Friday, April 22, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about this new chocolate maker at: or follow them on Facebook:


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

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

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Marigold's Finest, Stoneground Chocolate Made in Toronto

Ontario is the newest hotspot for bean-to-bar chocolate start-ups. I recently told you about Toronto-based Soul Chocolate. Later this week I will tell you about another from Uxbridge and next month, I will be announcing the launch of another newbie chocolate maker elsewhere in Ontario. But today, let's take a look at Marigold's Finest, a new stoneground chocolate maker that just opened last Fall in Toronto. 

Although most craft chocolate is ground by stone rollers, products labelled as 'stoneground chocolate' are generally known to be lightly gritty, reminding us tasters of where chocolate comes from: the cacao bean. Beany and sugar bits can remain in the chocolate and add a nice crunch, and the texture can often become addictive once you get used to it (I've gone through spells where I only crave stoneground-style chocolate, rather than the smooth stuff).

Stoneground chocolate also holds more acidic flavours, because the refining process is shorter than for smooth chocolate. The acidity in the beans is not released through days and days of heat and agitation, which is what happens during the conching process that is applied to the smooth, mild-flavoured chocolate from the grocery store.

Marigold's Finest makes a stoneground chocolate that is nearly smooth, with just a light grit to it. The chocolate maker uses quality cacao grown in different regions of the world, to highlight the unique flavour characteristics of the cocoa bean and its country of origin. I tried a pack of chocolate bars from the chocolate maker's website, which turned out to be a lovely taste discovery. The range of single origin chocolate bars included Trinidad, Costa Rica, and a new one, Nicaragua. There was also a very good Dark-Milk chocolate with 60% cocoa solids, and a unique dark chocolate called Champagne and Strawberries. You can find tasting notes on some of the chocolate bars below.

Marigold's Finest has a storefront, located at 1296 Gerard St. in the East end of Toronto, and is open Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. If you can't visit the shop, don't worry, you can buy online with shipping rates of only $10 across Canada or free on orders over $50.

Tasting Notes on Marigold's Finest Chocolate:
These tasting notes are from just a few of the chocolate bars offered by Marigold's Finest.  For a detailed and current list of all products, click here.

Chocolate Made with Cacao from Nicaragua:

This one is smoother than the rest. I could taste a dark roasted cocoa bean flavour, as well as coffee and nuts (like walnuts and roasted pecans), which made it quite good. I also found a light aftertaste of something like black olives. I thoroughly enjoyed this chocolate bar.

Chocolate bar made with cacao from Costa Rica:

Bright and lightly acidic. To me, it holds the flavours of mandarin, dried apricot, toasted grains, nuts and roast. Very interesting origin.

Dark Milk 60%:

Rustic, more so than the others. Bright flavoured and sweet for a 60% dark milk, and my experience with stone ground chocolate shows that the sugar stands out a little more when the chocolate is not ultra smooth.  Maybe a bit fruity, with a slight sour cream taste.

Tastes similar to the homemade milk chocolate that I've made with home refining equipment (so of course, I really like it). 

Champagne and Strawberries:

There is no Champagne in the product, but the effect is achieved with popping candy.  Also, freeze-dried strawberries are sprinkled on the back. I thought this might have been a milk chocolate, but in fact, it is 72% dark chocolate.  The popping candy is lightly sprinkled on the back, so if you want the full effect, you must put the side with the sprinkled candy on it tongue-side down. It would be nice if there was more popping candy inside the bar of chocolate to ensure every piece 'popped', but it is a fun combination nonetheless. 

I am looking forward to tasting new creations by Marigold's Finest as they pop up, like the new Coffee & Cream bar announced on social media earlier this month.

Want to learn more about Ontario-based and Canadian bean-to-bar chocolate makers? View the entire list of them here.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Three Ways to Use One Delicious Chocolate Recipe: Dark Chocolate Semifreddo

A few weeks back, I picked up the March issue of bon appétit Magazine. The main reason I bought it was for a chocolaty recipe that I saw on page 36: Dark Chocolate Semifreddo.  I've made many chocolate mousse recipes before, but this sounded a little different, and the magazine described it as an "airy" mix between "frozen chocolate mousse and gelato." I was sold.

In the weeks since, I made this recipe six times. I've served it as a frozen mousse, in a cookie-crusted chocolate and caramel pie, in chocolate shot glasses, and as a gelato of sorts with toppings and inclusions. Since I have enjoyed it so much, I wanted to share my excitement by not only directing you to the recipe, but also giving you new recipes to change up the way you serve dark chocolate semifreddo. See below for three great ways to make it.

