Category Archives: gianduja

Barefoot & Chocolate

Is there really anyone who doesn’t like Nutella? I must admit I don’t usually indulge my cravings because it’s like chocolate crack and all too easy to overdo. But, my real reason for not eating it is the hydrogenated oils. Barefoot & Chocolate, whose name derives from the Sasha and Trent’s images of “jumping in the lake on a hot summer day, bliss inducing yoga, and sharing laughs with dear friends over good food and chocolate,” makes a Hazelnut Chocolate spread that is even more delicious with no hydrogenated oils.

The texture is dreamily creamy, the flavor a great juxtaposition of chocolate, nuts, and sweetness. (Over twice the amount of nuts in other spreads.) I can’t imagine a child who wouldn’t be just crazy about this. As an adult, it appealed to my inner kid. I don’t know about you, but when I get a new toy I like to experiment. I started imagining well-toasted English muffins with some gorgonzola and hazelnut chocolate spread, crepes with fruit and hazelnut chocolate spread, filling little chocolate liqueur cups garnished with a caramelized hazelnut, as the center of mini chocolate meringues topped with raspberries, or swirled into Greek yogurt. This jar is just brimming with possibilities. Trent, one of the founders, has some incredibly delectable recipes on their website, like: Chocolate Quesadillas, Chocolate Hazelnut Pumpkin Pie, and Banana Coconut Chocolate Almond Bread.

I also tried their Almond Coconut Chocolate spread, which was completely different. The consistency is still creamy, but thicker, and the coconut has been completely amalgamated into its luxuriously velvety texture. I found the chocolate almond flavors predominated with the coconut adding a subtle undertones. It’s a tiny bit less sweet and would be fabulous on whole grain toast with thin slices of crisp apple or barely ripe banana, sprinkled with a few grains of sea salt.

Chocolate Naive Encyclopedia of Chocolate: Origins

Chocolate Naive gets an A+ for presentation with their new Encyclopedia of Chocolates collection. Eight tasting sized bars are nestled in a white box like a little library, with a descriptive title on their different colored spines. Not only does every .53 ounce square sport its own lovely cardboard cover, each is wrapped in re-closable cellophane. (This set comes in the mini version I reviewed, and one with full size bars.)

Most of these bars are conched for 60 hours, which makes them exceptionally silky and smooth.

Milk Chocolate with Salted Caramel was the gentlest chocolate of the eight. It starts with a 38% chocolate roasted at a medium level of heat. Sugar and milk solids are caramelized through a slow browning and finished off with a touch of vanilla and sea salt.

Milk Chocolate with Hazelnut Cream is a 33% cocoa roasted at light heat. This gianduja is super velvety and rich.

Milk chocolate is a 53% blend of Criollo and Forastero beans. The flavor is highly influenced by the lightness of the Criollos, which is fairly typical of dark milk bars.

Dark chocolate, 70%, is sourced from Trinidad and Tobago and made from Trinitario beans. This is a more complex bar, enhanced by a light roasting.

Dark chocolate with Creamy Coffee is a delicious edgy mocha experience roasted at medium, containing Trinitario beans and Pacamara coffee with 65% cocoa.

Dark chocolate with Forest Honey, 67%, is a lovely pairing of Trinitario beans from Madagascar and biodynamic honey.

Dark chocolate with Sugar Crystals is a wonderful textural juxtaposition of creamy dark 70% Trinitario chocolate and tiny, crunchy sugar crystals.

Dark chocolate Nacional. 78% pure Peruvian Nacional beans serve up my favorite square of the collection. Deep, dark, earthy, yet with a sophisticated velvety texture, this bar’s fruity undertones are complex, yet accessible.

Chocolate Naive’s Encyclopedia of Chocolate would make a very attractive and fun gift for any chocophile on your list.

Michel Cluizel opens Chocolatrium in New Jersey

I thought this press release might be of interest.

This year, Michel Cluizel has decided to unveil the secrets of chocolate and open his facilities to the public. After the French Chocolatrium opened a few years ago in Normandy, it was high time to offer this opportunity to American chocolate lovers. Based in West Berlin (NJ), the Museum, outlet store and café create a chocolate environment for the delight of all.

