How I Counted Down the Days Until Christmas

Remember those “what I did on my summer vacation” back-to-school essays when you were a kid? This is just like that, only different 😉

A couple of posts back (wow, has it really been more than a month already?!), I mentioned that I had purchased a Zotter mini hand-scooped bar advent calendar. Here is a shot of the pristine, just opened box.

In case you weren’t following my daily Instagram “story” posts, below is a recap of all 24 flavors that helped me count down the days until Christmas! Just a disclaimer (lest you think I was a little piggy for most of the month), each day I only ate half of the 20g bar so that my boyfriend could enjoy the other half on the weekends! [Feel sorry for him, he *had* to eat 5 or more half bars in a day, whereas I could space them out!]

But before I get to the chocolates, I wanted to share a couple of things that I learned on this project:

  • Cutting the bars with a knife seemed to “smoosh” the layers together and leave odd serration marks, so at some point I started breaking the bars by hand for a more “rustic” look.
  • Winter daylight is fleeting (if the sun appears at all), so if I wasn’t able to take a picture during the morning to early afternoon, photos under artificial light didn’t turn out as well.
  • More people liked when I described the bars “by voice” as part of a video instead of simply taking a photo & writing the ingredients as a caption. I can’t say that I’m a fan of the Insta-stories format, personally I think it’s a good thing the “episodes” disappear after 24 hours!
  • A couple of times I was so obsessed with crafting the perfect 15-second sound bite that I forgot to also keep an actual photo of the chocolate 🙁
  • In many cases, the advent calendar’s outer cardboard sleeve described the bars differently than the individually numbered, decorated paper wrapper.
  • Photographing the bar WITH the wrapper that had the date on it makes it SO much easier to later match up photos to handwritten tasting notes!

December 1 – Dark Milk Chocolate filled with hazelnut nougat and brittles

Since this was the first bar from the advent calendar, I had some learning to do! You’ll notice that I photographed it without the date wrapper and cut it with a plain edge knife. Fortunately I took the photo with natural sunlight, so I had that going for me!

I appreciate that Zotter provides exact percentages for most of the major ingredient components. For instance, this one is listed as: hazelnut nougat (29%) and brittles (22%). According to the paper label, the brittle was made with almonds. This bar was called “Thousand Layer Nougat” on the box and the website describes it as having two different layers of nougat (one almond & another hazelnut) with brittle layers in between. Honestly, I’m not certain that there were 3 distinct layers. Overall, it was crunchy, creamy and had a nice nut flavor. Two unusual ingredients that were used, but that I didn’t taste, were cardamom and star anise.

December 2 – Noble Bitter Chocolate filled with whisky cream (55%)

Note to self, if something is called “Scotch Whisky” on the outer packaging, then it’s probably boozy & might not be the best thing to taste first thing in the morning! Especially given the ratio of thin chocolate couverture to creamy filling.

As a side note, in order keep the mini bars looking as photogenic as possible, I tended to flip them over & cut from the bottom to the top (rather than from the top to the bottom). I found it difficult to cut this particular bar with a knife, but I did notice that there were interesting amoeba-like shapes on the bottom. Sadly, no photographic evidence remains of the odd shapes, but I’m glad that I remembered to take (and keep) another photo of the shapes on the 12th bar! The above photo is an example of what happened to the bars when using a serrated knife; however, it took me a few more days to decide to cut them by hand.

December 3 – White Chocolate filled with almond hazelnut brittle

For a white chocolate, this was fairly beige in color (probably due to the cinnamon) and the couverture’s color wasn’t visually different from the filling. Even though this was cut with a knife, it wasn’t as glaringly obvious that I had done so. The bar’s wrapper lists the percentages as almond (14%) and hazelnut (5%), while the outer packaging listed it as almond hazelnut brittle (12%) – not sure which one to believe. The crunch reminded me of granola rather than brittle. Overall, this was very buttery and a little too sweet for my taste.