Dark Chocolate Semifreddo (Frozen Chocolate Mousse) Recipe:

This is what you'll need:
  • 6 oz of 70% dark chocolate (use 50% to 60% if you must, but I like it dark)
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract (1 is okay if you are using a chocolate with vanilla already in it)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt (or kosher, as per the original recipe, but any salt is fine)
  • 2.5 cups whipping cream, divided into 1.5 cups plus 1 cup
  • 3 large egg whites, room temperature
  • 2/3 cup sugar
Plus: A candy thermometer.

For a pie or other desserts, you'll also need:
  • A store-bought chocolate pie crust, OR 2 cups of chocolate shortbread or chocolate wafer cookies broken up, 1/3 cup butter and 1/4 cup granulated sugar.
  • Thick caramel sauce, like a jar of Dulce de Leche, but if all you can find is a liquidy butterscotch, that is fine too.

For chocolate cups, you will need:
  • Store-bought chocolate cups or at least 500 grams of chocolate, melted and tempered.

Once you've gathered your ingredients, there are three ways (at least) to make and serve semifreddo:

1. To Make Simple Dark Chocolate Semifreddo (frozen chocolate mousse):

Follow the original recipe here on the bon appétit website: or on Page 36 of the March 2016 issue of Bon Appétit.

Freeze in an airtight container. Remove from the freezer about 10 minutes before serving, then use an ice cream scoop to scoop into martini glasses or serving bowls.  Top with fresh whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

2. To Make a Caramel & Chocolate Mousse Pie with Semifreddo:

1. If you did not buy a crust, place your chocolate cookies in a large freezer bag and using a rolling pin or bottle, roll over the bag to crush the cookies. Place your butter in a medium, microwave safe bowl, and melt in the microwave until liquid (about 35 seconds). Add the cookies and the sugar, then stir until the cookies are moist. Press into the bottom of a greased pie plate. Bake in the oven for 10-12 minutes at 350º F.  Let cool 15 minutes.

2. Spread the caramel sauce in a thick layer (1/4") over the entire bottom of your cookie crust.

3. Scoop in as much of the semifreddo as you can, then smooth or round out. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze.

4. Before serving, remove pie from freezer for 5 minutes while you make the whipping cream by beating 1 cup of whipping cream with a hand mixer or stand mixer until soft peaks form.  Add 1 tsp of agave, honey, sugar or caramel sauce to sweeten lightly.  Add 1 tsp vanilla extract or 1/4 tsp ground vanilla bean (or the scrapings from one vanilla pod) and beat for 5 seconds more until mixed.

5. Spread the whipped cream on top of the pie and serve. You can use a pastry bag and decorator tools to make it a bit fancier, if you like.

Slice and enjoy. Keep frozen and simply remove from freezer about 10 minutes before slicing and serving each time.

3. To make Semifreddo in Chocolate Cups:

Buy or make chocolate cups. To make them, you can follow the same moulding process as in my chocolate egg recipe (click here for recipe) to create chocolate cups with a chocolate shot glass mould, cup mould or using your cupcake pans. Simply fill the mould or pan cavities with melted and tempered chocolate, flip upside down to let excess drizzle out. Then let set for 20 minutes in the fridge and turn out onto the counter. Click here for a more detailed description to make hollow moulds.

You can place crumbled chocolate wafer cookies in the bottom of the cup, or crunchy caramel bits or layer in caramel sauce if you like. Fill remainder of cup with Dark Chocolate Semifreddo, and top with whipped cream and/or chocolate shavings. Freeze in an airtight container. Remove from freezer about 30 minutes before serving (to soften the frozen chocolate cup). Serve with a spoon.


You can also top the semifreddo with a soft chocolate ganache,
which seals in the mousse as a lovely surprise inside!

I am sure there are many other ways to serve Dark Chocolate Semifreddo! Be creative and if you come up with something great, please feel free to share in the Comments section below!

Thanks to Bon Appétit Magazine for this great recipe  in their March 2016 issue!!!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The Chocolate Clinic - A Subscription to Satisy Your Chocolate Curiosity

With the rise in popularity of 'bean-to-bar' chocolate since 2006, and the massive American craft chocolate movement that has really picked up the pace in the last few years, so has grown the average chocolate lover's chocolate curiosity.  By 'chocolate curiosity' I mean a need and desire to try it all.

Look at wine lovers: are they satisfied with drinking just one or two brands of wine for the rest of their lives? Heck NO!  There are so many brands on store shelves, wine lovers are always sampling brands to find new 'favourites'. And so with the number of chocolate brands increasing rapidly, but access still being limited (let's face it, other than just a handful of specialty retailers, most retail stores still only stock Lindt or Godiva and maybe a local brand or two), chocolate lovers are looking for access to a range of brands in order to satisfy their chocolate curiosity.