Michel Cluizel is one of the few Cacaoféviers (processing beans into chocolate) in the world. For more than 15 years, Michel Cluizel Premium chocolate has been sold in the USA. In August 2004, Michel Cluizel opened Noble Ingredients, the American branch of the company now based in West Berlin (NJ). A Kosher Parve (OU certified) line of chocolate and pastries locally produced was launched last year to answer a growing demand. Eager to share his vast knowledge and his love of chocolate, the Chocolatrium is Michel Cluizel’s latest project for U.S. chocolate lovers.

The Museum, created as a 3-step exhibition, is an initiation to chocolate making. Visitors start by getting acquainted with Michel Cluizel’s family-owned company through a panel gallery and learn about the amazing history of chocolate from Aztecs to Europeans. Within the Gallery, a surprise welcomes visitors: behind a big rectangular window the Pastry Chef is working, cooking, baking to create pastries and chocolate right before your eyes.

Now aware of the history of chocolate, visitors go into the creation of chocolate “From Beans to Bars.” From the harvesting to the pressing and the conching, they experience every step of this marvelous transformation through a series of explanations, but most of all by tasting, touching and looking at the machines. Cocoa beans are roasted, and crushed, cocoa paste is pressed and mixed.

Last but not least, the tasting. Loving chocolate is necessary but not enough to be considered as a chocolate connoisseur! Learning to taste chocolate, discover its flavors, its first and second hints, its texture by letting the chocolate melt slowly on one’s tongue, is the last step of this chocolate initiation. The “Premiers Crus de Plantation” (“Single Estate Chocolate”) coming from all over the world amaze by their differences and the richness of their flavors of olives, exotic fruits or caramel.

A family-friendly museum, the exhibition is created as an interactive visit for adults as well as for children. All 5 senses are required to fully experience this initiation: looking at the process, touching the pods, listening to explanations, recognizing the smell of cocoa, tasting the chocolates. Fun activity booklets designed according to children’s ages are available on request to accompany them through this journey.

Thought of as the epitome of the initiatory route of chocolate making, the Café is open to visitors and others to discover more flavors from Michel Cluizel. The hot beverage of the typically French Café Gourmand and Chocolat Gourmand reveal the delicacy of flavors of assorted chocolate truffles. Those more turned on by cakes and pastries are seduced by the warm chocolate or hazelnut cakes whose melted heart makes theirs melt.

After the Store on the Fifth Avenue in New York, a new one is now opened as the last part of this Chocolatrium. Michel Cluizel’s selection of handcrafted French Pastries as well as chocolate creations is presented at Outlet Prices. Macaroons, éclairs, Opéra, chocolate bars from around the world, and a rotating weekly selection of products are now available–perfect for Thanksgiving and Holiday presents!

Opening Hours start on Friday, November 16.
Museum – Group appointment
Store – Order by phone and come and pick it up (all products featured on their website)
Private events are now available!

For more information, contact
Chocolatrium.us
marketing@noble-ingredientscom
575 N, 73 Route, Building D,
West Berlin, 08091, NJ
Ph: (856) 486-9292

Le Belge Chocolatier

There is something psychologically scintillating about approaching a beautiful box of chocolates. Just gazing at an artistic presentation can catalyze and tantalize taste, touch, and smell with its promise of delicious, aromatic delights to come. Such is the case with La Belge Chocolatier. Their dark chocolate colored oval boxes, trimmed in spring green, and adorned with grosgrain ribbon of the same cheerful hue, sets the stage for an assortment of classic Belgian chocolates.

I sampled a lovely red, dark chocolate heart filled with raspberry gelate on a bed of dark ganache, another dark couverture filled with sea salt ganache, Key lime infused white chocolate ganache in a pretty swirled dome of lime green colored white chocolate, a decadent milk chocolate hazelnut praline layered over cinnamon scented ganache, Chai tea infused milk chocolate ganache in a milk chocolate shell, and a passion fruit ganache in white chocolate. All were very desserty: sweet, creamy, fresh, and extremely satisfying.

I also tried their two ounce chocolate bars in four flavors: 72% dark with nibs, 72% fleur de sel, milk chocolate with hazelnut and almond pieces, and a plain milk bar. The two dark bars were tempered to a crisp, ebony shine and delicious. The milk bar with nuts was everything you would want: super creamy and scattered with crunchy nuts.

