At the recent Gluten-Free & Allergen-Free Expo in Chicago I really lucked out when I ran into Simon near the bloggers’ booth at the end of the expo, handing out Pascha chocolate bars to sample. I am not ashamed to admit that I begged him to let me have two. He first handed me a bar that was 70% cacao (that is some serious dark chocolate), and I grilled him:
It must be gluten-free, right?“Yes, yes, yes, yes,” he assured me, “none of the top food allergens.” And that’s when I begged him to also let me take home the 85% cacao bar he still had in his hand. I even offered to trade back the 70% bar, because I wanted the nearly pure chocolate bar so badly. Simon must have sensed my enthusiasm (desperation?) because he let me take both.
Is it dairy-free?
Made in a nut-free?
Here’s why I was so excited:
First, chocolate doesn’t need to be anything more than chocolate (some combination of cocoa powder and cocoa butter), yet because so many chocolate makers make milk chocolate (really, who decided that chocolate tastes better when milk is added?) or add nuts. And, because they want to be able to form shapes and have a longer shelf life they add soy lecithin. While many of us can deal with the soy lecithin (even with my family’s soy allergies we are okay with soy lecithin), the nuts and the milk – even traces of them – are deal breakers for most who visit here.
And a little more of a lesson on chocolate: Sugar is usually added to the cocoa powder and butter in chocolate bars. The less sugar added, the higher the “% cacao” number. Anything over 55-60% cacao is considered dark/semi-sweet/bittersweet. That means that 70% is seriously dark, and 85% is very close to pure chocolate. And that is precisely why I wanted that bar so much.
Unsweetened baking chocolate is 100% cacao – but nearly impossible to find made in a dedicated facility. I have been in search of a nearly pure chocolate bar that could be used as baking chocolate in allergen-free recipes for some time now. Are you feeling the excitement?
I had to hide the bars (from myself) until I was ready to try them with the Double Chocolate Muffin recipe in Learning to Bake Allergen-Free. In that recipe I call for unsweetened baking chocolate, but allow you to use allergen-free chocolate chips, if needed to avoid allergens. This time I used the 85% cacao Pascha chocolate in place of the baking chocolate, and broke up the 70% bar to use as added chocolate chunks.
After passing the “free from allergens” test, the next most important test is taste. Despite similarities in ingredients names, chocolate tastes very different depending on where it comes from and how it was processed. All of Pascha’s ingredients are organic, and the only things added to the chocolate are organic cane sugar and vanilla. The result is one of the finest chocolates I have ever tasted. The fact that Pascha has managed to maintain that pure chocolate taste without adding any lecithin in nothing short of miraculous!
So, to everyone who has been asking me for a source for great allergen-free chocolate, Pascha chocolates can be found at chocolate.com, and should be available in stores in the US in the next few weeks. I strongly recommend you give them a try!