Friday, January 28, 2011

Looking for fine chocolate for home baking? High quality chocolate chips are not easy to find, but worth the search.

Let's talk about chocolate chips today.  I had not used a lot of them in the past because the grocery store brands are filled with artificial flavouring and too sugary sweet.  And sometimes the no name brands are altogether not made of chocolate (watch out for some of the chocolate chips at bulk food stores, be sure you are buying real chocolate! i.e. real chocolate is made with real cocoa butter, not oil).  So I am always on the lookout for high quality chocolate chips at a decent price.  In my business, I normally use Camino organic chocolate chips because they have a high percentage of cocoa content, are organic and Fair Trade focused, and are all natural.

However, when I was at Homesense before Christmas, I found a brand of chocolate chips I had not yet come across: Guittard Real Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips, in a 340 g (12 oz) package. These are made with real vanilla, and although they are not certified organic, they are all natural, made with only five ingredients (sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, soya lecithin and real vanilla).  According to the Fine Chocolate Industry Association, these ingredients make up `fine chocolate`, so these chocolate chips can be put into that category.

As for taste, they are smooth, sugary sweet like most chocolate chips are, and just taste like a normal chocolate chip.  How do they hold up to the commercial grocery store brand? I tried some Chipits "pure" semi-sweet chocolate chips just  after I tasted a Guittard semi-sweet chocolate chip, and the Chipits was less smooth, almost grittier and super sweet. And of course, what's in the Chipits chocolate? Sugar, unsweetened chocolate, cocoa butter, milk ingredients, soy lecithin and artificial flavour. Milk ingredients are not a problem, only that they are not needed in a semi-sweet chocolate chip, so why the heck are they there?

Guittard also makes a milk chocolate chip in a 326 g (11.5 oz) package.  What they don't say on the packaging though is that they are jumbo-sized chocolate chips. They are about two- to three-times bigger than the Guittard semi-sweet chips.  Overall, these are very tasty.  They somehow taste like a Hershey's kiss, but have better ingredients and are all natural (ingredients include: sugar, milk, cocoa butter, chocolate liquor, soya lecithin and real vanilla). I have already used them in baking and I think these are fantastic. 

So if you are looking to use fine chocolate in your baking, instead of the grocery store brand, I recommend that you try Guittard chocolate chips. In Canada, I bought mine at Homesense, but you can also order online!

If you are looking for an organic brand, check out the Camino products.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Nativa Organics Dark Chocolate - sweet, smooth and just right

Today I am tasting a Nativa Organics Dark Chocolate bar sold exclusively at Shoppers Drug Mart's across Canada.  Unfortunately, I have to admit that I have limited information on this chocolate today.  I opened the package a few days ago and tasted one piece of this chocolate, then decided to save it for another day.  I left the wrapper off and my husband, being the neat freak that he is, threw out the wrapper.  Thankfully, I had taken a product picture before opening the package, but I can't provide the ingredients in this post, or any other information from the package.  I can tell you that it is a simple dark/semi-sweet chocolate in the 50-60% cocoa range, it is organic and in a 100 gram package.  I have tried to find the nutritional information on the web, but unfortunately it does not seem to be posted anywhere (other than a photo and name of the product). So the next time I get back to Shopper's Drug Mart, I will update this post and add that information.

What is nice about this organic chocolate bar is: it does not taste like a traditional organic chocolate bar.  I find that most organic chocolate has a distinct, earthy or woodsy flavour that overwhelms the chocolate flavour.  This bar is chocolaty and sweet.  In fact, it is a very sweet dark chocolate, without being sickeningly sweet as some dark chocolate can be.  I would use this in a recipe for a semi-sweet chocolate truffle or for ganache (cream & chocolate) for a cake topper.  It's just the right sweetness for that sort of thing, because I think it would please most palates (i.e. people who like both dark and milk chocolate).

This Nativa chocolate bar would also be great on a dreary rainy day when you need an afternoon chocolate wake-me-up.  It has a sunny and happy feel to it.

Shoppers Drug Mart first started offering its line of Nativa Organics a few years ago.  I have tried several of the 170 organic products that they launched, and so far all of them have been good products. Their snacks for kids are particularly good, and the kind you can feel good about feeding to your children.  For Canadians, I highly recommend that you check these products out at a Shoppers Drug Mart near you. It is a great way to support Canadian business and support Organic food products!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sipping Sundays in Snowland - hot chocolate with an energy boost for dreary winter afternoons

What did you say that ingredient was? Organic lucuma? And what were those other ones? Organic mesquite and guarana?  Isn't mesquite a smoke flavour? Maybe I shouldn't be drinking this afterall....

That's right folks, it is Sipping Sunday again!  That is my new name for a winter afternoon weekend hot chocolate treat.  I seem to always be making or tasting a new hot chocolate on Sunday afternoon's this winter, so I thought I'd give this weekly ceremony an actual name. This week I decided to try a powdered hot chocolate made by Essential Living Foods from Santa Monica, California. I bought it at a chocolate event last Fall and haven't gotten around to opening the package yet. But today seemed like the right day to try it.

So back to the strange ingredients in this chocolate drink mix. It is advertised as a "stimulating superfood" with "energy boosting guarana". So, not knowing what guarana is, I thought I would look it up. According to Wikipedia, studies have shown that it can make you feel full for longer, and it has positive antioxidant effects.  Wikipedia also says that guarana contains about twice the caffeine found in coffee beans, "about 2–4.5% caffeine in guarana seeds compared to 1–2% for coffee beans". Oops. I guess I should have looked that up before I drank it a huge cup of it, since I am pregnant and supposed to be minimizing my caffeine intake! I guess one day of of too much caffeine isn't too bad, but I should be more careful from now on. Now I am a little worried about what Wikipedia will say about the other strange ingredients in this hot chocolate.

