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! 🙂

Zotter Redux

In addition to their hand-scooped bars, Zotter Chocolate also has a line of single-origin chocolates called Labooko. Typically, there are two 35g bars in one packaging. In this case, I chose a dual tasting “contest” bar containing a 72% Belize bar (which was conched for 21 hours) and a 72% Panama bar (which was conched for 22 hours).

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However, upon opening the uniquely folded informational outer wrapper, I came to the realization that both bars were wrapped in IDENTICAL gold foil and did not have any distinguishing labels to indicate which was which (unlike the Sirene tasting bars that I reviewed a few weeks ago).

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Maybe a “blind” tasting was the intent of the packaging? Maybe I was oblivious to some crucial clue that would help to identify each bar? Feeling perplexed, I decided to call Zotter’s customer service line and had a very pleasant chat with Barbara Dolleschal, co-owner and manager of the Cape Coral, Florida location. She mentioned that, unless things had changed at headquarters in Austria, the Panama bar was on the left side and the Belize bar was on the right (when looking at the packaging as if it was an open book). Prior to my call, as I opened each chocolate individually and placed them on a plate for ease of comparing & contrasting, I tried to pay attention to which one came from the left side of the packaging and which one from the right side. In my excitement, I *may* have lost track…oops!

So, below I’ll provide my tasting notes, but will only be able to refer to the bars as “top” and “bottom” based on this photo:

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Each bar is imprinted with, what looks to me, two cacao pods. The pod in the foreground is plain and the pod in the background has writing etched into it, though I can’t make out the words.

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The bar on the bottom looked a little darker in color than the top bar and had a stronger roasted aroma. In segmenting the bar, it produced a sharp snap and seemed to break apart in a smooth, even chunks.

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The mouthfeel was smooth and creamy (probably due to the additional cocoa butter) and had a rich, warm, nutty flavor. My guess is that this is the Panama one.

The bar on the top produced a brittle snap and broke apart in jagged, uneven pieces, sending little shards flying every which way.

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This one looked a little drier in texture and had a less creamy mouthfeel. Overall the flavor was multi-layered: starting off earthy, turning to fruity (reminding me of berries) and finishing a bit like toasted bread or malt. Based on prior experiences, my guess is that this is the Belize bar.

While I enjoyed both bars, I’m still curious about which was which. I may never really know. Next time I’ll pay more attention, but it would also be helpful for Zotter to provide a label on each bar to minimize confusion. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to determine the meaning of the word “Labooko” that is imprinted on the bars and the packaging, so please let know if you have additional information!

One thing that I forgot to mention in my last Zotter post is how well the chocolates were packaged for transit. They wrapped the bars in a cocoon of silver thermal bubble wrap and added a cute ice pack just in case.

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There is a warning in three languages advising people not to eat the contents of the squishy square! I love the English translation 🙂

It’s hard to believe that 26 weeks ago I embarked on this journey to alphabetically sample new-to-me chocolates A through Z. This is a proud moment for me as I post the last entry for this year. THANK YOU all for your support and encouragement throughout this process!

If you’ve come to enjoy the weekly stories, never fear, “Round 2” of Eating the Chocolate Alphabet is in the works! My goal will be to feature unique inclusion ingredients (think A is for Amaranth and B is for Bay Nut) and all brands/makers are fair game. If there is an unusual inclusion ingredient that you think I should try, please send me a note! I’m pretty sure that “X” is going to be challenging since I don’t want to feature Xanthan Gum or Xylitol. I wonder if there is a chocolate that incorporates XO sauce?! If not, hopefully this will inspire someone to do so 😉

Until the new year, I wish you all Happy Holidays starting with Thanksgiving tomorrow!

Z is for Zotter Chocolate

Honestly, I’m not sure how or why I began following the Russian Zotter Biochocolate Instagram account. Before Instagram introduced the “translate” button, I certainly couldn’t understand their Cyrillic posts, but I was always mesmerized by their mouthwatering chocolate photos. It was only recently that I discovered the U.S. (Cape Coral, Florida) version on Instagram and continue to follow both accounts to this day. In case you’re curious, there are even more Zotter accounts that I could follow: Austria, Brazil, Hawaii and Poland…each one with unique content!

According to their website: “Our bean to bar chocolate, created in-house, is spread and rolled out very thinly on 15 meter tracks while at the same time, assorted fine fillings and ganaches are prepared using over 400 organic ingredients. As soon as the chocolate has cooled down, it is topped with the filling. Before the next layer is applied, it has to rest. Depending on the recipe, this process will be repeated several times. Lastly, a thin chocolate coating is spread on top and then, this gigantic piece of chocolate is cut into our classic 70g Zotter bars.” Can you imagine a chocolate bar measuring almost 50 feet long?! Next time I visit Austria, I would LOVE to visit their factory for a tour!

