Category Archives: dark chocolate

Wise Sons Chocolate Babka

What makes for an exquisitely delicious chocolate Babka? To start, the flavors and proportion of chocolate to dough have to be perfectly balanced. Not too sweet, not too bready; not simply a dense mass of chocolate, but enough to sate your cravings.

Over the past holiday season I let it be known I was on the hunt for a great chocolate Babka and my family did not disappoint. I will not name all the loaves I tried in the vain hope of finding something reminiscent of my grandmother’s sublime version. Suffice it to say: Nine of the ten I sampled shall remain nameless.

One stood out high above the rest: Wise Sons of San Francisco. The ingredients alone tell you how fabulous this Babka will be: organic wheat flour, chocolate, milk, butter, sugar, cage-free eggs, brown sugar, water, cream, cocoa powder, vanilla, yeast, cinnamon, and salt. The loaf is beautifully adorned with a streusel topping that is somehow not too sweet. The interior is marbled with deep fissures of dark chocolate. The dough is like a breadier brioche, but that description doesn’t do it justice. My daughter, who went to culinary school, thought it was like a combination of brioche and puff pastry. Indescribable? Perhaps. But definitely capable of satisfying the most jaded Babka palate.

When I was growing up in NYC I used to have a hard time limiting my Babka intake as I found it very addicting. Probably because it was too sweet and I was a kid. This version is so satisfying that a modest portion is enough to sate even a major Babka jones.

If you’re not lucky enough to live near the Wise Sons bakery you can mail order this through Goldbely.com. It’s definitely a splurge, but each Babka will give you tons of gustatory joy and it freezes beautifully.

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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.

Double Spiral Chocolate

Stuart & Mhairi Craig, creators of Double Spiral Chocolate, named it after an ancient Celtic symbol resembling the Taoist Yin-Yang. Two opposing spirals emerge from a single line to signify how opposite components can find balance. The opposites they speak of are taste & nutrition. One of the guiding forces behind their company is minimal processing with only 2 or 3 organic ingredients sourced by Direct or Fair Trade: cacao beans (70+%), unrefined cane sugar (non-centrifugal*)and a whole food ingredient like mint leaves, raspberry, ginger, etc.

I sampled the Tanzania 75% Kokoa Kamila and the Haitian 73% with freeze dried banana. While two bars is not a comprehensive review of their wares, it does indicate attention to detail and quality. Their lack of cocoa butter makes for a slightly drier finish. I was quite taken with the banana bar as the character of the chocolate was a great match for the tiny pulverized pieces of freeze dried fruit. The Tanzania bar had a pronounced rustic quality.

Check Double Spiral out if you are a purist who seeks a minimally processed bar that connects you with the bean’s true nature.

*Non-Centifugal Sugar (NCS) – This organic, fair trade, traditional raw sugar is obtained by evaporating water from sugarcane juice. Importantly, there is no centrifugation step to remove the nutrient rich molasses. NCS is produced in sugarcane growing regions around the world, and known by many different names such as panela, rapadura, jaggery, gur, kokuto or muscovado. These have superior nutrient content compared to other ‘brown sugars’, such as turbinado, demerara or refined sugars mixed with molasses.

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.

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