Lucuma aparently has high levels of carotene, vitamin B3 and other B vitamins, according to Wikipedia. It has the flavour of maple and sweet potato and it is most commonly used as a flavouring in ice cream products.

Wikipedia also says that mesquite adds a sweet and nutty taste and in powdered form, it is high in calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and zinc and the amino acid lysine.

So combined with organic cocoa powder, I can see how lucuma, mesquite and guarana make a tasty and healthy energy drink.  And tasty it was.  Although it was not a sweet hot chocolate that most people are accustomed to, it was slightly nutty and had a rich cocoa flavour. Overall, I liked it. It is perfect for a day when you do not want something sweet, but you still want something chocolaty.

I topped my hot chocolate today with some frozen whipped cream (freezing it prevents me from having to whip a new batch every time I want to top a cup of hot cocoa) and shavings of the remaining piece of a Valor milk chocolate bar.  Yum!

Also, I should mention that this chocolate drink mix need not be enjoyed hot, it can also be enjoyed cold and with or without milk (use water or soy for a vegan version of this drink!).

Here are the full details on this product:

Stimulating Superfood Chocolate Drink Mix with Energy Boosting Guarana, Organic, 312g (11oz)
Made by Essential Living Foods
Ingredients: organic coconut sugar, organic raw cacao powder, organic lucuma, organic mesquite, organic guarana, organic vanilla, himalayan sea salt. Manufactured in a facility that processes tree nuts.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Chocolate and Wine....or is it Chocolate and Coffee? Decaf please!

Today I am tasting something really special.  Well, I thought it was going to be a really special tasting when I bought the chocolate, but then quickly learned that I would not be able to enjoy it in the way it is intended, for a very long time!  What am I talking about, you may wonder? Here's the deal: I found a variety pack of BRIX Bites, a brand of chocolate that promotes its product as "chocolate for wine".  It has three varieties of chocolate, each with a wine listed on the front that you can pair it with.  Since most people do not know what type of wine to pair with the various categories of chocolate, I think this is a great idea.

I've had my eye on this chocolate for a long time, wanting to buy it and have a wine and chocolate tasting session with family or friends.  But I always looked at each "brick" in the Chapters gift section and thought, "ugh, it's too expensive, maybe another time" (I spent $13.99 on this variety pack for 170 grams). I thought about buying it as a gift for my sister-in-law, who would definitely appreciate it and possibly invite me to her tasting session, but then she got pregnant, so wine was out for awhile.  So in September I found myself exhibiting at a chocolate tradeshow, and at the booth next to mine, there was this box of BRIX variety pack for sale.  I finally couldn't resist and bought it, dreaming about the three bottles of wine that I was going to buy and the wonderful tasting session that I was going to have. 

The very next day, I learned that I was pregnant.  This wasn't a huge surprise, since my husband and I were trying to become pregnant, but I didn't think we had been successful that month, which is why I had bought the chocolate & wine pairing chocolates.

So I have this wonderful box sitting here on a shelf, and every time I open the cupboard and see it, I think about how long it will be before I can hold my chocolate and wine-tasting session.  Since I nursed my first child for a year, and could not drink alcohol during that time, I have realized that I am looking at an almost two year wait to have my chocolate & wine-tasting session!

So I've given up and decided to just taste the chocolate sans wine.  It'll be okay (or so I am trying to convincingly console myself).  If I like the chocolate, then I can treat myself in two years to another BRIX package and three bottles (oh heck, or six bottles!) of wine. And perhaps I can live vicariously through my readers.  If you want to try BRIX, perhaps you can have your own tasting and try this chocolate with the recommended wine pairings, then send me some feedback on your pairings.

I have started my tasting with the BRIX milk chocolate first. The package says it has 40% cacao and that it should be paired with a Pinot Noir, Port or Rose. Each piece is only 7 grams, which is great for a wine/chocolate tasting session.  In fact, it's great for any chocolate tasting session, because the remaining pieces stay fresh for your next tasting. Plus, it's good for portion-control, if you are concerned about that.

In tasting it, it is obvious that it has a high percentage of cacao solids. It also isn't overly sweet, but nice and creamy.  The flavour is good and tastes like it is made with single origin beans because there are strong (but nice) flavours in the chocolate itself.  Actually, the package claims the beans are specifically from Ghana. I like that they have used single origin beans here - it justifies the price and makes me feel like I am really tasting something of substance (as opposed to chocolate made from a variety of beans where all the bean's origin flavours have been blended out).

The 60% chocolate also has a nice strong smell to it - fruity and sweet with no overly woodsy or burnt odours. It's not that smooth.  And I'd say it tastes a little too sweet for a 60%.  Since "sugar" is listed as the first ingredient (meaning it has more sugar in it than any other individual ingredient by weight), that indicates to me that there is less cocoa butter than many other 60% bars.  That explains why it does not seem very creamy or smooth. This may be what the manufacturer wants though, since this chocolate is supposed to be paired with a Merlot, Shiraz, or Zinfandel (red).  Merlot and Shiraz are slightly sweeter wines, which would compliment the sweetness of the dark chocolate.

