Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate at Home: Costa Rica versus Peruvian Origin Chocolate

Every now and then I make a batch of homemade chocolate. All of which is eaten by me. Yup, I share with no one. Mostly because I make the chocolate to suit my own occasional cravings for 80+ dark chocolate, and since there is no where to buy my kind of dark chocolate on this Island that I live on, I must make it myself.

I also like to play around in the kitchen and see what equipment will work for making chocolate at home. Lately, I've been using my Ninja blender. This produces a good-sized batch of chocolate with a distinct light grittiness, much like the stone-ground chocolate made by Taza or Toronto's ChocoSol Traders.  The chocolate is also bold and sometimes acidic, because it lacks that nice long conche that a smooth chocolate bar has. But this crunchy acidic taste can easily become a regular craving.

When friends recently handed me some Costa Rican cocoa beans, purchased while traveling to the country, I thought, 'oh good, now it's time to learn, taste and compare some homemade chocolate made from different origins.'

So I roasted the Costa Rican beans (I gave it a fairly dark roast at 325F for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally) and then I also dark-roasted some raw Peruvian nibs sold under the Nativa brand. From the taste of the beans, I could tell that the Costa Rican chocolate would be less acidic, as they clearly had more cocoa fat in the beans. The extra cocoa butter could be both tasted and seen in the rippling on the outside of each bean before being broken into nibs. 

Since I had only 6 ounces of Costa Rican nibs (what's left after the shells were removed and the beans broken) and 3 ounces of Peruvian nibs, I had to spend a little time calculating to get the same percentage of cocoa solids in my final chocolate. So for an 82.3% dark chocolate, I used these amounts:

Peruvian Dark Chocolate:
3 oz Peruvian nibs
0.692 oz organic raw cane sugar
0.3076 cocoa butter, melted

Costa Rican Dark Chocolate:
4.875 oz of nibs (I admit it, I ate a lot of the beans, these ones were delicious)
1.125 oz organic raw cane sugar
0.5 oz cocoa butter, melted

When you add the cocoa butter to the cocoa nibs, you get the total amount of cocoa solids. Then add up all the ingredients, and divide the cocoa solids by that total to get the percentage of cacao.

What I learned this time with the Ninja, was that for a small amount of chocolate I had to use the smoothie attachment, because the Ninja has a 6-blade system that runs from bottom to top, so the blender would need to be at least half-way full to do a good grind.

The smooth attachment worked well for a smaller amount of chocolate. But it worked best for the slightly larger Costa Rican batch, making smoother chocolate. There just wasn't enough Peruvian to make the blades work the way they were supposed to and I had to stop it to stir often. In future, I would double the recipe to make this work better.

Once the chocolate was blended, I then tempered it and poured it into the nifty molds that I purchased from Chocolat-Chocolat last year.  With an immense amount of shaking and banging the mold on the counter, I got out most of the air bubbles.

Once the chocolate chilled a little, I extracted some very beautiful chocolate bars. The Peruvian was very light in colour, reddish and milk chocolaty in appearance. The Costa Rican chocolate was very dark - nearly black. And as suspected based on the bean flavour, it was less acidic and better tasting than the Peruvian.

For both, there is an upfront heavy roast flavour. The Peruvian was acidic but lightly fruity. I am aware that these should be aged for a month or so before molding, but really there isn't enough to wait (I guess I will save a little for aging to taste the difference in a month).

Either way, I am enjoying my homemade chocolate. And I am proud of how it turned out. Each batch is better than the last, and I am now able to taste the differences in beans, and know how a chocolate might fair once ground up (I also know how good it might be if I invested in a melangeur)!

And this time, I might just have to share with those lovely friends who gave me the beans.


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This post was not endorsed in any way by any company, but if you would like to learn more about the Ninja blender, click here to find out where I bought mine.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sirene Chocolate: A Unique and Exciting Addition to Canada's Craft Chocolate Scene

We have 17 bean-to-bar craft chocolate makers in Canada. Well, I think so. Maybe. This number is always a moving target and I have been trying to hit that target with my mouth for a few years now. And just when I think that I've tasted the last one, a new one opens up for business.

