Friday, September 30, 2011

Vosges Truffles: Black Pearl and Budapest

If you’re really observant (you are, aren’t you?), you likely noticed that there were two truffles left out of the discussion of the Vosges Exotic Truffle Collection yesterday. Lucky for you, we’re talking about the remaining Vosges exotic pieces today. First up, something really exotic: the black pearl, complete with sesame seeds and WASABI.


Oddly, with all that wasabi and sesame, the piece smells like caramel. Though not adding aroma, the sesame seeds do add a decorative interest and a bit of crunch, though very little flavor.

The interior features a butter texture and a uniform taste of wasabi throughout the melt, such that the flavor is spicy but not overwhelming. This allows the earthy flavor of the couverture, which also has some hints of banana, to shine through alongside the wasabi. This is obviously a very different truffle, but it’s also a very good truffle.

One more truffle remained in the box: a paprika-dusted Budapest truffle.

Given that dusting, it’s not surprising that the aroma was spicy, and perhaps also featured a hint of vanilla.

Despite the intense spicy aroma, the paprika was not very strong and dissipated almost immediately, leaving the nutty and fig flavors of the couverture behind to carry the flavor. The interior has a generic caramel flavor, and while the truffle was nice, it resembled a plain truffle more than a creative Vosges piece worth of the title “exotic.”

Have you ever had a flavored truffle that wound up tasting plain?

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Vosges Truffles: Naga

Now even though I only showed a box of four Vosges truffles in yesterday’s post, that doesn’t mean I didn’t get more truffles. Hardly. In fact, I got the Exotic Collection the last time I visited a full shop in Chicago.

This box included one Viola truffle, which I reviewed yesterday, but three other new truffles, including the Naga, which was similar to one of my favorite Vosges bars with the same name.

A sweet curry aroma comes across immediately, as do faint notes of caramel and cream.

The interior is rich and buttery, with notes of coconut which may or may not be from some added coconut butter. The density of the ganache center matches nicely to the soft couverture, which features nutty and dairy flavors alongside the dusting of curry powder. The curry is sweet and spicy, adding complexity to the chocolate, though it dissipates fairly quickly. The overall blend of flavors is pleasing, particularly for those of you who also enjoy the Naga bar.

Do you like it when chocolatiers make bars and truffles with the same flavors?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Vosges: Viola and Siam Truffles

Sweeping past the Vosges O’Hare store last week reminded me of several Vosges pieces I’d enjoyed in earlier times. Earlier times when I got to go to their full boutique on Michigan Avenue, which allowed me to pick up this cute little truffle collection.

The box featured white and milk chocolate pieces. Variety. Nice.

The milk chocolate piece was the Viola, decorated with a tiny violet petal.

The truffle has a lavender aroma with notes of vanilla; the couverture is quite smooth with a dairy flavor and a hint of nuttiness.

The interior truffle boasts a strong caramel flavor that is enhanced by a subtle edge of lavender. The flavor is beautiful, but the texture is a bit buttery instead of creamy and does not stand up well to the couverture. This makes it difficult to enjoy the piece in small bites, which may or may not be a ploy to get me to consume these more quickly and buy them more often.

Or, I could check out the white chocolate truffle in this box, which was the Siam, a piece featuring lemongrass, green tea, and coconut.

The lemongrass was most apparent in the aroma, with generic citrus and spicy notes present as well.

The buttery interior features bits of coconut, and a creamy flavor and butter texture are immediately apparent, with the lemongrass building more slowly. In this truffle, the densities of the couverture and interior match nicely so that one can enjoy this sweet but complexly flavored truffle slowly.

Have you had a truffle with lemongrass in it?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

NewTree: Cinnamon

With fall coming into town last week, I predict lots of cinnamon-enhanced treats emerging over the next few weeks. Since I stock cinnamon by the pound (really), this appeals to me. It’s also why, when I purchased that Belgian Biscuit bar by NewTree, I also picked up NewTree’s Cinnamon bar, which is “rich in soy isoflavones to maintain balance and well-being in women.”

By “balance,” I hope they mean that by eating this bar, I will be less prone to twisting my ankle, running into corners of tables, or dropping everything I pick up.

Probably not. Either way, this 33% cocoa milk chocolate bar certainly has a cinnamon aroma which is complimented by a hint of caramel.

The cinnamon flavor is evident immediately, and a taste of nutmeg also emerges. A hint of cream flavor makes the bar taste a bit like chai, and other chocolate flavors are difficult to tease out. Though the chocolate is generally rich and creamy, there is a bit of grit near the end of the melt. The bar is more spice-centric than chocolate centric; if you enjoy these specific spices, you’ll like this bar, but don’t go after complex chocolate flavors. They’re not there.