December 4 – Coconut Milk Couverture with raspberry coconut filling (60%)

You’ll see that this bar was cut with both a serrated knife and a plain edge knife for comparison purposes. I’m not sure why I was expecting the coconut milk couverture to be white-ish in color since I’ve had coconut milk chocolates before that looked quite brown. The filling was tart, yet sweet + I liked the tropical touch from the coconut flakes. Honestly, I wouldn’t have guessed coconut milk if it had been a blind taste test. Looking at the ingredient list right now, I’m surprised to see dried blueberries listed?!

December 5 – Mountain Milk Chocolate filled with white chocolate ganache (54%) & caramelised blue poppyseed (6%)

This was one of my favorites from the whole collection! Finally I “wised up” and cut this bar by hand. Overall, it had a creamy mouthfeel + it was nutty & crunchy due to the caramelized seeds. The ganache had a slightly yogurt-like tang. I’m definitely going to buy a full-sized bar of this soon!

December 6 – Mountain Milk Chocolate filled with orange cream (50%)

Sorry that the photo is slightly blurry, but I think it’s the ONLY photo I have of this bar! While the filling color isn’t visually distinct from the outer couverture, the creamy, mousse-like ganache was slightly boozy due to the blood orange brandy.

December 7 – Mountain Milk Chocolate with apple, honey and cinnamon filling

This one was my second favorite of the bunch. According to the ingredient list, this bar contained dried apples (14%), apple juice (8%), honey (3%), hazelnuts, apple brandy (2%), cranberries and cinnamon (0.4%). The moist layer of filling was like eating a chocolate covered apple pie. I couldn’t taste the alcohol. Sorry about the serration marks 🙁 – this one was a little gooey, so I had to use a knife in this instance!

December 8 – Dark Milk Chocolate filled with nuts

This one was called “Nut Delight” on the outer packaging sleeve since it contains hazelnuts (18%), almonds (5%) & cashews (5%). Again, this one had cardamom & anise seeds even though I didn’t taste them. Creamy and hazelnut was the stand-out flavor for me.

December 9 – Noble Bitter Chocolate with plum brandy (55%)

The chocolate “shell” on this bar cracked easily when I tried to break off a chunk, so that the filling came away from the couverture rather than staying together as a cohesive unit like the other bars. The ganache was creamy/mousse-like, but not too boozy.

December 10 – Mountain Milk Chocolate filled butter caramel cream (45%)

When I broke this apart, the caramel was stretchy (as shown below):

This time it was useful to cut the bar with a knife to reveal all the layers!

You can see the top layer was a chewy caramel and the next (thicker) layer was buttery and creamy as well as crunchy due to the caramel crisps (brittle) and almonds. One unusual ingredient was rose petals, though I didn’t taste them.

December 11 – Noble Bitter Chocolate filled with chocolate-red wine ganache (55%) and raisins (2%)

Also called “Red Wine Rush.” This one was creamy and tasted of red wine; however, I would not have guessed that there were raisins included. The alcohol used was Olivin Red Wine and Olivin pomace brandy. Just now, I discovered that “pomace” is a liquor distilled from the discarded seeds, stems and skins of grapes that were pressed for juice or oil. This type of brandy will make another appearance later in the calendar.

December 12 – Mountain Milk Chocolate filled with chocolate cream (55%)

While this one was visually boring, I finally remembered to capture a photo of the amoeba-like underside that I mentioned on the December 2nd bar. The ganache was creamy & mousse-like, though I could swear that alcohol was added even though it wasn’t listed as an ingredient. Just now I discovered some ingredients that I certainly didn’t taste: honey, caramel powder, almonds, cinnamon, rose petals & lemon powder.

December 13 – Dark Milk Chocolate filled with almond and hazelnut nougat (55%)

As I mentioned earlier, some days I was so focused on perfecting my Insta-story that I forgot to retain a picture of my half of the bar before I ate it, so I ended up taking a screen shot showing the day’s caption.

Days later, before giving the other half to my boyfriend, I snapped a picture where you can again see evidence of serrated knife marks.

This one was called “Nougat Variation” on the back of the packaging. There seemed to be two layers to this bar: a slightly powdery layer of crunchy nut nougat with bits of brittle and a creamy mousse layer. Honestly, I can’t tell which was almonds (12%) and which was hazelnuts (11%), though I suspect that the almond one was the darker layer. This one also had cinnamon, rose petals and lemon powder, although I don’t remember tasting them.

