Friday, April 27, 2012

Ritter Sport: Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts

I consider Ritter Sport to be one of the better mainstream chocolates out there in the U.S. – you can’t find Pralus or Amedei in very many cities here, but you can find Ritter Sport in several drugstores and the like. A nice, accessible chocolate of relatively high quality. But, it’s important to know which of those bars you should pick up on your trips to CVS and Target, which is where a review comes in. Today, the bar up for discussion is the Ritter Sport Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts.

As you probably know, I do not like chocolate bars large nuts (are you done laughing yet? OK good). I prefer well-chopped, evenly distributed nuts that lead to a more uniform chocolate enjoyment experience. But I’ll also try anything. Especially anything chocolate.

The bar had a nutty aroma, with hints of vanilla and cream. And of course, big hazelnuts visible from the back of the bar.

Those hazelnuts have a sweet roast, with a hint of vanilla, and are flavorful and crunchy. They are still too big, and I found myself getting a few bites that were almost all nut, and others that were all chocolate. The chocolate itself had a creamy melt, with mint and vanilla flavors and caramel and nutty undertones. The texture contrast of the creamy chocolate and crunchy hazelnuts is nice, and the flavor, though mild and standard, is pleasing.

The nuts are still too big for me.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Pralus 75% Cacao Indonesie Criollo

 The geographic origin of chocolate is widely discussed – particularly in light of some concerns regarding ethical sourcing of cacao, notably in Cote d’Ivoire. People want to know where their chocolate comes from, and often credit the origin with the flavor and texture of the chocolate. But origin is just one factor. 

Of course, the way the beans are treated post-harvest, the way the chocolatier roasts and crafts the bars, are all important. As is the specific bean variety used – Criollo, Forastero, or Trinitario. This is important enough that many chocolatiers specify which bean variety is used to produce a given bar, particularly when the rare and prized Criollo bean is used. 

Example: The Pralus 75% Cacao Indonesie Criollo bar.

The bar has an aroma that mixes citrus and licorice, and the melt starts with a very mild flavor.

The astringency comes in towards the middle of the melt, and is followed by a strong earthy flavor at the end, which is just a bit too intense for me. The bar is smooth and well-crafted, but simply too earthy and intense for me.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Chococonut Energy Balls

Last month, I posted a recipe for energy balls that I use on my triathlon training rides. And those Brownie Batter Energy Balls are tasty, unlike many energy aids used for long-distance training and racing (Lemon-Lime Gatorade, anybody?). 

But you can’t eat the same thing over and over, particularly when you are out on your bike for a good portion of the day. No, not even if it’s delicious and chocolate. And since I have a race this weekend that will involve being on my bike for 56 miles, I needed some variety. Different energy balls.

Still using dates for that crucial energy burst.

But this time, with coconut joining the chocolate!
Now presenting, Chococonut Energy Balls.

Chococonut Energy Balls
1 pound pitted dates
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
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.

And don’t forget to put a bunch in your bento box on your bike. 56 miles is a long way.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hotel Chocolate: Splash of Milk 50% Cacao St. Lucia

Most people have a strong preference for either milk or dark chocolate. Others, like me, appreciate each of them for what they are. Milk chocolate is a delightful sweet treat, dark chocolate is a complex experience. I enjoy each of them, and choose depending on my mood and cravings.

But what if you can’t decide between milk and dark? What then? WHAT THEN???

Chill. Several chocolatiers make dark-milk blends. Such as Hotel Chocolat, with their St. Lucia 50% Cacao 
“Dash of Milk” bar.

 Unsurprisingly, the bar has a dairy aroma, along with a hint of caramel.

The dairy is quite evident in the flavor, though it seems a bit off, but fruitiness and coffee develop later in the melt to mute that effect. Still, the melt is dry throughout, which is inexcusable in a milk-enhanced chocolate, even if it is a dark-milk hybrid.

Advice: Go for the pralines at Hotel Chocolat. Leave this bar behind.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Raspberry M&Ms

This blog certainly features a lot of artisan chocolate bars, which I like doing because first, these bars are generally well-crafted and delicious, and second, because they are not cheap and most readers likely want to know what will and won’t be worth their while before they invest.

Yes, chocolate is an investment. Possibly a more sound investment than a lot of equities these days.

However, not everybody has access to this kind of chocolate on a regular basis. So every so often, I try to review something that might be more accessible to most, possibly chocolate that can be found at a standard grocery or drug store. When I found out that Raspberry M&Ms were being rolled out, I figured that this was a perfect opportunity – a new product, easy to find, and delightfully combining berry and chocolate flavors.

Then, I tried to find them myself, at a few dozen grocery stores and drugstores. No luck.

So much for accessible.

Until the day that I saw them on a shelf at a downtown DC CVS.

Wonderful day. Even more wonderful: the raspberry M&Ms are dark, not milk, chocolate based, which gave me homes for a more intense chocolate flavor than the standard M&Ms.
A distinct berry aroma emerges the minute you open the bag, while the red and pink colors give raspberry M&Ms a nice aesthetic appeal – for M&Ms – and elicit thoughts of berry flavors.
They also happen to be quite large compared to plain M&Ms, with a thicker candy shell that takes longer to melt away, but a higher overall chocolate to candy ratio.

Once the shell dissolves, the raspberry flavor is clear, with a generic coffee-centric dark chocolate flavor coming forth next. The chocolate has a gritty melt characteristic of low quality chocolate – but come on, these are M&Ms. Not fine chocolate with carefully selected cocoa butter. Enjoy them for what they are – candy, and in this case, candy with a relatively varied and pleasing flavor profile.

And of course, if you are an M&M chomper without the patience to let them melt (you know who you are), you’ll get less of the raspberry and chocolate flavors with the sugar of the candy shell dominating instead.