How do you feel about cinnamon and chocolate together?

Monday, September 26, 2011

NewTree: Belgian Biscuit

As much as I whined last week about not having any time in Chicago to visit some of my favorite chocolate shops, life isn’t so bad. There’s plenty of good chocolate around. Chocolate coming from all corners of the planet (an odd expression, given that Earth is round). Including from Belgium, which is home to NewTree, the folks who made this Belgian Biscuit bar.

The base chocolate for this bar is a 65% cacao dark chocolate bar; flax seeds and bits of cookie added a bit of interest and 6 grams of fiber to each 40 gram serving. This very healthy chocolate bar has a strong nutty aroma with a hint of caramel – it reminded me of the brown sugar-peanut butter mixture prepared as part of making peanut butter cookies. In other words, I had high expectations for this bar.

The taste began with a hint of fennel and a bit of almond, with some vanilla emerging later. I also sensed hints of cinnamon and, of all things, edamame. While the chocolate is smooth, the bits of cookie and flax seeds add some crunch, and remained pleasingly crisp. The overall taste with the flax, cookie, and chocolate is reminiscent of spiced vanilla soymilk – it’s very different, but also delicious.

Have you had flax with chocolate before?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Cocova: September Sample Day

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Biagio, a DC chocolate institution, is undergoing a name change, and is officially now Cocova. To celebrate this monumental change, the new Cocova hosted a chocolate tasting yesterday.

I’m happy to report that the customer service at the shop is still outstanding. Since I attended this tasting with Valerie, who is diligent about maintaining a dairy- and gluten-free diet to keep herself in top-notch health, we needed to do some research about which chocolates she would be able to enjoy at the tasting. The staff very kindly provided a list and advance, and we went in prepared with a list of great chocolates that we could both enjoy and discuss.

Luckily, the Amedei Grenada 70% cacao bar was on the go-ahead list, since we both fully enjoyed the smooth, creamy texture alongside a fruity and woody flavor.

Also on the go-for-it list? The Domori Porcelana, another creamy-textured chocolate with a nutty flavor.

It was a truly wonderful tasting experience, since Valerie and I could confidently sample chocolates that would be healthy for both of us (what? Chocolate is a health food. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.) thanks to the helpful staff at what is now Cocova.

Has a shop ever helped you out with enjoying a meal or other culinary experience despite dietary restrictions?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Chicago: I Was Locked In A Room

I spent part of this past week in Chicago. One of my favorite cities for a chocolate crawl. I’ve done more than one. So, one might assume that I got to experience more chocolate bliss at Vosges, Teuscher, and Blommer.

Incorrect. I was on the ground about a day and a half and spent all my waking hours either training on the treadmill or in the lap pool, or in meetings on technical standards for probabilistic risk assessment.

To make this lack of chocolate adventure in the city even worse, when I found my gate at O’Hare, I also found this.

Yes, Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory, purveyors of some truly foul chocolate – to date, the only chocolate that I have reviewed and thrown away. It was that gross.

Salvation lay just a couple of gates away.

Oh Vosges. Even if I miss your Michigan Avenue store, you beckon near gate H3. God bless you. And bless your Naga bar, complete with curry and coconut glory. And last but not least, bless your intriguing, limited-edition white chocolate and olive bar.

It almost made my trip OK. Even the midnight return time.

What’s the best food find you’ve ever made at an airport?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Chocolate Zucchini Blog Party

It’s party time! Yes! Introducing the Chocolate Zucchini Blog Party, which Valerie over at City | Life| Eats co-hosted with me.

We had a bunch of challenges for folks who wanted to participate, each of which involved developing a recipe that involved chocolate AND zucchini. Two awesome foods, brought together in one recipe. Ready. And go.

There was the first challenge: any recipe combining chocolate and zucchini. In that category, Jessica from Bake Me Away! made Martian Cookies.

We also had the plant-based (vegan) challenge, which Danielle from The Instinctivore took on with her Chocolate Zucchini Cupcakes with Basil Icing.

Then there was the gluten-free challenge, which appealed to Beth from Boston to Berkeley – she made Mini Molten Chocolate Cakes (with Zucchini).

Oh. Then. THE ULTIMATE CHALLENGE. Vegan and gluten free. Who was up for that?

Rachel from My Munchable Musings, for one; check out her Chococherry Zucchini Cookies.

