Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Does Your Love of Chocolate Impact Your View of Earth Day?

Today's article is really about you, our dear Sisters and Brothers in Chocolate, and what you think. Today is the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, a social movement that attempts to help humans understand our relationship to the Earth, all it does for us, and all the ways we affect the Earth.

Please leave comments below answering this question:

Does your love of Chocolate impact your view of Earth Day?  If so, how and why?

I look forward to reading your comments!

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Texas Fried Pecan Praline' Truffles and Bark

Back on April 14th it was "National Pecan Day" but April has been busy with fun food holidays and features scheduled months ago, so I had to postpone this one until now.  These two creations are from My Chocolate Kit whose founder, Holli, we spoke with just this past Wednesday here in this post. They sent us their Texas fried pecan praline' truffles and bark to try out. As you can see the sample came wrapped very prettily.

Let's start with the bark itself. The label says that it is made with cocoa powder and cocoa butter as the chocolate ingredients but it also has organic coconut oil, vanilla, Celtic sea salt, agave syrup, sugar, chia, cinnamon, cayenne but may also include nuts, seeds, spices, and fruits... obviously pecan, right, since it is called Texas 'Fried Pecan Praline. On one side it is dark brown and the other white so sort of a dark and white chocolatey candy -- this two-sided coating is unique among the barks we've tried on The Chocolate Cult in the past. It is very sticky and a bit challenging to get out of the bag in the case of one piece. Putting the darker side on my tongue reveals a darker cocoa flavor then sweetness, pecans, and finally a creaminess. Putting the white side down gives the creamy sweetness an advantage. Not every bite is crunchy nor is every bite sticky, it really depends on if I'm hitting more candy coating and nuts or more of the sweetness holidng all the pieces together. I'm not getting any fruits or seeds really but that was a "may" part of the ingredient list. Since I like darker chocolate it is no surprise that I prefer to eat this bark dark side down.

The Texas 'Fried Pecan Praline also comes in a heart-shaped truffle form as well. This was wrapped in gold foil that again was very sticky in one part. This is exactly like the bark minus the white chocolatey coating so there is no creaminess in this at all just nice darker chocolate with the pecans. It is also less sticky and less sweet, I noticed less of the syrup that was in the bark probably because it is all covered in the darker candy. It was also crunchier because the pecan pieces were closer together and the coating was much thicker. Can you see the golden sheen to the heart? I thought that made it very pretty and it could be a good gift for a loved one.

My Chocolate Kit though does not focus on pre-made treats but that's what we were sent so that's what we could test. Both of these tasted great and would make excellent gifts. This small company's focus on supporting better cocoa farming practices as well as a focus on education helps earn it Sacrament status here on The Chocolate Cult.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Meet Holli from My Chocolate Kit

Sisters and Brothers in Chocolate, please help me welcome Holli Beckwith, the founder of My Chocolate Kit. We'll feature some of her creations on Saturday April 18th.  Thank you for agreeing to speak with us, Holli. (Holli's word will be in Italics as is our tradition for interviews on The Chocolate Cult)

Holli, how did you get into the chocolate business?

In 2008, my corporate job as Director of Spa Concepts and Planning was eliminated and I went on unemployment. I saw it coming so created my own business 'spaYOGA+' combining all my spa loves… yoga + tea, wine, chocolate, aromatherapy & energy recovery!  I had all the organic components for everything but the chocolate… I knew of 2 organic companies, one never responded and the other would not sign my non disclosure agreement, so I watched an 8 min. youtube video, picked up ingredients at whole foods and made my first batch.

I wanted a chocolate that everyone could eat which was a very tall order! My sister sat down to test it and were amazed at how delicious it was. I have only made one change to the original recipe which is a superfood called MILA (a proprietary micro-sliced blend of organic Chia from the equator zone) This superfood ramps up the health benefits and makes the chocolate melt like butter in your mouth. It's odorless, tasteless & doesn't change the texture. YUM!
Would you tell us a bit more about My Chocolate Kit? It seems to not just be products someone could buy like you sent us, but an activity really.

MY Chocolate Kit is sugar & dairy free, has no trans fats or chemicals, is vegan, kosher, organic, fair trade when I can get it, green & sustainable, gluten-free, non GMO, halal, totally guilt free, fun and tastes really good! I use Agave Nectar, vegan butter and coconut cream for all my recipes requiring sugar, butter or cream.

