Shopping spree in NYC

bean to bar chocolate bars, dick taylor, durci, bonnat, fruition

Bean-to-bar artisan chocolate barsDoes anyone else have this problem: every time you innocently wander into a chocolate retail store, you drop an obscene amount of money in a shockingly short amount of time.

Please tell me I’m not the only one.

Recently, in the latest incarnation of my compulsive chocolate shopping habit, I poked my head into a new-ish chocolate retail shop in midtown Manhattan, 2beans.

I just wanted to pick up a bar of Francois Pralus. I swear.

I spent $110 in 30 minutes (of course I did).

It was a big chocolate haul, even for me. But I’m so glad I splurged, because these turned out to be some of the most delicious and surprising bars I’ve tried in quite some time. It was actually pretty hard for me to rate these because they were ALL fantastic.

But I’ll try my best.

So here you go folks: in descending order, from my very favorite to my least favorite. I’ve added links to online suppliers of these bars, in case you want to try them for yourself.

Heavenly:
Francois Pralus Venezuela 75% chocolate barFrancois Pralus Venezuela 75% (France):
Creamy, nutty and earthy, some may think this bar has too much added cocoa butter, but I think it’s perfect.Fruition 76% Maranon Chocoalte bar

Fruition Marañón 76% (US): Citrusy, balanced, a little astringent at the end but not over the top.

La Molina Gianduia Fondente e Nocciole Intere (Italy): Best. Dark. Gianduia. Ever. Not. Exaggerating.La Molina Gianduia Fondente with hazelnuts

Bonnat Surabaya 65% dark milk chocolate (France): Chocolat Bonnat Surabaya milk chocolateAn interesting, creamy, slightly sour dark milk chocolate with a hint of smokiness. It almost tastes like a goat milk chocolate (it’s not). I love pungent, funky-tasting milk chocolate, and you can’t go wrong with Bonnat.

Extremely tasty:

Durci Empyrean Sabor 70% (US): This is the second bar I’ve tried from Durci, and I Durci Chocolate Empyrean Sabor 70% darkwas surprised that these Venezuelan beans tasted as floral to me as the first bar I tried (Durci’s Corona Arriba bar, with Nacional beans from Ecuador). I wonder what I’m tasting that’s so floral. Is it something in the roast?Castronovo colombia dark milk chocolate

Castronovo Colombia 63% dark milk (US): One of the best dark milk chocolates I’ve tried recently from a North American chocolate maker. Interesting, earthy flavor notes, but super smooth and creamy like a European milk chocolate.

Tasty enough, but didn’t rock my world:

Fruition Hudson Valley Bourbon 61% dark milk chocolate (US): I was mildly disappointed by this bar. It’s good — everything Fruition makes is pretty awesome. But I had trouble detecting any bourbon or woody flavors, and it lacks the smoothness I want in a dark milk chocolate.

Dick Taylor craft chocolate Belize barDick Taylor Belize 72% (US): Everyone I know who has tried this bar has raved about it. I was expecting great things, which might be why I was a little disappointed. Its fruitiness is nice, but I find it VERY astringent.

Good, but a little boring:

Bonnat Java 65% dark milk chocolate (France): This is a fantastic dark milk chocolate, but it’s not nearly as interesting as the Surabaya.

Domori Criollo 70% Chuao (Italy): Very smooth texture, but I was underwhelmed by the bar’s flavor. It just seemed to lack nuance. To be fair, I only got to try a small sample, and I didn’t have a fresh palate, so I should probably give it another shot.

How about you — what were your favorite bars from you most recent chocolate shopping spree?

 

 

 

 

 

Review: Durci 70% Ecuadorian Chocolate

Durci 70% Dark Chocolate Bar

 

Thank you Choco Rush for introducing me to Durci, a fantastic new chocolate maker from the great state of Utah. Durci’s 70% Corona Arriba bar is made with the renowned Nacional heirloom cocao variety grown in Ecuador.

