Monday, December 31, 2012

Recchiuti - Orchard bar - December 31, 2012

Chocolate of the Day: 

Recchiuti Confections
Orchard bar
Good - Good +
Weight: 1 oz. (28.3 g.) / 3 oz. (85 g.)
Calories: 140 calories (estimate) for 1 oz. serving
Cost: $8.00 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Main Street Wine Bar and Bottle Shop, Sausalito, CA

I'm recording this chocolate bar by the numbers...

Today was Day #10 of Chocolate and Almond Theme Week; Day #4 of Chocolate and Currant Theme Week; and Day #31 of December 2012. Happy New Year's Eve to all, and best wishes for a happy and  healthy new year!

Allow me to count the ways that I enjoyed the Orchard bar from Recchiuti Confections (San Francisco).

1.) The mulberries - poking out on all sides of the bar. I love fresh mulberries, so it was fun to see them play a prominent role in this bar
2.) The almonds - the toasted almond pieces took a back seat to the fruit, but were a great choice for this fruit and nut orchard-themed bar.
3.) The currants - a salute to the flavorful few
4.) The design of this dark bar - very nice mold and graphics with the "R" for Recchiuti, that also let the mulberries show through the edges

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Trader Joe's - Dark Chocolate Almonds bar - December 30, 2012

Chocolate of the Day:

Trader Joe's
73% Cacao Super Dark Chocolate with Almonds
Good - Good +
Weight: .875 oz. (25 g.) serving / 3.5 oz. (100 g.) total bar
Calories: 150 calories in 1/4 bar
Cost: $1.99 total bar
Purchased from: Trader Joe's, Menlo Park, CA

Today's 73% Cacao Super Dark Chocolate with Almonds bar from Trader Joe's (Monrovia, CA) was, dark and rich, with a mild earthy, acidic fruit tang, and full of embedded almond bits on the inside that added some balance and texture to the "super dark" chocolate. The bar was relatively thick, but scored into twelve, nicely sized rectangular pieces, making it convenient for sharing with others, or rationing for snacks.

Trader Joe's has traditionally sold a large selection of chocolates at very reasonable prices, sourcing from several suppliers. I've bought many of their bars, and had leftovers. As part of my end of year (2012) Chocolate Vault clean-up, I decided to experiment with these bits of bars -- bittersweet mini bars and a Papua New Guinea dark bar from 2010 to make black currant (cassis) truffles. (Yes, dark chocolate bars can last that long if carefully stored in a cool, dark place.)

I first made some homemade creme de cassis (a liqueur popular in France that is usually made from black currants, sugar, and brandy). This liqueur was very nice with mineral water; sparkling or regular white wine (kir); or white grape juice over ice with a citrus slice or two. I should add, I also infused this liqueur with a cinnamon stick and a whole clove. (I kept these spices in overnight and took them out the following day.)

My homebrew creme de cassis liqueur mixed with the dark chocolate leftovers resulted in good truffles, but with a somewhat bitter fruit note. Admittedly, there were a lot of different tastes interacting in this truffle batch, as I'd experimented with adding some coconut oil along with the butter, and a bit of vanilla hemp milk in addition to the cream. Once again: mad scientistry yielded uneven results.

Next time I'll try a more conventional batch of truffles with just a hint of cinnamon and brandy, and enjoy a kir royale on the side -- perhaps for New Year's Eve tomorrow evening.

Today was Day #8 of Chocolate and Almonds Theme Week, and Day #3 of Chocolate and Currants Theme Week.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Heidi Chocolat - Milk Almonds bar - December 29, 2012

Chocolate of the Day:

Heidi Chocolat/The Laderach Group
Heidi Grand'Or - Milk Chocolate Caramelized Almonds bar
Weight: 1.41 oz. (40 g.) / 3.53 oz. (100 g.) total bar
Calories: 220 calories in 4 squares
Cost: $3.99 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Piazza's Fine Foods, Palo Alto, CA

Today was Day #8 of Chocolate and Almond Theme Week, and Day #2 of Chocolate and Currant Theme Week.*

In the 1960s, three Swiss men became partners in a venture now known as The Laderach Group. Today, the company is perhaps most well known for the Heidi (bar) brand. The Milk Chocolate Caramelized Almonds bar featured here was produced in Romania -- specifically near Bucharest, in Pantelimon, Romania -- before being imported to the U.S. Today, Laderach individual chocolates and bars are found 'round the world.

