Category Archives: chocolate caramels

Quintessential Chocolates

Many years ago, when I had energy to burn, I made a four layer dark chocolate rum cake covered in a blanket of white marzipan adorned with flat pink marzipan hearts. Just thinking about it evokes nascent yearnings. While I am not inclined to spend the good part of a day baking at this juncture, I still love the combination of alcohol and chocolate. So far, I have had to sate my cravings with some homemade ganaches infused with Benedictine or Nocello. Yes, there are truffles with Grand Marnier, Amaretto, and rum, to name a few, but the alcohol presence always seems fairly mild to me. Not so for the alcohol filled batons and truffles from Quintessential Chocolates. I recently sampled a few of their confections and was delighted with their intense flavor.

The truffles were appealing in their pretty Tiffany blue sleeve box with windowpane for viewing. Jamaican was deliciously rummy. The dark couverture with delicate white swirl was the perfect thickness to complement but not overwhelm its creamy center. MayaCaya, enhanced with cayenne, offered light heat and a hint of cinnamon. Fortunate No.4 Sea Salt Caramel had a smaller center and thicker shell. Here, though, it worked perfectly, as the sweet caramel was a excellent foil for the chocolate’s unique fruity-floral flavor profile. A wonderfully luxurious experience. Their Bittersweet Truffle was a classic dark chocolate ganache in a thinner shell. The sweetest of was a Belgian Milk Truffle.

Quintessential’s alcohol filled chocolates, six to a box, are encased in a sugar crust, which keeps the filling liquid, and coated in a thin layer of semi-sweet chocolate. Flavors included: Amaretto, Cabernet Sauvignon, Enchanted Rock Red Wine, Pecan Street Rum, Garrison Bourbon, and Republic Anejo Tequila. The boxes weigh 1.85 ounces, or 52 grams. I like the enclosed map of flavors so you know what you’re biting into, and I’m always a fan of variety. All of them were a far cry from the imported alcohol filled chocolates I have sampled from Germany with their cloyingly sweet, thicker chocolate shells. These were the perfect juxtaposition of chocolate and alcohol. Liquid, crunch, and silky textured chocolate all at once.

Quintessential also offers fruit nectar and coffee filled chocolates, and a wide variety of barks that look very appetizing. The truffles are only available in their Texas based store, but everything else can be ordered online.

Aldi’s Choceur Milk Chocolate Covered Sea Salt Caramel Almonds

At $3.99 a pop I thought these deserved a try. There are seven servings in a 10 ounce bag, with each portion containing about 11 almonds. The nuts are fairly uniform in size, though some are a bit smaller or larger than their siblings.

This is a bite sized version of an almond turtle: chocolate, caramel and roasted nuts. The addition of sea salt adds a welcome piquancy. The nuts are super crunchy and have a deeply roasted flavor, while the caramel has just the right level of chewiness: not hard enough to loosen your fillings, not so soft that you need to floss afterwards.

Between the caramel and the milk chocolate, these are a bit sweet (18 grams of sugar per serving) but not cloyingly so. I would love to see a 70% cacao version….

MilkBoy Swiss Chocolate

A few years ago, there was an article about Japanese workers going into the forest for a day of rest and relaxation. The salubrious effects of this outing were obvious to all, especially the researcher investigating what he called Forest Therapy. When he was asked how he de-stesses while working in a windowless lab all day he said he used essential oil of Balsam Fir Needle. I tried it, and it beautifully transports me to a deep glade in an emerald wood.

MilkBoy’s 60% dark bar with essential Pine Tree Oil reminded me of that relaxing experience. I would have thought pine and chocolate might clash, but they are an inspired combination. The citrusy edge of pine with a creamy medium dark chocolate creates a balance of flavors and velvety texture. It’s perfect for the gustatory explorer in you.

As you already know, the Swiss are famous for their super creamy chocolates, especially, the milks. If you love milk chocolate, their velvety Swiss Milk chocolate bar is an indulgent option. They also offer a Lemon and Ginger version and one with Crunchy Caramel and Sea Salt. As you might imagine, the latter is quite sweet; yet, the addition of sea salt perks up the caramel flavors to the point of making the bar interesting and complex. For a dark chocolate lover like me, the Lemon and Ginger was a revelation: tart with just the right amount of acidity and a hint of ginger, it elevated the milk chocolate into adult territory.

85% is more my thing, and their 85% bar is super smooth, low in sugar, and beautifully tempered. The taste is rich, sophisticated, with a slightly dry, lingering finish. The vanilla is applied with a light touch so it gently enhances the bean’s flavor.

MilkBoy also makes a plain milk bar for those who love a pristine version, and a white chocolate rendition with bourbon vanilla.

