Sunday, October 31, 2010

Irregular Posting

I have generally tried to post weekly, each Friday or Saturday. Recent events have made it difficult to maintain a strict schedule, so for a while posts will be more irregularly timed but hopefully still once a week.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Chocolate Santander Colombian Single Origin 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate Pineapple Bits

2.3oz (65g) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, pineapple extract
19g sugar/65g serving (29.2% by wt.)

I bought Chocolate Santander's pineapple bar during a trip to Chocolopolis. It caught my eye because it seemed like a nice change of pace, conjuring images of an only-in-the-tropics merger of sweet chocolate and chewy pieces of sweet-tart dried pineapple.

This sharply molded, deep brown bar does smell of sweet tropical fruit, as well as the nuttiness I remember from my first Chocolate Santander bar. The chocolate is nutty, tart, and dryly tannic—fine, but not exactly what I was envisioning. The pineapple, while plentiful, is in such small pieces that they can't possibly be really chewy, though they do have enough presence to stick around in all their tiny glory as the chocolate melts in your mouth. They also contribute a hint of the fruity sharpness particular to pineapple, but the strong-tasting chocolate base dominates here.

I have to admit I'm disappointed, though I'm not sure I'm being fair. This bar is just more sour than I had hoped, without the corresponding juicy sweetness I think of when I crave pineapple or the creaminess I thought the chocolate might contribute. On the other hand, I should have remembered that Chocolate Santander uses a stronger, sourer chocolate than the ideal I had in mind, and for what it is it's not bad. Maybe this is just not for me.

Conclusion: Chocolate Santander Colombian Single Origin 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate Pineapple Bits is strong, tart chocolate with a light touch of pineapple.

Monday, October 18, 2010

ChocoLate con Aceite de Oliva Virgen Extra Bio (Organic 70% Cacao with Extra Virgin Olive Oil)

70g (2.4oz) bar
Ingredients: Organic cocoa, o. cocoa butter, o. cane sugar, o. extra virgin olive oil (5%), soy lecithin
11g sugar/40g serving (27.5% by wt.)

I wasn't sure what to expect from this Spanish bar other than a novel experience. The pairing of chocolate and olive oil is like coffee and cheese or prosciutto and salsa, two gastronomic powerhouses that arise from different parts of the globe and don't sound quite right as a team. Then again, I guess chocolate and olive oil can both be creamy and rich, with an enveloping perfume and a distinctive flavor, so maybe they're not so far apart after all. Would that come across here?

The bar has a common, matte brown appearance, though the molding design is fairly interesting. Where this chocolate really gets me is the aroma: Mostly chocolate with...something else, something subtle and hard to recognize. It doesn't smell at all like the bottle of olive oil on my kitchen counter, and I bet that's because they're different types; the one in the chocolate strikes me as mouth-filling and buttery. This flavor carries through on first taste: The olive oil hits the tongue first, then as the chocolate begins to melt, that flavor melds with what turns out to be a very creamy, sweet chocolate, a good match for a rich-tasting olive oil. I find the aftertaste to be more of the same, mostly chocolate with some subtle variation, but another taster here felt it showcased the olive oil again.

Inevitable intrusion of personal taste: I don't like buttery olive oils. I figured olive oil flavors varied but were all good until I found myself recoiling from certain bottles, as the aroma and flavor struck me as overwhelmingly greasy, kind of like rancid oil. I thought maybe I just needed a better quality bottle until I found that some I liked some cheap varieties just fine. What I was reacting to was the particularly buttery type, which is why I have a big bottle of inexpensive grassy, fruity extra virgin olive oil in my kitchen and a bit of an aversion to this chocolate. That's not to say anything about its quality, because it really is luscious and creamy, and interesting in a quiet way I haven't seen before, and plenty of people like buttery olive oils. In light of this, I would love to try some of this company's other bars.

