Thursday, May 26, 2016

With only 5% difference in cocoa solids between three chocolate bars, can I choose a favourite? My SPAGnVOLA chocolate dilemma...

The 75% chocolate is my favourite.  Oh wait, but I liked the 80% quite a lot.  Then again, the 70% really highlighted the flavours. Ugh. I can't decide.



That was my line of thinking when I was trying to decide which of SPAGnVOLA's dark chocolate bars I preferred. I had precisely three to choose from, an 80% chocolate, a 75% dark chocolate and a 70% dark chocolate, all made with the same single estate Dominican Republic origin cocoa beans.


The thing was: I liked them all.  I first tried the 75% bar, and enjoyed it's light cream taste so much thought I could not possibly like the other two.  And I was almost correct when I discovered that the 80% chocolate had been exposed to heat during transport, but with a quick melt and re-tempering job, that chocolate too became a new favourite with its cream taste, but beautifully bitter melt.  I then moved on to the 70%, which did taste sweeter with nearly no acidity, but also tasted like cream with a bit of spice, and some earthy organic flavours.

I put the question to my almost-five-year-old son, who diligently tasted each one (with only one request to taste them again), and he also could not choose a favourite.  He said, and I quote: "This one is my favourite. And this one is my favourite. And that other one is my favourite too." Even with some additional questioning (and tasting), he was sticking to his final decision: all three were his 'favourite'.

I finally made a decision that, if I were to find myself in Gaithersburg, Maryland at SPAGnVOLA's factory and shop, and I only had just enough money to buy one chocolate bar to enjoy a second time, I would likely choose the 75%.  Well, maybe the 80%. Sigh.

So what is 'Single Estate' chocolate anyway?

One cacao farm (a single estate) owned by one family or business. This is origin flavour at its finest.  the acidity in the soil, the other plants, fruit and foods growing around the cacao, and even the animals and other farming that is close to the cacao trees and drying facilities. Cocoa beans and chocolate takes on the flavours of the smells that are in the same vicinity (this is why I  am very careful about where I store my chocolate and where I make my chocolate!). 

I have tasted industrial smells, gasoline and the flavour of animal aroma (like wet dog smell) in chocolate. I often wonder if that is the result of the plantation's location (close to a highway, trucks, or perhaps animals) or where the drying of the beans were done, or perhaps there were intense industrial odours during storage and transport.

But that was not the case with SPAGnVOLA's chocolate.  The aroma, and the taste, was perfectly delicious.

Learn more about SPAGnVOLA


To learn more about SPAGnVOLA's single plantation, bean-to-bar chocolate, and to see if YOU can choose which bar you like best, visit the website at http://spagnvola.com.

Oh and watch SPAGnVOLA's website for future updates because they are planning to introduce a new single estate chocolate from Ondo State, Nigeria!  I can't wait, can you?

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Traveling to Grenada? This is what you need to see in Grenada...and taste!

With the Grenada Chocolate Festival in full swing this week, I think this post is a timely one.  A few weeks ago, I received a stack of Grenada Chocolate Company's chocolate bars from my aunt, who vacationed on the Carribean island. Luckily the chocolate was in great condition (very little bloom!) and I have been enjoying the wonderful taste of this fruity, deep-roasted chocolate.

The Grenada Chocolate Company has been referred to as "Probably the most ethical chocolate in the world." (ref) using solar-powered machinery in the factory that pays its employees a fair wage.  Transport of the chocolate bars is even done by sailing ship over the ocean, then individual boxes are transported by a team of cyclists in the U.K., to leave a minimal carbon footprint. Unfortunately, the original owner, Mott Green, passed away in 2013, while working on one of the pieces of equipment that he built with his own hands.  In fact Mr. Green built the entire factory with his own hands, and followed a vision of social responsibility so intensely, that he will forever be imprinted in the heart and soul of Grenada Chocolate's products, and the island from where they come.

