Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Where is the Red in Raspberry?

One topic that I find interesting is: expectations versus reality. Why? Well, our expectations completely dictate what our experiences will be, especially when it comes to food. I expected, when I bought a milk chocolate bar that advertised a 'raspberry-flavoured filling' to find a raspberry-coloured filling inside the bar. My expectation to find a bright reddish coloured filling also came from the large images of red raspberries that were printed on the front of the package, and from the ingredients that specifically listed "raspberry paste" and "food colour: beets juice concentrate". So you can imagine my surprise when I opened the package and bit into my first piece and the filling was white. 

Ummm....what happened to the "food colour: beets juice concentrate"?  Are beets not reddish coloured? I guess it did not work as well as a colouring as they thought it would?  Also, how does raspberry paste turn white?  This simple surprise immediately caused me to be suspicious of the chocolate bar and its manufacturer. I could no longer enjoy the chocolate because my expectations did not match up to reality.

As for the taste? It was great: a strong bitter raspberry flavour somehow came through in the all-sugar filling, and a milk chocolate flavour that somehow paired well with the filling. There was no strong gross artificial raspberry flavour as some chocolate bars have, and there also was no strong alcohol flavour.  I was also happy that they used real raspberry flavouring, as opposed to artificial, although the milk chocolate coating had some strange additives and artificial "vanillin" flavour.  Why use real raspberry if you are not going to use real vanilla?

So although the chocolate tasted great, my experience was not great because my expectations were not met.  It is not that I find it necessary that the chocolate bar have a red raspberry colour in it, it is just that I thought it would, and was surprised by its actual colour.  That caused suspicion, making me wonder where all the colour went and if the company had somehow forgot to add the raspberry paste and beet powder that was listed on the ingredients. And if they forgot that, then what else is wrong on the ingredients listing? It also made me wonder: what was the chemical process used to cause the raspberry paste and beet powder to turn white?  And, did the company somehow save money by removing the colour?  Or does a white filling sell more chocolate bars than a red coloured filling? All these suspicions caused me to enjoy the taste of the chocolate less than I would have, had the raspberry filling simply been as I expected it to be.

So how could the company have changed anything to make my experience better? Well, they do not necessarily need to change their chocolate, the flavour was good.  But perhaps remove or shrink the giant red raspberries on the front of the package and replace them with an image of the actual chocolate and its filling instead. Or go with no image at all and let the consumer have no expectations when they open the package. Sometimes I find that chocolate is better when I have no expectations.

Please note though, the German description on the package includes "...mit Himbeer-Creme-Fullung", meaning "with raspberry cream filling".  The English description left the "cream" part out, so perhaps German-speaking consumers would have understood that it is a cream filling that might be white coloured.  But I still would have thought a raspberry cream would be raspberry coloured.

Here are the details from the wrapping of the chocolate bar that I tasted today:

Porta Himbeer Milk Chocolate with Raspberry Flavoured Filling, 100g (3.5 oz)
Ludwig Weinrich GmbH & Co. (Made in Germany)
Ingredients: milk chocolate: sugar, cocoa mass, whole millk powder, cocoa butter, whey powder, emulsifiers: soya lecithin, polyglycerol polyricinoleate; flavour: vanillin. Filling (42%): sugar, glucose syrup, citric acid, alcohol, humectant: invertase; raspberry paste, food colour: red beets juice concentrate, flavour: raspberry.  Cocoa solids: 30% minimum in the chocolate content. Milk solids: 8%. May contain traces of hazelnuts, almonds and wheat components.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sipping Sunday without the "Sip"; It's Time for Tea!

When I think of tea and chocolate, I usually think of relaxing with a hot cup of tea in the afternoon while taking a moment to savour a piece of rich chocolate. But mixing tea into solid chocolate is becoming more and more common. Many companies that make flavoured chocolate bars offer an Earl Grey flavoured chocolate or chai-spiced chocolate bar. But there is a company, The TeaRoom, that is devoted to creating chocolate-tea 'fusions', and giving their consumers that wonderful flavour combination without the need to steep anything.