Sirene Chocolate of Victoria, B.C. is one of the newest additions to Canada's growing craft, bean-to-bar chocolate movement, and, I believe, is emerging as a most interesting contender.

Why so interesting? Sirene has come out with chocolate sold in packages of 'Tasting Pairs'.  In one box, you can find a chocolate bar made from cocoa beans grown in Madagascar and a chocolate bar made from beans grown in Ecuador. For a curious taster, who loves to savour and compare single origin chocolate, I find Sirene's duo boxes a breath of fresh air.

You might be wondering why a 'tasting pair' is such a great idea. Taylor Kennedy, Sirene's owner and chocolate maker says he designed it for the majority of people who are still learning what craft bean-to-bar chocolate is. "Without a direct comparison, it is hard to understand that there is something different about this chocolate," explains Mr. Kennedy. "Alone, a great bar might be thought of as 'just really good chocolate', instead of 'wow, check this out, two totally different flavours between these two chocolates....what is going on here?'"

Mr. Kennedy's goal is to "pique interest" in craft chocolate for the majority of chocolate lovers who have yet to experience it. He wants them to learn why it is so different from industrial chocolate. And those differences? Well, to name a few:

1. Attention to detail due to the craft chocolate maker's passion for chocolate making (and tasting),
2. Care for preserving the natural origin flavours of the bean,
3. A nearly-never use of preservatives or funky bad-for-you ingredients in craft chocolate, such as hydrogenated oil or modified starches (if you have ever read the back of a popular candy bar, you'll know what I am talking about), and
4. Direct trade with the farmers or co-operatives means fairer pay for those who cultivate the cocoa beans used to make chocolate.

As a rather enthusiastic fan of craft chocolate, Sirene's duo box enabled me to taste chocolate in my favourite way: compare two origin chocolates that are vastly different simply because the cocoa beans used to make them grow in two different regions of the world. The best part is that I did not have to buy two bars separately, and I did not have to seek out chocolate with the same percentage for an accurate comparison. Take Lindt for instance - each bar in their single origin range has a slightly different percentage of cocoa solids, which means a different percentage of sugar. This makes it hard to tell if one bean is naturally sweeter than another when tasting the chocolate.

But I get it. Some beans need to be treated differently than others. Some have less cocoa butter, taste bitter and come out with a chalky texture and therefore, those need more sugar. But Sirene's idea is perfect for those times when you just want to identify unique origin flavours in two different chocolates.

Currently, Sirene Chocolate offers Tasting Pairs made from just the two origins: Madagascar and Ecuador. But Taylor Kennedy says he is testing about 12 origins right now to find two new pairs that work well together, so keep an eye out, Sirene is one to watch! For more information on Sirene Chocolate and where you can find it near you, visit the company's website at www.sirenechocolate.com. Mine was purchased at JoJo Coco in Ottawa, but it is also available for sale online at La Tablette de Miss Choco.

Tasting Notes:
Here are some notes from my review of each of Sirene's current chocolate Tasting Pairs:


Sirene's 73% and 100% Chocolate Bars:
With just one or two ingredients, the chocolate is amazingly delicate and delicious. The incredible colour difference between these two origin chocolate bars is fascinating, showing that the beans alone can greatly affect the colour of any chocolate bar. The 73% bars were both delicious in two very different ways. The Madagascar 73% was fruity, with raspberry and fruit flavours. The Ecuador was slightly stiffer due to less cocoa fat in the beans, but it had a heavy cocoa flavour and a nutty finish. I preferred the 73% bars with no salt, but my preference is normally for a slightly sweeter chocolate-and salt-combination. Overall, I really enjoyed the 73% dark chocolate bars.

