Category Archives: chocolate & nuts

Batch PDX Chocolates

The three most striking things about Batch PDX chocolates is their beauty, intensity, and originality. These chocolates wowed me with their explosions of taste and texture. In a world of options, it’s easy to develop a jaded palate. Batch PDX took me into undiscovered chocolate realms, each a little planet of delight.

Jeremy Karp, the mastermind behind Batch PDX, uses organic cream and butter for his unforgettable creations. He believes in “simplicity of design.” This puts the focus where I want it most, on the tastes and textures that hook and maintain my interest.

Think you’ve tasted a passion fruit truffle? Think again. Jeremy’s Spicy Passion is composed of two layers housed in a white chocolate shell whose sculptural top looks like an origami fold. While I am not a fan of white chocolate, it is the perfect foil of creaminess to balance the spicy acidity of ghost pepper and passion fruit. A hint of orangey Cointreau adds a subtle subtext.

Vietnamese Iced Coffee has a dark chocolate exterior containing one of the most deeply flavored coffee ganaches I have ever sampled.

Nutty Crunchy has Paillete Feuilletine (French for crepes dentelles, lovely little shards of nanosphere thin crunchy wafers) with the added super crunch of chopped hazelnuts and almonds. Jeremy’s rendition of the classic combination of chocolate and hazelnuts is blissfully textural but not too sweet.

Almond n Coconut is a dark chocolate carapace enclosing a filling reminiscent of marzipan, but with far more chewy depth from bits of coconut strewn throughout.

Dulce de Leche comes in a lovely marbleized shell. Its creamy caramel colored interior is beautifully balanced between the sweetness of Dulce de Leche and rum.

Yuzu Gimlet is a divine combo of gin, chocolate and yuzu puree. The yuzu stands in for lime and the result is another coup: slightly acidic, juniper berry-ish from the gin, in a lovely dark, velvety ganache.

Earl Grey creates more subtle joy with its bergamot scented tea infused ganache in a dark shell.

Almond Crisp has an interior both creamy and crunchy with ground almonds and crispy rice.

(If you were wondering, as I was, what PDX stands for, it’s the Portland, Oregon airport code.)

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Edwart Chocolatier

There is something really irresistible about chocolates that come in a beautiful black box with a copper coat of arms. It’s not actually a coat of arms, but it’s a fabulous rendition of a ship sailing under a sky of cocoa pods. Add to that the magnetic closure and you have a presentation that sates your aesthetic senses before you even taste one of the little gems inside.

These are chocolates to savor slowly, each a mini-meditation on perfectly tempered couverture, sublimely wrought ganaches, and lovely visuals.

If you seek novel flavors, like mascarpone with Dominican dark chocolate, but also covet the classics, like a mint ganache enrobed in Venezuelan dark chocolate, Edwart is for you. Each square is a well-thought out pairing of interior and exterior. The Criollo with almond praline and Yoichi (Japanese whiskey) with a fruity chocolate from the Dominican Republic are only two examples of their creativity. Of course, it’s also nice to have some old favorites, like feuilletine…those delightfully crunchy bits of crêpe dentelle. The ginger, gianduja, sesame, curry, and mini rocher completed a lovely selection fit for your most discerning chocolate connoisseur.

Looking for wonderfully whimsical and beautiful chocolates for Easter, or any other holiday? Check out their website: http://www.edwart.fr.

If you plan to be in Paris consider taking one of their workshops. Trip Advisor has reams of glowing reviews for the plethora of chocolate offerings beyond the ganaches I sampled.

Aldi Chocolate Bars: Whole Hazelnuts in either Dark or Milk Chocolate

I recently had a chance to taste two of the newly imported Cailler bars (on Amazon at $27.64 for 13.8 ounces), one with hazelnuts, blueberries and almonds, and the other with cranberries and almonds. Both are beautiful, jewel-like creations with fruits and nuts imbedded into delicious thick slabs of UTZ certified dark chocolate. I bought them on Amazon, but they seem to have sold out. Having become a devotee…a chic way of saying addicted…I tried the Aldi roasted hazelnut bars in milk and dark chocolate, as they were UTZ certified and I thought might be worthy contenders. Of course, the enormous cost saving was also a big draw.

The verdict?

The Aldi bars were worthy contenders, though not as visually arresting as Cailler’s. They weigh in at a smidge over seven ounces each, are are really semi-sweet at 50% cocoa, and for $2.25 a pop they’re an extraordinary bargain. The chocolate is delicious, especially the dark bar, and the roasted whole hazelnuts perfectly crunchy and rich. One portion, a seventh of a bar, is a dessert unto itself. If you like milk chocolate you will probably prefer that version. For me, the dark one is really stellar.

Now, I just wish Aldi would offer their single origin mini bars on a regular basis. They were truly amazing.

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.

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.

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.

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/