Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Tastes of California-Made Chocolate: Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate

If there are 'giants' in the craft chocolate world, Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate is certainly among them. And it has less to do with their fantastic packaging and more to do with taste. Dick Taylor consistently delivers on taste and flavour design.

During a 'blind' tasting led by Chloe Doutre-Rousell at the Chocolate Maker's Unconference, we experienced tasters immediately knew from the beautiful design on our tiny pieces of chocolate, as well as the powerful, wonderful fruity flavour punch, that Dick Taylor's Madagascar bar was among the line-up of chocolates. The gorgeous mould may have given it away, but the wonderful flavour confirmed it.

My first taste of the Northerner Blend, a DT chocolate bar that I've heard a lot about over the last year, was a few weeks back. I opened my stash from the NW Chocolate Fest and found the Dick Taylor bars that I had forgotten were among my purchases. I've been peeking into the virtual window of Dick Taylor's shop (ahem, that pretty much means stalking the business on Instagram) and seeing this 'Northerner Blend' chocolate. As a customer from 'Northern Ontario' who considers herself a Northerner, I have trouble imagining such a name could be applied to anything in sunny California. But regardless, the name spoke to me, and I had to taste this bar.

In craft chocolate terms, a blend is a bar that has been made of carefully chosen beans from different growing regions. Blending is a chocolate maker's art, and perhaps an expression of their ideal flavour composition. In the case of the Northerner Blend, it immediately reminded me of the Madagascar chocolate bar by Dick Taylor. Full of fruit flavours, potent, and a real punch of flavour. The blend was no different. It had all those flavour components of the Madagascar cacao, and some fruit from the Brazilian cacao that the Madagascar was blended with. The chocolate makers noted honey and dried apricot as tasting notes, but the flavour elements seemed much richer than those two things. Perhaps a rich, dark honey, and there were definitely some acidic fruity notes. It is a bold chocolate that makes a statement. And it quite addictive.

At the Festival, I also picked up Dick Taylor's other relatively new release: their Brown Butter, Nibs & Sea Salt chocolate bar. I quickly learned that this chocolate delivers a powerful punch of flavour upon first bite. Made using the 73% Northerner Blend, this fruity chocolate offers a potent flavour kick, with some upfront acidity that makes way to creamy, buttery notes and texture. The crunchy nibs and salt leave an after taste of pure cacao that lingers, and bursts of salt that quickly melts away.

The Brown Butter chocolate bar is easy to eat quickly, thinking that with each bite you'll figure out its complexity, and be able to describe its flavour with a simple word or phrase. Soon enough, the bar is gone and you are left wanting another so you can fully understand it. Perhaps that can never happen, even if you eat 100 of them. But you'll enjoy every single one.

With nibs in every bite, this bar I complex - is it buttery or crunchy?
Tart or sweet? Fruity or just plain cocoa-y? 
And look at the beauty of that chocolate mould pattern!

In a later post, I will tell you more about the Dick Taylor's limited edition Solomon Islands chocolate bar: a special release bar that changes each year, depending upon a contest held among cacao farmers of the Solomon Islands. The best cacao is chosen by chocolate makers like Dick Taylor and Madre, and a few others. I picked one some at the 2016 NW Festival, and in 2017 I bought Dick Taylor's, along with a Madre's and Zokoko's. What a treat to experience how different chocolate makers approach cacao from the same region, so stay tuned for that in the coming weeks.

For now, here is more information on the bars that I wrote about today:

Brown Butter with Nib & Sea Salt in a 73% Northerner Blend
Maker: Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate, Eureka, California
Ingredients: Cacao*, cane sugar*, butter*, fleur de sel (Cacao solids: 73% minimum). *Organic. Contains dairy. May contain traces of nuts.

