I broke a rule. I’m not feeling too awful about it at the moment since it is (was?) a self-imposed rule, and a rather silly one at that. It went something like this: Only ever buy one bar from each chocolate company, and then move on to another chocolate company (the point being to try chocolate from as many different companies as possible). (This rule mainly applied to imported craft chocolate and did not extend to local favorites such as Franceschi, Chocolates Paria, etc. etc.)

Omnom Lakkris Licorice Icelandic Chocolate

The problem with the rule is that too many chocolate makers make such intriguing flavors that oftentimes I can’t help but want to try more than one.  However,  “the rule” pretty much kept me in check until last winter, when this licorice* lover caved and purchased the Omnom Lakkris + Sea Salt bar, despite already having had the now-discontinued Omnom Dark milk + Burned Sugar bar. (That’s not all. There was also a 2nd Charmschool and a 2nd Fruition involved, but that’s a story for another day…)

The clever wrapper revealed a caramel-color bar sectioned off into odd shapes of various sizes. Biting into one of those shapes revealed a wonder; a creamy, caramel-y, tangy, licorice-y perfection with just a taste of saltiness.

Resisting the temptation to eat the whole bar in one sitting, I saved some samples.   Slowly, after weeks of Saturday photography sessions, there were enough samples to make up little tasting trays to deliver to friends.  Next step: waiting for feedback.  Especially of interest to me was feedback from the the white chocolate lovers
and the licorice lovers. It didn’t take long for the reports to come in.

Omnom Lakkris Licorice Chocolate Unwrapped

“That licorice one from Iceland was AMAZING.” Yeah no kidding.
“That white chocolate, the one with the licorice…it was AWESOME.” Agreed.
“Did you get that here?!” Uh, no. Sorry. I’d love to say I brought back from my latest trip to Reykjavik,
the truth is I’ve never been to Reykjavik and probably never will go to Reykjavik. Going to Reykjavik is called traveling and I don’t seem to do much or any of that…unless you count my taste buds getting to travel the world thanks to chocolate.

It’s been months since we tried this bar but it is certainly not forgotten. “That licorice one from Iceland” (which is obviously much easier to remember than “Omnom Lakkris“) comes up in conversation now and then, always with a rather starry gaze of fond remembrance.

Even the resident Mr. “I don’t eat white chocolate because it isn’t chocolate” ate two pieces and probably
would have eaten a third if he’d had the option. (Sadly he didn’t; the resident craft chocolate dictator (me!) dictated that some must be saved for those who really appreciate white chocolate even when it doesn’t have licorice or come from such an exotic locale.)

As for the self-imposed rule, so far I’ve remained impervious to getting a third bar from Omnom.
Of course that may have something to do with not being able to ship in chocolate for nine months out of the year.
I have it on good authority from friends that the Coffee Omnom bar is also amazing….

Alaina Cursive Signature

 

 

*There’s licorice and there’s LICORICE. If you ask me, hard waxy stuff isn’t licorice. On the other hand, the
soft, chewy, almost melt-in-your-mouth stuff made by Panda? Now that’s LICORICE.

Solstice Madagascar Chocolate

What have we here?  Why it’s Solstice Madagascar Chocolate

Simplistic, well-thought-out and cheerful packaging (resealable in case I ever ate my chocolate in more than one sitting) and oh the taste… I tasted wonderfully fruity notes and the mouthfeel is incredible.

Solstice Chocolate is made in Salt Lake City Utah (Utah is home to quite a few chocolate makers, and that’s exactly the reason I’d love to go to Utah!)

The chocolate itself was bright and cheerful looking (with what I’d describe as little suns on each square) but unfortunately I didn’t get any pictures of the chocolate itself to turn out (at least nothing that would hold a candle to the one above)!

The other Solstice origins come highly recommended.

My next pick would be their Dark Milk (my favorite type of chocolate).

Alaina Cursive Signature

 

Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap.
It was a Saturday morning a few weeks ago around 6:30.
Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap.
I was still half asleep, trying to figure out why it sounded like somebody was hammering a nail into the wall to hang up a picture at such an early hour.
Tap tap tap tap tap tap tap tap.
I opened my eyes and focused in on the rare sight of a gorgeous, bright red cardinal, industriously attacking my window with his beak. (Either he wasn’t pleased with his reflection or he was trying to get in because he could see my insanely colorful bouquet of mixed photo prop flowers and was convinced they were real.)

“Hey, pretty bird.” He cocked his head.” “Yes, you.” He stopped tapping. “You’re gorgeous.” At which point he literally bowed, puffed out his chest (more than a little bit), and said, “I KNOW.”

He very boldly kept up the tapping and/or hanging around my window for close to an hour.  I was allowed to take all the blurry photos and videos I wanted to from a distance, but if I tried to get close enough to take a decent shot, he’d flit just out of range to the nearest tree / cactus / aloe plant, wait just long enough for me to give up, and then come back and start tap tap tap tap tap tap tapping again.

