Monday, September 17, 2018

Homemade Chocolate Fudgesicles, Best Popsicle Molds and more

Is summer really over? I have trouble believing it, since the humid weather is still lingering and it has been sunny for a full week. As a chocolate maker, I secretly hope the heat and humidity die down so I can get back to work with ease. But as a person who loves cold summer chocolaty treats, the lingering heat means that popsicle season is not over yet.

Amid the busy summer season, I managed to spend a great deal of time experimenting  with cold chocolate treats. Particularly homemade chocolate popsicles and fudgsicles. My first plan was to make a great hot chocolate, then make 'hot chocolate popsicles' from that great hot chocolate.  I had spent the winter perfecting my hot chocolate recipe, so it seemed like a natural progression into the warm season.


I have always enjoyed a good chocolate popsicle. Milky, mildy sweet and reminiscent of a light chocolate ice cream. At the same time, I like a good fudgesicle that is full of more intense chocolate flavours (okay, so I like anything chocolatey. I would be in the wrong business if I didn't). So I figured I'd test strong dark hot chocolate versus a milkier variety.

I knew that I could simply make a few cups of the milk and dark Camino brand of hot chocolate, and freeze those to get a decent popsicle. But I also wanted to try my own. However, with all of the hot chocolate mixes, I found the same thing that happens in your cup happens in the popsicle mould - all the cocoa powder and cocoa liquor rests in the bottom of the cup even after its been stirred. In the popsicle, that means it ends up in the top of the popsicle, making it too intense at the top and too mild in the end. So then I tried using an immersion blender to better mix it right before pouring it into the mould. I soon discovered that any bubbles that were created from the mixer froze as bubbles, which poorly affected the texture.

At the end, I finally got an okay chocolate popsicle by both sifting the liquid, and then also removing any remaining bubbles from the drink. I also learned that adding more milk or replacing the water with milk in hot chocolate, adding more cocoa powder, adding vanilla, and occasionally blending in a banana makes them much richer in flavour.

But I still wanted something richer, and with a more intense chocolate flavour. That's when I decided to scrap hot chocolate pops, and move onto making the perfect fudgesicle.

Chocolate Fudgesicle Recipes to Try

In an attempt at the perfect fudgesicle, I was playing around with pure dark chocolate and different milks for about a week to get the right texture and flavour, when Avanaa Chocolate from Montreal posted a recipe on social media and their website. Right then and there I tried their recipe and it was perfect!  I found a little work was needed to ensure the chocolate mixed well into the milk with no lumps, and in choosing just the right chocolate origin to pair with it.



The key is to take just a bit of the milk - not less than 2 tbsp. and not more than 1/4 cup - and melt it together with the chocolate in the microwave or over a double boiler until smooth. I've always found this when making ganache or truffles: if you add hot milk in large quantities to your chopped chocolate, you will separate the chocolate and cocoa butter, and essentially throw the chocolate out of temper and you will end up with tiny bits of chocolate in the final mix (think stracciatella ice cream). Too little milk (less than 1 or 2 tbsps.) is like adding a drop of water to chocolate and it will seize. 1/4 cup for 100 to 200 grams of chocolate is usually about right. The same rule applies when mixing hot chocolate mix with real chocolate pieces in it.

After I made this recipe a few times, I started playing around with the type of chocolate (see note below on type of chocolate and origin selection), the amount of chocolate (I found more is ALWAYS better, albeit more expensive) and with removing the added sweetener. But the original recipe by Avanaa is just great and I recommend it. Find it at this link: https://www.avanaa.ca/fudge-glacee-maison/, and if the French is a problem, simply copy and paste it to Google Translate.

I also discovered that bananas add a great amount of sweetness to a recipe, and a kid-friendly flavour aspect. So below is a great recipe I came up with for kid (and adult)-friendly fudgesicles. I hope you like it as much as my family does.

Chocolate Banana Fudgesicle Recipe

You need:
100 grams of semi-sweet chocolate (55% to 65%), chopped into bite-sized pieces (1" or smaller)
1/4 cup milk (skim for a low-fat fudgesicle, 2% or whole milk for a richer flavour)
1 cup milk (skim for a low-fat fudgesicle, 2% or whole milk for a richer flavour)
1 very ripe banana, peeled
1.5 tbsp cocoa powder

Note on sweetness: If you use a darker chocolate than a semi-sweet, such as 70% or 80%, you may not want to add the cocoa powder as it will naturally have a richer dark chocolate flavour.

Note on chocolate origin: Use a chocolate that does not have strong fruity and acidic notes so as not to compete with the milk flavour. A Peru origin works well, as does a Venezuela. Camino's Peru couverture 70% and 56% worked very well, and my own Peru Ucayali River 60% was great, with mild woody notes. My Honduras 70% was also delicious in the fudgesicles because the bean is naturally sweeter than other origins with mild acidity. A non-fruity Ecuador would also be a good choice and likely any Lindt bar.

