Let me start off by saying that I love horchata! There is one that I still dream about from a Puerto Rican restaurant in North Hollywood that makes theirs with ground sesame seeds. But the one that is, for me, the paragon of all horchatas comes from a small mole restaurant in the Maravilla neighborhood of East Los Angeles. Their horchata is made Oaxacan-style, drizzled with fuscia-colored cactus-fruit syrup, rimmed with pink sugar and topped with roasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds). <drool>
However, when I started looking for unusual inclusion ingredients to feature as part of the Eating the Chocolate Alphabet series, horchata never really crossed my mind. This non-alcoholic beverage is typical in Central and South American restaurants, but is also available in Spain. Each country has their own style and a plethora of different ingredients can be used for the flavoring. Some call for milk, others water. Until I started discovering that this drink could be made with ground nuts or seeds, my only experience had been with the ground rice and cinnamon variety.
Shortly after visiting the Mast Brothers factory in Downtown LA, I heard they were selling a Los Angeles collection that included an horchata bar! When one of my friends texted me that she was at the Artisanal LA holiday market in December, I sent her on a quest to find some bars for me. Please don’t write to me and ask if I’ve read the scathing 4-part DallasFood.org exposé articles about Mast Brothers’ chocolate…the answer is yes, and I refer you back to the beginning of this post: I LOVE HORCHATA (that and I’m a sucker for chocolate bars that are part of an “exclusive” collection…I blame my boyfriend for corrupting me in that regard)! 😉
As always, the Mast Brothers’ packaging could easily double as an abstract art print. The thick textured paper of this bar has bold swaths of neutral, earth-tone colors and is credited as “artwork by Block Shop Textiles.”
Like all the other bars that I’ve seen, the back of the package has a center justified, line-by-line list of ingredients.
The cacao is called out simply as 58%, without a country of origin; so if you’re inquisitive (like me), you search on their website to discover that Tanzanian beans were used for this bar. Peeling back the informational sticker to unfold the packaging, you’ll see a gold foil wrapped bar made from a standard 28-rectangle mold.
Not surprisingly, the primary aroma is that of cinnamon, though there is also a nutty scent as well. Segmenting some pieces, there was a soft and slightly brittle snap.
The mouthfeel is certainly not smooth, but not gritty like stone ground/minimally processed cacao either. Despite the addition of cocoa butter, the chocolate seems disappointingly dry instead of creamy. There is a muted tang from the buttermilk; but, overall, this bar falls short of the flavor I would expect to justifiably represent the diverse and vibrant Hispanic culinary tapestry within the city of Los Angeles.
As you might know, I’m also currently working on a “50 States” collaboration project with Time to Eat Chocolate. To save on shipping costs, I volunteered to cover Washington since it’s geographically closer to me. Also, lucky for me, I have a Washington expert in my arsenal…for who better knows about the “sweets scene” than a dessert blogger! Jess, aka the Seattle Dessert Geek, was instrumental in acquiring some chocolates for me since apparently there are some Theo Chocolate flavors that never make it out of the city. As a shameless plug for my other project, stay tuned when I cover two different bean-to-bar chocolate makers from Washington soon!
Sorry for veering off on a tangent there…now back to this post! During Jess’ day-after-Valentines’ shopping trip, we were both surprised to discover that one of Theo’s new flavors is Cinnamon Horchata! So instead of keeping that bar for the collaboration project, I decided to feature it with my other horchata bar; though, in retrospect, maybe it wasn’t a fair side-by-side comparison :0
As mentioned, this 45% milk chocolate bar is one of the newer additions to their “Fantasy Bar” line. The colorful illustration on the packaging (as well as the name) shows that cinnamon will be prominently featured; but what I didn’t realize until reading the ingredients is that it would also include crisped brown rice and crisped quinoa. One of my only complaints, aside from the fact that the first ingredient listed is sugar, is that the foil was wrapped with the external paper and the folds were sealed so tightly that I had to practically mutilate the outer band to get to the chocolate bar.
As you can see the bar is just bulging with crispy crunchy goodness and who doesn’t love a bar with crunch?!
Here are a couple of close ups of the inclusion ingredients: the first showing the crisped rice peeking out from a segmented piece & the second showing a small lump of un-dispersed ground cinnamon:
This is a relatively small bar, just 4 large horizontal rectangles. While cinnamon is the initial aroma, you also can’t miss a milky sweet, caramel scent to the chocolate. Breaking off one of the rectangles produced a brittle snap and tiny shards tended to fly everywhere! Don’t even try to melt this bar, chomp away blissfully, combining creamy with crunchy!
Of the two horchata bars that I tasted, Theo was the winner for me! Now if someone could figure out a way to combine chocolate with either of the two horchata drinks that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, THAT would be the BEST of times!