Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Marou Chocolate Tasting Line-Up: A Delicious Way to Experience Vietnamese Cacao

Boy was it hot this summer. And humid. So after dealing with temperatures in the high 20s beginning in early June this year (believe me, that's pretty early for where I live in Canada!), and trying to make chocolaty treats with the air conditioner and dehumidifier running constantly, I can't even imagine how the chocolate makers at Marou Chocolat do it all year long in Vietnam. They are making chocolate in the country of origin - where the cocoa beans are grown.

I haven't had the opportunity to taste much of Marou's chocolate, only their Dong Nai 72% chocolate bar in January of 2015 (see review here) and Marou's Tien Gang 80% dark chocolate in February of the same year. But truthfully, other than remembering how beautiful the chocolate bars were, and how fruity the Dong Nai chocolate tasted, I didn't really remember much about the flavour or texture. This new line-up of four Marou chocolate bars, that I asked a friend to purchase for me from JoJo CoCo in Ottawa, is a perfect way to sample Marou's product offering.

The chocolate bars are more than simple single-origin chocolate bars; each chocolate is being made from cocoa beans grown in different regions of Vietnam. This is even more fun than the usual country-of-origin chocolate tastings because Marou showcases how regional differences can vary so significantly even within a small country. It is much like the amazing Nicaragua-tasting line-up made by Chaleur B Chocolat that I tasted earlier in the year. The fascinating part is tasting the small differences from region to region. Many chocolate makers create just one chocolate bar from a single country, but Marou focuses solely on Vietnamese cacao. And believe me, they do a great job with that cacao.

Marou has also been doing wonderful things in the study of fermentation (cacao is fermented for several days after harvest and prior to drying), as you can see from the series of study on their website.  For more information about Marou Chocolate, visit:  http://marouchocolate.com/. The website has extensive info on retailers who carry the chocolate bars all across the world, with Miss Choco (in Montreal), JoJo Coco (in Ottawa) and Thin Blue Line Cheese (in Toronto) being some of the Canadian carriers of Marou.  For more details on each chocolate bar, check out my tasting notes below.

Marou Chocolate Tasting Notes:

Marou Dong Nai 72%, Batch #2805:  Brightly fruity with a citrus taste and light acidity, which then leaves a bit of a nutty roast taste. A little blackberry-raspberry mix hides behind the heavy molasses taste. A redder shade and more 'milk chocolate' in appearance, although there is no milk in the product (the shade is the result of the colour of the cocoa beans) than the Dak Lak and the Treasure Island.  In one  tasting, I also thought of it as having a bitter-chocolate-and-caramel flavour. They use cacao that has been processed in their own fermentation stations near Cat Tien National Park in the Upper Dong Nai region. The chocolate is then handcrafted in Saigon.

Treasure Island 3/4 Cacao (75%), Batch exp: 09 03 2017:  So strange, shocking almost after eating the Dong Nai. The heavy coconut flavour nearly overwhelms the chocolate for me; it has a strong-tasting coconut oil or coconut milk flavour. Yes, that's it, it reminds me of a vegan milk chocolate bar made with coconut milk.

Dak Lak 70%, Batch #2929:  Tastes of the roast with a hint of smokiness, mint, berry fruit, smooth and full-bodied with a hint of blackberry flavours and a hint of black liquorice.

Heart of Darkness 85%, Batch #3201:  Highly acidic, citrus fruit and a little berry, much like a Madagascar-origin chocolate would taste with 85% cocoa solids.  Quite powerful, and definitely not a 'sweet' 85%, although with the fruitiness, 'bitter' is also not quite the right word. Tart might be the appropriate descriptor here.

Closing Notes: My favourites of these four were the Dong Nai 72% for the roast and fruit flavours, and the Dak Lak 70% was a runner up. I will try the Treasure Island again in the future, to see if the coconut taste was a one-time thing (introduced by external smells perhaps in processing or packaging) or if it is a flavour inherent in the beans. But for now, it was my least favourite.  The Heart of Darkness was a bit too bitter for me, although I do enjoy 85% dark chocolate, I prefer the extra bitter stuff to be less fruity and acidic than this chocolate. I would enjoy these beans with a little more sugar added. But I do know many people who would enjoy this chocolate bar as is.