Having only tasted Grenada's 82% dark chocolate once before, I was quite excited to enjoy this full package of dark chocolate bars, made ethically and with such passion. And so this will tide me over until I can attend the festival myself someday, and enjoy all that Grenada - and its cacao - has to offer.

If you also can't visit Grenada this week for the festival, or even this year, you can purchase the entire line-up of Grenada Chocolate Company chocolate bars on the Cocoa Runner's website here.

You can also purchase two of Grenada Chocolate Company's bars (with shipping across North America) on the Montreal-based latablette.ca website here.

Here are my tasting notes on these lovely chocolate bars:

Grenada Chocolate Tasting Notes:

Overall, I found Grenada Chocolate Company's dark chocolate to be fruity with pronounced acidity, and an intense roast taste. But with the addition of sugar and other ingredients, there were variations in taste among the chocolate bars. In general, the chocolate texture was smooth and lovely, yet light on the cocoa butter.

The Grenada Chocolate Company's 100% organic chocolate bar is fruity and spicy with a profile that also includes a deep roasted cocoa bean flavour. I would agree with the assessment on the Cocoa Runners website that there is a little grassy flavour (like the sun-dried grass in late-August-to-early-Fall time), but no real hint of pine for me, as they had assessed.  Although I imagine harvest years play a role in the flavours. Once you get used to the boldness of the 100% cacao, and this bar's acidic bite, it is quite enjoyable.

The 82% Grenada dark chocolate bar is quite tangy (acidic), and quite fruity in nature. The dark roast truly stands out in this chocolate. Grenada Chocolate Company's 71% organic dark chocolate has less of a fruity profile than the 82%, but a little spice or pepper flavour with a vanilla taste (although no vanilla is added).

The sweetness stands out in the 60% dark chocolate, which has a nice well-rounded balanced chocolate flavour with fruity and roast tones. I happened to have Valrhona's 65% Kalingo (also Grenada-origin chocolate from a different plantation), and to compare, it is less fruity, and sweeter tasting even than Grenada Chocolate Company's 60% bar. Valrhona's also has strong vanilla overtones, and a fresh flavour (like the freshness peppermint can add).

The 60% Nib-a-licious chocolate bar by Grenada Chocolate Company is both sweet and bitter, with the bitterness coming from the crispy cacao nibs tossed in.  The crunch is quite fun and texturally interesting, thanks to the chocolate maker using an abundance of nibs. Compared to most other nib bars, I really like this one.

I enjoyed every single chocolate bar by Grenada Chocolate Company.  The lingering flavours left behind in the mouth once the chocolate melts away is truly notable, and the best part!

More About Grenada Chocolate Company

Learn all you can about this great chocolate maker on the company's website: https://www.grenadachocolate.com/.

The Grenada Chocolate Company was named one of the 13 most influential candy bars of all time. Read more: http://newsfeed.time.com/2014/02/18/13-most-influential-candy-bars-of-all-time/slide/grenada-chocolate/

There is a film about Mott Green and The Grenada Chocolate Company that was just released at the 2014 Santa Barbara International Film Festival on January 31, 2014.  You can learn more about the movie here:  http://nothinglikechocolate.com/about.php


More About the Grenada Chocolate Festival:

The Grenada Chocolate Festival is happening this week! And from social media posts (Instagram search: #grenadacocoa) it seems that the festival-goers are having a great time. I'm planning to go someday, how 'bout you? Learn more about this annual Spring festival on the website: www.grenadachocolatefest.com.

More about chocolate made from Grenadian cocoa beans:

Want to use Grenada-origin chocolate as a couverture to make truffles, ganache, and for coatings? Check out Valrhona's Kalingo chocolate couverture, which is a mix between sweet and bitter dark chocolate with a lightly fruity and spicy mix, with a hint of peppermint.

Pump St. Bakery also offers an award-winning Grenada-origin chocolate bar, with cocoa specifically purchased in direct trade fashion from Crayfish Bay.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Rich Dark Chocolate Icing Recipe and Contest to Win 12 Extreme Dark Chocolate Bars!

