Sunday, August 14, 2011

Bosco: Milk Chocolate

The Bosco candy company was founded in 1928 by a former physician living in Camden, New Jersey -- the county seat of Camden County, the death place of Walt Whitman, and home to much mayoral corruption and gang violence. Little is known about the Bosco company of candy manufacturers, except for the oft-repeated legend that the brand's signature chocolate syrup served as fake blood in the original shower scene in Psycho -- and even that is not quite known.

Three months ago, I was eating lunch at a restaurant around the corner from my apartment when a man in a pickle delivery truck pulled up alongside the curb and signaled to my gentleman companion, who then got up from our table and went to retrieve from this pickle deliveryman a bucket of retro chocolate for my enjoyment and potential review. This much I know.

Three months later, after many rounds of periodic (but limited) consumption, many instances of neglect (I have so much chocolate, and only so little time), and much unkind refrigeration, I had but three small squares remaining, and just this afternoon I have taken my butcher's knife to the remnants, chopped them down into a cascading pattern of chalky shards, and scraped every last bit into a silver bowl full of cookie dough. A repurposed antique.

Today Bosco makes an all-natural bar, which they probably did not feel the need to make -- or to market as such -- in 1928 -- although my guess is that in 1928, Bosco's milk chocolate bar was more natural than it is today. Who, after all, was baking with soy lecithin in 1928?

As mass-market milk chocolate bars go, this one is pretty good. It lacks that sour milk flavor that Hershey is known for -- and which, for the record, I have never found to be entirely unpleasant -- and has a nice, melty finish that betrays the high proportion of cocoa butter -- unusually high, I would guess, but I can't say for sure until those new nutrition labels come out with the graphic representation of ingredient proportions.

Until then. B.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Alter Eco: Dark Quinoa

I had big plans for this blog post -- had those plans not been derailed by graduation, employment, and an obscene heat that is entirely inhospitable to chocolate eating, this post would have arrived sometime in April -- it would have documented a curious intersection of contemporary food trends and the Exodus of the ancient Israelites -- yes, that Exodus, which Passover commemorates.

Alter Eco: Dark Quinoa
Cocoa content: 61%
Notable ingredients: rice-quinoa crisps
Origin: Bolivia

So, remember a few months ago, when the weather actually allowed for breathing and long pants, when we gathered around the table to nibble on bitter herbs and denounce chametz, a few of us were obsessed with this New Agey (and yet still, ultra Jewy) question -- is quinoa Kosher for Passover? I don't think we ever really got a definitive answer, but that question stoked my interest in this bar. And then I let it sit on a shelf for a few months. That seems to be happening a lot around here recently.

Three months later, this bar represents nothing more than another chapter in the long tradition of rice crisps masquerading as other things in chocolate bars. Given that this company -- Alter Eco Fair Trade -- actually sells plain old quinoa sourced from Bolivia in addition to chocolate, I was expecting crunchy little pseudocereals instead of these uninspired rice puffs. Ok -- granted -- quinoa rice puffs -- but still, this bar was no more distinctive than your average Nestle Crunch bar.

Next week, another selection inspired by the days of yore -- perhaps not so yore as the release of the Israelite slaves from Egypt, but pretty yore nonetheless. This guy gets a C.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Mast Brothers Factory Tour Pt. 1

I know that I'm only supposed to write about chocolate bars here, and I know that to write about anything else I risk compromising the mission--and with it, the very integrity--of Chocolates I Have Known. And I do want to write about chocolate bars, but today I've come to discuss how they are born--not their taste, nor their distinctive features, nor their hubristic missteps of design--well, maybe I will talk about those things, too.

Last week I went on a tour of the Mast Brothers chocolate factory, located on a quiet block near the waterfront in Williamsburg. This blog has Known the Mast Brothers before--it's a rather new company owned by two brothers, one formerly of Gramercy Tavern and one formerly of Jacques Torres's Manhattan factory. They make mostly single-origin chocolates, and they exclusively use organically-farmed cocoa in all of their products.

