Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Butlers Dark Chocolate

100g (3.52oz) bar
Ingredients: Cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla
32g sugar/100g bar (32% by wt.)

I bought this bar in New Zealand, but there's nothing kiwi about this Irish chocolate I found in a specialty shop. I'd just never seen it before and thought I'd try it.

Corporate Info: Butlers Chocolates is a Dublin-based confectioner that produces the usual truffles, toffee, and so on. The company also operates and franchises a number of Butlers Chocolate Cafés, mostly in Ireland but also London, New Zealand (aha!), and Pakistan (hey, why not?), and apparently they've won assorted awards. Alas, don't bother looking for fair trade items here.

Appearance: Glossy, reddish, smooth (well, aside from all the molded ridges).

Smell: Pleasant, not especially pungent or mild. Reminds me of blackberries.

Taste: Tart, nutty, caramely, nice sweetness. Texture is waxy and a little chalky; too waxy for me, as it comes off as cloying.

Conclusion: Butlers Dark Chocolate is pleasant enough but not amazing.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

François Pralus Brésil Forastero 75%


100g (3.5oz) bar
Ingredients: cocoa, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin

Ages ago I reviewed François Pralus's 100% cacao bar. I so enjoyed it that when I was visiting Cacao in Portland, I decided to try one of the chocolatier's many single-origin bars, in this case Brésil Forastero (Brazil is the country of origin; Forastero is the bean variety).

Corporate Info: François Pralus's website and press kit (a pdf) give pride of place to Pralus's father Auguste, a pastry chef whose work François considers his company to be carrying on; the franchises sell both Auguste's praline brioche (the “Praluline”) and François's chocolate. François Pralus processes all of its chocolate from bean to bar in its factory in central France, and while it sources the beans from all over the world, it now owns one plantation on an island off the coast of Madagascar. There is no indication that the beans are fair trade or organic, and this Brazilian bar obviously didn't originate from Pralus's own plantation.

Appearance: I rather like the look of François Pralus's bars; there's something pleasing about the symmetry of little squares and the large block with the Pralus signature. Otherwise, the chocolate is a nice reddish brown, with a slight gloss. Mine is also a little banged up.

Smell: There's not much smell but it's warm, reminding me of something like nutmeg, hazelnuts, and crème fraiche (like sour cream, but richer and not as tart).

Texture: Very rich and creamy, with some bitterness and a touch of acid. Nothing really distinctive, but not especially mild either. For me this chocolate is all about the creamy texture.

Conclusion: François Pralus Brésil Forastero is rich and creamy, with a little bitterness for complexity.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Recchiuti Bittersweet

4oz (113g) bar
Ingredients: Cacao beans, sugar, cacao butter, soy lecithin, vanilla bean
11g sugar/42g serving (26.2% by wt.)

Corporate Info: San Francisco's Recchiuti is really a confectioner; bars are only a small part of a product line that includes everything from chocolate-dipped fruit crisps to brownies to sauces. Recchiuti is quite expensive, and quite well-liked. None of the chocolate is organic or fair trade.

Appearance: By the time I opened my bar it was a little beat up around the edges, but otherwise this is a glossy, standard orangey-red chocolate in a thick-ish bar that isn't deeply scored, i.e. it doesn't break into clean blocks.

Smell: Nice. Beany, a little smoky, a touch of tang.

Taste: This is a very chocolatey chocolate: The flavor is beany, like cacao nibs and lightly roasted coffee, and the texture is waxy and dense. It's also a little sour, which adds to the complexity and makes this basic chocolate not so mild that I'd eat the entire bar before realizing it.

Conclusion: Recchiuti Bittersweet isn't my favorite, but its chocolateyness is so emblematic of a certain flavor profile that I think some eaters might love it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

New Zealand Chocolate: Scarborough Fair

Corporate Info: Auckland-based Scarborough Fair offers a small range of fair trade coffees, teas, and chocolate bars, so when I saw the brand's espresso and peppermint chocolate bars in a grocery store, I snatched them up. Turn-offs: The chocolate has silly names like “Decadence” and “Enigma” (not to mention “Sinless,” “Adore,” and “Sublime”); Scarborough Fair is actually owned by corporate-sounding Lighthouse Ventures Limited, for whom the bars are produced by some unnamed manufacturer; and the website is pretty drab. Turn-ons: I bought fair trade chocolate for a reasonable price while visiting another country. So hey.

Decadence Dark Espresso Chocolate 70% Cocoa

120g (4.23oz) bar
Ingredients: fair trade cocoa liquor, ft. organic cane sugar, ft. cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, espresso flavor
6.8g sugar/20g serving (34% by wt.)

Appearance: Dullish, grayish brown.

Smell: I can't smell any coffee here. There's a slight roasted beaniness that could be either chocolate or coffee, but it's not distinct or strong. Most of what I get is sugary and a little musty.

Taste: Texture is creamy and slightly chalky, which isn't a bad thing. The flavor is weird, though: mostly over-sweet and creamy with just a hint of coffee, like cheap coffee ice cream.

