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-.