Equal Exchange is an American co-operative that is devoted to bringing fairly traded and organic chocolate to its customers. They work directly with farmer co-ops in countries where the cacao and organic sugar - two key ingredients in their chocolate - are grown, to ensure farmers and their workers are fairly paid for the products they produce.

Equal Exchange has just launched a new chocolate bar called the Extreme Dark 88% chocolate bar.  It is perfect for anyone trying to reduce their sugar intake, following a Paleo or low-carb lifestyle, or anyone who simply enjoys baking with dark chocolate! I've tasted it, and I'd say its citrusy flavor hits full force, with a rich bitter cocoa-fudge taste that is rounded out by the sweet flavor of vanilla. The chocolate is organic and made with a blend of cocoa beans grown by Equal Exchanges partners in the Dominican Republic, Peru and Ecuador.

Sure, you can buy this bar from a variety of retailers all through the U.S., or purchase it directly off the Equal Exchange website, but why not try to win it? That's right my American friends, I've partnered up with Equal Exchange to give away a case of 12 Extreme Dark chocolate bars to one lucky winner! That's 12 opportunities to bake with it, eat it, or share it with your friends!

The contest is now closed.  The winner is.... Karen Herzog! We will be contacting you to get all your details so Equal Exchange can send you the prize. Congratulations!

Thanks to everyone who entered the contest! Stay tuned for more chocolaty contests on this blog soon. And don't forget to scroll down for a delicious chocolate icing recipe.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The contest starts May 14th, at 12:00 a.m. and lasts for one week, so get your entries in now!

And if you happen to pick up a bar at your local retailer, below you will find a great recipe to try to make your desserts all natural and healthier, while still full of delicious chocolate flavour. I have developed a few recipes with the Extreme Dark bar, and I intend to share another one with you next week before the contest is over, so stay tuned!  In the meantime, you can make dark chocolate ganache or truffles with this 88% chocolate bar (click here for recipe), or the icing recipe below.

Organic Chocolate Icing
(no-cane sugar chocolate icing made with finely ground organic coconut sugar)


You need:
  • 1/3 cup butter, chopped into 1/2" cubes
  • 1 bar, broken into squares
  • 250 coconut sugar (and blender or single-blade coffee grinder) or icing sugar if you are not concerned about cane sugar (preferably organic)
  • 1/4 cup grapeseed or coconut oil
  • vanilla bean, pinch of ground or the scrapings from one bean (optional)

Instructions:

1. Place the butter and chocolate into a medium-sized heat-proof bowl.  Either place over a double-boiler or melt in the microwave for 50 seconds. Stir just until smooth and remove from heat (do not let this overheat, or your cocoa butter will separate and may not come back together). Set aside to cool for 30 minutes. If it 'sets' or appears solid or thickened, this is okay.

2. While your chocolate is setting, place your coconut sugar (or granulated organic cane sugar, if using) into your blender, smoothie maker or coffee grinder.  If you have too much to fit, do this in two or three parts, keeping a bowl close to place the ground sugar into. Grind the sugar until very fine, until it is powdery like icing sugar.

3. Using a hand mixer (or transfer chocolate to a stand mixer bowl), beat in the icing sugar, one third at a time.  As it thickens, add the oil and continue to beat until the icing is fluffy. Add the vanilla, if using.

4. Spread between layers of a cake or on top of a cake, or place in a decorator bag and decorate a cake or cupcakes with it!

Place the icing on top of your favourite cake recipe.  I kept it healthy, low sugar, and gluten free by making the Paleo Banana Snack Cake by Detoxinista, and topping it with a dollup of icing.

