Sunday, March 23, 2014

Macaron Day round-up

Thursday was NYC Macaron Day, which is an annual day of amazement and wonder when you can walk around the city and get free macarons from participating bakeries. I took my lunch break to hit up the West Village stops.

First up was Francois Payard, which is the originator of the amazingness of Macaron Day. I got a chocolate macaron and it was so, so awesome. Perfect texture, flavor, everything.

I would have eaten about a zillion more. Fortunately, there were two more stops on my walk.

Next up was Mille-Feuille Bakery Cafe. They weren't offering chocolate macarons when I was there, only caramel. But even the caramel was delightful, despite its handicap of not being chocolate. They also had other appealing-looking chocolate baked goods on display. I would go back.

Third stop was bisous, ciao, which you know is going to be good because they only sell macarons. They had more than a dozen flavors, though not all were available for the free sample.

The one I got was blood orange with a dark chocolate cream in the middle. Phenomenal. So flavorful. I would go back here, too, and try more of their many flavors, like the peppermint dark chocolate one, which sounds like it's designed for me.

BOTTOM LINE: Macarons are expensive. So it's really nice to have a day when you can eat them for free.

Madecasse citrus and pink pepper bar

We got this Madecasse bar at Whole Foods. What makes Madecasse unique is that they not only harvest the cacao beans in Madagascar; they actually make the chocolate bars there, package them, the whole bit. What happens out of their Brooklyn factory is the distribution, not any of the chocolate-making.

According to this article I read about Madecasse:

Seventy percent of the world’s cocoa beans come from Africa, but less than one percent of the world’s chocolate is produced there. Most African cocoa winds up in chocolate factories in Belgium, Switzerland, and France.

There are people who farm cacao plantations who have never actually tasted chocolate, or, even if they have, they may not have tasted chocolate created from the beans that they're harvesting. This is why you can go to a country like Ecuador, which grows great cacao, and have trouble finding a decent bar of chocolate to eat. This is why Madecasse is special.

So, that's the sociopolitical background. The question now is: how's the chocolate?

Answer: it's interesting. The pepper is not too spicy, and it's not textural, either, but you can definitely taste it. It works well. The "combava fruit" advertised on the package is just a lime. This lends the bar an almost juicy taste, like biting into one of those pieces of gum that has a fruity liquid interior.

Overall, it was good, and unlike other bars. But it was not very chocolatey. I mean, it clearly was chocolate, but the flavor notes were not "chocolatey."

BOTTOM LINE: A tasty, unique bar, but without a strong chocolate flavor.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

John & Kira's "Urban Garden Mint" 62%

I bought this on a whim, walking through Philadelphia.

Ok, I had sort of heard of them before.  Maybe because I googled chocolatiers in Philadelphia.  Maybe.

Anyways, it is very aptly named.  It tastes like a garden.

Bottom Line: If you want your mint chocolate to taste like a garden, you should buy this bar.

Vosges Marzipan Bar, Green Tea Bar, and Hot Chocolate

I stopped by the Vosges shop in Soho recently, and they are really just a solid company.

So the matcha green tea bar with spirulina was not the biggest hit.  I mean, it was ok.  But Roh-Kaolade did it better.  Still, it was interesting.

The marzipan bar was really excellent.  The marzipan was fresher and gooey-er than the Rittersport version.  The only downside was that it had a stronger taste, so that -- despite have a higher chocolate-to-marzipan quantity ratio than the Rittersport -- it did not have a substantially higher chocolate-to-marzipan taste ratio.

It should also be noted that Vosges makes excellent hot chocolate.  It is not thick like City Bakery's.  It is for drinking.  It is a drink.  That is ok.  It is delicious.  It tastes like chocolate.

Bottom Line: Vosges is great, because they do simple things really well but also have really wacky ideas that are usually worth a try.

Nouveau Chocolates in Tulsa, OK

A friend sent me these, from Tulsa!:

Ok, technically from Broken Arrow, but I think that is pretty much the same thing.  Google says they are 20 minutes apart.  I don't know whether that is a lot.

Anyways, these are Oklahoma-made, Belgian-style chocolates -- apparently the family has a shop in Belgium.  I could not discover the Belgian brand, despite diligent (ok, actually not-at-all diligent) online research.

The bon bons were very good.  They tasted hand-made and quality.  The dark chocolate discs were good as well, but I am fairly certain they were simply re-tempered Valrhona (or something similar).

Bottom Line: If you're in Tulsa (or Broken Arrow), stop by.  Try to uncover the family mystery!

Lula's Sweet Apothecary

Lula's is probably the reigning favorite vegan ice cream shop in NYC, and has been for as long as I can remember.  They recently closed for a while, allegedly due to some dispute between the owners, but they are open now, and rejoicing is abundant.