No matter how I feel about each chocolate bar, Marou is one chocolate maker I will be coming back to time and time again!

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Dark Milk Chocolate Recipe! Plus, The Mexican Arabica Bean Company supplies cocoa beans to Canadian chocolate makers!

I've been making chocolate!  That's right folks, I have been making chocolate from bean to bar in my commercial kitchen using a Premier Chocolate Refiner, which I purchased from chocolatemelangeur.com last winter. And I am loving every minute of it!

And recently, I received some cocoa beans samples from Ontario's first supplier of single origin cocoa beans, The Mexican Arabica Bean Company. Owner, Juan E Gonzalez, supplies organic cocoa beans and cocoa butter from a farm in Mexico, and also from a co-operative in Honduras. And so I made a variety of chocolate bars using these beans, including two single origin 70% dark chocolate bars, and some blended Honduras-Indonesia 51% dark-milk chocolate (it's blended because it had a high non-deodorized cocoa butter content, which means that single origin flavours from both the Honduras beans and Indonesian cocoa butter are affecting the flavour of the final chocolate). All the chocolate bars turned out to be delicious.

The two dark chocolates, from Mexico and Honduras, both had fruity flavours, yet were very different.  Mexico had a coffee flavour and perhaps nutty flavour, combined with bright, acidic fruit flavours, while the Honduras had a funny fruit flavour that perhaps reminded me of the pitanga fruit flavour in Akesson's Brazil-origin chocolate. I wasn't sure about it when I first made it, but then as it aged a week or two, I really began to love the flavour. And the Honduras worked out so beautifully in the dark-milk chocolate that I truly gained an appreciation for the bean.

Although the beans were very different (the Mexican beans were washed before processing and the Honduras simply fermented and sun-dried for 5 days), I found them both fairly easy to work with. I tasted a lot of the beans before and after roasting them and found no beans to have mould flavours or anything strange.  Overall, both batches were good to work with.

Juan tells me that the new harvest of Mexican cocoa beans, from the Tobasco region of Mexico, have a high percentage of white Criollo beans mixed in with the Trinitario beans. So I am definitely ready to put my order in for more! If you want some beans from Juan, and cocoa butter to make them truly single-origin, contact him via the website at www.mabco.ca or on Facebook, Twitter (@mabcoimporter) or Instagram (@mabco.ca). He's knowledgeable and fun to talk to, and he even worked on cacao farms when he was growing up in Mexico, so he certainly has a handle on cacao!

Since I loved the results of my dark-milk chocolate recipe, I thought I'd share the recipe with you here. If you don't have a chocolate melangeur or refiner, you'll want to use a good juicer (Champion), and Indian spice grinder, or a really good single-blade blender or coffee grinder to grind the chocolate as fine as you can (and until it begins to 'melt' into chocolate) Enjoy!

Dark Milk Chocolate Recipe with 51% Cocoa Solids)

for Lisabeth`s Honduras-Indonesia Dark Milk Chocolate, but you can use any beans and cocoa butter!

Taste: Lightly fruity, acidic, buttery caramel, low roast.


24.53%     400 grams organic/fair trade cane sugar
24.53%     400 grams milk powder (I used non-instant skim milk powder)
30.70%     500 grams cocoa butter
20.24%     330 roasted, shelled cocoa beans
100%      1,630 grams total batch size
                (16 3.5oz or 100g chocolate bars,
                 or 25 65g chocolate bars)
50.94%     830 grams cocoa solids


Step 1: Sort and check the beans: Remove any twigs, metal or other strange particles that could be in your cocoa beans. Remove strange shaped beans, or beans that look bad or broken.

Step 2: Roast the cocoa beans. 30 minutes (with occasional stirring/turning of the beans) on 300º F to 325º F should be good.  You can play around with roasting times, depending on what you are looking for.

Step 3: Shell or winnow the beans.  Hand shelling can be very slow, but it is helpful to have rubbery thick kitchen gloves to remove the shells. Or crush the beans in a large Ziplock bag and then place them on a flat pan and remove the shells using a hair-dryer or fan to blow the shells off of the beans - outdoors because this is messy.  You can also remove the beans with a winnower, by building or buying it.