All the bars are a generous 3.5 ounces and come in a lovely cardboard package adorned with black, paper cut silhouettes evoking an Alpine village, complete with cows.

Chocolate Inspirations: Sweet Buddies

Are they called Sweet Buddies because there are two to a pack? Or, is it because they will be your chocolate pals? Maybe, the ingredients are good buddies? Beats me. All I know is they are another great creation from Chocolate Inspirations.

My favorite of the trio has salted vanilla bean caramel paired with roasted peanuts and enrobed in 58% dark chocolate. What makes these extra delicious is the perfectly chewy texture of the caramel. It allows each bite to last a satisfyingly long time. I am always amazed at how a little sea salt can both highlight the individual flavors and then corral them into a fiesta of complex flavors. Heaven!

I liked the sublime combination of salted vanilla caramel and marshmallow in the next bar because the coconut cream came through more strongly. A completely different experience, it seduced me with silky, slightly chewy marshmallow enhanced by the chewier caramel and thick chocolate couverture. Since there are not many marshmallow and chocolate confections available, I would suggest trying these if you love that combo.

Though not enrobed in chocolate, the last duo was salted vanilla caramel and peanut. Even though I am a chocophile, this bar was just wonderful. Without couverture, the saltiness of the caramel was accentuated and highlighted by crunchy nuts.

There was not a weight on the wrapper, though each bar is about 2 ounces, giving you two big portions in each package.

Amore di Mona

In our current chocolate laden world it is difficult to create something that stands out. Chef Meagan of Amore di Mona has managed to do that with her Madhava agave sweetened dark chocolates and caramels. Using agave gives them a much lower glycemic index and is particularly well suited to caramels.

I sampled the plain dark bar first. With only four grams of sugar in a 35 gram portion, the whole bar, it was just sweet enough to make it a treat, rather than a health food. The agave has an interesting effect on the temper, giving it a slightly creamier texture.

Next up were the two Caramela bars, each weighing in at 64 grams. It’s hard to believe there are only two grams of sugar in each 21 gram square, as they taste rich and immensely satisfying. The very fact that there are three large squares per box makes them a super portable way to enjoy dark chocolate coated caramels. I can easily see taking these along with me to the movies, as their perfectly chewy centers prolongs your enjoyment. The one with cranberries adds an extra layer of sweetness and texture. Using apple juice sweetened cranberries makes these even more crave-worthy, while the addition of organic ground vanilla beans beautifully rounds out the caramel-chocolate flavors.

I also tried their box of assorted chocolates: dark, caramela, caramela with cranberries, caramela with cherries, caramela with crunchy coffee beans, dark with currants, and dark with crunchy coffee beans. The dark chocolates are heart-shaped and very visually appealing. The caramelas are more rectangular. Slightly chewy, creamy caramel blends wonderfully with all the add-ins, though the one that really woke up my taste buds was studded with crunchy coffee beans. What a great juxtaposition of flavors and textures.

Always one to pay attention to packaging, I appreciated the ribbon and seal adorning both boxes.

Baroness Chocolates

There are over 360 reviews on this site, and for almost all of them I have relied on my own opinion. Once I sample the chocolates I typically share them with friends and family. Last night, however, I deviated from that routine and enlisted the help of six chums to tell me what they thought of Baroness Chocolates. I had already tasted the bars a few times and found them immensely appealing visually and full of wonderfully crunchy, chewy, creamy textures. Everyone thought the bars looked tantalizing and kept coming back for more, always a good sign.

The first thing I noticed about Baroness was the beautiful type-face of the company’s name. Reminiscent of the 1940s, its curvilinear, chubby letters evoked a sense of sumptuousness. Then, I spied a very creative coat of arms with two dogs, a unicorn, lion, fish, diamond, maple leaves, and a crown, beneath which is written “Invictus,” or undefeated. (You can read more about the coat of arms at the end of the review.)

The company’s motto, “Act with sincerity, Live with joy,” reflects their belief that chocolate should create joy and excitement. Any chocophile knows how even a whiff of cocoa can instantly lift someone’s mood. In keeping with their motto, they make sure the chocolates are sourced from Rainforest Alliance certified farmers in São Tomé, Ghana, Nigeria, Cote D’Ivoire, Peru, Colombia, Cameroon and Brazil. The farmers take steps to maintain or increase the tree cover, conserve soil quality and prevent erosion, reduce chemical use, protect wildlife, and ensure the well being of workers and their families by facilitating access to education and health care. In addition, they use only Tahitian vanilla, pure cocoa butter, whole cane sugar, muscavado sugar, agave syrup, and Dead Sea Salt. Their cream comes from cows living in open pastures. Even their gluten free cookies, caramel, butterscotch, sponge toffee, and brittle are made in house. The people at Baroness are committed to creating good chocolate karma.

