Monday, January 31, 2011

Trader Joe's 72% Cocoa Dark Chocolate Bar: Stuff That's Easy to Find

A friend of mine recently asked why I didn’t review any “normal” chocolate. Normal being chocolate, presumably, being chocolate that most people have access to.

Since not everybody works a mile from Biagio. Shame that it is.

I suppose the answer is that you don’t need me to tell you that a plain Hershey’s Bar kind of sucks. But this friend did have a point – most people have a hard time getting their hands on Hotel Chocolat, myself included. But rather than raid the display at the end of the checkout counter at a drugstore, I decided to check out the Trader Joe’s 72% cocoa dark chocolate bar, which is imported from Belgium.

The bar doesn’t have a great melt, and left a bit of a dry feeling in my mouth, though the chocolate itself didn’t seem especially dry.

The taste features strong coffee notes and a bit of a vanilla undertone. While it is not sweet, it does have just enough sugar to make it palatable to somebody who likes milk chocolate a bit more than dark. There’s nothing fancy here, and I wouldn’t make a special trip to pick up these bars, but I go to Trader Joe’s to feed my peanut flour and microwaveable salmon patty habits on a fairly regular basis, so these might find their way into my shopping cart as well.

Have you tried any chocolate from Trader Joe’s? What did you think?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Biagio Sample Day: Single Origin Bars and Unique Creations

Since the holiday season means brisk business for most shops, especially chocolate shops, Biagio hasn’t had a sample day since the one I went to in November. I was becoming anxious about missing the date for the next one, as I have several upcoming meets and work-related travel, but was relieved to see that yesterday was pegged for sample day.

Didn’t make it yourself? Don’t worry. I can fill you in on some of what happened.

They had about a dozen chocolates available for sampling. Some of them were new to me, including an interesting white chocolate with Moroccan mint by Domori that I enjoyed immensely.

Others I have more experience with than I care to admit.

The offerings for the tasting were varied and included quite a few single-origin dark chocolates.

First, the Uba Budo offers a 72% cocoa bar sourced from one plantation in Sao Tome. The bar is fairly sweet with a fruity taste that lingers.

I also had to check out the Bonnat Chuao, as it was 100% Venezuelan. This 75% cocoa bar was very smooth, as most Venezuelan chocolates are, and has an intense bitter taste that is well-balanced with just a bit of sugar.

And finally, I was under strict instructions from Candice at 20° N &20° S to research the situation with Amedei at the store, since she’s had trouble finding it. I’m happy to report that she’d have no trouble here.

Biagio even had their Grenada 70% cocoa bar out for sampling, and I found it to be quite smooth with a vanilla flavor that had an intense and lingering earthy taste to accompany it.

In addition to the single-origin bars out for tasting, several bars that featured unique add-ins were available.

The Divine bar of Dark Chocolate with Raspberries included very tart dried raspberries that dominated the flavor of the chocolate.

The Malie Kai Milk Chocolate Nibby Bar offered a sweet milk chocolate to nicely contrast with the bitter cocoa nibs.

And finally, that Domori Biancomenta white chocolate with Moroccan mint offered a strong mint flavor and a bit of crunch from mint leaves against smooth white chocolate.

After partaking in the sampling, I picked up some chocolate to take home.

Since I so enjoyed the Domori Biancomenta, I got one of those bars along with a Lattesal, which features milk chocolate and sea salt.
I also picked up a Malie Kai Dark Chocolate Nibby Bar, since it happened to be on sale. I'm interested in how it compares to the Milk Chocolate Nibby Bar that was out for sampling.

Finally, I also picked up bars from two chocolatiers I've been meaning to check out. First, a Patric Rio Caribe Superior bar. Second, I was unable to step away from the Christopher Elbow dark chocolate bar with roasted macademia and sea salt.
Keep an eye out for in-depth reviews of these bars. And do go to the next sample day at Biagio. If you can't make sample day itself, you simply must go to the shop to find some unique chocolates.

Have you ever been to a chocolate sample day?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Hotel Chocolat: Venezuelan Milk Chocolate Bar

While I thoroughly enjoyed hitting up some old standby chocolate joints on my trip to Boston last year, I was very happy to try out something new. Namely, Hotel Chocolat. While I already discussed some of the Christmas-themed treats I picked up when I stopped in, I did, as always, ensure that I got at least some pure chocolate so that I could accurately assess the quality and character of the brand’s unadulterated chocolate. My selection? A plain milk chocolate bar that featured 43% cocoa solids.

