X is for Xoconostle

Every chocolate has a story! I just hope to do adequate justice to its narration since this one touched not only my heart, but also my soul ❤️

You know the phrase “it takes a village”? Well, this bar would not have come into being without the inspiration, ingenuity, creativity, tenacity, talent, care and support of so many people!

Late last year, as I was finishing “round 1” of the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project, I wracked my brain for another unique alphabetical adventure. During the NW Chocolate Festival in Seattle in November, I decided that A through Z inclusions would be perfect…though I couldn’t figure out what to do about “X” since I didn’t want to feature xylitol or xanthan gum and after tasting XO sauce (a spicy seafood paste originating from Hong Kong) I knew that would NOT work with chocolate AT ALL!

When I posted “A is for Amaranth” on January 4th, I added a plea to my Instagram followers for suggestions on how to handle that elusive letter. Fellow chocolate lover, Janice, promptly responded xoconostle; but heck if I knew what that was?! After a quick Google search, I discovered that this was a cactus fruit, smaller than a prickly pear; but the chances of finding that in chocolate were slim to none!

Fast forward a month later to Map Chocolate’s Indiegogo campaign. One of the perks was to design “the Map of your dreams”! Unbeknownst to me, though I had my suspicions, my boyfriend anonymously purchased that option in the hopes of partnering with Mackenzie Rivers to create a custom chocolate bar on my behalf! In the week that followed, my BF started researching foods that started with the letter “X” and found a company online that sold dried xoconostle – but they were currently out of stock. When the Indiegogo campaign was nearing the end and it was looking like Map would not reach their $25K fixed goal, my “I’m an engineer and problem-solver” BF decided that HE would obtain all the ingredients needed to home-craft a chocolate on the sly. He purchased a polycarbonate mold, a bag of Rancho Gordo xoconostle (as soon as it came back in stock) and some Valhrona couverture chocolate, which he would temper with a sous vide machine. At some point, he just could no longer keep the secret to himself. As we munched on a couple of rings of dried xoconostle together (imagine a cross between jerky and a tart “Sour Patch Kids” candy!), he recounted his endearing scheme and revealed the perfect bar name! It was then that it dawned on us…how would two neophytes like us possibly utilize and sweeten this shriveled fruit AND come up with a decent looking chocolate bar?!

Lucky for us, Mackenzie generously offered some of the Indiegogo perks even though the campaign had not been successful and I LEAPT at the chance that had previously eluded my grasp! My only request was that this bar include xoconostle and I left the rest of the details up to Mackenzie. If you heard squeals of joy in late May, know that was when these magical bars were delivered to me and they exceeded even my wildest dreams. Thanks for indulging me to endure this long story to finally see:

X MARKS THE SPOT

As you can see, there was care and attention to detail every step of the way: from the strips of map forming an X on the envelope, to the cacti paper wrapping the bars and even the inner liner note (which makes reference to a brief chance encounter that we unknowingly shared while both visiting a chocolate shop in Portland one afternoon):

Even though Map’s mold is super unique and distinctive, it’s all about the inclusions for me…so I’ll only be showing you the “back” side of the bar! However, if you head to my Instagram account, you’ll see a quick “unwrapping” video which highlights both the front and the back!

Just look at how the rehydrated translucent xoconostle glistens and the chili lime shimmers in the light! Chocolate topography at its finest! <swoon>

The aroma was fruity and jam-like with citrus and pepper undertones. Tasting the xoconostle on its own reminded me of a lightly sweet, crisp Asian pear or strawberry rhubarb. Upon handling the square bar to segment it into tasting morsels, my fingertips became stained with bright red chili dust and I certainly couldn’t let any of that go to waste! It was just like licking the rim of a tequila shot, followed by a short-lived, back-of-the-throat burn from the spice.

Now I could concentrate on the inclusion that was nestled within the 65% Dominican Republic Reserva Zorzal chocolate which was not completely smooth on the tongue, but not gritty either. It’s hard to articulate the sensation of teeth meeting the panela glazed peanuts which had just the right amount of “give” to add texture and a mellow crunch.

Leading up to the delivery of the bars, there were a couple of posts on Map’s Instagram account that probably made sense only to me:

Like a proud new parent, I took dozens upon dozens of photos of this photogenic bar and despaired over which ones to include in this post! After actively blogging for a little more than a year now, it’s getting harder and harder to find chocolates that other bloggers haven’t already written about! I think it’s safe to say that this is truly a one-of-a-kind bar and that no one else has ever tasted anything like it. While I might be biased, I think this was a delicious combination of ingredients and I can only hope (please, please, please) that Mackenzie considers adding this bar to her seasonal repertoire 🙂

And with that exhortation, I certainly DID!

From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU to everyone who made this bar possible!!! xoxo

For more information on Map Chocolate, please see her website: http://www.mapchocolate.com/

W is for Wasabi

You are about to eavesdrop on a conversation I had with myself recently!

