Tag Archives: chocolate

Hershey’s Cookie Layer Crunch

Two bags of Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch

I had no plans to post about these, but…well, I got kicked out of a Facebook group for responding to a question with (correct) information on them, and I’m still a little salty, so enjoy the fucking post. [This isn’t that type of soap box, so I’ll just leave it at this: Some people are just so terribly misguided that (a) there really is no reasoning with them and (b) it’ll be a huge relief when you end up getting removed from their heavily moderated echo chamber of a Facebook group.]

Bullshit aside, this is a brand-new line of Hershey’s products, and it’s way, way better than the vast majority of the Hershey’s lines I’ve tried. And it’s not just me. These bars fared better in the consumer-testing process than most of the other products Hershey’s has ever released. (By the way, in case you’ve made the mistake of leaving that link unclicked, I’d like to inform you that the ad-article it leads to includes such absurd word heaps as “world leader in snacking expertise,” “textured snacking experience,” and “the growing demand for multi-textural eating experiences.” That’s all from one paragraph, too. Go forth.)

But regardless of those consumers’ pre-release opinions, I have a lot against Hershey’s chocolate. (There isn’t much to explain; their chocolate just sucks.) But I’ll eat the occasional Hershey’s product—usually a Kit Kat, a PayDay, a Reese’s Cup, or (my favorite!) a Whatchamacallit—because (a) I’m human, and (b) Hershey’s is one of the few food allergy–friendly chocolate-bar companies on the American mass market. Sue me.

Now, Hershey’s isn’t the ideal company, or anything—not by food-allergy standards, nor by any others, really. They don’t always label for shared lines and facilities, but they’ll issue a warning whenever they feel there’s any chance of cross-contamination. That is, in fact, what most companies will say in response to the question of whether they label for shared equipment, etc.—”we use our discretion,” basically. The question then becomes one of whether you, the food-allergic, trust the company.

Personally, I trust Hershey’s—which is to say that if a Hershey’s label doesn’t warn me to stay away, then I’ll feel pretty confident in digging into the labeled product. They have plenty of products I can’t eat, but I take that as a good sign, actually. A lot of products with a “may contain” warning means a willingness to issue such warnings when they’re called for. So I’m on board.

Anyway. With regard to these particular products—all three Cookie Layer Crunch varieties, I mean—I’ve been told via phone (and on a few separate occasions, too) that the absence of any sort of advisory labeling does in fact mean dedicated lines. There are, then, no peanut or tree nut products made with the equipment that’s used to make any of the Cookie Layer Crunch bars. (Cookie bars? Bar cookies? Cookies-in-bars? I don’t know.) So do with that what you will.

A vanilla crème Hershey's Layer Crunch bar

Again—and I think this is worth emphasizing—I hate Hershey’s chocolate, especially when it’s prominently featured in whatever bullshit Hershey’s confection I’ve decided to shove into my mouth. I haven’t so much as touched a plain old Hershey’s bar since my last stay at The Hotel Hershey (circa 2007), where they give those things away like they don’t cost anything to make. (Oh, wait…) In any case, their chocolate’s just plain bad, and I’ll only bother with it when the other ingredients at play are hefty enough to make it worth my while. Fortunately, though, these Cookie Layer Crunch whatsits meet that criteria.

They come in three varieties—Vanilla Crème, Caramel, and Mint—so I suppose I should go one by one. I’ll start with my least favorite, then: Caramel, described on the label as “milk chocolate bars with shortbread cookie bits and caramel.” Unfortunately, the shortbread cookie bits don’t taste much like shortbread—or like much of anything, really—and the caramel is overbearingly sweet. I will say, though, that the chocolate involved (in this bar, and in the other two as well) is significantly better than the chocolate Hershey’s uses for their other product lines. It’s not as sour, nor (quite) as artificial-tasting, and it’s significantly creamier, too. But overall, these things taste just like ROLOs. And I’m sorry, but that isn’t a compliment.

