It's been a busy week, but I'm not sure I have much to show for it here. One thing I've been doing is eating Easter candy (and then trying to work it off playing Wii Fit!) So go check it out at the Chocolate Blog!
For my birthday I received a copy of Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Dark and Light by Mort Rosenblum -- a most excellent book about all things chocolate. Rosenblum covers pretty much everything that you would want to know, starting with the history of chocolate and moving on to the current state of cacao production from the plantation to the factory (both large and small), finishing with a look into some of the finer (and not so fine) ways in which chocolate is used today.
Rosenblum draws you in with seductive passages which describe the smell and taste of chocolate, but is equally interesting while discussing cacao bean production. He literally travels the world in order to explore this amazing bean and bring his knowledge to the reader.
The book was so well written, that I had to ration it out -- reading only 1-2 (or 3-4) chapters a night. And I'm not the only one who thought so -- this book won the IACP Cookbook Award in 2006 for best literary food writing. If you are interested in all things chocolate -- from where and how it is grown, to what the French master chocolatier can do with it -- read this book!
This was also posted over at the Chocolate Blog.
I recently won a contest over at Candy Blog for my participation in the "Keep it Real" campaign. Cybele sent me a wonderful prize -- a gift certificate to Chocosphere. I used a large portion of it to purchase these fancy chocolates. I'm starting to branch out into the world of single origin chocolate, but I also purchased a few wacky things. One bar has seeds in it?!? And I had to buy a couple of pistachio items -- I love pistachios but I don't think I've ever had them combined with chocolate. Reviews to follow over at the Chocolate Blog.
I also finished three books since my last book review post, so those will be up soon! Here's what I recently finished reading:
I'm getting caught up on my backlog of chocolate -- I just posted another review over at the Chocolate Blog! Now I just need to find the time and energy to make a pretty banner and such for the site -- the TypePad template is doing nothing for me.
See, I have been crafting too! (Although I've been playing Zelda *a lot*!) Right now all I can think about is cross stitch and I've worked on my Paradigm Lost sampler over the last two weekends. Those of you who don't do cross stitch probably can't appreciate the number of hours that have gone into this small portion of the sampler, but I assure you -- this photo represents *many* hours of stitching. I can't get enough of it either!
If you would like to see the photo of what it should look like when complete, I posted about it here.
In addition, I've decided to start a new blog! (Yes, another one -- this makes 7 active blogs for me. Well, somewhat active.) So what is this new blog? Well, the title of this post may have given it away. It's called the Chocolate Blog and I've got tons of chocolate bar reviews that I need to get up there. I'll also be posting chocolate news and recipes along with whatever other chocolate things I can think of!
Perhaps tomorrow I'll post some book reviews here -- I have a backlog of those to publish. And I also want to write more about cross stitch -- I'm obsessed!
Last Theo Chocolate bar review first. . .
Ghana 84% Cacao -- package says:"The Fair Trade Certified cacao used in this single origin dark chocolate bar is from the fertile growing region surrounding Kumasi, Ghana. The perfectly fermented and dried beans yield slightly floral notes over golden and round chocolate flavors." My thoughts: This is the darkest bar of the bunch -- almost no sweetness at all, just pure chocolate heaven! Oh -- and that round chocolate flavor I talked about in the Ghana Panama Ecuador bar? Well, I guess this is where it comes from. You can definitly taste the parts of that bar that come from this chocolate. I'm getting a bit of tanginess that probably comes from the fermentation of the beans -- really nice! And considering that this is 84% cacao, there is not much bitterness and no harsh flavors at all.
After trying these four bars, I would highly recommend doing a tasting of your own! It's so much fun to see how different each chocolate tastes and I think I would end the tasting with the Ghana Panama Ecuador bar -- my favorite of the bunch -- so that you can see how the different flavors blend together.
And for people who have asked where you can get these -- they are starting to show up at Whole Foods and you can also order them from the the folks at Theo Chocolate.
In other -- believe it or not knitting -- news. . . I've started work on a new bag. I get *tons* of requests for a Bigger Booga Bag, so I'm working on a new pattern for one. It involves more than just sizing it up since it needs more stability as the size grows. Stay tuned for progress pics -- I'll have some soon!
