Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Diaries of a Girl Gone Dark and Bitter: The final tasting

Dear Diary, it is Day 31 of my month "unsweetened". After today, I no longer have to follow any rules about how sweet my chocolate is. Yay! But for now, I have one last extra bitter tasting...

Today I received one last shipment of chocolate.  In the shipment was a Costa Rica 91% Cacao chocolate bar by Theo.  And yesterday I happened to find a Lindt Excellence 90% in a store outside of my town (I forgot that Lindt had a 90%.  Had I remembered, I would not have jumped right up to their 99% two weeks ago!).  And since it is the final day of January, I have just enough time for one last comparative tasting of very bitter chocolate in the over 90% range. So since my month of going "dark and bitter" is literally almost over, these two chocolate bars made it in just in the nick of time, because I do not think I will be tasting 90%+ dark chocolate for several months at least.  Come tomorrow, I need a sugar fix!

I believe this is my first-ever tasting of Theo Chocolate. According to their packaging and their website, this bean-to-bar American chocolate maker believes in doing good things for the environment and for the Costa Rican cacao farmers that they purchase their beans from. In addition, they believe in preserving ecosystems, particularly in protecting the survival of birds and other wildlife. So I had decided that I liked their chocolate even before I had tasted it.

Theo`s 91% chocolate bar has a strong, bold smell: spicy, fruity and rustic all at the same time. There is a strong overall organic smell about it as well. The chocolate texture is very smooth and the flavour is rustic and strong, but unfortunately, there is also a hint of mold flavour.  The chocolate bar is just fine and well within expiry, so the mold flavour likely comes from a moldy bean (s) in the batch when the chocolate was made.  I do not get upset about this sort of flaw though, since I have found the same mold flavour in a Michel Cluizel bar before and it was just a problem specific to that bar or batch of bars. I am still enthusiastic about tasting other Theo chocolate bars.

The Lindt Excellence 90% chocolate bar did not make me cringe like Lindt's 99% bar did.  However, I find there is far too much vanilla in it, which is overpowering the chocolate flavour. And I would rather eat chocolate with chocolate flavour.  However, I am very happy that Lindt used a natural Bourbon vanilla flavouring, rather than vanillin or other artificial flavouring. And of course, their chocolate is as smooth as ever.

To compare Lindt's 90% chocolate bar to Theo's 91% bar, I would have preferred the overall flavour of Theo's to the  Lindt bar, if it had not been for the mold flavour.

What is interesting after tasting only 99% and 100% dark chocolate for the last week, I can now taste the sugar in the 90% bars.  That little difference in the bitterness level seems like a big difference to me now.  I could not really taste the sweetness in dark chocolate (70% and over) before as I can now.  So I find this an interesting change for me.

Well, this is the last day of my month 'unsweetened' and I am a little bit sad that it is over.  It does not mean that I will stop tasting very dark chocolate, but it does mean that I have freedom of choice as of tomorrow.  And since I love 70% dark chocolate, I think I will break open a bar tomorrow, maybe even a Theo Chocolate bar.

I still have some recipes and a tasting of unsweetened baking chocolate that I did a few days ago to write about this week. After that, it will be back to all sorts of chocolate, including milk, dark, white and whatever kinds I can get my hands on!

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

Lindt Excellence 90%, 100g 3.5oz)
Lindt & Sprungli SAS (France), imported by Lindt & Sprungli (Canada) Inc.
www.lindt.com
Ingredients: cocoa mass, cocoa butter, fat-reduced cocoa, sugar, natural bourbon vanilla bean.  May contain traces of peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, milk and soya lecithin.

Theo Costa Rica 91% Cacao Pure Dark Chocolate, 3 oz (84g)
Theo Chocolate (Seattle, WA, USA)
http://www.theochocolate.com/
Ingredients: cocoa beans (Costa Rica)*+, sugar*+, cocoa*+, ground vanilla bean*.
*Organic +Fair Trade Certified "Suitable for vegans.  Manufactured on shared equipment with products containing milk, eggs, wheat, peanuts & other nuts.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Proud to be 100% Canadian

I have a new reason to be a proud Canadian this week: Soma chocolatemaker.  If you have read my recent posts and product reviews, you know that I have been tasting only the most bitter chocolates this month.  I worked my way up from +70% dark chocolate in the first week of January to +80%  dark in the second week. And these last two weeks I have been tasting only 90% to 100%.  Though initially grossed out by unsweetened chocolate, I am now used to it. In fact, I found a favourite last week: the Pralus 100% chocolate bar with its strong roasted caramel flavour and top quality Criollo beans. Then suddenly, along came Canadian chocolate-maker Soma and their Arcana 100% chocolate bar. Soma has given me a new favourite and has completely changed the way I view unsweetened dark chocolate.

I put in an order for several Soma chocolate bars last weekend, and by mid-week I had Soma's 100% Arcana bar in my hands, shipped directly from their shop in the Distillery District of Toronto.  I opened the very cool silver wrapping and could instantly smell the difference: a rich rustic hot-cocoa smell that told the story of the wonderful flavour experience that I was about to have.

I immediately noticed what this chocolate did not have: the bitterness and acidity that can make you cringe in other unsweetened chocolates.  Bonnat 100% had the cringe factor, as did Lindt 99%, but Pralus and Michel Cluizel had minimized that bitterness in their darkest chocolate bars. Soma exceeded expectations and created a soft, melt-in-your mouth unsweetened chocolate that is surprisingly easy on the palate. I actually found it difficult to stop eating it, in order to save some for later.  But I somehow did stop myself and have now managed to taste the Soma Arcana 100% bar each day for three days, after which, I still feel the same way.  As you can tell, I cannot say enough good things about this chocolate bar.

Here are the facts: Soma's Arcana 100% is made from a blend of criollo and forastero beans from four different origins: Bolivia, Hawaii, Haiti and Madagascar, as specified on the chocolate bar's package (this may be a new blend as the online catalogue says the origins are Ghana, Ecuador, Papua New Guinea, and Madagascar, see for yourself at: http://www.somachocolate.com/pdf_files/SOMA%20product%20list.pdf). This 45 gram bar costs $5.50 Canadian and can be purchased in store or by e-mail.

Soma is Canada's finest bean-to-bar chocolate maker (and one of the very few bean-to-bar chocolate makers in the country) and they offer a very fine selection of chocolates.  I have tasted many of their truffles at Soma's retail location in Toronto, and particularly enjoyed their 8-year old Balsamic truffle. If you are ever in Toronto, it is worth a visit to their store, or check them out online at http://www.somachocolate.com/SOMA_home.html.

Stay tuned for more reviews of Soma chocolate bars in the coming weeks, as I bought several to try! I will also be including a couple of Soma's chocolates in a gift basket of bean-to-bar chocolate makers for an upcoming contest. So please stay tuned for details on that contest, coming in February.

