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.