The milk chocolate was a bit sweet for my taste, but it paired well with the caramelized, roasted almonds.

Where are the currants mentioned above? They were chocolate accompaniments, in the form of a currant jam cookie and current tea ...See below.

I made some gluten free vanilla almond cookies with red currant jam in the center. While still bubbling hot from the oven, and pliable, I dropped a small piece of chocolate (including a square of today's Heidi bar with almonds) in the middle of each cookie. I carefully folded up the cookie edges on three sides to make a triangular shaped pocket cookie. What resulted was something like an almond nutella and jam sandwich (and vaguely similar to a three-cornered hamantash cookie). And, I enjoyed one of these cookies with a cup of homemade currant citrus tea described below.

Currant Citrus Tea recipe: 
Let soak in large glass jar or container: 1 tea bag (optional); 5 Tbsp. red or black currant jelly or jam (I used Bonne Maman red currant jelly), 2 1/2 cups room temperature water, 3 Meyer lemon slices, 2 orange slices, 1 lime slice, tiny pinch of powdered cinnamon and ginger. Stir mixture until jam is dissolved; soak (covered) overnight; strain; and serve hot or cold. Serves 2-3.

*Note: Chocolate Banquet theme weeks consistently spill-over into more than 7 days, and overlap with other theme weeks, as there are always new chocolates being discovered and new combinations to be tried.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Lily's - Dark Chocolate Almond bar - December 28, 2012

Chocolate of the Day: 

Lily's Sweets
Dark Chocolate - Almond bar
Good - Good+
Weight: 1 oz. (28.3 g.) / 3 oz. (85 g.) total bar
Calories: 113 calories
Cost: $7.00 total bar
Purchased from: Bridge Cafe, Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, CA

Today was Day #7 of Chocolate and Almond Theme Week, and Day #1 of Chocolate and Currant Theme Week.

This dark 55% cocoa, non GMO bar with Almonds, from Lily's Sweets (Santa Barbara, CA), was sweetened with stevia rather than with added sugar. Stevia (stevia rebaudiana) is a plant with naturally sweet leaves, a member of the very large sunflower family, that has been used as a sweetener for many years.

As with a previous Lily's (stevia) bar I tried, I found this chocolate to be smooth and dark and because of the stevia, and perhaps the inulin, less likely to give me a sugar rush than other bars. Although stevia is sweeter tasting by weight with fewer calories, some claim it has less of an impact in blood glucose than refined sugar.

Attractively packaged, with colorful art on the label, this bar was also scored into smaller sections, making it easier to split with friends or family.

I enjoyed part of this Lily's Dark Chocolate Almond bar with another interesting plant -- some tiny bunches of fresh, beautiful ruby red currants. Bright red berries of different sorts are a small consolation in winter. We don't see fresh currants that often in the U.S.

Apparently this fruit, and other members of the gooseberry family, were banned some years back to help protect against the spread of a rust infestation that was affecting pine trees. Currants could act as a host or non-symptomatic carrier of the disease, so their cultivation was discouraged and native currant plants eradicated in some areas. Here's to hoping we might see them grown again one day soon.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Fruition Chocolate - Toasted Almonds with Smoked Salt - December 27, 2012

Chocolate of the Day:

Fruition Chocolate
Dark Chocolate Coated Toasted Almonds with Smoked Sea Salt
Good +
Weight: 1 oz. (28.2 g.)/ 5 oz. (141 g.) total package
Calories: 148 calories (estimate) for 1 oz. serving
Cost: $15.00 for 1 bag
Purchased from: The Chocolate Garage, in Palo Alto, CA

The sun shone, but it was bitterly cold (by California standards) this morning. I warmed up with a cup of rose hot chocolate (more about this in a few weeks) and a small handful of plain, raw almonds that served as a  palette cleanser between chocolate courses. With that, I was ready to taste Fruition Chocolate's Dark Chocolate Coated Toasted Almonds with Smoked Sea Salt.

If you're familiar with hickory smoked almonds, you'll recognize this flavor in today's chocolate. The smokey, applewood sea salt seasoning was the first taste to register, and it was a very pleasant complement to the (66% cacao) smooth dark chocolate (from Peru), and the crunchy toasted almond at the center of each piece.

