Holiday Chocolates

Holiday Chocolates
Holiday Chocolates -beats cookies any day!

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!