Thursday, December 8, 2011
Single origin chocolate and single origin coffee sound like an excellent fit. Askinosie Chocolate, one of America’s few (but growing) number of bean to bar craft chocolate makers has paired with Intelligentsia one of America’s fair trade, artisan and single origin coffee roasters.
As with all of Askinosie’s creations, the bar is thoughtfully packaged. It comes in a glassine sleeve that’s tied shut with a little loop of twine from the bags that the cocoa beans arrive in. Inside there’s a folded sleeve label over the cellophane sealed bar. It all fits back together pretty well, which is good because I can’t eat this bar in one sitting.
It’s three ounces and cost $9.50, which is a bit steep, except compared to everything at Intelligentsia. I’ve only had their coffee twice, both times was a dry cappuccino and both times it was intense but brewed nicely - not burnt, not too acrid or acidic. (I don’t go for the darkest roast of the day, either.)
The bar has 18 squares, spelling out Askinosie Chocolate. The color of the bar is exceptionally dark, glossy and has a clear snap to it.
The scent is quite strong with more of a woodsy, coffee grounds scent than a brewed note. The texture of the bar is noticeably stiffer too. The melt is smooth but slightly chalky and dry at first. There’s plenty of cocoa butter to thin it out after a few moments, kind of like the crema on a cup of espresso.
The coffee flavors are strong, bitter and rather overwhelm the chocolate. The ingredients are cocoa beans, cane juice, coffee beans and cocoa butter. So there’s no vanilla in there, no emulsifiers.
I found myself returning to bar, even though I had to be very restrained in my portions because of the strength of the coffee. I appreciated how well blended it was, that the bar wasn’t just a superior chocolate bar with a bunch of coffee grounds thrown in like so many other companies seem to do. The flavors linger, with more mild notes of licorice, apricot, fig and molasses.
The package says there are two servings, I was much happier with six pieces over the full nine, but I’m the kind of gal that just has a small cup of coffee in the morning (an actual 8 ounce cup). Lest you feel bad about the calories (154 per ounce), there’s also almost 4 grams of protein, 4% of your calcium and 14% of your RDA of iron in that ounce. I can’t hazard a guess on the caffeine.
It’s not an every day bar, which is fine because it’s hard to get a hold of (at Intelligentsia cafes or their website) and pretty expensive. But as a substitution for three coffee drinks, it’s mighty fine, just as satisfying, far more portable and ready when I am. Now ... when is a white chocolate/coffee bar coming out?
Wednesday, November 30, 2011
Back around Halloween when Mars introduced their Candy Corn flavored White Chocolate M&Ms, I mused what it would be like if they made Egg Nog M&Ms.
Well, Trader Joe’s has gone over the top with their iteration of white chocolate with nutmeg with their Trader Joe’s Eggnog Flavored Almonds covered with Creamy White Chocolate.
They’re sold in a very simple plastic tub that holds 11 ounces and sells for $3.99 ... about the same price as Almond M&Ms ... but they’re all natural (but have no candy shell, unless you count confectioners glaze as a shell).
Trader Joe’s starts with premium almonds. I’ve noticed that a lot of other almond candies (Almond M&Ms) use the smaller almonds about the size of peanuts, but these are big, fresh nonpareil almonds at the center. The coating is real white chocolate with oodles of nutmeg. The combination is convincingly like egg nog. It’s sweet but tempered with strong vanilla and earthy/balmy nutmeg. The almonds are crisp and keep the whole thing from being too sweet (like actual egg nog tends to be). The white chocolate has an excellent melt, not quite silky but quite creamy without being sticky.
I love them, but I fully understand that they’re not for everyone. If you don’t love nutmeg, you’re not going to like these. However, if you do, the combination with the almonds is stellar. I can only hope they’ll have these year round, but I know that they’ll disappear in a few weeks.
It’s all natural and there’s not even any food coloring in there. There is dairy, soy and almonds in the ingredients plus it’s made on shared equipment with wheat, tree nuts and peanuts.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Last year Ritter Sport sent me a one of their Europe-only bars, Ritter Sport Espresso. I even bought one when I was in Germany in February. Now they’re selling them in the United States, which only makes sense since we’re the largest coffee consuming country in the world (source).
The bar is Fine Quality European Chocolate made with Natural Ingredients. The bar isn’t explained or teased much on the front, just with robust Arabica coffee and the back just gives the description as Milk chocolate with a coffee cream filling. It also has snowflakes on it, which leads me to believe that it’s a limited edition winter bar and might not be available year round.