Sheree from Cats in the Kitchen had another delicious dessert to share as part of the ultimate challenge: Chocolate Zucchini Brownie in a Mug.

I obviously thought the brownie idea was great, because I submitted my own Zucchini Brownies to the ultimate challenge.

Not everybody went with desserts for the ultimate challenge; Beth from Boston to Berkeley, the rockstar sending in TWO recipes, created Roasted Zucchini and Potato Tacos with Mole and Avocado.

My lovely co-host, Valerie from City | Life | Eats, was all over the zucchini-based smoothies for the ultimate challenge, especially with this delightful German Chocolate Smoothie.

Gena from Choosing Raw also entered the ultimate challenge with a smoothie, the Chocolate and Zucchini Smoothie.

And one more smoothie for the ultimate challenge, this one by Fay from Raw Lawyer, who made a Frozen Chocolate Zucchini Smoothie with Hemp Protein Powder.
Delicious stuff, isn't it? I'm going to have to get a lot of zucchini this weekend to try some of these out. You should, too.

Which of these recipes looks most delicious to you?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Cacao: The (loaded) Cacao Bar

After working through several pieces from Cacao, that lovely store just down Connecticut Ave. from my place, I was left with one lone milk chocolate-based bar.

But this was not just a bar. This was a loaded bar.

Raisins, almonds, pistachios, candied lemon peel, and coconut. Oh boy.

Nutty and caramel aromas are most apparent from this bar, and no fruitiness was evident despite the abundance of fruit on the surface of the bar.

The base chocolate is pleasing, with a smooth melt and a strong caramel flavor with a creamy undertone. This sweet chocolate is complimented by slightly tart, juicy raisins; the lemon peel also adds a bit of tart and bitter flavor to add to the complexity but unfortunately does not blend well with the chocolate from a texture standpoint. The nuts, on the other hand, are soft and not flavorful, and are stuck on the back in large pieces. Oh, and the coconut? Barely noticeable with everything going into this bar. Though several of the components are pleasing, the bar overall has too many components and several of them are in large chunks that make it difficult to enjoy in harmony with the chocolate.

Have you ever had a bar with too many extra components?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Cacao: Chocolate Covered Ginger

While the chocolate covered dried apricots and candied orange peel from Cacao were delightful, there were more treats from their collection to examine. More chocolate covered treats, including this drip-dry ginger covered in dark chocolate.

The pieces are quite variable in size and shape, as well as in scope of chocolate coverage. This is indicative of the handmade approach taken at the shop, and means that each piece offers a slightly different flavor balance. While the ginger comprises a good portion of nearly every piece, there was no ginger evident in the aroma, rather, mint and coffee were distinct.

Despite the lack of ginger aroma, the ginger is quite spicy, and a bit sweet. The spiciness lingers nicely alongside the pleasing texture of the ginger itself, as it is neither chewy nor dry, and the texture is nicely matched to the smooth chocolate – this allows for mess-free nibbling or each piece. The chocolate itself, while generally sparse, features ordinary coffee and caramel flavors, but this mild flavor is complimentary to the assertive ginger. Though these pieces were a bit low on chocolate in my opinion, the ginger was well-treated and the chocolate was of reasonable quality.

Do you like ginger and chocolate together?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Cacao: Chocolate Covered Orange Peel

What a relief we all felt yesterday. A good product from my neighborhood chocolatier. Encouraged by Cacao’s work with the dark chocolate covered dried apricots, I moved along to their dark chocolate orange peel.

The pieces have a berry aroma, with no hint of citrus.

Interestingly, there was no berry flavor in the chocolate; instead, there were typical coffee and caramel flavors complemented by a slow, smooth melt. The orange peel was just a bit tart, just a bit sweet, and had a perfect texture that was neither hard nor gooey, allowing it to blend seamlessly with the chocolate. These pieces were probably the best item I found at Cacao, and are some of the best chocolate covered orange peel I’ve tasted.

And available just down the street. Score.

Do you like candied citrus peels? Which is your favorite?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Cacao: Chocolate Covered Dried Apricots

After nearly tragic experiences with the milk chocolate medallions and white chocolate medallions from DC-based Cacao, I was growing anxious. Was there not a good chocolate creation to be had from this little gem in Cleveland Park? I moved along to the fruit-based creations in search of a better product, and examined the dark chocolate covered dried apricots first.

These little treats offered a very faint apricot aroma, with the berry and chocolate aromas from the chocolate being far more apparent.