Here are the package details from the wonderfully Canadian chocolate bar that I tasted today:

SOMA chocolatemaker (100% cacao solids), 45g
Distillery District, Toronto (Canada)
Ingredients: cacao beans. "All natural ingredients, junk-free. May contain trace amounts of nuts, dairy, soy & gluten."

Monday, January 23, 2012

100% Dark Chocolate Reviews: Extra Fine, Unsweetened and French too!

It is my final week of being A Girl Gone Dark and Bitter and I have gone completely unsweetened this week. So what have I been tasting to pass the time? Well, I started the week with two French chocolate heavy hitters: Bonnat 100% and Pralus 100%.


So here is how it went....
I tried the Bonnat and Pralus bars first on Sunday. I absolutely cringed when I tasted the Bonnat 100% bar.  Two weeks ago, I tried Bonnat's Puerto Cabello 75% chocolate bar and loved it so I was surprised that I did not love Bonnat's 100% bar. Although there is a lot of flavour in it, it is so acidic that it is difficult to eat. On the first tasting, I could not stop myself from cringing every time I put a piece in my mouth. On the second day of tasting (Monday) I found it less acidic and I noticed a different kind of flavour: a roast, almost burnt flavour. Not a burnt flavour in a bad way though, just like the smoke from a campfire, which made it sort of interesting. The texture of it is very nice (smooth and soft), although not as smooth and melty as Bonnat's Puerto Cabello chocolate bar. 

As for Pralus 100%...the first words that came to my mind were “rustic caramel".  It is also so light in colour that it might just be caramel. I never thought that I could like a 100% dark chocolate bar, but I do now thanks to Pralus. In addition to the caramel flavour, it also has a smoky and slight burnt flavour. As opposed to the Bonnat chocolate bar, the 'burnt' flavour in the Pralus bar seemed more like it was roasted slowly to the point of caramelization.

The difference between the Pralus 100% bar and all the other chocolates that I have tasted in the 99% and 100% range clearly has something to do with the roast and a lot to do with the beans.  By the second tasting, I had to stop myself from eating the whole thing.
When I got bored of eating the chocolate directly, I did what I call "The Hot Chocolate Test".  I took out the remaining Lindt 99% bar that I tasted last week. I heated up 1 cup of whole milk (3.25% MF) and put 1/4 oz of each kind of chocolate (Bonnat 100%, Pralus 100%, Lindt 99%) in three espresso cups. I poured 1/3 cup of hot milk over each piece of chocolate.  The milk sweetens the chocolate just enough to make it more palatable and easier to taste.  It also gives me an idea of how the chocolate will taste in another product (baked good, hot cocoa, truffle, etc.).  I stirred each and the results were interesting:   

-As you can see from the picture to the left, the Lindt 99% turned out a very dark coloured hot cocoa compared to the others. It also had the most "cocoa" flavour and tasted much better than the actual chocolate bar did. It would be a good chocolate to use in a recipe as an alternative to Baker's Chocolate.

-The Pralus hot cocoa turned out a drink just as light in colour as the chocolate bar itself.  It had such a nice caramel flavour, but not as cocoa-y as the others.

-The Bonnat bar was not as harsh tasting in the hot cocoa as it had been in the bar, and it also turned out a nice hot cocoa.  I think I would bake with this but not eat it directly.


So that is my "Hot Chocolate Test".  For me, it is a great way to see the chocolate that I have tasted in a new light, and often gives me a completely different view of a chocolate that I had disliked, or liked. It also brings out new flavours in the chocolate that I did not detect when tasting the chocolate directly.

If the chocolate had been sweeter, I might have made water-based truffles, which I often do (I'll try to post my recipe for a water-based truffle soon).  It is a good way to taste the true flavours of the chocolate and lighten the caloric content, while still treating yourself with a wonderfully smooth and creamy way to taste fine chocolate. Check out this great article on someone else who is doing water-based ganache tastings in the U.K.:  http://www.seventypercent.com/2011/12/damian-allsop-water-in-the-equation/.

I may still make some water-based truffles or regular cream-based ones this week with the remaining French-made chocolate bars.  Also, stay tuned, I am waiting for two more 100% dark chocolate bars to arrive in the mail this week!  But for now, here are the package details on the chocolate that I wrote about today:

Le Pralus 100% Criollo, 100g (3.5 oz)
Chocolaterie Pralus s.a.s. (Made in France)
http://www.chocolats-pralus.com/
Ingredients: Cocoa*, cocoa butter*. Cocoa solids 100% GMO free product. *Organic product, certified by ECOCERT. May contain (peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat, soya) and/or all their derivatives.


Chocolat Bonnat 100% Cacao, 100g (3.5oz)
Chocolaterie Bonnat (Voiron, France)
http://www.bonnat-chocolatier.com/
Made in France
Ingredients: Cocoa, cocoa butter.


Additional Comments:
I like to read other online reviews after I have tasted the chocolate, to gain other insights and see what other people thought of them. I found these two other online reviews interesting because of their opposite reactions to the Bonnat and Pralus bars:

1. The reviewer at Chocablog had the exact same reaction to Pralus 100% (liking it) in 2008 and also to the Bonnat 100% chocolate bar as me: http://www.chocablog.com/reviews/bonnat-100-cacao/ cringing with each bite of Bonnat!
2. The review at http://onegoldenticket.blogspot.com/2011/02/review-michel-cluizel-noir-infini-99.html was just the opposite. These bloggers liked the Bonnat 100% better than the Pralus 100%.

Perhaps you, whoever you are reading this, will have a completely different favourite 100% chocolate bar.  Please feel free to share yours in the Comments area below, I would be interested to hear about others.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

99% Dark Chocolate, Only for the Dark and Very Bitter!

Diaries of a Girl Gone Dark and Bitter, Day 22


All week long I have been tasting 99% dark chocolate. You might ask "Why on earth would you do that?" or at least that is what I am asking myself. So I re-read my "What is a Chocolate Connoisseur" post and try to remind myself to think long-term and the benefits that will come of all this bitterness. 

After a few days, this super-dark-and-almost-completely-unsweetened-except-for-1% chocolate became edible. After three days I almost started to enjoy it. Although I am not converted yet, I have one week to go of tasting only the bitterest of the bitter (I am moving on to 100% dark chocolate next week), so perhaps in a few days, 99% will seem like the sweetest chocolate in the world.

Because I live in a small community in Northern Ontario, it takes a lot of planning before I can spend a week tasting only one specific type of chocolate. I have to order online a few weeks in advance, or even buy a few months in advance when I am visiting a larger city. Unfortunately, I thought I had planned ahead by asking for 90% to 100% dark chocolate bars for Christmas, and I received some, but clearly not enough to make great comparisons during a two-week tasting period. I only had two chocolate bars on hand in the 90% range: Lindt Excellence 99% and Michel Cluizel NOIR INFINI 99%.  But on the upside, it gave me the time to taste these chocolate bars every day and really evaluate them, without too many to saturate my taste buds.  