That very same Saturday, I happened to photograph this chocolate:

Hogarth Gianduia Chocolate Still Life Photo

Hogarth Gianduia Chocolate (I purchased mine via Bar and Cocoa.)

It posed so much better than the cardinal did! I marveled at the packaging; thick paper with engraved waves that can be felt on both sides. I may have squealed a little when seeing the intricately molded bar in person. The taste outdid expectations (which were high); think a posh Nutella in bar form without the palm oil; a mouthwatering hazelnut dark chocolate. “You’re gorgeous AND delicious,” I told the chocolate.  At which point it said, “I KNOW. I’ve got a GOLD international chocolate award and a GOLD academy of chocolate award to prove it.”

To anybody who may have seen me outside that day at 3pm, standing motionless in the sun, gingerly balancing a chocolate bar on its foil wrapper for about 1 minute and 45 seconds: I was not going crazy. I was sunning this bar. It sadly had to be stored in the fridge (otherwise it would be PUDDING) and therefore it was looking a little grey and buttery (as cold chocolate is prone to do).  There was a very brief discussion about steaming it or wiping it to make it look picture-perfect but then it was decided maybe a minute or two in the sun was a better option. It was just the ticket; the chocolate changed colors beautifully and then I whisked it inside to do this with it:

Hogarth Gianduia Chocolate Unwrapped Stilllife

Gorgeous, no?

The irony of my chocolate getting to travel far more than I do was not lost on me as I stood there in the sun, holding a chocolate made in New Zealand, using beans grown in Puerto Cabello Venezuela, that was shipped to the U.S.A. to be sold, and then shipped back to Venezuela to me!

The cardinal has visited almost every morning and continues to tap on several different windows.  (I’m almost positive he has figured out which window to visit at which times to get the maximum amount of attention.)
My sister says the bird needs a name.
My brother has taken to calling him Mr. Tappy Face.
I think we should name him Hogarth.

Hogarth The Cardinal

(When I said he would only allow me close enough to take blurry photos, I wasn’t kidding!)

Finally I found a chocolate that the whole family can agree on:
The Tea Room Jasmine Green Tea Chocolate

The Tea Room Jasmine Green Tea Chocolate

Usually the dark chocolate lovers find milk chocolate too sweet. And the milk chocolate lovers find the dark chocolate too…well…dark. (They’re the ones that go around chanting “N-E-S-T-L-E-S makes the very best CHOC-LATE” repeatedly…. while grinning incessantly… while I playfully plug my ears and chant “I-can’t-hear-you”. I don’t deny eating Nestles chocolate, but as for it being the very best, don’t get me started!)

If my chocolate photography session is going swimmingly I may open up to 3 chocolates in a single afternoon, which ends up being the cause of some confusion regarding everyone keeping track of their favorite. “I think the one I liked the best was the one that had the stuff in it, not the one that was darker and not the one you said was made in….wherever.” (I know. They’re very specific.)

In the case of The Tea Room Jasmine Green Tea Chocolate I received immediate feedback that this one was GOOD.  Jasmine tea and tangerine essence are an excellent flavor pairing; the chocolate itself was admittedly very sweet (which can be a nice change when tasted alongside two 70% chocolates)!  It’s not handcrafted bean to bar chocolate (unless I read all the wrong resources online), but on the other hand it wasn’t as pricey either.

Note: I purchased mine from iherb.  On Amazon it is only available in packs of 12 … too many at once for me! A month or so after tasting it I did go ahead and get a second bar and learned I am just as unspecific as the rest of the family.  “So what is this?” “Oh it’s that one you liked a few weeks ago.”  “I liked several a few weeks ago!”

Good point.

There’s a day for everything.  (Like Lima Bean Respect Day. That’s April 20th… in case you want to mark your calendar.) My ears perked up when I heard today was National Chocolate Mint Day.  I happen to be a big mint chocolate fan.  In case you’re looking for suggestions on which chocolates with mint to try, I happen to have a few:

National Chocolate Mint Day Alter Eco Truffles

Alter Eco Organic Dark Mint Truffles:  These literally melt in your mouth.  The ingredients are simply cocoa powder, cocoa butter, coconut oil, whole milk powder, peppermint oil, vanilla beans, and raw cane sugar.  Bonus: The wrappers do not contain plastic and therefore are entirely compostable!

Endangered Species Deep Forest Mint: Refreshing mint taste!

Equal Exchange Mint Crunch Chocolate

Equal Exchange Chocolate Mint:  Love how crunchy and minty it is!

Madecasse Mint Crunch:  I’ve heard a lot of good things about Madecasse recently but am not sure if I have tried their mint bar yet.  But I will! I have a bar and hope to get to it soon.  I’ll try to report back!

Ritter Sport Peppermint: Because I can’t resist the cool mint oozing out of each square of chocolate….

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! 🙂Save

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 it 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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