The first thing we did upon arrival at the factory was we sat as a group at a table in the front room, adjacent to the storefront area where chocolate bars, nibs, chips, and baker's bags are sold. A whimsical fellow named Ian passed around a couple of dried cocoa pods, which are the vessels that house the cocoa fruit in which the beans are lodged. He explained to us the difference between Criollo and Trinitario beans, both of which the brothers use in their product. Then he handed us hairnets and we were on our way into the factory.

Out front, behind the sales table, a few men were preparing the chocolate bars to be wrapped. After cooling into their bar-shaped molds, the chocolate bars are set on wire trays, and the men pick up each bar, wrap it in gold foil (or as our tour guide said, plainly "gold,") and sets it in a pile to later be wrapped in patterned paper by a team of volunteers. They work alongside a couple men who sort through newly arrived beans, aiming to remove stones and little bits of debris from the beans before they are processed in the factory. One time, they found a lizard's heard.

Beyond this group, the conching process takes place in a loud, hot room. The chocolate is spun with sugar in metal vats for three days, breaking down in the heat created by the friction. It spins for three days.

When it's entirely broken down, it sits and ages for a month in a second metal vat. It develops a chalky, textured patina and allegedly develops in flavor during this time. Ian said that the chocolate would taste "green" if it went straight into bars before being aged.

Upon fully aging, the chocolate is re-melted in a brief tempering process, after which it is set into chocolate bar molds, dressed with various nuts and other dressings as applicable, cooled in a refrigerator, and set on a wire tray to then be wrapped in gold foil by the gentleman out front. The birth of a chocolate bar in this factory is a thing that begins and ends on the same table.

You know from reading my previous blog posts that I have not been absolutely crazy about Mast Brothers chocolates. I taste the care and deliberateness that goes into the production of each one, but I still haven't found any of these flavors to be absolutely delicious--and sweet and forgiving--and fun--the way the best chocolate is, I think. Taking this tour, I recognized and appreciated the company's sincerity at every step of the way. They don't cut any corners and they clearly do things the way they know is the right way, with no exceptions. I like companies like that--I work for one. But maybe sometimes the "right way" is more of a romantic flourish than a studied pursuit of flavor--we are in Williamsburg here, after all. For instance, Ian told the group that just a few days earlier, the Mast Brothers had sailed in with something like 20 tons of cocoa beans from the Dominican Republic. On a sailboat. A schooner! Apparently it hasn't been done in like 70 years. Safe? No. Precedented? No. Cost-effective? Please! But romantic, right? The Mast Brothers have a vision of how things should be done, and they stick to that vision. More than ever, I wish I loved their chocolate.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Cowgirl Chocolates: Spicy Dark Huckleberry

I'm back. This time, I have a job (thus the lag in posts.) But I also have a bounty of chocolate to get through, and this being Summer (now officially,) it's all sitting in my fridge, getting chalky. So I'm determined to return to a regular blogging schedule so as to minimize the time that these beauties -- the identities of which I'll reveal in due time -- spend withering away in the icebox. This one came from Eli's of Manhattan, which has an excellent, albeit exclusively high-end, selection of bars.

Cowgirl Chocolates: Spicy Dark Huckleberry
Cocoa content: 55%
Notable ingredients: whole huckleberries; cayenne pepper
Origin: n/a

First things first: what are huckleberries? I know, so I am just playing dumb, but some of you probably haven't met this forward fruit. It's kind of like a cross between a blueberry and a currant -- and here they're left whole, dried, and encased in semi-sweet chocolate. It could almost be too strong a flavor for a chocolate like this, but it's balanced by a remarkably spicy yet well-blended dose of powdered cayenne pepper -- two bold flavors make for a surprisingly pleasant taste -- pleasant, but kind of overwrought. Like an iPad.

One thing that disappointed me was this: an excess of weird ingredients. This is something I've been thinking about a lot recently, which I'll elaborate on in a later post. Cocoa liquor, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, high fructose corn syrup, vegetable oil. What are these things doing in chocolate? In short, emulsifying, dumbing-down, and cheapening -- they make the bar more palatable and smooth, and they save money and cut corners. In my mind there's nothing wrong with these techniques as long as the flavor doesn't suffer -- but still, there's an interesting conversation to be had about sincere, old-fashioned chocolate making, and the virtues of whole foods. We'll have it.

