This morning I worship with an assorted selection from Donnelly Chocolates from Santa Cruz, California. They offered two choices to us in The Chocolate Cult, and they came wrapped as gifts in this eco-friendly paper made from recycled materials. The green one is the selection your Chocolate Priestess will reveal today. These are preservative-free candies, so I stored them in the fridge and moved them up the list for earlier review.
Inside the colorful paper were plain white boxes (see above) containing the chocolates themselves. I'll do a closer photograph later in the review. It contained 21 pieces, two of which seem identical at first glance, but we'll discover whether they are, Sisters and Brothers. Five are clearly milk chocolate shells, one is a foil-wrapped bittersweet truffle, and 15 are dark chocolate coated. When I open the box, a nice scent of chocolate drifts up, and as I keep the box open and near me this aroma builds up to tempt me. Fear not, for your Chocolate Priestess will conduct this Sacrament as it should be: purposefully, slowly, allowing each piece to fully engage her senses, and with only water as their companion, so that their flavors cannot be tainted.
The box came with a fold-out information sheet with pictures for most of the pieces you see to your left and written descriptions for others. I'll start with the lone truffle, wrapped in gold foil, “Bittersweet.” Unwrapping it reveals a French style truffle of just less than 1 inch in diameter, smelling of cocoa and getting cocoa powder on my fingers. Since your Chocolate Priestess is a personal fan of bittersweet and dark chocolates, just the scent is tempting to me, but I will myself to make this into two bites. Ah ha! It snaps when I bite it in two. This is not French style at all, but a cocoa powder coating over a harder shell and a softer center of nice mouth-puckering bitterness. The second bite I let melt on my tongue, and let me warn you that if you do not like pure bittersweet cocoa you should not do this, Sisters and Brothers, or it will overwhelm you. The cocoa melts, leaving the hard shell, which also melts, though very slowly, to release the soft center over the course of a minute. Though they are all bittersweet, there is a subtle difference in the three layers that, combined with the textures, creates a wonderful experience.
I'm going to focus on the milk chocolates next. The first is the “Toasted Walnuts,” which is 0.75 × 1.5 inches; it looks as if there are two separate nuts under the coating, and when I bite one off and it crunches nicely but leaves the other nut almost entirely covered, I know I'm correct. Normally I see walnuts paired with dark chocolate, so this is unusual. The milk chocolate flavor is a smooth addition to the walnut's own taste, and the walnut is fresh and crunchy with each bite. If you aren't a fan of darker chocolate but like walnuts, this is definitely a good choice, but I like it all, so I'm pleased.
Two more of the milk chocolate pieces are easy to identify from the inside of the information sheet that came with the box — it has drawings of the chocolates split into dark and milk sides. The crown-shaped piece is “Peanut Butter,” which I smell immediately when I bring it toward my nose. It measures 1.25 inches across and is more than half an inch thick. The crown design is on the top, and it is fairly detailed. It makes a very soft snap when I bite it in two to reveal the soft center. The peanut butter is the primary flavor here, and it is a bit sweet, though not as sweet as other peanut fillings I've had in chocolate. Letting the second bite melt strengthens the chocolate flavor, better mixing it with the peanut butter.
The next milk chocolate is also big, at almost 1.75 inches long and about an inch tall. Its flowing lines on top tell me it is the “Malted Milk” piece, but I can smell just the chocolate when I raise it to my lips and nose. It makes a very light snap as I bite; the bottom is thicker than the top and sides. It takes a few chews to fully release the malted flavor, which hits the center and back of my tongue suddenly. That taste builds up over the next two bites, reminding me of a good quality malted chocolate milkshake at a restaurant. Exactly what I expect from such a flavor. (The dark version of this shape is the “Coconut” flavor.)
The next piece is 1.25 inches square with some chocolate sprinkles on top, but I don't see a picture of it on the list, and breathing it in reveals only the milk chocolate essence. I think this is one of the caramels the website mentions, because it is chewy and sweet inside, though it is neither oblong nor heart shaped. Regardless, it has the pleasant tang you want from caramel.
The last milk chocolate is shaped like a rose, which if it were dark chocolate would be a rose flavor according to the list — let's see if that's true of the lighter confection. There is a hint of something floral when I take a deep whiff of it. It's so pretty, the folds of the rose wonderfully laid out, but I take a bite of the one-inch-diameter piece, which is almost an inch in height as well. The inside releases more of the fragrance, and that combined with the taste tells me that this is indeed “Rose” flavored, which threatens to overwhelm the milk chocolate and lingers in my mouth for a few minutes until I rinse it out to move on to the next piece.
Since I tried that, let's compare it to the dark version of “Rose.” First, the intensity of the dark chocolate when I take a whiff covers most of the floral perfume. Second, the rose flavor is still intense, but the bitterness of the dark chocolate combines better for my taste buds, and together they make my tongue tingle and my lips turn up in a smile. Personally your Chocolate Priestess would choose the darker version of this flavor.
The next dark chocolate is “Tahitian Vanilla,” which looks like a one-inch palm leaf. When I breath it in I only smell the cocoa, so I take a bite that barely makes a sound. The vanilla flavor is there, very lightly, but the primary taste is the bitter cocoa, which sends a rushing sensation from my tongue through my nose to my eyes. Nice. However, although the description says it should be flecked with seeds, the texture is only smooth and creamy inside, even when I let it melt in my mouth and search for them. As with very intense dark cocoa, the tartness lingers for several minutes.