On the first day that I tasted the 100% bars, I found the Madagascar to be more palatable. On the second day, I preferred the Ecuador. Regardless, if I had to live on sugarless 100% dark chocolate for the rest of my life, I could live on these two bars. Both delicate and unique and nothing at all like the unsweetened baking chocolate I knew from my childhood. Here are my specific notes:

Madagascar 100% - With its light milk chocolate colour and fruity aroma, this chocolate makes you want to eat it from the appearance and smell alone. It tastes nothing like 'unsweetened baking chocolate', and so much tastier than a Lindt 99% bar. This chocolate has a distinct fruity (think unsweetened not-so-ripe raspberries) flavour and there is no chalkiness on the palate. I found it acidic.

Ecuador 100% - This had a very sweet aroma when you smelled it, which is always funny for a 100% cacao chocolate, since there is no sugar added. A little flat in flavour compared to the Madagascar, but still a nice heavy cocoa flavour with a nutty aftertaste.

Friday, April 24, 2015

zChocolat will help you say 'I love you' this Mother's Day


Have you tried zChocolat yet?  If not, take it from me, this chocolate is divine.

I have told you about zChocolat before. I have written about how elegant and beautiful these filled chocolates are. I have even told you about the signature Z, the company's pride and joy. This delicate confection comes in milk, white and dark chocolate.

And in this article, I can tell you that the chocolate is still just as delicious as the first time that I tasted it. Each chocolate is numbered, and as it turns out, my old favourites are still, well, my favourites. Take chocolate #8, for instance, which is a Venezuelan dark chocolate shell, filled with a smooth coffee ganache in one half and a crunchy praline filling in the other half. Every time I taste it, I remember why I have a love affair with chocolate. And that infamous Z?  Well, that succulent caramel, combined with a lightly crunchy praline is the perfect combination to satisfy those sweet chocolate cravings.


This week, I had the pleasure of tasting zChocolat's Mother's Day chocolate collection. For Mother's Day, they have created a lovely pink box that truly says "I love you" to the Mother in your life. At a cost of only $52.70 Canadian (plus shipping & taxes), you can give your mom 15 of zChocolats original chocolates.

Every chocolate in the box is numbered, and the box is accompanied by a gorgeous mini book with pictures and tantalizing descriptions. There is also a personalized note and a lovely cloth bag to protect the box of chocolate. Even the ice pack that accompanies the chocolates is elegant and imprinted with zChocolat's logo.

So hurry up and order! zChocolat ships direct from France to locations all over the world, but you will receive it in just days. Plus, worldwide shipping is less than $20 Canadian! Your mother will thank you.

Visit www.zchocolat.com to order or for more details.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

This small chocolate business in British Columbia has a big selection

Take a Fancy, a Burnaby-based chocolate brand, has been making chocolate in small batches, from bean to bar, for the last few years and selling it at Farmer's Markets in British Columbia. As one of Canada's newest chocolate makers, I was anxious to try Take a Fancy's products. The ingredients are natural and organic, and made from cocoa beans from Peru. What's more, the owner, Becks D'Angelo, is on a bean-hunting trip in Costa Rica, and says there may be exciting new single origin chocolate from Take A Fancy soon.

I ordered online and was pleasantly surprised by the selection. I purchased six different chocolate bars with a variety of cacao percentages, including two that were sweetened with maple sugar instead of cane sugar. When it arrived, I was also pleased with the chocolate.

The milk chocolates surprised me the most. Not many of Canada's craft chocolate makers make milk chocolate, so I was pleased to see that a such small business, like Take a Fancy, offered both a 42% bar and a 50% dark-milk chocolate. The 42% milk chocolate was not super sweet, but still very much designed for die-hard milk chocolate lovers.  It had a lovely milk chocolate colour and rich taste like a delicious milky hot chocolate.

Sittin' on the Fence is a 50% Dark-Milk Chocolate with a intense cocoa experience, but also with that familiar milk chocolate taste. Any kind of chocolate lover, whether an advocate of dark chocolate or an I-won't-let-go-of-my-milk-chocolate-addiction kinda person, could fall in love with this bar.

