Thursday, December 31, 2015

Santosha Chocolate - Cinnamon, Cayenne and Maca bar - Dec. 31, 2015

Chocolate of the Day: 

Raw Shakti Chocolate LLC
Santosha Chocolate
Cinnamon, Cayenne and Maca bar
Good - Good +
Weight: 1 oz. (29 g.) in 1 bar
Calories: 130 calories in 1 bar
Cost: $3.99 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Piazza's Fine Foods, Palo Alto, CA

Welcome was Day #10 of Chocolate, Smoke and Fire Theme Week—and the last day of 2015. Happy New Year's Eve to all!

A heart on fire was emblazoned across the packaging for today's Santosha Cinnamon, Cayenne and Maca bar from Raw Shakti Chocolate LLC (Asheville, NC). This festive red seemed appropriate for celebrating 2015, and greeting a new year of chocolate in 2016. Out with the old; and in with the new in a blaze of glory!

This raw 70% (Peruvian, stone-ground) cacao chocolate bar with a kick was Organic and "Non-GMO, Vegan, Low-Glycemic*, Gluten Free, Nut Free, Soy Free."

Sweetened with coconut palm sugar*, today's Santosha bar had an authentic, slightly sweet aroma and flavor—with the maca (think butterscotch) it was reminiscent of graham cracker—without a hard processed/white sugar buzz*. Cinnamon increased the overall warmth. And cayenne pepper provided a sizzle of heat toward the end of each bite.

*Overall the number of calories (or potential/stored energy) is similar for most sugars. However, Coconut Palm Sugar (made from sweet sap gathered high up in coconut palm trees) has scored lower on the glycemic index (GI) than white cane/beet or "table" sugar, in part because it contains more sucrose and less fructose. 

It's thought that this lower GI score (of about 35 vs. about 50 for table sugar) results in a lower spike in blood glucose or blood sugar. I have noticed this phenomenon myself with some raw and semi-processed chocolates made with coconut palm sugar. But, with something as complex as chocolate, it's difficult to tell how various substances might be interacting to create a "buzzed" feeling.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Endangered Species - Dark Chocolate 88 percent bar - Dec. 30, 2015

Chocolate of the Day: 

Endangered Species Chocolate
Dark Chocolate 88 percent bar
Good +
Weight: 1.5 oz. (42.5 g.) / 3 oz. (85 g.) in total bar
Calories: 210 calories in 1/2 bar
Cost: $2.99 for 1 bar
Purchased from: CVS/pharmacy, Mountain View, CA

Welcome to the extended edition (Day #9) of Chocolate, Smoke and Fire Theme Week.

When I imagined a chocolate that was strong, black and slightly smokey, I thought of today's dark bar, emblazoned with a haunting photo of a black jaguar.

Jaguars in the Jungle
When I was in Costa Rica, a man once described a black jaguar in the jungle as being stealthy and dangerous as smoke. And if you heard a hoarse coughing sound in the darkness, he said, it may not be due to your campfire smoke, but rather it could be a jaguar closeby communicating to another jaguar about its territory—that you may be sharing.

Jaguars are the largest members of the cat family, with the strongest bite, in the Americas. They might be found moving quietly through forests in Central and Latin America, in cacao-growing countries. Black jaguars are more rare than the spotted variety; however, all jaguars seem to be diminishing in numbers.

A photo of one of these black beauties graced today's Dark Chocolate 88 percent bar from Endangered Species Chocolate (Indianapolis, IN).

Endangered Species has continued to donate a portion of their earnings to organizations like Panthera.org, or The Xerxes Society that help conserve endangered species and their habitats.

Today's bar was dark indeed; it was made from 88 percent cacao. (This is the highest percent bar the company offers.) Its bite was relatively bold but not too dangerous—unless you're worried about overindulging.

This fair trade, non-GMO verified, certified gluten free and vegan chocolate had a faint cocoa and coffee aroma; a bold dark acidic flavor; an aftertaste with a slightly tangy, woodsy, burnt bittersweet bite; and a finish that, like a jaguar, eventually disappeared without a trace.

Please do try chocolate all by itself first. Afterwards you can experiment with pairings.

