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:


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/

M is for Map Chocolate Co.

Maps are multi-faceted. They can evoke memories of journeys from the past, they can open up a whole new world of places you have yet to explore and can also serve as a guide to help you find your way while on your present path.

“M” week is finally here! This is one of the bars that I have been eagerly awaiting for MONTHS! When I first started using Instagram at the beginning of the year, I was mesmerized by gorgeous photos of Map Chocolate’s square bars. If I’m honest with myself, I might have designed the whole Eating the Chocolate Alphabet project simply as an excuse to try this chocolate brand for myself!

Since this chocolate wasn’t available locally, my only viable option was to visit Map’s website to make my selection. It was such a treat to scroll through more mouth-watering pictures and smile while reading each bar’s unusual and unique name. In the end, I selected one inclusion bar (Still Life with Pi: a renaissance of candied orange peel & vanilla seeds / Belize 65%) + one bag of hot chocolate mix. (Let me tell you, it’s been such a challenge not to indulge in a cup of cocoa, I’m so glad that the self-imposed moratorium is finally over…stay tuned on Instagram for that!)

It’s evident that much care and thought have been put into each small detail, including the packaging. Rather than revealing itself too quickly, this chocolate bar arrived packaged like a small gift to be unwrapped.


The simply folded plain brown tissue paper, adorned with a bit of gold ribbon, was kept closed with a small black sticker emblazoned with an “M” in gold calligraphy amongst a cloud of decorative curlicues.


I was especially touched by a personalized, handwritten note on the back of a small map square tucked into the ribbon at the back of the package.

Once that layer was removed, an old world style map peeked out from the sides of a simple, yet elegant outer sleeve providing ingredient information.


The clear sticker used to keep the sleeve closed exhorts you to “find open roads” and begin an exciting adventure! 🙂


Sliding the map-wrapped bar from the sleeve, I saw a familiar sight! An aerial view featuring the colonnade and piazza of St. Peter’s Basilica, an Italian Renaissance church in the Vatican City, the papal enclave within the city of Rome. This map transported me back to my 2009 trip to Italy and a treasured photo that a friend took from the top of the dome, overlooking the city below.


As I peeled away each layer of protective packaging, the heady chocolate aroma was both enticing and intoxicating. After months of waiting and worrying, would the square be broken into pieces or perfectly intact? Now came the moment of truth! I delicately unwrapped the final layer of coated white paper to reveal a pristine shiny square which brings back memories of the Moorish tiles I saw at the Alhambra in Spain during my first European trip as a teenager.


Maybe it’s me…but from within the 12-pointed star (which is said to depict completeness), I can almost see the outline of the Castel Sant’Angelo, which was also on the map of Rome.


In an interview, Mackenzie Rivers (Map Chocolate owner and chocolate maker) revealed that this Belgian-made mold is called “Scheherazade” – as in the storyteller of “One Thousand and One Nights.” This seems to go well with a quote that was included as part of the non-traditional tasting notes page: “…chocolate carries an amazing story of cultivation, travel, wild places, people, birds landing amongst its leaves, rain falling, farmers tending it, and mouths tasting it. every bite the story unfolds.”


The reverse (or inclusion) side is equally complex with the combination of slightly chewy vanilla seeds, crunchy candied orange peel and tiny perfectly shaped sugar crystals.


It seemed like such a shame to break the bar into pieces, but it had to be done! Not surprisingly, the same adjectives can be used for both the mold and the chocolate itself: overlapping, interlaced and intricate. Biting into the smooth & creamy chunks, there were long lasting layers of flavor as well as bright/tart fruit notes.

In the words of Mackenzie: “this bar is about coming full circle, by way of the meandering tangent.”

With my apologies, here are some of my thoughts on the reason for choosing “Pi” as part of the bar’s name (with help from an online article from wonderopolis.org):

  • “Pi is an irrational number, which means that its value cannot be expressed exactly as a simple fraction.” Since taste is very subjective, it would be impossible to create a definitive, one-size-fits-all description for any chocolate bar. Therefore, just like there is no end to Pi’s decimal places, there is an infinite number of ways to encapsulate the experience of tasting chocolates.
  • “Since circles can vary in size, yet they all retain the same shape, ancient mathematicians knew there had to be a special relationship amongst the elements of a circle. That special relationship turns out to be the mathematical constant known as pi.” I’d like to think that, regardless of each person’s history/backstory, chocolate can be the connection that unifies us all.

To find the chocolate bar that “speaks to you” and begin your own adventure, check out: http://www.mapchocolate.com/