Thursday, May 28, 2015

HEXX Chocolate: Las Vegas' First Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Maker

 
At the Paris Las Vegas hotel, you can now find Hexx, the very first craft, bean-to-bar chocolate maker to open in Las Vegas. Their slogan is 'Super. Natural.' which I think is fantastic because not only does the packaging have a super natural look to it, but also the ingredients are super natural. In fact, Hexx only uses two ingredients in the chocolate: cacao and organic coconut palm sugar.

Hexx's mission is to showcase the flavorful varietals of cocoa beans (cacao) grown in different regions. So currently Hexx makes single origin chocolate with beans grown from five regions: Peru, Tanzania, Venezuela, Ecuador and Madagascar.   

I got my hands on all five bars, thanks to a relative who just visited Vegas. And every day for this past week, I have had the pleasure of tasting Hexx's chocolate bars. What I learned is that Hexx's 'natural' mission can also be seen in the texture of the chocolate. It is nearly smooth, but still has a very slight crunch to it (like that of stone-ground chocolate, although way smoother than stone-grown chocolate). I personally love chocolate with a slight crunch because it tells me that it is not overly-processed.

The taste was unique. Organic coconut palm sugar always adds a flavour to the chocolate that is not in chocolate made with cane sugar.  But that flavour is mild and easy to forget as you delve in to taste and compare Hexx's origin bars (see below for specific tasting notes).

The business has put a lot of effort into doing it right; they have travelled to cocoa growing regions to source beans, they have covered a full range of regions to highlight bold origin flavours, and they have developed the right materials to assist people who are new to tasting origin chocolate.

I am looking forward to seeing how Hexx progresses as they settle in for the long haul. A visit to their location and tasting counter is definitely on my to-do list. I've been told that it is a nice experience.

So if you are heading to Vegas, check out Hexx and learn about bean-to-bar chocolate!  You can also find Hexx's products in a second location at the MGM Grand. See their website for more information: www.hexxchocolate.com.

Detailed Hexx Chocolate Bar Tasting Notes:

Tanzania (Kokoa Kamili) - bright and fruity (citrus and red berry) with a nice balance of chocolaty and fruity flavours.

Venezuela (Ocumare) - some acidity and fruitiness (not citrus fruits).

Peru (Maranon Pure Nacional) - very dry with a slow melt, floral notes and a wee bit flat. The palm sugar stands out in this one.

Madagascar (Sambirano Valley) - crunchiest (although nearly smooth) but so full of fruit flavours it overwhelms the taste of palm sugar (unlike the others, except Tanzania). It is the most bitter in terms of cocoa content, but hardly seems that way because of the bold citrus fruit flavours. Uniquely it also has the lightest colour.

Ecuador (Camino Verde) - Nutty, chocolaty and, at first, seemed a bit flat in comparison to the bolder Madagascar and Tanzania bars.

At first, I liked the Ecuador the least, but I realized that it was because the taste of the coconut palm sugar was stronger than the taste of the origin flavours, which can sometimes flatten the natural origin flavours in the chocolate. Whereas with the Madagascar chocolate by Hexx, the origin flavours were so bold that the palm sugar flavour was overwhelmed by them.  I think that is why I was naturally drawn to the Madagascar bar.

I conducted a little taste comparison between the Lindt Ecuador bar and Hexx's Ecuador bar.  I had thought I liked Lindt's bar, until I tasted these two together. What happened was that I was turned off by the strong added 'natural flavors' (representing a vanilla flavor) that Lindt had added to the bar. It caused me to appreciate and enjoy Hexx's Ecuador bar with its simple ingredients.

The Madagascar chocolate bar was my favourite and certainly a great example of the bold citrus flavours often found in chocolate made from cacao grown in the Sambirano Valley. It was, however, the grittiest of the five Hexx bars.  But that was my favourite part.

The Tanzania had the nicest overall balance of unique citrus and red fruit flavours, which were clearly detectable but not overwhelming.

Monday, May 25, 2015

91% Dark Chocolate: Learning to Love It

It is interesting how our taste buds can change over time.  A few weeks back, I purchased a Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory 91% chocolate bar (the 'Nocturne' bar).  It was in a new packaging and had a new elegant shape, which was different from the last time I had tasted it, so I thought I'd give it a try. 

