Yes, I’m alive. It’s been a while since I’ve posted (because life). But I’ve been feeling inspired recently, so…
Actually, I lie. My writer’s block remains. But… I do want to share a recent experience I had with my favorite niche chocolate variety. That would be, of course, dark milk chocolate. In this case dark GOAT MILK chocolate.
Weirdly enough, the chocolate bar that inspired this post is actually made by one of my least favorite chocolate makers — Mast Brothers.
Actually, all joking aside, it was high time I gave the bearded brothers’ bars another chance. It had been two years since I’d last tasted their chocolate. In fact, I don’t think I’d sampled a Mast bar since they were outed by that Dallas Food article accusing them of… how to put this delicately… minor fibbing about their chocolate production practices.
In the last two years, not only has Mast rebranded (dropping the “Brothers” to become just Mast Chocolate), they also dramatically improved the texture of their chocolate. Gone is the grittiness and that caustic astringency so noticeable in their bars of yore. The new Mast bars are creamier, more balanced, and actually kind of… edible. Hurrah!
But I didn’t sit down to write this post in order to trumpet improvements at Mast Chocolate — far from it. What actually got me excited is the wide availability of their goat milk chocolate bar — not always an easy flavor to find (thank you Whole Foods). And the new, improved Mast goat milk chocolate bar is almost everything I want in a goat milk chocolate — it’s sour, funky, pungent, creamy and interesting in a way regular milk chocolate rarely is.
To be fair, I’m NOT suggesting you go out and buy this chocolate bar. In an old post reviewing Manoa’s goat milk chocolate, I linked to Estelle Tracy’s hilarious video of her reaction to trying goat milk chocolate. Needless to say, the flavor of goat milk chocolate is not for everybody!
But if you like super funky tasting milk chocolate, I highly suggest giving the Mast bar another chance.
I recently watched a very cute video by one of my favorite chocolate bloggers, Estelle Tracy of 37 Chocolates, who was reviewing Mast Brothers’ Dark Goat Milk Chocolate. I’m linking to Estelle’s full video here and encourage you to watch it if you have time, as it’s quite informative. But to sum up her review, she thought the chocolate tasted a little TOO much like goat cheese for her taste (truth be told, it’s not the first time I’ve heard negative things about that Mast Brothers bar, although I haven’t tasted it myself).
First, a brief description of the bar: this is a VERY DARK dark milk chocolate bar. Because of that, I’m guessing the percentage of goat’s milk powder in this bar is quite low. Even so, it packs quite a flavor punch — the bar is tangy and a little sour, in a pleasant way. While the bar did have the characteristic mouth feel of a milk chocolate — that awesome milk fat melt — it’s a surprisingly uncreamy (that really should be a word) milk chocolate bar, bordering on chalky.
What I LOVE about this goat’s milk bar is that Manoa doesn’t use extra sugar to camouflage the sour goat’s milk flavor. Instead they let the potent astringency of their beans balance the lovely, funky, earthy goat’s milk. The overall effect is an addictive umami deliciousness.
I highly recommend seeking out Manoa’s 69% Goat Milk Chocolate bar, which you can buy on Manoa’s website or at specialty chocolate retailers. If not, I know you can sometimes buy it here on The Meadow’s site (and in their chocolate shops in Portland and New York). If you do end up trying it, please email me or post in the comments section of this blog and let me know what you think.
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.
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.
Get 10% off your Nano box subscription until September 19th by using the discount code INTEMPER at checkout.
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
chocolate liquor (66%)
cocoa butter (4%)
soy lecithin (<1%)
Bar #2: 70% dark chocolate
chocolate liquor (41%)
cocoa butter (29%)
soy lecithin (<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
chocolate liquor (42%)
cocoa butter (18%)
milk powder (14%)
soy lecithin (<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.
This truffle was inspired by Perugina’s Baci, those addictive Italian chocolate-hazelnut confections that have started showing up in American supermarkets everywhere. I wanted to add some texture to the classic round truffle by pressing a whole hazelnut into its center. The result is delightful; the hazelnut provides a wonderful textural contrast to the otherwise uniform creaminess of the gianduja.
And since we were talking about sugar-free chocolate last week, here’s another cool thing about these truffles: other than what’s already in the chocolate, there’s no added sugar in these. The ingredients are nuts and dark chocolate. That’s it. As noted in a previous post, homemade gianduja is so much more wholesome than Nutella. You could almost consider these truffles… healthy?
I decorated the truffles using a piping bag filled with tempered milk chocolate. It’s a really fun technique — I felt like I was in kindergarten art class. But feel free to skip this part. In fact, you can make these truffles without any tempering at all! Dip the truffle centers in untempered chocolate (melted in the microwave as described below) and then roll them in chopped hazelnuts, sugar, crushed corn flakes or whatever else you think of. Nobody will know the chocolate shell is untempered if it’s hidden this way.
Btw, this recipe can easily be doubled or halved. The important thing is that there be a 1:1 ratio of chocolate to hazelnuts in the gianduja filling. If you’re on the fence, I would make a larger batch rather than a smaller one… gianduja keeps for several months at room temperature and much longer in the fridge, so having some extra around to spread on toast or drizzle on pancakes wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world…
Image: Amber Latner
Gianduja Crunch Truffles
Makes approximately 30 truffles.
Shelf life: at least two months at room temperature; up to six months in the refrigerator.