Instructions:
  1. Place the chopped chocolate and 1/4 cup milk in a microwave-safe medium-sized bowl. Microwave for 50 seconds. Remove and stir the chocolate mixture until smooth.
  2. In a smoothie blender, blender or with an immersion blender, blend your banana with the 1 cup of milk and the 1.5 tbsp. of cocoa powder until completely smooth and until no banana lumps remain.
  3. Slowly pour the milk-banana mixture into the chocolate mixture while using a whisk to stir together until completely combined and smooth.
  4. Use a large spoon to scoop any foam and bubbles off the top of the mixture.
  5. Pour into 6 popsicle cavities (more or less, depending on the size of your moulds).
  6. Place sticks in the top and the cover on, if there is one.
  7. Freeze overnight or for 1 day to 24 hours.
  8. Remove by pouring room temperature water over the bottom cavity section of the mould.
  9. If you are not serving immediately, wrap each popsicle in a piece of waxed paper, then place them in an airtight container in the freezer. Enjoy within 6 months.

The Best Popsicle Molds

On Amazon Prime Day, I bought a few different popsicle makers to try. Since I run a business, I wanted to have a more professional shape than the simple round ones from the grocery store, a good size for each pop, and have to have slots for wooden sticks, not e-usable plastic tops.




I wanted to test a silicon popsicle maker versus a plastic one, to see which is easier for extraction from the mold. What I discovered with the Prepworks Frozen Pop Maker was that extraction was fairly easy by simply running warm or room temp water over the plastic.



Not always perfect, but it worked. However, the sticks would never stay standing up straight, no matter how many times I tried to correct them, even while inside the freezer. When they are crooked, it makes it hard for the metal lid to come off all the sticks once frozen. Finally I gave up trying to get them to balance just right, and instead tilted them all in the same direction, so the lid could come off more easily (if even one or two sticks out of the 10 are tilting in the opposite direction, you might never get the lid off!).



The red Silicon popsicle mold had a lid that really held the sticks perfectly upright, and the silicon lid lifted off perfectly every time. The downside was that extraction was harder with all the squishiness while trying to get the pops out, and I had to put the popsicle mold on a tray each time it went in the freezer because the silicon tends to shift around, which can either cause it to spill or make the popsicles rather fat in the middle. Also, I had to be careful not to squeeze the mold when trying to get each pop out, or the popsicle melts and squishes its end off. Like this:

 
Although both molds were sufficient, I started using the silicon top from the silicon mold on the plastic Prepworks base. This kept the sticks in place, with a lid that came off easily, and made the pops easier to extract. Of course, this is not ideal since no one wants to buy two molds, but perhaps a popsicle maker will see this an invent one maker with a plastic base and a silicon top.

Overall, I didn't mind either popsicle maker. I suspect there is no 'perfect' one out there, and I liked that both allowed me to make 10 good-sized popsicles each, and I sure made use of them this summer! I bought popsicles to potlucks, and fed them to my children, which felt good knowing they were eating an all-natural and low-sugar treat (just 60% to 70% dark chocolate and milk, sometimes with a banana to sweeten).

So if you are looking for a good popsicle maker, check out www.amazon.ca. They delivered quickly and the prices were great.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

RAAKA Virgin Chocolate's 1st Nibs Subscription: Double Fermented versus Single Fermented Cacao

If you love to discover new ways to enjoy chocolate, love to learn about chocolate making though sensory analysis, and to compare how chocolate flavours are affected by changes to cacao processing, then I suggest you try Raaka Virgin Chocolate`s 1t Nibs Subscription, August 2018 selection. There are just a few days left in August, so be quick and get to Raaka`s website! You can buy the box here: https://www.raakachocolate.com/collections/first-nibs-monthly-chocolate-subscription .



It comes with ice packs, in an insulated envelope, with the chocolate bars wrapped in a lovely drawstring bag. This would make a wonderful gift for a wannabe chocolate connoisseur, or a wine tasting enthusiast (who talks about 'terrior' and 'flavour notes' and also likes chocolate.



So why is this subscription box so great for me? Well, I loved the learning and discovery aspect to this curated selection of bars. Raaka has taken one of their cacaos (Zorzal Cacao from the Dominican Republic) and conducted an experiment: they made one 75% dark chocolate bar from the cacao. Then they did a "carefully controlled secondary natural fermentation" of a portion of same batch of cacao. Raaka then made one batch of chocolate bars from the single fermented cacao (cacao that is fermented in the Dominican Republic), then made a second batch of chocolate from the cacao that was fermented a second time in Raaka's factory in Brooklyn, New York. They say that the secondary fermentation reduces the sugars in the cacao while "leveling up the maltiness and more pronounced chocolaty notes".  Raaka also threw in a third Guatemala-origin chocolate bar made with cacao from the 2017 Harvest of 40 small farms in San Juan Chivite, a small village in Guatemala that is only accessible by a wooden suspension bridge. Together, these three bars made for a perfect taste comparison package.