I created the kit to support Moms & Youngsters (MY). I have created women's development programs in Malaysia, India & Mexico where I have done some my spa projects, and now delighted to create the same in my homes here in Texas and New York. The kits are put together by single moms so they have a sustainable business of their own, can make their own hours, and I will pay cash for the kits they return to me they have put together.  They will then be incentivized to take a small loan to start their own business after a years commitment.  

It is in a kit form because the chocolate has a melting point of approx. 72 degrees Fahrenheit and can't be put into a box on a shelf to sell. It has to be kept soft-froze until about 15 min. before serving.

Each kit contains all the ingredients to make 1 pound of chocolate, my Corazon de chocolate Recipe book and a 'Hearts' chocolate mold. I also now have a kids kit, a starter & pro kit as well.

You don't only sell products online but you also host events. Would you tell our readers about these events?

I have now in the past year learned to 'Temper' chocolate so I can make chocolate for weddings, events, retail & private label. (The chocolate for MY Chocolate Kit does not have to be Tempered and is much easier to make). Horseshoe Bay, Tx is a Resort city and I live & work here for the winter & spring. 

During this time I work with the resort, local vineyards, art galleries and my own personal 'Health Happenings' workshops & classes to create chocolates for wine dinners, wine & chocolate pairings, tequila & chocolate pairing events & the resorts annual Balloon Festival. I also have chocolate in the resort's 'Market' and make wedding favors of my signature chocolate truffles - Texas Fried Pecan Praline. it's truly to die for!

Who tends to come to your events? Are these kid-focused or do adults enjoy them as well?

At the Stone House here, I have my commercial kitchen and office. I do events including 'The ART of Chocolate' where guests learn to taste chocolate and make chocolate. I also do Yoga + Chocolate which is a fun event each season. To date I have focused on adults. Now that I have the 'MY Chocolate Kids Kit', I want to create parties for kids, in their homes and here at the Stone House. This will also be presented by the single Moms, like a Tupperware party of days gone by!

The world is full of cheap chocolate that makes a lot of profit. Your website points out that your kits are "eco-friendly" and "sustainable", "free of chemicals and pesticides" as well as "sugar & dairy free, chemical & trans fat free, vegan, kosher and gluten free." Why is making sure your products meet these standards important to your company?

When I first created the chocolate, my Yoga students all said they were dieting, had health issues or couldn't eat chocolate. Some said they didn't even like chocolate. When I told them they could eat this chocolate, they were all super happy and looked forward to the classes. Even those who 'didn't like chocolate' found they loved real chocolate without all the stupid stuff.

It's now been 3 years that I have been making the chocolate, and a year that it's been online. One of my most important issues is that when children are looking at my chocolates and their parents are freaking out, I can say there is no sugar, dairy, gluten-free and their eyes smile. Not every mother cares, but I would say more do than don't. I love making the chocolate when my nieces and nephews come visit. They ALWAYS ask if we can make chocolate?! 

I haven't said this yet, but it's so stupid easy to make! When I have my classes, I put up my containers with the flavors I want, make up the batch of chocolate, pour it into the containers, let it set for 15 min. then put it in the freezer until I am ready to 'chunk' it up for the classes. So in under an hour I have prepped and made chocolate that's ready to go!

Where do you get the ingredients for your kits?

I now have U.S. vendors I get some of my ingredients, molds, equipment and packaging from to be sustainable and to keep my 'carbon footprint' on the down-low. I was blessed last year to visit Mexico and go on the 'Ruta de Cacao' (the cocoa route) and to find a plantation I can now get my beans, cacao powder, butter and mass from. I will also be doing a similar single moms initiative with the plantation to support those who work there.  I also work locally to find 'made in America' products. I only use Texas Pecans, American produced packaging (thats green & sustainable), grow many of my own spices and look for local farmers to get whatever else I need.

In terms of ounces of chocolate, how much chocolate will your basic kit make?

Each kit will create 16 ounces or 1 pound of chocolate. My Go Pro Kit will make 32 ounces or 2 pounds.This offers the opportunity to make enough for a party of 4 (or 8 kids) or you can make small amounts as you like

Do you think that the chocolate kits are a good educational tool?

Absolutely!  I hope to have an elementary school program to teach about healthier snacks and through this program teach them to make chocolate. I will pair the health benefits of the snacks like the flavorings of dried fruits, nuts, alternative sweeteners like pure maple syrup, agave & molasses with the benefits of raw chocolate. Then they can select the 'other' flavorings & spices being offered or go find in the marketplace together. 

