Saturday, November 11, 2006
Yesterday I told you about the Night of a Thousand Chocolates. Today it’s all about the “World Geatest Box of Chocolates” and the Artisan Picks of 2006 from CocoBella.
The box is interesting. It has a heavy focus on nuts with half of the offerings featuring nuts in them (hazelnuts as the top favorite). Here’s the lowdown:
- Marquise de Sevigne Praline Noisette - France (Hazelnut paste enrobed in Chocolate) - mellow with a sweet and smooth paste center with a healthy dose of hazelnut but really not a sugary sweetness (or so it seemed). It balanced really well with the thin coat of rich chocolate. The nicely toasted nut on top gives this candy my pick as the candy I would most like to wear as a hat.
Marquise de Sivigne Orange Amer - Belgium (Orange ganache in Dark Chocolate) - This one was fascinating. It tasted like orange juice - more like a whole orange than a caramel or ganache. It was kind of like the custardy filling of a lemon meringue pie (only orange) because of the tart bite to it. The mellow dark chocolate with its bitter bite pulled it all together.
Knipschildt Chocolatier Hannah - US (Liquid Caramel with Pink Hawaiian Sea Salt) - this one doesn’t look like much. I’d never had a Knipschlidt chocolate before, so I thought this would be interesting. It truly was. Lately I’ve been eating a lot of salted caramels and this one was interesting. The center was a soft, custardy caramel with a good rounded sugar flavor, maybe with a hint of molasses. The salt was not too much and did actually have a little mineral hint to it.
Michel Cluizel Vesuve - France (Madagascar Dark Chocolate Ganache) - A simple single origin dark chocolate truffle. It was soft and had a good mix of bitterness, acidity, dry finish with smoke and woodsy notes. I realized that my less than stellar experience with the Cluizel nibby bar last year should not dissuade me from trying more of their truffles.
Corne Port Royal Rocher Noir - Belgium (Hazelnut Praline in Dark Chocolate) - another hazelnut chocolate, this one was more like a hazelnut halvah. It had an interesting crystallized texture. The nutty flavors combined really well with the shards of sugar, though I would have preferred a little more toasty caramel flavor to it. The chocolate was nice and mild and set off the sweetness really well. It was a good chocolate, but I don’t know if it’s among the best hazelnut chocolates I’ve ever had. (And I’m the girl who likes Perugina Baci.)
Charles Chocolates Almond Cluster - US (Lightly Salted Roasted Almonds in Milk Chocolate) - it’s not the most elegant looking piece of chocolate, in fact, there’s very little chocolate here at all. Everyone keeps going on about how nicely Chuck Siegel roasts his nuts, and though I agree, the milk chocolate just isn’t doing anything for me here. Too sweet. (Have no fear, I’ll say nice things about Chuck’s nuts in a few days when I get to that review!)
Cary’s Toffee - US (English Toffee topped with Almonds) - I was surprised to see toffee there. I was also pleased. This generous bar has a wonderful caramelized scent with an immediate hit of butter. The toffee itself had a wonderful gentle cleave, breaking into shards when bitten. The dark chocolate really helped to bring out the darker smoke notes of the sugars. The extra nuts on top could stay or go as far as I was concerned, in fact, they kept falling off.
Marcona ones I’ve had at tapas bars, and the different flavor of them and density of oils really set off the slightly salty zing of the cocoa outside.
Christopher Elbow Strawberry Balsamic - US (Strawberry Puree with Caramel and Balsamic Vinegar) - a lovely looking candy with an inventive design that really screams balsamic vinegar. But here goes ... I’m not fond of vinegar and chocolate. I’ve tried a few in the past year and maybe there’s one out there that will make me happy, but this one isn’t it. The center was a little too tart for me and the white chocolate a little too sweet. I think I would have preferred everyone compromising a bit in the middle. Perhaps a milk chocolate and a caramel with more butter to balance the acids.