Freezing Instructions:
Freeze in a sealed container for up to size months and simply bring back to room temperature to use. Can be frozen in the decorator bag (sealed inside a freezer bag) You can re-whip it if necessary.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Cincinnati's Maverick Chocolate Delivers a Silky Smooth Taste Experience


It is rare that I taste a line-up of chocolate bars by one chocolate maker, and enjoy every single one equally. But that is exactly what happened when I tasted three of Maverick Chocolate Company's bars. This American craft chocolate maker is making chocolate from bean to bar in Cincinnati's historic Findlay Market, and they are doing a damn good job.

Maverick Chocolate is a true family business. Owners and 'Head Chocolate Makers', Paul and Marlene, have also enlisted their two sons and daughter-in-law to work in the business as chocolate makers, as well as being in charge of important tasks like marketing, writing and chocolate-making equipment maintenance.

I was so excited about this chocolate that I wrote to Paul Picton, to ask what makes it so special.  "Our grinding and conching process is four days long", he explained, which is longer than many other craft chocolate makers. Maverick also carefully tests and adjusts the ratios of beans-to-sugar and other ingredients to bring out the best results for each origin and flavoured chocolate.  And to me, that attention to detail clearly shines in the three Maverick chocolate bars that I tasted.

Below are my tasting notes and details on each chocolate bar.  My chocolate bars were purchased at a retailer in the Washington, DC area, but Maverick's chocolate is also available to buy online, at a cost of $8 to $10 per bar, with a flat-rate shipping fee of $6.95 on all orders (US shipping only).  For more information on Maverick Chocolate Co., visit: http://maverickchocolate.com


Maverick Chocolate Tasting Notes and Chocolate Bar Details:

70% Belize Dark Chocolate, 2.3 oz (65g)

Tasting Notes: Silky smooth with roasted nuts, and sweetened cappuccino flavours. The nut flavour is like caramelized roasted peanuts and almonds, certainly not that savoury walnut flavour found in many Ecuadorian chocolates. This was a new taste sensation for me and I loved it.

Product Details:
Ingredients: Organic cocoa beans, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter. May contain traces of nuts, wheat and milk products. Soy free. Vegan.


65% Espresso Dark Chocolate, 2.3 oz (65g)

This chocolate bar was created by chocolate maker, Paul Picton, because of a love of chocolate-covered espresso beans, which he used to munch on while cycling to University in Canada. He "wanted to create a bar that was reminiscent of chocolate covered espresso beans, but not so gritty or crunchy." And he did just that, by creating a smooth espresso flavoured chocolate bar using a local ethical Cincinnati coffee roaster`s espresso (Deeper Roots) and pairing it with a blend of Dominican Republic-grown and Peruvian-grown cocoa beans to round out the chocolate flavour and balance the sweetness.

Tasting Notes: Extra smooth, creamy espresso dark chocolate with just the right sweetness. With only four ingredients, you can't get a better tasting chocolate.

Product Details:
Ingredients: organic cocoa beans, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter, organic coffee beans. May contain traces of nuts, wheat and milk products. Soy free. Vegan.


82% Tumbes (Peru) Dark Chocolate, 2.3 oz (65g)

Tasting Notes: Also very smooth, and with only two ingredients it has a bit slower melt than the others, with a savoury and bitter/tangy taste that tasted like roasted tart cherries to me on the second taste. Overall, I like the mysterious nature of its flavour and quite enjoyed this 82%.

Ingredients: Organic cocoa beans and organic cane sugar. May contain traces of nuts, wheat and milk products. Soy free. Vegan.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Ultimate List of Chocolate Made with No Cane Sugar (i.e. alternate natural sugars: coconut sugar, beet sugar, maple sugar, etc.)

If you have made the decision to eliminate or reduce cane sugar from your diet, but you want to keep chocolate in your diet, rest easy because new chocolates made with alternate sugars are popping up all over the place from chocolate makers around the world.

Do not expect chocolate with alternate sugars to taste the same as the chocolate that you grew up with. Cane sugar is about the sweetest, most free-of-flavour sweetener you can find. Agave, coconut sugar, maple sugar and beet sugar all tend to have distinct flavours related to the fruit or tree that they come from.  If you have ever switched from using corn syrup to brown rice syrup in your baking, you will know what I mean when I say that making chocolate with alternate sugar can add a 'healthy', somewhat-earthy-sort-of-flavour to a treat.