I do have some nice things to say about the other two varieties, though. Vanilla Crème (pictured below—sorry about my fingers) is approximately as cloying as just about every other Hershey’s product out there, but it’s somehow not nearly as offensive. And in fact, it’s my second-favorite of the three Cookie Layer Crunch varieties.

The label calls them “milk chocolate bars with chocolate cookie bits and vanilla flavored crème with other natural flavor,” and (aside from the natural-flavor mumbo jumbo) and if you ask me, that’s a pretty reasonable description. The chocolate cookie bits are a lot more flavorful (and a lot more satisfying) than the shortbread cookie bits, and their texture’s key to the balance of the bar. And by some sort of miracle, the vanilla créme isn’t sickeningly sweet; in context, it works—and it’s pretty similar to what you’ll find in an Oreo.

The inside of a vanilla créme Hershey's Cookie Layer Crunch bar

My favorite, though, is definitely the Mint: “dark chocolate bars with chocolate cookie bits and mint créme.” Unfortunately, the packaging doesn’t lie—they really are green on the inside. But surprisingly enough, they’re delicious. They taste a whole lot like Thin Mints (which are pretty allergy-friendly, by the way), though with way more chocolate to them…and that‘s a compliment.

As with the Vanilla Créme, the cookie bits in the Mint bars are nice and chocolatey, with a satisfying crunch to them. They’re actually rather indispensable, and they go a long way toward making these bars so pleasantly Thin Mint–esque. The mint créme is good, too—it’s refreshingly minty, and there’s just enough of it—and it complements the (slightly) dark(er) chocolate nicely, too. I’m not even a huge mint fan—York Peppermint Patties are too much for me, I won’t chew mint gum, and I didn’t switch to mint-flavored toothpaste until well into high school—but these really do it for me.

All right. That’s enough, I think. I always feel sort of dirty when I confess to even half-liking a Hershey’s product. But these are new, and I kind of like them (well, two out of three of them), and they’re pretty allergy friendly, so…I’ll get over it. They’re pretty easy to find, too. Try CVS, Duane Reade, Walgreens, or the godforsaken Hershey’s Chocolate World in godforsaken Times Square—which is where I thought I had to go to get these. (Fucking oops. Long story. Stay away from the Hershey’s store. Please.)

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Ghirardelli Chocolate Chips

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I have no idea what possessed me to go out and buy a bag of Ghirardelli’s milk-chocolate chocolate chips—maybe it was the pressure I felt to get on with it and finally buy something from the brand-new Target that recently opened near my apartment, or maybe it was the downright vitriolic Ghirardelli-related debate I came across in one of the many horrifying allergy-related Facebook groups I like to browse when I’m feeling particularly masochistic. Whatever the reasons, I bought a bag. And ate its contents. Then bought another. And another. And now I’m here, weeks later, still hooked, blogging.

The Facebook argument—and I’m probably aggregating three or four arguments here, because, like most special-interest online forums, these Facebook groups make me lose (a) my mind and (b) my desire to get it back—was, of course, about whether Ghirardelli’s chocolate chips are safe for those with nut allergies. I love myself, so I didn’t weigh in, but I guess now’s my time.

After reaching out to Ghirardelli, I received the following reply (which is 100% consistent with everything I’ve been able to find online, too):

Ghirardelli Bars and Squares are made in a facility and on shared equipment with products containing the following tree nuts: almonds, hazelnuts, cashews and coconut. Peanuts are no used in the manufacturing of our Bars and Squares.

The chocolate chips (60% Bittersweet, Semi-Sweet, Mini Semi-Sweet, Double Chocolate and Milk Chocolate) do not contain tree nuts or peanuts; moreover, the chocolate chips line does not make products containing tree nuts or peanuts. However, our chips are produced in the same facility as our Bars and Squares.

The Classic White Chips are produced in a facility and on equipment that makes products containing peanuts and tree nuts.