When I put that first piece of Lindt 99% in my mouth (as I mentioned in one of my previous posts), I did not think I was going to be able to spend two full weeks tasting chocolate this bitter. Then I tasted the Michel Cluizel, and everything started to change. Well, at least after the second day of tasting, when I started to get used to the extreme bitterness of 99% chocolate.

After four days of tasting, my comparative assessment is this:

Michel Cluizel is more palatable. The smell is wonderful. There is a crunch every now and then, which is maybe the vanilla bean flecks (see below for the ingredients list). You can smell the vanilla more than you taste it. And the ginger, cinnamon, Bourbon vanilla pod is not noticeable, except that there is a slight spicy taste to the chocolate. After all, how much spice can there be in 1% of the chocolate bar?
The smell of the Lindt chocolate bar fools you. You think it is gong to be sweet, wonderful chocolate, then the bitterness hits you like a tonne of bricks. Although the pieces are very thin, it is still very harsh on the palate and there is a strong flavour of both real and artificial vanilla, even though there is no vanilla or flavour in the ingredients list (this is presumably because it is made at a factory that also makes chocolate with vanilla flavour and the aroma is so strong that it is affecting the flavour of the 99% bar). 
Don't get me wrong though, the Lindt 99% bar is still beautiful looking and as smooth as all other Lindt Excellence bars are.  But compared to the Michel Cluizel, it is just not in the same league.  And at a price of $4.95* for only 30g (1.05 oz) of Michell Cluizel, the Lindt Excellence bar, at about $3 or $4 for 50 grams, is definitely not in the same price range. The Lindt bar may be better suited for use in a chocolate ganache recipe.
 (Do not be confused by Lindt's packaging for their 99% bar, the chocolate inside the package is really thin, but the box size is exactly the same as Lindt Excellence 100 gram chocolate bars).
So I begin my last week of going "dark and bitter" tomorrow where I will be tasting the Pralus 100% and Bonnat 100% chocolate bars, and possibly a few others by the end of the week (I've been ordering online!).  Hopefully I will be used to all this bitterness come January 31st!

Here are the package details of the two chocolate bars that I tasted this week:

Michel Cluizel NOIR INFINI 99% Dark Chocolate, 30g (1.05 oz)
Michel Cluizel (Paris, France)
http://www.cluizel.com/
Ingredients: cocoas, cane sugar, ginger, cinnamon, Bourbon vanilla pod. May contain traces of shelled tree nuts, milk and gluten.

Lindt Excellence 99% Dark Chocolate, 1.8 oz (50g)
Manufactured by: Lindt & Sprungli S.A. (France)
Imported by: LINDT & SPRUNGLI (Canada), Inc, (Toronto, Canada)
http://www.lindt.com/
Ingredients: cocoa mass, cocoa powder, coca butter, brown sugar.  May contain traces of peanuts, hazelnuts, almonds, milk and soya lecithin.

*Canadian $$ at http://www.atasteforchocolate.com/.

Want to Know More about 99% or 100% dark chocolate?
Check out this post on Zotter's Peruvian 100% dark chocolate bar, which has become a favourite of mine since I wrote this post on Lindt and Michel Cluizel.  Also, Soma's Arcana chocolate bar is quite tasty, and takes sugar-free chocolate to a whole new level. And there is also this review of Bonnat and Pralus' 100% chocolate bars from 2012.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Brewing up some hot coffee...oops, I mean cocoa

I tried to do something different with chocolate today. Since I have very few chocolate bars to taste for this two-week period in my no-sugar, 90% to 100% dark chocolate plan, I thought I would try something new.

I ground up and brewed cocoa beans as if they were coffee beans!

In case you are confused, a cup of hot chocolate would actually have the cocoa powder in your cup, whereas brewed cocoa beans would just mean that the water would pass through finely ground cocoa beans, but no actual cocoa powder or grounds would be in your beverage.

I have always wondered about trying this and if anyone else is selling cups of hot brewed cocoa in cafes or chocolate shops across North America (or elsewhere). Then I saw a a Google advertisement about Crio Brü (http://www.criobru.com/crio-bru/) which is a line of cocoa bean products that are roasted, ground and packaged for drinking and brewing just like coffee.

So although I plan to order some Crio Brü in the future and write a product review about it, I was too anxious to try brewing my own cup of cocoa today. I pulled out my bag of CACAO POWER (a brand of organic Peruvian cocoa beans I bought at a health food store) from the cupboard and started shelling and grinding and taking notes like it was a Grade 8 science project.  I realized in that moment that I might have done better in the annual Science Project competition as a teenager had I just applied my skills to chocolate science!

The shelling was a messy process. It was difficult to crack the shells with my hands, so I gave in and started cracking them with my teeth (I would not do this if I was preparing it for other people, but since it was just for me, I was not worried about my own slobber infiltrating my brewed cocoa!). Since the bean turns to nibs when roasted, they almost always come crumbling out in bits with the shells mixed in. Which meant that shelling the beans took a really long time and I was beginning to see the benefit of waiting for a shipment of Crio Brü and having someone else do this hard part for me!

Then I looked at my options for grinding.  I have a small coffee grinder, but since it is in use these days for some coffee grinding, I thought it might affect the flavour of the cocoa drink that I was trying to make. I took the Cuisinart hand grinder and tried that. I put all the beans into the grinder and ground for a good ten minutes and it was still lumpy.  So I gave up and took out the coffee grinder, wiping it to ensure it was as free of coffee as possible. I ground up two tablespoons of the cocoa nibs in the coffee grinder. After a minute it was well ground and a little pasty. 

So I made two different cups, one with the lumpy, coarser grounds from the hand grinder, and one cup made from the finer grounds in the coffee grinder.  I used a little one-cup Bodum for the brewing. 

To make the brewed cocoa drink, I did as Crio Brü recommended, and measured out two tablespoons for one "coffee" cup measure (which is 3/4 of a cup or about 6 oz) of hot water.  I boiled the water, then poured it in and let sit in the Bodum with each set of cocoa bean grounds for five minutes. The coarser one was very watery, whereas the well ground one was a little darker but definitely not as dark as brewed coffee. In fact, it just had a watery hot chocolate look to it.

I tried them both "black" with no cream, and I tried them with some half & half cream. I liked it much better with the cream, but really drinking it just reminded me of drinking a very weak coffee, or a hot chocolate made with water instead of milk.

I also added a 1/4 tsp of sugar to the stronger one and found that it suddenly tasted much better (um, of course, everything tastes better sweetened). Since I do not drink my coffee with sugar, I am not sure this would be the best option for me if I converted to brewed cocoa every day. 

Overall it was a little like a weak hot chocolate and I am not sure that I liked it.  However, I did not like coffee as a teenager when I first started drinking it, but now I love it. So I could see how this could easily become a daily drink once I got used to it. There is less caffeine in hot brewed cocoa than in brewed coffee and, according to Crio Brü, you won't get the jittery feeling from drinking too much (although I would have to argue against that since I have experienced the caffeine jitters from too much chocolate! ...although I am a rare case who has been known to consume too much dark chocolate in one day!).

