Thursday, December 31, 2009

Blanxart: Chocolate y Peanut de Kenya

2009: a year of knowing and loving, of ginger and salt -- why did it have to end in deceit and disappointment? I traveled all the way to Barcelona -- let's be honest -- purely for the promise of good chocolate, and what do I get? Fraud, trickery, and monkey business: this peanut bar contained no peanuts.

Unless, of course, the Kenyan peanut is invisible? Having had some previous experience with Blanxart nut bars, I know that they use sizable slivers liberally. So, after spending a few nights with this bar, each night hoping that the next square would reveal a tasty, salty -- if unevenly distributed -- clump of Kenyan peanuts, I've come to realize that I've been duped. This bar is mislabeled, and though the quality of the chocolate was good, the betrayal is too much.

I can't give a grade, and I won't speculate as to the meaning of ending 2009 on a low note. But I do have some great things coming up in 2010, so I've decided that my world is not going to end.
Happy New Year, everybody -- see you next week.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Museu de la Xocolata: Xocolata Negra amb Gingebre

Ok folks, the jig is up -- I did go to the Museum of Chocolate in Barcelona, otherwise known as the Museu de la Xocolata, in the freaky world of Catalan. The museum is located in the Born district of Barcelona, in a former convent that now houses a chocolate kitchen in addition to the museum space. This was another New York Times recommendation, and I can't say it was really worth more than the gift shop. The exhibit was mildly interesting if somewhat hokey and badly translated -- it addresses the discovery and cultivation of the cocoa bean, and displays a bunch of chocolate sculptures: depictions of the French cartoon character Asterix, for example, in glistening, dewy confection. Again, the gift shop was the main event -- the Museu carries a wide variety of Catalonian products, as well as a collection of bars made right at the museum. Mine belonged to the latter category.

Museu de la Xocolata: Xocolata Negra amb Gingebre
Cocoa content: 51%
Notable ingredients: dried ginger
Origin: n/a

The Museu-made bars all came in vibrant colors, and their titles were written only in Catalan. Some of them, like this one, I could make out, but my initial instinct was to not play it safe with the ginger bar. I passed up on many bars because I could tell that they had a base of white chocolate -- much of which appears to be eaten in Barcelona, oddly enough. One interesting looking bar, titled "mel y met," almost became an impulse selection before the saleswoman informed me that it meant "honey and cheese" -- with chocolate? Talk about a Bad Romance!

So I went with ginger -- and let me tell you, ginger it was. This has been the most gingery ginger bar I've ever had in all my days -- almost approaching the level of ginger brittle, if such a thing existed. This was ginger with a side of chocolate, like a ginger bread cookie with chocolate instead of flour. Is this a sin? I do like ginger quite a bit, hence the 5 times it has showed up on this blog already.

The ultimate verdict, however, is that this is too much. 12% ginger, boasts the nutritional label, a figure which amounts to nearly 25% of the total amount of cocoa solids. The chocolate is visibly flecked with golden ginger shavings throughout, such that I couldn't take an untainted nibble if I tried -- even if I nibbled gingerly. The quality of chocolate was difficult to detect given the overriding spice, but I was sure that it was a little bit too sweet, and possibly a little dried out. Granted, I did drag it on 4 flights with me, ultimately stopping in 3 countries. I was a little dried out, too.

I was glad to have known this bar nonetheless, and pretty glad to have known the Museu de la Xocolata -- which, by the way, issues little house-made chocolate bars instead of entrance tickets! Ga, ga, ooh la la. I give it a B.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Escriba: Xocolata Crik-Crak

I'm back to talk about Barcelona bar no. 2 -- I bought this mammoth of a bar at the Pasteleria Escriba on Las Ramblas, near the Boqueria Market. This place is a sweet little chocolate cafe that I learned about via the New York Times Barcelona travel guide. Full disclosure: basically all of my travels are motivated primarily by food and secondarily by the thrill of the chocolate hunt -- so no, I don't just happen upon these places. Escriba sells gigantic, moderately priced chocolate bars as well as a huge assortment of truffles, cookies, and cakes. The woman behind the counter spoke only Catalan, so I bought this bar without much information. It wasn't until I got outside the store and took a closer look at the ingredients that I learned that Crik-Crak is basically a glorified Nestle Crunch bar! Glad to have known you -- to say the very least.

Escriba: Xocolata Crik-Crak
Cocoa content: 40%
Notable ingredients: arros inflat (puffed rice)
Origin: n/a

First, I should alert you -- Pasteleria Escriba has probably the most darling website on all the internets. And actually, everything about Escriba and this bar is charming. The chocolate has its own little box with a flap-slot closure, and, as you can see, is adorned with a pretty mosaic pattern. This, and the name "crik-crak" -- the Catalan equivalent of "snap, crackle, pop", I guess -- are entirely evocative of the puffed rice sensation. This bar is much more rice-filled than the Nestle Crunch bar, for one thing. On the surface, the chocolate looks smooth, but on the underside it's bubbling with the crispy, chocolate-coated arros inflat.

And it should go without saying that this chocolate is much, much better. It contains about twice as much cocoa solid content, and tastes creamy and rich as opposed to Nestle's dry, dusty -- almost sour flavor. Not that I'm trying to hate on the Nestle Crunch bar -- lord knows I enjoyed many of those -- not to mention Buncha Crunch -- as a teenage movie-goer.

In sum, puffed rice can benefit all chocolate bars, high and low -- and possibly other situations, chocolatey or otherwise. I award this bar a B+.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Xocoa: Wasabi

So I'm back from Barcelona, back from Europe, and back to blogging in my pajamas in bed with the television on. Too much? This is the first in what will be a pretty long (say, monthlong?) string of Barcelona reviews, since I did an unspeakable amount of chocolate shopping there on the Carrer de la Princesa. This one is from an amazing store called Xocoa that sells all manner of chocolatey things: perfect looking chocolate chip cookies, chocolate coated rice-krispie treats, and hot cocoa mixes. The bar selection is crazy: rosemary, lemon verbena, and above all -- this one! I had no idea what to get, but luckily Michael bit the bullet with Wasabi.

Xocoa: Wasabi
Cocoa content: 52%
Notable ingredients: wasabi
Origin: n/a

I was a little worried about the taste of this bar. I have a harder time with wasabi than chili peppers because it's much harder on the nasal passages, which for me are more sensitive than my taste buds. This bar was not actually spicy, though -- no more so than many of the chili pepper bars I eat, certainly. Wasabi is really more like mustard: it's savory, kind of sour, and spicy in the nose. And you would actually never think to mix mustard with something sweet, really -- except -- does ketchup count?

Anyway, I had my doubts. But the bar turned out to have only a hint of spice toward the end of the melt, and my nose went virtually unaffected. The taste, however, was striking. It's almost impossible to describe -- something like American horseradish, but somehow creamier, and smokier, like some sort of smokey, spicy legume paste. I would venture to say horseradish is salty whereas wasabi tastes of umami, but I don't want to be THAT GIRL.

So I'll just say that it was really surprising, really interesting, and pretty deliciously weird. The quality of the chocolate, also, was immediately recognizable as fine, pure, and snappy. The bar was big and generous. I have no complaints save for the fact that I don't know how to tag this bar -- wasabi is derived from a root, so it's not exactly a spice -- but then again, so is ginger. Spice it is. I award a B+.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Chocolat Patissier Menier: 70%

Readers, I am going away to Spain for a few days -- I'm a little rushed this morning, but I wanted to leave you with an image of this pretty, old-world wrapper until I get back. Chocolat Patissier's Menier line is actually owned by Nestle, and as such is nothing terribly special. Nothing much to say here -- but let's hope I have something special to write about when I get back.

By the way -- only 6 days left on the European continent. Last night I ate a bunch of Hanukkah gelt with my friends here at a little pre-holiday holiday/goodbye party. I have known the simplest pleasures, chocolate-wise. I look forward to my return to the land of small batches and, frankly, Snickers.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Valrhona: Tanariva

I got this bar at McCambridge's in Galway (again.) They're starting to put out a massive Christmas spread and the chocolate collection is suffering a little bit for it, but there are still a handful of bars that I have not yet tried. McCambridge's has about 3 Valrhona bars at any given time -- this is certainly the milkiest, which works for me because I've had a sweet tooth recently. Here we go:

Valrhona: Tanariva
Cocoa content: 33%
Notable ingredients: n/a
Origin: Madagascar

This is probably one of the only if not the first single-origin milk chocolate bar I've blogged about here. Valrhona is one of those companies that pretty much only works with single-origin beans, and boasts a single-origin collection that rivals Pralus's. I think Madagascar is a first for me -- but it's hard to really get a sense for the taste of the beans when so much cocoa butter and sugar is mixed in.

