Stand-By Chocolate: When the Going Gets Tough

When the going gets tough, the tough hide under the table, so says Blackadder at some point in series 3, I think it is.

I like good chocolate. I generally like expensive chocolate. Good quality, lovingly made, delicious chocolate.

Sometimes, though (and women the world over will probably agree on when those times might be), times are too tough for the good stuff. Expensive chocolate needs good times and happy moments to be enjoyed properly. Sometimes, the tough times happen too frequently to afford the expensive stuff.

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And in those times, it helps to have an affordable alternative. My preferred alternative is a good fruit and nut. Preferably with hazelnuts as the nut. Almonds just aren’t the same. And peanuts are vile.

What’s your stand-by chocolate?

VCT: Dominican Republic

I am strongly of the opinion that my world-geography knowledge will be vastly increased by the time I have completed this Tour.

I will admit that I had no idea where the Dominican Republic was, but I didn’t think it was where it is. Which is in the Caribbean, on one side of the island which is also home to Haiti. Which I did know was somewhere in that direction.

Named after St Dominic, patron saint of astronomers and the falsely accused, the Dominican Republic (according to Wikipedia; I know, how terrible a source) is home to the first cathedral, monastery, castle, and fortress built in the Americas, and the Colonial Zone, where they are to be found, is now a World Heritage Site.

My image of the Caribbean is one of rum, and spices, and warm beaches, and cool cocktails. It’s also coloured by a recipe I have for a Creole Christmas cake that puts my alcohol-soaked cakes to shame…

However, the chocolate this week is another Moser Roth bar from Aldi, so there’s a description on the back. It reckons this 75% plain chocolate has “fruity notes in combination with rich dark nuances”.

As with the other Moser Roth chocolates, this uses FairTrade ingredients, and is 99.5% FairTrade.

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I’m not sure about the fruity notes – so far all I’m getting is a nutty flavour, kind of like a walnut with that brown skin left on – but this is certainly a very rich, dark chocolate. It breaks cleanly and melts smoothly on the tongue and it tastes, very definitely, of cacao.

In fact, it reminds me of a Death by Chocolate cake made by a lady in the parish where I grew up, and which was just the best chocolate cake ever. I continue to regret that I never got the recipe from her before she died.

It was the sort of chocolate cake which made no allowances for the taste-buds of small children. You know how chocolate recipes often say to use milk chocolate if making for youngsters? This cake was chocolate, through and through; a rich, dark, sticky, cake with dark chocolate fudge icing. It was, actually, the colour of this 75% Dominican Republic.

I think it sits at level pegging with the Peruvian 62%, for the memories of Sylvia’s Death by Chocolate alone. But it is a good chocolate, which tastes how chocolate should.

Chocolate Tasting and Marshmallows

I’m having a month off from my Chocolate Tour.

Okay, what I really mean is that I’ve run out of single-origins and haven’t got around to finding more yet. And I think my writing camp this month is going to be enough ‘travelling’ for me. One trip at a time, after all.

I have, though, got a bit of light reading for round the camp-fire which has nothing to do with my writing plans: A Chocolate Tasting Kit, which I stumbled across during a browse of the book-section in my local TKMaxx.

I (almost) couldn’t resist. I wanted to find out if the language of chocolate tasting is as pretentious as wine tasting. Going by the descriptions I’ve read, it certainly has the potential for it. I am disappointed, though, that there was a lack of a chocolate bar in the kit. Can’t have everything, I suppose.

Instead, I have a camping favourite. Marshmallows. Only, naturally, mine are chocolate-covered. Just right for the beginning of the camp…

VCT: Ecuador

I was going to remain in Africa for my Chocolate Tour, go to Ghana this week, but I changed my mind. The Ghanian 35% I found was too floral, too perfumed, for my liking, and I want to find a darker chocolate before I pass judgement.

So, instead, I’ve gone to Ecuador via Marks & Spencers, who offered a 72% bar. They also had an absolutely delicious 52% Peruvian with Clementine. (NB: I haven’t received anything from M&S. Or from anyone with regards this Chocolate Tour.)

So, Ecuador. It lies to the west of Peru; indeed, it used to be a part of the Incan Empire before Spain and the Europeans arrived with their nasty foreign white-man diseases. The name, the Republic of Ecuador, is the Republic of the Equator, and the official language is Spanish.

Given how much I enjoyed the Peruvian bars, I’m hoping the relative closeness of the two countries will offer similar chocolates. It comes in a handy, indulgence-friendly 35g bar. Almost as helpful as the Moser Roth packs of 25g bars.

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Like Tesco, M&S hasn’t bothered with fancy packaging or a wine-like description. Just a simple, brown wrapping. Unlike the Tesco Côte d’Ivoire, this M&S Ecuadorian bar is a decent bar of chocolate.

This is a smooth, rich chocolate with undertones of coffee. I dislike drinking chocolate, but I’ve always liked the combination of coffee and chocolate. A family ritual when I was growing up was a monthly treat of cappuccino chocolate from the FairTrade stall at church.

I’ve always liked the Hotel Chocolat cacao-nibs (so good for energy levels), but I’ve had a harder time finding them recently. With its coffee flavours, I’d say this Ecuadorian chocolate makes quite a good substitute. I can just feel the caffeine flooding my veins…

 

 

VCT: Côte d’Ivoire

I think I might have said that I was only going to ‘travel’ to one chocolate-country per month. Well, scratch that. I shall ‘travel’ as I find the chocolate.