Their chocolate ice cream is good, but honestly no better than a number of others we've reviewed.  What's nice is that they are an actual shop, where everything is vegan.  So you can get a vegan egg cream, a vegan milkshake, a vegan float, a vegan sundae, etc.

To give you an idea of the quality, the first time I went there (many years ago), I didn't realize it was vegan and ordered a chocolate egg cream.  I thought, "This is pretty good, but it's nothing special.  Ray's makes a way better egg cream just down the block.  Why does everyone make such a big deal about this place?"  But notice that (1) I thought it was pretty good and (2) I did not realize it was vegan.

Bottom Line: There is no particularly compelling reason to go to Lula's if you're not vegan, but if you are, and you're craving a real ice cream parlor experience, then Lula's is a great -- and as far as I'm aware unique -- option.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

King's County Distillery Chocolate-Flavored Whiskey

I have now become a person who spends $25 on a 200ml bottle of whiskey. I know, I know. But I had to. For research. For chocolate. For you, our readers.

King's County Distillery makes this whiskey by infusing it with Mast Brothers chocolate. It's hard to imagine anything more artisanal, or more Brooklyn.

It was okay. I mean, I'm sure it was excellent whiskey, but I don't know very much about whiskey. I drank some on the rocks, and it pretty much just tasted like any other whiskey to me. (Sorry, knowledgable drinkers.) It wasn't very chocolatey and it certainly was not sweet. I poured my friend, Kendra, a glass, as well, and she didn't even finish hers.

Probably this would taste better if I mixed it in some sort of whiskey cocktail. I just didn't want to add in so many other flavors that I wasn't able to taste the chocolate in here. Then again, I wasn't really able to taste the chocolate in here no matter what, so I might as well try mixing it with milk and sugar and see what happens.

BOTTOM LINE: Quality whiskey is wasted on me. Even if it is infused with quality chocolate.

City Bakery Hot Chocolate Festival Round-Up

Last February we tried six out of the nineteen City Bakery Hot Chocolate Festival options. This February I didn't show quite as much dedication.

I only went to City Bakery this year for the Darkest Dark and the Cinnamon. I was a little disappointed by both. The Darkest Dark was actually too dark for me, which maybe I should have seen coming. It was better once I added in a marshmallow to sweeten it up a little.

The Cinnamon was good but didn't taste very strongly of cinnamon. I'd take the Chocolate Bar's spiced hot chocolate over this one, judging purely on cinnamon quality.

BOTTOM LINE: City Bakery's everyday, year-round hot chocolate is one of the best in the United States. Maybe you don't need to add cinnamon and make it darker and whatever. Maybe you don't need to improve on perfection.


For the holidays, my amazing author Ame Dyckman (author of the wonderful picture book Tea Party Rules) gave me a Neuhaus gift collection.

It is hard for me to describe how amazing this gift collection was. It included delicious single origin bars:

And truffles:

The chocolate-covered biscuits, pictured below, were my second-favorite item in here. They reminded me a little of Nunu's chocolate-covered grahams, only these biscuits were even thinner and crunchier, so I think they worked even better than the Nunu version.

My most favorite item in here was this thing:

These bad boys are called "caprices." I don't know why. All I know is that they are amazing and not quite like anything else out there. They are dark chocolate on the outside, followed by a thin crispy shell, which is filled with thick vanilla cream. You can sort of see what's going on underneath all that chocolate here:

BOTTOM LINE: I recommend everything Neuhaus makes, but especially the caprice, which is very rich and so delightful.

Two Little Red Hens Brooklyn Blackout Cupcake

David has been recommending Two Little Red Hens' Brooklyn Blackout cupcake to me, and to all of you, for years. I finally made it up to the Upper East Side so I could try this much-heralded cupcake, and get a better photo of it for posterity. Here is what it actually looks like, before it has been half-eaten and smushed:

What we're looking at here is crumbled chocolate cookie atop dark chocolate frosting, which is on top of chocolate cake, which encloses chocolate pudding. I sat by myself and ate this entire thing in about seven minutes, and I felt powerful.

BOTTOM LINE: I guess the Upper East Side does have something going for it, after all.

Ample Hills hot chocolate float

You already know how I feel about Ample Hills: I love it. But I just wanted to update you that I went here recently, and it was a really cold day, and I was like, "What do I do? Order to awesome peppermint pattie ice cream because it is awesome, or order a hot chocolate because it is cold outside?"

Answer: order both, combined in this hot chocolate float.

I don't understand why more places don't offer hot chocolate floats. The Chocolate Room does, and nearly every time I go there, I order a hot chocolate with a scope of fresh mint in it. This Ample Hills version is just as delightful. You can choose any flavor of ice cream for your float, so obviously I chose the peppermint pattie ice cream. It tasted like a scoop of mint ice cream absolutely smothered in about 12 ounces of hot fudge.

