Friday, December 18, 2015

The Mast Bros Controversy

There's a Mast Brothers debate raging right now, as Quartz just ran a story entitled How the Mast Brothers fooled the world into paying $10 a bar for crappy hipster chocolate.

Obviously this is a matter that concerns us deeply as a) a chocolate blog and b) a chocolate-in-NYC-specifically blog. So we are coming out of hiatus, at least momentarily, to respond to these claims that the Mast Bros. have basically pulled the wool over all our eyes and tricked us into buying mediocre chocolate by using questionable marketing strategies and perhaps outright lying.

David has a lot to say about this. He's never been a big Mast Brothers fan, in all the years that he's tried their various bars. But, as he concedes, and I (Leila) agree with wholeheartedly, "They are chocolate, and chocolate is good."

This article makes three claims to try to damn the Mast Brothers: first, some of the original batches were not bean to bar. Second, Mast Bros. did not invent the chocolate-making process. Third, their process is currently opaque.

Each of the three points, while technically accurate, is also somewhat petty and pedantic. And taken together, they still do not prove that the chocolate is, as the headline puts it, "crappy."

So, first of all, according to all evidence cited in this article, some of the first batches were bean-to-bar and some were Valrhona. Mast Bros. admitted this at the time, and they don't deny it now, so it's weird to start making a big fuss about it. It's especially weird, because Valrhona is actually pretty good -- and in fact a separate bean-to-bar company (though obviously a mass-produced one). I'm very skeptical that anyone could tell on a blind tasting that they were using Valrhona unless they had a Valrhona bar side-by-side (e.g. if their bar said "Trinidad," unless you were very familiar with the Valrhona Trinidad bar, I'm skeptical that you would know that the bar was mass-roasted/conched given that Mast re-tempered the bars. Unless of course their conching machines for their actual bean-to-bar chocolates were of an extremely larger grain than Valrhona's, which I don't think is the case, because then that would have been mentioned in this story.) More importantly, i think everyone knows this ended a long time ago, and they were admitting it at the time, so it's hard to say they are conning people based on this.

Second of all, the idea that they invented the chocolate making process is obviously marketing hyperbole. No one believes that. No chocolate consumer believes that. No pastry chef believes that. You didn't believe that. Anyone who thinks they re-invented roasting and refining chocolate and never even bothered to google the process is just sticking their head in the sand. Anyone who thinks they built conching machines by hand knows nothing about how this process works. Obviously they went on Chocolate Alchemy. Everyone has. It would be wildly irresponsible not to. That's not the "gotcha" this article makes it out to be.

Third of all, their current process is opaque because they sell so much chocolate that they are probably not using the best beans or interesting origins. This should surprise nobody. It's the same deal with Valrhona: nothing is wrong with their process, but besides a few single-origin lines, they simply need too substantial a quantity to get from some of these more artisanal plantations. You can criticize that if you want, but again, I don't think they're fooling anyone.

All that said, yes, obviously they got popular due to marketing. Their packaging is beautiful and their chocolate has never been that good. It's that simple. They started out as amateurs, and they were successful regardless of their sourcing process, so they've never had the incentive to source particularly well. I don't think they pick good beans, and I don't think they ever did -- even before they got them in large quantities like now.

But that's not the same as fooling anyone, or scamming anyone, and it's not like they don't do the process right. As they say -- since the beginning, they've made bean-to-bar chocolate using the right procedures. They don't use additives. They make chocolate out of cacao. So even if they aren't super talented at it (as compared to their obviously very talented marketing skills), let's not confuse this with Hershey's or even with Godiva.

BOTTOM LINE: If what you're looking for is artisanal NYC chocolatiers, Mast Bros. isn't the best. There are others we love who work in smaller quantities and use higher quality beans: Antidote, Tumbador, Fine & Raw, and Raaka, to name a few. But that doesn't mean Mast Bros. are lying to anyone. And at the end of the day: they are chocolate, and chocolate is good.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Seattle Chocolates: #ChocolateGives

If there is one thing we love here at Chocolate NYC, it's holidays. That's because everyone else thinks it's a great idea to eat, make, and give chocolate things on holidays. We happen to know that every day is a great day for chocolate, but some other people need a "special occasion," and that is A-OK by us.