I would like to try a few of Crio Brü's products because they sell pre-ground (I think) single-origin beans.  And not only that, they sell Criollo cacao beans (the best kind of bean) from a few different cocoa growing regions in the world. Wouldn't it be fun to line them up and taste the differences just like a proper chocolate, wine or coffee tasting? I am sure it would be a good experience, and certainly better tasting than brewing up some old cocoa beans that I found in the back of my cupboard!

Well, it is nearing the end of my first week of +90% dark chocolate tasting. I will write a post in the next few days about the chocolate bars that I have been tasting this week and my experience going "unsweetened" for the month of January, so stay tuned!

In keeping with the format of my other posts, below are the package details from the cocoa beans that I tasted today:

CACAO POWER, Mayan Superfood, "Raw Chocolate Beans" 16 oz bag (454g)
NAVITAS NATURALS, Novato, CA (USA)
Product of Peru, Packed in the USA
www.navitasnaturals.com
Ingredients: Organic Raw Cacao Beans

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Diaries of a Girl Gone Dark and Bitter....except for yesterday

Dear Diary,
Yesterday I fell off the Bitter Train and landed right on top of the Sugar Truck.  It went something like this...
Jan 16, 2012, 10:00 a.m. Today was the first day in a two-week stint of tasting only +90% dark chocolate. I didn’t have anything in the low 90’s so I jumped right to 99% dark chocolate. I have only one word to say: YUCK.  I like eating straight cocoa beans and nibs, but something changes when it is made into a chocolate bar with no sugar.  I really hope this gets better tomorrow, and I can get used to eating chocolate with no sugar, otherwise this is going to be a long two weeks and I really will become dark and bitter by the end of the month.
If I didn't live on this damn cold Island, I might be able to get my hands on some 90% and work my way up to 99%, but I guess it is too late for that now.
Jan. 16, 2012, 2:00p.m.  All I can think about is sugar.  When will this month be over?  Oh, I may have eaten a wee bit of cake, icing and milk chocolate when I was slicing some cake today.  This would be easier if I did not own a business that is all about sweets!
Jan. 16, 2012, 3:00 p.m. Crazily searching the place for anything that resembles a sweet snack, but that is not possible. I’ve now eaten popcorn, Rice Krispies and thinking back to last week when I could eat these covered in 85% dark chocolate. I am feeling lost and just want something sweet!  I CAN NOT stop thinking about milk chocolate and After Eights just because I know that I can`t have them for two more weeks.  Is this what it feels like to be on a diet? ...wanting food that you don`t normally eat anyway?  I normally prefer dark chocolate but the prospect of more 99% dark stuff is irking me.
Jan. 16, 2012 8:30 p.m.  I was trying to curb the cravings by making an unsweetened hot chocolate, but because I have to make hot chocolate with soy and tonight I just couldn’t do it (I miss milk SO MUCH).  I gave up on thinking about it and went looking for the leftover box of After Eights.  I ate ¾ of the box!  It looked like an After Eight tornado hit this place, with wrappers fallen all over the couch and the floor.  I asked my husband to hide the rest of the box from me.  Promise to get back on the bitter train for the remaining two weeks of this silly program that I put myself on!
Jan. 17, 2012 8:00 a.m. I think I can do this for two more weeks.  I tried the Michel Cluizel Noir Infini 99% dark chocolate again today and I think I can taste the hint of cinnamon. It does not seem as bad as yesterday. 
Today I will try harder to stay away from the Sweet Truck....the ticket is already purchased for the Bitter Train after all.  If only I could ride it to a vacation in sugar....or Hawaii.  Either would be good with me right now.


Here are some previous entries of my Diaries of a Girl Gone Dark and Bitter:
Day 6 - with recipes for dark chocolate coconut truffle cake with no added sugar
Day 12 - on Day 12 I turned to Bourbon!  Well, Bourbon aroma in chocolate at least...
80% Dark Truffles Recipe from the Diaries
Chocolate Poppers and Chocolate Popcorn Recipes from the 85% dark chocolate diaries



Monday, January 16, 2012

Chocolate Poppers & Chocolate Popcorn: My recipes for extra bitter chocolate snacks!

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been experimenting all week long with recipes made from 80% to 90% dark chocolate. So today I am highlighting several chocolate bars in the 85% range that I tasted, compared, then used to make some extra bitter chocolate snacks.

To begin, here is the list of extra-bitter chocolate bars that I used (with a few tasting notes):

·         Heidi Dark Extreme 85% cocoa, 80g bar - a lot (maybe too much) vanilla but wonderfully smooth.  All that vanilla makes it taste sweet and not like the 85% that it is.
·         President's Choice Extra Dark Chocolate, 85% cocoa solids, 100g - chunky, slightly gritty (sugar is slightly crunchy, maybe this has something to do with not having soy lecithin?) and tangy.
·         Godiva  85% Tasting squares - super smooth, if you like smooth chocolate, this is it. Because it is so smooth and so full of vanilla, it hardly tastes like an 85%.
·         President's Choice Organics(tm) European Extra Dark chocolate, 85% cocoa solids, 100g
·         Côte D'Or Sensations 86% NOIR BRUT, 100 grams – the tastiest of them all! Super smooth and wonderful.
·         Cemoi Chocolatier Desir Noir 85% cocoa Dark Chocolate, 100 grams – tastes like artificial flavour, but smooth texture.
·         Godiva(r) Chocolatier 85% Extra Dark Chocolate, Santo Domingo, 100 grams

For tasting notes on the last three chocolate bars above, see my previous post on these chocolate bars:

Recipes:

Extra Dark Chocolate Poppers

You need:
-3.5 oz chocolate (100g) - I used President's Choice Extra Dark which tasted great on these, I also made a batch with Heidi, and I also used a flavoured 71% chili spice chocolate that tasted awesome. You could also use a sweeter one, like the Lindt Chili bar if you do not want to go as dark as I have
-2/3 cup to 1 cup Rice Krispies

Optional Ingredients:  1/4 tsp chunky sea salt, 2 tbsp cinnamon & sugar mixture, or 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Eat 0.5 oz (about 15 grams) of one 85% dark chocolate bar, then chop or break up the remaining 3 oz (85 grams).  Place in a microwavable safe bowl and microwave on HALF POWER (50%) for 2 minutes.  Take out of microwave, stir until smooth.  Check temperature with the back of your baby finger.  If it is about the same temperature as your finger, it is ready.  If too warm, continue stirring, lift spoon out of mixture to let the air cool the chocolate as you stir. When it cools to the same temperature as your skin, it is ready.  If it is too cool, microwave for 5 second intervals until the correct temperature is reached.

Place Rice Krispies in a medium-sized bowl.  Pour melted chocolate over and stir until Rice Krispies are completely coated. 