Northerner Blend, 73% Dark Chocolate
"A balanced blend of Madagascan and Brazilian Cacao."
Maker: Dick Taylor Craft Chocolate, Eureka, California
Ingredients: Cacao*, cane sugar* (cocoa solids 73% minimum). *Organic. May contain nuts and milk.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Chocolate Project: A Great Place to Buy Craft Chocolate Online

Throughout my many years writing about chocolate online, and tasting all that this world of chocolate, and particularly craft chocolate, has to offer, I've heard about The Chocolate Project. I visited the website many times, and always noticed that they have over 300 chocolate bars at their location in Victoria, British Colombia. I have been to nearly all parts of Canada, but Victoria is still on my bucket-list.  A faraway place on the other side of the country, on an island (like myself, only surrounded by salt-waters rather than the very unsalted waters of a Lake Huron). So I guess I put off ordering chocolate from this famous-in-the-chocolate-world shop because it just seemed so far away.

Then I had a phone conversation with the amazing Joanne Burns, a chocolatier who owns Chocolate Beach on Salt Spring Island, BC (another Island-er who understands what it is like to have a passion for international bean-to-bar chocolate), and she told me again how wonderful The Chocolate Project is. And I met the super awesome Stephanie from Uncouth Chocolate in Victoria, who was representing The Chocolate Project at the Northwest Chocolate Festival in Seattle. So I decided 2017 was the year for me to try The Chocolate Project.

Turns out, distance is nothing in this age of technology and fast-shipping. I ordered a Christmas present for myself online from The Chocolate Project just a few short weeks before the big day. The chocolate travelled across the country quickly and arrived at my door with days to spare (and somehow Santa got it into my stocking for me!).

The packaging was simple - no need for fancy extra's telling me about The Dark Collection that I ordered. Simply the four bars, in a box rolled with insulated wrapping to control any external factors. It was perfect for someone like me: arrives quick and to the point, letting me taste the chocolate for myself without unnecessary extras.

The Dark Collection from The Chocolate Project,
in December (January's Dark selection has changed,
but customers can ask for a custom box of chocolate bars from
any of the 350+ chocolate bars they stock).

I chose the Dark Collection because it contained bars from four chocolate makers that I had not had the opportunity to taste before. You may be surprised (if you follow the craft chocolate movement) to learn that I've missed out on omNom from Iceland, and Letterpress Chocolate from Los Angeles. But in my defence, Letterpress has not been selling widely for long, and omNom is, well, in Iceland. And I live on an Island in the centre of Canada, so I guess I have an excuse. I also had not tasted Shattell Chocolate from Peru, and I only tasted one bar from Brasstown in the past, when they sported different packaging. So this group of chocolate bars was a perfect fit for me.

The Collection was nicely set up for a chocolate tasting party, should Chocolate Project's customers want to hold one with friends. The Shattell Chocolate is made in Peru, with Peruvian cacao and offers extreme floral notes, whereas the OmNom is a made from Nicaraguan origin cocoa beans that have a citrus kick to it. Brasstown's bar is the Elvesia 70% made from Dominican Beans and very full of red fruit flavours (although as time goes on it seems to also have some floral notes, perhaps I've stored it too close to the Shatell). And finally Letterpress Chocolate's Tanzania 70% Dark bar, the star of the show, offered tart notes of banana, and yet citrus that almost tastes of mandarin or under-ripe orange, with a clear taste of the roast on the cocoa beans. Overall, these chocolate bars showcased a full range of single origin, natural cacao flavours.

So why was LetterPress the star bar? For starters, I finished it first, surprised by how good it was, how the texture was smoother than the rest and stood out, yet the chocolate only contained two ingredients, with no cocoa butter added. The combination of fruity flavours and roast were well balanced, and really intriguing. What a treat. I WISH I had another bar.

This Letterpress Chocolate Tanzania 70% dark bar was
the star of the collection!

So what did I finish second? The Brasstown. The fruity punch from the Dominican cacao made it interesting to come back to time and gain. It was also a stately bar, long and slender and classic.

The OmNom was good, but I have tasted many Nicaragua origin beans, and made quite a few bars myself from Nicaragua beans, and over time have discovered that I am not personally partial to that overly acidic citrus kick with few other flavours (although the website lists tasting notes of mushroom, red wine (for the acidity & tannins I assume) and rye bread. Some people love it, but it is just not my thing. I did enjoy the aroma of coffee and cocoa, and the fantastic snap (the tempering was perfect and the bar shiny and gorgeous).

omNom's Nicaragua bar was shiny and had a good snap.

