New Amano and Gail Ambrosius Truffles

When New York was still buried under snow, two chocolatiers sent me some new truffles to try. They were phenomenal, but I got sidetracked with independent projects, writing about strange chocolates and wildlife spotting for Travelandleiusure.com (a third piece is on the way) and editing materials for The Guggenheim Museum (the exhibition, stillspotting nyc, runs in Brooklyn till this weekend).

Even though these chocolates aren’t so new anymore and require extra care in the summer, they’re still worth seeking.

Amano

Amano truffles
Photo courtesy of Amano because I couldn’t wait to eat them all!

For all that I’ve raved about Amano, you’d think I’m running a kickback scheme, but I assure you, my words are genuine. For these truffles, Art Pollard partnered with executive chef Rebecca Millican to create flavors that complemented his chocolate. Most are subtle, and even if you’re a fan of intense flavorings, you can’t argue that the truffles are technically flawless. The paper-thin shells snap cleanly, giving way to a smooth filling. Although they’re dainty, Amano’s chocolate is so complex that golf ball–sized truffles would be overkill. My favorites were the honey, key lime, and cinnamon pecan, but here’s descriptions of their other flavors as well. From $12 for for 6, plus shipping; amanochocolate.com.

Key Lime-Refreshing, tart filling is paired with Guayas chocolate.

Cinnamon Pecan-Sophisticated yet retro take on pecan pie and snickerdoodles in chocolate form. Crunchy and not too sweet.

Yemeni Sidr Honey-The most expensive honey in the world lends woodsy, smoky notes to Guayas chocolate.

Cardamom and Black Pepper-Single-estate pepper (one of the few that are fully matured prior to harvest) enhances natural hints of bergamot and lavender in Dos Rios chocolate.

White Chocolate Yuzu-Amano’s elusive white chocolate (they sell it to chefs, but otherwise it’s only available in their truffles, though things may change once they expand their equipment) covers a Japanese-citrus ganache

Palet d’Ors (literally “disk of gold”)-A true test of the chocolate (and chocolatier), these four varieties are made with Ocumare, Guayas, Dos Rios, or Madagascar chocolate. Since are no additional flavors are added, the chocolate itself shines though.

Gail Ambrosius

Gail Ambrosius praline box
Praline chocolates in 80% cacao-leaf box (made from cacao leaves and bean shells)

Inspired by her trip to Paris, Ambrosius updated classic French pralines (candied, ground nuts) with a jolt of spices, salt, and housemade nut butter. $17 for 10, plus shipping; gailambrosius.com.

hazelnut and pistachio bon bons
Hazelnut and pistachio praline truffles

Pistachio Bomb-An explosion of flavors and textures. A crunchy pistachio is tucked inside an almost-liquid center of buttery white-chocolate ganache with lime zest, chile verde salt, and cayenne pepper.

Pecan-Applewood smoked salt and roasted nuts conjure bacon sans the weird porkiness. I enjoyed the Kit Kat–like texture, but unfortunately I have a low salt tolerance and was overwhelmed. This is geared toward fans of salted sweets.

Hazelnut-Like a love child of Nutella and Pioroline cookies, but a technical glitch (at least in my eyes) stopped it from reaching greatness. The bottom layer of chocolate was much thicker than the other sides; it disrupted the texture and overshadowed the filling.

Orange Almond-Crushed, candied almonds with marzipan and orange peel evoke Christmas fruitcake (in a good way). I just couldn’t get over the nubby texture.

I thought the pistachio was easily the best of the bunch and recommend customizing a box with that flavor ONLY (just add a note to the comments section of your order). It’s um, the bomb.

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Win a Year’s Supply of Chocolate from Amano

mystery cacao beans Calling all cacao nerds! My favorite American chocolate maker, Amano, is making a new bar with these beans. If you can guess where they’re from, you can win a year’s worth of chocolate!

These beans are unusually dark, so this could be a major clue. Also, Amano says, “They have a beautiful rich chocolate flavor with some very nice fruity notes. We have made a number of test batches and the chocolate made from these cacao beans is wonderfully complex. The finished chocolate is unlike any of our current chocolates.”

Go to the Guess the Origin Contest to enter. When the bar is released, a drawing will be held for everyone who guessed correctly.

Full disclosure: I’ve loved this chocolate from the beginning and followed their introduction of “dark” milk chocolate. By promoting this contest, I’ve received an extra chance at winning the raffle.

