Saturday, October 24, 2009

Small, Fine Chocolate Bars from Donnelly


Sisters and Brothers, welcome to our Saturday Sacrament.  Some of you may recall Donnelly Chocolates from a Revelation back on May 30, 2009.  That chocolatier submitted two potential Sacraments for The Chocolate Cult, and today your Chocolate Priestess will take you on a journey of all five senses as she reveals the nature of the ten 1.6 oz. bars they sent, which came in a simple white box wrapped in beautiful orange recycled paper and wrapped with a big green ribbon.


Eight of the bars were wrapped in beautiful, recycled paper again over gold foil wrappers; two were in simple clear plastic.  Three of the bars are milk chocolate, while the other seven are dark chocolate.  I'll start with the milk chocolate, then build to what I think may be the most complex flavor.  I'll show you the bars in groups in the photos, starting with the two milk chocolates I am revealing: "West African Cocoa Blend" and "Hazelnut Almond Toffee."  Then there will be a report from our Chocolate Coconut Acolyte.

The "African Cocoa Blend" is in a cream wrapper that has no nutritional information.  Remember, whenever you do not know the amount of calories, fats, fiber and other components of a chocolate, exercise careful moderation as you eat.  The ingredients listed are all pure, as they are for every one of these bars, so I won't go into details.  Each bar measures 3.25 × 2.4 × 0.4 inches in dimensions and is etched into four equal sections you can break off.  The paper wrapper tears easily, but the foil is taped, so it's a bit more difficult to unwrap.  As this description is the same for each bar, I will not repeat it later in this Revelation.  The light brown "African Cocoa Blend" bar has a very earthy cocoa smell to it when I take a breath in after snapping off a piece with a soft sound and gentle pressure.  The same soft snap happens when I bite into the quarter bar. It melts very, very slowly in my mouth, which allows the cocoa's simple creamy yet tangy flavors to coat my tongue.  No real cocoa buzz here, but that is very rare with milk chocolates.  For a sharper flavor I find that chewing it slowly achieves this difference in taste.  Overall this is an amazing piece of light milk chocolate whose essence lingers for minutes afterwards.


The dark lavender-wrapped bar is the "Hazelnut Almond Toffee" flavor.  These two nuts together may make for an interesting product, so I tear open the wrapper.  On the bottom and top of this light brown bar I can see the two different shapes and colors of the nuts inside, as I hope this photo to the right can reveal.  Their scent mixes with the chocolate to become something unique to my nose — not unpleasant, just complicated to describe, since all three aromas mix together in a balanced fashion.  A dull snap is the sound that breaking off a quarter of this bar makes, probably because the nuts create more surface area to break in an uneven fashion.  The bar has a very strong nutty flavor, the two varieties mixing together and making it difficult to tell them apart at first, though the almonds leave an aftertaste.  It is sort of like toffee, but it can't compare to the actual toffees of previous Sacraments, Sisters and Brothers.  I'd say this was more of a milk chocolate for nut lovers than anything else, the smooth chocolate underlying the crunchy kernels encased in it.


One of the bars was a coconut variety, so the Chocolate Coconut Acolyte invested her time and energy to try it for all of us.  These are her words: "This bar came in a simple cellophane envelope sealed with a sticker that gave basic information about the company as well as the ingredients: milk chocolate and coconut.  It measures 3 1/2" × 2 1/2" × 3/8" and weighs in at 1.5 ounces and is divided into four smaller sections, and there are a few flakes of toasted coconut sprinkled on the exterior of the bar.  The cellowrap crinkles as I slide the bar from the wrapper.  There is no discernible chocolate odor until I bring it to my nose.  Once I break off the first section, the scent becomes quite apparent.  I get a pleasant rush just from the smell.  The chocolate is not at all waxy and begins to melt on my fingers within seconds.  The coconut is visible in the bar and adds a slight crunch as I break off a section.  My teeth sink into the bar for the first bite, and I can feel the coconut scrape against my teeth.  Chewing slowly, I appreciate the silky smoothness of the milk chocolate.  This bar has a nice ratio of coconut to chocolate; however, the chocolate flavor is predominant, and I don't taste the coconut so much as feel it.   The second bite has me paying more attention to the chocolate than the coconut.  It's got a rich cocoa flavor that is only slightly overwhelmed by the vanilla.  Despite my normal preference for dark chocolate with coconut, I'm pleasantly surprised by this bar, and by the time I finish it, the rush that started with that first sniff has developed into a full-blown cocoa buzz."  Thank you, Chocolate Coconut Acolyte, for your witnessing.


