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February 28, 2006

Review: Vosges Woolloomooloo Bar

Reaching deep into the pantry I came up with a Vosges Haut Chocolate Woolloomooloo bar. They describe it as having "Roasted & salted macadamia nuts, Indonesian coconut, hemp seed and dark milk chocolate." I got the bar because I loved the idea of salted macadamia nuts in a chocolate bar and I love the combination of macadamia and coconut. The hemp seed I wasn't entirely sold on. I have zero clue what hemp seed is supposed to taste like but the rest of the bar sounded right up my alley so it came home with me.

The packaging needs to be touched on before I move on to the bar itself. The bar comes in a nice box with a little section on "how to enjoy an exotic candy bar" on the back. Inside the box the bar is sealed away in a foil wrapper. Absolutely lovely packaging and I would not expect anything less from a $6.00 chocolate bar.

Now, the chocolate. The bar has a decent gloss and has the Vosges logo and little pictures of some rather lifeless looking women with Vosges bags on it's eight squares. The bar smells very nice. It is clearly milk chocolate and you can smell the macadamia nuts very easily. It has a nice milk chocolate taste and there are absolutely tons of nuts in it. The coconut doesn't seem to offer much to the flavor. It's there but it takes a back seat to the chocolate and the nuts. There is a little edge to it but I'm not sure if it's the salt on the nuts or the hemp seed (which I still don't know what tastes like).

The bar is very nice and I found it hard not to eat more of it in one sitting (a very rare thing for me - I usually take five or six sittings to finish off a bar and I was tempted to eat the entire thing). I really enjoyed it, but is it really worth six dollars? I'm pretty sure I can find a better chocolate fix for the money. Still, it does leave me looking forward to the Creole bar that still lurks in my pantry. Ignoring the price I'll give the bar an 8.5 out of 10. I'll probably try their other varieties and their truffles, but I'm not sure I'll repeat.

February 24, 2006

Chocolove Organic Bars!

Ack! Chocolove need a mailing list! They have added a pair of organic bars to their lineup of excellent bars and I didn't know about it. They have 61% and 73% cocoa content offerings made with chocolate from "a Caribbean Island" (oooh, mysterious) and I cannot wait to try them. Chocolove was one of my gateway drugs and I love them quite dearly so to me this is big big news. I'm going to cross my fingers and head over to Wild Oats this weekend and see if I can't score my a pair of these along with the cookie I like there.

Big big thanks to Adam for letting me know about them. If you cruise along to the comments on my first safari you can read his impressions of the bar.

61% Bar Link
73% Bar Link

February 22, 2006

Review: Dagoba Xocolatl Bar

After trying the Choxie Aztec Thin I was wondering how the fabled Dagoba Xocolatl would compare. The Choxie had some spice to it but no burn and was an all around nice bar. The Dagoba bar (75% cacao content) brings chilis, nibs, maca (more on this mysterious substance later), vanilla and nutmeg to the table all wrapped up in organic goodness.

Ok, the first thing I want to address is the ingredients. I’m all on board with nibs, chilies, vanilla, and nutmeg and they all sound like they belong in a bar that is inspired by Aztec tradition. But what is this maca stuff? Well, the first thing I did was google it and all that did was raise more questions. Seems to be considered to be an aphrodisiac. So, having googled it I went to the source of all knowledge: Wikipedia. Quick facts: it has been a staple food in the Andes for 2000 years; it is related to radishes and turnips; it is super-nutritious; it enhances strength and endurance; and, yes, it acts as an aphrodisiac. Huh. Not what I expected to find lurking in my chocolate though of course there is the idea that chocolate itself is an aphrodisiac. I don’t know if it adds anything to the flavor, but based on it’s history and the region it is from I suppose it does have a place in the bar. Maybe.

Now, on to the bar itself. A quick whiff of the bar indicates that there are chilies lurking in it somewhere and in some quantity. In fact it really seems to hide a lot of the standard Dagoba 74% aroma. It’s kind of strange, but the “earthy” smell that I associate with Dagoba in this case is reaching into my brain and making me think of a walk in the woods. Summer camp with some extra chilies tossed in. Strange, but every so often an aroma will roll along that will immediately fire off memories and this is one of those occasions. Southern Ohio forest. Not sure what to make of it, but that’s what I’m getting.

