Saturday, July 31, 2010

Baratti e Milano Venezuela Cacao 80% Extra Fondente

75g bar
Ingredients: Venezuela cocoa, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, natural vanilla extract

Last time I reviewed Baratti & Milano, I was impressed by the depth of chocolate flavor in the 88% bar. This time around I'm trying a gift from the same friend, Baratti & Milano's Venezuelan 80% cacao bar. Those paltry 8% and a single source couldn't make much of a difference, right?

The 80% bar comes from the same mold and has the same dull finish, though I'd wager the color is warmer and brighter than the black-brown of the 88% bar. While I no longer have that one for a side-by-side comparison, the scent here doesn't strike me as “spicy perfume heady with vanilla” so much as sweet and caramelized, like a toasted marshmallow.

I wasn't feeling like a super-dark bar today, so I was nervous to eat another of Baratti & Milano's “extra-bitter” bars, but I needn't have worried. Oh sure, it's dark and intense, but it has the sweet support staff that the 88% bar only utilized as a background note. The flavor isn't as marshmallowy as it smelled either, more nutty, with a good portion of bitterness and very little sourness. To my taste buds, this is not a fruity chocolate.

Conclusion: Baratti e Milano Venezuela Cacao 80% Extra Fondente is...well, it doesn't stand out for me, but it's tasty.

[Note: I couldn't find a good website showing this bar.]

Friday, July 23, 2010

E. Guittard Nocturne 91% Cacao

2oz (56.7g) bar
Ingredients: Cacao beans, cocoa butter, cane sugar, soy lecithin, vanilla beans
5g sugar/57g serving (8.8% by wt.)

I'd heard of E. Guittard's chocolate via the reportedly high-quality baking wafers, though I never got around to buying any. Then I was given the chance to try the Nocturne bar courtesy of my generous Pralus donor, but I didn't feel like chocolate for a while (sacrilege!), so I've been working on this review for perhaps three weeks. Here goes...

The Nocture bar is small and thick, in a uniform, relatively matte basic brown. The aroma is quite nice, with dark, browned-caramel dried fruit: raisins, cherries, maybe figs. The taste is extremely dark and somewhat bitter but doesn't leave much impression otherwise, so I don't have much more to say about it other than that this may be why it took me so long to review the bar. On the other hand, a visitor tried some and rather liked it, a reminder of how personal taste in chocolate can be!

Conclusion: E. Guittard Nocture 91% Cacao is dark and bitter but not all that interesting.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

François Pralus Le 100% Criollo

3.5oz (100g) bar
Ingredients: Organic cocoa, o. cocoa butter

I was working on another review when the mail brought me a package from a thoughtful friend: François Pralus 100% cacao bar. What was I to do with such dark chocolate? I figured I couldn't review it, because without sugar, 100% cacao is bitter and sour. I also didn't want to bake it, drowning a relatively small amount of lovingly molded French cacao in butter and flour.

I unwrapped the foil, took a little sniff, then inhaled deeply: tropical, fruity, enveloping. So I tried a crumb, and this 100% cacao bar surprised me: it's not especially sour or bitter. It does have the expected acrid bite, but what predominates is the tropical fruit, not too flowery, something like pineapple or mango. The texture is more waxy than brittle, which I appreciate. This chocolate is complex but easy to eat—if you like 100% cacao, of course—because it's free of the sort of unpleasant edges that require dulling by sugar or milk.

Okay, I still wasn't about to eat an entire bar of unadulterated cacao. I discovered the solution in a leftover cup of heavy cream, and just for the heck of it, I tried it in two different but similar preparations. First I melted the bar with a bit of sugar. For one dessert, I whipped a small amount of the chocolate and sugar with half the cream to make an easy, soft, spoonable ganache. The rest of the chocolate mixture and cream (close to equal parts) I combined, refrigerated, scooped into balls, and rolled in cocoa powder to make truffles. In such a simple recipe inferior chocolate would have stood out, but these desserts tasted rich, pure, and dark.

Conclusion: For simple desserts that showcase high-quality chocolate, medium-bodied François Pralus Le 100% Criollo will not disappoint. 

Friday, July 2, 2010

Bissinger's Naurals Chocolate Covered Pumpkin Seed Crunch

5oz (142g) bag
Ingredients: Pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, rice malt, organic cane sugar, sea salt, dark chocolate (sugar, unsweetened chocolate, cocoa butter, butter oil, soy lecithin, vanilla)
8g sugar/29g serving (27.6% by wt.)

Missouri-based Bissinger's makes a whole host of confections, chocolate and otherwise, which aren't the sort of thing I usually review. But I saw these dark-chocolate-covered pumpkin seed clusters when I was trolling the candy aisle at Whole Foods (as I am wont to do), and while they don't list the percent cacao content, they fall within my sugar limit because much of the weight of a serving is made up of nuts. It's kind of a cheap way to sneak in candy, but these things happen when I shop hungry.

The good news: They're pretty good! Each piece is one or two bites' worth of pumpkin seeds and a sprinkling of sesame seeds bound by a minimal sheen of sweet lacquer and enrobed by a thin layer of inoffensive, generic dark chocolate. Because the pumpkin seeds are fairly delicate and the syrup and chocolate are applied with a light hand, the whole thing ends up airy and really quite nice. I'm not big into nuts and seeds, so I had my doubts, but I'd be happy to recommend these to folks who want a sweet chocolate snack that actually tastes reasonably healthy. Good going, Bissinger's.

Conclusion: Bissinger's Naturals Chocolate Covered Pumpkin Seed Crunch is pleasantly light and not too sweet.