acid flavor, however this particular bar I would describe as "bright and acidic". The first flavor I catch is almond, the actual cocoa flavor receding into the background. As much as I love almond, I can't say that I adore this bar. I find the acidity is what really stands out, and I'm not a fan of bright and acidic where chocolate is concerned. Perhaps criollo is better in lower percentages. Or without the blanco attached! Or maybe it has to do with the fact that the beans are sourced from Peru, which seems like an unusual place for cacao these days. Or maybe, the French would say, it's because it is Belgian. Or perhaps I just don't like criollo that much. After all, I am not a big fan of Chuao bars, which are from criollo beans. Many possibilities. I'll discuss this with Mike at the chocolate shop and see what he thinks.
While I've rarely thought I wasted money on a chocolate I ended up not liking, I can say with certainty that this pricey little bar did have something of value to offer after all: it appears from the packaging that French-speakers write the word criollo with one "L", not two. This strongly suggests that we are meant to pronounce the word with the "L" firmly in tact. I have been pronouncing it the Spanish way, turning that double "L" into a "Y". Dang. These are the kinds of things that keep this former linguist up at night!
As for the rest of this bar, it just might need to be melted down and swirled into my next batch of espresso custard. There is always a good way to use those "not so great" bars!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chocolate from Paris!

I know I promised not to write anymore about chocolate in the dangerously high percentages, but I just can't help it. I returned from a week long trip to Paris with a bag bursting at the seams with chocolate bars! I went on a wee little tour of chocolate and pastry shops in the 6th and 7th arrondissements. This tour took approximately three and a half hours and we sampled chocolate from seven shops. My mother, who was my dear traveling companion, was appalled at the amount of chocolate we consumed, approximately 2 pieces from each shop. Well, if you have read enough entries on this blog I'm sure you can guess that I could have easily tried four or five pieces from each shop. I did however buy at least one bar, and usually two, at each place so as to have something to bring home, eat and write about! Hence the bag bursting at the seems.
So, first things first: I am supposed to be dieting after a week of lovely rich food and chocolate. And I really am dieting, except for the entire bar of Debauve and Gallais 99% that I ate over the last two days and the entire bar of Pascal Caffet 90% that I managed to consume just sitting here thinking about today's blog entry. I chose the high percentages thinking that with so little sugar I will only eat a little bite once a day. Obviously that did not work out too well. Debauve and Gallais, which I will profile later, must put more sugar into their 99% than Michel Cluizel. This bar should be renamed "Devine 99". It was difficult to stop eating and the fact that it took me two days is testament to my self-discipline. However, Pascal Caffet's 90% just went down the hatch, discipline be damned! Why? Because it is truly lovely. Caffet calls himself the "best chocolatier in Paris". I'm always a bit skeptical about those who label themselves "the best". Yet this is a real winner in the dangerously high percentage category. Again, it seems sweeter than other 90% bars, but maybe that is just my imagination. It is dark and rich without any "earthiness", i.e. mud, and is not quite as "dark roast" as some high percentages are. I usually love the "dark roast" flavor, as that it how I like my coffee, but this is a very well balanced and smooth chocolate for 90%. That is probably why I ate the whole bar in one sitting. You can take a look at his beautiful creations at his website:
I will write later about chocolate-tasting and filled chocolates, and provide a list of shop names and addresses of all the chocolate shops I visited in Paris. In the meantime, I need to go prepare my bowl of lettuce for dinner. Sigh.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cluizel - Noir Infini 99%

Until I find something better, this will most likely be my last review of chocolate in the Dangerously High Percentages category. Noir Infini 99% is truly a work of art. It cannot be genuinely appreciated though until you have worked your way up the percentage ladder a bit and weaned yourself off of the sugar that keeps us gobbling up cheap chocolate bars as if there were no tomorrow.
Michel Cluizel is a French chocolatier who has been around for a while and whose products have only recently become available in the U.S. These are imported bars and will set you back a good six bucks in most places. The Cluizel Milk Chocolate bar is to die for and should be snatched up without hesitation by all chocoholics who come across its path, regardless of the price tag. There are also quite a few single origin bars of about 72% and a really good 85% bar.
But Noir Infini 99% is truly in a class of its own. It is a very small bar, 30 g. (and as such is less than half the price of the regular 100 g. bars). It is wrapped in the sexiest packaging I've ever seen: a jet black matte paper covering with gold lettering over gold foil. Noir Infini 99% is printed over an embossed cacao pod.
Here is where things get exciting. This bar is as smooth as the finest chocolate with an incredibly deep, dark flavor. The way to eat this is by taking a tiny piece and let it sit on your tongue a good minute: no sucking, no chewing! The flavor that emerges is the most incredibly rich chocolate flavor, without any of the chalkiness or "dirt" flavor of many other chocolates at or above 90%. The key here is not to go desperately seeking the sweetness of candy. Just wait for the flavor of one of the finest chocolates to come to you. If you do it right, I promise you will not miss the sugar. An added bonus is that if you eat a few small pieces, you will become light-hearted and happy. You will in fact be high on theobromine without any of the deleterious effects of other drugs. You will not be impaired in any way, just happy.
If for no other reason, though, you just need to have one of these bars in your stash. They are just that sexy!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Chocolat Bonnat - Ceylan 75%

