SF Chocolate Salon

March 18, 2009

The 3rd Annual San Francisco International Chocolate Salon is coming up on Saturday, March 21. After attending the past two chocolate salons, I’m excited about this year, especially since it’s been ramped up.

The number of participating “chocolatiers, confectioners, wineries, and other culinary artisans” has increased from around 30 in 2008 to over 50.  It does look like only about 40 of the participants are chocolate companies, with other participants ranging from a company with a chocolate video game to the New York Times.

Even more exciting: the salon will be taking place in a larger space at the Fort Mason center, with ten times the space of 2008. Having space to move around will definitely lead to more chocolate enjoyment, especially when I think back on last year’s overcrowdedness and cramped space.  Some of my favorites from last year (Amano, Coco Delice, Poco Dolce) will be attending, and I’m looking forward to learning about new companies.


Amano Jembrana 70%

February 28, 2009

Amano Jembrana

Ingredients: Cocoa beans, pure cane sugar, cocoa butter, whole vanilla beans.

This 70% Jembrana bar comes from Amano, one of my favorite chocolate makers.  It’s made with beans from the southwest coast of Bali.  I love the new packaging of the bars.  Each one features different artwork – in this case, a piece by Martina Shapiro.

The flavor starts out earthy, very chocolatey and deep, before bright, fruity notes pop up to lighten the taste.  Some hints of citrus rind emerge, before it reaches a nutty end.

Like other Amano chocolate bars I’ve tasted, I loved the complexity of flavors.  Based on the bars I’ve tried, I’m not surprised that all five of Amano’s bars received medals at the 2009 Academy of Chocolate Awards.  I’m looking forward to seeing Amano at the SF Chocolate Salon in late March – hopefully, they’ll bring something new along!

Recchiuti Fleur de Sel and Cardamom Nougat

February 22, 2009

Recchiuti Confections (smushed)

Whenever I’m near the Ferry Building in San Francisco, I have to avoid going inside unless I’m prepared to buy a few pieces from Recchiuti Confections.  Take, for example, a couple of weekends ago when I had gone downtown to buy some chocolate from TCHO (review coming soon!), and had some time to kill before a movie.  Since I’d just spent money on chocolate, I thought I wouldn’t end up buying more, but of course I was incorrect…

I picked out two pieces, which got a little smushed in my bag:

Fleur de Sel Caramel: Dark chocolate encases a dense, chewy caramel. As the caramel is flavored with salt, it comes out in small bursts.  Small, but complex in flavor.

Cardamom Nougat: Delicious chocolate ganache with subtle cardamom flavoring. I didn’t really taste the cacao nib nougat.  Looks like my piece didn’t get much dripped on top?  I still enjoyed it, though.

Both were solid pieces, what I expect from Recchiuti.

What really drove me to stop and purchase something at Recchiuti rather than stopping and checking out new products, like I did at the Scharffen Berger store, was the great customer service.  As soon we approached Recchiuti, we were offered hot chocolate, and the employees seemed friendly and approachable.  If I hadn’t been planning on buying Tcho chocolate, I probably wouldn’t have gotten any, because the employee there didn’t even look up from her computer when we were in the otherwise empty store.  I really appreciate how Recchiuti employees are always friendly, no matter how busy they are – chocolate and good feelings should always go hand in hand!

Christopher Elbow & J Chocolatier

January 26, 2009

Biagio Chocolate Box

Having missed good chocolate while I was in India, I was thrilled to receive this 4-piece box when I returned.  Riley’s sister Meghan picked these pieces at Biagio Fine Chocolate, a store in Washington, D.C.  They carry a range of bars and filled chocolates, and it looks like they host events like chocolate tastings.

The box contained one piece from Christopher Elbow and three pieces from J Chocolatier.

Banana Curry (Christopher Elbow): The chocolate covering was very delicate and smooth.  At first bite, I thought the piece might taste too sweet, but the banana flavor wasn’t overwhelming.  The curry spices came out and tempered the banana.  Nicely done.