So what were the results in taste?
Single Fermented Cacao, 75% Zorzal Cacao Dominican Republic
My day 1 of tasting offered tart lemony notes, and tart un-ripened cherry, yet day 2 produced mild dried fruit, perhaps dried apricot and raw almond. For some reason the texture had a slight grit,  but there had been a little bloom on this bar in comparison to the other two in the package. I hadn't taken note of its position within the package, but being up on an Island in Northern Ontario, it had likely taken a little longer for the package to reach me, and the ice pack was no longer cold inside the package. I also jogged home with the package, when I should have driven it home to prevent further risk of bloom on the bars. But somehow, I get the feeling the textural aspect to this chocolate is not from the slight bloom, because the slight grit seems to linger on the melt.  Overall, it falls flat in comparison to the double fermented cacao bar.

Double Fermented Cacao, 75% Zorzal Cacao Dominican Republic
This chocolate was very different than the first: robust, well-rounded favour, a good level of acidity, and pronounced fruit. Still some lemony flavour on the melt (like watered-down lemonade), but with a lemon tang that lingers long after the flavour is gone. I agree with the tasting notes provided by Nate Hodge, Head Chocolate Maker, that the bar has notes of rich chocolate fudge. A note was provided on the package of this being a "more mellow bar", which doesn't sit quite right with me, since this chocolate seems to have a much fuller, richer flavour.

If Raaka is considering choosing one chocolate over the other, definitely the Double Fermented Cacao is the best choice for a unique, beautiful flavour.

Guatemala (Asochivite, 2017 Harvest, 75%)
On the first day of tasting, this chocolate was so fruity, full of prune and raisin, in fact it reminded me of raisins soaked in rum. This was very enjoyable.




So again, if you want to get in on this subscription box, there are just days left to buy it! Go to https://www.raakachocolate.com/collections/first-nibs-monthly-chocolate-subscription to learn more, and www.raakachocolate.com to see what else this awesome low-roast chocolate maker has to offer.



Bloggers Note:
I purchased this box with my own money, and no encouragement or incentive from Raaka. Just me trying something new (like I always do), trying to learn more about chocolate from a maker that I have always respected.

Friday, August 10, 2018

FOSSA Chocolate, Silkiki Coconut Milk, and Zotter's Dry-Aged 75%: A Chocolate Tasting Round-Up

Summertime is super busy for me, making chocolate and chocolate desserts for the tourists that flock to Manitoulin Island during this season. And because of how much time I spend in my commercial kitchen, I am unable to tell you about all the amazing craft chocolate that I still taste on a weekly basis. But I thought I should etch out a little time this week to give you a round-up before I let these interesting chocolate finds pass into the zone of "um...I think I tasted that once."

So here is what I've been tasting so far this summer...


Solkiki Gran Nativo Coconut Dark Milk 63%, 56g





This was my first time tasting a Solkiki chocolate bar, and I was not disappointed, the coconut flavour was surprisingly subtle (I've tasted many coconut milk bars where the coconut milk flavour was too strong and, well, gross. This was not one of those bars, this was delicious).  The milk chocolate texture was smooth and slightly creamy - not overly creamy, but enough to be quite pleasant. The milk chocolate taste was refreshing and bright, and the bar notes referred to "notes of pina colada". The hint of coconut might contribute to that. Also, the 63% cocoa solids do not make this bar bitter at all, it is still clearly 'milky' in taste, and sweet tasting for a high percentage dark-milk chocolate.

So if you are looking to taste a coconut milk chocolate - or any vegan milk chocolate with no dairy - but are afraid of strong coconut flavours, go ahead and try this one, because it is quite good. And the International Chocolate Awards judges agree, because Solkiki won a 2017 Silver award for this bar.

Solkiki is a British chocolate maker specializing in vegan chocolate. Check this bar out on their website, or buy it online on CocoaRunners: https://cocoarunners.com/shop/solkiki-gran-nativo-63-coconut-dark-mylk/



FOSSA 70% Dark PAK EDDY, Indonesia, 35 g




FOSSA Chocolate, Singapore's first bean-to-bar chocolate maker, seem to be turning up everywhere on Instagram lately, so I was excited to try this bar and enjoy a first taste experience with this chocolate maker. This Indonesian-origin chocolate bar offered a smoky taste with a good, dark chocolate flavour. The flavour was complex and very interesting, with almond, and hints of cinnamon and nutmeg. The quality was also good, and no noticeable strange textures. According to the chocolate package, 'PAK EDDY' as the bar is named, stands for 'Uncle Eddy', which is the local term used for the farmer who "personally cultivated, fermented and dried" the beans in Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

FOSSA is getting noticed for their interesting flavour combinations, like Salted Egg Cereal (including salted egg yolk, cereal and curry leaves), White Sesame & Seaweed, Sake, and the one that seems to get the most notice: Shrimp & Bonito.

So I definitely look forward to my next FOSSA taste experience. Check them out on Instagram @fossachocolate and online at: https://www.fossachocolate.com/.





