Category Archives: Artisanal chocolate

BronxGrrl Chocolate

Regina Monaco has a PhD in Chemistry, and her research is in the areas of physical chemistry, thermodynamics, and biochemistry. As a chocolatier, she always tries to use her scientific background to understand every step of chocolate-making process.

Regina likes to study the characteristics of every batch carefully: is the roast dark or light, considering the type of cacao used? Is the body smooth, light, creamy, rich, and flavorful or sticky, heavy, grainy, bitter and thin? She analyzes so she can maximize the positive attributes and minimize any negative notes, textures, or flavors.

Her mission at BronxGrrl chocolate is to make unique, quirkily imperfect chocolate with personality. Each batch is just a little different.

I tried a Maple Pecan Bubble. It was creamy, perfectly sweetened, and, with its crown of crunchy nuts and dusting of maple sugar, very satisfying to eat and look at. The chocolate itself was tempered beautifully. The texture dense, and the flavor profile earthy but still sophisticated. I actually ate it in two installments as I wanted it to last.

You might also try her Bubble with Pecans and Cranberries and the heart shaped truffles with raspberry, sour cherry, maple ganache, made with their family’s maple syrup. Both sound divine to me.

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Hexx Chocolate

When I was in high school I had a short period of fascination with witchcraft. Pretty quickly, I discovered it was mostly a mind game. Spells, hexes, and voodoo all seemed to rely on the intended subject knowing what good or evil was being created for them with dolls, potions, or boiling cauldrons. Chocolate is partially a mind game, too, but of a very different nature. Great chocolate casts its spell by creating an altered state of consciousness where your five senses collaborate to take you somewhere captivating, delicious, and new.

Hexx bewitches its customers with their wide array of single origin dark and dark milk bars. All of which are sure to carry you into a chocolate reverie and away from whatever harshes your mellow.

The look of these bars is also entrancing. Each is shaped into many little, flat hexagons with the double X design in bas relief.

All are sweetened with raw palm sugar, made from nectar found in the flower buds of the coconut palm tree. This nectar is then air-dried to form a crystalline sugar that’s naturally brown in color and rich in a number of key vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, including potassium, zinc, iron, and vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6. Palm sugar has a low-glycemic index. It tastes and acts almost exactly like sugar, but it is unrefined.

I sampled four of their eight bars:

47% Camino Verde (Ecuador) dark milk is reminiscent of vanilla, caramel, fruit and cream. Easy to eat, but also very rich and satisfying in small amounts.

47% Sambirano Valley (Madagascar) dark milk is lighter in color and more gentle on the palate. A great choice for people who are afraid to up their cocoa content and want a milky, soothing bar.

70% Kokoa Kamili (Tanzania) is a very assertive offering with coffee, raisin, and a little astringency. It has a lingering, slightly dry finish.

70% Maranon Pue Nacional (Peru) is redolent of fruity biscuits, deep chocolate flavor, and fruity undertones. This is a classic in the chocolate pantheon and deserves attention from anyone who loves cacao.

Vivra Chocolate

I may eat chocolate all day, but I usually don’t start until mid morning, at the earliest. When I wake up thinking of a particular bar with anticipation I know it’s a stellar offering. Vivra’s 70% Alto Beni Bolivian bar is worth an early morning reverie. Wild harvested in 2015 this chocolate boasts an incredible blend of flavors: sweet ripe fruit and green olives which beautifully rounds out all the fruitiness with a hint of acidity.

The next bean to bar offering is a 70% from Haiti. PISA is a new bean cooperative located in the Acul de Nord region of Haiti. PISA works with an association of 1,489 smallholder farmers, 476 of whom are female. I have come to deeply appreciate Haitian beans and this Trinitario is no exception. Also harvested in 2015, it’s organic, direct trade, and has a drier finish. Not too sweet fruity flavors predominate.

Last up in this category is their OKO Caribe from the Dominican Republic. OKO Caribe has perfected the art of working with small holder farmers in the San Francisco de Macoris region. Also organic and made with beans harvested in 2015, it is creamier than the Pisa bar and beckons with notes of dark fruits, honey, and roasted peanut.

Their 31% milk chocolate offerings are delicious and fun. Take the Chili Crunch with toasted tortilla bits, sea salt and red Naga chili. It won a ton of awards, most recently the 2016 gold medal for best milk chocolate with inclusions. The heat is subtle, the crunch unlike anything else out there, and the chocolate decadently rich. I also loved their milk chocolate PB & Pretzel bar. Generously studded with bits of peanuts and pretzels it gives every bite crunch and nutty flavor. Too easy to eat with abandon. The last milk bar I sampled was the Curry Cashew. Another creative melding of flavors and textures. The curry somehow warms up the richness of the cashews and the milk base just makes it all taste remarkably luxurious.

The three 65% dark bars with inclusions were: Sienna Fig with Dottato figs, salted Sicilian pistachios, and pignoli. Here, the ingredients were added with a lighter hand which gives the finished product more of a choral effect than a solo performance. Orange Passion, with orange zest, passion fruit powder, and sea salt has an alluring orange scent right out of the package. The zest is not chewy as the pieces are fully amalgamated into the chocolate. I liked how the passion fruit gave this bar an extra edginess. English Garden is another multi-award winner, including the 2016 gold medal for best mixed chocolate bar. This unique and complex offering sports sweet basil, thyme, Meyer lemon, olive oil, and bits of French candied violets.

Clearly Vivra offers a wide selection catering to every taste, which makes it an excellent one stop destination for all your chocoholics.

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/