Category Archives: chocolate and peanut butter

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.

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Chocolate Naive: Peanut, Tahini, Spices, Dark with Berries, Dark with Hops, Dark Milk with Porcini, and Nicaragua Nicaliso

Lithuanians love their beer; especially, unfiltered, raw beers. Hence, this pairing of dark (67%) chocolate and hops, a very different experience from any other I have ever tasted. The initial leathery flavor reminded me of a stout or porter with their characteristic bitterness and lingering dry aftertaste. A definite roasted flavor of hops and malt predominate. Very interesting. The bar, based on Trinitario beans, is thin, beautifully tempered, and sports that lovely Chocolate Naive logo of a man on a huge unicycle.

Dark Chocolate with Berries (65%) is almost a polar opposite to the one with hops. It is based on a Madagascar Criollo, the perfect choice with blueberries, strawberries, and black currants (all freeze-dried, powdered, and fully amalgamated into the chocolate). This thin, snappy bar with the sweetness of fruit and the fetching tartness of berries delivers a series of exciting berry fireworks in each bite. A real jewel.

Another bar in this range is their Nicaragua Nicaliso (70%), a predominantly Criollo bean. Unlike other Criollos, this has a bit of an acidic edge, nothing harsh, just there to add another dimension to this typically gentle chocolate. The addition of clarified butter is ingenious as it enhances all the inherent flavors of this Central American cacao while adding an extra-velvety texture. Immensely satisfying and more complex than most Criollos.

I sampled three bars in their new organic range: Mulate. Tahini is a dark milk (45%) with tahini and a stage whisper of sesame seeds. A great marriage of super creamy chocolate and slightly chewy-crunchy, roasted sesame seeds, it won the Northwest Chocolate Festival’s Bronze Medal. Unique and delicious.

Their Mulate Peanut with Sea Salt (45%) combines smooth peanut butter with clarified butter to produce a subtle, but still noticeable, peanut taste in a velvety chocolate.

Spices is the name of the third bar in this trinity. On reading the ingredients: dark chocolate (65%) with cinnamon, vanilla, and cayenne, it would be easy to jump to the conclusion that cayenne steals the show. Not so, it was the vanilla that hit me first, then a bit of cinnamon, with the cayenne’s heat and spice finishing everything off and lingering. Since all bars with hot spices have varying intensities, I would rank this heat level as medium. Not so in-your-face that your mouth is burning, and not so mild you don’t notice it. A perfect amount to allow the other flavors, and the creaminess of their dark chocolate (enhanced with clarified butter), to shine.

Design has always been important to Chocolate Naive and they have gone in a completely different direction with this range. Typically, their bar packaging is a clean-looking cardboard envelope with a re-closable plastic sleeve inside. The Mulate bars come in a glossy, stiffer cardboard adorned with fantastical images in a rich palette of colors, with a foil inner wrapper.

In its own category is their Dark Milk (67%) “Back to the Origins” bar with Porcini. Wow. What a surprise. The approachable earthiness of freeze-dried wild porcini mushrooms with clarified butter in this luxuriously silky dark milk chocolate is far from what I would have expected. Not only do the flavors mesh perfectly, they complement each other. Here, 2 + 2 = 10. The woodsy porcini and complex chocolate flavors blend seamlessly to produce something unpredictably lush. You just have to experience it for yourself.

Seattle Chocolates Truffled Bars

If you have been reading this site for years, you already know about Seattle Chocolates. I recently had a chance to sample some of their new bars and want to share my gustatory adventure with you.

Frankly, it was hard to taste all ten as once I tried the Peanut Praline with Glazed Quinoa I just wanted to focus on that crunchy, dark bar for as long as it lasted.

The thing about all of them is they are incredibly satisfying and seem to give you more chocolate in their 2.5 ounce bars than many other choices out there. How does that work? The flavors are complex, but accessible. Take this Peanut Praline bar, for example. There is so much textural interest between the roasted peanuts and the crunchy quinoa, it’s easy to lose sight of the firm dark praline they call home. As there are only 12 grams of sugar in half a bar, it’s a pretty guilt-free treat to scarf down.

The Salted Almond Dark Truffle bar with sea salt has whole almonds generously sprinkled throughout. The salt is subtle, and, like its sibling, the low sugar content makes for an adult flavor profile.