Zotter Labooko Vintage 2016 Dry Aged 75%, 70g


Even after reviewing the information provided by Zotter, I am still not sure I understand the "Dry Aged" claim, since both cocoa beans and chocolate need to be dry to age. Their packaging states that the "vintage chocolate" was "dry aged for a year in order to mature the cocoa aroma." However, the website says" a superior cuvée made of dry-aged fine flavour cocoa". So the packaging makes it sound like the chocolate was dry aged, and the website makes it sound like the cocoa beans were dry aged.

Now, if the beans were dry-aged, (which I am going to assume is the case, because chocolate can't really be wet to age unless a chocolate maker wanted to spend some serious money on electricity to keep it in a constant melted state), then I suppose that is different than larger chocolate makers who might use their beans as soon as they get them in. However, many smaller craft chocolate makers use their supply over time (i.e. order beans once per year), or order from a supplier that stores the beans in a warehouse for as long as a year, so I suppose many chocolate makers are dry-aging the chocolate but not labelling it a such, and rather just placing different batch numbers on the chocolate.

This aging process will cause a taste difference from batch to batch, but how much difference is hard to say. I have bars of my own made from aged cocoa beans, and they do taste different from the bars that I saved that were made from beans of the same harvest, but made closer to the harvest date. It is hard to say how much the flavor is influenced by the length of aging of the bars themselves, and how much is influenced by the age of the beans, or a change in cocoa butter, roast profile, etc.

Either way, and no matter how they spin it, this chocolate is truly tasty. It is rich in chocolate flavour, a complex flavour that comes from a blend of five fine flavour cocoa bean varieties grown in four different cocoa-growing countries. It hits different markers of flavour: fruit, nut, cocoa taste, caramel, and a pronounced-yet-balanced acidity that creates a perfect bitterness level for dark chocolate.

I truly enjoyed this chocolate bar. I recommend you give it a try. This year, they plan to release a 2017 Vintage edition, so watch out for that. Learn more on the European Zotter website at: https://www.zotter.at/en/online-shop/brands/labooko/detail/product/75-vintage-2016-dry-aged.html. If you are in the US, you can order online here. or got to: https://www.zotterusa.com/.


***
And that's a 'round-up' for this week folks! I am hoping to find a little time next week to post a recipe or two that I've been working on this summer, so stay tuned...
 

Monday, July 23, 2018

Horizontal chocolate tastings, Mexico-origin chocolate, and Goodnow Farms

According to the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI for short), a "horizontal tasting" is when you taste chocolate made from the "same primary raw material" (ref: Instagram, June 2018). An example would be the tasting event organized by the FCCI and Goodnow Farms in Massachusetts last month, where the event organizers lined up many chocolate bars made from the same coveted Ucayali River Cacao beans in Peru, but all made by different chocolate makers. This allows a taster to see how each chocolate maker has handled the beans, and to taste the different roast profiles, the methods of grinding and refining the chocolate, and the chosen textures of the chocolate to bring out subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) flavour differences from the same beans.

I can rarely conduct a horizontal tasting, because I live in Canada and so far from major city centres where I might get my hands on different brands of chocolate bars made with the same cocoa beans. But I do try to every now and then, particularly when I have been traveling or to chocolate festivals, or through online orders, such as Marou's and Indi Chocolate's Lam Dong origin bars pictured below:



Other times, I buy bars all made with cocoa beans grown in the same country, and I don't worry about whether or not it came from the same farm or co-op (i.e. the Dick Taylor bar pictured above is made from cocoa beans from the Tien Giang region of Vietnam) . This allows me to taste a range of chocolate from all over the country of origin, giving me some idea of the general tastes of the cacao of that country. For instance, all Spring and Summer, I've been tasting cacao (and making chocolate from it) from co-ops and single farms all over Colombia, and there are some consistent flavours: honey and panela flavours, some fruit but not strong, balanced acidity. Other flavours will be prominent one way or the other among samples, but in general these are the common notes I've found.

You can find these types of similarities among cacao of other countries as well: Ecuador often has nuts or floral notes, many Peru bars can have a mild flavour that is balanced, Venezuela with notes of cream, and Madagascar has citrus, red berries and sometimes raisin flavour notes.

But what about Mexico origin chocolate?
With Mexico origin chocolate, however, there has been little available in the craft chocolate industry until recently.  I have been working with some Mexican beans for some time, and I am still figuring out the flavours of these rather strong-tasting citrus-flavoured beans. The beans come from Hacienda Jesus Maria located near the Comalcalco city and the ancient Mayan Comalcalco archaeological site, in the larger region of Tabasco, Mexico. The flavours that I've found after numerous tastings and many batches of chocolate are: citrus, fruit, leather, tree-nuts including hazelnut, and grass or hay.

The owner of the Chocolate Project in Victoria, BC, tasted my Mexico origin chocolate and offered up flavour notes of "green grass, papaya, vegetation and a bit of leather". I personally, find it a very interesting taste combination that keeps you coming back for more out of curiosity, but certainly not something I would upfront introduce to someone with a palate for commercial sweet chocolate and vanilla-flavoured chocolate. It seems to suit the palate of someone who likes savory dishes and a lot of salt or lemon in their food and desserts.

