Saturday, April 30, 2011

Chocolate Pearls are the Perfect Snack, but do you want a Healthy Treat or Sinful Indulgence?

Since today is Saturday and I've been treating myself to nearly anything that is NOT chocolate this week (I know, I know, a rare occurrence), I thought I'd have another "Anything Goes" Saturday.  If you read my posts often, you'll know that my weekdays are dedicated to tasting and writing about solid chocolate bars. But weekends are reserved for various chocolaty treats to satisfy all my other chocolate cravings. 

I was in a very cool health food store yesterday and picked up a package of Elan Bio Perfection 100% Organic 70% dark quinoa cereals.  So you may ask: 'HOW does this satisfy your other chocolate cravings?!  It's health food!'  Well, believe it or not, I crave health food.  It is likely a mental thing because of the constant pressure we are all under to be healthy people, but I do have cravings for healthy snacks, particularly ones that I can snack on for a long time and that are just as chocolaty as solid chocolate bars.  So when I saw the chocolate-covered quinoa, I had to try it to see if it was everything I am looking for.

Turns out, it is!  Admittedly, the chocolate is pretty bitter and very earthy/organic tasting, but I like bitter and earthy, so it works for me. It is totally fun to eat, because the little popped quinoa are so tiny that so you can toss small handfuls into your mouth. Or, you can stretch out the length of your snack time by eating one tiny pearl at a time.  Also, quinoa is considered a complete protein source among plant foods because it "contains a balanced set of essential amino acids for humans".  It is also high in dietary fibre and phosphorus, magnesium and iron. And also, according to Wikipedia, it is gluten-free and easy to digest.  Pair that with organic dark chocolate and you have a very healthy snack.

Elan is a product of Natya Foods Ltd., a Montreal-based company that also sells organic cacao nibs, cacao beans, chocolate chips, and a variety of other organic products.  I bought their chocolate-covered quinoa at Paris Natural Foods in Sudbury, Ontario. Natya's website has contact information so you can find out where Elan-branded products are sold near you.

My not-quite-so-healthy indulgence today was Godiva Chocolatier PEARLS.  I mixed them into my bowl of chocolate-covered quinoa just for fun.  The Godiva pearls are bigger than the quinoa and solid semi-sweet dark chocolate.  So they were significantly sweeter - almost sugary - in comparison. The flavouring is natural, but additives like butter oil and confectioner's glaze (including corn syrup and shellac), make the Godiva pearls less healthy than the chocolate-covered quinoa.  However, it was a nice sweet addition to offset the bitter chocolate covering the quinoa.  My toddler also loved the Godiva pearls - for the taste and because she thought they were little bouncy balls of chocolate (yes, she did try to bounce one on the floor).

Now I am officially feeling buzzed from too much dark chocolate.  Although small "pearls" of chocolate are fun to eat, it is easy to eat too many!  Which leaves me wondering: how many chocolate-covered quinoa pearls does it take to make my "healthy" chocolate snack unhealthy?

For your interest, here are the package details from the two chocolate snacks that I tasted today:

Elan bio perfection 100% Organic 70% Dark Quinoa Cereals, 150 g
Nativa Foods Ltd., Montreal, QC (Canada)
Ingredients: Cocoa liquor, white sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin (non-GMO), Arabic gum and center popped up quinoa (all organic).  May contain traces of peanuts, tree nuts, soy, sesame seeds, milk or wheat. Certified by: Ecocert Canada.

Godiva Chocolatier Pearls (Dark Chocolate), 43g (1.5oz)
Ingredients: Bittersweet chocolate (chocolate liquor (processed with alkali), sugar, cocoa butter, butter oil, soy lecithin (emulsifier), natural flavor, milk), natural flavouring, confectioner's glaze (sugar, corn syrup, tapioca dextrin, shellac).  May contain tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and eggs.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Healthy Chocolate? Endangered Species Chocolate have added Yacon and Açaí for our health...and they threw in some social responsibility too!

After a sugary-sweet Easter weekend, I ventured into my chocolate tasting cabinet today with the goal of finding something bitter and healthy.  What I pulled out was more than that, it was also socially and environmentally responsible too! While on recent travels, I picked up an Endangered Species Chocolate bar with organic dark chocolate and cacao nibs, yacon and açaí.

I tried some small, individually-wrapped pieces of Endangered Species Chocolate in the past, and I can't recall liking it very much.  Mind you, it was years ago and purchased at a health food store where it sat on the counter in the direct sunlight, which may have been the problem. That often is the issue with small retailers - they put their chocolate display in direct sunlight and it messes with the texture and taste of the chocolate from being melted every day at the same time, then solidified again as the evening cools. But when I saw this chocolate bar a few weeks ago in the Chicago airport, I thought I'd give Endangered Species Chocolate another try.

The texture of this chocolate bar is nice.  It has extremely tiny cacao nibs for just a little crunch - which I like.  Some other chocolate bars with cacao nibs are unpleasant when the cacao nibs are too large and I spend most of my time chewing.  This chocolate bar is also a bit on the sweet side for a 70%, where the vanilla is predominant, and there is no real flavour profile to the chocolate, other than the vanilla and a fruity flavour added by the açaí and yacon. There are no chunks of açaí in it, so it doesn't impede the chocolate's ability to melt in your mouth.

There was no shine to the bar, in fact there was a bit of powder on the outside of the entire chocolate bar.  A good snap, but the taste showed that it had been stored improperly (i.e. at the wrong temperature).  This likely was not the fault of the manufacturer, but the retailer or wholesaler, as I mentioned above is a common problem.

I do feel that Endangered Species focuses more on the health benefits and social/environmental responsibility of their chocolate, rather than on the quality and taste of their chocolate.  So if you like chocolate and want to add some health benefits and feel good about your contribution to the environment, but are not trying to be a chocolate connoisseur, then Endangered Species Chocolate is just the chocolate for you.

