Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year, Old Cookie Favorite

Today is the last day of 2011 and some people fear that 2012 will bring some great disaster.  Let's not dwell on such morbid theories and instead ring in the New Year with an old favorite, Sisters and Brothers.  The folks from Nabisco via the Amazon Vine Program sent me a box of their Mallomars.  I remember these primarily from my five years living in NYC, Manhattan to be more clear, while I went to Columbia University.  We had friends who just loved these things and I didn't think they were bad but I preferred other types of chocolate cookies in general because I felt these were too focused on the chocolate.

Either my memory is bad or these have indeed been improved.  The first thing I always check is whether or not something has chocolate and in what form that chocolate comes.  On this ingredient list, "chocolate, cocoa butter, and chocolate processed with alkali and soy lecithin" come right after the first ingredient, sugar.  There are also a lot of added oils as well but part of that may be for the cookie base or the marshmallow.  Each cookie is 1.5 inches radius and rises to 0.75 inches at its most puffy top.  Two cookies equal a serving with 120 calories made of 3g saturated fat, 40mg sodium, 1g fiber, 12g sugars (I was amazed that it wasn't 20+ grams of sugar), and 1g protein.  As you can see it has three parts -- marshmallow being the largest section then a thin cookie bottom all covered by chocolate.  The chocolate had a slightly dark scent than I expected as well as a slightly bitter edge, just very tiny, this is still milk chocolate.  The cookie was very crumbling so that didn't make a noise when I took a bite; the marshmallow part obviously made no sound and it also did not stick to my teeth.

Unfortunately the way this was shipped to me resulted in some fat bloom on some of the cookies (not the ones I choose for this review) and some of the cookies had broken apart.  The fat bloom made those particular cookies have a slightly grainy texture but the others were cool and smooth to my fingers and in my mouth.  I'd get these in my local store not have them delivered.  Given the marshmallow itself, I wouldn't be surprised if these are more fragile in terms of temperature and moisture though the moisture shouldn't be a problem given the plastic try and the plastic covering it and the cookies.  The chocolate competed better with the marshmallow but this still isn't quite strong enough chocolate to get a full Sacrament label from us.  Instead it is a nice treat to try from time to time.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Nadia's Cannolis

Not far from your Chocolate Priestess' house is a new restaurant called Nadia's Bistro.  It replaces one of the finer restaurants in our college town, a place we went to once maybe since are not really "fine dinning" folks.  I found a coupon on the Nadia website, we decided to try it.  I also got to try out my new recorder as well so I could speak into it and get all my ideas instead of just take short notes. I didn't however just transcribe what I said.

After a nice lunch of some sandwiches, we decided to split the "chocolate dipped cannolis".  As you can see there were two cannoli, perfect to split with my hubby on our little romantic afternoon out.  The ends are dipped in chocolate, there is a drizzle of chocolate, a little dusting of cocoa and powdered sugar.  It came with a sliced strawberry (I ate that) and two spoons. The presentation was lovely except I noticed that the ricotta filling was much moister than I have had in cannoli in the past.  This filling tasted very creamy and sweet, without a hint of tartness that I associate with ricotta, and it was much less firm than any cannolo I've had in the past.  The result was a filling that was ice cream like in terms of flavor and texture.  My cannolo did taste good and was fun to eat once I scooped a lot of that filling out of the end so it didn't fall out onto my shirt.  The best way to improve this would be to firm up the filling and add more chocolate, perhaps adding in mini chips to the filling or even making that chocolate as well.

We'll probably try Nadia's Bistro again but sadly this was their only chocolate dessert so we'd have to go elsewhere to find a new treat to reveal to you all, Sisters and Brothers.

Language note: "cannolis" isn't a word but it is the word on the restaurant menu.  The singular is cannolo or cannolu (in Sicily) but the plural is simply cannoli.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Holidays Recap Winter 2011

It is far too close to Christmas to make an official Saturday Sacrament post for you all, Sisters and Brothers.  Instead I want to recap those companies and chocolatiers who asked us to reveal their products to you these past two months.  While it may be too late to order for tomorrow, none of them only make products for Christmas so you should still check them out.  We have a few posts scheduled for Valentine's Day all ready but please, if you have chocolate shop you love or a company you recommend, let them know about us here on The Chocolate Cult and we'd be honored to add them to our growing of places who have been featured here for your reading and viewing pleasure.

We'll go back cover these chronologically starting way back in November with Amy Sue, a Lindt Chocolate R.S.V.P. Consultant sending us several items.  The first was the teddy bears for Lindt Bear Day while the second included the Advent Calendar we have been using.  Here are a few of the chocolates we've found so far.

PastaCheese.com sent us some intriguing Italian caramels that we really enjoyed sharing with you all plus a special discount you can still find on the right column of our blog just for you, Sisters and Brothers.

American Heritage was another wonderful lesson in the history of chocolate and they are in the running for "best of 2011" -- any feedback on this, would be greatly appreciated.  The company and chocolate must have been featured as a Saturday Sacrament or Special Sacramental Review during 2011.

Farthest Star Cookies had a survey at the same time we featured their delicious cookies?  Did any of our readers win?

Taraluna is once more the place to shop if you care about empowering women, small business, and global practices that help us all.  Their Sjaak's Christmas treats were great.

We were honored to feature Charbonnel et Walker from the UK this year.  I hope we'll team up with other UK and European chocolatiers in 2012 expanding us beyond the North, Central, and South American companies we've worked with even further.