The smell of the beans is quite different than any other cocoa bean that I work with: sharp, acidic, and very nutty. The colour is mixed between white Criollo beans and darker-shaded Trinitario-type beans. The resulting dark chocolate appears like a beautiful shade of milk chocolate, even though no milk is added to the bar, which completely contrasts the dark shades of my other chocolate bars, like my 70% Honduras bar, or the Ucayali Peru bar I occasionally offer on special edition.

So I've been wanting to know how other chocolate makers have treated these beans, and the resulting flavours of their chocolate, but finding others has not been an easy task. So I was super excited when I happened upon Goodnow Farms booth at the Northwest Chocolate Festival, and found their light-shaded 77% dark chocolate bar made from Mexican beans that Goodnow describes as Almendra Blanca or "white almond" cocoa beans, which produce a fantastically light shade of dark chocolate. I could clearly tell the beans were of the same region as mine came from. And in fact, I later learned that we get our beans from the same farm.


The light-shaded chocolate on top is Goodnow Farms'
Mexico 77% dark chocolate bar, the dark-shaded chocolate bar
underneath it is their Ucayali Peru dark chocolate bar. No milk was added to the Mexico bar
and it has a higher percentage of cacao solids, yet it looks like milk chocolate.

The Horizontal Tasting: Two Chocolates, Same Cocoa Farm



When I tasted Goodnow Farms' bar on its own (without my Mexico Organic chocolate bar present in Seattle when I bought Goodnow's), the flavour notes seemed similar - some hay and leather, nuts, and curious bold acidic flavours of citrus. However, when I got this bar home, and again when I bought another one from The Chocolate Project in May, I had the opportunity to taste Goodnow's and mine side-by-side. At first, it was clear that the two bars are made from beans of the same farm. But by directly comparing the two, strong notes of hazelnut shined in the Goodnow Farms' bar. In fact, the hazelnut flavours in Goodnow Farms' bar was so pronounced, that it tasted like hazelnut butter had been added to the chocolate. Whereas mine had a much more upfront citrus punch with a little taste of fruit, and less hazelnut notes, which interestingly had seemed more prominent when tasted alone.

So you see, it was only the direct comparison tasting that truly showed the differences in flavour, which is all in how each chocolate maker has treated the beans, through roasting, refining, conching and aging of the chocolate. Also, there could be some differences if Goodnow's beans came from a different harvest time than mine did. And not to mention that Goodnow makes their bar with 77% cocoa solids, and mine has 70% cocoa, contributing to difference in flavour. They also (impressively) press their own cocoa butter from the same beans.

Interestingly, both Goodnow Farms and Ultimately Chocolate (that's me) make chocolate on actual farms. So perhaps there is a little earthiness, grass and hay in the air that influences the chocolate too :-). 

Something to ponder: Does the environment of the chocolate maker influence the
taste of the chocolate just as much as the terrior of the cocoa growing region?

And truly this 'horizontal tasting' opened my eyes to the amazing differences each chocolate maker can create when using the same beans. Although there can be similarities in the flavour notes, there are distinct and unique differences too that make a 'chocophile' like myself want to delve in and taste chocolate bars from every maker in the world, even when the beans come from the same place. Each maker has their own passion for chocolate, the tastes and flavour profiles, and applies their own unique process, creating something truly unique to their own brand. This is what I love about craft chocolate.

More about Goodnow Farms...
My experience with Goodnow Farms' chocolate has been amazing so far. In addition to the Almendra Blanca Mexico bar, I have tasted their Peru Ucayali chocolate bar, and a few others in Seattle at the Northwest Chocolate Festival last year. The quality is clearly quite good. They have also been winning an abundance of awards, and there was some buzz around their chocolate at the festival, so I was glad to have the opportunity to taste it.



Owner Tom Rogan and his wife Monica quit life in the city to move to Sudbury, MA to start up Goodnow Farms, while raising a young family. Tom sold his television production company (which produced Ace of Cakes, can you believe it?! That happened to be one of my favourite shows of all times, so much so that someone gave me the Ace of Cakes book and there happens to be a bio of Tom in it. So needless to say, I was super excited when I got to speak with him about his growing chocolate business for this blog!), and they dove head-first into making chocolate with direct trade cocoa beans on an 11-acre farm.


I highly recommend that you check out their chocolate. The Ucayali bar is delicious and just as interesting as the Mexico chocolate. They also offer a tasting flight of bars for $16.50 online: the Mexico, Guatamalen and the Nicaragua 77% dark chocolate bars.

You can learn more about Goodnow Farms Chocolate at https://goodnowfarms.com. If you are in Canada, The Chocolate Project in Victoria has a few bars in their stock and can ship by custom order.


Looking for other Mexico Origin Chocolate?