The health benefits of this particular chocolate bar are the addition of Yacon and Açaí, in addition to the added benefit of antioxidants in the cacao nibs.  The company says that yacon root contains potassium and antioxidants and has an apple-like favour.  Wikipedia says it has floral undertones to its flavour. Açaí, on the other hand, is a small, round "black-purple" fruit that resembles a small grape, but has less pulp. It is native to Central and South America, with Brazil being the main producer. According to Wikipedia, when made into a powdered preparation from freeze-dried acai, it contains 44.2 grams of dietary fiber to 100 grams of powder, and has low sugar value. It is also used as a dietary supplement for weight loss, although there is some controversy to the effectiveness of açaí supplements for weight loss available on the market. What hasn't been contested though, is that it is high in antioxidants, so you are getting a triple blast of antioxidants in this bar from the high cacao content and nibs, the yacon and the açaí.

Endangered Species Chocolate also promotes this chocolate bar as a product that is environmentally and socially responsible. They donate 10% of net profits, it is certified organic, and the cocoa comes from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms. The Rainforest Alliance offers a "family" of marks that companies can apply for and use (if approved and certified) to indicate that their products are truly sustainable and "socially, economically and environmentally". Agrochemicals are prohibited and they do not allow certified farms to "use chemicals listed on the Dirty Dozen list of the Pesticide Action Network North America". The certified farms are also required to use "biological or mechanical alternatives to pesticides whenever possible". This does not just apply to cacao farming, but certification can be achieved by farms that produce about 100 different kinds of crops, like coffee, fruit, tea and many others.

Another way this specific chocolate bar is being socially responsible is the packaging.  Now I'm not saying the packaging is anything special in terms of biodegradable properties, but Endangered Species Chocolate uses both the inside and outside of its wrapper to bring awareness to various issues. On this chocolate bar label, they write about the shrinking habitat (i.e. the rainforest) of the red-eyed tree frog. They also use the packaging to promote recycling and the use of reusable containers for water and coffee, instead of disposable plastic bottles and paper cups.

Overall, I'm not sure that I love the taste of their chocolate, but I do appreciate their cause. In fact, they support organic agriculture, rainforest protection and environmental consciousness, along with being aware of other health concerns that the average consumer may face (i.e. this chocolate is gluten free).

The cost was fairly high (at least where I bought it from) at $5.49 for 85 grams  (3 oz), so more than $5 for a chocolate bar that was not even a full 100 grams. However, the website sells this same chocolate bar for $3.89 US, which is considerably better, but you will need to consider the additional shipping costs when you order online. Do check the website for more info. If you are not into acai and cacao nibs, they have chocolate bars with pecans, maca and goji berries, among other interesting healthy flavour options.  They also offer a milk chocolate bar and a solid dark chocolate bar that are organic. and smaller organic bars with flavours that include peanut butter and milk chocolate, among others. Additionally, they offer a full line of gourmet chocolate confections and a line of all natural chocolate bars with many more flavours. So although I wasn't super keen on the flavour of this particular chocolate bar, I can't write off Endangered Species Chocolate because there are still many more flavours for me to taste and review in the future.

As I always provide at the end of every post, below you will find the key manufacturer details and ingredients from the package of the chocolate bar that I tasted today:

Endangered Species Chocolate Organic Health Dark Chocolate with Cacao Nibs, Yacon & Acai (70% cocoa), 85g
Endangered Species Chocolate, LLC, Indianapolis, IN (U.S.A.)
Ingredients: Organic dark chocolate (*organic chocolate liquor, organic dried cane syrup, *organic cocoa butter, organic soy lecithin, organic vanilla), organic cacao nibs, organic yacon syrup, organic freeze dried acai powder.  Allergens: contains soy.  Produced on equipment that also processes product containing milk, peanuts and tree nuts.
*cocoa comes from rainforest alliance certified(TM) farms.
Certified organic by Oregon Tilth.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Cherry, Chili and Dark interesting "creation" by Lindt with some strange ingredients

Despite having tasted many more expensive and higher quality chocolates over the years, a favourite chocolate bar of mine is a Lindt Creation, specifically the Cherry & Chili 70% bar. For me, it is the ultimate combination of a really great chocolate truffle, a dessert and chocolate bar all in one affordable 150 gram bar. I like the dark truffle, the bitter enrobing chocolate, the hint of cherry sauce and I especially like the after-taste with the heat of the chili warming my mouth.

Although I have tasted this chocolate bar before, someone recently gifted me with a new one. And since I have not blogged about it, I thought today was a great day to do so.  Actually, I woke up craving it this morning, which is the real reason why today was a great day for re-tasting and blogging about it.

Except for the name and overall flavour, I had forgotten other key details about this chocolate bar. After reading the ingredients list today, I was reminded why I had found it so interesting before. Firstly, although "artificial flavour" is on the ingredients list (an ingredient I am not a fan of), the rest of the ingredients are natural. What's funny though, are these natural ingredients.  For instance, why are there almonds in the ingredients list? It is not chunky, crunchy or nutty in any way. There are also hazelnuts listed, but that is a normal ingredient for a creating a smooth, melt-in-your-mouth truffle centre, but almonds are not usually used for that reason. So I ask: what's up with that Lindt?

As for the other ingredients, well seriously, this chocolate bar has the strangest list of ingredients I have ever seen in a bar that is not intended to be a "health food" product. It also includes the following: carrot, grape, chokeberry, chili extract, and the list goes on.  So I find myself wondering: why do they need carrot in this chocolate? I am assuming it is for colouring the cherry sauce, and so I commend Lindt for using a natural source of food colouring.

I usually do not read the ingredients list until after I've tasted and assessed the flavour, so that my opinion is not based on prior knowledge of ingredients. So after I had eaten quite a bit (and vowed not to eat any more chocolate today!), I read the ingredients for this Lindt bar, and then had to go back and get another piece to see if I could taste the  almonds, hazelnuts, carrot, grape or chokeberry.  I guess it tastes a bit nutty, but it was not apparent when I tasted it the first time.

Regardless of the ingredients list, I recommend that you try the Cherry & Chili Lindt Creation 70% chocolate bar if you like dark chocolate truffles and if you like cherry or chili-flavoured chocolate.  It is about $4.99 and in Canada is available at Shopper's Drug Mart and other Canadian pharmacies and super-stores like Walmart.  I believe pharmacies, like Walgreens, or Walmart is also where you will find it in the U.S.A.

