Thursday, February 14, 2019

Valerie Confections: Grand Homme Assortment

Ever since I had the Rose Petal Petits Fours from Valerie Confections a few years ago, I'd been wanting to try some of their Valentine's offerings. So since today is the year for everything, this year we have their Grand Homme Assortment. While the Grand Elle Assortment is very pretty, I thought that more of these flavors sounded appealing. Visually, though they have more of a standard look of heart shapes, they're still attractive.

Almond Toffee Hearts - These are the biggest hearts, so there are only two of them. I could go for a whole box of these. They're milk chocolate with little toffee and almond pieces. Caramel toffee flavor, nice and strong. This toffee isn't the hard kind; instead it has the perfect crunch and delivers the taste of sugar and vanilla, along with salt from the almonds. The milk chocolate wraps it all up in a flawless example of a high quality confection.

Caramelia Hearts - These blend in well with the Caramel Truffles, so it can be hard to tell them apart visually. The Caramelia ones are essentially a twist on plain truffles. They come with a light caramel taste and a super rich, vanilla ganache flavor. Also milk chocolate, so another sweet one.

Caramel Truffles - If you have these in two bites, they can break kind of awkwardly. The bottom is thicker and the rest is fairly thin. In fact, I do also have to note that with one of them, the bottom stuck to the paper, so the whole thing broke apart when I tried to pick it up. The caramel is gently free-flowing and of the darker flavored sort. No touch of salt.  The chocolate here is dark. Naturally, I would prefer the milk chocolate because I tend to prefer milk chocolate when it comes to confections. This chocolate, though, isn't bad (some dark chocolate confections I can't even stand); it tastes much like Ghirardelli. The darker tone does go well, though, with darker tone of the caramel and also helps to keep it all from veering too much into the candy-confection side.

Scotch Truffles - There are seven of these round truffles, so definitely the most of these. You get that alcohol hint right away. It's strong and yet also toned down enough that it doesn't overwhelm or take over the chocolate. In fact, they go together quite well. The Scotch enhances the rich concept of the ganache, giving a similar effect as a Champagne truffle. So quite nice; probably most people won't mind having the greatest amount of these in here. Personally, though, I'd have preferred more Almond Toffee Hearts or maybe Caramelia Hearts.

Black Pepper Truffles - Just three of these squares. The only pepper is that dash that's visible on top. The ganache is super smooth. The black pepper taste comes in when the chocolate is almost melted, because of course it goes quickly since it's mainly ganache. You can taste it but it isn't so strong that you're hit by coughing and spiciness. It's just kind of a warmth and a flavor. So here we have an example of subtle use of a strong ingredient. Just a touch of pepper and that's all that it needs. If it were stronger, it would make it more of a novelty and also not as good. As it was, this truffle made a nice addition to the mix, something a little darker to balance out the sweet chocolates.

And what did the homme think of the chocolates I chose? Well, I only got his opinion on three of them. Reluctantly, too, I might add. The almonds in the Toffee Hearts were too much for him; he said if he wanted healthy, he'd go to Whole Foods. As for the Caramelia Truffles, he liked the outside until he got to the ganache on the inside. He said that truffles sound like something British (they're not British) and aren't they something that pigs help you find in the forest (chocolate truffles are named after such truffles, yes, but they're not the same thing)? And the Black Pepper Truffles, well, I tried to give him the half of the truffle that didn't have pepper on it. What is this, Fear Factor, he said. He said that it tasted exactly the same as the Caramelia Truffle, except darker, he could taste the blackness in this one. Well, you can't win them all.

So while I suppose that yes, you do have to know your audience, overall I'd say that Valerie Confections is a wonderful example of gifting chocolate. They make confections but on a high quality level that stunned me last time and stunned me again this time. They keep things simple and do it all well--and quite beautifully, too.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Taza: Cinnamon Dark Chocolate

In an experiment, this will be possibly the start of a new chocolate series, the two perspective chocolate review. I'd intended to start with a chocolate I had gone over before, but it would seem that I never in fact wrote up a review on Taza's Cinnamon, even back on Chocablog. But I have talked about Taza, Taza the brand of stone ground chocolate. So I'll just go with that background since this really isn't going to be a regular chocolate review.

While, to me, cinnamon and chocolate are a natural combination, and especially natural for Taza, to my fellow taster it was a new combination, hitherto only tried a couple of weeks ago in the seasonal Cinnamon Milano cookies. Stone ground chocolate was also new, as in fact was, well, most of the type of chocolate that I go over. So we went in with someone who was very familiar with the product and someone to whom it was completely new.

While the grainy texture of Taza greeted me with its crumbly, sugar graininess, he said it reminded him of grains of sand at the beach. Not quite how I had thought of stone ground chocolate before, though the difference is strong from the smoothness of the usual, more processed chocolate.

All of this talk of chocolate texture launched an explanation from me (involving the cocoa pod brought over from a shelf in my office) about how chocolate grows from a tree and it's a seed called a bean that comes inside of a white pulp in the pod and that's dried and ground up, etc. and has sugar added to it. This tangent created a new identity for the beautiful cocoa pod: he named it a piece from a sci-fi horror movie, saying that it looked like something an alien would jump out of. It is called a pod, after all, right?

Then I made some hot chocolate because, of course, Taza lends itself well to hot chocolate. That is, you can make hot chocolate out of pretty much any chocolate bar, but Taza's style is just like Mexican hot chocolate. I went for a quarter disc to a quarter cup milk, which ended up being a little weak. I just hadn't wanted it to be too strong. So the hot chocolate option was somewhat of a failure; there wasn't much chocolate to taste there.

Back, however, to the chocolate bar. What we did both agree on was that there wasn't much cinnamon flavor. Possibly this might be because the chocolate was getting a little old; maybe the cinnamon had faded. It's been long enough since I had Taza's Cinnamon that I don't remember if the cinnamon flavor is usually stronger. Flavor aside, though, Taza is unique enough for most of us that it's always worth a try if you've never had their chocolate before. It can definitely be a conversation piece.