The 85% Dark Chocolate bar was enjoyable, with a creamy mouthfeel. Made with Peruvian cocoa beans, it had a nice earthy and cocoa flavour. I tried this up against a Lindt 85% and Take a Fancy's won out.  It was creamier and a little easier on the palate. And there was no vanilla to overwhelm the flavour, so the chocolate taste could shine through.

In fact, all of the bars were very creamy; I could definitely taste the added cocoa butter. The Maple 72% dark bar was quite enjoyable, albeit slightly more bitter tasting than the 72% Dark Chocolate made with cane sugar, but rather good (and rather Canadian too!). The regular 72% chocolate had a slightly fruity taste, with a real chocolaty base flavour. It was quite delicious.


Also, two caramels were included in my shipment. With that rich milk chocolate made by Take a Fancy and a soft, melt-in-your-mouth caramel centre, the experience was divine (and that coming from a girl who has never been into caramels!).

Ms. D'Angelo, has been selling only at Farmer's Markets. She says that she loves farmer's markets, "It's fantastic to connect the community with where chocolate comes from," which is really the heart and soul of the bean-to-bar craft chocolate movement. However, plans are in the works to branch out beyond farmer's markets in the Fall. So keep an eye on this brand, as we may see more of it in the future!

Currently, the chocolate bars are sold in two sizes, and all of Take a Fancy's chocolate is made with minimal ingredients (only 3 for the plain chocolate bars) with no added vanilla and no soy lecithin.  This is the natural stuff!

You can find the list of Farmer's Markets here. Also, follow the Take a Fancy blog now to learn how the cocoa bean-hunting trip in Costa Rica is going.  To order online (after Ms. D'Angelo arrives back from Costa Rica in a few weeks), visit: www.takeafancy.ca.

Monday, April 20, 2015

POSTPONED - An Afternoon of DARK-MILK Chocolate Tasting

PLEASE NOTE: This event has been postponed.  Stay tuned though...a new date will be made available soon! If you are interested in attending, please e-mail: info@ultimatelychocolate.com.
 

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Are you in the Sudbury area and want to learn about a new category of chocolate?  DARK-MILK chocolate is all the rage; it melts in your mouth like that milk chocolate taste of your childhood, but has all the antioxidants and richness of dark chocolate.

Join us at the Fromagerie Elgin for an afternoon of chocolate tasting!  Learn about the very trendy dark-milk chocolate and why small-batch craft chocolate makers are excitedly launching these bars all over North America.

Whether you are the type to only like milk chocolate, or if you only like dark chocolate, this workshop may open your taste buds to a new chocolate love! I've brought together 7 hard-to-get fine chocolate bars from around the world that we can enjoy at this tasting. Plus, you will receive a recipe to make your own truffles that have a unique dark-milk chocolate taste, and you'll take some truffles home. We'll also cover a quick 'how-to' on mixing your own dark-milk chocolate at home (no need for specialised chocolate equipment!). Also includes one coffee/tea/wine beverage.

This event will take place at the Fromagerie Elgin in Sudbury, Ontario, and will be hosted by Lisabeth Flanagan, Owner of Ultimately Chocolate (Manitoulin Island), writer and chocolate reviewer for The Ultimate Chocolate Blog and contributor for AOL/Huffington Post.  With more than 10 years of chocolate tasting experience, and six years in business as a chocolatier & pastry professional, Lisabeth knows all the best brands of fine and origin chocolate.

Use the 'Buy Now' button below to pay for tickets online using credit card or PayPal. Tickets are not available for pick-up at the Fromagerie Elgin. Print your PayPal receipt and bring it to the event (or show us on your phone). We will also have a list of those who paid.  Use the contact info below to let us know if you would like to buy tickets with another form of payment.

Here are the event details:


Event Name: Afternoon of DARK-MILK Chocolate
Price: $35.00 (only 18 tickets are available. Advance ticket purchase only.)

Location: Fromagerie Elgin at 5 Cedar Street, with entrance on Elgin Street in downtown Sudbury. Parking available across the street on Elgin.
Date/Time: Postponed. New date coming soon.

