Category Archives: Artisanal chocolate

Dark Forest Chocolate Two New Dark Milk Bars

Dark milk chocolate is the perfect choice for people who say they don’t like dark chocolate but want to eat it for its health benefits. They get a more intense cacao experience without any of the bitterness, acidity, tobacco, coffee, or terroir flavors often associated with a 70% bar. In addition, I have also found friends will try a dark milk and be more open minded about tasting a truly dark chocolate. For me, a lover of dark bars, these dark milks provide a dessert-like interlude with their incredibly creamy texture and slightly higher sugar content.

I just sampled two great dark milk bars from Dark Forest Chocolate, a bean to bar maker in Lancaster, NY. I first reviewed their wares in 2015 and was enraptured by a Goat Milk 50% chocolate. Luckily for those of you who love it, or haven’t tried it yet, it’s still in their repertoire. (See the review here: https://chocolateratings.wordpress.com/2015/07/25/dark-forest-single-origin-bean-to-bar-chocolate/)

It takes great skill to add just the right amount of heat to chocolate so it accentuates the properties of the bean while providing something new and exciting. Dark Forest Chocolate has achieved that elusive balance. Their 50% dark milk Cinnamon Pepper bar has no black pepper, just cocoa beans, sugar, cacao butter, whole milk powder, Ceylon cinnamon, and cayenne. It was delicious and satisfyingly complex. I also love the 24 little rectangles the bar neatly breaks into. Each piece provides the perfect morsel to savor this luscious combination of velvety textured chocolate and heat.

I also sampled their Salted Malted Milk Chocolate bar, another dark milk offering with unique malted milk undertones that triggered memories of malted milk balls…though at a far more adult level. Barley malt (the main component of malted milk powder) adds an retro flavor reminiscent of old fashioned soda fountains where malted milk, egg creams, and ice cream sodas were the coin of the realm.

L’Amourette Chocolat

Apparently, L’Amourette means a little love affair in French. Perhaps, the intensity of a fling is a good way to describe the allure of these bars, but I could easily turn them into a long term relationship.

Andre V., founder of L’Amourette, says their company’s driving philosophy is the belief “in the uncompromising production of quality chocolate and confectionery, while not limiting our customer base to the wealthier layers of society.” In this day and age, when high quality, artisanal chocolate bars often go for $10, or more, for a 1.25-2 ounce bar, Andre offers a plethora of choices starting at $5 for large 3.5 ounce bars.

I often think of chocolatiers as gustatory explorers, and Andre is no exception. His Grenada Criollo Fine Estate 75% bar a case in point. He found a new Criollo that captivated him so much he experimented with making a small batch. If it garners the same interest in other chocolate lovers he will continue producing it. It’s that innovative and flexible attitude that distinguishes small batch producers from larger companies that can’t afford to take a chance on a smaller run. This aspect of bean-to-bar chocolate making is fairly new and incredibly creative. As consumers, we get the opportunity to refine and broaden our taste as new beans get added to the larger chocolate repertoire.

While I didn’t sample the Criollo bar, I did try two bars that point up both Andre’s desire to produce wonderful chocolate at an accessible price while also offering higher end single bean bars. I sampled one of each, starting with the estate variety: Arauca. This Columbian bean hails from the banks of the Arauca River, and has a very fresh, clean scent. It’s redolent of petrichor. (According to the Oxford Dictionary this means “a pleasant smell that frequently accompanies the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather.”) The 80% Arouca bar has beans that were coached for 48 hours, which makes it incredibly creamy. The flavor is as chocolatey as it can get and lingers with a sustained full, dense, rich presence that seems to be intensified by using only two ingredients: cacao and sugar.

The Dark Chocolate bar with Pomelo Peel, 72%, is made from a combination of Rio Caribe and Carenero Superior beans from Venezuela. The Pomelo flavors, similar to grapefruit, are a wonderful contrast to the mellow and intriguing notes of the two beans. With a velvety texture and a deliciously lingering finish, this is a definite keeper. The candied Pomelo is very well integrated into the bar, so there are not big chunks of it…just enough to enhance the chocolate’s fruitiness. I also have to mention the bright turquoise inner foil wrapping that contrasts to the yellow cardboard box adored with an Art Nouveau design. Just lovely.