So while I probably wouldn’t risk it with Ghirardelli’s bars or squares, I’m entirely comfortable with their chocolate chips (with the unfortunate exception of the Classic White). Of course, these chips aren’t made in a dedicated facility—but they are made on dedicated lines, which is good enough for me. (Plus, with how good these chips are, I can’t even fathom opting to use a dedicated-facility brand like Enjoy Life. There just isn’t any competition between the two products—especially if your only allergy is to nuts.)

Of course, you should always defer to the label for the most up-to-date information. Ghirardelli’s great about labeling issuing “may contain” warnings whenever there’s any sort of cause for concern, so the allergen statement will be sure to let you know if the above information has, for some reason, changed.

Anyway, I should probably get to talking about chocolate. Ghirardelli’s is great, and these days, I straight-up refuse to bake with any other chips. The semi-sweet chips are absolutely perfect for brownies—last week, I used them in this recipe, and the brownies ended up being some of the best I’ve ever had—but the milk-chocolate chips are the ones I’ll eat by the handful. They’re smooth and sweet, but not at all cloying—and they are, of course, totally free from that artificial Hershey-esque flavor all reasonable people hate so much.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, there’s an open bag of chocolate chips in one of my cabinets, and I have to, um…get to that.

Find Ghirardelli products just about everywhere.

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Sensational Sweets

An assortment of Chippers from Sensational Sweets

Despite my nut allergy, I’ve always felt pretty satisfied with the chocolate at my disposal. There are so many nut-free brands—Vermont Nut Free, PASCHA Chocolate, Dean’s Sweets, Videri Chocolate Factory—and there are tons of regular (i.e. not allergen-free) brands that work for me, too. So it’s not as if I spend much time scouring the Internet for more safe chocolate. (In fact, I intentionally abstain from any such scouring, precisely because I have way more than enough chocolate in my life.)

How did I find Sensational Sweets, then? Well…I didn’t. Sensational Sweets found me—but I’m actually really glad they did. A few weeks ago, one of their employees sent me a message, and—medium-length story short—I now have a box of samples sitting on my coffee table. (Yes, free samples, though I did pay for shipping. Of course, I’ll still be giving my honest opinion—and only my honest opinion.)

Allergen information first, though. Fortunately, at Sensational Sweets (and at Creative Cookie, which is owned by the same folks) there really isn’t much to go over. Their entire facility is nut-free and kosher-certified, and they have some gluten-free products, too. (Here‘s their catalog, which has the words “nut-free” all over it. And here‘s Creative Cookie’s.)

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Onto the products themselves, though. They offer a whole bunch of different stuff, all made to order: Chippers (tiny pieces of white chocolate bark), fudge bites, chocolate-drizzled popcorn, chocolate-covered Oreos, chocolate “pizzas,” chocolate-covered pretzels, Tropical Fruit Crunch (trail mix, but pretzel-based), and Pollylops (chocolate on a stick, basically). And over at Creative Cookie, there are fortune cookies, microwave cakes, microwave fudge, and, um, chip dips. (Don’t ask.)

Out of all those, they sent me some popcorn, a mini-pizza, some fudge bites, a microwavable cake mix, and a whole bunch of Chippers. And to my (admittedly mild) amusement, pretty much nothing was as I expected it to be.

The first thing I tried was the drizzled popcorn (pictured immediately above—as if you don’t know which of the photos in this post is the one of popcorn). Honestly, I’d expected it to be really boring; it’s just chocolate-drizzled popcorn—how good could it be? But for real, this stuff isn’t the slightest bit boring. Somehow, each piece is perfectly sweet, salty, and buttery. None of the flavors ever overwhelm the others, and none of the ingredients taste stale, which isn’t something I get to say anywhere near often enough. Definitely a product I would (and probably soon will) pay for.

