Thursday, June 28, 2012

Hummingbird Chocolate makes me want to fly . . . to Ottawa!

Long ago, if you wanted to make chocolate bars, truffles, chocolate showpieces or filled chocolates, you had to roast and grind the beans yourself. Then, chocolate manufacturers started popping up in the early 1900s. They began roasting, grinding, mixing and conching and essentially creating a final chocolate product that small chocolatiers could buy and melt down to create their own confections. This made work easier for chocolatiers, who could then focus on the artistic side of working with chocolate, rather than the cumbersome, equipment-heavy and rather messy side of chocolate making.

Since then, chocolate manufacturers have industrialized, internationalized and considerably grown in size.  Companies like Valrhona, Callebaut, Hershey, and others have become international giants who still supply chocolatiers all over the world with finished and semi-finished chocolate products. Raw cacao is purchased in large quantities, mixed and processed in ways that remove a lot of the true cacao bean flavours. Vanilla or artificial `vanillin` is added in large quantities to improve the flavour, along with refined sugars.
All this industrialization and over-processing has lead to the recent emergence of many small bean-to-bar manufacturers in North America. Their goal is to coax out the true flavours of the cacao bean by making chocolate in small batches, and usually by using non-commercial or antique equipment. Other bean-to-bar makers get their start for other reasons: they want to support small farmers in developing countries, they want to create an organic chocolate brand or they want to preserve the healthy antioxidants in chocolate.
This bean-to-bar chocolate-making trend has created a wonderful variety of chocolate bars for chocoholics like me to taste and compare.  And now, Canadians are beginning to get in on the action. The newest bean-to-bar maker, Hummingbird Chocolate Maker, has opened its shop in Ottawa, Canada`s capital. According to their website, they craft “small batches of dark chocolate directly from cacao beans” in their workshop. And from my communications with Erica, one of the founders of Hummingbird, they are clearly very passionate about their craft.

Hummingbird has just gotten its start and in fact, the chocolate that I acquired from them said “test batch” on the packages indicating that they are still perfecting their chocolate recipes.  I have tried making chocolate from the bean and I can easily see how a chocolate maker might change the recipe many times before deciding on a final product.  That is both the science and the art of the artisan chocolate maker.

I tried three of Hummingbird's 70% dark single origin chocolate bars: Hispaniola, Venezuela and Talamanca.  I was impressed with all three. I found Talamanca to be the tangiest with a zest that was remarkable. My favourite was the Hispaniola - also very tangy with tropical fruit overtones and coconut (like a Pina Colada). In fact the Hispaniola chocolate bar reminded me of some Hawaiian chocolate that I recently fell in love with.

Oddly, after spending years believing that Venezuela has the most superior cacao beans, I liked the Venezuela the least of the three.  Do not get me wrong; I liked it, but felt it had a flatter flavour in comparison.  Venezuelan chocolate is so popular because it has a milder flavour and appeals to the general public (for wine lovers, that is like a Shiraz compared to a complex Cabernet or Old Vines Zinfandel). For me, I like a full-flavoured chocolate with a lot of tang, bitterness and some acidity.

All three chocolate bars offered the full flavour of the cacao bean, which was also not inhibited by vanilla or any additiona flavourings. I could tell from the taste, even before Erica told me, that traditional methods were used to make the chocolate, which preserved the flavours of the beans.

I highly recommend - to anyone in the Ottawa area or visiting Ottawa soon - that you give Hummingbird's chocolate a try. They have a great range of single origin chocolate that would make any chocolate-tasting party a success and their chocolate is made with Fair Trade and Organic beans.
Although they do not yet sell online, they are available at the Ottawa Farmer's Market at Brewer Park on Sunday's. Hummingbird also plans to soon sell their chocolate at local stores. Look for thier Ecuador single origin chocolate bar, which is back now after having briefly run out.