That's all for now. Next time, a riveting behind-the-scenes look at one of this city's own chocolate factories. B+.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Byrne & Carlson: Chipotle Sea Salt Bar

I messed up again! I'm late to blog (no excuse) but also I had a nice picture of this bar with the pretty paper sleeve from Byrne & Carlson still on, but I somehow deleted it, and the actual paper sleeve, which I had saved just in case this happened, got lost while I was moving things out of my dorm room. So all I have is this picture that I didn't take -- but it does convey, I think, the salt patterns that I will address below.

Byrne & Carlson: Chipotle Sea Salt Bar
Cocoa content: 74%
Notable ingredients: chipotle, Welsh sea salt
Origin: Venezuela

My dear cousin gave this to me on Passover -- she got it in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where Byrne & Carlson is located. The company makes all of their products by hand at the shop, and sometimes they use ingredients from local sources -- like the mint from their garden in the Violet bar. This particular bar is spiced very subtly with chipotle and then sprinkled with large crystals of sea salt.

The chipotle was done well, I think -- it was just very slightly smoky, and it didn't have the strangely dry after-taste that that pepper can sometimes leave. It wasn't spicy at all -- which works here, because spice and salt would just overwhelm the high quality Venezuelan chocolate, which was very good but not especially bold.

I didn't like the way the bar was salted. The sprinkling on the under-side of the bar looks pretty, but it suffered from uneven distribution. Some bites were not very salty at all -- just smooth and subtly smoky. But some bites contained a cluster of the strong Welsh sea salt, which totally obliterated the taste of the chocolate -- not to mention the chipotle, which was entirely overwhelmed by the strength of the salt. This bar might have worked better with smaller, better integrated crystals.

Next week (if I make it to next week) -- a new-age bar with questionable Kosher-ness. This gets a B-.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Francois Pralus: Equateur

I regret that I haven't blogged in over a month. The truth is, I'm graduating from college in two short weeks, and between securing an apartment rental and tying up some end-of-semester loose ends, I've fallen behind on all kinds of things. Plus, I've been battling a really annoying cold for the past week, and I've had quite an appetite for soup but little else. Chocolate helps in times of laughter and song, and in times of heartache and sorrow -- but not really so much in times of congestion and post-nasal drip.

Francois Pralus: Equateur
Cocoa content: 75%
Notable ingredients: n/a
Origin: Ecuador

Michael got me this chocolate bar at the Murray's cheese kiosk in Grand Central Marketplace several weeks ago. Francois Pralus has appeared on this blog once before. He makes a bar from Indonesian cocoa beans ("Djakarta") which I found to be pretty delicious and well-made. Emphasis on the well-made -- these bars are extremely snappy, texturally consistent, and overall very well balanced. Equateur has a great cocoa content and just the right amount of added sugar. Like most serious single origin bars though, it's a little bit un-fun.

The new neighborhood I'm moving to has plenty of great chocolate, so I hope to find many more bars to write about. I'm just about 10 blocks away from my favorite chocolate store in New York, so the only obstacle will be time and money. These bars are expensive. Luckily, I'm well prepared for the next several weeks. I've got two beautiful, salty bars from New Hampshire, and one bar with a heretofore unseen mix-in. Let's hope I find some time to write.

This bar gets a B.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Maitre Truffout: Nuts & Raisins

This is going to be an abbreviated entry -- partly because I am tired and partly because this bar was nothing special -- just a pile of Raisinettes disguised in a chocolate bar's clothing. Oh, and there were some hazelnut shards in there, too. Nothing we haven't seen before. On to bigger and better things next week, dear readers -- let's hope.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Madecasse: Sea Salt & Nibs

Mama bought me this chocolate bar. This is a company that I've seen around for a long time but it hasn't been on the blog yet. They just recently launched this new flavor -- the sea salt & nibs bar -- and I'll try anything salt-flavored at least once.

Madecasse: Sea Salt & Nibs
Cocoa content: 63%
Notable ingredients: sea salt, nibs
Origin: Madagascar

Madecasse is different from other chocolate companies. Ok, reading that, I sound like the promotional copy on the company website, but I'm actually just going to explain what distinguishes this company from the others so bear with me. A lot of fancy chocolate companies source their cocoa from a particular region -- that's what makes a chocolate single-origin. And a lot of chocolate companies source their cocoa from Madagascar -- there have been plenty on this blog. But Madecasse actually makes the chocolate in Madagascar. Or rather, they hire people to make the chocolate and then sell it out of New York, where their company is based. This creates 4x the income for the Madagascar laborers than there would be if they were only harvesting cocoa beans, and not producing the finished product.

