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Wonderful World of Chocolate
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22nd-Feb-2007 10:04 pm - Milk Chocolate Scandal!
Recently my boss directed me to this link, which features a ranking of 25 kinds of milk chocolate with tasting notes. It's from the folks at Gourmet magazine, so I thought it would be pretty insightful, and maybe help me find a new favorite - something to share space on the pedestal with Michel Cluizel, who, IMNSHO, makes the best milk chocolate in the world, in addition to some amazing dark chocolate. Perhaps it is my preference for dark chocolate that fuels my love of the Cluizel milk bars - they have considerably higher cacao content than most of their peers. The Grand Lait has 45%, the Maralumi has 47%, and the Mangaro a full 50% - where most others who claim to have "lots of cocoa" in their milk blends only range between 37% and 41%.

Well, as the title of my post might suggest, I saw red when I saw their list. Grand Lait was skipped over completely, and they ranked the Maralumi BELOW HERSHEY'S. After counting to ten a few times and taking several deep breaths, I revisited the rankings. Bernard Castelain, a lesser known French chocolatier, received the top honor. I've had this bar, and was NOT able to consume three pieces of it. It certainly wasn't terrible, but it was awfully sweet and milky - "milk" may come before chocolate in "milk chocolate," but I want to taste the chocolate too. If you're having a sugar craving, it would be ideal. II have also tried the next two bars listed, Lindt and Green & Black's, but wouldn't go to any lengths to seek them out.

I have to admit I haven't tried everything on the list, but what I have tried is not nearly as good as Cluizel. Scharffen Berger? Lots of cocoa? Not in my book. The wrapper may say 41%, but what I taste first, second, and last is the supersweet milkiness. In fact, the Scharffen Berger has a heavier texture, but otherwise tastes no different from Castelain! How could they be ranked so differently? I know, I know, chocolate is largely a matter of opinion, and strong opinion at that. I can't completely justify why I love Cadbury milk chocolate, but my biggest Lenten challenge would be giving up Cadbury Mini Eggs - so I won't even try.

I personally have to rush to the defense of Maralumi, an exquisite milk chocolate full of flavor complexity. I am amazed every time I eat this single-origin bar! The ingredients are as follows, no more, no less: whole milk powder, cocoa, cocoa butter, cane sugar, Bourbon vanilla pod. [Cluizel is well-known for using "noble ingredients" - no soy, no veggie oil, resulting in cioccolato puro!] And yet! The flavors that evolve on the tongue make me double check the list for berries, spices, and salted caramel. I know there are many good milk chocolates with caramel notes, but none with Salt! I swear there's just the right amount of salt that weds the caramel and chocolate together, which makes Maralumi not only utterly unique but totally addictive. The nutrition facts betray the presence of 51 milligrams of sodium per serving, but which ingredient contributes this? The curious cacao beans from Papua New Guinea?

Mangaro is the other exciting offering from Cluizel's single-origin milk line, and this time the beans are from Madagascar. The Gourmet list notes quite appropriately that this would border on semi-sweet for a milk chocolate lover, and also that it offers the depth and range of flavor you might be more accustomed to finding in a dark chocolate. I taste banana in this one - a perfect banana that is neither too sweet nor too green. I don't think I've ever had plantains, but perhaps that is the flavor I'm trying to describe. There are also traces of honey, but again, nothing too sweet. Incredibly multi-faceted.

So that's my sermon. What do you think of the Gourmet list? Is your favorite milk bar listed, and if so, do you agree with its ranking?
8th-Feb-2007 08:15 pm - Cioccolato, Chocolat - part 2
chee-OAK-oh-lah-to. shock-oh-lat. Have you been practicing your Italian and French? I still need some work on mine. Unfortunately, eating imported chocolates doesn't turn my St. Louis accent into a European one!

Think of France - what springs to mind? The Eiffel Tower? Fine wines? Truffles (the fungus kind)? Michel Cluizel provides chocolate answers to two of the three with the Bouchon Fine des Bordeaux, a dark chocolate piece filled with Bordeaux ganache shaped and wrapped to look like a cork, and two fungus-free pieces shaped and named after mushrooms: the Champignon Bolet filled with smooth hazelnut gianduja and the Champignon Caramel, filled with a sweet firm caramel - and both "mushrooms" have crunchy almond caps.
Cluizel has even named one of his tempting truffles after the famed romantic wordsmith Cyrano de Bergerac - although after you've tasted this incomparable piece made from his Los Ancones plantation cacao beans and topped with a fleck of real 22 karat gold, there will be only one thing to say:
Amour!

Now you can say "chocolate" and "love" in Italian and French - and if you think actions speak louder than words, or if your accent is not so great, give L'Artigiano and Cluizel so your valentine can't miss your meaning!
7th-Feb-2007 01:08 pm - Cioccolato, Chocolat - part 1
"Cioccolato" is Italian for chocolate, and "chocolat" is French, of course. Do you think of Italy and France when you think of imported chocolate? Most people would probably make the foreign chocolate connection with Switzerland or Belgium. But it's February, and a certain holiday associated with romance and chocolate is approaching. Italian and French are probably the most romantic of the Romance languages. Why waste your time and money on generic gifts at Hallmark or Godiva (owned and operated by the American soup giant Campbell's) when you can spend the next week learning a few charming phrases in Italian or French to murmur to your sweetie when you present an original, thoughtful gift of the finest Italian or French chocolate?
Today I'll review some Italian options, and tomorrow, we'll venture to France.