Photo: Amano Chocolate

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Menu for Hope VI: Win Amano Chocolate

Menu for Hope VI

It’s my favorite time of year, when we remember our blessings and indulge in gifts! For me, the Menu for Hope charity campaign represents the spirit of the holidays. The idea is simple: for each $10 you donate, you’ll get one virtual raffle ticket toward the food-related prize of your choice. This year, bloggers are again raising money for the the UN World Food Programme, the world’s largest food aid agency.

Amano chocolate

For the campaign, I’m offering some of my favorite chocolates in the world. Amano is a small-batch chocolate maker in Orem, Utah, yet it holds its own against the heavy hitters (such as Valrhona). The cacao beans are carefully sourced and processed, resulting in incredibly complex chocolate. You can taste notes of lapsang souchong, lavender, and cinnamon. No kidding! Amano has donated four bars each of

the 70% limited edition Montanya, 70% Dos Rios, and 70% Guayas
OR
the 70% Montanya, 30% Ocumare, and 30% Jembrana.

Winner’s choice! All together that’s 12 bars. If you’re having difficulty choosing, the first set is for traditionalists; the second is for those who like the creaminess of milk chocolate and the complexity of dark. Personally, I wish I could win the all-dark set. Please remember, this is prize # UE18.

Here’s how to win:

  • Browse the tempting list of prizes at Chez Pim.
  • Donate to the campaign at First Giving.
  • Each $10 you donate will count towards one raffle ticket for a prize of your choice. Please specify which prize you’d like in the ‘Personal Message’ section in the donation form. You must write-in how many tickets per prize, and please use the prize code. For example, a donation of $50 can be five tickets for UE18. Please write, “5xUE18.”
  • If your company matches your charity donation, please check the box and fill in the information so we could claim the corporate match.
  • Please allow us to see your e-mail address so that we can contact you if you win. Your e-mail address will not be shared with anyone.
  • Check back on Chez Pim on Monday, January 18 for the results of the raffle. Good luck!

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Amano Chocolate Giveaway

Amano Ocumare 30% milk chocolate
Photo: Amano Chocolate

If you only associate American chocolate with gritty Hershey’s bars, you’re in for a big surprise. One of my favorite chocolates in the WORLD is made on a mountain top in Orem, Utah. When Amano debuted two years ago, they only made 70% chocolate, but the bars differed radically because of where the cacao was grown.

Now Amano is making “dark” milk chocolate. This is not your mother’s candy bar. In the U.S., milk chocolate only needs a minimum of 10% cacao solids; Amano’s is 30%. As a result, you have the creaminess of milk chocolate and the complexity of dark.

Amano’s PR people are offering three of their newest bars for free. You can win the limited edition 70% Montanya (notes of grass, apricot kernels and toasted marshmallows), 30% Ocumare (notes of coffee and peaches), and 30% Jembrana. All together, they’re worth $22.

To enter the giveaway, please pay it forward: promise to do a good deed (we’re working with the honor system here) and tell me what kind of chocolate you crave most (milk, dark, or white) in the comments below. Contest ends Fri., Oct. 30 at 9:00 PM EST, just in time for Halloween!

Related links:
How to judge chocolate based on its origin
First impressions of Amano
Amano website

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Favorite Fancy Foods: The Chocolate

Fancy Food Show favorites

It’s that time of year again: the Fancy Food Show! From July 8-10, more than 5,700 booths from 73 countries and regions populated New York. Established and fledgling companies hobnobbed with food service professionals and the media, hoping that their product would be distributed to the masses. It’s a preview of what’s to come to the supermarket shelves.

The natural food products were greatly improved. Last year, there were pseudo whole-grain products and stuff that tasted like medicine. This time around, there was lots of flax, peanuts in all forms (salt-blistered cocktail nuts and natural peanut butters), whole-grain crisps, creative oils, fruit-sweetened sodas and even gluten-free experimentation.

As for non-healthy foods, there were gourmet potato chips and sweet/salty/savory confections. I had some good peanut brittle with seafood seasoning. Long a practice in France, there were also several salted caramels. I think U.S. candy is actually pretty salty to hide the flaws. These candies, however, used salt deliberately and carefully.

On the chocolate front, there was a continuation of single-origin chocolates and cacao nibs. Nothing ground breaking, but there was fine tuning. I felt bad for chocolate giant Ghirardelli, who was proudly handing out 73% chocolate. Cacao percentage is so 2005; artisan makers are focusing on cacao quality rather than quantity.