If you are just learning about bean-to-bar chocolate making, Hummingbird has a great and slightly humorous description of making chocolate on their website.  Check it out:

The package details from the chocolate bars that I tasted this week are:

70% Hispaniola Single Origin (La Red Trinitario Cacao beans Dominica Republic), 50g
Hummingbird Chocolate Maker (Ottawa, Canada)
Fair Trade and Organic Chocolate “test batch”, batch #32 (Test Batch)
Ingredients: Organic cacao beans, sugar, cocoa butter.

70% Venezuela `single origin` (Trinitario cacao beans from Venezuela), 50g
Hummingbird Chocolate Maker (Ottawa, Canada)
Fair Trade and Organic Chocolate “test batch”, batch #33 (Test Batch)

Ingredients: Organic cacao beans, sugar, cocoa butter.

70% Talamanca `single origin` (Trinitario cacao beans from Bri-Bri farmers in Costa Rica), 50g
Hummingbird Chocolate Maker (Ottawa, Canada)
Fair Trade and Organic Chocolate “test batch”, batch #34 (Test Batch)
Ingredients: Organic cacao beans, sugar, cocoa butter.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cherries & Almonds in Dark Chocolate

A Distinct Flavour Combination by two American Chocolate Makers: Theo and Chocolove

In my line of work, I pair a lot of things with chocolate. It is fun to see what flavour combinations work best.  For instance, raspberries and dark chocolate are probably the best combination for an intense flavour experience, but sometimes you can offset the bitterness of raspberries with white chocolate.  Blueberries, mango and cranberries also pair well with white chocolate. And did you know that a semi-sweet dark chocolate goes well with Guinness, but Guinness pairs terribly with milk chocolate? I recently learned this while making Guinness chocolate ganache.

One of the most common pairings of fruit and chocolate is cherries and dark chocolate. Many chocolate bar makers know that this combination works, so you won't have to look far from home to find a dark chocolate bar with dried cherries in it. I know Green & Blacks offers a cherry-chocolate bar, which I have not only eaten but baked with to make a simple cherry-chocolate pie.

Recently, I found two more chocolate bars containing dried cherries in dark chocolate, with the added inclusion of almonds, making for a distinct and interesting flavour combination.  I found these chocolate bars made by Theo and Chocolove, two American chocolate bar producers, at a HomeSense in Northern Ontario.

Chocolove is a company out of Boulder, Colorado that focuses on producing "premium" chocolate bars that use the " timeless combination of chocolate and love".  In fact, they focus so much on love that they provide a love poem inside the wrapping of every chocolate bar that they make.  I suppose for someone who likes poetry or simply likes literature in general, this is a cool idea. They use Belgian chocolate to craft a huge variety of chocolate bar flavours, all with their signature heart imprinted on each piece of chocolate.

Theo is a chocolate maker from Seattle, Washington that makes chocolate directly from the bean.  Their main focus is on making chocolate that is Fair Trade certified and "Fair for Life", which "goes beyond fair trade" by certifying that the entire supply chain, from the farmer's to the company's business practices, are fair. They also support organic growing practices in order to "promote the health of our planet".

Both Theo and Chocolove stand for very different things when it comes to chocolate, but they both agree that cherries and almonds pair well with dark chocolate.  So when I saw their similar chocolate bars on the shelf at HomeSense, I thought it was a great opportunity to taste, compare and review.

Chocolove took the sweeter route by pairing a 55% dark chocolate with large chunks of almonds and dried cherries.  Theo's almond and cherry pieces were smaller in a much darker 70% organic chocolate. Overall, Theo's bar offered a much more intense flavour experience.  I used to think that a semi-sweet chocolate paired best with cherries, but now I see that a 70% dark chocolate really offers a full-flavoured experience like that of a dry red wine.

Also, Theo uses smaller scale bean-to-bar chocolate making methods because they make the chocolate themselves.  So the flavours of the cacao beans are much more prominent.  Chocolove uses Belgian chocolate, which offers a milder flavour with vanilla overtones.