Light agave syrup is the closest to cane sugar in taste, but as far as I know, it is not available in powdered form (a liquid cannot be added to chocolate solids, or you will have a truffle or a toffee, not a solid chocolate bar).  But if you have decided to make the switch, and you head into this no-cane-sugar-lifestyle full throttle, then you must be ready to accept and become used to a new chocolate flavour. Regardless of a slight change of flavour, many of the chocolates on this list are delicious! So check them out.  And if you know of others, please let me know in the Comments below.

List of Chocolate made with Alternate Sugars
(no-cane sugar chocolate)

North America:

Hexx Chocolate (Las Vegas, NV) - This brand new small-batch bean-to-bar chocolate maker has a mission to keep its chocolate natural. All of Hexx's chocolate is made with only two ingredients: cacao beans and organic coconut palm sugar. Hexx chocolate is available for sale only at the Paris Las Vegas location currently. Read my review if Hexx Chocolate here, or visit Hexx's website: www.hexxchocolate.com.

Raaka (Brooklyn, NY) - Raaka has been making popular 'unroasted' bean-to-bar chocolate for some time, and now has a chocolate bar free of cane sugar.  Learn more about the Yacon chocolate bar here: http://www.raakachocolate.com/collections/frontpage/products/yacon-sugar-free.

Palette de Bine (Quebec, Canada) This chocolate maker just won an International Chocolate Award (Americas Competition) for their maple-sweetened chocolate bar called: Bines à l'érable San Juan Estate Trinidad 70%. Visit the website for more information or buy the bar online here from Canada and the U.S. on the www.latablette.ca website.

Take a Fancy Chocolate (British Columbia, Canada) - This bean-to-bar chocolate maker offers a very smooth and tasty Maple 72% bar with no cane sugar. It is slightly more bitter tasting than a chocolate of the same percentage made with cane sugar, but the maple is oh-so-Canadian. Read my review of this chocolate here, or visit: www.takeafancy.ca

Starchild Chocolate (Willits, CA) - Starchild Chocolate's entire line of single origin chocolate bars are sweetened with coconut sugar. They recently won a Bronze at the International Chocolate Awards (Americas Competition). Buy online, or visit: https://starchildchocolate.com/

Kayer (Pronounced 'care') brand by Barkleys (British Columbia) - this line of chocolate bars are sweetened with organic coconut palm sugar.  They are also organic, low glycemic (a GI index of 35), gluten free and all natural. The solid chocolate bars are called the 'Kayer G35 Series" and have four interesting flavours, also there are four flavours of smaller truffle bars.  They appear to be targeted to diabetics and anyone who has eliminated or is reducing cane sugar intake. Learn more: http://www.barkleys.ca/chocolate/kayer/.  Barkleys products are available across Canada (I bought a truffle bar at an IDA pharmacy) including in Wholefoods, Safeway and other major national retailers.

Zazubean (British Columbia, Canada) - Make a chocolate bar called 'Nudie', an 80% dark chocolate bar with organic coconut sugar, instead of cane sugar. Also makes a delicious milk chocolate with Pomegranate and Hazelnut called the Sassy bar and a dark chocolate sea salt and almonds (learn more about these here).  These are available in Bulk Barns across Canada, as well as other retailers in Canada and the U.S. www.zazubean.com

Organic Fair Organic Fair's Coco-Milk chocolate bar has 53% cocoa solids and is all about the coconut; it's made with dried coconut and organic coconut oil, and as a bonus, is sweetened with coconut sugar. Learn more on the Canadian website at: http://www.organicfairmarket.ca or the American site here: www.organicfair.com.