So it's a humanitarian bar and it's a delicious bar, too. The nibs are roasted, cut large, and clustered on the bottom surface of the bar. The sea salt is ground coarsely but is distributed sparsely enough so as not to overwhelm the texture of the chocolate or the roasted flavor of the nibs. 63% is pretty nice for a chocolate bar, but I think this bar could have gone darker to better accommodate the heft of the nibs. There was a bounty of nibs!

Finally, I love a package that you tie closed with a bit of raffia. This bar gets an A-.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Vosges: Black Pearl

Vosges has about a million bars, and this is one that I've not blogged about yet. Wonja got this bar for me at Dave's Fresh Pasta in Somerville, MA -- they sell the mini Vosges bars, which are only about 0.5 oz. Those provide a great way to taste the chocolate without paying $10 or whatever they're charging for the 3 oz. bars these days. Vosges bars are expensive but they're always good. Except when they're not.

Vosges: Black Pearl
Cocoa content: 55%
Notable ingredients: wasabi, ginger, black sesame seeds
Origin: n/a

Every Vosges bar has a little anecdote about the inspiration behind the bar's flavors. You can read these on the website. The inspiration for this bar is Japan -- wasabi is presented as the base flavor around which the rest of the bar is designed, but I actually thought the taste of ginger was most pervasive. The wasabi in this bar wasn't like the nostril-clearing hotness that you get with the actual wasabi mustard that accompanies sushi. But it had that hard-to-describe wasabi taste: vinegary and slightly sour, tasting of preservation and earthy like cabbage. Are people going to give me a hard time if I talk about umami? I'll give it a rest.

The black sesame seeds were a nice touch, too. They were left whole so they provided a little bit of toasted-tasting crunch to break up the already snappy chocolate. The only thing that I didn't love about this bar was the cocoa content. 55% seems so non-committal. Go milk or go dark -- or go home, because I shudder to think of how white chocolate would mix with wasabi.

I think the best Vosges bar I've had to date was the Naga bar, which is inspired by Indian spice combinations, or the Peanut Butter Bonbon bar (which clearly needs no inspiration, nor an explanation thereof.) Next up on my short list is the Black Salt Caramel bar, which marries black Hawaiian sea salt with burnt sugar caramel. This bar was delicious in terms of the flavors but could have used a more decisive proportion of cocoa, I think. It gets a B+.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Patric: PBJ OMG

I didn't take this picture. I don't lay my whole chocolate bar out on a plate like some kind of fool. But I left my own pictures of this beauty on my laptop, which is still is New York, and here I am in Boston. I got this bar at the Dean and Deluca on Broadway in Soho. I'm always hesitant to go in there because it's constantly packed, but I'm glad I did because they have some bars I've never seen before.

Patric: PBJ OMG
Cocoa content: Curiously unlisted* (I think 70%)
Notable ingredients: peanut butter
Origin: Unlisted, but might be Madagascar*

*The reason there is so little information about this bar is that it's a limited edition and it apparently sold out although Dean and Deluca still has them -- I may have gotten one of the last ones. I say Madagascar for the origin because that seems to be the typical base that Patric uses for bars with added ingredients.

Patric is a bean-to-bar chocolate company based in Missouri -- where, oddly, a bunch of chocolate companies live. The chocolatier is Patric McClure -- I assume he's the purple guy on the front of the bar. He only makes about 6 or 7 bars, most of which are single origin dark chocolate bars. This bar, the PBJ OMG, was released in October 2010. The concept is that the cocoa he uses has naturally occurring "jam-like" berry notes, so when the chocolate is combined with peanut butter it creates a peanut butter and jelly flavor.

But let me say one thing, if I might. For those chocolate eaters among us whose palates aren't subtle enough to pick up on these (allegedly "bursting") berry flavors, this chocolate bar was not so much a PBJ bar as a PB bar, and so it elicited not so much an OMG but rather an SMH. Compared with the Fresh Direct PBJ bar from 2 weeks ago, this bar had nothing really in common with the classic sandwich.