I enjoyed it quite a lot and actually found it tasted sweet for a chocolate with 91% cocoa solids. I did not find it to have strong origin flavours, but I liked it because there was no over-the-top vanilla flavour, nor was there a heavy cocoa powder taste that some of the extra-extra dark chocolates have. In fact, it was quite smooth on the palate and surprisingly enjoyable.

When I read my original article on this chocolate bar, I noticed how funny it was that I had found it difficult to palate just five years ago.  At that time, I regularly consumed 70% dark chocolate, but I had not often ventured into anything higher: the deep, dark stuff between 85% and 100% cocoa solids.

But nowadays I consume all kinds of chocolate.  From white to milk to dark, and even 100% unsweetened chocolate. I do not eat them all at once (have you ever tried to eat a piece of milk chocolate, then followed it up with unsweetened chocolate? blah! That is the best way to make yourself hate the 100% stuff), but I regularly go through a spell where I only want to eat 85% to 100% dark chocolate, and these days I actually enjoy them.

So you see? Our palates can be trained to like something new and to reduce sugar intake where possible. And surprisingly, we can also learn to like a chocolate that we never thought we would.

I bought the 91% Nocturne chocolate bar in Sudbury at the Fromagerie Elgin. I cannot find it on the Rocky Mountain Website, but there are locations all over Canada where it is sold (I have seen people tweet about the same bar this month @RockychocCanada). Check Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory locations here: http://www.rockychoc.com/about-us/.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

ABChocolate Boston; personalized deliciousness!

ABChocolate is a new and, I believe, exciting American chocolate company that enables their customers to personalize a box of chocolates.  That's right, you can order a box of chocolates and customize a message that is printed directly on the chocolates.

Don't worry, the message is completely edible! Chocolatiers use something called transfer sheets to make this possible. It has an edible pattern on the transfer sheet that is made out of coloured cocoa butter. ABChocolate has presumably used lettered transfer sheets to create the personalized messages. When chocolate truffles are hand dipped, the chocolatier simply places the dipped chocolate on a transfer sheet to cool.  Once the chocolate is removed from the transfer sheet, the pattern appears on the top of each truffle.

The spaces between the words are filled with chocolates that have beautiful and colourful patterns on the top, giving the entire box a look of elegance. Together with the message, the chocolates are rather attractive when one opens the box.

As for taste, all of the chocolates in the box have one flavour: a melt-in-your-mouth hazelnut milk chocolate, which is positively delicious. It is on the sweet side, but not overly sweet like a traditional candy bar is. The dark chocolate shell is so thin that only a slight bitterness can be detected as you bite into the chocolate. The chocolate has vanilla in it, a flavour that is instantly detected before the hazelnut and milk chocolate flavours take over.

The only downside of ABChocolate's is that the chocolates are almost too big (yah, right, like that is a 'downside'?).

ABChocolate makes all of their chocolates by hand and in the Viennese style, which is a slightly mousse-like texture on the interior. Thornton's, a popular chocolate company in the U.K., has long been making a 'Viennese Truffle', with a milk and white chocolate interior, and an outer chocolate coating that has been rolled or sprinkled with sugar.  Thornton's also offers a box of Viennese Truffles that can have a customized message printed on the sleeve of the package, a little different than ABChocolate, who customizes the message on the chocolate itself.  Since Thornton's Viennese truffle is not easily accessible to us North American's, ABChocolate is sure to create a new trend on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

ABChocolate ships to all 48 continental states in America. They use Priority Mail services so that chocolates are shipped and arrive within two days.

Go to this link to customize your box: http://www.abchoc.com/new-products/. You can follow ABChocolate on Twitter @AB_Choc or on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/AbchocolateGifts.

Monday, May 18, 2015

SOMA released two luxury chocolate bars: one made from the coveted Porcelana beans, and the other a hybrid

A few weeks back, SOMA Chocolatemaker announced that they have gotten their hands on some of the infamous 'Porcelana' beans.  These highly coveted beans from Venezuela have been sought after by many chocolate makers for years. But they were just not available to buy.