It may not be too late to find the DOVE Chocolates we looked at, loved, and used this holiday season.  Here are some photos from how I used them in my baking for our annual holiday party.

White Chocolate Peanut Butter Blossoms with Dark Chocolate Snowflakes



Red Velvet Cupcakes with Milk Chocolate Snowflakes next to Dark Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread


































Fullmoon sent us more chocolate soap to use and enjoy. Remember this is a seasonal item only so you must check them out in January or February if you want to get this treat.

The folks from J. Drizzle Gourmet Popcorn were next in line for your review and remember to check their  feature so you can get in on the Giveaway before it is too late.

We ended the season with Chocolate Says It All but we'll be returning to that same company again in 2012.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Words on Chocolate for 2011 Holidays

This is our final Winter Holiday specific Sacrament for you all to consider, Sisters and Brothers.  This comes from a fairly new company called Chocolate Says It All which uses FDA approved food colorings without flavor to print messages and images on chocolate.  They sent us this winter holiday sample that we'll look at today as well as a few birthday samples they have.  Their chocolate smells like and looks like milk chocolate though the website doesn't give specific chocolate details that I could find.  On top is a white coating, maybe sugar, that the printing is done on.  Each of the individual printed pieces comes in a plastic case to hold it firmly so it didn't break in transit at all.  No unnecessary packing materials were used for my samples and we appreciate that greatly because anything that could help the planet, the land, the water, and all aspects of the global environments can benefit the growth of cacao.

This images is fairly clear, I can read all the words and see the various shapes that make up the "Happy Holidays" message.  The colors are more vibrant than I thought they might be though definitely not card quality; what do we except, it is food after all and a newer technology than printing on cakes that I've seen in shops.  This chocolate card is about the size of a business card at 3 3/8th inches by 2 inches by about an 8th of an inch think chocolate then a little less of the white coating on top.  It has a bit of heft to it but I don't know the ounces nor the nutritional values and specific ingredients.    When I take a bite the white top starts to separate from the chocolate which allows to taste both.  The chocolate itself is good quality, milky and smooth, a nice cocoa kick.  The white coating does not taste like dyes, as promised, but it also doesn't taste particularly sweet and has a aftertaste I'm not fond of.  Eating both together really tones down the quality of the chocolate and seems to build up that aftertaste.

Chocolate Says It All is a fairly new company so I hope they take this review as not just honest but also helpful.  I think if you got one of their more chocolate collection gifts where the printed pieces are only the center with a message surrounded by truffles then this could be a good gift.  By itself, the printed pieces just do not taste as good as they could.  If the coating could be much thinner this would allow more of the good milk chocolate to come through.  I don't think even a very dark chocolate could compete well with the coating; that is the negative right now for these products.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

GIVEAWAY: Gourmet Popcorn for the Holidays

We are thrilled to team up with a gourmet popcorn company for this time of year because it is nice to offer you all options that are healthier, unique, or just plain not the run of the mill candies or cookies you see everything during these holidays.  J. Drizzle sent us two dark chocolate varieties of their popcorn we'll share with you all the experience of trying them out.  I was assisted in this by four Acolytes so the impressions are a composite of our experiences as we tried 6 cups of each flavor we were sent.  The bags were basically plain brown bags with six cups of popcorn in each.  The labels different only in terms of the name of the flavor and the ingredients list.  There was no nutritional values though obviously popcorn covered with anything is less "healthy" than plain popcorn.  It is the holidays; have some fun!

The first is the Coffee & Cream variety which does not list coffee as one of the ingredients though it does have milk.  One of our Mocha Acolytes commented "this is slightly addictive" as he kept eating and eating this variety.  What made it "addictive?"  Each popped kernel is fairly large, everyone who tried it with me agreed on this point and we did not find any old maids (unpopped kernels) in the entire bag  Many kernels were bound together by the dark chocolate coating but the ones that were solo measured over a half inch across.  Most were well covered with the dark chocolate and had the white drizzle over them as well.  The scent was really popcorn though the entire bag together had a decent cocoa scent.  The coffee flavor varied a lot from kernel to kernel but the dark chocolate was consistant suggesting the coffee was in the drizzled white on top of the kernels.  The crunch was good and sharp yet these were very fresh as well.

The second was the Dark Chocolate Chili made with cheyenne pepper.  These were the same size as the previous bag, nice big popped kernels and no unpopped ones we could find.  The crunchy and the fresh softness of the popped kernels was identical, too, suggesting a strong quality control in their popping process.  These had a hint of spice to them just under the popped corn fragrance.  As you can see, they were drizzled pink over the dark chocolate coating.  The dark chocolate was the primary flavor to begin but the cheyenne's burn built up over time, oddly on the back of my tongue but in other locations in the Acolytes' mouths.  Now how spicy these are really depends on your level of spicy enjoyment.  I found them to be intense but two of the three Acolytes I tried these with found them delightfully hot while the third barely noticed the spice at all.   I would say that these are best for someone who likes a spicy kick with their chocolate.