More Smoke, Umami
This thick, dark bar was later part of a snack today that included smoked almonds and chips (barbecue, maple bacon). I love umami* foods with smokey-sweet and savory flavors like this, and these items complemented and tamed some of the stronger notes in this chocolate.

Assuming you like smokey flavors, some harmonize better with chocolates than others. Like all pairings with chocolate, try your items side-by-side, a few at a time (pausing for a palette cleanse or drink of water periodically), to determine which combination you like best.

*Umami foods are naturally high in glutamates and tend to be on the savory side. Examples include parmesan cheese, soy and fish sauces, meats such as ham and bacon, certain vegetables, mushrooms, and kelp/seaweed. Not everyone in the chocolate world shares my love for umami pairings, but please do go with what you like in this world. 

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

SOMA Chocolatemaker - Toasted Corn and Harissa - Dec. 29, 2015

Chocolate of the Day: 

SOMA Chocolatemaker
Toasted Corn and Harissa
Very Good
Weight: 4 oz. (113 g.) (estimate) for 1 package
Calories: 560 calories (estimate) in 1 package
Cost: $13.00 for total package
Purchased from: The Chocolate Garage, Palo Alto, CA

Welcome to Day #8 of Chocolate, Smoke and Fire Theme Week.

Where there's smoke, there's usually fire. So, after nibbling on smoke-influenced snacks and sweets this week, it was time to give some attention to a "fiery" chocolate item or two.

Today's package of "Toasted Corn and Harissa* -- a fiery North African hot sauce" was from SOMA Chocolatemaker (Toronto, ON, Canada).

At the heart of each small, roundish, reddish earthy-looking confection was a bit of tasty toasted, crunchy corn. The cocoa and harissa sauce spice coating complemented the corn beautifully.

For those that fear the burn, no need to worry. The spiciness level was perfect—enough to add rich flavor, without being overwhelming.

*Harissa is a North African spice blend/sauce that includes hot chili peppers (sometimes smoked), garlic, onion, olive oil, cumin, coriander and caraway, but can also include a variety of other herbs and spices (including mint and tomato).


Monday, December 28, 2015

Kindred Cooks Bacon Caramel; Cowboy Toffees - Dec. 28, 2015

Chocolate(s) of the Day:

Kindred Cooks
Bacon Caramel
Sea Salt with Chocolate, other
Good - Good+
Weight: .25 oz. (7 g.) (estimate) in 1 piece
Calories: 30 calories (estimate) in 1 piece
Cost: $N/A - sample
Purchased from: Kindred Cooks, Campbell, CA

Welcome to Day #7 of Chocolate, Smoke and Fire Theme Week.

The first of two groups of chocolate sweets today included bacon and chocolate caramels from Kindred Cooks (Campbell, CA).

Kindred Cooks makes small, bite-sized, individually-wrapped pieces of flavored caramels, including today's Bacon Chocolate, Sea Salt with Chocolate, Vanilla Chai, and Marshmallow with Chocolate. (The last three flavors were part of a Caramel Sampler package.) The Vanilla Chai contained no chocolate, but the flavors were great.

These caramels were light and slightly chewy but (as promised) they didn't stick to my teeth.


Cowboy Toffee Co.
Chuckwagon Coffee Toffee - Good ++
Weight: .25 oz. (7 g.) (estimate) in 2 small pieces
Calories: 32 calories (estimate) in 2 small pieces
Cost: $N/A - sample pieces
Purchased from: N/A - Cowboy Toffee table at Fall Chocolate Salon 2015

Today I also sampled toffees from Cowboy Toffee Co. (Oakdale, CA).

The company's Chuckwagon Coffee Toffee was coated with milk chocolate and encrusted with bits of flavorful, alder wood roasted (ground) coffee, and hickory smoked sea salt.

In the 1800s, in the Western U.S., chuckwagons provided food for hired cattle hands. Cowboy Toffee's Coffee Toffee pays homage to that legacy with this quote:

"Chuckwagon food typically included easy-to-preserve items like beans and smoked meats, sugar, coffee, and sourdough biscuits. All of these items were cooked over a camp fire and smoke infused."

