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+.