Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best Chocolate Sent to Us in 2013

We get products all year around to test, try, and write about for all of you to consider, Sisters and Brothers.  We only two months from our 5th birthday of The Chocolate Cult so this marks the fifth New Year's Eve announcement of the Best Chocolate that we've had the honor of testing and revealing to you all.

Here's a run down of the 37 companies, brands, and creators who have shared their work with us in chronological order from earliest to latest:

Cocoa Paper
South Beach Diet
Noble Cards
Chocolate for the Spirit
Kane Candy
Lindt
Jackie Kingon
Beviamo
Williams-Sonoma
Certified Steak and Seafood Company
Best Chocolate in Town
Askinosie Chocolate
SlimFast!
ACandyStore.com
Sensa
Skinny Cow
Baked!
Life is Sweet
Dark Chocolate Imports
Uncle Sam's Chocolate Factory
MAGNUM
Fera'wyn's Artisan Chocolates
Unilever
Global Organics Ltd.
Theodent
Magic Choc
1-800-FLOWERS
TCHO Chocolate
Walnettos
Island Treasures
Old El Paso
ideavillage
Hasbro
All Things Equal
Clio Goodman
Darlene Lacey
Viva Labs

Some of these were not so good but over all it was an amazing year in terms of quality for chocolate or work.  Here are the top 13 from this year that we had the greatest pleasure of trying and why.

Cocoa Paper is unique and very supportive of the cocoa farmers plus they are a great way to use chocolate without adding calories.

Chocolate for the Spirit works with excellent ingredients created in farmer and planet friendly ways to craft delights plus being a small female run business that supports her local community is a huge plus here on The Chocolate Cult.

Kane Candy was real chocolate that tasted great when you used it as edible dishes that gave meals a luxurious and fun look.

Beviamo's work with the prisons and bringing chocolate from Italy to other nations is worthy of note as is the chocolate they import.

Askinosie's support of the cocoa farmer plus their high quality products again were a highlight of the year.

Dark Chocolate Imports was high quality and well-produced along with multiple award-winning Marou chocolate made the French way.

Uncle Sam's Chocolate Factory was surprisingly wonderful with every sample we got to test and definitely earned repeated Sacrament status.

MAGNUM has some of the best chocolate ice cream out there made with real ingredients.

Fera'wyn's Artisan Chocolates holds a lot of promise but we only tested one small example of their work.

Global Organics Ltd. offered amazing organic couverture from Italian that you need to check out if you are chocolatier.

Magic Choc was fun for kids and adults alike plus real chocolate with no additives just be aware is is not just the product by this name we were mentioning at year's end as being worthy.

TCHO has won in the past so it can't win again.

Island Treasures was a taste of Europe with a kick that had a particular appeal for both chocolate and licorice lovers.

So you can see the stand-out products were many this year making this choice difficult.

Past Winners of our Title include:
2012 -- TCHO
2011 -- American Heritage Chocolate
2010 -- Guittard
2009 -- Theo Chocolate

The 2013 Best Chocolate on The Chocolate Cult is....


Askinosie for the over all quality of their work, their support of local cocoa farmers, their empowerment and improvement of those local communities, and the variety of their products we have been honored to test and reveal to you over the years.



Sunday, December 29, 2013

Last Chocolate Recalls of 2013

How sad that we have to end our year with one chocolate related recall from the FDA.  In our effort to keep you all safe, Sisters and Brothers, we share these with you without added comment, empowering you to do more research and protect yourself.  But this recall is a "really?" one and I think you'll understand why when you read it.

Concertos in Chocolate Issues Allergy Alert on Milk in Solid Milk Chocolate Santa

Consumer Contact: Chris Widlar 303-447-1001

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - December 18, 2013 - Concertos in Chocolate of Boulder, Colorado is recalling 450 solid milk chocolate Santas. Because of possible mislabeling it may contain undeclared milk products. People who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to milk products run the risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume this product.

Solid Milk Chocolate Santas were distributed in Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas, Utah and Idaho through retail stores.

This product is packaged is a clear, plastic bag with a green label and green bow under the Concertos in Chocolate brand. The bag is 7” tall and weighs 5 ounces. The UPC number is 85869500072. “ENJOY BY” dates on the bag range from September 1, 2014 to November 1, 2014.

This recall was initiated after some milk chocolate Santas were found labeled with dark chocolate Santa labels. The dark chocolate Santa label that was applied did not list milk products within the ingredients.

No illnesses have been reported to date.

