Category Archives: TRUFFLES

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.

Catskill Provisions 70% Truffles with Raw Honey

We all know how crucial bees are to pollinating foods and flowers, and how disturbing it is to read the numerous stories about colony collapse disorder and the sudden dying off of hives. Anyone who helps give bees a safe environment to live, pollinate, reproduce and make honey is a hero in my book.

In other parts of the world they take beekeeping very seriously. In Paris, urban apiaries are de rigueur, they even have bee hives in city parks, like these in the Luxembourg Gardens: http://www.talkinfrench.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Beehives-at-Jardin-du-Luxembourg.jpg.

In addition to being delicious in tea, baklava, and halvah, honey has well-documented medicinal uses. It never goes bad and its anti-bacterial properties work as well today as they did in ancient Greece, Rome, and India. Many people use it to treat seasonal allergies, burns, or for soothing a sore throat.

Honey also pairs well with a variety of foods like cheeses, fruits, nuts, and chocolate.

That’s where Claire Marin, the founder of Catskill Provisions, comes in. She creates two types of chocolate truffles. One with honey and one with honey whiskey.

Her Fall raw wildflower honey I sampled is from chestnut, maple, goldenrod, buckwheat, bamboo, and asters. It’s absolutely superb.

She also makes NY Honey Whiskey, distilled at Finger Lakes Distilling on Seneca Lake. It is 80% NY Rye and 20% Malted Barley aged for 2.5 years in new American Oak charred barrels and infused with Fall honey.

The relevance of all this honey talk becomes apparent when you sample her chocolate truffles. Packaged beautifully and carefully, so nothing happens to them during shipping, they are handmade and fairly large. The Honey Whiskey variety are not particularly alcoholic but have that added dimension alcohol imbues. The centers are supremely smooth and the Belgian chocolate couverture is applied with a liberal hand. The Honey truffles are a purer chocolate-honey taste, also dipped copiously in dark chocolate, and dusted with cocoa.

If you are looking for a gift for yourself or someone else, I would strongly suggest pairing a box with their raw Fall wildflower honey. And, if you are lucky enough to live within 50 miles of her apiaries you will get the added benefit of a honey “vaccination” for your seasonal allergies, should you have them.

Last but not least, if you want help setting up a hive in the city, suburb, or country Claire is happy to consult with you.

Desiderio Chocolates

Artisan, gluten free, organic, local, fair-traded, and vegan chocolates from a great new chocolatier in Grand Rapids, Michigan: Vanessa Metalli Dionne.

Vanessa grew up in Rome, studied Industrial Design, and apprenticed at her parent’s Italian restaurant making desserts and breads. That’s the kind of credibility I find appealing: the interplay between modern with ancient, and discipline with creativity. All of which allows Vanessa to explore every aspect of the chocolate kingdom that piques her interest.

Her sleek looking chocolates, pure little rectangular bars or square caramels presented in the simplest wrappings, beguile you with their unadorned clean lines. Vanessa wants the focus on her delicious treats, not their trappings.

I sampled four small bars from her collection and the Salted Caramels. All are enrobed in a well-balanced dark couverture, and sport two layers: an infused ganache with a topping of gooey caramel. There is no discernible olive oil or coconut milk flavor, though their richness is easily detected.

Whiskey & Smoked Caramel Bar has a marked whiskey taste offset beautifully with textural interest from both the ganache and caramel. Of the four bars, this one has the most pronounced alcohol flavor.

Stout Caramel Ganache is simply divine, as its beery presence mixes with a hint of whiskey. Little bursts of Celtic Grey Sea Salt sprinkled on top provide a perfect gustatory counterpoint to the velvety interior.

Gourmellow :: Vegan Marshmallow Bar has a heaping layer of home made super-fluffy marshmallow on top of that incredibly chocolatey ganache.

Pumpkin Pie Caramel Truffle is a real gem. Redolent of pumpkin, spices, caramel, with a taste that bursts out of its chocolate confines, a truly memorable treat.

Salted Caramels :: Vegan Caramella with Himalayan pink sea salt is a rich dessert in two bites. Fabulous with tea or espresso, they come in a box of six and would make a great stocking stuffer.

Alter Eco Truffles

Alter Eco, the company that insists on organically grown Fair Trade beans and sustainable farming practices, has two new truffles for you to enjoy. Both are infused with coconut oil, which makes them healthy and delicious. (If you are unfamiliar with the health benefits of coconut oil, please see this link: http://www.doctoroz.com/videos/surprising-health-benefits-coconut-oil.)