I bought two "chocolate fusions" by The Tea Room last weekend, and since it is Sunday, I thought it was a great day for relaxing with a cup of tea and chocolate.

The first chocolate bar that I tasted was Chamomile & Honey fused with a sweet White Chocolate. The chocolate bar was not big - only 51 grams (1.8 oz) - and it had the subtle flavour of chamomile tea in it. The white chocolate was quite sweet, but was nice with no artificial flavours like commercial white chocolate often has. I also liked that there was no vanilla in it, so that the chamomile and honey flavours were highlighted and not overwhelmed by other flavours.

The second bar was a 38% milk chocolate bar fused with Black Masala Chai tea.  For those who do not know, Masala Chai has the flavours of cardamom, cinnamon, pepper and clove combined, creating a really spicy chai flavour.  The combination with the milk chocolate was a sweet and spicy combination, which sort of tasted like drinking a chai latte with chocolate.  My recommendation would be to drink a nice warm cup of milk with this chocolate bar and it would be like having a chocolate chai latte!

I bought these two chocolate bars at the Bulk Barn in Sudbury, Ontario.  They are both listed as USDA Organic and neither have artificial flavours or colours. Although both bars were a little on the sweet side for me, I would likely buy their other flavours to try and I would purchase these chocolate bars again as gifts for friends who love tea. Here are the details from the wrappers of these two chocolate bars:

Chamomile & Honey Chocolate Fusion, White Chocolate, 30% Cacao Organic, 1.8 oz (51g)
The Tea Room (San Leandro, CA, USA)
Ingredients: organic cane sugar, organic cocoa fat, organic dry whole milk, organic chamomile tea, organic honey, soy lecithin (added as emulsifier). Contains: soy, milk products. May contain traces of peanuts, gluten, wheat and/or other nuts and spices.

Black Masala Chai Chocolate Fusion Milk Chocolate, 38% Cacao, Organic, 1.8 oz (51g)
The Tea Room (San Leandro, CA, USA)
Ingredients: organic unsweetened chocolate, organic cane sugar, organic cacao fat, organic dry whole milk, organic black tea, organic cardamom, organic cinnamon, organic pepper, organic clove, soy lecithin (added as emulsifier).  Contains: soy, milk products. May contain traces of peanuts, gluten, wheat and/or other nuts and spices.

Looking for other tea and chocolate combinations?  A few days ago I tried a Raaka Virgin chocolate bar with Vanilla Rooibos tea.  It too was tasty and a very relaxing flavour combination, so checkout the post! http://ultimatechocolateblog.blogspot.com/2012/02/raaka-virgin-chocolate-flavours-of.html

Friday, February 24, 2012

Raaka Virgin Chocolate, the flavours of relaxation

Through the old farmhouse window I can see the snow blowing sideways in gusts.  It is that sort of painfully white sky brightness outside that can only indicate a cold, damp and windy day that can make you shiver to your soul.

Inside, however, is a different story.  The electric heaters are on, warming up the rooms that the oil heater cannot reach, or that are so poorly insulated that they require extra measures.  I have a cup of tea in my left hand while I type with my right, and two empty chocolate bar wrappers are resting next to the laptop.  Yes, today is a good day. Well, inside at least.

Those two chocolate bars that I so much enjoyed were Raaka Virgin Chocolate's Vanilla Rooibos bar and the Blueberry Lavender chocolate bar.

Although both contain only 67% cacao content, they both tasted much darker and had more bitterness than your average 60-something percent chocolate. I guess that is because the beans are not roasted, which can take away some of the bitterness, thus the reason for the name `virgin chocolate`. Also, the combination of organic chocolate, the flavours, and the rough texture of this minimally processed chocolate that gives it that bitterness.  Its roughness is not a bad thing though.  Although the chocolate was not smooth, I was not expecting it to be, since it is made by a craft chocolate maker who believes that less processing is better.  And it offers a new and interesting tasting experience.

The flavours of the chocolate in both bars were similar.  The Vanilla Rooibos tea was subtle, as was the blueberries and lavender in the other bar, so the flavours of the cacao beans stood out beyond the flavours added to them.  There were not many dried blueberries in the bar (I think I counted four), which was nice because it did not overwhelm me with chewiness or blueberry flavour.

