I'm a little late in getting this up, but this past November was the long last return of the Chiles and Chocolate Festival at the Desert Botanical Garden. There usually isn't too much to the event, just some vendors and some food and some music. This year, though, the scale was down even more. But I was still able to enjoy a couple of things, including a box of these Prickly Pear Spicy Margarita Caramels from our local Scottsdale bean-to-bar company Stone Grindz.
They had on hand plenty of these brown boxes decorated with floral paper; both the look and the flavor were perfect for the garden and the theme of the day. Inside the box are four pieces, each one in a kind of snowman or gourd shape. The 70% dark chocolate is glossy. Either because of the unusual shape or because of the thickness/thinness of the chocolate, they do tend to be messy to bite into. The caramel is free-flowing and unleashes easily on the first bite. The chocolate from the sides also tends to separate easily from the bottom layer, adding to the messiness.
That aside, though, they're quite nice. Normally one of my struggles with going to the Chiles and Chocolate festival is that I don't usually like spicy chocolate very much. So while I want to go and try what product the different companies are choosing to showcase for the festival, I'm also not too excited about chiles in my chocolate. These truffles are an interesting and unique approach to the chile chocolate angle.
Sometimes I get primarily a smoky flavor from the caramel--it is, after all, "spiked with smoky mezcal and infused with fresh prickly pear puree, ancho pepper, and guajillo pepper." Sometimes I taste a light alcohol hit; sometimes I don't. Sometimes I get a kind of floral flavor from, presumably, the prickly pear. The ancho and guajillo peppers are definitely noticeable particularly once you're past the halfway point. Yet they're not spicy; you can just taste their flavor. Though I'm not an expert on chiles, I do remember that distinctive way guajillo peppers taste in Taza's Guajillo chocolate. It's a tangy, masculine type of pepper flavor that goes well with the smoky mezcal. And the hint of prickly pear mellows those elements and links them in with the caramel and chocolate.
Caramel is generally a sweet thing. Here, though, it's so full of flavor that sweetness is more of an afterthought. You get an idea of sweetness more towards the end, when the caramel is gone and you have just the last vestiges of the chocolate left melting in the corners of your mouth. These caramels are named for margaritas, but it's rare to come across a margarita that has such delicate handling of complex flavor--all played out with pure ingredients. So even though chile chocolates may not be my first choice, it was a pleasure trying out these caramels. Once more, Stone Grindz has shown an excellent use of ingredients and balance of flavor.