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+.