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Next came the mini-pizza (rather, the Pizza Patty with Pizzazz—pictured immediately above), another product for which my expectations were totally, totally misguided. I don’t know what I’d imagined. Something bad, no doubt. I guess I expected it to be too sweet, too hard, or too busy, flavor-wise, but it just isn’t any of the above. The chocolate itself—sweet, but not absurdly so—is high-quality, and the texture of the popcorn works surprisingly well with the rest of the “pizza.”

To my absolute astonishment, I ended up really loving this thing (as did Sam—I shared, but only begrudgingly). We agreed: More, please. (And I have a feeling we’re going to end up ordering another at some point in the near-ish future—perhaps even a full-sized “pie,” if I can ever manage to get over the shame I’d feel for paying for such an absurd product.)

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Then, there was cakeMicrowavable birthday cake, which comes with everything needed to make it, cookware (and party supplies) included. It takes maybe five minutes to make—well, it took me five minutes, because I didn’t let it cool before icing—and the whole process is ridiculously easy, too. You just add water to the mix, microwave it (in the container it comes in!), “make” the frosting (more water-adding—this time, with an absurdly small and shallow spoon), and then frost the cake. That’s it.

The final product, pictured immediately above, actually isn’t half bad…for a cake that was five minutes ago literally just two types of powder. It’s nothing special (and why should it be?), but it holds its own against your average cake-mix cake, if you ask me. Plus, it takes a fraction of the effort. No pans dirtied—score.

After the cake, I moved on to the fudge bites—they’re nice and fudgy (duh) with super-moist centers—and then it was time for (what I expected to be) the grand finale: the Chippers tasting.

Pictured below are a bunch of teeny-tiny bags of Chippers, each containing a different flavor: salted caramel, lemon, lime, pumpkin, orange, peach-mango, raspberry, blueberry, grape, espresso, peppermint, and pomegranate. (Honestly, if it had been up to me, I never would’ve ordered any sort of fruity bark—but it wasn’t, so fruity bark I ate.)

A bunch of Sensational Sweets Chippers

Now, these…are strange. They’re just fragments of white chocolate peppered with what really, really taste like crushed Dum-Dums (and I wouldn’t be surprised if the candy bits were crushed Dum-Dums, given that Dum-Dums are top 8–free). Some flavors are all right—I particularly liked salted caramel, peach-mango, and blueberry—but plenty suck. (I guess that’s to be expected, though, as I did try every single flavor, including the ones I never, ever would’ve chosen on my own.)

Grape is unmistakably medicinal, and espresso tastes like Dunkin Donuts smells (not a compliment). Lime tastes like Mr. Clean (not sure whether Mr. Clean is nut-free, so the jury’s still out on that one), and peppermint is absurdly artificial, even compared to the other super-artificial flavors. But the chocolate itself is fine—I’m a big fan of white chocolate, which helps—so the fruitless Chippers are definitely tolerable, at the very least. (Salted caramel is my favorite, mostly because it’s the simplest.)

Anyway. I wish I could say I spaced all this chocolate-sampling over the course of a few days, but I didn’t. I ate it all in a single afternoon, then ordered a pizza before sitting down to write this post. The whole thing was genuinely shameful…but overstuffed as I am, I can’t deny that Sensational Sweets makes some damn good chocolate. With the exception of the Chippers, their sweets (well, those that I’ve tried) are indeed sensational, and I strongly recommend them to anyone who’s into (sugar-intensive, but not intolerably sugary) chocolate.

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Touring a Nut-Free Chocolate Factory

"Happiness is Unroasted"—outside Raaka's factory

Back in March, I published a post about Raaka, a Brooklyn-based craft chocolate company that’s entirely nut-free. In that post, I noted that Raaka offers 45-minute tours of their factory in Red Hook to anyone who’s willing to part with $10 and don a hair net. It’s taken me a few months, but I finally got around to going—so I figured I’d share some photos.

Some important information first, though. None of Raaka’s products contain any gluten, dairy, soy, or nuts. Their FAQ states that no nuts are allowed in their factory, but that their chocolates aren’t certified nut-free, as they cannot guarantee that their vendors’ facilities are equally safe. Everything they sell is vegan, non-GMO, and organic—and most (if not all) of their bars are kosher, too.

