Category Archives: Gluten free

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

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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/

Harper Macaw

One thing that really captivates me these days in the chocolate universe is a great dark milk bar. Harper Macaw makes one. It’s a 57% Brazilian rainforest direct trade sourced, perfectly tempered, smooth, creamy indulgence that is far too easy to scarf down. Dark milks offer the child in me something a little sweeter and the adult that higher cocoa intensity. If you’re doing a chocolate tasting this would make a great counterpoint to darker, single origin bars.

In that category Harper Macaw has you covered. Their line offers three dark single estate varieties: 74% Vale do Juliana, 75% M. Libânio, and 77% Tomé Açu. I did not sample those, but focused on their limited release 73% Bourbon Barrel Aged bar as a contrast to the dark milk. It was fabulous. Crisply tempered, redolent of bourbon’s lingering presence, rich, velvety, slightly acidic, with a hint of astringency, it sated my craving for a unique chocolate experience. I especially appreciated the slightly dry lingering finish as it etched its flavors into my memory.

Speaking of etching, each bar has a unique design that reminded me of the more angular elements in furniture created by Charles Rennie Macintosh. Just beautiful and unique. The outer wrappers are also works of art, as is Harper Macaw’s logo.

They also have a collection of bars with add-ins related to one’s political leanings. Titled: Tea Party, Left Wing, Red State, Flip-Flopper, Filibuster, and Taxation Without Representation, their inclusions run the gamut from butter toffee to peanuts and pretzels.

Harper Macaw is dedicated to conservation. When you buy their chocolate you help restore and protect deforested or vulnerable rainforest in northeast Brazil. Through partnerships with Instituto Uiraçu, American Bird Conservancy, and Rainforest Trust, they reinvest in the expansion of Reserva Serra Bonita, a cutting-edge rainforest conservation initiative. As Earth’s second most threatened terrestrial biome and the focal point of Brazil’s cacao industry, it is crucial to the survival of their cacao economy and the region’s biodiversity. By supporting innovative approaches in cacao farming Harper Macaw helps insure the health and stability of the region.

Santa Barbara Chocolate

I have just tasted one of the best single origin chocolates, and that’s saying a lot, as there are plenty of excellent options out there. It’s a 73% bulk wafer from Vietnam offered by Santa Barbara Chocolate. The flavor is round, full, fruity, floral, balanced, and complex with a slightly dry finish. Like an edgy criollo. I love criollo beans, but they can sometimes seem a bit too gentle and predictable on the palate. This chocolate, which contains cocoa butter and vanilla, delivers all its fascinating flavors in a velvety texture.

Making this a 73% was inspired as it heightens all the nuances of the cacao with just the right amount of sugar. At $39 for a three pound bag it’s also an incredible bargain. One two ounce bar tempered into an ornate mold in fancy packaging would easily fetch $10, or more. I would suggest transferring some straight from the bag into a pretty glass jar and giving it as gifts…economical, unique, and luxurious.

While I temper chocolate as a moving meditation, I found these Vietnamese wafers almost impossible to adulterate with anything. They’re irresistible right out of the bag; and, their size and shape couldn’t be better for a perfectly timed melt at body temperature. At some point, I will make mendiants with maple glazed pecans or pistachios and thinly sliced dates or dried mango, but not now. Today I want to bask in the glory of this bean. (Two days later…ever the experimenter, I tempered some of this extraordinary chocolate and added dehydrated raspberries. The acidity of the fruit brought out even more floral fruity notes from the chocolate. So, even though it stands alone, it also plays well with others.)

I also sampled their organic Hispaniola 100% chocolate wafers sourced from the Dominican Republic. They have a very robust, intense, super chocolatey flavor noticeably without leather, soil, licorice, or tobacco notes that makes them perfect for baking. I tempered some and added 25% demerara sugar. The slight sweetness and crunch of the crystalized sugar was a fascinating foil for the Hispaniola flavors.