Also weighing in with lower sugar content is the Coconut Macaroon. Here, the truffle center is a bit more noticeable as your taste buds hop between the chewy bits of coconut and the sumptuousness of a dark chocolate truffle infused with coconut oil. I know you have already read about the health benefits of coconut oil, so I will not belabor them. Suffice it to say, Seattle Chocolates uses non-hydrogenated coconut oil.

Just in time for Christmas is Kris Kringle Crackle, with its dark truffle center studded with popcorn.

Perfect Peanut Butter has a peanut butter truffle center scattered with bits of roasted peanut bits. Delicious.

The following bars are a bit sweeter for those of you who prefer chocolates to taste more dessert-like.

Birthday Cake Batter Milk Chocolate Truffle Bar with Confetti Cake Mix was far simpler to experience than to type. It’s a sweeter milk chocolate with a velvety white chocolate truffle center punctuated with tiny pieces of cake. Perfect for children or the child in you.

Their San Juan Sea Salt Milk Chocolate Truffle bar with Toffee, was chock-ful of sugary toffee pieces in a silky truffle center. Addictive.

Total Toffee was even more caramelly. This is also available in a pretty wrapper with “Thank You, You’re The Best, Awesome, Gratitude,” etc. written all over it.

Meltaway Mint is a peppermint infused milk chocolate. A wonderfully rich and creamy, yet perky combination.

Jean Thompson, the owner of Seattle Chocolates, has a vision of ending hunger in America. On November 1, 2014 through the end of the year, for every item purchased and every post of #chocolategives they will donate a serving of fresh food to someone in need. Donations will be made through four major locations on both coasts.

jcoco

Many years ago, there was an ice cream store in Boston that had huge marble slabs where they mixed in all sorts of various candies, cookies, fruits, nuts, etc. into your choice of ice cream. It was such a great idea that it has since been copied in a big way by Cold Stone Creamery and others. The real skill with adding ingredients to a base, whether ice cream or chocolate, is knowing what works with what and when to leave well enough alone.

Jean Thompson, the owner of jcoco, knows her chocolate; especially, when it comes to add-ins. She has a knack for discerning which textures and flavors enhance each other, all of which is evident in her new line: jcoco.

Before we get to the chocolate, let me say I love a business with a mission statement; especially, one that has a humanitarian bent. Here’s a quote from Jean herself:

“We love tasting chocolate and inventing unique flavors, but what’s most important to us at jcoco is the way that food connects us. Giving back to our community is at the heart of jcoco’s mission. To that end, every time you purchase a jcoco product, we will give a fresh, healthy serving of food to someone who would otherwise go hungry. Your everyday indulgence makes a vital difference to someone in your community! Our current partners are Northwest Harvest, the Food Bank of New York, SF-Marin Food Bank, and The Greater Boston Food Bank. We are looking to establish partnerships wherever our products are sold, from Seattle to Los Angeles, and Chicago to New York.”

Of course, no amount of generosity makes a product good. Luckily, jcoco’s chocolates are really delicious. But, even before you tuck into them, there’s the packaging. They offer two different ways of indulging: the jcoco mini gift set with all their flavors, or larger envelopes housing three one ounce separately wrapped bars. The chocolate is wrapped in a shiny, copper colored foil and then in a glossy cheerful paper. Either would make a great gift.

Here’s a run-down on the flavors:

Peanut strawberry baobab in dark chocolate. This luscious bar has only 10 grams of sugar yet feels very indulgent as your palate goes from crunchy peanuts to little chewy jewels of baobab, strawberry, apple, plum, and black carrot juice. It may sound exotic, but the flavors and textures come together in a crave-worthy way.

Black fig pistachio is loaded with nuts and organic fig pieces in dark chocolate.

Vanuatu coconut pecan offers another lower sugar choice, though this time in milk chocolate. Shaved coconut flakes party with toasted pecans for an indulgent ride. Jean’s milk chocolate hails from the tiny island nation of Vanuatu in the South Pacific and is terrific.

Edamame sea salt in milk chocolate allows the crunch of roasted edamame to languish in a super creamy chocolate.

Agave quinoa sesame really pops with glazed quinoa and sesame in milk chocolate. I loved the two different textures riding shotgun with that lovely, desserty chocolate.

Cayenne veracruz orange really stopped me in my tracks, as white chocolate is not my go-to choice. Here, though, the orange oil and chili really spice up the chocolate, leaving you with a creamy, citrus, slightly heat-filled experience.