The Christmas/Hanukkah season is perhaps the best time of year for the gift of chocolate, as Seattle Chocolates has figured out. This December they're running a campaign called #ChocolateGives: you purchase chocolates from them, or just post something using the hashtag, and they will donate food to someone in need through food pantries in Seattle, Boston, San Francisco, and New York. You get to be charitable and eat chocolate at the same time. It's a win-win situation.

So how is the chocolate, you want to know? I'll tell you: it is very good.

They offer a variety of bonbons, my favorite being the candy cane ones: you can't go wrong with dark chocolate with peppermint flecks. I would eat these every day. They have a bazillion other flavors of bonbon, if mint isn't your thing: sea salt and peanut butter and fruit fillings of all sorts, sone dark and some milk chocolate, so you can get whatever floats your personal boat.

They take a few risks with their "truffle bars," some of which pay off, and some of which do not. I was unimpressed by the Birthday Cake one--it had too many ingredients and tasted too sweet, though I am not the target audience for white chocolate under any circumstances. The dark bars, on the other hand, are lovely, and I'd definitely recommend them.

BOTTOM LINE: I would eat this chocolate even if doing so didn't contribute to charity. The fact that it does (or that it will through the end of the month, anyway) is just icing on the proverbial cake.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Baci Perugina Double Layer Candy Bar

You probably know Perugina from their famous Baci chocolate hazelnut-filled "kisses":

But they now have a NEW product, called a Baci double layer candy bar, and they sent us a few bars to try because they are awesome. So this package showed up in the mail:

What is inside the package? These things!

And what is inside that wrapping? This!

As you may have predicted from the name "double layer candy bar," these bars have, ahem, two layers. In the dark chocolate bars, one layer is dark chocolate, the other is hazelnut chocolate, and in the middle are actual hazelnuts. The milk chocolate bars are the same, only with a milk chocolate layer in place of the hazelnut layer.

The hazelnuts added a great textural element, making this extremely edible. I went through a bar much faster than I'd anticipated. It is very much for candy lovers: the chocolate is sweet and straightforward. Even the dark chocolate bars are only 51%, and they're counterbalanced by the gianduia layer, making this a bar that's much better for the milk chocolate fan than for someone looking for an intense dark chocolate flavor. I could see this going over big with the Toblerone crowd.

BOTTOM LINE: A classy candy bar perfect for fans of sweet chocolate, and of chocolate with pieces of hazelnut in it.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

La Maison du Chocolat Valentine's and Easter Collection

Sorry not to have updated regularly, but here is some good news: La Maison du Chocolat's Valentine's and Easter collections!

First of all, La Maison has 4 special bonbons for Valentine's 2015.  Apparently these are developed, like, a year in advance, and initially conceived about a year before that.  Each year has a theme, and this year's is caramel:

All four were good and interesting.  My favorite, unsurprisingly, was the plain dark chocolate bonbon, sourced from a plantation in Venezuela whose beans gave a strong caramel flavor note.  Apparently, many people did a double-take, thinking there was caramel in there.  I didn't, but I did love it.

My second favorite, surprisingly, was the milk chocolate.  It has some rooibos tea and some other good stuff.  An interesting taste that was still both chocolatey and playful.

I did not get to taste the Easter design, but wow:

Check out the detail on the "leather"!  This is all carved by hand!:

Not many of these are made, and each takes a full day, done in assembly line fashion.  It's delivered to the various shops in several pieces, and then "glued" together with ganache.

Bottom Line: La Maison du Chocolat is good enough to get us blogging again.

Friday, August 15, 2014

XOXO Chocolates

Is there anything we like more than receiving a box of chocolate products in the mail?

No. There is not.

XOXO Chocolates is a small, independent Las Vegas chocolatier and bakery. They make fudge and various types of bark and biscotti and brownies and just a whole host of delicious things. So we sampled some of them, as we are wont to do.

The white chocolate fudge (upper lefthand corner) was salty and sweet, with an excellent texture, the kind of soft that melts in your mouth.

The espresso fudge (upper righthand corner) was excellent if you're a coffee fan. It had a strong coffee flavor, and bits of coffee bean throughout it, to add texture.

The biscotti (lower righthand corner) was not very chocolatey-tasting. It was plain biscotti with raisins, so really the only chocolate came from the white and dark chocolate drizzled on top.

