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-.