Finally, I am tasting the BRIX 70% Extra Dark, which is supposed to be paired with a Cabernet Sauvignon, one of my favourite types of wine, particularly when it is very dry and very bitter. (A dry old vines Zinfandel is my other favourite, in case you are interested.)  Based upon smell, this smells like a very, very sweet 70%. It doesn't taste quite as sweet as it smells though and it lacks vanilla flavour.  That is fine with me, but I'm unsure what the "natural favours" are that listed on the package, since vanilla is normally the flavour added to chocolate. Overall, it is a good chocolate made from flavourful beans.  I could see how it might compliment a glass of Cabernet. 

As you may be able to tell by now, when pairing wine and chocolate, you should always pair the sweeter wines with sweeter chocolates (for instance, sparkling white wine with white chocolate or milk chocolate with white wine), and darker, dryer wines with bitter chocolate (semisweet 59-64% with a Merlot or Beaujolais, bittersweet 70% and above with a Cabernet Sauvignon).

Since I could not have wine with my chocolate, I opted for a decaf coffee and did a little pairing of my own.  I re-tasted each of the BRIX milk, 60% and 70% chocolates with a Bridgehead Espresso Roast Decaf coffee and found that the milk chocolate was okay with it, but the 70% dark chocolate went the best with the coffee.  The flavours of each the chocolate and the coffee were enhanced, whereas the 60% chocolate changed the flavour of the coffee to something not so tasty.  The same general rules go for coffee and chocolate pairing as for wine - that is, the darker & more bitter the coffee, the darker & more bitter the chocolate to taste with it.

So although BRIX chocolate was not the best chocolate I have ever tasted (the milk chocolate was the best of the three and superior to other milk chocolates that I've tried), BRIX is a fun and innovative way to enjoy chocolate.  I think the manufacturers have done a great job to market this product, and to give us an easy and reliable way to pair wine and chocolate. I am excited to go through this tasting again in the future with actual wine! Only one year and seven months to go, but who is counting?

On a side note, the coffee I mentioned above is from Bridgehead, a small coffee chain in Ottawa, Canada.  They focus solely on fairly traded, organic and shade-grown  coffees from small-scale farmers.  I think they are great and their coffee is tasty.  It is a fantastic alternative to Starbucks, if you are organic- and fair-trade-conscious, and their coffee flavour is just as strong as Starbucks. They care about the environment overall, and if you are in the Ottawa area, they offer a great atmosphere to sit and enjoy your coffee.  Check out their web site and order online.  Their Espresso Roast is full-bodied, as are many of their other coffee bean varieties. If you are in one of their cafe's, try their chocolatine's (chocolate croissants), they are fantastic and in traditional French-style.
Here are further details on the BRIX variety pack that I tasted today:

BRIX BITES, chocolate for wine, 170 grams
Made by: BRIX Chocolate, Rutherford, CA
Milk chocolate ingredients: sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk, chocolate liquor, soy lecithin, and natural flavours. 40% cacao. Pair with: Pinot Noir, Port, Rose.
Medium (60%) chocolate ingredients: sugar, chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, milk fat, soy lecithin, and natural flavours. 60% cacao.  Pair with: Merlot, Shiraz, Zinfandel.
Extra Dark (70%) chocolate ingredients: chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, and natural flavours.  Pair with: Cabernet, Bordeaux.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Chocolate with Lemon and Ginger - a tasty combination!

I live on Manitoulin Island, a rural but beautiful area in Northern Ontario, and I often shop at one of our only chocolate retailers: Manitoulin Chocolate Works.  This store is very busy with tourists and locals all through the summer and fall months.  It is so popular because of the large and unique selection they offer.  They not only bring in other brands of chocolates and chocolate bars, they also make their own chocolate creations.  I will often buy one of their flavoured chocolate bars in order to taste it against a commercial or imported chocolate bar with a similar flavouring, to see how it holds up against the brand name stuff.  I am doing that very kind of chocolate tasting today, with the focus being on ginger and lemon flavours combined in chocolate.
Today I am trying the Manitoulin Chocolate Works Citrus & Spice chocolate bar. Immediately, I can see this is for people who like large pieces of dried or jellied ginger. In fact, it is more like a snack than a chocolate bar because there is such an abundance of large ginger pieces.  I taste a lot of ginger, but not so much of the other spices and I can sometimes taste the orange, but not in every bite. Occasionally, there is a large enough piece of chocolate to taste and savour the chocolate flavour, but otherwise it’s more chewy and focused on the ginger pieces. When you can taste the chocolate, it is sweet and dark (56.8%) with a nice flavour.
Overall, I enjoyed it.  The ginger pieces may have bothered me at one time in my life, but I’ve recently grown to appreciate pieces of ginger for snacking.  However, if you are someone who does not like jellied fruit or ginger pieces, then this chocolate bar is definitely not for you.
The other chocolate bar that I am tasting today is the Cote D’Or Lemon Ginger chocolate bar.  What I love about it is the smooth and creamy centre, which is not only tasty, but great because it is made of chocolate truffle (rather than a sugary filling), and it has very tiny crunchy pieces, which adds nice mini bursts of lemon flavour as you chew.  The focus of this bar is on the lemon flavour. The ginger just blends in really nicely creating a full-bodied, spicy, lemony flavour. 
Although the Cote D’Or bar mostly consists of natural ingredients, “artificial flavours” is listed on the back of the package, which is too bad. If you’ve read my blog posts before, you know I am all about natural ingredients.  So I commend Cote D’Or for keeping this chocolate mostly natural, but I would prefer if they did not use artificial flavouring at all.
On a side note, if you haven’t tried any of Cote D’Or’s other 150 gram bars with filled centres, they are definitely worth a try.
If you are interested in either of the chocolate bars that I tasted today, here are further details:

COTE D'OR Lemon Ginger Filled Centre (Dark Chocolate Filled with a Lemon and Ginger Centre) 150 g 
Made by COTE D'OR, Imported to Canada by Jacobs Suchard Canada, Don Mills, ON
Ingredients: Sugar, unsweetened chocolate, palm and/or canola oil, cocoa butter, modified milk ingredients, cocoa powder, apple puree concentrate, natural ginger flavour, soy lecithin, lemon juice concentrate, natural and artificial flavours. May contain peanuts, eggs, wheat and tree nuts.