It was very good in its own way, though. The peanut butter is natural, the chocolate had a great, consistent texture (although it didn't have a great snap, but that might be due to the temperature in which I kept it,) and the bar had surprisingly little added sugar. Peanut butter and chocolate is always a successful combination, and the use of good ingredients here only helps the situation.

I have a few days to spend here, so my plan is to go out and find another bar we've never seen before. This one gets a B.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Wonka Exceptionals: Scrumdiddlyumptious Chocolate Bar

I'm not kidding about the name of this bar. It's called Scrumdiddlyumptious Chocolate Bar, and it's made by the Wonka company, and I got it at CVS. But when I bought this chocolate bar there was also a post-Valentine's Day sale at CVS, so I also bought a box of chocolate eggs filled with peanut butter. Those, to be honest, were initially more compelling than this chocolate bar, so I've only Known this bar for the past few days. But I've come to know it quite well.

Wonka Exceptionals: Scrumdiddlyumptious Chocolate Bar
Cocoa content: Unlisted (guess: 35%)
Notable ingredients: toffee; cookie bits; peanuts
Origin: please!

I was originally a little disappointed upon opening this bar, because I was expecting there would be some sort of golden ticket gimmick or at least some sparkly foil. As it turns out, there was a golden ticket promotion for the Wonka Exceptionals chocolate bars, but now apparently the promotion has ended (according to the Wonka website) and I don't know how the company even sells these bars anymore without some sort of Willy Wonka contest shtick. Anyway -- I guess I bought it.

The ingredients make this bar sound like a big mess, and in some ways it is. It broke in about 15 places before I even opened it, and there are crags of an unidentifiable biscuity substance peeking out on the surface of the bar. I have to tell you: I tasted toffee, I tasted cookies, and I didn't taste peanuts at all. But the cookies were actually pretty delightful -- they're like buttery animal crackers, crumbled and strewn throughout a sea of mediocre milk chocolate and dubious toffee-like bits. The bar could have benefited from a more deliberate design (and less false advertising -- where were the peanuts?) but I won't lie -- it was a treat nonetheless.

Next week, we give the candy sandwich treatment another go -- this time, handcrafted. B-.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Fresh Direct: PB&J

The classic peanut butter & jelly is a great sandwich--I'll be the first to admit. But as we've discussed, just about everything is better when it is encased in chocolate. Fresh Direct (a NYC-area online grocery delivery service) bypasses the bread and composes the contents of the sandwich inside a dark chocolate casing. I got this bar as part of a little sampler pack--Fresh Direct makes a few other chocolate bars in addition to bark, chocolate covered marshmallows and s'mores, and other treats.

Fresh Direct: PB&J
Cocoa content: 72%
Notable ingredients: peanut praline; raspberry jelly; toasted rice
Origin: n/a

There is, I guess, some debate over what constitutes the best pb&j sandwich. I think most people would agree that it's best on white bread. I personally think raspberry jelly is the way to go with jellies: strawberry is cloyingly sweet and grape is alright but not festive enough. I imagine there are people out there who prefer crunchy peanut butter in their sandwich. I'm not one of those people, because I think the uninterrupted creaminess of this sandwich is one of its claims to fame, but this bar does address those people.

The peanut butter (actually a peanut praline, made with almonds as well as peanuts) is pretty creamy--there are certainly no chunks of nut floating around. But the jelly is pleasantly textured, an indication of its freshness, and there are some other textural surprises, too. The toasted rice, which is distributed conservatively so as not to crowd the bar, served two purposes: it appeases the crunchy peanut butter people, and it sort of approximates bread for those who miss the carb aspect of the sandwich. For me, it added a really nice crunch that didn't muddy up the cleanness of each smooth bite.

This bar's artful composition is no accident: all of the Fresh Direct bars are actually developed by the company's executive pastry chef, Jean-Francois Bonnet, who came from the NYC restaurant Daniel. The bars are tiny enough that you could eat it in one go, and they're not weighed down with too much added sugar or artificial flavors.

