Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Taraluna for the Holidays

At The Chocolate Cult, we do not discriminate on the basis of the type of chocolate; white, milk, semi-sweet, bittersweet, dark, all are welcomed.  The same goes for the companies that send us products.  Sometimes these are big names, products you hear of on TV ads or can find in most stores.  Often these are small independent chocolate shops, bakeries, and stores.  They may make chocolate, sell chocolate, or often other product related to our Sacred Substance.  Taraluna is a small, woman-owned retailer that focuses on empowering others but selling organic, fair trade, and eco-friendly items.  Chocolate is just one of the many things Taraluna offers but they offer year round and for the several holidays just one of which is Christmas.  Now we featured them on our first Christmas back in 2009 but these are two products we have not looked at before however the focus is on the retailer not the chocolate.


This year, Taraluna sent us two Sjaak's chocolates they sell for Christmas (or for almost any winter holiday frankly).  The first is a bag of the Winter Wonderfuls which also come in a box if you prefer.  Ours came in the bag or tote and had 12 individually wrapped snowmen. These are a vegan treat made of dark chocolate and a crunchy organic peanut butter center. Now the back wrapper claims there are 24 of these in the tote but I counted 12 only so I'm not sure why the information about the product says otherwise but it makes me suspicious of the nutritional information.  That's not Taraluna's fault though they might want to talk to Sjaak's about it.  The wrapper made them look a bit scary but on unwrapping them I thought these guys were rather cute.  The peanut butter inside was very crunchy, I found entire half peanuts in it when I tested one of these and our Acolyte confirmed.  It wasn't too sweet but it did balance the dark and think shell very well.

The other Sjaak's item is their Organic Chocolate Assortment box which is also vegan.  Mine arrived in a red box so it would be good for Christmas or Valentine's Day actually.  This box had 9 very large chocolates in it that included: Coffee Truffle, Almond Creme, Raspberry Truffle, Pecan Caramel, English Toffee, Solid Dark Chocolate, Almond Truffle, Hazelnut Creme, and Peanut Caramel.   Since this is not a review of Sjaak's but of Taraluna,  let me just say a few words about them.  Our Milk Chocolate and one of our Mocha Acolyte's helped me with the is box of great treats.






The Solid Dark Chocolate Pieces -- two, both wrapped in red foil.  These are great and reminded of the Halloween chocolates we featured Halloween 2009.








The Pecan Caramel and the English Toffee.  The lump on the top of the toffee is an entire almond but I felt it and the toffee was a bit too strong of the dark chocolate.  The Pecan Caramel was very chewy and well balanced between the three major flavors of bitter chocolate, tangy caramel, and pecan.







The Hazelnut Creme is well, hazelnut and I just get tired of that combination.  The Peanut Caramel tasted like the peanut part -- there are entire half pieces inside -- was over roasted a bit.  The chocolate itself was great in both.









I got help from two Acolytes for these two.  The coffee in the Coffee Truffle was very overwhelming which is saying something for dark chocolate.  The Raspberry Truffle, another over done combination, was well balanced though the top red sprinkles were a bit sour.








Almonds showed up in two more pieces. The first was an Almond Creme that was very well balanced but not crunchy.  The second was an Almond Truffle again well balanced, a bit more sweet and creamy inside, but not crunchy.







Eco-Friendly Wrapping from Taraluna
Taraluna is a great way to find unique gifts that protect us all.  I really hope you all check them out and try their offerings.  Yes, you could find some items in bigger stores or through other outlets, but I've gotten to know the owner, Penny, over these three Christmases, and she is everything we would hope for on The Chocolate Cult: a woman who lives for the betterment of us all by selling only quality products created in ethical ways and shipped to you using recycled or natural packing material with as little of it as feasible to make sure your order arrives in one piece. If you look at the background of the photos, you'll see this bag which she also sent me that empowers the women of India who make it.  She and her company are worthy additions to our list of Sacrament retailers.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

December Chocolate Holidays 2011

I know, I know, isn't December full enough of fun holidays?  True, very true, but we can't just approach the month without awareness of other possible fun food holidays and events we could mark, can we?

1st Week of December = Cookie Cutter Week -- Hey, just in time for holiday baking and an entire week to work with.

December 1 = National Pie Day -- Not innately chocolate but it could be.  What is your favorite chocolate pie?

December 4 = National Cookie Day -- Makes sense if you have a week for cookies you'd place your single day celebration there, too. Or does it make sense?

December 5 = National Sacher Torte Day -- I'm going to try and find out what this is and make one or buy one but I think it can have something to do with chocolate when I did some research earlier this year.

December 8 = National Chocolate Brownie Day -- YUM!  I'm making something for this this, I promise.

December 9 = National Pastry Day -- Pastry is ... difficult.  

December 12 = National Cocoa Day -- Dutched or not?

December 15 = National Cookie Day, National Cupcake Day -- Another cookie day?  Cupcake day, sure, but we just had a cookie day like 11 days ago.

December 16 = National Chocolate Covered Anything Day -- Anything?  What is the strangest thing you've eaten covered with chocolate?

December 28/29 = National Chocolate Days -- Do we honestly need this at the end of the year?

Leave your thoughts below, please, Brothers and Sisters.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Meet the Woman behind indi chocolate LLC

Erin and husband in Honduras
Sisters and Brothers, as we've discussed from time to time here on The Chocolate Cult, where your chocolate comes from matters.  Farming techniques, payment to farmers and workers, even who turns beans into your chocolate truffles matters because all of it helps others live their lives either for the better or the worse.  Today I want to introduce you to Erin Andrews from indi chocolate LLC.