'Porcelana' refers to the type of cocoa bean used to make chocolate. It is sought after by chocolate makers because of "its refined flavour profile, a perfect balance of acidity/fruit and lower levels of astringency and bitterness" (ref). Porcelana chocolate is considered to have a delicate flavour with mild nut, caramel and spice, but no one flavour is overwhelming, like in some origin chocolates.

The 'Porcelana' name comes from the colour of the unripe beans inside the cocoa pods, which are translucent-white, different from the brown colour of other cocoa varieties. The resulting chocolate made from these beans is still a brown colour, but even the darkest bars made from the beans look more like milk chocolate, than the dark chocolate that we are used to seeing.

Porcelana is a Criollo cacao type that grows only in one region in Venezuela - South of Lake Maracaibo. It is difficult to farm because it is fragile, and susceptible to disease and insects. So farmers began to grow other, sturdier varieties, which resulted in the very small supply we have today. But chocolate connoisseurs want more!  So in order to preserve pure Porcelana, a working plantation has been devoted to preserving pure Porcelana, as well as providing seedlings to farmers who want to try to farm it.

Soma received some pure Porcelana and a 'Porcelana Ocumare', a hybrid from a project called Criollo Santa Barbara (CSB), which, from what I understand is out of the preservation project. With that cacao, Soma made two bars: a Porcelana 75% chocolate bar, and a bar called the CSB Chama 70%.

I tasted the chocolate before I read Soma's informative blog post on how these two chocolate bars came to be.  I found I was having trouble distinguishing what made these two bars different from one another. They were very similar except for a slightly more cocoa-y flavour of the Porcelana, which could be explained by it being a 75%, instead if the 70% CSB. However, there was something a little...fruity, like the slight acidity of ripe berries in the Porcelana. Both bars were delicate like a nice cream (like half and half cream for coffee) flavour.

I could rarely taste the nuttiness that was promised on the package, but it was there and showed up more so in the Porcelana when I paired the two chocolates with an Alamos 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon (Argentina wine).  But it truly bothered me that I was not finding discernible differences between these chocolates.  I wondered if I had damaged my taste buds in some way?  But then I read Soma's article and felt better when they wrote: "The two bars sing a slightly different tune yet are clearly related." That was exactly what was confusing me. These are related. They are supposed to be similar.

Both chocolate bars are delicate, creamy and slightly nutty. Porcelana has an almost spice-like after taste. Because of the mild flavours of the two chocolate bars, I found I was drawn to the bolder flavoured Peru Nacional bar by Soma, which I also tasted (for the third time) at the same time. The Porcelana and CSB chocolates' mild flavours also highlighted the extreme nuttiness in Soma's Camino Verde Ecuador 70% bar (see notes on these chocolate bars below). But the Porcelana and CSB both grew on me over time, as I began to appreciate the creaminess and delicacy of this chocolate.

Traditionally very few chocolate makers have made Porcelana bars, but there are more available to taste these days. Namely, one by Italian chocolate maker, Amedei's Porcelana bar, is the most well-known world-wide and really had cornered the market for a long time. Rogue Chocolatier has a Porcelana bar ($18 U.S. for the 60 gram bar) that is renown within the U.S. craft chocolate arena. Also, Choklat in Calgary has made a Porcelana bar too.

You can buy Soma's Porcelana bar (for a very limited time) in either of their two Toronto locations or by e-mailing your order to them to be shipped to your door.  Learn more here: http://www.somachocolate.com/pages/plain-and-simple.


Some tasting and product notes...

All four bars made by Soma (that I tasted  in the last two weeks) had the following ingredients:
Cacao beans, organic cane sugar and cacao butter (except for the Peru Nacional, which had just cacao beans and sugar; no added cacao butter).  Soma's bars all have a 'May contain' warning for trace amounts of nuts, dairy, soy and wheat.

SOMA's Porcelana 75%, Bean type: Criollo
This chocolate was delicate tasting with a lot of light cream flavour.  Some nuttiness and slight spice undertones. One might say this is a very relaxing taste, for times when you are in the mood for tea with cream and a little sugar.

SOMA's CSB Chama 70%, Bean type: Criollo
This delicate chocolate was sweeter than the Porcelana, but had the same very milky colour due to the translucent colour of the beans before fermentation and roasting (see the colour difference in the picture on the right - the CSB looks like milk chocolate compared to the other Peruvian 70% bar with it).  The flavour was creamy and lightly nutty and overall a very mild chocolate flavour.