I liked the French Bonnat 100% so much that I decided to try one of their 75% bars. The Bonnat Ceylan 75% is just one of their single-origin bars. Bonnat describes its Ceylan bar as, "a hearty cocoa taste, yet non-aggressive, a warm flavor with an asian touch." It is definitely non-aggressive in that it doesn't have that super-dark roast flavor. It is sweet with maybe a subtle tea-like flavor going on. That must be the "asian touch" part. I'm not sure I would return to this bar again and again because I prefer a richer, darker flavor, but it does have a nice texture and is plenty sweet and chocolatey for those who need a sweet fix. I would definitely recommend this as a melt-down bar to be whisked with half&half for a spectacular hot chocolate. It would also be a great choice for those milk chocolate lovers who are just venturing into the dark regions. To check it out on Amazon, click here:Chocolat Bonnat Ceylan 75% Dark Chocolate Bar

Wednesday, April 14, 2010


Organoleptic - this is the word of the day. I could not believe this was an actual word, but indeed it is. I had never heard it before. It is not a kind of chocolate I am sorry to say. It simply means involving the sense organs. It is written on the back of my Slitti chocolate bar, that yes, I am still savouring. This is how it is used: "This product is intended to meet the requirements of the most demanding and careful connoisseur who wants to perceive from chocolate all the organoleptic sensations that this wonderful fruit can give". Wow. Next time your kid needs a new vocabulary word for English class give him/her "organoleptic". It would be interesting to see if the teacher knows what it means!
Now that I have my handy little Amazon hook-up, I went right on over to their organoleptic department. Sure enough their are several books with the word in their title and they do have something to do with taste sensations, but they are extremely scientific in nature, sort of like people's doctoral dissertations! So it is possible that organoleptic is a bit over-the-top as a chocolate descriptive, but it would make a great name for a new chocolate bar: Organoleptic 75%.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Monetizing a Blog

Well, at long last I have finally sold out - sort of. I still refuse to allow advertising on my blog, which I really do not like! I don't like the lack of control for what will actually be advertised on my site about high quality chocolate. I couldn't tolerate trying to promote a really well made artisanal bar only to have Hershey's go and plaster a big ol' advertisement in my margins! Not that I have anything against Hershey's, I just don't want them using my blog space.
So today I signed up with Amazon Associates so that when I am reviewing a particular bar, I can actually create a link in the body of my text so that you can head on over and purchase said bar! Full disclosure: I stand to receive a 15% commission from any sales linked to my blog. That is not, however, my sole motivation. After all, I do not expect to pay the mortgage on chocolate-bar commissions! My true belief is that if you have a chocolate shop in your vicinity you should always buy there first. If they don't carry what you are looking for, ask them if they will. If they are not interested, hit the internet. Amazon is well known and trusted, and a great place to shop for special deals, so it's a good place to start when you cannot find what you want locally. I also like that you can get a nice photo of the bar I'm reviewing. The blog format I'm using is somewhat limited in what and where I can post links and photos; the Amazon connection allows you a quick link to a photo, info and price on the product I am reviewing.
As luck would have it, my first attempt was a link over to Amazon for the Slitti 82% bar. Sure enough it worked beautifully with one exception: they are out of stock! However, I did get to see a great many other Slitti products, like 60% with Jasmine Green Tea! Wow! I've never seen that before. So while a first attempt at instant access was not exactly successful, it was not necessarily in vain. Use these links from now on to see what other types of chocolates are available from a certain company and either order what looks good or ask your local retailer to stock some of them. I hope you enjoy chocolate hunting as much as I do!

Taking it Down a Notch - Slitti 82%

I don't mean taking the quality down a notch, simply the cacao percentage. Slitti is Italian. It is also wicked expensive - $10 per bar! This is not a gobble-up bar but rather a one-square-after-dinner bar. Or a nice gift for a special friend. Mine came to me as a gift from my loving husband. It is "dark" in flavor, but not too dark, just slightly earthy and gently sweet. The texture is fine but not superb. It is just slightly chalky , but not at all unpleasant. "Chalky" is not an uncommon texture for chocolate over 80%. It is difficult to create a smooth, buttery texture in high percentages without adding too much cocoa butter which has the disadvantages of either diluting flavor or creating an end-product that is rather waxy. So some chocolatiers refuse to add cocoa butter. If you like your chocolate ultra-smooth, you may not like Slitti, but if high-quality cacao at high percentages is your goal, this one is worth a try. Now here comes the really cool part: if you click the following, Slitti Gran Cacao - Italian Dark Chocolate Bar - 82% Cacao you can access this product on Amazon! Neat, huh? Okay, you can probably do that on tons of other blogs and sites you visit, but for me it's a first for my blog! The best part is that even if 82% seems higher than you want to go, you can access all the other Slitti products like 60% and milk chocolate, too! Have fun!