Christopher Elbow Aztec Spice - US (5 Spice Blend with Ancho and Pasillo Chilis) - this one was lovely, one that I’ve actually had several of now. The spice is mellow and robust at the same time. I could make out the caramelized flavors of the roasted chilis and the cinnamon and allspice gave it a good woodsy boost.
Christopher Elbow Rosemary Caramel - US (Caramel infused with Rosemary) - The caramel in here is the slow flowing kind with a slight grain to it and a strong infusion of rosemary. However, the white chocolate added no vanilla balance but a pure sweetness that just drowned out the balsam qualities. This chocolate with its eighties style gemtone brushstrokes of color gets my pick as the one that I would least like to wear as a hat.
Valentino Framboize - Belgium (Whole Raspberry with Raspberry Buttercream) - I was really looking forward to this one. I have to say that it didn’t look very appealing to me, but the thought of a whole raspberry made me look past its bulging belly like a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. Aside from that, it was nice and floral with a really good raspberry flavor, but again too sweet for my tastes. I wanted more chocolate and less of the buttercream, I guess.
Marquise de Sevigne Creme Brulee - France (Caramelized Butter Ganache) - More like a praline than the custard I was expecting (like the Kee’s one I tried in NYC). Caramelized, a little grainy but rather light. Tastes a bit like coconut but not in a bad way. It kind of grew on my after I got past my expectations. It was more like the sugar crust of a creme brulee than the custard itself.
Amadei Supremo - Italy (Milk Chocolate Espresso Ganache) - simple and divine. I’d leave it at that, but the way I’ve laid out this page I kind of have to go on about each one the same amount. It’s not the prettiest one of the bunch, being from a rather common stock mold, but the milk and mellow ganache go well.
Maglio Stuffed Fig - Italy (Almond and Lemon with Fig) - when Michael Freeman was presenting the box and he got to this one I was just itching to bolt across the room to wolf one down. Billed as a dried fig stuffed with candied lemon and almonds, I was pretty much sold. Upon trying it was I in love with the figs and chocolate (as I’d already been downing the Trader Joe’s ones in my motel room earlier in the day) but didn’t get the lemon and almond notes I was promised. Don’t worry, I didn’t demand my money back. The dark chocolate was absolutely wonderful. I am surprised that I actually shared this with the neighbors (it’s pretty big and easy to cut into pieces) but I felt bad because someone pointed out that Amy spits out a lot of stuff I give her.
Michel Cluizel Champignon Caramel - France (Caramel Mushroom with Almond Praline Cap) - Were you wondering if I was saving the best for last? There actually aren’t in any particular order (I think the order I took the photos in). I didn’t know what it was, I think my mind was still on the fig thing when it was mentioned in the presentation. It looks like a mushroom. The stem is a wonderful firm caramel covered in mellow white chocolate. The cap is a little half-sphere cup of almond praline (like the florentine cookies) filled with a truffle ganache and then coated in chocolate. Genius. Cute and absoutely an incredible combination.
There was another walnut item in the box which I didn’t try.
On the whole, the box isn’t my favorite. However, after sampling the wares at CocoaBella, I know that Michael Freeman has good taste. I find boxed chocolates frustrating on the whole, because there’s usually such an assortment, as in this one, once you hit on a favorite you’ve eaten it and have to move on. The good thing is that it’s a great cross section of a lot of different chocolatiers that I probably never would have recognized before that are now on my “seek out” list.
So, my tip is, if you have the money, dive in and take a chance. If you don’t and you still want to explore, try the CocoaBella “Build a Box” feature on their website (or go into the store). The pre-selected boxes don’t actually tell you what’s in there but do have some good indicators (Dark Chocolate, Exotics, Milk Chocolate, Truffles and Wine Pairings). I think if I had to pick a box out for myself, I’d try either the exotics or the truffles.
Friday, November 10, 2006
It finally happened. I ate too much chocolate.
I had always figured that my first chocolate overdose would happen with a giant Toblerone or a bag of Hershey’s Kisses. This was the happiest surprise of all, it was with some of the best chocolates on the planet.