Erin, thank you for joining us for this email interview.

While women may be the biggest consumers of chocolate in the USA, female chocolatiers seem in the minority in the world.  What inspired you to get into the chocolate business?

A family vacation to Belize and the desire to teach my children how "chocolate grows on trees" was the inspiration that got me started making chocolate.  Products don't just appear on shelves and I have always tried to teach my family to appreciate how things are made.

When did you create indi chocolate LLC, and how long have you been in business?

indi chocolate LLC just celebrated our first anniversary.  We launched our chocolate body care products (chocolate lotion, lips and scrubs) last year at the NW Chocolate Festival.  This year to celebrate our one year anniversary, we launched our chocolate to eat.

Prior to launching indi chocolate LLC, I have had a bean to bar business in Belize for several years.

Your products are created from "bean to bar" as the expression goes.  Would you explain your process to our readers?

Yes, indi chocolate starts the process before most "bean to bar" producers by directly sourcing our beans from their origin.  This means we travel to where the beans grow and meet the farmers.  We confirm their farming practices are sustainable and that the beans meet the indi chocolate standards that will produce the best tasting chocolate.  We pay a premium for quality beans and this premium goes right back to the farmers and their community.


Cut cacao beans on window
Once we know that the beans meet the indi chocolate standards, the work of making chocolate begins.  Roasting the beans begins to change the bitter taste of the beans into something most of us would begin to recognize as chocolate.  Once the beans are roasted, they are cracked and the husks are removed.  At this step, the beans are referred to as nibs.  The nibs are then made into a paste called chocolate liquor.  The chocolate liquor is not alcoholic.  It resembles a smooth peanut butter when it is warm.  The chocolate liquor is combined with cocoa butter and sugar (these are the only ingredients in my dark chocolate) and is refined.  The refining further develops the chocolate flavors.  Once the flavors have fully developed, we start the tempering to give our chocolate the shine and snap you expect in fine chocolate.


indi chocolate is very unusual in that we make not only chocolate to eat but also chocolate body care products from the bean, as well.  indi chocolate sugar scrub uses chocolate from different steps in the chocolate making process to give both a great exfoliant and a luxuriant chocolate experience.  indi chocolate lips come in 5 varieties that all contain our chocolate and melt in moisture that warms to your body temperature. indi chocolate mint lotion is often referred to as the "OMG" lotion since that is what most people say when they first try it on their skin.  The lotion absorbs well without making you feel greasy and the smell brings many positive memories to mind.  How do we know this?  Direct feedback from our customers.  How could you not love that?

When we buy chocolate products we don't often think of where the bean comes from.  Would you tell us more about the Belize community you've been working with?  How long is their cacao growing tradition? 

Cacao seedlings
The family vacation lead me to start a bean to bar chocolate company in Belize where I got to see first hand the positive impact of working with the local community.  The local Mayan community has been growing cacao there through the ages.  Creating a sustainable company in Belize has lead to better economic opportunities for not just the farmers, but their families and their communities.  Seeing this positive impact is what influenced me when beginning indi chocolate.


Now, we have also begun to buy beans directly from Honduras.  It is on the islands off of Honduras where Christopher Columbus became the first European to see cocoa beans.  At that time, the beans were used as currency.   (Haven't you wondered where the expression "when money grows on trees" comes from?)  We are happy knowing that the Honduran farmers will receive hard currency and a premium for the quality beans we use in our chocolate and chocolate body care products. 

Would you consider your business to be fair trade, sustainable, or both?


Because we are a small family owned business the cost of fair trade labeling of our products is too expensive.  We believe that we can better compensate and impact the farmers and ensure a high quality and sustainable source for our chocolate through direct trade.  We look closely at the communities we work with to ensure sustainable practices and that we positively impact the communities we work with in a sustainable way, too. 


We often do not consider the fact that cacao is only growable in a small area of the world and for us in the USA this means the basic ingredient for the chocolate we love must be imported.  Are there particular difficulties you've encountered bringing products into the USA from Belize?

Cacao grows in the warm tropics where the temperatures soar above the melting point of chocolate.  To keep chocolate from melting during the trip from Belize can be very tricky. 


Making indi chocolate right here in the US makes transporting our products to clients a lot easier.  

Most of your products currently are body care related -- lip balms, lotions, along foot and skin care.  We've recently covered similar products and one comment we received questioned the value of such products.  What are the benefits for using cacao derived ingredients as opposed to other ingredients in your products?

I developed the body care products initially because I missed the sensations of working with chocolate when I was home in the US far from the chocolate making in Belize.  I missed not only the smell of working with chocolate but, also, the way my skin felt so smooth, soft and hydrated.  I wanted to have those sensations everyday.  Isn't real chocolate the best aromatherapy anyone could ask for? 


I designed the body care products to not only be very chocolatey but, more importantly, to be high quality body care products.  Just as I do with the chocolate, I believe the best items are made from using simple quality ingredients put together well. 


The high antioxidant properties we enjoy when eating chocolate are also highly sought after in body care products.  In addition to the antioxidant properties, the cocoa bean consists of 50% cocoa butter, which has long been enjoyed for it's beneficial properties in body care products.  We get the distinctive melt of chocolate from cocoa butter's melting point being so close to that of our body temperature.  The cocoa derived ingredients produce a luxurious body care experience.


I am rather proud of the short, understandable list of ingredients for both our chocolate and chocolate body care items.  I post them on the indi chocolate website (http://indichocolate.com) for all to see.

We know that with food items there are certain federal regulations that must be followed.  Is this also the case for body care products?