These two varieties from J. Drizzle were exactly what you hope a gourmet popcorn would be: fresh and soft yet very crunchy, the chocolate dark and coating the majority of the kernels fully.  But you can try them yourselves either by ordering or by entering this giveaway hosted by J. Drizzle.  The rules are different for this giveaway so read carefully and as Alison, our contact there, directs in her message below:




Have your followers can log in to www.jdrizzlepopcorn.com and enter their contact information and that they found us on your blog. This would put their names in a que and a few days later a random follower would then receive $20 credit in their account to receive any flavors they wish. We would be happy to send a message along with the winner's name so you can announce it on your blog as well.

We should have no trouble turning around that giveaway if the recipient wishes to receive it before New Years Eve, it would really be up to the end user when they want to redeem their credit.


Notes:
As you know, Sisters and Brothers, this is The Chocolate Cult.  We do not discriminate against the type of chocolate -- white, milk, semi-sweet, bittersweet, or dark and all the variations in between.  We also do not discriminate about the type of product so we feature and reviews everything from food and body products to books, movies, and bake/cookware.  However if it is a food or body item, it must be chocolate.  We not only look at the companies who send us products but also the ingredients in their products. If something does not meet our standards, we cannot review it for all of you.  Sadly while we have given you our reviews of two of the four bags that J. Drizzle sent to us, we cannot review the other two because they are not actually chocolate; Toasted Coconut Crunch and the White Chocolate Pineapple.  Both are made with palm oil, canola oil, and milk but no cocoa butter is listed either online or on the bags themselves.  After speaking with the folks at J. Drizzle I believe they were misled by their supplier.  Both varieties tasted good our Acolytes all agreed but they simply were not chocolate and thus cannot be featured on The Chocolate Cult.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Keeping Track of Chocolate the Smorgie Way

As you may see, Sisters and Brothers, from the right sidebar, I partner with several sites and companies.  Those that send us products or those that, to be blunt, offer me a little money upfront without clicks or sales, are higher on the list.  One of these is The Foodie Blogroll and they've asked me to help spread the word about a new company.  Now, I will never do this unless I think it may be something you might find interesting and if it can or does involve Chocolate in some fashion.  A while back they asked me to try a new restaurant search engine called Smorgie and I did.  I had some good conversations with the site's manager and then they offered me a bit of money to honestly review them here for all of you.


Smorgie.com


Honest is the only type of review I am going to do, ever, so this works for me and I hope it will be helpful for you.

Registration at Smorgie is easy and free.

Searching for restaurants in your area is more complicated.  First it works best if you know the restaurant's name or the type of food you are interested in.   You must put in both a city and state as well as a type of food.  I found that a bit annoying because initially I wanted to just see if they had anything for the college town I live in.  A big metropolitan area, sure, they'd have that, but a community of around 65,000?  Just searching for my city was a bit tricky to figure out how to do but it can be done.

If you put in a type of restaurant as well as city and state then you'll get a list. Now it may not be a list of every restaurant but you can add restaurants as long as you know the name, the street address, and a telephone number.  I still believe the search engine could be improved more especially by just using a city or a ZIP code frankly but it is decent at this point and time and I'm hoping as more folks participate and give them feedback they'll make changing.

The biggest plus for Smorgie is the ability to create lists of restaurants.  To do this you must first add a few restaurants to your account.  When you add a place  you can choose what type of restaurant it is -- you don't need to stick with the type you found it under -- and  you can leave yourself comments about it.  Once you have a good number, I made sure I had a dozen before I created  list, then you can create lists and add restaurants to them.  You can name the lists whatever you want.

Currently my lists include:
"Awesome Chocolate Desserts"
"Downtown Haunts"
"Everyday Eateries"
"Our Favorites in Bloomington, Indiana"
"Special Times"

You can list a restaurant multiple times for example under my first list, "Awesome Chocolate Desserts," I have places that show up in each of the other four lists.

The downside I found with the lists is that the one I lasted use will automatically add a restaurant to it if I'm still checking out restaurants.  I think the program would work best if it asked you what lists you want to add it to or if  you wanted to create a new list at the time you add the restaurant to your account.

You can also browse other people's lists to get ideas so if you check it out, you can find me under "ChocoPriestess" because there was a character limit for names.

Try it and then leave me a comment about what you think about Smorgie so that they can get an idea of how to improve it.  Remember these sorts of promotions help me try out more "On the Road" adventures to share with you all so please do participate and check out those companies on our sidebar for your holiday gifts, too.

Smorgie.com - Make and Share lists of Yummy

Per FTC Laws: This sponsorship is brought to you by Smorgie.com who we have partnered with for this promotion.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Recipe: Cookie Swap 2011

I decided to participate in my first food blogger event for the holiday season which may have been insane of me given the busyness of the two months right before Christmas.  I chose to do something for National Cookie Day, which is today, December 12th, and so I joined the "Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2011."

The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2011

The rules were that we sent in our information and we'd send one dozen homemade Christmas type cookies or bars to three other bloggers. Then today we'd share our recipe.  I'll do that but I also want to look at what I received from three other bloggers after I share my own recipe.

I was injured in October and I'm still recovering.  All of these posts you've been reading have been written in short spurts so I knew I couldn't make the cookies I originally wanted to try. So bars seemed the most logical choice.  However getting anything in and out of the oven is also a challenge so I knew it couldn't be something that required baking.  This isn't particularly Christmas or Holiday like but this is a revision of a recipe I had published back when I as a child in our church cookbook.  I still have some ideas of how to revise this further but here is the recipe of what I sent my three cookies swap mates.