I like that this company cares about the environment through its recycled packaging and organic nature of its chocolate, and also cares about the cacao farmers, proudly stating on the packaging that cocoa farmers receive at least $500 per metric tonne above market price.

I also like how they sell their chocolate.   I bought this as a four-pack and it came in a lovely sack made of natural materials.

Here are the package details:

Raaka Virgin Chocolate Vanilla Rooibos, 67%, 1.25 oz
Made in Brooklyn (USA)
Ingredients:  Organic cacao beans, organic turbinado sugar, organic cacao butter, vanilla rooibos tea.

Raaka Virgin Chocolate Blueberry Lavender, 67%, 2.5 oz
Made in Brooklyn (USA)
Ingredients:  Organic cacao beans, organic turbinado sugar, blueberries, organic cacao butter, lavender.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Perfect Wine and Chocolate Pairing...Barrel-Aged Shiraz and Semi-Sweet Organic Chocolate!

Last night I tried some really interesting wine: Konzelmann Estate Winery 2010 Barrel Aged Shiraz from the Niagara Peninsula. It was oak barrel aged, spicy and peppery.  I thought it might go well with a semi-sweet dark chocolate so I went to the cabinet and grabbed a Camino Dark 55% chocolate bar. I was right! They went perfectly together. The sweetness of the chocolate only complemented the wine, without modifying the flavour. It was a perfect pairing!

I moved on to an Equal Exchange Co-Op 55% Dark Chocolate with Almonds bar and it was also a fantastic pairing: the nuttiness combined with the spicy wine was an intriguing combination.  If you cannot find this chocolate bar, Camino has a similar one (http://www.lasiembra.com/camino/en/chocolate-bars/almonds) - I believe it is the same 55% dark chocolate that I mentioned above, only with almonds in it.  

So if you are looking to pair chocolate and wine, try a Barrel Aged Shiraz with notes of blackberry and spice with a 55% organic dark chocolate....with or without almonds!

Here is the package information from the chocolate that I tasted this week:

Camino Fair Trade, Organic Dark Chocolate, 55%, 100g
La Siembra Co-operative (Ottawa, ON Canada)
Made in Switzerland.
Organic Ingredients: cocoa mass*, golden cane sugar*, cacao butter*, whole cane sugar*, ground vanilla beans*. *Fair trade certified.  Minimum 55% cacao.  May contain traces of nuts, peanuts, soy and dairy products.

Organic & Fairly Traded Dark Chocolate with Almonds, 55% cacao, 3.5 oz (100 grams)
Equal Exchange (West Bridgewater, MA, USA)
Ingredients: *organic chocolate liquor, *organic raw cane sugar, *organic cocoa butter, organic chopped almonds (10%), *organic unrefined whole cane sugar, *organic ground vanilla beans. *Fair trade ingredient. by weight 90% fair trade content. May contain traces of milk, peanuts, hazelnuts, cashews, pistachios & pecans.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Dancing in Your Head with Green Tangerine Chocolate

I love funky chocolate combinations.  Last week I was snacking on Theo's Bread & Chocolate bar and Coconut Curry Milk Chocolate bar, and today I am tasting the zesty, lime-flavoured Soma chocolate bar called Green Tangerine.
The chocolate is wonderfully smooth and the colour of the chocolate is gorgeous.  There is a strong lime flavour combined with very strong Madagascar cacao flavours.  The two words that come to my mind are 'extreme tang'. The whole flavour is very bitter and zesty at the same time. This is one of the more interesting chocolate bars that I have tasted in a while.
I have to say, Soma's Green Tangerine is one of the sunniest, happiest Madagascar chocolate that I have ever tasted. Not that single origin Madagascar chocolate is not sunny and happy, it just has a bold, intense flavour that I would not normally describe as 'sunny'.

