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A Guide to Single-Origin Chocolate

Anyone who has any kind of relationship with chocolate, will certainly have noticed a change in the kinds of chocolate products marketed to the consumer. These days, nestled among the chunky brand-named bars, are a range of artisanal, high percentage luxury chocolate bars.

The worth of a bar of chocolate is no longer solely about which brand markets it, the ingredients within, or the packaging. The real value of a bar of luxury chocolate starts at the beginning in the soils in which the cacao is grown and nurtured.

For our part, we source our single-origin chocolate from two well-renowned cacao producing countries for our brownies – Madagascar and Colombia.

But what exactly does the term ‘single-origin’ really mean? What benefits are there to selecting this kind of chocolate? And, indeed, what you can expect from the taste?

In this blog, we’ll be covering the answer to all of these questions.

What is Single-Origin Chocolate?

If you’re something of a connoisseur when it comes to your wine or coffee, then the nuanced notes of single-origin chocolate could be right up your street.

The idea of single-origin chocolate may seem like a complex one, but, in fact it’s remarkably simple: it is chocolate derived from one country or one distinct region, and in some cases a particular estate or plantation.

Just like the grapes used to make wine, the flavour of the chocolate will vary depending on the conditions in which the beans are grown. This can range from subtle changes to incredible variations when it comes to taste.

Rather than potentially diluting these delicate flavours, single-origin chocolate seeks to highlight these intricacies and allow the flavour of the cacao bean to really shine.

What Changes Single-Origin Chocolate Flavour?

There are countless compounds that have been identified in cacao, such as amino acids, sugars, fatty acids and much more. Some produce no taste, whereas some contribute to the rich prism of flavour, producing everything from subtle nutty notes to acidic tangs.

The many compounds responsible for the flavour subtleties in the finished chocolate begin with the bean in its raw form, and are further honed by factors such as genetics, management of the crop, and terroir.

These compounds then undergo further changes during the processes of fermentation, drying, roasting, and conching. These processes require expert knowledge and understanding of this precious commodity.

Genetics

Cacao has been grown for thousands of years; chosen for flavour as well as for adaptability and versatility for the growing conditions of Madagascar and South America, in particular. The specific country varietals of the cacao goes a long way towards determining the flavour range of the chocolate.

Terroir

In a nutshell, this refers to the growing environment – which encapsulates things such as soil type, rainfall, temperatures, seasonality, and even other crops that are grown near the cacao.

Crop Management

Timing the crop harvest is especially important. Cacao must be harvested when ripe to ensure that the sugar content is right for the fermentation to begin.

Under ripe cacao can be sour and sharp, and over ripe cacao will taste and smell unpleasant. Once ripe, the pod must be carefully harvested. If any of the beans are damaged it can affect the final flavour of the entire pod.

Fermentation

Fermentation is arguably the most important step when processing the cacao. After all, it’s possible to make a well-flavoured chocolate with fermented, unroasted beans but it is not possible to make chocolate with roasted, unfermented beans, no matter how well they have been roasted.

Drying

After the fermentation, the beans must be dried before they can be ground into cacao or shipped to other areas of the world. Some of the chemical reactions that began during fermentation will continue during drying, so the flavour profiles during this period will still be substantially evolving.

Roasting

Roasting is another key factor in developing flavour. Roasting is taken to temperatures of between 115 and 137˚C, which is hot enough to develop the flavours through a chemical reaction known as the Maillard reaction, but not enough to burn them. The Maillard reaction is the interaction between amino acids and sugars which results in the development of desirable umami, nutty, floral and coffee flavour notes within the cacao.  

Conching

After the cacao beans have been roasted, they are often ground into cacao mass – a thick paste or liquor that can be sweetened to make roughly-textured chocolate, or placed into a conching machine to further improve mouthfeel.

What Are the Benefits of Single-Origin Chocolate?

Unique Flavours

When cacao is blended, the subtleties of the distinct terroir we mentioned earlier will be lost. Of course, that’s not to say that blended chocolate products aren’t delicious too – in fact, some of the finest chocolatiers in the world utilise blended chocolate.