As you might have guessed, based on my love of unusual inclusion ingredients, the chocolates that captured most of my attention were the “hand-scooped” (filled) bars! Frequently I see delicious close-up photos of the multi-layered bars and have lost count of all the ones I wanted to add to my wish list. Visiting their website recently didn’t make the choices any easier…if money were no object, I would have happily ordered one of each (from weird to classic, there are 300-400 to choose from)! 🙂

Alas, I narrowed down my selections to these three unique bars:

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Pumpkin Seeds with Marzipan

Aside from the bars themselves, it’s hard not to be captivated by the colorful wrappers with art by Andreas H. Gratze, as well as the eye catching embossed gold foil used for the company name.

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In addition to the wrapper being printed on environmentally friendly paper with environmentally friendly colors, I like being able to easily slip the wrapped bar from the outer sleeve. Minimal adhesive was used to keep the sleeve closed, so that you could easily unfold the wrapper to read what was printed on the inside and then re-close the wrapper, as needed.

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Opening the lightly waxed shiny gold foil inner wrapper, I noticed some discolored patches, which I assume come from pumpkin seed oil that may have seeped out during storage. Matching the outside of the wrapper, the company name was lightly embossed into the chocolate on a diagonal at evenly spaced intervals across the entire back side of the bar.

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This 60% dark milk chocolate is filled with marzipan and pumpkin seed nougat (24%), which is a Styrian classic. Slicing a thin rectangle from the bar, you easily see the distinct layers: chocolate sandwiching equal rows of thick pumpkin seed nougat & moist marzipan studded with almonds.

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It was fascinating to learn that Styrian pumpkins produce hull-less (“naked”) seeds, meaning that the bright green seeds don’t need to be “shelled” like the standard pepitas that I’m familiar with. The black fleck at the top left of this close-up is part of a caramelized pumpkin seed.

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The flavors were well-balanced, with no one ingredient overshadowing the other. There was the nutty sweetness of the marzipan and the earthiness of the pumpkin seeds. One ingredient that surprised me was apple brandy, though this seems to gives the bar a touch of holiday warmth. Until now, I never realized that there could be severe anaphylactic reactions to celery, so it’s a good thing that Zotter includes that their bars might have traces of the vegetable as part of their allergy warnings on the back of each label, given that they use many uncommon and unexpected flavor combinations in their hand-scooped bars.

Goji Berries in Sesame Nougat

Surprisingly, this wrapper was written mostly in German rather than English, so I had to refer to the online description. This vegan bar uses a soy couverture and is filled with goji berries and sesame nougat (25%).

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Cutting into the bar, you can see the stripes of each layer: soy/cocoa mass couverture (flavored with coriander, vanilla, star anise and cinnamon), homemade sesame nougat, a green tea ganache and a generous handful of dried whole goji berries. Goji berries have been nicknamed “happy berries” because of the sense of well-being they are said to induce.

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The soy couverture had a dull whitish sheen that retained fingerprints very easily, but produced a moderate snap when broken apart. The taste of the slightly dry and dense white sesame nougat reminded me of halva without the associated grittiness. While I’m not typically a fan of green tea, the earthiness was somewhat offset by the chewy sweet goji berries.

Typically Austria

This bar is described online as Mountain Milk Chocolate (40%) filled with caramelized grey poppy cream (32%), homemade walnut nougat (28%) and a thin layer of cinnamon.

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Unwrapping the bar, the aroma reminded me of an Almond Joy candy bar even though there is no coconut in Zotter’s bar. I was also intrigued by the tank tread pattern on the back of the bar, which makes sense based on the company’s description of their bar production process mentioned earlier. Since the ingredients are all part of the brown color wheel family, the straight/even layers are harder to distinguish from each other.

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There was a mild snap when segmenting this bar into tasting morsels. Overall, the piece was buttery and nutty, but there was also a sour “tang” that reminded me of yogurt or sheep’s milk.

Unfortunately, this was my least favorite of the bunch, but the tiny, crunchy, caramelized poppy seeds started to win me over at the end.

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One of the things that I want to learn more about (and potentially experiment with) is the “Mi-Xing bar,” an online tool that allows customers to choose from 99 different ingredients to create their very own favorite chocolate. Just imagine the endless possibilities!

As an added bonus, Zotter sent a tiny plain chocolate bar with my order. The wrapper provide me with a 20% discount coupon code for a future purchase, which I promptly used to order an advent calendar filled with mini hand-scooped bars. In December, I’ll be counting down the days until Christmas with 24 new-to-me flavors…I can’t wait for it to arrive 🙂

To learn more and order your own unique assortment, check out: https://www.zotterusa.com/