« December 2007 | Main | February 2008 »

January 26, 2008

Review: Patric Chocolate Madagascar

Wow. It seems like forever since I last had a bar of just chocolate. I’ve had all sorts of truffles and brownies and bars with stuff in, but it’s been, I don’t know, since October since I last had a bar of what I would call tasting chocolate. I’ve had tons of them on hand, but have been eating really very little chocolate at all (trying to eat healthy - ugh!) and the bars have just sort of been ignored as I tackled other stuff. But last night that changed. At long last I cracked into Patric Chocolate’s premire release, the Madagascar Sambirano Valley bar. Patric are that most special of breeds – a bean to bar producer (in their case I think artisan is called for) – and the bar is a micro-batch product. And it’s one heck of a bar to mark my return to pure chocolate.

I’ve made no secret that I’m a sucker for nice packaging and the boxes that Patric use are very nice with gold trim and a nice cacao pod graphic. The bar, once extracted from it’s gold wrap, is beautiful. It’s darker than milk chocolate and lighter than a lot of dark chocolate and has a little red in it. It's well formed with a nice engraved P on each square and has a great snap. The aroma is a mix of cedar, coffee, raspberry, and cherry. I didn’t expect the cedar, but that’s what my nose was telling me. The box tells us to expect notes of citrus, red wine, and berries. To me it opens with a quick hint of caramel and a nice mixed berry note and bright orange. The flavor progresses to richer wine (or brandy?) and cherry notes while the berries settle into more of a raspberry note. And somehow there is a bit of citrus running along with it. As it closes I have to go with more of the wine, orange, and raspberry and a hint of lemon or lime as it fades leaving a lasting hint of brown sugar (?!) on the palate. There is really a lot going on in the flavor and I seem to read a little something different each time. I’m really not good with Madagascar chocolates so certainly take this review with a grain of salt. I’m afraid that I might be missing or misreading a lot here.

But even if I am missing something, what I am finding is extremely pleasurable. It is a smooth ride with nice mix of citrus, berry, and wine and no bitterness to speak of and would make a great chocolate for a relative neophyte (like me!) to enjoy. I really enjoyed the bar a lot. I’m calling it a 9.5 out of 10 (I worry that I score too high a lot) but have to warn that my reviews should be taken with a grain of salt for inexperience and the fact that I inject a lot of my personal tastes into the numbers. But, you know, this blog really is more about my impressions and experiences as opposed to some great and overriding chocolate standard. Anyway, I like the bar a lot. The score stands and I have to say I’m looking forward to seeing what they come up with next.

January 22, 2008

Sugardaddy's Sweeties

So somehow Sugardaddy’s Sumptuous Sweeties was lurking just miles from my apartment and I was completely unaware of their presence. It wasn’t until after I had moved and I was looking for a Big Green Egg that I saw their little sign and realized that there was a place making lovely brownies less than a half mile from my door. **sigh** I disappoint myself sometimes. But I made up for it before haring off to NYC by stopping in and getting a fat pile of brownies to snack on.

For those who have yet to hear about the Sugardaddy action they are a company that makes gourmet brownies for whatever gifting, snacking, or entertaining occasion you may come up with and make them available over the web and phone. They are also available to those of us in Ohio at their humble factory store (where you get them really fresh). They have landed themselves all over the web and TV and have done battle with Bobby Flay on his Throwdown on Food Network and emerged victorious. They make good brownies.

The first thing you notice about a Sugardaddy’s brownie is that it’s round. They cut them round and package the edge bits as separate products (Pocket Change) for them as likes the edgy bits. Me, I prefer an edge free brownie so I’m all for the Sugardaddy approach. Next is the selection. My experience with brownies has generally involved the cardboard boxes from the grocery store so my vision of a brownie is that it’s a nice chocolaty brown and nuts are optional. Well, they have an array of “traditional” brownies (which they refer to as brunettes) and blondies (referred to as blondes) and the flavors run the gamut.

Auburn Original (brunette)
Bittersweet chocolate, espresso powder, and walnuts (it is also available without walnuts if you are the “no nuts in my brownies thank you” sort of person) make for a tasty combo. A nice dense brownie with a little coffee along for the ride. Very tasty.

American Beauty (brunette)
Chocolate and peanut butter with a nice layer of peanuts on top. Normally I avoid peanut butter with any sort of added sugar (I don’t like sweet peanut butter treats), but this is good. Not my favorite, but not something I’d turn my nose up at. Far from it.

Nutty (blonde)
Blonde brownie with a heaping load of – you guessed it – nuts (cashews, almonds, and pecans)! Of course, as a blondie, there is a distinct lack of chocolate. But it turns out that blondies are actually fantastic even without chocolate and they’re even better when they are loaded down with nuts. Good stuff.