However, the most impressive part of omNom's chocolate, was the bar mould and packaging - the overall look and pattern on the chocolate itself, and the packaging and marketing around this chocolate hit the mark. The outer sleeve did not have a lot of writing, nor tasting notes, nor long descriptions of cacao origin, but the image of the wolf, and the imagery of crocodiles, certainly had a menacing yet wild effect.

omNom Chocolate has the most incredible packaging!

It is rare to see the inner foil printed. omNom has thought through
every step of their packaging to give the customer a consistent experience.

And combined with dangerous creatures was the mountain peaks that peaked out from the inside of the pointed flaps of the box. It evoked a certain power to the chocolate that is inside. Even the foil had images of the wolf, coming from two sides, which created a pattern that needed to be searched for the wolves within. I will come back to OmNom chocolate time and again to try all their other origins. The quality was there, not perfectly smooth texture but a good product. And the overall experience was worth it.

The Shatell Bitter 70% Cacao Ayacucho bar was just too floral for me. It really had a lot of interesting notes in it, once I got past the floral thing, and some balanced acidity with a punch of flavour and some fruitiness. The aromas were quite powerful and I can imagine how fun it would be to eat the raw cacao at the farm with all those notes in it. If you are into Lavendar chocolate or rose-flavoured ganache, that sort of thing, this may be jut the bar for you. The aroma and taste certainly reminded me of where cacao comes from - a plant that flowers and grows fruit. 

Shattell has a Chuncho 70% dark chocolate bar that won 2017 Gold at the International Chocolate Awards. I have tasted a Chuncho origin chocolate before by Qantu, and it was good (also an award winner), so I am looking forward to tasting Shattell's Chuncho dark chocolate someday.

Overall, I am quite happy with my choice of chocolaty Christmas gifts this year. I will return again to The Chocolate Project's website, and also will be likely to e-mail David Mincey again in future to order any of the 350 bars he now has in his collection. He even carries a Rogue bar, which might be the only place to buy one in Canada.

For more information on The Chocolate Project, visit the website at: http://www.chocolateproject.ca.

To learn more about the four craft chocolate brands listed above, visit their websites through the links below:

http://www.shattell.com/ (this will lead you through to Shattell's facebook page).

Happy New Year Everyone!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Fantastic Post-Christmas Chocolate Find: Peppermint Dark Chocolate Truffles

Did you find nearly no treats in your stocking this year? This happens sometimes. You get socks, books, scarves, gloves, but no sweet treats. This particularly happens to me because my friends and family don't know what kind of chocolate to buy a chocolatier-slash-chocolate maker for Christmas. And the kind of chocolate that I like (bean-to-bar, craft chocolate) is not made or sold by anyone other than me in Northern Ontario. But if you are like me, and still appreciate a good store-bought truffle, or meltaway, and you LOVE peppermint and natural ingredients, then you will like this fantastic find I discovered at Bulk Barn yesterday: Peppermint Dark Chocolate Truffles by Splendid Chocolate.

There are eight 'truffles' (technically they are 'meltaways' since the truffles are made with coconut oil rather than fresh cream, like a Lindor Truffle) in the box and only a few ingredients, including semi-sweet dark chocolate (sugar, chocolate liquor/cocoa beans, cocoa butter, soy lecithin and vanilla extract), coconut oil and natural peppermint flavour.  It was only $3.99!  I assume this was a sale price after Christmas, because with a price that low regularly, I'd soon be put out of business.

The chocolates are made by Splendid Chocolates Ltd. in Montreal. Learn more about the maker at: www.SplendidChocolates.com. You can buy them at Bulk Barn. For more information on this retailer, visit www.bulkbarn.ca.

Happy treat eating!


Note: I didn't get paid or receive anything to write the above post. I just really enjoyed those truffles and wanted to tell you about them!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Decorating a Chocolate Cake for Christmas, and a Moist Chocolate Cake Recipe!

I rarely take cake orders these days, not because I don't like making cakes, but mainly because I love making chocolate and confections, which has squeezed out any time for cakes. But every now and then I let someone talk me into it, especially when they say things like "I want it to taste chocolaty, to look chocolaty, and a little bit Christmas-y." Well, that is my kind of chocolate cake lover, and that I can do.