Putting aside my strange sense of smell lets move on to the bar itself. The taste is really kind of strange. There is something of chocolate there but the chilies really change the taste a lot. It’s a nice combination and not at all like the cayenne pepper truffles I’ve had (which really taste like they just use chili powder – my favorite spice in the world). The combination of the chilies and the strong dark chocolate creates something that really doesn’t taste all that chocolaty to me. But it’s good. It’s a different chocolate experience where the combination of flavors makes it something new. The nutmeg and vanilla are kind of hidden in the mix but I think that they are having an effect on the flavor.

And how about them chilies? As it’s melting in my mouth I’m thinking that there is a little heat there. No real burn, but some heat. More than I got from the Choxie. And then I swallowed. You would think that if I’m eating a chocolate bar full of chilies that I would maybe be expecting to feel a little something in my throat on the way down. You would think that. The burn I got really caught me off guard. It isn’t super hot or anything, but there is some solid burn present and I was really pretty surprised. Most of the time when people make things with chilies in them they don’t make them hot, just spicy. They go for flavor and not heat because they want to appeal to the broadest possible audience. Not Dagoba. They went for spice and heat and they got them both.

Ok, so I’ve addressed the flavor, now I need to address my usual gripe with Dagoba. The wrapper says nibs. Half way through the bar I have encountered two nibs that I have noticed. As they tend to be nice and crunchy in the midst of the chocolate I would think that I would notice them. The worst part is that the two nibs were virtually right on top of each other. This is such a weakness in the Dagoba bars I’ve tried. If there are supposed to be nuts or nibs or rice crispies there are one or two through the entire bar. I was all excited for nibs and it took half a bar to get nib one. Honestly, they could take a hint from Choxie on this one. The Choxie bar was buried in nibs. The Xocolatl? Not so much.

In the end, It’s a great bar with a unique flavor and a lot more spice and heat than I’ve had in my chocolate before. But where are my nibs? I want my nibs! I’m withholding points because I was promised nibs and received almost none. Grrr… If there were more nibs I would go 8.75 or maybe even 9. As things stand I can’t go above an 8. I really like the flavors in it and I like the surprise burn but the big fat negative impression of the anti-nibbiness of the bar just has me irked.

February 18, 2006

Review: Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock

Today I'm taking a little step out of my normal role and doing a little semi-review of a product that is only slightly chocolate in nature. The product in question is Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock beer. Samuel Adams comes out with a lot of seasonal varieties in addition to their normal beers but this is an even rarer breed - it is from their special "Extreme Beer" line, which is really all about pushing the boundaries of beer. Special stuff and usually quite limited edition in nature.

Normally I might skip an item like this. I almost did. But, out of curiosity, I took a look at the little tag that hung around the bottle's neck. I don't remember any other words from the label but "Scharffen Berger" and, really, seeing one of the best chocolate makers in the world teamed up with an excellent brewer I had to take a bottle home with me, no matter how expensive it was (and it was really expensive - $12.99 and that was on sale). The beer is brewed in the normal Sam Adams fashion and then aged over a bed of nibs from Ghana that were specially selected for the beer by Scharffen Berger. From the description on the Samuel Adams site:


    The chocolatiers at Scharffen Berger crafted an exclusive blend of chocolate for Samuel Adams® made with cocoa beans from Ghana called forastero. Samuel Adams® Chocolate Bock was aged on a bed of this chocolate to create its unique layers of flavor. As the beer matured, the fruity, tart, earthy and chocolate aromas were infused into the liquid to give the brew a complex, full-bodied taste with a velvety finish. A hint of vanilla was added to meld the symphony of flavors together.

First thing to note: the bottle looks really cool. The beer itself is very dark in appearance with very little head. The taste is dark but not super-strong or overly bitter. Very smooth with a light and not unpleasant aftertaste. Don't expect a massive explosion of chocolate flavor from it, though. This is a beer and the chocolate is there in the flavor but it's a lot like how you can taste different flavors in a chocolate based on where it was grown. There is a definite chocolate note there and it's nice, but the chocolate is just along for the ride. This is a beer. I have to say right now that I don't like beer very much. I am extremely picky about beer and drink it rarely. If I am drinking it then it's usually Guinness and the first glass goes down with a bit of a grimace. I need at least one beer to warm up to the taste. This was different. I warmed up to the taste on the first sip. Don't know why but that's just the way it is. I really like this beer.