The regulations for food items is much more extensive than they are for body care products.  I use separate locations to produce the chocolate and chocolate body care products. 

Do you use the same quality cacao beans in your body care products as you do in your dark chocolate?

Absolutely.

Do you plan to expand your chocolate food items in the future?

Of course.  Part of the reason we picked the indi chocolate name is that we wanted to make chocolate "as individual as you are."  One of my favorite things is being able to customize our products to meet customers needs, wants and desires.  It keeps it fun and interesting and there is nothing like seeing the happy faces of my customers when I deliver.  Part of the beauty of being such a small family business is that I get to interact directly with customers and their requests.  Now that is sweet.

Finally, do you have an advice for other women who might be interested in starting a "bean to bar" chocolate company?

Making quality chocolate from the bean is part science and part art together with a lot of hard work and research.  Finding an apprenticeship is a good way to see aspects of the business before the large capital outlays required to do it yourself.

Thank you, Erin, for talking with us today.

Thank you Chocolate Cult. Long live the exploration and ecstasy of chocolate!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Farthest Star Cookies for the Holidays

December 4th (or 15th, I've found both dates) is "National Cookie Day" and since the holidays are so busy, I wanted you all to have time to check out two types of cookies from Farthest Star Cookies who sent us these treats a while back. Don't worry, Sisters and Brothers, all of us here on The Chocolate Cult tried these while they were still fresh and we just pre-wrote this review for our Winter Holiday Schedule and because of the fun food holiday relating to cookies.  We'll be doing several things with cookies in December here including sharing your Chocolate Priestess first foray into the world of food blog exchanges.  You have time now to check out Farthest Star Cookies with us before "National Cookie Day" in case you don't feel up to baking or making cookies yourself but want something more than the pre-packaged, mass produced items you find in many stores.

They sent us two of their cookies that have cocoa and chocolate as major ingredients, as well as the alcoholic "shots" they are famous for so let's look at them both.  They came in simple white paper bags with the company logo stickers; each bag contained six cookies.  You probably can't see the names in this photo because the stickers are dark but they are an artistic view of the sky with the sun in the background as you'll see below when I opened the box.

These were packed in all recycled dark red paper and without too much over packing.  When a company does something to protect cacao production be it fair wages, eco-friendly agricultural practices or just more eco-friendly package we like to highlight that here.  Plus it looked pretty with the red paper and was not what I excepted to see opening the box.

The first type of cookie was their Cocoa Curacaco which is supposed to be a brownie inside of a cookie with orange curacaco.  Let's see if it is, Sisters and Brothers.  First it looks like a very dark chocolate mound of a cookie measuring on average about 2.5 inches in diameter with a depth of 1.75 inches.  Very big mouthful but I cut one in half and share it immediately.  It has a cocoa scent with a hint of orange in the background when I take a whiff after cutting it open.  The outside is a bit crispy like a cookie might be but the inside is indeed thick and slightly chewy like a brownie should be.   There is a blast of cocoa and then a deepening of orange with a little burn in my mouth  probably from the alcohol but the cocoa flavor is the dominant one and it is very pleasing to me because it is darker not milk chocolate.  The texture is a touch dry but then it was transported and we tested them the next day.  The Farthest Star folks suggest you freeze them if you won't eat them in a few days and you can freeze them up to a month if you reheat them for a few seconds.

The second variety was the Northface cookie is a soft cookie with chocolate and peppermint schnapps so I wonder if it will have an alcoholic kick to it.  These were spread out more at 2.75 inches diameter but thinner as well at 0.75 inches.  As you can see they were swirls of vanilla and chocolate cookies.  I wonder how they did that?  Since we want chocolate, I pick one that looks like it as a lot of it.  The cookie has a definite cocoa scent with a peppermint edge that intensifies once I cut it open.  This also more crisp on the outside but since it is thinner it is not as chewy as the previous cookie.  The cool of the mint lingers but the cocoa and the peppermint flavor blend very well together which is what I'd want especially as I see the winter holidays approaching. 

So if you aren't big into making cookies and are sad you missed celebrating today with quality cookies, don't worry.  Another "National Cookie Day" is scheduled for December 4th (or 15th).  If you think Farthest Star Cookies is a good choice, you have time to go and order some today.  Remember if you do, eating them fairly quickly because these are fresh and have no preservatives added.  Both of these varieties meet The Chocolate Cult's expectation for chocolaty cookies and they get our approval as a worthy Sacrament.

Here is a great way to influence this great little company and help it grow without spending money, too.  They have conducting a survey and if you participate you will be in the drawing for a gift certificate to get free cookies.  You get to help them with important questions all bakers and candy makers need to know, help a college class with a project, and get the chance to win some cookies. Why wouldn't you help out by answering a survey?  I took it, it took maybe 5-10 minutes of my time.  It does not require that you are familiar with Farthest Star Cookies at all so please do take this survey.  It isn't often that companies care enough to get direct consumer feedback so please do take this opportunity.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Drink like American Founders

If you'll recall, Sisters and Brothers, we've looked American Heritage Chocolate in the past.  I made a few recipes and we tried their chocolate on it's own.  Now one thing to keep in mind is that this is not chocolate as we know it today.  This is made with traditional methods and ingredients just like the colonists and the first American citizens did back in the 18th century.  It tastes different and has a different texture.  You can use it in traditional recipes -- there are many on the website -- or experiment with it in modern recipes.  Your Chocolate Priestess did both for this this, our 4th feature review for the 2011 Winter Holiday season.