The ingredients list is short, but not as pure as I’d like it to be when it’s advertised as being made with natural ingredients. (Just because it’s natural, doesn’t mean I want it in my chocolate bar.)
There’s a caution about shared equipment for peanuts, almonds, hazelnuts, other nuts and wheat. (Plus it contains soy and dairy ingredients.)
It’s real milk chocolate for the bar part, but the filling is primarily a sugar and oil paste. Palm kernel oil doesn’t have quite the same political reputation that palm oil does, nor the trans fatty content that partially hydrogenated oils. Still, I do not consider that to be a cream, even if cream is added to it. But let me set aside my ingredient rantings for a little tasting. Because I was really looking forward to this bar.
I don’t know what it is about the way that Ritter Sport bars are packaged or handled, but they’re always pristine when I open the package. (Sometimes the bars are broken, but not scuffed.)
The scent is dreamy. There’s a milky dairy note (a little caramel and butter) but the perfect level of coffee to it - rich and woodsy.
The chocolate is a little soft, and the center is even softer. The chocolate melt is cool and smooth, the center is a little grittier because of the coffee powder. The milk chocolate is quite sweet and the filling is less so, with a light salty note to it though there’s not actually any salt in it.
The espresso flavors are not quite ... because of all of the milk notes. It’s more like a dry cappuccino than an espresso, which would be made with a dark chocolate (dairy free would have been great for vegans). I expect there’s a bit of caffeine in here, since there’s real espresso powder, I made sure to eat mine early in the day.
It’s not the perfect coffee chocolate bar, but for about $2.00 or so, it’s achingly close I had to give it a 9 out of 10. The coffee flavors are pure, not flavored, and it’s not junked up with other caramel or hazelnut flavors. I wish it was really a ganache cream made with butterfat in there, but then it wouldn’t be $2 and probably wouldn’t be a shelf stable. Next step would be fair trade (but they do have a pretty good track record for ethical sourcing).
Friday, October 28, 2011
I regularly watch the eBay candy auctions. And when I say regularly, I actually check the pages several times a day during the week. Partly to spy new candy products, partly to find international candies that are hard to get in the US, partly to find deals and partly to squash folks who like to use Candy Blog photos for their auctions without asking.
About a month ago I saw a new auction pop up for someone selling 13.2 pounds of Felchlin Swiss Couverture chocolate coins of Grand Cru Arriba 72% Cocoa (conched 72 hours).
The auction was priced at $95 and included local Los Angeles delivery. I bid. I won.
Because it’s for use as an ingredient, it’s packaged modestly. The mini case holds three bags. Each bag is 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds). I pulled out one bag for immediate enjoyment and put the other two, inside the box, into the bottom of my wine fridge. (Okay, I’d probably call it a chocolate fridge, which keeps everything at 58 degrees.)
Each little coin is about 3/4 of an inch around and has a set of embossed cacao pods on it. They’re kind of scuffed up, as they come in a bag like chocolate chips. They work as extra large baking chips but function better as eating chocolate. At this writing I am finishing up the first bag. I’ve made one batch of chocolate pudding, one small batch of Chocolate Hazelnut Rocher (meringues from a recipe from Tartine) and the rest has simply been eaten.
The disks fit in the mouth wonderfully, especially if you’re the kind of person who likes to let their chocolate melt. (Put two together to create an oblate spheroid and they’re doubly good.) The flavor is exceptionally well rounded, there is no dominant flavor though I get notes of molasses, honey, coffee and raspberry jam sometimes.
As noted above, this is a 72 hour conch. Conching is the process of both mixing and grinding chocolate over low heat. The longer the processing the smaller the grain size of the cacao bits and the more emulsified the chocolate becomes. This process varies in time depending on what the cacao is like and the necessities of the final product. It can be anywhere from 24 hours to 100 hours. The grinding part is done with either stones or metal rollers.
This long conch also allows Felchlin to make an uncompromising chocolate without emulsifiers. So all that’s in there is cacao mass, sugar and vanilla. (So if you must avoid soy, try this.) It’s also creamy without cream. (So if you’re a vegan, try this.) It’s made from Criollo beans from the Los Rios area of Ecuador.
Earlier this year I got to try a great example of how important conching is. When I was in Germany at ISM Cologne, one of my favorite chocolate companies, Coppeneur gave me this box of two chocolate bars. They were both made from highly prized Chuao beans (review of those bars here) but inside this box were two versions - one that was conched 70 hours and one that was conched 100 hours. The difference is quite remarkable. The longer a bar is conched, the silkier it becomes.