Although I preferred Theo's bar for its intensity and bitterness, I know that many people are not as excited by very bitter chocolate as I am.  So if you like your cherries and chocolate a little sweeter, you might prefer the Chocolove bar. What I like about both chocolate bars is that no artificial flavours were used - only real vanilla and real cherries were used to create the overall flavour experience!

What I find most interesting is that both companies thought that almonds also paired well with cherries.  I never would have thought of that myself. Why not hazelnuts?  Walnuts? Cinnamon?  Why almonds, I ask myself?  I may never have an answer, but I am now a believer that almonds go very well with cherries and dark chocolate.

If you also like cherries and dark chocolate, but are not so fond of the almonds, Chocolove also sells a chilies and cherries bar made with 55% dark chocolate. Lindt also makes a Lindt Creation 70% bar with a fantastic chili/cherry combination.  

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

Chocolove Cherries & Almonds in Dark Chocolate, 55% cocoa content, 90g (3.2 oz)
Chocolove (Boulder, CO, USA)
Ingredients: Dark Chocolate (cocoa liquor, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla), dried cherries, almonds. May contain traces of milk and other nuts.

Theo Chocolate Organic Fair Trade Cherry & Almond Dark Chocolate, 70% cacao, 84g (3 oz)
Theo Chocolate (Seattle, WA, USA)
Ingredients: cocoa beans*+, sugar*+, dried cherries*, almonds*, cocoa butter*+, ground vanilla bean*, rice flour*.  *Organic +Fair Trade Certified.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Gourmet chocolate that is all about presentation, taste, and of course, Z!

Last week I received a package from France that I had been anxiously anticipating. It was wrapped all in silver, but in my opinion, it was a package that contained solid gold, which for me means chocolate. Unbelievably good chocolate. "Z" chocolate, in fact.

Inside the package was a canvas bag with’s logo and a card that said "Votre Message" (Your Message), as well as a booklet that described filled chocolates made by zChocolat. The message told me that I would find 30 handmade chocolates inside the package (including their signature `Z` chocolate – a must try!) that were made by following 400 year old traditions and a `zealous adherence to purity`. It mentioned my name and the town where I lived and what`s more, there were no tell-tale signs of ‘mail-merge’ in this letter. It was personal; a simple letter typed by a real person and written to me. And yes, it did make me feel special.

Even though I had read the letter, the contents of the canvas bag surprised me. There was a beautiful wooden box inside that bag. A wooden box made of

Sappeli, a wood in the mahogany family, which was made in France using `traditional finger joint assembly`. It had gold trim. But the most amazing part, and the one detail that instantly won me over, was the golden plate on the front of the box. It had my name engraved on it!

So I now have my very own beautiful wooden box for hiding my most precious treasures. It felt as though I received a gift just for me. And since I gave birth to my first child four years ago, gifts that are just for me are a rare occurrence these days.

The best part was inside the box: two lovely packs of 30 filled chocolates, each numbered to correspond with zChocolat’s flavour range, plus four "Z" chocolates, the company’s signature filled chocolate flavour.

This is a fantastic gift for any true chocolate lover. You can create a box just like this for someone you know online at It is customizable and the chocolates are handmade and designed by French chocolatier Pascal Caffet ("world champion" chocolatier). Pascal Caffet has created 26 recipes, numbered 0 to 24, exclusively for zChocolat. What’s more, you can create gifts for anyone, personal or corporate and some of the gift boxes can be purchased with wine or Champagne for an extra special treat.

What is most important to me, is that the chocolates are
all natural, have no preservatives, minimal sugar with high cocoa content and "NO ALCOHOL" (I’m not a fan of alcohol-filled chocolates). These chocolates are made fresh and must be eaten within 2 weeks. In addition, the booklet describes the origins of the chocolate used to enrobe the fillings (i.e. Ivory Coast or Venezuela), which is a rarity with most other filled chocolate makers.