On November 1st I attended CocoaBella‘s unveiling of the “World’s Greatest Box of Chocolates.” This box is the culmination of Michael Freeman’s tastings of hundreds (probably thousands) of chocolates from some of the best chocolatiers. Instead of just shoving a box in the mail with some literature, Freeman and his PR team held a reception to introduce not only the chocolates but also the aesthetic and even three of the chocolatiers.
CocoaBella Chocolates bills itself as a purveyor of the best small batch artisan chocolates from all over the world. They carry Amadei, Christopher Elbow, Michel Cluizel and Charles Chocolates, among others. What’s different about them instead of going into all of those shops to find your favorites is that you can create your own box with chocolates from any or all of the chocolatiers. One stop shopping, if you will.
The evening began with the normal press recieving line where we were given our name badges as we entered the little shop in San Francisco. I was offered wine and given an overview of the evening. We would start with browsing and we were free to try ANYTHING in the shop. The chocolates for the box unveiling were located along one wall, but anything behind the counter was also available. There would be a presentation by Michael Freeman and three of the chocolatiers were actually present, Christopher Elbow of Kansas, Chuck Siegel (Charles Chocolates) of Emeryville and Jacques Dahan of Michel Cluizel Chocolates (Paris).
It was clear since the shop still didn’t have that many people in it and there were many name badges laid out on the table that there would be some mingling until everyone arrived. I browsed. I took photos. I didn’t touch anything. It smelled good and looked fantastic. There were other bloggers there, so I began to relax. It was no mistake that I was there.
At the back counter there were two men working to create and plate chocolates. I recognized both of them. On the left was Chuck Siegel and on the right was Christopher Elbow. Since other folks were talking to them, I sidled up and listened in. They were creating three fresh creations for us to try, nothing that either of them were ever going to include in their chocolate lines, just one-offs. I chatted with both of them and some other writers and then started trying some of the chocolates. I started with the nutty items, I had to pace myself. I got four chocolates under my belt when the presentation began.
Michael Freeman explained the chocolate shop, where he carries at least 300 different items. It sounds like exhausting work traveling Europe and the States to find some of the little chocolatiers and he insists that you can set down any of the chocolates he carries in front of him and he can identify it on sight.
Jacques Dahan did a little tasting of three of the Michel Cluizel single origin chocolates. I felt a little smug, as I’d already tried these as a tasting kit a few months back, but was comforted to see that my tasting notes of the time still held up. Dahan reiterated some of the literature in the tasting kit, that Cluizel fosters relationships with the plantations, just as I imagine great sommeliers do with wineries. There’s a great deal of pride involved in this upscale chocolate. What I found particularly refreshing though, was the openness and the nods that each of the chocolatiers were able to give to each other.
There were Siegel and Elbow, two men who might be regarded as rivals, happily collaborating on a set of chocolates for the evening.
Oh, and what were those chocolates? The little one is a simple dark ganache with a dollop of fresh mango and ginger chutney. Fresh and earthy, the bitterness and complexity of the chocolate was set off nicely by the rooty balsam flavors of the chutney. Then there’s the fresh fig, split open filled with a white chocolate ganache then dipped in dark chocolate. Wonderfully fresh, and the mild sweetness of the fig itself was set off well by the truffle cream, which happily was not sickly sweet. The dark chocolate wasn’t as powerful as I’d hoped, but maybe I didn’t pick one out that had been dipped enough.
The last one was a little mousy looking and they were pretty quiet about what it was. Just a peanut praline with a surprise. The next day Siegel explained a bit more about how praline is made, basically they take raw nuts and throw them in a copper kettle with sugar and heat it all together. As the nuts roast the sugar caramelizes. Then it’s ground together to make a paste that has little flecks of the sugar in it. This little square had an extra bonus though, at first I thought it was just something like the center of a Butterfinger bar, but then it popped. Then there was a lot of popping in there. Unflavored Pop Rocks. It was an interesting combination (and was a great help for my novel).