The 60% version of this bean is very versatile with its lush fruity flavor and lends itself to tempering, baking, or just eating out of the bag. A fun fact about this bean: it was the first cacao Christopher Columbus tasted when he arrived in the New World.

Then there were the 70% organic dark chocolate chips without soy lecithin. I can’t remember having mini-chips with such a deep, refined chocolate presence and a sublimely balanced flavor profile. They were a great addition to a batch of maple tahini chocolate chip cookies.

My last treat was their Caribbean 67% which also had a fruity presence and a slightly dry, lingering finish. In my experience, these fruitier beans are just excellent for couverture and desserts as they support a galaxy of flavors, like citrus, berries, nuts, seeds, coffee beans, and spices.

In addition to a great selection of products for the professional or avocational chocolatier, Santa Barbara Chocolate makes beautiful large organic truffles. Mine arrived in a stunning tall red faux leather box adorned with a sumptuous black silk ribbon. The box itself opens up sideways to form four smaller boxes that each contained four truffles. These are incredibly rich, vegan, and infused with organic coconut milk and organic honey. A memorable gift for someone you love or want to impress.

Santa Barbara curates a very special collection of cacao. Each item is handpicked for its unique properties, whether organic, Rainforest alliance certified, or coconut palm sugar sweetened, you can be sure it will be both high quality and a good value.

I focused this review on their dark offerings, but they also have milk, white, and compound chocolates, cocoa, drinking chocolate, and beans.

While I didn’t sample the Belgian Dark Chocolate Grand Aroma, I thought you might enjoy the following recipe from Santa Barbara’s owner and chocolatier Jason Vishnefske.

INGREDIENTS FOR BELGIAN BEER CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES

Beer Ganache:

8oz. Belgian Beer
3oz. Honey
1lb. 4oz. of our Imported Ever the experimenter, I tempered some of this Vietnamese chocolate and added dehydrated raspberries. The result was just what I had in mind: the acidity of the fruit brought out even more floral fruity notes from the chocolate.
3oz. Butter

Additional Chocolate Ingredient:

Belgian Milk Chocolate Couverture

PREPARATION OF BEER TRUFFLES:

Boil the Belgian beer with honey.
Pour onto the Belgian Dark Chocolate and mix so it is smooth.
When the ganache reaches 87F add butter and mix with a hand mixer.
Pour ganache into a parchment lined sheet pan and let it crystallize for 14 hours at 60F.
Temper the milk chocolate couverture and spread a thin layer of the tempered Belgian Milk Chocolate on the ganache side.
When it’s crystallized, turn the ganache and spread another thin layer of tempered Belgian Milk Chocolate on the other side.
Cut into 1/2″ by 2″ rectangles.
Lastly, dip each ganache rectangle into tempered Belgian Dark Chocolate Grand Aroma.

Nuance Chocolate

Nuance. What a great name for a chocolate company. After all, nuance celebrates the subtle differences between similar things. Isn’t the awareness of different aspects of chocolate what we seek to discern and appreciate? What accounts for those differences that we gradually train our senses to notice? Is it the terroir, the bean’s handling, the phase of the moon when the beans were harvested (thank you, Rudolph Steiner for biodynamic farming), fermentation conditions, storage, shipping, conching, the addition or omission of vanilla, packaging, and other multifarious causes and conditions? Clearly, all contribute to the ultimate arbiter of taste: one’s own body-mind state when eating chocolate. Your internal conditions are affected by externals, like: climate, whether you’re tasting solo or in company, the aesthetics of your surroundings, ambient sounds, aromas, darkness, light, time of day, etc.

A Hershey bar might taste like manna from heaven in a prison cell, while the most beautifully packaged, carefully sourced, and perfectly tempered chocolate could taste like ashes if eaten after bad news.

The nuances are where it’s at. Kudos to Toby and Alix Gadd, creators of Nuance Chocolate, for coming up with such a fitting and inspirational name. Their bars are worth the time it takes to cultivate discernment. To eat this chocolate mindlessly would be sacrilegious.