ME: OK, what inclusion are we going to feature for “W” week?

ME2: We always blog about the most unusual ingredient possible…duh, wasabi!

ME: But, I don’t even like wasabi…I avoid it when eating sushi, remember?
(said in a whining tone)

ME2: Well, we couldn’t find wattleseed locally, so it has to be wasabi!

Dear readers, appreciate that I’m sacrificing my taste buds just for you 😉

*****

Maybe I’m imagining things, but isn’t wasabi a trendy ingredient in chocolate these days?! At least I *think* I recall seeing it in several bars over the years & was fairly certain that it was easily obtainable. However, a couple of weeks ago, when I started looking in earnest, all I could find were chocolatiers that were no longer making their wasabi bars :0

Eeks! Now, what?!

After a little digging, I discovered online that Cost Plus World Market was still selling wasabi bars…but they were in limited supply and deeply discounted, which is usually a precursor to being discontinued from inventory soon. After visiting one store and being unable to locate the bar, I thought I had missed my “window of opportunity.” My boyfriend is not as easily deterred, so when he found the bars at a store near him, he picked up the three remaining bars they had in stock. I truly appreciate his enthusiasm, but I don’t NEED 3 bars…so if anyone out there wants one of my extra bars, PLEASE let me know & I’ll gladly ship it to you 🙂

According to the packaging, this dark chocolate Ginger Wasabi with Mediterranean Sea Salt bar is from “the exotic collection of sea salted chocolate.” Yes, I’ll admit that I’m a snob and put “exotic” intentionally in quotation marks for tongue-in-cheek humor. While I’m certain that this bar might be someone’s favorite, it’s definitely not mine. Please don’t take away my craft chocolate fan club card based on this post! 😉

Removing the silver foil wrapped bar from the portfolio/wallet-like outer cardboard packaging, I was surprised to see the “back” of the bar facing me. Ignoring chocolate dust that had accumulated during transit, I noticed 10 squares with an interesting “drip” pattern near the outer edges.

While the matte finish front sported only 8 logo-emblazoned squares!

Straight out of wine fridge storage, there was no detectable aroma to the chocolate. However, as it came up to room temperature, a pungent peppery and ginger oil scent wafted from the bar. Surprisingly, since it’s not included as an ingredient, I also detected a lime or citrus smell?!

Speaking of ingredients, this bar has: Chinese ginger powder, wasabi powder, ground habanero chile pepper and ginger essential oil. The particular Mediterranean sea salt had been harvested from the Southern tip of Italy & was known for its mild flavor and bright white crystals.

There was a sharp snap when segmenting tasting morsels and it took some effort to get the chocolate to melt in my mouth, revealing a mostly smooth mouthfeel. There was an immediate back-of-the-throat burn that I associate with chili peppers, but there wasn’t the sinus-clearing sensation that wasabi is known for. Chomping the chocolate provided me the opportunity to experience crunchy salt crystals while feeling the cumulative, gradually-building, but long lasting, “heat.”

Overall this chocolate was not as potent as I had feared and I’ll probably use it for hot chocolate beverage experiments in the future.

I know, I know…my descriptions aren’t really “selling” the bar for you…but, don’t let that deter you from jumping on this once-in-a-lifetime deal of taking the extra bars off my hands 😉

Now where can I locate that wattleseed chocolate bar that I *really* wanted to try?! 😉

V is for Voatsiperifery Pepper

Story time! Here is yet another example of me being a “magnet” for unusual inclusion ingredients! 🙂

During a recent trip to Portland, Oregon the weekend before Memorial Day, we visited The Meadow in the historic Nob Hill District since I’d seen pictures online of their “wall of chocolate.” Imagine a shop with row after row of neatly organized shelving that almost reaches the ceiling, where sales associates climb a ladder to retrieve the chocolate bar(s) from the highest perches…if there was ever a chocolate “library,” it would be this place with 400+ bars to choose from!

When the employee on duty that afternoon asked me if I was looking for anything in particular, I mentioned that my heart was set on finding a bar with violets, but I’d be willing to settle for something else that started with “V” except for vanilla. She pondered, she climbed the ladder, she examined several bars…there was rose, but no violet. 🙁 As she attended to other customers, I slowly perused the shelves to see if there were other bars that I couldn’t live without. After a few moments, I was gleefully exclaiming, “I found my V, I found my V!” I’m sure everyone else in the store thought I was nuts; but my boyfriend and The Meadows’ employee were both genuinely very happy for me. Mind you, I still don’t know the proper way to pronounce this “V” inclusion ingredient. I found a site with 80+ versions, which doesn’t help narrow things down at all!