Crunchy Dark Peanut Butter Squares #1
TammyJo Eckhart

Ingredients:  Bottom Layer
13oz graham cracker crumbs
2/3 lb powdered sugar
1 18oz jar crunchy peanut butter
1.5 sticks butter or margarine






Directions Bottom Layer

Let butter or margarine come to room temperature then beat it until fluffy.  Add in peanut butter one spoonful at a time and mix thoroughly.  Add in the powdered sugar slowly and mix thoroughly.  Finally add in the crumbs 1/4 cup at a time.  Note: if you use reduced fat butter or peanut butter this will make a semi-soft bottom layer.  You'll need to add more crumbs and powdered sugar or reduce the butter or peanut butter of  you use regular and non-crunchy versions of these.

Press this mixture into the bottom of a pan -- you can chose the size based on how thick you want these bars.  The ones I sent were approximately 13 X 9 X 2 inch aluminum pans for shipping.  Set the pan aside to make on the frosting.

Ingredients: Frosting Layer
5T butter or margarine
1/3 C skim milk
2/3 C sugar
1 10-12oz bag dark chocolate pieces









Directions for Frosting Layer

Melt the butter or margarine on low heat in a medium sized sauce pan and stir in the milk.  Mix well then add in the sugar stirring until you real a slow boil.  Boil for 1 minute then turn off the heat and add in your chocolate.  Stir until smooth then pour and spread over the bottom layer.

Refrigerate for about an hour then cut into squares or whatever shape you like.  Note: If you leave these in the frig too long they will be quite difficult to cut.  You may refrigerate or not after you have cut them.  Because these are so rich -- even changed from the original recipe -- I strongly recommend you cut them into no fewer than 12 pieces.  Normally I cut ours into 20 pieces.  I also only make these every three years or so though I'll need to try again to work on another change I have in mind in regards to the frosting layer.



My bars were pretty but the three packages I received contained very Christmasy cookies that were lovely.  I received these Ginger Crisps from Jean Brletic by jeanniebeebakes, these candy cane cookies by Kristy Still at Mommy Hates Cooking, and the peppermint pinwheels by Kristin Rosenau from The Pastry Affair.  My family and friends who get a bit tired of chocolate (I know, are they crazy or what?) was thrilled that none of these had chocolate in them.  It was a nice change though I must confess, given how busy we've been here on The Chocolate Cult with Holiday feature reviews, having to double up on them for the past few weeks and with a week or so left in that doubling.  Yes, Virginia, even The Chocolate Priestess can get a bit tired of chocolate all the time.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Chocolate Recalls 12.11.2011

Sisters and Brothers, if you have not heard of this food recall related to chocolate, here is the list I received from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration.

See's Candies, Inc, Issues Allergy Alert on 8oz Almond Clusters, Code SF 088/12
12/08/2011, 6pm EST

See's Candies, Inc. of San Francisco, Calif, is recalling one code of 8 ounce Almond Clusters, because they may contain peanuts.  People who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to peanuts run the risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume the product.


Photo From: http://www.plummarket.com/home/gifts/see-s-candies-8oz-almond-clusters.html

Saturday, December 10, 2011

DOVE for the Holidays 2011

DOVE Chocolate is well-known in the USA and many other places around the world now.  Still a private company, DOVE has grown and grown into international powerhouse that provides chocolate year round as well as for may holidays though not all holiday.  This Christmas DOVE has four bags of chocolate in their PROMISES line called "Snowflakes" -- Milk, Dark, Peppermint Bark, and an Assortment.  They sent The Chocolate Cult one bag of each of these and today we will reveal them to you all in full sensory fashion.  As you can see in the photo to the left each bag is a different color so they are easily to identify.  They should be available in most mass retailers around the USA as well as other countries.  Leave a comment and let me know where you've found these in your city, Sisters and Brothers.

We'll start with the blue bag of Milk Chocolate.  The pieces are individually wrapped in either silver with blue or blue with silver foil around a hexagon of chocolate.  Our bag had 13 blue and 23 silver pieces in all for a total of 36 pieces; 5 pieces = 1 serving with 200 calories made of 7g saturated fat, 10mg cholesterol, 25mg sodium, 1g fiber, 20g sugars, 2g protein, 2% daily Vitamin A and iron, and 6% daily calcium. The one I unwrapped for this review said "Joy to ... you" on the wrapper.  All of the Snowflake PROMISES measure 1 inch across and 0.5 inches deep.  This one has a creamy cocoa scent when I take a whiff of it before biting into it; it makes no sound but immediately starts to melt coating my tongue and mouth with smooth chocolate.  There is a hint of vanilla with the cocoa and cream but primarily the cocoa is the stronger flavor which is what I want even in my milk chocolates.

The Dark Chocolate is in the red bag and like the previous bag, the individual hexagons of chocolate are wrapped in red with silver or silver with red foil. 5 pieces = 1 serving of 200 calories made of 5g saturated fat, 5mg cholesterol, 3g fiber, 17g sugars, 2g protein, and 6% daily iron.  Our bag had 19 red and 16 silver wrapped chocolates for a total of  35 pieces.  As soon as I opened the bag itself, my nose with hit by the semi-sweet chocolate fragrance -- wonderful.  The message on the wrapper says "What if "the season to be jolly" last all year long?"  Why couldn't it?  Sometimes in life you have two choices -- laugh or cry -- and when that happens, Your Chocolate Priestess has been working to laugh as a way to cut stress.  If you have a busy holiday season, this attitude is very helpful. This makes a slight snap when I take a bite and the chocolate starts to melt. This is semi-sweet and it does have that sweet start with a bitter finish to it that I think anything semi-sweet should have.  Have you ever notice though that candy is often not labeled semi-sweet merely dark or milk chocolate?  If you let it melt, both levels of flavor will build up but the bitterness lingers more as does a bit of a cocoa buzz by the second bite.  Excellent.

