Friday, April 30, 2010

Bond St. Chocolates: Dark with Dried Cranberries & Sunflower Seeds

I bought this chocolate bar at one of the fancier chocolate shops in town -- Bond Street Chocolates, on E. 4th St. between 2nd Ave and the Bowery. Michael and I were on a whirlwind tour of the East Village's boutique chocolate shops while we were killing time before a dinner reservation. We visited Bespoke Chocolates (on Extra Pl.) first, but they were closing and had very little left in stock. Bond St. Chocolates, just a few blocks away, was similarly starting to empty out but they had a few bars left. I chose this one over a milk chocolate bar with caramelized almonds and sea salt.

Bond St. Chocolates: Dark w/ Dried Cranberries & Sunflower Seeds
Cocoa content: 72%
Notable ingredients: dried cranberries; sunflower seeds
Origin: n/a

First, let's talk about the fact that 72% seems to be the jackpot cocoa content, at least according to my taste buds and chocolate producers worldwide. I did a little math to figure out how common and how good these 72% bars are -- it's the first and last time you'll see me do math on the internet, so enjoy. Of roughly 75 entries on this blog so far, about 13 of them (or 17% of entries) cover bars between the 68-73% range. Given that the normal range of common cocoa contents is between 30% and 90%, it is notable that such a big proportion of bars would fall in a range of 5 numbers. Of those chocolates that fall in the money range, about 7 (or 54%) received a grade of B+ or above.

Bond St. has not only capitalized on a prime cocoa content, they've also heightened the perfection of 72% by matching it with sweet and roasted flavor notes. Interestingly, we've never seen dried cranberries before on this blog. They are sweet and chewy and slightly sour, but not as sour as the cherries from that nice Green & Black's bar. Cranberries are just sweet enough to balance any bitterness that occurs in high quality dark chocolate. The sunflower seeds were fine, but didn't feel deliberate. They could have been slivered almonds, and I wouldn't have known the difference. They are little pale slices of seed, with a slightly roasted taste that worked well with the chewy dried fruit.

This bar tasted really delicious, and it wasn't just thanks to the cranberries and seeds. Bond St. makes really good chocolates -- on site, I think -- and they aren't transported around the world or kept for weeks in storage boxes or anything like that. This bar was snappy, moist, naturally sweet, and smart at 72% cocoa. I know there have been a lot of these floating around lately, but I give it an A-.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Ghirardelli: Milk & Peanut Butter

Have you ever been having a bad day and just wanted some creamy, gourmet peanut butter with crunchy peanuts enveloped in rich milk chocolate (yes, I lifted that from the box description)? That's how I was feeling in CVS the other day, which is not necessarily the most exciting place to have a bad mood-induced chocolate spree. But they do carry nail polish, too -- a plus. So CVS in Bronxville, NY is where I got this bar from Ghirardelli, and where I incidentally passed up on a number of other enticing bars, such as the pistachio bar from Lindt. Don't discount CVS as a respectable place to make a chocolate purchase.

Ghirardelli: Milk & Peanut Butter
Cocoa Content: unlisted (30% is my guess)
Notable ingredients: peanut butter
Origin: n/a

What did you expect? The peanut butter and chocolate combo is a timeless delight. When I was little I used to bite the tops off of Reese's Cups and eat all the peanut butter -- flaky, pale, peanut paste, really -- out from within before finally eating the bottom layer of chocolate. This peanut butter bar had less accessibility for that kind of mischief, and the peanut butter inside each individual square was not quite so hefty and thick as that inside a Reese's Cup, but what it lacked in volume it made up for in crunchy, moist texture. Of course the peanut butter in a candy bar should be crunchy, and made with real peanuts!

But -- let's be real. Peanut butter is pretty much always delicious, as long as it isn't completely deprived of some added sugar and salt (yes, I said it.) Reese's Cups never suffered for the slightly synthetic peanut taste -- and while the chocolate in a Ghirardelli bar is certainly far superior to that manufactured by Reese's, the chocolate & peanut butter experience is always roughly the same. When someone I shared this bar with noted that it was like a glorified Reese's bar, I had to admit -- well, first I had to admit that there's no such thing as a Reese's Bar, only Cups, Stix, and Pieces, pay attention -- but also that this bar didn't actually differ from a Reese's Cup in a meaningful way. It's kind of the exact same thing.

And that's all it needed to be. It took me back to childhood for 8 crazy nights (that's how many squares there were.) And never again will I doubt CVS's ability to surprise me in new, chocolatey ways. A-.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Winnipesaukee Chocolates: Sally's Gut

This bar, which is indeed called Sally's Gut -- not Lally's Yut or Yally's Ejut, though it may appear that way -- is made by a company called Winnipesaukee Chocolates in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. They sell their product at only about 50 stores in the whole country, 48 of which are in New Hampshire (the other two are in Maine and Massachusetts.) Being the good chocolate sniffer that he is, Michael managed to find this bar at the one store in Massachusetts that sells Winnipesaukee Chocolates -- Dave's Fresh Pasta in Somerville, MA.

