Monday, June 18, 2007

I'm back, and I'm still a Chocolate Snob.

Apologies - graduation (and the barrage of activities that go along with it) have held me captive for about the past two weeks. That isn't to say that I've stopped eating, though. Incidentally, three of the more memorable experiences this week involved food:

  • The post-commencement reception - besides the jumbo cocktail shrimp, my personal favorite was the Craisin/bleu cheese endive "boats."
  • Playing Apples to Apples - which really doesn't have to do with food, but for the fact that it's named after a food...or an idiom. Whew, I finally figured that out.
  • Accidentally eating rum-soaked pineapple at one open house. Because I've never had alcohol, I thought the pineapple was canned in sugar water. Until after my third piece, I wondered why the chocolate fountain was so...bitter.
That said, I absolutely love dark chocolate. For the past few years, I have had trouble eating Hershey's chocolate (with the exception of recently-released Coconut Hershey's Kisses) as a result of its sour milk taste.

Last week, I made a trip to Whole Foods. Not including local chocolatiers (e.g. Bellaria Bakery, Just Truffles, BT McElrath, etc.) this is the place to go for good chocolate - to clarify, chocolate bars that don't empty my wallet.

Or at least, where I took a pilgrimage a la Steve Almond. His hilarious book, Candyfreak - specifically, the chapter on Lake Champlain chocolates - took me on a search for Five Star Bars to celebrate the end of finals.

My first find, the Fruit and Nut Bar ($2.49) was beyond brilliant. A quick disclaimer: the bar is about the size of a tiny 1" by 2" brick. But it's also as dense as one, which makes it about $1.25 an ounce - a fairly reasonable price. The Gianduja chocolate cut easily with a butter knife and melted in my mouth; there was just the right amount of fruit and nut (dried cherries) so that it didn't taste like trail mix. It also held well in my Tupperware for a few days - the chocolate was (enjoyably) rich enough to consume in three sittings.

The alleged crown jewel of the Five Star Bars, the Hazelnut Bar ($2.99), was more difficult to find. Before I searched Whole Foods, I tried to custom-order a box from Byerly's (which didn't work out). Unfortunately, as my search continued, my expectations had grown so high that when I finally found the Hazelnut Bar, it was a letdown. Steve Almond's account of the chocolate absolutely made me swoon, but in actuality, the chocolate seemed more cream than actual chocolate, and the sugar content made it hard to swallow without the chocolate coating my throat. The feuilletine (or "vanilla-infused geometric planes" as Almond calls them) were a nifty, crunchy little touch, especially when I cut the thick bar into cross-sections, but overall, the bar was too rich for my taste.

Moving on to different brands, I tried the Chocolove 55% cocoa with raspberries bar. Initially, I was attracted to the fact that 1) it was on sale ($2 for 3.2 ounces) and 2) it had a love poem as an insert.

I was also disappointed with this bar. The chocolate wasn't a problem, but the raspberries were a distraction. What had been advertised as "crispy bits of raspberry infused to flavor" was basically the same freeze-dried stuff found in Special K berry cereal, only in less generous quantities. The love poem was just English and obscure enough to seem trendy, and to apparently "accommodate" the poem, the large paper wrapper had made the chocolate bar seem thicker than it actually was.

Finally, I bought the Dolfin Chocolate Noir au the Earl Grey ($3.99 for 2.47 ounces). This 52% cocoa minimum came in a checkbook-sized, plastic-covered envelope. Major points for presentation (although it was covered by the price). There was no signs of caloric content, and so I cheerfully indulged over the past week. It was good, but try as I might, I could not taste the Earl Grey tea in the chocolate. There was no sense of bergamot (which gives Earl Grey its distinctive taste), although the chocolate did have some "grit" to it. Some of the bar tasted like coffee grounds - which wasn't a bad thing, texturally. The problem was that they were just tea bits without flavor.

Although most chocolate bars come in squares, I have a problem with this. First, squares are hard to remove from a bar. You have to break the bar in one direction, and then in the other. The Dolfin solved this problem by simply dividing the chocolate in little vertical chunks. I would also argue that triangle shaped pieces (not like Tolberone, though - those things are tough!) on a flat plane would do the trick. They tend to break the bar "naturally" and are easier to nibble on.

Lastly - now that we're on the subject of Earl Grey tea - did you know that Twinings makes a female equivalent called Lady Grey? Kind of sounds like the reverse situation as Men's Pocky.


Paul said...

Oh, dark chocolate is so my god. Although, to be honest, I've never even heard of the bars you've mentioned...

For the record, my favorite pre-packaged dark chocolate delicacies are Milky Way Midnights (absolutely to die for) and any sort of Dove Dark. And absolutely anything by Ghirardelli is pretty much guaranteed to be amazing.

- Paul

P.S. Everybody loves a few blog stalkers, right? :D

Casey said...

You might want to try Chocolat Celeste and Legacy Chocolates when you are in the Twin Cities. Better than McElrath.

Heidi Liu said...

Agreed - I will probably head to Legacy next time. I've tried Chocolat Celeste, and I do like it quite a bit - especially texture-wise.