Today was Day #6 of Chocolate and Almond Theme Week.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Amella - Roasted Almond Caramels - December 26, 2012

Chocolate of the Day:

Amella Caramels
Roasted Almonds Caramel(s)
Weight: .932 oz. (26.4 g.) in 2 pieces / 8.4 oz. (238.1g.) total box of 4 flavors
Calories: 139 calories (estimate) for 2 pieces
Cost: $18.00 total cost for 1 box
Purchased from:

Amella (a family run business in El Segundo, CA) claimed to have made the "World's First Cocoa Butter Caramels." I don't know if this statement was true or not, but I know that Amella caramels had a unique taste and creamy texture that I hadn't encountered before.

Today's Roasted Almonds caramels were part of an agave caramel assortment box that contained 4 different flavors. I reviewed the three other flavors (Original, Double Dark Chocolate, and Gray Sea Salt caramels) on this site earlier this month (December 2012).

Made with gluten-free ingredients, including organic blue agave nectar and the aforementioned cocoa butter, the two caramels I tried today had a silky smooth dissolve, and were coated with dark chocolate and topped with a sprinkle of crunchy, roasted almond bits. (They were also Kosher.)

Today was Day #5 of Chocolate and Almond Theme Week.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Moonstruck Chocolate - Tumbled Marcona Almonds - December 25, 2012

Chocolate of the Day: 

Moonstruck Chocolate Co.
Dark Chocolate Tumbled Marcona Almonds
Good +
Weight: 5 oz. (142 g.) total bag/package
Calories: 725 calories (estimate) in 1 bag
Cost: $8.99 for 1 bag/package
Purchased from: Piazza's Fine Foods, Palo Alto, CA

Merry Christmas to all who celebrate this bright red and green holiday. Lights and colors help buoy us up during the gray days of winter.

In the living room, next to a bright red poinsettia plant (shown), were red and white stockings and mittens, and some Dark Chocolate Tumbled Marcona Almonds from Moonstruck Chocolatier (Portland, OR).

Marcona almonds are round, pudgy versions of more conventional almonds, frequently sauteed in oil and salted. They're buttery and delicate in flavor; and while the dark chocolate masked some of the subtle flavors in these almonds, they were quite tasty nonetheless. In fact, I managed to eat the whole bag without much trouble over the course of the day. Oh well, it was Christmas; and I felt very grateful for the abundance of good things and people in my life, including you dear readers.

Today was Day #4 of Chocolate and Almond Theme Week.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Jade Chocolates - Dark Chocolate Rice Paddies - December 24, 2012

Chocolate of the Day: 

Jade Chocolates
Dark Chocolate Rice Paddies
Good +
Weight: 1.2 oz. (34 g.) (estimate) for 3 pieces/ 4 oz. (113 g.) total bag
Calories: 120 calories (estimate) for 3 pieces
Cost: $ N/A
Purchased from: Jade Chocolates, San Francisco, CA (online)

Today was Day #3 of Chocolate and Almond Theme Week. The history of the almond began in the Middle East and South Asia, and spread to temperate climates worldwide. California (where I live) produces tons of the popular nut each year in the U.S. Cacao beans used to make chocolate come from tropical climates. So, as with many flavored chocolates, several interesting and internationally inspired flavor blends were possible today that incorporated these two ingredients.

Mindy Fong, at Jade Chocolates (San Francisco, CA), produces chocolates with interesting fusions of flavors from east and west, often artfully incorporating favorite specialty ingredients, such as tea,  rice or mangoes. Today's Dark Chocolate Rice Paddies, contained crisp rice (note to those watching gluten intake, these contained malt flavoring), roasted almonds and pieces of bright, tangy dried mango. Dark chocolate helped bind these ingredients into small mounded patty shapes.

If you're looking for a healthy, exotic take on crispy rice treats with dark chocolate, these Dark Chocolate Rice Paddies are a great bet.

Merry Christmas Eve to all who celebrate, and to those who await the coming of Santa Claus.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Trader Joe's - Chocolate Almond Horns - December 23, 2012

Chocolate of the Day: 

Trader Joe's
Chocolate Almond Horns
Good + - Very Good
Weight: 3 oz. (95 g.) / 9 oz. (255 g.) total container of 6 cookies
Calories: 380 calories in 2 cookies
Cost: $4.49 total container
Purchased from: Trader Joe's, in Palo Alto, CA

Nothing pleases me more than finding delicious new chocolate items that are also gluten-free.

Many traditional recipes for sweet, almond flour cookies, macaroons and marzipan omit (wheat) flour. So, I was hopeful that I could find chocolate and almond cookies with no gluten ingredients. And so it was with these Chocolate Almond Horns from Trader Joe's (Monrovia, CA).

