Tag Archives: chocolate gifts

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.

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David Bacco Chocolatier

Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.
Voltaire

As Voltaire said, “The best is the enemy of the good.” I usually agree; however, there are times when perfection alights. As fleeting as they are, their blissfulness reminds us of what it is to be human. The perfect kiss, most beautiful sunset, or heartfelt smile take us into realms of joy and awe that raise the quotidian to the extraordinary. Like many of you, I find chocolate a fairly reliable catalyst for gustatory nirvana. My latest fix is David Bacco’s Noisette Madagascar. It is a truly perfect 64% Trinitario/Criollo dark chocolate with roasted hazelnuts. The temper is incredible, the shine like a mirror, and the juxtaposition of insanely crunchy nuts against a backdrop of fruity chocolate, with mesmerizing tones of fig and wild berries, is not to be missed. In addition, the bar’s construction: a three ounce square divided into a mosaic of trapezoidal shapes of varying sizes, makes it visually interesting and wonderful for those times when you want a smaller or larger piece. In this case, god is in the details.

David’s background as a pastry chef and chocolatier of almost two decades is no surprise, nor is his award in 2011 for “TOP ARTISAN CHOCOLATIER” title at the LA International Chocolate Salon show and competition. One bite of that dark hazelnut bar and you will be convinced, too.

Another bar I found swoon-worthy was his Olive Oil and Sea Salt in 74% bittersweet chocolate. Here, organic Grand Cru Hacienda chocolate from the Dominican Republic tangoes with more than a hint of fleur de sel. In my experience, most chocolates with salt are on the mild side. While this is still gentle on the palate, it has enough salty presence to really arc the flavor, especially when it has been paired with the rich creaminess of fruity olive oil.

David’s Milk Chocolate 40% bar with smoked sea salt is a dark milk chocolate with a super creamy texture enhanced with fleur de sel cold smoked over Chardonnay oak chips. If you are an aficionado of dark milk bars you will want to add this to your repertoire.

I also had a chance to sample his 68% Fortunato #4. Dubbed the world’s rarest chocolate it is a white pure Nacional bean renowned throughout the chocolate community. It had disappeared in 1916 when struck by disease, and was recently rediscovered in a remote Peruvian area. I have mentioned this chocolate before and its extremely mellow layers of fruit and floral flavors that are complemented by a wonderfully rich, creamy texture.

David’s chocolate ganaches and bonbons are also noteworthy. Each little gem is unique and intensely flavored. I was completely enamored with his marzipan and apricot layered square enrobed in dark chocolate, the caramelized almonds and cinnamon in milk, Caribbean spices in bitter ganache, the exquisitely flavored lime, and the red dome of passionfruit infused ganache. (I always wonder why more chocolatiers don’t offer passionfruit chocolates, as the combination is simply celestial.)

These bonbons are packaged in a serene looking black cardboard box with a bright spring green silk ribbon. The chocolate bars come in minimalist white boxes that open neatly on the side and reveal a re-closable cello sleeve which keeps everything tidy.

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.

Marou Faiseurs de Chocolat

Marou Faiseurs de Chocolate, a Vietnamese artisanal chocolate company founded by two Frenchmen, creates exquisite bars in the 70-78% range. What makes them so marvelous? Everything. Their single-origin beans are grown and sourced locally by farmers who are paid a fair wage, with no middlemen. Even the cane sugar is from small Vietnamese farms.

There is a wonderful piece on their website detailing their philosophy on organic and fair trade that I heartily agree with. (Here’s the link: http://www.marouchocolate.com/?page_id=46 )

Let’s start with the packaging. The background color of each wrapper is inspired by the color of the cocoa pod the chocolate comes from. A silk-screened gold overlay, reminiscent of fin de siècle design, is just beautiful. No matter how great the chocolate, I find my anticipation is heightened with captivating packaging.

Upon opening the outer paper you find a gold foil inner liner sealed with an attractive “M” logo. Just one more example of their attention to detail I find noteworthy as it’s a harbinger of the Marou chocolate gestalt. In every aspect of manufacture, from sourcing the beans to final presentation, Samuel and Vincent share their vision for what a wonderful chocolate experience can be.