Consumers who have purchased Concertos in Chocolate Solid Milk Chocolate Santas are urged to return it to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may contact Chris Widlar at (303)447-1001 Monday through Friday from 9:00am to 5:00pm.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Start a New Year with New TCHO

Teaming up with other restaurants, or famously chocolate or candy makers is apparently the rage; we've seen this from another company just last month so now we are looking at three new TCHO Pairings bars from TCHO; our Mocha Acolytes had looked at the first bar in this collection some time back.  All four bars in this collection are also Fair Trade certified for those of you that care, that should be all of us, Sisters and Brothers.

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie is like what you'd expect with chocolate, strawberries, rhubarb, and pie crust!  My mother always grew rhubarb but for some reason I never wanted to try it but I know some folks love it.  I do love strawberries depending on their sweet vs tart level that changes over time.  Let's try to break off a section and give this try; it breaks off fairly easily, I think the uneven nature that I'll discuss at the end of this article helps that.  All I can smell is milk chocolate -- no hints of what is supposed to be inside.  The bite makes a snap and there is a constant crunching as I chew.  The immediate flavor is a tart strawberry with creamy milk chocolate that turns into a sweeter flavor that must be the rhubarb and finally fading into the sweet-tart tinged milk chocolate. If the pie was made with TCHO chocolate I'd try a slice!

I rinse my mouth out well before turning to the TCHunky TCHOtella bar.  This is milk chocolate with hazelnuts, hazelnut butter, and sea salt -- might be overkill on the hazelnuts but let's find out.  This has a strong hazelnut and milk chocolate fragrance when I bring it close to my nose.  This bar seems a bit softer than the previous for some reason though they have been kept under the exact same conditions before they were tested.  The bite is soundless but there are soft crunches as I chew.  The hazelnut is thoroughly blended into the chocolate making it creamier tasting, the salt is a touch too much there could be less and it would only improve the overall good flavor.  You must love hazelnut to love this and luckily I do! I rinse out my mouth again because hazelnut always lingers before I move to the final bar to try for you all.

Galactic Gelato is a mint "astronaut ice cream" in dark chocolate.  I made this one last because we always work up from lightest to darkest chocolate when we do testing but also because mint tends to be a strong flavor as well.  This is very tough to break and it doesn't break off evenly which is disappointing but I do get one clean, full square of it to try for you all.  The little lumps  you can see in the photo are the unevenly placed pieces of astronaut ice cream -- freeze-dried ice cream -- that provides a burst of cool mint.  Once you break off a piece if you break through one of these lumps you get the mint scent but as a full bar it is just dark chocolate you smell.  The first bite makes a sharp snap and there is a surprising crunch because it turns out that the freeze-dried ice cream is throughout in very tiny quantities.  This means that the mint flavor is mixed throughout the dark slightly bitter chocolate and the only time that mint rears up is when you hit a bigger piece but even then it does not overwhelm our Sacred Substance.  The astronaut ice cream is also a bit chewy when you get a chunk of it.

This final photo is what each bar looks like on the front.  I think you can just make out a very interesting two switch-ups with the normal look of TCHO bars.  First the TCHO part is twice the size of the other sections -- think of each horizontal section as 1/2 of a serving of the bar according to the nutritional information on the label.  Second can you see the shadows on some parts of the bar itself?  The other seconds are raised or lowered on their bottom edge every other one which gives the bar an uneven look that plays little tricks on your eyes.  I liked all three of these but I think the one I liked the most really surprised me by being the Strawberry Rhubarb Pie... perhaps I'll have to give that pie a try?

What did you think of this trio, Sisters and Brothers?  Do they sound worth you trying out in 2014?  Leave a comment and let us know please.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Chocolate Found in Las Vegas

The first full week of December your Chocolate Priestess headed to Las Vegas Nevada with her partner of 14 years.  We wanted to do this on our 10th anniversary but with my changes in career and the economy we had to wait. Finally we had enough money from royalties on a book we co-authored to do Vegas in our version of "style" -- we aren't luxury folks, we don't do unnecessary flash usually but while we were there we kept our eyes out for Chocolate.  I'd like to share what we found.

The first evening we found the 4-story M&M headquarters in Las Vegas located on the Strip itself on the eastern side near Planet Hollywood Resort.  Near, of course, means something different in Las Vegas where there is a lot of walking or a lot of paying for Monorail (still a lot of walking) or buses (still walking) or taxis (still walking since they can't stop along the strip it seems).  We had a coupon and so we each got a pound of M&Ms plus a bag for my husband of raspberry ones.  They had a huge wall of dispensers of more types of the candies than I knew they had.  They also had a 3D short film about the M&Ms in Las Vegas that was fun but definitely geared toward kids.  There's your Chocolate Priestess with our bag of goodies next to the sign to tell you what is on each floor.