SOMA's Peru Nacional 70%, Bean type: Nacional
This is an International award winner, and I can see why.  There is an upfront spice-like flavour that opens up to a delicate and sweet chocolate flavour, with a lingering cocoa and fruit taste. It has a bolder and more distinct flavour profile than Soma's two new Venezuelan bars: Porcelana and CSB. I wrote a little more about the Peru Nacional bar last Fall, just before it won it's grand award.

SOMA's Camino Verde Ecuador 70%, Bean type: Nacional
A heavy flavour of roasted nuts hit me upfront, particularly walnuts.  I almost wondered if it was made while Soma's flourless walnut cake was baking. There is still a delicate sweetness to the chocolate bar though.  Although not as enjoyable to me as the Peru Nacional, this one grew on me every day until I found myself very sad to be eating the last piece.

Monday, May 11, 2015

New Chocolate Fudge by President's Choice with Natural Ingredients

I used to love chocolate fudge as a child. However, as an adult, I pay attention to the ingredients in my food. And the fact is, most manufacturers of fudge, even the ones we believe to be local, tend to add all sorts of unnatural ingredients like hydrogenated oil and artificial flavours. That is why I never buy it. 

So when I was shopping at the grocery store this weekend, I was delighted to see that President's Choice, a Canadian brand, has launched a new Chocolate Sea Salt Fudge with no artificial colours or flavours.  And when I read the ingredients list, I couldn't resist trying it because there were no funky (or junky) additives.

The fudge was quite tasty.  Certainly it was not overly salty, and it was very sweet as fudge normally is.  It could have been a bit more chocolaty (more...cocoa-y?) for my liking, but then, I am a regular eater of bitter chocolate. My family really liked it.

Here are the package details of this new chocolate product that I tasted this week:

President's Choice Chocolate Sea Salt Fudge, 200g
Loblaws, Inc. (PC brand, but Product of United Kingdom)
www.pc.ca
Ingredients: sugar, butter, sweetened condensed milk, golden syrup, dark chocolate (unsweetened chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, natural flavour), glucose syrup (contains wheat), water, sea salt. May contain peanuts, tree nuts, egg and sesame.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Want a Good Laugh While Eating Chocolate?

While tasting two of Newfoundland Chocolate Company's products the other day, I decided to visit the website. What I happened upon was a good laugh. On the Home Page, there was a picture of a chocolate bar wrapper that said 'Stunned as Me Arse'. Now being Canadian (although not from Newfoundland), 'arse' is a word that I grew up hearing. And it has always made me laugh whenever I hear it, no matter what the context. But certainly, it was never said before in the context of chocolate.

According to the website, for a limited time you can buy the company's Milk Chocolate with Caramel and Sea Salt chocolate bar in a variety of wrappings that have phrases commonly heard in Newfoundland. The bars are 50 grams each and cost $5.00 on the website.  I have not tried this yet, but I am tempted because, well for starters, who doesn't love caramel, milk chocolate and sea salt?  Plus, the word 'arse' is in print, which is just plain fun.

What I have tried from Newfoundland Chocolate Company is their Low Sugar Milk chocolate bar and their Dark Mint chocolate. These little bars are great for portion control and the flavour balance is very nice. The 'Low Sugar Milk' is actually made with maltitol, so it is favourable to diabetics or those wanting to reduce their cane sugar intake. It tastes like regular, sweet, melt-in-your-mouth milk chocolate with no difference in taste from the usual stuff made with sugar.

The Dark Mint bar has 54% cocoa solids, which is a little sweet for my extra-dark chocolate taste buds, but the sweetness does balance well with the mint flavour.  All too often I open a mint chocolate bar and the mint is overwhelming, but that is not the case here. Newfoundland's mint chocolate has the perfect amount of, well, minty-ness. The overall flavour reminds me of an After Eight, a childhood favourite of mine. So if you like After Eights, you will probably like this chocolate bar.