Friday, April 9, 2010

Insanely Strong Chocolate, Part 2: Vintage Plantations 90%

Vintage Plantations makes nice chocolate. I think. I've only had their 90% bar so I can't really speak for all their other "normal" bars. But if they can make 90% this good, the others have to be equally lovely. This is dark and rich with just a hint of sweetness. It comes from cacao grown in Ecuador. It is remarkably different from the Bonnat 100% with its butter and honey taste. This is more like a really good dark-roast coffee that just makes you go, "Mmmmmmmm". One square is really all you need after your evening meal to make everything feel alright.

Insanely Strong Chocolate - Bonnat 100%

That's right, 100% cacao. Some people mistakenly assume that 100% cacao bars must be the same as baking chocolate. A really good 100% bar is no baking chocolate bar. If a chocolatier is going to make such a bar, he is going to use only the finest chocolate at his disposal, because there is nothing to hide behind in 100% - no sugar, no vanilla. Chocolat Bonnat is French, and they make many 70% bars of different origins. So why am I choosing 100%? Well, full disclosure here: I'm doing Atkins right now. That's right, little Miss Chocoholic is trying to lose a few pounds. Truth be told, I'm going to Paris in May for a week and have a long list of chocolate shops to visit when I get there. So I thought I'd reduce the carbs now to make room for the ones on the horizon. The other reason is that I've been increasingly conscious of my sugar consumption for about three years now and that is originally how I got into the higher percentages - the higher the cacao percentage the lower the sugar content. When you start weaning yourself off sugar, what used to seem bitter (70%) suddenly becomes way too sweet. That said, I accidently ate an entire 100g. 70% Cluizel bar that was supposed to be for my friend Tom. I thought it seemed awfully sweet but just thought I'd had too many 99% bars and so wasn't used to the sweetness of 85%. When I got to the post office to mail Tom his chocolate, lo and behold, there was the 85% bar! Oops. Tom doesn't like 85%, so I had to eat it. And now I'm on Atkins. Sigh.
Anyway, I digress. Bonnat 100% starts off and remains unbelievably buttery with a touch of honey. I'm not kidding! I know that sounds all choco-snobby but it really does remind me of butter and honey, even though it is not sweet. I was actually so surprised I had to eat another piece, just to make sure I was not losing my mind like Montezuma. This is truly divine and I will reach for it again and again (got that, Mike?). I did not really expect to like this so much and figured it would go into the melting pan with something else for a big batch of choco-bombs, but I could get used to eating this straight up. A definite winner in the dangerously-high-percentages category!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Taza Stone Ground Organic Chocolate - 80%

Taza is a little company in Somerville, MA that makes its own chocolate the old-fashioned way. Stone ground chocolate is a little gritty, but can be enjoyable to chew on if you like the texture. This particular bar of 80% surprised me because I expected a dark-roasted kind of flavor but instead got something really bright and fruity. By that I mean it has a slight tartness to it. The gritty texture is the product of stone-grinding the roasted cacao beans, but it feels like you are eating granulated sugar. I've had this chocolate once before a long time ago and I think I had the same reaction: I like the idea of stone ground chocolate very much, but the reality disappoints. I don't think I like bright, fruity chocolates (although if you've never tried one, try this and you will see what I mean)and I don't know whether that is the result of the type of beans they use or the particular way they roast them. The granulated texture keeps making me think I'm eating raw sugar, which is a bit unsettling. The good thing about Taza, though, is that they are a small, New England company, their products are becoming more and more available, and they sell chocolate-covered cacao nibs! If you've never had nibs, you really must seek these out. They are just cracked pieces of cacao bean covered in chocolate, which adds a bit of sweetness to the otherwise bitter nibs.
If you like chocolate with a lot of texture, try Taza.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Lake Champlain 5 Star Bar - Fruit & Nut

This is a lovely little treasure. Lake Champlain Chocolate is from Burlington, Vermont and they make a decent chocolate bar. Their 5 Star Bars are these 1.9 g. little nuggets of milk and dark chocolate with goodies folded in. The Fruit & Nut bar has "praline, pecans, cherries and dark chocolate". They look like mini chocolate bars but they are three times as thick! They make a great treat when you want your chocolate but are too afraid to buy a large bar for fear of eating it all, like my last Green & Black's fiasco. The down side is they cost about $2.69, which is reasonable for a large bar but a bit appalling for such a little bar. It is thick, but it's not that thick! However, it is a price worth paying for a small treat that will satisfy you without overindulging.
They are sweet and nutty, with a dominant hazlenut taste and some dried cherries and pecans in the background. The nuts and cherries are folded into a soft, almost-but-not-quite truffle-like center and the whole thing is covered in dark chocolate. If you don't like hazlenuts (filberts), stay away from these.
I used to buy these once a week, several years back, when I wanted a treat and had more self-discipline with chocolate than I have now. I think that is when I originally got hooked on the dried cherry and chocolate combo that resulted in the above mentioned fiasco (See Green & Black's Cherry).
They do come in several other flavors, like peanut butter and caramel, so if you're not wild about cherries and hazlenuts, try one of the others. They are a great size to slip into your purse for a long trip when you know you will need something somewhere along the way to lift your spirit!
Living in Vermont, these are easy for me to find. Outside of Vermont, you will most likely only encounter these in a chocolate shop or gourmet food shop. It is not that the quality of the chocolate is that good, it is just that these days anything made in Vermont has made the luxury items list and can only be found in specialty stores! Go figure! It is, however, better than a Hershey bar, so if you find one, buy it.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Green & Black's Cherry