Warm Clove (J Chocolatier): Very fragrant.  Tiny flecks of clove in the ganache make the filling a little granier than I would like, but not something that I would dislike.  I tasted black tea.

Ugly Butter (J Chocolatier): I had no idea what this piece would be like.  Based on the name, I guessed that it would contain butter, but I wasn’t sure why it had that bumpy shape.  It looked like it could contain a whole nut, like an almond.  It turned out that it contained a buttery ganache in the center.  Nothing really special, but I like the odd shape.

Fleur de Sel Caramel (J Chocolatier): Flakes of salt on the top of the piece gave it an immediate shock of saltiness.  The caramel within was nice and runny, and melded well with the salt and chocolate shell.  The dark chocolate complemented the caramel and salt.  After eating, the saltiness lingered on the tongue.

I enjoyed all of the pieces, but the ugly butter wasn’t as interesting flavor-wise as the others.  It’s not that a simple ganache isn’t good enough, but the subtle flavor combinations in the three pieces really worked for me.

Christopher Norman Dark Chocolate Blood Orange Bar

January 19, 2009

Christopher Norman Dark Chocolate Blood Orange

Ingredients: Bitter Sweet Chocolate [Cocoa Liquor, Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Lecithin, Vanilla], Candied Blood Oranges, Corn Syrup. Min. 64% cocoa content.

Last year I picked up this little bar from Christopher Norman Chocolates, a company based in New York City.  It starts out with the dry, bitter taste of orange rind.  As the chocolate melts, the sweet blood orange tastes develops.  The core of the bar tastes a bit fudgy, but not creamy like a truffle.  Bits of orange peel add to the flavor.  The bar is all right, but something about it turned me off – maybe the fudgy texture.  It doesn’t seem as fresh to me as other chocolate bars.  I do like the orange and chocolate combination, though.

Shaman’s Heart: Organic Dark Chocolate with Ruby Raspberries

January 15, 2009

Shaman's Heart

Ingredients: Organic dark chocolate (organic sugar, organic chocolate liquor [non-alcoholic], organic cocoa butter, soy lecithin*, organic vanilla), and dried raspberries.

After a long, mostly chocolate-free vacation, I can’t wait to dig in to my chocolate stash.  Unfortunately, I’m getting over a cold and cough, and can’t really taste much right now.  I tried this fair trade, organic chocolate bar from Shaman Chocolates late last year.  The company was created by a Huichol shaman and healer, and all profits support Huichol villages in Central America.

At first, I found the bar odd – I’m not sure how to describe the way it melts.  It doesn’t taste really chocolatey, except near the end of the melt.  It’s not creamy exactly, but melts in different globs, and makes me think more of sugar and maybe cocoa butter.  I do like it, though I’m not sure why.  I like the tiny bits of tart raspberry; they remind me of freeze dried fruit, and their size and texture keep the bar from tasting overly sweet.  A pretty good bar, but I’d have to try something else from Shaman Chocolates to get a better sense of their chocolate.

Godiva European Dessert Truffles

November 16, 2008

Godiva truffles

I got a postcard in the mail to sample two truffles from Godiva’s European Dessert Truffle collection.  I don’t especially care for Godiva; their truffles are generally too sweet, and their fruity truffles taste like jam rather than fresh fruit.  Still, I can’t say no to free chocolate, so I stopped by a store today.

I asked the salesperson if she had any favorites in the group, which includes Creme Brulee and Bananas Foster, and she admitted that she didn’t.  She said she didn’t like fruity truffles (which I understand, if you’re selecting from Godiva pieces), so the only one she sort of liked was the Chocolate Souffle.  I picked that truffle, as well as the Caramelized Apple Tarte.

Caramelized Apple Tarte: Very sweet.  The filling is all right – tastes like caramelized apple, with sugar, apple, and plenty of cinnamon.  The milk chocolate shell is very sweet and creamy, and the chocolate flavor is barely noticeable.

Chocolate Souffle: The filling is mousse-like, though still a little dense, and not as fluffy as the Dutch bonbons I’ve had before.  Even though this truffle has a dark chocolate shell, it’s still overly sweet, as is the filling.