Manitoulin Chocolate Works, Kagawong, Ontario, Canada
Ingredients:cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, soya lecithin, natural vanilla, orange peel, lemon peel, ginger, sugar, glucose syrup, citric acid, sulphites.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Bananas and chocolate, a yummy combination by Theobroma and Valor

We all know that bananas are a staple fruit at any chocolate fondue.  It is also common knowledge that you can put a banana on a popsicle stick, dunk it in melted chocolate, put it in the freezer and you have a great frozen treat. So why is it that we don't we see more banana-flavoured chocolate bars? Well, perhaps that is starting to change.  I recently came across two chocolate bars that combine real pieces of banana into dark chocolate: Valor Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa with Banana and Theobroma chocolat Organic 60% chocolate with Banana Chunks.  Since these are the only two chocolate bars that I have found so far with banana flavouring, I have saved them to taste and compare to each other today.

I have started my tasting with the Valor bar. Normal chocolate tasting sessions should start with the sweeter chocolate, then move to the darker chocolate.  But I have found that, when comparing one dark chocolate bar to another dark chocolate bar, if I start with the sweeter chocolate first, the darker bar will inevitably taste too bitter to me in comparison and I find myself favouring the sweeter chocolate. So now, when it comes to flavoured chocolate, I start with the more bitter bar first, then move to the sweeter one so I can assess both chocolates fairly.

The Valor is a nice and bitter chocolate with a sweet banana after taste.  This one is definitely designed for people who like dark 70% chocolate and also like bananas. Banana pulp is used to create the flavour, and fructose has been added as well.

The Theobroma chocolate banana bar is, overall, sweeter than the Valor bar because it is has 60% cacao, versus the 70% of the Valor bar.  Its main difference though, is that there are crunchy/spongy pieces of freeze dried banana in it.  The banana flavour is really subtle, very natural and very nice with the chocolate. 

What I like about both of these chocolate bars is that the banana flavour is real. There is nothing grosser than artificial banana flavouring, and these chocolate bars have none of that - thank goodness.  Artificial fruit flavours are often the reason why many people don't like "banana-flavoured" desserts or beverages.  It is overpowering, too sweet and can turn people off.  If you are one of those people who have been turned off by banana flavoured desserts in the past, I recommend that you try one of these chocolate bars so you can see what real banana-flavourng is like in a dessert or snack.  You may be surprised by how much you like it.

Overall, I like both chocolate bars.  If I were having cravings for something sweet one day, I would choose the Theobroma bar, but if I were in the mood for a bitter flavoured chocolate, I would choose the Valor bar. Also, both chocolate bars are all-natural, which is great.  The difference though, is Theobroma is made from organic chocolate, sugar and bananas, so if you are concerned with eating organically, then this bar is for you. The other plus for Theobroma, is that it comes in a portion-controlled size (35 grams), so if you eat the whole thing in one sitting, you don't need to feel guilty about it!

Now that I've had my banana fix, I'm off to monkey around for the rest of the afternoon.  If you know of any other banana-flavoured fine chocolate bars that you think taste great, let me know at

Here are the stats on the two chocolate bars I tried today:

Valor Chocolates Dark Chocolate 70% Cocoa With Banana, 100 grams
Chocolates Valor S.A. (imported by Valor Chocolates USA, Miami, FL). Made in Spain.
Ingredients: Semisweet chocolate (chocolate, sugar, cocoa, cocoa butter, soy lecithin), sugar, glucose-fructose, banana pulp, citric acid, natural flavor. May contain milk and tree nuts.

Theobroma chocolat banana chunks, 60% cacao, 35 g (1.25 oz)
Vigneault Chocolatier Ltee, Quebec, Canada.  Made in Canada.
Ingredients: cocoa mass*, sugar cane*, cocoa butter*, banana*, soy lecithin. Allergens: contains soybean and may contain nuts and dairy products. *Organic.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

TRUFFLE PIG chocolates are yummier than they sound and come with re-usable packaging too

For the past few days I have been sampling a great little box of chocolate truffles with a unique branding.  The chocolates are called TRUFFLE PIG by Hagensborg Chocolates Ltd., a company based in Burnaby, BC.  Although my blog posts usually centre around solid chocolate bars, I couldn't help but buy this box as soon as I saw it, because it is unusual to find an all-natural packaged chocolate truffle.   If you are an avid ingredient reader, like me, then you know that most commercially sold chocolate truffles have a long list of ingredients that usually include hydrogenated oils and other unhealthy additives.  Not the Truffle Pigs though! These truffles contain only seven ingredients: sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, coconut oil, butter oil, soy lecithin, natural flavours.

The packaging advertised that the box contained 4 Dark Truffles and 4 Dark Peppermint Truffles.  Although I think there may have been a slight error on one side of the box because it showed a picture of the peppermint truffle packaging with a label that read "Milk Chocolate Peppermint Truffle".  That may explain why there was such a good deal on these truffles (sale of only $5 for a 92 gram box of truffles!).