Torino, Italy is home to one of the most famous little hazelnut chocolates in the world, with that distinctive triangular shape and gold wrapper. Giandujotto Classico by Guido Gobino are dangerously addictive - much like Nutella, which has a similar flavor. Giandujotto are firmer and richer than any hazelnut spread, and carefully portioned into pieces just right for two delicious melt-in-your-mouth bites - perfect for sharing with someone special.

I've already mentioned L'Artigiano's hot chocolate blends, but they also produce gourmet chocolate bars and truffles. Their award-winning Sale Dolce (sweet salt) bars in milk and dark chocolate are simply exquisite. If you like chocolate covered pretzels or peanuts, (or even chocolate covered potato chips!) you like the taste combination of salty and sweet. Cut out the middleman (the pretzel, peanut, etc.) and try some of the best artisan chocolate from Italy with sweet salt of Cervia blended in perfect proportion so as not to overpower each other.
Another unique taste experience from L'Artigiano can be found in a small ivory box containing their Formaggio di Fossa e Albana Passito truffles (or, as they call them, "tesori," or treasures). These little dark chocolate confections contain aged cheese and dessert wine - a savory combination to satisfy a connoisseur, or maybe just someone with an adventurous palate.
Amore!
31st-Jan-2007 12:41 pm - Vegan and Dairy Free Chocolate
I have a vegan coworker here at Cioccolato, and she does not sit sadly around the shop surrounded by things she cannot enjoy. There are chocolates here that are very distinctly off limits to vegans, like milk chocolate and cream centers, but we also carry some of the world's finest dark chocolate bars, and although not always labeled as such, (because they are imported and European markets are not yet subject to the same strict labeling laws and practices that are in place here in the states) they are entirely suitable for vegans and the lactose intolerant.
The best dark chocolate bars should have a very short ingredients list: cacao mass, sugar, cacao butter, and vanilla. Not all will include vanilla, and many will also include soy lecithin as an emulsifier - this is not necessarily a sign of bad chocolate. In any case, cacao mass and cacao butter come directly from the cacao pod (which is of course the fruit of a plant), sugar cane is a plant, and so are vanilla and soy. No dairy! No animal products whatsoever!
If you are highly sensitive to dairy, you will need to check labels for caveats like "processed on equipment shared by..." and "may contain traces of..." - which warn of the potential of microscopic levels of other ingredients. Producers of fine chocolate will want you to achieve the desired taste they have crafted for you, and will go to lengths to ensure that your chocolate experience is free of unintended flavors or ingredients, even though they may be legally obligated to include such warnings.
Dark chocolate bars of a lesser quality (often cheaper and mass-produced) may contain ingredients unfriendly to vegans and those allergic to dairy, like lactose and even milk fat. You're probably used to checking labels if these issues concern you, but a rule of thumb I would suggest is this: the shorter the ingredients list, the better. Less information to sort out, and greater likelihood of higher quality chocolate. Even flavored dark chocolate bars should only have one or two extra ingredients, like orange bits, coffee, salt, spices, nuts, etc. (all still vegan friendly!)
A good chocolate shop (or website) should be able to provide accurate ingredient information promptly upon request, whether they make their own chocolate or sell someone else's. Don't hesitate to call ahead, ask at the shop, or send an email.

Ultimately it will likely be easier and more cost-effective to seek out a purveyor of fine chocolates than a specialty vegan shop - or if you have both available to you, you simply have more chocolate options. A win-win situation if I ever heard of one!
28th-Jan-2007 11:13 am - Cold Weather? Hot Chocolate!
Although it hasn't been as awfully cold as Januaries usually are in St. Louis, it's still pretty brisk outside - which puts me in the mood for hot chocolate. Traditionally a powdered concoction comes to mind, although there are many ways to have hot drinking chocolate. Here are a few options that run circles around Swiss Miss:
Classic and Chili Pepper (Peperoncino) blends by L'Artigiano - for a rich Italian chocolate experience, with or without an extra chili pepper kick!
Organic Hot Cocoa Mix by Green & Black's - the familiarity and level of quality you expect from G&B's, this time in a mug.
Hot Cocoa Mix and Snobinettes from the Neuhaus Cuisine collection
The Snobinette is a popular Neuhaus chocolate indulgence offered here on a set of eight elegant drink stirrers that allow you to transform an ordinary cup of hot milk (or coffee?) into something a bit more posh - perhaps you should drink it with your pinky up. A great idea for a party or gathering because each "Snobby" is a single serving that can be swirled to taste by each of your friends or family members.
21st-Jan-2007 10:22 am - ...cacao content!
Hello again! A quick reminder - anyone can post a factoid or a fun product review or ask a question in their own post, or make a comment about mine. I don't want to be the only voice in the room, and I love feedback. But I definitely enjoy talking about chocolate, so on we go!