Enigma Dark Peppermint Chocolate 70% Cocoa

120g (4.23oz) bar
Ingredients: fair trade cocoa liquor, ft. organic cane sugar, ft. cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla, mint flavor
6.8g sugar/20g serving (34% by wt.)

Appearance: Redder and a little glossier than the espresso bar.

Smell: Mint extract, distilled and thin, and a musty, saccharine sweetness. It doesn't appeal to me.

Taste: Texture is great, first with some bite but then creamy and melty. But the taste is still weirdly over-sweet, which surprises me since this is all cane sugar. The mint doesn't merge well with the chocolate, as though the chocolate is too sweet, the mint is too sweet, and the two kind of co-exist in the bar rather than melding. The aftertaste is similar, with a thin, menthol-y flavor predominating.

Conclusion: I like Scarborough Fair's fair trade goals, but the chocolate feels like an afterthought, with a thin, sweet, and not very chocolatey taste. If customers are spending more for a fair trade product, I think they'll be disappointed.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

New Zealand Chocolate: Whittaker's

So I haven't posted for the last couple weeks, and the reason is that I was in New Zealand! I brought home several chocolate bars, and today I'm reviewing three varieties of Whittaker's, a brand found in seemingly every supermarket and service station in the country. This chocolate is cheap, doesn't contain any weird fillers (except maybe “flavor”), and makes some crazy huge bars: The 72% and Mocha bars are 250 grams—most of the bars I review are 85 or 100g—the Peanut Slabs came in a pack of three chunky 50g bars, and if I recall correctly each item was under $5. Because I'm discussing all three varieties in one go, the photos and reviews appear after this introductory section.

Corporate Info: The original Whittaker started working with chocolate in 1896, and Whittaker's final product is made in Porirua, near New Zealand's capital of Wellington. But yes, as with other chocolate companies it sources its ingredients all over the world: Ghana (cocoa beans), Southeast Asia (cocoa butter), South Africa (peanuts), and so on. With the exception of one fair trade milk chocolate bar, you've still got the usual chocolate industry stuff to deal with, though they do say they're trying. In addition to what I've reviewed here, Whittaker's produces an intriguing assortment of studded slabs, flavored “blocks” (the giant bars), toffees, and single-sized servings.

72% Cocoa Dark Ghana

250g bar
Ingredients: Cocoa mass, cocoa butter, sugar, soy lecithin, vanilla flavor
8.3g sugar/25g serving (33.2% by wt.)

Appearance: Big. Also glossy and medium in color.

Smell: Pleasant, nose-filling, chocolatey. Like hot cocoa and raisins.

Taste: Enjoyable. A little sour but not too much, kind of chalky but not weirdly, a little fatty but not unpalatable. The experience is like eating a Hershey's Kiss—it's mild but not impressively creamy or unpleasantly neutral, and if I weren't paying attention I could eat this all day.

62% Cocoa Dark Mocha

250g bar
Ingredients: Cocoa mass, cocoa butter, sugar, soy lecithin, flavor, roasted ground coffee beans
9.4g sugar/25g serving (37.6% by wt.)

Okay, yeah, for this review I did cheat on the sugar level. I was in another country, people! The Peanut Slab below would be even worse if the sugar weren't drowned out by peanuts.

Appearance: Darker than the 72% above, dark like medium-roast coffee.

Smell: Coffee, but again nose-filling and pleasant. There's nothing challenging about this chocolate, but also nothing “off”--it smells like a coffee shop, like coffee beans that aren't too dark-roasted. Nice.

Taste: The coffee grounds give the chocolate a uniformly gritty texture, which is fairly fine and therefore interesting rather than annoying. Flavor still reminds me of walking into a coffee shop; if you like that sensation, you'll like this bar.

Bittersweet Peanut Slab

50g bar (three per pack)
Ingredients: Sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter [47% total cocoa solids], soy lecithin, flavor, roasted peanuts
17.1g sugar/50g serving (34.2% by wt.)

Appearance: These stubby little bars are the size of an outdated candy bar-style cell phone, the size of the palm of your hand (my fairly small hand, anyhow) and thicker than what you're used to, but they're totally packed with whole roasted peanuts.

Smell: Mmm, chocolate and peanuts, a classic.

Taste: A great ratio of chocolate to peanuts. Lots of textural interest with the whole nuts and slightly chalky chocolate. At 47% cacao this is definitely sweeter than the 72% bar above, but eating them separately they don't taste all that different: Same Hershey's Kiss texture and quality, and I suspect a less dark chocolate works better with the peanuts. Again, I could eat the whole 50g (nearly 2oz) bar in one go.

Conclusion: Whittaker's is good mass-market chocolate: Simple, cheap, and addictive. There's nothing virtuous about it, and if I lived in New Zealand I'd be searching out the fair trade options (I've got some for next week), but for now I'm enjoying my Whittaker's.