Donnelly Chocolates also has spicy truffles, so I'll try their version of “Chipotle,” which has a five-pointed star on the top. There is an underlying hot scent when I breathe it in, and the very thin coating makes no sound. That's made up for by the intense, immediate kick to my tongue from the spice itself in the thick, smooth center, which makes my eyes water. That requires some time and liquid to ease out of my system, so if you like HOT, try this one.
I need a sweeter taste now, so I turn to the dark heart-shaped piece, “Honey Caramel.” Again, the scent is only the dark cocoa, but the texture of this piece is interesting before I even bite. There are tiny little raised dots on the top that I can feel with a fingertip, while the rest is smooth except for a sticky spot on one edge where the caramel has leaked a tiny bit. With a click the piece breaks apart as I try to take just one bite, letting the tangy yet sweet caramel inside leak into my mouth and lips. While the scent is definitely dark chocolate, the taste is mostly the caramel, with the bitterness kicking in right at the end. Far more complex in flavor than I was expecting, and that is delightful.
A 1.5-inch oblong piece with horizontal lines on the top of its 0.75-inch thickness is the “Macadamia Caramel” flavor — in fact, there are two pieces like this, so I'll share it with some friends here in the Cult. The dark golden caramel and the light shell reveal two whole macadamia nuts inside whose earthy taste mixes well with the sweet caramel and bitter cocoa. Normally, macadamia nuts are not my favorite, but this is such an incredible combination of textures and sensations that I'm positively surprised by how much I like it.
“Fresh Ginger” is a 1.25-inch hexagonal piece with a pinwheel design on top. The firmer, smooth interior has a faint hint of ginger, but the flavor is definitely there as I chew the first bite. Letting it melt only allows the dark chocolate to overwhelm that ginger essence, so I recommend chewing this piece to get a better mixture of tart spiciness and bitter cocoa.
“Cardamom” is a spice some of you may not know a lot about, but if you taste it, you won't forget it. The 1.5 inch long leaf-shaped and -inscribed piece is half an inch thick but only smells like cocoa at this point when I bring it to my lips and nose. The dark soft center is smooth and has that part-citrus, part-hot flavor that I feel describes cardamom. It doesn't have an aroma as I'd expect, since the chocolate remains the primary sensation for my nostrils. The spice mixes well with the chocolate as I chew or let it melt, but it is the cardamom that lingers in my mouth afterward.
There are six dark chocolates whose descriptions and images are not on the information sheet that came with this assortment. A check of the website reveals no pictures that I can compare them to, so your Chocolate Priestess must rely on her nose and taste buds to figure out what these are for you, Sisters and Brothers. I take a break and thoroughly cleanse my palate before embarking on this detective work.
Two of these are rectangular pieces, 1 × 1.25 inches in size, with some crystals on the top. One of them has bigger crystals than the other, but I'm not sure that means these are different flavors — I'll call them "big" and "tiny" to differentiate between them. "Big" has a very chewy dark caramel with a tangy flavor and a hint of salt; examining it means holding it, and the coating starts to melt on my fingertips. "Tiny" is identical in flavor, texture, and even melting, so the crystal size isn't important. The salt is a nice counter to the tangy and bitter flavors of the candy.
The next piece is a plain, dark, round one almost an inch in diameter. At first bite the liquid inside bursts forth and into my mouth. It has a raspberry flavor that suggests it may be a raspberry liqueur, which is very popular in some chocolates. The flavor reminds me of some other raspberry chocolates from other companies, though this has a kick that made my eyes roll up a bit and made the Milk Chocolate Acolyte sitting in the same room chuckle at me.
I think this and the other 3 round pieces are examples of the “Liquor Bombs” mentioned on the company website, which suggests that you eat it in one bite, so I'll give that a go and give you all my best guess as to which flavor each is. NOTE: Your Chocolate Priestess is not a big drinker — in fact, not much of a drinker at all, so please forgive her for her guesses, but she prefers to get her buzzes from cocoa over alcohol. The second has a stylized "q" or "b" on the top in extra chocolate. Popping it into my mouth whole, I let the liquor out, and it is smooth at first, then has a sting to it, but I'm not familiar enough with the flavors from the website to make a serious guess, though I do like it, so I wish I did. A loose sort of knot design graces the top of the next "bomb" that I take whole. This liquor is more intense, with a stronger sting to it from the start, and my mind is suggesting brandy of some type. The final "bomb" has a crosshatch pattern of four lines on the top. This is smooth, but has a bit more sting to it than the second piece I tried from this collection, though I can't say for certain what it is.
Overall, if sense of smell is an important factor for you, go for the milk chocolate pieces, which allow the internal flavors out, while the darker coatings mask any scent other than cocoa. Each piece was made of fine chocolate that could melt in my hands if I allowed it and which had none of the waxy texture common to most mass-produced chocolates. As is usual, some flavors I liked better than others, but other than the coconut I appreciate each of these and find them worthy for us, Sisters and Brothers.
While you can't pick each individual piece of chocolate if you order Donnelly Chocolates online, you can make some great choices: split of milk or dark, nuts or not, liqueur flavors or not, and spicy or not. This is true for several of their boxed collections. The website also gives information about chocolate in general as well as some of the recipes Donnelly uses. What the site lacks is nutritional information that might be valuable to some of you.
Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.
If you are reading in the eastern half of the Midwest, don't forget The Chocolate Cult's first CONTEST.