December 14 – Smart Bitter Chocolate filled with coffee cream (60%)

This one was called Zotter Espresso “so dark” on the packaging. If you look closely at the morsel in the foreground (at the red arrow), it almost seems like there is a little face. I say he’s making a grimace since I’m not a fan of coffee flavors. The ganache was fluffy and the coffee was STRONG! Needless to say, my boyfriend received three-quarters of this bar instead of the usual half! I’m not sure what makes a “smart” bitter instead of a “noble” bitter – hopefully someone reading this can tell me!

December 15 – Dark Milk Chocolate filled with marzipan and amaretto

I really enjoyed the moist marzipan layer & didn’t taste any alcohol in this bar. Possibly this was due to the ratios: marzipan (23%) made with almonds and bitter almond oil vs. 3% of Amaretto. This had some ginger powder, which I didn’t taste. If you look closely at the thick top chocolate couverture toward the middle of the morsel in the foreground, I swear there is another tiny face…this one with a happy smile!

December 16 – Mountain Milk Chocolate filled with wild berries (9%) and vanilla (0.3%)

Even though it was many days ago that I posted this bar on Insta-stories, I still remember struggling to recite ALL the ingredients within the allotted 15 seconds! Visually it looked a lot like day number 4, but this one had so many berries that none of the flavors really stood out. It had strawberries, blueberries, dried raspberries, currant concentrate & cranberry concentrate. Additionally there were almonds, rose petals, lemon powder & cinnamon, though I didn’t taste those.

December 17 – White Chocolate filled with dark chocolate ganache (55%)

This one was called “Black and White” on the outer packaging. I’m generally not a fan of white chocolate, so the white to dark ratio was just perfect. Also, the couverture had more of a beige tinge, so I’m thinking that either the vanilla or the cinnamon added to the coloring. Cane sugar brandy must be mild, since the creamy mousse filling had only a slight hint of alcohol. Re-reading the ingredient list right now, I’m surprised to see Bird’s Eye chili listed!

December 18 – Mountain Milk Chocolate with hazelnut filling (55%)

If you look at the top portion of the bar in this photo (above the 18), it almost looks like there are two separate layers: a thin moist layer at the top with more coarsely ground nuts and a larger smoother and drier layer at the bottom. I wonder if the Muscat Ottonel wine contributed to the top layer’s taste and appearance. I am surprised to again see several un-tasted spices listed: cinnamon, star anise, cardamom & cloves.

December 19 – Noble Bitter Chocolate filled with mango ganache (42%) and maces (0.1%)

Here you can again see, side-by-side, what a hand broken piece looks like vs. a knife cut piece. The moist ganache certainly had a tropical fruit taste due to the dried mangos and mango puree, I’m glad that the mace was not overpowering. Some surprising ingredients (since I didn’t taste them) were: skimmed milk yoghurt powder, cashews, caramel powder, almonds, lemon juice concentrate, cinnamon & rose petals. I wonder if the turmeric added to the orange color of the ganache.

December 20 – White Caramel Chocolate filled with almond nougat (54%) and caramel crisps (6%)

Despite my not liking white chocolate, this one was another favorite. The nougat filling had the texture of a Nestle Butterfinger bar, but was much less sweet. The couverture tasted a bit like butterscotch and, again, I didn’t taste the cinnamon, rose petals or lemon powder. Maybe it’s just me, but there seemed to be an ultra thin layer between the couverture and the filling, I wonder if that was caramel!

December 21 – Noble Bitter Chocolate with Marc de Champagne (6%) filling

Marc de Champagne is a brandy made from byproducts of the winemaking process, using discarded seeds & skins (similar to the bar on day 11). The couverture was a little crumbly, but the ganache was sweet like raisins and there was a slight “bite” from the alcohol. Wish the star anise & cinnamon were more vibrant in this bar.