I also sampled Cowboy Toffee Co.'s Bushwacker* Toffee (the larger piece of the two pictured here), which I hope to feature in the future. The company's Bushwacker Toffee contained a blend of cowboy-inspired flavors. English toffee was combined with bits of sage, semi-sweet chocolate, roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds), and pumpkin pie spice.

*Bushwacker was a champion bucking bull, from Oakdale, CA.


Vosges - Alderwood Smoked Salt Caramel Marshmallows - Dec. 27, 2015

Chocolate of the Day: 

Vosges
Alderwood Smoked Salt Caramel Marshmallows 45% cacao
Good ++
Weight: 2.5 oz. (70.9 g.) in 1 package of 5 pieces
Calories: 300 calories in 1 package
Cost: $4.29 for 1 package of 5 pieces
Purchased from: Lunardi's, Belmont, CA

Welcome to Day #6 of Chocolate, Smoke and Fire Theme Week.

Today's sweet 45 percent cacao chocolate-covered squares—filled with chocolate, caramel and marshmallow—were from Vosges (Chicago, IL).

Topped with a sprinkle of alderwood smoked salt, these chocolates contained a tasty balance between sweet and savory (umami/smoked) flavors.



Sunday, December 27, 2015

Taza Peppermint Stick Bar; + Smokin XO Hot Pants - Dec. 26, 2015

Chocolate(s) of the Day: 

Taza Chocolate
Peppermint Stick bar
Good ++
Weight: 1.25 oz. (35 g.) / 2.5 oz. (70 g.) in total bar
Calories: 200 calories in 1/2 bar
Cost: $3.49 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Whole Foods Market, Los Altos, CA

Today was Day #5 of Chocolate, Smoke and Fire Theme Week—with a post-Christmas chocolate double feature.

The first chocolate was the Peppermint Stick 60% dark stone-ground chocolate bar from Taza Chocolate (Somerville, MA). It was full of authentic flavor, and robust, slightly crunchy texture, from organic ground peppermint stick and cacao nibs.

This bar was made with direct trade and Non GMO verified ingredients, and was gluten free and pareve.

XO Baking Co.
Gluten Free Chocolate Cake - Gourmet Cake Mix
Good ++
Weight: unknown 
Calories: unknown
Cost: $5.99 (estimate) for 1 box of mix
Purchased from: HomeGoods, Santa Clara, CA

This second chocolate of the day came from a cake mix. I added some smoke-infused olive oil and a small pinch of alderwood smoked sea salt to this mix. In finished form, these cupcake-sized, chocolate cakes were cooked in blue jean "muffin top" silicone cooking molds ("Fred" brand), that humorously (and rather accurately) depicted holiday overindulgence.

This smokey chocolate cake was great topped with smoked almond ice cream. Perfect dessert for those who love umami flavors.

The gluten-free Chocolate Cake mix was from XO Baking Co. (Woodland Hills, CA).






Saturday, December 26, 2015

Trader Joe's - Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar - Dec. 25, 2015

Source: Trader Joe's website
Chocolate of the Day: 

Trader Joe's
Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar
Good ++ - Very Good
Weight: 1.5 oz. (42.5 g.) / 3 oz. (85 g.) in total bar
Calories: 220 calories in 1/2 bar
Cost: $1.99 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Trader Joe's, Mountain View, CA

Today was Day #4 of Chocolate, Smoke and Fire Theme Week.

Merry Christmas today to all those who celebrate!

Today we continue with chocolates that have smokey and/or fiery flavors. Santa must smell like a smoke-cured ham for days after visiting all those chimneys on Christmas Eve. I don't know of too many ham chocolates (honey-baked smoked ham bar anyone?), but bacon is a relatively popular inclusion.

