Give me a recipe involving chocolate, and I'll automatically double the amount of cocoa powder, switch from milk or semisweet to dark chocolate, and throw in a broken-up extra-dark chocolate bar for good measure. When it comes to chocolate, I don't mess around.
Which is why I decided to go hunting for the best extra-dark chocolate bar that is readily available. I don't mean those wimpy 72% cacao creations--I wanted a bar that was at least 85% chocolate. Nor did I want a bar that cost more than 6 cents a gram or that had to be specially ordered online. I was looking for something I could buy whenever a chocolate craving hijacked my brain cells.
I do not claim to have found the paragon I sought. Why would I want to? The joy is in the journey, not the destination. But here are some observations about four extra-dark chocolate bars that may well be available at a grocery store in your neighborhood. And if they aren't, please check out the ones that are, and let me know what you find!
#4 Lindt-Sprüngli Excellence, 100g, 12.5% sugar, $3.85
I had high hopes for this bar. I had a profound relationship with Lindt-Sprüngli the year I was 16 years old and living in France, right across from the Swiss border. And I do love Lindor truffles, even if they aren't quite dark enough. Besides, the Excellence ingredient list is pure and simple: chocolate, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, demerara sugar, bourbon vanilla beans.
Hélas, the Excellence bar disappointed. My first impression was that I was chewing wax. After 10 or 15 seconds, the chocolate flavor finally appeared, and it wasn't bad: a bit spicy, a bit fruity. But as soon as I swallowed, it went back to wherever it hides when I'm eating my vegetables. I'm not going to give up on Lindt products just yet, however: they also make a 90% bar (same ingredients) and even a 99% bar (cocoa mass, cocoa powder, cocoa butter, brown sugar).
#3 Ghirardelli Midnight Reverie, 90g, 11.1% sugar, $4.55
Higher price, smaller size. More chocolate, less sugar. This one should be fantastic, right? Well, it wasn't bad. Unlike the Lindt-Sprüngli bar, Midnight Reverie was neither waxy nor brittle, though it also started out tasteless. The chocolate flavor, which hinted of berries, developed a few seconds later, but not as late as with the Excellence bar. Contrary to the label's claim, unfortunately, the flavor was not intense. In fact, this could be a good starter bar for people who prefer milk chocolate but are switching to dark for health reasons.
Dark-chocolate purists might find the ingredients list distressingly long, with unnecessary additions: Midnight Reverie contains chocolate, cocoa butter, sugar, milk fat, soy lecithin, vanilla, and natural flavor.
#2 Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Lover's Chocolate Bar, 100g, 12.5% sugar, $1.49
At 1.5 cents a gram, this is without a doubt the best value for serious chocolate lovers! But then, what serious chocolate lover ranks ecstasy by cost?
The Dark Chocolate Lover's bar had a consistency similar to that of Midnight Reverie, probably because both bars contain soy lecithin (DCL's ingredients: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, natural vanilla flavor). Its flavor--strong on berries--hit the mouth sooner and was a bit more intense than that of its Ghirardelli counterpart.
I'd cheerfully eat little bits of this bar every day except for one thing: like the Ghirardelli bar and the Lindt-Sprüngli bar, it is not certified fair trade. That means the farmers who produced the cocoa probably did not receive a fair price for their product. Worse, it means that children, some of them actually slaves, may have been involved in farming the cocoa.
#1 Theo Organic Fair Trade Ultimate Dark, 84g, 16.7% sugar, $4.00
Theo comes from the Greek word for god (θεός), and the genus to which the cocoa plant belongs is theobroma, "food of the gods." The gods should be happy with Theo's Ultimate Dark bar, since it is both organically grown and fair traded. All the humans I've offered it to are happy with it too.
Its flavor, which evokes ripe, dark cherries, shows up immediately, intensifies while you chew, and lingers even as you consider breaking off another bite. Its consistency is smooth but not waxy. Its ingredient list is short and perhaps a bit too sweet: cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter, and ground vanilla beans. No soy lecithin, no cocoa powder, no milk fat, no "natural flavor," whatever that is.
I hope I liked this chocolate bar best because of its excellent ingredients. I wonder, though, if I'm mostly attracted to the extra sugar. With 7 grams of sugar in each 42-gram serving, Theo Ultimate Dark is 16.7% sugar, which seems to belie its claim to be 85% cocoa. I may have to try these all over again, and no doubt add some other brands, just to be sure ...
If you want to conduct your own chocolate research, check out One Golden Ticket, a blog I discovered while preparing this post. I wish they'd add one of those subscribe-by-email apps--I'd sign up immediately if they did.