So, I mentioned that the packaging was beautiful, but the bar is too. it's divided into these flat thin rectangles that are 1" X 3" -- each is 1/2oz and you get 6 as the bar is 3oz. Now I am particular about the shape, so this matters to me a lot. Why? Well, first of all I want to be able to break off a piece easily and I want that piece to be just enough to satisfy me. In addition, the bar should not be too thick (this one is perfect at about 1/8th of an inch) -- this gives you the perfect bite! And I don't want it to be bumpy of fancy or anything -- just flat and smooth. The texture of the chocolate is what I want to experience.
Okay, I may be a bit obsessive.
So you can see a piece of the chocolate broken off and sitting on top of the bar in the photo. Dark, glossy and prefectly sized. Time to try it!
Ivory Coast 75% Cacao -- Package says: "This single origin chocolate is made from the first Fair Trade Certified cacao beans brought into the United Sates from the Ivory Coast. The richness and intensity of flavor in this bar reflect the complexity of the growing region." My thoughts: Wow! This is chocolate through and through -- almost like the taste of a brownie (but not very sweet at all). I kind of get a hint of spice and maybe a touch of coffee. It's smooth and melts beautifuly , but leaves a dry feeling in the mouth and a bitter (in a very good way!) note at the end (this is the coffee flavor I'm talking about). I was totally not expecting this!
Trying these bars really is fun -- it's amazing how different they all taste even theough they are all dark chocolate produced in the same factory. I can't wait to try the last one!
Next up. . .
Ghana Panama Ecuador 75% Cacao -- The package says: "This blend of cacao highlights the unique flavors from Ghana, the remote rainforest of Bocas del Toro, Panama and true Ecuadorian Arriba cacao." My thoughts: This is the stuff!!! I love this bar! It's not a single origin, but rather a blend and with a cacao content of 75% you're getting major chocolate here with very little suger mucking things up. The flavor reminds me a lot of the chocolate in the 3400 Phinney Bread & Chocolate bar which I adore. While there is a slight tang to this bar also, there is a nice smokiness -- a cooked almost carmelized flavor. I would swear there was some salt in this bar, but there isn't. It's round and almost buttery and delicious!
And more on the packaging, since several of you commented on it. The Theo bars and the 3400 Phinney bars have wrappers designed by KittenChops. You can see more pictures there. . .
I first stumbled upon Theo Chocolate through their 3400 Phinney line of chocolate bars when my husband picked my up a Nib Brittle Bar at a shop in Chicago (Hannah's Bretzel). They are hard to find, but I've been told that Whole Foods are starting to stock them, so make sure to take a look next time you are there. I need to do a full review of the three 3400 Phinney Bars I've tried so far because they are the best chocolate bars *ever*! Seriously -- and I can say at this point that I have tried a lot of chocolate bars.
But today I want to talk about the Theo bars. When I emailed the folks at Theo Chocolate to ask them a little bit more about their company, they sent me these single origin bars to try -- yipee! I'm very excited to try these because not only did I love their other line of bars, but these are Fair Trade and Organic. And look at the gorgeous wrappers (I love a good wrapper -- the 3400 Phinney bars are wonderful!)
Okay, so I'm going to try the first bar right now and give you my impression. . .
Madagascar 65% Cacao -- On the package it says, "The dynamic wine flavor in this single origin, organic dark chocolate reflect the unique and diverse environment of the island nation of madagascar." My thoughts: Bar is smooth, glossy and has a lovely bite that melts easily on the tongue. There is a slight tang to the chocolate and definitely some fruitiness -- I guess you could call that a "wine flavor". It's a sweet bar, at 65% cacao, which I think works well with the bitter of the chocolate and that tangy note. I'm a fan!
Tomorrow I'll try the next bar. . .
I've been working my way through that box of chocolate from Green & Black's and I have a few bars to report on. First up -- the Ginger bar.
This has been my favorite from the box -- an organic dark chocolate bar with lots of crystallized ginger bits mixed in. The ginger had such a nice fresh zing! Just a perfect complement to the bitter dark chocolate. I also like how the ginger is a bit (just slightly) chewy. I think that if you like ginger, you'll love this bar.
Next up -- Mint Bar. This is an organic dark chocolate mint bar with a soft mint center. Not unlike the Caramel Bar (which I previously reviewed), it is composed of little individual chambers which hold the filling and you can break off a piece and save the rest of the bar for later -- a very nice feature. The chocolate has a nice bitterness in contrast to the center which is subtle, sweet and has a floral note which was quite strong. While I liked this bar, I wanted the mint filling to be more substantial, more minty. Having said that, I ate the whole thing quite happily!