This Uncured Bacon Ganache Bar from Trader Joe's (Monrovia, CA) was filled with a chocolate, caramel and slightly smoky flavored bacon ganache. It was nicely balanced and not too sweet. I'm a sucker for alder wood smoked salt (and umami flavored foods in general), so this filled 70 percent cacao bar was an enjoyable gift this morning.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Chuao Chocolatier - baconluxious bar - Dec. 24, 2015

Chocolate of the Day: 

Chuao Chocolatier
baconluxious chocolate bar
Good - Good +
Weight: 2.8 oz. (80 g.) in total bar
Calories: 420 calories in 1 bar
Cost: $5.99 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Piazza's Fine Foods, Palo Alto, CA

Today was Day #3 of Chocolate, Smoke and Fire Theme Week.

What's the best breakfast on a winter morning? How about a chocolate bar with "...maple sweetness, a sprinkle of bonfire smoked sea salt and crispy, uncured bacon in milk chocolate?"

That description fits today's baconluxious bar from Chuao Chocolatier (Carlsbad, CA). This bar had balanced, subtle flavors—with a hint of maple sweetness and a subtle hint of smoky bacon saltiness.


Merry Christmas Eve to all who celebrate. Best wishes to Santa as you shimmy down those chimneys tonight.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

flying noir - rookasmooka with smoked guava sea salt - Dec. 23, 2015

Chocolate of the Day:

flying noir
rookasmooka
Good ++
Weight: .4 oz. (11.32 g.) (estimate) in 1 piece
Calories: 60 calories (estimate) in 1 piece
Cost: $N/A - part of a larger purchase
Purchased from: N/A - from flying noir

Welcome to Day #2 of Chocolate, Smoke and Fire Theme Week.

Today's "rookasmooka" from flying noir (Oakland, CA) was a (twice) hand enrobed square, encrusted with Kauai guava smoked sea salt and organic sugar. It was filled with a 70% Amano Ocumare* ganache "with malty rooibos."

The overall flavors were sweet and chocolatey, with a very faint smoky finish from the guava wood.

The salt and sugar crystals gave this rookasmooka a sparkly snowy, crunchy exterior around a creamy interior, creating an interesting bundle of flavor and texture.

This chocolate was part of a 2-piece "art and chocolate" sampler box from flying noir. (The second purple and white chocolate pictured was the company's "brasilao" piece, with fresh lime and cachaca.)

*Amano Chocolate is a chocolate-maker based in Utah. Single origin chocolate (bars) include bars made with cacao beans from the Ocumare region of Venezuela.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Flour Chylde - Buche de Noel cake - Dec. 22, 2015

Chocolate of the Day: 

Flour Chylde Bakery
Buche de Noel cake
Good ++
Weight: unknown
Calories: unknown 
Cost: $32.00 for 1 cake
Purchased from: Flour Chylde Bakery (phone order, farmers market pick-up)

Welcome to Day #1 of Chocolate, Smoke and Fire Theme Week.

Today's chocolate was a holiday treat—a Buche de Noel from Flour Chylde Bakery (Novato, CA). This gluten-and dairy-free version of a holiday classic was a carefully rolled chocolate sponge cake filled with vanilla frosting and drizzled with fudge icing.

The Buche de Noel (or yule log) cake is designed to look like a large wooden log that traditionally is burned on Christmas Eve. The chocsimile of this log may have a "branch" or two (or candy mushrooms) sprouting from its cake form. The frosting is often textured to look more like tree bark; and the cake is occasionally dusted with powdered sugar "snow."

I've wanted to make this Buche de Noel cake; however, its roll-and-fill construction process looked daunting. I decided it would be better to buy one from an experienced gluten-free bakery like Flour Chylde.

Well balanced chocolate and vanilla flavors dominated, but there was a faint twinkle of holiday spice that I couldn't quite pin down—pumpkin spice, rum raisin, or sugar plum dust? I'm not sure. (The cake did contain some pumpkin.)

Happy Winter Solstice to all! Progressively lighter days will be here soon.






Monday, December 21, 2015

Cosmopolitan - Palermo Duo Swirl Hazelnut Chocolate Spread - Dec. 21, 2015

Chocolate of the Day: 

Cosmopolitan Food Group, Inc.
Palermo Duo Swirl Hazelnut Chocolate Spread
Good
Weight: 2 Tablespoons (37 g.) / 12.3 oz. (350 g.) in total jar
Calories: 219 calories (estimate) in one 2 TB serving
Cost: $1.99 (estimate) for 1 jar
Purchased from: Grocery Outlet Bargain Market, Palo Alto, CA

Today we bid adieu to Chocolate and Hazelnut Theme Week -- with an eighth item, one last bonus hazelnut day.