Here are the details (as written on the package) of the Lindt Creation chocolate bar that I tasted today:
Lindt Creation 70% Cherry & Chili, 70% cacao, 150 g
"70% cacao dark chocolate shell with a cherry-chili and truffle filling"
Manufactured by: Lindt & Sprungli AG (France)
Ingredients: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, glucose syrup from wheat and corn, milk ingredients, almonds, cherry, pectin, concentrated cherry juice, hazelnuts, concentrated lemon juice, natural bourbon vanilla bean, soya lecithin, artificial flavour, carrot, grape, chokeberry, chili extract, vanilla.  May contain traces of peanuts.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Vosges Dominican Dark chocolate and Creole Bar with Chicory Coffee

Today I am tasting two more of Vosges Haut Chocolat chocolate bars: the Organic Dominican Dark bar (74% cacao) with "Criollo and Trinitario cocoa bean varietals" and the Creole Bar (72%) with "New Orleans style chicory coffee and cocoa nibs". Although I have a whole range of Vosges bars to choose from in my tasting cabinet, I selected these purely based on how I am feeling today.  I have entered the third trimester of my pregnancy and I still sometimes wake up feeling a bit queasy. Today was one of those days, so I just couldn't imagine tasting Vosges' more adventurous chocolate combinations, like the "enchanted mushroom" chocolate bar, and instead decided that simple and bitter was a better option for me this morning.

I immediately noticed that the Dominican Dark has a very smoky and spicy smell to it. As for it's texture, it is not very smooth and a bit chalky, but in a good way, in the way that it tastes more like finely ground nibs, than smooth chocolate. I like that Vosges states on the package that this chocolate is made with Criollo and Trinitario cacao bean varieties. I hate having to guess at the type of cacao bean used.  I also like that it is organic and labelled as such. In fact, Vosges has been very environmentally conscious with its packaging as well, with the box being made from 100% recycled paperboard. Plus, the cocoa is Rainforest Alliance Certified.

The Creole Bar has a very strong and bitter smell to it, with coffee overtones.  I like the tiny crunchy bits of nibs - they add a nice textural element while still letting the chocolate melt in your mouth. The coffee flavour was not overbearing so you could taste the chocolate.  It has been a very long time since I tasted chicory coffee last, but I was expecting a different flavour from regular coffee.  I was surprised that it just tasted like a normal coffee chocolate bar - although a very good one.
What I like (and don't like at the same time) is the tiny size of these chocolate bars.  I like them because I just was able to taste two different kinds without feeling guilty about how much chocolate I ate. Perhaps that is why it came packaged in a "survival kit" for expecting mothers - they know we need portion control! Because I am pregnant, I now carry more guilt than usual when chocolate tasting.  I used to feel guilty for the sake of my waistline when I tasted too much chocolate in one day.  Now I still feel that type of guilt, but also guilt for the sake of the baby's health.  Although I don't believe that pregnant women should have to stop eating chocolate while pregnant (as some pregnancy-buzz-killers believe), I do think we should not overdo it. So I guess I thank Vosges for making such tiny portions.  However, the cost of these tiny portions is wildly high. This "Mama's chocolat cravings kit" as it says on the tag, has only nine 14 gram (0.5 oz) chocolate bars in it and it cost $25 (US). That's $2.78 per mini chocolate bar.  If you wanted to upgrade to an 85 gram (3oz) bar, you would spend about $8.50 (US) per bar.

So although the cost is very high for Vosges chocolate, I actually did not mind spending the money because the chocolate maker offers such an interesting range of flavour combinations, and what I like to do most of all is experience new taste combinations in chocolate. So for me, it was worth the money spent.

To read about another interesting Vosges flavour combination, check out my review of their bacon & chocolate bars.

Here are the specifics taken from the packages of the two Vosges chocolate bars that I tasted today:

Organic Dominican Dark (Dominican Republic dark chocolate), 74% cacao, 0.5oz/14g
Vosges IP, LLC
Chicago, IL U.S.A.
Ingredients: Dark chocolate (*+cocoa mass, *sugar, *cocoa butter). Chocolate bar contains: 70% coca solids minimum. *Organic ingredients. +Cocoa mass and cocoa butter from Rainforest Alliance Certified(TM) farms.  Manufactured in a facility that handles tree nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, milk, eggs, wheat, shellfish and soy.  Vegan. Gluten-free. Certified organic by Oregon Tilth.

Creole Bar (New Orleans style chicory coffee, Sao Thome bittersweet chocolate cocoa nibs), 72% cacao, 0.5oz/14g
Vosges IP, LLC
Chicago, IL U.S.A.
Ingredients:  Dark chocolate (cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla), 2% chicory coffee, 2% cocoa nibs.  Chocolate bar contains: 70% cocoa solids minimum.  Contains: Soy.  Manufactured in a facility that handles tree nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, milk, eggs, wheat, shellfish and soy. Vegan. Gluten-Free.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Sipping Sundays: flavour your hot or cold chocolate beverage without any effort

Want to whip up a spicy hot chocolate but don't want to try to come up with a recipe? Use a flavoured chocolate bar to make a great hot (or cold) chocolate treat!

I was bored this morning and thought, why don't I go through my chocolate cabinet and see what's in there? So I found three interesting chocolate bars: an unopened  Lindt Excellence Chili Dark chocolate bar, the remains of a Cote D'Or Lemon Ginger bar, and some leftover Manitoulin Chocolate Works Citrus & Spice chocolate (see previous post for more info on these chocolate bars).  These three flavours seemed perfect as hot chocolate flavours, so I immediately started heating up some milk.

For each of the three hot chocolates, I heated one cup of milk in a saucepan and poured it over 40 grams (1 1/4 to 1 1/2 ounces) of solid chocolate.  In order to get it to mix well, start by pouring just a little bit of the hot milk over the chocolate and mix until smooth, then add the remaining milk to your cup.

The Lindt Chili bar is quite spicy, and not very sweet, when you taste it on its own. I like to think of it as less like a dessert or sweet treat, and more like an appetizer because of its spicy profile.  When melted into milk, it makes for a mildly spicy but robust hot chocolate.