Place a one-foot long piece of wax paper on the counter. If adding sea salt, a spice or cinnamon sugar, sprinkle over mixture now and stir. Scoop spoonfuls of the Chocolate-Rice Krispie mixture onto the paper. Place in little clumps and space out so they can cool.  Once cool and chocolate is set place in bowl with an airtight lid or in treat baggies so you can pack snacks to throw in your work lunchbag or to give out as gifts to your dark-chocolate loving friends!



Extra Dark Chocolate Popcorn

You need:
-3.5 oz chocolate (100g)
-Mini bag  (32g or a 100 cal bag) of microwave popcorn - I used the PC Blue Menu Mini with Natural Flavour because the ingredients were the healthiest with no hydrogenated oils, or artificial colours or flavours.  If you cannot find this brand, just use 3 cups of popped popcorn, lightly salted and slight butter flavour. The salt with the chocolate is the best part!
 
Step 1: Pop popcorn in microwave (or in automatic popcorn popper, on stovetop or however you like!). Pour popped popcorn in a medium-sized bowl and set aside to cool.

Step 2: Eat 0.5 oz (about 15 grams) of one 85% dark chocolate bar, then chop or break up the remaining 3 oz (85 grams).  Place in a microwavable safe bowl and microwave on HALF POWER (50%) for 2 minutes.  Take out of microwave, stir until smooth.  Check temperature with the back of your baby finger.  If it is about the same temperature as your finger, it is ready.  If too warm, continue stirring, lift spoon out of mixture to let air cool chocolate as you stir. When it cools to the same temperature as your skin, it is ready.  If too cool, microwave for 5 second intervals until the correct temperature is reached.

Step 3: Pour chocolate slowly over popcorn and stir as you pour until popcorn is coated (it may not be completely coated, but that is okay, it is interesting to look at that way!).

Step 4: Place a 1-foot long piece of wax paper on counter.  Pour popcorn onto wax paper and separate pieces as much as possible. Let cool. Once chocolate is cool and set, place in bowl and put out as a snack for movie night!



Below are the package details from the chocolate bars that I tasted and worked with today:


Heidi Dark Extreme 85% cocoa, 80g bar
S.C. Heidi Chocolat S.A. (Romania)
www.heidi-chocolate.com
Ingredients: Cocoa mass, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, sugar, soya lecithin, vanilla extract.  Cocoa solids 85% minimum.

President's Choice Extra Dark Chocolate, 85% cocoa solids, 100g
Loblaws Inc. (Toronto, Canada)
Made in France.
Ingredients: Unsweetened chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, natural vanilla extract.  May contain tree nuts, milk, egg. soy and/or wheat.

Godiva

President's Choice Organics(tm) European Extra Dark chocolate, 85% cocoa solids, 100 grams
Loblaws Inc., Toronto, Ontario, Canada (product of Italy)
www.pc.ca
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 - www.cemoi.fr
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
www.cotedor.com
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)
www.godiva.com
Ingredients: bittersweet chocolate (chocolate liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin (emulsifier), natural flavouring).  May contain tree nuts, peanuts, milk and wheat.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Extra Dark Chocolate Truffles Made with 80% Dark Chocolate

What can you do with leftover chocolate? 

It may not happen often, but sometimes leftover chocolate can be a pain in the neck.  You spent $4 on a 100 gram chocolate bar, only to discover that it did not taste the way you had imagined it to taste, so you seal it up in plastic wrap and put it in the cupboard hoping that you might like it better the next time you have a chocolate craving. But it just seems like you never get around to eating it again; there always seems to be something tastier to snack on. And that chocolate bar just sits there in your cupboard and calls out to you every time you open the cupboard door. You feel guilty about it and the money you spent on it.  You really should eat it, but you just never do.

Did you ever think that the not-so-tasty chocolate bar might taste great in a favourite recipe?  Well, you can stop feeling guilty now and instead, take that aging chocolate bar out of the cupboard, melt it down and turn it into something yummy!

This week, I did just that. Except that the chocolate was not necessarily bad tasting, it was just that I had too much chocolate for one person to eat!  Since I am on a mission to eat only 80% to 90% dark chocolate this week (find out why here), I have been collecting 80-something percent chocolate bars for a few months. Now I have so many bars to taste this week, I feel like my head is about to explode! So I came up with a plan to consume these chocolate bars in new and fun ways.

All week I have been baking up a storm in my kitchen, making both crunchy and smooth extra dark treats that do not have any extra added sugar, artificial flavours or just plain bad-for-you-stuff.  And now, thanks to all this experimenting, I have a few chocolaty treat recipes that I think are worthy of sharing. Below is an extra dark truffle recipe and tomorrow I will post my own `Chocolate Poppers` recipe for a popcorn like chocolaty snack.

Extreme Dark Chocolate Truffles
Made with Panama 80% dark chocolate, fair trade and organic to boot!

You need:

-One (1) 100 gram 80% dark chocolate bar (see note on chocolate to use below)
-One-quarter cup (1/4) heavy cream (whipping cream)
-One (1) tbsp unsalted butter
-One bar of 70% or 80% dark chocolate (Chili or Mayan spice flavour adds a fun flavour to the truffles) for coating truffle balls

Step 1:  Eat a half ounce of the chocolate (15 grams) and chop the remaining 3 ounces (85 grams) of chocolate.  Place in a microwave-safe bowl if microwaving (see Easy Method below) or in a heat-proof bowl otherwise (see Double-Boiler method below).  Pour the 1/4 cup cream over the chocolate and break up the butter and mix in with the cream and chocolate. 

Step 2:
Easy Melting Method:  Place in microwave for one minute and 10 seconds at HALF POWER (50%).  Take out and stir until smooth.  If not completely smooth, place back in microwave for 5 more seconds only.  Stir again. 

Double-Boiler Melting Method: Place chocolate, butter and cream in a stainless steel or glass bowl and place over a pot of almost-simmering water. Stir constantly until completely melted and mixture is smooth.

Step 3:
When truffle mixture is smooth, place cellophane (plastic) wrap directly on chocolate mixture to seal out any air. Then place a second piece over the bowl entirely to seal for freshness (unless your bowl has a an airtight lid, if so, seal bow with that as it is better for the environment!). Leave out on counter overnight (at least 6 to 8 hours). 

Step 4:  When truffle mixture is set, scoop out spoonfuls and form balls.  If it is too soft to do so, refrigerate for 15 minutes only (because it is a very dark chocolate, if it is refrigerated too long the truffle will be too hard to easily form balls).  Form balls by rolling truffle between the palms of your hands. Wearing clean kitchen gloves will make this easier as it prevents the heat of your from melting the truffle. Place all truffle balls on wax paper and refrigerate.

Step 5: Take your second chocolate bar and chop.  Place in a new, clean and DRY bowl.  Place in microwave for 2 minutes on HALF POWER (50%).  Take out and stir until smooth.  If you cannot get all the lumps of chocolate melted, put back in microwave for only 5 second intervals. If the chocolate feels to be about the same temperature as the back of your baby finger, it is ready.  If too warm, let cool by stirring.  If too cool, warm again in microwave for a few seconds.  Once ready, take a fork and place each truffle one at a time in the melted chocolate, Roll around until fully coated.  Lift out on the fork and place on a piece of wax paper.  Let cool on counter until chocolate is hard. 