I cannot buy these anymore. I just ate the entire bar in one sitting - and it ain't no dainty-sized bar! This is a 60% dark chocolate bar with whole, dried cherries in it. Now I know I said somewhere on this blog that I am not a big fan of fruit in my chocolate, but next to the Amadei this is a winner. The tartness and chewiness of this bar makes it a gobble-up bar. It is a 100 g. bar, so if you have no self-discipline, only buy this if you have supervision, i.e. someone to share it with. This is just one of many in the Green & Black line of chocolate. It should be accessible in most places, so if you don't find this brand, ask for it. It is not expensive and all markets everywhere could benefit tremendously from carrying this line!
If you love the cherry and chocolate combo, this bar is for you! Seek it out, ask for it politely, demand it firmly, whatever you have to do. Just get it!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Tom & Sally's Organic Skinny Bar

This is brilliant marketing. Call a chocolate bar a "skinny" bar and you know people are going to snatch them up! After all, isn't that just about everyone's dream? To eat chocolate and get skinny?? Well, of course the "skinny" in this product relates to the fact that it is a small, 40 g. bar and only has about 175-200 calories per bar. The "Skinny Bars" come in many flavors and I chose the 78% Belgian with Ethiopian coffee. It was quite nice. It had bits of finely ground coffee in it which gave it a "gritty" texture, but not at all in a bad way. This is a great "chewing" chocolate, with the coffee grounds lending extra texture. I found that it was not too strong from either the cacao or the coffee and would most likely make a great afternoon "pick-me-up" or a good breakfast for those of you taking the "red-eye" flights across the country.
Tom & Sally's is a small chocolate company from Brattleboro, Vermont - practically in my own back yard. They offer tours of their factory and you can bet I'm going on one soon!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Procuring Chocolate

It has come to my attention by a few of my readers that not everyone has easy-access to good chocolate! SHOCK! This is a situation that really ought to be remedied. Every town in America should have a good chocolate shop, although I'm sure the Obama Administration has bigger fish to fry right now so I'm not even going to bring it up.
However, there is a lot you can do for yourself right from your very own lap-top. My chocolate shop, Chocolate Now, in Hanover, NH ships all over the country, and it is also where I buy most of the chocolate I write about on this blog. So if there is something you would really like to try but can't find anywhere near you, please click on the Chocolate Now link below. If there is something you want but do not see on their website, give them a call. They most likely have it in stock and can ship it right out to you.
Of course, you can also go directly to the websites of the individual chocolate companies, but compare prices. Sometimes you get a better deal from Chocolate Now than from the chocolate company itself!

Valentine's Day

A state-sanctioned day of chocolate indulgence, Valentine's Day is every chocoholic's favorite holiday. You don't even have to have a lover, as long as you have a box of chocolates! I am spending this Valentine's Day with a few very good friends and a lot of chocolate. First come the fresh strawberries dipped in milk chocolate (38.5%). Then come the hand-made truffles made specially for me by Mike at my chocolate shop. If my friends can keep up with me (not likely) I might treat them to a nibble of my three other Domori bars. All to be finished off by a nice dish of locally made coffee ice cream. I will feed them a meal first, I promise, but I am far more excited about the chocolate than the meal.
Happy Valentine's Day to all and to all much chocolate!

Domori - PuertoMar 75%

Another Italian chocolate. I just stumbled upon this one today as I went to pick up my pre-ordered truffles for Valentine's Day. The Domori line is a new addition to my local chocolate shop. I bought the entire set - a nice little Valentine's Day, red-bow wrapped package of four single-origin chocolate bars. These are small, 25 g. bars and, of course, they are not inexpensive. However, this Puertomar bar is the epitome of "this must be European" chocolate. It is the smoothest thing ever, like velvet, with a sweetness that is nicely balanced with the dark bitter cacao, and a touch of acidity. It is truly a work of art. Domori makes its chocolate from criollo beans coming from plantations in Venezuela. Most chocolate these days is from either forrestero (usually African) or trinitario (usually Central or South American) beans, both cultivars of which can withstand differences in climate and are fairly disease resistant. Criollo is considered to be difficult to manage, having low resistance to disease and climate changes. However, chocolate made from criollo is incredibly smooth and well rounded. Many people consider criollo the best cacao bean choice, but it is rare and expensive to procure. So whenever you happen upon a bar made from criollo, the package will make certain to advertise that fact. It will be expensive but is a "must-try" for chocoholics.
I must confess that my friend Mike at the chocolate shop recommended it to me so I can't claim total ownership of this beautiful discovery. I still have 3 other bars to sample in the coming days, so stay tuned for more on Dolmori.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Amadei Toscano Red

