Saturday, April 30, 2011

Go*Do Chocolate: Milk Chocolate Hazelnut

As I like to examine different brands and types of chocolates, I was in luck when I discovered that my package of U.K.-chocolate goodies from Lee wasn’t limited to the Thorntons tonka and fudge bars. Also included was a 34% cocoa milk chocolate bar with hazelnuts from Go*Do Chocolate, an Italian-based firm which produces exclusively organic chocolate.

Given the inclusion of hazelnuts, I was not surprised to find a nutty aroma, which was accented by hints of cream and caramel, which is quite common for milk chocolates.

The chocolate itself is soft with a thick, creamy melt. The creaminess is evident in the flavor as well, and caramel notes also come through in the flavor. The hazelnuts are well-chopped, well-distributed, and well-roasted, resulting in perfectly crisp bits of hazelnut in every bite. The flavors and textures of the hazelnuts and chocolates blend to create a bar that I enjoyed immensely.

What’s your take on all0organic chocolatiers?

Friday, April 29, 2011

Thorntons Milk Chocolate with Fudge: Memories of the Shore

Since postage across the Atlantic isn’t exactly cheap, Lee and I exchanged several bars in our respective mailings this month. In addition to the semi-illicit Throntons tonka bar, I was sent a full-legal bar of Thorntons milk chocolate with fudge.

The base of the bar is a 35% cocoa milk chocolate of Papua New Guinea origin, and the wrapper, like that for the tonka bar, gives me strict instructions: love me, unwrap me, eat me.

Gotcha. I always listen to my chocolate. Especially when the aroma reminds me of fudge shops at the beach in Delaware, with a subtle dairy chocolate scent accompanied by vanilla and honey.

Like the milk chocolate tonka bar, this bar is soft, and includes bits of soft, fudgy honey that melt slower than the chocolate; if you are impatient like me, you can bite into them. The honey-vanilla taste of the fudge is dominant, and is complimented by some hints of maple syrup. This bar is quite, quite sweet, just like fudge from the beach.

Such nostalgia. I wish I could say I had some of this left. Alas. Summer and trips to the beach can’t be that far away.

What chocolate bars evoke nostalgia for you?

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Thorntons Milk Chocolate Tonka Bar: Illicit Packages from the U.K.

When I sent Lee from Chocolate Reviews a few American chocolate bars to review, including the Potomac Chocolate 82% Cocoa Upala bar and the Vosges Naga bar, he kindly sent me some chocolates from the U.K. in return.

Royal Mail. For reals. Inside was one very special bar, one that would be hard to get in the U.S. A Thorntons bar containing illicit tonka bean, just like the Artisan du Chocolat bar that I reviewed earlier this month.

The packaging notes that this milk chocolate-based bar, produced with Venezuelan chocolate with a 38% cocoa content, was an Academy of Chocolate Silver Award winner in 2009. And the interior packaging is even more informative: it instructed me to unwrap it and eat it.

After noting a hint of a spicy aroma, I followed the instructions precisely.

When doing so, I found a soft chocolate with a buttery melt that is a bit rapid, but not excessively slow. The tonka flavor is evident but subtle, and adds just a bit of a cinnamon-like kick while allowing the dairy and caramel flavors from the milk chocolate to come through. The well-balanced flavor and pleasing texture make the fact that this bar won a silver award from the Academy of Chocolate in 2009 easy to believe.

Have you ever been sent chocolate from overseas?

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

April 2011 Daring Bakers Challenge: Edible Bowls and Why I Hate Idaho Falls

It’s April 27! Do you know what that means?

It means that I shouldn’t have seen this on my rental car yesterday.

Snow? Seriously? &*%^&$ you, Idaho Falls.

Obnoxious weather experiences associated with business travel aside, April 27 means that it’s time for blog posts describing completed Daring Bakers Challenges. And so I bring you my take on the April 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge, which was hosted by Evelyne of the blog Cheap Ethnic Eatz. Evelyne chose to challenge everyone to make a maple mousse in an edible container. Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 27th to May 27th at!

In undertaking this challenge, I made a major change by quartering the recipe. I didn’t have an opportunity to disposition the product at a party or other gathering, so I decided that the best approach would be to make a very small batch. First up, I made four cute little edible nutty chocolate bowls.