Winnipesaukee Chocolates: Sally's Gut
Cocoa content: Unlisted (my guess: 70%)
Notable ingredients: dried blueberries; toasted pine nuts; lemon zest
Origin: n/a

You may be wondering two things: What is Sally's Gut, and What is a Pine Nut? The answers to those questions are: a narrow waterway in New Hampshire and the edible seeds of pine trees, respectively. God only knows why Winnipesaukee Chocolates decided to name a chocolate bar after an intestinal tract (or, okay, a waterway,) but there is a lot to be said and discussed in regards to the inclusion of pine nuts.

Pine nuts, says Wikipedia, are "too small to be of great value as a human food." Unshelled, they become rancid within a few days. Sometimes pine nuts can cause a taste disturbance in the consumer up to 3 days after consumption -- this is known as "pine mouth." Despite all these downsides, pine nuts are commonly used in savory foods, especially Middle Eastern foods. My mother puts them in spinach pie. Toasted, they take a on a sweet, slightly burnt, crunchy taste. Thrown in with dried wild blueberries and a little bit of lemon, they can even be delicious. And Wikipedia said they were of little worth! I should edit that.

This bar was small and hard to break into pieces, but it was very tasty. I love me some dried fruit, and blueberries are so small that they don't interfere with bite lines or segments in anyway. I may move on from Sally's Gut in future trials of Winnipesaukee Chocolates, but I will never disrespect a pine nut again.

For putting the pine nut back on its pedestal, this bar gets a B+.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Kshocolat: Honeycomb & Vanilla

This is another aesthetically pleasing purchase from the Food Emporium Fine Chocolates shop on 68th and 3rd. I've never seen Kshocolat products anywhere else -- they're a Scottish company, and from the looks of their website they haven't extended into the U.S. very much so far. Kshocolat does some interesting flavor combinations, including lemon & pepper and orange & cardamom. They also make chocolate covered currants, chocolate covered "mint nuggets," and something called the "Party Hamper" which is really just a collection of chocolate gift items. Go figure.

Kshocolat: Honeycomb & Vanilla
Cocoa content: 30%
Notable ingredients: honeycomb
Origin: n/a

I didn't list vanilla among the notable ingredients, because it's indeed present here but notably not notable; vanilla -- and specifically bourbon vanilla -- is an ingredient in most chocolate bars these days. And of course I was drawn to this bar not for the vanilla but for the honeycomb. I haven't quite had honeycomb in a chocolate bar before, although I've had a lot of things like honeycomb: Brulee Crunch by Jacques Torres, Butterscotch by Butlers. Honey is a type of sugar that I endorse, and the textural experience indicated by "comb" can only help the situation.

This bar was definitely a success. The chocolate was dense and creamy -- not fibrous or dusty like expensive milk chocolate can sometimes be. And the creaminess was punctuated by little crispy bits of honeycomb, which appears to be a combination of honey and milk solids. It wasn't really so different from the other bars that I named above, which leads me to believe that honeycomb, butterscotch, and burnt sugar are all kind of the same thing. Discuss?

Also, though the Fine Chocolates shop at the Food Emporium still has 4-6 bars I've never tried, I have to start looking around for the next inspiring chocolate store that will keep this blog going. Let me know if you have any suggestions in New York! This bar gets an A-.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Casa Don Puglisi: Vanilla

Somebody named Don Guiseppe Puglisi has a "confectionary laboratory" in Modica, Sicily, and in this laboratory he cold-presses nasty chocolate bars and wraps them in wax paper, natural cardstock, and twine. My uncle gave me this chocolate bar, and I thought it would be delicious because the packaging is so elegant. But I've learned never to judge a chocolate bar by its cover, because what lurked beneath was a brittle, grainy mess.

Casa Don Puglisi: Vanilla
Cocoa content: 45%
Notable ingredients: n/a
Origin: n/a

In the spirit of Passover, I'll start the discussion this way: Why is this bar different from all other bars? I knew the bar had a unique texture as soon as I opened it: Don Puglisi calls it a "unique, opaque patina," and it kind of looks like little grains of chocolate are all pressed together, with nooks and crannies abound. The method Puglisi uses is called "cold pressing" -- it means that the cocoa paste is pressed with sugar granules without being heated up because apparently heating ruins the flavor of the chocolate. It's apparently an Aztec tradition, but Taza Chocolate (based in Somerville, MA) is also made in the Aztec tradition and their products are usually great -- with some notable exceptions.

Now, I should be clear about one thing. Brittle, in and of itself, is not necessarily a problem. I covet brittle dogs, and peanut brittle. The thing I didn't like about this chocolate was the graininess of it -- each bite was a crumbling mess of chocolate and sugar granules. They didn't melt, but rather loosed themselves from the bite and spread out and, in the process, made it difficult to determine a coherent flavor. Without any sort of creaminess to the texture, the acidity of the chocolate is unpleasant and all the little particles are uncomfortable.

All that said, this is one kind of chocolate that is made in a particular way. It's not supposed to taste like other chocolate, but that doesn't make up for the fact that it tastes and feels bad. I've known many treats, all with their own virtues, and this bar wasn't working for me. C-.