Since I am not paid to write reviews of chocolate, I had planned to be very critical about zChocolat’s products. But I have to admit that their presentation and attention to detail won me over before I even began to taste the chocolate. I hadn’t purchased chocolate that was wrapped as nicely since I was last
in France. And in fact, I don’t think I had ever purchased or received chocolate that was wrapped as nicely as the zChocolat box of chocolates.

Like most other French chocolate makers, zChocolat puts as much effort into wrapping their chocolate as they do in making it and I believe that is the right thing to do. Since chocolate is a personal luxury item and a wonderful treat, it should be wrapped in a way that makes us feel as though we are treating ourselves. And zChocolat certainly had this down to an art. It made me
want to savour the chocolate, not consume it all once.

Like any varied box of filled chocolates, I did not like all of the chocolate flavours. But I did like MOST of them. Below is a list of all of the filled chocolates, by number, and my critical review of each one. Keep in mind that I have certain likes and dislikes when it comes to chocolate. So although I am not a "floral-flavoured" chocolate person, you might be, so please read my review with some critical awareness. As an overview, my favourites were: #17, #19, #20, #18, #2, #3, #5, #6 and definitely #0, #8 , #9 and #12.

And if you try nothing else from zChocolate, you must certainly try their "Z" signature chocolate. It was my overall FAVOURITE. So I begin my review with the "Z" first:

Z – One of the best filled chocolates that I have EVER tasted! It came in two flavours: white and dark. Truly, this is an unbelievable treat; unlike any other filled chocolate that I have tasted. It has a creamy layer of "runny" caramel, heavily roasted almonds, a wonderful crunch with tiny crunchy pieces in a smooth praline. So awesome. The combination in your mouth is unbelievable and the after-taste is one that you don’t want to mess with. Really it should be the finishing chocolate to linger long on your palate. I preferred the dark version, but my husband really liked the white "Z" chocolate.

0 – A praline enrobed in a 40% Ivory Coast Milk Chocolate. Slow roasted hazelnuts is the way to go. This chocolate was divine and the California almonds really add a wonderful flavour.

1 – A Madagascar Bourbon vanilla ganache (with lavender essence) enrobed in Venezuelan dark chocolate. I don’t like lavender in chocolate. Unfortunately, when I was growing up, many soaps contained lavender, so the smell makes me think of my grandmother’s bathroom. Maybe for some people it is a wonderful flavour combination, but for me, it just doesn’t work. The ganache was smooth and creamy and rich and dark though....just the way that I like ganache.

2 - An Italian Gianduja praline made with Venezuelan dark chocolate and enrobed in 40% Ivory Coast milk chocolate. My husband tried this one. He loved the creamy layer in the bottom and crunchy layer on top.

3 - Caramel centre with passion fruit, coconut and mango puree in a Venezuelan 70% chocolate. The centre was like a creamy caramel, but flavoured like real mango and coconut. This one surprised me. I loved it!

4 - A Valencia almond and peanut praline surrounded in 40% Ivory Coast milk chocolate. This was the closest to a peanut butter-flavoured chocolate that the French may come. It was wonderfully peanuty, with a hint of roasted almonds and all perfectly paired with milk chocolate. A rich, peanut-chocolate experience that any North American would love.

5 - A dark chocolate ganache made from the Carenero Superior bean from Caracas and enrobed in a Venezuelan 70% dark chocolate. This was dark and rich tasting – just the way I like ganache.

6 - A praline made from slow-roasted Valencia almonds and covered in a 40% milk chocolate. Yum! A slow-roasted nut flavour full of smokiness. This company excels at pralines.

7 - Pistachios and almonds surrounded in milk chocolate. My husband said "Yuk!" and for me, I was not a fan of the heavy almond extract flavour that seemed to be in this chocolate.

8 - Finely ground caramelized hazelnuts and coffee ganache. ONE OF THE BEST! That deep smoky roasted almond flavour went very well with the strong coffee flavour, leaving me satisfied and yet wanting more. It suddenly made me want to slow roast some almonds, grind them up and mix them in with my coffee grounds.