Edible Nutty Chocolate Bowls
3/4 cups blanched almonds
1 egg white, beaten, at room temp
1 tablespoon sugar
2 ounces very finely chopped chocolate

Grind almonds and sugar in a food processor until coarsely ground. Remove from food processor, add finely ground chocolate. Take extra care to ensure that the texture of the almond-sugar mixture and the chopped chocolate is just so.

Add in egg white, mix until uniform. Line four muffin pan cavities with aluminum foil and spread press a quarter of the mixture along the bottom and sides of each lined cavity.

And then, if your aunt and uncle love you and got you a compact convection oven for Christmas, use this tiny but powerful little thing to bake the edible bowls.

If your aunt and uncle don’t love you, just use a normal oven to bake at 350° F for 15 minutes. Allow bowls to fully cool and then unmold.

Beautiful, isn’t it? They’re so tiny and could really be filled with anything to make a cute little dessert for two. Like for a date or something.

Do people cook for each other for dates? I wouldn’t know. But what do I know? I know that I filled these little guys with maple mousse and that it wasn’t half bad in the end.

Maple Mousse

1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 large egg yolks
1 scant teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1/3 cup whipping cream

As a former synchronized swimmer and current synchronized swimming coach and national judge, I was delighted to see this ingredient.

Why? Because it’s what synchronized swimmers use to keep their hair in place during routine competition.

For real. But that little package of knox got used to make mousse instead. Here’s how.

Whisk an egg yolk while bringing maple syrup to a boil. Pour a bit of the hot syrup into the yolk while whisking, then add mixture to remaining syrup and whisk until well mixed. Measure 1 tablespoon of cream in a small dish and sprinkle with gelatin. Let rest five minutes, then microwave for 5-second intervals until gelatin has completely dissolved. Whisk mixture into maple syrup mixture and set aside. Whisk occasionally for 30 minutes, until the mixture has the consistency of an unbeaten egg white.

Whip the remaining cream; fold a quarter of the whipped cream into the syrup mixture, then fold into remaining whipped cream. Refrigerate at least one hour.

I had plans to pipe the mousse into the edible bowls to make it look pretty. But after 2 hours in the refrigerator, my mousse looked like this.

Nix the piping. Just fill the bowls.

And that’s a wrap.

Would you make tiny edible dessert bowls to dress up the ending to a dinner for two? Or would you be like me and spend your Saturday night cleaning and doing laundry instead?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Potomac Chocolate: Upala 70% Cocoa Nib Bar

After finally writing up my review of my beloved Potomac Chocolate 82% Cocoa Upala Bar, I was feeling like a pretty subpar chocolate blogger. I’ve consumed at least a dozen of those bars since they became available for sale at Biagio earlier this year. I have this bar on my packing list for business trips – in fact, one bar is sitting in my Idaho Falls hotel room right now. Yet it took me until yesterday to write about it? Inexcusable.

Then I remembered the Potomac Chocolate 70% Cocoa Upala Nib Bar. Yet another unreviewed bar from a most outstanding bean-to-bar chocolate maker just a few miles from where I live.

Unreviewed no more, for today, I bring you an analysis of the Potomac Chocolate 70% Cocoa Upala Nib Bar.

Before I start, it’s worth noting that I’m generally not drawn to bars with cocoa nibs in them, as the nibs are often boulder-sized, leaving bitter, dry chunks of nibs after the chocolate melts away. But in the name of research, I checked out this bar.

Fortunately, the nibs were quite nicely ground, and the bar is generally uniform in composition. No big chunks of nibs or nib-less bits of chocolate. Just everything together.

The chocolate itself, like the Potomac Chocolate 70% Cocoa Upala bar, carries a strong coffee flavor with a cherry undertone, and the nibby bar doesn’t appear to be any more bitter than the plain 70% Upala bar. The bar is just a bit dry, which may be due to the inclusion of the nibs, but the texture of the bar is generally smooth without any grit. While I haven’t included this bar in my go-to stock of Potomac Chocolate bars – the plain 70% and 82% have that market firmly cornered – I enjoyed this bar and would recommended it to anybody looking for a bar with nibs.

Of course, if I were a better chocolate blogger, I’d have given that recommendation some three months ago.