Andre offers a cornucopia of 3.5 ounce bars with add-ins including: 72% Dark Chocolate Flavored with Bacon & Salami, 72% Dark Chocolate with English Toffee, 72% Dark Chocolate with Cayenne Chili & Cinnamon, and 72% Dark Chocolate with Dried Figs.

K’UL Chocolate: 4 New Bars

I was delighted to see K’UL Chocolate has four new bars, and even happier to sample them. Their product development is our collective joy.

The most intriguing of the four is 70% Golden Spice with Turmeric (600mg per 1.45 ounce bar), Ginger, Ginseng, and Goldenberries. As someone who adds turmeric to my vinaigrette, rice, and morning porridge I was already a convert to its health benefits. Here, it adds extra depth to an already great base chocolate. The ginger and ginseng are delivered with a light hand, and the goldenberries add a delightfully chewy texture. Another winner, especially if you have been wondering how to get more turmeric into your diet.

70% Espresso Crunch with nibs is aptly named, as the crunch is evident in every bite. Looking for an afternoon shot of energy with only 9 gams of sugar in 1.23 ounce bar? Well, here’s a great option.

70% Matcha Mint with matcha green tea and peppermint is for those who want a pick-me-up from a little caffeine but aren’t in the market for an espresso buzz. Enlivened by mint, this bar is creamy, dark, and refreshing.

85% Dark is a blend of Caribbean and Latin American beans. With only 5 grams of sugar in a 1.23 ounce bar it has a very silky texture, balanced flavor profile with only a hint of acidity, and plummy/raisin notes. In addition, it offers a nutritional powerhouse of 30% of your iron, 4 grams of protein, and 5 grams of fiber. If you love super dark bars I wouldn’t miss this one.

If, like me, your love of chocolate extends to its manufacture, you might want to check out this great video of the K’UL factory tour: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-uV-Vd3Q-sY

Firefly Organic Bean to Bar Chocolate

I am always in the mood for something different from the chocolate world and Firefly organic bean to bar chocolate provides that new experience. This is an earthy line of bars, all of which, no matter what their cocoa content, speak a chocolate language developed centuries ago before the bean became so intertwined with sugar. More like a food, less like a confection. Because the beans are roasted and coached at the lowest possible temperature this is a perfect choice for someone who loves raw chocolate.

I like the phrase Jonas Ketterle, founder of Firefly Chocolate, uses on his wrapper: “This is not sweet chocolate, nor is it bitter–it is simply high vitality chocolate lovingly made in small batches from the bean…”

I sampled six of his bars, the most unusual of which was a wild harvested Bay Nut bar with 40% cacao, 30% bay nuts and 30% coconut sugar. While never having experienced bay nuts, I found the chocolate quite intriguing with its hickory-like, smokey flavor in a super creamy texture. The lingering taste reminded me of lychee nuts, and it was surprisingly un-sweet for its 40% cocoa content. Apparently, bay nuts were eaten by native people of California. They had a super long shelf life and once dried, stored well for years. The nuts were then roasted in ashes.

Firefly’s 85% dark chocolate with almonds and sea salt had chunks of nuts on the underside of the bar and was made with beans from Tanzania. The chocolate was intense, as you might expect from an 85% bar, and accented well with the roasted almonds.

The 60% Coconut Cream bar, made with Jonas’ stone ground coconut butter, was very creamy and less sweet than you would expect a 60% bar to be.

Maca is known in Peru as a stamina builder and hormone balancer. Firefly’s 77% bar with Maca was similar to the other chocolates in this range from Tanzanian beans: intense, full of terroir, and very earthy.

Last but not least, was the 77% Wildberry with beans from Belize. The berry notes were very light but enough of a presence to add another layer of flavor.