These two chocolate bars, packaged with designs of the brightly coloured houses in St. John's, were picked up at JoJo Coco on Hazeldean Road in Ottawa. However, you can buy Newfoundland Chocolate Company's products in their flagship store on Duckworth Street in St. John's, Newfoundland, and in a variety of retailers, or you can buy online.


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This was not sponsored in any way by Newfoundland Chocolate Company.  As with many of my articles, the producers had no idea I was writing this post. I paid for the chocolate and since I am a true Canadian, and I want to share with you a very Canadian chocolate company.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate at Home: Costa Rica versus Peruvian Origin Chocolate

Every now and then I make a batch of homemade chocolate. All of which is eaten by me. Yup, I share with no one. Mostly because I make the chocolate to suit my own occasional cravings for 80+ dark chocolate, and since there is no where to buy my kind of dark chocolate on this Island that I live on, I must make it myself.

I also like to play around in the kitchen and see what equipment will work for making chocolate at home. Lately, I've been using my Ninja blender. This produces a good-sized batch of chocolate with a distinct light grittiness, much like the stone-ground chocolate made by Taza or Toronto's ChocoSol Traders.  The chocolate is also bold and sometimes acidic, because it lacks that nice long conche that a smooth chocolate bar has. But this crunchy acidic taste can easily become a regular craving.

When friends recently handed me some Costa Rican cocoa beans, purchased while traveling to the country, I thought, 'oh good, now it's time to learn, taste and compare some homemade chocolate made from different origins.'

So I roasted the Costa Rican beans (I gave it a fairly dark roast at 325F for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally) and then I also dark-roasted some raw Peruvian nibs sold under the Nativa brand. From the taste of the beans, I could tell that the Costa Rican chocolate would be less acidic, as they clearly had more cocoa fat in the beans. The extra cocoa butter could be both tasted and seen in the rippling on the outside of each bean before being broken into nibs. 

Since I had only 6 ounces of Costa Rican nibs (what's left after the shells were removed and the beans broken) and 3 ounces of Peruvian nibs, I had to spend a little time calculating to get the same percentage of cocoa solids in my final chocolate. So for an 82.3% dark chocolate, I used these amounts:

Peruvian Dark Chocolate:
3 oz Peruvian nibs
0.692 oz organic raw cane sugar
0.3076 cocoa butter, melted

Costa Rican Dark Chocolate:
4.875 oz of nibs (I admit it, I ate a lot of the beans, these ones were delicious)
1.125 oz organic raw cane sugar
0.5 oz cocoa butter, melted

When you add the cocoa butter to the cocoa nibs, you get the total amount of cocoa solids. Then add up all the ingredients, and divide the cocoa solids by that total to get the percentage of cacao.

What I learned this time with the Ninja, was that for a small amount of chocolate I had to use the smoothie attachment, because the Ninja has a 6-blade system that runs from bottom to top, so the blender would need to be at least half-way full to do a good grind.

The smooth attachment worked well for a smaller amount of chocolate. But it worked best for the slightly larger Costa Rican batch, making smoother chocolate. There just wasn't enough Peruvian to make the blades work the way they were supposed to and I had to stop it to stir often. In future, I would double the recipe to make this work better.

Once the chocolate was blended, I then tempered it and poured it into the nifty molds that I purchased from Chocolat-Chocolat last year.  With an immense amount of shaking and banging the mold on the counter, I got out most of the air bubbles.

Once the chocolate chilled a little, I extracted some very beautiful chocolate bars. The Peruvian was very light in colour, reddish and milk chocolaty in appearance. The Costa Rican chocolate was very dark - nearly black. And as suspected based on the bean flavour, it was less acidic and better tasting than the Peruvian.

For both, there is an upfront heavy roast flavour. The Peruvian was acidic but lightly fruity. I am aware that these should be aged for a month or so before molding, but really there isn't enough to wait (I guess I will save a little for aging to taste the difference in a month).

Either way, I am enjoying my homemade chocolate. And I am proud of how it turned out. Each batch is better than the last, and I am now able to taste the differences in beans, and know how a chocolate might fair once ground up (I also know how good it might be if I invested in a melangeur)!

And this time, I might just have to share with those lovely friends who gave me the beans.


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This post was not endorsed in any way by any company, but if you would like to learn more about the Ninja blender, click here to find out where I bought mine.