Day two we found the Sugar Factory at the MGM Grand Resort after we did the CSI Experience and the CBS Television viewing/survey.  I had a special coupon for buy one, get one free so I had a lot of fun picking out small chocolates from the allowed displays.  There were many other Sugar Factory shops we found but this was the largest (and where the coupon worked).  They also had a back case of gourmet chocolates you could buy as well as a ton of non-chocolate candies. There's me to the left with their Christmas tree by the candies you could chose from for the coupon.


Day three we went to the center of the Strip to Caesar's Palace and we several chocolate stops on this day.  In the shops area of Caesar's Palace which is made to look like a Roman city we found Max Brenner's restaurant and chocolate Bar.  The manager talked to me and let us wander the two floors to take photos as well as their little shop inside.  I bought a tin of their truffles.  Wish we'd had time to stop and check out the menu more but we had to keep moving.

At the Bellagio Resort we found Jean Philippe Patisserie that has the world's largest chocolate Fountain. The photo is of the top that you can see from the floor of the very tiny shop it was in.  The shop also sold chocolates, cakes, and sandwiches but was very crowded even on a Friday winter afternoon.  I can't imagine sitting there trying to enjoy what we bought which was a small round box of 5 truffles.

At the Venetian Resort we found two chocolate stops -- one was Nectar which has soaps made to look like food items most of them desserts and a lot of them chocolate -- great way to indulge your nose without your tummy getting more calories.  The other was a small shop called La Sugarie that looked wonderful but we were in such a rush I didn't have time to even select some to buy which made me very sad.



Every buffet and most of the restaurants we went to have something chocolate unless it was more of the food court variety that we only did twice during our stay when we were only a bit hungry and really tired.  Of these the buffet at Caesar's Palace really stood out for variety and quality to me.  Here in this photo is a corner shot of their dessert section that is an entire square of space about the size of our entire front room I think.  They had handmade pastries and gelato there and the five varieties I tried including my first Moshi were great.  The Mirage's Cravings Buffet was second best in terms of chocolate but we certainly didn't try every buffet there; that would have taken a good month!

Back at Excalibur we stopped at LICK, a candy shop that has some chocolates they have exclusively made for them along with a range of other candies.  Not as large as the Sugar Factory but LICK was also almost everywhere we looked so you can't miss it.

The last chocolate place we found we had to search for and it was originally part of our planned tour of the Hoover Dam -- the Ethel M. Chocolates Factory. Some repeated misinformation on behalf of the hotel we were staying at and we missed our tour so we had to take a taxi out to the factory so we at least got a few things done.  Honestly not worth the special effort for while it was informative it more of a "made up" tour of their facilities than a tour of the facilities themselves that are HUGE so you only get to see a few things made -- molded chocolates and DOVE Valentine's Day boxes it turned out while we were there.

I'll talk more about the last restaurant I found chocolate at, Wolfgang Puck's Bar and Grill in the MGM Grand, later because they gave us a free dessert for our Anniversary and I'm counting the chocolate one for that so you'll see that post on February 28, 2014, on "National Chocolate Soufflé Day."

There is a lot of candy and chocolate to be found in Las Vegas and given the amount of walking you should do unless you spend all your time in the casino, you shouldn't feel guilty about indulging.  I lost 60 pounds so far this year and gained 0 back during our trip but also didn't chow down on the chocolates I bought right away, I'm still enjoying them slower in Moderation.  If any of the other shops had offered us samples to write about I could have included a lot more photos in a featured article but for now you'll have to let us know if you've stopped at any of these shops, found others, and what you thought of them please.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Last Minute Gifts of Homemade Ice Cream

You might be thinking "Ice cream in December?" but remember that we have Sisters and Brothers worldwide and some of you are approaching your summers.  Plus as many of my friends and family say "When is not a good time for ice cream?"  With this idea village Ice Cream Magic you should be able to have ice cream without the need to make a large quality of it.  The commercials strong suggest this is a product for children so we'll keep that in mind while we test it out.  So let's see if this might be a quick last minute gift you could pick up.