Jonas has a free monthly give-away you can sign up for on his website at the bottom of this page: https://fireflychocolate.com/handcrafted/vision/

Harper Macaw

One thing that really captivates me these days in the chocolate universe is a great dark milk bar. Harper Macaw makes one. It’s a 57% Brazilian rainforest direct trade sourced, perfectly tempered, smooth, creamy indulgence that is far too easy to scarf down. Dark milks offer the child in me something a little sweeter and the adult that higher cocoa intensity. If you’re doing a chocolate tasting this would make a great counterpoint to darker, single origin bars.

In that category Harper Macaw has you covered. Their line offers three dark single estate varieties: 74% Vale do Juliana, 75% M. Libânio, and 77% Tomé Açu. I did not sample those, but focused on their limited release 73% Bourbon Barrel Aged bar as a contrast to the dark milk. It was fabulous. Crisply tempered, redolent of bourbon’s lingering presence, rich, velvety, slightly acidic, with a hint of astringency, it sated my craving for a unique chocolate experience. I especially appreciated the slightly dry lingering finish as it etched its flavors into my memory.

Speaking of etching, each bar has a unique design that reminded me of the more angular elements in furniture created by Charles Rennie Macintosh. Just beautiful and unique. The outer wrappers are also works of art, as is Harper Macaw’s logo.

They also have a collection of bars with add-ins related to one’s political leanings. Titled: Tea Party, Left Wing, Red State, Flip-Flopper, Filibuster, and Taxation Without Representation, their inclusions run the gamut from butter toffee to peanuts and pretzels.

Harper Macaw is dedicated to conservation. When you buy their chocolate you help restore and protect deforested or vulnerable rainforest in northeast Brazil. Through partnerships with Instituto Uiraçu, American Bird Conservancy, and Rainforest Trust, they reinvest in the expansion of Reserva Serra Bonita, a cutting-edge rainforest conservation initiative. As Earth’s second most threatened terrestrial biome and the focal point of Brazil’s cacao industry, it is crucial to the survival of their cacao economy and the region’s biodiversity. By supporting innovative approaches in cacao farming Harper Macaw helps insure the health and stability of the region.

Wm Chocolate

Will Marx is young, creative, entrepreneurial, and dedicated to his craft. Pairing ethically traded single origin cocoa beans with a passion for chocolate that excites the senses, he has crafted a line of bars to tempt even the most jaded palate.

Here’s a rundown of the four I sampled, none of which had lecithin or vanilla.

68% Belize Moho Valley 2016 harvest bar: In a word, excellent. Very rounded and super satisfying with fruity, caramel flavors, a slightly dry finish and a ridiculously smooth texture. Beautifully tempered.

75% Ghana Rainforest Alliance 2016 Harvest: Another audibly tempered, glossy finish bar, equally delicious, but quite different. Light coffee notes, a hint of roasted chestnut; rich and supremely satisfying. Just the right amount of unrefined cane sugar for that butterscotch undertone.

70% Honduras Wampusirpi 2016 harvest bar with Hawaiian Red Salt: If you love salted chocolate you have to add this to your stash. The beans hail from a remote part of northeastern Honduras. The Hawaiian Red Salt, sprinkled with a deft hand on the underside of the bar, adds a note of astringency to a fairly creamy chocolate.

In the let’s get creative category I tasted a limited release 80% Markham Valley bar with Sweet Corn and Ancho Chile. Apparently, in Papua, New Guinea they dry their beans by a wood fire. You can definitely taste the smokiness in the chocolate, making it a perfect foil for the Ancho powder (medium heat) and crunchy morsels of corn scattered on the underside.

Will also offers drinking chocolate and tasting squares. As someone who has hosted a number of chocolate tastings I can attest to the good karma they generate. Everyone seems to leave happy.

Santa Barbara Chocolate

I have just tasted one of the best single origin chocolates, and that’s saying a lot, as there are plenty of excellent options out there. It’s a 73% bulk wafer from Vietnam offered by Santa Barbara Chocolate. The flavor is round, full, fruity, floral, balanced, and complex with a slightly dry finish. Like an edgy criollo. I love criollo beans, but they can sometimes seem a bit too gentle and predictable on the palate. This chocolate, which contains cocoa butter and vanilla, delivers all its fascinating flavors in a velvety texture.