What I’ve learned is that I love long conched chocolate. It’s so smooth that the texture itself becomes like a flavor because it’s simply so forward in the experience.
I’m not sure why the local gal was auctioning the bulk lots of chocolate, but I did find out that she runs a local chocolate catering company called Chocolate by M. She was kind enough to leave me with these huge nonpareils along with the delivery. The photo might make them look small, but they’re huge 3 inch platters of dark chocolate (I don’t know if it’s the same as the Felchlin 72%) with a dense sprinkling of nonpareils on the bottom.
It’s just one easy idea of what I could do with my bevvy of chocolate.
Mostly what I think I’m going to do with my chocolate stash though is eat it. It’s incredibly munchable but also exceptionally intense. I’ve found that I can’t make it an evening snack as there are too many caffeine-like compounds in there that keep me up at night. But I’ve found that it’s a great treat during the day while I work, I’ve been keeping a little dish of them on my desk and probably eat about an ounce of them a day. They’re filling and sustaining.
But maybe the last bag will make it to December and I’ll end up making chocolate truffles for Christmas.
Monday, September 26, 2011
While on vacation on the central coast earlier this month I made my regular stop at Sweet Earth Chocolates in San Luis Obispo to pick up some rations for our vacation rental.
I bought some turtles and some other items for immediate consumption and then a few items to bring back to Los Angeles for review. One item that I sampled in the store is their Fair Trade Certified & Certified Organic Bittersweet Chocolate Drops. Yup, I went on vacation and I brought back a bag of chocolate chips.
It’s 12 ounces of 65% dark chocolate with only three ingredients - organic cacao (liquor, cocoa butter & cocoa powder), organic sugar and organic vanilla.
I love the bag. It’s simple, the same sort of wax lined kraft paper bag with a wire-fold closure that you get fresh roasted coffee beans in. It has the same bean bag heft and satisfying crunch when squeezed.
The pieces are small, some as large as a dime but most the size of a flattened standard baking chocolate chip (2/3 of an inch). The smooth disk shape makes them easy to eat and melt in the mouth, no spiky top.
There’s a light tangy note to the pieces upon melting with a slightly dry finish. It’s much sweeter than I would have expected for a 65% chocolate. The flavors are woodsy and smokey with notes of figs and molasses, they’re on the coffee side of the rich flavors. In fact, the package was sitting on my desk one morning and a co-worker said “Your coffee smells really good today.” I didn’t actually have any coffee, it was the open bag of chocolate that smelled like that. On another day the smell was so distracting, I had to close the package up and put it away.
I’m sure this would be great for baking, hot chocolate or pudding. But I was content to just snack away on them. It was no compromise, in the sense that these were organically grown, fair trade certified and not overpackaged. It was $9.50 for the bag, but for 12 ounces, I thought it was a pretty good deal compared to some of the chocolate bars that I buy for the same price but only get 3.5 ounces.
They’re made without soy or dairy (so they’re vegan) but are processed in a facility that has both.
As more of a novelty item I tried their new caramels. They’re like gourmet milk duds. I picked out the Coffee Caramel. The little quarter pound bag is very simply done. A cellophane bag sealed with a little twist tie. (They had samples in the store, I tried the orange and chili one and found it a little too spicy for me, so I opted for the coffee.)
Instead of a glossy coating of chocolate on the house-made caramel nibs, these are coated in chocolate and then rolled in cocoa. They’re lumpy and mis-shapen, some are flat and others are rustically spherical.
The chew is smooth and sweet with some good flavors. The primary flavors are woodsy, a combination of the dark chocolate and cocoa coating plus a little note of coffee. The caramel itself is interesting, the toasted and burnt sugar flavors are missing, are are the butter notes, but still it doesn’t end up tasting like syrup. There’s a little note of cinnamon and coconut in there, but that could be my imagination.
As a gourmet Milk Dud, I was happy, though they are certainly more expensive, don’t have quite the shelf life and are kind of messy with the cocoa coating.
I will continue to visit the Sweet Earth Chocolate shops in San Luis Obispo when I’m in the area. It’s easy on and off the 101 if you’re traveling through the area. My previous review of the shop is here (with photos).
UPDATE: Sweet Earth changed the name of their company to Mama Ganache.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
The Ghirardelli family owned and ran the company until the 1960s when the company was sold to the Golden Grain Macaroni Company (makers of Rice-A-Roni, the San Francisco treat), then in the 1980s Golden Grain was swallowed up by Quaker Oats (the Pennsylvania treat). About 6 years later Quaker sold Ghiradelli off and it was once again an independent entity, if only for about six years when in 1998 it was bought up by Lindt and Sprüngli of Switzerland (which was making chocolate only seven years longer than Ghiradelli).
