Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Trick or Truffle with Trio of Treats

Did I use enough "t" words in the post title for you?  Today we are doing part one of a two part Halloween Treat Challenge from Seattle Chocolates. You can get their two-bite size wrapped truffles in bags or in boxes for the Halloween or even just Fall season. The box you can see in our photo to the right, contained Pumpkin Spice, Salted Almond, and Espresso truffles. We also got a bag of the pumpkin truffles along. We're going to look at each variety of these truffles as well as both packaging options. Seattle Chocolates sent me the Trick or Truffle Box as well as the bag of Pumpkin Spice truffles to test and write honestly about; I received no other compensation for this review.

We'll start with the basic bag of truffles -- this one has their Pumpkin Spice truffles. The truffles are wrapped in orange foil. You can see the bag on the left hand side of the box the entire Halloween delivery came in from Seattle Chocolates (photo above) along with the Trick or Truffle and stack of six Halloween wrapped bars in flavors we have not tried before. Now back to the Pumpkin Spice truffles. These are milk chocolate and have a strong fall spice scent to them when I unwrap just one. I can pick out the ginger, nutmeg, and cinnamon just with a sniff. The spices are blended into the chocolate giving it a very light texture and a soft crunch. The primary flavor is the creamy chocolate with the four spices (add in allspice) blended as though I were having a fall hot cocoa... in fact I'm better this would be great in hot cocoa. Later when I try it, I'm correct! Pumpkin everything is big this time of year so if you love the spices associated with it, give these a try just don't expect pumpkin flavor itself. The spice from this will linger in your mouth for many minutes after you eat one of these so be careful what you eat or drink next... hopefully it will be more chocolate!

The Trick or Truffle 4 oz box that has some of Pumpkin Spice but also Salted Almond and Espresso truffles. The Salted Almond truffles are wrapped in a gold foil and were the least amount of truffles in the box I got to test out. These are clearly a dark chocolate in both color and fragrance that has a hint of salt and an undercurrent of almond to it. There are a few tiny pieces of almonds inside the dark solid truffle that give it a bit of crunch. The first flavor is a slightly bitter chocolate, the almond, a sudden uptick in salty flavor, then it settles back into a blend of these flavors. Of course, letting a piece melt in your mouth practically removes the almond flavor until you crunch those so I recommend chewing this one.

The Espresso truffles are wrapped in dark reddish brown foil and I turned these over to three my Acolytes to help me test them out. The first thing that the group noticed was that there was a strong chocolate and a strong coffee smell just after unwrapping these pieces. It has a nice dark chocolate flavor and a bit of graininess to the otherwise soft yet solid treat that reminded all three testers of chocolate covered espresso beans. Sadly one of the three testers hates chocolate covered espresso beans so this did not impress here at all. The other two really liked these but said that was because they both really like chocolate covered espresso beans. If you know your stance on chocolate dipped coffee beans, you'll know whether or not to try these then.

If you have not heard of nor tried Seattle Chocolates before, what are you waiting for? We've been honored to test and write about several of their products over the years. While not every flavor of truffle we got to test were favorites of all of our testers, we appreciate the company's commitment to the environment and to being a woman owned business as well as the range of flavors they have tried out over the years. I really liked both the Salted Almond and the Pumpkin Spice truffles as did everyone I was able to share them with. For an adult party, these would be nice little treats to have out in bowls for folks just make sure you include the ingredient list for folks who might have food allergies.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Use Some Red Velvet Mice To Scare Your Guests

This year is our 7th Annual Halloween Treat Challenge. Brands send us their creepy and tasty creations and we test them to see if they might be what you need to hand out to trick o'treaters or add to your party. Today we start with a fairly new company that could become big if they continue to be creative, keep testing their ideas, and are able to get some great couverture to work with. Pied Piper Chocolates starts the Halloween season off with their Red Velvet Mouse. If you recall our interview with the man behind Pied Piper Chocolates, you'll recall some other photos of this creation in white chocolate that looks very creepy. Go back and check that out, it's okay, you can come back to this page again.