So, thanks to serendipity, I’m thrilled to feature this 72% Nicaraguan dark chocolate bar with Voatsiperifery Pepper which is a collaboration between Portland-based Pitch Dark Chocolate and the Bitterman Salt Company.

Later on, I learned that Mark Bitterman (of the Bitterman Salt Co.) founded The Meadow in 2006. This seems like the perfect quote to encapsulate this culinary collaboration:

“Salt and pepper, the powerhouses of flavor amplification, bring new life to chocolate’s eternal mystery. Combining the most beautiful salt and the most tantalizing peppers within the molten smithy of a bean to bar chocolate is the flavor sensation chocolate has been waiting for, and nobody knows it like Bitterman.”

It’s interesting that beans from Nicaragua were combined with a rare Madagascar pepper. The back of the packaging explains how voatsiperifery looks and tastes like. In case you’re curious, here is a link to see for yourself. The Meadows’ website explains “The name voatsiperifery is derived from the Malagasy words voa, meaning ‘the fruits,’ and tsiperifery, meaning pepper vine” and that the fruits are harvested just once a year making them relatively rare, even in native Madagascar.

Easily sliding the 12-rectangle bar from the uniquely shaped, stark white, textured thick paper outer holder and the black inner wrapper, you can immediate see that the “back” was generously sprinkled with the featured inclusion ingredient (surprisingly for a collaboration with a salt company, there is no salt listed for this bar!) The aroma reminded me of freshly cracked black pepper and I believe that there was a stem or two making an appearance. Notice an odd squiggle? Well, here are two close-up shots:

Segmenting the rectangles from each other produced a dull snap, while splitting a rectangle in half produced a sharp snap, sending little fragments flying everywhere. I noticed air bubbles at the break point.

I tried both melting a morsel on my tongue and then “chomping” on a piece. By melting, the peppery flavor was muted/delayed and there was a thick, not completely smooth mouthfeel. I personally preferred the “chomping” method since that allowed me to experience the crunch from the pepper, which also made the roof of my mouth and tongue prickle for minutes afterwards. The chocolate itself seemed a little dry/chalky and there was an astringent finish. I hope to find a jar of this pepper someday so that I can experiment with soups and stews in my own home kitchen.

Brian Flick, the “one man show” behind Pitch Dark, has been working with chocolate for more than half of his life, starting at age 14 by making confections for events and weddings. At age 21, he lived with a tribal group of cacao farmers in rural Fiji for 3 months to conduct field work for his thesis. Founding Pitch Dark in 2014 in his late 20s, his focus is on fine cacao sourced from single farms to isolate the unique flavors of the beans. This article from 2014 explains that Brian utilizes two separate pieces of equipment whereas many makers use just one for the conching/refining process: first he uses a stone grinder to pre-refine beans, then a separate roll refiner & finally a dedicated conching machine to control particle size.

To learn more about Pitch Dark and their various chocolate bars, check out: http://www.pitchdarkchocolate.com/

And if you ever figure out how to pronounce this multi-syllable, tongue twister of a pepper…PLEASE let me know! 😉

T is for Turmeric

When fellow chocolate blogger Victoria Cooksey interviewed WKND Chocolate maker Lauren Heineck back in March, she asked: “When selecting a chocolate bar to try what influences your purchase?” If you’ve been following Eating the Chocolate Alphabet so far this year, you’ll realize that Lauren’s answer pretty much echoes my own sentiments:

Distinctiveness goes a long way, and even something oddball I may find endearing.

While turmeric has been widely used in Southeast Asia for thousands of years, this rhizomatous plant from the ginger family has only started to gain popularity here in the U.S. over the last couple of years. A quick Google search will yield page after page of articles tracking the rise in consumption based on the health benefits. Do you enjoy Indian curries? Then you are already familiar with its distinctive taste and color! Speaking of which, white chocolate bars that go beyond off-white and cream were once considered “oddball,” but seem to popping up more frequently these days. After I saw a photo of Lauren’s “Turmeric of a Goat Thing” bar that looked like “golden milk” in solid form, I knew I had to try this for myself. Many thanks to Lauren for her generosity in supplying me with not one but two variations to sample side-by-side.

Although I loved Lauren’s rustic paper sleeves, the new outer cardboard boxes decorated with botanical illustrations of the cacao plant protect the bars better during transit. I’m very glad she kept the personalized touch by handwriting the descriptions with her calligraphy-like cursive. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d like to see some additional information on the packaging like an ingredient list; though if you look on her website, she very creatively describes the bar in less traditional terms.

Unwrapping the 12-rectangle bar from the re-sealable plastic pouch, I could immediately smell chai tea spices like cinnamon and cloves. Lauren confirmed that white pepper, ginger and cardamom were also included. Despite some chocolate dust and air bubbles marring the matte finish, the ingredients were very well dispersed, producing a uniform golden-brown color with flecks of spices rising to the surface on the front and back as well as being suspended evenly within the bar as well.

