Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Chuao is a small village in Venezuela, but to chocolate aficionados is the name for criollo cocoa beans from the area. Casey at The Chocolate Note has some wonderful coverage and photos.
For many years Amadei (Italy) had an exclusive deal for the beans from the region, so the only chocolate made from them was Amadei’s Chuao bars. The bars were hard to find and of course quite expensive (though bars from Chocolat Bonnat existed, that’s kind of another story). And of course there was just the one company’s concept of what was best about the beans (from the fermentation to the roasting & conching). Amadei is no longer the only purveyor of the coveted beans. I picked up three different bars from three different countries to see how they created a chocolate bar from the esteemed cacao: Chocolat Bonnat (France), Amano (USA) and Coppeneur (Germany).
The Chocolat Bonnat Chuao bar is the largest of the group, a generous 100 gram bar (3.5 ounces). It’s 75% cacao and Kosher. There are only three ingredients in the bar: cacao, cocoa butter and sugar. No emulsifiers like soy lecithin and no vanilla.
The packaging is simple and the same as all the other Bonnat bars I’ve had. It’s a large bar with petite but thick rectangular segments. It’s wrapped in a simple paper-backed foil which is then covered in a simple glossy, embossed paper sleeve.
The bar has a beautiful sheen, a light touch of red to the brown color and though the photo makes it look a creamy color, it’s really quite dark.
The scent is rather earthy with a few green notes like olives. The melt is exquisite, smooth and thick without being chalky or dry. The chocolate is flavorful, angled mostly towards the deep flavors like smoke, coffee, dried cherries and molasses. There are some slight mineral notes, like iron. While it sounds like this would be heavy and rich, it still comes off a little lighter than that, mostly because of the texture and a lighter acidity. There’s a trace of bitterness towards the end but nothing distracting, more like a finish of a citrus marmalade.
I’m already quite fond of Coppeneur. From the packaging, which is this smart little matte black “wallet” that’s sealed with a dot of wax to the beautiful design of the bar’s mold. I’ve bought several of their Ocumare bars in the past (straight dark chocolate and Mit Chili & Cacao-Nibs) but never wrote about them. They’re difficult to find in the United States, I’ve been buying my bars at Fog City News in San Francisco.
Like the Bonnat bar, the Coppeneur Chuao Dunkle Schokolade is made only with cacao mass and sugar. There is no added soy lecithin or vanilla. This bar is 70% and comes in a 50 gram tablet (about 1.76 ounces).
The bar has a similar red hue. The format of the bar is different from both the Bonnat and Amano, so I photographed them together. It’s quite thin but has an excellent snap to it.
The initial melt is quick and smooth but the thing I noticed first was the raisin flavors and light tangy notes. Though it’s only 70% instead of the 75% of the Bonnat, it’s not sweeter though perhaps a little more acidic and has a dry finish. Though most of the flavor notes were overwhelmingly fruity, like prunes and raisins and dried cherries there were some light roasted notes of pecans. Towards the end, the flavors got deeper with notes of toffee, leather and tobacco.
There were a couple of little gritty bits, this bar is a 70 hour conch. I have another set of bars from Coppeneur that I got in Germany that are paired: a 70 hour conch and a 100 hour conch. I’ll be trying those soon.
This bar comes in the same package style as the other Amanos, a slim and glossy box. The bars are 2 ounces (56 grams) and wrapped in a sturdy gold foil. This bar differs from the other two in the ingredients: cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter and vanilla beans. So I was curious what the vanilla beans would contribute to the profile of the Chuao cacao. The cacao content is 70% and is Kosher (note that it’s also made in a facility with nuts, peanuts, dairy & soy present).
I find the size and format of the bar to be ideal for the way that I like to each dark chocolate. The bar is thick, but not so thick that a lot of chewing is necessary. The segments are a great size for a single taste and the foil is of good quality for rewrapping and saving for later.