Noble Dark is a 72% Belgian chocolate studded with chocolate covered nibs. Once again, the texture is marvelous.

Mystery Chocolate Box

Mystery Chocolate Box is the brainchild of Peter Messmer. When Peter was growing up, his family had a tradition where one of them would buy a bunch of chocolate bars, remove the outer label, and try to guess what was in each bar. Then, they read out their guesses and the person who brought the chocolates revealed the answers. They found the guessing and the eating a ton of fun, not to mention having a great time together as a family.

Peter and his family found out how different it was to taste what was in a chocolate bar once they already knew the ingredients, from trying to blindly figure out add-ins without any clues. As someone who eats chocolate daily, I can attest to his assertion.

If you aren’t already intrigued and need a bit more incentive, you can win a prize if you guess correctly on their website within a specified amount of time.

The three large bars (each monthly delivery including shipping is $30) arrived in perfect condition with ice packs. Each was labeled Mystery Bar A, B, or C. There was a guessing card, and information on allergies. I have decided not to post my guesses, just in case you are interested in procuring your own Mystery Chocolate Box. Suffice it to say, I am not even 100% sure I guessed correctly, and that’s even after visiting the three websites the bars came from (two of the names were printed on the bars themselves, while for the third nameless one, I did a little sleuthing).

Peter focuses on this as a family activity, which is a great way to do something different and fun with the kids. I can think of plenty of teens, and adults who would love it, too. It could also be a great fund-raiser for your favorite charity if done in small groups.

Chocolate Hummus Recipe

I don’t often post recipes, but this one is delicious and healthy.
You can add more maple syrup if you want it sweeter.

Chocolate hummus is great on toasted rice cakes, whole grain bread, graham crackers, apple wedges, or as a stuffing for celery stalks.
Think of it as a healthier Nutella.

1 can garbanzo beans or black beans, rinsed and drained (I prefer the black beans.)
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup real maple syrup or honey
1/2 cup cocoa
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Just mix all the ingredients in a food processor.
It’s best to let this sit for a while to thoroughly blend the flavors.

Ethereal Confections

The dictionary lists celestial, heavenly, and spiritual as synonyms for ethereal. Delighting in chocolate’s gifts can bring spiritual joy, and a heavenly sense of bliss; so, I can see how sisters-in-law Sara and Mary Ervin chose Ethereal for their chocolate’s brand name. At the same time, chocolate is a very grounding substance. As a matter of fact, I would actually suggest eating a piece can root you in the moment as well as a Zen koan. All that notwithstanding, Ethereal’s chocolates are divine.

The packaging is just as appetizing as the chocolate. Whether it is the cellophane windowed sleeve that shows off strawberries, rose petals, and pink peppercorns in one of their Artisan Dark Chocolate Bars, or the beautifully painted cardboard wrapping of their Meltaway bars, the attention to detail and aesthetics is obvious before your first bite.

I sampled three of their offerings, starting with a French Vanilla & Salted Almond Meltaway bar. This looks like a flat, scored 66% dark chocolate bar, but it is far from your typical experience. Inside is a celestial, silky firm mousse of roasted almond olive oil, vanilla balsamic vinegar, organic coconut oil, sea salt, and organic chocolate. While that combination may sound more spacey than the Wrath of Khan, it works incredibly well. The beautifully tempered dark chocolate shell melts into the velvety center as all the flavors coalesce, each working seamlessly with its partner for a riveting effect.

Their 66% Artisan Dark Bar with Strawberries, Rose Petals, and Pink Peppercorns is a joy to behold, and a completely different experience from the Meltaway bar. Here, each ingredient holds its own, yet overlaps with the others like a gustatory Venn diagram. I loved the punch from the peppercorns, the tart sweetness of organic freeze dried–yet still soft–strawberries, amped up with floral notes from the rose petals.

After tasting these bars I immediately went to their website and ordered a variety of other treats.

My last Ethereal exploration was their Peanut Butter Nom Noms (1.25 ounces), which provided an intense hit of peanut butter, dark chocolate, and sea salt. Think of a bon bon with a fairly firm center enrobed in glossy, crisp chocolate, with a sprinkle of sassy, crunchy salt crystals on top.

If you derive joy from perusing chocolate websites that cater to people with somewhat jaded palates, I would strongly suggest you meander around Ethereal’s. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, though, Sara and Mary’s creative combinations may have you reaching for your Visa card.