The shaker itself comes in three "flavors" or colors and I was sent the strawberry one so I'll just have to make chocolate ice cream inside, right?  This reminded me a lot of a large set of ice cream bowls and spoons were got from my hubby's maternal grandparents many years ago -- in fact, the spoons look identical don't you think?

The four page booklet included tells me that I need measuring spoons and 1/4 measuring cup, salt, crunches ice, and then whatever ingredients you need for any of the 11 recipes included.  You also need some stamina because you will be shaking this for 3+ minutes.  Because the timing is so important I couldn't take photos of the steps just the item itself and the final results of one of the ice creams.

We made two types -- one Peppermint and two Chocolate.  Here's what we discovered with this.

1) It gets tiring shaking this thing because it took about 4 minutes for us to achieve something resembling ice cream for half of the mixture.  Frankly I'm hard pressed think of kids doing this as vigorously as needed for that amount of time.

2) Make sure everything is on tight; double check it.

3) Empty out some of the water to add more ice every time but you probably don't need to replace all of the salt every time just a tablespoon or so.

4) Follow the recipes, you cannot make more than that amount in this little thing.

5) Half way through stop your timer, remove the lids, and scrape the ice cream from the sides so that more of the cream mixture gets to touch the metal edges and bottom.  The cream mixture that doesn't touch the metal of the bowl will end up with a milkshake quality to it. Sure it tastes good -- its whipping cream and chocolate why wouldn't it taste good - but not really ice cream texture unless you do the extra work.

6) Be careful when you remove the cover and the internal lid at the end.  It will be difficult to remove so you must have patience and I recommend you do it over a sink just in case.  No matter how long we shook our tests, no matter how cold we made our ingredients before adding them, a good part of the cream mixture was still milkshake texture so it could spill out.

7) Use small bowls so you think you have more than you do.  Granted this is still a 200+ calorie treat because we used heavy cream as directed but my family thought it was a tiny amount.  So I just used the bowls I mentioned that matched and perfect amount of ice cream!




I've seen this Ice Cream Magic Kit in our local Kroger and other stores so you don't need to find it on TV.  I recommend if you think this is something your kids or someone might like that you get one per person.  It was annoying for each of us to wait, then clean things out and dry them and start the next batch.  Ultimately I think multiple-serve ice cream makers are the best idea out there but this might be a fun treat though I just can't see it becoming a regular way you'll want to make a cool treat especially when the temps go up and you have even less time on your side for keeping the ingredients and the ice mixture cool enough. Compared to the PopChef this was not as useful a product. If I had to pick, I'd go with PopChef over this one and just go find the bowls and spoons like we have.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Coconut Oil for Chocolate Creations

In our overflowing Winter Holidays 2013 season we've gotten some creative kits, some lovely gifts, some unique flavors, and some ingredients that we could use when making our chocolate treats for the holidays.  Today's Special Sacramental Review is entirely tested and written by a new Acolyte who tried out the Viva Labs Virgin Coconut Oil sample we were sent since we have a coconut and tree allergy sufferer in my house and therefore I couldn't really test it out.

I consider myself an adventurous cook, so I was excited about the prospect of cooking with coconut oil. However, after my experience with the product, I think I’d rather slather it on my body than incorporate it in another dish.

1)  Like butter (which coconut oil is often a substitute for), coconut oil is primarily made of saturated fat, so it is solid at room temperature. It’s simply a solid white clump, which can easily be scooped out for measuring. It has a waxy texture, which unfortunately resembles certain bodily fluids.

2)  There are a myriad of uses listed for the coconut oil. Most are conveyed in a concise manner--such as their descriptions for hair and skincare use--but they also have a “suggested use” description, which is too vague. They state that it can be used as a supplement, but neglect to say for what benefit. It would also have been helpful if the jar had given exact substitution measurements, since it states how it can serve as a substitute for butter.

3)  Considering how it can be substituted for butter, it was quite easy to find recipes.

4)  First off, there is a pronounced coconut flavor. I don’t know if the fact that this particular product is extra virgin coconut oil had any effect on its taste, but every article on coconut oil I have read has stated that coconut oil does not taste like coconut. It’s supposed to have an innocuous flavor, since it’s primarily used in baking. However, this product—wow… I would suggest that one uses this product for desserts, since it is not a refined oil, and thus, not innocuous enough. It melted easily, because it scoops out in flakes. So compared to butter, one doesn’t have to wait as long for the substance to melt.

For those with dairy allergies, or vegans, this product is undoubtedly useful. I would be wary though in incorporating this product without experimenting first, since the flavor is quite strong.