Valrhona is an old French chocolate company based in Lyon. They don't just make chocolate, though -- they also maintain L'Ecole du Grand Chocolate, which is a chocolate school for professional chefs in France. They sell bars in a lot of nice speciality food stores in the U.S., but they're a lot easier to find in Europe -- and also they're cheaper here.

Tanariva is really, really good milk chocolate. The box, as you can see, says "doux & caramelise," and this chocolate really has a caramelized edge to it, moreso than other good milk bars I've had in the past. I'm guessing it's because this bar counts natural vanilla extract among its minor ingredients. Most bars use vanillin, which is a synthetic vanilla substitute. I also loved how this bar was divided into pieces. The whole thing was a square, and the pieces were organized on a grid-pattern of depressed lines, but the lines were all curvy and warped such that some pieces were smaller than others and some pieces had a rounded edge. That made it a little hard to share equitably with friends, but joyful nonetheless.

My sweet tooth has been sufficiently satisfied and we'll be back to black next time. A-.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Cocoa Bean Chocolate Co.: Winter Spice Bar

I fooled you all last week -- you thought I was through with Holiday Merriment, but really I was JUST GETTING STARTED. Single origin, Indonesian beans, blah blah blah it was all a guise. Really I was just gearing up for the ultimate Christmas spice-fest that was this bar. It's Cocoa Bean Chocolate Co.'s special holiday bar -- they seem to have one every year, judging from their website. I found it at McCambridge's in Galway. Back to my old stomping grounds.

Cocoa Bean Chocolate Co.: Winter Spice Bar
Cocoa content: 28%
Notable ingredients: vanilla, cardamom, ginger, chili
Origin: n/a

Eating this bar was like walking through crisp white snow as cardamom, ginger, and a tingle of chili softly fall through the winter air -- no, I'm just kidding -- that's what it says on the back of the wrapper though. Eating this bar was more like foraging through crisp white snow for any traces of spice hidden deep below the surface. I think I tasted the chili more than anything, but only very slightly and as an aftertaste. I may have sensed a bit of cardamom on my tongue once or twice. No ginger for miles.

I'm big into cardamom. Unfortunately, I haven't reviewed any cardamom bars on this blog, but that doesn't mean I haven't known them. Vosges makes a bar -- the Calindia Bar -- with cardamom, walnuts, and dried plums. Needless to say, it's divine. So, having known that bar, I was hoping to encounter cardamom here with as much flavor and aroma as last time. I was admittedly a little disappointed -- not because the Winter Spice Bar tasted bad at all, but because I was just expecting a little more from it.

This is only the second white chocolate bar I've reviewed on this blog. I really don't eat much of it, and I think that might be why I find it hard to locate flavors in a bar of white chocolate. Every time, it just tastes so salty and buttery to me. But this white chocolate was a little less intense than the one I tried previously -- perhaps because the percentage of cocoa butter is a bit smaller here.

In any event, this bar was pretty tasty but could have been vastly better if it were made with milk chocolate and infused with more of the advertised spices. I give it a B.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Francois Pralus: Djakarta

I suppose this is the French way of spelling Jakarta -- that's the capital of Indonesia, an archipelago that rests on the equator somewhere between Australia and South Asia. In other words, a perfect place to grow cocoa beans! I got this bar at Fallon & Byrne in Dublin -- same as last week's -- and it wasn't a hard choice at all because I've never encountered single-origin Indonesian chocolate before. And what a pleasant encounter it was.

Francois Pralus: Djakarta
Cocoa content: 75%
Notable ingredients: cocoa from Ghana*
Origin: Jakarta, Indonesia

You read right. Pralus indeed admits to adding Ghanan (Ghanain?) cocoa beans to this so-called ''single-origin'' product. Why? Apparently the acidity of the beans needed to be balanced out by the ''fresh, woody'' flavor of the African beans. Now, I feel pretty confident that the bar is composed mostly of Indonesian beans -- otherwise, why the name -- but I'm not really so sure if we should call this a single-origin bar.

Pralus -- a French chocolatier, obviously -- has an extensive set of single-origin bars ranging from the predictable (Republique Dominicaine) to the kind of out-there (Papouasie, otherwise known as Papua New Guinea.) Pralus comes from a line of elite Parisian chocolatiers, and he owns his own cocoa plantation in Madagascar. All this snobbery, however, is balanced out by the ridiculous pictures of him on his website. Man knows how to pose.

The first thing I noticed upon tasting this bar was that it was one of the hardest, snappiest bars I've ever tasted -- this, of course, points to careful production and a lack of impurities. The back of the package advertised ''mushroom aromas,'' which I thankfully didn't notice. Another pleasant realization was that the acidity of the beans was certainly present, but not unpleasant or overwhelming like a certain bar from Ghana that I knew and didn't love. Funny, how that bar seemed overly acidic and yet Ghanain beans were used to correct the acidity of Indonesian beans! I think it shows that all of this is bullshit -- kind of.

So, basically, not too acidic, very well made, and really quite good. B+.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Michel Cluizel: Noir au Praline a l'Ancienne

November is turning out to be a great month in terms of eating chocolate -- and really, what else could a month ask for but to be spent eating bars like this one? Michael bought me this beauty at a speciality food store in Dublin called Fallon & Byrne. They had an excellent selection of chocolates, including a huge variety from Cocoa Bean Chocolate Co. of County Kerry -- they were the makers of the Sea Salt bar from several weeks ago. The true mark of a distinguished chocolate seller is, I think, the inclusion of Michel Cluizel. He's without a doubt one of the best chocolatiers in the world -- or so goes the choco-lore! Let's find out.

Michel Cluizel: Noir au Praline a l'Ancienne
Cocoa content: 60%
Notable ingredients: hazelnuts, almonds, praline butter
Origin: n/a

First, I should admit that this bar challenged my previously-held notion of what praline is. Praline, in French, actually refers to the combination of a powder made from ground up sugar-coated nuts added to chocolate. Nothing wrong with that, right? I guess in the United States the word most commonly refers to hazelnut praline, but outside of the country the nut content is not specified. Here, we have a tasty, roasted mix of hazelnuts and almonds. The word "ancienne" refers to the old-style taste of the praline. I'm just quoting Michel here.

Each piece of this bar, of which there were (I think) 18, contained a slightly grainy center of praline. The effect was entirely delicious. Honestly, I've never had anything other than a fudge brownie that tasted SO MUCH like a fudge brownie. The earthy roastedness of the nuts raised my holiday merriment levels tenfold -- and you thought they were high last week! Michel Cluizel has taught me a valuable lesson: if you roast anything for long enough in caramelized cane sugar, and then add THAT to deliciously snappy dark chocolate, a real treat have you.

Thank you Dublin, thank you Michel Cluizel, (thank you Michel Goldsmith,) and thank you November. A.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Montezuma's: Nutmeg

You can expect November to be a month of fine chocolates because I've been doing some traveling and have sought out some of the greater chocolate venders in this fine continent. Last weekend I was in London, where I came across a Montezuma's chocolate store in the Spitalfields Market. I had actually never heard of Montezuma's -- it's a relatively new UK company with a flavor/ingredient variety comparable to that of Christopher Elbow, who uses Pop Rocks and weird spices. I chose this bar with little hesitation, as I have never seen nutmeg in chocolate before, and I love a good holiday spice just as much as the next person.

Montezuma's: Nutmeg
Cocoa content: 34%
Notable ingredients: organic nutmeg
Origin: n/a

The back of the bar has some corny testimonial from one Helen Pattinson (Co-founder,) who likens the flavor to one's "mother's secret rice pudding recipe." I think this is a useful, if not wholly accurate comparison. Nutmeg is usually paired with cinnamon, in cookies or in the incredibly delicious Cinnamon Nutmeg frozen yogurt that I once had from Ranc's in Lexington, MA. Indians use it in desserts, most notably kheer. I would say it provides warmth and a very subtle spice, like ginger but sweeter and milder.