Of course it would be a sin if I weren't to try this with some chocolate. If I'm drinking a chocolate beer then why not see how a little chocolate goes down with it? Since they use a special bean blend that isn't the Scharffen Berger norm I didn't worry too much about what brand of chocolate I was going to use. Since it was lurking in my pantry (saving it for a special occasion - this rates I think) and was a nice mid-point in terms of cocoa mass I went with a little of the Chocolove Chocolatour Grenada: a 60% cocoa single origin dark chocolate. I wanted something dark but somewhat sweet and this fits the bill nicely (I'll get a review up eventually). The beer is still very nice with the chocolate and the chocolate is very nice with the beer. If I'm going to sit around drinking expensive beer and good chocolate then these two are a good combo. I won't say that the two of them together are greater than the sum of their parts, but the sum of their parts is pretty high.

So, I'm not really in the business of reviewing beer. It isn't my thing and I don't know much about it. So, speaking out of ignorance and a very limited taste range (I like the darker coffee like beers) I'll give this a good 8.75 out of 10. It's darn good for a beer. If you consider the price then it's really more of a 6 or so. It is far from cheap.

February 17, 2006

Bite the (chocolate) Bullet

I like the idea of chocolate being a social food, much like coffee. You sit down with friends and enjoy some chocolate (and maybe some coffee while you're at it). Today Candy Addict posted up a lovely new product that brings a smile to my face (I ran into it at boingboing.net but Brian had it first). It certainly brings a social aspect to chocolate but more like a drinking game then sitting around nibbling and chatting. It is Chocolate Roulette. It is a set of 12 chocolate bullets 11 of which contain a nice creamy center. The twelfth, well, that's where the fun comes in. Lurking inside number twelve is a hot pepper. So you get all the fun (?) of Russian Roulette and nobody gets hurt too badly and you get to enjoy some chocolate at the same time! I just wonder how good the chocolate is (uh oh, signs of chocolate snobbery). I have to worry about a site that also carries Chocolate Covered Queen Leafcutter Ants.

Article Link
Product Link

February 16, 2006

Post Valentines Day Sales

News.jpgI've been so preoccupied with other matters (life is messy like that) that I entirely missed the fact that yesterday was Candy Sale Day! While most people track the normal holidays like Christmas, Easter, and Valentines I tend to focus on the aftermath. It was a sort of tradition. If I got to visit my Grandma for Easter we would head over to the Ben Franklins store and hit the leftovers. I was thrilled with the idea of buying twice as much candy with the same amount of money. Now, with my tastes running toward more expensive treats, the post-holiday sales are a Godsend. So, with Valentines Day behind us we can celebrate consumerism with half-price chocolates galore. Keep your eyes open for beautiful bargains, I know I will.

February 13, 2006

ethel's chocolate Lounges

ethels.jpgI love the ethel's chocolates concept - taking goumet chocolate and making it accessible to everybody. And even better than that is the concept of the chocolate lounge. This article from chron.com likens the chocolate lounge to coffee shops and I like the comparison. It is a place to go and experience chocolate in a relaxed setting (and is very close in concept to what I hope to someday open). It is approachable and fun and seems a great place to go with one's friends. With chocolate having so many percieved health benefits this would seem to be a great opportunity for concepts like ethel's lounges. Hot chocolate instead of coffee and some decadent truffles instead of a scone. What's not to love? Just one more great things Chicago has going for it. There are 10 ethel's lounges in the Greater Chicago Area and I hope to find my way to one this year. Worst case is I'll order a box from their website.

February 10, 2006

Review: Green & Black's Organic Ginger Bar

The last handful of weeks has been busy and stressful. I have a dozen irons in the fire and just haven't been able to find the time to take care of some of the 'less important' things like blogging. And while I haven't been writing about chocolate as much chocolate has helped me deal with all of the stress and confusion. Well, tonight I reached into my review stack (which I found buried under a pile of literature on rabbits while trying to restore some sense of order to my horribly messy world) and pulled out something I can't believe I haven't taken the time to try yet: the Green & Black's Organic Ginger bar.

