The latest fruit that has captured my taste buds is cranberries (although nothing can beat a good slice of a sweet, perfectly ripe pineapple).  If shipping weren’t so expensive I’d be temped by the cranberries in the 64oz size.

So naturally I was eager to try the Pacari Cranberry bar…

Pacari Cranberry Chocolate - The Chocolate Website Photo

Pacari Chocolate (made in Ecuador) was once again a World Final Winner (in multiple categories!) at the International Chocolate Awards this year.

Their bars seem to be widely popular everywhere (in the U.S. and Europe especially).

The chocolate itself was delicious (yes, I know, I’m going to have to start being more specific than that…2018 is going to involve taking notes while staring at a tasting chart!) but I had a hard time finding many cranberries in my particular bar.  You can never have enough cranberries!

Note: I purchased my Pacari Cranberry bar from an online store called Noje.  While this particular bar is not currently in stock (and their selection is admittedly not as large as other online craft chocolate stores), I am extremely pleased with their shipping policy (shipping is free on orders of $30 or more, while other stores only offer free shipping with orders of $50 or $75 or more) AND the amazing customer service.   My chocolate was wrapped up exactly as requested in order to have the best chance of making the journey unscathed.  Save

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Seems to me I’ve written about this exact chocolate before.  No matter… it’s good enough to repeat!

Equal Exchange Mint Crunch Chocolate

I plunked this Mint Crunch bar by Equal Exchange down next to a basket, took a photo, and said, “OK, let’s eat it!”  (Well, almost.  Those mint leaves didn’t exactly wash and arrange themselves.)

The reason I was in such a hurry?  To open it, of course.   I’d had the pleasure of trying this mint chocolate before and remembered it as having just the right amount of crunch and just the right amount of mint.

I remembered correctly.

Mmmmmmmmm!

There are those who say “stevia” like it’s something awful and won’t touch it with a ten foot pool, and then there are those who won’t go anywhere without it and start getting worried when their supply of vanilla creme (or hazelnut or English toffee) starts running low.

Me? I don’t hate stevia, and then again I’m not crazy about it.   I’ve not tried many chocolates sweetened with stevia, but there is one brand I have tried and can recommend:

Lily's Creamy Milk Chocolate - Sweetened with Stevia

Lily’s Chocolate (Pictured: Creamy Milk 40% Chocolate)

I’ll readily admit that the lack of sugar makes this chocolate less sweet than many other chocolates I have tried, but it allows the actual chocolate flavor to “shine”.

Lily’s seem to be a popular sugarfree chocolate option; I keep seeing some tasty baked goods/breakfasts featuring this chocolate.

Chocolate for breakfast?  Yes please! 🙂

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Just had to share…

Recently I was listening to an episode of  The Slow Melt chocolate podcast where the host Simran Sethi interviews Sam Maruta, co-founder of Marou Chocolate (bean-to-bar chocolate made in Vietnam).

It was a very informative and entertaining episode, and close to the end it made me laugh out loud. Sam was asked (and I’m paraphrasing here) if there was anything the general chocolate-eating public should know and he said: “Maybe don’t eat too much of it. It’s good, but there are other food groups. And you also need protein.”

BREAKING NEWS ALERT: There are food groups other than chocolate. (I’m trying to get over the shock.)

On a side note, the bar being tasted during the podcast was Dak Lak. There are just two Marou bars I had photographed but not shared yet and I thought “wouldn’t it be a neat coincidence if one of them was Dak Lak?” Lo and behold…. One of them was:

Marou Chocolate Dak Lak Vietnam

You know when you say a word so many times you start thinking it makes no sense or perhaps you even imagined it being a real word?  Today smorgasbord (“a wide range of something”; “a variety”) is the word that just sent me scurrying to Google to make sure it was real.  And that I was spelling it right.  (For the record: I wasn’t.)  (Side note: If I remember looking things up in an actual dictionary, does that make me old?)

Here is a smorgasbord of chocolate I’d like to share with you:

Sol Cacao Ecuador 70% Craft Chocolate (I purchased mine online at The Meadow.)