Do you like bars with cocoa nibs in them?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Potomac Chocolate: Upala 82% Cocoa Bar

After talking up the Potomac Chocolate Upala 82% cocoa bar, which is made right here in the DC area, to everybody and their mother (and father) since it was released, it’s probably obvious to those of you who follow me on twitter that I’m a fan. Enough of a fan that I shipped some to Lee over in the U.K. as part of our chocolate exchange; I was delighted to see from his review that he adored this newly-released bar.

And then I realized that I still hadn’t reviewed it myself.

Have I mentioned how smart and organized I am?

Anyway, back to this delightful bar. The flavor is incredibly intense, with a dominant coffee taste and a very subtle fruity flavor that I couldn’t pin down more accurately. Even without being able to identify it, I can tell that there is just enough sugar added to this bar to give the flavor a fairly universal appeal.

Though this is about the limit of the intensity I can handle from a chocolate, I am consistently drawn back to this bar because of what I believe is its best quality: the texture, which is not remotely dry. It is instead smooth and dense, with a slow melt that allows you to enjoy the flavor and buttery feel of the texture for ages. My assessment is that the texture of this bar is slightly superior to that of Potomac Chocolate’s 70% Cocoa Upala bar, but I still give the flavor edge to the 70% cocoa version.

Buy both. Obviously.

It may or may not be worth noting that I enjoy this bar enough that it’s on my standard packing list for business trips.

I hope that Ben, the one-man operation behind Potomac Chocolate, can keep up with that demand. I travel a lot.

Is chocolate on your packing list when you travel?

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Biagio Sample Day: Complete with 100% Cocoa Pralus

Yesterday, I got together with a long-time friend who recently returned from the UK, and two of her friends who had brought her cat from California.

Why do you care? Because our get-together took place at Biagio’s monthly sample day!

There were, as usual, about a dozen chocolates for us to sample. After enjoying some Theo caramels, I was delighted to see another Theo creation, their chai tea milk chocolate bar.

The bar had a very strong chai flavor, and my friend noted that it reminded her of Mexican hot chocolate. The chocolate itself seemed a bit grainy, and I don’t think this bar represents Theo’s best work.

Another interesting flavored bar, this one by New Tree, was provided for our inspection: the 73% cocoa dark chocolate bar with pink peppercorns.

I’ve enjoyed pepper-enhanced chocolates before, especially when salt is included as it is in Taza’s Salt and Pepper disc, but found that the pepper here is a bit overpowering and drowns out the chocolate.

Another flavored bar was available for tasting – the Artisan Du Chocolat Darljeeling.

Remember Artisan? The folks who make the semi-illicit Tonka bar? Well, unlike that Tonka bar, the Darljeeling bar is legal. It also happens to be quite enjoyable, just like the Tonka bar. There is a distinct tea flavor with hints of spice to accent this smooth bar with a slow melt.

And then there was the bar for the true hardcore chocolate fiends: The Pralus 100% cocoa bar, which is sourced from Madagascar.

As in: no added sugar. Just cocoa. It was intense. Despite a weak aroma, the taste is very bitter and a bit sour, with smoky notes. We all agreed that there seemed to be a taste similar to that of the charred edges of a fine steak.

Most of the time, Biagio’s sample days inspire to me examine several new chocolates in the comfort of my own kitchen; this time, I zeroed in on the Artisan Darljeeling.

As you can see, I also happened to add in a few other new chocolates, including a pretzel milk chocolate bar from Philadelphia-based Eclat, as well as a bar by Amedei - this chocolatier has been highly recommended by Candice, and who am I to argue.

And some standby chocolates found their way into my bag.

How does that always happen? The world may never know.

Have you ever tried 100% cocoa chocolate?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Pimp My Easter Basket: The Grand Round Up

Holidays can sneak up on you, can’t they? Including Easter, which is tomorrow. No doubt you’ve seen many Easter-themed recipes popping up, including my Roadkill Easter Bunny Bar Cookies.

But why did I do those? Aside from the perverse enjoyment? Oh yeah. For the PIMP MY EASTER BASKET CHALLENGE.