Making this a 73% was inspired as it heightens all the nuances of the cacao with just the right amount of sugar. At $39 for a three pound bag it’s also an incredible bargain. One two ounce bar tempered into an ornate mold in fancy packaging would easily fetch $10, or more. I would suggest transferring some straight from the bag into a pretty glass jar and giving it as gifts…economical, unique, and luxurious.

While I temper chocolate as a moving meditation, I found these Vietnamese wafers almost impossible to adulterate with anything. They’re irresistible right out of the bag; and, their size and shape couldn’t be better for a perfectly timed melt at body temperature. At some point, I will make mendiants with maple glazed pecans or pistachios and thinly sliced dates or dried mango, but not now. Today I want to bask in the glory of this bean. (Two days later…ever the experimenter, I tempered some of this extraordinary chocolate and added dehydrated raspberries. The acidity of the fruit brought out even more floral fruity notes from the chocolate. So, even though it stands alone, it also plays well with others.)

I also sampled their organic Hispaniola 100% chocolate wafers sourced from the Dominican Republic. They have a very robust, intense, super chocolatey flavor noticeably without leather, soil, licorice, or tobacco notes that makes them perfect for baking. I tempered some and added 25% demerara sugar. The slight sweetness and crunch of the crystalized sugar was a fascinating foil for the Hispaniola flavors.

The 60% version of this bean is very versatile with its lush fruity flavor and lends itself to tempering, baking, or just eating out of the bag. A fun fact about this bean: it was the first cacao Christopher Columbus tasted when he arrived in the New World.

Then there were the 70% organic dark chocolate chips without soy lecithin. I can’t remember having mini-chips with such a deep, refined chocolate presence and a sublimely balanced flavor profile. They were a great addition to a batch of maple tahini chocolate chip cookies.

My last treat was their Caribbean 67% which also had a fruity presence and a slightly dry, lingering finish. In my experience, these fruitier beans are just excellent for couverture and desserts as they support a galaxy of flavors, like citrus, berries, nuts, seeds, coffee beans, and spices.

In addition to a great selection of products for the professional or avocational chocolatier, Santa Barbara Chocolate makes beautiful large organic truffles. Mine arrived in a stunning tall red faux leather box adorned with a sumptuous black silk ribbon. The box itself opens up sideways to form four smaller boxes that each contained four truffles. These are incredibly rich, vegan, and infused with organic coconut milk and organic honey. A memorable gift for someone you love or want to impress.

Santa Barbara curates a very special collection of cacao. Each item is handpicked for its unique properties, whether organic, Rainforest alliance certified, or coconut palm sugar sweetened, you can be sure it will be both high quality and a good value.

I focused this review on their dark offerings, but they also have milk, white, and compound chocolates, cocoa, drinking chocolate, and beans.

While I didn’t sample the Belgian Dark Chocolate Grand Aroma, I thought you might enjoy the following recipe from Santa Barbara’s owner and chocolatier Jason Vishnefske.

INGREDIENTS FOR BELGIAN BEER CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES

Beer Ganache:

8oz. Belgian Beer
3oz. Honey
1lb. 4oz. of our Imported Ever the experimenter, I tempered some of this Vietnamese chocolate and added dehydrated raspberries. The result was just what I had in mind: the acidity of the fruit brought out even more floral fruity notes from the chocolate.
3oz. Butter

Additional Chocolate Ingredient:

Belgian Milk Chocolate Couverture

PREPARATION OF BEER TRUFFLES:

Boil the Belgian beer with honey.
Pour onto the Belgian Dark Chocolate and mix so it is smooth.
When the ganache reaches 87F add butter and mix with a hand mixer.
Pour ganache into a parchment lined sheet pan and let it crystallize for 14 hours at 60F.
Temper the milk chocolate couverture and spread a thin layer of the tempered Belgian Milk Chocolate on the ganache side.
When it’s crystallized, turn the ganache and spread another thin layer of tempered Belgian Milk Chocolate on the other side.
Cut into 1/2″ by 2″ rectangles.
Lastly, dip each ganache rectangle into tempered Belgian Dark Chocolate Grand Aroma.