They also make other artistically wrapped three ounce bars with more daring combinations that I didn’t have the opportunity to try, like a 54% Himalayan sea salt with strawberry 54% and a 72% Mediterranean sea salt with lemon zest. A boxed assortment of five of these can be had for a modest $20, and would make a beautiful gift.

Le Belge Chocolatier will sate your cravings, whether you are are looking for a beautiful box of Belgian chocolates or a variety of bars.

Gearhart’s Chocolates

Artists, whatever their medium, have an uncanny ability to take a fairly straightforward material, whether paint, stone, or chocolate, and express its essence in a new way. Tim Gearhart, the mastermind of his eponymously named company, has a knack for elevating chocolate, caramel, toffee, and nuts, into the stratosphere of gustatory pleasure. Eating his Chai Spiced Pecans reminded me of Perigord Walnuts from France, an exquisite sun-dried nut with a thin coating of bittersweet chocolate. Here, super crunchy pecans are infused with Chai Spices that enhance both the chocolate and the nut. I could live on these.

All the chocolate is Venezuelan Criollo, a nuanced, deeply captivating bean that doesn’t compete with the addition of nuts, liquors, spices, or caramelized sugar.

I also sampled some of Tim’s chocolates, which are larger than most artisanal fare. My favorites were Maple Pecan, a maple and milk chocolate ganache studded with nuts and enrobed in dark couverture; Maya, a bittersweet ganache infused with cinnamon, Ancho chili and orange, a divine balance of flavors; Raspberry Zin, an intriguing semi-sweet raspberry ganache with raspberry Zinfandel conserves; and Almond Mocha a truly innovative combination of espresso ganache, marzipan and a whole roasted almond. Other delights in this range I didn’t try include: Apricot Brandy, with cognac soaked fruit; Kauai, a blend of coconut, rum, white chocolate and macadamia nut; Michigan Cherry, enlivened with Kirsch; and, Taj, bittersweet ganache with candied ginger, cardamom, and rose in a dark shell.

If you hanker for a dark chocolate caramel (yes, the actual caramel is dark), heightened with a touch of balsamic vinegar and cracked black pepper, dipped in dark chocolate and finished with smoked sea salt, Gearhart’s will sate your craving. Consistency is always the sticking point, so to speak, with caramel. These have a softer, but not runny, texture. Smoked sea salt boosts the flavor profile significantly and marries beautifully with the dark chocolate’s depth.

Tim creates a Pistachio Toffee enrobed in dark chocolate that couldn’t be better. The generously nut-studded toffee is friable. Its alchemy allows for a variety of textural shifts that astound. First, there’s the tender crunch. I know it sounds oxymoronic, but it really is tender and crunchy at the same time. If you are mindful and aware, there are more layers of subtlety awaiting, as it next morphs into a melty-crunch. Like caramel, toffee is a matter of personal taste. I like mine loaded with nuts, not too sweet, and not requiring a dental consult. These were brilliant.

Tim Gearhart achieves a level of sophistication and artistry with his confections that is worth your time and money. Speaking of which, Gearhart’s offers a flat rate two-day shipping of $7.50, with a minimum order of $20. Quite an incentive to succumb to all their chocolate charms.

Araya Artisan Chocolate

The people at Araya really get it. They make beautiful chocolates that taste fabulous, and present them in lovely boxes designed to keep each little sculptural piece in pristine condition.

I sampled 28 of their luscious line of 35. Each fulfilled my quintessential idea of dessert. The shells were all tempered to a lovely shine and adorned with an appealing array of abstract designs, making them visually tantalizing.

Araya uses El Ray couverture from Venezuela, which isn’t surprising as the three founders, Stefano Zullian, his wife Carla, and her sister Silvana, are from that part of South America. All three quit their day jobs and studied with local chocolatiers before choosing Houston, Texas as their company’s home base.

Araya is the name of a Venezuelan town that straddles the lush rainforest where many of South America’s finest cocoa beans are grown and the parched land across the peninsula where a salt mine stands.

