Thursday, September 3, 2015

Review - Dagoba Drinking Chocolates

Dagoba chocolate is a product I've been seeing turn up more and more in my local grocery stores. I started seeing it first in the baking chocolates, and later saw their drinking chocolates pop up in the hot cocoa aisle. Being a "Star Wars" fan my entire life, how could I not be drawn to this chocolate!?

As always, we're going to enjoy a couple of their drinking chocolates for the review, but I did also grab their 100% unsweetened chocolate. It has a couple other ingredients in minuscule amounts (soy lecithin and milk), but it is still a very nice chocolate to work with.

I picked up both the Authentic and the Xocolatl drinking chocolates. The Authentic is simply their dark hot chocolate, while the Xocolatl is flavored to represent the ancient Mexican drinking chocolates with some added cinnamon and chili.

There's a small label on all their products showing a little frog. This is the Rainforest Alliance logo, and it's there because Dagoba is all about sustainability. Taking care of the environment, the cacao workers, and their cacao farms. I'm all for this! If cacao isn't sustained, that would mean no chocolate. That's not a world I want to live in!

The ingredients on both products are nice and simple. A great, straight forward mix. It just seems so unnecessary to add in all the extra preservatives and stuff that most store bought hot chocolates have in them, especially once you taste a chocolate like this. So much more real chocolate flavor! 

Their instructions actually made me laugh a little. What a pleasant way to describe the act of heating milk and scooping this chocolate into it! "When vapors rise, the milk will be at its most receptive to accept the chocolate into its embrace". Seriously, how awesome is that! 

The mix itself has nice chunks of real chocolate in it, which is great. Having the actual bits of whole chocolate in there is a definite improvement over mixes that only have cocoa powder. The fat (cocoa butter) from the chocolate really makes a difference in the smoothness.

By the way, did you know what Dagoba means? A dagoba is a shrine for sacred relics in the Far East, usually pertaining to Buddha. Kind of makes sense that George Lucas used it for the name of the planet where the wise Jedi Master Yoda was living in "The Empire Strikes Back".

The Authentic has a rich, almost smoky flavor. Nice dark notes, but not bitter - it still manages to be sweet. And as I always recommend, you can use just a little of the mix for a nice lighter breakfast hot chocolate, and then in the evening, use a lot for a rich after-dinner dessert drink.

The Xocolatl is spicy, but not uncomfortably so. It's a very nice heat. The cinnamon is not as forward in this mix as in some other Mexican chocolates, but it's there, and it's a great addition. It'd be great to see Dagoba add a little more cinnamon to this mix and really make it pop!

Both of these chocolates are wonderful and worth picking up. Dagoba drinking chocolates are a perfect replacement for those packets of powdered milk disguised as hot cocoa you're keeping in your cupboard or office. Hopefully there's a gourmet grocery store near you that carries them, but if not, you can always grab them at Dagoba's website. They have a couple other flavors there, as well, like Chai, which sounds great!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Review - Moonstruck Dark Hot Cocoa

My sister-in-law and her family live in Portland, and this past Christmas my wife and I took the opportunity to fly up there for the first time. Portland is great! Not overly crowded like Los Angeles, and they have a huge variety of trendy places to eat and shop - not to mention some amazing chocolate shops!

We were walking the streets after visiting Cacao (which will be the topic of a future post) and stumbled upon Moonstruck Chocolate Cafe. Wow, what a surprise! I've long enjoyed Moonstruck's chocolate bars, and while I'm sure I had read on the label that they were located in Portland, I wasn't even thinking of it at the time, and I certainly was not aware that they had a whole cafe.

Inside we found a cute little cafe serving all kinds of coffee and chocolate drinks. They had a great selection of pastries and chocolate morsels, as well as all their packaged chocolate products on display for sale.
They also had a decent selection of hot chocolates and drinking chocolates on the menu. If you don't know the difference, drinking chocolates are thicker, richer, and come in smaller servings.
They had a special holiday hot chocolate available, so that's what I got. Rocky Road hot chocolate. It was good, but not mind blowing, like I was hoping it would be. It felt like a powder mix with some extra flavorings added in. Still good, of course. Hot chocolate is like pizza - even when it's bad, it's still pretty good. And this was far from bad.

I hadn't seen their hot chocolates available in stores near me in Los Angeles, so I went ahead and picked up their basic Dark Hot Cocoa mix. I figured it'd be a good place to start with their mixes.

A few things jumped out at me immediately. First off, the ingredients list. Notice there is more sugar than cocoa. Hmmm... Suspicious. As a lover of fine hot chocolates, I always prefer to see cocoa or cocoa mass (liquor) as the main ingredient. I do like that the ingredient list is small, however. Natural flavor is a bit vague, it could be almost anything. Guar gum I'm guessing is being used here as a thickener.