However, we prefer to utilise the unique flavours of each bar of single-origin chocolate in our brownies. Finding those unique flavours and bringing them to life in our products is part of the discovery process that we love.

It’s not possible to harness the subtleties of the flavours from the unique environments and processes that we’ve mentioned above from mass-produced chocolate.

We source all of our chocolate from Madagascar and Colombia, and there are marked differences with the flavours of each.

For example, the Madagascan cacao exhibits fruity notes and a pleasant acidity. Whereas the Colombian is incredibly dark with a smoky edge.

Improved Understanding of Sourcing

Using single-origin chocolate makes it easier to trace the origin of the cacao. While much of the product often includes Fair Trade certification, this is not always a guarantee of quality – so we choose the chocolate for our brownies based on sustainable practices and fair pay for the grower.

This is how we know that the Madagascan cacao used in our chocolate comes from the forests of the Sambriano River to the northwest coast of the country, and the Colombian cacao is grown and harvested in the tropical rainforest climates of Tumaco.

Takeaways

The most important part of our brownies is, without a doubt, the single-origin chocolate.

When Lou began the B is For Brownie journey back in 2015, she selected single-origin chocolate to offer an unforgettable flavour and character within our bakes, and we couldn’t imagine using anything else.

If you’re interested in any of our products, or you’d to like to learn more about us, why not get in touch with us today?

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Rutland Luxury Brownie Baker Unveils Brand New Vegan Treat

B is For Brownie adds single origin chocolate vegan brownie to its growing product range.

B is For Brownie is renowned for their use of luxury single-origin chocolate in their recipes, and to the delight of the vegan community – who up until now, could only stare longingly at pictures on B is For Brownie’s Instagram – Lou Cox, founder and Head Brownie Baker has confirmed that the vegan addition is now available online.

Early taste tests for the new recipe have been universally positive, with rave reviews from some very well-respected foodies.

Chocolate writer and award-winning bean to bar chocolate maker Dom Ramsey writes, “I’m very happy with them. The flavour is good and rich, and I like the texture, it’s the perfect balance of cakey and fudgy. I wouldn’t have known they were vegan!”

Influential food writer and editor, Sophie Farrah said, “Recently Lou has been working long and hard to create the ultimate vegan chocolate brownies.”

Sophie continues, “And I confirm that she has nailed it. It’s rich, fudgy, and seriously chocolatey. Completely and utterly delicious!”

When asked about the baking process, Lou, who founded the company back in 2015 with a mission to create a luxury brownie using only the very best ingredients, had this to say, “it’s been very tricky with lots of versions and test bakes!”

“It’s especially tricky with a vegan brownie, as the eggs and butter are no longer present, and they are normally so key to flavour and texture.”

Lou goes on to explain that the vegan butter alternative and oat milk were carefully chosen to provide the textures and flavours that brownie fans will instantly recognise.

“Of course, the single-origin Madagascan chocolate is the main focus of the final recipe. It’s incredibly flavourful, and because terroir contributes to the final flavour of the cacao, each harvest will result in an exciting tweak to flavour. An element of surprise which translates very well when baked into a vegan chocolate brownie.

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The B is For Brownie Story

Back in 2015, B is For Brownie took its first steps as a new business, thanks to the passion and boundless enthusiasm of Founder and Head Brownie Baker Lou Cox.

Lou had been working closely with fine, luxury chocolate during her time at Hotel Chocolat, and came up with the idea of creating an incredibly flavourful brownie using only the very best single-origin chocolate.

During those early baking tests, Lou tweaked and experimented with various flavour and ingredient combinations, including testing recipes for both gluten-containing and gluten-free flour mixtures.

Luxury and quality are non-negotiable. These are extreme brownies baked for their flavour and texture rather than their looks. A real indulgence with an ongoing commitment to using only the finest, quality ingredients, ensuring that B is for Brownie continues to offer something really different from the rest.

Beginnings

The B is For Brownie story began in 2014, when Lou was suddenly struck by the urge to bake late one autumnal October evening, “I always kept a mental list in my head of my next bake and that night it was the turn of the chocolate brownie. Strange that I should not have made one before then, I had certainly eaten plenty.” Says Lou.