The Finely Grated Chocolate Drink came in the larger bag above.  Inside was a resealable plastic pouch so that the chocolate flakes could stay dry.  You can see that some of the grated chocolate has clumped but it wasn't damaged in any way and it all melts very easily in both ways that I tried it.  The first was a traditional recipe printed right on the bag for hot chocolate drink. Number one difference is that we use water, you can see it in the pitcher in the photo, and that the chocolate has no milk of any sort.  Adding milk or using milk with chocolate is very much a 19th century innovation so Benjamin Franklin didn't have milk with his chocolate.

The drink seemed to mix well but it was difficult to tell because the texture of the chocolate is a bit grainy compared to modern chocolate.  From every historical source I've looked it, this is as it should be for the period.  Once I thought it was well blended, it was very dark in color, I split it into three cups and three of us tried it -- myself and two Acolytes (Milk Chocolate and one of our Mocha volunteers).  I warned them that this would not taste like modern hot chocolate but it was a tough adjustment.  This does not taste like modern chocolate; the spices are very strong and you just have to clear your mind of expectations and accept what is actually a very good flavor combination.  One down side was that as the hot chocolate cooled it got more grainy so we kept stirring it.  My advice is to drink it quickly.

I wanted to try a more modern recipe but I also felt like experimenting.  Having my left arm injured is a big downer so my husband helped me make no-bake cookies using the Hot Chocolate Drink as the chocolate in the recipe.  Again we had to adjust expectations and these turned to be very hearty yet sweet cookies.  Here's the recipe in case you want to try it yourself.

No-Bake Cookies with Colonial Twist
1/2 cup light butter
2 cups Splenda
1/2 cup skim milk
8oz American Heritage Finely Grated Chocolate Drink
1tsp real vanilla extract
2 cups quick oats

Melt butter and add in sugar and milk.  Heat on low until smooth then add chocolate and milk until smooth.  Add in vanilla and thoroughly mix.  Turn off heat and slowly add in oats, no more than 1 cup at a time and mix well; oats should be completely covered by the chocolate mixture but you need to mix it quickly.  Then on a piece of wax paper drop tablespoon amounts of the mixture.  You can leaven in rolls or flatten out.  Let dry for at least one hour before eating.

Thanksgiving is tomorrow but any day can be a day to journey back into our past. As a historian I think we all need to take the time to think back and really try to connect with those who came before us.  American Heritage Chocolate let's us do that with food.  This is a more intense and direct way to re-connect so I hope you all give these chocolates a try.  You don't have to be American either, because the recipes are likely fairly similar to European chocolate during the 18th century.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Chocolate Fountain at Golden Corral

I don’t know if you’ve seen ads on TV for the buffet placed called Golden Corral recently, Sisters and Brothers.  They have new chocolate fountains in all of the restaurants.  Our server and the manager the last time we went told us that some places got cotton candy machines as well.  Who cares about that?  We want chocolate.  At Golden Corral they call their fountain the "Chocolate Wonderfall" as you can see from their sign.

It is located in their dessert section of the restaurant which is called "The Brass Bell" that also has a bakery to the left on the photo.  If you haven't been to this buffet before they have four basic areas -- a salad bar, a potato/soup/taco bar, the main entree and sidedish bar, and then this area in the photo to the left.


The fountain is larger than most that you can rent for, lets say, your wedding or a party.  Not as large as the floor to ceiling version we say back at a candy shop in 2009 (our first photo intensive post and our first "On the Road" post).  For the space it is in at this buffet, it is perfect.  The restaurant can easily fit the other desserts to the right or left.  I didn't notice anything missing myself from their normal dessert selection.

It tried it out but followed our motto of moderation by using only three of the several items for dipping: small rice crispy treat, marshmallow, and chocolate truffle with colored jimmies on it.  The truffle ws unexpected since the ads and the flyers on the table mentioned the other two along with pineapple (also available) and strawberries (not available).  I really wanted the strawberry but the truffle helped me confirm that the fountain chocolate is actually much darker by comparison but it was soft and difficult to handle.  The rice crispy was my favorite because it really soaked up the fountain chocolate.

I saw kids, teens, adults, older folks, of all sexes, races, and ethnic group at the place use the fountain during the two hours we were there.  I spoke with one of the managers and she said it was very popular.  Their only problem was kids trying to cover soft serve ice cream in cones; when the ice cream falls, they have to turn off the fountain, throw out the chocolate and start all over because it clogs the machine.  DO NOT USE IT ON ICE CREAM CONES!

Over all I was very pleased by their corporate’s decision to put in the fountain.  I couldn’t even remember what it may have replaced if anything.  So if you have a Golden Corral near you, check it out then let us know what you think.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Italian Caramels for the Holidays

One of our Google affiliates, PastaCheese, wanted to draw more attention to their gift products as the holidays approach.  As their name implies, they specialize in gourmet pastas and cheeses, but they also sell chocolates.  Sisters and Brothers, we are going to feature four products from PastaCheese throughout the forthcoming year, starting with today's Saturday Sacrament and looking at the Venchi Chocaviar Gift Box.  One of our Acolytes commented that this product's title sounded horrible; I suggested he just look at the photo and consider the chocolates inside, as I will.  My guess -- I tried doing some research and could not find Venchi's own reasoning -- is that this is supposed to remind one of caviar and thus make a connection between fine, expensive food and fine chocolate. (This isn't as expensive as I thought it might be, so check it out please.)