Inside, the Peppermint were, in fact, made of dark chocolate and they tasted fantastic.  The peppermint flavour is mild and not overpowering; the dark chocolate flavour still shines through.  The truffle is smooth and slightly creamy, although even at room temperature you still need to let it melt on your tongue for a little bit.  This is normal because truffles made with oils, rather than fresh cream, tend to be a bit "stiffer" as I like to call them. 

The plain Dark Chocolate Truffle Pig was just as smooth as the Peppermint, but a little too sweet for me - it had that flavour of very sweet dark chocolate that many people like, which is just not my preference.  I must have liked it though; I ate four in about five minutes!

What I like about this box of chocolates most of all, is that you can re-use it!  The box can actually be turned inside out, like a reversible sweater, and re-used to wrap a gift.  In fact, once turned inside out, the box looks like a knitted sweater.  Since I am all for environmentally-friendly products, then I give Hagensborg an A-plus in this department for making their box useful even after the chocolates have been eaten.  I will definitely re-use this box to wrap a present for a friend.

The branding on the package also includes pictures of dancing pigs wearing red scarves and hats, which makes it seem so Canadian.  Especially for me today, since I woke up and saw a foot of fresh snow in the yard this morning.

The pig thing is a bit confusing (in addition to the images on the package, the chocolates are also shaped like pigs). I'm just not sure how pigs and chocolate are related, but hey, they taste great and are all-natural so who cares if they are shaped like pigs? The only problem I have with the dancing pigs and the name is that it reminds me that I am a "truffle pig" for having eaten so many at once.

Overall, a big thumbs-up to Hagensborg Chocolates on their Truffle Pig, particularly the mint dark chocolate one.  I have visited the website and now I am truly excited to try other flavours of the Truffle Pig (like Hazelnut and Peanut Butter) and Hagensborg's other products, including their Love Me Raspberry Truffle Frog and most of all, their single origin Wild Boar chocolates. Check it out at:

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Need portion-controlled milk chocolate? Starbucks and Valor can help.

I've tasted Starbucks-branded chocolate bars before, as you may have read in a previous post, but I have never really tried their milk chocolate. So when I recently visited a Starbucks cafe, I impulsively purchased their newest milk chocolate bar.  It only cost me $1.95 and it claimed to be "sourced at origin and artisan-crafted". After reading the ingredients list and seeing that the chocolate was all natural, and given the suggestion that it was made from single-origin beans, I decided to try it.  In the same week, I had also found a Valor Chocolates Milk Chocolate bar in a similar one-serving, snack-sized package size (45 grams).  I thought it would be great to taste these two chocolate bars and compare them today.

I tried the Starbucks Milk Chocolate bar first and fell in love instantly.  There is a nice strong flavour to this bar, and it has that distinct taste of origin chocolate.  The real vanilla is subtle and the chocolate flavour pronounced.  What's more, it has that reminiscent flavour of couverture chocolate, as it seems much smoother and creamier than your average milk chocolate bar, and although the package does not specify, it is clear this milk chocolate bar has a higher percentage of cacao solids than most other commercially sold milk chocolate. Its portion-controlled size is also excellent for a daily milk chocolate snack, if that's what you are into.  As you can tell, I haven't found anything wrong with this chocolate bar!  In fact, I highly recommend it.
Before I even tasted the Valor Milk Chocolate bar, I caught a wiff of the strong smell of artificial flavouring.  Although it soured my image of the chocolate, it did not affect the flavour of the chocolate as much as I thought it would.  The chocolate tastes fine, although there is no distinct flavours lke origin chocolate has. The only problem with this bar is the texture.  It is hard and crispy and lacks the smoothness and creaminess that the Starbucks Milk Chocolate bar has.  On the up side, at 45 grams per package, it likely won't break your healthy eating plan.  Also, the ingredients are fairly simple, with no added oils or other things to replace the real cocoa butter in the chocolate that some commercial milk chocolate manufacturers add.

Clearly the Valor Milk Chocolate bar was developed for more commercial sales, and for people who like plain milk chocolate at a reasonable price (I paid $1.69 CAD for it at Homesense).  It was not intended as a tasting bar for those who want to decipher the individual flavours in the cacao beans. You would have better luck with the Starbucks Milk Chocolate bar if you are into proper cacao tastings.

So today Starbucks has won me over.  If you read my post on their Via chocolate bar, I was not as impressed, but I am back on the Starbucks chocolate bandwagon.  So the next time you need your Starbucks coffee fix, keep an eye out for this great milk chocolate treat right next to the cash register.

Here is further information (taken from the packaging) on the two chocolate bars that I tasted today:

Starbucks(r) Milk Chocolate, 34 grams
"Sourced at origin, artisan-crafted."
Manufactured by TCHO exclusively for Starbucks Coffee Company, Seattle, WA, USA
Ingredients: cane sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, cacao beans, skim milk powder, soy lecithin, vanilla.  May contain traces of tree nuts.

VALOR Chocolates Milk Chocolate, 45 grams
Manufactured by: CHOCOLATES VALOR, S.A. (Spain) and
(Imported to the USA by Valor Chocolates USA, Miami, Florida)
Ingredients: sugar, cocoa butter, chocolate, milk, whey, soy lecithin, artificial flavour.  may contain tree nuts.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

E. Guittard and Cacao Barry couverture chocolate - not just for professionals!

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I had visited a Homesense retail store, in Sudbury, Ontario and made some great chocolate finds in their gourmet food section.  Today I am tasting two of those chocolates (E. Guittard Semisweet chocolate couverture and E. Guittard Bittersweet chocolate couverture), and comparing them to a similar chocolate by another manufacturer (Cacao Barry extra-Bitter Guaryaquil).  If you are not a professional pastry chef, baker or chocolatier, you may not have come across the term "couverture" before.  It is used for chocolate that is of high quality and that has added cocoa butter to assist in creating beautiful looking (and tasting) chocolates, truffles and desserts. You can use it too, if you know where to buy it, and make your home-baked desserts all the more wonderful.