Last week, I made just this kind of wedding cake for a customer.  It included layers of moist chocolate cake, using a recipe I haven't used in a while, from a photocopy of a cook-book I don't remember, but certainly was still delicious. I modified the recipe over the years in several ways, once by accidentally leaving out half the flour, and the result was a much moister cake. I have included the modified recipe below so you can make one too.  The icing was a rich buttercream with raspberries mushed and swirled into it. And the topping was a thick semi-sweet mouth-watering chocolate ganache. The overall pairing of the raspberries and the dark chocolate, with layers of cake is quite yummy.

If you want to make a similar cake, first make the chocolate cake in layers. TIP: It is easier to pour just a little cake batter in the bottom of a cake pan and bake for only 10 minutes, which you repeat a few times, rather than pouring all the batter in and baking for 25 or 35 minutes and then having to slice the cake in layers and cut off the rounded top.
Beat thawed and mushed - or fresh and mashed - raspberries into your favourite vanilla buttercream recipe, then layer between the cake layers. Cover the whole thing in dark chocolate ganache. Make sure you double everything to get enough, or you'll be making second batches of icing and ganache.
Find some Christmas tree moulds at a local cake decorating or baking supply store, and half sphere chocolate truffle moulds. Also, buy some edible glitter (I have copper and bronze). Use a small, dry paint brush to brush it on your chocolate spheres. You can either paint the mould first before filling it with melted, tempered chocolate, or after the sphere is made. Check online shops like Golda's Kitchen for moulds.
Make additional ganache and let set at room temperature for 6 hours, or on the counter overnight. You can pipe it through a cake decorating bag with a tip for rosebuds to decorate the sides or top of your cake.  The chocolate ribbon seen in the pictures here is a secret recipe of mine, but chocolate rolled fondant, which you can also buy at a local baking supply store, would enable you to make ribbon for your cake. Or you can just pipe chocolate ganache onto the cake around the base and second tier, or in any way you like.

You can also paint your chocolate Christmas tree with a bronze or gold edible glitter. In the case of the tree, it is best to sprinkle the glitter or gold dust into the mould before pouring in your melted and tempered chocolate.
Enjoy your chocolate raspberry cake creation! Below you will find the recipe for the chocolate cake. 
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night! :-)
Moist Chocolate Cake Recipe
You need:
1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup organic muscovado brown sugar (this is real brown sugar, where the molasses has not been processed out of it and added back in, like the standard grocery store stuff).
2 large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/2 cup sour cream
  1. Preheat the oven to 350º F. 
  2. Prepare three 8" cake pans with rounds of parchment paper (if you only have one or two, just cut the extra round of parchment and set aside to bake the additional layers after you have popped your baked cake layers out of the pans you have). Butter under the parchment to stick it down to the bottom of the pan, then on top of the parchment and up the sides of the pan with melted butter (or lard or coconut oil).
  3. Place the flour, cocoa powder, sugar, and baking soda in a bowl. Stir well until combined. Add the eggs and oil and beat in with a whisk or beater for a few seconds until just combined (no longer). Gently stir in the sour cream.
  4. Pour one-third of the batter into your prepared cake pan (or one-third into each pan if you have three). Spread around with a spoon to cover the entire pan.
  5. Bake 10 minutes. If a knife inserted into the centre does not come out clean, and the cake is not puffed in the middle, bake another 2 minutes until cooked.  Run a knife around the edge and after 10 minutes of cooling time, place a serving plate or waxed paper over the pan and flip over onto the counter or a cooling rack. Let cool to room temperature before icing the cake. Scrape the parchment, grease your pan and bake a second layer if you don't have enough cake pans for three layers.
Tips for perfecting a crowd-pleasing cake:
  • Ice between the layers with milk or dark chocolate ganache (see below for recipe), whipped chocolate ganache (cool your ganache to room temperature then beat it with a hand-held beater), buttercream icing or no-bake cheesecake batter.
  • Ice the outside of the cake by pouring warm chocolate ganache over the centre of the layered cake and let drip over the sides. Let cool a few seconds then spread around the sides with an offset spatula. This takes a little practice to get it right, but you'll quickly learn how long to let cool before you can manipulate the ganache to make the cake look how you want.
  • If your sides are not smooth, press chocolate shavings into them. This adds an extra-chocolaty kick! (and an extra expense, so keep that in mind).
  • Double, triple or quadruple this recipe as needed depending on the size of your cake (i.e. 12" pans will need it to be doubled at least, quadrupled if you want a tall six-layer showpiece cake).
Dark Chocolate Ganache Recipe:
Place 2/3 cup whipping cream in a microwave safe bowl with 8 ounces of dark chocolate (chopped into 1/2" to 1" pieces). Microwave for 1 minute. Remove from microwave and stir until smooth. If there are still chunks of chocolate, microwave for 10 more seconds, then stir until smooth. Add a tablespoon of agave, honey or corn syrup for shine and stir in. Pour over cake immediately, or let set for 6 hours on the counter, then spread in between cake layers (may need to double the recipe if you are doing a three-layer cake) or whip for added volume. You can also use the set ganache to pipe rosettes onto the cake for decoration.
This is another example of a chocolaty-looking cake that I made on Friday.
The raspberries are beaten into the buttercream for the pink colour and raspberry taste,
which was then applied on top of the chocolate glaze/ganache. There is a raspberry pie
baked in the centre (in this cake, half the cake batter was poured in the bottom
of the pan, the pre-made and pre-baked raspberry pie is placed on top of the batter
(inside the cake pan) and the remaining batter is poured on top.
Then the cake is baked for at least one hour.
For more info and recipes for Piecakens go to www.piecaken.blogspot.com.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Chocolate Maker's Unconference & The Northwest Chocolate Fest: THE place to hone your craft