The Manitoulin Chocolate Works Ginger bar made a full-bodied and mildy ginger hot chocolate.  For a wintery day in April (yes, it is really snowing here today), it made a perfect winter Sipping Sunday treat. The Cote D'Or Lemon Ginger hot chocolate had mild ginger undertones and a clear lemon flavour.  The bits of crunchy lemon that are in the chocolate bar do not melt immediately, which adds a nice textural element to the hot chocolate.

After tasting each hot chocolate, I put all three cups in the fridge. When they had cooled, I iced each drink and tried them all cold, topped with whipped cream and a straw. The best was the Citrus & Spice, made with Manitoulin Chocolate Works Lemon & Orange Peel with Ginger bar.  It had a smooth mild flavour and was really nice as a cold chocolate beverage.  The other two drinks had not stayed as smooth, with pieces of chocolate and cocoa butter reforming in the drink when they were chilled. But served with a spoon for eating the whipped cream, all three drinks made for a fun way to enjoy some leftover flavoured chocolate.

So if you, like me, are snowed in today and you need a warm pick-me-up, or even if you live somewhere hot and sunny, I hope I've given you new ideas for enjoying your leftover chocolate on a Sunday afternoon!

Here are the package details for the Lindt Chili Dark Chocolate Bar that I tasted today:

Lindt Excellence Chili Dark, "Dark chocolate infused with red chili", 100 g
Manufactured by Lindt & Sprungli AG
Ingredients: sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, milk ingredients, soya lecithin, chili extract, artificial flavour. May contain traces of peanuts, hazelnuts and almonds.

For ingredients and further details on the the other two chocolate bars (Cote D'Or Lemon Ginger and Manitoulin Chocolate Works Citrus & Spice), click here.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Amano Artisan Chocolate, helping us to easily compare single origin chocolate from Madagascar, Venezuela, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic

I was really excited when a small shipment of Amano Artisan Chocolate arrived.  It makes me happy that Amano was willing to ship their chocolate to me here in Canada. Many small artisan chocolate makers in the U.S.A. or countries other than Canada are not usually capable or willing to ship to me, so it is a treat that I have the opportunity to taste and review Amano's products.
Amano is an artisan chocolate producer who makes small batches of handcrafted chocolate. What I like about Amano is that they have focused on perfecting their single origin artisan bars before they moved onto confections, which is easy to see from the long list of awards they have received for their solid chocolate. They have kept their product offering simple and to a minimum, without losing focus on the quality of their products. I purchased the 10 Bar Variety Collection, available on their website, which means I am able to taste the main "bread and butter" of their product line.  I would like to try the limited edition bars and their handcrafted confections, but will save those for my next order.

So today I am tasting four of Amano's signature 70% cacao chocolate bars made from beans sourced at specific origins: the Dos Rios (made from beans from the Dominican Republic), the Madagascar (specifically from the Sambirano Valley), the Ocumare (from Venezuela) and the Guayas (Ecuador).  I like that these all have 70% cocoa solids and have the same number of ingredients (only the origin cocoa beans change), so they are easy to taste all at once and compare the flavour profiles of the beans.  Some artisan producers make their single origin bars with varying sugar amounts, so it is more difficult to compare the flavours from one origin bar to another (i.e. a chocolate manufacturer makes their Madagascar bar with 65% cocoa solids, but their Ecuador bar with 70% cocoa solids). I also like that real vanilla beans were used and there is no soy lecithin, making Amano chocolate as simple as possible for tasting.

I opened Amano's Madagascar and Dos Rios bars first and they couldn't have looked more different from each other.  I was amazed at the contrast between the very dark, nearly black colour of the Dos Rios chocolate bar and the milk chocolate colour of the Madagascar. Don't be confused, there is no milk chocolate in Amano's 70% Madagascar chocolate, it's just that the cacao beans from Sambirano Valley are lighter coloured than other beans. According to the Amano website, they are grown on a single family-owned estate and the beans are very high quality. But the trees are apparently offspring of Venezuelan Criollo trees that were brought to Madagascar at the turn of the century. This may also explain the light colour, since Venezuela is known for its procelana beans, which are distinctly white and produce light coloured chocolate, even when in a 70% chocolate.

I think I could fool a milk chocolate advocate into tasting the Madagascar chocolate bar by showing them its light milky colour. Although it does not taste like milk chocolate, the quality is so high and taste is so mild that I don't think they would mind being fooled into eating this chocolate. The Dos Rios chocolate bar is spicy, and has a bitter profile compared to the milder, slightly citrus Madagascar.

I then opened Amano's Guayas and Ocumare 70% chocolate bars.  The colour of the Ocumare and the Guayas are also light and milky (although not so milky as the Madagascar).  At first taste of the Guayas, I thought there was a very pronounced flavour, but when followed by a piece of the Ocumare, the flavour of the Ocumare seemed so much bigger and spicier.  The Ocumare package specifies "plum and floral notes", but I taste a really spicy semi-ripe plum with a hint of rose petals. I really like chocolate with a lot of flavour, and this is definitely a robust one.  It is easy to see why the Ocumare 70% won a silver in the 2009 London Academy of Chocolate Awards.

The Guayas smell and colour were more similar to the Madagascar, but with a spicier and smokier smell.

I have to say that I enjoyed all of the Amano bars. The one I enjoyed the least was the Dos Rios. The Guayas and Madagascar were my favourites.  So overall, Amano is worth a try if you like fine chocolate.  Also, if you are looking for chocolate with no soy lecithin or chocolate for vegans, check out the ingredients (see below) of the four Amano chocolate bars that I tasted today; you'll see that no soy or milk has been added.  Although if you have a severe allergy, be warned:  they do use the same equipment to produce other chocolate with soy lecithin.

 Here are the package details from the four Amano chocolate bars that I tasted today:

Amano Artisan Chocolate "Dos Rios", 70% Cacao Minimum, Made from Premium Beans from the Dominican Republic, 2 oz (56g)
Amano Chocolate, Orem, UT, U.S.A.
Ingredients: cocoa beans, pure cane sugar, cocoa butter, whole vanilla beans. Our vintage equipment is used to process milk chocolate and chocolate containing tree nuts, peanuts and soy lecithin (an emulsifier).