Coffee is the most apparent flavor in the chocolate, with berry and cream notes accenting it; these flavors are complimented by a soft texture and slow melt. The dried apricot underneath that chocolate is juicy, tart, and flavorful, with only a hint of sweetness, blending nicely with the fairly mild dark chocolate. My only complaint is that the chocolate layer is quite thin, and I’d personally prefer a higher chocolate to apricot ratio. That aside, the chocolate and fruit are both wonderful, and I’ll be making the treck down Connecticut Avenue every now and then to pick up a bag of these.

You should, too.

Do you prefer more fruit or more chocolate when you eat chocolate-covered fruits?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Cacao: White Chocolate Medalions

Even though the milk chocolate medallions from Cacao were disappointing, I went ahead and evaluated the white chocolate medallions from Cacao as well. I tried to be hopeful about these, but groaned a bit when I saw that walnuts sat aside the pistachios and raisins.

We all know how I feel about walnuts. Fortunately, these walnuts were nicely toasted and crunchy, which added some nice texture contrast to the once again soggy pistachio and soft raisin.

The raisin was again juicy and flavorful, but was a bit too sweet against the white chocolate, which itself was disappointing with its gritty texture. The overall flavor was one of slightly rancid nuts and artificial cream. Not what I want out of chocolate, even if it is just a short walk from my place.

Have you ever had gritty white chocolate?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Cacao: Milk Chocolate Medalions

I spent almost all of last week away from DC; sadly, neither of my destinations – Charleston, SC and Jacksonville, FL – afforded me any opportunities to explore new chocolatiers. Happily, I had stocked up on some treats from a DC-area chocolatier: Cacao, which has a branch less than I mile from where I live, which means that goodies like these milk chocolate medallions don’t have time to melt on the trip home.

Each medallion has an almond, a pistachio, and a raisin seated atop a thin layer of milk chocolate, which gives off a faint cream aroma, as well as a bit of caramel.

The chocolate is a bit dry for a milk chocolate, but carries a distinct cream flavor. The raisin, though not chopped or well-distributed per design, is plump and flavorful. The nuts, on the other hand, are soft and almost soggy, with an inferior roast. The plump raisin simply can’t compensate for the poorly-handled almond and pistachio, and I doubt I will purchase these medallions again.

Have you ever had chocolate with soggy nuts? (stop laughing, it’s a real question)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Madecasse: 44% Cacao Milk Chocolate

The sea salt and nib bar by Madecassee was sufficiently intriguing to lead me to research their offerings a bit more. Earlier this year, several stellar reviews of their 44% cacao milk chocolate bar cropped up, with Lee in particular discussing his favorable impressions. I had no choice but to get a bar myself.

No choice. None. I had to do my own assessment.

This bar is made in Africa, not just made with cacao harvested there, and offers a smoky aroma with caramel notes and a hint of cream.

The melt is slow, and while a bit dry at first, turns creamy later on. A strong banana flavor is present throughout, and a bit of vanilla and smokiness permeate the flavor throughout, with a tiny hint of citrus coming forth at the end. Though the smokiness is a bit odd for a milk chocolate, it’s certainly complexly flavored. A more uniformly creamy melt would make the bar more enjoyable, as the dryness at the beginning is distracting.

Have you ever had a chocolate that is dry at first but smooth later?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Madecasse: Sea Salt and Nibs Bar

While I didn’t really discuss it earlier this week, Divine and Green & Black’s are alike not only because they are based in the U.K., but also because they are committed to sourcing cacao in a manner that supports the farmers and those most closely associated with the farming process, with each producing several fair trade bars. Such considerations are important to many chocolate consumers and producers alike; one such producer is Madecasse. They are passionate about supporting sustainable cacao production and working closely with cacao farmers; they specifically work closely with the Ezaka Cooperative in Madagascar. Not content to merely produce plain single-origin bar, the folks at Madecasse put together an intriguing bar that had several additional highlights: a 63% cacao sea salt and nib bar.

The bar has a pleasing cherry aroma with a hint of spice, and the nibs are finely ground, relatively soft, and easy to chew. The addition of the salt, while not notable in the bar’s flavor, is key to cutting through the bitterness of the nibs and making them more enjoyable.

The chocolate itself has a smooth melt with a late-emerging cherry flavor that compliments the nibs nicely. The slow melt nicely compliments the finely ground nibs, such that one is not left with a mouthful of large nibs as the chocolate dissipates, a flaw in many nib bars. Overall, the combination of salt and nibs in a dark chocolate bar makes for a subdued presentation of intense cacao nibs, and is a brilliant approach by Madecasse.

Have you ever had chocolate with cacao nibs and salt?