(In spite of the whole vendors’-facilities thing, I’ve still categorized Raaka as truly nut-free, as their own plant is nut-free, and that’s about as much as I can ask for. Plus, I kind of like the fact that Raaka isn’t defined by its allergy-friendliness; it’s just a normal chocolate company that also happens to not use a few ingredients.)

Raaka is really big on their whole virgin chocolate thing, which refers to the fact that they use unroasted cacao beans in their chocolate-making process. As the folks at Raaka frame it, many lesser companies buy low-quality beans and then roast them to hide their flavor, which leads to a one-size, homogenous sort of product. Raaka, in an attempt to “bring you true cacao flavor,” does no such thing; instead, they buy high-quality beans and are thus unafraid to showcase those beans’ natural (unroasted) flavors. As long as it tastes good, right?

Onto the photos, though. Enjoy.

Free chocolate samples at Raaka's factory

When Sam and I walked in, we were immediately hit with the unmistakable smell of dark chocolate. We were 10 minutes early, and the woman who took our names encouraged us to help ourselves to some free samples. Of course, we did—we both tried every flavor, even though we’ve had most in bar form before—and all of them were delicious.

I found myself enjoying the sample discs way more than I’d ever enjoyed Raaka’s bars, and that’s not just because the discs were free. They’re comparatively small and soft, so they’re way less overwhelming than the bars, flavor-wise—especially if you (like me) struggle with the bitterness of dark chocolate. Seriously, though: All the flavors were great, and come tour time, Sam and I both had trouble stepping away from the chocolate, even though we knew there’d be plenty more to come.

Dominican cacao beans

Soon enough, our tour-mates arrived. After a quick rundown on the difference between roasted and unroasted cacao beans, our guide led us to the bean room, where we’d soon learn more than we’d ever wanted to know about cacao. I can’t relate all that much information, because I got…um, lost in my thoughts (super-pressing questions like where are all the Oompa Loompas? and how many Willy Wonka jokes do these employees have to fake-laugh at per week?) but I swear our tour guide taught us a whole lot of stuff.

First, he taught us how to eat a cacao bean. Apparently, he’s spent a lot of time working farmers’ markets, where he’s met his fair share of that super-effete Whole Foods type who tend to just walk up to his stand, grab a cacao bean, say something to the effect of “mmm, antioxidants” or “ooh, a superfood,” and then pop the whole thing into his or her mouth, husk included. That, our guide warned, is not the way to go. Cacao husks are about as tasty as peanut shells—and after we’d been warned not to eat the beans whole, it was sampling time.

As we gathered around for our rations, our guide explained to us that cacao beans grown in different regions tend to pick up different flavors. He gave us each two nibs (a nib is a bean-chunk that’s had its husk removed), one from the Dominican Republic and one from…somewhere else, at which point we all realized that he wasn’t kidding. Though both beans were shockingly bitter, their flavors did have different undertones; one had distinct notes of earthy dirt, while the other was more of a dirty earth. (Sorry. They both tasted terrible to me. But they did have totally different flavors.) Nearly everyone made a sour face, and one of my tour-mates declared that he didn’t like chocolate—and then it was time to move on.

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Still in the bean room, our guide went on to explain the winnowing process (by which the beans’ nibs and husks are separated). Again, I had trouble focusing—why would you pay $10 to tour a chocolate factory if you don’t like chocolate, Red Shoes?—but the process involves three rounds of running cacao beans through a machine that removes and then sucks away their husks and only their husks. Neat.

The folks at Raaka used to have to spend all day removing husks by hand, so they were all rather thrilled when they were finally able to purchase a machine to do the job for them. They also recently picked up an optical sorter, which (I think) they use to make absolutely sure that there’s nothing but pure, unadulterated cacao nib going into their grinders—no husks, no rocks, no nothing—which is, of course, another job that used to call for human attention.