The idea of ginger and chocolate playing together is really rather a new one for me. I had seen the Chocolove Crystallized Ginger in Dark Chocolate bar at Wild Oats but had never bothered to pick one up, sticking instead to the straight dark chocolate bars. It wasn't until Whole Foods opened up almost next door to me that I gave the bar a try. There were a pair of people from Chocolove in the store on opening day handing out samples and I'm really not one to shy away from free chocolate, especially when it's from a company I love. They gave me a piece of the crystallized ginger bar and it blew me away. The bar has been one of my favorites ever since. Okay, yeah, it's only been a few months, but it's still one of my favorites. So when I saw that Green & Black's had a ginger bar as well I resolved to give it a try.

The first impression Ithe bar gives is in the aroma - you can smell the ginger in it. The taste opens up with what I consider the Green & Black taste. There is something about Green & Black's chocolate that - at least to me - is unique to them and very easy to spot. I don't really know how to describe it other than that it's an earthy organic flavor (oh, that sounds like a cop out - saying "boy that organic chocolate tastes organic" ^^). This bar has that characteristic taste to it and it takes a moment for the ginger to make it's presence known. Once it does it's nice and tangy and spicy. It's really a very balanced bar. It isn't overly sweet and the ginger isn't overpowering and between the earthy chocolate and the warm spicy ginger you get a really nice chocolate experience. I think that the ginger not being too sweet really makes it a good match to the chocolate.

It's funny - when I first tasted the bar I mentally compared it to the Chocolove bar that I so enjoy and thought to myself that I just didn't like it. It wasn't as sweet and mellow. It was darker and spicier and it just didn't sit well with me at first. Once I got past the comparison and started to just absent-mindedly eat the bar I found it to be very enjoyable. It's different from the bar I love but different isn't to be confused with bad (oops, that's just what I did). I think this is a bar that I'll have to be in the mood for, but it's one I know I'll be in the mood for again. The only complaint I have about the bar is that it sort of stings my throat a little. Don't know why that is or what precisely it means, but if I have something to drink along with it or have small enough servings of it (and that is easy for me - a 3.5oz bar like this one lasts me a week) I won't have any problems. I'm running with a solid 8.75 out of 10. Good stuff. It's one of the flavors of ice cream they offer as well. Not that I can get their ice cream or anything, but I can dream.

February 6, 2006

Dangerous Dessert

dead.gifChef Antony Worrall Thompson may have just created the world's most dangerous dessert. His creation is called a Snickers Pie and it manages to pack over 1200 calories in a single slice. The recipe starts with Snickers bars and then adds on more goodness in the form of sugar and mascarpone and puff pastry. I'm not convinced that it would be good, but I'm one of those adventuresome souls who believe in trying new things so I would not be above trying a bite or three. There is a great article at Scotsman.com that details the creation and the horror it has provoked. And, as I believe in giving the benefit of the doubt, I will present the recipe (with a little minor editorializing).

    Snickers Pie
    Kills - I mean SERVES - 4.
    Preparation time less than 30 minutes.
    Cooking time 30 minutes to one hour.
    Recovery time incalculable.

    Ingredients:
    1 packet puff pastry
    140g/5oz mascarpone
    110g/4oz soft cheese
    50g/2oz caster sugar
    3 eggs
    5 Snickers bars, chopped

    Preheat oven to 200C/400/Gas 6.
    Roll pastry to 3-4mm thick and use to line a 20cm/8in fluted tart tin.
    Beat the mascarpone, soft cheese and sugar together in a large bowl, until smooth.
    Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add the Snickers bars and fold in.
    Pour into lined tart tin, and spread to the edges.
    Place in the oven for 10 minutes, then lower to 180C/350/Gas 4 for a further 25 minutes until golden and set.
    Allow to cool before serving.

February 5, 2006

Review: Nestlé Toll House Rich Brownie Candy Bar

I love brownies. I love cake-like brownies. I love dense moist brownies. I just plain love brownies. I could go on about brownies all day. Really, I could. Brownies just take me way back. They are one of those wonder-foods that always seems to be good no matter who made it or how and they always make a day better. And the smell of a fresh pan of brownies coming out of the oven? Mmmmm.... If you ever see me passing up a brownie you can be assured that I am sick or dying. Or maybe brainwashed.