Made in Harlem by three brothers who grew up in Trinidad and Tobago, this bar is one of the many epitomes of fine craft chocolate: amazing flavor and stunning packaging.

Also, this is one of the first photos that finally convinced me to keep practicing with a new, unfamiliar-to-me-lens, because it might be worth the effort.  (Note to self: Try new things!  New things aren’t as scary as they look!)

Chocolove Cherries & Almonds in Dark Chocolate

I’ve come to realize that there are a lot of people who prefer plain dark chocolate.  Nothing wrong with that. I like plain dark chocolate.  But I’m also big on inclusions.  And dark chocolate with cherries and almonds?  Yes, please!

Francois Pralus Melissa Milk Chocolate

This was my first Francois Pralus bar (and hopefully not my last).  The tasting notes are “vanilla, caramel, and milky spices”.  I remember it as rich and creamy but specific notes still mostly elude me, especially because by the time I’ve finished dressing up my chocolate in three different poses, I’m just ready for a piece (without being too scientific about the taste). Some day maybe I’ll get a few bars just to savor and just to focus on the flavor without photographing them first.  (Why is everyone who knows me laughing right now?!)

Cacao Sampaka White Chocolate with Ceylon Cinnamon

Fact 1: White chocolate with cinnamon is AMAZING.

Fact 2: Rarely does a bar surprise me as much as this one did.  I was pretty sure it was going to be amazing, so the taste was no surprise.  The surprise was that instead of being a thick chocolate bar, it ended up being two thin bars (easily separated, thanks to a liner between them).  This made it a lot easier to portion and share with more people.

Raaka Apple Pie Chocolate (I purchased mine online via Noje.)

I hoarded this bar for a long time.  The very month I decided to give up and go ahead and find a way to take photos without apple pie, apples appeared.  (They don’t grow on trees around here.)

Wait until you hear the impressive list of flours used for the gluten-free graham cracker crust, which crumbles adorn this chocolate: Brown rice flour, whole grain quinoa flakes, tapioca starch, coconut flour, sweet potato flour, mesquite flour, potato four, potato starch, amaranth flour, and sorghum flour.  No kidding.

The apple pie flavor in this chocolate was a little elusive, but it was quite an entertaining bar.

It was also a limited edition, which might make it difficult or impossible to find.

(Thankfully Raaka makes certain flavors regularly.  The two I’d like to try most are Maple & Nibs and Coconut Milk.)

Alter Eco Dark Salted Brown Butter Chocolate

Alter Eco Dark Salted Brown Butter Chocolate  (I purchased mine online via Iherb.)

Last but not least, allow me to introduce Alter Eco’s gluten free, non-GMO, salted brown butter chocolate (an organic chocolate made with sweet pastured butter).

It’s like mixing popcorn and chocolate, only without the corn.  Mmmmmmmm.  Tangy and delicious.  Salted chocolate is growing on me, as long as it is done right.  I think Alter Eco found the perfect balance with this bar.


Organic.  Gluten. Pastured.  These are all words that would have sent me scurrying to the dictionary when I was a little girl.  Unfortunately, when I read our voluminous inches-thick red hardcover dictionary from cover to cover, I wasn’t quite able to memorize everything.

The word that stuck with me the most?  You’d think it might be ganache or gianduia or eclairs or mousse.  But no.  It was actually a French word (in an English dictionary, go figure).  Rechauffe.  Pronounced “ray-show-FAY” (if I remember correctly) it basically means heated leftovers.

Because heated leftovers are always more fun if they have a fancy sounding name.

Now my chocolate has fancy sounding names, but the problem is:  There is never any leftover!Save

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Typically, each of my chocolate photoshoots (which usually take place on Saturday afternoons) net between 4-8 photos.  My goal is a minimum of two shots of each chocolate (wrapped) and one shot unwrapped (providing the
chocolate didn’t melt in transit, and also provided the mold the maker used was unique enough).