After the presentations it was back to the chocolate floor. I took photos, of course, and now that I had a better understanding of what Freeman was up to, I started really examining the offerings behind the counter. I also started tasting. I started tasting things that weren’t in that box. I knew that I was going to try more of Charles Chocolates the next day (yes, there’s still more to tell from my San Francisco trip!) so I looked at the other chocolatiers.
At first Elbow’s were missing the mark for me, they were very sweet (but they’re so darned pretty). Some that I tried that were fantabulous, most notably was the Orange Honey Blossom, which was a half-sphere button with a drippy honey cream center with a true honey taste and texture. I regret not trying one of the Bananas Foster. The Cluizel was fantastic and so incredibly specific. It finally dawned on me the unique position Cluizel is in, because they make their chocolate, from bean all the way to the final truffle creation. There are so few actual chocolate factories on the planet, and the fact that this one creates more than just the bars and couverture for the rest of the industry sets them apart. (And I need to pay more attention to them now.)
Fact is, I was seriously overloaded with chocolate. I wouldn’t call it a chocolate high, more like a chocolate sedation. I wanted it all, but part of my brain wasn’t working well enough to figure out where to put it. I couldn’t possibly fit any more in my tummy. I had a half a glass of wine during the presentations and after that a bottle of sparkling water. A glance over by the door though, and I saw that the name badges were replaced with gift bags ... with a box of chocolate to take home. I sighed in relief. As much as I didn’t want to leave, because the Golden Ticket would be voided the moment I stepped outside the door, I had to go. The wine had worn off at least a half an hour earlier and it was time to go back to the motel.
I lost count with how much I ate. It was probably a third of a pound of chocolate in two hours. Good thing I didn’t have any lunch or dinner.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 7:05 am
Monday, September 04, 2006
One of my splurges last month with my ill-gotten-gain (payoff from a production company) was to buy some goodies from Mel & Rose’s and this was the big ticket item of the day (I would have bought more but the heat lately is death to chocolate). I’ve only tried Michel Cluizel once before and I wasn’t that impressed. But people keep telling me how good it is and I always enjoy the variety of a tasting kit.
Michel Cluizel is a French chocolatier who is not at all new to this, his company has been making gourmet chocolate since 1948. It’s one of the few chocolates you’ll find that has no soya lecithin in it. It’s just cocoa beans, sugar and vanilla. His single origin tasting kit showcases his chocolates that are created using beans from only one plantation. Most of the chocolate that we eat is a blend of beans from all over the tropics, or perhaps one region.
It came with a nice little brochure that talked about each of the plantations that the cocoa beans came from, but I thought it would be fun to taste the chocolates first and then see how I did. So my initial tasting notes are followed with the ones from the leaflet.
Los Ancones (green) x4 - What I tasted was ultra smooth. Slightly bitter at first with some very dark smoky notes but as the buttery chocolate gives way, more acidity comes through and gives way to raisin and cherry notes.
The brochure said:
Maralumi (fuscia) x4 - quite a bit more acidic than the first, this one was kind of tart and brought to mind olives and apricots (dang, I shouldn’t have read that brochure!). I was also getting some woodsy notes of cedar and balsam. The acidity gave the whole thing a dry finish with a slight bitter note that lingered far after the cocoa butter was gone.
The brochure says:
Tamarina (blue) x2 - quite tangy with some powerfully deep smoky notes and a lowgrade bitterness that was offset by some mellow sweetness. The chocolate is slick and smooth with a dry finish.
The brochure says:
Concepcion (orange) x2 - a great start with instant chocolatey roundness, the smoke and woodsy notes come out right away, and perhaps some coffee, followed by some tangy notes that might have some mango essence in it. Then a crisp, dry finish.
The brochure says:
Mangaro Noir (yellow) x4 - instant notes of raisin and fig, sweet and mellow with a pleasant tang. There are also some balsam notes, maybe juniper or sage. It reminded me of the desert, that crisp feeling.