So, with my love of brownies in mind, it should be no surprise that when I saw the Nestlé Toll House Rich Brownie Candy Bar (another long name) with it's label touting (deep breath) "Rich, Chewy Brownies, Caramel & Morsels Covered in Creamy Nestlé Chocolate" I had to try it. How could it be anything but good? Brownies smothered in Nestlé! It's not Valrhona or anything, but I don't really expect to find Valrhona in a mini-mart. Brownies! And chocolate!

In the package are two nuggets of brownie covered in chocolate. Tearing one in two reveals a thin layer of caramel on top of the brownie. Upon tasting the bar I found it to be a mixed bag. I like the chocolate and the caramel. They give it a nice candy bar flair. The morsels are kind of lost in the brownie which, honestly, I did not like. The brownie has a texture that makes me think of the worst things about some of the energy bars I've been unfortunate enough to have tried. It brings to mind things like sawdust and glue. In this case the glue is some horrible mix of something sugary and something chocolatey. I've had convenient store brownies that are actually quite tasty for being all of $1.00 (Little Debbie comes to mind) but this is not even in their class. The brownie was just not good. I can't give this bar more than a 6 our of 10. The brownie was supposed to be the star of the show and it was not star quality. The potential was there for something really good, but they just did not deliver. Odds are I will not repeat.

February 1, 2006

Impulse Buy: Choxie Aztec Thin

This is not a review. Not to say I'm not going to award a score to the bar in question, but this is something I've been absent mindedly nibbling for a few days and haven't really given a whole lot of thought to. The bar that I'm not reviewing today is the Aztec Thin from Choxie.

Choxie is a line of premium chocolate products from the Target department stores here in the United States. They are on the cheap end of premium chocolates and are packaged in colorful patterns that catch the eye. Since their introduction last fall I'd been meaning to go and give them a try but up until this weekend I had never seen any. And it's not like I hadn't tried. Apparently they had the Choxie hidden away someplace other than where the normal candy and mints were in the foods section. I finally found some adjacent to the Valentine's Day chocolates as I was wandering the store in an aimless fashion this weekend looking for ideas for a project that I'm working on (the reason I haven't been diligently blogging this past week). I had an itch for a little chocolate and this would fit the bill just perfect.

With Choxie the idea seems to be to make more premium quality chocolates accessible to the general public. So my question is this: why hide it way off in the depths of the store where unless you are looking for chocolate you aren't going to find it? Shouldn't they be sticking Choxie at every last register in the front of the store? Or at least big island displays near the checkout. When I go to the grocery store all of the limited edition candy products are right there at the register on a huge display that is, frankly, in the way and hard to ignore. Don't they want people to buy Choxie instead of, say, Hershey or Kit Kat? And while I'm talking about Hershey and Kit Kat limited editions why is it that when I went to find some this week at the UDF I had to comb the store before I found them back by the hot dog rollers? I went through the candy aisle, through the checkout candy display and found not a one limited edition. No, they were hidden in the far recesses of the (admittedly small) store. Isn't the idea behind the limited edition bars for them to be an impulse buy? I believe I'm supposed to see a Raspberry Hershey's White Chocolate bar and say to myself "Wow, self, that looks good and since it's a limited edition I better buy it now if I want to try it."

Ok, aside from my trouble finding the chocolate I want to buy in a place that makes sense to me how was the Choxie? Well, the packaging says that it has ancho chiles and cinnamon. I was really surprised at how low key both of the flavors were. There was a background spiciness to the bar as opposed to it coming out and hitting you in the face with it. It was nice. I liked the chocolate - it wasn't too sweet for me though there was something a little strange in the texture. Might have been my imagination. The nibs on the top of the bar were nice too. Two out of four of the nibby bars I've had up until now have torn up the roof of my mouth pretty badly but this one I had no problems with and I love nibs. They add a little something darker to a milk chocolate bar like this and I like that. And on top of it all the bar only costs $1.80 - pretty nice price, no? So, if I had actually been paying attention instead of dealing with other issues I would probably be forced to give it, say, an 8.5 or so.