Every time, I find myself saving a few “outtake” photos that are just too good to delete, and going through those now I found a rather accurate picture-by-picture portrayal of the “behind the scenes of a chocolate photoshoot”.

True, if I fast-forwarded to the end, there are photos like this:

Pump Street Bakery Ecuador 60% Dark Milk Chocolate

(Pictured: Pump Street Bakery – Ecuador 60% Dark Milk)  (Due to ordering it in the winter and thanks to Caputo’s stellar packaging, this bar arrived practically pristine!)

But during the entire process, lots of stuff happens.

Things get broken.

99.9% of the time, this candle was used to tack down one of the four corners of the foam mat backdrops I use for 99.9% of my pictures. The other 0.1% of the time it actually got to be in the photo itself. Then one day it got a little too close to the edge of the table and well… It’s gone now.  (Though if I would have thought there was a creative way to showcase glass shards and chocolate together I probably would have kept it…)

Half the outdoors comes indoors with me.

Behind The Scenes of a Chocolate Photoshoot - Venezuelan National Tree

Armed with clippers (and sometimes a basket or a tray), I often can be seen snipping this tree or trimming that bush and bringing in flowers, blooms, and branches. (Apparently I’m not very particular, because I’ve also brought in cactus, berries that may or may not have been poisonous, and an invasive vine*.  I think the purple-tinted burr bushes may be next.)  A few weeks ago some glossy yellow-green neem pods caught my eye and when coming back inside my comment was something along the lines of, “I didn’t know how many sprigs I would need…  So I brought back the whole tree.”

My photography set-up gets hijacked.

While the white background and camera are out, I get asked if it would be possible to work in a few pictures of arduino parts. (Yes, I realize asking nicely doesn’t exactly equal hijacking, but hijacking sounds more dramatic, and I am known for being a little dramatic.)  Sometimes a mini arduino photoshoot includes the meticulous process of taping everything down with double-sided tape.  On the plus side, one can be meticulous with such things without worrying about them melting (unlike my subjects)!

Then there are the hijinks.

Because apparently it’s funny to come in with whatever one happens to be carrying at the time and stick in the shot to see how I react.  This particular time it was a pair of pliers. Other times anything from a phone to a tongue have suddenly photo-bombed my chocolate.

At the end of the day?

Behind The Scenes of a Chocolate Photoshoot - End of Day

It’s a mess.  Everything ends up jumbled together in my hurry to get as much done as possible, and, as always, get.it.done.before.the.chocolate.melts.  It’s a colorful interesting mess, but a mess nonetheless.

There’s even more that goes on behind the scenes of a chocolate photoshoot.  The photo of someone (very dramatically) “passed out” on my floor after trying their first Lindt truffle comes to mind (they really liked it!), but I have a feeling I’d be in more than a little ‘trouble’ if I posted that photo, so…use your imagination!

*That invasive vine I mentioned just happens to be in the Pump Street Bakery photo above.  I thought it was rather pretty.

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Whenever articles are written about the 5 or 10 or however-many best bean-to-bar/craft/artisan chocolates, I’ve noticed that Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco always makes the cut. Photos of their bars encased in thick gold-embossed paper wrappers often show up in my Instagram/Twitter feeds, and, not long ago, Dandelion expanded and opened several locations in Japan.

It was high time to pick a Dandelion to see what the fuss was all about.

Dandelion Chocolate Still Life Photo

Dandelion’s two-ingredient bars feature beans from different origins. I picked their Mantuano bar because the beans are grown in Venezuela, and I happen to be partial to Venezuelan beans.

Having a Dandelion bar in-house was exciting, but even the good press didn’t guarantee it VP treatment.  In the end, it dutifully waited its turn just like all the other chocolate at my house until it got its moment in the sun. Correction: Half an hour in the sun (by the time I was done with it).  By then it was the *perfect* tasting consistency.