Sugary sweet, chewy-soft, golden brown, covered in sliced almonds, and partially dipped in bittersweet chocolate, these cookies channeled the ghost of marzipan cookies from childhood. I stopped eating gluten/wheat in 2002, so it's been many years since I nibbled on almond croissant or bearclaws. These two crescent-shaped horns were just as satisfying as any breakfast pastry or bittersweet almond cookie that I can remember.

Couple two Chocolate Almond Horns with a hot beverage of your choice, sit by a fire, listen to (or play) some music -- and you have a great prescription for holiday contentment.

Today was Day #2 of Chocolate and Almond Theme Week. 

Noman Love and Laderach chocolates - December 22, 2012

Chocolate(s) of the Day:

1.) Norman Love Confections
Roasted Almond
Weight: .4 oz. (11.32 g.) (estimate) for 1 piece
Calories: 60 calories (estimate) for 1 piece
Cost: $ 2.00 (estimate) for 1 piece
Purchased from: Dolce Amore, San Francisco, CA

2.) Laderach Chocolatier Suisse (I was told)
Weight: .8 oz. (22.6 g.) (estimate) for 2 pieces
Calories: 120 calories (estimate) in 2 pieces
Cost: $4.00 (estimate)
Purchased from: Dolce Amore, San Francisco, CA

I sampled four different chocolate + almond combinations today.

The first two were almond chocolate truffles that I purchased recently at a coffee and chocolate shop called Dolce Amore (San Francisco).

There were no visible almonds in the Roasted Almond Truffle. I'm assuming there was almond butter incorporated into the creamy center. The second chocolate was quick good, but may not have been gluten-free. It may have contained a wafer layer.

The compact establishment carried chocolates from Norman Love (Ft. Myers, FL), Laderach Chocolatier Suisse (Switzerland) in an attractive glass display case, as well as Illy coffee.

Scattered throughout the Dolce Amore shop were tiny people figures. It was fun to look around carefully and to find them perched in different locales.

The last two chocolates were almond toffees from a woman I'll call "Madame S." Both almond toffees, the second batch was infused with espresso flavoring, and both were very good. The maker is not ready to sell these publicly yet, but I enjoyed these all the same.

"Madame S"
3.) Almond Toffee
4.) Espresso Almond Toffee
Good + - Very Good
Weight: 1 oz. for both toffees
Calories: 150 calories (estimate for 1 oz. serving
Cost: N/A - gift
Purchased from: N/A - gift

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Rogue Chocolatier - Piura 75% bar - December 21, 2012

Chocolate of the Day:

Rogue Chocolatier
Piura 75% bar
Very Good
Weight: 2.12 oz. (60 g.) in 1 bar
Calories: 307 calories (estimate) in 1 bar
Cost: $13.00 total bar
Purchased from: The Chocolate Garage, Palo Alto, CA

Today I experienced pure, unadulterated chocolate. And then I mixed it with pure lavender. I love short ingredient lists.

The Piura 75% cacao dark chocolate bar from Rogue Chocolatier (Three Rivers, MA) had just two simple ingredients: cacao beans (from Peru) and cane sugar. This bar, an exclusive I obtained by being a future chocolate holder at The Chocolate Garage (Palo Alto, CA), was smooth and uniformly great, with enough of an acidic bite to keep it interesting.

This simple, unmarked bar was just the right thickness to access flavor notes. Tasting notes listed on the packaging for Piura: "molasses, tea, dried apricot." I agree with the dried apricot and the molasses. Not sure about the tea, which I sometimes associate with heavier tannic acid.

First, I broke off a few small pieces -- that yielded with just the right amount of snap. I ate these plain. Next, I took the bar outside into the yard, where it was raining, to try it with some lavender flowers I'd picked earlier. Again, just some dried lavender flower buds; nothing else.

Then I melted a half dozen small pieces of the Piura bar with a tablespoon or two of water in an espresso cup in the microwave, to make some drinking chocolate. Don't try this with just any dark chocolate bar; you may end up with a lumpy mess, in part due to the fact that most bars contain a long list of additives.

Last, but not least, I enjoyed this micro-serving of smooth, rich and delicious hot chocolate with gluten-free toast, goat cheese, and rose-colored Lavender Jelly from Tumalo Lavender (Tumalo, OR). Best snack plate I've had since chocolate and fig week.