I had no doubt that it would be a good companion for chocolate -- specifically milk chocolate. Since nutmeg often accompanies creamy desserts like eggnog and rice pudding, it is a natural match for the silky, high quality milk chocolate we have here. It provided a depth to the chocolate, and absolutely filled me with holiday merriment. Nutmeg makes pumpkin look like the Grinch who stole Christmas.

This was the first bar I've had in a while that I actually closed my eyes for and savored -- that's how delicious it was. Every respectable chocolate maker out there has a ginger bar. Why not nutmeg, I wonder? It smells incredible and presumably goes a long way in small doses.

This bar could get infinite points for originality but on taste alone it deserves a top grade. I'll definitely be trying more of Montezuma's chocolates in the future, and keeping my eye out for similarly innovative spice inclusion elsewhere. A.

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Chocolate Alchemist: 73%

I got this bar at McCambridge's in Galway city center. I'd never heard of this company before and it's fun to come across nice, unfamiliar packaging. The Chocolate Alchemist is a UK company. They apparently experiment with a lot of interesting flavors but McCambridge's sells only this bar and a chili bar. I've had it with chili for now, so in this entry I make my return to pure, dark chocolate.

The Chocolate Alchemist: 73%
Cocoa content: 73%
Notable ingredients: n/a
Origin: n/a

Don't you love it when the bar is so simple and chocolate-centric that it's named after its cocoa content? And the cocoa content is so precise: not 70 or 75, even, but 73%. I think I've had some other 'random' content numbers before -- 59% in a Dolfin bar comes to mind. It does make me feel like the makes are really aiming for something specific.

This bar was so, so delicious. So refreshing after that last bar from Tesco, the dead one. I'm trying to think of another pure dark chocolate bar to compare this to in terms of quality. Marie Belle was similarly excellent, but a little more ambitious and thus an unfair comparison. Looking back in my archives tag, I see that this bar is probably pretty similar to these: Le Pain Quotidien's 70% bar, and Amattler's bar, also 70% (could this be my favorite cocoa content?). It's the perfect level of sweetness and clarity.

To add to that, this bar had fantastic snap: another refresher after that Tesco bar. It melted slowly and deliciously, broke cleanly and evenly, and generally tasted wonderful. I'm happy to have known it, and to now count the Chocolate Alchemist as one of my preferred European finds. A.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Tesco Finest: 70% with Ginger

You'll notice that I uploaded my own (low quality) picture of this bar. That's because I found the Cairns Building for Business and Economics on campus here in Galway! Non-arts students always keep a clean facility, not to mention the highest internet speed known to Ireland. I got this bar at Tesco which is a huge European supermarket chain. This is their house-brand chocolate line, most all of which is single origin.

Tesco Finest: 70% with Ginger
Cocoa content: 70%
Notable ingredients: crystalized ginger
Origin: Dominican Republic

Imagine my surprise when I found, a couple of weeks ago, that Tesco carries its own line of single origin chocolate. Who else does that! I don't think even Whole Foods does, although of course their chocolate selection is far better than Tesco's when it comes to non-house brand. They had a few interesting options but I chose this one because I love ginger and I haven't had any in a while.

This is really the bottom of the barrel when it comes to ginger chocolates. I mean, surely it's not, but it doesn't even approach the level of other ginger bars I've tasted. On this blog so far we've seen examples from Dagoba, New Tree, and most notably, Chocolove (if you want to see the selection, it's tagged under "spice.") I tried to remember what I loved so much about the Chocolove ginger bar -- the dark chocolate was enlivened by the ginger's spice, sugar, and warmth. It was a warmth sensation, tempered by the earthy, semi-sweet chocolate. Chocolove just works with really great ingredients and makes a delicious chocolate, add-ins aside.

So the problems here were twofold: the chocolate was not that good -- stale, dry, dusty -- and the ginger was dead -- no chew, no spice to speak of, no warmth. It was like freeze-dried papaya or something. Tasteless. Not disgusting at all, just tasteless -- utterly boring. It's worth noting actually that I quit eating this bar halfway through and turned instead to my multi-pack of Kinder Buenos. I award this bar a C-.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hanf Natur: Canalade Hemp Chocolate

The theme of this week's bar is "Other Things We Have Known, and Liked." No, not really: a botanist may have to set me straight on this one, but I think the marijuana leaf is a little misleading; hemp is the fiber that is cultivated from the stem of certain cannabis plants -- but not the psychoactive variant. That's why chewing on your hemp bracelet at summer camp never got you high -- and this bar won't, either.

Hanf Natur: Canalade Hemp Chocolate
Cocoa content: 33%
Notable ingredients: hempseed (peeled and roasted)
Origin: n/a

Where to begin? Let's start with: since when do people eat hemp? Apparently health-food people eat it all the time. It contains all the amino acids, plus some calcium and iron. It gets ground up into meal, and incorporated into soy products, milk alternatives, and nut butters. And apparently, the hemp food market is big enough that there is such a thing as "Europe's biggest hempfood producer" -- and, guess what -- it's Hanf Natur.

It's a German company that, I gather from their website, also makes cosmetics and accessories from hemp. They distribute primarily in Germany, the UK, and Ireland -- I got this bar at Evergreen in Galway, Ireland. Some of the company's food products are hard to imagine -- hemp pasta? Hemp marzipan? But after trying this bar, I would probably venture to try all those things.

It took me a couple days to figure out what I tasted in this bar. First, let me suggest its constitution. It's a thick, chewy, melty bar of milk chocolate -- no snap to speak of, which is excused if the chocolate is sufficiently creamy -- with peeled, roasted hempseeds distributed evenly and plentifully throughout. You can see them with your naked eye, and you can feel them on your tongue as soon as the chocolate begins to melt. They're pleasant to eat -- small and soft and chewy, but not crunchy.

But back to the taste. I thought at first that I tasted almonds, but I knew there was more to it than that. I realized later that they reminded me actually of these little sesame candies that I used to buy at a Japanese market in Porter Sq. -- Cambridge, MA. They were these little neat bricks of sesame seeds adhered with something sweet, maybe honey. They had a sweet but distinctly earthy, roasted taste, which is exactly how this bar tasted. It was entirely delicious and novel.

I haven't the energy to go looking for the links between sesame and hempseeds, but I will note that Hanf Natur, on its website, advertises a black sesame product. For its uniqueness but even moreso for its delicious flavor, I award this bar an A.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Lindt: Irish Coffee

The reason -- the sole reason -- I bought this bar was because I'm not sure if you can find it in the United States. In any case, it's distinctly Irish! I didn't even really know what Irish coffee was until after I bought the bar. Someone I was with ordered one this past weekend. It's basically just hot coffee mixed with Irish whiskey and a bunch of sugar and cream. It's a dessert cocktail, I think. I had no expectation that I would like this bar, and that lack of expectation was sadly confirmed -- it was nasty! But it merits discussion, as all bars do.

Lindt: Irish Coffee
Cocoa content: 30%
Notable ingredients: whiskey and coffee
Origin: n/a

I'm not sure if I've ever blogged about a Lindt bar with fillings before. I don't just mean ingredients, but rather liquid fillings that are actually poured into and contained by the chocolate casings. These bars are usually too sweet and messy for me, and the actual quality of the chocolate is totally immeasurable. Still, I've found that Ghirardelli does a pretty good job with it -- mostly because they don't use very much filling.

The Lindt bars are not composed merely of squares containing fillings -- the squares are more like capsules, flimsy chocolate edges around a bulging, dome-like chocolate container. There's really not much chocolate to be had here, and a whole lot of Irish coffee. You couldn't even bite halfway through one of the pieces without releasing globs of the filling that would then slide down your chin.

And as for the filling, it was just as you'd expect -- sickly sweet, unpleasant in texture, and overflowing with some weird, unidentifiable gelling agent. This was all very disgusting but, as I said, expected. Curse you, McCambridge's of Galway! D+.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Cocoa Bean Chocolate Co.: Sea Salt

Lol lol lol yes, all laughs aside, obviously I did not take this picture because I'm not one to waste money on the cuteness of little/big pairs. I could complain more about the internet in Ireland but you know how that goes. Instead, let's talk about the wonders of chocolate bars. This week's theme: Under the Sea.