Barkleys 'Kayer' brand (Coquitlam, BC) - The Kayer brand of chocolate truffle bars, by Barkleys, a maker of all natural chocolates, uses organic coconut palm sugar to sweeten their 'low-glycemic' truffle bars and 'G35 Series' solid chocolate bars. Also, at Easter 2015, Barkleys sold a dark chocolate bunny that was sweetened with beet sugar. For more info, read here or visit the brand website: http://www.barkleys.ca/chocolate/kayer/

Tease Chocolates (Tacoma, Washington) - including the Princess Superstar Bar, Venezuela Origin 86% with cocoa nibs and honey. Interesting packaging and chocolate bar names with a variety of inclusions.  See here for more info. https://www.facebook.com/TeaseChocolates

EatingEvolved - their chocolate is made with organic cacao and maple sugar. Their sweetener is directly sourced from maple producers in Vermont and Canada.  http://eatingevolved.com/

Firefly Chocolate (Windsor, CA) - All of Firefly's chocolate is made with coconut sugar, and most of their chocolate bars are made with 85% cocoa solids, except for the very interesting Coconut Cream bar, which uses organic coconut oil instead of cocoa butter for a soft texture. Firefly Chocolate also offers a monthly chocolate delivery service, nut butters and nibs. www.fireflychocolate.com

Moonlight Chocolates (Santa Clara County, CA) - Thomas Snuggs started out as a home chocolate maker and will soon be selling his chocolate within his local area.  He makes wonderful milk chocolate bars with coconut sugar, including one with crisped rice cereal.  Read my review of his chocolate here, or visit: www.moonlightchocolates.com

The Chocolate Alchemist (Philadelphia, PA) - Chocolate maker Robert Campbell Jr. is passionate about using coconut sugar in his chocolate. He makes a lovely 80% dark chocolate bar called the Philly Blend, and also makes gourmet drinking chocolates, truffles and raw vegan creations. Learn more in my recent blog post, or at: www.sazonphilly.com .


U.K. and Europe:

Akesson's Milk Chocolate Bali - the milk chocolate version of their Bali Single Plantation Chocolate bar is made with organic coconut blossom sugar. This fine chocolate maker owns cacao plantations, and makes a brand of award winning bean-to-bar chocolate. http://www.akessons-organic.com/

Forever Cacao (Wales, U.K.) - Hand-made raw, bean-to-bar chocolate in Wales. Full range is made with organic coconut sugar. Includes 80% and 72% chocolate bars, and one made with coffee. www.forevercacao.co.uk

Nihant Malaya Area Lait  (Belgium) - Dark Milk 55% Coconut blossom sugar. An interesting and tangy dark-milk chocolate. Buy here, or learn more at: www.benoitnihant.be

Lucocoa Chocolate (London, UK) - We're bean to bar chocolate makers; sourcing great beans from around the world using coconut sugar & lucuma to sweeten giving a unique taste.

Ombar Chocolate (Cambridge, UK) - Raw chocolate made with coconut sugar and freeze-dried fruit. 100% organic and sustainably sourced.


South America:

Amma Chocolate's Gula Merah 70% Chocolate bar (Bahia, Brazil) - this tangy and incredibly fruity bar tastes much darker than a 70% chocolate and has a slight sugary crunch to it. Amma makes chocolate from tree-to-bar in Brazil. This chocolate is sold in North America at various locations, including La Tablette de Miss Choco in Montreal (will ship to your location through online sales site).

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Pump St. Bakery: A Deliciously British Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Experience

Pump St. Bakery is "a small, family-owned bakery & café in the village of Orford," which, from the looks of it, is a picturesque village in Suffolk, on England's Eastern coast. The town has a mediaeval castle on the River Ore, and a history as a port and fishing town in the Middle Ages. And it also has a 'famous' bakery, as described by the Suffolk Cottage Holiday site in reference to Pump St. Bakery. Known for "real bread made by hand, using traditional methods and all natural ingredients," this bakery serves both carb-happy locals and seasonal summer tourists.