Toby and Alix use premium cacao beans from ethical sources, which they roast in small batches and grind for up to three days. The dark bars I sampled had no added vanilla. If you’re looking for a super luxurious mouth feel it’s necessary to grind the beans a long time.

They have a huge assortment of bars on their website (www.nuancechocolate.com). Here are the ones I sampled:

Marañón 70% Peruvian bar, made from rare cacao from the Marañón River Canyon. I have tasted this bean on numerous occasions. It’s highly touted because of the fruity, slightly floral notes and gentle presence on your palate. Nuance’s rendition is velvety and full of those subtle layers of flavor that distinguish this bean from many others. When tasting something so refined I like a thinner bar, and that’s exactly how they made it.

Toby sent me a tasting flight of 16 gram batons with six squares each. I followed his suggestion for the order in which to try them:

Uganda 70% Dark, Forestero. Astonishingly good, I was struck with it’s creamy texture, beautiful temper, no acidity, and rounded flavor. If you’re searching for a 70% bar that doesn’t scream of soil, earthiness, coffee, or leather, this is it.

Next up was the 90% bar from Ghana, another Forastero, but far more intense with a much drier finish. If you’re exploring super dark chocolates I would suggest you give this a try. It had a definite presence from a long fermentation, and plenty of depth. I found the finish lasted for minutes and left me quite sated.

Number three was the 70% Fiji bar from Mataswalevu farm. Also Forestero beans, this one was fruitier with definite caramel notes and a very round finish. No bite or acidity.

Their 70% Criollo bean bar from the Ocumare Valley in Venezuela had a creamy texture, nuttiness balanced with floral notes, and finished with a soupçon of acidic edginess.

The bar from Papua New Guinea, a Forestero, has beans that were dried over an open fire. This is quite unusual, as most beans are dried in the sun or on racks. I definitely tasted the smokiness, which surprised my senses but not to the point where I missed the ultra-creamy texture or complex layers of dark fruitiness and terroir.

The 70% from Cuyagua, Venezuela is a more assertive Criollo. It intermingles acidity, dark fruits, earthiness (atypical for a Criollo), and hints of nutmeg for a complex, intriguing experience.

The 70% Moho Valley, Belize Criollo/Trinitarion bar is fascinating. It’s full of cherry, lychee, and walnut. The lovely dry finish is perfect against the chocolate’s creaminess.

Dark Milk bars are the darlings of the current chocolate scene and for good reason. They take milk chocolate into adult realms. Nuance’s 55% Chantilly Cream bar with Forestero beans from Ghana, is made with heavy cream, not milk, and the result is just ambrosial. Lush, rich, balanced, and satisfying, it’s different from every other dark milk I have ever sampled. If you love dark milks, this will vastly expand your repertoire.

Nuance’s 55% Dark Zurich Milk bar, also a Forestero from Ghana, evokes Dulce de Leche with its creamy caramel flavors and soothing finish. Here, the milk is full-fat from Holland. Both these dark milk bars have vanilla beans added for an extra layer of interest.

For you mocha lovers, they offer Bean Cycle #1, a collaboration bar of Ethiopian coffee beans and Trinitarian cacao from Madagascar. Unlike many other coffee and chocolate combos, Nuance’s rendition is smooth as silk. Coffee here is a presence, not a crunch. Different and delicious.

This is a company to watch. Their exacting standards, ability to coax a bean’s personality from its natural state, and know when to mix things up, makes them respectful of nature but also creative chocolatiers.

SmartBARK!

I love chocolate bark so much I regularly temper my own, but when I don’t have the time there’s SmartBARK! They use the same great ingredients I would use at home: organic, Fair Trade, 70% chocolate, real vanilla, with high quality nuts, grains, seeds, and dried fruit.

Each bag of SmartBARK! is 4 ounces and contains three generous servings of 40grams each. They’re fairly low in sugar, ranging from 10-14 grams per serving, contain 15% of your daily requirement for iron, 3-4 grams of fiber, and have between 3-4 grams of protein.