My first bite certainly didn’t evoke any memories of chocolate consumed long ago during my childhood, because I don’t recall ever eating fine dark chocolate until a few years ago.  (The normal chocolates of my youth was Hersheys, an occasional box of Russel Stover, and chocolate chips (dipped out from a 5lb bag from Sam’s Club!). Instead, the taste on my tongue was a subtle twist on the “new normal”; what I call “grown up” chocolate, the knock-your-socks-off vibrancy of beans that have different flavor profiles instead of always tasting the same.

Found on the wrapper: “In this bar, we taste notes of classic dark chocolate, roasted almonds, and espresso.” My untrained tongue did not pick up on any of the roasted almond notes, but there were most definitely hints of espresso.  (It is actually quite amazing how many dark chocolates have coffee notes, despite not containing any coffee.)

High Time to Pick a Dandelion Chocolate

This is CHOCOLATE.  No flavorings, no emulsifiers.   All it takes to be an awesome chocolate is cocoa beans & sugar, carefully selected and ground and conched and tempered and packaged.

I understand the hype now.

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I’ve managed to (temporarily) pull myself away from reading about chocolate, photographing chocolate, and trying new chocolate (like Durci and Pump Street Bakery), to actually write about & show you a chocolate… namely Escazu’s Goat Milk bar.

I had the pleasure of trying this a few months ago.  (Yes, I’m that behind on my writing.)  (And yes, it is still true that nothing inside or outside my house is safe from my camera.  Including cactus.)

Escazu Goat Milk Chocolate

This bar is a 60% dark chocolate with goats milk, and, as with most bars of Venezuelan origin, it ended up making me giggle whenever I introduced it to my friends.  Why?  It just strikes me as funny that the beans went all the way from Venezuela to North Carolina to be made into chocolate bars, and then the chocolate bars went all the way to Oregon (among other places) to be sold, and then this particular bar came all the way back to Venezuela (albeit not the Carenero region) to be eaten.

Taste: Slightly tangy with a luxurious mouthfeel.  This was my first taste of goats milk chocolate and I liked it.

I need to publicly go on the record that I am NEVER TOUCHING CACTUSES CACTI AGAIN.  Maybe that will help me to remember.  I keep thinking that somehow *this time* I will manage not to touch the certain strategic spots that shed microscopic spiny hairs that so easily burrow into fingers and feet (don’t ask). Yet, every time, without fail, my promise to be very very careful always ends up with tears and tweezers involved.  Well, at least tweezers.

Don’t even get me started on the time I was 14 and somebody informed me that if the ripe cactus fruit was peeled properly that none of aforementioned microscopic hairs would end up in my mouth.  Either they were very wrong or the fruit was very incorrectly peeled.   While this particular cactus fruit is rather tasty, it was certainly not worth the evening of trying to get pricklies out.of.my.tongue.

We also have cacti that reach out and jump and attach themselves to any part of you that gets too close (Really!  I am practically not making this up), barrel cacti that have the cutest smooth-skinned pink fruits that taste sort of like kiwi (which are safe to eat, even if you don’t own tweezers), and…

Wait.  This is not a site about cactus.  It is about chocolate.

Escazu Goat Milk Chocolate Unwrapped

Escazu bars are available on multiple sites that sell craft chocolate.  I purchased mine via Chocolopolis. Come to think of it, Escazu chocolate more than likely available …let me check….yep…directly from the Escazu website.  Of course, if you happen to be in Raleigh, North Carolina, it might be easier (and lots more fun!) to visit the Escazu store itself.  Judging by their Instagram/Twitter feeds, there are also truffles and confections.

And ICE CREAM.

#notapaidadvertisement #justlovedtheirchocolate #andapparentlyIloverattlingonaboutcactusestoo

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You heard me.  Everyone wants me to have a meltdown. In fact, everyone I know wouldn’t mind if I had a meltdown every single week.

But it is not as bad as it sounds.  By meltdown, they don’t mean a hissy fit or dissolving into tears.  Instead, it means they’re waiting for me to literally melt down something brown and sweet and…yes, you knew this was going to involve chocolate somehow.

(Suddenly I am reminded of Rilla of Ingleside and her supposed overuse of italics. I always thought her use of italics was spot on.)