I made a chocolate hazelnut disaster that can be traced to this site

The egg whites congealed at the bottom, along with the coconut oil, so that was odd. Since the oil had such a strong flavor, we decided against preparing the coconut mousse, although we probably wouldn’t have pursued that nonsense further anyway.

Does today's testing and review intrigue you, Sisters and Brothers?  Is coconut oil something you use in your baking and cooking?  Would you like to try it out?  If so, please click on the image below that will take you to the site the company would like you to use if you'd like to give it a try.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Chocolate Recall December 16, 2013

Sorry this is a day late, Sisters and Brothers, but your Chocolate Priestess had her family's annual holiday party that they have held for friends and family for 21 years.  Luckily we have only one recall that I am aware of but remember to always check back on Sundays to see what recalls the FDS issues that involve chocolate if you live in the USA.

Health Matters America Inc. Issues Allergy Alert On Undeclared Milk In Organic Traditions Brand Dark Chocolate Hazelnuts, Dark Chocolate Hazelnuts With Chili, Dark Chocolate Almonds, And Dark Chocolate Almonds With Chili

Consumer Contact: 1-888-343-3278

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - December 11, 2013 - HEALTH MATTERS AMERICA INC. of Cheektowaga, New York is recalling specific lots of ORGANIC TRADITIONS DARK CHOCOLATE HAZELNUTS, ORGANIC TRADITIONS DARK CHOCOLATE HAZELNUTS WITH CHILI, ORGANIC TRADITIONS DARK CHOCOLATE ALMONDS, and ORGANIC TRADITIONS DARK CHOCOLATE ALMONDS WITH CHILI because they were found to contain undeclared milk. People who have an allergy to milk run the risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume these products.

ORGANIC TRADITIONS DARK CHOCOLATE HAZELNUTS, ORGANIC TRADITIONS DARK CHOCOLATE HAZELNUTS WITH CHILI, ORGANIC TRADITIONS DARK CHOCOLATE ALMONDS, and ORGANIC TRADITIONS DARK CHOCOLATE ALMONDS WITH CHILI were distributed through retail stores in Arizona, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, North Carolina, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah and Virginia.

The recall applies to 3.5 oz. (100 g) and 8 oz. (227 g) consumer size bags as follows:

ORGANIC TRADITIONS DARK CHOCOLATE HAZELNUTS Lot numbers 41.12, 17.13, 04.13, 02.13; NET WT. 3.5 oz. UPC 8 54260 01400 6, and NET WT. 8 oz. UPC 8 54260 00701 5;

ORGANIC TRADITIONS DARK CHOCOLATE HAZELNUTS WITH CHILI Lot numbers 41.12, 02.13, 16.13; NET WT. 3.5 oz. UPC 8 54260 01450 1, and NET WT. 8 oz. UPC 8 54260 00703 9;

ORGANIC TRADITIONS DARK CHOCOLATE ALMONDS Lot numbers 39.12, 03.13, 16.13; NET WT. 3.5 oz. UPC 8 54260 01500 3, and NET WT. 8 oz. UPC 8 54260 00705 3;

ORGANIC TRADITIONS DARK CHOCOLATE ALMONDS WITH CHILI Lot numbers 40.12, 16.13; NET WT. 3.5 oz. UPC 8 54260 01550 8, and NET WT. 8 oz. UPC 8 54260 00707 7.

The products were also distributed in cartons containing 2 x 12 lbs. bulk bags (totaling 24 lbs.).
No illnesses have been reported to date.

The recall was initiated after it was discovered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) that ORGANIC TRADITIONS DARK CHOCOLATE HAZELNUTS had tested positive for milk and was distributed in packaging that did not reveal the presence of milk. Testing of the other products by CFIA also revealed the presence of undeclared milk. The problem may have been caused through cross contamination during production and processing at the foreign manufacturer.

Consumers who have purchased the above lots of ORGANIC TRADITIONS brand DARK CHOCOLATE HAZELNUTS, DARK CHOCOLATE HAZELNUTS WITH CHILI, DARK CHOCOLATE ALMONDS, or DARK CHOCOLATE ALMONDS WITH CHILI are urged to return the product to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-888-343-3278, Monday – Friday, 9 am – 5 pm ET.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Christmas Treats with Walnettos

Tomorrow will be our Annual Christmas Party in our house, our 21st party since we got married, so I thought this would be a perfect time to try some recipes and some products I've been sent to test and reveal to all of you, Sisters and Brothers.  Your Chocolate Priestess is also getting back from a week long vacation in Las Vegas so I needed treats and food I could make quick.  I used the Walnetto Fudge Bars recipe from the Walnettos website and made sure to label the treats for our party since at least my husband has tree nut allergies and needs to not eat these.  It was the only type of fudgey treat that I made for our party -- I also made candies, cupcakes, and a few savory treats.