At room temperature, there was a soft snap when segmenting the bar, sending tiny fragments flying everywhere (FYI: straight from the fridge, there was a sharp snap and no errant particles!) Popping a piece in my mouth and chomping enthusiastically, I encountered the unexpected…a back of the throat burn and inner ear tingles due to cayenne pepper! Yes, I read other people’s comments about this bar, but clearly I didn’t pay enough attention since I don’t want to be “pre-influenced” prior to my own tasting. When I make golden milk, I always add black pepper since that supposedly helps our body to absorb turmeric more effectively; but how did I miss the word “spicy” until now?! Luckily, the initial kick of heat faded fairly quickly, so that I could continue to sample the bar.

Letting a morsel melt on my tongue there was a thick mouthfeel and a grainy texture while the peppery heat built gradually and was offset by a pleasant tang from the goat’s milk powder that reminded me of a spreadable chèvre.

Until I opened the second bar, made with 40% cocoa butter from Camino Verde (Ecuador), I hadn’t thought about photographing the bars side by side, so I quickly remedied that:

You’ll notice that the row of three rectangles at the top (the “original” Turmeric of a Goat Thing) is slightly darker in color than the half bar (6 rectangles of the Camino Verde). It would appear that the same spice blend ratio absorbed differently in the presence of the Camino Verde cacao butter. Instead of smelling the chai like I did with the first bar, the primary aroma in this case was the powdered turmeric.

While there was the same amount of chocolate dust on the “top” of the bar, there were fewer air bubbles and the surface of the Camino Verde bar felt a little greasy and/or tacky (like a lotion). Maybe my tongue & palate were getting acclimated to the chili or more likely the different cocoa butter had an impact – the “burn” was still at the back of the throat, but this time the top of my palate tingled rather than my ears. Overall, this bar was creamier, smoother, with a silky mouthfeel and the peppery heat seemed less intense. Rather than goat’s cheese notes, this one was grassy and earthy. In my opinion, the turmeric and ginger were able to shine and the rest of the spices were like “backup” singers 😉

Of the two bars, I liked the Camino Verde one best…though to be honest, I have devoured half of each bar already! This is all in the name of “research” and also to prevent catching a cold after being on an airplane this past weekend…at least that’s my story & I’m sticking to it! 😉

I leave you with a favorite quote from Victoria’s interview with Lauren:

“I’m still finding my voice as a chocolate maker, but I do identify as an insatiable chef. Mangosteens from a Bangkok street vendor, baklava in Istanbul, chimichurri from Buenos Aires; I want my creations to be as peripatetic as I am.”

With distinctive “oddball” flavors such as those, I’ll be keeping a close eye on what Lauren creates next! To learn more and to hear episodes of Lauren’s chocolate community building podcast entitled “Well Tempered,” where she highlights other women in chocolate, please visit her website: http://wkndchocolate.com/

S is for Salami

Sometimes I worry that my featured inclusion ingredient might be too “over the top” & people will stop reading my posts! 🙁 I’m hoping that if you’ve stuck with me through the foie gras bar from several months ago, then fingers crossed that you won’t be too shocked by this 72% dark chocolate bar flavored with Hungarian Salami and Smoked Bacon!

I’m including a photo of the ingredient list, in case you’re curious:

L’Amourette freely admits that this bar might be an “acquired taste” or controversial, as mentioned on the back of the box:

As you might recall, this isn’t the first time that I’ve tried bars from their Art Nouveau line. Here is a link to a post from last year which echoes many of the same experiences from this current bar in terms of overall appearance and texture of the chocolate itself.

Removing the dense 10-rectangle bar from the thin gold foil, I could already smell a smoky aroma. In the year or so since my last L’Amourette bar, I had forgotten that the domed rectangles were solid, not filled with a softer ganache. Many of the rectangles had air bubble imperfections, while several others had inclusion ingredients poking out from small holes in the chocolate near the embossed logo within a stylized heart.

It took a little effort to split one of the rectangles in half by hand, but I was rewarded with a perfect view of the meaty ingredients that lay beneath the surface.

Popping one of the halves into my mouth, I noticed that the chocolate didn’t really melt easily. Removing the morsel from my mouth halfway through the melt, I could see a tiny chunk of crispy, crunchy, salty bacon with the fat still glistening around the edges.

The chocolate itself is grainy and a bit chalky – which is surprising due to the 36 hour conching. Here is a better view of the bacon in all its glory:

The Hungarian salami with mild paprika (which I now realize was mentioned further down in the ingredient list) must have been more finely ground when incorporated into the chocolate bar since I haven’t really encountered identifiable pieces in the 4 rectangles that I’ve eaten so far. However, one of my very first bites of this bar left me with a lightly spicy, yet stringy bit of pork fat or gristle in my mouth after “chomping” on the tasting piece – I assume this was the salami.