What's more, just a year ago, signing up for a 'chocolate subscription' in North America might have meant signing up to receive chocolate from just one company each and every month. But if you've been reading this blog over the last several months, you'll know that chocolate subscription services are definitely a 'big thing' right now. In Canada, we just have one, but American subscription services have been starting up that also ship to Canada. This is great news for both Americans and Canadians, since we can all benefit from services that deliver four or five fine chocolate bars each month, from different chocolate makers.

www.thechocolateclinic.comThe Chocolate Clinic is the newest business to launch a subscription service in the U.S. They have been "an online shop & pop up store since 2013." Located in Philadelphia, owner Kym Silvasy-Neale is a purveyor of fine chocolate and a chocolate confectioner. She loves bean-to-bar craft chocolate, and is passionate about the products she sells. She recently began a chocolate subscription service that allows customers to pay monthly ($35) for a box containing 4 fine chocolate bars from around the world (with a focus on U.S. craft chocolate) and a surprise confection made by her. 

I recently received The Chocolate Clinic's March subscription box, and it was really quite nice. The box included 4 chocolate bars, all from American craft chocolate makers that I have not yet had the chance to taste: Charm School Chocolate, Chocolate Alchemist, Dulcinea Craft Chocolate and Nathan Miller Chocolate. Also, the box covered a range of styles and ingredients, from single origin chocolate made with cane sugar, to blended made with an alternate sugar, to coconut milk chocolate and spiced buttermilk chocolate (scroll down a little to see an overview of the flavours and tasting notes). It allowed me to expand my horizons and was definitely a great way to satisfy my chocolate curiosity.

The boxes ship by the 5th of every month, and if you sign up for a recurring plan, you can cancel at any time. You can also order a one-time gift box, which ships immediately to the person you are gifting it to.

Kym allows you to specify 'vegan' products only. The boxes can include a mix of white, milk and dark, but you can request otherwise if you prefer to stick to one or two types.  And there also may be bonbons or drinking chocolate, which is a fun twist on the standard subscription packages out there.

To learn more about The Chocolate Clinic`s monthly subscription service, visit:

Chocolate Bar Tasting Notes from The Chocolate Clinic's March Subscription Box:

Dulcinea Craft Chocolate's Madagascar 70% chocolate bar certainly says 'hand-crafted' because there is a slightly less processed feel to it. It is overall smooth chocolate, but with just a slight sugar crunch between the teeth if you chew instead of letting it melt slowly in the mouth. This means the sugar is at the forefront, but the high acidity and fruity Madagascar flavours take over quickly. It's quite bold and overall, enjoyable. It certainly makes me curious to taste other chocolate by Dulcinea. To learn more about Dulcinea Craft Chocolate, located in Beaver, Pennsylvania, visit:

Nathan Miller's Gingerbread Bar is very interesting.  At first sight, I thought, "Oh no, Christmas is long past and I want to forget about snow and enjoy summer flavours," but with one taste, I forgot all about perceived seasonal restrictions and dug into this delicious and very unique treat. It is a 55% dark-milk chocolate, with organic buttermilk instead of regular milk. It is also "Sweet & Salty" and has bits of gingerbread cookie in it, made with organic ingredients local to Pennsylvania where Nathan Miller has his business (Chambersburg). The cacao is from the Dominican Republic and organic and directly traded.  This chocolate definitely inspires me to taste more products created by this chocolate maker.
Learn more about it:

Philly Blend, 80% Cacao Bean to Bar chocolate by the Chocolate Alchemist is a deliciously bitter bar, with a nutty and fruity combination that is fairly balanced between the flavours. Also, the flavour of the coconut sugar is mild, but detectable. In fact, this chocolate reminds me a little of Zazubean's 'Nudie' chocolate bar with a similar bitterness level and light taste of coconut sugar.

The extra bitterness likely is the result of the blended origins, and the coconut sugar used instead of cane sugar. Coconut sugar is naturally more bitter in nature compared to cane sugar. Also, in a recent interview with blogger of Estelle Tracy of, the chocolate maker, Robert Campbell says he does not conche long to prevent an over-conche. Thus, the chocolate will retain more of the cacao's natural acidity, often resulting in a chocolate that tastes a little more bitter than one with a long conche*. The bitterness is not unwelcome though, but simply surprising upon first bite. I thoroughly enjoyed this chocolate bar.

For more information on the Chocolate Alchemist:

*conching is added refining time where the chocolate continues to be ground or processed, while heating, cooling and movement are applied to burn off the acidity and develop flavour.

