Friday, March 30, 2012

Elbow White Nib

If you’ve read this blog for a while, you probably know that, in general, I shy away from chocolate with cacao nibs. They can be dry, extremely bitter, and add an unpleasant burnt edge to the bar. However, when finely chopped, well-distributed throughout the bar, properly roasted, and paired with a complementary chocolate, nib bars can be quite good, even to me.

This is why I was willing to check out Elbow’s White Nib bar. Could white chocolate be rich and sweet enough to contrast the nibs tastefully?

The Venezuelan white chocolate base, with the somewhat larger than preferable cacao nibs, creates a visual effect similar to the Hershey cookies and cream bars.
Obviously, this bar was a tad different in flavor. Even before tasting the bar, I found strong and pleasing caramel and coffee aromas – something that you never get from drugstore quality chocolate.
The flavor is predominated by caramel and cream, with a hint of noticeable salt. The nibs are nicely roasted, and while a bit bitter, were tasty and provided a nice contrast to the sweet white chocolate. They were a tad crunchy, and I found myself left with a mouthful of nibs to crunch on when the white chocolate melted away. Had the nibs been more finely chopped, this would have been less of an issue, however, given the nice roast, the experience wasn’t unpleasant, but it’s not an ideal finish to the bar.

It’s certainly one of the better nib bars I’ve had, no doubt because of the contrast of the sweet white chocolate. I’d still like Elbow to chop their nibs a bit more.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Coppeneur Uba Budo Sao Tome and Principe Cru De Plantation 72% Cacao

Michael Pollan is somehow considered some brilliant nutrition guru after revealing that eating fruits and vegetables is good foryour health.

Er…come on, really? That’s news?

He also asserts that you should never eat anything you can’t pronounce. But come on, buddy Mike, single-origin chocolate is often sourced from difficult to pronounce locations.

Such as the Coppeneur Uba Budo Sao Tome and Principe Cru De Plantation 72% cacao bar.

 Yeah, you go ahead and try to rattle that off quickly.

The bar comes complete with an informative pamphlet and guide to Coppeneur’s other bars.

The bar with the long-winded title has an aroma that evenly blends coffee and flowers; it has a nice snap and a soft, buttery melt at first. Lavender is the first apparent taste, citrus notes emerge soon after, and an intense coffee flavor finishes off the bar. The texture is smooth throughout, and not remotely dry. That lavender flavor at the beginning was a delightful surprise, I only wish it had lasted a bit longer.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Scharffen Berger Salted Chocolate

Yes. Yes. Salt and chocolate. One of the most amazing pairs in the world. Which is why when I was at the Scharffen Berger shop at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, I realized that I desperately needed to bring home this package of salted bittersweet chocolate.

The presentation is, well, rustic – thick slabs of chocolate, broken up irregularly.

The chocolate has a weak aroma of mint and coffee, and the pieces of salt are relatively large, perhaps a bit larger than I prefer, as large granules tend to result in salty pockets in the melt of the chocolate.

The salt is, however, well distributed, so it is not overpowering at any point. There are still some saltier pockets, which give the chocolate a more caramel character, and others with little salt that give forth the base chocolate flavor, with earthy and floral notes. Ideally, the salt granules would be smaller to make the taste of the bar more uniform.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Scharffen Berger Milk with Nibs

 You were probably heartbroken that I didn’t post here last week.

Er…maybe not. Which is why I let it slide while I was sick and in need of extra downtime.

Anyway, before THAT happened, I was writing about Scharffen Berger’s Milk Chocolate with Almonds – which I enjoyed even though I didn’t care for their plain milk chocolate. And now, as if I never missed a beat, I have another milk chocolate based Scharffen Berger bar –the Milk Chocolate with Nibs.

The bar has caramel and nutty aromas, and visibly well-distributed nibs.