A vat of

After a long, long talk about husks and winnowing and optical sorting, we moved onto the the grinding room, where the nibs are ground (for three days!) into silky-smooth chocolate. That day, the Maple & Nibs vat was the furthest along, so that was the one we got to try.

At the prospect of getting to sample something sweet, our tour-mates finally started to look excited—and legitimately so, because that shit was good. Warm, smooth, and sweet, it was very dissimilar to the nibs we’d eaten in the previous room, and I was finally starting to have some fun. (Sugar. That’s all it takes, people. Also, dairy. But that one’s a lost cause at Raaka.)

After the chocolate comes out of the grinders, it’s still a little gritty, so it gets fed through a machine that looks a lot like a set of rolling pins for further smoothing. Then, it’s scraped into buckets and brought over to the tempering machine, which is in the factory’s main room.

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The tempering machine repeatedly heats and cools the chocolate to encourage it to crystallize properly, which makes sure the product comes out looking nice and shiny, gives it that satisfying chocolate-bar snap, and keeps the bars’ surfaces from going gray (for a while, at least). Then, after it’s tempered, the chocolate is poured into rectangular molds. If that day’s flavor calls for the addition of nibs or fruit or whatever, they’re added to the chocolate while it’s still wet, and then everything goes into a big ol’ fridge for half an hour or so to cool.

Raaka's labeling machine

Finally, the chocolate is wrapped and labeled. The wrapping machine, which is straight out of, like, City of Ember or something, can wrap around 400 bars per hour—way more than Raaka’s employees had been able to wrap by hand before they discovered this weird-ass machine in “the back of a warehouse in the Bronx.”

The labeling machine—way less steam-punk—applies labels (shocking!) to wrapped chocolate bars that glide by on a conveyor belt…and that’s it, really. That’s Raaka’s signature bean-to-bar process, of which they’re (understandably) rather proud.

(I know nothing and it’s showing—sorry. I’m here to talk about food allergies and share a few highly-compressed photos, not to pretend to be a chocolate expert. It wasn’t as if I was standing there taking notes, nor was I able to focus on nib-talk for long. I was hungry, and my thoughts were doing a lot of wandering. How many blocks do you think I’d have to walk to get a bottle of milk?, etc.)

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And then—then—it was chocolate-sampling time. While we’d been on our tour, the woman who’d welcome us had laid out five plates of samples for my tour-mates and me. On the menu that day was Bourbon Cask Aged (82% cacao), Maple & Nibs (75% cacao), Pink Sea Salt (71%), Piña Colada (60%), and Coconut Milk (60%). We sampled from darkest to lightest, as that’s apparently how it’s done, and each and every flavor was absolutely delightful.

The Bourbon Cask Aged was a little too dark for my 20-year-old, sugar-loving palate, but it wasn’t bad by any means. Maple & Nibs was refreshingly sweet, by contrast, and Pink Sea Salt was salty and satisfying, as expected. My favorites were the last two, though: Piña Colada was very sweet, with chewy bits of pineapple throughout, and Coconut Milk was creamy and soft. Perfect, really.

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After we’d all sampled each of the five flavors, the tour was over, and my tour-mates and I were set free…to the area with the rest of the samples. No one insisted we leave; no one pressured us to buy anything; no one sneered at us for taking too many little chocolate disks. We were under strict instructions to eat as much as we wanted—it was lunchtime, and our guide actually encouraged us to fill up on chocolate—and so we did.

Still, I couldn’t leave without making a purchase. I figured I’d go with the 3-bars-for-$15 deal—Piña Colada (my favorite), Raspberry Lemonade (of which there were no samples), and Sunflower Seed Butter (same deal as Raspberry Lemonade). But when I found out Piña Colada wouldn’t be for sale until the following month, I decided to just go with Sunflower Seed Butter ($8).