Another Amadei. This is the only chocolate bar with fruit that I like. Generally I like my fruit and my chocolate separate - with the exception of chocolate-covered strawberries - but this Amadei bar is exquisite! It is 70% chocolate in the nice, smooth Amadei tradition with dried raspberries in it! Dried raspberries are not like other dried fruits, which are usually dense and chewy. Dried raspberries are truly dry and crispy, so this bar is like a super upscale Nestle Crunch Bar, with crispy, tangy raspberry pieces! The only problem I have with this bar is that I can never decide whether to chew or suck the chocolate. If you let it melt in your mouth it will last longer, of course, and you will delight in the tangy unfolding of the raspberry pieces. On the other hand, if you chew it you will enjoy the crunchy sensation of the dried raspberry pieces. Oh, the choice is pure torture! So you will have to do a little of both. Amadei is perhaps one of the more expensive chocolate bars on the market, and it does not help that they recently introduced more expensive packaging. Each bar now come wrapped and then folded into its own little paper cover with enclosure. It looks lovely but I'm sure it keeps the price high and all that extra wrapping is totally unnecessary and only contributes to more junk in the landfill. It does, however, make a lovely package all on its own for a gift. Between the price, the packaging and the exquisite chocolate/raspberry sensation, Amadei Toscano Red would make a fantastic gift for a special friend.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Green&Black's Milk Chocolate

If you love milk chocolate, this one is for you. This is a very nice milk chocolate with 34% cacao content and a nice, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth feel. I love the Green & Black's line because it is available in lots of places, the most shocking of all being a very dingy, small supermarket in a tiny town in Dutchess County, NY. "Where?", you ask. Exactly. But finding this kind of chocolate where you least expect it is one of the great pleasures in life. If your local supermarket does not carry Green & Black's chocolate, ask them to. It is not very expensive and they have a long line of chocolate from Milk to 70% and 85%, and 70% with all kinds off good things like cherries, espresso, toffee, almonds, orange and spice, etc. Most of their bars come in the large size, 3.5 oz or 100 grams. But they do sell a mini bar in both the milk and the 70%, as well as their Maya Gold, which is the orange and spice flavored one. I haven't tried that one yet, but maybe next week!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Making Chocolate - the Colonial Way

Here is a great little video clip I found on how chocolate was originally made. I can't figure out how to include links into the context of my posts so I have added this link down below under the heading "Cool Links". If for some reason that doesn't work for you, copy and paste the following into your browser:

Friday, January 22, 2010

Health Benefits of Chocolate

Don't let anyone tell you that chocolate is not good for you. That's an old-wives' tale. Chocolate has one of the highest levels of antioxidants of all foods, more than red wine or green tea. It contains a substance called theobromine which acts as a vaso-dilator, reducing blood-pressure. It also helps release endorphins, the feel-good chemicals in the brain, which is why chocolate is always a good mood-lifter. If you haven't tried it, the next time you feel cranky and irritable treat your self to a good bar of chocolate. I guarantee you will be feeling better within 15 minutes of eating it. The saturated fat of chocolate is mostly in the form of stearic acid, which is a cholesterol-neutral fat. That means that it does not affect your cholesterol levels one way or the other. The darker your chocolate, the less sugar it contains and the higher the anti-oxidant level. The higher the quality of your chocolate, the less likely it is to have non-nutritive substances like milk powders (a source of oxidized cholesterol - not good for us) and soy lethicin. Those tend to be additives used by large companies concerned more for profit than quality.
Chocolate does not cause acne - sugar does. However, because of the stearic acid content of chocolate, whatever sugar it does contain is slowly absorbed and most of the negative aspects of sugar are greatly reduced. If you are going to consume sugar, consume it in the form of chocolate.
Chocolate does contain caffeine but not nearly as much as you have been led to believe. A few oreos after dinner will not keep your children up all night. The caffeine content is quite miniscule. Theobromine, on the other hand, is a caffeine-like stimulant that effects the central nervous system in a gentler way than caffeine. Most scientist who study theobromine are skeptical about it being an addictive substance. I haven't tried this yet because I still love my coffee, but if you are trying to quit caffeine, try supplementing with a little chocolate for breakfast for a few days and see if that gets you through caffeine withdrawal without the headache! If it works, write in and tell me!
There is tons of information on the internet about the health benefits of chocolate. Chocolate is rich and you may have been led to believe that it is somehow sinful to consume it in our Puritanical society, but those who do consume it regularly without guilt seem to be happier and healthier! Throw away the oreos and go get the good stuff!

Dolfin Noir 88%

This was truly a surprise to me. Dolfin is a Belgian chocolatier. It has a gorgeous, smooth texture (which is difficult to do over 85%) and starts off with a bang of cinnamon. Okay, not really a bang, but a distinctive enough cinnamon-like flavor that it made me re-read the label. It is in fact just dark chocolate with 88% cacao. It tastes sweeter to me than other chocolates of such high percentage, and that cinnamon flavor really lasts, rather than a fleeting "spice-like" nuance. This chocolate scores big points for its texture, but if you love really dark chocolate, you will be disappointed in the lack of depth. Think about it like coffee: if you love espresso, you won't be impressed with a shot of medium-roast coffee. I would definitely recommend this bar to people who love their chocolate sweet and to those who want to venture into higher percentages but remain a bit timid. As for myself, I think I will melt the rest of this bar and whisk in some half&half for a wicked-good cup of hot chocolate!