Overall, this was not one of my favorites, but am glad that I tried it as part of this Eating the Chocolate Alphabet adventure…consider it me “taking one for the team” so to speak 😉 If you are daring enough to try this bar once it returns to stock, please let me know about YOUR experience!

To learn more about their process and product lines (according to their website, all their other offerings aside from this bar are vegan), please visit: http://www.lamourettechocolat.com/

50 States Collaboration – Nebraska / Sweet Minou

Last week I was awaiting a delivery from Sweet Minou, Nebraska’s only bean-to-bar chocolate company; so, when a box sporting several Cultiva Coffee Roasting labels arrived, I was a little confused. However, after discovering this informative article from 2015, all the puzzle pieces have fallen into place and things make much more sense to me now! Turns out that when the Cultiva owners opened a new location (called Cultiva Labs), they carved out some space for bean-to-bar chocolate production!

A big thank you to Rebecca Ankenbrand, Sweet Minou’s chocolate maker, for generously sending me an assortment of chocolate bars (and a couple of other goodies you’ll hear about later) for “research purposes” after I contacted her about this “50 states” collaboration project!

Rebecca mentioned to me that Sweet Minou recently rebranded their logo + packaging, so I feel privileged to be among the first to see this round of the artwork and screen printed thick paper wrappers. As you’ll see below, each bar’s sleeve + the informational sticker keeping the fold closed has a different color that seems to tie into a flavor component of the bar. Additionally, the company logo (a cat’s face) is printed in a similar or complementing color. When I first saw the Sweet Minou logo, I assumed that the name was chosen to honor a beloved pet. Maybe my guess wasn’t too far off, since “minou” is the French word for “kitty” and the company name was inspired by Rebecca’s years in France where she taught English and enjoyed tasting many gourmet chocolates.

First up is Bolivia Alto Beni (70% dark chocolate)

This small bar (0.8 ounces) is made from only three ingredients: organic cacao, sugar and cocoa butter. Just removing the 5-rectangle bar from the wax-lined silver foil inner wrapper released a lovely malty and roasted/coffee aroma. While the “top” surface was marred by some air bubbles, chocolate dust and a little scuffing, the vertical and horizontal lines from the mold were crisp and well defined.

Breaking off a tasting morsel, there was a sharp snap and an earthy aroma where the rectangle had been separated from the rest of the bar. During the slow, even melt I tasted light citrus/fruity notes, while “chomping” brought out more vibrant and tangy red fruit notes. Bolivia is my current favorite country of origin and this bar was a fine example, though less earthy in flavor than others I’ve tried.

Next is the Signature Blend + Walnut (70% dark chocolate)

The foil wrapper was bulging out from the paper sleeve, barely able to contain the plentiful inclusions.

My eyes were immediately drawn to the #chocolatetopography comprised of different sized walnut pieces dotted with glistening chunks of amber-colored caramelized sugar that crunched like toffee.

Thankfully most of the inclusions remained intact when turning over the bar to discover that a different mold was used for this larger (1.35 ounce) bar. Despite slight cosmetic imperfections (some ghosting and air bubbles), the “top” surface was mostly glossy and shiny.

Though it was a little difficult to isolate the chocolate from the featured inclusion ingredients, the signature blend was smooth, creamy, not-too-sweet and seemed to have a tang that reminded me of tart cranberries. Don’t judge me too harshly, but there is only a bite or two left of this bar…really, I don’t know what happened! 😉 It was one of those cases where you take a bite, try to pinpoint what you were tasting and then need to repeat the process multiple times since the flavor was a little elusive.

Last of the bars is the Signature Blend + Pistachio (70% dark chocolate)

The colorful purple rose petals and contrasting distinctive green and brown pistachios were sprinkled over the center of the bar. Taking a closer look, the chocolate seemed to change color at the edges of the inclusion ingredients, I suspect this was the oil leeching from the nuts rather than dissolving/deliquescing salt.

Regardless, it was easier to isolate the creamy, smooth chocolate and this time the signature blend was still fruity, but less tangy than the previous bar. To me, the salty nuts added more than the papery rose petals; though when the petals were tasted alone, they were flavorful and aromatic.

But wait…there’s more!!

As an unexpected treat, I also received Mango & Vanilla Bean Cups decorated with a dash of ground turmeric and a few large salt crystals.

My only complaint is that I was unable to remove the dense cup out of the brown paper liner unless I cut the chocolate in half first. The flavorful, creamy, smooth, tropical mango purée flecked with tiny vanilla bean seeds contrasted with the medium-thick chocolate shell (which I assume was made from the same 70% cacao signature blend as the inclusion bars).

Last, but not least, some dark chocolate dipped Chili Mango slices which won Best Dessert Curry at the Lincoln, Nebraska Asian Community & Cultural Center Curry Clash fundraiser event.