The bark (lower lefthand corner) was a little milky for my tastes, but the almonds added nice texture, and the white chocolate drizzled on top made it look pretty. I tried only this one kind of bark, but I can see on the website that they have peppermint bark (which is my favorite type) and sugar-free almond bark (which seems useful), so I think you just need to pick your flavor wisely.

The winner from my perspective was definitely the espresso brownie (in the center, with the bow). The brownie was straight-up delightful, and its frosting was what carried the coffee flavor, so you could easily scrape off some or all of it if you don't love coffee.

The prices are also reasonable. I think a package of XOXO Chocolates would make an excellent gift for someone--it certainly made an excellent gift for me!

BOTTOM LINE: An up-and-coming dessert company that clearly loves chocolate as much as we do

Thursday, August 14, 2014

McVitie's plain chocolate digestives

My junior year in college, I studied abroad in the UK. During the ten months that I was there, I ate roughly one thousand McVitie's plan chocolate digestives.

To clarify for Americans, I will say that "digestives" are basically cookies, sort of like graham crackers, and "plain chocolate" means dark chocolate.

When I lived in England, I would go through a pack of these in a couple of days. They are just so compulsively eatable. They taste basically like a s'mores only without the warm marshmallow inside--just something like a graham cracker with some dark chocolate coating it. It's not too sweet, and it's not so intensely flavored--it's like the dessert equivalent of pretzels, in that it's kind of plain and you just want to keep eating it.

Fairly recently, McVitie's digestives have become easily available in some U.S. grocery stores. They're only a couple dollars; not even priced like an import. When I first discovered this, I briefly felt like, "This isn't right. I only want to eat these when I am in England." Then I got over it. Now I eat three or four digestives every day.

Since my time in England, McVitie's has refined their packaging, adding this nifty re-sealable top, so you don't necessarily have to eat all the biscuits in one go (though obviously you can if you want to).

And because this is the U.S. and we have laws here, they've stickered the packages with FDA-friendly nutritional information, meaning that now, for the first time, I could find out just how many calories and grams of sugar are in each of these. I mean, I haven't read the label, so I don't actually know. But I could.

BOTTOM LINE: If you're buying a pack of grocery store cookies, I would definitely advocate for these over the Oreos, Chips Ahoy, or pretty much anything else on the shelf. Perfect for tea time, snack time, or coming home from a party at 3am.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ben & Jerry's peanut butter fudge core

As you probably know--because you are the sort of person who reads a chocolate blog--today is the first day of National Ice Cream Month, which is a real American holiday. Personally I do not need a specific month earmarked to eat chocolate. But, it's as good an excuse as any.

In celebration of this month, I finally tried Ben & Jerry's "core" ice cream.

The idea here is that you have chocolate ice cream on one side, peanut butter ice cream on the other, a peanut butter-fudge "core" running down the center, and peanut butter cups sprinkled throughout. Here's what it looks like.

So, Ben & Jerry's is great. It's not freshly-made or farm-to-table or organic or whatever a lot of the ice creams that we review on this blog are. You know this. It's like $5 or $6 per pint (which you can compare to a brand like, say, Jeni's, where pints cost twice that.

But for easily available, grocery store ice cream, it's great. It's thick and flavorful. They do not skimp on the mix-ins. If you're promised peanut butter cups, you are getting a full allotment of peanut butter cups--which is good, because Ben & Jerry's peanut butter cups are THE BOMB.

I guess I'd say that their mix-ins (peanut butter cups, cookie dough, whatever it may be) are better than their ice cream. I wouldn't eat a bowl of plain chocolate from Ben & Jerry's. Well, okay, I would, because I will eat a bowl of plain chocolate ice cream from anywhere, but it would not be my first choice. But their ice cream provides a totally good foundation for their mix-ins.

I don't know that the "core" ice cream is so much better than just chocolate ice cream with peanut butter cups, or just peanut butter ice cream with peanut butter cups. The fudge in the middle didn't add a huge amount for me: I was more focused on the ice creams. For me the main benefit of the "core" approach was that I got two different and very good flavors for the price of one. But if you were really into the "core" substance, then this pint would be even more appealing to you.

BOTTOM LINE: This is probably my new go-to choice for Ben & Jerry's pints. I'd even put it above Phish Food. Maybe even above Half Baked.