But bread is not the only thing Pump St. Bakery is famous for. It makes chocolate from bean-to-bar on site, with single estate chocolate bars (like their Grenada Crayfish Bay bar) that are both fairly and directly traded. Many of their chocolate has won awards - over 20 in fact, from three different recognized organizations.

Thanks to social media, I have been following Pump St. Bakery's success in the chocolate world for a while. But I finally had a first real taste of their chocolate a few weeks ago (one heat-exposed bar given to me in 2015 didn't count). In early April, a birthday gift arrived filled with British and European chocolate, bought from the Cocoa runners website, and it contained three wonderful chocolate bars by Pump St. Bakery.  All in prime condition, and ready for tasting.

I have very slowly consumed these bars during the course of the month, giving each piece time to savour, and ponder the flavours, texture and overall aura of the chocolate. And from all this, I can say that the quality is, well, perfect.

Don't get me wrong, there are so many philosophies to making chocolate.  I can love chocolate made with very high percentages of cocoa butter (Bonnat's or Friis-Holm's dark-milk chocolates, for instance, or Duffy's 72% Camino Verde Ecuador chocolate bar), and to me that may be perfect quality, but I can also find perfection in stiffer-textured chocolate made with only two ingredients: cacao and cane sugar (Palette des Bines, the new DesBarres Chocolate or Fresco).  But Pump St. Bakery's chocolate sits somewhere in the middle of the two, with a noticeable inclusion of cocoa butter to add creaminess to the texture, but not so much that it stands out or takes control of the overall chocolate experience.

According to an article in the Jamie Oliver magazine, Pump St. Bakery spends four days grinding and conching their chocolate.  Which is likely why their chocolate tastes (and feels) like perfection. The flavours are slowly developed, and the acidity is reduced, making this chocolate full of pure origin flavour.

I am looking forward to someday tasting all of Pump St. Bakery's chocolate, particularly their popular chocolate bars with bread and sourdough crumbs tossed in, featuring the breads they are famous for. But for now, I'll let the memory of the three chocolate bars that I tasted linger.  If you are curious, feel free to read my tasting notes below.

Pump St. Bakery Chocolate Tasting Notes:

Venezuela 75% - the aroma is full of sweetness and light vanilla, but the flavour is of cream and spice, with a little roast flavour that reminds me a little of a Maranon Peru, although I hadn't had one on hand to compare. I truly enjoyed this chocolate bar.

Ecuador 85% - I call this the extreme walnut bar, because the flavour is SO very nutty, with strong walnut overtones. If you have ever added walnut oil to chocolate, you'll know what I mean when I say the chocolate almost tastes like walnut oil has been added to it, that is how nutty the flavour is. With all that nuttiness, I enjoyed it quite a lot.  Well, I must have because I finished it off!

Ecuador 60% Dark Milk by Pump St. Bakery - this is on the 'dark' side, with a lovely light cream texture and taste. To me, it falls in the category of Dark Dark-Milk Chocolate - it is very dark brown in colour and has some bitterness, and although there is a milky taste, it seems more like a dark chocolate with milk in it, rather than a milk chocolate with higher cocoa content.

Last year, I dove head first into a study of 'dark milk' chocolate, which included a week long tasting of 13 different dark milk chocolates at once, and have since been purchasing and tasting others. And so I have started to create mental classifications of them. I find there are three types:

These classifications make it easier for me to compare and contrast. For instance, my experience with the very dark dark-milk chocolate bars was not as good as the milky and cocoa buttery ones until I met this Ecuador chocolate by Pump St. Bakery. It is dark, but creamy and not too 'stiff' in texture.  The balance seems to be ideal for a dark-milk chocolate designed for a person who prefers dark chocolate. Overall it is very pleasant to eat. I have enjoyed it each and every time I taste it.