Step 4: Melt the cocoa butter in the microwave (about 2-3 minutes) or over a double boiler (ensuring no water gets into mix).

Step 5: Pre-grind your roasted, broken and shelled cocoa beans (nibs) and half of the melted cocoa butter with a blender, automatic coffee grinder, juicer, or an appliance designed for pre-grinding cocoa beans.

Step 6: Place the other half of your melted cocoa butter in the chocolate refiner/melangeur, along with the pre-ground chocolate mixture.  Refine for 15 to 24 hours, depending on how long you want and to get the taste and texture you like. If you are using a blender or coffee grinder, just a few minutes is all you can do so as not to burn out the motor.

Step 7: Either pour your chocolate out into a plastic wrap-lined pan and let rest and age for 3 or 4 weeks, or immediately temper it and pour into moulds, depending on your preference. If you pour out into pans, the chocolate will have considerable boom, so it will need to be melted and tempered before pouring into moulds.  Learn how to temper the chocolate here.

Seal in plastic bags or foil to store. If stored in a cool, dry place, with no exposure to sun, your chocolate should last one year!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

The 'Pralus Pyramide' - What's old is new again (to me, at least)

I am sure everybody who is anybody in chocolate has tasted the Pralus Pyramid by now, but for me, this is brand new. I've seen pics on social media for ages, while anxiously waiting to get my hands onto this perfect single origin chocolate tasting line-up. And when the 'mini' pyramid arrived last week, I immediately dug in for some serious chocolate tasting.

I was in France in 2004 and 2005, but at that time my chocolate knowledge was limited.  So needless to say, I am kicking myself for not spending more time on chocolate research that year, rather than just blindly tasting my way through the country. If I had put the extra effort in, I would have known that Maison Pralus was 'the' place to visit in France, with at least eight 'boutiques' that can be found in different cities, including Paris, Roanne, Lyon and Charlieu and Renaison.

But I will not wallow in my own self-pity about chocolate experiences that could have been, and instead focus on the wonderful chocolate that I have now, which is this amazing mini pyramid of single origin tasting chocolate.  I took four days to taste these small morsels of chocolate that burst with every kind of origin chocolate flavour imaginable. This was perfect for a taste comparison, since all 10 chocolates have 75% cocoa solids and the same ingredients (other than a difference in the origin of the cocoa beans used), so origin flavours can really be compared among them.

With 10 chocolates, it was difficult to keep track of the chocolate flavours, so I created a list and added some simple bullet points to describe them, which I would modify on the second and third tasting depending on my taste buds each day. My summary list is below, if you care to see, or you could just taste them yourself and see what flavours you discover! The mini pyramid is ideal for one person, maybe two, to taste. The full-size pyramid would be ideal for a group chocolate tasting party.

I purchased the Pralus mini Pyramyde de Tropiques for $10.49 CAD from La Tablette de Miss Choco in Montreal, which ships to Canada and US locations (www.latablette.ca). You can also purchase direct from the Pralus website at: www.chocolats-pralus.com. I believe they ship worldwide.

Here are my tasting notes on each single origin chocolate bar:

Papouasie 75% - high roast and fruity, lingering smoke on the melt.
Ecuador 75% - straight up chocolate flavour, taste the roast, nutty on the melt.
Sao Tomé & Principe 75% - creamy, fruity but not high acidity so no citrus, perhaps dried fruit, prune?
Venezuela 75% - bright, upfront roast, almost fruity, but chocolaty, creamy
Indonésie 75% - a lot smoky, woody. Nearly overpowering smoke, yet enjoyable.
Tanzania 75% - strange, is it leather and fruit? mild. Not very astringent. A little fruit and roast in the aroma.
Madagascar 75% - roasted fruit, berry including raspberry and blackberry, red grape.
Trinidad 75% - I originally thought 'tobacco', but was unsure of what I was tasting. But I think Pralus label makers were confused on this one too, package says: "spices grilled smoked dried herbs, mild tobacco".
Ghana 75% - blackberry, spicy, sweeter than the others because of less acidity.
Columbie 75% - coffee with milk, and chocolate flavour.

Ingredients: single origin cocoa beans, sugar, pure cocoa butter, GMO-free soya lecithin. Contains 75% cocoa solids.