The color coding is important when you get to the Chocolate Assortment bag.  The bag itself is purple but inside are the red/silver and silver/red Dark Chocolate, the blue/silver and silver/blue Milk Chocolate as well as the silver with gold snowflake decoration pieces that are Caramel.  Why not a bag of just the Caramel though?  Instead of repeating the previous two descriptions we'll focus on the new Caramel variety.  First, the nutritional information is more tenuous because there are three varieties so I won't give that information here.  Our bag had 12 Milk Chocolate, 12 Dark Chocolate, and 12 Caramel pieces for a total of 26 Snowflake Promises.  This bag had a lighter chocolate scent when I opened it and I could tell it was from the Dark pieces. As you can see this is a milk chocolate piece because it is not as dark as the previous.  The message on this wrapper is long: "Spending time is a greater gift than spending money."  Agree or disagree?  Back to the Caramel Snowflake.  The fragrance is a sweet yet tangy caramel with a hint of the cocoa.  This makes a soft snap as I take a bite and the light yellow caramel inside starts to ooze out.  The flavor is more balanced than the scent with the milk chocolate holding its own with the caramel that is more tangy than sweet really.  A nice surprise but now I would how it would work with the dark chocolate.

Finally for the holiday we have the Peppermint Bark green bag with silver foil wrapped squares with red and green pocka dots on the wrapper.  These are not the Snowflake variety, just PROMISES.  This bag also revealed a dark fragrance when I opened it but it had a hit of peppermint behind it.  Inside were 28 pieces of this treat.  Unwrapped this has a more peppermint and creamy essence when I bring it to my nose.  Take it from the wrapper I read the message: "A smile is the perfect gift, personal and encouraging."  Perhaps but I really like those fuzzy, warm house socks that prevent my feet from slipping on our wooden floors.  This measures 1.25 X 1.25 X 0.5 inches with 1/5th of that depth a dark chocolate base with a white chocolate and peppermint candy top.  This makes a slight snap when I take a bite with the dark side down. The candy pieces are crunchy and loud but as I chew they get chewy and the cooling from the peppermint builds up.  The white chocolate is creamy but the bitter edge to the dark is what starts and finishes off this first bite.  Flipping the candy over increasing the peppermint flavor but also increases the dark chocolate finish so I'm torn between which way I preferred eating it.

DOVE Chocolate has provided us with great quality at a reasonable price once more.  Even though Christmas is only 15 days away (did that scare you, Sisters and Brothers?), these aren't only for Christmas.  Let's be honest, if you live far enough north in the Northern hemisphere snow is probably a fact of your life so these Snowflake PROMISES and PROMISES could represent your environment regardless of your culture or religion. Good chocolate, decent price, easy to find, and cutting across cultural lines make these chocolates worthy Sacraments.  Now let me know what Snowflakes you've found, what stores you are finding them in, and what you think of them, Sisters and Brothers.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Chocolate Rose Soap for the Holidays

It wasn't look ago that we looked at some of the soap from Fullmoon but for the holidays they have another chocolate soap they asked us to reveal to you all.  Until the previous soap we featured this Chocolate Rose soap is a seasonal product which means you can only order it for a limited time or you might be able to find the Fullmoon ladies at Winter Market in Bloomington, Indiana.  This bar to the right in our photo was larger than the previous bar we reviewed so as I write this feature for you today, Sisters and Brothers, I'm still using the soap in my shower.  It is made with all natural ingredients: olive oil, coconut oil, raw milk, shea butter, cocoa butter, cocoa powder, cocoa nibs (that's three levels of chocolate!) and essential oils of almond, rose geranium, and vanilla.  If you are allergic to any of these ingredients you may get a skin reaction so be aware of that.  I have very sensitive skin but I'm not allergic to anything and I have had not problems with either this soap or the previous cocoa nib soap.

This photo shows you more of what the bar looks like after you first unwrap it. On one side are several rose geranium petals and this side has a stronger rose scent to it.  There is also a very strong cocoa and milk scent as well.  Both the cocoa and the milk came out more as I used the bar though it does not seem to have left me smelling like cocoa.  That might be a good thing because I'm not sure I want to be enticing enough to be bitten like a big truffle.  The nibs are noticeable as you use it, some of them are fairly large but most are tiny and add a bit of texture to the bar and on your skin with scratching.  It suds up very well especially once I was able to use both hands a bit more in the shower.  (As some of you may recall, I was injured and I'm in occupational therapy now to get back full use of my left arm; I'm typing only at 10 minute periods instead of my normal 90-120 minute blocks.)   While it has a pleasant cocoa scent it is not enticing for me at least in terms of being attracted to it like a piece of chocolate. I'd recommend keeping this an an adult use soap just in case.  I don't think there's anything in this to hurt anyone but when I accidentally got some of the suds in my mouth one day, yuck!  It rinses off very, very well, and left my skin feel both clean and moist, a challenge when the weather turns colder for me as I sure may be the case for many of you.  Since using it I have noticed that I have not needed lotion for my skin.  This Chocolate Rose Soap is great!