Amadei Toscano Black 66%

This is another Italian chocolate - the Italians do chocolate well. Amadei prides itself on its single-origin chocolates from small estates and controlling the whole process from fermenting to roasting the cacao beans to their specifications. This comes in a pretty green package with a black box in the center as their label. To me, 66% is awfully sweet, so I just bought two individual squares of this chocolate to try rather than a whole bar. It would definitely make a good replacement for milk-chocolate lovers who want to take a step above Hershey's.
Amadei has a whole line of chocolate from different parts of the world and it will be fun trying them all. The only downside is that these bars are expensive - $6.50 in my chocolate shop, and probably steeper in the big cities. The texture is very smooth and nice, though, and it is a good treat to have once in a while or for a special occasion.

Friday, January 15, 2010


This is the other Kakawa chocolate elixir I ordered. They are these big 1.5 oz. chocolate balls blended with vanilla, agave and ancho chilli. You're supposed to chop or shave them into little pieces, add hot water and whisk to make your hot chocolate drink. I did this and made a nice hot chocolate but it seemed to lack depth. Now to me a fine cup of hot chocolate (and the only kind really worth considering) is a melted chocolate bar with half & half whisked in. So while I did like this chilli hot chocolate I couldn't help thinking it needed a little cream. I didn't put any in because I had a hard time reconciling chillis and cream in my mind. So I finished the cup and then ate the other chocolate ball. I have one left. I think I'll eat that one too.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hot Chocolate

Today is a very exciting day! My order of hot chocolate "wafers" arrived from Kakawa (see link below) and I was finally able to sample one of their concoctions. Kakawa is based in Sante Fe and they have dedicated themselves to discovering and recreating ancient drinking chocolate recipes. They have ancient Aztec, Mayan and Zapotec recipes as well as the first European recipes from the 1600's up to 1800. I found their website back in the summer and bookmarked it, thinking this would make a great winter treat. They make their hot chocolate by grinding spices, chillis, and other aromatic ingredients and blending them with bittersweet chocolate, forming wafers or balls that you then mix with hot water and whisk until fully melted and blended into a hot chocolate drink.
Today I sampled Aztec Warrior, a blend of unsweetened chocolate, herbs, flowers, nuts, chilli and vanilla. This is a recipe that was considered a favorite of rulers and warriors throughout Mesoamerica. It is very aromatic: almond, allspice and vanilla seem to be the dominant flavors, with a little chilli kick, but not too much. It is intentionally unsweetended as that is how chocolate was consumed back in the day. So I drank mine unsweetened, just enjoying the contrast between the bitter chocolate, the chilli kick and the sweet spices. You could, of course, add a teaspoon of sugar if you wished, but I would not recommend too much as there is something to be said for experiencing a recipe based on the ancient tradition of chocolate drinking. I did find it to be a bit heavy on what seemed like almond extract. I like that flavor but it could be a little lighter, in my opinion. I initially thought these wafers would be easy to make at home, but the more I sipped the more I noticed the different flavors underlying the almond.
These hot chocolate elixirs, as they are called, are not inexpensive, but they are a fun treat and probably could be recreated by creative types in your own kitchen, sparing you a great deal of money. On the other hand, the menu at Kakawa is quite extensive, tempting you with all sorts of magical chocolate elixirs from Mesoamerica to European blends, like 1631 Spanish, 1775 Marie Antoinette, to "modern" American 1790's Jeffersonian and Havana Rum.
As a bonus, your order arrives with a page and a half of information about the health benefits of chocolate!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Accidental Truffle

If you are reading this blog, chances are you like truffles. I like truffles. In fact, I accidentally bought three truffles today. Okay, it wasn't exactly an accident, but I switched direction while walking through town with the express purpose of avoiding a strong and bitter wind that was slapping me in the face. I took the long way back to work and lo and behold, there was the chocolate shop! So I ventured in and decided to be a good customer and sample the truffles that the young man working there had just recently created. In actuality, I had been dreaming about these truffles for a few days ever since I saw him dipping them in melted chocolate and coating them with cocoa powder. Well, they were fabulous. They had a thick hard shell of dark chocolate that enveloped a soft, truffly center. They were sweet, but not too sweet. They had a fine coat of cocoa powder, but not so much as to leave you with a cocoa mustache. They were really quite delightful.
So what exactly is a truffle? I never really knew and never really cared until one day I accidentally made some truffles. I was trying to make an icing of sorts for a fancy cake, not following any recipe, just my imagination as I am wont to do (not generally recommended in the kitchen). I melted a bar of good chocolate in a double boiler and slowly added cream, whisking it in until it created a thick, and then really thick ganache. It was a giant truffle! It was too thick to be used as any sort of icing (I probably should have used half&half) so I scooped it into little balls on a tray and left them to set. They were really good. I don't remember anything about the cake.
By the way, of the three truffles I bought today, I only ate two. I gave the third to the nice lady who works in the office in my place of employment.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Chocolate, The Meso-American Way