Step 6: Eat! Or place in mini cupcake papers or candy papers for a prettier display. Best if eaten at room temperature.  Can be refrigerated for up to 10 days or freeze and consume at a later day (but consume within 10 days of thawing).

Chocolate Notes:

1. I used an Equal Exchange 80% Extra Dark Chocolate "Panama" 3.5 oz / 100g bar (see below for package details for this bar).  But if you have never heard of this because you are Canadian, you can use Camino's Panama 80% bar, it is also organic and Fair Trade certified).  And if you just have a leftover 80% dark chocolate bar in your cabinet (or even a 70%) that is maybe not organic and Fair Trade and is made by an entirely different chocolate company, use that instead!

2. If the chocolate truffles look white and streaky, your chocolate was either too hot or too cold when it hardened on the truffles. Keep practising and you will eventually get this right!  It isn`t as easy as it sounds when you are working with chocolate.

Here are the details from the chocolate bar that I tasted, reviewed and baked with today:

Organic & Fairly Traded Extra Dark Chocolate `Panama`, 80% cacao content, 3.5 oz (100g)
Equal Exchange chocolates
Produced in Switzerland for Equal Exchange (West Bridgewater, MA, USA)
Ingredients: *organic chocolate liquor, *organic raw cane sugar, *organic cocoa butter, *organic ground vanilla beans. *Fair Trade Ingredient.


***
Looking for a Stainless Steel Dipping Tool set for enrobing chocolate truffles?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Diaries of a Girl Gone Dark and Bitter....with Bourbon

Dear Diary: It is Day 12 and I am still dark and bitter, but now I reek of Bourbon too 

Over the last few days, I have been tasting two very interesting bitter chocolate bars that I have been saving especially for this week of +80% chocolate (read here to learn more about why I am only eating +80% this week).  These two chocolate bars were made by Raaka "Virgin" Chocolate and are:

-85% Dark Dominican Republic
-83% Bourbon Cask Aged chocolate

These are small, perfectly portion-controlled bars of chocolate, coming in at just 1.25 oz in size (approx. 35.44 grams). But that is not the interesting fact about these bars.  They are made from bean-to-bar by one company in Brooklyn, New York who cares about using low temperatures and preserving the flavours of the cocoa bean. Which also preserves the flavanols and antioxidants and all that stuff that is considered good for us (giving us a great excuse to eat more chocolate). These are not usually preserved in commercial chocolate manufacturing facilities, where the goal is to make as much chocolate as possible at a rapid rate. So Raaka's chocolate is indeed virgin" in comparison.

Athough I ordered a selection of Raaka Virgin Chocolate bars in December, I have been waiting for just the right moment to taste them. I am glad that I waited until this week, when my taste buds were prepped and ready for Raaka's 85% and 83% bars. Had I tried these chocolates in December, when I had been overindulging in sugary treats, I may have found them too bitter to eat! But my first and subsequent tastings confirmed that this was just the right time for reviewing Raaka's darker side.

What I found in tasting these two chocolates together is the 85% Dominican is smoother and actually almost tastes sweeter than the 83% Bourbon Cask Aged chocolate. The tasting notes on the package include citrus rind, oolong tea, black pepper, and cardamom, but I just tasted really nice dark chocolate that made me forget it was an 85%. Although it is smoother than the Bourbon Cask Aged chocolate, it is still a little bit grittier than your average chocolate bar, but this is because of the minimal processing, which is a good enough reason to me!

As for the Bourbon Cask Aged chocolate bar...what a great idea!  I think the founder's of Raaka really have come up with something genius by aging cocoa nibs in oak bourbon casks. So you just get a slight bourbon flavour with just a hint of alcohol flavour. I also like the mental association with wine that it gives me, since I am a big fan of the method of aging wine for months in oak barrels.

Although I hate to choose, I do like the 85% Dark Dominican Republic chocolate bar more than the Bourbon Cask Aged bar.  The Bourbon is gritty in comparison and leaves my mouth a bit too dry. And with each tasting, I taste the Bourbon flavour more and more. But that said, if I was a Bourbon lover, I think this might be a favourite.  The problem with me is, I've never really liked Bourbon.  Now if the nibs had been aged in some Californian Cabernet Sauvignon oak barrels, it would appeal to me on a whole new level! 

But even though I am not a Bourbon-lover, the experience in tasting this chocolate was quite interesting and I enjoyed trying something completely new to me. I commend the people at Raaka for trying these wonderful and interesting new methods in chocolate making.

I was able to order Raaka online through their website and they shipped to me here in Canada, but they do have one Canadian retailer in Toronto (Pistachio on Yonge Street).

If you are interested in learning more about the chocolates that I tasted today, here are the package details:

Raaka Virgin Chocolate 85% Dark Dominican Republic, 1.25 oz
Raaka Chocolate (made in Brooklyn, NY, USA)
http://www.raakachocolate.com/
Ingredients: organic cacao beans, organic turbinado sugar, organic cacao butter.

Raaka Virgin Chocolate Bourbon Cask Aged, 83%, 1.25 oz
Raaka Chocolate (made in Brooklyn, NY, USA)
http://www.raakachocolate.com/ Ingredients: Organic cacao beans, organic turbinado sugar, organic maple sugar, organic cacao butter.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Different Brands, Same Chocolate.

Can you see the difference? 

Notice anything about the two chocolate bars in the picture on the left?  Do they look alike? The layout on the package, the images, the colour scheme...all very similar.

I purchased these chocolate bars at different times.  One, the Hageland, was tucked away in my cupboard for a few months until I recently came across the Cachet chocolate bar.  I noticed right away that the packaging of the two bars were very similar.  Then I compared them side-by-side.  And I compared the ingredients list and they too are the same (see below for the ingredients lists).  One of the few differences is that Cachet's label was written for the Canadian market and Hageland's was written for the American market (i.e. the word 'flavor' vs 'flavour').


Everything about these two chocolate bars is the same.  The inner foil wrap is the same and so is the chocolate bar mold.  Even the taste is the same.  So my conclusion?  It is the SAME CHOCOLATE sold under different brand names and intended for different markets (i.e. the Canadian vs U.S. market in this case).  The only strange thing is that the description written on the back of the package (about Uganda being the source of the forastero cocoa beans used) is exactly the same.  This indicates to me the same marketing team, which may also mean the same company who made the packaging?  

So what I found on the Internet is that the Hageland trademark is owned by Kim's Chocolates, who also own's the Cachet brand. Although Hageland has a different website entirely and there seems to be no tie to Cachet or Kim's on the Hageland website, I found the name of the trademark owner on Justia.com (http://trademarks.justia.com/776/97/hageland-77697468.html)  that has listings of trademark owners.  I'm not sure why Kim's Chocolates decided to go with a name other than Cachet in the American market.  Cachet is a perfectly good name, but perhaps us Canadians are more used to the pronunciation of a name with a French origin (since a good number of us are part-French Canadian).  Perhaps in the U.S., more often than not it would be pronounced as "catch-it".  It is just funny because our two countries are so close together and there is so much exposure of products from the U.S. to Canada (not as often the other way around), so why not just choose one name and promote the heck out of it here in North America?