I made mine according to the instructions on the tin. Sometimes I like to deviate, but for a fair review, I make it as instructed. The tin even has a little indulgent, encouraging paragraph there on the back, almost a poem.

The mix itself is extremely light and fluffy. Don't breathe too hard into the tin, it'll go everywhere! The fault there lies with the powdered sugar, since it's basically that exact same texture. I don't mind it, though. Powdered sugar dissolves easier that normal sugar.

It's a very tasty mix, I actually like it better than the Rocky Road hot chocolate I had in the cafe. This mix has the flavor of cherry or amaretto, which was kind of surprising, as it's supposed to be just a plain dark chocolate mix. It was very pleasant, though.

It's a good mix for sure, however, I'm just a little disappointed that a chocolate maker such as Moonstruck doesn't create a mix with real chocolate in it. That's something I'd certainly love to see from them, as their chocolate bars are wonderful and come in many great flavors. Of course, nothing is stopping us from just using those bars as a hot chocolate, right?

Monday, July 6, 2015

Recipe - Malted Hot Chocolate

It's pretty obvious what we're going to make this time. That iconic package says it all - Whoppers hot chocolate! This is pretty much the drinkable equivalent of that classic candy.

I've loved Whoppers since I was a kid. Well, I love almost all candy, so singling out Whoppers isn't anything special. I've also always loved malted milk shakes, although honestly, I never really noticed the "malted" part until I was much older.

Lets take a look a the ingredients and go through them.

1 1/4 cup 2% milk
2 1/2 tbsp malt powder
1 oz Villar's 63% chocolate
1 tbsp powdered sugar
1 tsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp vanilla

The Whoppers are optional, they are not a necessary ingredient. We're only going to use them for a topping. The magic is capturing that flavor without using them!

The real secret to this hot chocolate is the malted milk powder. Malted milk powder is a mix of barley, wheat flour, and powdered milk. If you taste it by itself, it kind of tastes like a crushed shortbread cookie. It definitely adds a very distinct flavor to things. It's exactly what they add into milkshakes to make malts. It also turns up in Whoppers in a very small amount.

When I first started experimenting with this one, I was adding only a little bit of the malted milk powder. I could not notice a huge influence from it, and eventually found that I'd have to add quite a lot to really get that malt flavor. To match the flavor of Whoppers, some sugar had to be added, as well. If you prefer the flavor of a malted milkshake over the flavor of Whoppers, you could just leave the sugar out of this recipe.

The chocolate I'm using in this one is 63% Villar's dark chocolate. Lately I've been favoring chocolates that are 70% or higher, but for this one, to match the sugary flavor of the chocolate in Whoppers, we're going lower cocoa content, higher sugar content. Villar's also has a bit more of a candy flavor than some of the more artisanal chocolates like Valrhona or Sharffenberger.

The vanilla extract I'm using I purchased in Mexico. I was there in November 2014 for my wedding and found this in the gift shop at the resort we were staying at. This stuff is wonderful! Extremely flavorful, and seems to be a little stronger than our typical vanilla here in the US.

While researching it online, I learned a little something. On the back of the label of this vanilla, it says "This product does not contain coumarin". I did not know what that was, but I was curious. It turns out that coumarin is mildly toxic and affects the liver and kidneys. It's banned in the US, but some cheaper Mexican vanilla uses it as a substitute for real vanilla. There's a great little write up about it on Snopes. So while I don't have to worry about it in the vanilla I picked up, it's something to keep an eye out for if you are purchasing vanilla overseas.

Get your milk warming up over medium heat and put the malt powder in right away. I feel like this gives it the most opportunity to dissolve, absorb in, or whatever it is it does when added to a liquid.

Once everything starts to heat up, go ahead and add in the chocolate, sugar, and cocoa powder. Once it's just about boiling, add in that delicious vanilla and take it off the heat.

I made some strong vanilla whipped cream, and then sprinkled the crushed Whoppers candy on top of that. Mmmmm, delicious! The Whoppers bits drop down into the hot chocolate, warm up and start melting, and make these perfect little morsels to search around for with your spoon. It's a perfect dessert hot chocolate.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Review - Sarabeth's Hot Chocolate Parisienne

Back in October, I happened to be in the San Francisco area for my engagement party. Anytime I'm in a different area, I like to take every opportunity I can to look for new and different chocolates. On this occasion, we happened to swing by Kara's Cupcakes for a quick treat before heading back to Los Angeles. In the same shopping plaza as Kara's, there was a Sur le Table.

If you've been in a Sur le Table before, you know it's a store full of awesome cookware and products. I like to go in because they usually have a great selection of quality chocolate. This time, however, I found a hot chocolate I'd never heard of before. Sarabeth's Hot Chocolate Parisienne.