Venchi Perperoncino. 75% chocolate with chillis! It may not sound good to you at first, but I think this is really worth a try! Venchi is Italian and they make a mean chocolate. It's imported so that means two things: you can probably only find it in chocolate shops or gourmet food stores and it is more expensive than your average bar. But any Venchi you can get your hands on is well worth the extra dollar. If you like spicy things in general, this simply can't be missed. It is a smooth, sweet chocolate with a taste that sort of reminds me of Oreos and it has a little kick to it from the chillis. The spice is mild in my opinion, but if you are not fond of spicy, try another Venchi bar instead.
There is a general trend these days in chocolate circles to recreate the Meso-American experience of blending chocolate with chillis and other spices. I haven't tried them all, but this is one I keep coming back to whenever I want a little excitement.
It is a small bar, 45 g. or 1.58 oz. with gold foil and a chilli-red wrapper with an illustration of a Mayan Temple, cocoa pods and chillis. The English translation is "Pure Extra Bitter Chocolate with Chilli Pepper". I don't consider this particularly bitter, so if you are new to dark chocolate don't be turned off by that. All the Venchi bars, even the 85% are quite creamy and sweet. If you want bitter, stick around and I'll introduce you to bitter!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Theobroma - Xocolatl - Chocolate

Food of the Gods. That was the very first name for chocolate. In other words, that is what chocolate means in Aztec. Columbus was the first European to discover cacao beans in his fourth and last voyage to the Americas. These beans were used as a form of currency among the native people he encountered. He wasn't much impressed. It was Cortez, twenty years later, who brought a boat-load of these babies back to Spain. Cacao beans were considered to have magical healing powers by the ancient Mayan, Incas and Aztecs. Montezuma used to sip a bitter concoction of ground beans, vanilla and chillis all day long. It was considered the drink of royalty which conveyed power and virility. (Although I think Montezuma eventually went mad, so perhaps drinking chocolate all day long is not a very good idea - everything in moderation).
Europeans were not necessarily delighted by this first concoction of bitter cacao and chillis - it was definitely an acquired taste. Soon enough, they replaced the chilli with sugar and the popularity of the drink began to soar. (That's the heroin-like addiction thing starting to kick in). It was a drink of the nobility of course, as shipments of the beans were still rare and the price was steep. The chocolate that we know today was in fact a European invention that began in the early 1800's when a Dutch chemist squeezed out half the cocoa butter from the beans using a hydraulic press, pulverized what was left, and added potassium or sodium carbonates to make a powder that was easier to mix with water. This became known as Dutch Process, or Dutching and it is still how cocoa powder is made today. From there the powder could be mixed with sugar and chocolate drinks were then much easier to make. Later on that century, an Englishman figured out how to make an edible chocolate by reintroducing the extracted cocoa butter to the powder and sugar mix. (God bless the English for their devotion to saturated fat!) The Swiss grabbed the ball at that point and figured out how to blend it into the smooth consistency we have come to expect from chocolate by a process called "conching". They also introduced their own most recently created product, dried milk, to make what is now known as milk chocolate. So while it took a good three hundred years from the first shipments of beans to the first Nestle and Lindt bars, it was truly a European collaboration to make the EU proud. As our knowledge of nutrition has evolved in leaps and bounds, we now know that sugar is bad for us, and so is powdered milk. Saturated fat, on the other hand, has been acquitted as nutritionists now believe it is a very essential nutrient indeed. Therefore, the verdict stands that the English contribution to modern-day chocolate is by far the the wisest and most nutritious. God Save the Queen.

How to Eat Chocolate

Now that's a crazy title, admittedly. After all, who needs help learning how to eat chocolate? Well, I have come to learn that we all could use a little advanced course in chocolate-eating. Back in my Hershey's days, my favorite method was chewing which turns out was probably a good idea because there is a lot of crap in Hershey's that we most likely don't want to savor. Once you begin to upscale your chocolate habit however, you are going to need to control that mastication habit in order to truly savor the differences and nuances of these finer chocolates. Sugar is a very addictive substance, on par with heroin and other such goodies. The more sugar a chocolate contains the more likely we are to suck with a frenzy, trying to absorb every last glucose/fructose molecule with reckless abandon. If this is happening to you, you need to increase your cacao content. Those little percentages that are turning up on the packages of chocolate bars these days are the actual percentage of pure cacao that the bar contains. The higher the percentage, the lower the sugar content. After all, something has to give in order to make room for more cacao. If you take out the cocoa butter, you end up with an unpalatable product, so it's the sugar that gets decreased. Do not despair. You can do this. You don't have to go cold-turkey, but you can wean yourself off some of that excess sugar. As a reference, your traditional Hershey's milk chocolate bar has only about 30% cacao content. What is the rest?? Dried milk and soy lethicin and SUGAR! What is soy lethicin? You really don't want to know.
Back to tasting: choose your new chocolate and place a square on your tongue. Close your mouth and just forget it is there for a few seconds. Try hard not to suck. Just let it melt and the flavor will actually come to you. What do you taste? You may feel you are tasting the best hot chocolate you ever experienced, or you may taste vanilla. Or caramel. It may be bright and acidic like a fruit, or rich and earthy like fine dark coffee. Each chocolate will be different, and sometimes you may get several of these sensations in the same bar!
I admit that sometimes I just want to chew and that isn't a crime. However, there is a lot going on in a good bar of chocolate and it takes patience to discover it all. Once you get into the dangerously high percentages of 80 and above, you will need this place-on-the-tongue-and-wait technique all that much more to truly receive the precious gift such chocolate has to offer.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Black Panther