Strawberry (blonde)
Blonde brownie with peanut butter and a nice strawberry swirl. I have not tried this one yet. I will correct this oversight soon.

Dark Berry (brunette)
An Auburn Original without nuts topped off with a nice little swirl of raspberry. I love me some raspberry and dark chocolate action and this delivers it just how I like it.

Cinnamon (blonde)
The coffee cake of blondies. Brown sugar, cinnamon, and a little nutmeg and ginger make this the perfect breakfast brownie and its available with or without pecans. I’ve had it without and was completely unaware that it was available with. This I also need to try. Without nuts it's fantastic. Probably my favorite of the batch.

Rich Mint (brunette)
Chocolate and mint is one of those perfectly natural combos and this brownie brings it into play in the form of a mint sandwich with mint buttercream icing between two brownie halves. I was expecting this to be my least favorite of the brunettes, but I came away very much in love with it.

Tahiti (blonde)
Tropical paradise in blondie form. Cashews and coconut, white and bittersweet chocolate chunks, and a little bit of pineapple. This really hit the spot, though I didn’t notice any pineapple while I was eating it. I guess I need to go back and revisit this one too.

Dark Citrus (brunette)
A seasonal selection featuring orange zest and extract in dark chocolate with some milk chocolate chunks thrown in for good measure. Quite the tasty combo.

To sum up, Sugardaddy makes a darn good brownie. Actually, they make nine darn good brownies some with optional nuts. If you’re on the north end of Columbus they’re a little west of the Polaris Fashion Place mall on the backside of a strip mall. If you’re in the area I highly suggest giving them a try. Odds are you won’t be disappointed. I’ve yet to be.

January 15, 2008

Pure Imagination Chocolatier

Well, I promised that I would get to Sugardaddy's this past weekend and what did I do? I went to Sugardaddy's! I followed through, really I did. It's just that they were already closed when I got there. Oops. But what I was up to before heading for my brownies was in the pursuit of chocolate as well! I needed chocolate and focaccia and beer and hot sauce so there was only one place for me to go: the North Market! I love the place to death and they had everything I needed. Grabbed some focaccia at Omega Artisan Baking, Some Scorch hot sauce from CaJohn's, a bottle of an interesting sounding holiday brew (with cocoa no less) at Grapes of Mirth, and a small assortment of truffles and a little bar from Pure Imagination Chocolatier.

Pure Imagination is Columbus' own artisan chocolatier and their chocolate is available at their little shop in the North Market as well as Whole Foods and Wild Oats. They do everything from chocolate covered potato chips to inventive truffles and according to their website they use only Fair Trade ingredients! My usual approach to them is to get an assortment of whatever sounds good at the time and this trip was no different. What I ended up with is (left to right top to bottom) a Jack Daniels Caramel truffle, a Grand Marnier truffle, a honey au chocolat truffle, a Midnight Extra Dark Bar, and a truffle that I want to say was Blueberry and Gouda. There is no doubt about the blueberry part, but I'm not sure what the cheese was and it isn't on their website so I can only take that stab at it.

So, yeah, they're attractive little critters, but how are they? Well, hmmm, where to begin? The Grand Marnier truffle was more subtle than many I've had (and the ones I've made) but nicely balanced all the same. The Blueberry and Gouda (maybe) was good. Blueberry and chocolate is my current favorite taste combination and the cheese just added an extra dimension to it. Very nice and inventive. This is my third round of cheese and chocolate and I've liked all three now. The Midnight Extra Dark Bar was good, but I have good chocolate bars all over the place and this wasn't a serious standout. Pretty and pretty good, but not amazing. The Jack Daniels Caramel, on the other hand, was borderline amazing. Very tasty. You get a nice undercurrent of the whiskey in the caramel and it goes quite nicely with the chocolate. And as good as that was, my favorite, as it has been every time I've gone there, is the Honey au Chocolat. There is just something special about the two flavors together. I don't know what it is or how to put it in words, but it just sings to me. Love it.

So now is the part where I normally assign a score, but I'm a little reticent to do so tonight mainly because I didn't have a wide enough variety of their pieces to offer a blanket endorsement. In the past, though, I have had nearly every one of their truffles. But I can't base it on those because something invariably went wrong with those (I'm not sure if it was my fault or theirs, but there was a renegade flavor in the truffles when I got to them). So I'm going to offer a score based on the few pieces I've got here. And I'm going to ignore the bar when I do it, too. The truffles are the main attraction so I'm going to focus on them. Every piece was well executed and some were standouts in terms of composition. Taking that and the fact that it's a local joint I've got to go with an 8.75 out of 10. I'm biased toward them because they're local, but the truffles are good. So there you go.

I'll get the brownies this weekend. I know when they close so as long as I remember to go before then it'll all work out.