This particular bar is the most floral chocolate I’ve ever tasted. This may sound totally obnoxious, but the best way to describe the taste of this bar is to say that eating it is like stepping into a flower garden. The delicate, perfumey flavor reminds me of… roses. Or violets, maybe?

It was my husband who finally nailed it: the chocolate tastes like orange blossom water. He’s right. The Corona Arriba bar’s unique taste is strongly suggestive of the aromatic flavoring agent in my mother’s favorite cocktail, the uber-indulgent Ramos Gin Fizz.

If you’re hosting a chocolate tasting and want to include a floral chocolate in the mix, I recommend this one, hands down. You can order it on the Durci website or from the “Chocolate Collection” on Cococlectic.

Note: I noticed Durci is currently offering a special on their website– $45 for a sampler pack of six Durci bars from different origins. That’s about $9 less than you would pay for the six individual bars — a pretty good deal if you’re interested in trying out a fantastic new American bean-to-bar chocolate maker.

Review: Chococurb’s Nano Subscription

Seattle Chocolate's birthday cake confection

I have something awesome to share with you today.

One of my (other) favorite chocolate delivery companies, Chococurb, has a brand new offering that, as far as I know, is unique among the competion: a MINIBAR delivery service. Dubbed the Nano subscription, each delivery contains five minibars for $10. $10!! That’s the price of one Mast Brothers chocolate bar in some cities.

Here’s how it works. You either buy one shipment for $10, or a 6-month or 1-year subscription for slightly less. Each shipment contains five chocolate samples, each of which weigh between 0.2 and 0.9 oz (at least in the shipment I received). Which means you are basically paying $10 for 2 oz of chocolate. Which admittedly is a lot. But you get to sample five new hard-to-find chocolate makers for the price of one Mast Brothers bar. And shipping is included.

This may give you a better sense of the size of the bars:

I think the Nano subscription is a great deal*. Especially for lazy people like me who are happy to pay an extra few bucks to sample lots of hard-to-find chocolate brands without leaving the house.

I also think it’s a great idea from the Chococurb team. As far as I know, Choco Rush, Cocoa Runners and Cococlectic aren’t offering comparable minibar subscriptions — at least, not yet.

Btw, the 6-month and 1-year subscriptions make great gifts. And if someone close to you isn’t a chocoholic (which, frankly, I would find hard to believe), well… it was my birthday last week. Just sayin.

*UPDATE 8/19/16*

Get 10% off your Nano box subscription until September 19th by using the discount code INTEMPER at checkout.

Review: Choco Rush Chocolate Delivery Service

Choco Rush logo

A while back I reviewed two chocolate delivery services I’d tried, Cocolectic and Cocoa Runners. Well, today I have an entirely new chocolate delivery crush: Choco Rush.

Choco Rush is a craft chocolate subscription service out of South Carolina. But… who really cares where they’re based. Let me get to the point: Choco Rush totally rocks.*

Why all the love?

For starters, my first shipment included bars from three chocolate makers I’d never even heard of before, let alone tasted. So major props to them for promoting unsung chocolate makers that don’t yet have a national presence.

Another cool thing: the chocolate curators behind Choco Rush clearly have awesome taste, because two of the chocolate bars in my first shipment were blow-my-mind delicious (made by Durci and Hello Cocoa — find them!!)

Actually there is a third reason to love Choco Rush, now that I think about it, and it’s a really important one. Their customer service is outstanding!

It’s hard to understate how much this matters. If you sign up for one of these delivery services and live anywhere that sees temperatures over 85 F (which is pretty much everywhere right now), at some point you’ll probably find yourself emailing customer service to report some kind of melted chocolate shipping disaster. At Choco Rush, Chris Lacey was incredibly responsive and helpful when I was concerned about my shipping arriving on a particularly hot day (I needn’t have worried — the chocolate arrive unmelted and unbloomed, even in our lovely 95 F D.C. weather).