The baggie arrived with 4 pieces, but one of them disappeared before the photo session! 😉 There is just the right amount of chocolate to enhance the moist and chewy dried fruit – salty, sweet, savory & lightly spicy. This finger food snack has it all…no wonder it was an award winner!

While Sweet Minou is just starting out, in the two years that Rebecca has been in business, it’s clear that she has a passion for experimenting with different flavor combinations and different bean-to-bar origins. What a thrill to learn that she will be traveling to Haiti later this week for cacao sourcing! I’m grateful that I was able to try so many of her creations & look forward to staying in touch to discover what is next on the horizon!

To learn more and order goodies for yourself, please go to their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/sweet.minou.chocolate/

Remember to follow the Time to Eat Chocolate blog to hear about the next stop in the “50 States” project!

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in Nebraska, please leave a comment or send an email…we like to keep our resource lists as up-to-date as possible!

R is for Rose Petals

About a decade ago, I attended a tasting at Valerie Confections, where I sampled her petits fours and chocolate covered toffee. While on a recent trip to Downtown LA’s Grand Central Market, I spotted something new in the display case at her coffee shop and bakery, so how could I resist continuing with the flower theme to feature this “Nature is Slow” dark chocolate bar with rose petals from Edible Gardens LA?

The gold foil-wrapped bar peeks out seductively from the simple white cardboard sleeve printed with sleek black lettering. My only complaint is that, due to a snug/tight fit, the bar would not slip out easily, though this probably helped keep the inclusions intact on the bar itself.

Unwrapping the slender bar from the now dimpled foil, there was the unmistakable aroma of bittersweet chocolate mixed with a rose scent. Immediately visible was the “back” of the very dark brown bar, punctuated with purplish-pink dried rose petals that were in stark contrast to the thickly encrusted candied rose petals. It’s too bad that egg whites were used to help adhere the pure cane sugar to the rose petals, otherwise this could have been a vegan bar.

There was a semi-crisp snap to the bar, sending sugar crystals and chocolate dust everywhere.

Melting a morsel on my tongue, the base (made with Valhrona’s 61% bittersweet chocolate) was very smooth and floral in taste. While salt typically enhances flavors, the fleur de sel was distracting to me here.

Another surprise was the textural difference between the two types of fragrant and flavorful petals: the dried ones were papery and chewy, while the candied ones were brittle and crunchy.

For comparison purposes, I’d love to try her Rose Petal Petits Fours since alternating layers of rose petal passion fruit ganache with vanilla bean cake sounds intriguing! Imagine a “bouquet” of a dozen edible roses!

With 3 locations in the Los Angeles area to choose from, you’re sure to find something to satisfy your sweet tooth. Please visit their website for details: http://www.valerieconfections.com/

50 States Collaboration – Minnesota / K’ul Chocolate

When you think about an energy bar or afternoon pick-me-up snack, does the term “bean-to-bar” come to mind? Probably not…but Peter Kelsey, the man behind K’ul Chocolate, might just change your mind about that! K’ul (pronounced “cool”) is the Mayan word for energy, so I thought it would be fun to try the four bars from their Superfood Bar Introductory pack which are each made with 70% bean-to-bar dark chocolate.

First up is “Power” (peanuts & currants + 8 grams of protein in each bar)

This bar is K’ul’s modern twist on the North American slang term for trail mix, aka “GORP” (good ol’ raisins and peanuts). Instead of raisins, they use currants and their peanuts are covered with a protein “shell” made from algavia (a whole algae protein powder). Don’t worry, there isn’t a seaweed or briny smell; the aroma reminded me of freshly roasted nuts like you might find from a street vendor or at a carnival.

The intricate five-sided spiral knotwork company logo is hardly intact on any of the 6 small squares since the featured ingredients are just bursting out from both the front and back of the chunky bar. [As a side note, I’d love to know if this pattern has a name since my research led me down a never-ending rabbit hole of complex Mayan and Celtic inspired crafts.]

I’m pretty sure that these bars are meant to be “chomped” rather than melted. How else would I be able to fully enjoy the crunchy, lightly salted coated peanuts and the chewy, sweet, dried currants?! It was difficult to isolate the chocolate by itself, but it was creamy, smooth and tasted a bit like banana. Not sure if this was “cross-contamination” with one of their other bars (see below) or an inherent flavor note of the chocolate used.

Next is “Electrobar” (which will help to restore your electrolyte balance)

Again, the featured ingredients (dried bananas & toasted unsweetened coconut flakes) are clearly visible on both the front and back of the thick bar, such that one of the squares does not have a recognizable logo!

I liked the generous chunks of chewy bananas & the texture of the coconut strips. Large crystals of Cyprus sea salt are unevenly dispersed on the back of the bar, making some morsels saltier than others (especially if you put the salt side down on your tongue).