For being a small, woman-owned business that uses fresh ingredients and several form of cacao in their products, we have to say that Fullmoon gets a thumbs up as a worth Sacrament for all of us on The Chocolate Cult.  Check out their website please and if you are attending any fairs or farmers' markets in January and February in South Central Indiana, try to find them before they stop making this fun and safe soap.  I know they will be at our local Winter Market but they may be in other locations as well so drop them an email to find out.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

UK Chocolate Traditions for Christmas 2011

The Chocolate Cult is proud to present our first feature review of a product from the UK, from Europe.  We hope this is the first of many more in the forthcoming years.  The company is Charbonnel et Walker, a company created in 1875 by two female chocolatiers (Mrs. Walker and Mme. Charbonnel from Paris) upon the encouragement of King Edward VII (when he was Prince of Wales).  When a recent round of outreach to Europe received two bites, both from the UK, I was thrilled when Charbonnel et Walker wanted to send us three samples for our Winter Holiday schedule this year.  From left to right, a box of their Milk Chocolate Selection, a round of their Marc de Champagne Truffle Collection, and a tin of Chocolat Charbonnel, "The Chocolate Drink," which would have been the principle way that chocolate was consumed still in 1875.  I had help from Acolytes at all of the stages of this featured review but I took their opinions and consolidated them into the essay below.

Our of our Mocha Acolytes told me that he loved champagne truffles so he was pulled in to help me review the Marc de Champagne Truffle Collection.  This is one of the sseveral packages and varieties of truffles Charbonnel et Walker make.  The box contained two matching layers of 1 inch diameter truffles for 4 Buck Fizz, 6 Pink, and 6 Milk Chocolate Truffles.  Each Truffle was covered by what we in the USA call confectioners sugar, some of it colored or allowing the color through, over a solid shell that encased the truffle.  They are made with milk chocolate that might taste a bit darker than most Americans are used to and in the case of one of them, white chocolate, too.  The ingredients are all natural and, of course, there is the champagne but also some run and some brandy in these.  We didn't get an alcoholic buzz though from the three we each consumed for this review.  For those of you with allergies, it does contain milk and soy both.  Now, Sisters and Brothers, let's look more closely at each of these three varieties.

The Buck Fizz may sound funny to us Americans but it was my favorite of the three.  The color of these is a bit like "sandblasted stone" according to our Acolyte and as I hope you can see in the photo to the right they have an orange tint to them; note that the degree of sugar and orange varies from truffle to truffle just as their shapes varied a bit as handmade chocolate normally do.  The coloring references the fact that they have an orange flavoring to the truffle. The powder got on to both our fingers; this was true for all three varieties so I won't repeat this information.  When we picked one up, we could smell the creamy chocolate but the main scent was a strong orange essence.  Biting into it made a soft sound and revealed a firm shell and then a softer inner layer with a stronger cocoa fragrance.  The shell is very sweet, very sugary as well as strongly orange.  The inside is creamy milk chocolate first then it fades into the champagne and back to the chocolate; the orange comes out if you let it melt in your mouth more.  This had the strongest cocoa flavor of the three varieties so none of you should be surprised that it was my favorite.

The Pink Truffles are the iconic truffles from Charbonnel et Walker.  Calling them pink may be a bit of an overstatement because as you can see they are more of a pale color though when we bit into them the pinkness was stronger on the inside of the white chocolate shell so perhaps the sugar covers some of the color.  This shell made another soft sound when we bit into it and a milk chocolate semi-soft center was revealed.  This had the least cocoa fragrance but that is the nature of white chocolate. Instead it had a very creamy, buttery scent with strong hints of the champagne and something fruity that might be the strawberry listed on the ingredients but it was too light to really determine.  The shell had the strongest champagne flavor while the inside was much creamier and almost no flavor beyond a light fruitiness.  Our Acolyte really liked this one a lot but as you all know, Sisters and Brothers, your Chocolate Priestess prefers the darker stuff.

The Milk Chocolate Truffles are more complex in the flavor experience than their name may suggest.  The amount of powdered sugared varied the most with these truffles as I hope the photo shows.  Some of the orange from the Buck Fizz also got onto a few of these.  When we took a bite of these, the shell's made the loudest sound but still it wasn't very loud and it shouldn't be; sharp, loud snaps are primarily the domain of darker chocolate with increased volume reflecting greater purity meaning fewer added ingredients.  These had a medium cocoa scent that trailed behind the strong champagne scent but overcome the creamy undertones.  The shell had a stronger champagne flavor as well while the center was very creamy, almost "buttery" our Acolyte pointed out, but also a hint of something floral in both parts.  Letting the center melt brought out more chocolate but it didn't seem as strong as the Buck Fizz had been.

Each of the truffles was delightful if you take them for what they were -- milk chocolate and white chocolate with champagne as the main flavoring.  While we didn't get any alcohol buzz, if you have an intolerance for such things, one of our Acolytes actually does, then you may want to steer clear of these. However this is only the first of the three possible Christmas gifts you could give to your loved ones from Charbonnel et Walker.


The Chocolat Charbonnel is a drinking chocolate which you mix according to the instructions on the tin.  First you make a chocolate paste using equal measurements of the chocolate shavings or pieces and hot water until it is smooth but thick.  The directions further say to "add milk to flavor" so I experimented with different amounts of skim milk added to the listed amount of chocolate and water paste each time.  To the left you can see the chocolate in the tin inside a plastic bag.