Amano Artisan Chocolate "Madagascar", 70% Cacao Minimum, Made from Premium Beans from the Sambirano Valley in Madagascar, 2 oz (56g)
Amano Chocolate, Orem, UT, U.S.A.
Ingredients: cocoa beans, pure cane sugar, cocoa butter, whole vanilla beans. Our vintage equipment is used to process milk chocolate and chocolate containing tree nuts, peanuts and soy lecithin (an emulsifier).

Amano Artisan Chocolate "Guayas", 70% Cacao Minimum, Made from Premium Beans from the Guayas River Basin in Ecuador, 2 oz (56g)
Amano Chocolate, Orem, UT, U.S.A.
Ingredients: cocoa beans, pure cane sugar, cocoa butter, whole vanilla beans. Our vintage equipment is used to process milk chocolate and chocolate containing tree nuts, peanuts and soy lecithin (an emulsifier).

Amano Artisan Chocolate "Ocumare", 70% Cacao Minimum, Made from Premium Beans from the Ocumare Valley in Venezuela, 2 oz (56g)
Amano Chocolate, Orem, UT, U.S.A.
Ingredients: cocoa beans, pure cane sugar, cocoa butter, whole vanilla beans. Our vintage equipment is used to process milk chocolate and chocolate containing tree nuts, peanuts and soy lecithin (an emulsifier).

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Las Vegas Chocolate Part 4 - Find a "Multi-Layered" Food & Chocolate Experience at Caesars Palace with Max Brenner and Payard

While I was in Las Vegas, I stopped by a Max Brenner cafe (at the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace).  With four locations in the U.S.A., about 24 in Australia and locations in three other countries, this small chocolate retailer and restaurant chain is growing fast. At the Max Brenner shop, they claim their chocolate culture to be "...the chocolate bar which combines a bar and a shop allowing you to experience your shopping at the bar and shop for your experience at the chocolate shop." Interesting.  I really only experienced the "shopping" part of it.  My friends, who had spent too many late nights partying Las Vegas-style, were napping on a bench outside while waiting for me, so all I had time for was a quick browse of the shop and some purchases to take home.  The attached Max Brenner restaurant had a very yummy looking menu and I wished I could have stayed for a meal and a dessert. However, I simply browsed the shop, asked questions and left with only one box of 100% PURE dark chocolate thins, a small box of four chocolate truffles and a t-shirt that simply says "chocolate is good for you".  I never buy t-shirts while traveling, but this one did not have Max Brenner's name on it and the slogan was on the back, so I thought it would be a fun one to own.

I tried the 100% PURE chocolate thins first, in a 70g/2.45oz package. The artificial vanilla flavour was immediately noticeable.  However, with each piece that I ate, this chocolate grew on me little by little and I soon realized that even though artificial flavouring was used instead of real vanilla, the flavour was subtle and not overwhelming, and the chocolate taste really came through.  What I like most about this chocolate, is that each piece really is "thin" and breaks in your mouth but melts quickly. Each little piece feels like a perfect indulgence and a snack at the same time.

I do have an issue with the "100% PURE" statement that is front and centre on the package.  I feel that, since artificial flavouring is used, it should not be called "100% pure" because the term "pure" evokes the same idea as the term "natural" does. So it gives the buyer the idea that you are buying something made from pure (as in not-modified) ingredients.  Artificial flavouring just does not fall into that category.

Max Brenner's main slogan, "Chocolate by the Bald Man", is a funny one. However, it is just not appealing to me.  I don't mind if the man who makes the chocolate is bald, but since I am a visual person, I immediately pictured eating the chocolate off of this bald man's head.  Yes, I'm weird.  But we are all a little weird in some way, aren't we? I just happen to have instantaneous "Ally McBeal" style visions of everything I read and hear.  I may also have had this vision because there is an illustration on the package of just a bald man's head and some brown scribbles across the bald part of his head, which I think is supposed to be his signature, but it initially looked like streaks of chocolate to me, which only fueled my vision of licking the chocolate off his head. I know, I started with "eating" the chocolate off his head and now I am "licking" the chocolate off his head.  This article is really going downhill quickly, isn't it?

Anyway, moving on to other Max Brenner products....  I bought a small box of four Max Brenner bonbons: a 70% square truffle rolled in cocoa powder, a dark chocolate orange truffle, a raspberry dark chocolate truffle and a simple dark truffle (likely made from chocolate with 50 to 60% cocoa solids). They were all very good, with the 70% being the most interesting, as its centre was like a dense chocolate mousse, rather than a smooth and melty truffle.  The raspberry was a little strange, but the seeds indicated to me that it was made with real raspberries, which was a nice touch.

Overall, my Max Brenner experience was pretty good.  I like the concept of tying chocolate in with food, so you don't have to just buy chocolate there but you can experience it too. If I can ever figure out how to navigate their complicated website, I may be able to figure out how Max Brenner got started.  The chocolate thins package says they are made in Israel, but I found one article online that said Max Brenner started in Australia.  So I really have no idea where the business originated and the website is pretty confusing. But all that aside, if you are looking for a decent meal and a good desert, or chocolate and souvenirs to take home from Las Vegas, check out the Max Brenner at the Forum Shops in Caesars Palace.

A postcard picture of the giant
"truffle-inspired" clock and the
box that held the free truffle
that the machine spit out.
 Another way you can get a food and chocolate co-experience in Las Vegas is at Payard Patisserie & Bistro at Caesars Palace.  Unfortunately there was no one to serve people at the chocolate counter, and the line-up was long at the Payard food counter and my friends were again waiting, so I didn't have time to buy anything. However, we did get a single decadent truffle in a tiny box as a free sample, which came out of the giant egg-shaped machine in the centre of the shop, which, according to the free Payard post-card, is supposed to be a "13-foot tall, truffle inspired shaped Payard Chocolate Clock". To me it looked like a giant chocolate time machine with an Eastery flare. However, the truffle was decadent and traditional-looking (oddly shaped and with jagged edges - I like truffles that way!) and rolled in cocoa powder.  It was dark chocolate, rich and smooth.