Before baking, Lou consulted with a trio of faithful foodies, “I consulted with Nigel (Slater), Nigella (Lawson) and Hugh (Fearnley-Whittingstall), a trusted trio and selected a simple brownie recipe from each. I baked them all and all were amazing as I had expected, but I thought there had to be more to it.”

Lou always had an eye for experimentation (especially when it comes to food), stemming from her degree in science and her development work for Hotel Chocolat, “I knew a bit about chocolate and ingredients and understood the process of experimentation,” she says.

Due to her perfectionist nature, Lou knew that although the initial recipes tasted good, it just wasn’t quite where she wanted it to be – so she continued to bake and refine along the way with the simple goal of baking better brownies.

Development

To refine the recipe Lou began by tweaking each element individually during each bake, focusing on three core elements:

  • Chocolatiness
  • Tenderness
  • Sweetness

Lou knew that each of these elements needed to be exactly right to create the perfect balance. For example, too little sugar would impact tenderness and moisture, and increasing the chocolate content tended to create a tougher, dryer product.

“This became the focus of my experimentation, pushing up the cocoa content whilst retaining that tender brownie feel.” Says Lou.

During each batch a different chocolate was used, and Lou noticed how this could radically change the taste of each brownie.

“With that thought still in my head I baked with a single origin chocolate from Madagascar and was amazed by the intensity of flavour and the red berry notes, gentle acidity and the buttery flavour.”

“It was at this time that I realised what I wanted to do: bake amazing brownies with single origin chocolate and experiment with flavour.”

The Star of the Show

Once we’d managed to refine and perfect the recipe we use now, Lou knew she was on to something special.

Of course, the single most important ingredient in our luxury brownies is the star of the show: chocolate.

We select the finest Madagascan and Colombian single-origin chocolate for its exceptional characteristics and unique flavour. This is precisely why our brownies are so distinctive and memorable.

The heat from the baking process stimulates and intensifies the character of the chocolate, which highlights the complexity resulting in a brownie that packs a far bigger flavour punch.

We source our Madagascan chocolate from the cacao grown in the forests of the Sabirano river basin, located on the Northwest coast of the country. It’s rich volcanic soil results in delicate red fruit notes and a pleasant acidity.

The Colombian cacao used to make our chocolate is grown and harvested under the forest canopies in the tropical climates of the Tumaco forests in Nariño, Colombia. This particular chocolate showcases a gentle kick of acidity and floral, smokiness.

Cacao is similar to wine grapes or coffee, in that the local terroir or climate and soil conditions heavily contribute to the unique and exceptional flavour of the cacao. The beauty of this is that the the brownies will capture the change in flavour and aroma with each cacao harvest.

The Supporting Cast

Although we’ve now got a wide selection of finely honed products, in many classic and seasonal flavours we have never strayed from our early commitment to source only the very best ingredients.

  • Eggs – a crucial ingredient in our recipe, as each slab contains two whole eggs to maintain texture and richness. We only use the freshest free-range eggs.
  • Butter – we only ever use unsalted butter in our brownies, so we can measure out how much sea salt the recipe needs to enhance the character of the chocolate.
  • Sea Salt – the sea salt in our recipes is Guérande coarse sea salt, which is harvested by hand using traditional methods on the salt marshes of the Guérande peninsula. This salt is milder than many other sea salts, which makes it richer in flavour and softer on the palette.
  • Sugar – most brownie recipes include processed white sugar. This process removes the molasses content, which ultimately results in a mass produced, often bland product. We instead use unrefined light soft brown sugar. We found that this produces a delicate, almost treacle-like molasses flavour.
  • Gluten-Free Flour – Our flour blend contains gluten-free ingredients, such as rice, potato, tapioca, maize, and buckwheat. Although we tried blends containing both gluten and non-gluten, we adored the rich, silky texture of those brownies which contained gluten-free ingredients.

The Future

The future for B is For Brownie is exciting! We’re looking to move to new premises to serve our growing customer base, and we’re always testing and experimenting with brand new flavours – particularly around Valentine’s Day, Christmas and Easter.

If you’re interested in any of our products, or you’d to like to learn more about our ingredients, why not get in touch with us today?