I stood in the checkout line at Trader Joe’s shortly before Christmas. And that, of course, is exactly where the chocolate displays live.
I noticed several dark chocolates, all with 71% or 72% cocoa. What could be the difference between Swiss-made, fair trade, and Valrhona? And between those and the Trader Joe’s Pound Plus 72% Belgian chocolate bar sitting in my cart? Here was an opportunity to take my own advice: Taste Your Ingredients!
My impromptu exercise shows how easy it can be to learn about ingredients especially when the goal is modest—to see if I could discern flavor differences among the chocolates. And one of them, the Valrhona, has long been a personal favorite. Because of its familiarity, it became my standard bearer; I could use its characteristics to compare with the others. After the tasting, I would make the insanely good and intense Chocolate Walnut Caramel Tart I had learned at the San Francisco Baking Institute’s Holiday Pie and Tart workshop.
I lined up the 4 bars on my kitchen counter, broke off a small bit from each. I put a piece in my mouth and let it melt there. I closed my eyes and thought about what I tasted. The fair trade had a dry texture and flavor that reminded me most of cocoa powder. The Swiss bar had a smoother texture and a distinct coconut flavor. The Valrhona had a very smooth, rich texture and a more complex, fruity chocolate flavor than the others. And the TJ’s Belgian Pound Plus bar’s flavor was more muted than the others and its texture less rich than the Valrhona.
These discoveries helped me choose which to use for my tart with its thick layer of ganache: a mixture of the Valrhona, the fair trade (the cream and butter in the ganache would balance the dry, cocoa character of the bar), and the Pound Plus. The Swiss bar would be for eating or for chocolate truffles with a coconut filling.