The website info for Payard at Caesars Palace is, where you can find out why it is described as a "multi-layered" chocolate experience, also serving a gourmet breakfast, lunch and dinner.  The dessert menu sounds divine. The official Payard website is:

So while in Vegas, if you want an interesting food experience with a sweet-treat twist, check out Caesars Palace for Max Brenner or Payard Patisserie & Bistro.
Here are the details from the package of the Max Brenner 100% PURE chocolate thins that I tasted today:

Pure Dark Chocolate Thins, 70g/2.45oz
Manufactured by Max Brenner, Israel
Ingredients: Chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, artificial flavour. Dark chocolate contains cocoa solids 70% minimum. Allergy advice: Contains soya.  may contain peanuts, milk, nuts, wheat or eggs. Kosher Dairy under supervision of Bet-Shemesh Rabbinate.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Las Vegas Chocolate Part 3 - Ethel M Chocolates' Raspberry-Filled Dark Chocolate Bar

Ethel M Chocolates is a localized chocolate factory and retailer, with eight locations in Las Vegas. It is owned by Mars, Inc. and was founded as a tribute to Ethel Mars by her son Forrest.  They make preservative-free chocolates using her original recipes from way back when she and her husband Frank Mars started making chocolate in 1911.

In a rare circumstance, I bought more chocolate from this retailer for friends and family than I bought for myself (admittedly, I am a little selfish when it comes to buying chocolate).  If I had gone to the 'factory tour' that Ethel M Chocolates has in Henderson, Nevada, I likely would have bought more for myself, but I only just saw one of their retail locations at the airport as I was leaving Las Vegas. So I could only justify spending money on gifts for other people, since my personal chocolate purchases in Vegas had already been so excessive.

For myself, I only bought one chocolate bar: a 39g (1.38 oz) Raspberry Dark Chocolate bar.  If you've read enough of my other blog posts, you'll know two things by now: (1) I can't resist tasting raspberry-flavoured chocolate bars and (2) I love single serving and portion-controlled chocolate bars. This bar had both, so I chose it over the other selections.  I think there was a mint chocolate bar and a few other flavours, but at first glance, I wasn't too sure about the ingredients lists of those other flavours.  The raspberry bar seemed to have the simplest and most natural ingredients, which was another reason why I chose it.

I wasn't impressed with the first taste. I bit into the outer layer of solid dark chocolate and could immediately taste the artificial flavour that had been used in the chocolate.  But as I ate it, I started to really appreciate the taste combination of the chocolate and raspberry cream in the middle.  Unlike the solid chocolate layer, the raspberry cream used all natural ingredients, including a white chocolate that was flavoured with vanilla beans. The raspberry was bitter and smooth, and little seeds got caught in my teeth.  As I've said before, if there are seeds left in your teeth, you don't need to look at the ingredients list to know that real raspberries were used to create the flavour.  And that's one extra point for Ethel M, as far as I'm concerned. By the time I finished two pieces (there were only three pieces to the bar), the flavours in my mouth were a perfect combination of raspberries and smooth dark chocolate. 

If I were to compare this to Godiva's raspberry-filled chocolate bar, I'd say that I preferred the size of this one, and the lack of glucose-fructose as found in the Godiva bar. The flavour is comparable. Be warned though: if you are lactose intolerant, have a milk sensitivity or are vegan, this "dark chocolate" bar is loaded with milk ingredients.

Unfortunately in the airport location of Ethel M, I did not see any of the Artisan Collection of single origin chocolate bars.  If you've read my blog before, you know that solid chocolate bars and particularly single origin bars, are the main focus of my chocolate tastings.  So it is unfortunate that I missed out on this opportunity. Perhaps, if I have some nice friends who are visiting Vegas in the future, they will bring some back for me.

Other things I wish I could have tasted:  the Peanut Butter Indulgence Bars (they are a gift for a friend, hopefully she will share!), the Milk Chocolate Collection ($25/box, also a gift) and the box of the Truffle Collection (also $25/box and a gift for relatives). All I can say is that the Truffle Collection received glowing reviews by the people who I bought it for.

So if you love chocolate and are planning to visit Las Vegas, check out Ethel M Chocolates and be sure to do the factory tour! For store locations, click here:  For more information about chocolate in Las Vegas, see my other Las Vegas Chocolate posts: Part 1 and Part 2, as well as a Sipping Sunday review of Jean Philippe Patisserie's hot chocolate products.

Here are the ingredients and package details from the chocolate bar that I tasted today:

Raspberry Dark Chocolate Bar (1.38 oz/39g)
Ethel M. Chocolates
Manufactured by Mars Chocolate North America (Henderson, NV)
Ingredients: Semisweet Chocolate (sugar, chocolate, chocolate processed with alkali, cocoa butter, milkfat, soy lecithin, natural and artificial flavors), white chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, milk, lactose, soy lecithin, vanilla beans), raspberries, natural flavors.  May contain peanuts, tree nuts, wheat, eggs.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Sipping Sundays - Ginger Bread Hot Chocolate by Jean Philippe Patisserie

So another of my chocolate finds in Las Vegas, particularly at Jean-Philippe Patisserie, was a small range of hot chocolate mixes.  I believe there was a "spiced" hot chocolate mix, and possibly an orange-flavoured one as well, but I chose the Ginger Bread, which was simply spiced with ginger, cinnamon and cloves. 

I whipped up some cream and topped it with a dollop (or three) of really soft-whipped cream.  I made sure to stop the mixer when the whipped cream was very soft, instead of stiff, because when it is soft and used to top hot chocolate, you get a nice foamy layer of cream on top of the hot chocolate.  With stiff-whipped cream, you have to spoon it all off and just eat the cream first before you can drink the hot chocolate, or wait a longer time for it to melt, but then the cold cream cools down your hot chocolate too quickly while you wait.