Inside this 5.3-oz. box are nine individually wrapped dark chocolate caramel treats.  From the cover we see three varieties -- a 75% dark, a milk chocolate, and a caramel.  My Italian is a bit rusty, since I haven't been back to Italy since 1991, but everything on the box seems to be translated into English as well. The milk chocolate is at least 33.3% cacao and 18.6% milk.  It has cocoa mass, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder in two forms.  It also has added olive oil, hazelnuts, whole milk powder, skim milk powder, condensed sweetened milk, lots of sugar, and soya lecithin.  No artificial ingredients or preservatives at all.  One piece measures almost 1 1/8 inches across, has a height of 5/8 inches, and contains 93 calories, 6.8 g fat, 6.8 g carbs, and 1.2 g proteins.

We'll start with a black-wrapped 75% piece.   I know, normally I start with the lighter chocolate and work my way up, but I want something darker this morning.  (Yes, this review is being written LIVE for you all.)  The shiny paper wrapper is sealed with a gold sticker with "Venchi dal 1878" printed on it.  Looking closer I can see that what at first looked almost like fat jimmies on top are actually tiny chips of chocolate.  It is difficult to cut open, so the chocolates are unevenly cut, as you'll see in each photo, but I wanted you to see inside, Sisters and Brothers.  This is all very dark chocolate, so you may have difficulty seeing that there are three layers -- the external dark layer, a second dark layer, and then the large center. This chocolate has a very strong, simple, and dark essence when I bring a half to my nose and breathe in; that is delightful to smell early in the morning.  There is a very loud snap when I take a bite, and immediately the chocolate starts to melt.  The center seems lighter and sweeter in flavor, but all of it blends into a wonderful dark intensity that begins to create a light cocoa buzz with only 1/4 of this first piece in my mouth.  The little chocolate pieces on the top and sides add more complexity to the texture, but they, too, melt quickly.  The second bite I chew, and that really cuts the intensity, though a good half dozen chews make noise.  Let this one melt in your mouth after a few chews, and  you'll be flying quickly from the rush we want from chocolate.

The gold wrapper is marked as "Creme Cacao," so I think this is a milk chocolate piece with a dark shell over it, from what I can see when I unwrap it.  Splitting it in half I can see that there are three layers again -- the dark outside, a lighter second layer, and  a thicker even lighter layer.  Smelling one half reveals a scent with at least three components: one of dark cocoa, one creamy, and one even slightly sweet, each perhaps corresponding to one of the layers.  This chocolate is a little soft but still makes a sharp snap when I take a bite.  Ah! I taste hazelnuts in the center layer, as well as a slightly creamy and bitter chocolate.  The hazelnut flavor really dominates this chocolate, though, so if you don't like those tree nuts, don't eat the ones with gold wrappers; give them to a friend.

The single chocolate with an orange wrapper is "Caramel," a fact that isn't surprising, given the cover of the box, but that it is only one of the entire nine is a bit shocking.  Perhaps the others are also caramel -- a dark chocolate and a hazelnut caramel -- but if that is the case, the tangy sweetness of the caramel isn't apparent.  In the photo we have three items in the same color group, but I think you can still see the caramel dripping out a bit from the center under what appears to be one dark chocolate layer.  Yes, the caramel is a very dark, almost orange in color.  This has a mixture of dark and tangy fragrances when I take a whiff of one half.  The outside makes the loudest snap of these three pieces.  The dark essence is the first flavor I get, then comes a burst of uniquely tangy caramel that is unlike any I've had before.  Describing it is therefore a challenge, but it it has a sort of citrus-like sweetness to it as well as that tang one expects from caramel.  The bitter chocolate returns to finish off the flavor.  Normally, letting chocolate melt in my mouth gives me the most intense experience, but for this I found that chewing mixed the two flavors together, and since the darker chocolate essence lasts longer, the blend was more important for my enjoyment of this piece.

Venchi has a history of fine chocolate dating back to 1878, when it was founded by Silvano Venchi in Turin, Italy.  His goal was to find "chocolate's soul," and his procedures are still followed today.  Venchi shops are primarily in Europe, so you have to order the products through various retailers such as PastaCheese. 

You can find PastaCheese using this link or via their ad on the right-hand side of our posts; it is also shown below.  Note the special discount they are offering readers of The Chocolate Cult! Venchi is only one of 28 chocolate companies that PastaCheese imports, so your range of choices is fairly wide.  These are nice gifts for Christmas but also for almost any other occasion, including some of our national and international chocolate and fun food holidays.  The quality of the dark chocolate and the history of the company makes this a very worthy Sacrament, as well as a nice gift.

286891_$10 off $75 Order - Chocolate Cult

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Review: Chocolate Walk 2011

What I brought home to share.
This past Saturday was our 3rd time at the Chocolate Walk in Nashville, Indiana.  While we know that others bought tickets based on the information we promoted here several times this fall, apparently your Chocolate Priestess and your Chocolate Coconut Acolyte went "too fast" last year and wore out some folks.  So even though I tried to arrange carpools those fell through.


We arrived around 9:45am, 15 minutes before the walk was to officially begin.  My arm is in a brace so no photos this year from the walk, sorry.  We went to the starting point, Brown County Art Gallery, where we got our tickets, booklet that had a map of the shops participating, and a button to identify us.  At this first stop there were two chocolate sample offered right away though only one was listed in the book.  The surprise chocolate happened one more time on our walk.

Now the past two years we've done this the wait in lines is horrible at some spots.  This year we decided to tackle the Main Street stops since those seem to be the biggest logjams.  With this adjustment, we were able to make all 31 listed stops over the 9 X7 block area in 2.5 hours.  Each of us packed away more of the samples than we ate or drank on the walk.