9 - A slow-roasted Valencia almond praline with a milk chocolate base. SOOOO GOOD! There was a smoky, almost burnt flavour in the roast of the beans, which made the entire chocolate. My husband said it would be good with a cigar.

10 - Solid Venezuelan 70% dark chocolate with minced pieces of almonds from the Valencia region of Spain. Good. Not my favourite, but might be to someone who liked pieces of almonds in their chocolate.

11 - A bite-sized version of molten chocolate base with raspberry coulis. Exactly like the description. No seeds! Very, very yummy.

12 - Toasted sesame seeds in a Valencia almond praline and enrobed in 40% Ivory Coast milk chocolate.  I really liked it. Almost came off as peanut butter flavour with the sesame seeds and almonds mixed. Now, I might just have to take some tahini and mix it with almond butter and see the result.

13 - Raspberry ganache with a hint of violet enrobed in Venezuelan 70% dark chocolate. Raspberry ganache: yummy. Violet flavour: not so yummy. Again, I am just not a floral-chocolate-flavour fan.

14 - Finely ground caramelized pistachios mixed with hazelnut, milk chocolate and pure cocoa butter, enrobed in milk chocolate. I liked it. Not as much as other pralines but liked it. Nice little crunchy bits.

15 - Peppers in chocolate is my thing, but floral flavour and pepper combined in one chocolate was not my thing.

16 - Solid 40% Ivory Coast milk chocolate with minced pieces of Valencia almonds. Very good! The almonds paired well with the milk chocolate.

17 - A praline of hazelnuts and milk chocolate combined with Sri Lankan coconut and enrobed in 70% Venezuelan dark chocolate. LOVED IT! Hazelnuts, coconut and milk chocolate....what a great combination.

18 - Kenyan and Mexican coffee grounds blended with dark chocolate, cream and cocoa butter in a ganache that is enrobed in 70% dark chocolate. Really tasty. A good cup of coffee and good chocolate, well paired.

19 - A walnut praline wrapped in phyllo dough in milk chocolate. I loved it! A fine crunch and taste of heavily toasted nuts. The walnut flavour was so subtle that is did not affect the flavour. Its tastiness surprised me.

20 - A milk chocolate-orange ganache enrobed in more milk chocolate. The orange surprised me. It was light, like orange tangerine with the same effect that a light peppermint oil can have in your mouth. Tasted like spring.

21 - A gingerbread-spiced ganache with gingerbread spices, star anise, cinnamon and licorice. They said it would taste like a (European) holiday gingerbread cookie dipped in chocolate. It brought me back to the Christmas market in Rennes, France, where I spent a year. I fell in love with German Gingerbread dipped in chocolate at that market. Along with
vin chaud and a few other tasty treats....

22 - Supposed to be a blend of coriander seeds with citrus overtones and hazelnut praline. So I am not sure why it came off with floral overtones - like soap - again.

23 - A violet-flavoured dark ganache. Again...the floral flavour is not my thing. But the ganache was well-made.

24 - A milk chocolate ganache with the flavors of pastries and honey, enrobed in a 40% Ivory Coast milk chocolate. It was heavy on the honey, but had an airy and light taste and texture. Very smooth and creamy ganache with no air bubbles. Very good! Also tasted like Spring time.

Overall, I loved zChocolat’s flavour range and very lovely wrapping. Their attention to detail is superb. I highly recommend customizing a box of zChocolat for the discerning chocolate lover in your life. Go to more information.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Contest #2 Announcement and Contest #1 Soma Chocolate Winners Announced!

I am pleased to announce a fantastic contest brought to you by the Ultimate Chocolate Blog!  I am giving away a gift package of chocolate bars made from the bean to the bar by small craft chocolate makers in North America!