I can only describe the ginger bread flavour of this hot chocolate as "subtle".  The ginger and cloves are definitely identifiable while drinking it, but it is not overwhelming and mixes with the chocolate beautifully.  Unlike the strong and sweet flavour of a flavour syrup that would be added to your hot chocolate in a cafe, this ginger bread hot chocolate is bitter, rich, warm and mild all at the same time.  Once again, Jean Philippe has given me a true French experience, reminding me of the bitter-rich hot chocolates that I tasted when I spent a year studying in Rennes.

What I also like about this hot chocolate is that it is made from natural ingredients and from high quality solid chocolate that has been ground up, rather than from cocoa powder (see below for the ingredients list).  The ingredients are simple and nothing is 'hydrogenated' or 'modified'.  One of the reasons I bought it though, was because it had whole milk powder in it, so I thought it could be mixed with hot water.  I am always on the lookout for an instant hot chocolate that is natural, and usually the addition of milk powder means that you can simply add the powdered hot chocolate to boiling water, with no need for heating milk (great for using at the office). However, I tried the Jean Philippe hot chocolate with hot water and it tasted a bit diluted. After adding a dash of half and half cream, it was better, although not as good as when made with real milk. 

The only downside, which can't really be helped, is that the chocolate that is ground does not mix perfectly into your hot milk.  There are tiny chocolate bits floating around in the hot chocolate, even when made with boiling water.  However, that is normal when you make hot chocolate from real solid chocolate.  Because the chocolate is not melted slowly and is not usually in temper when you make the hot chocolate, the chocolate particles just can't break down fully.  It still tastes great, but just does not look smooth (see the picture on the right to see what I mean - you'll see the particles left on the side of my mug). But like I said, it still tastes wonderful, so who cares about a few flecks of chocolate left behind?

You can buy one type of Jean Philippe hot chocolate online at: although there are no flavour options available, the ingredients are different, and the cost is higher than what I paid in the patisserie in the Bellagio in Las Vegas ($18 for 616g/22oz). Otherwise, when you are next in Las Vegas, be sure to check out the Jean Philippe Patisserie for this awesome hot chocolate.  It would make a great gift for someone who likes rich hot chocolate or dark chocolate.

Ingredients and other package details:
Ginger Bread Hot Chocolate, 616g (22oz)
Jean Philippe Patisserie
Bellagio, Las Vegas
Ingredients: Chocolate (cocoa nibs, cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla, lecithin), whole milk powder, cornstarch, ginger, cinnamon, cloves. May contain traces of nuts.

For more information & reviews of products by Jean Philippe Patisserie, click here.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Las Vegas Chocolate Part 2 - Bacon and Chocolate, but Who Is Mo?

Thanks to Vosges Haut-Chocolat, I was finally able to experience tasting the flavours of bacon and chocolate at the same time! I've actually been thinking about bacon and chocolate for a while now, ever since a night a few years ago when I was sitting around with a few friends and talking about how chocolate-covered bacon would be a cool product idea (this was after a few drinks, of course). We thought we'd make millions.  But of course, someone else is already doing it, and that someone is Katrina Markoff, owner of Vosges. And she's doing it in a classy way.  Her chocolate bars, called Mo's Bacon Bar and Mo's Dark Bacon Bar are solid bars of dark and milk chocolate combined with bacon. These are not just slabs of bacon that have been dipped in chocolate coating.  Katrina has put a lot of thought into choosing her star ingredients, using Applewood smoked bacon pieces and a hint of Alderwood smoked salt to mix into a 100 gram chocolate bar.  The milk chocolate bar was released first, then after a few years of recipe testing, the dark chocolate bar was launched.

While at the Vegas location of a Vosges boutique, I bought one of each the dark chocolate bar and the milk chocolate.  I am still undecided as to which I like better.  I always gravitate towards dark chocolate, so I started with it.  I ate half the bar in one sitting.  Truly it is a great tasting chocolate bar.  Bacon and dark chocolate...who knew? I can see why it took Vosges a little while to develop the dark chocolate bar, as I am sure that just any dark chocolate could not be used.  A correct flavour combination was needed to create the right experience.  They have chosen to create a bar with 62% cacao solids, with 48% cocoa solids in the dark chocolate and 30% cocoa butter.  The vanilla flavouring is also natural. Had it been artificial, it likely would have overwhelmed the smoky taste of the bacon.

The key to tasting a Mo's Bacon Bar is to smell it before you eat it. With both the milk chocolate and the dark chocolate versions, they smell simply like smoked bacon, rather than chocolate.  But what is interesting and rather contrary to what you might think after smelling them, is that they taste more like chocolate with a hint of bacon.  I like the chewy soft bacon pieces as well.  Just as the chocolate flavour melts away, the bacon flavour takes over.

The milk chocolate bar is fantastic as well.  It really melts in the mouth and for some reason, when I eat it, I think of peanut butter.  It is probably because I associate bacon with breakfast; I always have peanut butter on toast with my bacon when I eat a large breakfast. I once ate bacon and peanut butter together on a burger at The Works in Ottawa, but that's another story (it was a very good burger!).

I highly recommend that you try bacon and chocolate, particularly Vosges version of it. It is natural, high quality and I'm sure can be classified as "fine chocolate".  For me it offered an experience that was positive, and one that I won't soon forget!  I just wish I'd bought enough of them to bring back as gifts for all my family and friends so I can share this experience with everyone I know.

Since Vosges prides itself on creating a sensory experience, I also picked up several other chocolate bars from their boutique with many creative flavours, and I tried an amazing truffle made with aged Balsamic vinegar and some inspiringly rich hot chocolate. I will write more in the future weeks about my tastings of Vosgues' chocolate bars as I work my way through tasting all of them (there are too many to taste in one day!)

Below are the details on Vosgues Haut-Chocolat Boutique in Las Vegas and the package details from the Mo's Bacon and Chocolate bars that I tasted today.  My only question though, which is not answered on the package, is: "Who the heck is Mo?"