I adored the Black Truffles. Enrobed in a dark couverture, their lighter colored creamy interior is not too sweet, yet deeply satisfying. They make a great two-bite dessert with some herbal tea or a cappuccino. If you are a fan of milk chocolate the dark milk Velvet Truffles are even richer and a tad sweeter. They sport a more traditional milk chocolate color and their flavor is super milky. Both varieties have that irresistible silky texture.

If you love Lindt truffle balls but crave something healthier, these two options fit the bill. In addition, they are packaged prettily and would make a great gift.

Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé

Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé is a Hungarian bean-to-bar chocolate maker that produces some of the most beautifully packaged and delicious chocolates on earth.

Not only do they know their beans, sourcing organic Madagascan trinitarios and criollos from Åkesson’s and Venezuelan cacao from the Franceschi family in San José de Guaribe, but they offer a wide variety of chocolates for both the purist (single origin bars), and wildly experimental types (seasonal bars).

The company was started by Zsolt Szabad and his wife, Katalin Csiszar, in 2004. Their first products were a line of chocolate bonbons and some seasoned bars. All bonbons were created by Katalin in their small workshop. Over time, she learned the tricks of the trade from a few master chocolatiers (Lionel Gauvin in France, Roberto Catinari in Italy and Michael Recchiutti in San Francisco). Initially, she ran most of the operations, as he still had a full-time job that he later quit to open their first (and still only) shop in downtown Budapest. It was then they started to make their own bean-to-bars. They already had a good relationship with the Franceschis, having visited their plantations in Venezuela where Zsolt studied bean varieties, quality assessment, cultivation, and fermentation practices. From 2008, they gradually introduced their bean-to-bar chocolates. Currently, they produce eight different single-origin tablets, more than 40 bonbons, 20 seasoned tablets, dragees, and other products to tempt every segment of the chocolate loving world.

This year, they won two awards from the Academy of Chocolate. In the seasoned bar category they took a bronze medal for their amazing Olives and Bread bar, which is made with trincheras chocolate, toasted olives, bread and a little hint of olive oil. And, another bronze in the packaging category for the 95% Trincheras.

Frankly, I would give them a gold award for almost all the packaging, as it is both whimsical and elegant. The square bars themselves deserve more accolades for their artistic bas relief designs. Even their stickers are adorable, drawn with a funny little hat askew on a heart sprouting arms and legs. According to Zsolt, the logo has many meanings; among them: “chocolate with love.” The valley shape that the heart is standing on symbolizes Rose Valley (Rózsavölgyi in Hungarian). This where they live, and where the business started. Katalin has degrees in animation and illustration from Manchester Metropolitan. Her artistic flair is evident in everything they produce.

I sampled a variety of their bars, 70 grams each, both single origin and seasoned, and a box of their candied Bergamot in dark chocolate.

Trincheras, is a 70% Venezuelan square slab, which, like all other single origin bars in their range has only three ingredients: cocoa beans, organic cane sugar, and cocoa butter. It was awarded a Silver Medal by the Academy of Chocolate in the “Bean-to-Bar Best Dark Bar” category. These cocoa beans from Trincheras, Venezuela are roasted at very low temperatures to preserve every bit of their natural taste. It is beautifully tempered to a high gloss and firm snap. the flavor is almost Criollo-like with some slight leathery notes and plenty of plum. Its creaminess is balanced by a slightly dry finish.

Criollo 71%, from the Åkesson estate, was a lovely, smooth, lighter chocolate with a wonderful undercurrent of hazelnut. It tasted more complex to me than other criollos. This particular bean is a rare and wonderful find from the Sanbirano Valley of Madagascar.

Madagascar 72% is an Åkesson Trinitario bean from that same valley. It is far edgier than its criollo cousin and looks darker. Again the addition of cocoa butter makes for a silky texture allowing the chocolate to linger longer on the tongue. In my experience, this bean has often had a more pronounced flavor profile than the one from Åkesson’s plantation which had a dry finish and a more gentle, yet still interesting, taste.

Olives and Bread is a stellar 77% bar with roasted green olives, toast, and olive oil. The texture is truly amazing: bits of smokey, chewy olives, and slightly crunchy toast are deliriously happy in their creamy dark chocolate home. This bar seamlessly blends all the flavors while allowing each to have its moment in the spotlight. Though made with 77% chocolate, it is like no other I have ever tasted. Perhaps, spiking it with olive oil gives it such a dreamily smooth texture. The toast crumbs add interest without being hard or too crunchy, and the barely briny olives intensify the whole experience. Truly memorable, wildly original, and an Academy of Chocolate Bronze winner this year.