Let's look at it outside the bag in this measuring cup.  I made each batch for more than one person and I tried different methods of frothing it as well.  Froth on chocolate drinks was a desirous thing for the Mesoamericans as well as most Europeans.  Even today, many people will add cream or whipped topping or marshmallows but the chocolate froth if you can get it to form is even better.  Here and in the above photo you can see that this is really flakes or small pieces of chocolate, 100% chocolate, dark, no milk added though it does have sugar so not as dark as other chocolate for drinks we've tried here on The Chocolate Cult over the past three winters.

Attempt #1


Our first attempt was with the normal 6oz skim milk we always use for hot cocoa in my house and we mixed it by hand with a whisk.  As you can see, not frothing really.  The final result was tasty but a bit too much milk over all.





Attempt #2
Our second attempt was different on two levels. First I used only 4oz of skim milk per serving and second I used an electric mixer to try and get it to froth up more.  You can see it was a bit more frothy but the Aztecs still would have been disappointed in my work; I bet a whole milk would have frothed more but no one in our house likes that.  You have to figure out what works best for your taste buds at your house.  We liked this one a lot more so this will be our way of using the Chocolat Charbonnel around here.

Finally, Sisters and Brothers, we have the Fine Milk Chocolate Selection from Charbonnel et Walker to share with you all.  If you need to take a bit of a break, I know we are covering so much chocolate in today's Sacrament, just stand up and stretch for a moment, get some water, stretch some more, but then come back. These are lovely and I hope our photos can do them justice. Let's start off with the entire box to look at.  If you get some it should come with a little pamphlet that will identify the pieces you see by their form; two (the crowns) are pretty much identical though listed for two different varieties so we'll see what these are when we get to each.  We'll be looking at these two at a time in each photo in order from upper left hand to the lower right hand.  While you see 16 chocolate in our photo there turned out to be 12 different varieties so I won't repeat the information for the second piece of the same flavor.  I have shared these with various Acolytes to get their help.  Moderation and Purposefulness after all, yes?

Our first pair from this Selection are a Fudge Vanille and a Marzipan Amande.  The Fudge Vanille is a 1 X 1 X 0.75 inches and has four raised stripes of chocolate on the top.  The description says that this is a "traditional English fudge" so let's see what that is like.  It has a strong vanilla fragrance with a creamy cocoa under scent.  The chocolate is cool and smooth in my fingers.  Taking a bite creates no sound but reveals a very light colored, mostly solid center with a strong vanilla flavor.  The chocolate here is really only in the shell around the center.  Our Milk Chocolate Acolyte felt the vanilla was a bit too intense but I think it made sense given the description of this particular piece.

The Marzipan Amande is a diamond with 1 inch sides and a depth of 0.75 inches.  You can see the wave pattern of chocolate on the top as well in our photo above.  Through the cocoa there is a strong marzipan scent which I think of as a sweet almond fragrance.  The bite makes a sound soft and inside is the uniquely marzipan texture I'm used to feeling which is a little like very fine coconut but very different tasting.  This is much less sweet and more earthy almond that most marzipan's I've had in the past and frankly I'm thrilled because this allows the chocolate to come out more especially on the narrower ends.

The next pair consists of an Orange and one of the Crown chocolates that I'll need to determine when I sample it.  The crown shape in the only repeated shape in the listing I was sent and which you can find online as well though the click to enlarge feature wasn't working several times I tried them for this feature review.  The Orange appears to be the smallest piece in the box but measures 1 inch across on the base and is still 0.75 inches deep so it isn't smaller at all in general comparison.  The scent is primarily creamy chocolate with an undercurrent of orange if I take a strong whiff of it before taking a bite.  Inside is a light orange colored cream center with a slightly tart but very sweet orange flavor. Again the chocolate is really in the shell and in this case the orange does over whelm the cocoa taste as well as the scent one you take a bite.  Our Milk Chocolate Acolyte really liked this Orange chocolate.

This crown piece above turns out to be the Milk Crown which has coffee, walnuts, and hazelnuts -- reads like a complicated taste experience, doesn't it?  At the widest point, this measures 1.25 inches across, 1 inch from the top to the bottom of the crown, and then 0.75 inches deep.  The scent is strongly coffee so this is what gives the identity of the chocolate.  However our Mocha Acolyte reports: There is not much coffee flavor, the hazelnut and walnut flavors are more dominant and mix nicely with the chocolate.  I like it.

The 3rd pair of chocolates includes a Noisette Cream and a Heart shaped piece that is not in the listing of flavors.  Let's begin with what we know: the hazelnut cream that is called Noisette.  Does the word Noisette refer to anything?  I went and did a bit of quick research and found that it might refer to several things but I think it simply means "flavored with hazelnuts."  This is a big piece measuring 1.5 X 0.9 X 0.9 inches in dimensions.  It has a cross-hatch pattern on the top that you can see in the photo to the right.  Oddly it has a very light cocoa scent but no hazelnut essence when I bring it to my nose before taking a bite.  Inside is a fairly solid chocolate center that starts off very smooth, creamy chocolate, turns more hazelnut with each chew, than then returns to the chocolate flavor.  It is so easy for hazelnut to dominate chocolate and this is such a common combination that I am often disappointed but this has an excellent balance especially if you make it only two bites so you get an equal amount of the milk chocolate shell each time.

