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Milk Chocolate Hits Its Stride

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

In the growing obsession with darker and darker chocolate, where does the good, old-fashioned milk chocolate bar fit in? If you think of it only as a cloying, gritty kid's treat, you haven't noticed that some high-end companies are giving it the same attention they pay the bittersweet stuff. And for good reason: At its best, milk chocolate can be creamy, complex and deep.

We invited Washington cookbook author Lisa Yockelson and pastry chef David Guas, founder of Damgoodsweet Consulting Group, to join the Food section in tasting 18 bars. Our favorite nine prove that milk chocolate has indeed grown up. (Percentage of cocoa content is listed where provided by the maker.)

-- Leigh Lambert

TRADITIONAL

- Green & Black's Organic 34 percent, 3.5 ounces, $3.49

This met classic expectations. Chocolate and milk were well balanced, and tasters found a "rounded" flavor and a "dense creaminess."

- Amedei Toscano Brown 3.5 ounces, $10

Tasters noted the high milk content and "creamy, melting texture," calling it "sweet and milky" with caramel flavors and "strong nuttiness, but nice balance."

SOMETHING EXTRA

- Pralus Melissa 45 percent, 3.5 ounces, $9

The texture was "silk meets velvet," the flavor "dark, edging on intense" and "with a pungent coffee-like tinge." Tasters also detected wine, nut, honey and raisin flavors.

- Endangered Species Smooth Milk Chocolate 52 percent, 3 ounces, $4.19

"Complex and interesting" and "exotic," with coconut and almond flavors and spicy overtones.

- Divine 3.5 ounces, $2.39

Some found this too sweet, but all described such complexities as sassafras, flowers, vanilla and fruit, with "rounded milk chocolate flavor" and a slightly nutty finish.

WITH A TWIST

- Chocolate Bonnat Java 65 percent, 3.5 ounces, $6.99

Tasters liked the addition of coffee flavor, finding it "a bit smoky" and appreciating the "very nice combo of berry notes and cream."

- Scharffen Berger Milk Nibby 41 percent, 3 ounces, $3.99

The addition of cocoa nibs made this the only bar we tasted without a smooth texture. Tasters called it "delicious," "full and fruity" and "highly nuanced," though one complained of "minty undertones."

ON THE DARK SIDE

- Recchiuti Dark Milk Chocolate 55 percent, 4 ounces, $7

Although tasters were impressed by the complex flavors, including spiciness and a "slight coffee nuance," they also found it "not very milky."

- Alter Eco Dark Velvet Chocolate 3.5 ounces, $3.79

Tasters liked the "deep and dark" "fine chocolate bouquet" and the "bitter undertones," calling it "sophisticated" with "grassy, earthy" notes. But it, too, wasn't milky enough for some and "could be better balanced."

Divine, Green & Black's, Endangered Species available at area Whole Foods Markets, http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com. Amedei, Pralus Melissa, Recchiuti available at Biagio, 1904 18th St. NW, 202-328-1506. Bonnat, Scharffen Berger available at the Curious Grape, 4056 S. Campbell Ave., Arlington, 703-671-8700. Alter Eco available at Takoma Park Co-op, 201 Ethan Allen Ave., Takoma Park, 301-891-2667.

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