Learn. That is something we must continually do as chocolate makers. Learn about the beans and their processing, learn how to identify the taste of good processing and bad simply in a single bite, learn about the best equipment to make chocolate, learn how to better temper, package and sell our chocolate. Learning is an ongoing process and the best way to do that is to learn from other chocolate makers. And that is exactly what happens at the Chocolate Maker's Unconference annually in Seattle.

Um, can we say chocolate super-hero? This is Chloé Doutre-Roussel,
who is THE reason behind many chocolate makers love for tasting cacao
and fine chocolate. She wrote the little pink & black book called:
The Chocolate Connoisseur that many of us 'chocophiles' keep
within arms' reach on our book shelves.

I was amazed last year at how much knowledge I gained. And again this year I absorbed more knowledge in two days than during the previous nine years I've spent researching and writing about the chocolate industry. Working with chocolate and making chocolate, as I have for many years now, is truly a wonderful way to learn. But there is a magic that happens at the Unconference that cannot easily be explained. The openness of the chocolate makers, who are really competitors in a business sense, continually amazes me. They collaborate, share ideas and business practices, and arrive with good intentions to help others, while also taking in a slew of chocolate making tips to better their own craft.

Chocolate makers who just started up, and chocolate makers who've been building brands and businesses sat in the same room learning new things.  Sessions were attendee-driven, topics pre-decided based on the conference goers themselves. There was a session for everyone, and each one an open forum for ideas. The 'law of two feet' also helped anyone who found themselves in a session that was not a good fit, and so anyone could get up and move to a different session without judgement.

There was a lot of time for discussion and learning
between chocolate makers and industry professionals at the Unconference.

The conference also gives us chocolate makers and chocolate researchers, writers, etc. a chance to 'talk chocolate' for 2 days straight. Something we don't often get at home, for those of us with no staff or family members in the same business. It enables us to freely 'think aloud' about things we have only internalized all year long.  Or perhaps for those of us who don't have the time to be online communicating with other chocolate makers as often as we like. At the Unconference, we can leave the roasting, winnowing, grinding , dipping, moulding and all the dishes behind and just focus on the beans, the learning, and the tasting (oh, did I mention we tasted chocolate on both days this year? YES.)

So if you are a chocolate maker, whether new to the industry or a veteran who wants to find new ways to run your business, plan to attend the Unconference next in year in Seattle. Granted November is a stressful time of year for most chocolate makers, it can give you a chance to relax, breath and tackle the Christmas season with a fresh outlook on your business, just in time for the January lull where you will have time to apply the ideas and learning that you take away from the Unconference.