I began my tasting today with the E. Guittard Semisweet chocolate with 61% cacao solids.  It is very smooth and creamy and seems like it has a high amount of cocoa butter compared to other chocolate couverture that I've ried. It has almost the colour of milk chocolate as well - this could be the beans used, the roasting process or possibly the amount of cocoa butter used. Overall, I really like the E. Guittard Semisweet couverture and I'm finding it hard to stop eating it!

When compared to Cacao Barry's Extra-Bitter Guayaquil couverture chocolate (which I always have on hand for my business), you can see just how buttery and creamy it is in comparison.  The Cacao Barry tastes sweeter and crispier, and definitely has that texture and taste like there is more sugar in it than the E. Guittard Semi-Sweet.  Although the Cacao Barry is smooth, it just isn't as smooth and rich as the E. Guittard - like the way a dark chocolate mousse made with a lot of cream tastes, compared to a fat-free chocolate jello pudding...or something like that.

Since I've been using the Cacao Barry Guayaquil for some time, I can say that it is really nice to work with, has a good chocolaty flavour and a perfect amount of sweetness that makes great dark chocolate truffles and beautiful shells for filled chocolates.  I have not worked with the E. Guittard couverture yet.  I have a feeling the cocoa butter content may make it a bit harder to temper, but the flavour would be divine in any chocolate creation.

Now moving on up a % point....

E. Guittard also makes a 72% Bittersweet chocolate couverture for baking (and eating). I've tasted it and again, I think I am in love.  It still has that milk chocolate colour, like E. Guittard's 61% bittersweet.  It is definitely ob the bitter side, but does not have that harsh acidic edge that many dark chocolates in the 70% range can have. Of course, the memory of those acidic and bitter 85% chocolate bars that I tasted the other day may still be lingering, and so this is wonderful in comparison.  It has that smoothness and creaminess of the added cocoa butter and I highly recommend giving it a try.  I imagine it would make very nice extra dark truffles - the kind that do not turn off people who prefer sweeter chocolate because it lacks that acidity and bitterness. I will add a comment to this post once I have worked with the chocolate to let you know how it is for tempering and truffle-making.  I'll throw in a recipe with it.

Overall, I'd say that E. Guittard offers a really nice, smooth chocolate couverture.  It is also great that it comes in wafer form, so no time is wasted on cutting and chopping, and it is all natural.

Here is further information on the chocolate that I tried today:

E. Guittard Bittersweet Chocolate (couverture chocolate wafers for baking & eating), 72% cacao, 1 lb/454 gram package
Guittard Chocolate Company
Burlingame, CA, U.S.A.
Ingredients: cocoa beans, cane sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla beans.

E. Guittard Semisweet Chocolate (coverture chocolate wafers for baking & eating), 61% cacao, 1 lb/454 gram package
Guittard Chocolate Company
Burlingame, CA U.S.A.
Ingredients: cocoa beans, cane sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla beans.

Cacao Barry Extra-Bitter Guayaquil, 64% cacao, 11 lbs/5kg package
Barry Callebaut Manufacturing France / Belgium
Ingredients: unsweetened chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, natural vanilla flavour.  May contain: milk.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Côte D'Or 86% vs Godiva 85% vs Cemoi Desir Noir 85% vs PC Organics 85%

Four chocolate bars in one tasting session can seem a bit overwhelming.  Although it is normal to taste four to six bars in a traditional chocolate tasting session, I find that bars in the 85% and above range to be very bitter and so the prospect of tasting four of them not as appealing as if they were four chocolate bars in the 70% cacao range.  However, now that I've done it, it wasn't so bad.  It just means that I am able to have more self control and limit myself to one piece from each bar.  If they were 70% dark chocolate, I like would have eaten 200 grams of chocolate today!

I also found that tasting four chocolate bars gave me a great basis for comparison - better than if it were only two bars.  You see, two of the brands in this tasting had artificial flavouring, and two had natural and real vanilla flavouring, so I was able to compare apples to apples and apples to oranges, so to say. The best thing you can do for your palate is to sit down and taste several kinds of chocolate in the same % range that are flavoured with a variety of real and artificial flavours (vanilla extract versus ground vanilla beans versus "flavour" or artificial flavour).  It will help you learn to taste the difference between each.  Ground vanilla beans offers a wonderful subtle flavour to the chocolate, letting you taste the chocolate more than the vanilla.  Vanilla extract also offers a more subtle flavour than artificial flavourings, but has the effect of making the chocolate seem slightly sweeter.  Artificial flavouring tends to overwhelm the chocolate and mask all the flavour of chocolate with strong vanilla flavour.  I used to like this, or at least not notice it, but since I discovered the difference, I now have difficulty eating any chocolate with artificial vanilla flavour.

What I find interesting about the four bars that I am tasting today is that the two European chocolate bars, Cemoi Desir Noir and Côte D'Or, are the ones that use artificial flavouring.  If you read my post yesterday, you'd see that I learned to appreciate natural food ingredients when I spent a year in Europe, so I find it curious that these companies chose the artificial route for their chocolate.  However, it may have more to do with the commercial marketing aspect of the brands, that Cemoi and Cote D''Or are marketed on a larger scale and for a lower price, whereas PC Organics is contained in the Canadian market and Godiva likes to market themselves as being "superior" in quality at a higher price point.