In short, me having a meltdown is code for me making fudge. Or chocolate mint thins.  Or truffles.  Naturally, there is photo evidence of my latest meltdown.

Everyone Wants Me to Have a Meltdown

Peanut butter truffles.   Yes, they are having a very bad hair day (or whatever you say when truffles start sweating because they don’t like the temperature of the photography studio place where I take photos).

The initial plan was to keep all the truffles. After all, it was a four day weekend (plenty of time for plenty of truffles) and there are some definite peanut-butter-lovers in my family (including the dog, who gets to lick the empty jar).  Yet somehow two truffles here and two truffles there went off to new homes and before I knew it there were ten missing. To any concerned parties who thought we were shorted on account of my unapologetic sharing tendencies, we STILL had plenty.  (But yes, I will make you more.  On your birthday.  Which I cannot be fooled into thinking is in March.)

Want to have your own meltdown?  I have some tips:

  • Always melt more chocolate than you think you’re going to need.  Because you can make all sorts of things with the leftovers.
  • Never let anybody watch you handle the chocolate because they will start marveling how it is possible for one person to leave chocolate on so many surfaces.
  • Also never let anyone know you are making anything because they will show up with puppy dog eyes begging for chunks of chocolate or truffle centers.
  • Always make sure there is room in the freezer/fridge BEFORE standing there with messy hands and a full sized pizza pan laden with truffles, wondering where you’re going to put it.
  • And last but not least…either portion off truffles so everyone has their own container, or insist on being around to divvy them up.

‘Cause otherwise they’re gone.

Ps.  The peanut butter truffle recipe is from Use Real Butter.

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“Waaaaaaait just one second,” I can hear you saying.  “Chocolate Recycling? How is that even possible?! Hasn’t she ever heard there are no recipes for leftover chocolate?” Yep. I have.  (Despite Googling just now and finding that to be a total untruth.)  But hear me out.  Part of my recycling story doesn’t involve chocolate itself, and part of my story involves the extra chocolate I melt with the express purpose of having enough leftover to “recycle” into my current favorite “I-made-it-myself” chocolate: Mint Thins

Chocolate Recycling - Homemade Mint Thins

These are incredibly simple and incredibly delicious.  They’re admittedly not the prettiest chocolates in the world, but I could round up at least a dozen people who would testify to the fact that the taste was good enough to make up for what these chocolates lack in the looks department.

Today’s post is brought to you today by the letter E (for Easy) and the number 2 (for the amount of ingredients needed).

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This, my friends, is the reigning champion of white chocolate in the entire world. Bar none.  Pun intended.

‘Icoa’ by El Rey.  (Here I go making chocolate sound like fine perfume again…)

Voted the best plain/origin white chocolate bar five times in a row by the International Chocolate Awards and very recently listed as one of the best white chocolates by Saveur, it ended up being a real treat to have this bar in my possession.

Obtaining it wasn’t the piece of cake I thought it was going to be.  Chocolates El Rey is local.  Pop into any large bodegon and there El Rey is.  Which is technically true.  That is, if you’re looking for 41% Caoba.  Or 58.5% Bucare.  Or 61% “Mijao, 70% Gran Saman, or 73.5% Apamate.  (I kid you not with the extra five tenths of a percent. I’m not making them up.)

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These wolves with the almost chocolate-brown-colored eyes posed beautifully.

Endanged Species Cranberry Almond Chocolate

However, there were still some hiccups when it came to getting this photo taken.

First, the cranberries kept disappearing.  It must have been the wolves’ fault.  Nobody else was around, yet I guarantee you the bowl of cranberries was noticeably less full at the end of the photoshoot than it was at the beginning.

Second, let it be known that glitter and fans do.not.play.nice.together.  (I certainly remembered in a hurry after turning the fan on!)

On the plus side, everything was sparkly by the end of the day and there was an abundance of Endangered Species Cranberry Almond Chocolate to savor.

And in my opinion, you can’t go wrong with sparkly and plenty of chocolate!