Charm School Chocolate's Coconut Milk Chocolate bar is vegan and has 49% cacao solids, placing it certainly in the 'dark-milk' category of chocolate.  I actually really like this chocolate bar.  I am normally back and forth when it comes to coconut milk chocolate because the coconut flavour can sometimes be way too strong, but although it is noticeable in this chocolate, it is subtle.  The best feature is just how smooth this chocolate is.  Made from Maya Mountain Cacao, it really is wonderful chocolate, and so very delicious. Charm School Chocolate is made in Reisterstown, MD. Learn more at:

Monday, April 4, 2016

Moonlighting: Bean to Bar Chocolate Made at Home

Everyday, when I look at search statistics on my blog, I see hundreds of people Googling how to make chocolate from "bean to bar". And from my social media interactions, I know there are a lot of chocolate-making moonlighters out there, using their spare time in the late night hours to make chocolate in their home kitchens.  And although some businesses (in Europe) have been making artisan chocolate from bean-to-bar for over a hundred years, making chocolate at home is quite certainly the trendy thing to do.

Some people make their own chocolate to accommodate personal food allergies or intolerances. Others make chocolate to suit vegan, Paleo or other restrictive diets that make chocolate difficult to buy. Some like the sense of accomplishment, astounded by the mere fact that making chocolate 'from scratch' is really a simple process (more complex if you want your chocolate to be award-winning, of course, but relatively simple for basic edible chocolate). And a few passionate people hope to achieve greatness someday, perhaps sell their chocolate, open a business, and make money from the endeavor.

Thomas Snuggs is one of those people who loves chocolate, and wanted to make it for himself. His dreams are to make really good chocolate at home, share with friends and family, and hopefully sell enough to cover the cost of his passion and pastime. He has branded his homemade chocolate bars "Moonlight Chocolates" because that is exactly how they came about. Thomas has been making chocolate in the late evening hours for a few years, enjoying his craft and the natural experimentation that comes with it.

Thomas has experimented so much in fact, that he has created over 12 flavors of Moonlight chocolate! I was amazed to see and taste all his creations. He has made other flavors too, all of which you can see on his website at: And for all of these chocolate bars, organic ingredients have been used.

Thomas is in the process of obtaining a CFO permit to sell his chocolate, and so you will be able to purchase his chocolate soon!  He is selling locally only, not online, which means if you are in Santa Clara County, California, you can buy his products.

I love watching passionate home bean-to-bar chocolate makers, like Thomas, expand and flourish into a for-profit pastime. As the passion grows, the artisan skill and craft are improved. Thomas, like many others, is truly a craftsman and artisan: roasting, grinding, and tempering chocolate by hand in small batches, and creating a delicious product to share with others.

Select Tasting Notes:

Here are some tasting notes on Moonlight Chocolate bars.

Organic Dark Milk with Coffee - this was a favorite.  It was consumed fully before all the others.  If you like coffee and chocolate, with a slight coffee grain texture in smooth chocolate (like I do), this is for you! Also, the dark milk is creamy, and sits right there in the middle for anyone who likes milk or dark chocolate.

Organic Dark Chocolate (70%) - a nice, lightly tangy dark chocolate. It was smooth and creamy. I have to admit, I ate this one in about 10 minutes.

Organic Dark Chocolate (60%) -  This 60% dark chocolate is perfectly balanced for a semi-sweet chocolate. For those who are Lindt chocolate fans, I have to say it would be a step up from Lindt's 'sweet' Swiss Classic dark chocolate bar or the 64% Satin. Mr. Snuggs is applying a 48-hour conche, and including added cocoa butter, thus achieving a very smooth semi-sweet chocolate with a lovely taste.

Although great for tasting, Moonlight 60% chocolate would be wonderful for making smooth truffles or a lovely semi-sweet couverture. And it would also pair wonderfully with a Merlot or Shiraz, and definitely a lovely chocolate to pair with salt (i.e. salted caramel, salted dark chocolate) or coffee (a cup or coffee-flavoured truffles).

Organic Milk (40%) with Coconut Palm Sugar - Mr. Snuggs also makes chocolates sweetened with coconut palm sugar (i.e. no-cane sugar chocolates).  The taste of coconut palm sugar is quite distinct in these, which means the chocolate tastes like it is sweetened with brown sugar, and just a hint of coconut flavour. It's nice, and makes a great alternative to chocolate with processed sugars.

Organic Milk Chocolate with Palm Sugar and Crispy Rice - made only with coconut sugar and crispy brown rice pieces, I really enjoyed this one. It was crunchy, fun, sweet, kid-friendly AND has no cane sugar - you can't go wrong with that combination!

55% Organic Dark Milk with Dried Blueberries - very delicious. Some nutty flavour, and some sweetness added by the blueberries. Very smooth texture and a nice mix between dark and milk chocolate.

Organic Dark (70%) with Walnuts, and one with Almonds and Sea Salt: I call these the 'breakfast bars', because who doesn't think dark chocolate with nuts is a healthy way to start the day? I am not usually a walnut fan, but I very much enjoyed the walnut bar.

I am holding on to a few more flavours - including an organic Dark Chocolate (60%) with Almonds and Orange Oil and one with 70% Cocoa solids and Almonds and Toffee - I plan to share these with friends.