Cardamom is another in this category of “seasoned bars.” They come in thin cardboard boxes adorned with back and white prints of cacao pods, leaves, vines, birds, with the sweetest little face in the middle. That’s just the beginning, inside you find another insanely beautiful bar with a bas relief that is reminiscent of heraldic designs or crests, breaking into 12 lovely angular shapes, with a circle in the middle. The warm cardamom flavor permeates 77% chocolate without overwhelming it, while a long finish allows you to savor this combination.

Caramelized Lavender with Star Anise is a 40% milk bar that will wake up your taste buds, even if milk chocolate is not typically your first choice. The caramelized lavender is a tour de force of slight crunch, light caramel notes, and a soupçon of anise. Just as the caramel lulls your taste buds into a gentle stupor, star anise kisses them awake.

Pistachio Gianduja, 77%, comes wrapped in another highly adorable, lovely green paper painted with flowers and birds. I especially appreciated this bar’s firmer texture, as many giandujas are somewhat soft. Here, 77% chocolate takes a backseat to intense pistachio flavor. Fabulous.

Venezuelan 72% dark chocolate covered matchsticks of candied bergamot are called Sailor Mustache. They are incredibly fresh, chewy, and complimented by this very dark chocolate. The fruit is harvested by local farmers from January to March on the sunny hillsides of Calabria. A Sicilian confectioner personally picks the best bergamot for candying, which is then cut into mustache-sized slices and dipped. Bergamot is different from candied orange peel. It is a bit more citrusy, has a slightly sour edge, and goes well with their super creamy dark chocolate.

Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé is certainly one of the best new chocolate companies I have come across. Their attention to detail, originality, careful provenance of ingredients, and truly beautiful molds and packaging promise a bright future filled with worldwide appreciation.

Patricia’s Chocolate

National Public Radio, one of my absolute favorite things on earth, had a fascinating story recently on how ritualizing something actually increases our enjoyment of it. To make their point, the researchers used a ritualized way of eating a chocolate bar. They asked subjects to refrain from unwrapping it, to break the candy bar in half, then unwrap one half, eat the candy, unwrap the other half, then eat the other half. The other group of volunteers were told to eat the candy bar exactly as they would like. Researcher Francesca Gino said there was a huge difference in the experience of people who had performed the ritual. (Incidentally, it wasn’t only true for chocolate, but carrots.)

Rituals seemed to increase anticipation and make people more mindful of what they were eating. To get the enhancing effect, you had to actually perform the ritual yourself, and it couldn’t be something random, like just swinging your arms in the air. Not only did you have to follow a very specific script, you had to engage in the ritual every single time. That is what gave the ritual its power.

Francesca Gino found when people engage in rituals, even very simple ones, what they tasted was more flavorful, they savored it for longer and they would be willing to pay a higher price for what they just ate. As the National Public Radio story showed, some things simply deserve to be made into rituals, and chocolate is clearly among them.

I have found the simple act of being grateful before eating ritualizes my food. When I forget to be thankful I notice my repast is not as exquisitely delicious as it would have been had I taken the time to stop and assess how lucky I am to be eating something delicious.

All of this is to say that certain foods, especially artisanal chocolates, merit one’s full attention.

Recently, I had the extreme pleasure of sampling a few truffles and Peruvian Fortunato No. 4 Porcelana chocolate from Patricia’s Chocolates in Michigan. The Fortunato bean is of the Nacional variety, and has been mentioned on this site before for its complex and utterly toothsome floral fruit flavors. It is the grandparent of all cacao, and had been thought to have been extinct until 2007 when 23 trees were found in a remote river valley in Peru. Some of the pods contained both purple and white beans, while others (Porcelana) only white ones.

Patricia’s 68% Grand Cru Porcelana mini-ingots came packaged in a simple, lovely black box with a gauzy ribbon. Ten little rectangular blocks lined up like soldiers waiting to be savored, each adorned with a curvilinear cocoa pod design. This extremely delicious chocolate begs for involvement of all five senses. The scent is nuanced, but noticeable, the look artistic, while their lovely temper makes them firm and slightly glossy. The flavor is rich, complex, but not intrusive. This Nacional is more redolent of terroir and coffee than others I have sampled, which makes it feel a bit more adult.