I mention all of this because there was something vaguely familiar about this bar called Ghirardelli Intense Dark Sea Salt Soiree when I picked it up and it took me a while to figure it out. A couple of years ago I reviewed Lindt Excellence Dark with a Touch of Sea Salt. While I found Lindt’s a good bar, it’s either the quality of the Ghirardelli chocolate or the addition of almonds that really make Ghirardelli’s bar special.
The bar’s mold is nicely designed. Each of the eight sections include the Ghirardelli eagle logo. The molding is overall good, though there are some voids and bubbles on the front of the bar, I didn’t notice anything else amiss when I snapped the bar in half or inspected the bottom of the bar.
I didn’t think it smelled particularly special, like brownies, which in itself is a tantalizing scent, but really didn’t do the rest of the bar justice.
The bar is called Intense Dark but I can’t find anything that says what the percentage of cacao is for the bar. The appearance is dark like coffee with a light reddish hue to it. The bar has a liberal sprinkling of crushed almonds in it and of course large flakes of sea salt.
The flavors of the chocolate are very mild, but a good blend of hot cocoa, coffee and woodsy tobacco. The almonds give a fresh crunch and the light sprinkling of salt doesn’t overwhelm any of the other elements.
It’s an extremely munchable bar, not too dark for a snack but still more sophisticated than a standard Dove or plain Ghirardelli bar. I didn’t expect to like the bar so much since it’s such a simple idea and construction, especially since I had the nut-less Lindt version before. The freshness of the elements and well executed format just come together so well here. I wish that Ghirardelli didn’t feel the need to use dairy (milk fat) in their dark chocolate though, it would make this a much more accessible bar. (It’s also made in a facility that processes peanuts as well.)
Friday, August 12, 2011
Gianduia was invented back in the late 19th century during a time of chocolate shortages, confectioners put hazelnut paste into milk chocolate to preserve the texture but conserve chocolate solids. The resulting product became a wonder all of its own and actually more expensive these days than straight chocolate when made without oil fillers. The Piedmont area of Northern Italy is also known for its prized and unique tasting hazelnuts (nocciola). Gianduia has a lower melting point than chocolate because the oils in hazelnuts are not solid at room temperature so it’s quite creamy and slightly cool on the tongue.
The Pernigotti Orogianduia Gianduiotti comes in little hat shaped morsels wrapped in textures, matte gold foil. They smell quite sweet but have a note of the toasted hazelnuts. The ingredients are superior to most imitators - sugar, hazelnuts, cocoa paste, cocoa butter, milk powder and no additional vegetable oils.
They’re quite firm at room temperature, which is good because it’s been warm this summer and hard for me to store my large chocolate reserves. These have been sitting in an insulated cooler (no freezer packs, just enough protection from the daily swing of temperatures in my un-air-conditioned house.
They’re sweet and have a slight sugary grain. The melt is cool on the tongue and has a deep roasted hazelnut flavor. There wasn’t much of a chocolate punch to it, more of a milk note for me. It wasn’t the richest chocolate and hazelnut experience I’ve ever had, but a great little evening treat and excellent with dark coffee.
The item that I was most excited about from Pernigotti was their new Nerogiandua Crema Fondente. If you think the package looks a bit like a beauty product, it’s no accident. The marketers wanted to capture women looking for a little decadent pick me up. Think of it as Nutella for grown ups.
As I found the standard Orogianduia a little on the sweet and milky side, was hoping the Nero (black) would be a little richer. The package for this version was all in Italian, but I was able to figure out what everything in there was. The first ingredient was sugar, then Piedmont hazelnuts (20%) then cocoa powder (19%) and then it went on to list refined vegetable oil (of unknown origin), soy lecithin and vanilla. There was no dairy in there at all.
The look of it is dark and glossy, like a fine frosting, not like fudge or a rustic paste. The texture is smooth and the flavor was immediately sweet and nutty. After the sugar dissolved away there were wonderful charcoal flavors of chocolate and toasted hazelnuts. It’s definitely decadent. For a while I was eating it by the spoonful, but I also found that it was great on pretzels or the more traditional Belgian waffles.
I haven’t seen this in stores in the United States yet, but did find it online for about $6.00 a jar. Since it’s already a spreadable product there’s less of an issue of melting if you get it shipped (I would probably never order gianduia via the mail any other way). I tried a similar product from Pralus (France) called Creme de Noisette which was spectacular but about twice the price.