But what really hooked me on Choco Rush was how genuinely interested Chris seemed in my feedback on the chocolate bars they’d sent me. This is the fourth chocolate delivery service I’ve tired, but it’s the first to reach out to me directly to ask what I’d thought of their chocolate. And being a total chocolate nerd, I loved the opportunity to bounce my tasting notes off an expert who is friendly, knowledgeable and unpretentious. It reminded me once again what a great, welcoming community the chocolate world is.

OK, so here are the subscription details:

  • Each Choco Rush shipment includes four bars from different chocolate makers, shipped at the beginning of every month (so if you sign up for the service on the second week of the month, you’ll have to wait until the next month for your first shipment).
  • Their subscription choices include a month-to-month package for $39 ($9.75/bar), a 3-month subscription for $110 ($9.17/bar), plus a couple of longer subscriptions.
  • You can skip a month or cancel your subscription at any time, and shipping is free in the U.S.

I know $9+ is steep for chocolate, but remember your money is supporting small batch chocolate makers with relatively high overhead compared to large industrial chocolate producers. Plus they often pay direct trade prices (more expensive than fair trade) for their cocoa beans. So I think it’s money well spent.

But the real reason I think it’s worth it to pay $9/bar for chocolate is that Choco Rush takes both the legwork and guesswork out of finding awesome new chocolate makers. Not only will you be introduced to chocolate makers you’ve never heard of before, but the bars you receive will probably be delicious. For me, that alone make the service worth the premium.

Note: I am not a spokesperson for Choco Rush and didn’t receive payment (or free chocolate) for writing this. The views expressed below are mine alone.

Intro to layered chocolates: caramelized white chocolate and dark salted almond truffles

Caramelized white chocolate and dark salted almond truffles

Caramelized white chocolate and dark salted almond ganache

Full disclosure: I meant to write about this months ago. Seriously, I think there was still snow on the ground when I first made these delicious, creamy, double-ganache truffles. But at the time I was frantically trying to complete my chocolatier school coursework and didn’t really have time to pull this post together.

Anyway, enough with the excuses. Here it is (finally).

This was my first attempt at making layered truffles. Back in those early days of my chocolate education, I wasn’t exactly working with professional equipment… basically I owned a whisk, a candy thermometer and a lot of patience. I actually used Tupperware containers as my molds because I hadn’t bought a professional ganache frame yet.

ChocoVision Mini Rev Tempering MachineOh but I did own one very fancy piece of very fancy equipment: a brand new (at the time) ChocoVision Mini Rev tempering machine, which I absolutely LOVE and still use pretty much constantly. If you have any desire whatsoever to make your own chocolates, I highly recommend you invest in one of these bad boys. The 1.5 lb capacity model shown below is by far the cheapest small batch home tempering machine on the market.

But more on the ChocoVision Mini Rev in a later post.

Anyway… for this particular truffle recipe I made a caramelized white chocolate ganache for the bottom layer and a dark salted almond ganache for the top. I poured one over the other, smoothed them out with a spatula and let the layers set up at room temperature overnight.

Letting ganache set for 12-24 hours in a cool room (<68 F) gives it a chance to crystallize, which results in a more stable ganache that has lower water activity. To refresh, the lower the water activity, the less water (from the cream) is available to grow pesky microbes and the longer the truffles will last at room temperature before they mold.

Anyway — by the next morning the ganache was firm enough for me to unmold in one solid piece…

…and cut it into 1″ x 1″ squares with a sharp knife.

Here’s where the fun began (and, yes, the mess…)

After tempering some of Undone Chocolate’s amazing two-ingredient chocolate, I dipped each square (this process is called “enrobing”) in the bowl of tempered chocolate, fished it out with two special enrobing forks (although regular forks will work too) and sprinkled it with kosher salt.

I wasn’t working with professional couverture chocolate here, and as a result you’ll notice my shells turned out a little thick — but really they’re not so bad, especially considering my less-than-ideal tools (Tupperware, anyone?) and general inexperience..