And speaking of bold and intense flavours, I have been tasting another of Soma's creations this week, which is the Microbatch Dancing in Your Head 70% dark chocolate bar. It does have a molasses flavour, as the package describes.  As for the texture? It is smooth, melt-in-your mouth and creamy, just like the Green Tangerine bar and Soma's 100% Arcana bar that I tasted last month. It  lacks a cocoa-y flavour and the earthy organic flavour that some microbatch bars have, but instead offers the full flavours of all the mixed beans that are used to create this chocolate bar (made from beans from: Grenada, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii, Haiti and Organic Sambirano from Madagascar). So if you like bold, dark chocolate with intense favours, then this bar is for you. 

With each tasting of their chocolate bars, Soma is quickly becoming one of my favourite chocolate makers.  Read another review of Soma's chocolate here.

Here are the details on the two chocolate bars that I tasted this week:

Green Tangerine 66%, 80g
SOMA chocolatemaker (Toronto, Canada)
Ingredients: cacao beans, organic cane sugar, cocoa butter, all natural ingredients, may contain trace amounts of nuts, gluten, soy & dairy.
Bean Origin: Madagascar.  Bean Type: Trinitario/Criollo (I love that they write this on the package!)

Microbatch Dancing in Your Head 70%, 80g
SOMA chocolatemaker (Toronto, Canada)
Ingredients: cacao beans, organic cane sugar, cocoa butter, all natural ingredients, may contain trace amounts of nuts, gluten, soy & dairy. Bean Origin: Grenada, Papua New Guinea, Hawaii, Haiti and Organic Sambirano from Madagascar. Bean Type: Trinitario, Forestero, Criollo.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Bittersweet Chocolate Truffle Recipe for a Happy Valentine's Day!

It is Valentine's Day and I have a gift for you....Chocolate Truffles! Well, maybe I cannot give them to you directly, but at the very least I can share the recipe.  If you do not have Valrhona chocolate, just use any good quality bittersweet chocolate in the 60% to 70% range.

Bittersweet Valrhona Chocolate Truffles

16 oz (1 lb) Valrhona Bittersweet Dark Chocolate (66% Caraibe)
3/4 cup whipping cream

Put 8 ounces of the chocolate into a bowl. Place the cream in a sauce pan.  On the stove top, bring the cream just to a boil and immediately pour 1/2 the hot cream over the chocolate and stir until it starts to emulsify.  Then pour the remaining cream over the chocolate and continue stirring slowly. Do not lift the spoon off the bottom of the bowl and stir in just one direction to prevent bubbles from forming.  Stir until completely mixed and all chocolate is melted.

Cover with plastic wrap and let rest on counter over night  (or for 6 hours until set).  Place in refrigerator for two hours to harden so you can form balls from the truffles. 

Once chilled, take out of refrigerator and scoop out one spoonful of truffle at a time and roll between the palm of your hands to form a ball.  If your hands are warm, wearing rubber gloves will help prevent the chocolate from melting. I will leave it up to you to decide how big to make these truffles! Place truffle balls on cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap and place back in fridge while you prepare the chocolate for dipping.

If you are comfortable tempering chocolate, then use our own method with a double boiler or marble slab.  Otherwise, follow these directions for easy tempering:

Melt the other 8 ounces of chocolate in a microwavable DRY heatproof bowl for 2 minutes on MEDIUM Power (50%).  Take out of microwave and stir until completely melted.  Feel the chocolate with the back of your baby finger - if it is the same temperature as your finger it is ready.  If too cold, warm for just five seconds in the microwave.  If too warm, continue stirring until it cools, lifting the spoon high in the air to cool the chocolate as you stir. Ensure no water drops or moisture get into the chocolate.

Take truffle balls out of the fridge and using a fork, dip the truffles in the chocolate one-by-one and roll around.  Lift out with fork and place on wax paper to cool and set. (You can also toss these while chocolate coating is wet into a bowl of cocoa powder and roll around for a cocoa-y outer layer. Lift out of cocoa powder with fork and let set on wax paper).

Once set, place in mini cupcake papers for a pretty display. You can also freeze these in an airtight container and pull out when you are ready to consume. Can be consumed at room temperature or out of the fridge (best at room temperature).  It should make two dozen, but it depends on the size of your truffles!  Make as big or small as you like.

Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Take a Trip Around the World through Interesting Flavour Combinations by Theo

Bread and Chocolate? How did they come up with that one? And what about Coconut Curry and Chocolate?

I am having a new love affair with Theo chocolate.  I recently found myself captivated by Vosges' line of chocolate bars for the very same reason as why I am loving Theo right now: chocolate bars created with a vast array of interesting flavours that take you on worldwide cultural explorations.

In January, I ordered some Theo chocolate from Chocosphere.com.  The two chocolate bars that I found most interesting were Theo's Bread and Chocolate bar and their Coconut Curry Milk Chocolate bar. I was most curious about the bread and chocolate combination for nostalgic reasons. When I spent a year in France seven years ago (one of the happiest years of my life) ,  I took an alternate walking route to school one day and came upon the tiniest little 'Boulangerie'.  Being unable to resist any bakeries in France, I went in despite being a little late for school. What I discovered inside that bakery was a bin of baguettes. But these were not normal baguettes. They had dark chocolate chips baked right into them! I had fallen in love with true French bread and dark chocolate since arriving in France, and so on that morning on the way to school, I had found my two favourite foods all baked into one yummy loaf.  From that point forward, I never took the other route to school again. So when I saw Theo's chocolate bar stating that French crusty bread was combined with dark chocolate, I was compelled to buy it.

Although it was nothing like the long baguette filled with chocolate chips that I had loved eating so much on my walks to school, Theo's Bread and Chocolate bar did not dissapoint. I found it very difficult to put away half of the bar for later.  It had a bold salted flavour with the coolest crunch that I have ever experienced. I highly recommend trying it.  It is a great "snack" food when you are looking for that sweet and crunchy treat. 

I especially find it interesting that someone at Theo came up with this idea. Perhaps I am not the only one with a memory of French bread and chocolate combined, or perhaps they just thought it would be a good combination because the French are known for their bread and for their chocolate, so it would make sense that they should go together.  Either way, they got the crunch just right - just like the crust on French crusty bread. I wish there was a store close by that sold these chocolate bars, because I would eat one every day!

The Coconut Curry bar is unbelievably good.  The curry flavour is the strongest that I have tasted in any chocolate, and at the very first bite I have to admit that I thought, "why am I eating this?".  But in an instant, it grew on me and then I wanted to eat the entire bar. The inside of the wrapper was even stained yellow from the curry powder!  The sweetness is just right and paired well with the curry spice.

This chocolate bar made me think about dinner time, and how I should maybe consider making coconut curry chicken, since there are no Indian restaurants here on this cold Island in the great North. Or perhaps I should just sit here a little longer and savour another piece of curry-flavoured chocolate. Who needs flavourful dinners when there is flavourful chocolate?

Here are the package details from the two Theo chocolate bars that I tasted today:

Bread & Chocolate, Dark Chocolate 70% Cacao, 2 oz/57g
Theo Chocolate (Seattle, WA)
Ingredients: Cocoa Beans*+, Sugar*+, Cocoa Butter*+, French Bread* (Organic wheat flour, filtered water, yeast, sea salt), Butter* (Milk), sea salt, ground vanilla bean*. *Organic +Fair Trade Certified
Contains wheat and milk.  Manufactured on shared equipment with products containing milk, wheat, eggs, peanuts and other nuts.

Coconut Curry Milk Chocolate, 45% cacao, 2 oz/57g
Theo Chocolate (Seattle, WA)
Ingredients: Sugar*+, cocoa beans*+, milk powder*, cocoa butter*+, toasted coconut*, yellow curry powder (coriander, turmeric, mustard, cumin, fenugreek, paprika, red pepper, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves), ground vanilla bean*. *Organic +Fair Trade Certified
Contains milk and tree nuts (coconut).  Manufactured on shared equipment with products containing milk, wheat, eggs, peanuts and other nuts.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Mint Obsession Brownies for the Organic & Fair Chocolate Lover

After much recipe-testing and recipe-creating using unsweetened baking chocolate, I have come up with a mint brownie recipe that is intensely chocolaty, intensely minty and made with Organic and Fair Trade chocolate. And since it had a real kick of minty flavour, I thought "Mint Obsession" was an appropriate name.

