Friday, February 26, 2010

B.T. McElrath Chocolatier: Prairie Dog Chocolate Bar

I recently enjoyed a short little piece in the Spring Fashion issue of New York Magazine called "Give Me Sodium or Give Me Death" -- written by Gabrielle Hamilton, chef at Prune. She was writing about salt as a sort of response to Bloomberg's recent crackdown, and her justification of her liberal salting policies can be summed up by this line: "Salt makes everything it touches taste more like itself -- from an egg to a steak to a tomato." So, given that this bar, given to me by my friend Christopher, is basically bathed in salt, I kept Hamilton's lesson in mind throughout my week of consumption.

B.T. McElrath Chocolatier: Prairie Dog Chocolate Bar
Cocoa content: 40%
Notable ingredients: toffee, almonds, sea salt
Origin: n/a

This bar, like last week's, was made by a company in Minneapolis, Minnesota. So, yes -- that state actually does exist, and people seem to be eating chocolate there. The bar is called Prairie Dog, but it seems to have another name, sort of sheepishly printed on the side of the box: "Silky Frisky Almond Pal." I think almonds were actually the least present flavor in this chocolate -- salt being the most present and butter toffee coming in second. Salt is obviously laced throughout, but the bottom of the bar is actually dusted with gigantic, visible crystals of sea salt, such that when you put a piece in your mouth it's the first thing your tongue encounters -- unless you eat chocolate upside down, in which case stop reading because I'm not here to fuck around.

"A hint of sea salt," reads the back of the bar, in the understatement of the century. But why does salt work here so well -- and, believe me, it does -- while in other circumstances there is a thin line between perfection and excess? I think the heft of the bar in a way makes up for what could be perceived as over-salting in a thinner, more delicate bar. There's no snap to speak of: the pieces are big and chunky and basically bursting with shards of butter toffee. I approached it more as a candy bar -- kind of like a cleaned-up Butterfinger, I guess -- than as a bar of chocolate, so I really enjoyed the decadence.

Did the sea salt make the other ingredients taste more like themselves? Well, it's kind of hard to tell. Everything blended together in salty, decadent majesty. I think the reason it all held together was that the chocolate was so good and so plentiful. The state of Minnesota has fed me well this winter, and for that I'm glad to have known the Prairie Dog. A.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lindt: Peach-Apricot Yogurt

O, sweet dairy. Ours is a forbidden love. This odd bar was gifted to me by my friend Wonja, by way of her parents (thanks, everyone involved.) The peach-apricot filling, though poisonous to us chocolate lovers of the lactose intolerant variety, is actually a surprisingly pleasing accompaniment to milk chocolate. But I've got to tell you -- there's definitely something a little sketchy about this bar, because it can't really be found anywhere on the internet. There is mention of it on some blogs but not on the Lindt website, and I've certainly never seen it in stores. All the information I have, I've gathered from the wrapper.

Lindt: Peach-Apricot Yogurt
Cocoa content: Unlisted (milk)
Notable ingredients: peach, apricot, yogurt
Origin: n/a

Now, I think we can all agree that cream fillings are, as a rule, a classless bunch. And pity the fool who injects vaguely fruit-flavored substances into a perfectly good chocolate bar, as we have seen here and, most notably, here. Furthermore, this isn't just a fruity, creamy filling; this yogurt has something called "crunchy apricot crispies" within, and they're like nothing you've ever encountered before.

Trashy? Yes. But also kind of obscenely delicious, or at least good enough for me to eat it for four consecutive nights despite four consecutive lactose-induced belly aches. I think it was the tanginess of the yogurt, offset by the sweetness of the milk chocolate and the peach flavor, that brought the flavor above and beyond its lowly context. And as for the apricot crispies, they weren't so strange that I couldn't appreciate their crunchy interlude in a sea of dairy. Think of them as the rich man's Fruity Pebble, but encased in a fruity yogurt, that being further encased in milk chocolate. That's a lot to think about, so I'll leave things there.