Today was Day #7 of Chocolate and Lavender Theme Week.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Inspired Cookie, Bliss Brownie Mix - December 20, 2012

Chocolate of the Day:

The Inspired Cookie
bliss Brownie Mix
Good - Good +
Weight: 1/12 of mix;
Calories: 340 calories (estimate)
Cost: $10.00 (estimate)
Purchased from: info not available

Today I chose a "local" chocolate and lavender combination, by preparing a gluten-free bliss Brownie Mix from The Inspired Cookie (mix was made in S. San Francisco, CA), and plucking some lavender from my own yard to make lavender brownies. I made both lavender brownie cupcakes and pan brownies. Both were good, and were even better topped with lavender buds.

This brownie mix was gluten-free, vegan, egg-free, and dairy-free; and I prepared it with vegetable oil and applesauce, as directed. Homemade applesauce seemed to work just fine. The brownies were a bit on the oily side; I might try adding a bit less oil next time, but were nice and moist. (I also added some Lavender Jelly from Tumalo Farms (Tumalo, OR), which I will feature again tomorrow.)

Today was Day #6 of Chocolate and Lavender Theme Week. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Tumalo Lavender - Lavender Milk Chocolate bar - December 19, 2012

Chocolate of the Day:

Tumalo Lavender
Lavender Milk Chocolate bar
Good - Good +
Weight: .83 oz. (23.1 g.) / 1.25 oz. (35 g.) total bar
Calories: 125 calories (estimate) for 2/3 bar
Cost: $N/A
Purchased from: Tumalo Lavender, Tumalo, OR

Today was Day #5 of Chocolate and Lavender Theme Week.

Lavandula (more commonly known as lavender) -- a group flowering plants, made up of 39 species, and part of the very large mint family -- has been cultivated for many centuries, for gardens, cooking and scented oils. Lavender blooms in summer, but I also enjoy its soothing, floral smell in the winter. (Try a pot of water with lavender buds on the stove, on a low heat setting for an hour or two, being careful to add more water if it evaporates too quickly. Much better than artificial air fresheners.)

I once associated lavender with Provence in Southern France -- fields bursting with purple rows of French lavender; and I thought lavender was limited to areas with a Mediterranean climate, such as California. In fact, there are species grown around the world. (Given my love for lavender, it's hard to believe that this plant with the fragrant purple flowers is considered a weed in parts of Spain and Australia.)

I later learned of other varieties being grown in cooler areas. This purple flower can grow in the U.K. (Lavanda angustifolia, or English Lavender), and in the United States in cool mountainous areas of the Northwest. Tumalo Farms (Tumalo, OR) near the town of Bend, Oregon, has cultivated (and sells) lavender that can grow near the slopes of the Cascade Mountains (Zone 5), where it snows in the winter.

Tumalo Farms organic lavender oil is incorporated into many of the company's offerings. Today's Tumalo Farms Lavender Milk Chocolate bar (a seasonal item) was very pleasantly scented with this oil. In fact, I think my favorite part of this 33% cocoa milk chocolate bar was the lavender. Thank you to Gordon, at Tumalo, for sending one of the few bars left from this past year's summer harvest. I'll have to wait try the dark chocolate version of this bar until next year; but I look forward to featuring Tumalo lavender jelly (in combination with chocolate) tomorrow.

Hedonist - Lavender Truffles - December 18, 2012

Chocolate of the Day:

Hedonist Artisan Chocolates
Lavender Truffles
Good + - Very Good
Weight: .78 oz. (22 g.) (estimate) for 2 truffles/ 3.9 oz. (110 g.) for box of 10
Calories: 117 calories (estimate) for 2 truffles
Cost: $20.00 for box of 10 truffles
Purchased from: Hedonist Chocolates (site)

Today was Day #4 of Chocolate and Lavender Theme Week.

In centuries past, flowers (such as lavender, violets and roses) were more commonly used to flavor and decorate edibles. I'm happy to see them making a cuisine comeback. I love the taste of lavender, and incorporating lavender flower buds into desserts and other dishes. So, no surprise that I liked these Lavender Truffles from Hedonist Artisan Chocolates (Rochester, NY).

The sweet, white chocolate, lavender infused ganache (centers) were enrobed in bittersweet chocolate and cocoa powder. The box of 10 Lavender Truffles -- individually wrapped in purple foil -- was tied up with a pretty purple ribbon.

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