I shot photos of this Red Velvet Mouse against a few backgrounds and as you can see that really affects what is looks like. For Halloween you might think that black would be the go-to color but look at how pale the critter is against this black tablecloth. You can see a hint of red on the back hunches that is a bit spooky. A red or orange background might either draw that out more of dampen that down, experiment to find out.

If you put the mouse on a light background such as this white plate, the chocolate is much darker in color but you can't see the hints of the red velvet as much except the tops of the ears. Backgrounds matter in photography and to the human eye so think about that when you are laying out a Halloween table for your guests or family. But let's turn to the Red Velvet Mouse itself.

This has a strong cocoa fragrance and but also a scent that reminds me of red velvet cake I've eaten in the past -- a little sweet, a little chocolate, and a bit of dye smell, too. Cutting it in half I could see the bright red velvet cake layer on the bottom. What you can't see in the photo as well as my eyes could is a reddish gel layer separated by a layer of the milk chocolate. The mouse cut with a small bit of effort, making a sharp crunch sound through the thickest layer on the bottom.  The tail part has neither gel nor cake so this allowed me to test the milk chocolate itself and it is pretty average. Again when Pied Piper can invest in better couverture it should be able to put out excellent creations.

The top gel layer has a slight cherry flavor to it, both tart and sweet at the same time. It blends well into the creamy milk chocolate mold and into the cake layer as well. The red velvet cake layer is very dense and is far more chocolate flavored than any red velvet cake I've had before. In fact, just give me this type of cake and I'd be happy. The trick for Pied Piper was getting a bit of the cake flavor and texture but not so much that it destroyed the molded pieces fitting together.

Imagine if you would multiple red velvet mice and rats... Actually we don't have to imagine because Pied Piper showed us such a layout. Add different lighting, a different under and background, and then spread out the critters over your Halloween table and I think this would be an awesome look for your party. Plus both kids and adults so like this blend of milk chocolate, cherry gel, and red velvet cake. Leave a comment and let us and the man behind Pied Piper Chocolate know what you think of these ideas. If you think these are something you might like for your Halloween, check out Pied Piper Chocolate Etsy site. Remember they are a fairly new company and your orders will help them greatly.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

How to Make Halloween Chocolate that Sells!

Over on The Chocolate Journalist website last week, the journalist talked about six reasons chocolate makers might find their sales falling flat. This made me think of our upcoming holiday, Halloween, which should be a huge seller for any chocolate or candy maker yet I've seen lovely chocolates unbought and nearly unsellable come November 1st. While I think the six reasons were great two more came to my mind that I'd like to share with you all as we count down to Halloween. The photos in this article come from the years 2009-2014 of our Halloween Treat Challenge.

Unless you are selling solely online (I would never recommend that especially for small companies) you need to think about the economics and expectations of your community to learn how to best promote your creations.

1. Catch Phrases

You might have made an investment in your training and proclaim yourself “French” or “Swiss” trained but if you running a small shop in a small town with one or two grocery stores or a high rate of poverty your potential market is unlikely to know what that means. I live in a fairly well-off university town and I've met many people who don't even know that chocolate originates from cocoa beans so they certainly might scratch their heads at your fancy training claims. Instead of fancy training pedigrees use phrases like "homemade" or handcrafted" or even "locally produced" when you are promoting your chocolates in general. Use the pedigrees in large cities where you have more competition or wealthy villages or towns where the average income is above average.

2. Comparative Pricing

If the people in your community can buy a 20 piece chocolate box at the local drugstore for $15 why would they pay $2 a piece for your truffles? Maybe for a very special holiday they might but how many of you want to only be a holiday chocolate company? Check out your competition especially if your competition is a grocery store, specialty food shop, or convenience store. What the folks in your community are used to paying should be strongly considered before you even start up your chocolate business. If the average "chocolate" bar is under 2 ounces and priced at around a dollar, your 3 oz at $3 will seem pricy. Sure you can overcome that with a lot of marketing but that takes time and money. Perhaps start with similar sized bars for just slightly more money and then as you win mouths over, you can introduce buyers to bigger or better products.