The seven bars we all tasted were very appetizing with their generous mélange of nuts, cranberries, or drizzle on top.

Here’s the scoop:

AIyaaaa!, dark milk chocolate with almonds, sea salt and butterscotch. This is one of the five organic and Fairtrade bars. It is sweet, crunchy, and perked up with a touch of salt.

Love and Blessings, also organic, is a creamy blend of 50% milk and 50% dark. It offers both the richness of dark chocolate with the creaminess of milk.

Mocha Krunjay, organic, is a medium dark chocolate with coffee, toffee, sea salt and almonds. The coffee is noticeable but not overpowering, allowing it to take its fellow ingredients into adult territory. Quite yummy.

Subversive Squirrel, organic, is a not-too-sweet bar with very dark chocolate, peanuts, and brittle. I swooned over this combo.

Tantric Tiger, organic, is a semi-sweet base with roasted almonds, cranberries and sea salt, a decadent combination of flavors and textures.

Dob Dobs is semi-sweet chocolate with a filling of caramel topped with pecans. This is a more dessert-like bar and would be fabulous with Turkish coffee or espresso.

Tummy rub is a milk base with crunchy chocolate cookies in the middle. The combination of smooth, creamy milk chocolate and almost friable cookie is another dessert contender.

I was intrigued by the coat of arm and asked Billy Macy, the president of Baroness Chocolate, what each image symbolized.
Here is his reply:

“I started by first considering what was included in the Canadian Coat of Arms.
At he top of Baroness’s coat of arms is the maple leaf. Nothing says Canada quite like a maple leaf.
I then took the lion and unicorn from the sides of the Canadian Coat of Arms, moved them to the top and added wings. They represented courage and strength and a little magical fantasy (unicorn).
Then, I took the crown and put it on an angle to show royalty with whimsy (Canada is part of the the British Commonwealth).
I added the dogs on the side of the shield. They are Weimaraners, the dogs I have had throughout my life. They are very loving and do not know they are a dog. My 100 lb lap dog likes to sleep in the bed with or without the cat. Crazy but true.
The dogs are wearing a toque which I unfortunately am required to wear for 6 months a year in Canada. It also looks like a traditional baron’s headgear.
The shield has the B for Baroness, a diamond to represent all the bar logos which are based on the facets of jewels. And there is a fish. First off my wife Kaye is an artist who did a series on fish. She also believes, as she is Chinese, that fish are good luck. I thought once I have a horse, a cat, wings for birds and dogs I might as well have fish, too.
The last element is the word Invictus at the bottom. Invictus is from a poem about an unconquerable soul that is made to suffer. The poem was recently made more popular by Nelson Mandela. He read it over and over to give him strength during his imprisonment. More importantly to my wife and me, our late daughter Kaila had the word tattooed on her shoulder, as she found solace from the poem. Kaila was born with an aggressive form of cancer. She lived through the treatment but it left her with many medical issues that needed to be addressed during her life. She had 17 major surgeries including a heart transplant at the age of 14. She never burdened the world instead bringing joy and strength to others until she passed at the age of 19, 4 years ago. I guess after we lost her I needed to change my life to something more joyful, I found it was hard for my wife to cry when her mouth was full of chocolate. So I kept making her try everything I created. Eventually we decided to make our hobby a business. We concluded our Kickstarter Campaign on November 27th, 2013. In just one year we went from Kickstarter to being in Whole Foods across Canada, by the end of next week our bars will be available for sale from Coast to Coast in Canada.”

Trader Joe’s 70% Dark Chocolate Bars with Caramel

What entrancing, lovely, fanatsy-like designs these boxes sport. I don’t know about you, but I get plenty of seriousness in a typical day, so whimsey goes a long way. These enchanting watercolors of planes with wings, and other trippy images seemed to set the stage for contemplating chocolate’s ability to transport me from the mundane into realms of gustatory nirvana.

I tried both of their dark caramel filled bars. The one with Black Sea Salt was infused with subtle smokey notes from the Hawaiian lava beds whence the salt is sourced. The 70% dark chocolate’s slightly fruity notes complemented the silky, runny caramel beautifully. Unfortunately, the bar is poorly designed, so when you try to break off one of its eight squares, caramel drips out. An unnecessary mess, as a better design would preclude this. I strongly advise eating every little bit, which requires a plate. Despite that problem, the confection was just marvelous. All the flavors and textures catalyzed each other producing an experience far larger than each on its own could possibly provide. The rendition with Coconut is equally delicious, but different, as it had chewy bits of coconut in every bite.

I have eaten a few of these caramel bars and still find them tantalizing. Considering their high luscious quotient, they have a fairly low sugar content: 13 grams per half bar, or 43 grams. Last but not least, they sell for $1.99.