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  1. Thanks again for the replies and suggestions. I got some recs from Joanne at Chocosphere as well and then put together an order to try and hit a variety of them. I received that order today. I went with Joanne's rec of an inexpensive Guittard for the semisweet, which I haven't tried yet. I might have gone with the Zephry for the white given the cost but it was out of stock, so I went with the Opalys instead. I'd have liked to try the Ivoire as well, but that didn't seem to be available in a smaller size. I'll probably get that when the Opalys starts running low to test them side-by-side. The bittersweets weren't really my focus but there were lots of tasters available for those, so I grabbed quite a few of them and along with what was already in my cupboard we did a 66%-72% tasting tonight. We did a ~70% tasting of grocery store bars about 18 months ago, so I also wanted to compare back to that. I made no effort to double-blind this tasting, since I could discern the manufacturer based on the shape anyway and my wife and kids didn't know any of them to begin with. We made reasonable efforts to cleanse palates, record notes individually, and draw conclusions somewhat scientifically, but this was still ultimately an amateur operation. Still, here are my thoughts in case they're of use to anyone... Callebaut Fair Trade 70% - $20/kg - The most bitter of the group, with a slight mineral taste to it. This reminded me of the Green & Black's bar, which was in the last tasting but not this one. I like this style of chocolate when I want a strong contrast between the chocolate and a sweeter/creamier ingredient, but it's not my favorite for general-purpose baking, even for a bittersweet. Very reasonably priced, though. Cutting this slightly with the (also inexpensive) Guittard semisweet to temper the bitterness might be a cost-effective general baking approach. Valrhona Guanaja 70% - $32/kg - Highly recommended by Joanne at Chocosphere. This was indeed a really nice all-around bittersweet. Some fruity and spicy notes, but no particular flavor stood out. It was just tasty. If I had to pick a single, all-around ~70% chocolate to stock, this would be it. It would work in everything. Valrhona Caraibe 66% - $31/kg - Recommended here. A bit sweeter than the Guanaja, with fruity-floral notes among other flavors. Quite excellent. I can see choosing this over the Guanaja in preparations where the chocolate is the star and I want something just a touch sweeter and also more interesting in its own right. Baker's Bittersweet 66% - ~$2.50/bar at the grocery store - I'm not sure how this bar found its way into my cupboard but I discovered it there last week and figured I'd throw it in tonight. It's as bad as its reputation suggests, with a nasty, chalky mouthfeel and almost no flavor beyond some sugar. Really awful stuff. If this were all I could find, I'd make something without chocolate instead. Endangered Species "Chimp" 72% - ~$3.50/bar at the grocery = ~$41/kg - A favorite from our last tasting, this bar still performs very well against high-end brands. For a 72% chocolate, it has a lot of fruity/spicy complexity and not just bitterness. I think I actually prefer this slightly to the Guanaja in the higher-percent category, but it's pricey to use in quantity. However, I can see trading cost for convenience and just buying this at the store as needed if you don't bake a whole lot. It's really good. Michel Cluizel Single Plantation Assortment - ~$55/kg individually - Way too expensive for me to consider for baking purposes, but the taster assortment seemed fun enough for ~$18. We omitted the milk example from this and tried the others which were all in the high 60's. Honestly, the sophistication here was mostly beyond us. After the fact, our tasting notes lined up with the pamphlet for a couple of the chocolates, but none of them really leapt out at us as outstanding compared to the other options. At this level, I think I would 1) need a more experienced palate, and 2) need to test them in the context of a very specific application (e.g. one particular truffle). At least I won't feel compelled to go spending $55/kg on chocolate! For completeness, the other three chocolates from our last, grocery-store tasting... Green & Black's Organic 70% - ~$3.50/3 oz - As noted above, Callebaut seems quite similar to my recollection of this. Bitter with a sort of mineral taste. Not unpleasant, but best for specific applications. I think bulk Callebaut is quite similar as well as much, much cheaper in bulk. Lindt 70% - ~$3/3 oz - Relatively sweet and creamy for the percentage, inoffensive but not especially interesting or complex. Acceptable backup grocery store chocolate if it's the best you can find. Private Selection 70% (Mariano's/Kroger House Brand) - $2.50/3 oz - Slightly better than Baker's but that's not saying much. Weird oily mouthfeel. Not much to the flavor beyond sweetness. I wouldn't make a chocolate-forward dessert if this were all I had. All good fun for a Friday night family activity!
  2. Well, I hope you'll visit AP next time then, Alex! We have a couple of long-time institutions like Noon o Kabob for Persian and Tre Kronor for Swedish breakfast - those are musts on any Chicago food tour. I used to include Great Seas (around the corner from me on Lawrence) on that list too for Korean-Chinese, but it's unfortunately bounced around between owners with legal issues over the years and isn't as good anymore. But then there are a bunch of little unpretentious joints that have popped up along Kedzie and Kimball between Montrose and Lawrence over the last few years, and the stretch of Lawrence from Kedzie east across the river has some cool stuff too. Many of those places come and go, so just browse Google and Yelp and see what looks interesting. It's not really a neighborhood for night-life per se, but you can take a short hop on the L over to Lincoln Square if you want bars and music and craft whiskey and all that after dinner.