I was drawn to this bar in particular because the cocoa is from Venezuela. After years of enjoying El Rey and Valrhona, which source their beans from Venezuela, I’m a strong believer that Venezuela is responsible for producing some of the most exquisite cocoa butter in the world.

From a texture perspective, this bar was no exception, and the high-quality cocoa butter is evident as this bar has an exceptional melt.

The taste was creamy and nutty, with chocolate flavor. The bar was sweet, but the sugar was not overpowering. Though I enjoyed this bar a great deal, I’m not convinced that it’s much better than El Rey milk chocolate, which I can pick up for $9.99/lb from my local Whole Foods. Next time I visit Hotel Chocolat, I will probably save room in my luggage and pick up a more unique chocolate creation instead.

Is there a region that grows particularly good cocoa in your opinion?

Friday, January 28, 2011

I be Stylin': My Stylish Blogger Award from Beth

First Julie tagged me. Now Beth from Swim, Bike, Run DC. But at least this time, Beth gave me an award: The Stylish Blogger Award.

I’m super-stylish. Beth knows this because she sees me coaching synchronized swimming while she aqua-jogs. I routinely wear a shirt that reads “Train Hard. Win Easy.”

Style. I’ve got it.

Anyway, I guess this means I’m supposed to tell you seven things about myself. Some say they should be surprising. Uh, right. Either way, here goes:

1. Even though you wouldn’t know it from reading this blog, I eat lots of fruits and vegetables. Between 9 and 13 servings a day. Yes. Lots of squash, greens, pears, apples…delicious

2. While this is probably not very surprising, it’s perhaps a bit unusual that I have a chocolate cabinet.


3. I wrote a thesis on the influence of major scandals on presidential popularity. As a result, I have an unhealthy obsession with Richard Nixon.

4. I don’t really like chocolate chips. They’re waxy because they have less cocoa butter to allow them to maintain their shape during baking. Gross. Bulk bar chocolate is better.

5. Last April, I became the youngest national-level synchronized swimming judge in the United States. And then I judged at the biggest synchronized swimming meet in the world at the end of June.

There are over 1000 athletes who attend that meet. It was, um, long.

6. I am probably the youngest person in America using a digital converter box to watch TV, as I don’t have any kind of cable subscription. Unsurprisingly, I don’t watch much TV outside the local news.

7. I exercise at least an hour every day, and swim 4-6 days a week. I love the water.

Now I get to award this to some folks.

Leigh, since her blog is actually about fashion. And because she eats my macarons. Go become one of her first blog followers; she just started.

Jessica, who plays with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra (!). And makes her own macarons. She’s also another Daring Baker. You really need to follow her blog.

Are you stylish? Am I? (Don't answer the second question).

Thursday, January 27, 2011

January Daring Bakers' Challenge: Biscuit Joconde Imprime for Entrements Dessert

It’s the 27th of January. What does that mean, besides the fact that February is right around the corner? It means that it’s time to post about the January Daring Bakers’ Challenge, which was, well, a visually impressive challenge.

I freaking made a cake with hearts on the outside! For Valentine’s Day! And there’s pink! Isn’t that a sight!

Bragging aside, the January 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Astheroshe of the blog accro. She chose to challenge everyone to make a Biscuit Joconde Imprime to wrap around an Entremets dessert. You should check out the .pdf file of her full instructions, because I’m just going to go over the interesting parts here.

Joconde Sponge Ingredients

¾ cup almond flour

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons powdered sugar

¼ cup cake flour

3 large eggs

3 large egg whites

2½ teaspoons granulated sugar

2 tablespoons melted butter

In a clean mixing bowl whip the egg whites and white granulated sugar to firm, glossy peeks; set aside. Sift together almond flour, confectioner’s sugar, and cake flour, then add the eggs one at a time on medium speed until smooth and light. Fold in one third reserved whipped egg whites to almond mixture to lighten the batter. Fold in remaining whipped egg whites and then fold in melted butter. Set aside.

Then I moved on to make the pink paste that would yield those beautiful hearts on the outside of the dessert.