  • The Chocolate Project sent me French chocolate maker Bonnat's newest 65% dark milk bar made from a smoky, bold-tasting Mexican origin cocoa bean. I think I'll need to buy another one before I can write about it (I admit, I ate it too quickly!), but it was very interesting and worth a try, if you can get your hands on one. Check it out on Bonnat's website or visit http://www.chocolateproject.ca/ to find out if they still have some left.

  • Godiva also has a Mexico origin bar, which is sold for $10 CAD at Chapters-Indigo in Canada. It is a bitter 68% dark chocolate, and it has butter oil (perhaps to soften the bitter edges) and "natural flavour" in it, which of course is reminiscent of vanilla. It's not bad when you need a quick dark chocolate fix, but is certainly not as interesting as the other Mexico origin bars that I have written about here.



Happy Chocolate Tasting everyone!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Finca la Rioja Mexico: A fantastic two-harvest dual pack of bars by Chocolate Naive

A month or two ago, I ordered some chocolate from one of my favourite online retailers: The Chocolate Project in Victoria, British Colombia. I was ordering some Goodnow Farms chocolate and discovered they had the new Mexico-origin Bonnat dark-milk 65% bar. That started an email conversation with Stephanie, a chocolate connoisseur and a fellow chocolate maker who works at The Chocolate Project, about other Mexico-origin bars that they carry. She put a package together for my order, and I was pleasantly surprised when I opened it and found the Chocolate Naïve duo pack of Mexico origin chocolate bars.


The cacao used to make the chocolate in both bars is from the same small farm in Coahoatian, Chiapas, Mexico called Finca la Rioja. But each bar was made from cacao of a different harvest time.



Why is the time of harvest so important?
The climate at different times of the year can affect the flavour of the cacao. As we commonly know, warm countries where cacao grows (within 20 degrees of the equator), tend to have wet and rainy seasons and dry seasons, and these changes can affect the harvest.  And although the flavours are very similar in the cacao, there are subtle differences that can offer the taster a unique experience with each bar.

 
Have you ever noticed a flavour change with a change of harvest in other chocolate bars? I have had this opportunity in chocolate tasting when I received a wonderful lesson from Fresco Chocolate once on harvest, by way of the Peru Maranon cocoa beans. Also, I've noticed that the most recent Dick Taylor Madagascar bar that I purchased tasted more of tangy raisin than the fresh red berry flavour that I recall tasting when I first bought it several years ago. You see this with cocoa beans when making chocolate, but opportunities for the average chocolate consumer to taste the flavour of chocolate made from different harvests is rare. Perhaps a dedicated chocolate connoisseur could devote a cupboard to buying and saving chocolate bars from the same craft chocolate maker over different years, but who has the time and patience (and self control with eating that chocolate!) to do that?

So Naïve owner and chocolate maker Domantas Uzpalis has given us this experience in one single chocolate package. And I think this is a fantastic idea.


So how did this Mexico-origin chocolate taste anyway?
Both chocolates had that citrus tang that my own Mexico origin chocolate has, and that wonderful milky colour (even though it was dark chocolate with no milk in it) of Mexican white Criollo cacao mixed in. The flavours, however, were sweeter and calmer, with perhaps some more conching* to calm them down, or the specific farm and fermentation methods applied created a sweet and more delicate profile. Certainly terrior played a role, since the Finca la Rioja plantation chocolate did not contain all the hazelnut notes and leather that my chocolate and Goodnow Farms chocolate (both from the Tobasco region of Mexico) contain.


The package offered a wonderful tasting chart inserted inside it. Overall, the tasting notes really hit the nail on the head. Hay, cream and citrus were common flavour notes in each bar, however Harvest #1 offered more citric acid and coffee flavours, whereas Harvest #2 offered roiboos flavour notes. I found #2 to be much sweeter than #1, and low and behold, there were also some charts below the flavour notes that I had not noticed until I sat down to write this post, showing that Naive also found less bitterness in #2.


I loved all the charts and notes put into this package.  Although it is trendy to place NO flavour notes on packaging these days, there are some bars where extra information is welcome, especially in such an innovative package as this. It truly offers the taster an amazing learning opportunity. The only downside was that the harvest dates were not printed or indicated on the package anywhere, nor was the % of cacao in the chocolate. It was about a 70% dark chocolate, although could have fallen just below perhaps to a 67% or up to a 72% dark chocolate (this is my best tasting guess :-) ).

Should you buy this chocolate?
I encourage you to try this chocolate, if you can get your hands on it. Be warned: this is a Naive 'Nano Lot', which means it may be made just once and then never offered again. However, I hope this post will hint to Naïve to create more Nano Lots of chocolate just like this one, making two bars of chocolate from different harvests in one package.

I bought this at www.chocolateproject.ca/. You can also find out more about Naïve on the chocolate maker's webste at: www.chocolatenaive.com

*conching refers to a process of heating, aerating, and cooling the chocolate while it is in constant motion over a period of time (sometimes up to 72 hours). This was invented by Rudolph Lindt...a long time ago.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

I made five batches of chocolate with different percentages of cocoa solids from Ucayali River Cacao, and here is what I found...