January 9, 2008

Leftover Holiday Chocolate

Throughout the holiday season I tried a few seasonal items here and there to see how they were and in general I was really pretty disappointed. I think it’s a matter of my tastes not lining up with what I was trying, but things just didn’t click for me on some things.

First up on the hate parade of holiday chocolate goodies is the Christmas Cocoa Jones Soda (which I can't find any links to aside from a review or two). I had high hopes that this might live up to my beloved Whooppee (that I can’t find any more). Something in the taste just didn’t sit right with me. It’s not that it was bad – it hit cocoa from a packet on the head pretty well – there was just something in it that I didn’t really like. So I poured the rest of my bottle down the drain and gave the remainders to my family to try. Hopefully they liked it better than I did.

The next item that didn’t live up to my high expectation was the Lindt Excellence Holiday Spice bar (which I can find no links to anywhere at all) I found at Target. Based on the ingredients they seem to have chosen cinnamon and coriander as their holiday spices. I can agree with the cinnamon, but coriander? Maybe it’s just beyond my experience. Anyway, something in the flavor was just off. Everybody I gave a piece of this bar to panned it, so I’m not alone. I think that if they had a different set of holiday spices that it could have been really good. I love their normal Excellence dark chocolate bars so I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t be good with the right spices.

Not all was disappointing, though. I had a really nice Raspberry Hot Chocolate from Nordstrom of all places. And the horrifying mess I made trying to make liqueur filled chocolates was absolutely wonderful stuff. I got some chocolate covered pretzel sticks and some buckeyes from my sister’s family (my nephews make some good chocolate treats) and these are always a nice thing. I also had some really nice brownie action from Sugardaddy's, but that's a topic for another day. Probably Sunday since I won't be able to get back there until Saturday.

January 1, 2008

Return To My Roots

Once upon a time chocolate, to me, was an afterthought. It was something in ice cream (and as far as ice cream is concerned I really prefer vanilla bean), the occasional York Peppermint Pattie, or possibly a (box of) cherry cordial(s) if I was in the mood. And then one day I found myself watching a show on chocolate on Food Network and somehow my curiosity was piqued. I needed to find out more about these truffle things they were talking about on the show. Well, one of the places featured on the show was Betsy Ann Chocolates which was in the Pittsburgh area. It turned out that I was heading to the Pittsburgh Comicon and there was a Betsy Ann in the mall right next to the show so I figured I would stop in and get some truffles.

And that was how it all began. The world of chocolate opened before me and I quickly became enamored of it. I sought to stretch my chocolate horizons and began trying chocolates from all over. But each time I hit the comicon after that I would go to the mall for more Betsy Ann truffles. They were the go-to chocolate for me. They make those offensively large truffles similar to the beasts you get at Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory and the ganache is always wonderfully smooth and nicely flavored. Lovely stuff.

With the shuffling of jobs last year and general life chaos I've managed to miss the Comicon two years running and so I never really have the opportunity to get back to the place that started it all for me. Each time I missed the show I sort of shrugged over the show - I can live without the comics - but I always sighed a little sigh that I wasn't going to get my truffles.

And out of the blue the week I was madly preparing to go to New York I arrive home to find a big and completely unexpected box on my front porch. I checked and lo and behold it was from Betsy Ann. This is the blessing and curse of blogging about chocolate. Stuff sometimes just shows up with no warning. I didn't start this blog to get free chocolate and I always feel guilty receiving it, but sometimes it's a real joy to find a little surprise on the front porch.

And, true to form, I took the bounty of chocolate goodness to work with me. I believe that the best way to make the experience of eating chocolate better is to share it with others and whenever I would go to Betsy Ann I would always bring it all in to work with me to chop up and share around. Anyway, as they had been in prior years at the prior employer, the chocolate was a hit. The big and flavorful truffles are a wonderful experience and it was nice to seef my initial wonder over them reflected in others.

I tried to avoid the truffles myself and stick to the other items in the assortment. The truffles had opened my eyes to the wider world of chocolate and so I always consider them my gateway drug so I wanted others to try the them as much as possible. But I wasn't going to pass up the opportunity to have a raspberry truffle (and a couple of others - sharing can be hard sometimes). It was the one that opened the door for me and I really wanted to go back to that first special bite. And it was as good as the first time - rich and creamy and a perfect marriage of flavors.

Betsy Ann may not be a high-end super-fancy chocolatier, but they are that most special of breeds - the local chocolate company. They turn out wonderful quality products for the local market (and further through the power of the web). I love to find these little(ish) semi-regional chocolate makers as they make chocolate without pretension and simply load up on flavor and love.

There isn't a whole lot of point to this post and I'm sure it sounds like a bit of a shill, but to me chocolate is an experience and going back to the beginning was just a lovely experience for me. I suppose the only other thing I really wanted to say was to seek out and support your local chocolate shops. There are some real gems out there.