Monday, October 29, 2012

Mast Brothers: Black Truffle

This was probably the most expensive chocolate bar I've ever enjoyed, at $14. Its provenance warrants the price tag: this is a candy bar born of a marriage between three heretofore non-consensual parties, hailing all from different continents. They are:

1.)  74% cacao from the Dominican Republic, concocted in as pure a manner as possible, with just a bit of cane sugar and no milk fat or cocoa butter, and left to sit for a month before the final melting so that its full flavors can emerge.

2.) A subterranean mushroom, sprouted from a spore transported by a fungivorous ground animal and harvested from the forests of Italy.

3.) Sea salt from coastal Maine.

And never the twain shall meet, until they got mixed up together in an artisanal chocolate factory near the Williamsburg waterfront. The Mast Brothers have said that they don't "dumb down" their chocolate, by which they mean they leave out those fatty emulsifiers that most purveyors incorporate to make chocolate more user-friendly. I sometimes find that this approach results in a product that's just no fun -- one made with more attention to process and presentation than deliciousness. Eating chocolate is not supposed to be a chore, nor a history lesson, nor a geography lesson, nor a reverent nod to oldey-timey crafts.

This bar didn't quite work for me, but not for lack of fun -- it was decadent, unusual, and disorienting, and an interesting experience well worth the price tag. But when you don't "dumb down" chocolate, its boldness conquers everything in its path, and butts heads unsuccessfully with equally all-consuming flavors like the black truffle. Sometimes, excess layered upon excess works. But sometimes, it backfires in messy self-destruction. It calls to mind: "before you leave the house, look in the mirror and remove one accessory."

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Chuao: Potato Chips

Imagine my surprise upon finding this chocolate bar at the checkout counter of Taste of World Bean, the oddly named coffee shop at LaGuardia Airport.

First of all: let me say that that anyone who thinks we're here to talk about uppity snacks and unusual snacks and quirky snacks has entirely the wrong idea about this place. Potato chips is one of those things that most people seem to like and find somewhat irresistible when presented with them, but rarely do potato chips get their due as one of the best snacks in the world -- as one of the most top notch, fantastic snacks in the world.

That's how I feel about them, anyway. So imagine what a pleasure it must have been to discover one first-rate snack packaged within another first-rate snack, all wrapped up and displayed thoughtfully at a mediocre airport coffee shop, where an unsuspecting snack enthusiast could happen upon it at 7:00 AM, en route to South Carolina.

Chuao: Potato Chips
Cocoa content: 41%
Notable ingredients: Kettle chips
Origin: Venezuela

If you're wondering whether the potato chips maintained their crunchy texture: they did. If you're wondering whether most crunchy-textured snacks manage to maintain their crunchy texture when encased in chocolate, but you're not sure because you haven't had many such snacks, I can tell you that they do not.

I'm not sure how Chuao pulled off this feat, but suffice it to say that crunchy and creamy -- and salty and sweet, respectively -- melded together in perfect harmony, making this chocolate bar a particularly successful marriage of two foods that are consistently successful on their own. A.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Beer Table: PB&J

Surely I've made my beliefs known on the topic of things manifested as other things. But just as surely, I've demonstrated my love of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches dressed up like chocolate bars (here, here, etc.) There's no other sandwich that so perfectly lends itself to to being encased in chocolate.

Beer Table: PB&J
Cocoa content: n/a (probably around 35%)
Notable ingredients: peanut butter; jelly
Origin: n/a

I spotted this bar at the Beer Table Pantry in Grand Central -- a to-go outpost of the original Beer Pantry in Brooklyn -- and a space so tiny that only two customers can really fit inside at a time. I went in pursuit of beer, and left with this chocolate bar and a bottle of the tart Oude Gueuze Tilquin a l'Ancienne.

This bar, more than other PB & J bars that I've tried, truly tasted like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich because of the understated chocolate, and the crispy bits laced throughout the peanut butter, posing as bread. Which is to say -- this bar could have been an actual peanut butter and sandwich, and not much would be lost; with such un-chocolatey chocolate, a chocolate bar need not be a chocolate bar.

All of the ingredients were a little lackluster. The jelly was a stiff sheet of fruit paste with neither seeds nor any distinct fruit flavor (given -- I lost the wrapper. But still, you should be able to determine from whence a jelly came without much help, and I could not.) The peanut butter was dry and under-sweet. And whereas a rich, milky chocolate could have heightened both components, this chocolate was shy and thin-skinned.

Next time, I'll stick to beer. This bar gets a C.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Vosges: Gingerbread Toffee Bar

Please excuse this long sabbatical -- I've been wrapped up in other things, but I wanted to stop in to tell you about a bar I've recently Known. This particular one was a Hanukkah present. It comes from Vosges, the excellent chocolate store with locations in Soho and the Upper East Side. Oddly, most high end chocolate stores seem to be concentrated in and around these two neighborhoods.

Vosges: Gingerbread Toffee Bar
Cocoa content: 65%
Notable ingredients: allspice, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, toffee
Origin: n/a

This is one of Vosges's limited edition candy bars, probably just released for the holiday season. I thought it was going to be amazing because I'm a huge fan of gingerbread, but as it turns out, gingerbread is one of those things that you can only expect to enjoy when it is entirely itself -- in other words -- not trying to lend its graces to other treats, candies, cookies, pastries, and the like. With the exception of cookies -- gingerbread cookies are great -- nothing is a good vehicle for gingerbread spices. If you've had a disgusting gingerbread latte at Starbucks, then you already know.

I don't know what I expected -- for there to be little nuggets of chewy gingerbread tucked into the chocolate bar? Needless to say, there were not. The word "gingerbread" on the bar actually just indicates the presence of spices commonly used in gingerbread -- allspice, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. And the bar wasn't simply flavored with these spices -- rather, the toffee was flavored with these spices, and the toffee was -- allegedly -- strewn throughout the bar. So, at this point we're about 3 degrees of separation away from gingerbread, the advertised star of this bar.

As it turns out, there wasn't even any detectable toffee, really. There was something crunchy, which I still can't identify, and there was a certain stale space flavor, reminiscent of those gingerbread lattes. My dreams were a little bit dashed.

In fairness, I didn't get to try this bar at its absolute best. My apartment is not really a hospitable place for chocolate right now -- it's unspeakably hot during the day while I'm at work (I open windows when I get home), so it gets melty if I leave it out, but it gets chalky if I put it in the fridge. Any and all suggestions for the care and keeping of chocolate are welcome.

This bar gets a C.