Conclusion: ChocoLate con Aceite de Oliva Virgen Extra Bio is smooth and rich and worth a try—unless you don't like buttery olive oils (or, obviously, olive oil in general). 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Venchi Assenzio Pure Extra Bitter Chocolate with Absinth

45g (1.58oz) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa powder (22-24% cocoa butter), cocoa butter, cocoa mass, sugar, dill, Artemisia absinthium extract, soy lecithin, vanilla.

Venchi's absinthe-flavored 75% cacao bar is unlike anything else I've tried. It looks like any old small bar with fancy wrapping, but the licorice-like scent is powerful, unmistakeable even when the bar was wrapped. I bought this chocolate because it was novel and exotic, but to be honest I'm not a huge fan of licorice and its cousins (cousins in odor only—anise and fennel are barely related to licorice), so it took a few weeks of daring myself to review The Absinthe Bar before I finally bit the bullet.

So what's absinthe? I won't go into detail here because I think most of us have already heard that there's this the green, anise-flavored, slightly illegal liquor that maybe makes you crazy but actually probably doesn't. Regardless, it's worth noting that the cult-favorite spirit with the sexy history experienced a bit of a resurgence in the last decade or so, which makes Venchi's formidably herbaceous chocolate somewhat trendy in a bold and interesting way. Venchi approximates absinthe by using the liquor's characteristic Artemesia absinthium, aka wormwood, as well as dill in the place of fennel, though it leaves out the usual anise. [3/30/11: See the end of the post for an update on The Dill Situation.]

The look: angular, matte, and grayish. The smell: Like absinthe. Fennel, anise, licorice, you know what I'm talking about. As I've mentioned there is no fennel or anise here as in absinthe, so what provides the aura of licorice? I can't find a description of the flavor of Artemesia absinthium itself other than “bitter,” but I've discovered that licorice-haters can buy modern absinthe without the traditional flavor, so it probably isn't coming from the wormwood. Dill, on the other hand, is fairly closely related to fennel, and while they don't taste identical, I'd wager that flavor and odor are what dill brings to the table in this chocolate (perhaps in some high concentration or using a non-leaf part of the plant). Let's give it a taste.

This pairing actually works surprisingly well. The texture of the bar is very smooth (if just a touch chalky) and the chocolate is dark and slightly bitter but mostly sweet and not too intense, which jibes with the oddly sweet undertone particular to licorice and similar plants. While the anise-y quality melds nicely with the chocolate, it also predominates and lingers...and lingers. This bar is for licorice lovers and absinthe fetishists only.

Conclusion: Venchi Assenzio Pure Extra Bitter Chocolate with Absinth is a great bar for a niche market.

[Note: I couldn't find this bar on Venchi's website, though I did see it for sale on a couple other random sites. I bought it in a brick-and-mortar specialty chocolate shop.]

Update 3/30/11: In light of the comment left below, I looked into the ingredient in question as it was listed in Italian, anetolo. The only translation I could find was "anethole," which turns out to be the aromatic compound largely responsible for the flavor of licorice, anise, and fennel. (Fennel as a vegetable is finnochio.) So there you go!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Vivani Dark Chocolate with 85% Cocoa

3.5oz (100g) bar
Ingredients: Organic cocoa liquor, o. cocoa butter, o. raw cane sugar
6g sugar/42 g serving

Vivani's 85% cacao bar is another organic, pure chocolate + sugar mix, but the German company also produces interesting flavors like green tea and lemon (and far more in Europe). I've had the green tea one before, and while I didn't love it, I respected that it really did taste of bitter matcha powder.

The 85% bar smells great. I mean, if you're not trying to be extra observant it just smells like chocolate, but up close it's actually pungent and earthy—very intriguing. The flavor and texture aren't a combination I'm used to: The consistency is super-rich, the kind that feels like it's melting right into smooth cocoa butter, which I usually associate with mild chocolate, but bitter definitely predominates here. It's not at  all sour, and the other flavors aren't especially intense aside from the astringency. It's all a bit too much for my liking, but still interesting. I wonder if it might be good for baking?

Conclusion: Vivani Dark Chocolate with 85% Cocoa is smooth and bitter.

[Note: I forgot to take the photo until after I'd opened the bar. Obviously.]