Joconde-Décor Paste Ingredients

7 tablespoons butter, softened

3/4 cups powdered sugar

3 large egg whites

3/4 cup cake flour

Few drops red food coloring

Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, then gradually add egg whites; beat continuously. Fold in sifted flour and tint batter with red food coloring until pink.

Now for the fun part: making that design happen. First, I sketched out lines of hearts on parchment paper cut to fit a 10 inch by 15 inch jelly roll pan.

Then, using a pastry bag and fine piping tip, I filled in the design with my tinted décor paste.

I moved the paper onto the pan and slid it into the freezer for 15 minutes, and then poured about 2/3 of the batter onto the piped design. I poured the remaining batter into a 9 inch springform pan lined with parchment paper to give the final product a cake-like bottom, and baked both at 475ºF for about 10 minutes. I flipped the jelly roll pan over onto parchment paper prepped with powdered sugar, and allowed the cake to cool slightly before peeling back the top layer of parchment paper to reveal my heart design.

Even though the instructions said to bake for 15 minutes, 10 minutes actually slightly overbrowned this. Jessica over at Bake Me Away! noted that the overbaked portions simply look like zebra stripes and I ought to pretend this was the look I was going for.


That aside, I pressed ahead, cutting out the cake into strips 2 inches thick, which I’d sketched out on the parchment paper to ensure that hearts weren’t broken (woka woka woka).

I removed the thin bottom cake layer from the springform pan, put the pan out on my balcony so that the freezing cold temperatures could quickly cool it, and lined the pan bottom and sides with parchment paper and plastic wrap so that I could use it as my entremet mold. I put the prepared cake bottom in the pan, and then lined the sides with the precut strips, pressing the cake edges together to achieve a continuous outer layer of cake.

After finishing “the hard part,” I filled the cake with lemon white chocolate mousse.

And doesn’t it look like it needs more white chocolate?
Yes, I do believe it does. So: Raspberry white chocolate ganache.

Raspberry White Chocolate Ganache Ingredients

12 ounces chopped white chocolate (Callebaut)

¾ cup heavy cream

6 ounces pureed and strained raspberries

Heat cream and white chocolate over low heat until chocolate is just melted, remove from heat and stir smooth. Allow to cool to room temperature, periodically stirring, then add the raspberries. Chill slightly before spreading over lemon white chocolate mousse layer.

Allow entire cake to chill overnight, then impress everybody around with the beautiful design on the outside and the tasty layers inside.

In case you were keeping track, there’s a pound and a half of white chocolate and almost a quart of cream in this thing.

Just a little on the rich side. Best to enjoy small slices. Often.

Have you previously wondered how entrements desserts were made?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Perugina Dark Chocolate: Post-Coaching Snacking Chocolate

I have more chocolate gifts from swimmer parents to report on.

I get these all the time, I really do. Sometimes I think it’s preemptive. You know, like, “Hey so I told twelve Girl Scout Troops about our team and 26 kids want to come try synchro at practice this weekend – on and by the way, here’s some chocolate.”

It works. Most days. One particular day when it worked was when I was handed this Italian Perugina Dark Chocolate.

Opening the package in a mad rush after coaching a large group of young kids reveals a dominant vanilla aroma.

The vanilla wasn’t quite as evident in the flavor, which was hard to place. There was a hint of cream, a little vanilla, and a little coffee, carried by just the right amount of sugar to compliment the combination of flavors. The bar had a nice melt, and was not at all dry or waxy. It’s the kind of chocolate that you can snack on mindlessly, as it isn’t complex enough to demand your complete attention.

In other words, it’s perfect to eat after your mind is fried from coaching a, uh, enthusiastic group of kids in a loud pool area.

Do you have a favorite “snacking” chocolate? What is it?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Alter Eco Blackout Dark Chocolate: That's a Lot of Cocoa

One cool thing about coaching synchronized swimming is that, in addition to the fact that I can use my fellow coaches and officials to dispense of chocolate treats that come out of my kitchen, the parents of the swimmer I coach are well-aware of how much I like chocolate.

And Diet Coke. But this isn’t a Diet Coke blog, so let’s move along.

Fortunately, these folks want a happy coach working with their swimmers, so they routinely bring me both Diet Coke AND chocolate. One bar that I was given on such an occasion was a bar of Alter Eco Blackout Dark Chocolate bar.