Many of the stops and the treats were the same as previous years.  There were some exceptions.  The Candy Emporium and Harvest Moon Pizzeria had different samples as did Holy Cow! though to be blunt, their chipotle hot chocolate was over done in terms of the spice, an opinion many shared if I can judge by the number of tossed out mostly full cups in the nearest trashcan.  Many places had 2-3 different samples you could chose from but all but one requested  you take only one sample.  The lady at Ice Cream Cottage had a good selection but then was also giving out cinnamon popcorn which isn't chocolate but was a nice bonus.

There was less information this year in the booklet. Only five shops listed their "guest chocolatiers" though I'm completely certain many more stops didn't make their own treats.  The listings for each stop last year has information about the sample they were handing out but this was not the case at all this time around.  That's sad because my memory fades over time and given my arm being in a brace, the information was useful since I simply could not take notes the entire time any more than I could take photos.

It was great fun again to walk this all with our Chocolate Coconut Acolyte.  We ran into another Chocolate Cult group while there as well.  The weather was great, the cause is good, and it was fun.  A wonderful pilgrimage all around.

Next year why not plan to join us; November 17, 2012, is the next date.  Before then we may attend their "Chocolate! Chocolate!" fundraiser in February as we did last year.  All indoors that time and more homemade than professionally made chocolates.

For those who attended, please leave a comment below.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Lindt Chocolate Christmas 2011

Normally we don't do the same company's or chocolatier's products two reviews in a row because we want you all to have variety, Sisters and Brothers, and we want to spread out the exposure for those who send us samples.  This is our second Lindt Chocolate R.S.V.P. Consultants feature because Wednesday was Lindt Bear Day but today is a look at two products that could help you during the coming month.  Again our thanks need to go to Amy Sue for sending us these products and telling us about this program.

Lindt Lindor Peppermint Extra Dark Chocolate Truffles are a seasonal item available for a limited time.  This is a huge bag, 19oz, with around 45 balls each wrapped in a dark vibrant green wrapper.  As you may know, the color of the wrapper indicates the variety of truffle from Lindt Lindor.  In the photo you can see my hands and arms and you can see our sacred dish in the background; our White Chocolate Acolyte helped me take photos.  These are made from bittersweet chocolate, vegetable oil, sugar, chocolate, cocoa butter, milk, peppermint oil, soya lecithin, barley malt powder and artificial flavor.  Some of these ingredients seem unnecessary to me.  Why add vegetable oil if you have cocoa butter in the bittersweet chocolate as well as listed separately?  Why the artificial flavors when you have so much chocolate plus the peppermint oil?  The barley malt powder just surprised me.  There are not artificial preservatives however so perhaps these added ingredient help preserve the balls.  Anyone out there know?

Inside the wrapper you find what you expect from Lindor truffle: a perfectly round sphere with a radius of about 1 inch.  You can see that the outer shell was put together then sealed by the seam.  We had to use a different camera so I apologize that this photo is not as close up as I try to do for your view, Sisters and Brothers.  The scent is purely bitter cocoa essence while the shell is very cool and smooth in my fingers.  Using my teeth and making a very gentle bite that still produces a snapping sound, I can separate the shell on one half from the truffle.  Inside the shell and the truffle itself the scent is strongly peppermint with a dark cocoa undertone.  The shell snaps with each bite and initially there is a rush of coolness and a hint of peppermint before it turns to a bitter cocoa taste.  The side with the truffle gives us a hint in how these are made.  The outer molded shell has a bump on the top and it actually fell out when I separated the two halves. Inside we see that the truffle is not perfectly round and it has a peak where this bump was.  I wonder if they pipe in the truffle filling after the mold's main seem is filled?  Anyway on to the tasting of this half.  The truffle is a milk chocolate and the peppermint is much stronger here, becoming the dominant essence at the end.  It provides a cool sensation to my tongue and mouth that I can feel renewed when I take a breath.  Eating it with the shell however allows both of the creamy center's coolness and the bitter chocolate shell to balance.  Eating it whole not only limits your experience of these layers of flavor but also make you think the peppermint is less strong -- our Milk Chocolate Acolyte just popped one into his mouth and tried it, he said he could barely taste the peppermint.  So I say bite in half and enjoy for maximum oral joy.

Three balls are a serving of these Peppermint Extra Dark Chocolate Truffles but to be honest I'm generally satisfied by one ball at a time.  I might have another during the day or at a party but these are so nicely chocolatey and have such a good potential cocoa rush that I'm content.  Otherwise three of these have 200 calories with 13g saturated fat, less than 5mg cholesterol, 10mg sodium, 2g fiber, 11g sugars, and 2g protein in them.   Portion control is a great way to use our Sacred Substance, Chocolate, moderately.  The next item Amy Sue sent us is designed to be used in such a fashion from the very start.

The Lindt Advent Calendar is big measuring 18.75 X 14.25 1.75 inches.  It has this Santa leaving the North Pole scene on the front and while you can't see it in our photo, there are the necessary numbered sections to open one day from December 1st to Christmas Eve.  The entire thing weighs less than the bag above coming in at 10.9 oz but compared to other Advent Calendars I've had, that's still bigger.  Now I'm not going to eat in any way other than the way it was intended so I have a proposal for you all, Sisters and Brothers. Everyone of you get an Advent Calendar.  Whenever I post in December I will add a note at the end of the post saying which doors I've opened, what was inside, and if I liked it or not.  Then you can leave a comment and share with us how your Advent Calendar is working out.  I'm sure Amy Sue would like you all to get your own Advent Calendars from her so do check them out.