I've said before how much I *love* the Green & Black's White before -- well, the Milk bar reminds me alot of the White bar. Not so strange really when you look at the ingredients. It's basically the same bar with "Organic Chocolate Liquor" added -- so it will come as no surprise that I liked this bar too. Now, I'm not a milk chocolate fan, but this is a bit darker than your usual milk chocolate and you can also tell that it's higer quality than your average chocolate bar too. While it is sweet, I found it to be more milky than sugary and I was really able to taste the vanilla.
I also wanted to say a little something about the company -- as you can see, these bars that I've been writing about are all organic. This is something that I've really started to become interested in and I'm happy to find such a high quality product (and such a yummy one!) with this designation. They also have a chocolate bar -- Maya Gold -- that is designated Fair Trade. This is something else that I think is important, and I'll be discussing it more when I talk about some future chocolate companies. You can read more about G & B's Fair Trade polocies on their website.
That's all for today. I hope I didn't make you too hungry. Now go out and get yourself some chocolate!
So look what arrived on my doorstep yesterday! A huge box of chocolate -- who wouldn't love that? Someone from Green & Blacks's PR saw that I was reviewing some of their products on my blog and sent along this lovely selection for me to try out. And I know that she read my blog well, because she put two of the white chocolate bars in there -- Green & Black's make the best white choclate bar that I have found -- and I've tried quite a few now.
So stay tuned -- I'll be reviewing these on the blog. Including the hot cocoa, which I've never seen in a store near me and am very eager to try. And the Ginger bar -- I think that's a new one. Yeah!
Time for another chocolate review! And this is a good one -- the Vosges Barcelona Bar. First let me tell you what it is -- It's a slightly darker milk (41% -- a lot of milk chocolate seems to be in the 30% range) combined with hickory smoked almonds and grey sea salt. Now I'm a sucker for the whole sweet & salty thing, so I knew that there was a good chance I would like this bar. And apparently so do a lot of other people because I had a bit of trouble finding it. (Keep in mind that I don't live in a major city, so opportunities for chocolate hunting are limited.)
So when I went up to Chicago to play in the park last week with Maddie and Theresa, I decided to take a look and found it! After all this searching, I was hoping it would live up to the hype I had created for it in my own mind.
I have to say that I finished the bar in 4 nights -- it was delicious! The salt was intense and flavorful and combined perfectly with the sweetness of the milk chocolate. And the hickory smoked almonds? They gave the bar a strange and interesting flavor that you weren't expecting -- a bit of savory in your sweet and a nice crunch too.
If I had one complaint -- well, I have two complaints. First, the bar is way too expensive. It's $7!!!!! There's not gold leaf on the thing -- it's chocolate, salt and almonds for goodness sake. All high quality, no doubt! But $7??? (Okay, now that I got that off my chest.) And second, there was a bit of a distribution problem with the salt. The first square I tasted was *very* salty. My first thought was that if the whole bar was this salty, I wouldn't be able to eat it. But every other square was perfect, so all was well. I just think that for that much money, ever square should be perfect, know what I mean?
In the end I can't complain -- I'm already thinking about driving up to Chicago to get another one -- it was that good. The perfect combination of ingredients in the right proportion -- it's magic, I tell ya!
Well. . . looks like socks are the favorite by a long shot coming in at 43% as of just a minute ago. Speaking of socks, I'm making good progress on Pete's STR socks (er, sock -- I'm still on the first one.) I'll post a picture as soon as I finish the first one.
Since I have a pile of wrappers in the drawer, I thought it was about time for a chocolate update! So without further ado. . .
Okay, I know there are a lot of Green & Black's fans out there, so this may not be popular, but I have to say that I was a bit disappointed with the Green & Black's Caramel bar. First let me tell you that it's an organic milk chocolate bar with a soft caramel center. The little pockets of caramel are nicely divided so that you don't have to eat the bar all at once, so that was convenient -- it's a pretty large bar after all. The chocolate was rather soft, sticky and sweet though -- this is where they lost me. You almost couldn't discern where the chocolate ended and the caramel began. I guess I wanted a more distinctive chocolate and a saltier caramel maybe? I shouldn't have been surprised since the first ingredient listed is organic cane sugar and the second is organic whole milk powder, but I love a good caramel bar and I thought G & B would come through.
