One of the things I really love about my job is that people send me chocolate to eat. I come home and find boxes on my porch. Companies send it to me because they want my opinion - sometimes without even asking me. It usually takes me a while to get around to tasting them, and sometimes when I taste them I don't write about them because I really don't like posting negative reviews.
A couple of weeks ago I received two bars from Theo
in Seattle. There's a little history there as Theo grew Phoenix-like out of the ashes of an effort called Essential Chocolate created by the founders of Essential Baking.
In any event, Theo might be the only bean-to-bar chocolate maker in the US that also makes bon bons, joining a very small group of companies.
The bars I was sent included a 40 % milk chocolate Hazelnut Crunch
bar and a 65% dark chocolate Fig, Fennel & Almond
Hazelnut is not only the Italian's favorite flavor in chocolate (think Nutella and gianduja) it is one of my favorites, too. I also like anything that is cooked and caramelized in sugar, so I was looking forward to tasting this bar.
Unfortunately, while a hearty crunchiness was quite enjoyable, the taste of the hazelnuts was not nearly present enough. What came through was a quiet nuttiness but not really the assertive hazelnnuttiness I expected and wanted.
Fig, Fennel & Almond
One of my favorite confections to make is a dried fig that's sliced open, stuffed with Marcona almonds, and then dipped in chocolate. There is something about the luscious unctuous texture and chewiness of beautiful dried figs (I buy mine from Teitel Brothers down on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx) coupled with the crunchy saltiness of the almonds (Trader Joe's) and the chocolate that is really satisfying.
I've also had fennel and other anise flavors in chocolate before and have liked many of the combinations. So I was also really looking forward to this.
I liked the chewy texture that the figs gave the bar and the way it contrasted with the smoothness of the chocolate and the mild crunch of the almonds. However, at least in the bar I got, the fennel taste right out front and completely overwhelmed every other flavor that might have been in the bar - fig, almond, and almost the chocolate which had a very agreeable peppery spiciness on the long finish.
Out of balance flavors that need tweaking. Worth revisiting in the future to see if the balance of flavors has improved. Great textures, however. I was less than thrilled that the serving size was set for the entire two-ounce bar. Thus the Hazelnut Crunch has 330 calories per serving (240 from fat) and the Fig Fennel & Almond has 260 (190 from fat). A more responsible labeling would advise that a bar was at least two servings (there are only four squares in the mold). Not that many people would pay attention, but it would be more responsible.
If anyone has comments about either of these bars, or about any other Theo chocolate, this is the place to add them.