But my following tradition and using this calendar in the way it was intended (there's our Purposefulness as well as Moderation we always emphasis here) does not mean we are clueless about what is inside.  The back, as you can see above, has the ingredients but also photos of what is inside.  The chocolatiers vary but in general they are milk chocolate. Some have hazelnuts as well while wheat and rice is also listed in case you have allergies.  Overall one piece has 70 calories containing 2.5g saturated fat, 5mg cholesterol, 10mg sodium, 6g sugars, and 1g protein.  There are 16 shapes of treats pictured on the back so some will be repeated and I'll find out what as I use it.

Both of these are good additions to your holidays.  I think for children the Advent Calendar's milk chocolate focus is a good idea but I have to wonder if most children are going to appreciate the quality I expect to find.  I'd be thrilled if there was a dark chocolate version of this calendar for adults.  Hey, we can enjoy an entire month of holiday cheer, too.  The truffles would be great to put out in bowls for parties and I think this is what we will do at our annual Winter Holiday Party.  Amy Sue has sent us good examples of Sacraments you can use to enjoy your holidays.  The truffles I think measure up to our Sacramental standards year round but you'd have to store them as directed to make them last.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Peanut Butter Cup Sundae to Celebrate


Today is Veterans Day in the USA.  This date used to be called Armistice Day to mark the end of WWI or The Great War; sadly it did not end all wars at all.  I want to hear from you, Sisters and Brothers, if you know of any veterans who are no chocolatiers or chocolatiers who have left their jobs to join the military.  I think we should honor them.  

Now onto our Fun Food Holiday today.

Your Chocolate Priestess got these Smart Ones "Peanut Butter Cup Sundaes" at the same time as the “Chocolate Chip Cookies Dough Sundae” variety for the same price back in June but guess what?  Today is also a national fun food holiday that is about sundaes: "National Sundae Day" though why falls in November, I have no clue.   While this has the same amount of calories as the cookie dough variety, those calories are composed a bit differently with 2.5g saturated fat, only 90mg sodium, 3g fiber, 13g sugars, 4g protein but the same in every other nutritional way.

Again there are 2 servings in the box and I let these thaw at room temperature for five minutes before I and the Milk Chocolate Acolyte had them.  As you can see they aren’t identical to the box’s image but all companies chose their best and stage their products like this.  

In terms of chocolate this tasted like fudge and chocolate covered peanut butter cups on soft serve ice cream of average quality.  The brownie bottom was even thinner than the chocolate chip cookie bottom was so over all I was a bit disappointed. I’d go with the other variety we’ve all ready reviewed over this one, Sisters and Brothers.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lindt Bear Day

Ah, the winter holidays.  I use the plural on purpose, Sisters and Brothers, because many cultures have holidays during the last two months of the year and during the first month of the year.  For us in the Northern Hemisphere these are often festivals tied to early magical traditions where the actions of humans could impact the entire world if we just did certain things.  What ever the reason our first featured review of this winter holiday season in 2011 is from Lindt Chocolate R.S.V.P. Consultant Amy Sue Lambermont who much like the Dove Discoveries Chocolatiers helps bring unique products from a well-known chocolate company into our lives.  Today, November 9, 2011, is Lindt Bear Day so check it out too and start thinking ahead for you holidays so you aren't rushed and end up spending more money than you should.

As you could see in the first photo, I was sent a total of 5 bears.  The fuzzy one, the cuddly one is the Lindt Teddy Bear and he has a red bag with  five milk chocolate truffles inside.  The bear itself can only sit and is about 7 inches tall from the surface it sits on to the top of the ears.  It is very soft except in the butt which has little pellets to give a bit of weight so it doesn't fall over.  The truffle has the Lindt shape you are likely familiar with -- round molded two halves of chocolate shell over an interest semi-soft truffle center.  The shell has a creamy, vanilla cocoa scent and is very cool to the touch.  Biting into it doesn't make a sound but be careful because the center may want to come out in one piece and you need to really make this a two-bite treat to get the full impact of the creamy and again vanilla milk chocolate.  Letting it rest in my mouth does not last long because it melts quickly but it allows the cocoa essence to build up more.  After eating one truffle I can see why the Lindt Bear is smiling -- this is a lovely evening treat and it can last five full evenings plus a lifetime if you take care of the bear itself.

I was told by Amy Sue that you can also make hot chocolate with these truffles.  Here is how you do it: 1 cup milk warmed, 3 truffles of any variety, stir, reheat to keep the truffles melting.  Then if you want, you could add cream or marshmallows as well.  I'll try this later when it isn't so warm -- I can't believe it's still in the upper 60s and lower 70s where I am -- but have any of you tried this, Sisters and Brothers?

The other bears we were sent was the Lindt Bear Gift set that includes four 100g milk chocolate bears wrapped in gold foil.  As you can see thing once you get one unwrapped, some of the bear features remain like the face and paws with "Lindt" across the rounded little tummy.  They have the same creamy, vanilla cocoa scent as the truffles above which makes perfect sense given both are milk chocolate.  These are hollow but still the question was: Break it or try and bite it?  I tried to bite it first starting with one of the ears.  The chocolate is very thick so it makes a loud snap when I bit off the right ear (as I'm looking at it) and yup inside is hollow.  Just like the truffles, letting your bite melt will increase the over all flavors and blending of said flavors.  This is basically the truffle in a cuter form.  But this is also a brand new product from Lindt so you've seen it here if not for the first time, then one of the first times in the media.

