Once again, that time has arrived. “Spring break.” The collective joke of all universities north of the Mason-Dixon Line; one or two weeks spent living in freezing temperatures whilst dreaming of far-fetched sunny and sandy escapes. Escapes that won’t be possible, of course, until I join the real world and find a decent pay rate. Therein lies the irony, as once said ‘pay rate’ is found, I will no longer have the luxury of a two-week break.
But enough social commentary. I’m choosing to spend this year’s spring break delving into the heart of cold, snowy New England. Why leave Bangor, you may ask? After all, we just received an exciting 11.2 inches of snow two days ago! I do love the snow, and despite my yearnings for warmer climes, I’m pleased as punch whenever new snow falls. However… I have my sights set on higher, and… one might say, snowier, peaks. More specifically, I’m looking to the mountains. West, to the Blue Mountains.
Actually, to the White Mountains, but if I were to have said this, my attempt at Lord of the Rings-Middle Earth-geolocation and chocolate-based humor would have placed my current location somewhere within the confines of Mordor. And while Bangor isn’t Hip Central, I definitely wouldn’t label it as the Realm of Sauron, of “dying land not yet dead.” It’s a nice little town, in its own right.
And so I present a few of the chocolates that have recently made their way into the Shire (my current location, continuing the theme).
It’s been a struggle to finish my B.T. McElrath chocolate bars. Not because I don’t enjoy them; much the opposite. However, B.T. McElrath is based out of Minneapolis, and I picked up a few of their chocolates while visiting my family for Christmas. Thus, I’ve been savoring this edible connection to my home state – for much longer than these delicious bars deserve.
The two bars featured here are the Chile Limón and Salty Dog bars.
The Chile Limón is a visually and taste-ally appealing blend of dark and milk chocolate combined with, you guessed it, the flavors of chile and lime. It is wonderful. By far, one of the most exciting chocolate bars that I’ve tasted. I’m always hesitant with chocolate that bills itself anywhere in the realm of ‘spice.’ My bland Midwestern palate just can’t take it. This doesn’t keep me from trying spicy chocolates, but it does keep me from enjoying them as much as I feel I should. To my continued delight – because I don’t seem to be able to finish the thing – I don’t find this bar to be too spicy. The lime flavor is wonderful, and in my opinion, it outshines the chile.
The Salty Dog is a 70% dark chocolate bar containing pieces of butter toffee and sprinkled with sea salt. It’s somewhat heavy on the salt, but I like it. The chocolate is rich and smooth, and nicely balanced by the lighter toffee tones. The sea salt also plays on the lightness of the toffee to deepen the bar’s overall flavor. This is also pretty wonderful.
Perhaps even greater than my love for these two bars is my love for their Passion Fruit & Tangerine Bar. That one didn’t make it to the photographing stage, likely because it was that good. In addition to the passion fruit and tangerine flavors, the bar itself is a melange of dark and white chocolates. It’s gorgeous. If you don’t check this one out for its taste, do so for its aesthetics.
As an FYI, B.T. McElrath was labeled a “Top Ten Chocolatier in North America” by Dessert Professionals’ December 2010 magazine round-up.
Andrew (Garrison) Shotts is the creator of Garrison Confections, whose Blue bar is shown above. I had to break out my ruler for this one, because I was pretty sure that the bar was wrapped with more square inches of foil than anything I’ve ever bought before. This is a dark chocolate bar overlaid with dried blueberries, sea salt and cocoa nibs. Now based out of Rhode Island, Garrison Confections had its roots in New York City – where Shotts used to be pastry chef for La Cote Basque - back in 2001. In addition to tablets, Garrison produces a fine array of truffles and other confections, including some chocolate patties that I passed without a thought…. not again. Because on second glance, they look delicious. This was a decent bar, although more of a confection than I usually swing for. I’m curious about the cocoa percentage, because despite its label as “dark” chocolate, the sweetness of the nibs and blueberries takes away characteristics typical of higher percentage cocoa bars.
As a secondary FYI, Garrison Confections received the same “Top Ten Chocolatier in North America” award, but in 2009.
I’m slowly making my way through the flavors of Vosges Haut-Chocolat, as my budget, and their availability to me, allow. This time it’s Bapchi’s Caramel Toffee Bar that I decided to try. With 45% cocoa, this milk chocolate features sweet butter toffee, walnuts and pecans. The founder of Vosges explains on the packaging that Bapchi was her grandmother, who taught her to cook and appreciate “the magic of the kitchen.” In addition, it was Bapchi’s recipe for caramel toffee used to make this bar.
I’ve liked everything I’ve tried of Vosges’, from the Woolloomooloo (macadamia nuts and coconut), to the Black Pearl (ginger, wasabi and sesame seeds), to the Blood Orange Caramel (blood orange, Campari and hibiscus – this might be my favorite) to the infamous Mo’s Bacon Bar (bacon and smoked salt, available in milk or dark chocolate). Everything seems inspired, and the well-designed packaging makes the company seem unique and, perhaps, a step ahead of their competition. My only complaint is that despite being packaged in a box, I haven’t yet opened a single intact bar. Perhaps this is my care-free throw-my-chocolate-bars-left-and-right nature, perhaps not. And really, this only proved to be a problem with the Blood Orange bar, where the caramel seeped through the packaging, coating the chocolate in a disturbing, albeit delicious, stickiness.
Finally, we move west, to pay a visit to Portland, Oregon’s Moonstruck Chocolatier. Purchased in Portland, Maine, I was hoping to find the much-hyped Fortunato No. 4, a single origin bar made from Pure Nacional cocoa. However, zero dice; I’ll have to order that one over the information superhighway. Back to what I did purchase: their 68% Dark Chocolate Chile Variado. Their website labels this chocolate as decadent (I disagree, the Garrison bar above is what I would consider decadent). It is infused with both Chipotle and Ancho chiles, to give it “a kick.” Maybe I’m becoming acclimated to spice (my life’s work… finished?!?), but this didn’t taste terribly kick-y to me. Well-flavored, yes. Sort of somewhat similar (in taste, not texture) to Fine and Raw‘s Mesquite bar. While the chile flavor is well-rounded, I can still taste the chocolate’s complex notes. They are an interesting (perhaps perplexing) mix of mellow and acrid tones that work well with the spice of the chiles. A well-done chocolate bar.
My chocolate adventures are continually unfolding, so look for another choc update soon. And stay tuned to hear of my soon-to-come escapade into the heart of New England / Middle Earth – will it involve chocolate??
B.T. McElrath Chocolatier
2010 E. Hennepin Ave., #78
Minneapolis, MN 55413
72 Ledge Street
Central Falls, RI 02863
Vosges Haut-Chocolat Corporate Offices
2211 N. Elston Ave., Suite 203
Chicago, IL 60614
Moonstruck Chocolate Co.
6600 N. Baltimore Ave.
Portland, Oregon 97203