  3. Thanks for the kindly welcome! Chicago certainly is a fine place to eat. For starters, it's tough for me to travel given the sorry state of pizza everywhere else but here. I always read these "How do I make good pizza?" threads online and give thanks that I can just order in something respectable from a joint that's 10 minutes away. Why screw around with dough and stones and sauces when I can just order in cheaper and better? Poor non-Chicago people... I know Chicago has some well-regarded spots in the big global food scene too, but that's not really my bag, though a couple of my friends are into it. I like the neighborhood and ethnic joints that don't hit me for three figure dinners. I'm in Albany Park - one of Chicago's most diverse neighborhoods - and I can easily walk to restaurants serving more than a dozen different cuisines. The Salvadoran place a few blocks from me makes killer pupusas. The old school Japanese restaurant a mile north has sushi and donburi for a terrific price. I've got Korean and Lebanese and Persian and Brazilian and Mexican and German and Thai and more in walking distance. The Hong Kong BBQ joint 15 minutes away has some of the best Peking Duck in the States, plus charsiu I can take out to use for stir fry later. That's where I'm at. I worry that my kids don't get how fortunate they are when it comes to food.
  4. I'm in the US - sorry for not pointing that out and being the typical presumptuous American. We have a TJ's, though it's not on my regular route. I also remember reading somewhere that their blocks were from Callebaut. Whole Foods (more convenient to me) used to stock Callebaut-marked blocks but didn't have any out as of a couple days ago - possibly due to virus precautions in the stripped-down prepared food area. I'm not opposed to Callebaut - I remember working through a big block years ago and it was fine. But I'd just as soon try other recommended varieties, especially in a more convenient disc form. I'm not that cost-sensitive, though I'm not going to be buying $45/kilo bags for my purposes either. I'll probably order a bag of basic Callebaut anyway for when my 12yo daughter wants to bake - in bulk that's cheaper than even the cheap, crappy supermarket chocolate. I did read some of the white chocolate thread and remember Opalys being mentioned. I could probably stand to pay for that - I don't especially love white either and don't use it much, but it's annoying that I can't get plain white anywhere locally anymore. It's all doctored up with strawberries or whatever. If I use it then it will probably be for something relatively important. The Valrhona Caraibe was one that I was looking at. The Extra Bitter at 61% is also written up on CS to be a good all-around semisweet. Any experience with that one? The only Lindt I've ever tried are the bars available at the market. I blind-tested their 70% against a few others not long back and found it OK but notably less interesting.
  5. Like many folks I've been doing a lot of baking lately - something I never quite had time to do well before. I've been focusing on cakes and pastry and I'm getting frustrated buying supermarket fancy chocolate. I guess any plain dark chocolate under 70% just isn't trendy enough to stock these days, and not one of my four local markets carries a single bar of plain white chocolate anymore. I started browsing Chocosphere and Worldwide, but I'm lost in the vast selection there and comparative taste tests are surprisingly scarce online. I see there's a ton of chocolate knowledge on this forum so I'm hoping for some recommendations. I guess I primarily want a white chocolate and a ~60% semisweet dark because I can't buy those locally. But it wouldn't hurt to order some ~70% bittersweet while I'm at it since that gets used a lot for brownies and cookies and it would probably be cheaper than buying Green & Black's or Endangered Species bars at the market. These would be used for a wide range of general baking and pastry preparations (batter, icing, ganache, mousse, whatever), but not real molding or truffle work. I'd prefer something in convenient disc or bar form over a huge block. One or two kilo sizes are probably as much as I'll use in a reasonable time, especially with summer approaching. With that in mind, I could totally just buy some Callebaut callets and call it a day (wow... alliteration!). But then I see Callebaut isn't all that highly regarded here. I'd welcome any suggestions from folks that have tested lots of chocolate. Something relatively inexpensive (~$20/kilo) like Callebaut or Guittard is nice, of course, but I could swing ~$30/kilo if it's really that much better. If there are any varieties that are particularly good for certain baking applications but not others, I'd be interested to know that too - I'm not entirely clear on fluidity or other chemical properties of chocolate. Thanks for any thoughts or recommendations you can provide!
  6. Hey everybody! I've seen some interesting threads from here turn up in Google over the years and I figure I should join in. Like a lot of folks, I'm doing a whole lot of cooking these days - particularly baking, which I never really had the time to dive into before. Hoping to get some chocolate advice from the baking peeps here. When I'm not shut in at home and baking every day, I cook a lot of Asian food - Japanese, Cantonese, bit of Sichuan, bit of Korean, or whatever else catches my interest. Living in Chicago I have some good restaurants for all of those nearby too, though I tend only to visit restaurants to better understand what I'm trying to do at home. Cheers! Todd
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