The Ultimate Chocolate Blog is for people who love to taste and compare high quality chocolate, who want to improve their palate, and to increase their awareness of chocolate from around the world. We also want to connect you to fantastic chocolate recipes. Check us out on Facebook!

Quick Links: List of American Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Makers, List of Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Makers in Canada, The Raw Chocolate List, Organic & Fair Trade Chocolate List (U.S. & Canada), Soy-Free Chocolate List, Chocolate Recipes.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Getting NAKID with chocolate


Zazubean Organic Chocolate has been known for its fun and funky names. And their 73% "Nakid, Bare it ALL" chocolate bar is no different. It seems quite simple, this bar is flavoured with only cocoa nibs and vanilla, which highlights what chocolate is truly made of: roasted cocoa beans, some sugar, cocoa butter and vanilla. There is no soy lecithin in this bar and it is both organic and fair trade certified.  The beans used to make this chocolate are from the Dominican Republic and Ecuador.

It has a lot of real vanilla flavour, which makes this 73% bar seem slightly sweeter than it would without the vanilla. However, it was not as sweet as Alter Eco's 63% with Nibs bar or Soma's 67% Cacao Nib Bar. So if you are looking for a crunchy nib bar that is a little dark than what is generally available, this may be just right for you.

The Nakid bar also has a really nice crunch to it. Overall, I liked it quite a lot.

I purchased this bar at an Ontario Bulk Barn for $3.99.


Here are the package details:

Nakid Cocoa Nibs & Vanilla, 100g
Zazubean Organic Chocolate (Vancouver, Canada)
www.zazubean.com
Ingredients: Cocoa mass*+, cane sugar*+, cocoa nibs*+, cocoa butter+*, vanilla*+.
+FAIR TRADE CERTIFIED.
*CERTIFIED ORGANIC.
May contain shell of cacao nib, traces of milk, nuts and peanuts.

Friday, August 15, 2014

What's Your Favourite 85% Chocolate Bar Brand? Maybe it's on this list:


Chocolate. It is not all the same. And certainly no two brands are alike. Each producer uses different ingredients, different processing methods, and cocoa beans from different origins. This means that although a group of chocolate bars, such as 85% dark chocolate, all have the same percentages of cacao and sugar, they will taste completely different from one another.

One cost-conscious chocolate maker might use the less flavourful Forrastero bean to make chocolate, whereas another chocolate maker might use the highly coveted Criollo bean to make fine chocolate.  And that same fine chocolate maker might use a 72-hour conche method to make chocolate with a smooth texture.  But an organic chocolate producer may stone-grind the beans for a rougher, less-processed texture. And yet all these producers make chocolate bars that appear to be the same on the package because they are simply labelled as milk chocolate, 70% dark, or 85% dark.


To find your favourite chocolate bar, it is good to conduct regular 'taste and compare' sessions to sort out the differences and discover your favourite brand.

A few weeks ago, I was craving dark chocolate with 85% cacao solids. When I went to the store, I found several bars on the shelf in that same percentage range. So I bought them all and decided it was a good time to taste and compare. Here is the list of 85% bars with flavour notes, broken down into two categories: Competitive Commercial (i.e. Lindt, Godiva, etc.), and Organic/Fair Trade:

Competitive, Commercial Brands:

The first bar was a Lindt Excellence 85%. It was very smooth (as Lindt's chocolate always is) and perfectly portioned pieces, but the flavour is very bitter and a bit dry. You will need water with this one because it sticks to the tongue. In looking at the ingredients (see below), I could see that cocoa powder was added to the chocolate, which gives it that extra bitter flavour and dry texture.

Walmart's brand, Our Finest 85% Swiss Dark Chocolate, was similar to Lindt but has a brighter, and acidic, yet tangy, flavour.  It was not as crisp to snap and the pieces were a little thicker than Lindt's. Overall, I was surprised to learn that I liked it.

Godiva's 85% chocolate bar was pretty good.  It was smooth for the most part, but had the odd crunchy sugary bit which was not unpleasant. Also, the "natural flavour" (instead of vanilla) was nice and not overwhelming, as it was in the Cote D'Or bar.

Cote D'Or NOIR 86% has 1% more cacao solids, but it is not any more bitter than the others.  However, it does have a strong added flavouring (in replacement of 'vanilla' - see below for ingredients list), in a not-so-good way.