I decide to make a double batch simply because I have a lot of Walnettos and I dislike using half sticks of butter when I can use a full one.  I have all the ingredients I need at home so these are easy to pull together.  I'll get to use my candy thermometer that I rarely use so that's a bit of excitement for me.  I unwrap the candies and they resemble caramel with large chunks of walnuts in them; can you see it in the photo?

The chocolate in this recipe comes from cocoa powder which I always have on hand, I'm sure that doesn't surprise you, and I'm actually surprised because I don't normally encounter cocoa powder in candy recipes, generally it is chocolate so I can only hope this recipe is good.  Wish me luck, here I go making it.

Tips for Making this Recipe:

1) Keep stirring -- the Walnettos are very sticky and it takes them some time to melt thoroughly.

2) Have about three hours of free time -- again the Walnettos take some time to melt and you need to get it to a soft boil stage slowly and after all of that before you can beat in the butter and vanilla you need to get it back down to a lukewarm temperature.

3) Cool them for a short time in the frig before you cut them -- not too long, and that will depend on your frig, because they will get too hard to cut at all.  I let mine cool when I made a batch of cupcakes then cut the fudge bars while the cupcakes were cooling.

These turned out blah but I don't think it was the Walnettos' fault.  Too sweet overall the amount of sugar didn't allow the chocolate to come through at all.  I think I picked a poor recipe but given that this is The Chocolate Cult I had to pick something to try that had chocolate in it.  I disliked these so much that I refused to serve them at my party.

Walnettos are a treat I had never heard about until I made contact with their representative on LinkedIn.  I was very honored that they wanted us to try some of their products and I hope we will be on their list of places to send any new creations they come up with.  If you have any memories of Walnettos or a unique recipe you've made with them, please leave us a comment below and let us know.  However the failed attempt has taught me a lesson, too.  As you may or may not know, Sisters and Brothers, do not charge either you to read this site or the companies who send us products to try.  The expense of trying out a recipe like the one above is not small especially when it fails.  I will have to seriously think before accepting a non-chocolate product to try again.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Mini Dark Chocolate Mint Brownies for the Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap 2013

Do you make and send out cookies or other homemade or semi-homemade goodies for the Winter Holidays, Sisters and Brothers?

Normally we are focused on our annual holiday party and send home leftovers with folks but once more (third time) I've joined The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap for the holiday season, Sisters and Brothers. Today I want to share what that is, what I got in relationship to doing this, the recipe I tried out for my shipment of three dozen cookies, and what cookies I got back.

I didn't grow up eating CoCo Wheats, just didn't have them, didn't need them. But the company once sent me a very good coupon and they were on sale so I bought some.  There was a brownie recipe on the back but when I tried it... YUCK!  The texture wasn't good and frankly they were very dry.

I'm perhaps spoiled but I thought cookies used butter and brownies used oil?

So I went looking for another recipe.  The one on the bag of candies I wanted to use in the recipe also used butter not oil and I wasn't pleased so I went looking some more. Almost every recipe I found used butter not oil!  I found a recipe on TCHO and since we had some of their products to still test I thought I'd give it a shot -- I know that both the recipe creator and the brand tried the recipe so it should work as a basic foundation for my recipe, right?  Then I saw a recipe on the back of the bag of Mint Truffle Hershey's Kisses I had and decided I wanted to try that one, too.

Here is my combination recipe inspired by both resources.

Mini Dark Chocolate Mint Truffle Brownies

Ingredients:
     8 oz 99% Organic Unsweetened Baking Drops from TCHO
     1 C Butter Flavored Crisco Stick
     5 T Tap Water
     1.5 C Zero Calorie Sugar Substitute (use the cup for cup kind)
     2 tsp Peppermint Oil Extract
     1 C Real Egg Substitute or Egg Whites
     1 tsp salt
     1 C White Whole Wheat All Purpose Flour

Directions:

1) Preheat oven to 350°F.

2) Melt the chocolate and the Crisco over low heat in a double boiler.  The chocolate melted very well and the Crisco did fine though it took more stirring to fully mix it in.

3) Remove the chocolate mixture and pour into standing mixer bowl to cool down while you line your mini muffin tins with paper liners -- you'll need 48-50 of these.