This bar was excellent: I only wish they came in bigger packages or in boxes of little peanut butter cup squares. A.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Chocolat Moderne: Hazelnut Hysterie

Michael gave me this bar -- he got it at Cardullo's in Harvard Square, which is one of my very favorite chocolate sources. Chocolat Moderne is a NY-based company that sells their bars at Whole Foods. That's where I tried my first one -- the Kashmir Spice bar. This one is part of a line called the Bistro Bar -- it's a smaller but chunkier bar, with a single featured ingredient. I promised last week that I would resurrect the very best dessert nut I know, so I'm here to talk about the hazelnut -- nut of celebrations, nut of good cheer.

Chocolat Moderne: Hazelnut Hysterie
Cocoa content: unlisted
Notable ingredients: hazelnuts
Origin: n/a

We know that hazelnuts and chocolate go together like Ron and Sam. Like Kyle and Mauricio! Like Catelynn and Tyler (come on, guys, Teen Mom.) But that doesn't mean that every hazelnut/chocolate pairing is smooth sailing. I thought this bar did a great job with flavor, and a decent job with texture. The hazelnut filling was authentically nutty and not overly sweet (like Nutella sometimes is.) But in terms of texture, I wasn't crazy about the little shards of unprocessed hazelnut that were mixed in with the filling. They were simply a little too sharp, and more sticky than crunchy.

I think the best hazelnut bar I've ever had is the Michel Cluizel Noir au Praline a l'Ancienne. When I wrote the blog post for that bar over a year ago, I issued an edict which I think merits re-stating: if you roast anything for long enough in caramelized cane sugar, then add that to deliciously snappy dark chocolate, a real treat have you. I wonder if the slightly unpleasant toughness of the nut shards in this Chocolat Moderne bar was due to the nuts not having been roasted for long enough. Every little bit helps.

Next week -- well, I haven't decided. It will either be a bar that mimics a classic sandwich, a bar that mimics a classic children's movie, or a bar that mimics the bar we've just discussed. Stay tuned. B.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Jacques Torres: Bean to Bar

I got this bar at the Jacques Torres store in Chelsea Market -- if you haven't been there, it's definitely worth visiting. There is a huge variety of chocolate goods in the tiny area where he has his kiosk: a counter case of truffles, chocolate-covered cookies and cheerios and fruits and nuts, cookies, and the entire line of bars. I've tried a bunch of JT's blended bars but I'd actually never seen the bean-to-bar bar before. Apparently he debuted it along with the opening of his Chelsea Market location, which was in 2009.

Jacques Torres: Bean to Bar
Cocoa content: 70%
Notable ingredients: n/a
Origin: n/a

It's interesting that this bar has no single origin. The bean-to-bar label simply indicates that JT starts the chocolate-making process with the dry cocoa beans. Most chocolate-makers only participate in part of the process: they buy the cocoa fully roasted and blended and then add whatever sweeteners or ingredients they want before packaging the bar. You would think that if a company is sourcing the beans directly, they would buy them from one region. But I guess the blend of beans that he uses in this bar: Ghana, Ecuador, and the Ivory Coast, demonstrates a deliberateness of flavor that some single origin bars are lacking.

Everything about this bar is near-perfect. The consistency is pure and smooth, the taste is kind of bright and fruity, and there is a perfect balance of sweetness for a 70% bar. It doesn't suffer from typical bean-to-bar hubris, where the purity of the chocolate is so emphasized that the taste of the bar is forgotten.

Next week: bringing back everybody's favorite nut. A-

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Salazon Chocolate Co.: Sea Salt & Crushed Organic Coffee

I had never heard of this company until I saw this bar last week at the Whole Foods on the Bowery. Salazon was established in 2009 by a group of hikers who -- seriously -- realized chocolate went well with salt when they broke up a dark chocolate bar and added it to their trail mix. I mean, I feel like: hello! But you can't expect everyone to know these things. Anyway, these hikers sat around a campfire and talked about turning their revelation into a business model. Thus Salazon (meaning "salted" in Spanish) was born in the mountains of Utah.