I enjoyed going a second year in a row, because I developed a better strategy: eat a light meal beforehand (there’s enough food in the Javits Center to feed a village, but all that random stuff churning around in your stomach doesn’t feel good) and go to the Focused Exhibits first. Otherwise, you’ll get lost in the random food booths. Also, it was nice seeing the fruits of last year’s show. Whole Foods now carries Skotidakis Greek yogurt and 34 Degrees fruit pastes, two of my favorites from last year.

Let’s get on to my personal Best in Show, shall we? I had a hard time paring down my favorites, hence the super-specific categories. First, the chocolate.

Best Chocolate Bar – two-way tie

Amano chocolate

Amano – At 4,441 feet above sea level in Orem, Utah, Art Pollard is one of the few remaining independent American chocolate makers (Hershey’s bought out Scharffen Berger and Dagoba a couple years ago). He doesn’t use emulsifiers like soy lecithin, which create smoothness but can interfere with flavor. He also swears by the mountaintop setting, saying it allows him to process the chocolate at a lower temperature and preserve more flavors. He only makes 70% chocolate, but they taste radically different because of the origin. The Ocumare from Venezuela tastes like berries, apricots and plums, while the Madagascar tastes like oranges. He also has a limited edition Cuyagua.

Domori chocolateDomori from Italy also doesn’t use emulsifiers, and it’s a wonder how they get their chocolate so smooth and thick. Two of their 70% Venezuelan chocolates are also very different. (Which is why the percentage gives you limited information. Purists swear by the country of origin, and super-purists insist of single plantations.) The Rio Caribe Superior has notes of plum, apricot, peppercorns, coffee, milk, and sugar. If you think that’s a mouthful to say, wait till you taste it! The Caranero Superior, also from Venezuela, tastes like mocha, nut, raisins and dirt.

Best Fair Trade and Organic Chocolate

Theo chocolate

Theo – Okay, so they don’t have competition because they’re the first roaster of Fair Trade Certifiedâ„¢ cocoa beans and the only roaster of organic cocoa beans in the U.S., but they’re darn good. My favorite is the nib brittle, which has nuanced chocolate bits encased in hard candy. Going along the salty-sweet trend, their Bread & Chocolate bar has toasted bread crumbs (it’s not so weird; they’re crunchy like nuts) and salt. I wanted to like this bar, but I found it too salty. They also have several single-origin chocolate bars and tasty truffles. The bars are a bit hard though.

Best Truffles

Garrison chocolate truffles

Garrison Confections – Chocolatier Andrew Shotts was the executive pastry chef at the Russian Tea Room and helped formulated Guittard’s high-end couverture, E. Guittard. In 2001, he started his own chocolate company with seasonal truffles. His coffee truffle sang in my mouth.

Best Healthy Chocolate

Vere chocolate

Vere – This New York company only uses Ecuadorian cacao, which is naturally sweet. As such, Vere adds just a little sugar and some fiber to their chocolate. My favorite is the chocolate coconut cluster, and I don’t even like coconut that much. It’s wonderfully crunchy and paper thin. Although their chocolate is delicious, I wouldn’t shell out $2.50 for a truffle. No worries though, you can get generous free samples every Friday from 12:00-6:00 at their factory (12 W 27 St. between 6 Ave. and Broadway).

Most Creative Use of Chocolate

chocolate figs

Rabitos Fig Bon Bon – Imagine a truffle encased in a bulging dried fig and then covered in chocolate. Genius! These figs are Pajaritos, which only grow in the southern Spanish region of Extremadura.

Best Cult Chocolate
Pralus chocolate-covered cocoa beans

Pralus claims to be one of only three chocolate makers in France. I’m not sure what criteria he’s using, since Valrhona, Bernachon, Weiss and Michel Cluizel also make chocolate. No matter, each of his single-origin chocolates taste like a different color of the rainbow. They take a little getting used to, since they have sharp white cheddar and mushroom notes. The Madagascar chocolate-covered cocoa beans have that signature Pralus taste. His chocolate is hard to get in the U.S., so treat yourself if you can find it.

Best Snacking Chocolate

Charles Chocolate

Charles Chocolates from San Francisco makes fun things, like triple-coated chocolate nuts, tea truffles and peanut butter butterflies. They use a combination of Guittard and Cacao Barry chocolate, which are pretty neutral (no high notes of fruit or soil). I like my chocolate stronger, but this chocolate is nice if you don’t want to think too hard.

Coming up in part two: everything else.

Related posts:
Fancy Food Show 2006 Favorites, part 1
Fancy Food Show 2006 Favorites, part 2

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