Organic & Fair Trade Brands:


Green & Black's Organic 85% chocolate bar had thick chunks to break off, and it seemed to be softer and maybe more 'melty', if that is the right way to put it. In terms of flavour, it was tangy, acidic and a bit overwhelming, but that may have something to do with the thickness of the pieces.   The vanilla flavour was also strong. And yet, I know that I liked it because I ate the whole bar in a very short time.

Alter Eco 85% was also organic and fair trade.  And it was my favourite.  Bitter but palatable with a nice flavour.

Theo Chocolate's 85% has a lot of vanilla flavour and is very enjoyable, with a  slight sugar crunch. It is also very acidic, so much so that it reminds me of acidic tropical fruit, but without the fruity taste. This is one of my favourite 85% bars.

PC Organics 85% European Extra Dark Chocolate is a Canadian brand that is made in France.  It is very bitter, but I must have liked it because, like the Green & Blacks bar, I ate it all quite quickly.


So what did I learn from this process? For one, Alter Eco was my favourite 85% dark chocolate bar, which surprised me. My second choices were Theo, PC and G&Bs. And I also learned that I like 85% dark chocolate, I just don't like all brands of it. My least favourite was Cote D'Or.

I also learned that although one producer might make an undesirable 85% dark chocolate, I can never discount their other flavoured, white or milk chocolate bars, because they might just make the best bar in another category.

Here are some other 80-something % bars that I have also tried and enjoyed:


Grenada 82% brand was very tropical, citrusy and fruity flavoured. Loved it for its pronounced flavour.

Camino (Canadian brand) Panama Extra Dark 80% is smooth and slightly sweeter than the 85% group.  This chocolate bar is enjoyable in the same way that a black espresso is. www.tasteofcamino.com

GNAW 80% High Cocoa bar from Norfolk U.K. is full of flavour and quite enjoyable. It is also one of the most 'fun' brands out there. www.gnawfolkchocolate.com


So let's compare ingredients!  Here are the package details and ingredients lists for most of the 85% chocolate bars mentioned above, which may help you decide which ones to choose based on your dietary needs (i.e. soy vs no soy, vanilla vs no vanilla, etc.) or preference of where it is made:


Lindt Excellence 'Intense Dark' 85% Cacao, 100g
Lindt & Sprüngli (Canada), Inc. (Toronto, ON)
www.lindt.com
Ingredients: Cocoa mass, cocoa butter, Demerara sugar, bourbon vanilla beans. May contain almonds, milk and soy.

Côte D'Or NOIR 86%, 100g
Côte D'Or (Imported by Jacobs Suchard Canada (Don Mills, Ontario)
www.cotedor.com
Ingredients: Unsweetened chocolate*, cocoa butter*, cocoa powder, sugar, natural flavours, soy lecithin. *Cocoa from Rainforest Alliance Certified(TM) Farms. May contain milk and tree nuts.

Godiva Extra Dark Santo Domingo Chocolate, 100g
Distributed by: Godiva Chocolatier, Inc. (New York, NY) - product of Germany.
www.godiva.com
Ingredients: Bittersweet chocolate (unsweetened chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin (emulsifier), natural flavouring). May contain tree nuts, peanuts, milk and wheat.

Our Finest 85% Cocoa Swiss Dark Chocolate, 100g
Imported for: Wal-Mart Canada Corp. (Mississauga, ON)
Product of Switzerland.
www.walmart.ca
Ingredients: Cocoa mass, cocoa butter, sugar, natural flavour. May contain: Milk, soy, tree nuts, wheat.

Theo 85% Organic and Fair Trade Pure Dark Chocolate, 85g
Theo Chocolate (Seattle, WA)
www.theochocolate.com
Ingredients: Cocoa beans*+, sugar*+, ground vanilla bean*+. Allergy information: Manufactured on shared equipment with products containing milk, eggs, wheat, peanuts and tree nuts. (my side note: no soy!)

PC Organics European Extra Dark 85%, 100g
President's Choice Organics brand by Loblaws, Inc. (Toronto, ON)
Product of France
www.pc.ca
Ingredients: Organic unsweetened chocolate, organic cocoa butter, organic sugar,. May contain tree nuts, milk, egg, soy and wheat.