I guess if you like sweet bonbons and don’t particularly care if the taste of chocolate is prominent, then the caramelized apple tarte truffle might work for you.  The chocolate souffle truffle is more chocolatey, but boring in comparison, and not good enough at what it does to merit purchasing.  I’d recommend avoiding Godiva, unless you’re going for the G collection, created by Norman Love.

Scharffen Berger Finisterra 72%

November 13, 2008

Scharffen Berger Finisterra

Scharffen Berger Finisterra 10th Anniversary Limited Series Blend, featuring cacao from Venezuela, Trinidad, & Madagascar.

Ingredients: Cacao beans, sugar, cocoa butter, non-GMO soy lecithin, whole vanilla beans.

Scharffen Berger came out with this blended bar to celebrate their tenth anniversary; they named it Finisterra, Latin for “land’s end,” to represent their “search for the world’s best cacao”.

It’s fruity to start – some berry, then develops into citrus.  The finish tastes like rind and wood, but also spicy.  Scharffen Berger’s done well with this blend; it has a good amount of complexity, with a mildly bitter finish that still feels light.  It’s a good fit for fall.

Coco-luxe truffles

August 10, 2008

Coco-luxe Confections, a Bay Area-based chocolate company, recently opened a retail store in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury district.  Though it was too warm out to try a drink from their hot chocolate selection, when I stopped by this afternoon I picked up four truffles: German Chocolate, Double Cherry, Mocha, and After Dinner Mint.

German Chocolate: Tastes sweet, not chocolatey.  The coconut bits work well, though – they’re moist, unlike the dry pieces in some chocolate.  While it had all the elements – chocolate, coconut, pecan – my co-tester thought it needed more of a German chocolate taste.  I know that this isn’t what Coco-luxe was going for, but I think that a dark chocolate coconut piece would work better.

Double Cherry: Definitely the winner in this group.  Intense cherry burst, followed by dark chocolate during the melt.  I’m surprised that I liked this piece since I usually dislike cherry flavor.  However, while the cherry flavor is strong, the piece avoids a syrupy sweetness with a hint of tartness.

Mocha: Way too gritty, which is a shame, because the subtle coffee flavor might have worked with a smooth ganache.  Since both the coffee and chocolate flavors are subtle, the grittiness is overwhelming, but I doubt that bolder flavors could save this piece.

After Dinner Mint: Smooth, soft ganache, in great contrast to the mocha piece.  The mint flavor was strong in my first nibble, but mellowed out as a I ate more.  The dark chocolate is very present in the taste.  Good balance between the mint and chocolate.

Overall, the truffles varied from surprisingly good (Double Cherry) to mediocre (Mocha).  The truffles were attractive, and the outer layer was good, thin and soft, not hard to bite into.  However, in two out of the four pieces I tasted, the flavors in the ganache need tweaking in order to be successful.

[In the efforts of full disclosure, I was afraid that I might be predisposed to disklike Coco-luxe because of of something their founder, Stephanie Marcon, say in an SFist.com interview: “Who has time to read?”  Really?  However, I take chocolate too seriously to let a statement like that sway my opinions.]

Super Intense Chocolate Chip Cookies

July 17, 2008

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I see chocolate-related recipes that I want to try all the time, but this recipe for chocolate chip cookies in the New York Times and the related article filled with secrets sounded too good to pass over.  Since the cookies were so large, I halved the recipe and made 9 cookies instead of 18.  I ended up refrigerating the dough for 48 hours; when I pulled it out of the fridge, it was too hard to scoop out, so I let it sit out before molding them by hand.  There seemed to be a huge amount of chocolate in the dough, but since I used discs and not chips, there was a good ratio of cookie-to-chocolate.  I used two percentages of El Rey chocolate discs, 61% and 73.5%.  El Rey chocolate is pretty fruity, so it worked well in the cookies.

The cookies turned out to be tasty and addictive – crispy on the outside, and soft and chewy in the center.  Although I didn’t test to see whether the refrigeration period makes a difference, and vacuum sealing might have the same effect on the dough, the build up to the cookies made them even tastier.