Salazon Chocolate Co.: Sea Salt & Crushed Organic Coffee
Cocoa content: 54%
Notable ingredients: sea salt; crushed organic coffee
Origin: predominantly from the DR

All of the Salazon chocolate bars -- of which there are presently 4 -- are salted by default. Salt is pretty much always good in a chocolate bar, and I like the way this bar uses the salt. Instead of integrating it, they scatter the flaky sea salt on the underside surface of the bar. The coffee is distributed this way, too. The top of the bar is smooth, the interior of the bar is consistent and uninterrupted, and the bottom surface of the bar is covered in flakes of salt and coffee. It creates an interesting texture and, I think, makes better use of the good ingredients. They're just so much easier to taste this way.

Salazon says they don't make a milk chocolate bar because they see chocolate as an energy food, as opposed to a candy. That's fine -- but the fact that all of their bars have a cocoa content of 54% seems restrictive to me. Salt and coffee, especially, would work nicely with a higher percentage. Also, chocolate doesn't have to be unhealthy, but let's face it: it's not hiking food. This bar comes in a paper wrapper with a foil inner wrapper, has absolutely no perforation lines for clean, portioned breaks, and tends to be really messy because of the flaky bottom surface.

Even so, it's really tasty. Hopefully more stores will be carrying these within the next year. B+.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Endangered Species: Dark w/ Cacao Nibs

Endangered Species is a chocolate company that donates a high percentage of profits to habitat conservation initiatives and is involved with some other wildlife support projects. Each bar they make is associated with an animal (I've previously blogged about the spider monkey bar, which contains goji berries, pecans, and maca.) That last Endangered Species bar was delicious, and since 72% cocoa bars basically never fail, I decided to give this one a try, too. I bought it at the health food store in Bronxville, NY.

Endangered Species: Dark w/ Cacao Nibs
Cocoa content: 72%
Notable ingredients: cocoa nibs
Origin: n/a

Animals + chocolate: I can't really think of a more compelling combination -- so what better a time to learn about animals than when you're eating chocolate? I'm not crazy about bats, but then again, according to this wrapper, "bats may be the most misunderstood animals in the United States." Basically, people think bats are spooky and erratic but really they're just these incredibly unique, vision-impaired flying mammals who snack on insects and suffer from habitat destruction, hibernation disturbance, and -- get this -- direct killing! Who goes around killing bats? Who does that!

I don't know what if anything bats have to do with cocoa nibs, but this was a particularly good nib bar. Nibs are the dry-roasted bits of the cocoa bean -- that is, before it's processed and blended with cocoa butter and other fats and oils. Nibs can sometimes be too big (and thus disruptive of the bar's overall texture) or too conservatively distributed. In this bar, the nibs were small, crunchy, and plentiful, and they had a nice roasted flavor. The bar melted nicely around them and snapped cleanly and easily despite them.

Overall this bar was great, and I feel proud to have helped the disadvantaged little bat in a small way. A-.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Lindt: Pistachio

I bought this bar at an A&P in Bronxville. I'm not really that into pistachios, and I was skeptical of how they'd pair with chocolate. I like the combination of pistachio and vanilla -- in my hometown, there is this great ice cream parlor called Rancatore's and they have a flavor called Kulfi which is basically an Indian-inspired blend of vanilla ice cream, pistachio, and some spices -- cardamom and nutmeg, I would guess. It's delicious. My purchase of this bar was inspired by my love of that ice cream flavor.

Lindt: Pistachio
Cocoa content: unlisted (guess: 33%)
Notable ingredients: pistachio nuts; almonds
Origin: n/a

The "filled" Lindt bars consist of little chocolate pods with some sort of creamy filling, joined together at the edges. These pieces, each about the size of a bullet, contained a single pistachio nut suspended in a vaguely almond-flavored cream filling. Having been surrounded by cream since however long ago this bar was manufactured, the pistachio nut itself was a little bit soft. It lost its signature saltiness and distinct flavor. Pistachios are never rock hard, but this one was softened to the point that even its crunchiness amidst a pocket of cream was compromised.

It's still kind of good, though. Lindt bars are truly never bad. The milk chocolate especially is so creamy and sweet and melty that it will complement whatever it encases. The fact that the nut had lost much of its distinctiveness and texture made the bar less successful but not actually less palatable. The only real complaint I have about these filled Lindt bars is that the pods are too big to eat in one bite and too messy to bite in half. This bar tasted pretty good regardless.