Alter Eco 'BLACKOUT' 85% Dark Organic Chocolate, 80g
Alter Eco (San Francisco, CA)
www.alterecofoods.ca
Ingredients: Cacao beans*, raw cane sugar*, cocoa butter*, vanilla beans*. *organic and traded in compliance with Fairtrade standards, total 100%.  Made on shared equipment with milk, hazelnuts, almonds and soy.   (Made with Ecuadorian cacao, but made in Switzerland)

Do you have any favourite 85% bars?  Tell us about them in the comments below!  This 85% chocolate list can be added to over time with help from my chocolate-loving friends.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Find organic cacao nibs at Bulk Barn!


I recall just a year ago it was difficult to get my hands on organic cacao nibs in packages larger than 100 to 250 grams. They were only available raw and in small packages in health food stores, or you had to buy them in large quantities online. So I was surprised to walk into the Bulk Barn last weekend and find a huge bulk bin of organic cacao nibs. 

So besides tossing them into cereal, yogurt and homemade granola bars, what can you do with these nibs?  Make chocolate from the bean at home! Read this post for a recipe and to learn how.

Bulk Barn also has a good selection of quality chocolate for baking with, including Callebaut bittersweet and milk chocolate wafers. And the ingredients now say "vanilla" in the store instead of "vanillin" - a great improvement for the natural baker!

Bulk Barn is Canada's largest bulk retailer, but if you are looking for organic cacao nibs in the U.S., I have purchased some roasted and raw organic nibs from Jedwards International of Braintree, MA. Click here for more information.

What other chocolate can you find at the Bulk Barn?  Firstly, chocolate-covered cacao nibs and a huge selection of chocolate bars, see one here.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Go Darker with this 45% Milk Chocolate by Theo


Most milk chocolate bars that are available at national grocers and convenience stores have less than 28% cocoa solids.  Some good ones have between 28% and 38% - you can usually find organic brands with these percentages.  But the really good ones, which are less sweet, but so much creamier because of their high cocoa butter content, are made by bean-to-bar chocolate makers who focus on taste and quality. 

Theo Chocolate is one such producer: they offer a 45% milk chocolate bar that is very creamy and cocoa buttery. What's more, this chocolate bar also happens to be both Organic and Fair Trade.  And there is no soy lecithin in this product.

So if you are a milk chocolate lover, but you are looking to reduce your sugar intake, Theo's dark-milk chocolate is definitely worth a try!  I loved it.

I found this chocolate bar at the Bulk Barn in Canada. Theo Chocolate is American-made in Seattle, WA. To learn more, check out their website at: www.theochocolate.com. You can also purchase this chocolate bar online.

Here are the package details:

Theo Organic and Fair Trade 45% Milk Chocolate, 85g
Theo Chocolate (Seattle, WA)
www.theochocolate.com
Ingredients: sugar*+, cocoa beans*+, cocoa butter*+, milk powder*, ground vanilla bean*+. Contains milk.

Note: I have not been paid or enticed to write this post in any way.  No product samples were sent to me to review (although that would be nice). I just truly liked what I tasted and want to share!

Monday, August 11, 2014

Can't find your favourite flavour at the store? Turn your house into a gourmet ice cream parlour!


Maybe you live in a rural town, like I do, and cannot get your favourite ice cream flavour at the local grocer.  Or maybe you just want to eat more natural iced treats than what is available.  Or perhaps you just want more gourmet flavour. Whatever the reason, it may be time to layer up your ice cream with new and tasty ingredients.

Here are three ways to add a little more flavour to your Plain Jane ice cream:


Natural Peanut Butter & Chocolate:

Tired of waiting for your grocery store to stock some Haagen Dazs Peanut Butter?  Buy some natural chocolate ice cream (where the ingredients list starts with 'cream' instead of 'modified milk ingredients') and layer up an ice cream cone with three scoops and three layers of peanut butter (about a teaspoon for each layer). It's filling, so you won't go back for seconds!

Hazelnutella Dream: Top your chocolate ice cream with roasted hazelnuts and chocolate shavings, and swirls of Nutella squeezed out of the cut corner of a Ziplock snack bag.