There is one single origin cacao that has suddenly popped up everywhere during the last year: Ucayali River Cacao, coming from the Amazon, near Pucallpa, Peru. Chocolate makers are launching Ucayali origin bars at rapid speed, most staying within the 70% dark chocolate range, with just a few others venturing out beyond 70% cocoa solids.  Last year, only a small handful of makers were producing Ucayali bars, including Sirene Chocolate (called the Tingo Maria bar) and Letterpress (Ucayali 70%), both winning international awards for their bars.


See all those award stickers?
This origin - and the chocolate maker - is a winner!
Then this year, a slew of chocolate makers won Academy of Chocolate (AoC) awards in the 2018 competition, including Daniel Haran, owner of Chocolat Monarque in Montreal, who just won an Academy of Chocolate Gold for his 80% Ucayali bar.  Goodnow Farms won an AoC Silver medal for its 70% Ucayali bar, Coco Chocolate Company of Kingston, Ontario and Letterpress of California won 2018 AoC Bronze for their 70% Ucayali bars, as did Lemuel Chocolate, and I can't even keep track of all the other Ucayali River Cacao wins. I did not submit any of my Ucayali dark chocolate bar experiments, because they are not a part of my product line-up, but seeing the list of winners, I wished I had because the flavour of the beans stand out above many other cocoa bean origins.

Why are these cocoa beans so darn good?
Although regional factors affect the flavour, Ucayali River Cacao (URC) is an organization that lets the farmers do their farming thing, and URC takes care of the rest, so the cacao is treated with the same high quality fermentation and drying techniques across the board. A consistent product is produced from a naturally inconsistent bean.

URC works to produce the best cacao by picking up the wet beans from farmers in the region every 15 days, then centrally processing it for a consistent flavour and streamlined process. How does this help? Well, if each farmer were to try to ferment their own beans, the results could be less flavourful, because many small farmers do not have enough beans to fill a fermentation bin at once, and therefore optimal temperatures can not be reached during fermentation for a good flavour profile. In addition, fermentation and drying are additional skills the farmer must learn, which reduces their time to concentrate on producing good cacao on the farm and increasing production. URC solves this problem for farmers. They also pay farmers a price higher than market value to encourage future efforts in farming.

Experimenting with the beans...
I bought a few 5kg bags of Ucayali River Cacao between last Fall and this winter, and spent months experimenting. The smell upon opening the bags was that of pure cacao heaven. Each raw cocoa bean has its own aroma when you open the bags, and the Ucayali River Cacao had a wonderful aroma unlike any I have smelled before. I had to stop myself from entirely immerging my head in the bag to get a long, wonderful whiff.

The beans were beautiful, and nearly no strange bits in them. They were easy to sort and lovely to work with. Having heard of the amazing flavours of this cacao, and based on the appearance, a simple cut test and the smell, I decided to apply a very light roast to all the beans. I really wanted the bean flavours to shine through from my first experiments.


I made a 70% dark chocolate immediately, and added a solid amount of cocoa butter just to ensure I made the same recipe as a few other experimental origin chocolate bars that I had on hand, in order to get a good origin taste comparison. As chocolate makers, we all have our own 'cocoa butter philosophy' and I like the original French-style creamy mouth-feel for a 70% chocolate bar (although my philosophy on cocoa butter is dependent on the cocoa bean itself - after experimenting, if an exceptional bean shines, I usually try a second batch with no or less cocoa butter to feature more of the bean favours).  In this 70% bar, where I applied a light roast, the fruity flavours were quite noticeable, with a lemon tang and strong cocoa notes, and some woody undertones. At 70% cocoa solids, it was certainly packed with a flavour punch.

I then made a 100% with no cocoa butter added, just the beans refined for 2 days in the stone melangeur.  It was a beautiful unsweetened chocolate, with mild flavours of fruit (cherry and perhaps tangerine), strong woody notes, and some bold - yet not overpowering - acidity. The flavour reminded me of a rustic wood cabin on a sunny day.

I followed that with a batch of 85% Ucayali dark chocolate with 5% cocoa butter, and immediately followed that with a 90% Ucayali dark chocolate with 10% cocoa butter. My reasoning was that a bean with a lot of acidity might need a little more cocoa butter at a high percentage in order to calm down the acidity a bit, and give the taster a more enjoyable experience with less sugar. As many regular chocolate tasters reduce sugar from their diets, and turn to 90% and above dark chocolate, it can be difficult to find bars that are not so extreme and bitter in flavour. I wondered if the Ucayali could be a good option at a high percentage for someone new to bitter chocolate.

So if you've been following closely...
...you'll know that both the 85% and the 90% dark chocolate bars contained 80% beans, but simply contained varying amounts of cocoa butter and sugar. And I tell you, I was surprised by how different they turned out in favour!