The more chocolate that I buy, especially when I am border-crossing to the U.S. (which I have done a lot of in past years), the more I have been finding the same chocolate packaged in different wrappers. Unlike in this case, different companies are promoting the exact same chocolate bars under their own brands, and purchasing the chocolate from the same chocolate manufacturer in Europe - who is kind enough to place each company's outer label on the chocolate bars.   

On the Left: the Hageland Chocolate Bar. 
On the Right: the Cachet Chocolate Bar.
 I am not sure if I feel that this is wrong or right.  Having a degree or two in business studies, I can easily see the business benefits for both the manufacturer and the company promoting the product under their own name. For the manufacturer, it is a great way to get their product on store shelves worldwide, while not having to incur the cross-country/continent expansion costs, develop contacts, worry about labelling requirements, etc. For the company who is marketing it under their own brand, they benefit from not learning the manufacturing process or buying equipment to get that job done.  
My only issue is when I see the same chocolate bars in the same store.  I have seen this once before, where both brands were on display on the same wall, with the exact same line-up of flavours: espresso, mint, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, extra dark chocolate, etc. So I bought a bunch of bars, only to get home and realize as I read the ingredients and pulled off the outer wrap, that they were the exact same chocolate bars.  I think this was an accident and the actual retail-owner had not even realized it. One brand was intended for the U.S. market, and technically should not have been sold in that store. But I, as a consumer, felt like I was somehow fooled. One of the brands, which is a favourite of mine (which is why I am not naming names), well I had always thought they made the chocolate themselves, or at least that it was exclusive to them.  So I was surprised to learn that they were simply outsourcing this to a manufacturer who was also selling the same chocolate bars to other companies. But I have since forgiven them, and have realized that their goal is not to make the chocolate themselves, but instead to promote ethical practices in the world of chocolate.

So all that said, I just thought this was a very interesting topic to bring up.  The next time you open the wrapper of a chocolate bar you have never tried before, and yet it seems oddly familiar to you, keep in mind that you may have actually tasted it before, only under a different brand name. 
As for taste of the Uganda bar by both Cachet and Hageland, it is good.  There is low acidity, which I think might be needed with an 80% since it is so bitter (I am still just getting used to my week of only eating +80% dark chocolate, so low acidity is good). There is also no gross artificial flavour, thanks to Kim's Chocolates for using natural vanilla in their recipe.
If you have found any two chocolate bars that are the same, but sold under a different brand, please feel free to discuss it in the Comments below!

Please stay tuned for a crunchy truffle recipe using these Hageland & Cachet chocolate bars as part of my `month unsweetened` and my Diaries of a Girl Gone Dark and Bitter. I will post it in the next few days.

Here are the details on the two chocolate "brands" that I tasted today:

Hageland Limited Selection "Uganda" 80% Dark Chocolate forastero, 100 g (3.5oz)
http://www.hageland-chocolate.com/
Made in Belgium
Imported by: SCO KOLADEN, LLC (Hayward, CA, USA)
Ingredients: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla (nat. flavor). Chocolate: cocoa solids min. 80%.  May contain traces of tree nuts, peanuts, soybeans, eggs, milk and wheat.

CACHET Premium Belgian Chocolate, Limited Origin Selection "Uganda" 8-% Dark Chocolate, 100 g (3.5 oz)
Imported by: Premier Brands (Toronto, ON, Canada)
Made in Belgium by Kim's Chocolates
Ingredients: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla (nat. flavour). Chocolate: cocoa solids min. 80%. May contain traces of nuts, peanuts, soybeans, eggs, milk and gluten.  

Sunday, January 8, 2012

The Price of Chocolate

Is the most expensive chocolate worth the cost?
When a single 50 gram chocolate bar costs you $18.95 (CAD) you had better like it, right?  How about if it costs $15.95?  Should you like it less than the one that you paid $18.95 for?  And how about if it is only $5 per 50 grams …what then?
These are the questions that I have been pondering this week while I have chowed-down on some very fine chocolate. I was very lucky at Christmas this year and received a package that contained some of the finest chocolate bars in the world, including Amedei's Chuao and Porcelana bars, as well as chocolate bars made by Bonnat, Pralus, Michel Cluizel and Patric. The prices I mentioned above relate directly to the chocolates I received. 
Although I was not supposed to know the cost, I simply went on the web site where my husband purchased the chocolate from (www.atasteforchocolate.com/store/) and looked it up.  It was the 50 gram Amedei Porcelana bar that cost $18.95, the Amedei Chuao bar cost $15.95, Toscano Black 70%  was $8.50 and the Bonnat Puerto Cabello cost $9.99 for a 100 gram bar (i.e. about $5 per 50 grams).
What did I determine from a whole week of tasting these four chocolate bars?  I liked the Bonnat bar the best!  Yet it was the least expensive. I kept asking myself, “is there something wrong with me?” Each morning, for the entire week, I have done as a 'proper' connoisseur should, and waited for two hours after breakfast until my palette is once again clear and ready for a tasting.  I spent the first part of the week tasting only the three Amedei and finding the Toscano Black 70% to be full of robust flavour, the Porcelana to be free of acidity and have the mildest flavour overall, and the Chuao bar to have more intensity with woody and organic flavours. I liked all of the chocolate bars for different reasons, but it was the smooth, buttery and melty texture of the 75% Bonnat Puerto Cabello bar that really got to me.
Despite all the wonderful flavours in the beans, the purity of the cacao trees or the length of the aging process, the texture can have a huge impact on whether or not a person likes a chocolate. I liked all the Amedei chocolate bars – they were smooth and delicate with wonderful diverse flavours.  But as soon as I put that first piece of Bonnat Puerto Cabello into my mouth, I had an entirely new experience.  My husband – who is a self-proclaimed 'hater' of dark chocolate – also had the same instantaneous experience with the texture of the Bonnat chocolate.  He fell in love with it and actually said that he could see himself eating a small piece of it every day.  I was in utter shock. But thanks to Bonnat Puerto Cabello, we finally agreed on something chocolaty; I too could eat this chocolate every day. (go to the end of this post if you want more info on this Bonnat chocolate bar)
I also was lucky enough to hold two tasting sessions in the last week with an awesome “Chocolate Tasting Box” created and sold by A Taste For Chocolate. At $37.95 for the small box, this also did not come cheap! It is actually a bit shocking when you open the box and see how little chocolate is actually in it. But it came in a beautiful package and there was a chocolate tasters guide and a thorough description of each type of chocolate that the box contained. Also, keep in mind the price of the Amedei Porcelana chocolate bar that I mentioned above. This tasting box included six tasting squares each of the following five single origin/plantation chocolates (including Porcelana):
·  Michel Cluizel “Mangaro Noir” 65%
·  Michel Cluizel “Vila Gracinda” 67%
·  Michel Cluizel “Los Anconès” 67%
·  Amedei “Porcelana” 70%
·  Amedei “Toscano Black” 70%
 
The first session was on New Year’s Eve with my sister-in-law.  I’ve mentioned before that she is one of my go-to people when I have some awesome quality chocolate to taste and want another opinion.  The second session was with friends who I know are “foodies” and I thought they would be fun to hold a tasting session with.  It turns out they were perfect for such a tasting, because they could articulate the flavours they tasted almost instantly.  Since I have “mommy brain” this year (yes, it lasts at least a year after delivering a baby…not just during the pregnancy!), I find myself having trouble articulating what I am thinking and tasting these days, so it was nice to have people around who could.