A tiny pet peeve of mine has been the dearth of fruit juice sweetened cranberries. SmartBARK! uses apple juice sweetened cranberries in their Cranberry Bark and it makes a big difference. The plump, fresh, chewy fruit is still a bit tart, with just enough sweetness to take the edge off. This bark is thicker than the others I sampled which initially surprised me until I saw how the fruit really benefited from a higher ratio of chocolate.

Their thinnest bark is Quinoa, chock full of crispy puffed quinoa. I loved it. The way the well-tempered chocolate riffed off the tiny grains of quinoa was like a gustatory celebration.

Almond bark had both thinner and thicker pieces of chocolate and crunchy whole roasted almonds.

Trail Mix was crammed with currants, pumpkin seeds, cacao nibs, and sunflower seeds. Their recipe had just the right balance between the slightly chewy-sweet currants, crunchy seeds, and delicious dark chocolate. Like the Quinoa variety, it was slightly thinner. Of course, as SmartBARK! feels, looks, and tastes like an artisanal product the thickness of each batch might vary.

Everything was fresh and conveniently packaged for tucking into a briefcase or bag. All four options would make great travel companions without taking up too much space.

If you check out their website: http://www.sweetdesigns.com, you can find other interesting bars, like the one with ginger and walnut, and specialty items like Chocolate Truffle Filled Figs.

I have always loved sci-fi, science, and space exploration, so I have to share this fun fact: NASA astronauts ate Sweet Designs Chocolates on the Space Shuttle.

Endorfin Foods Chocolate

Years ago, when I was raising my children, we belonged to a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture program). It was a wonderful experience that brought us closer to the farmers who grew our food. Apparently, the idea appealed to bean-to-bar maker Brian Wallace, founder of Endorfin Foods, and the world’s first Community Supported Chocolate (CSC) box. Just like a CSA, it creates a relationship between the grower and the consumer. Brian’s program sends out a box of chocolates every month with your subscription. These are a combination of products made exclusively for the CSC, like: chocolate covered exotic fruits, truffles, barks, their whole bean drinking chocolate, and a couple of bars from his regular range. Of course, you don’t have to belong to his CSC to enjoy his chocolate as it can be purchased any day from his website.

Brian’s beans are never roasted. They are: fermented and dried on site, then cracked and winnowed, crushed, and stoneground with coconut sugar and coconut mylk before being milled, tempered, then molded into bars.

Like other bean-to-bar companies, Endorphin Foods is trying to be the change it wants to see by paying farmers higher rates for their beans and working only with cacao grown by small farmer cooperatives and estates in Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, and Madagascar. This, as you know, bypasses the slavery and child labor used by 70% of cacao farmers in Western Africa.

I sampled five of Brian’s bars, all of which are sweetened with coconut sugar, dairy free, soy free, gluten free, agave free, and GMO free.

From the 80% single origin line I tried the Madagascar bar. Made from Criollo beans, its creamy texture enhanced a dark, fruity flavor profile.

Dark Coconut Mylk Chocolate, 56%, is sweeter with a melt in your mouth texture. It’s a completely different experience from traditional milk chocolate as it has a higher percentage of cacao solids. The coconut milk does not taste like coconut but somehow creates a milkier bar.

Dark Coconut Mylk Chocolate with Coffee and Cardamom, 60%, is a delicious combo of warm spice and coffee.

Dark Coconut Mylk Chocolate with Ginger and Rose, 56%, woke up my palate with its lovely gingery edge and floral essence. Unusual, creative, and very satisfying.

Dark Chocolate Coconut Mylk with Anise and Wormwood, 70%, used a darker base to balance out the heady flavors found in Absinthe liquor: Grand Wormwood, Anise, Sweet Fennel, Melissa (Lemon Balm), and Mugwort. The resulting bar is complex, rich, and slightly addictive.

At the time of this review, you can use the discount code “farmtotable” to get 30% off the first month of your own subscription box at http://www.endorfinfoods.com/subscriptions