Almost half a century ago, when I was growing up in Manhattan I would spend afternoons at the Museum of Modern Art. The space was far more intimate than it is today, and lent itself to a very personal experience. Invariably, there would be someone looking at a painting by Jackson Pollock and remarking, “My grandchild could do that with her eyes closed.” “No,” wanted to say, though only a teen myself, “it takes far more than you can imagine to paint like that.” But my protestations would have fallen on deaf ears.
In the chocolate world, there are also many would-be imitators. Luckily, there is an abundance of truly original, creative chocolatiers whose greatest joy is tantalizing us with new ways to visualize and relish this remarkable substance.
It came as no surprise that Tatiana Sánchez, founder and creative director of Unelefante, was a jeweler before entering the chocolate world. Her visual aesthetic infuses everything Chef Jorge Llanderal, Unelefante’s chocolatier extraordinaire, creates.
All of Unelefante’s cacao is produced by Luker, a Columbia company that opened in 1906. They use Trinitario beans, that famous hybrid of Criollo and Forastero. Interestingly, the Luker variety is heavier on the Criollo which lends it extra lushness. “Luker’s beans are grown on thousands of small family farms in the fertile lowlands and foothills near the port city of Tumaco, on Columbia’s southwest coast next to the Pacific Ocean. Shunning pesticides and chemical fertilizers, these small farmers have taken advantage of Tumaco’s tropical climate and rich soil to bring out the full flavor potential of the bean, with its beguiling marriage of fruit and floral tones, balanced against bracingly sharp notes.”
The Tablette Pollock is a thing of beauty dancing with vibrant colors and visual energy. It practically leaps from its lovely cardboard home, through the gold foil into your mouth. Once there, you are met with a surprisingly adult flavor profile for a 58% bar: earthy, with hints of leather, coffee, and dark fruit.
The other six bars I sampled were all 65% cacao and visually entrancing. The bars are each 3 by 5 inches, 50 grams and thin. I love the thinness. It allows the toppings to shine, breaks with a clean, well-tempered snap, and makes it easy to eat a little or a lot.
Palanqueta with peanuts, jaggery and pinion is a delight of crunch, spice, and tiny sugary bits (jaggery is Indian, made from the sap of palm trees or sugar cane, and has a similar flavor to brown sugar).
El Jardín Secreto or “The Secret Garden” has crystallized flower petals, cardamom, and pieces of dry apricots and pistachios. The magenta flower petals are just beautiful. Clearly, Chef Llanderal and Ms. Sánchez are a great team when it comes to creating new, exciting taste and textural combinations. Luker chocolate is a perfect foil for these inclusions, as it is not so assertive that it overwhelms them; nor, is it so nondescript that it gets completely obscured.
Fray Mole has mole paste, pasilla chili, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, and sea salt. The smokey dried peppers, spices, crunchy seeds and hint of salt work so well that it’s almost impossible to separate out their individual flavors.
Oblea Di Oblea Da looks like a mini carnival on chocolate with its pink, blue, green and yellow wafers, little rounds of caramel, crushed nuts, and sea salt. While Obleas means wafer in Spanish, the bar’s name is a lovely nod to the Beatles.
Bananeira, with dehydrated freeze dried banana and coconut flakes reminded me of a moonscape. The fruits are wonderfully crunchy and not at all sweet. As it warms in your mouth, the coconut becomes chewy. That protean textural shift is quite fetching.
Coco Bengala has coconut candy, crystallized ginger, and curry. A riot of flavors and textures that made me feel both sated and craving more. The pink-tinted coconut candy scattered with ginger and curry was simply beautiful. But, beauty is as beauty does, and this bar delivers on every level: taste, visuals, both crunchy and chewy textures, slight curry scent, and that audible snap.
After all this raving, you might be frustrated in procuring these bars. The following places will sate your cravings:
The Colossal Shop – Chicago – USA
Material – London – UK
Persephone Bakery – Wyoming – USA
Printemps – Selección de tiendas en Francia – UE