I used Cuisine Camino Unsweetened Baking Chocolate (100% cacao solids) for the brownie recipe and a Camino 67% Mint Dark Chocolate bar for the ganache icing on top of the brownie. 

Also, my recipe is baked in a round pan because I like my brownie pieces to be shaped like slices of pie or cake with a crusty back edge and gooey centre (see picture of the slices below). If you want to bake yours in a square pan, bake for only 40 to 45 minutes. All that said, here is the recipe:

Mint Obsession Brownies for the Organic & Fair Chocolate Lover

Brownie Ingredients:
-114 grams (4 oz) Cuisine Camino Unsweetened Baking Chocolate (you can use use regular unsweetened baking chocolate if you cannot find this brand)
-1 cup unsalted butter
-3 eggs
 -2 cups organic cane sugar (in keeping with the theme, I used Camino brand of organic sugar)
-1 tsp real vanilla extract (or the flecks from 1 vanilla bean if so desired)
-1/2 tsp peppermint extract
-1/4 tsp salt
-1 cup flour
-1 cup chocolate chips (optional)

Ganache Ingredients:
-One 100 gram Camino Mint Dark Chocolate bar (67% cacao solids)*
-1/4 cup whipping cream
See alternate ganache recipe below if you cannot find a 100 gram mint chocolate bar.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line an 8" round springform (or plain round 8" baking pan) with parchment paper.  Butter parchment and sides of pan.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in a microwavable bowl for two minutes on HALF Power (or in a heatproof bowl over a double boiler as in the picture on the left).  Stir until melted. Let cool.

Beat eggs lightly with a fork until yolks are broken and well mixed in with whites.

Mix by hand or with electric hand mixer (or stand mixer) the following: eggs, vanilla, sugar, mint extract and salt.  Mix until they are all combined. Add in the chocolate mixer and blend well.  Gently stir in flour.  (Add chocolate chips now if you are including them) Pour batter into the pan that you prepared.
Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour (cooking time depends on your oven.  Centre should be soft and slightly giggly when you take it out of the oven, but not wet and completely undercooked). Run a knife all around the edge, but leave in pan for now.
Let cool for one hour, then refrigerate while you make the ganache icing.
Chop the 100 gram Camino Mint bar and place in microwave safe bowl. Pour ¼ cup whipping cream over it and pace in microwave on HALF power for 1 minute and 20 seconds. Take out and stir until smooth. Alternately you can melt these together over a double boiler until completely melted.
Release brownie from pan and turn out onto a serving plate. Pour ganache over top and spread it just to the edges of the brownie. Place in refrigerator until top is chilled. Tastes best the day after it is baked.

The larger slice in this picture has semi-sweet organic
chocolate chips added to it, which made a slightly
taller brownie and more intensely chocolaty.

You should be able to get 16 servings.  To get that many, cut entire brownie in half.  Then cut in half again, cross-wise (now you will have a cross). Cut each quarter section into four evenly-sized pieces so you have 16 small rich slices of minty goodness.
Plain Mint Ganache Recipe:
(Use this recipe if you do not have a Camino Mint chocolate bar or other bar)
·         4 oz semi-sweet chocolate
·         ½ tsp peppermint extract
·         1/4 cup whipping cream

Combine all three ingredients in a microwavable bowl.  Place in microwave for 1 minute 20 seconds on HALF POWER.  Take out and stir until smooth.  Alternately place over a double boiler and heat slowly, stirring until smooth.  Pour on brownie and spread to edges. Jiggle brownie a little to smooth out ganache.  Refrigerate until set.

*Chocolate Note: If you cannot find the Canadian Camino brand, an Equal Exchange Mint bar (American brand) is similar.  Otherwise, use a Lindt mint bar or other mint-flavoured 100 gram (3.5 oz) dark chocolate bar.