Next week I'll hopefully have made it beyond the A&P for my chocolate shopping. This one gets a B.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Hachez: Cocoa D'Arriba 77% Longs

My mom brought this elegant thing home from Eden Gourmet, and we quibbled over whether it fit the requirements of my blog. The truth is, I'm here to blog about chocolate bars and lord knows I don't blog about chocolate truffles, candies, or bonbons -- let alone tubes, mom! But since I'm not one to look a gift horse in the mouth, I decided to eat this slender treasure, and I am here today to tell its tale.

Hachez: Cocoa D'Arriba 77% Longs
Cocoa content: 77%
Notable ingredients: n/a
Origin: Ecuador

The bar is about 8 inches long and half an inch across, and it's segmented into little inch-long pieces, which break off with impressive snap. The chocolate itself is decent but not all that interesting: South American chocolates usually avoid the unpleasant acidic notes that you find in African single origins, but this bar seems to have sacrificed layers of flavor for a smooth finish. It tasted clean and satisfyingly melty, but the taste was no more interesting or distinctive than your average blended bar.

And -- I still have issues with the shape. This bar apparently belongs to a family of Hachez bars called Longs. Doesn't that seem like an arbitrary shape for chocolates? It's pretty -- sort of -- but it also breaks easily in your shopping bag and actually contains only about 1 1/3 oz. of chocolate. This bar can appear on the blog (you're welcome, you're welcome) but I'm thrilled with neither the chocolate nor the length of it.

Next week, back to New York, back to quality chocolate shopping. This bar gets a B.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Komforte Chockolates: Ramen Noodle

Well I told you I'd be back to discuss this, the eighth wonder of the world, the Ramen Noodle chocolate bar. Pork fat and dark chocolate: two unspeakably delicious things, and yet never the twain shall meet. Or so you thought! And, if you indeed thought that, it turns out you were right -- the "ramen" in this chocolate bar consists of a couple of mildly crunchy, dehydrated wheat noodles, unenthusiastically snaking their way throughout the hefty chocolate. No pork fat to speak of, and thus, to my mind, no pleasure.

Komforte Chockolates: Ramen Noodle
Cocoa content: 53%
Notable ingredients: noodles; soy sauce
Origin: n/a

Texture does not a ramen experience make. And even if that it did make, that it doesn't achieve here: the embedded noodles were too tired and stale to have retained any real crispiness. Plus, they were few and far between. In one large square of the bar, I encountered only about two noodles.

The chocolate was not nearly as good as the milk chocolate in the last Komforte bar I had, with French Toast. What kind of cocoa percentage is 53%? It's about 20 points above the normal cocoa content for milk chocolate, and just under 20 points below that elusive dark chocolate jackpot of 72%. What were they aiming for? Blandness aside, the consistency of the chocolate was chewy and dried-out. Maybe this bar took a long trip before it arrived at my doorstep among other, less curious Hanukkah gifts (thanks to Michael!) but still -- age doesn't explain the totally lackluster consistency.

Ramen, chocolate -- neither were represented fairly here. I want to boost this bar's score for creativity points, but the truth is, Komforte brought nothing interesting about ramen to the table here: no extra salt, no weird porky modification -- even the noodles sucked. Sadly, this bar gets a C.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Galler: Biscuit

My dear cousin bought this bar for me at The Chocolate Library on St. Marks near Avenue A. The store just opened less than a month ago, and it's largely disappointing -- there's a much bigger variety at the Food Emporium chocolate shop on the Upper East Side, and even at most big upscale grocery stores. But this was a nice little find:

Galler: Biscuit
Cocoa content: 60%
Notable ingredients: biscuit
Origin: n/a

This will be a brief entry because this was a brief bar -- and because on this, the first day of 2011, I am dead tired and just want to watch re-runs of the Jersey Shore. The bar was divided into four thick segments -- inside, there was one layer of "biscuit," which in American candy bars is usually called wafer, and one layer of a sort of hazelnut paste. It was nutty and had a nice roasted taste -- a little coffee-ish, and not at all too sweet. My only complaint would be that I was hoping to encounter a more buttery, flaky biscuit within.

Hopefully the new year will be buttery and flaky enough to make up for my disappointment. This bar gets a B.