I wasn’t alone in this challenge. A bunch of folks took delight in taking their favorite Easter treats and making them over-the top. Such as my fellow Washingtonian, Rebecca, who incorporated the challenge into her whoopie pie adventures with: Peeps Whoopie Pies

The ever-creative Lauren, who tells me that she bought four pounds of butter on Friday: Ooey Gooey Filled Chocolate Chip Cookies with a Crunch

My guess is that Katrina has seen Bake it in a Cake based on her first submission: Easter Egg Hunt Cookies

And we know that Katrina is a rockstar because she turned in two challenges: Cereal Treat Easter Eggs

Another rockstar from this challenge? Abeer with cookies designed to go on top of cupcakes: Easter Chick Cookie Toppers

And did I hear more cookies? Decorated cookies? Yes, from Kita: Chickadee Icebox Cookies

Taking decorating and artistry up a notch was Lora, who made something psychedelic looking: Tie-Dyed Bunny and Butterfly Marshmallows

And from Alice (who doesn’t have a blog but took this idea and ran with it): Easter Basket Cake.

(1)I make a white cake with white frosting. Love the white chocolate cake in the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.

(2)Fashion "Easter Grass" from flaked coconut and food coloring of your choice for the top of the cake.

(3)Put candies in your Easter grass. Eat the extras.

(4)For bonus Easter basket appeal fashion a basket handle and bow with whatever you have lying around as shown here.

Now, from one of my humble co-hosts, Mary: Surprise Easter Brownies

My other humble co-host made ice cream. Check out what Jessica did to make it Easter Basket Pimptastic: Malted milk Ice Cream with Robin Eggs

And because she is an overachiever, Jessica also made: Deviled Cadbury Eggs

Wow. So much fun, and I’m impressed with how talented, artistic, and creative all these folks are.

If you were going to replicate one of these feats, which would it be?

Friday, April 22, 2011

Theo Peppermint Caramels: A Better Washington State Choice

After writing about those truly awful caramels from Oh! Chocolates in Washington state, I feel that I need to reassure you that there is still good caramel in the world. Such as caramel from Vosges. But is there other good caramel out there? I found it necessary to investigate with some caramels from another Seattle chocolatier, Theo.

Though I picked these up at Biagio here in DC, and not in Seattle, my hope was that this box would restore my faith in the ability of chocolatiers in Washington state to make caramels that don’t have the texture of old tar. I was encouraged by subtle aromas of peppermint and coffee. Could it be?

The chocolate shell indicated that this might be a very nice treat, as it is thin and soft. This makes it easy to bite into the caramel for examination, which I was eager to do so that I could discern whether or not this was truly a worthy caramel creation.

It turns out that the caramel is fairly nice. It is just a bit chewy for my tastes, but not to the point that it could be described as tough. The peppermint flavor is mild at first, and intensifies during consumption, such that the last few bits are like chewing on a soft candy cane. As it is a bit overpowering at the end, I’d prefer a more even flavor release, but in the middle of the experience, there is a perfect blend of deep caramel, peppermint, and a hint of chocolate that is just right. That one moment alone is worth it.

Have you had peppermint caramel before?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Oh! Caramels: The Oddball Flavors

It’s probably obvious from my posts on the chocolate caramel and the classic caramels from Oh! Chocolates in Mercer Island, WA that I’m not really a fan of their work. Sadly, there are still two caramels. I was kind of happy to see this box empty out, but kept an open mind with what sounded like some intriguing flavors: strawberry balsamic and coffee. I started out with the strawberry balsamic, as it sounded more unusual.

The milk chocolate is creamy and soft, and is by far the best part.

It’s the best part because even though this caramel boasts the addition of a strawberry layer for added interest, the whole interior is exceptionally tough, strawberry layer included. The strawberry flavor is so dominant that there’s no balsamic flavor evident, and the only other thing that comes through is the overwhelming sugar. Against a super-tough texture. Complete disaster.

May I suggest that if you are interested in something strawberry-balsamic flavored with chocolate included, you make ice cream using Jessica’s recipe and give this caramel a pass? It must be better. Way better.

One more chocolate to go. Could I stomach it? I was unsure, but ventured on to sample the coffee caramel.

The dark chocolate covering this caramel had little flavor other than some very slight earthiness.

That earthiness was nearly impossible to pick up against the piercing artificial coffee flavor in the tough, chewy caramel. The overall effect is the taste of old, bad coffee – but on a good note, it’s not sickeningly sweet like most of the other caramels in the box.

Little comfort. Here’s some real comfort: if you haven’t had these caramels, you are missing nothing good. Believe me.

What’s the worst box of caramels you’ve ever had?