Read my post on the differences between Camino brand of Unsweetened Baking Chocolate versus Baker`s by Kraft.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Unsweetened Baking Chocolate: The organic alternative to the brand we know best

Who is Crazy Enough to Taste Unsweetened Baking Chocolate? I’ll give you one guess.

As a child, did you ever go into your mother’s baking cupboard and try to sneak some yummy, sweet chocolate into your mouth when she wasn’t looking? But you quickly discover – after you popped it into your mouth - that it was unsweetened baking chocolate? Then your mother came out of the bathroom and caught you gagging in the sink with chocolate all over your face and she fell on the floor laughing uncontrollably? I personally think the reason why our mom’s always had baking chocolate in the house was to teach sneaky little sweet-toothed children a lesson.

Now that I am a mother, I have never baked with 100% dark (or 'unsweetened') chocolate.  This may seem strange since I own a chocolate and cake business. I usually bake with quality milk chocolate and semi-sweet dark chocolate, so I have never seen a need for unsweetened baking chocolate.  In fact, whenever I am in the grocery store, I see the baking chocolates and think "who uses unsweetened chocolate and what on earth do they use it for?"  But in January, during my ‘month unsweetened’, I decided to taste and compare very bitter chocolate, which included unsweetened baking chocolate. 

If you were one of those children who mistakenly ate unsweetened baking chocolate, you probably think I am crazy for wanting to taste and compare the stuff. But the way I see it: someone has to do it.  How else will we know which product is better, and if there is a better choice out there than the standard brand of baker’s chocolate that is always available at the grocery store?

And since I had been tasting 100% dark chocolate all last week (having worked my way up during the month of January from 70% to 100% dark chocolate), I thought my palate would be ready for comparing two unsweetened baking chocolates. What I learned is that a palate can never really be ready for unsweetened baking chocolate.  I will still always make a cringy face and have an urge to eat a box of Smarties afterwards just to get the taste of it out of my mouth. Some of the fine chocolate producers, like Canada’s Soma and France’s Pralus make 100% dark chocolate that does not cause that reaction, but those are meant for tasting only and just too expensive to bake with. So unsweetened baking chocolate is the best choice for use in home-baking, and of course, is meant to be sweetened in whatever recipe we are using it for.

The two unsweetened baking chocolates that I decided to compare were:

-Cuisine Camino (Fair Trade, Organic) Baking Chocolate with 100% cacao, 200g package

-Baker’s Unsweetened Chocolate, 100% Pure, 225g package

Since Camino's products are now offered all across Canada at a variety of retail stores, I thought it would be a good alternative to the traditional Baker's chocolate that our mother's used. It is organic and Fair Trade, so we are being both environmentally and socially responsible when we use it. 

As for the taste comparison, the Baker’s chocolate was pasty and chalky and it stuck to all areas of my mouth. Cuisine Camino’s chocolate had more flavour (it is from a single origin: Peru, and therefore one can expect more flavour from the beans) and was acidic, yet the flavour was light and airy, despite being a completely unsweetened chocolate.

In terms of baking with it, the Cuisine Camino chocolate was easier to chop. It comes in a 200 gram package with two 100 gram bars. Baker’s chocolate, on the other hand, still comes packaged in those annoying little one-ounce blocks that are nearly impossible (and dangerous too, I might add) to chop. And chop it, you must. Melting down chocolate one ounce at a time is not as easy as melting down small, chopped pieces. I am very pleased that La Siembra Co-operative, the owners of the Cuisine Camino brand, sells a baking chocolate that comes in a different format than the traditional one. 

Although Camino products have been popping up at national grocers all over Canada, if you cannot find their unsweetened chocolate at a retailer near you, do not fret because they are now selling their products online! I was on their website last week and discovered this new feature. Check it out: http://www.lasiembra.com/camino/store/.

I found Baker’s brand of unsweetened chocolate at the grocery store. I also located Kraft (who owns the Baker's brand) unsweetened baker’s chocolate in bulk, repackaged on site by my local health food store.