The first flavors I got were woodsy and green with a little citrus peel twang in there of grapefruit. The melt is smooth but a little more gritty and sugary than the previous two bars ... and when I say gritty, that’s just a comparison. Taken by itself I don’t know if many folks would notice. The vanilla is noticeable in the flavor profile, I definitely got some oak cask and cognac flavors in there and the finish has that vanilla note and the freshness of white tea. There are more floral notes, like orange blossom and jasmine. But there’s also a kind of volatile quality, a sort of burn like orange oil can give after a while.
I’ve been nibbling and formulating my tasting notes for these bars for about two months. I traveled with the bars, taking them all the way to Europe and back. The Venezuelan Chuao beans are extraordinary and very expensive. They create a wonderful chocolate, apparently every chocolate maker is able to do something extraordinary and unique with the beans. The price is prohibitive though and in some ways it makes me question spending that much on a bar ... the Chuao bars are usually priced 20-25% more than the other bars in that company’s line - so my Coppeneur bar was $8, where a regular single origin bar from them would be $6 and these are only 50 grams to begin with.
My final conclusion is that everyone makes a wonderful chocolate bar from these beans. But I’ve also been very impressed with each of these company’s chocolate bars made with other less expensive beans, they’re simply good chocolate makers. I’m not convinced that the chocolate bars are worth the premium for these beans in particular, but fans of chocolate in general should try at least one of the bars made from Chuao beans as a point of reference. Personally, I’m not afraid to go back to blended bean bars, which offer a good balance of consistency of flavor over they years and affordability. But with some folks, once you go Chuao you never go back.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
The box says they’re Light and Fluffy Peppermint Marshmallows Drenched in Smooth, Dark Chocolate. They’re made in France and the box holds about 9 marshmallows (though the nutrition label says there are 10 in the package).
Last week I reviewed the new Peeps Chocolate Covered Peppermint Marshmallows and several people mentioned that I should try the new Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Minty Mallows. Believe me, I was right there with them. The first set of Peeps I bought, which was before Thanksgiving, were $1 each (1 ounce), so when I saw the price for the Trader Joe’s version was $2.99 (for 7 ounces), it made these a great value in comparison. I’ve since purchased additional Peeps at only 50 cents each, that’s still more expensive per ounce than Trader Joe’s.
Inside the trapezoidal box is a silver mylar pouch. The dark chocolate covered marshmallows are just tossed in there. So you can imagine that on their voyage from France they’ve gotten quite scuffed and tumbled. Some were cracked but all were intact and there was surprisingly little chocolate dust at the bottom of the bag.
Each piece is about 1.5 inches square (they’re really more rectangular, so maybe a smidge more than 1.5 on one side than the other) and about an inch high. They feel a bit heavier than I would have expected for a chocolate covered marshmallow.
It’s not that the photo above is lacking detail for the marshmallow. They’re not light and foamy like Peeps. They’re dense and quite moist, more like a cross between aerated gelatin and a gummi bear.
The texture, though not as meringue-like as I’d expected is still quite smooth. It’s like memory foam latex, chewy and lightly minty.
The chocolate outside is smooth and maybe little chalky but has enough dark chocolate punch to stand up to the strong mint. At 55% cocoa solids (and no milkfat) its strongest flavor component is woodsy and though not as creamy as I would have hoped, it still has a very smooth melt that complements the marshmallow. The chocolate also adheres nicely to the marshmallow, so even though it cracks a bit when biting, it sticks to the marshmallow to prevent messes and deliver every possible morsel of chocolate with the marshmallow.
For the most part I found these odd. One is rather rib-stickingly satisfying, so a box of 9 or 10 of these goes a long way. I didn’t try melting them for S’mores or in Hot Chocolate. I don’t know if I’ll buy them again, but I found them far superior in ingredients, satisfaction and even presentation from the Just Born Peeps. I can see these being a fun product in the future with alternate versions with different flavored marshmallows (orange, strawberry, cinnamon, licorice). I might like to see them packaged in trays, in little fluted cups or something that keeps them from tumbling around, because I bet they’re stunning right off the confectionery line.
Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Last year I picked up a few Krema Batna in San Francisco at the charming Miette Confiserie. I never thought I’d see them again in the states. There I was a few weeks ago, walking through the Glendale Galleria on my way to See’s and there was a tiny kiosk that had a variety of French gourmet foods. There were Jordan almonds, capers and various spreads and oils… plus a few bags of Krema Batna.
I recognized it immediately by the package, a large leopard with the French words Le bonbon tendre au gout sauvage which means the tender (chewy) candy with the wild taste. Even though it was $6.00 for 150 grams (5.29 ounces), I scooped it up without a second thought. I really wanted to have these creamy licorice caramels again.
The scent is only lightly sweet and herbal - a note of molasses and anise. The chew is soft and easy, kind of like a smooth Starburst. The caramel is silky and has a strong licorice note - that light and lingering sweetness with a darker smoky note to it as well. It’s creamy as well, a little like coffee with Ouzo. It had a lot more true licorice to it than many other licorice candies and not so much of the anise/fennel notes. Of course that makes it very sweet, a sort of strange throat coating sweetness that doesn’t burn in the same way that sugar does.
I would buy another bag of these in a heartbeat. They’re an excellent pocket candy as well, since they’re durable in the summer but the creamy component makes them feel much richer than they actually are.
I did a little bit of web searching and saw on a French website that Krema is a whole line of chews that come in other flavors like Tender Cherry, Lemon, Raspberry, Caramel, Cola, Green, Orange Apple. Definitely something I’m going to try to find, though I’m pretty sure the Batna is the one for me.
They have gelatin in them, so are unsuitable for vegetarians. The package says that they’re made by Cadbury France.
Friday, June 4, 2010
This bright yellow box holds a bar of Pierre Herme Chocolat Noir Pure Origine Sao Tome a la Fleur de Sel. I got it from my friend Ernessa, who was traveling in France and never forgets to pick me up something special. This is a special bar.
The bar is slightly smaller than the usual 100 gram (3.5 ounce) tablet. It’s 80 grams and 2.82 ounces, which in my book is two perfectly proportioned servings. Inside the box the bar is presented in a simple cellophane sleeve that’s a little oversized so putting the bar back in it is easy.
The chocolate ingredients are simple. It’s a 75% cacao bar made from single origin beans, sugar, cocoa butter, hand-harvested French sea salt, non-genetically modified soy lecithin and natural vanilla extract. The beans of Sao Tome are known for their bold and rich taste, which has echoes of charcoal, roasted nuts and coffee.
The bar has a good bit of cocoa butter in it so it has a nice melt on the tongue. The flavor is intense and just barely sweet, even before the little bits of sea salt come out to play.
The flavor is deep and woodsy with a light coffee note and scent of baked brownies. The salt give it a little pop and actually makes it seem sweeter at times. The buttery texture is a little bouncy but keeps the dry finish from going bitter.
I’ve tried a few other Sao Tome bars before and found them rather intense but lacking nuance and buttery texture. This bar is nothing like that - it’s soft and approachable and incredibly munchable for a 75% bar. If I’m ever in Paris or Tokyo, I’ll definitely sample more of the Pierre Herme chocolates (and of course the macarons they’re known for).
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
One of the crazier purchases I made in San Francisco last month was this tube of Pralus Chocolatier Creme de Noisette. If you’re thinking that I’ve started reviewing beauty products, it’s okay, this is candy.
The only other tube candy I’ve reviewed before were some Wonka (Nestle) items that simply couldn’t be much more different. (And they probably don’t have a single ingredient in common.)
First, Pralus is known by experts as one of the best chocolate makers in the world, right up there with Amadei, Michel Cluizel, Domori and Guittard (see a rankings list here at SeventyPercent). The company is one of only three remaining French chocolate masters to make chocolate from bean to bar. Their line of single origin bars are highly prized (I’ve tried many of them, but for some reason I’ve never reviewed them) and their Patisseries in France are known for their wide variety of sweet delights including their Pralulines.