The next two bars are dark chocolate with plain labels.  The plastic-wrapped one is a coffee flavor called "Dark French Roast," while the light lavender one is "Sea Salt," an ingredient I'm seeing in more and more offerings as well as in a cookbook I'll soon be revealing to you all here in The Chocolate Cult.  I'm going to start with the "Sea Salt" first, since I know that coffee flavors tend to have a strong aftertaste.

In the past, sea salt or salty chocolates have had the sea sprinkled on top, but this one has the grinder-sized crystals on the bottom of the bar.  I don't smell the salt, only the dark cocoa, when I take a whiff of this very dark brown bar.  I snap off a quarter that has a fair amount of salt on it — the crystals are not evenly spaced over the bar, suggesting this was done by hand and not by machine, which would give uniformity to the product.  The chocolate snaps loudly when I take a bite with the salt side down, and the chocolate touching my finger even starts to melt.  At first it isn't very salty, but it builds up, suggesting that the sprinkles on top are not the only sea salt here.  That seems confirmed when I flip it over and take a bite on the clear side — a little less saltiness to begin with, but it emerges as I chew.  This is the first salted chocolate I've had where the salt was added into the mixture, not merely placed on top.  I like that much better, because it allows my taste buds to adjust to the combinations of flavors without reacting to an acrid sting.

After washing the salty cocoa flavor from my mouth, I turn to the "Dark French Roast" bar.  The plastic-sheathed bar is difficult to open, a bit like the taped gold foil paper, but by pulling on the label I can pull the folded-over end back, and then the rest comes openly easily.  While the label goes into detail with the ingredients for the dark chocolate, it merely says "coffee" for the coffee, so I can't say where those beans came from or what was added to them.  Remember, I'm not a lover of coffee, so the flavors and scents I describe may seem more intense to me than to those Sisters and Brothers who consume coffee daily.  The smell is very dark coffee with a hint of the cocoa underlying it, reminding me of walking into a coffee shop to meet friends.  The bar is very solid, and it takes more pressure to snap off a quarter of it.  At first the bar tastes like neither chocolate nor coffee, but as I chew more of their flavors are released to blend in a surprisingly smooth fashion that the sharp scent did not suggest.  After several bites the result is a taste that isn't too cocoa or too coffee in nature but has a nice kick with a lingering light bitterness.  Normally I'm not thrilled by coffee or mocha flavors in chocolate, and I worry that the buzz from the coffee will compete with our Sacred Substance's potential, but I do like this bar.  That may mean it is too lightly coffeed for some of you, but for others who aren't lovers of coffee, give this one a try.


The next three flavors are floral or fruity in nature.  Their names, "Lavender," "Rose" and "Orange" dark chocolate bars, match the colored paper wrappers you see to your right.  I know what Orange should taste like, but even after doing these Revelations for all of you for the past eight months, I can't say I fully understand what floral flavors are supposed to taste like — smell like, certainly, because I've enjoyed looking at and smelling flowers my entire life, but I have not routinely eaten them.  If you are allergic to flowers, you might want to avoid these floral flavors, since they use the plant oils themselves.  Let's see if I can tell the difference between these bars after cleansing my palate of the coffee.

I'll start with the "Lavender" bar, which has lavender oil in it as well as the naturally made dark chocolate.  As soon as I break through the wrapper, my nose picks up the scent of lavender; once I have it fully unwrapped I can breathe in a bit of the cocoa essence as well, but primarily this is a floral frangrance.  As I chew a softly snapped-off bite, the scent floods my nose again, and there is a sharp, somewhat spicy flavor to the chocolate.  In fact the combination of this unique taste and strong scent overpowers the cocoa itself, and I can't say that I'm very pleased by the result. This combination of flavor and aroma lasts for several minutes after I eat the quarter piece.