Unscrew the lid on a jar of Palermo Duo Swirl Hazelnut Chocolate Spread from Cosmopolitan Food Group, Inc. (Hoboken, NJ) and you'll find a decorative duo of chocolate hazelnut cocoa cream + manila-colored "milky cream" combined into one alternating, dynamic duo.

This was marketed as a spread; however, it could also be used to frost cupcakes, as a filling between cake layers, or perhaps piped onto a pastry shell.

I spread some of this festive spread on plain, gluten-free toast; and the toast helped to balance out the sweetness.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Mars Snickers Mixed Nuts bar with hazelnuts - Dec. 20, 2015

Chocolate of the Day:

Mars Chocolate North America, LLC
Snickers Mixed Nuts bar
(with peanuts, almonds and hazelnuts)
Good
Weight: 1.76 oz. (49.9 g.) in 1 bar
Calories: 240 calories in 1 bar
Cost: $1.09 for 1 bar
Purchased from: Bed Bath and Beyond, Mountain View, CA

The Snickers candy bar brand from Mars (Hackettstown, NJ) has expanded to include several variations over the years.

Today's milk chocolate-covered Snickers Mixed Nuts bar contained, as promised, a mix of crunchy peanuts, almonds and hazelnuts—the latter nut being a new addition I believe, as well as the traditional sweet caramel and nougat.

This latest Snickers (Limited Edition bar) came out in November 2015, just in time for Day #7 of Chocolate and Hazelnut Theme Week.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

AlpineAire Foods - Chocolate Hazelnut Bavarian Cream - Dec. 19, 2015

Chocolate of the Day: 

AlpineAire Foods (TyRy, Inc.)
Chocolate Hazelnut Bavarian Cream
Good
Weight: 2 oz. (57 g.) / 4 oz. (113 g.) in total package
Calories: 260 calories (estimate) in 1/2 package
Cost: $4.50 for 1 package
Purchased from: Redwood Trading Post, Redwood City, CA

Welcome to Day #6 of Chocolate and Hazelnut Theme Week.

Today's chocolate hazelnut dessert was made for outdoor living—camping, backpacking, climbing, long bike trips, etc.

The AlpineAire Foods Chocolate Hazelnut Bavarian Cream (mix), from TyRy, Inc. (Rocklin, CA) was easy to make.

No pots or pans were needed. I stirred 1 cup cold water into the powdered mix—in the package. And after 10-12 minutes, I had a smooth, creamy chocolate pudding-like dessert with small crunchy bits of roasted hazelnut.

After three days of roughing it, standard trail mixes can start looking rather dull. This Chocolate Hazelnut Bavarian Cream dessert would luxe up any camp meal.




Friday, December 18, 2015

Dagoba - Hazelnut bar - Dec. 18, 2015

Chocolate of the Day: 

Dagoba Organic Chocolate
Hazelnut bar
Good - Good +
Weight: 1 oz. (28 g.) / 2 oz. (56 g.) in total bar
Calories: 150 calories in 1/2 bar
Cost: $ lost info
Purchased from: (lost information)

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

This Hazelnut bar was from Dagoba Organic Chocolate (a division of The Hershey Company, Ashland, OR). This bar was a blend of smooth, Rainforest Alliance Certified 37% cacao milk chocolate, bits of toasted hazelnuts, and brown rice crisps.

In the words of the bar's packaging, it offers a variation on a classic—a "crunch bar for grown-up palates."










Thursday, December 17, 2015

Rigoni di Asiago - Nocciolata + garden chocolates - Dec. 17, 2015

Chocolate(s) of the Day: 

Rigoni di Asiago
Nocciolata Crema di Cacao e Nocciole
(Organic Hazelnut Spread with Cocoa and Milk)
Very Good
Weight: 2 tsp. (estimate) in 1 sample packet
Calories: 100 calories (estimate) in 1 packet
Cost: N/A - sample
Purchased from: N/A - sample

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

Northern Italy is known for its fine hazelnuts and gianduia (chocolate and hazelnut) blends, spreads and fillings. Today's Nocciolata (organic hazelnut spread) from Rigoni di Asiago (Foza (VI) Italy) was creamy, sweet and full of balanced hazelnut and chocolate flavor.