The tube is quite heavy, clocking in at 8.8 ounces (250 grams). I spent a pretty penny on it, $14.99 at Bi-Rite Market. But I rationalized that it’s over a half a pound, which is a lot of confection for 15 bucks, especially for something imported from France.
The ingredients are dead simple: Grilled Hazelnuts and Almonds, Sugar, Chocolate and Vanilla. It’s basically a decadent Nutella. Now I must admit that I had a long affair with Nutella once. I was introduced to the stuff in Toronto in 1986 and though I had little money, I took home two jars (well, I started with three only two made it to the border). Whenever I was able to find it, I certainly bought it. I didn’t spread it on toast or use it in recipes, I simply ate it by the spoonful.
As years went by Nutella became more accessible in the big city (Los Angeles), but I found I didn’t like it as much. It seemed sweeter and greasier than I remembered. I’m told the stuff in Italy is actually better, but I kind of gave up on it and switched to straight gianduia by then. (The ingredients in Nutella sold in the USA go like this: sugar, palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa, skim milk, soy lecithin and vanillin.) I’ve actually seen commercials for Nutella on TV now, highlighting its nutritiousness but for something that’s mostly sugar and palm oil, I have trouble believing it’s anything other than nutty frosting.
I can say this, Pralus Creme de Noisette is nutty and it can be used as frosting but it’s oh so much better.
The texture at room temperature is like brownie batter, in fact, it looks rather like brownie batter. It’s much darker out of the tube than in it. It smells like toasted hazelnuts, quite dark and caramelized. The flavor is immediately hazelnut as well, quite deep and slightly bitter. The cocoa notes are rich and on the smoky and coffee side. I’m not getting anything out of the almonds but that’s fine with me if they’re just filler.
The texture is also a little like a batter, it’s mostly smooth but every once in a while there’s a little sugar grain or nutty grain to it. Sometimes the sugar is quite a toasted flavor, like the whole thing was roasted together. It’s decadent and great for just squeezing onto a spoon or finger as a treat.
I also tried it a few other ways:
I fully plan to repeat the last two (with some variations) until the tube is gone. So far it’s been lasting quite a long time. It’s easy to keep in my desk drawer as well and is rather easy to keep neat.
My only other issue, besides price and availability, is spreadability. I can’t really blame the product but in the winter I have a bit of trouble squeezing it out of the tube. My house isn’t completely heated, so at anything below about 70F the tube becomes rather stiff and hard to squeeze the stuff out. (Something to keep in mind if you’re thinking of taking it camping - but the solution is just stick it under your arm for a while.)
Friday, October 9, 2009
The use of salt in candy is as old as toffee, caramel, & licorice but now it’s popping into chocolates. Lindt just released their newest, an Excellent Dark with a Touch of Sea Salt bar.
The package is quite pretty and elegantly simple. The standard paperboard sleeve with a cool dark blue background for the chocolate square sporting a little sprinkle of salt.
I usually like chocolate bars that come in paperboard sleeves, they protect the chocolate well, and should make it easy to keep the leftovers. Lindt has designed theirs so that once you open it, there’s no tab to tuck back in, instead it falls apart completely without a little piece of tape or a rubber band.
My bar was fresh and has a wonderful sheen. Smelling it, it’s not quite as complex as I’d hoped. The package doesn’t say how chocolatey it is, but it turns out that this simple dark-named bar is only 47%. The ingredients also list butterfat, which I don’t mind in milk chocolate, but feel it tends to make dark chocolate a little less potent.
Smell aside, the texture is quite nice. Silky smooth until, oh, a little pop of salt grains.
The flavors are deeper than the smell. A little coffee & woodsy notes along with a lighter chocolate cake flavor. The salt kind of sends me off into the realm of freshly baked chocolate chips cookies. There’s a bit of a dry finish that keeps it all from feeling like the experience was too sweet or too salty.
It’s a pretty well balanced bar and a nice example of salt & sugar being used together. It’s not quite as deep and satisfying as the darker offerings from Lindt and of course the fact that they’ve used butterfat means it’s off the list for vegans.