Each kid will have their own 'sandwich size' tupperware container to create their snack and take it home with them after tasting. I will do this as my give away to help kids learn to select and create healthier snacks for themselves and their families. It will also be great working with the school lunch chefs to continue the idea after and to do something seasonally or for special holidays.

Of course, they will all have the website info for MY Chocolate Kit after.

I've run into people who don't know that cocoa beans are the starting point of chocolate. What do you think is the top misconception about making chocolate that people?

I agree totally. Our history starts with 'Hershey' Chocolate and we've never really known where it comes from. I present cocoa beans at every event I have and also include them in MY Chocolate Kids Kit just for this reason. I think the biggest misconception is where it actually comes from and how the beans become chocolate. That was my biggest reason to go to Mexico and see the whole process from growing the trees, picking the pods, fermenting & roasting the beans and then making the 'paste'. It was an amazing trip and the knowledge beyond my imaginings!

You mentioned to me that the day our feature goes live will also be your birthday. Happy early Birthday! How important is chocolate to celebrating your birthday personally?

This year I will be helping out at Sea Turtle, Inc. in South Padre Island, Texas for a few weeks & on my birthday! I hope to be sharing my 'Save the Turtles' chocolate with everyone and if they purchase a kit, giving the profits to Sea Turtle, Inc. I have had the joy to be a part of Turtle projects in Malaysia, Mexico and my home here in Horseshoe Bay, and I hope MY turtle chocolates will help raise awareness to save & rescue turtles. So much fun to share chocolate this way! YUM!!

Thank you, Holli, for speaking with us today.

Thank you TammyJo, this has been so much fun! And if you & all your readers are ever in the Austin area (right by Horseshoe Bay) or New York City, please let me know so I can share the joys of chocolate making with you.

Readers, if you have any questions or comments please do leave them below.

Monday, April 13, 2015

The Chocion Experience

We have tested and featured several products from Chocion and we'll have several more such articles in the 2015. Today I want to share a video that they have recently put out and take a look at their History Page on their website. Let's start by looking at this lovely and dynamic video.

Das Schokoladen-Universum der Film from CHOCION - Finest Chocolate on Vimeo.

I like everything about this video. The music which is dreamy yet a bit dark in the beginning then picks up lighter instruments and pace as it goes along to a burst of energy before resuming a calmer yet sensual tone. The images that start with pieces of chocolate then go to smoke reminding me of how cacao pods are processed that turns into a flowing river of dark, milk, and white chocolate. The energy of the video picks up as we see chocolate forming into the chocolate spoons we tested and featured in November of 2014 -- those earned Sacrament Status, our highest ranking on The Chocolate Cult. The images are well settled into dynamic backgrounds that do not distract from the chocolate but give hints of the processing of chocolate products as well as the history of chocolate. Speaking of which...

As historian I'm not surprised that so many of us don't seem to care about the history around us, especially when it comes to things we think are common. One of the "common things" tends to be chocolate even though it really isn't an easy product to make from farm to factory. Chocion devotes a page to the history of chocolate on their website that I'd like to review for you. Please note that I'm reading their site translated into English so I'm not going to critique the quality of the writing, only the presentation and the information.

It is a bit tricky to find since I don't see it highlighted on the top menu on their main website; you have to go to the bottom of the page and look under "More Information."

The history page is laid out in a main body of text that you can scroll down but there is also a left side back that you can click to look at the 15 main sections that begins with "The Olmecs" and ends with "The History of CHOCION." Given that Chocion is a German company it is not surprising that they highlight Germany history and uniqueness but it also reflects the fact that Germany has played a role in the creation of what chocolate was in Europe and what it is today around the world. The history page also looks at other nations and peoples roles so I think it is balanced given the logical marketing needs to focus on what makes Chocion special.

The information presented is very straightforward and should be easy to understand by the average chocolate consumer. However it is also blandly laid out without any images at all and I think that might bore the visually obsessed Internet user. I would urge Chocion to include one image per main section on this page. Poke around their history page and let us know what you think.

Also go back and check out the video and let us know what you thought of it in a comment below.


The Chocolate Cult was paid to write this post but given our history of testing and writing about Chocion chocolate we believe the information in this article should be of interest to our readers.