Cocoa Bean Chocolate Co.: Sea Salt
Cocoa content: 53%
Notable ingredients: flaked Maldon sea salt
Origin: n/a

Cocoa Bean Chocolate Co. is a pretty adorable-looking company run by two sisters from Limerick. They started making this stuff in their kitchen, basically, a few years ago, and have since set up in County Kerry (southern Ireland) to manufacture. They have some really wacky flavor combinations, which we'll hopefully see more of in the coming months. I got this bar at McCambridge's in Galway, which is a terrific specialty foods store comparable to Formaggio and Cardullo's, both in Cambridge, MA.

I've had varying degrees of luck with my sea salt bars on this blog: Nirvana was way too salty, Vosges was just right (see salt entries here.) It's a tricky balance to achieve and it can taste like a supermarket cookie if the cocoa content is too low. I think this bar did a fabulous job and could even have been a few shades milkier, as Vosges's salt bar was. The snap here was really great, and the bar broke smoothly and cleanly -- no air bubbly inconsistencies here, which is impressive for such a small company.

You'll be seeing a lot more chocolate from McCambridge's on this blog -- they have a great selection of local things. I may have been wrong about Ireland's chocolate skills after all! This bar gets an A-.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wilde Irish Chocolates: Hazelnut Duet

Just so everyone knows -- anyone who has ever doubted my technical capabilities -- I just learned enough HTML to put this image up WITHOUT use of the image button. Now that you know, let's get back on topic: Chocolates -- which ones have I known?

I bought this bar, pleasantly titled "Hazelnut Duet," in the gift shop at the Cliffs of Moher, in County Clare, Ireland. This is the height of artisan chocolate, people. Wilde Irish Chocolate's bars are entirely handmade, and they do it all right in County Clare! They even employ "decorators" who do things like sprinkle the hazelnut bits onto the chocolate bar. The company consists of but four full-time staff. We're lucky to have known their product.

Wilde Irish Chocolates: Hazelnut Duet
Cocoa content: 33%
Notable ingredients: chopped hazelnuts and hazelnut cream swirl
Origin: oddly, they won't say

So, as you can roughly make out, half of this bar was sprinkled with chopped roasted hazelnuts, and half was swirled with a hazelnutty cream, not unlike that found in the Kinder Bueno bar but perhaps a little paler. Let me tell you: I took immense pleasure in the chopped hazelnut half of the bar, and moderate pleasure in the other half.

Here's what I liked: the milk chocolate was extremely melty, so when I placed a square of the chopped hazelnut half of the bar in my mouth, the chocolate would melt and filter through the maze of hazelnut bits, which I would then savor. That was a delight heretofore unknown. The chocolate was good, but not out of this world. Frankly, a Cadbury Dairy Milk bar probably has better flavor and consistency. But the kind of hazelnut piece texture that I enjoyed here could never have been done by a machine in a Cadbury factory -- the pieces were literally dropped onto one side of the bar! Technology tries so hard to integrate ingredients with the distributive equality of a Jackson Pollock splatter painting. Maybe they're better left on the surface -- sometimes?

This bar's grade is slightly inflated for quaintness. B+.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Blake's: Dark Truffle Chocolate w/ Cocoa Nibs

As you can probably tell, the Irish chocolate bars have been slowly trickling in as I familiarize myself with Galway and its offerings. I got this bar -- which is made by one of the original 14 tribes of Galway -- at a health food market called Evergreen. It's no Whole Foods (e.g. there's no ICELANDIC representation) or anything but they have some things that will keep my occupied in the coming weeks.

Blake's: Dark Truffle Chocolate w/ Cocoa Nibs
Cocoa content: 55%
Notable ingredients: roasted nibs
Origin: Dominican Republic

This bar was of immediate interest to me on three levels: its cocoa content is in the dark milk range, it has roasted cocoa nibs, which I love, and thirdly: it's made of truffle chocolate! I'd never had such a bar, and when I really think of it, I'm not too sure what truffle chocolate is. I know what chocolate truffles are, though, so we'll go from there.

Truffles are basically just chocolate ganache encased in hard chocolate. This was no truffle insofar as there was no distinct filling within the chocolate casing. But the inside was definitely kind of soft and creamy, much moreso than other chocolates with more than a 35% cocoa content. It tasted like a subtle, slightly firmer ganache, which melted easily but didn't explode with liquidy filling; nor did the ganache settle in one half of the chocolate casing, as truffle contents often do.

As for the roasted nibs, they were plentiful and provided a perfect crunchy accompaniment for the -- we'll call it ''ganache.'' Nibs are always great to have around unless they're too big, but these ones were perfectly small and crunchy, enhancing without overwhelming the creaminess. I thoroughly enjoyed this bar and hope to try more of Blake's chocolates.. this one gets an A-.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Butler's: Butterscotch

As you can probably tell, I did not take the above picture -- that's right, I did not arrange a cascading pile of Butler's butterscotch milk chocolate pieces in front of the box against a white backdrop. Basically, the internet in Ireland is a crap-shoot and I can't consistantly upload photographs onto this website -- unless they're from the internet? Go figure. Anyway, I got this bar from a Butlers chocolate shop in Galway. Let's discuss.

Butlers: Butterscotch
Cocoa content: Unlisted -- I'm guessing 30%
Notable ingredients: butterscotch pieces
Origin: n/a

The Irish -- actually, Europeans in general, I think -- are obsessed with butterscotch. It pops up everywhere -- even in a Green & Black's bar that isn't available in the States to my knowledge. It's been so interesting, spending enough time here to learn about the different kinds of flavors that do well in one part of the world and are (comparatively) unpopular in another. Like butterscotch, for instance -- I can't think of many popular candies in the states that make use of it. Even the butterfinger bar is more of a crispy butterscotch alternative than the real thing.

Butterscotch is pretty tasty, if a bit low-brow. It's made mostly with brown sugar and butter -- nothing wrong with that -- but it gets very sticky and gummy pretty fast once in your mouth, and it hardens onto your teeth like no other. Taste and texture-wise, it's pretty similar to honeycomb, which is another popular flavor over here.

Butlers is a nice chocolate company, and one of the few purely Irish chocolate companies I've come across. They started in Dublin in 1932, as I gleaned from their website. Anyway, this is a really nice tasting milk chocolate, sort of on par with a Ghirardelli bar with filling -- only slightly better than Cadbury, which has a Hershey-like monopoly here on bars. The butterscotch chunks, however, I took a slight issue with. This is really the kind of candy that needs to be subtly integrated into a chocolate, or else it overwhelms the milk texture. The pieces were big enough to get all stuck in my teeth, which made the overall bite more difficult to enjoy. Still, the prevalence of butterscotch flavoring in this country intrigues me, and I'm sure I'll be back for more -- probably to sample the Green & Black's bar soon. I give this bar a B.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Cadbury: (Dairy Milk) Turkish

I'm approaching my third week spent in Europe (this time around, at least) and I'm wondering why I didn't pounce upon all the chocolate I saw in France and Germany. It's not that Ireland doesn't have chocolate, and it's not that I've exactly looked hard yet, either, but in my limited search I have found little other than Cadbury.

It's not really a bad thing, because Cadbury is delicious. But it might mean that this blog will see a lot of Cadbury in the coming months. That, and Nestle, too. And maybe once I get my bearings about me, I'll find a health food store or a more upscale food shop where they sell more unusual things. For now, I'll just have to deal with same old delicious Cadbury bars.

Cadbury: (Dairy Milk) Turkish
Cocoa content: 21%
Notable ingredients: Turkish delight jelly*
Origin: n/a

*Turkish delight jelly. What is it? Well, we'll start with: what is Turkish delight? Turkish delight is (usually) small cubes of thick, firm, sugary jelly, dusted with sugar and often flavored with lemon or nut flavors. It does indeed come from Turkey, but is now equally popular throughout all of continental Europe. If you've eaten it before, you probably ate it out of a tin.

