Dark ChocolateBy amy • • Oct 25th, 2008 • Category: Columns, Pantry Items, Snacks, Sweets
Scream–and scream again! This year, Shelf Life will offer a distinctly different Halloween experience. In addition to the traditional skeletons and jack-o’-lanterns, our humble front yard will feature contemporary, real-world horrors.
Come hither, little children, if you dare. Check out the loud speakered, spooky voice rising from the mist, intoning: Our economy is fundamentally sound. Bankers gibber and cavort, their mouths bloody with red ink. Undead investment advisors climb from an open grave. Then — as rivers of liquidity plunge straight to Hell — Mom shuffles into view, her eyes glazed with madness. “Bad news, kids,” she says, “the adults are keeping the good stuff this year. You’re getting the cheap chocolate.”
The world is scary, and also full of scary sweets. Everyone knows that when people feel bad, they eat chocolate. The trick is not to make a difficult situation worse: not to feel miserable and also eat miserable chocolate. But on All Hallows Eve, a time of devilry and deception, how can anyone be sure that their chocolate is all treat and no trick? Shelf Life has our own checklist de cacao: (1) Chocolate must be at least 70% dark (we prefer our pleasures fully loaded); (2) it must evoke the qualities of night, such as elusiveness, sensation and depth; (3) it must be so compelling that it cannot be eaten witlessly, i. e., while watching Law … Order or checking Facebook; (4) it must at least hint at being made by gnarled artisans from a two-shrub village on a faraway mountain; and (5) it cannot be denied. And boy do we need it. This year, kids, your average embattled grown-up craves something more than the usual chompers’ chocolate. You’ll find us on the dark side.
Ready to turn into zombie slaves of the bean are this week’s judges: food stylist Crystal Asher, creator/associate producer of the Food Network’s Chef School; food writer, filmmaker, and oenophile Kim Gertler; and creatrix supreme Dufflet Rosenberg of Dufflet Pastries outlets and Dufflet Small Indulgences products; all in Toronto. Space limitations prevent us from evaluating every brand in a given category; entries reflect the luck of the draw. Items are blind taste-tested and awarded between zero and five stars.
LINDT 70% CACAO
Crystal: I love the fact that chocolate is going the same way as coffee and cheese and a lot of other things — there’s a mad race for obscure authenticity, everyone competing to find the most rustic, hardcore choc out there. You get a lot of poseur chocolate but also a lot of good stuff. I think this is Lindt — it’s my favourite, and unmistakably satisfying.
Kim: I was interested to learn that snappiness, as a criterion — i. e., breaking a chunk under the nose — is very important to tasting chocolate bars. Brand 1 has a nice medium-crisp snap, and releases a sort of black cherry, cinammon scent. Slightly chalky texture, melts well, very smooth. Brand 1 succeeds on a lot of levels.
Dufflet: I find Brand 1 quite creamy for a dark variety. These are thin, glossy squares, with a fragrant, fruity aroma and taste. This chocolate melts quickly so it probably has a high cocoa butter content, and there’s a good back end that really lasts. I agree with Crystal: I think this is Lindt!
Brand One TOTAL: 12 stars
GREEN & BLACK’S 70% ORGANIC COCOA
Crystal: I’m not feeling the love here. It has a nice appearance — rather thick, smallish pieces, with the leaf logo — but the taste is a mixture of chalkiness and spice, with a poor finish. And it has a floral, hazelnut aroma. I think Brand 2 is cloying.
Kim: I know what you mean about snobbery and certain foods — pretty soon you won’t be able to buy chocolate unless you promise to eat it in absolute reverent silence, while pinching your nose. This one has a bit of that — it’s trying to be moody and complicated and mysterious. It has a matte, slightly dusty artisanal look to it. I’m getting a vanilla taste, with a touch of coffee, and rubber.
Dufflet: It’s glossy, with a big snap. The texture melts on the tongue, which is fine. Nice appetizing smell. But the taste is too bitter on the back end — sort of burnt smoky rubber. It’s too much.
TOTAL: 7½ stars******* ½
MICHEL CLUIZEL 72% CACAO
Crystal: Brand 3 looks absolutely handmade. It’s got a matte finish and an amazingly sophisticated snap, very sharp, like a pair of new Christian Louboutins on palazzo tile. The taste is quite mellow, with some coconut in there, sneaky but enduring — great finish. And there’s a wee smell of fruit. This is impressive choc.
Kim: The inside is the same colour and texture as the outside, where the others tend to have a shinier surface. Brand 3 snaps sharply. I’m tasting psychedelic flavours galore — hay, tropical fruit, coconut, vanilla, swampy underbrush and a hit of meat-shading-into-leather. Trippy!
Dufflet: Snap! This is a very well-rounded chocolate: I’m getting a lot of impressions, most of them earthy. Not a rooty kind of earth, more like soil. Plus there’s a creamy texture, with a long strong finish — it all keeps on going. You couldn’t mistake Brand 3 for anything else.
TOTAL: 11 stars***********
COCOA CAMINO 71% ORGANIC CACAO
Crystal: Yum! I love the honey quality in this one, and the meltiness. It’s very smooth, and a real foodie’s choice. You’ve got a little acidity, and also traces of honey, amber, caramel, maybe burnt sugar, with a honeysuckle aroma. Not to mention the cocoa. Can’t get enough of that long finish.
Kim: Very shiny, perhaps a hint of royal blue in the colour, looks quite regal. And call me crazy but Brand 4 seems to have a slight smell of baking pie about it, like blueberry pie in the oven. The taste is fruity and earthy to me. Strangely, it’s all a bit muffled, not really to the fore. Amazingly long finish.
Dufflet: What!? Wait a minute. I’m tasting real sourness. I don’t have a problem with the rest of it — its creamy, and it has an interesting foresty smell — but I’ve got to say no to the flavour. Brand 5 would not be my top choice.
TOTAL: 9½ stars
The Results: Lindt is the winner, which surprised no one. This brand has an uncanny, almost supernatural ability to please everyone, all the time, everywhere. In second place is Michel Cluizel, one of the most acclaimed chocolatiers in the world, a 100-year-old French hallmark made from single plantation ingredients. The third and fourth positions — Camino and Green & Black’s — aren’t too shady either.