Gianduja crunch centers:
8 oz dark chocolate, chopped into small pieces (I used DeZaan’s 64% dark couverture, but any bittersweet chocolate will work — or use milk chocolate for a sweeter truffle)
12 oz whole hazelnuts
8 oz tempered dark chocolate for enrobing (optional)
2-3 oz tempered milk chocolate for decorating (optional)
You can also can skip the chocolate shells entirely and roll the centers in chopped hazelnuts, cocoa powder, cocoa nibs, crushed corn flakes, sugar, ground coffee beans — be creative!
To roast the nuts: On a baking tray on the center rack of your oven, toast the hazelnuts at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they’re fragrant and brown but not burnt. Wrap them in a clean dish towel to cool on the counter. Use the towel to rub off the skins, and remove any stubborn skins with your fingers. Leaving the skins on won’t ruin the gianduja, but I think they taste a little bitter.
To melt the chocolate: Melt 8 oz chopped dark chocolate in the microwave. To do this without burning the chocolate, place it in a plastic container (glass or ceramic will retain too much heat) and microwave for 2 minutes, stirring every 45 to 60 seconds. Stir well.Continue microwaving at 10 second intervals, stirring well after each interval. To avoid burning the chocolate, stop when it’s 80% melted — the residual heat of the chocolate will melt the remaining pieces as you stir. The whole process should take less than 5 minutes.
To make the gianduja filling: Reserve 4 oz toasted hazelnuts. In a food processor, blend the remaining 8 oz hazelnuts into a paste. The consistency should be like that of peanut butter. Add the melted chocolate. Blend until creamy.
You can stop here if you want, storing the gianduja in a tightly sealed container away from sunlight for 1-2 months, or in the refrigerator for 6 months or more. Note that if you store gianduja in the fridge, you’ll need to leave it at room temperature (or microwave it) to bring it back to a soft, spreadable consistency.
Or, continue on to the next step to make truffles with it.
Note: If the gianduja is too soft immediately after making it, refrigerate for 30-60 minutes before rolling it into balls. Just remember it’s very important to bring the balls to room temperature before enrobing them in tempered chocolate.
To enrobe the centers: Melt and temper the remaining 8 oz chocolate. One at a time, drop each truffle into the chocolate and scoop it out with enrobing forks (a kitchen fork will work in a pinch). Place them on parchment paper to set. If you chose to use untempered chocolate for this step, you’ll need to roll the balls in a bowl of chopped hazelnuts (or your coating of choice) before the chocolate has a chance to set.
To decorate the enrobed truffles: Melt and temper* the milk chocolate and pour it into a large plastic sandwich bag. Twist the end of the bag to push the chocolate into one of the bottom corners. Using scissors, snip off the tip of the corner (ta-da — you have a piping bag!) and, squeezing from the twisted end of the bag, pipe milk chocolate stripes, swirls or dots onto the truffles. Work on parchment paper for easy cleanup. Fun, right?
*Milk chocolate should be tempered at a slightly lower temperature than dark chocolate, so my seeding instructions won’t be that helpful for this. For now I recommend you check out the instructions for tempering milk chocolate on Ecole Chocolat’s website.
So, last night at around 11:30 p.m., this happened:
What stands out right away as you look at this invoice?
Ok, other than the expensive shipping. And that it’s priced in British Pounds (thanks a lot, Cocoa Runners). And, yes, it’s weird to order ten chocolate bars in the middle of the night. Ok ok, besides all that.
I was hoping you might notice that eight of the ten bars listed above are of the dark milk chocolate variety.
But, what IS this dark milk chocolate stuff she speaks of?
A little industry background here will help. The FDA mandates that any bar labeled “milk chocolate” must contain at least 10% cocoa mass (btw, guess how much cocoa mass is in a Hershey’s Bar: 11%). In contrast, anything labeled “dark chocolate” must contain at least 35% cocoa mass (“bittersweet” chocolate usually contains >50%), and no more than 12% milk solids.
So, what happens if a chocolate bar contains more than 50% cocoa solids (cocoa mass + cocoa butter) AND more than 12% milk solids? Well… that’s dark milk chocolate. It’s a hybrid chocolate style that straddles the line between dark and milk without truly belonging to either category.
I know, TOTAL CRAZINESS. Mind blown!
I realize I might be the only person on earth who thinks the concept behind dark milk chocolate is so fricking cool. I know most people don’t sit around geeking out about chocolate for multiple hours a day. But if you’ve read this far, I’m guessing you like chocolate a lot. So do yourself a favor and pick up a bar the next time you get a chance. And for vegans out there, coconut dark milk chocolate is a real thing, and it’s delicious.
So, what should I expect from a dark milk chocolate?
It will not be as sweet as a typical milk chocolate, since some of its sugar has been replaced by cocoa solids. But it will be creamier and smoother than most dark chocolate of comparable cocoa percentage (and do try to find the highest percentage of cocoa solids you can when you hunt for a dark milk bar — 60% is about right, higher is better).
Think about coffee — also a naturally bitter and acidic substance made from roasted seeds. When you add cream to coffee, the dairy fat and milk solids in the cream cut a lot of the bitterness and acidity of the coffee, allowing other flavor notes to shine through. Similarly, milk powder acts as a flavor modulator in chocolate, bringing out some flavors and muting others.
I’m hopeful that the dark milk chocolate fad will eventually improve the range of quality chocolate products available to consumers and spur the development of a new market for intense, flavor-forward milk chocolate. While we’re waiting for that to happen, I’ll be happily nibbling my way through the massive stack of chocolate bars arriving on my doorstep any day now.