Category Archives: TRUFFLES

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.

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.