Now this chocolate filling, of course, is not the same dense jelly dusted with sugar. This is a softer, more melty jelly that is engineered as a filling for the chocolate casing as opposed to a stand-alone confection to be held between the fingers and bitten into. And basically, I've determined that the jelly here is entirely sugar and emulsifiers. It's just gooey, pink sugar. It has a slightly medicinal taste, like the good cough syrup -- the light pink one?

And the chocolate is delicious. It's creamy, thick, and melty -- never chalky or stale. I have to give this bar a mediocre grade because of the creepiness of the Turkish jelly, but for a bar of this ambition the chocolate sure is good. B-.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ritter Sport: Voll Erdnuss

Oh my goodness, FINALLY. You have no idea how long it took me to get this janky Galwegian computer to upload my image of this beautiful German candy bar. I know that there is plenty of interesting, unique chocolate in Germany but I thought it would be fitting to choose a Ritter bar for two reasons:
1. Ritter Sport is German!
2. Voll Erdnuss -- peanuts -- is not sold in the US to my knowledge!
Here is the basic info.. and by the way, I'm so glad to be back on Chocolates I Have Known:

Ritter Sport: Voll Erdnuss
Cocoa content: 30%
Notable ingredients: peanuts
Origin: n/a

Peanuts, I think, are a really American thing to add to your candy bar. I might venture to say, actually, that peanuts are a very American thing in general -- is that right? Ritter seems to think so, since the description on this bar reads ''with American peanuts.'' See how much crazy German I picked up while in Berlin last week?

So I'm guessing the reason that this bar hasn't extended to the American Ritter market is that there are already so many divine, remarkably well-engineered peanut candy bars out there already: Snickers, Reese's Cups -- you know.

So from my perspective as someone who enjoys peanuty American candy bars on the reg, this was sort of nothing special. Of course the chocolate here was better than usual -- a Lindtesque, creamy mid-percentage milk, but the peanuts didn't blow my mind. Of course, I enjoyed it very much as I always do a Ritter bar. It has such a delightful, thick, snacky quality to it, and they don't skimp on the mix-ins.

As many of you know, I'm now in Ireland. My internet situation is improving by the day and should be completely restored by the time the term starts -- Monday! And, just so you know, I've already bought and tasted something else, something totally wacky. Await it! In the meantime, I award this fair bar a B.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Dear Readers

Dear Readers, hello!

I know it's been a while since I've talked chocs with you, but I wanted to let you all know that just this afternoon I made a purchase in an Asian deli in the Mitte district of Berlin. The guy told me: "ein Euro" and I didn't really understand him but in the end it worked out.

So, expect to see a review of that very soon! Internet is inconsistent but within a few days I'll be all settled in Ireland.

Guttentag. Thank you all.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Note

Tomorrow I'm flying to Europe and I'll be there -- mostly in Ireland but also in France and Germany -- until late December. The blog should continue on its regular schedule although there might be a slight delay initially. Let me know if you've had great bars over there that you can't find here...

Also, the post below is new as of today. Read on.

Vere: Banana & Macadamia Nut

This bar was bequeathed to me by my friend Molly of All or Nothing Thinking. It was purchased at Integral Yoga Institute's natural foods store in the West Village. In case you can't read the little label sticker, it says "buy a bar get this one free" -- THANKS A LOT. But seriously, I was highly intrigued to receive a bar the make of which I had yet to encounter. And furthermore -- banana? macadamia nut? Be still my heart. This bar had a lot going on:

Vere: Banana & Macadamia Nut
Cocoa content: 75%
Notable ingredients: bananas, macadamia nuts
Origin: Ecuador

This is the first bar that, as far as I've noticed, bills itself as vegan in the nutritional information. Soy lecithin is an ingredient, and I'm pretty sure I've seen that in other bars that didn't call themselves vegan before. I'm not sure if this bar is any different from other bars that I've had that contain soy lecithin but don't call themselves vegan, so I won't attribute any of its missteps to that label. Not that there's anything wrong with veganism, but I think most of us can agree that vegan confections often leave something to be desired.

I'm not sure why banana seemed so great to me as an ingredient. Upon actually eating this bar, I realized that it's the texture of the banana that so lends itself to chocolate -- not as much the flavor, although that works too. But when the flavor is totally separated from the texture, and as subtly represented as it is here, the usually winning companionship doesn't really do it for me. And the macadamia nuts -- where were they? I can't stand bars that have pulverized the mix-ins so much that they don't interrupt the consistency of the blend. I like things with mass -- chunks, slivers, halves, wholes, drops, crumbs, slices -- I like those things.

But my real qualms with the bar are twofold: the texture is heavily aerated, almost crackly upon biting, which leaves it with no real snap to speak of. And the taste confirmed my fears about many single origin bars: that they will be too bitter, too acidic, really too showy and authentic to actually be enjoyable. This bar could have used some better conching and -- hey, how about a banana chip or three? 

Although I acknowledge with curiosity that at least two people who have tasted this bar thought it was excellent, I can't betray my heart. I give it a C-.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Vosges: Goji Bar

I realized a couple of weeks ago that I had yet to review a Vosges bar on this website and thought about how embarrassing it would be if people thought I hadn't tried this fancy bar. BEEN THERE, done that, of course, but it's definitely time I wrote a word or two about Vosges since everyone seems to encounter it sometime or other in a Whole Foods and remark about the funny flavors. This bar was, comparatively, low key:

Vosges: Goji Bar
Cocoa content: 41%
Notable ingredients: goji berries, pink Himalayan salt
Origin: n/a

Vosges is tuned into the aesthetic of chocolate, as evidenced by their directions for how to optimize sensory experience, on the back of each bar: See, Smell, Snap, Taste, Feel -- these are some of the non-FDA evaluated ways to approach such fine chocolate as this. The website takes it a little too far, maybe, recommending yak cheese as an accompaniment and likening the taste of the goji to plum and currant -- (not quite.)

Vosges consistently has an excellent snap and mouth feel as well as an artful composition and proportional blending of flavors -- for reference, other Vosges bars I've enjoyed are Calindia and Black Pearl, containing cardamom/walnuts/plums and ginger/wasabi/sesame, respectively. So you can see how this bar has turned it down a notch.

The taste is great, and while the berries don't exactly deliver on their plum-esque promise, their usual dirt-like taste is undetectable here. The salt is perfect, balancing the sweetness of the chocolate as well as the earthiness of the berry, and while it's certainly strong it doesn't overpower the cocoa flavor. The one textural complaint I had was that the goji berries got stuck in my teeth -- and not just my teeth, but the teeth of my guests, and that's something I can't excuse. 

So, with that in mind, I award this bar an A-

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Perugina: Peperoncino

I just navigated the entire Perugina website in Italian in order to learn about this bar -- yes, yes, I know about Google Translate, but for some reason it didn't work on this site no matter how many times I tried! So, please excuse some lapses in information. Anyway, the facts:

Perugina: Peperoncino (The NERO Collection)
Cocoa content: unlisted -- or hidden in Italian somewhere on that website
Notable ingredients: chili pepper -- or "estratto di peperoncino"
Origin: n/a

This is now the third spicy bar I'll have reviewed on this blog. I'll compare it to the others in two categories: the quality of the chocolate independent of the chili, and the interplay of the chili and chocolate flavors. I don't know the cocoa content of this bar and it's hard to estimate because it was really dark and snappy but surprisingly sweet: I would guess, roughly, that it's about 65%. The bar had remarkably good texture, especially for one that was so tasty. Usually when a bar snaps as cleanly as this, it's 80% or over, and totally devoid of sweetness. This bar was sweet in very much the same way as the Lindt bar that I tasted earlier: sugary to an almost milky -- though still pleasing -- degree, with a strong, balanced wave of spice following the initial few chews. 

It's a good thing, as far as I'm concerned, to think, upon biting into a chili chocolate bar: "does this really contain chili?" The best spicy chocolates taste completely unspiced until the bar has started to melt a little bit in your mouth -- say 5 chews or 5 seconds -- and I say that for two reasons.
1.) It lets you really get a feel for the chocolate before the spice distracts you.
2.) It gives you a chance to develop the sugary taste to the extent that it can balance out the spice -- which, here at least, is really strong!