This is the 88% Endangered Species Brand of chocolate with a photo of a black panther's face on the package, so I'm calling it Black Panther 88. Admittedly, I bought this at the supermarket and not at some fancy-shmance chocolate shop. It is pretty good. You will notice eventually that I vacillate between high-end and easy-access chocolate. I prefer the high-end stuff, but let's face it, it is not always available, say when traveling and getting stuck in the airport. So I believe it is very important to have a broad base from which to choose. Green and Blacks, Endangered Species, and Theo are decent brands of chocolate that are available even in many airports these day. I don't think I've ever had Endangered Species before and this Black Panther is a little chaulky. But the flavor isn't bad, and to me it is really quite sweet. If you've never gone above 70%, don't jump up to 88% right away. Work your way up the ladder with 75% and 80% first. The next time I find myself stuck in an airport without my Cluizel, I will reach for Black Panther 88 if I am lucky enough to find it. Plus, the panther on the package really is pretty cool and I'm a sucker for good packaging.


Okay, I made these up, but they are awesome and you can make them any way you want, with whatever ingredients you wish. Mine are hard-core so I don't recommend them for beginners, but go ahead and make them with your favorite chocolate.

1 Big Bar of chocolate (I use Green and Black's 85%)
A lot of shredded coconut
A lot of cacao nibs

Melt the bar of chocolate, preferably in a double-boiler so as not to burn it. Stir in as much coconut and nibs as you can until you have a big mass. Line a tray with wax paper and spoon out globs of this concoction onto your tray. They will not look pretty, and they won't even seem to hold together very well - don't worry about it. Put the tray in the fridge for about 30 minutes until they are set. Now you have Choco-Bombs. They are so named because 85% plus lots of nibs gives you quite a kick. They can be made without the nibs, or with milk chocolate. You can use nuts instead of nibs, or nuts and dried fruit, eliminating the coconut if you don't like coconut. It is basically melted chocolate with whatever you like stirred in - enough to form a big mass so you have something to spoon out in little clumps. That's it.

Lindt - not my favorite but what the hay

Lindt Milk Chocolate with Almonds
Full confession: I did not choose this chocolate - it chose me. My son brought it home yesterday and I ate most of it. After three years of indulging in some of the world's finest dark chocolate, milk chocolate just isn't really chocolate to me, yet I still have a habit of snarfing it down. Lindt makes a nice, smooth milk chocolate, however I would not recommend chocolate with nuts, ever. Most nuts in this country come to us in semi-rancid form and just plain do not belong in what is otherwise a good bar of chocolate. In fact, if I were the Minister of Chocolate in the Obama Administration, I would be hard at work outlawing nuts in chocolate until we get the nut situation under control in this country. (That would make a good campaign platform, wouldn't it?)
Nonetheless, the semi-rancid almonds did not stop me from enjoying most of my son's bar of chocolate last night.


Let's face it. The world could do with one more narcissistic blog devoted to chocolate. We're all addicted. Most of us, anyway. The only person I ever knew who truly, honestly did not like chocolate was my father, and he was a pretty strange guy. The idea for this blog came to me as I created a "Chocolate of the Week" section on my other blog, devoted to living a yogic life. I was having just a bit too much fun writing sidebar reviews of the chocolates I was consuming, that I decided to create this blog devoted solely to chocolate. These are the rules: chocolate, and only chocolate. If you want me to try a certain chocolate that you love, make sure to let me know where I can purchase it. If you've heard of a chocolate you want to try but have not yet found it, mention it because there is a good chance I have tried it, or can at least access it. If you send me free chocolate, I will be your friend forever, but cannot guarantee a stellar review. I can do no more than two actual chocolate reviews per week. If I start reviewing three or more chocolates per week, somebody please remind me to step on the scale and deal with reality.
My journey beyond Hershey's began about four years ago with a little book called "The Chocolate Connoisseur" by Chloe Doutre-Roussel. If you love chocolate and have not read this book, get it and be prepared to transform your taste in chocolate. I just happen to have a little chocolate shop in my town that carries a few of the brands that Chloe recommends in her book, so my tasting began in earnest. I tasted a little of this and a little of that, 65%, 70%, 75%, 77%, 80% and so on. I even contacted a man named Steve Devries out in Colorado who was mentioned in the book as a budding chocolatier of exceptionally high standards. I left my name and email address on his then-under-construction web page and just waited. Months passed and then the Word came: Devries Chocolates was open for business. Thus began my initiation into the world of real, unadulterated chocolate like no other I had known before.