This spread was perfectly enjoyable a la carte, on/from a spoon, and as a spread.

Gate Comme des Filles

Gate Comme des Filles
Honey Walnut - Very Good
Garden Thyme - Very Good
Coffee and Cacao Nib - Very Good
Purchased from: The Chocolate Garage, Palo Alto, CA

I also enjoyed three different filled chocolates from a Gate Comme des Filles (Somerville, MA) holiday collection.

Part of a nine-piece assortment box, these honey walnut, garden thyme, and coffee and cacao nib brittle chocolates were all very good.



Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Arete Gianduia Spread + Meyer Lemon chocolates - Dec. 16, 2015

Chocolate(s) of the Day:

Arete Fine Chocolate
Gianduia Spread
Good ++ - Very Good
Weight: 1 oz. (28.3 g.) / 3.6 oz. (100 g.) in total jar
Calories: 150 calories (estimate) in 1 oz. (28.3 g.) serving
Cost: $22.00 for 1 jar
Purchased from: The Chocolate Garage, Palo Alto, CA

Today was Day #3 of Chocolate and Hazelnut Theme Week.

There was a wealth of high-quality chocolate and hazelnut flavor condensed into this small glass jar of Gianduia Spread from Arete Fine Chocolate (Milpitas, CA).

This spread was made from a revered Northern Italian hazelnut cultivar Tonda Gentile delle Langhe (TGL) hazelnuts and hazelnut oil; organic cane sugar; and Peru Nacional Cacao.

TGL hazelnuts are known for their sweet, round character, lack of bitterness and astringency, and great flavor—especially when mixed with chocolate. This hazelnut flavor surfaced now and then as it intermingled with the sweet fruit acidity of the Peruvian cacao—the latter emerging as the dominant player. Artful balancing act between two high-quality, alpha flavors. The texture was great, as was the melt. It was great on gluten-free warm crepes, pancakes and toast.

Gate Comme Des Filles

Gate Comme Des Filles
Meyer Lemon chocolates
Very Good - Very Good +
Weight: .8 oz. (22.64 g.) (estimate) in 2 pieces


Calories: 120 calories (estimate) in 2 pieces
Cost: $22.00 for 1 small box of 4 pieces
Purchased from: The Chocolate Garage, Palo Alto, CA

I have, in the past, grumbled about anemic flavor inclusions in some chocolates. Today's Gate Comme Des Filles chocolates, however, had a light, creamy but robust, fresh Meyer lemon flavor and each was adorned with a glistening strip of candied lemon peel. Every ingredient, including the chocolate, tasted like it was of the highest quality.

Both chocolates featured today were executed by skilled craftspeople who care very much about quality. The mental image that appeared to me when eating these lemon chocolates: A ballerina gracefully crossing the high wire with a smile on her face; a beautiful balance between bittersweet, dense citrus peel and a sweet, flavorful, almost souffle-like lemon-infused chocolate ganache. An absence of over-sugaring gave the flavors in this chocolate room to blossom.

The tart sweetness of these lemon chocolates paired nicely with a hot cream biscuit and Arete Gianduia Spread (described above). Chocolate, lemon and hazelnut can be a delightful trio. Add a shot of espresso with this combination, and one could imagine sitting in a cafe in Rome, Italy. However, these lemon lovelies would be right at home in Paris, Palo Alto, or anywhere else for that matter.

The name Gate Comme Des Filles (roughly translated means "spoiled like the girls"), is the creation of Alexandra Whisnant (who trained in France and worked at Chez Panisse, a Berkeley, CA, restaurant famous for fresh, seasonal flavors). Alexandra's other truffles include ingredients like fresh walnut, garden thyme, vanilla bean, and other flavors—all best eaten, like most truffles, within 3-5 days of purchase if possible.


















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