This was really good, and comparable to the Lindt chili bar in every way. So, I'll give it the same grade: B+.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Christopher Norman Chocolates: Hazelnut Gianduja

My mom bought this for me at a Whole Foods in New Jersey. I had never heard of gianduja but she apparently had. It's basically a thick, creamy hazelnut butter -- but not quite a hazelnut cream. We'll discuss this at length below -- first, the basics:

Christopher Norman Chocolates: Hazelnut Gianduja
Cocoa content: unlisted*
Notable ingredients: hazelnut butter
Origin: n/a

* The exact percentage of cocoa solids is unlisted, but the website says that the shell is dark chocolate and the filling -- the gianduja -- is blended with dark and milk chocolates. 

I've known hazelnuts in many different ways. Widely recognized as a natural companion for chocolate, hazelnuts take various forms so as to blend in. In my encounters with hazelnuts I've found them whole, chopped, slivered, creamed, creamed and blended with chocolate, or creamed and formed into a stiff, dense mass, such as this gianduja.

I've never met a hazelnut I didn't like, but I've definitely met some hazelnuts that blew my mind and some that just sated me. This manifestation would be an example of the later -- sure, it was delicious, but only because it had hazelnuts in it. Hello! I've said it before and I'll say it again: nothing really beats the Kinder Bueno. I can also say, pretty confidently, that hazelnut creams taste more delicious than hazelnut butters.

Why? It's definitely a mouth melt thing. Bite into a section of a Kinder Bueno bar and you can extract the creamy hazelnut content with your tongue with but a flicker -- it glides into your mouth and coats your tongue just as the chocolate casing starts to melt.. but this is getting disgusting. For having missed an opportunity for superior mouth melt, I award this bar a B-.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Vivani: Dark Chocolate with Espresso

Michael found this bar somewhere in Brooklyn. I had seen this brand once or twice in fancy bodegas, and had been recommended it by a friend months ago, but I'd never tried one until now. Now that I've known it, we have a lot to discuss. First, the stats:

Vivani: Dark Chocolate with Espresso
Cocoa content: 68%
Notable ingredients: espresso
Origin: n/a

I lied: we don't have that much to discuss. I was sceptical of this bar from the very beginning because I'm not one for coffee flavored things. It proved to be pretty tasty, but not so tasty that I'd go seeking other coffee-infused chocolates in the future. Maybe, though, I would give other Vivani bars a try -- they make orange-, lemon-, green tea-, and ginger-infused bars in addition to this espresso bar and a couple of plain darks.

Don't you hate it when people say "expresso?" Have you ever seen the letter X in an Italian word? This bar had sensible, roughly square inch-size pieces and a pleasing snap especially considering that it's not especially dark (and thus, as we've learned, brimming with cocoa butter.) And I can say, to this bar's credit, that the espresso flavor was at least very consistent, and not overwhelming. But this bar loses points with the wrapper because, what is that -- a person holding a big bar of chocolate with a head? I don't know. I don't know.

One thing definitely worth checking out is Vivani's website, which demonstrates in detail the process of chocolate making and organic chocolate farming. What it lacks in attractive web-design it makes up for in informational videos. This bar gets a B.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Fine & Raw: 83%

This bar was given to me by my cousin Margaret, of Margaret Are You Grieving? Fine & Raw is a small company in Brooklyn. We will discuss what "raw" means. First, the stats:

Fine & Raw: 83%
Cocoa content: 83%
Notable ingredients: agave
Origin: Ecuador

The raw food movement is an eating/lifestyle trend that emphasizes uncooked -- or very lightly cooked -- foods for health reasons. But there's also a sort of snobbery to raw foodism, because uncooked and unprocessed foods are "close to the earth," and usually pretty expensive. Raw chocolate is no different, really: Fine & Raw uses ambiguous "artisan low heat techniques" and they avoid additives like dairy and sugar. They skip the conching process, which improves the creamy texture of chocolate. 

Again, Fine & Raw doesn't add sugar -- by which I mean cane, or corn syrup, or anything like that. They do use a natural sweetener called agave nectar, which is kind of like honey and is popular among vegans because it comes from a plant rather than an insect. Agave tastes pretty much like any other sweetener, especially here because it is in such a small amount.

This chocolate really wasn't that fabulous because the point of raw food isn't taste or indulgence. This would be of more interest to people who are really excited by organic candy and cooking processes that interfere with the ingredients as little as possible. In my case, I'm not so concerned with those things because at the end of the day, all I want is to have known delicious chocolates. This bar's rating gets bumped up slightly for the pretty packaging, to a B.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Selvaticas: Jaina (White Chocolate)

I decided, just this once, to extend the critical invitation to white chocolate, that buttery solid entirely bereft of cocoa solids. White chocolate is, you know -- I don't need to say it, but Not Real Chocolate. It contains cocoa butter as opposed to cocoa solids, which basically means it's composed of a byproduct rather than a pure bean product. Selvaticas makes it really confusing because they say this bar is 31%. All will be explained below. In the meantime, stats:

Selvaticas: Jaina
Cocoa content: 0%*
Notable ingredients: n/a
Origin: n/a

* So, as you can see from the picture, this bar boasts "31% cocoa." This is really misleading: when cocoa beans are harvested, they are roasted and removed from the shell, and eventually liquified, a process by which two end products are made: one is cocoa solid, which is the pure chocolate ingredient and the source of the taste that you identify with chocolate, and the other is cocoa butter, a fatty byproduct that is used to smooth out flavor and provide a milky texture. So, as I gleaned from Selvaticas's website, this bar is 31% cocoa butter -- not cocoa.

I have had limited contact with white chocolate in the past. I've definitely had my share of golden-wrapper Lindt truffles, I used to be addicted to Hershey's Cookies 'n' Cream bar, and I still love peppermint bark, which has at least a layer of white chocolate. But I've never really been into upscale white chocolate bars, so I'm not sure what good white chocolate is supposed to taste like.

I guess, if Selvaticas's "Jaina" is any indication, white chocolate is one of those things that doesn't get better the more you pay for it. The white chocolate experience seems to cap off at Lindt truffles: they taste buttery and creamy without being so sweet that the back of your throat dries out. Jaina had too much going on: the cocoa butter was so thick and overwhelming that this tasted almost more like solid cream cheese than chocolate. There was no snap to speak of, but instead a kind of thick, mucky chew. And the amount of sugar was truly overwhelming: 32 grams in the entire bar, compared with, for example,  a comparably sized Dagoba bar containing just 7 grams. Of course white chocolate needs to be made with extra sugar so as to sweeten the cocoa butter, but this was like butter frosting. I'm not feeling it, so this is probably the last time you'll see a white chocolate bar appear here. C-.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Chocolate Bar: Raspberry Jam

I got this at the same chocolate store I was talking about last week -- Chocolate Bar -- but this one is actually from Chocolate Bar, whereas the dreaded rose water bar came from Chocopologie and was merely distributed out of Chocolate Bar. This is a really cute place that I recommend everyone go to. Here is the info:

Chocolate Bar: Raspberry Jam
Cocoa content: 65%*
Notable ingredients: raspberry filling
Origin: n/a

* The bar doesn't indicate cocoa content and the website doesn't, either. The woman behind the counter told me that 65% is standard for their dark chocolate bars. 

I'm loving the packaging. As far as Chocolate Bar's selection goes, this was one of the simpler bars. Many were crowded with mix-ins: rum, banana cream, marshmallows. Some of it looked appealing but I opted for this one out of preference for a simple, dependable combo. 

The truth is, a few things went wrong with this bar. Firstly, I let it sit on my desk over a stretch of sweltering days, so it got a little soft. Being filled with jam, it was already hard to break along the perforations: one mis-snap and the jam would ooze through the cracks. What with the heat-induced softness, breaking this bar proved to be a pretty messy endeavor.