Anywho. I’m a shithead with the attention span (and palate!) of a toddler, but I had a wonderful time at Raaka’s factory (…when I wasn’t being shoved out of the way by one of my eldest tour-mates, that is). Our guide was super friendly, and he knew a hell of a lot about chocolate—and the folks at Raaka are very generous with their samples, which was a pleasant surprise.

In all, it was a great experience, and I’d recommend it to anyone who has even the slightest interest in chocolate. Plus, Raaka’s factory is a 15-minute walk from Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen, which is totally nut-free, save for a packaged dessert or two. Make a day of it, if you’re into that sort of thing.

(Also, in the interest of accruing some bragging rights, I’d like to mention that I walked home—to Lower Manhattan—from Raaka’s factory. It was 90° and raining. I had boots, chocolate, and company, but I did not have an umbrella. Talk about making a day of things.)

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Raaka Chocolate: for the adult in you

One of Raaka's (nut-free) coconut milk

You know, I was really beginning to think the day would never come that I’d enjoy a piece of dark chocolate. (I’ve been known to walk around Trader Joe’s and sneer at all the goodies they insist on ruining with dark chocolate—on principle alone, since I’m probably allergic anyway.)

…That is, Until I found Raaka: a small-batch craft chocolate company based in Red Hook, Brooklyn. (Think Mast Brothers, but allergy-friendly.) They don’t roast their cacao beans—which is apparently an unconventional move in the world of chocolate-making—in order to showcase the beans’ natural flavors, and all of their chocolate is dark (which is to say that it’s above 60% cacao). It didn’t sound good, but boy, was I wrong.

First things first, though. According to their FAQ, Raaka is pretty allergy-friendly:

We take allergies very seriously at Raaka. None of our products contain gluten, dairy, soy, or nuts. Additionally, we ensure that no nuts ever enter our factory. However, we are not certified nut-free: we cannot guarantee that all our suppliers also maintain a nut-free environment. Please shop responsibly.

Very, very, very few companies can guarantee nut-free suppliers—but I find Raaka’s policy pretty promising. The fact that they don’t allow any nuts into their facility is especially reassuring, so I’ve categorized them as truly nut-free. Still, as they said: please shop responsibly.

I especially like the Coconut Milk bar, which is pretty creamy at only 60% cacao. I was skeptical when I read (on the wrapper) about the alleged “tasting notes” of strawberry and caramel, but Raaka isn’t kidding. The strawberry flavor is subtle, but it’s definitely there. Honestly, I’ve spent my 19 years rabidly hating dark chocolate—but this bar was the first step in my conversion.

The Cabernet Sauvignon bar (67% cacao) is lovely, too. Apparently, they steam cacao nibs over simmering wine before grinding those nibs to make the bar. Again, the “tasting notes” of grape and oak are real (though I refuse to stop putting “tasting notes” in scare quotes—if only so I can continue to live with myself). The bar is part of a limited batch that Raaka’s subscribers singled out as one of their favorites from 2015. (Raaka offers a monthly subscription called First Nibs; for $24.95/month, they’ll ship you three chocolate bars—two new flavors, and one classic—on the 15th of each month. Perhaps if I were rich…)

I’ve also tried the Mint & Nibs (56% cacao) and the Pink Sea Salt (71% cacao)—but that’s where I stopped, because at $7 each, these chocolate bars have me well on my way to the poorhouse. Still, both were good. The Mint & Nibs is refreshingly light in comparison to the others, and the Pink Sea Salt is…well, salty. Nice.

Anyway, from what I’ve tasted, Raaka’s bars are consistently good, and I highly recommend you give them a try, even if you aren’t into dark chocolate. Find Raaka most reliably at Whole Foods—or at their factory, located (in Red Hook) at 64 Seabring Street. They also offer tours and classes, which I haven’t had a chance to try, but which are both at the top of my weekend to-do list.

(By the way: If you’re interested in reading more about Raaka’s mission and methods, check out this article from Edible Brooklyn.)

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