The nibs are crunchy, which adds a nice texture contrast, but not too hard, which makes them easy to enjoy alongside the chocolate without excessive chewing. This is helpful, as there are few more tragic chocolate-related incidents than winding up with a mouthful of nibs left behind after the chocolate has melted away. The flavors of the chocolate and nibs mesh nicely as well, with a bit of intense smokiness from the nibs pairing well with the mild banana, dairy, and caramel flavors of the milk chocolate. The only drawback of this bar is a slight grit to the melt, which may be due to nib dust. Either way, it is a nicely balanced bar.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Scharffen Berger Milk Almond

You’ve probably noticed that when my recipes call for bittersweet chocolate or cocoa powder, I suggest using Scharffen Berger. While there are better chocolate bars out there, most of them are too expensive for baking and difficult to find. And as far as cocoa powder goes, Scharffen Berger really is some of the best, save perhaps Valrhona, which is not as widely available in the U.S.

But then on a trip to San Francisco, I happened upon their shop and saw a bar of their milk chocolate with sea salted almonds.

Mmm…salt…worth a try.

The base of the bar is their 41% cacao milk chocolate; roasted almonds with a hint of sea salt are mixed in. As a bonus, those almonds are very nicely chopped and well distributed.

The bar has a smooth melt and a creamy flavor, with some caramel and hints of nuts in the flavor towards the end of the melt. The salt and a hint of banana hit right as the chocolate dissipates, and the nuts are well roasted and crunchy. 

Perhaps the salt cuts some off the bizarre flavors that I found off-putting in the plain milk chocolate. 

Perhaps the nuts add depth to the flavor. 

Perhaps I’m just insane. 

Either way, I like this bar.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Birthday Cake Brownies

 I love it when friends have birthdays. Because I get to hang out with them AND make baked goods to celebrate. Observe: my friend and fellow synchronized swimming coach Marsea, who turned 30 this weekend.

This was going to require a birthday-centric treat, of course. With sprinkles.

And chocolate.


Yup. Birthday Cake Brownies.

Birthday Cake Brownies (Inspired by Nick Malgieri's Supernatural Brownies)

Brownie base
4 tablespoons butter
2 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 egg
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar 
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup flour

Line an 8”x8” square pan with parchment paper. Melt butter and chocolate together. Cool slightly. In a large bowl or mixer, whisk egg, then whisk in salt, sugars and vanilla. Whisk in chocolate mixture. Fold in flour just until combined. Pour batter into prepared pan, prepare birthday cake layer.

Birthday cake layer
6 tablespoons butter, softened
1 egg
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup granulated sugar 
1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 cup flour
1/3 cup sprinkles

Beat butter and sugars until creamed, then add egg, vanilla and salt, beat until uniform. Fold in flour and sprinkles, being careful to not overstir. Drop dollops on top of brownie base, swirl a knife through batters to marbleize. Bake at 350 F for 30-35 minutes. Cool in pan in refrigerator, slice once cooled.

Share with somebody special on their birthday.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Brownie Batter Energy Balls

Notice that I did not specifically call out biking. It’s because I am terrible at biking.

Anyhow, go visit. I even posted a yummy recipe recently: a recipe for peanut butter cookie dough energy balls, to address the age-old question of “what do I eat before I train if I have to start training before 5 am?”

Today, I’m sharing another answer to this question with you: brownie batter energy balls.

Of course, you can eat these anytime, and there’s no requirement that you go swim/bike/run after. You are, however, required to use good cocoa powder, such as Scharffen Berger.

The cocoa powder is far too prominent to use an inferior product, since the main ingredients are simple and won’t cover up acidic cocoa powder.

Dates and Cashews. Good flavor enhancers, but not enough to carry bad cocoa powder. So get out your best cocoa powder, and get to work.

Brownie Batter Energy Balls
1 pound pitted dates
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup chopped roasted cashews
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

Run dates through a food processor until a paste forms, add other ingredients and run food processor until all ingredients are uniformly mixed. Form into ½ inch diameter balls, chill on a flat plate or baking sheet until solidified, then pack in an airtight container for future consumption.

Assuming you don’t eat them all at once, you know.