Sarabeth's has at least five restaurants and a bakery in New York, plus a few other restaurants in places like Key West and Tokyo. Apparently they got their start making jams. It turns out they can certainly make a fine hot chocolate, as well!

On the label, she talks about what inspired the recipe. This recipe is her attempt to match the legendary drinking chocolate of Angelina in Paris. I've been to Angelina, and I think she's done a pretty good job. Although, to be fair, nothing can replicate the experience of being in Paris, in Angelina, with the amazing ambiance of that gorgeous, classic tearoom.

The mix contains both cocoa powder and chocolate, which is a combination I love. This gives it the creaminess and extra flavor of real chocolate (because real chocolate includes the cocoa butter, which is basically fat), while also delivering the strong dark intensity of the cocoa powder (which has the cocoa butter removed).

There is no indication on the tin or their website revealing where they source their chocolate from, just "Semisweet Belgian chocolate bits" listed in the ingredients. This doesn't mean much, honestly. Semisweet is very vague nowadays, with more and more chocolate manufacturers putting the actual percentage of cocoa mass on the labels of their products. Semisweet simply means slightly more cocoa than milk chocolate. Milk chocolate can range in cocoa content anywhere from 10% and up. Bittersweet also means somewhere floating between milk and dark chocolate, so it really doesn't mean anything different from semisweet. These terms are pretty useless, in my opinion.

Compared to many of the other drinking chocolates I've reviewed, this one tastes a bit more towards milk chocolate rather than dark. Very tasty and sweet. Adding a bit more of the mix can really intensify it, though, if you'd like a bit more of a dark chocolate flavor.

In what is quickly becoming a tradition of hot chocolates I review, it turns out Sarabeth's is also a sofi award winner, the 2008 "Outstanding Hot Beverage". The article on the sofi website quotes co-owner Bill Levine on the history of their drink, “The restaurants are where the product started, and we have been serving the same hot chocolate for close to 20 years, We use only the best chocolate and cocoa.”

You can definitely taste the quality chocolates in it. It melts smooth, smells marvelous, and is not very complex. Just a great, rich chocolate flavor, not too dark or strong, begging to be topped with your favorite whipped cream or marshmallows.

You can also pick up this great hot chocolate over at Amazon. It's definitely a great all-around hot chocolate. It's good for mornings or midday, when you may want a lighter flavor, yet it could also be strengthened up for a great after dinner drink by adding an extra tablespoon or two of the mix.

Has anyone been to one of their stores in New York? I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Review - Chocolat Moderne Kama Sutra

Look at what an innocent looking little tin of drinking chocolate that is. A very colorful tin, an exotic font spelling out what it is, and the name of the chocolate maker very small on the front. You'd be forgiven for thinking this is just an ordinary hot chocolate.

Then you open the tin.

I had it shipped to my work place, and opened it there. I instantly ran from my office, dashing up and down the hall, barging into my coworkers offices, yelling "Smell this!" while thrusting the tin in their face. I had never smelled a hot chocolate like this before, and I couldn't wait to get home to make it!

This is Chocolat Moderne's Kama Sutra Dark Drinking Chocolate. Chocolate Moderne is based in New York, founded in 2003 by chocolatier Joan Coukos. I can't even remember how I came across this one. Probably browsing around on Amazon. Later I learned it had won a sofi award for outstanding hot beverage.

The sofi article mentions they use Varlhona Couvetures and cocoa powder. Couventures are just chocolates made with extra cocoa butter for a higher gloss finish, which probably isn't extremely important in a drinking chocolate. Although, cocoa butter is a fat, so maybe that added fat helps make the drink creamier and smoother. Whether it helps or not, Varlhona is always a great chocolate to start from. That brings us to the spices and flavors they add - cardamom, clove, and coconut.

When I opened the tin that day in my office, I had no idea it was going to be so different and enticing. The aroma is like the beach on a warm summer day, or maybe a relaxing evening at the spa. The coconut mixes with the chocolate in what has to be the best-scented hot chocolate I've yet experienced.

The coconut is really coming through on this one, and nothing compliments that better than the cardamom and clove. It's one of the most relaxing, laid back cups of hot cocoa I've ever had. It instantly makes me feel like I'm on vacation!

Whatever you do, do not put marshmallows on this one! As the marshmallows melt, they will sweeten it too much and dilute the complex flavors. This one deserves only light complimentary flavors, something that would bring out the flavors of the drink even more. I served mine with almond flavored whipped cream and a sprinkling of coconut shavings.

I can't praise this one enough. It's unique and original, definitely a one-of-a-kind hot chocolate. If you're about to order something from Amazon, go ahead and throw this in your cart. You will absolutely not be disappointed.

And try Chocolat Moderne's other flavors! I'm sure going to!