I thoroughly enjoyed every bite from this collection. Some of my favorites were:

Manhattan, a dark ganache infused with Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Vermouth and cherry juice. I would happily order a box of those, all by themselves.

Dulce de Leche, the classic caramel blended with milk chocolate ganache. Another winner.

Orange Marzipan, a deliciously tropical riff on marzipan.

Margarita, truly stellar, housed a dark ganache with Jose Cuervo Tequila and lime zest. It was finished with a few grains of salt and couldn’t be better.

Peanut Butter and Berries, an inspired combination of dark chocolate ganache and peanut butter topped with blackberry pâté de fruit.

Chipotle, an ultra silky 61% Venezuelan ganache perfectly balanced with smokey chipotle heat.

Chai Spice, a gustatory trapeze artist poised on the brink of black tea cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. A true melding of flavors where the whole was far greater than the sum of its parts.

Passion Fruit, the essence of this marvelously addictive flavor in a white chocolate mousse.

Strawberry Balsamic, just enough rich vinegar reduction to heighten the strawberry ganache.

Acai Pomegranate, another layered affair with acai berry pâté de fruit atop a pomegranate dark chocolate ganache. Heaven.

Salty Caramel Rum, a sublime deep caramel and chocolate ganache with anejo rum and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Araya aims to please. If the alcohol infused chocolates appeal to you you can order a box of just those flavors. Ditto for the Dark, Milk, or Nuts collections.

They offer a few different package designs. All are lovely and would make a welcome gift.

Ritter Sport

Ritter Sport’s appealing chunky, square bars are available everywhere, from Target to airports; yet, I have only tried a couple of these ubiquitous classics. Why? Probably because most of their options are based on milk chocolate. After sampling them, I can say their milk bars are excellent examples of some tried and true favorites with a few surprises. I love the look of these 100 gram squares and their 16 mini portions.

Here’s a walk through the 16 flavors I sampled. For simplicity’s sake they will be divided into dark, milk, and white chocolate.

The Darks:

Dark Chocolate with Mousse au Chocolat is a heady bar with a dense, dark chocolate mousse filling. The mousse is very thick, rather than light, and a little is deeply satisfying. I liked the tobacco notes in the couverture.

Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts is chock-ful of crunchy roasted nuts. A classic combination for a good reason.

Dark Chocolate with Peppermint is fantastic. The perfectly sublime dark shell is filled with one of the cleanest minty fondants I have ever tasted.

Dark Chocolate with Marzipan is another excellent duo, as the well tempered dark couverture provides a great textural counterpoint to the soft, super-fresh marzipan.

Their 50% plain dark bar is a very easy-to-eat, sweet chocolate.

The Milks:

Ritter’s milk selection is varied, innovative, and delicious.

Milk Chocolate with Raisins and Hazelnuts is easy to love, and scarf down. The combination of fresh, chewy raisins and crisp roasted nuts has always been a winner in my book.

Milk Chocolate with Neapolitan Wafers is another delight. Hazelnut cream-filled wafers with praline are embedded in a thick coat of chocolate. An excellent choice for coffee or tea.

Milk Chocolate with Butter Biscuit has the wonderful texture of cookie and a smooth layer of milk and cocoa cream.

Milk Chocolate Praline is filled with hazelnut praline. It’s sweet, nutty and super creamy.

Milk Chocolate with Strawberry Cream is a perky, tangy fruit and yogurt cream center in milk chocolate. Little pieces of crisped rice add texture and interest to this pretty strawberry infused bar.

Milk Chocolate with Cornflakes is different from many permutations of this pair, since there is a higher chocolate to cereal ratio. This makes it extra rich, with the cereal playing understudy to the chocolate.

Milk Chocolate with Whole Almonds is packed with roasted nuts and fulfills all your crunch cravings.

Milk Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts is for those who want a rich milk base to offset the roasted nuts that are strewn throughout this bar.

35% Fine Milk Chocolate is exactly that, a sweet, milky bar that is a little less creamy than their 30% Alpine Milk, which was as dairy rich as any chocolate I have ever tasted.

The White:

White Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts is surprisingly less sweet than I would have imagined and actually allows the roasted nuts to shine.

If you love milk chocolate, or dark with peppermint or marzipan, you will be happy to know these bars are easy to find and reasonably priced.