My username for LiveJournal is obviously cacaocontent, so I thought I'd add a little bit about that in today's post. (For starters, some people say cocoa beans and others say cacao beans, and most people use cocoa to refer to baking or drinking chocolate. I'll use cocoa here to talk about the beans.) Most people who enjoy dark chocolate know that there are different percentages of cocoa content available, and that higher percentages mean more cocoa intensity and less room for other ingredients not derived from the beans, like sugar or milk products. But did you know that the percentage includes cocoa butter as well as cocoa solids? Both brand A and brand B might have a 75% bar, but brand A could have 45% cocoa butter and 30% cocoa solids, while brand B could have 30% cocoa butter and 45% cocoa solids - so two different 75% bars won't necessarily taste the same. This is an incredibly convenient excuse to try more chocolate, don't you think? (Cocoa solids are also called cocoa mass, or sometimes just cocoa.)

Additionally, most milk chocolates have a cocoa percentage somewhere in the thirties, which still refers to the combined amount of cocoa butter and cocoa solids, but there are milk chocolate options with percentages of 41, 45, 50, and even 65! My preference is for the 40-45% range, which offers a richer chocolate flavor and still has the familiar sweetness and creamy milk texture. And finally there is white chocolate, which is not considered real chocolate by some, because its cocoa content is made up entirely of cocoa butter (no solids). I still think it tastes chocolatey, and cocoa butter comes from cocoa beans, too, so I don't exclude it from the chocolate family.
18th-Jan-2007 06:28 pm - A Truffle by any other name...
from dictionary.com:
truf·fle
noun
1. any of several subterranean, edible, ascomycetous fungi of the genus Tuber.
2. any of various similar fungi of other genera.
3. a candy made of soft chocolate, shaped into a ball and dusted with cocoa, or sometimes a three-layered cube of light and dark chocolate.

bon·bon
noun
1. a fondant, fruit, or nut center dipped in fondant or chocolate; a chocolate.
2. a piece of confectionery; candy.
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from the Wikipedia entry for praline:
Praline is a family of confections made from nuts and sugar syrup.
As originally invented in France, pralines were whole almonds individually coated in caramelized sugar, as opposed to dark nougat, where a sheet of caramelized sugar covers many nuts. The powder made by grinding up such sugar-coated nuts is called 'pralin' or 'praliné' in French, and is an ingredient in many cakes and pastries.

In most other countries the word 'praline' is used to mean this powder, or even a paste, often used to fill chocolates, hence its use in The Netherlands, Germany, and Belgium to refer to filled chocolates in general. In United Kingdom, the term can refer either to praline (the filling for chocolates) or, less commonly, to the original whole-nut pralines.
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from vosgeschocolate.com:
Conjure up an image of a truffle: Are you visualizing the chocolate variety that graces the shelves of chocolatiers, or the soil covered, pig-furrowed fungus type? Years ago, the most popular truffles came in shades of white and black and were grown in the soil of southwest France and the Piedmontese countryside of Italy. This original truffle was prized for its ability to impart an intense, earthy and sensual flavor to food.

According to folklore, the chocolate truffle was created in the kitchen of French culinary genius Auguste Escoffier during the 1920s. One day, as his stagiaire (apprentice) attempted to make pastry cream, he accidentally poured hot cream into a bowl of chocolate chunks rather than the bowl of sugared egg for which it was destined. As the chocolate and cream mixture hardened, he found he could work the chocolate paste with his hands to form a bumpy, lopsided ball. After rolling the new creation in cocoa powder, he was struck by their resemblance to the soil-growing truffle mushroom often used in French cooking. Thus, the legacy of the chocolate truffle began.
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Just for reference. It drives me bonkers when someone comes in and refuses to try a piece of chocolate because it isn't a "truffle." A truffle isn't automatically better than a praline or a bonbon, and in fact they're all pretty close to the same thing! What Escoffier's apprentice did, exactly, was create ganache - a combination of chocolate with either butter or cream - and the firm, paste-like texture opened the door for all sorts of confectionery wonders. Many filled chocolates you will find today are filled with ganache, but not all. So if you are looking for ganache, you have many more options than just "truffles." Anyway, my point is that you will be able to enjoy more chocolate options if you don't limit yourself with names. Concern yourself with ingredients if you are going to concern yourself with something - I'll probably add a post about that next time.
16th-Jan-2007 06:35 pm - Welcome
I thought I'd make an introductory post about floral flavors in chocolate - something that's not necessarily as popular stateside as elsewhere. The Brits are known to be fond of rose and violet creams, but what about a lavender milk chocolate bar? Or a dark chocolate violet ganache? I didn't think either item sounded particularly appealing at first, but then I tried them. These floral flavors are so delicate and clean that they complement the chocolate quite well. Combining dark chocolate and violet has a palate-cleansing effect, while milk chocolate and lavender bring together a richness and a lightness not to be found in many other confections. Two of my favorites, for sure.
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