Contact:  E-mail info@ultimatelychocolate.com or call 705-282-3535 if you have questions or for further information, or to register with another method of payment.
 

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate in the Sunshine State: Castronovo Chocolate

Castronovo Chocolate, a craft chocolate maker in Stuart, Florida, has been making a big splash on the chocolate scene lately. A 2014 Silver win in the International Chocolate Awards for their 63% Dark Milk chocolate bar and two just-announced wins in the Academy of Chocolate Awards in the U.K., confirms that Castronovo is making good chocolate.

Thanks to a wonderful birthday gift, I had the privilege of tasting a full line-up of Castronovo's single origin bars last week. I revisited each one, every day for about seven days, from Peru, to the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, two plantations in Columbia and finally, Venezuela.

What's great about this chocolate maker, is that they name the bean type and batch number, and they include a descriptive explanation on the back of each chocolate bar package. Also, the evaporated cane juice used to sweeten the chocolate is organic and Castronovo's chocolate contains no soy lecithin, wheat, nuts or gluten.

Overall, I enjoyed this line-up of chocolate bars. Not only did all the chocolate have a nicely balanced bean-to-cocoa butter ratio, each bar had a unique flavour profile, which made for very interesting tasting sessions. I would recommend this line-up to anyone wanting to hold a group chocolate-tasting session.

My favourite was the 72% Criollo & Trinitario Columbia 'Sierra Nevada' bar.  I can see why this won an Academy of Chocolate award. I found it to be noticeably fruity with a nice cocoa finish, and actually outshone the Dominican Republic chocolate (but don`t get me wrong, the Dominican bar was delicious and it is fully organic). Also, the description of how the cacao is harvested by the Arhuaco indigenous people is worth reading on the chocolate package.

The Peru bar also surprised me, with its heavy cocoa aroma and lightly fruity flavour, which I have not often detected in a Peruvian origin chocolate.

The Nicaragua bar was the only one I was unsure about. In a way, I loved it for its interesting smokiness. In another, there was a funny flavour that turned me off a bit.  But yet I kept going back for more, so that says something. Plus, that smoky flavour really rounded out the range of chocolate bars.

Here is the line-up of bars available from Castronovo Chocolate, which can all be purchased on their website here. In Canada, some of Castronovo's bars are available at LaTablette.ca:

1. Columbia Sierra Nevada 72% Criollo & Trinitario Cacao 'Rare Cacao Collection', Batch 341
Ingredients: cocoa beans, evaporated cane juice*, cocoa butter  *organic ingredients. Contains no nuts, wheat, gluten, soy, or milk.
Taste: Fruitier than the others, nice cocoa finish, bright.

2. Columbia Arauca 76% Criollo & Trinitario Cacao, Batch 339
Ingredients: cocoa beans, evaporated cane juice*, cocoa butter  *organic ingredients. Contains no nuts, wheat, gluten, soy, or milk.
Taste: bright and fruity-floral with a nutty finish, but more bitter than the Sierra Nevada. I detected a slight tobacco flavour.

3. Venezuela Amazonas 72% Wild Cacao, 'Rare Cacao Collection', Batch 345
Ingredients: cocoa beans, evaporated cane juice*, cocoa butter  *organic ingredients. Contains no nuts, wheat, gluten, soy, or milk.
Taste: This one took me a little longer to figure out, possibly because it was the most neutral in flavour - no heavy flavours in any direction - just bold cocoa flavour with hints of earthy or tobacco, and nice low acidity. Very interesting story behind this 'wild' cacao and how it can be harvested during the dry season only and travels by two-day canoe trip by the Piaroa's indigenous communities.

4. Peru Tumbes 70% Trinitario Cacao (printed on front of package, but back says 'Criollo', Batch 332
Ingredients: cocoa beans, evaporated cane juice*, cocoa butter  *organic ingredients. Contains no nuts, wheat, gluten, soy, or milk.
Taste: This is one of the nicest Peruvian origin chocolates that I have tasted. Lightly fruity, possibly with a hint of orange, and some nice cocoa flavour, but nothing like the cocoa-heavy flavour that I am used to with Peruvian origin chocolate.