The overall flavor is very tropical, though the chocolate itself seems secondary to all the other ingredients.

Next is “Stamina” (to recover from oxidative stress)

Flavored with cranberries, tart cherries, freeze dried pomegranate arils, freeze dried raspberries and maca root powder. All the not-too-sweet fruits worked well together, though it seemed that raspberry and pomegranate were dominant, perhaps because of the longer-lasting seeds.

Last, but not least, “Endurance” (caffeine courtesy of guarana powder)

The crunchy, toasted pumpkin seeds are again coated with the algae protein powder giving them a slightly yellowish appearance while the chewy dried cranberries retained their distinctive jewel red color. This bar is designed to provide “consistent energy to push through the miles.”

I tasted a third of each bar first thing in the morning, before having breakfast…I have to say that I did feel a bit of a “buzz” from the “Endurance” bar within minutes of eating 2 squares.

Love that there is minimal packaging to these single servings. The bars are wrapped with a snug and form-fitting printed plastic “film” with a notched opening at one edge. Each bar is so unique in terms of the flavor combinations and the intended use of the chocolate bar. From the company website: “Chocolate is not candy. Chocolate is food.” So if you are passionate about maintaining a healthy lifestyle while enjoying the pleasure of chocolate, these seem like the best of both worlds!

This Introductory 4-pack is currently $11.99 (including shipping) – limit one per customer.

To learn more about K’ul’s philosophy behind nature’s original superfood and to discover their entire product line, check out: https://kul-chocolate.com/

Remember to follow the Time to Eat Chocolate blog to hear about the next stop in the “50 States” project!

Other chocolate makers in Minnesota:

Meadowlands Chocolate

Terroir Chocolate

Two Ravens Chocolate

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in Minnesota that aren’t mentioned above, please leave a comment or send an email so that we can keep this list as up-to-date as possible!

Q is for Queen of the Meadow

If you were following along last year, you’ll remember that “Q” was a problematic letter for me. This time, I had more inclusion options potentially available: quandong (from Australia), quinoa, quince and even quinine. However, once I heard about this seasonal Limited Edition Queen of the Meadow bar from Vintage Plantations, I knew I had to find it. Lucky for me, it was available at Chocolate Covered San Francisco!

The aromatic herb “Queen of the Meadow” is also known by other names like “Meadow Sweet” or “Mead Wort” (the latter is descriptive since the spice is commonly used to flavor Scandinavian fermented honey beverages aka mead). I’m not sure if the “Queen” title comes from the fact that it tends to dominate low-lying damp meadows or that supposedly Queen Elizabeth I preferred this herb above all others when it came to scenting her chambers (it’s known as a “strewing” herb, meaning that it would be strewn on the floor to give rooms a pleasant floral aroma).

The packaging art by Brooklyn-based painter Charlotta Janssen looks very much like a botanical illustration showing how the creamy white flowers grow in nature as well as details of the buds, petals and branched cymes (clusters). It’s fun to compare those drawing to the tiny dried flowers that were sprinkled on the back of the bar.

Removing the “chocolate dust” coated bar from the sealed foil inner pouch, I could immediately smell a botanical aroma that reminded me of an herbal tea. While it’s a shame that the bar wasn’t intact, it made it so much easier to show the “back” and “front” details simultaneously.

There was a brittle snap to the thick bar and the chocolate itself seemed a little dry and chalky at the break point.

On the slow and even melt, the gritty texture & mouthfeel was what you would expect from stone ground cacao. Whether melting or “chomping,” there was a subtle nutty flavor since Queen of the Meadow is known to impart a taste like almonds. Overall, the chocolate was not too sweet and at times the flavor reminded me of passion fruit or marshmallows. These flowers are only available in Sweden for two months each year, so I’m very glad that Vintage Plantations has utilized them so uniquely. I hope their Swedish collaboration line continues to expand…can’t wait to see and taste what they will make next!

To learn more about Vintage Plantations, be sure to check out: https://www.vintageplantations.com/

50 States Collaboration – Illinois / Ethereal Confections

This chocolate adventure has been an eye-opening experience in so many ways! Over the past year, it’s been my privilege to taste an eclectic variety of chocolates, expand my knowledge of ingredients/processes/places and “meet” people connected to the chocolate industry/community. One of the things that I most enjoy is seeing how brands change and evolve over time. Such is the case with Ethereal.

Ethereal Confections opened in 2011 by co-owners, Mary Ervin (formerly a graphic designer) and Sara Miller (formerly an interior designer) who met through Mary’s brother, Michael Ervin. When I tried one of their bars last year, the packaging left me wondering if they were still using other people’s chocolate. However, after recently receiving some sample bars from Michael Ervin (who is married to Sara), it’s now very clear that the focus of these two very creative and talented women is producing craft chocolate from the bean. By the way, they have been bean-to-bar since 2013 when they moved from a tiny shop to their current location in the Historic Woodstock Square area of Illinois, ~60 miles north of Chicago.