This bar gets a grade solely based on taste and texture, both of which were heightened in comparison to the not-so-impressive concept. B.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Rogue Chocolatier: Sambirano

This elegantly packaged bar was purchased for me by my cousin, whose picks in the past have been both wonderfully high and unspeakably low. Sambirano is made by a self-proclaimed "true bean to bar" company -- they're based in Minneapolis, and according to their website they were the first artisanal chocolate makers in the Upper Midwest. Everything about their bars is carefully crafted, down to the type of sugar used and the listing of recognizable notes in the flavor profiles. Do you guys like it when I talk like Padma Lakshmi? Read on.

Rogue Chocolatier: Sambirano
Cocoa content: 70%
Notable ingredients: n/a*
Origin: Madagascar
* Unless you count Tahitian vanilla.

This is the second single origin bar from Madagascar that I've had -- the first being a milk chocolate Valrhona bar I enjoyed just a few weeks ago. Being that said bar had a great deal of cocoa butter and sugar in the mix, it was hard to locate the flavors unique to Madagascaran beans. So, with Sambirano, I'm pretty much tasting this origin for the first time. It's certainly more similar to other African beans -- like those from Ghana -- and has little in common with other single origins from South America and elsewhere. Rogue actually attempts to isolate the specific flavors, which they've listed on the back: "citrus, rum raisin, toast."

This shtick might be a little snobby, but I think they're actually right -- certainly about the rum raisin part, at least. African single origin bars are always a little too acidic, and this was no exception. But does the inclusion of a "citrus" note on the back absolve Rogue of its failure to check the acidity? I don't know -- in any event, the appearance of the bar and its packaging legitimizes any artisanal, single-origin pretension: the bar was simply one long, thin, uninterrupted strip of chocolate; the lack of segmenting showcased the bar's consistency and expert use of conching, as it broke along clean, snappy lines.

I was indeed glad to have known it, and gladder still to have gotten acquainted with Madagascar via the Upper Midwest -- who would have guessed? B+.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Rapunzel: Dark Chocolate with Hazelnuts

So, obviously I didn't take this picture. I couldn't seem to get a good picture of this bar with my own camera -- partly due to the lighting in my room, but possibly also because of how ugly it is. More on that later. This bar represents my return to Westchester. Michael got it for me at the Village Natural Market in Bronxville, where I get most of my chocolate while in school. This bar seemed to be just about the last one there that I hadn't tried though, so I'm going to have to find somewhere else to shop soon. Anyway:

Rapunzel: Dark Chocolate with Hazelnuts
Cocoa content: 55%*
Notable ingredients: hazelnuts
Origin: n/a

On my bar the label says "dark." On this picture above, they call it "semisweet." I think the latter is more accurate given this cocoa content.

How did this chocolate bar get to be so busted, you ask? Honestly, I'll never understand why decent chocolate companies tend to drop the ball on wrapper design -- isn't that, like 80% of why you're buying the chocolate? And even the companies who clearly try to de-emphasize packaging in favor of highlighting some special bean-to-bar organic product aren't necessarily skimping -- minimalism can be cool, too (Fine & Raw comes to mind.)

The last time I ate an ugly bar of chocolate, it turned out to be sub-par, i.e. ugly on the inside, too. Rapunzel, in contrast, has made a pretty delicious product, and then decided to risk it all by selling it in this mess of a wrapper. I can't tell you how many times I passed this bar up because of how it looks -- true, I eventually bought it (well, indicated that I wanted it bought for me,) but I buy an unspeakable amount of chocolate compared to the average person. Its turn had to come up sometime or other.

The snap was good, the hazelnuts nicely roasted and distributed evenly and subtly throughout so as to make itself known in the texture. I wouldn't have expected a bar of this cocoa content to be so sweet, so I'm guessing they added a lot of cane sugar -- always a plus. Also, the wrapper reports that Rapunzel conches for up to 24 hours, which is allegedly a lot longer than most companies conch for.

So, I sort of feel like: if you got it, flaunt it! Let down your long hair. And hire a new graphic designer. B+.