I also tried six of Patricia’s truffles and caramels, each of which came enrobed in a thin coating of dark chocolate. Though it may sound like an oxymoron, her Madagascar Vanilla had a bold, rich vanilla bean flavor. No wonder it has been paired with chocolate for ages. Here, it highlighted the three dark varieties she uses: 58%, 64% and 72% chocolate. The Ultra Dark with Cognac was seamlessly balanced, with neither cognac nor chocolate predominating, yielding a super silky almost enlightened chocolate experience. Michigan Blueberry with dried Michigan blueberries and Maine wild blueberry wine, was creamy and delicate. Pear Caramel was another not-too-sweet delight infused with a hint of Black Star Farms’ pear brandy. Mint, a dark ganache with mint leaves, had just enough herb to wake up my palate without overwhelming it. Strawberry Balsamic Caramel was soft, but not runny with an undercurrent of smokiness, giving it added depth and interest. I liked all of these. There are 22 other flavors available, including Passion Fruit Mango Caramel, Mandarin Ginger, with Mandarin orange puree and ginger, Tawny Port Raisin, Blood Orange, and Habanero & Chipotle. The quality was wildly fresh, the execution evolved, and the taste like a haiku: subtle and lingering.

I love Patricia’s line about her wares: “Art that melts.” It so pithily conveys the ephemerality of all beautiful experiences, encouraging us to savor them while we can.

Jean-Marie Auboine Chocolatier

If you are looking for culinary cred with your bonbons, Master Chocolatier Jean-Marie Auboine has it in abundance. His curriculum vitae includes Alain Ducasse’s famous restaurant Le Louis XV where he assisted in earning them Michelin’s highest honor: three stars. Chef Auboine continued his distinguished career at several other Michelin-starred restaurants which included Chateau de Mercues in France, Hotel Beau Rivage in Geneva, and La Pyramide Vienne in France.

So, it was not a shock to find Jean-Marie’s confections sublime in their purity, packaging, and, most importantly, gustatory appeal.

Two of his newer confections are called Chocolate Fingers. These dark chocolate enrobed ganache rectangles, each about four inches long, are supremely delicious. The mint variety was redolent of fresh mint, while the banana nutmeg with crunchy bits under its couverture, was like a chocolate meditation. In my experience, banana can be a very tricky flavor because of its inherent sweetness. Here, however, the nutmeg added complexity and piquancy to the fruit’s richness. A truly memorable experience.

Next, I sampled the assortment of boxed chocolates, each in a perfectly tempered thin chocolate carapace.

Torroncino Praliné, adorned with a micro dot of pale yellow fondant on its almost black shell, was a delicately crunchy delight.
The Raspberry & Jasmin Tea’s flavors were seamlessly balanced, with the fruit’s acidity playing off the tea’s fruity edge.
Organic Vanilla, also enrobed in dark chocolate, was a purist’s dream in a super dark ganache.
Unique and immensely satisfying, the Coffee and Mascarpone Cream had two layers of filling. With its contrasting colors, slightly different textures of ganache and cream, and faint cheese undertones, it was a decadent surprise.
The sweetest and most subtle morsel in this group was the Accacia Honey dark chocolate ganache in a milk chocolate couverture.
Kalamansi Jelly and Earl Grey Tea Ganache was another layered affair, perfectly chewy, yet melt-in-your-mouth jelly played against a velvety dark ganache.

(Kalamansi Jelly is made with a fruit called Calamondin or Calamansi, native to the Philippine Islands. It is also known as the calamondin, golden lime, panama orange, chinese orange, acid orange, calamonding, or calamandarin in English. It is believed to originate from China and has spread throughout Southeast Asia, India, Hawaii, the West Indies, Central and North America. The plant is characterized by wing-like appendages on the leaf stalks and white or purplish flowers. Its fruit has either a spongy or leathery rind with a juicy pulp that is divided into sections.The fruit is available year round in the Philippines and is usually seen in its unripened dark green state, but if left to ripen it turns a tangerine orange color. Calamansi is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties.)

The Dark Chocolate Double Sea Salt Caramels were unlike anything I have ever had. A chocolate caramel square sat on top of a buttery one, both bathed in dark chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt. The texture was a little chewy and a little soft, with just the right amount of sweetness and salty presence. Immensely satisfying.

Blueberry Pearls came in a pretty red box with a window on top revealing red and white spheres with a luminescent sheen. If you love white chocolate and berries, this is for you.

I also tried an adorable slightly free-form Dark Chocolate Marshmallow Teddy Bear, and a cornucopia of other non-chocolate treats including:

Assorted Caramels which contained an absolutely divine Vanilla Hazelnut with large pieces of super crunchy, roasted nuts in a creamy-chewy caramel with smokey undertones.

The Strawberry and Vanilla Marshmallow Bar was a long rectangle of pink and cream colored marshmallow that reminded me of cotton candy with its airy texture and innocent sweetness.

Soft Honey Nougat was studded with candied orange, almonds, hazelnuts and infused with organic honey.

The chocolate covered caramels and ganaches were boxed in lovely brown and orange hard cardboard jewelry-type boxes with magnetic closures, just adding to the elegant Jean-Marie experience.