The PC (President's Choice) Organics 85% cacao chocolate bar is by far my favourite of the four bars.  It has that wonderful organic flavour, with rustic and woodsy undertones.  The vanilla extract in it is subtle and seems to sweetened the chocolate compared to the Godiva bar.  The Godiva bar, on the other hand, is much more bitter and a little difficult to take, when compared to the PC bar. It has not so much a vanilla flavour (the ingredients do not say that on the package, just simply "natural flavoring").  It's certainly smooth enough and has a distinct flavour, as the beans are supposed to come from Santo Domingo. 

Although I like the Cote D'Or 70% Sensations bar for it's texture and mouthfeel, I am not keen on the 85% bar under the same brand name.  The artificial flavouring is so overwhelming that is it hard to see past it.  However, for those who don't mind artificial flavouring, it is much less bitter, if not sweeter and more refreshing, than the other chocolate bars compared here today.  Desir Noir is five times the flavouring and it is completely overwhelming.  The chocolate is smooth though and the price was not bad. I recall enjoying Cemoi's flavoured selection of chocolate bars when in France, and would like to try them again someday.

So that's it for this tasting.  I hope you will have learned something from it, whether it be to taste a line-up of chocolate bars containing both artificial and natural flavouring, or to try the President's Choice 85% Organics extra dark chocolate chocolate bar (available at a Loblaws or Loblaws Superstore in Ontario).  Here is some further information on these four chocolate bars that I have tasted today, so you can find out where to buy them if you so desire:

President's Choice Organics(tm) European Extra Dark chocolate, 85% cocoa solids, 100 grams
Loblaws Inc., Toronto, Ontario, Canada (product of Italy)
Ingredients: organic unsweetened chocolate, organic cane sugar, organic cocoa butter, soy lecithin, organic vanilla extract.  May contain peanuts, tree nuts and milk.

Cemoi Chocolatier Desir Noir 85% cocoa Dark Chocolate, 100 grams
France -
Ingredients: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, low fat cocoa powder, soya lecithin, vanilla flavouring.

Côte D'Or Sensations 86% NOIR BRUT, 100 grams
Kraft Foods Belgium
Ingredients (sorry there is no English on this package!): Pâte de cacao, beurre de cacao, cacao fortement dégraissé, sucre, arôme, émulsifant (lécithine de soja). (rainforest alliance certified - whatever that means)

Godiva(r) Chocolatier 85% Extra Dark Chocolate, Santo Domingo, 100 grams
Godiva Chocolatier, Inc., New York, NY USA (Product of Germany)
(I can't believe they didn't put their website on their packaging! Oh well, must be anyway, right?)
Ingredients: bittersweet chocolate (chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin (emulsifier), natural flavouring).  May contain tree nuts, peanuts, milk and wheat.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Chocolate in France, in abundance and sometimes free

Today is one of those days where I wish I were back in France.  I only spent a year there, completing my masters degree, but it had the most profound effect on my life.  It most particularly affected my already existing love of chocolate, modifying and refining my appreciation for dark chocolate. 

Its undeniable effect on my life began on that very first morning that I spent in Rennes, the city where I lived, when I sat and drank a coffee for the first time in a French cafe (I sat because I could not find a cafe in the whole city that would let me take a coffee to go). As my coffee was handed to me, I instantly felt an overwhelming love for French people and for France.  Why?  Well, it is commonly known that the French can sometimes be unwelcoming to foreigners.  Mind you, they are quite welcoming to Canadians, so that wasn't usually a problem for me (unless mistaken for an American, then I was treated poorly and would mention Canada at the first chance I got and would be welcomed once again). But all this had nothing to do with my falling in love with France and its people.  It was that moment when I purchased my coffee and just before handing it to me a small, individually wrapped dark chocolate was placed on the plate next to my cup.  Not only was it dark chocolate, but it had 70% cocoa solids!  I was ecstatic. In Canada or the U.S. at that time (2004), no cafe owner that I had ever met had thought of giving out a FREE piece of chocolate with the sale of a coffee. And if one had thought of it in North America, surely at the time they would have only thought to give out a piece of milk chocolate, because many North American's would have balked at the idea of eating dark chocolate.  Things have changed now in North America, but I'd still think that more than 50% of North American's prefer milk chocolate to dark chocolate.

So I had fallen in love. Not only had I just recently developed a true liking for 70% dark chocolate, I was a student and poor and free chocolate with coffee (coffee being considered a necessity in a student's budget) was the most ideal situation for me.  I then discovered that a free small piece of chocolate was given out with the purchase of coffee at most cafe's in France. And so, I fell in love with France and its people. After all, any people who appreciate dark chocolate enough to give it out for free to the masses are top in my books!

During my time in France I spent many hours in grocery stores, tiny shops and chocolatiers' shops looking at, thinking about and purchasing chocolate.  It was so readily available and the grocery stores had entire aisles devoted to chocolate.  It was also advertised regularly on television as being a healthy part of a child's breakfast because it added magnesium to their diets!  I was completely in heaven.  Finally I was in a place that understood me! I didn't want to leave, but family and language barriers caused me to come back to Canada, and live where chocolate is not so much savoured or appreciated.  Well, at that time anyway.  I believe things have changed since then, and we now appreciate dark chocolate and quality ingredients much more here in Canada.  Our selection has grown at the grocery stores and specialty shops and availability of fine chocolate online has also increased since 2004.  So I am much happier now about my chocolate shopping prospects - my shopping time is just spent on the computer rather than in actual stores.