**While I received the following three bars free of charge, I did not receive any compensation for reviewing their products. The opinions are my own.**

Instead of a cardboard outer sleeve, the bars are now wrapped with thick, textured paper adorned with artwork that remind me of watercolor prints. On the front is a white rectangular informational sticker which peels away easily, such that I will probably re-purpose the colorful wrappers once the chocolate is gone. The folds are kept closed with a thin strip of double sided tape which makes it easy to open and re-close the packaging (another improvement from last year!) The single origin bar weighs in at 2.25 ounces, while the “chubbier” inclusion bars are 2.5 ounces each.

Single Origin – Haiti (70%)

Removing this three-ingredient bar from the light blue foil inner wrapper, I was surprised to see yet another change from last year: an intricate mold with the company logo prominently featured in the center, despite some chocolate dust and air bubbles marring the overall finish.

There was a roasted aroma and a sharp snap, which revealed more air bubbles at the “breaking point.” Rather than a completely smooth texture, the mouthfeel reminded me of melting grainy brown sugar.

Initially, I experienced a sweet, dried fruit flavor (like raisins) which then transitioned to an earthy and lightly astringent finish with a long-lasting, back-of-the-throat, tart taste.

66% Dark Chocolate with Caramelized Almonds, Cocoa Nibs & Sea Salt

The light blue inner foil wrapper could hardly contain this bar’s generous amount of inclusions! Nearly every surface of the back of the bar was covered with crunchy roasted nibs, caramelized almond chunks and enhanced with a sprinkling of sea salt.

Gently turning the bar over to segment into tasting morsels, a few of the inclusions came loose, but the majority remained intact. Again, there were some air bubbles marring the “top” surface, though there were far fewer air bubbles in the chocolate itself.

While it was difficult to isolate the creamy chocolate from the rest of the ingredients, the overall flavor was citrusy, leading me to wonder if Dominican Republic cacao (or a blend) was used.

66% Dark Chocolate with Caramelized Pecans, Smoked Sea Salt & Scorpion Pepper

In 2012, New Mexico State University identified “Scorpion Chili” as the hottest pepper in the world with a heat of 1.2 million Scoville heat units (it’s now considered the second hottest behind the “Carolina Reaper” which, according to some sources, has 2.2 million SHUs!) For comparison purposes: ghost chili is rated at 1 million SHUs, habaneros has between 100,000-350,000 SHUs & jalapeños have a mere 2,500-10,000 SHUs!

I’ve been both curious and apprehensive about trying this bar since I’m a bit of a wimp when it comes to spicy foods. Well, let me tell you, this bar is NOT for the faint of heart since the scorpion bourbon spice blend packs a punch! Popping a few errant “crumbs” of chocolate from the dark green foil into my mouth and (wow!) my lips + tongue were already starting to get numb from the building heat! Being daring, I followed that by “chomping” on a small chunk – now the back of my throat and even ears were feeling the burn. I decided to melt a piece on my tongue to try to isolate the chocolate by itself, I was unsuccessful; but at least the sweet, sugar-coated pecans seemed to tone down the intensity just a tiny a bit.

Next time I’m fighting a cold, this will be my remedy! Thankfully the immediate burst of heat slowly faded to a warm (yet long lasting) tingle at the tip of my tongue and back of my throat. A little goes a long way & I can see adding bits of this bar to a plain vanilla ice cream or a sipping hot chocolate for a kick. I’ve been known to test out chocolate on unsuspecting friends; this time I’ll be sure to give an upfront warning :-0

While researching Ethereal a little more today, I was intrigued to discover that 5-10% of their business over the past few years has come from a growing popular niche market: craft breweries. Here is a link to a 2016 article with more details.

Additionally, it seems that their cafe has something to appeal to everyone. Want tea or coffee beverages? – They’ve got that. How about drinking chocolate? – Yep, that’s covered too! There is even an extensive list of craft cocktails!?! What really had me salivating while reading their menu was the extensive list of chocolate pairings and tasting “flights” that they can provide. Imagine the seemingly endless possibilities sampling from among their more than 20 truffles + wine, beer, cider, whiskey or other spirits. If I lived even remotely close, they might as well forward my mail there, because it would be my 2nd home (or I’d beg them to adopt me as part of the family!) 😉

To check out Ethereal’s extensive product line for yourself, go to: http://www.etherealconfections.com/

Remember to follow the Time to Eat Chocolate blog to hear about the next stop in the “50 States” project!

Other chocolate makers in Illinois:

Noir d’Ebene Chocolat et Patisserie

NOTE: If you know of any other bean-to-bar makers in Illinois that aren’t mentioned above, please leave a comment or send an email so that we can keep this list as up-to-date as possible!