The 90% was elegant, mild in flavour, creamy in texture and overall had that delicate feel of a Porcelana or Soma's CSB Chama bar, but with some after taste of fruit flavours and woody notes. The added cocoa butter really softened the edges, giving the chocolate a palatability of something a little sweeter than the average 90% bar. However, it was less interesting than the 85%, which offered a bold fruitiness and strong notes of citrus acidity that hit the palate upfront, with mild cedar and wood notes also rounding out the flavour. 



The 100% dark chocolate bar was a good solid-tasting unsweetened bar, which could have stood up to some of the best 100% dark bars on the market, BUT also oddly less interesting than the 85% and 90% bars. What I learned from the 100% was that the Ucayali River cocoa beans really shine when a little sugar is added to highlight the flavour. As chocolate makers, we are continually pushing the limits, but we must remember that sugar has always been used as a way to highlight cocoa bean flavours, and not be afraid to use a little more if it enhances the experience of the chocolate by the greatest number of people.


Finally I made a milk chocolate bar....
I also decided to make a 68% dark-milk chocolate bar, which had only 13% sugar in it. I figured it would highlight the flavours of the bean, while introducing a nice melt-in-your-mouth feature to the chocolate. The result was a very delicate, creamy milk chocolate, with not a strong 'terrior' flavour of the cocoa bean. The delicate nature of it was quite nice, and could be addictive, but I wondered if a 50 to 60%, light on the cocoa butter and strong on the beans, might have been a better composition.

This 68% Ucayali milk chocolate bar was more dark than milk,
but with a delicate creamy mouthfeel and taste.

So what did I learn...
I learned that a little sugar goes a long way when it comes to some beans. These beans are truly flavourful because they have been treated just right, and they taste great on their own, and made into a very dark and unsweetened chocolate, but their flavours truly shine when a little sugar is added, about 15% to 30%. With that, the chocolate comes alive and really begins to tell its story.


Find Ucayali origin chocolate bars and beans near you...
You can find Ucayali River Cacao origin chocolate bars all throughout North America now, so just check the website of the producers for a chocolate maker in your area, at: https://ucayalirivercacao.wordpress.com/

Check out an event by the Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI) taking place in Canton, MA on June 19th: https://www.instagram.com/p/BjYAoD8DQLG/?utm_source=ig_share_sheet&igshid=tog4eodt36we You can taste Goodnow Farms Ucayali chocolate bar, and other makers' Ucayali bars, along with beer pairings, and meet the maker of Goodnow Farms.


Learn more about the Ucayali River in Peru at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ucayali_River and this wonderful region that grows some of the best cacao in the world.

Buy the beans from Juan Gonzalez from the Mexican Arabica Bean Company in Toronto: https://www.mabco.ca/.

The Ucayali beans...roasted.

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Best Chocolate Croissants in Toronto : Pain au Chocolat at Goûter


Last weekend I attended the eGullet Chocolate and Confectioner Workshop in Niagara-on-the-Lake, where confectioners and wanna-be chocolatiers gathered for a weekend of learning, improving their chocolatiering skills and bettering their bellies (I mean literally, we ate a tonne of chocolate!).


While at the workshop, one of the key presenters and 'teachers' was Rodney Alléguède, who is a chef and the owner of Goûter, a Patisserie, Boulangerie and Chocolaterie in Toronto.  All the attendees of the workshop agreed, after three full days of 'hard work' tasting Rodney's pastries, that he makes some of the best pastries we had ever tasted. For me it was all about the flaky chocolate croissant, or 'pain au chocolat' as it is properly called in France, where Rodney is from. Although I make a less flaky version at home (to keep the mess at a minimum), I love a good flaky chocolate croissant, with a crisp outer edge yet soft on the inside.






During the year that I lived in France, the word 'Goûter' was probably the most fascinating word to me. The French never walked around eating food in public, the way we might see us North Americans eating breakfast on the subway or on our way to work. But for some reason, the 4 p.m. snack time, goûter, as it is called, was the only time they seemed to be okay with eating outside and on their way home. Every day I would see French folks eating a Pain au Chocolat on the streets of Rennes, the city where I attended school. And every day it would inspire me to try a new chocolate croissant from a different shop, perhaps in hopes of becoming a croissant connoisseur one day, or just in increasing my waste line (you can imagine which goal I reached first that year). So Rodney`s Pain au Chocolat really brought me back to that time.



Blurry pastry selfie - it is blurry because I accidentally
rubbed too much butter from the croissants on my
phone`s camera lens. :-)
 
The other croissant by Rodney that truly dazzled was the raspberry one (sorry, no chocolate here). It was full of rich raspberry puree or fresh jam, had a gorgeous colour and probably was the most delicious pastry I had ever tasted.




Goûter is also making a Nutella croissant, which I hear is delicious. So if you are in Toronto, you NEED to get over to Rodney`s shop to try it. Plus he has delicious gelato, chocolates and confections, and other amazing pastries and breads, so go NOW! You`ll find Gouter at:
3507 Bathhurst St., Toronto
Instagram: @gouterbyra
Website: www.gouter.ca

I took a pic of these delicious confections
recently at Gouter in Toronto. Don`t they look amazing?
They tasted even better than they looked.