I saw that this bar was 85% cocoa solids. Yowzers. I usually top out at around 75%, but I was game to try this. After unwrapping this carefully contained bit of chocolate.

The bar has an impressive texture for something with such a high cocoa content. The melt is very smooth, and it is clearly made with great cocoa butter.

The taste is exceptionally bitter and intense with a bit of an earthy undertone. The bitterness was just a little much for me, and there wasn’t quite enough sugar mixed in to cut through the bitterness, and it was almost like eating straight coffee beans.

So I’m a bit of a wimp on super-dark chocolate. Deal with it.

That aside, the ingredients used to make this bar were top notch, and I’ll probably look for another Alter Eco bar in the future. They did a good job in production, it’s just this particular bar is a bit strong for me.

Have you tried anything by Alter Eco? What did you think?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Lemon White Chocolate Mousse: Going Swimmingly

Yesterday was yet another day dedicated to the sport I truly love: synchronized swimming. We had a meet for the most advanced athletes in the DC/MD/VA region, which took most of the day, but was a blast. And it was really great because our senior swimmers swept every event they entered - one of our swimmers even won four gold medals.

For the record, swimmers can only enter four events. So winning four gold medals is the best a swimmer can possibly do at one meet.

Now the important thing: These meets mean that I have a chance to unload baked goods and other chocolate treats on my fellow officials and coaches. Yesterday was no exception, and I was able to share a dessert based on a lemon white chocolate mousse that offered a bit of tart, a bit of sweet, and a lot of cream.

Lemon White Chocolate Mouse Ingredients (as inspired by Betty Crocker)

4 egg yolks

1/3 cup sugar

3 ¼ cup cream, divided

2 tablespoons dried lemon peel

10 ounces white chocolate, chopped (Callebaut)

2 tablespoons lemon juice

Mix lemon peel and 1 ¼ cup of cream, set aside. Beat egg yolks until light and fluffy, then slowly beat in the sugar.

Heat cream and lemon peel in a saucepan over medium heat until just hot. Remove from heat, stir half of this mixture into the yolk mixture, then recombine with remaining cream mixture in saucepan. Cook over low heat until thickened, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in white chocolate until smooth, then stir in lemon juice.

Refrigerate mixture at least two hours. Once mixture is chilled, beat until slightly fluffy, then separately whip remaining 2 cups of cream in a chilled bowl until stiff peaks form.

Fold half the cream into the white chocolate mixture, then fold this mixture into the remaining cream.

While this mousse is perfectly wonderful on its own given the contrast of the sweet white chocolate and the tart lemon, I wanted to add another flavor to the mix, so I whipped up a quick raspberry sauce to serve along with it.

Creamy Raspberry Sauce Ingredients

1/2 cup sugar

2 tablespoons butter

2 tablespoons cream

¼ c pureed and strained raspberries

Mix all ingredients in a saucepan, and heat until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved.

Serve a dollop of mousse with a drizzle of raspberry sauce.

Wonderful flavor contrasts carried by a super-creamy mousse. Just incredible.

Have you made mousse before? How did it turn out?

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Carob Weekend: Whacked-Out Brunsli for Heather

Having noted that carob is likely best reserved for baked goods, I was left to ponder what to make with it. Since my exploration into carob was inspired by Heather of Heather Eats Almond Butter, what could possibly be better than something almond based? Something like carob brunsli, which I based on a recipe I’d gotten from Saveur last month.

Carob Brunsli Ingredients (as loosely inspired by Saveur)

8 ounces almonds, blanched

6 ounces carob chips

½ cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup honey

1 egg white

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon salt

Finely grind almonds and sugar in a food processor.

Now to get way far away from Swiss tradition – pull out your carob.

Process until smooth.

So far so good.

In addition to substituting carob for chocolate, I substituted honey for some of the granulated sugar. Because…I did.

Add the egg white, honey, cinnamon, and salt, and process until uniformly mixed.

Drop the dough onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, in rounds about 1 ½ inches in diameter.

Allow the dough to dry for 3-4 hours, then bake at 300° F for 18-21 minutes, when they should be slightly puffed and still soft.

These are definitely different from the brunsli I made before – though I think the honey is largely the factor there. They were a little crisper and flatter than the traditional version, but still fairly tasty.

Have you baked with carob before? How did it turn out?