BOTTOM LINE: You should never have to choose between hot chocolate and cold chocolate.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Blossom Chocolate Ganache with Chocolate "Ice Cream"

You can't see this, but it was pretty good:

We've discussed Blossom before.  This dessert was from the branch in Chelsea.  Of the three Blossom desserts now reviewed, this is probably the best.  Again, the cake isn't perfect, but the ganache is very nice.  The chocolate ice cream was a bit uninspired, and likely what went into the milkshake.

Bottom Line: A good effort, and definitely recommended after a meal, though not enough to draw you there on its own.


Champ's is a vegan diner and bakery in Williamsburg (that has recently opened a smaller counter in Greenpoint).  They serve healthy vegan options like these chocolate chip pancakes:

Honestly, they were some of the best vegan pancakes I'd ever had.  Vegan pancakes are often dry, but these weren't -- perhaps the chocolate chips helped?  I mean, chocolate chips usually help.

Even the chocolate milkshake was good, even if one would not mistake it for the real thing:

Chocolatiest was the cheesecake brownie.  I usually oppose vegan cheesecake.  I usually oppose combining chocolate and cheesecake.  But apparently if you combine chocolate AND cheesecake AND vegan, you get something great!

Bottom Line: A rare example of a place with great food AND great dessert.  Anything at Champ's would make a nice meal even if you're not vegan, but it is truly special if you are.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Dominique Ansel Chocolate Thing

I am consistently disappointed with Dominique Ansel.

It's not that his stuff is bad... it's just that it's not GREAT, and it's not chocolatey enough!  This was supposed to be super rich.  I expected it to be gooey on the inside.  Disappointment.

Bottom Line: Disappointment.  As I may have mentioned.

Majani 70% from Olive Oil & Beyond on Balboa Island

Also on Balboa Island is a lovely olive oil store.  They sell artisanal, imported olive oils and vinegars, often flavored, and they are very happy to give samples.  Some of them could probably be delicious beverages alone.  But they also import some other products from Italy, and I found this:

It was INCREDIBLE.  i am a sucker for Italian chocolate bars, particular ones with crystallized sugar.  And this is no exception.  The texture is great, and the taste is super rich.  Both addictive and serious at once.

Bottom Line: Why are these not everywhere??

Chocolate-covered "Honeycomb" from Balboa Candy on Balboa Island

Balboa Island is that banana stand island place from Arrested Development, which in turn is a show that I don't watch.  It's also a beautiful, surreal place, where wealthy people live in quaint houses, even though there is no grocery store on the entire island.  There is a saltwater taffy store, obviously.  I bought a chocolate-covered honeycomb:

Made with 0% real honeycomb.  I think it was just hardened corn syrup maybe?  It was covered with something that was at least a reasonable replica of chocolate.  So it was basically chocolate + awkwardly textured sugar.

Bottom Line: Could be worse, I guess.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Organic Avenue Raw Vegan Chocolate Mousse

Okay, so you expect vegan chocolate mousse to be bad, but then you're like, "Hey, if people expect it to be bad, it won't sell, so if this is selling, it must be good, right?"

Wrong.  It's awful.  And it's made with avocado.  Just no.

Bottom Line: Go to Organic Avenue, but stick to the non-store brand items.

Cliff S'mores Builder's Bar

We discussed Builder's Bars.  They are great.  But how does the S'mores flavor stack up to the Chocolate flavor?

Adequately.  It's probably not quite as good, but it is still sweet, chocolatey, and delicious (for a protein bar).  Note that there is no way to compare this to real chocolate or to real s'mores.  It is a protein bar.  But if you want a protein bar, this is a good bet.

Bottom Line: A trustworthy line of products.

Hot Chocolate...?

So we went camping and made hot chocolate out of melted-down Chocolove 70% bars.  Plus a small amount of almond milk or soy milk or something.  But mostly just melted chocolate bars:

WOW.  It was amazing.  I was very impressed by how dark it was.  It tasted less sweet than the bars themselves.  And it was thick.  And it was warm.  So perfect.

But we used about 8 bars, so we had some leftover.  By the time we were ready for bed, it was a delicious chocolate pudding!  We then put it in a pot, closed the lid, and went to sleep.

By the time we woke up, it was one of the greatest chocolate ice creams I'd ever had:

This is the reverse of Fresco, who makes hot chocolate by melting gelato.  We made ice cream by freezing hot chocolate.  I cannot possibly recommend it highly enough.

Bottom Line: Ok, right now, I want everyone to take all your chocolate bars, melt them down, throw in a touch of milk, and freeze it.  Do it.  You will not regret it.