4) Add the water, the sugar and the peppermint to the chocolate and blend well.

5) While it keeps blending add in the egg 1/4 cup at a time until fully incorporated.  It will thicken up at this point a bit.

6) Stir in salt and flour scraping the sides of the bowl to thoroughly mix.

7) Spoon the batter into the liners filling almost to the top.  These are brownies, they will not rise much at all.

8) Bake for 13 minutes.  While you are doing this unwrap the kisses you will need 48-50 of them and set in a bowl away from the oven or other heat sources.

9) Remove the brownies and set the pans on wire racks to cool for five minutes.

10) While the brownies are still in the pans press on kiss into the top of each, making the brownie puff out a bit when you do so.

11) Carefully remove each brownie and its liner to set aside to continue to cool for about three hours and the kisses will melt a bit then reset.


ENJOY!  Each of these had less than 77 calories when I made 50 of them or 80 if you make 48 of them using the same ingredients I did.

As a thank you for joining this cookie swap which benefited the Cookies for Kids' Cancer organization, OXO sent me three high-heat resistant Silicone spatulas as well.

Please note that I haven't yet tried the cookies you are about to see listed below. Some I I promptly froze these since I was in Las Vegas for a full week and didn't want them to go bad but others arrived while I was on the trip so they just sat unopened on my desk in my office.

The cookies I got from this year's swap were, in order of them arriving at my place:

Not far from us, just about an hour or so drive, came these Cranberry and White Chocolate Chip Cookies from Sara Croft at Solid Gold Eats.  They look great and I hope they will rewarm up enough to share once I'm back from my trip.

Caramel-Stuffed Apple Cider Snickerdoodles from Coleen Hill at The Redhead Baker -- a title I can get behind because I'm a red head, too, or I was before it all started to go white in my late thirties.  The plastic covering the front of the box broke in transport -- not Coleen's fault because she did carefully wrap them -- but the cookies appear to be very dried out now so we'll have to see how they are.  Snickerdoodles are my hubby's favorite type of cookie by the way.

Two types of cookies came from Wendy Sondov at The Monday Box.  First a set of Sparkling Lemon Cookies and secondly two Snow People made from 8 sugar cookies plus icing and marshmallow fondant.  I unwrapped just one of the snowpeople for you all to see.

Remember to visit each of these blogger's sites to check out their recipes.






Leave a comment please and let us know what you think of my recipe. If you go and visit one of the other blogs please let them know you found them via The Chocolate Cult.  Happy Chocolatey Baking and Treat Making!

Monday, December 9, 2013

Are These Really Pastry?

Today is National Pastry Day, Sisters and Brothers, so in honor of that I want to look at three chocolate varieties of Special K's boxed Pastry Crisps that I found this past summer in our local grocery store on sale and that I had a coupon for.  With only 100 calories per little plastic envelop that they come in I thought it was worth a try.  I tried three of their chocolate varieties and here are my thoughts on them.  Please leave your own thoughts in a comment if you have tried these.  (Note: this article was written over the summer but saved for today's Fun Food Holiday.)

I bought the Chocolatey Delight version first, thought it was good for what it was, so I bought the Cookies and Creme and the Chocolatey Caramel a bit later.  I made sure I kept one of the Chocolatey Delight around for our photos and this article.  There are probably other varieties but these were the chocolate ones.  Each one has 50 calories so the little bags hold 100 worth inside.  Please do leave a comment and let us know if you'd tried these and what you thought.

As you can see in this photo, two of the treats look identical on the outside -- the Cookies and Creme and the Chocolatey Caramel.  The treats are simply not thick enough to break apart and show you the inside without a much better camera than I have.  The Cookies and Creme bar has a sticky, marshmallowy center the adds a bit of sweetness to the cocoa flavor of the pastry part.  The Chocolatey Caramel version looks just like the pervious version on the outside with a tangy under scent but the inside caramel is very, very thin and primarily produced little more than a slight buttery taste that neither improved or detracted from the cocoa flavored shell.  The Chocolatey Delight is well named because it doesn't really taste like chocolate or cocoa, more like a thick chocolatey syrup that may or may not have much real chocolate in it; I would not buy this variety again given the other two options I've looked at today.  Each treat was crispy and crunchy which surprised me given how thin they are.

Ultimately I would have been more pleased had these treats been one to a bag than two but that the one was twice the thickness.  The end result would have been just as delicious but perhaps 20 or so calories less plus more to enjoy when you took a bite.  Have you tried these, Sisters and Brothers?  What did you think of them?