Lindt just relaunched their Excellence Chocolate website and I have to say that they did a nice job as far as I’m concerned. Big images, lots of information about the products, including ingredients & nutrition label. And most importantly it’s not done in all flash so no crazy sounds/music & I can link directly to a product page if I wanted to.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
A week ago I went to one of those warehouse gourmet sales. Maybe you’ve seen them mentioned on sites like Chow - a wholesaler opens their doors for just one day so that normal folks can buy hard to find foods at near wholesale prices. I went to Gourmet Imports in Alhambra with the full intention of stocking up on nougat, honey and Valrhona.
This is what I came away with: just this little 8.8 ounce jar of Mas des Abeilles Boules de Miel which are candy drops made from French lavender honey. (It was a madhouse with far too many people and much of the chocolate/candy they had was hopelessly past its expiration.)
I didn’t even know how much it was until after we’d checked out. This little not-even-glass jar was nine dollars.
They’d better be good.
They’re rather large artisan styled spheres about 3/4 of an inch around. They felt a little light for their size.
It turns out that they’re pretty good - good enough that I’ve eaten them all.
They’re a firm honey center with a rough hard candy shell. I could easily crunch through the shell to get to the center - which was thick & chewy but completely smooth like honey. The flavor was a deep honey, buttery and malty. I didn’t catch any lavender essence to it, but it was still a good floral honey.
It has a throat coating & soothing feeling to it. There’s no weird aftertaste ... no real flavor. Just some honey in a less sticky format.
They’re the perfect thing to eat when your throat is aching from the burning of 125,000 acres of brush within 15 miles of your house.
(For the record, the other things I purchased there included French lentils, tomato paste in tubes, a gallon of really good olive oil and my prize was a big frozen tub of pureed Yuzu.)
Thursday, February 5, 2009
The idea of a liquid burst inside a gummi candy is nothing new, but seems to have made a bit of a comeback lately. (Starburst GummiBursts & LifeSavers Fruit Splosions.)
Trader Joe’s has a twist on this in their new Trader Joe’s Gummy Tummies Penguins. The flavor array in the package is pretty small: Strawberry, Lime and Cherry. They’re made with natural flavors, have no preservatives and no artificial colors. (They also state that it’s pork gelatin in them ... so they’re safe to eat for non-vegetarian Hindus.)
They’re much larger candy pieces than other versions and are made in such a way that you can actually see the goo inside their tummies.
Oh, I’m sorry, did that scare you?
These things are freaky looking, and what’s worse, they smell. For a couple of days I thought there was an old apple core hiding somewhere in my office (I even crawled under my desk looking for it), turns out that’s what the combination of cherry, strawberry & lime Gummy Tummies smells like.
The shapes are nicely defined, though I wouldn’t call them nicely designed. I didn’t really get the whole “penguin” thing. I asked around and everyone pretty much agrees they look like Grimace from McDonald’s or one of the lesser ghost characters from Casper.
They’re very soft and have a bulbous belly that’s even softer to the touch. They remind me of blisters ... the cherry one (on its side up there) is even worse, because the gummis rather uncolored (like my skin) but has a dark red filling (like a blood blister). I’ll spare you the graphic photo of that and let you just imagine it instead.
Lime is easy to tell from the others, as it’s transparent yellow. The flavor is rather mellow, just a light touch of lemon/lime zest and then a mix of tangy & sweet. The filling is smooth and sticky and just a repeat of the above flavors in a form that needs no chewing.
Strawberry is the pink bellied one. (Though I had to hold them up to the light to tell them apart from the cherry.) The flavor is floral and tangy. The goo doesn’t do much for it and that’s probably a positive.
Cherry has the darkest belly and smells like wild cherry LifeSavers. The liquid center is a lot more flavorful, like a dense syrup of cough suppressant or Cepacol.
This whole tasting has made me realize that I don’t like goo filled gummis.
For those of you who have a Trader Joe’s nearby, you may enjoy this little video.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.