Like their "white" ice creams and coffee ice creams, McConnell's produces several chocolates across the concentration/flavor spectrum. They all have in common the same texture and smoothness. The previously reviewed Dutch Chocolate and Milk Chocolate and Raspberry Jam are excellent versions of what they are; perhaps the dark side has the same allure.
We're used to seeing ingredients (usually in the form of chocolate chips) from their long time partner, Guittard. Here, McConnell's pairs up with another iconic chocolatier, Valrhona, who provide a couple varieties of cocoa for this flavor. Paso Almond Brittle is a regional specialty. The crunch in this brittle comes from the almonds themselves, not a mass of crystallized sugar. As we've come to expect from McConnell's, they go light on the mix ins, using just enough to accent and feature the base rather than draw attention away from it.
The way most dark chocolate ice cream is made "darker" is by simply adding more "dark cocoa" i.e, cocoa that's been processed darker (read: cooked more, read: burned) to the mix. The less base to chocolate cocoa, the "darker" the flavor. In fact, some purveyors tout "there's more cocoa in this flavor than...." This is NOT the way to do it. The way McConnell's builds their dark chocolate ice cream is to yes, use more cocoa, but much more importantly, use something called a Shear Blender, a very expensive, aggressive blender to liquify the cocoa into the mix, erasing the possibility of grittiness or any other textural issue with the recipe.
While a Shear Blender makes a huge difference in getting powder or any ingredient into a solution, texture and consistency are also dependent upon the churning process. Texture is so compromised with a batch freezer, it really doesn't matter if the production of the mix is on point. A batch freezer is just not the way to do it well, and results in grainy ice cream. The pudding-like, gritty quality of many dark chocolate ice creams comes from a combination of higher overrun and the mouthfeel of poorly integrated cocoa powder, gums, thickeners/stabilizers like tapioca starch/syrup. The overrun, due to its added air, adds' "warmth" rather than cold because air is "warmer" than frozen cream. Tapioca starch and syrup thicken ice cream by absorbing moisture, and make me feel like I need a glass of water afterwards. Jeni's Dark Chocolate is one example of a batch frozen product made "darker" by adding more cocoa into the mix, mixed without a Shear Blender, and thickened/stabilized via tapioca starch and syrup. The consistency reflects this, and the high overrun, grainier, gummier consistency doesn't do it for me, especially when I can scoop McConnell's.
This base hits all the right notes in terms of dark chocolate flavor and texture, while the paso brittle pieces add a bit of variety, salt and smokiness. This is dark chocolate done right, and while it seems so simple, it ain't. Well, it is, but it isn't...
I've done some digging and found out they're working on a couple more on "the dark side" to round out the chocolate lineup, expected to be ready for primetime this summer. Can't wait.
Where Elliot Found It: Straub's Market
Elliot's Grade: A