I have recently become very passionate about bean-to-bar chocolate making and have been avidly researching craft chocolate makers. Now I can't get enough of them!  So I thought I would share this passion with my readers, and Facebook and Twitter followers by putting together a prize package that includes chocolate bars from five different small craft chocolate bar producers.

How to enter: Sign up to follow me on Twitter or click like on my Facebook page and you will be entered for a chance to win this awesome gift package. It has a value of over $30, so get in on the action now. Quality chocolate is not cheap, so this is a great prize for any true chocolate connoisseur!

What's Included: Chocolate from the following craft chocolate makers will be included in this gift package:

If you win, you could hold a small chocolate tasting party with your closest chocolate-loving friends! So hurry and enter!  You have until June 30th!

Already a follower?  You are automatically entered!  PLUS, if you tweet about this contest or mention it on Facebook, you will receive an additional entry! Just be sure to include  @ulimatelychoc in your tweet, or tag the Ultimate Chocolate Blog on Facebook, so I see that you have added to your entries.

Soma Chocolatemaker Contest Winner Announcement

In March, I held the Ultimate Chocolate Blog's first ever contest, and admittedly I have been a little slow to randomly select the winners and make the announcement.  When I announced the contest, I had all sorts of time, but forgot that spring and therefore, my busy season for my business (, was quickly approaching.  So I got a little too busy.  However, I finally got around to putting all of my followers names into my random selection tool and I finally can announce the two winner's for the Soma chocolate bar contest!  The winner's are:

  • Catherine Powell Lyons (Facebook Follower) won the Green Tangerine 66% dark chocolate bar from Soma Chocolatmaker
  • 30SecondMom (Twitter Follower) won the Dual Origins 70% Organic Blend Dominican Republic Madagascar bar from Soma Chocolatemaker

Congratulations!  I will contact you both for your addresses and mail you the fine chocolate bars made by Soma Chocolatemaker ( of Toronto, Ontario. I will include an icepack so they do not melt in the summer heat!

Thanks to everyone who entered and for following me on Facebook, Twitter and on this blog these last few months.  I am having so much fun writing about fine chocolate!

Friday, June 1, 2012

Costa Rican Chocolate and Great Friends

Chocolate is my addiction. And I have a lot of friends who are 'enablers', which does not bother me at all.  I LOVE it when my friends and family members buy chocolate for me.

Most recently, a friend of mine went to Costa Rica and brought me back some Costa Rican chocolate!  The chocolate bar that he gave me was made by Sibu Chocolate and was called the "Negro" chocolate bar- Sibu's straight up 70% bittersweet chocolate.

This is my first experience tasting Costa Rican chocolate that has been made in Costa Rica from the beans that are grown there. And what a great chocolate bar it was! It was tangy and citrusy, like the Hawaiian chocolate made by Madre Chocolate. It also had a distinct raw chocolate flavour, with the flavour of the bean coming through clearly, indicating that the chocolate is not overly processed.

According to their website, Sibu Chocolate also makes three other flavors of chocolate bars: the Leche "dark-milk" chocolate, the Especias bar with cinnamon and chili flakes, the Cafe y Cardamomo chocolate with Costa Rican coffee and (you guessed it) cardamom.

The same friend also gave me some awesome Costa Rican cocoa powder. I made a fantastic chocolate cake out of it.

If you know a chocoholic, or chocophile like me, and you are travelling to a tropical location that has Theobroma cacao trees like Hawaii, Costa Rica, Madagascar, Dominican Republic, Peru or other cacao producing countries, bring your chocoholic friend back some cacao beans, cocoa powder or chocolate made from the country's cocoa beans!  They will be forever thankful! And maybe they will buy you something special when they are on their next vacation.

For more information on Sibu Chocolate, here are the package details and the website info:

Sibu Chocolate, "Negro" Bittersweet Chocolate, 50g
Heredia, Costa Rica
All natural ingredients: cocoa mass from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms, sugar, cocoa butter.
"organic cacao"