But sometimes I miss the streets of Rennes, and all the other cities that I visited in France and their abundance of chocolate shops. It seemed to me that there was one on nearly every street corner.  So on days like today (nostalgic days), I wish I was there, and I imagine what wonders I would find with my now improved palate for chocolate tasting. I hope I can revisit it soon and taste my way through the country.

Other ways that France changed my life:
  • I learned to appreciate and love strong, dark roasted coffee
  • Smoked salmon, scallops, cream sauce, pizza with cream sauce, pasta with cream sauce, meat with cream sauce, savoury crepes and flourless chocolate cakes
  • Learning to sit and enjoy a good coffee (not taking it "to go")
  • The wonderful discovery of eating foods made with natural ingredients (e.g. creme fraiche which has only cream as its listed ingredient, rather than sour cream which has all sorts of additives)
  • Learning that Belgium and Switzerland are not the only places that make great chocolate - where they excel in milk chocolate, France excels in dark chocolate.
  • Wine - both the expensive and the unbelievable affordable stuff, after all, why should I settle for having juice or pop with my dinner when I could have wine that costs less? Just wish that was the case here...
  • I spent months trying to perfect the "Pain au Chocolat" as it tasted to me in France and I am now a mean baker of French pastries as a result.
I am sorry there is no chocolate bar tasting today.  Tomorrow I will be tasting four different brands of 85% - 86% dark chocolate bars.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Oranges and chocolate, a fruitful combination

Both the flavour and smell of an orange always causes a mixed reaction.  Many a person cannot stand to be in the same room as a freshly peeled orange, particularly when that person is not the one who peeled it.  The acidity and strength of its smell can turn a stomach in an instant. For others, a freshly peeled orange evokes the fresh smells of springtime, thoughts of vacationing in Florida or simply a refreshing breakfast in a sunny kitchen nook.

The same mixed reactions are revealed when presented with any combination of orange and chocolate.  Many people who love this combination can not often have it, because their spouse or friends will instantly balk at the mere suggestion of a chocolate-orange truffle cake.  I know at least one such couple, and surely if I were to bring home an orange-chocolate dessert, my husband would likely refuse to eat it.

However, the orange-chocolate lover can always indulge by oneself, in a flavoured chocolate bar.  Of course, there has always been the milk chocolate orange that is intended as a stocking stuffer at Christmas time, which is marketed as a fun thing to eat because you can bang it on the table to unveil its "slices".  But there are also many orange-infused chocolate bars on the market, including several environmentally friendly and "healthy" options.  Two of these, available at least in the Canadian market, are Green & Black's Organic brand (also available in the U.K. since its manufacturer is based there) Maya Gold bar with 55% cocoa solids - a chocolate bar with both orange and other spices.  The other that is readily available at health food stores and grocery stores these days is Camino Orange Dark Chocolate with 65% cocoa solids.

As you may have guessed, I am tasting both of these chocolate bars today.  I have eaten both in the past, however, never at the same time.    Now that I am tasting them against each other, I realize where my preferences truly lie.  I always thought I loved the Maya Gold by Green & Blacks, but that is not proving to be the case today.  When compared to the Camino bar, the Maya Gold is chalkier and much sweeter.  Mind you, I do like the additional spices that Green & Blacks has added to this bar - a nice twist on traditional "Mayan" spiced chocolate where orange has been added to the heat of the spices. I also like that it is certified organic chocolate. But I offer a warning to anyone who eats dark chocolate because of a lactose or milk allergy, Green & Blacks Maya Gold does contain whole milk powder.

The Camino Orange bar is smooth and full-bodied in flavour, and I think that even those people who may not like orange and chocolate combinations may like this bar. The orange is not overpowering and there are no chewy candied orange zest bits that some manufacturers add to their chocolate bars (which can sometimes be nice, and at other times be unpleasant depending on the texture and bitterness in the candied orange).

To anyone who has read my blog more than once, hopefully you are are not tired of my regular comparisons of Camino (formerly known as Cocoa Camino) to other quality chocolate bars, but in my defense, I do have a large supply of these bars on hand regularly (being a reseller of their chocolate and customer of Camino because I use their organic couverture in my desserts and confection products).  I also find their chocolate to offer a good comparison to other chocolate bars since they have a great range of flavours and because they offer the point of view of organic and fair trade. But I am replenishing my supply of fine chocolate bars every day from around the world and will soon be out of Camino flavours to taste and so, will be tasting other brands.

All that said, if you are one of those people who like orange and chocolate, or are interested in Camino or Green & Black's products, check out their web sites below. Happy New Year!

Green & Black's Organic Maya Gold (Dark chocolate with orange spices), 55% cocoa solids, 100 grams
Green & Black's Ltd., London, England
Ingredients: organic cocoa mass#, organic raw cane sugar#, organic cocoa butter#, soya lecithin, natural flavouring: fruit & spice extracts (o.1%), organic vanilla extract#, organic whole milk powder. #Fairtrade ingredients total 99%. Contains milk and soya ingredients. May contain traces of nuts & cereal. Suitable for vegetarians.

Camino Orange Dark Chocolate, 65% cocoa solids, 100 grams
La Siembra Co-operative, Ottawa, Ontario CANADA
Organic ingredients: cocoa mass*, golden cane sugar*, cocoa butter*, whole cane sugar*, orange essence, ground vanilla beans*. *Fair Trade certified. may contain traces of nuts, peanuts, soy and dairy products.
Contains 99.9* Fair Trade Certified (R) ingredients by dry weight.