Close-up of hand made chocolate truffles

Ever since I started making my own truffles, I’ve started noticing how many low and mid-range chocolate grands produce bonbons with really thick shells. Seriously — check it out for yourself the next time one of your colleagues leaves an old box of chocolates in the pantry at work. If nothing else, it’ll make you feel better if you’re having trouble achieving those wafer-thin chocolate shells that professional chocolatiers love so much.

My official tasters (aka my husband and stepson — and a rotating group of friends) went wild for these truffles. They got raves, which made me really happy. But personally I preferred the salted almond chocolate truffles (on the left in the picture above) to the fancier layered truffles. I just really loved their strong, undiluted almondy taste. But it’s really a matter of personal taste  — they’re both delicious.

Two layer truffle: caramelized white chocolate and dark salted almond

 

Homemade salted chocolate truffles

 

 

What does “70% chocolate” really mean? The answer may surprise you.

Raw cacao seeds and ground cocoa nibs

You know that 70% dark chocolate bar you bought recently? Did some teeny part of you feel pretty good about buying really dark chocolate because, well, dark chocolate is good for us now?

Would you be surprised to learn that there might be MORE good-for-you stuff in a 60% chocolate bar, or even a (gasp) milk chocolate bar, than in the 70% bar you picked up?

I know I was.

Here’s the issue: the cocoa % on chocolate bar wrappers doesn’t actually tell us how much chocolate is in our chocolate (if by chocolate we mean ground-up cocoa beans — the brown stuff with all the antioxidants). In fact, cocoa % is totally useless for that purpose. All we can reasonably expect to learn from the cocoa % is how much SUGAR has been added to our chocolate — and even that is only true for dark chocolate.

Confused yet? Let me try to explain.

What cocoa percentages really mean

First, the basics.

The average chocolate bar has five ingredients:

  • Chocolate liquor: ground-up whole cocoa beans. Contains both parts of the bean: the fat (cocoa butter) and the solids (unrefined cocoa powder)
  • Cocoa butter: extra cocoa butter increases creaminess and fluidity
  • Sugar: because, sugar
  • Lecithin: usually from soy beans, lecithin increases fluidity
  • Vanilla: while old style European chocolate traditionally includes vanilla, there has been a notable movement away from vanilla by today’s chocolate makers

Cocoa % = chocolate liquor + added cocoa butter

Total cocoa percentages include not just chocolate liquor, but also added cocoa butter. The amount of each ingredient need not be disclosed by the chocolate maker, and the ratio between the two ingredients can vary wildly. Dark couverture chocolate, which needs to be highly fluid if chocolatiers are to work with it, often has a nearly 1:1 ratio of cocoa liquor to cocoa butter. Eating and baking chocolates don’t need as much cocoa butter, so their ratio may be closer to 2:1.

Here’s where the confusion around cocoa % becomes an issue for consumers. Say you’re choosing between two chocolate bars with the exact same ingredients, listed in the same order. You’re frustrated because the ingredient percentages aren’t listed on the packaging. But as an experiment, let’s pretend for a moment that they are.

Here’s what you’d see:

Bar #1: 70% dark chocolate 

Ingredients:

  • chocolate liquor (66%)
  • sugar (29%)
  • cocoa butter (4%)
  • soy lecithin (<1%)
  • vanilla (<1%)

Bar #2: 70% dark chocolate

Ingredients:

  • chocolate liquor (41%)
  • sugar (29%)
  • cocoa butter (29%)
  • soy lecithin (<1%)
  • vanilla (<1%)

In both cases, the % chocolate liquor and the % cocoa butter add up to 70%. Both bars have the same amount of added sugar. However, the first bar contains 66% actual ground up cocoa beans, whereas the second bar contains only 41%. That’s a 25% difference. And as a consumer, you have no way of knowing which is which.