The brochure says:
It’s obvious I’m getting the general vibe of each chocolate, but not the specificity that the brochure reveals about each one. I think part of it might be the small pieces. I liked the slightly larger E. Guittard tablets that I tried earlier this year, which makes it easier to discern the more obscure notes. I was really pleased with the smooth buttery consistency of each of the tablets, they’re all in the 64% - 70% cocoa solids range, so they’re intense without being too dense.
If you’re looking for some extensive reviews and commentary on the range of single origin from Michel Cluizel and how it compares to the rest of the world of chocolate, check out SeventyPercent.com. I was really pleased with the kit, it’s fun to share or just spread out over a week as I did. I’m always disappointed when they don’t do comparable numbers of squares for each variety, but it’s a small kit and really only appropriate for two people at most.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
There are many wonderful people who write into Candy Blog (either via email or comments) to keep me abreast of what’s going on out there in the sweet real world. As I’m mostly a hermit, these tips are invaluable and here are my follow-ups on the most recent tips:
Assorted Fruit Headline
I rushed off to the 99 Cent Only Store to find it’s true! I haven’t opened the bag yet, but I thought I’d share my delight with everyone else. I have no idea when Ferrara Pan decided to make this mixed bag or even if it’s because of that review. Yes, you can buy them separately in little boxes, but this is a much better deal.
Also, the bag is plastic, which means that the Fruit Heads are protected from the enemy of sugar candies ... humidity. (Many of you know the disappointment of a box of Lemonheads where the poor spheres are welded to the box and each other.) I should really follow up on my request for Grapefruitheads.
I give these a 9 out of 10! (Yummy)
Pop’ables Chocolate Crisps
Sandy wrote to me earlier this week to tell me that there was a malted milk ball at the Dollar Tree. Well, I don’t have a Dollar Tree nearby, but as I was already at the 99 Cent Only Store searching for the Fruit Headline, I caught a huge display of these in the peg bag section: Limited Edition Pop’ables Chocolate Crisps.
I’m not sure why they call them “chocolate crisps” because they’re malted milk balls and they’re a pretty well known segment of the American candy pantheon. These were ridiculously good and again upset me to an insane degree because they’re limited edition. The chocolate is sweet and smooth with a slight coconutty note to it. The crisp center is light and malty with only a hint of sweetness. The packaging is completely uninspired, but I suppose it doesn’t matter as it is not only a limited edition item, but Mars has hinted that they’re discontinuing the Pop’ables line anyway. These were made in Australia. Super-addictive ... I ate the whole bag at work yesterday.
I give these a 9 out of 10! (Yummy)
Lindt Baking 70% Cocoa Bitter-Sweet Chocolate
While I was poking around in the candy aisle at the 99 Cent Only Store, I also found this little gem: Lindt Baking 70% Cocoa Bitter-Sweet Chocolate.
I’ve become a recent convert to Lindt via their impulsive truffles and couldn’t resist giving this “baking” bar a try to see if it rivaled their regular Lindt Excellence 70% bar that I see for three times the price at Cost Plus. At 3.5 ounces for 99 cents, it’s a fabulous deal for high-quality chocolate. They also had a semi-sweet bar that didn’t list the cocoa content (but sugar was the first ingredient on the list instead of chocolate).
I was worried that the bar would be past its prime, but it’s glossy and dark and with a good snap. Perfectly fresh. Lindt still isn’t my favorite chocolate, but at this price, it’s hard to buy a Hershey bar. This bar was made in France.
I give this a 7 out of 10! (Worth It)
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
I don’t know what came over me when I went to Mel & Rose, but I bought this super-expensive nougat bar.
Here it is May, and I’m really missing my Christmas Torrones and I was weak and overwhelmed while browsing at Mel & Rose. It’s such a pretty looking bar too, look at all those nuts and the sticky white nougat.
The label is in French, except for the ingredients: Sugar, Almonds 28%, Glucose Syrup, Lavender Honey 7.5%, all flowers honey of provence 7.5%, Pistachios 2%, wafer of egg white, Vanilla natural aroma.