I love the feeling of the "Rose" bar's wrapper; the leaf and stem pattern is raised on the rose colored recycled paper, making it different from the other wrappers.  No overwhelming fragrance here, only a light rose scent coupled with dark chocolate once the bar is fully unwrapped.  The quarter piece breaks off with a solid snap but only light pressure and releases a bit more of the floral scent.  This has an oddly sour-sweet taste to it, but the bitterness of the dark chocolate is also there and lingers longer.  This has a bit of a roughness to the texture as well, though I see nothing in the chocolate itself that suggests it should be anything but smooth in my mouth.  With each bite the rose oil essence builds up until it does start to overpower the cocoa, so stick with one to two bites at a time for the most chocolate flavor.

Compared to the two other floral flavors, this "Orange" bar has a barely detectable aroma when I open the bar.  Breaking off a quarter section hardly releases any more of the scent I was expecting.  The flavor, though, is delightful, a sweet light orange blending almost perfectly with the dark cocoa, building up more if you let it melt in your mouth, but not growing stronger than the cocoa's own bittterness, even by the end of that entire piece.  Of these three floral or fruit flavors, this "Orange" has to be my favorite, because it allows the chocolate to be dominant, using the fruit nectar to tame it.


Spicy chocolates are something I have only experienced since beginning my journey with The Chocolate Cult, Sisters and Brothers.  They can be an amazing experience or can simply be too hot to allow the cocoa to shine through.  Donnelly Chocolates sent us two of their spicy flavors, "Smoky Spicy Chipotle" in the maroon wrapper and "Five Spices" in the red.  I'm not sure which to try first, so I'll go with somethng I have some familarity with, the chipotle.

The "Smoky Spicy Chipotle" dark chocolate bar has a definite smoky scent when I unwrap it and bring it to my nose.  It reminds me of going to a steakhouse, and my brain is confused for a moment, because I don't associate meat with chocolate.  I brace myself for intense spice and take a bite.  Oh, that burn is there, but it builds up with each chew, making my eyes start to water.  In this case, the lighter smell downplays the actual taste, and soon the spice is drowning out the cocoa.  The burn moves out of my mouth and down my throat, and I have to get some water to try to weaken it.

On the website, the "Five Spices" dark chocolate bar is labeled as Chinese, but since the ingredients on the label do not list out the spices, I can't tell which they are.  I hope they aren't as hot as the previous bar.  After removing the paper wrapper, even with the gold foil on, there is a savory spicy aroma that comes from this bar; it reminds me of the spices I use in baking breads, or those that I associate with teas.  This has a light crunchy sound as I chew and a slightly rough texture, but again I don't see anything.  In this spicy chocolate the spice again overpowers the cocoa, but it isn't a hot spice, more of a pungent or savory flavor — very unique, not like any other spicy chocolate I've had before.  Since here in The Chocolate Cult we always want the Sacred Substance to take top billing, both of these spicy offerings disappoint, though of the two I find the "Five Spices" much more pleasant to eat.


If these bars intrigue you, Sisters and Brothers, you can get them directly from Donnelly Chocolates.  You can choose milk chocolate, dark chocolate, assortments of either, or specific flavors.  The milk chocolates have five regularly offered flavors plus any seasonal recipes, while the dark chocolates have a greater variety, with 11 standard flavors plus seasonal ones.  Of the ones I revealed today, my favorites were the "African" and "Sea Salt" varieties, with the "Orange" and "Hazelnut Almond Toffee" coming in at a close second tier.  None of these were bad chocolates — merely of lesser or greater cocoa intensity, and as always there is an element of personal taste.  All natural with no artificial ingredients or flavors, Donnelly once more provides us with an excellent selection of the Sacred Substance.

Additionally, you may have noticed that I reduced the size of the photographs this week.  This is my attempt to help your browsers load pages more quickly.  Please leave me a comment and let me know if you prefer larger photographs or these smaller ones.  That will help me decide what to do by our next Saturday Sacrament.

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.

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