So what can this heart shaped piece be?  It has a simple creamy chocolate scent and measures 1.3 inches at the width point with a depth of 0.6 inches making this smaller than most of the other pieces in this box.  This makes a soft snap when I take a bite because it is a solid piece of milk chocolate.  It melts in my mouth, hints of vanilla but primarily the cocoa and some creaminess coming out.  Our Milk Chocolate Acolyte agrees with my assessment.  I'm not surprised that it is a solid chocolate but I think another shape in this box is also that so we'll just have to see when we get to in four more pieces of this journey.  You still with me, Sisters and Brothers?

The next two chocolates have very intriguing shapes with lovely designs on the top.  The first is a Barrel which looks like barrel but also has a treble chef on it; inside should be raisins and rum thus the barrel shape makes perfect sense.  The outside gives a very clear hint to the inside -- the barrel is up on a block and inside there are layers with this block as a simple thick piece of milk chocolate.  The bottom measures 1.25 X 1.1 inches while it is 1 inch tall so this is the largest piece in the collection.  There is a cocoa and raisin scent before I take a bite.  The thick bottom section makes a soft sound but the top caves in to reveal a big raisin, an entire big and juicy raisin on top of a rum chocolate cream that seems darker than the milk chocolate shell. Normally I'm not a big fan of raisins in chocolate but the combination of the chocolate, the rum, and the raisin is very nice and I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. Our Milk Chocolate Acolyte felt the rum could have been a bit stronger.

The other is more round with scalloped edges on about 70% of the sides with a wild rose on the top which identifies it as the Butter Fourré which is a butter and chocolate ganche under the chocolate shell. It has a butter essence in the scent under the milk chocolate.  This makes no noise when I take a bite and the inside seems darker than the shell in both color and taste.  There is butter here but the chocolate is happily the primary flavor.  If you let it set in your mouth the cocoa essence increases but it is very buttery and creamy at the same time.  I loved it!  This is probably my favorite the Selection so far, Sisters and Brothers.

Another Fudge Vanille is first in our 5th pair from the box but next to it is Romano which should also be a solid milk chocolate like the heart was.  The Romano I identified because it is slanted and has the ridges unlike the square Fudge Vanille.  Go back up if you can't remember the previous Fudge Vanille because we are going to focus on the Romano.  Like the Heart this has only a milk chocolate scent.  For some reason this has a slightly darker flavor, less vanilla taste than the Heart but otherwise it is basically the same.  It melts very quickly in my mouth and makes the loudest sound of any of these chocolates in the box indicating it is the most "pure" -- remember purity in chocolate will, in part, be heard when you eat it because it will make a sharper and louder sound.

The 6th pair from the Milk Chocolate Selection has a Plain Crown and Rum Fourré chocolates.  The Plain Crown is even more complex than the previous crown with hazelnuts, butter, marzipan, and whisky whose scent is what helped me identify it.  The size of this crown is the same as the previous crown.  This is definitely a hazelnut based solid and rather dry center andI can even see little pieces of nuts in it.  The texture is a bit like marzipan but the sweetness and almond is covered by the hazelnut and butter essence.  The only chocolate is really in the shell but that is among the thicker shells in the box, second to the Barrel.

The Rum Fourré has scalloped sides and is oval in shape as you can see above.  This has a strong rum scent under the milk chocolate when I take a whiff.  This is over 1.25 inches long and an inch across at it's width but 0.8 inches thick making this the second largest piece in the box I believe, Sisters and Brothers.  The bottom is thicker than the top and sides and makes a soft snap when I take a bite.  Inside is a very smooth, darker, and certainly rum infused truffle quality center.  The center melts and releases more and more of the sweet rum flavor but it also blends well with this darker center and the milk chocolate shell to make this my third flavor chocolate from the Milk Chocolate Selection.



The next pair is a repeat of two flavors we've all ready looked at: Heart which is a creamy milk chocolate and the Barrel which is layered and has a full raisin inside of it.  Please look above if you want a description.







The final pair which brings us to 16 pieces in this box, also contains a repeated variety but a new one that one of our Mocha Acolytes will need to reveal to you all when I update this post.  The repeat is the Noisette Cream of hazelnut but the new one is a Truffle Café that looks like a hazelnut or maybe a cross between a hazelnut and a cacao bean.  It may be the third largest piece in this box and it is just more lovely than my photo can do it justice.  Our Mocha Acolyte says of the Truffle Café: This is very much like Vietnamese coffee -- strong coffee and a sweetened condensed milk. The chocolate comes in after this flavor.

If you are one of our readers in the UK, we know there are a fair number of you out there, you can order from Charbonnel et Walker easily or find them at three London shops plus one shop in Leeds.  In the USA they are sold at SAKS along with a lot of other wonderful looking desserts I've love to try.  For a full listing of all their locations and the retailers that sell them, you can check HERE.  For their long history and current holding of a "Royal Warrant" as "Manufacturers of Chocolate to Her Majesty The Queen," for their all natural ingredients, very reasonable prices for the quality and beauty, and their simple elegance in chocolate shape and packaging, Charbonnel et Walker meets our criteria for worth Sacraments.  We'd welcomed sharing some of their darker chocolate with you in the future to see if they do that type of chocolate as well as the milk version.