Furthermore, the jam just wasn't that great. I was hoping for sweetness, tartness, maybe even seeds. Instead I got a gummy, bland puree of corn syrupy fruit filling. It tasted not so much of raspberry as of some generic, indistinct Smucker's. As for the chocolate, I didn't feel that it was so great either. Maybe Chocolate Bar is the kind of place where you want to stick to the truffles and the drinkables. I'm not ruling it out yet, but so far everything I've gotten there has been only ok at best, and deplorable at worst. B-.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Knipschildt Chocolatier: Rosewater

In case anyone is confused, this bar is made by Knipschildt Chocolatier, who owns and distributes from his chocolate bar in Norwalk, CT: Chocopologie. You don't have to go there to buy his products though -- you can order them online or buy them in some stores in Manhattan. My cousin got this for me at Chocolate Bar on 8th avenue. Here is the basic information:

Knipschildt Chocolatier: Rosewater
Cocoa content: 80%
Notable ingredients: rose water
Origin: Ghana

This would be the fourth single origin bar on the blog, and second from Ghana. This fact, coupled with the fact that it's rose flavored, made me pretty intrigued. Rose water has always been a favorite.. flower-petal-oil by-product of mine. I routinely spray it on my body and when I was younger I used to make my own (kind of) by boiling roses in a big pot of water. I've seen it used at times in pastries and desserts, usually to pleasant effect. 

Which is why I'm disappointed to report that this bar was unspeakably repugnant. Not only that, but it threw off my whole week: after the initial tasting, on Saturday night, I had about 3 oz. of chocolate remaining and absolutely no desire to go near it. Being that it was too soon to start the next bar in my lineup, I had to resort to other, lesser indulgences -- e.g. cookies -- to bide my time.

Chocolate just wants nothing to do with rose water -- and probably all flower-petal-oil by-products, I would guess. Cookies, ice creams, tea, maybe, but the strong flowery taste was way too much for the delicate, earthy muddiness of this single origin 80%. The sensation of chewing on flower petals was only exacerbated by the natural acidity of very dark chocolate. This tasted like some disgusting cross between soil and solid perfume. Never again. D-.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Dagoba: Lemon Ginger

This is the first time I'm updating the blog from Massachusetts. I tried to update the other night but my internet has been really slow lately, presumably because of MJ? Anyway. This bar appealed to me for two simple reasons: lemon confections are good, and ginger is good. A lot of people apparently balk at the idea of lemony chocolate. It didn't sound so gross to me, though. Discuss? Here is the information:

Dagoba: Lemon Ginger
Cocoa content: 68%
Notable ingredients: lemon; crystallized ginger
Origin: n/a

Dagoba, it seems, has been adding a lot of new bars into the mix recently. I've had quite a few: chile blend, lime, lavender, all sorts of berries, etc; in fact, I now recall thinking it was weird that they had combined lime with chocolate, because it seems like too acidic and sharp a flavor to go with the earthiness of dark chocolate. Lemon didn't strike me that way, probably because I'm much more used to lemon desserts than lime ones.

But this stuff never became a problem, because I barely tasted any lemon over the course of 4 nights I spent eating this bar. I have a possible explanation though: I've had a cold this week, and haven't really tasted any subtle flavors in a few days. I know it's unfair to Dagoba to subject their product to my criticism under these circumstances, but I've such a line-up of chocolate that I couldn't really take a week off.

Anyway, I'll have to base my conclusions about this bar on what I did taste, which was just ginger. That was nice, but certainly no different from other ginger bars that I've had. I also had a complaint about the perforations on a Dagoba bar. For some reason it never bothered me before, but I just hate it when I can't break off pieces evenly for my friends to try. These individual pieces are sectioned in long, thin strips across the width of the bar. It was nearly impossible to break along the lines, especially as the bar got smaller. For a relatively good ginger/chocolate blend, I award this bar a B.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Noi Sirius: 56%

Iceland, as you may have heard, has recently fallen on hard times amidst the current financial crisis -- the New York Times recently declared the nation bankrupt. But they're definitely doing something right, because this bar was delicious. I bought it at a Whole Foods in West Orange, NJ. $4 for 7 ounces, which isn't half bad. Here is the basic information:

Noi Sirius: 56%
Cocoa content: 56%
Notable ingredients: n/a
Origin: n/a (no, they don't grow cocoa beans in Iceland.)

I had seen this bar a number of times at my local Whole Foods, but hesitated to buy it for a couple of reasons. One, it has a 56% cocoa content and calls itself "bittersweet," which isn't my favorite, and Two, it's really big. I know I don't often list the weight of my chocolate bars here, but the average is about 3 oz. This bar, which actually consists of two thin, broad bars stacked together and wrapped in wax paper, comes in at 7 oz., more than twice as much as your typical Chocolove bar and almost thrice as much as a Dagoba! Thanks for the bounty, Iceland. 

I know bigger is better when it comes to candy, but I wasn't totally confident in this chocolate and I didn't want to buy a big hunk of it just to see it go to waste. Thankfully, I took the chance. Much to my surprise, this bar was utterly delicious. It's sweet, snappy, earthy, and surprisingly light. I haven't even gotten through the first half yet, so I'm thinking I might use the second half for baking once I move on to my next bar. Lucky for me, Noi Sirius has included a recipe for coconut muffins on the back of the wrapper! I found this bar to be delightful in every way, so I'm awarding it an A.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Taza: Salted Almond

My friend Hannah bought this bar (circle? round?) for me at an adorable store in the East Village called Barnyard Cheese Shop. I'm familiar with Taza because they're from Somerville, MA, and they used to sell their products at the Lexington farmer's market. They also make bars and little chocolate-covered cocoa nibs, which are delicious. Here is the info:

Taza: Salted Almond
Cocoa content: unlisted -- my guess is 60%
Notable ingredients: California almonds; kosher salt
Origin: Dominican Republic

Note: Taza doesn't advertise this as a single origin chocolate, but given how infrequently I taste single origins, I'll settle for a loose definition. These beans are strictly Dominican, so it counts here. 

The most distinctive thing about Taza is that they use the outdated method of stone grinding to process their chocolate from bean to bar. Basically, contemporary chocolate makers use steel refiners to grind up the beans cleanly and without imperfection, whereas Taza uses grinders made of actual stone. Thus, as you can imagine, the product is grainier and full of unground bits -- cocoa, salt, sugar, whatever -- and that is the signature Taza texture. 

Now, this blog has not lacked for almond discussions of late. We've touched on almond chunks, almond slivers, marzipan, and other manifestations -- I have known them all. But this chocolate is different because here the almonds were not added to the cocoa mixture; rather, they seem to have been ground in the stone mill along with the beans. I say this because there are no chunks of nut in the bar; there is a vaguely nutty taste that is just barely detectable as such amidst the grainy chaos: almond, cocoa, salt crystals, sugar crystals. If this was a blog about pretzels, this entry would cover the irresistible teaspoon of pure salt and flour at the bottom of the bag.  

I know from past experiences with Taza that I like the stone ground texture of pure cocoa and sugar. I absolutely love their 70% dark bar, for example. But I feel that the practice of grinding all ingredients together has ruined the purity of the chocolate here -- this tastes like a hardened, grainy nut paste rather than a single origin cocoa. And, furthermore, I thought there was too much salt. I would undoubtedly have liked this bar better if the cocoa were stone ground, and the almonds were salted and added to the mold in slivers, to set.

To be clear, the problem here was not necessarily that it tasted bad, but that it didn't taste like chocolate to me. And it didn't taste like something altogether different but fabulous, either. As much as I've loved Taza in the past, this bar gets a C.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

MarieBelle: Aztec Hot Chocolate Bar

This daintily packaged bar was given to me by my friend Kristina (thanks girl.) She got it at MarieBelle, which is a "cacao bar/tea salon" with two locations in Manhattan -- she visited the Broome Street shop, which I have not been to. At first I mistook this bar -- the "Aztec Hot Chocolate" bar -- for a chili/cocoa blend because of its name. But in fact "Aztec" refers to the (single!) origin -- Colombia -- and "Hot" refers to the fact that this is the very cocoa blend that MarieBelle uses for its best-selling hot cocoa beverage! That's highly unique. Let's learn:

MarieBelle: Aztec Hot Chocolate Bar
Cocoa content: 60%
Notable ingredients: n/a
Origin: Colombia

Never before have I had a bar that claims to mimic the taste of hot chocolate. It's actually a great idea: we all love the sweet, rich dregs at the bottom of a mug of hot chocolate. MarieBelle has taken that mug-bottom surplus and used it to inspire a solid bar. I think that basically means there is tons of sugar in this bar. It's definitely sweeter than most 60% blends, and inexplicably fuller and richer. On their website, MarieBelle calls this blend "creamy" dark chocolate -- it's true. This bar has the tongue-coating, melty richness of a milk chocolate, with the subtle flavors of a single origin dark. And there's no bitterness, as I've experienced with other single origins -- granted, most of them have been of a higher cocoa content.