Vosgues Haut-Chocolat
Las Vegas – Caesars Palace (Forum Shops)
Phone: 702.836.9866

Mo's Bacon Bar (Applewood smoked bacon, Alderwood smoked salt, deep milk chocolate). 45% cacao, 3 oz (85 g)
Made by:  Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Chicago, IL, U.S.A
Ingredients: deep milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, dry whole milk powder, cocoa mass, soy lecithin, vanilla), 10% uncured bacon (pork, water, sea salt, raw sugar, white pepper, dry juniper berries, celery juice, lactic acid-starter culture), salt.  Deep milk chocolate (45%) contains: 37% cocoa solids minimum, 15% milk solids minimum. Contains allergens: Soy, milk. Manufactured in a facility that also handles tree nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, milk, eggs, wheat, shellfish and soya. Gluten-free.

Mo's Dark Bacon Bar  (Applewood smoked bacon, Alderwood smoked salt, dark chocolate). 62% cacao, 3 oz (85 g)
Made by: Vosges Haut-Chocolat, Chicago, IL, U.S.A
Ingredients: Dark chocolate (cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla), 10% uncured bacon (pork, water, seas salt, raw sugar, white pepper, dry juniper berries, celery juice, lactic acid-starter culture), salt. Dark chocolate (62%) contains: 48% cocoa solids minimum, 30% cocoa butter minimum. Contains allergens: Soy. Manufactured in a facility that also handles tree nuts, peanuts, sesame seeds, milk, eggs, wheat, shellfish and soya. Gluten-free.

Read on for other blog posts on chocolate in Las Vegas:

Friday, April 8, 2011

Las Vegas Chocolate Part 1 - Jean Philippe Patisserie

Making the trip to Vegas was worthwhile for a chocolate junkie like me thanks to the Jean-Philippe Patisserie in the Bellagio hotel & casino.  A "world- renowned pastry chef", Jean-Philippe Maury grew up in the south of France, and has recently opened his patisserie with an impressive array of desserts, crepes, chocolates and pastries.  In fact, the taste of the desserts was so impressive that my husband and I went back for a second tasting! 

The Patisserie boasts the largest chocolate fountain in the world, I believe about 27 feet high and highlights cascading milk, white and dark chocolate.  The milk chocolate was more tan-coloured than chocolaty-looking; I thought at first that it was white chocolate that has been tinted with a little milk chocolate.  But either way, it is impressive that they can keep that amount of chocolate continuously running and presumably in temper the whole time.

As I mentioned above, the menu was vast and delicious looking; I had trouble deciding what to taste and how much to spend.  There were truffles, which I decided not to try (although I'm not sure why I made that decision), but instead picked up an expensive caramel-filled dark chocolate bar and some hot chocolate mix (which I will save for one of my "Sipping Sunday" reviews).  My husband and I also decided to try two decadent cakes.  Being a pastry creator myself, it is always good to try other pastry chef's desserts to learn what else is out there and how much better I can make mine.  And I learned a lot from a simple tasting of Jean-Philippe`s cakes!  My husband selected the triple chocolate cheesecake, which I enthusiastically tasted. It was the smoothest and most indulgent cheesecake I have ever eaten!  In fact, two close friends also tasted it and all four of us agreed it was the best cheesecake any of us had ever tried.  I also tried a dark chocolate mousse cake, which was nearly as dense as a chocolate truffle and very rich.  It was just the type of cake that I, as a lover of dark chocolate and decadent desserts, would like.  The desserts were $6.50 each and worth every penny.  In fact, I might have paid more for that cheesecake!

The chocolate bar, which was simply labelled as `Dark Valrhona Chocolate 66% With Caramel Filling` was very good, but different than your average caramel-filled chocolate bar.  I just tried it a few hours ago and it was quite appropriate for a morning snack because it is not at all sweet. The caramel is not sweet, in fact it is a bit salted I believe (the ingredients list only what is in the chocolate, not the caramel filling, funny...) and the chocolate tastes very bitter, almost a little more bitter than some of the Valrhona chocolate that I`ve tasted.  So if you are not into sweet desserts, but rather savoury and salted caramel, then this bar is for you! Also, if you are into single-origin bitter chocolate, you will probably also like this chocolate bar.  I liked it and the combination in my mouth was smooth, slightly creamy and bitter with a coffee-like after-taste.  Be warned though - it was $9.50 for a 3 oz (100 gram) chocolate bar!

Overall, my experience at the Jean Philippe Patisserie was the best part. By staying at the Paris Las Vegas, we were trying to recreate a few of the memories of living in France, however, the Jean Philippe Patisserie at the Bellagio brought back many more memories for me than Paris Las Vegas` restaurants, pattiserie and boulangerie did. The croissants fell short at the Paris Las Vegas, as did the savoury crepes which were made with white flour instead of buckwheat as they are in France.  At Jean Philippe Patisserie however, the savoury crepes were made with the correct flour and looked wonderful, and the pastries looked divine.  In fact, I think it would make more sense if the Paris Las Vegas housed the Jean-Philippe Patisserie, but I suppose that since the Bellagio made Jean Philippe their Executive Pastry Chef, it sort of gave them the rights to house his patisserie at their hotel and casino. Comparatively, Jean Philippe's pattiserie and his products were more French than any of the cafe's and Boulangerie's at the Paris Las Vegas hotel.  So if you are looking for a real French experience while in Vegas, head over to the Bellagio and have a savoury crepe or pastry. There is also a second Jean-Philippe Patisserie at Aria Las Vegas on their casino level open daily 6:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.  For more information, check the Jean Philippe website at:

I really enjoyed the chocolate mousse at Jean Philippe Patisserie at the Bellagio in Las Vegas!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Las Vegas and Chocolate - an unusual vacation combination

I just got back from a week in Las Vegas and like any "normal" chocolate-obsessed person, I spent a good part of my vacation seeking out the best chocolate in Las Vegas! I know that Vegas does not typically come to mind when you think of places to buy good chocolate, but I can find chocolate anywhere I go!  I brought a lot back with me to restock my chocolate tasting cabinet.  The photo on the left is most of the chocolate that I brought back on the plane.  Um, hmm...does it seem like I bought enough or should I have bought more?

I'm sure you can tell what my next few blog posts will be like. So get ready, because over the next week or so, I will be writing several reviews of Las Vegas chocolate. Tomorrow I will start with a review of chocolate by Jean Philippe Pattiserie.