December 22 – Mountain Milk Chocolate with Marzipan (25%) and pistachios (7%)

Another favorite! The pistachio layer was moist, nutty & chewy, while the marzipan was light & fluffy. It said it contained alcohol (cherry brandy), but I hardly tasted it. I also didn’t taste the anise, rose petals, cinnamon or lemon powder — seems that many bars contained these same spices.

December 23 – Coffee Couverture filled with cognac cream (55%)

This was another one with a crumbly couverture and odd shapes at the bottom of the bar. While this contained coffee, it was actually more boozy than coffee flavored since ground coffee beans and coffee powder only accounted for 1.1% of the ingredients.

December 24 – Noble Bitter Chocolate with spiced filling

Last, but not least, was what could be considered a gingerbread filling made with rye flour, lemon peel, orange peel, eggs, honey, hazelnuts, walnuts, cinnamon, pimento, nutmeg, marzipan, coconut crisps, cardamom, star anise and almonds. The ingredient list was a mouthful to recite on Insta-stories, so much so that I had to post it in two “installments.” Overall, it was like having a chewy, moist fruit cake in a chocolate shell with just a hint of alcohol.

This was my very first advent calendar & based on the enjoyable experience I’m sure it will be a tradition to maintain in years to come, whether from this chocolate company or others. Let me know in the comments if there are any calendars I should try next year!

On another note, it’s hard to believe that the year is almost over. Thanks to all who have been following me on this adventure. I hope that you will stick around for the blog’s “round 2” that will be starting in early January!

Best wishes for a Happy & Healthy New Year! See you soon in 2017! 🙂

We interrupt the alphabet for something different

Since January 2016, I’ve been using Instagram to document “My Year in Chocolate” and I’ve reached a milestone – 300 posts!! In honor of that achievement (and because I didn’t really do anything for the 100th or 200th post), I decided to share something special that I recently had the opportunity to try….

Heirloom Chocolate Series D7 (Designation 7) – seven tasting tablets from the first ever officially designated heirloom chocolates produced by the C-Spot / chocolate fulfillment by Fruition Chocolate.

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In searching for some chocolates on my behalf, my boyfriend came across the C-Spot website, which is an amazing “one stop shop” if you are looking to answer any questions that you might have related to chocolate. If you like to “geek out” on the science behind chocolate, they have that! If you appreciate well-organized, searchable databases with precise metrics, this is definitely the website for you! I especially like their thorough and in-depth chocolate reviews, the pithy and concise directory of “barsmiths” (aka bean-to-bar chocolate makers) and the fact that they don’t take “experts” or themselves too seriously. I’m sad that I only discovered them now, when I’m almost at the end of my Eating the Chocolate Alphabet adventure. They are bookmarked & will be a great source for “round 2” and beyond!

Mark Xian, the elusive figurehead behind C-Spot was named the Director of the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund in 2013. From their website, the HCP is a partnership between the FCIA (Fine Chocolate Industry Association) and the USDA/ARS (United States Department of Agriculture / Agricultural Research Service) “to identify and preserve fine flavor cacao varieties for the conservation of biological diversity and the empowerment of farming communities.” Also from their website: “Heirloom cacao trees and beans are endowed with a combination of historic, cultural, botanical, geographical and most importantly flavor value. They are the foundation of the best tasting chocolate.” As the back of the box explains, “These heirloom varieties are vanishing…their botanical treasures lost forever unless we all act to protect them / saving an endangered species.”

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Inside the box there were seven small bars, each wrapped in a different color metallic foil and numbered on a map & accompanying flavor sheet.

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I was both excited and overwhelmed with the prospect of tasting these chocolates, so I wanted to be methodical about the process. My initial tasting was in the morning, before having anything else to eat and my second tasting was after dinner when my palate had been exposed to sweet/savory/salty/sour. During the second pass, I tasted with more intention…observing snap & texture more carefully, so I’m including that information below. Additionally, I employed Barbie Van Horn’s suggestion to use chopsticks rather than my fingers since I had sliced shallots the night before & didn’t want to introduce any lingering odors to the process.