Today, I’m off to Africa. To the Ivory Coast. Currently, the world’s largest producer of chocolate, and a place riven with war, which is bad news for chocolate-lovers. Tends to push the price of cocoa beans up, particularly when the outside world imposes tariffs and what-not in sanctions.

As the name suggests, originally the major export in this part of West Africa was not chocolate, but teeth. Tusks. Ivory.

Colonised by the French, this is still the official language, and it trades mainly in chocolate and coffee. Two things which go so very nicely together (not that I’m a huge fan of drinking coffee).

My chocolate is a 74% plain bar from Tesco. In its bid for plain packaging (I presume), Tesco doesn’t bother with any advertorial blurb on the back, no flowery description of how it will taste. I’m going to hazard a guess that whoever produced the packaging doesn’t much care for chocolate. Or they think chocolate is chocolate is chocolate. Doesn’t matter where it comes from. How wrong they are…

This is darker than the Peruvian bar from last time, by 12%. It has an earthier taste; one which I could almost describe as “dirty”, in the sense that it’s a grainier chocolate with a dusty sort of taste.

I feel, really, like I need another bar of Côte d’Ivoire chocolate of the same strength to compare it against. I have suspicions given that it came from Tesco. My experience of Tesco basics chocolate (compared against, for example, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, even Aldi or Lidl) is that there is no comparison. I avoid Tesco basic chocolate at all costs. It made some of the worst truffles I have ever made, and it is difficult to screw up my truffle recipe. I feel that someone who can’t manage basics chocolate probably can’t manage more expensive chocolate.

On my running score-board, Peru is top. Unless I find a non-Tesco Côte d’Ivoire to be a better experience. Anyone know where I can find one easily?

VCT: Peru

I begin my Chocolate Tour in Peru, home of Machu Pichu and the Inca people. OK, actually in Aldi with their Moser Roth 62% Peruvian chocolate.

My image of Peru is one of blue skies and sand underfoot, an image derived from my grandmother’s holidays photos over a decade ago. And silver.  Lots of silver, probably because she brought us girls back pieces of Peruvian silver jewellery.

My research tells me this image is perhaps not wholly incorrect, but Peru doesn’t have a single climate. It ranges from the sandy Pacific coast to the rainforests of the Amazon to the mountains of the Andes.

The chocolate – I’ve no idea what type; the packet doesn’t say – is a rich dark chocolate. In the way of wines, different regions produce different flavours in the cacao bean. The chocolate packet tells me that Peru’so climate, ideal for the cacao tree, produces a fruity cacao flavour.

Whether or not it’s because of the climate, I don’t know, but certainly,  beneath the pleasingly roasted tones, I detect the hint of red fruits. Of Autumn berries and bonfire smoke.

It actually put me in mind of a delicious red wine I had recently, of which, for once, I could actually smell and taste the fruits the label suggested I should – the Portuguese Lobo e Falcao, if you’re interested; very smooth, very delicious.

Back to the chocolate. Aldi sells it in packets of five individually wrapped bars of 25g. This is ideal if you’re the sort of person who can’t just eat four squares of an open bar and leave it at that.

The ingredients are limited – cacao mass and butter, sugar, emulsifier, and ground vanilla – and 99.5% certified fair trade. The bars snap cleanly and the texture is consistent. Across all five bars. Had to check to make sure.

All in all, the Moser Roth 62% Peruvian single origin chocolate is a wonderful chocolate experience. Highly recommended.

VCT: Types of Chocolate

There’s more to chocolate than Dark, Milk, White. In fact, some countries (naming no names, but a lot of mainland Europe) don’t even recognise White chocolate as chocolate. No cacao liquor (solids), you see. White chocolate is sweetened cacao butter.

But this isn’t what I’m talking about. Chocolate is made from the bean of the cacao tree, and there’s more than one variety of cacao tree.

The most common bean, which accounts for about 80-90% of cacao production, is the Forastero. Least common is the Criollo bean, which is considered a delicacy probably because of its scarcity. In between the two is a hybrid, the Trinitario, which was created when Trinidad’s criollo population was almost destroyed by storms.

The criollo trees have the disadvantage of lower yields and being more susceptible to disease, which makes it an impractical sort of tree from a business point-of-view. I’m hoping to come across some criollo chocolate in my travels. Having said that, I appear to have Peruvian criollo cacao liquor on my eBay watch-list. Perhaps I’ll make my own.

The Trinitario tree has higher yields than the criollo, and is more resistant to disease, and is considered to be a better quality bean than the Forastero. It has, however, a limited reach, being grown in few cacao-producing countries – Trinidad, Venezuala and Columbia. This I do not have on my eBay watch-list, so I might have to try harder to find some on my Tour.

And then we come to the Forastero. Which is pretty much every chocolate bar out there. I’m guessing differences in flavour will come about from other influences on the tree as it grows, from its environment. Like honey tasting of the flowers the bees took nectar from.

And since white chocolate doesn’t contain cacao solids, I shan’t, often, be tasting it on my Tour. My aim is to taste the darker chocolates, but I know I have a Ghanian milk chocolate lined up. I hope to find a range of each single-origin, but this may not always be possible. At least, not all at the same time for comparison.