Vanilla Cocoa Bean Crumble: Using a blender or single-blade coffee grinder, grind up some raw, organic cocoa nibs with raw cane sugar or coconut sugar until you have small, crunchy pieces and sprinkle them on your ice cream (or roll balls of ice cream in the cocoa bean). To make it extra special, lightly drizzle on some hazelnut oil and rest it in a cold shot of organic espresso.

Vanilla Ice Cream resting in a pool of cold espresso and
sprinkled with ground cocoa nibs and coconut sugar, and drizzled with pure hazelnut oil.


I purchased this Hazelnut Oil from Signature Fine Foods in Concord, ON
- delivered to my door on Manitoulin Island.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Not all 'truffle bars' have actual chocolate truffle


Has this ever happened to you?  You buy a chocolate bar that says "chocolate truffle centre" only to discover that it tastes like extreme health food with a grassy flavour, and it has a chewy texture rather than a smooth, melt-in-your-mouth feel like a true truffle.

So why does this happen?  Artisan food makers and health food advocates are always looking for ways to make our 'treats' healthier.  So they try something out at home with alternate 'healthy' ingredients, and they think it is great (for them) and then launch it as a product in the marketplace.  Perhaps other people think it is great too, and they find a niche market for it. I have done the same thing myself with product experimentation.

What drives me crazy though, is when the product is labelled just as it would be for the original 'unhealthy' product. I recently purchased a chocolate bar that made me angry. It was labelled as a 'chocolate bar with a chocolate truffle centre'. However, its taste and texture was nothing like a chocolate truffle. Once I looked at the ingredients list, I saw that there was no actual chocolate in it, just cocoa powder mixed with cocoa butter. True 'chocolate' should have cocoa mass or cocoa liquor in it, as well as the addition of cocoa butter in some cases.

The second ingredient was 'dates', which meant the truffle centre was not a chocolate truffle at all. True chocolate truffle should have cream, butter and chocolate, or in more commercial cases: coconut oil or butter oil and chocolate. I have come across this before with other 'truffle' products made by other manufacturers, and they always just taste like dates and have a chewy texture, not creamy and melty like chocolate truffle should taste.

Don't get me wrong. I am okay with this product being on store shelves. It was at the health food store after all.  But what I am not okay with is the product's labelling.  I paid $6.99 for a very small bar that did not deliver on what the package promised. The front face of the packaging should have specified that it is an 'alternate' to chocolate, made with healthy or vegan ingredients. And the label should have said it had a 'truffle-like' centre made with dates, rather than calling it a chocolate truffle centre.

So the moral of this story is to always read the ingredients, and if it says 'cocoa powder' mixed with some sort of oil or cocoa butter, with no actual cocoa liquor (mass), then be aware that it will not taste just like chocolate.

If you want to learn how chocolate is actually made, check out my recipe for making chocolate at home from the bean.  For a simple but true chocolate truffle recipe, check out my Recipes page or go to this recipe for a basic cream and dark chocolate Truffle with Sea Salt.  If you want it to be vegan, simple change the cream to coconut milk or coconut cream, and please do not add dates!

Friday, August 1, 2014

Chocolate for the Professionals: Where to buy it to step up your home baked goodies


Although I am now a 'professional' baker and chocolatier, I was once an avid amateur baker who loved to try new chocolaty cakes and recipes at home.  And at some point, I started taking chocolate classes and eventually went off to chocolate 'school' to start creating more professional confections.  And that is when I decided that using 100 gram Lindt bars and chocolate from the bulk food store was no longer cost effective, nor was it going to produce the shine and texture that 'couverture' chocolate (chocolate used by professionals) could.

So I decided to step up my creations.  But my problem was where to buy better quality couverture chocolate?  I had moved to an Island in Northern Ontario, without even a shopping centre or bulk food store, let alone chocolate wholesale supplies.  So I had to look online.

Now, after six years of research and five years in business, I made a list of my top five online retailers who sell 'couverture' chocolate.  I shared this list with Kitchen Daily Canada (an AOL-Huffington Post site) and wrote an article to help home bakers get access to professional-level chocolate. Click here to read the article, and see the list and slideshow.

For American bakers, try www.worldwidechocolate.com or simply Google the chocolate brands on my list to find online retailers in the U.S., including these brands: Callebaut and Cacao Barry chocolate couverture, Belcolade, Valrhona and Michel Cluizel.