Want to add cute to your chocolate, these two product definitely meet that goal.  Neither of these are innately Christmas so that means this could be a great gift year around but they may be limited availability.  Remember if you store chocolate under temperature and moisture controls it can last for months so think ahead to holidays coming up in the first part of 2012.  (I doubt the world will end)  Personally I really liked the Lindt Bear because I get something that lasts ever after the truffles are gone.  Check out Amy Sue's website and shoot her an email or call her and let her know you saw these products on The Chocolate Cult.  If you can think of anyone who might love these little bears, you'd be ahead on your gift shopping for the season and help a small businesswoman as well.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Book Review: The Happy Baker

Ah, it is cooling down and now I can get back to baking and candy making, Sisters and Brothers.  This means more cookbook reviews and perhaps recipe sharing with all of you.  I received Erin Bolger's "The Happy Baker: A Girl's Guide To Emotional Baking" from the Amazon Vine Program; your Chocolate Priestess is one of the top reviewers on Amazon and has been for years.  As always I looked beyond the cover and just reading the cookbook (something I find most cookbook reviews only do) and tried out three recipes.  Two of these were chocolate and one was not but I wanted some variety.

The first two recipes I made on the same day as a gift for a friend for her birthday party.  She hadn't thought about a cake or anything sweet and so I volunteered.  Given that she had been going through a challenging year emotionally, I thought using this cookbook seemed appropriate.  The first recipe was for "For the Love of Toffee Cracker Goodness" (p 34).  I had never made a toffee or bark in my life so I thought this was be a good challenge to how well the instructions in the cookbook were.  The only problems I had was that Bolger's baking sheet must be a different size than mine because the crackers did not fit neatly in rows; the second was my lack of patience as I waited for them to cool enough to break apart.  No one could tell at the party that the bottom was simply saline crackers and everything turned out well.

While the above cooled I made "Match Made in Heaven, Dark Chocolate Cookies" (p 101) and by the recipe, these seemed a bit dry but that might be a reflection of the weather, too, so if you are a notice cook, if it looks or feels too dry, add some moisture, if it looks or feels to wet, add more of the dry ingredients.  These were three layers of chocolate -- cocoa, semisweet, and white chocolate chips.  I used a darker cocoa so I did adjust the moisture level a bit. The result was enjoyed by everyone who tried them while I was at the party and the birthday girl like both goodies so I felt I'd been a good friend.

Finally I tried something non-chocolate so I won't waste your time on the photo.  These were the "Jumbo Banana Pancakes for Two" (p 39) that was perfect this past weekend when our household of three was two since the hubby was at a camp getaway with friends for a week.  Easy to make but I had to cheat a bit and not make just two big pancakes because I knew turning them was not going to work for me -- trust me, I know me and pancakes.   We still really liked them though ad this will be a recipe I turn to again and play with in the future.

As for the emotional biography in the book... frankly that didn't interest me much and I didn't think it was well-integrated with the recipes at all.  Get it for the 65 recipes not for the love search tales and you'll be fine.  If you buy the book from the links provided in this review, you'll help support The Chocolate Cult, too!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Coop Chocolate Options

As you may know, Sisters and Brothers, our featured reviews, Saturday Sacraments or our Special Sacramental Reviews, require that a company send us a product we can write about.  Sometimes though what they really want us to focus on is the store or the company not the chocolate item itself because they are retailers.  Retailers are an important part of American culture and I imagine most western cultures.  So today we are going to focus on Bloomingfoods, the nearby coop I and my entire household and several of our friends shop at and some of us belong to. 


The product the coop gave me was this  Artisana Raw Cacao Bliss chocolate and coconut butter spread.  As you can see it was very difficult to spread on my bread here.  It also was very coconut tasting so I'll have to give this to our appropriate Acolyte and see what she thinks later.


Microwave 10 seconds = spreadable
This sort of product though is just one of the many categories you can find chocolate in at Bloomingfoods.  They have their own deli and bakery and I've have several goods from there that varied in their quality but none were poor quality just some amazing and some OK.  They have a fairly large selection of candy, energy, and granola bars most of which have chocolate or are chocolate.  Some brands we've featured or done regular reviews of here on The Chocolate Cult.  They sell baking goods so you can find baking chips or bars of chocolate and cocoa to help you make homemade goodies.  They have frozen foods which include some chocolate items and a lot of dairy free selections so it's a good bet for those of you with that allergy and intolerance.  Finally, their alcohol selections sometimes have a chocolate liquor, beer, or wine and of course their brands are mostly small brew and organic.

My East side store I shop at.
Bloomingfoods serves over six counties in south-central Indiana.  It is also part of a virtual chain of over 120 other coops around the USA.  We get general fliers about sales around the nation along with the monthly newsletter.  As you may recall, back in July 2011, they did an article on me, your Chocolate Priestess.  They have three stores now in Bloomington, Indiana, though I primarily go to the East side one since it is only three blocks from me so I can walk or even take a short drive if I'm feeling lazy or want to get a lot.  I go there at least once a month, often with another Acolyte who is also a coop member.  We've been members since 1998 I think if not 1997.  We've seen a lot of changes over that time.  From speaking with the folks who run Bloomingfoods they have been supporting fair trade, eco-friendly coffee, tea, and chocolate for decades now.  If you find a coop that does the same thing, strongly consider supporting them because by doing so you encourage more sustainable cacao growing around the world.

Bloomingfoods is a great shop that brings me variety that I have difficulty finding in other stores in my town.  Unlike international or small shops, their coop nature means that they listen to their customers but especially to those of us who are members.  Their focus on organic, fair trade, and local products means they are supporting the planet, the only one we know of which can grow cacao, Sisters and Brothers.  So if you don't like in my town, still give a look to your local coops, make sure they are in fact coops, not big name chains masquerading as them, and join. You'll get discounts and a voice that goes beyond your wallet.