Since I had never baked with unsweetened chocolate, I decided to find or create some recipes using it. I started by trying the recipe on the inside of the Baker’s unsweetened chocolate package called “Baker’s One Bowl Brownies” (also available online here), but I changed it a little bit.  I baked it in a round 9” pan, and changed the pecans to 1 cup of chocolate chips.  I also had to bake it for 10 minutes longer (45 minutes) because the pan was round and the center needed longer to cook. It was the best batch of chocolate brownies that I have eaten in a long time!

I came up with a mint brownie recipe as well for the Cuisine Camino unsweetened baking chocolate. And I have more recently created dark chocolate truffles and ganache recipe for 100% dark chocolate. Click here for the recipe.

In the end, the two baking chocolates tasted different in their pure form, but both turned out well in the recipes that I tried them in.  So the choice is less about taste and more about your preferences:  do you want a healthier, more socially resposible chocolate or are you okay with the regular brand?

As per all my posts, here are the package details on the chocolates that I tasted today:

Cuisine Camino (Fair Trade, Organic) Baking Chocolate with 100% cacao, 200g package
La Siembra Co-Operative (Ottawa, Canada)
Made in Peru
Organic Ingredients: Cocoa mass*, cocoa powder*, cocoa butter*. *Fair Trade Certified. 100% cacao. Certified organic by QAI.

Baker’s Unsweetened Chocolate, 100% Pure, 225g package
Les Cuisine KRAFT(r) Kitchens
Ingredients: unsweetened chocolate (K35C) Manufactured on equipment that processes milk.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Subtle Spice and Smooth Chocolate; Raaka's Chile Bar is Just Right

Since today is the first day of February, I am now free to taste any chocolate that I want, in any flavour and sweetness level.  And the chocolate that I wanted most was a Raaka virgin chocolate bar.

I have been waiting to taste Raaka's 70% Chile chocolate bar for quite some time.  I ordered and received a shipment from Raaka in December, but had too many chocolate bars to taste at the time to open the Chile bar. Then came January, a month devoted to going "dark and bitter", and so I had to wait yet another month to try Raaka's Chile bar.  And since I had thought that their Dominican Republic 87% chocolate bar was so good, and their Bourbon Cask-Aged chocolate bar was so interesting, I was excited to try yet another of Raaka's creations. So I was happy when I woke up this morning because I knew it was finally the day to try it!

In tasting it, I'd have to say that the spice is mild. I like that you can taste the chocolate first, then the chile spice. The heat just sort of creeps in after the chocolate has melted away. The peppers creating the heat, as stated on Raaka's chocolate bar wrapper, are guajillo chile and aji amarillo chile. According to Wikipedia, a guajillo chili is "mild in flavor, with only a small amount of heat." Interestingly, Wikipedia also says it has "a green tea flavor with berry overtones". I do not taste green tea, but I agree that it has a mild heat. The aji amarillo chili is a South American hot yellow chili pepper and, according to About.com on South American Food, is the most important ingredient in Peruvian cooking.  These peppers are called "yellow", but actually turn orange when they mature. So together, there is a bit of Mexican and a bit of Peruvian heat in Raaka's chocolate bar.

The spice is definitely mild, so the two peppers work well together to create a spiced chocolate that lets the cocoa flavours come first.  Some chili chocolate bars are so spicy and bitter that they become an appetizer, not a dessert.  However, Raaka's bar has just the right amount of mild heat and sweetness for it to still be a dessert.  Overall, I love it.

As for the other spices in the ingredients list?  Well, there is black pepper and I taste that slightly in the aftertaste, but I do not taste the cinnamon, although I am sure it is adding to my overall flavour experience.

This chocolate bar is smoother than I remember Raaka's other chocolate bars to be. I enjoyed it so much that I ate the whole thing in one sitting.  Of course, it is only 1.25 oz so it is a great portion-controlled size for chocolate tasting!

Below are the package details from Raaka Virgin Chocolate's 70% Chile bar.  It cost me $5 (US) plus shipping because I ordered online.

Raaka virgin chocolate Chile, 70%, 1.25 oz
Raaka Chocolate (made in Brooklyn, NY, USA)
Ingredients: Organic cacao beans, organic turbinado sugar, organic cacao butter, guajillo chile, aji amarillo chile, cinnamon, black pepper.