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Below are photos of each bar (generally the “back” or non-scored side) as well as a cross-section of one or two squares. What a difference several hours can make in terms of noticing nuances in flavor, though some descriptions remained very similar between the first & second try! In some cases, my palate detected the flavors listed in the notes, but often times our descriptions differed. Apologies for the lighting on some photos, I wanted to capture details and that affected the color of the chocolate itself.

Heirloom I – Alto Beni (Bolivia) 68% cacao

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First tasting notes: smells & tastes nutty;  tart flavor

Second tasting notes: smells earthy; reminds me of coffee; smooth texture, sharp snap

Heirloom II – Wild Beni (Bolivia) 72% cacao

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First tasting notes: smells smoky; sweeter in taste + smoother than Heirloom I

Second tasting notes: sharp snap; smells floral; tasted sweet (like caramel or honey) + fruity like apples; smooth texture

Heirloom III – Orecao (Ecuador) 70% cacao

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First tasting notes: felt more brittle when snapped; smells floral/earthy; gritty/grainy texture; nutty taste

Second tasting notes: brittle snap/crumbly; gritty/grainy texture; tasted like marshmallows/spices/fruity

Heirloom IV – Maunawili (Hawaii) 72% cacao

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First tasting notes: more brittle snap; mineral smell; tastes like tea; smoother texture

Second tasting notes: medium snap (sounded “higher pitched” when broken apart); smells roasted/smoky; mineral taste, almost a little salty; mostly smooth texture, but doesn’t melt easily

Heirloom V – Mindo (Ecuador) 77% cacao

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First tasting notes: dull snap (thinnest bar); reddish brown color; smells musty (like wet leaves); tasted buttery, though with a roasted/bitter flavor too; gritty/grainy texture

Second tasting notes: medium snap; smells floral; earthy, reminded me of olives; bitter/astringent/chalky; grainy/gritty – this was my least favorite

Heirloom VI – Terciopelo (Costa Rica) 70% cacao [FYI, “Terciopelo” translates to “velvet” in English] – this had an aqua foil that looks silver in the photos

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First tasting notes: brittle snap; leather smell; smooth texture; intense/concentrated flavor; reminds me of cheese for some reason

Second tasting notes: sharp snap; mostly smooth texture; musty/earthy, like leather taste; lightly astringent – this was my 2nd least favorite

Heirloom VII – Maya Mountain (Belize) 70% cacao

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First tasting notes: soft/smooth; tastes of raisins

Second tasting notes: brittle snap; grainy/“dusty” texture; floral/honey smell; flavor disappears quickly on the melt, like wind blowing it away

I found it difficult to discern a difference in terms of color despite the range of cacao percentages. Heirlooms I and II were similar in color; Heirloom III was a little darker; Heirlooms IV, VI and VII were similar in color and Heirloom V was the darkest. Can you tell a difference?!

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Since there were 6 “squares” in each bar, my boyfriend and I will be jointly tasting these seven chocolates later in the month (me for the third time and him for the first time). Maybe I’ll do a “blind” tasting next time to see if my impressions have changed over time. The box suggests consuming these by January 2017 or keeping them longer as “vintage chocolates” – does anyone know if aging chocolates is a good idea?

There were only 100 sets of these chocolates, ours was number 53. If you have a chance to try this collection, please drop me a line since I’d love to hear your thoughts on these designated heirloom varieties!

In other news…stay tuned later in the week for the continuation of the alphabet series since this is “X” week!

Hello world! Coming soon I’ll be Eating the Chocolate Alphabet…one bar at a time!

At the beginning of 2016, I started an Instagram account (@myic2016) to chronicle “My Year in Chocolate.” What a journey that’s been so far! Inspired by other bloggers and Instagrammers, over the next 26 weeks I’ll be eating the chocolate alphabet…one bar at a time.

There will be a bar for each letter of the alphabet, though some letters will have a “bonus” bar since it was so hard to choose just one. For this experience, I’m choosing only chocolate makers/chocolatiers that I haven’t tried before. Hopefully I’ll be able to find a “Q” and “Y” company soon (please let me know if you have any suggestions!!)

Stay tuned…the adventure will be starting soon!