There’s not a single ingredient in there that doesn’t have my mouth watering. And it’s not just plain honey ... it’s Lavender honey! Yum.
Let me tell you, it’s divine. The honey flavors come out loud and clear here, more than any other French nougat that I’ve had (and I’ve had co-workers bringing me the stuff directly from France for the last 10 years). The honey is strong and musky and slightly floral. The delicate, light nougat is sweet without being cloying or sticky. It’s lightly fluffed which allows the honey and almond flavors to permeate the bar. The nuts are dreamily crisp and firm.
As it’s thinner than a regular Torrone block, it’s easy to bite off a bit, but hard to resist cramming the whole thing into my maw.
Though I balked at the price ($5.99) after I’d paid (I wasn’t paying attention), once I started photographing it and noticing the density of the nuts and glossy nougat, I knew I hadn’t made a mistake. Opening the wrapper and biting into it only confirms that.
Part of me never wants to go back to Mel & Rose because I will be obligated to buy this again, which of course will keep me from trying something new (or several somethings since this was $6), but it’s soooo good.
Even if you think you’ll never run across this nougat bar, browse around their website (or visit them if you’re in France). Here are some fun things I learned:
They produce 168 tons of nougat a year, using 33 tons of almonds ... that’s 45% of the almonds grown in Provence every year! They detail the process of making it, too (though some of the translations are a little wonky). The website says that you can order online, but I have no idea about the exchange and delivery to the United States. If you do end up ordering, please report back on how it went (and order some marshmallows and let me know how they are).
Thursday, January 19, 2006
I’ve seen these bars in Cost Plus World Market and other stores that sell UK sweets and it looked like a very complicated bar. Michal, my generous reader who sent me a huge package of candy that I’ve been slowly posting here, was good enough to include this one.
A Lion bar is creme filled wafers, caramel and crisped rice covered in milk chocolate. I don’t know if the photo does it justice (you can click on it for a larger version). It’s a very sweet bar with quite a bit of texture to it. The package exalts that it’s “Dangerously Better” but doesn’t say what’s better about it or what else it might be better than. It reminds me a great deal of the other Nestle bar, the 100 Grand, which doesn’t have the wafers in the center but the same sort of caramel and crisped rice.
It’s quite a tasty bar and because of the variations in textures, the different crisps, the saltiness of the caramel, it’s a really satisfying bar.
I’m glad I’ve had a chance to try it because I figure now it’s an easily identified bar no matter where I may be in Europe when I’m on the metro and need a little candy boost. It’s a solid, middle of the road choice for snacking.
I haven’t the foggiest why it’s called a Lion bar, but there are a lot of incongruously named bars out there and I shouldn’t start picking at them now. The official website for the bar is German, but the bar says that it’s manufactured in France.
Friday, April 22, 2005
Name: Noir au Grue de Cacao
Michel Cluizel has been mentioned to me a few times as the epitome of fine, dense chocolate. I’ve looked at it quite a few times in the shops but have always been hesitant because of the price. Really, at $1.55 per ounce, this stuff better be pretty good.
It’s nicely packaged, I like things in boxes instead of flimsy paper, especially for something that I’m not going to finish in one sitting. The scent of the chocolate is positively gorgeous. Chocolately, rich and with a hint of coffee.
The bar I chose is a standard dark chocolate with bits of cocoa nibs in it. I’ve had this sort of bar before (I’ll try to find that bar again, because I really liked it) and was looking forward to the mix of textures and taste density.
My first two squares were disappointing. I think I hit a bad patch of nibs, because they tasted very musty. But, upon revisiting it the next day, I found that the chocolate was very smooth with an excellent contrast of the crunchy nibs. Overall I think that the addition of the nibs if more of a novelty than an actual enhancement. I like nuts in my chocolate, or raisins or, jeeze, just about anything. But I don’t like things in my chocolate that don’t add to the experience.
Rating: 6 out of 10.
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