So far I've loved the Green & Blacks White Chocolate bar, liked the Green & Black's Maya Gold bar, disliked the Hazlenut & Currant bar so much that I threw half of it in the trash (I bought it at Target and discovered it was past it's sell by date, which could be the reason for it's "off" flavor), and found the Caramel bar dissatisfying. Hmmmm. . . I'm holding out for the Butterscoth bar, which I hear is *awesome* -- but I have yet to locate one. Any ideas where they are sold in the States?
The Violet Crumble is an Australian candy bar made by Nestlé that is unlike any mass market bar in the US that I can think of. The slogan on the wrapper says "It's the way it shatters that matters" and it did shatter! Actually the first thought that came to mind as I took my first bite was -- smores. It had that toasted marshmallow taste, combined with the chocolate -- then there was the crispness of the bar. I have to say that I'm usually not a fan of mass market candy bars, but I loved this one!
I've also tried the Cafe-Tasse Blanc -- White Chocolate Bar and it wasn't nearly as good as the Green & Blacks. I don't have much else to say, so I'll leave it at that. More reviews coming soon!
Cafe-Tasse Noir Amandes is a Belgian dark chocolate bar with Almonds -- the almonds appear to be chopped or crushed, rather than whole. I really enjoyed this bar! I'm a fan of Belgian chocolate and while I do get excited by some of the fancy new combinations with wild spices or some of the uniquely flavored single origin chocolates that are available today, there are times when I want a comfortable bar. This is it. The chocolate was neither sweet nor bitter -- a nice dark bar that you could really sit down and enjoy. When I saw that the almonds weren't whole, I thought I would be disappointed, but they were really well suited to the texture of the chocolate and in the end I didn't miss the crunch I was originally hoping for.
One nice thing about the Cafe-Tasse bars -- if you get the big flat one like I got, is that they are not broken off into squares, but rather into long skinny bars -- perfect for dipping into coffee! Ah -- hence the name, I suppose. At any rate, this chocolate is even better warm & melty.
Yesterday Pete, Maddie & I went on a little shopping trip and I'm happy to say that I am all stocked up on chocolate for a while:
Actually two things pictured are biscuits -- so we can't count those, can we? And the Hello Kitty thing is Maddie's (it's one of those Yan Yan things where you dip the biscuit in chocolate -- like diy pocky). Oh and the CurlyWurly was Pete and Maddie's -- they ate it last night and it's an old fashioned Marathon Bar, repackaged! Remember those? The chocolate covered caramel braid? So anyway, that's only seven candy bars for me :) I'll give you a full report as I work my way through them. Maddie promised to help me out!
Michel Cluizel's Noir aux Ecorces d'Orange is a very comforting bar. There isn't anything crazy about it. It isn't too bitter (coming in at only 60% cacao) or too sweet and it's incredibly smooth, mellow chocolate. That Michel really knows how to pair his chocolate and orange. The orange is just intense enough to let you know it's there and it has a pleasing chewiness that I really enjoyed.
While this bar didn't blow me away with any kind of "wow" factor like some of the new wacky bars that are coming out -- it did what it was meant to do and it did it beautifully. I will definitely be buying more Michel Cluizel Bars in the near future. In fact there are several single origin bars I have my eye on. . .
I haven't really mentioned it here on the blog, but over the past year or so I've become a bit of a chocolate snob (or maybe more of one!) And now that I've found a good source for the chocolate bars I love, I thought I should start reviewing them here as I finish them off. First let me say that a 3.5oz chocolate bar might take me 1-2 weeks to finish and I may be eating 2 or three at any one time. So don't expect reviews every day or anything like that. I like to savor my chocolate :)
Although I am a lover of dark chocolate, I'm starting off with a white chocolate bar. White chocolate?!?!?!? Dare I combine those two words? I do if I'm talking about Green & Black's Organic White Chocolate bar. Here's how they describe it on their website:
To make our white chocolate we use cocoa butter, pressed directly from the crushed cocoa beans. The smooth, creamy taste comes predominately from the full cream milk and Bourbon vanilla. Available in 100g and 35g bars.
Let me tell you, using real cocoa butter and bourbon vanilla makes a world of difference. Intense vanilla with a smooth, creamy sweet (but not sickly sweet) flavor. I gobbled up this bar in just over a week and really had to restrain myself. I'll definitely be having this one again in the future!
Partially eaten -- Michel Cluizel's Noir aux Ecorces d'Orange and Green & Black's Organic Hazelnut & Currant. Still un-opened in the drawer -- Cafe Tasse's Extra Noir and Vosges' Calindia Bar. More on those later!
What's your favorite chocolate bar?