***

To learn more about Pump St. Bakery, visit: www.pumpstbakery.com.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Watch Out Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Lovers of the World, Canada has another 'one to watch'

Introducing DesBarres Chocolate, a new micro-batch chocolate maker
located Uxbridge, Ontario in the greater Toronto region. Ariane Hansen designs the labels,
which she and co-founder Erik Hansen collaborate on and
wrap by hand, to package their artisan bean-to-bar chocolates.

 
I have tasted a lot (and I do mean, a LOT) of small-batch, bean-to-bar chocolate in the last several years, and every now and then one truly stands out. DesBarres Chocolate, a brand new chocolate maker in Uxbridge, Ontario, surprised and delighted me at first taste.


The brand's 'Ambanja' 72% Madagascar chocolate bar had a texture that was silky and creamy, and it screamed 'this is fine chocolate!' into my mouth with each and every bite. The fruity blackberry and mixed raspberry-citrus flavours were bold, but not overly acidic, which indicated to me a long conche and great flavour development. It truly made a great first impression.


I also tasted the DesBarres 85% Madagascar origin chocolate bar, which was very bold, and certainly more acidic, but not in a harsh way, just a surprise to the tongue. The texture, however, was still creamy and silky for a two-ingredient chocolate.


Finally, I moved on to the DesBarres 78% dark chocolate bar, the Ecuadorian origin called 'Camino Verde'.  This one is certainly stiffer, presumably with a little less cocoa butter in the beans.  It is also quite bold in origin flavour, with a taste to me of true nuttiness, with walnuts being at the forefront, and roast and deep bitter cocoa flavours lingering in the background (although the chocolate maker describes malt and spice tones to the flavour). And although less silky than the 72% Madagascar chocolate, it is certainly a perfect example of single origin chocolate in its bold flavor profile. If you prefer something a little lighter, Desbarres also makes a sister Ecuadorian bar with 72% cocoa solids.

Although I have not met these chocolate makers in person, from my e-mail communications with Erik Hansen, co-founder of DesBarres, I can clearly see the passion for chocolate making. Also, the website, which just came online in the last few weeks, talks about having a passion for Valrhona chocolate 22 years ago (back when most Canadians knew nothing about fine chocolate, let alone dark chocolate). And I can see the appreciation for fine French chocolate in the product. 

Before reading the Desbarres website, I had actually tasted Valrhona's 64% Madagascar dark chocolate against DesBarres' 72% Madagascar bar, and had found the texture and taste quite similar (but not so similar that I couldn't tell the difference between the two chocolate makers). So knowing that DesBarres is focused on making 'two-ingredient chocolate', I am quite impressed that they are achieving results similar to long-time world-renown French chocolate makers.

I asked Erik a little about his processes and equipment.  I don't need to share all the details, but he clearly focuses on drawing the ideal flavours out of each bean, by adjusting conche* and refining time according to the chocolate. "The time is dependent on what we try to coax out of the bean," Erik explained to me via e-mail, and he said that can include a conche longer than 48 hours if necessary.

Erik and Ariane's passion for the craft can also be seen on the Real Seeds website, where Erik is one of several start-up chocolate makers to share a picture of his homemade, handcrafted winnower+.

As you can see, I'm truly impressed with the quality of the DesBarres chocolate that I have tasted thus far. And my pleasure in it reminds me of the surprise and excitement I felt when first tasting British Columbia-based Sirene Chocolate just one year ago. At that time, Sirene was certainly the 'one to watch' and has since grown a following, with its retailer network growing to stores in 17 North American cities and some overseas. And this year, I predict that central Canada (and the world) has a new 'one to watch' in DesBarres Chocolate. 

Learn more about this new chocolate maker at: http://www.desbarreschocolate.com/ or follow them on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/desbarreschocolate/.


Footnotes: 

*Conching is a process of applying heat and agitation to chocolate for an extended period of time, in order to burn off harsh acidity and develop a more refined flavour profile of the chocolate.

+A winnower is a device to remove the shells from the cocoa bean, the bean being the key ingredient in chocolate.  The shells, or husks, are difficult to remove by hand, but must be removed to prevent off flavours in the chocolate.