3. Ingredient Locations

Finally consider how you are getting your ingredients. You might have met some amazing cocoa farmers at big city trade show be behind the fair trade movement but those ingredients have to get to you from them. That costs money and takes time. If your market isn't used to the best beans nor understands what single origin or bean to bar means, that might not be where you should be making your investments to start off. Consider using local ingredients when you can for added flavors and good but easily acquired couverture. As your business increases and you introduce your community to better chocolate you can always change to better couverture because by then you'll have taught your market about chocolate and slowly increased your prices as they learn. The upside to using more local ingredients as much as possible is lower costs and the ability to promote yourself as a local job creator or supporter.

There are three immediate concerns I've seen ignored by several small chocolate and candy shops over the seven years I've been doing this blog. Chocolate making and sell is a tough business. Don't make it tougher by making your products out of mind or out of reach for your local customers.

What does this have to do with Halloween?

The same things you should think about in general apply even more to holidays but with one very specific Halloween question.

1) How do the people in your community celebrate Halloween?

If it is a big trick or treating event, you'll want small individually wrapped products that you can make and sell in bulk.

If it is a place where parties are the big thing then you need to think about how parties.

If these are Halloween parties for children, go for milk or white chocolate, lower price, "spooky" or funny shapes and names.

If these are adult Halloween parties those can range from let's get drunk (you could do the kids with a crank up on the creepy) to horror movie watching (consider bite sized treats or something with popcorn) to sophisticated masquerades (elegant 2-3 bite pieces and a center piece or two would be excellent here).

Look back over the examples from past Halloween Treat Challenge posts that I've peppered this article with for examples. Which of these items would be good for trick or treating where you live? Now which of these should your shop be making to sell for Halloween?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Chocolate Holidays in October -- It's More than Halloween!

Yes, yes, Halloween is one of the big candy holidays which means it is one of the big chocolate holidays. We'll be feature our Halloween Treat Challengers but the month is full of other fun food holidays you might want to mark with chocolate.

We start off with the amazing fact that October is host to three national fun food month-long celebrations!

National Dessert Month
National Cookie Month
National Caramel Month

Then the first full week of October is National Mental Health Illness Week. What does this have to do with chocolate? Two things. First, food can be used to "treated" emotional and mental conditions either in a healthy or unhealthy way. I used to self-medicate by hiding candy and chocolate in my room and eating it in secret while I was growing up. Second, chocolate, we're talking dark chocolate not candy, or cocoa has been shown to affect the brain in ways that might help you feel good. You know, chocolate is considered a drug in some circles and in different times. Consider one of The Chocolate Cult's mottos: Moderation and Purposefulness when you used so you don't abuse.

October 1 = National Homemade Cookie Day -- obviously this would be something with chocolate around my place.

October 7 = National Frappe Day -- again why not make with a bit of chocolate

2nd Week of October = National School Lunch Week -- while you want your kids healthy, a small amount of chocolate will not hurt them and if you can, you could also use these lunches to promote better and more socially responsible chocolate, too. Visit the School Nutrition Association to learn about the theme of this year's special week holiday and get resources you can use.

October 9, 1797 = Birthday of Philippe Suchard, founder of what was once the greatest chocolatier in Switzerland, creator of the Milka bar... you haven't had a Milka bar? Go get one right now.

October 10 has two holidays to consider

National Angel Food Cake Day -- one of my sisters made an amazing chocolate angel food cake for her husband's birthday for many years.

World Mental Health Day -- see above comments about chocolate and mental health

October 14 = National Chocolate-Covered Insect Day -- Have not tried this yet... Who among you have? Leave a comment and let me know.

2nd Thursday in October = National Dessert Day

3rd Saturday in October = Sweetest Day -- I'm not sure putting this holiday in October was a great idea even though it is approximately six months after Valentine's Day. If you haven't heard of this day, it might be because it was a Great Lakes region sort of holiday but I've noted that candy and food companies are also now trying to promote it.

October 16 = World Food Day

October 18 = National Chocolate Cupcake Day

October 28 = National Chocolate Day

October 30 = Buy a Donut Day

Finally, October 31 is not only Halloween but also National Candy Apple Day. Does anyone make and hand out candy apples any more?

Tell me. How are you celebrating with Chocolate this month?