As if that’s not confusing enough, consider the ingredients list for this milk chocolate bar:

Bar #3: 60% milk chocolate

Ingredients:

  • chocolate liquor (42%)
  • sugar (25%)
  • cocoa butter (18%)
  • milk powder (14%)
  • soy lecithin (<1%)
  • vanilla (<1%)

That’s right — you could buy a dark milk chocolate bar and get MORE ground cocoa beans by weight than you would’ve if you’d bought the #2 dark chocolate bar above. So if you’ve been buying dark chocolate for health reasons, these numbers may give you pause.

The only way to really know exactly how much chocolate liquor is in your chocolate bar (besides calling the chocolate maker and asking) is by buying chocolate with no added cocoa butter. It does exist — chocolate makers sometimes call it “two-ingredient chocolate,” since this type of chocolate typically also excludes lecithin and vanilla. I like Undone Chocolate‘s two-ingredient bars, although admittedly I’m biased because I’ve spent a lot of time helping out in their shop. But many other chocolate makers make two-ingredient chocolate — Taza, Dandelion, Rogue and Sirene all do, just to name a few. I recently tried a great one — an 82% two-ingredient bar made with Peruvian beans by Maverick Chocolate, from Cincinnati, Ohio. You can find other two-ingredient brands at most good chocolate stores, or check out the selection at Chocosphere.

But here’s a longer term solution to the cocoa percentage problem: chocolate makers should provide consumers with the percentage of chocolate liquor or cocoa solids in their bars, not just the meaningless cocoa %. Giving consumers a breakout of exactly how much of a bar is made from whole cocoa beans and how much is added cocoa butter (which, btw, most chocolate makers buy in bulk from industrial manufacturers, although there are exceptions) would be a more honest, transparent way to market chocolate. It would also discourage chocolate makers from adding extra cocoa butter for the sole purpose of inflating their chocolate’s cocoa percentage.

Another perk: providing information about the percentage of chocolate liquor in chocolate might even boost sales of dark milk chocolate, which is poised to be the next big thing in high end chocolate. But I’ll save that for another post.

 UA-79249184-1

Couverture chocolate (and why chocolatiers aren’t rocket scientists)

Chef Rubber 64% dark chocolate chips

Chef Rubber 64% dark couverture chocolate

Are you confused by couverture chocolate? You aren’t alone. I hadn’t even heard of it before I began my confectionery training. But never fear — here’s the quick and dirty on couverture chocolate for your reading pleasure.

Couverture is a type of chocolate made specifically for confectionery use. Its defining characteristic is its higher cocoa butter content (32-39% ADDED cocoa butter, on top of the cocoa butter already present in the cocoa mass). The extra cocoa butter makes couverture thinner when melted, so professionals can achieve super-thin, super-shiny bonbon shells for their confections. It also gives couverture a really smooth texture and mellow flavor — in no small part because the cocoa butter significantly dilutes the flavorful (but less creamy) cocoa bean mass.

Chocolatiers refer to the more liquid quality and easy pourability of melted couverture in terms of its viscosity — specifically, they categorize couverture as “high viscosity” chocolate. When I first started working with chocolate this confused me to no end, because in physics, the higher the viscosity, the THICKER the liquid. For some reason (maybe they were high on theobromine), chocolatiers decided to reverse that — they call chocolate that is thin and runny “high viscosity.” Clearly someone wasn’t paying attention in high school physics class!

It would be remiss of me to talk about couverture chocolate without noting that, well… it’s delicious. Especially if you like that smooth, European, vanilla-forward chocolate style. But who likes that, right? 😉

You may be wondering if you’ve ever tasted couverture, or if you would even recognize it if you saw it on a shelf, and my guess is that you would. Valrhona and Callebaut are two of the most well known couverture makers — you’ve probably heard of them. Michael Cluizel, Amedei and many others make excellent couverture too.

If you’re interested in a couverture starter kit, I recommend ordering it on Chocosphere, which has a great selection of bars and sampler packs (I love this one). Try the Valrhona classics like Manjari and Guanaja. Jivara is a great couverture milk chocolate (also by Valrhona), if that’s what you’re looking for.

If you do try any of these, please let me know what you think of them.