And you can then attend the Northwest Chocolate Festival, where you can create a stir by selling your goods, or by simply buying stacks of chocolate that will inspire you. Below is just some of the stash I came away with from this year's NW Chocolate Fest.

Over the next few weeks, and perhaps months (let's face it, my chocolate making and confection business has been getting in the way of my blogging time recently), I will be telling you about some of the chocolate and makers that I found this year at the Chocolate Maker's Unconference and Northwest Chocolate Fest. And I will try, more often, to share some of my learning and recipes. And tune in to Instagram (@ultimatelychocolate), Twitter (@ultimatelychoc) or Facebook for past pics of the NW festival, plus future pics of what I am tasting and making, as well as doing with my leftover cocoa husks this holiday season. So stay tuned!

A lot of chocolate was for sale at the NW Chocolate Fest
as well as art work, gifts and books about chocolate!

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Northwest Chocolate Festival and The Chocolate Makers Unconference, in Seattle this week!

I am super excited because this week marks a year since I attended the Chocolate Makers Unconference and the Northwest Chocolate Fest for the first time. And guess what, I am headed back there again this year! 

If you are chocolate lover, the Northwest Chocolate Festival is THE place to be on November 11th and 12th in Seattle. Hundreds of craft chocolate makers are selling their delicious chocolate bars, drinking chocolate, truffles, confections and more. Also, amazing gifts for Christmas can be found at the festival, such as jewelry, purses and art. And all sorts of workshops and presentations are taking place, which will help you learn more about chocolate, cacao and craft chocolate.

This is my 'haul' of chocolate bars that I brought home from the festival last year!
For my fellow chocolate makers, all the equipment and tool suppliers will be there. And at the Unconference on the 9th and 10th, we will learn from each other how to expand our businesses, market our products, and deal with suppliers. It is a great learning experience for new chocolate makers, as well as medium-sized ones who are looking to grow. It is also the perfect event for tasting chocolate! Last year we tasted a crazy number of chocolate bars, all brought by chocolate-making attendees, and this year we will be tasting over a two-day period (so as not to overwhelm our taste buds). It is a great way to generate ideas, while respecting the innovation of fellow chocolate makers around North America and worldwide.

This is just one of the six or seven tasting tables at the Unconference last year.

If you want to learn more, you can read my post-event article about the conference and festival last year here: http://ultimatechocolateblog.blogspot.ca/2016/11/the-chocolate-makers-unconference-and.html
Or you can visit the Unconference website here:  https://www.chocolateunconference.com/.
Or the Festival Website here: https://www.nwchocolate.com/.

See you in Seattle!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Dark Forest Chocolate; a Delicious Surprise Delivery

Dark Forest Chocolate bars just arrived in my mailbox, thanks to my wonderful always-traveling Kerry (aka The Chocolate Doctor). Kerry must know what I like by now, because I loved all three chocolate bars that came in the package. I liked them so much that I wanted to mention them here on this blog. 

The chocolate bar I started (and finished) first was a delicious 82% dark blend bar made from cocoa beans from both Costa Rica and Ecuador mixed together, to create something both fruity and nutty. This chocolate captivated me and I couldn't stop myself from going back for more until it was all gone.

The second one that I tackled was the 50% Milk Chocolate - a dark-milk bar with both a creaminess and bitterness that appealed to me. It is made from Trinitario-type Costa Rica origin beans, and it won a bunch of awards this year. If you read this blog often, you'll definitely know that I love dark-milk chocolates, and this one certainly stood out. It was lovely, and a chocolate that I would eat again.

The third - a Salted Malted milk chocolate bar - was so yummy that I had to hide it in the cupboard from myself. Reminiscent of malted milk chocolate eggs from the Easters of my childhood, but with a dark-milk component. The salt added a lovely kick in the aftertaste. Truly an addictive chocolate for any kind of chocolate lover. New packaging was just launched for bar, and if you look at Dark Forest Chocolate's website, you'll see that it is super cool and colourful.

Dark Forest Chocolate makes their chocolate from bean-to-bar in Lancaster, New York. You can buy their craft chocolate bars in their storefront at 11 W Main Street, or online. They have over a dozen different flavours. Check them out today!