 
I also laughed aloud when I read some of the notes after each session.  “Grassy, as in a cow’s barn” was one, another I cannot write here but it had to do with a “woody” flavour in one of the chocolates (my sister-in-law thinks she is a comedian), and another note, written by my husband, referred to the flavour of the Michel Cluizel Los Anconès as “tastes like zebra” (another comedian in the family).
  
Overall (and more seriously), everyone felt that the Amedei 70% Porcelana had less acidity and less distinct flavours compared to all the other chocolates.  It seemed sweeter, even than the Michel Cluizel 65% and 67% chocolate tasting squares. The Porcelana was also very fine and smooth. 
The Toscano Black 70% was also quite popular - for the opposite reason - because of its robust flavours with grassy overtones and abundant acidity. The three Michel Cluizel`s were smoother than the Amedei`s and melted in the mouth quicker and each had a different flavour.  Although I have a lot of notes on the flavours in these, I will let you determine them for yourself when you taste these chocolates.  But I did notice that I can now tell if a chocolate is from Madagascar (Cluizel Mangaro), with its strong flavour and citrus fruit overtones. It helps that I have also been tasting an Amano Madagascar and Patric Madagascar this week. So I think I might be making progress little by little on this mission to become a chocolate connoisseur.
So was the high cost of these chocolate brands worth it? YES! The money was worth it because the experience was worth it. I had a fun time both tasting the chocolate and researching it. For instance, this week I learned a lot about the rare white Porcelana criollo bean used to make the Amedei Porcelana bar, and about the protected region of Chuao, and how Amedei works hard to come up with new recipes that highlight the wonderful flavours in chocolate. If you are interested, there was a great article in MoneySense magazine a few years ago, which is now online.
I highly recommend trying a tasting box like the one by A Taste For Chocolate, or creating your own tasting  session by selecting up to four different single origin chocolate bars in the same range (i.e. all 65% to 70%). Once you start to taste various kinds of plantation and single origin chocolate, you quickly see that each can have very different flavours from the next.  In fact, it is so similar to wine in that way – each varietal, brand and origin grapes can create very different flavours in each bottle. And eventually you settle on one (or one type) that you like the best, whether it costs $40 a bottle or $8 a bottle.  It depends on your own taste buds, and your history and memories of wine (or chocolate) tasting.
I am quite happy with how this week turned out in my month of going “dark and bitter” (read more about this here). I gave myself something to look forward to each day, even though I was not eating any sugar (other than +70% dark chocolate) and treated myself with some very high end chocolate bars.
Tomorrow I begin a new week in my `month unsweetened` (you can read about this here). I will still not be eating sugar in my regular diet, and I will be moving up from dark chocolate with +70% cacao to chocolate in the 80% to 90% range.  I imagine it may be a little tougher, since I have been used to sweeter chocolates in the last year, but I have another great line-up of chocolate bars to taste in the + 80% range, so I am looking forward to the week.  I also intend to share truffle and other recipes throughout the week on this blog.
Here are the details of the chocolates that I wrote about today:
AMEDEI PORCELANA, 70% (50 g / 1.75 oz)
AMEDEI srl (Pontedera (Pisa) – Italy)
Ingredients: cocoa mass, cane sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla. Cocoa min. 70%. May contain traces of hazelnut, almond, pistachio, walnut, milk.
“Pure cocoa butter. Soya lecithin and gluten free. Without colouring agents and artificial flavours.”
“White, delicate and fine. Earning the name Porcelana…only 3,000 kilos is made a year” (taken from the back of the package).
My notes: What I have learned about Amedei's Porcelana chocolate - after the third tasting - is that it just melts away into your mouth like no other chocolate I've tasted.  It is light, airy and makes me think of Spring time.

 
AMEDEI CHUAO, 70% (50 g / 1.75 oz)
AMEDEI srl (Pontedera (Pisa) – Italy)
Ingredients: cocoa mass, cane sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla. Cocoa min. 70%. May contain traces of hazelnut, almond, pistachio, walnut, milk.
“Pure cocoa butter. Soya lecithin and gluten free. Without colouring agents and artificial flavours.”
“…after a 20-day aging period, this chocolate – unlike any other – continues to develop and improves its acidity and aroma” (taken from the back of the package).
My notes: Robust and acidic but not abrasive.  Smooth, woodsy and lovely overall.

 
AMEDEI Toscano Black 70 (70%, 50 g / 1.75 oz)
AMEDEI srl (Pontedera (Pisa) – Italy)
Ingredients: cocoa mass, cane sugar, cocoa butter, vanilla. Cocoa min. 70%. May contain traces of hazelnut, almond, pistachio, walnut, milk.
“Pure cocoa butter. Soya lecithin and gluten free. Without colouring agents and artificial flavours.”
“…made from a blend of Trinitario and Criollo….traces of tobacco and toasted malt in the background” (taken from the back of the package).
My notes: I loved how strong the flavours are in this chocolate! It is bold, smoky and very addictive.

 
CHOCOLAT BONNAT Puerto Cabello “Venezuéla”, 75% Cacao, 100 g (3.5 oz)
“Dark chocolate from Puerto Cabello 75% Cacao”
“Product of France” (Voiron, France)
Ingredients: Cacao, sugar. May contain tree nuts, milk, eggs and or derivatives.
Packaging is completely in French and the tasting notes are covered by the import label.
My notes: Roast flavours, hickory, toasted marshmallow (mind you, I was toasting marshmallows near this chocolate yesterday, and I thought it was sealed, so it is possible that I accidentally added this flavour to the chocolate myself.  I don`t recall it tasting like toasted marshmallow before yesterday).

To me, it is just the rich, deep brown colour that chocolate should be.  The bar is beautiful, solid-looking in an almost chunky kind of way that is promising you a lot of rich chocolate. The smell is strong and the flavours bold, but palatable. The texture is absolutely addictive.  It tastes like it is always on the verge of melting and is soft on the teeth as you bite in.  I could eat this chocolate every day for the rest of my life!

 
The noticeable lack of vanilla enables you to taste chocolate in its purest form and completely embrace the flavours that are within the bean.