5. Dominican Republic, Duarte province, 70% Criollo & Trinitario, Batch 344
Ingredients: cocoa beans*, evaporated cane juice*, cocoa butter*  *organic ingredients. Contains no nuts, wheat, gluten, soy, or milk.
Taste: Medium-to-milk fruitiness, citrus flavours and yet also the flatness of dried fruit (compared to fresh fruit flavours). Well-rounded flavour overall and enjoyable, like many Dominican-origin bars are.

6. Nicaragua Momotombo 72% Trinitario Cacao, Batch 342
Ingredients: cocoa beans*, evaporated cane juice*  *organic ingredients. Contains no nuts, wheat, gluten, soy, or milk.
Taste: Possibly it is because the cacao is grown in the volcanic soil of the Momotombo region of Nicaragua, or just the smoky finish, but the flavour is certainly unique. Less chocolaty and more savoury than anything. Certainly interesting.

7. Dark Milk Chocolate, Columbia, Sierra Nevada, 63% Criollo & Triniario Cacao, Batch 309
Ingredients: cocoa beans, organic evaporated cane juice, organic cocoa butter, whole milk powder.  Contains no nuts, wheat, gluten or soy.
Taste: Creamy and smooth texture with a taste that is still a little tart and sour like many dark-milk chocolates can have. It has a very milky colour for a 63% and overall is very enjoyable.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Mmmm...Caramel: Callebaut Belgian Caramel Flavoured Chocolate from Bulk Barn


I was shopping at Bulk Barn last week and noticed a new bin in the chocolate section. I was pleased to see that it was filled with a caramel-flavoured milk chocolate.  This is great for all sorts of delicious molded confections, but it is also great for easy caramel truffles, caramel-flavoured ganache and caramel-chocolate cake.

I was not excited that there were artificial flavours in the ingredients list (I try not buy anything with artificial flavour), but there was also some natural vanilla flavour and caramelized sugar, which I knew was the reason for the caramel flavour. I bought about 15 ounces anyway, just to taste the product, and try them in a recipe.

With 31.2% cocoa solids and 27% milk solids, the taste was certainly a sweet caramel flavour, with a bit of a sugary taste and smooth milky mouthfeel. It was similar to Valrhona's Caramelia chocolate, but sweeter and less creamy.


I knew that it would be fun to experiment with and in the end, I decided to make a flourless milk chocolate cake: Sea Salted Butter Pecan & Caramel Milk Chocolate. The cake truly was delicious, and because of the caramel flavour, I topped it with sea salt, fresh roasted pecans and some swirls of milk chocolate ganache and dulce de leche caramel sauce. The result was buttery smooth with a lovely light caramel taste. You can find the recipe on my cake blog here: (http://ultimatelychocolatecakes.blogspot.ca/2015/04/sea-salted-butter-pecan-caramel.html).

Another great way to use this would be in a chocolate fountain or a chocolate fondue! Just think of that rich caramel flavour paired with pieces of banana or apple slices. Oh yum! One thing to remember though: a little oil needs to be added to the chocolate to make it run through the fountain properly.

These caramel flavoured milk chocolate callets (i.e. pieces) are not only available at Bulk Barn (in bulk bins only), but you can find them pre-packaged at a Callebaut or Cacao Barry supplier near you.  Although not available right now, check back at Vanilla Food Company for them in future (they ship from Toronto to both U.S. and Canadian locations). They are also out of stock at McCalls, but again, just check back frequently to see if you can buy online. And you can always buy them at Bulk Barn while you wait!

Here are the details from the chocolate that I tasted and wrote about today:

Callebaut Premium Belgian Caramel Flavoured Callets
Made by: Callebaut (www.callebaut.com)
Sold at: Bulk Barn (www.bulkbarn.ca)
Ingredients: Sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, unsweetened chocolate, skim milk powder, caramelized sugar, soy lecithin (emulsifier), artificial flavours, spices, natural vanilla flavour. Contains milk and soy.