So, basically, it was utterly fabulous. It's almost not fair to include in the blog because the fact that it's supposed to compare with hot cocoa launches it out of the league of other bars. Nobody else could justify adding this much [sugar?/cocoa butter?/milk powder?/vanilla?] to a single origin and calling it chocolate. But MarieBelle is famous for their cocoa beverage, so it's actually really smart to market a solid bar impersonating it. Imchocolating it? Semantics.

The bar itself is physically really interesting -- there are not perforations, but rather it is dotted with tiny depression, pointillism-style. It looked like legos, as remarked everyone who saw the bar. This made it difficult to break off pieces evenly, but as long as the bar was room temperature I could break it along the dotted lines with reasonable precision.

I will not detract points for the fact that the Aztecs didn't live in Colombia; they lived in Central Mexico. Now that everybody knows that I just took a Mesoamerican history class, I assign this bar an A+.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Fauchon: Chocolat Noir aux Ecorces d'Oranges Confites

En Anglais: Dark Chocolate with Candied Orange Peel
I had previously thought that the French company Fauchon only made fancy preserves and jams -- now, looking at their website, I see that they make a lot of candy, too. Quelle surprise! I bought this bar at the Food Emporium chocolate shop on the Upper East Side. It was about $6.50 which is pricey for 3.5 ounces of chocolate, but still cheaper than Christopher Elbow's bars. Here are the facts:

Fauchon: Chocolat Noir aux Ecorces d'Oranges Confites
Cocoa content: 62%
Notable ingredients: candied orange peel
Origin: blend, made in Switzerland for Fauchon (French)

First things first, the packaging is beautiful and I loved the little "F" imprint on each square of the bar. The squares break off predictably but the texture is curious -- it's meatier than most, almost more like a firm, rubbery cheese. You can see a rough, fibrous pattern along the break lines where, in a purer dark chocolate, it would appear smooth and consistent. 

The bar is really tasty -- it's a lot like those whack-and-unwrap chocolate oranges that I used to get at Trader Joe's, except darker and with little morsels of candied peel. The peel is not the only orangey part, though -- the whole bar tastes citric. I would attribute that to the unusually complicated preservative in the bar, which includes "natural orange flavor."

The texture, I've decided, is a bit of a problem. I wanted it to be smoother and snappier, but instead it's kind of chewy. I'm not sure why. Maybe it's the preservative. Maybe I let it get too warm. I give this bar a B+.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ritter Sport: Marzipan

I received this bar -- a Ritter Sport bar that I'll admit I was not even aware of -- from my friend Katie. It was purchased in Livingston, NJ, I believe. You'll notice that the picture is kind of different from usual. That's because I enjoyed this bar in the midst of a picnic in Cadman Plaza Park in Brooklyn. Don't worry -- the details of said picnic will be revealed in full. First, the basic information:

Ritter Sport: Marzipan
Cocoa content: 50%
Notable ingredients: almonds
Origin: blend of cocoa from West Africa, Papua New Guinea, and Madagascar; made in Germany.

Ritter Sport calls marzipan* "the most delicious thing that can happen to an almond." I'm not so sure about that because, hello: biscotti; amaretto? But marzipan is definitely interesting and tasty, as far as nut pastes go. One thing can be sure: it appreciates the company of chocolate. It works better here than in the little fruit-shaped moldings you see behind the glass case at candy stores. 

Anyway, this bar came along on a picnic today. I had little squares of it wedged between slices of a french baguette, and Michael told me that he had never thought to eat chocolate that way. Attention: eat your chocolate with bread!! The salt in the bread brings out the cocoa flavors beautifully. Look at the pretty red wrapper. It was a delight to have known this bar.

One thing was strange: the bar was perforated normally, as all Ritter Sport bars are, but it felt really strange to break it because the marzipan was so soft and gooey. Thus the pieces broke off so easily that I thought the whole bar was melting. Luckily, it was not. Marzipan is a soft, soft confection. At the end of the day I really enjoyed this bar but I'm still not crazy about marzipan; furthermore, I think Ritter Sport can usually do better. I award this bar a B.

* Just in case anyone doesn't know what marzipan is: it's a sweet, grainy paste made up of almond meal and added sugar. I tagged it under "Nuts."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Jacques Torres: Brulee Crunch - Milk Chocolate

Whole Foods just started selling Jacques Torres chocolate, it seems. Welcome to West Orange, Jacques!! My mom bought this bar for me. In fact, I should warn you -- I expect postings to speed up for a little while because I received a great deal of chocolate recently. Brace yourselves. Here's the info on this bar:

Jacques Torres: Brulee Crunch - Milk Chocolate
Cocoa content: unlisted; my guess is 35%
Notable ingredients: butter; sugar
Origin: What do you think? Should I get rid of this category? 

Inquiring minds want to know: what is brulee crunch? What exactly is creme brulee and what does it have to do with this bar of chocolate? What are butter crunch bits? The blurb about this bar on Torres's website refers to its "barely noticeable caramel crunch." What is caramel? This bar begs a lot of questions for a piece of candy! First of all, one thing should be clear: we are dealing with the crunchy top surface of a creme brulee here, and not the custardy interior. We'll call this crunchy top the "brulee crunch." This surface is made of burnt, buttered sugar -- also known as caramelized sugar -- also known as caramel. So, brulee crunch, caramel, butter crunch bits: SAME thing, same delicious thing. 

Creme brulee, that classic tawdry delicacy. I don't like it and I never order it. I've also expressed how I feel about its cousin caramel; see here. But if you take just about anything and make it very subtle, it will probably taste good in a sea of creamy milk chocolate. And this is seriously good milk chocolate. My only complaint would be that it was a little too buttery, almost like butterscotch -- it gave me that feeling in the back of my throat that I associate with ice cream, like I really need to drink water. 

An added point of interest: this is one of the best looking chocolate bars I've seen -- not the packaging, but the actual bar itself. It looks like it was poured into a mold in which Jacques Torres's name is spelled out in raised cursive letters. It was really pretty, and then I ate it. A-.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Theo: Ghana

Ask and you shall receive! I know -- no one asked, but I've felt guilty for avoiding single origin chocolates when I am supposed to be some sort of serious chocolate eater. It's hard because when I go to Whole Foods, or Eden Gourmet, or whatever health food store I go to, I am so enticed by the bars that have delicious things mixed in. I spend about a week with each bar of chocolate, so I tend to get tired of it unless it's infused with exciting things. But I promised a single origin, so here goes:

Theo: Ghana
Cocoa content: 84%
Notable ingredients: n/a
Origin: Ghana

Single origin means that the beans were harvested from only one region -- and sometimes one farm. Most bars that I've blogged about thus far are "blends," which means that they're made from beans from a variety of different regions, blended to the taste of the maker. Most bars are blends just because the maker isn't so serious about chocolate, or isn't choosing to emphasize the artisanal process of single origin harvesting -- but some chocolatiers do blends because they're really good at it, and they want to create a product that incorporates the best of different types of beans. Bernard Castelain is a good example: his Extreme, Intense, and Tradition are all good blended bars made from American, South American, and African beans. 

Single origin is interesting, though, because there are big differences between beans grown in different climates. Blah, blah, blah. Anyway, this bar by Theo is made from beans from a number of farms in the Kumasi region of Ghana. It has a loud, pleasing snap to it, and it is completely free of air bubbles and imperfections. 

This bar was entirely distinct in a way that I think blended bars aren't -- I mean to say that it had a totally coherent flavor profile; it tasted floral and woody -- almost a little bit acidic. Fruity. It also was incredibly lightweight, probably because there was virtually no added sugar or cocoa butter. It didn't melt and coat my tongue -- it was almost chalky. So, on the one hand I thought this bar achieved what a single origin bar is supposed to, and on the other hand it didn't taste nearly as delicious as, say, Lindt: Wafer. Maybe that it obvious. I will no longer be ashamed to indulge in excessively sweet blended chocolate, whimsical in concept and busy with mix-ins. I give this bar a B.