I keep my jar in the fridge and just bring it to room temperature at the time of consumption.
The last product is kind of a mini hazelnut cream chocolate bar. This version of the classic gianduia is called Orogianduia Nocciogoie and is encased in a chocolate shell and has two large, whole hazelnuts inside.
They come in a similar bag that holds only 5.25 ounces and each is individually wrapped. The prices run about the same, again, these are not easy to find in the United States unless you see them at an import store or specialty grocer. I’ve had trouble finding a source online for them.
Each piece is nicely packaged and protected in a gold mylar wrapper. Inside they smelled wonderful. They were a bit more chocolatey than the straight gianduia hats, as there was the small bit of milk chocolate shell. What really made these spectacular was the large and crunchy hazelnut inside. They were fresh and aromatic and provided a great offset to the very sweet Italian gianduia.
Just as there are a oodles of varieties of milk chocolate in the world, there are quite a few different versions of the classic hazelnut paste in chocolate. Once you get past the ingredients, the rest is up to personal preference. I missed the sticky, milky and nutty flavors of Caffarel in the milk chocolate versions from Pernigotti, but their Nerogianduia was really spectacular and something I would be happy to keep on hand.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
Meiji is one of the major confectionery companies of Japan with recognizable brands like Yan Yan, Hello Panda, Chelsea and my favorite GummyChoco. I admire their products quite a bit, their flavors are bright and authentic and the attention to detail is excellent. Last year I reviewed their standard Meiji Milk Chocolate bar and found I really liked their intense flavor style. So I picked up this box called Meiji Corot which simply called them chocolate ball in English on the otherwise Japanese package.
Meiji also packages their candies well, but this is the first one I’ve really had an issue with. The box is large, it’s 4.25 inches high and 2.75 inches wide, that’s larger than a deck of poker cards or a box of cigarettes. Inside the box is a little mylar packet. It protects the candy well and certainly kept it fresh, but there’s only 1.48 ounces of candy in here - a standard bag of Milk Chocolate M&Ms as 1.69 ounces.
Hershey’s came out with a similar product last year, called Hershey’s Drops. They’re also big disks of solid chocolate with a light, shiny glaze to keep them from sticking together.
The chocolate balls are actually oblate spheroids - a squashed ball. The aspect ratio or flatness of the spheroid is determined by the dimensions. The major axis is 1.5 times the length as the minor axis. (They’re .75 inches across and about .5 inches thick at the center.)
The candies are 3.5 grams each, so a hefty little bite of chocolate compared to an M&M which are about .85 grams.
They’re creamy and milky with a chocolate pudding flavor to them. The dairy flavors are distinct and the chocolate is quite powerful, certainly a more dominant note. There’s a strong bitterness that I don’t think I get with most consumer milk chocolate products. It’s toasted and maybe even a little smoky with notes of plain old charcoal. I enjoy the flavor, it’s munchable with a great texture but a little more sophisticated than a standard milk chocolate candy.
The ingredients are not quite as desirable as the plain Meiji Milk Chocolate bar. This version of Meiji’s milk chocolate also contains some vegetable oil filler (though there’s also plenty of cocoa butter in there). The curious ingredient towards the end of the list was trehalose. Trehalose is a sugar, a disaccharide made of two glucose molecules. It’s only 40% as sweet as the standard sucrose (a disaccharide made of one glucose and one fructose molecule). I’m not quite sure what its purpose here is, it’s not here in great quantities, as it’s on the list after the soy lecithin (which is usually less than 2% of the overall mass of any chocolate product).
I also recently picked up some of Meiji’s 40th Anniversary editions of their popular Meiji CoffeeBeat chocolate candies. I’ve reviewed them before, but these versions were in different packaging and came in two versions - a milk and dark version.
The Milk version, in the tube, has a great sweet latte flavor to it. The coffee is quite strong and rich and the sugar and milk mixture is reminiscent of caramel. The one in the box didn’t come with any additional English descriptions but I can say that the milk flavors are downplayed at the coffee flavor is extremely strong, yet the texture is still creamy and smooth with a lingering charcoal bitterness.
I love these little nuggets. They’re about the size of a real coffee bean or an M&M and feature a solid coffee flavored chocolate core covered in a thin crunchy shell. I don’t know why we don’t have these or something like these widely available in the United States.
The Meiji CoffeeBeat keep their 9 out of 10 rating. (If they were more affordable and easier to find, they might get a 10 out of 10.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.