The glossy dark bars are scored into irregular funky shapes with that “M” set off in a square in the middle. The bar itself snaps to attention when broken as its perfect temper gives off a heady chocolate scent. All five varieties in their current range possess a deeply satisfying texture that has a chewiness I always find quite fetching.

The 100 gram bars range in cacao content by 2% increments from 70-78%.

Tien Giang starts this flight at 70%. Immensely complex, yet with gentle undertones, this bar, made with Trinitario beans, has a slightly spicy character and a bit of a dry finish.

Dong Nai, 72%, seemed creamier, had a subtler profile, and just a smidgeon of dryness to its finish.

Lam Dong, 74%, a rare chocolate made in mico-batches, was a little less complex with more memory of soil.

Ba Ria, 76%, is also made with Trinitario beans and tasted woodsy.

Ben Tre, 78%, seemed to incorporate many of the qualities of the previous four bars at once, though it was a bit more fruity, and had an earthier presence.

All five bars tasted different from other single-origin offerings I have sampled, and would make an exciting addition to a chocolate tasting.

Though the company is based in Ho Chi Minh City you can buy Marou from Dark Chocolate Imports: http://darkchocolateimports.com.

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.

Richart Infuzz Chocolates

Richart’s chocolates are known for their innovative and original confections, so it is no surprise that they came up with these amazing bonbons. Each is a little masterpiece of culinary engineering.

Working from the inside out, you have a micro thin sugar crust enclosing a small amount of liquid. (If you have had German brandy filled chocolates, you are familiar with the concept; though, here, it is translated into French, with all the nuanced subtlety that implies.) The liquid could be flavored with vanilla, roasted hazelnuts, rose and citrus, black and green tea, citrus and mint, seven spices, or Tahitian vanilla and mint. Next up is the filling (ganache, caramel, or coulis) sandwiched between two layers of a French micro-macaron. All of this is enrobed in 72% Venezuelan Criollo chocolate, one of my all time favorites. The whole far exceeds my description of its parts. In the same bite you have meltingly smooth chocolate, filling, crunchy light macaron, and that tiny shock of liquid.

There are seven flavors in the collection: Balsamic, Hazelnut, Raspberry, Tea, Orange, Five Spices, and Citrus and Rose. Richart has far more creative names for them, but I thought descriptive terms might be more useful.

The chocolates are small, about three quarters of an inch in diameter and about the same height. The top of each sports a distinctive colorful design that makes choosing easy, as the collection comes with a very artistic pamphlet describing the architecture and flavors of each confection.

These are as unusual, high end, and innovative as chocolate gets. The flavors are intense, the textures varied and captivating, and the plain white box with burgundy silk ribbon the epitome of understated elegance.

I recommend subscribing to their mailing list for occasional free shipping offers, and news.

Sugar Plum Chocolates

While the name Sugar Plum Chocolates sounds a bit retro, there is nothing old-fashioned about their truffles and bars. Purely Pomegranate is a perfect example. This 2.5 ounce vegan dark bar is made from Belgian chocolate and enhanced with little seeds that give it bursts of fruit flavor, surprising bits of texture, and an intriguing tang. The bars also come in banana and peach.

Sugar Plum offers 18 different truffles: Caramel, Irish Creme, Chai, White Russian, Coffee, Lemon Meringue, Strawberry, Rum, Black Raspberry, Tiramisu, Champagne, Chai, Pomegranate, Strawberry Cheesecake, Caramel Pecan, Cappuccino, Caramel, and Creme Brulee. I sampled the Pomegranate with its thick dark chocolate shell and pomegranate infused ganache. It had a hint of tanginess, not as much as the vegan bar, but enough to enhance the chocolate’s intensity.

The both items are packaged in a very clean, appealing design. The bar in a hard box with an inner sleeve and re-closable top. I wish other producers would use this, as it keeps the chocolate fresh and neat. The truffles came in a pebbly textured milk chocolate colored box with shiny plum calligraphy and a festive ribbon.