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Give the Gift of Zero Calorie Classic Candy

Today, Sisters and Brothers, our Saturday Sacrament is a book review with plenty of time for all of you to check it out for gift giving during this season.  The book is Classic Candy by Darlene Lacey who runs the online Candy Wrapper Museum.  We interviewed her and that was posted just this past Wednesday.

 

This small book is packed with information about candy in the USA in 64 pages.  It focuses on what Lacey calls the "Golden Age" of American candy the 1950-1980s but also dips into earlier and later periods just a bit.

After an introduction there are six chapters, averaging 8-9 pages long, that I will list below:
     Americana
     Classic Chocolate
     Classic Sweets
     Classic Celebrities
     Trends and Fads
     Classic Holidays

There is also lists of Further Reading and Places to Visit along with an Index.

All of the photos, except a Stuckey's image on one page, come from the Candy Wrapper Museum's collection and were taken by Lacey's husband.  These are full color and present the reader with a lot of eye candy, pun intended, that is a pleasure to look at.  If you linger over each you can see the points that Lacey mades in the text.  I also saw gender and age issues as well as I went back through the book again, looking at each image closely.

Some of the candy in this book I remember from my childhood but I haven't seen around in some time.  Oddly, perhaps my ability to notice these sorts of things has been triggered my reading, I've found some of these treats recently in our local grocery stores and other shops that sell candy.  One of these is Brach's that I have found in only three or four varieties including these Double Dippers, peanuts dipped twice in milk chocolate that I remember scooping up into the paper bags that Lacey talks about in her book; made with cocoa butter and chocolate liquor these have additional ingredients but not the long chemical components sadly so commonplace in much of today's candies. Yes, they do taste good!

While Lacey said in her interview that she was satisfied with the book I really wanted more information, more background, more history, perhaps even more of her personal opinions about the candy she covers.  Of course you can get more images of candy through the decades by going to the online Museum mentioned in the interview we did earlier this week.  If you have a loved one who was a child or a young adult in the 1950s through the 1980s this would be a lovely gift to help them remember those days when they weren't worried about dieting or eating "the right foods" and could just enjoy.  If you want to go a step further, add in a few of the old-time treats that you can still buy from various stores both brick and mortar and online.  The candy lover in your life will love this book!  It is available in both the USA and in the UK at least and possibly other nations as well.  Let me know if you've read it or if you've found it, please, Sisters and Brothers.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Meet the Woman behind The Candy Wrapper Museum

Today we have an interview with the curator of The Candy Wrapper Museum and author of Classic Candy: America's Favorite Sweets, 1950-80, Darlene Lacey.

Darlene, thank you for agreeing to this interview about your book and the museum you run.  Could you tell our readers on The Chocolate Cult the name of your museum and where it is located?

I’m the curator of The Candy Wrapper Museum, where candy wrappers are to be enjoyed as art, nostalgia, and humor. It’s an unusual museum, not only because of its theme, but also because it is only online; this way, I can share it with the world with none of the complications and overhead associated with running a museum. It’s located at www.candywrappermuseum.com.

The museum is comprised solely of my personal collection, which I began in the 1970. It includes thousands of wrappers spanning the decades and dating back to the 1920s.  Therefore, it is a “real museum” in the sense that everything in it physically exists, but I keep it safely stored at my house in the Los Angeles area.

How much does it cost to visit the Candy Wrapper Museum and what are your hours of operation?

It is free and “open to the public” round the clock. Right from the start, I never intended to make money from the museum, so it is simply there for guests to enjoy.



Why the Candy Wrapper Museum?  What motivated you to start it?

When I was a teenager, I was impressed by some older friends’ collections of beer bottles from around the world. I thought the idea of collecting and displaying them for their artistic qualities was quite interesting. I wanted to do something like this, but I was too young (and too broke!) to collect beer bottles, so I decided to start keeping something I bought all the time, candy wrappers. However, I didn’t want to just create a catalog of everything out there; I wanted to only collect wrappers that I thought had some interest or merit. Therefore, I came up with the concept to collect with an eye toward artistic merit, humor (as in “What were they thinking!”), and nostalgia. I aimed to collect not only the “icons” of the industry, but also the oddball candies that quickly came and left the shelves.

Were there any particular challenges you faced starting a museum?  Are there state or municipal regulations you had to adhere to?

Absolutely none. I was one of the earlier people to see the advantages of presenting something that is normally a physical experience into a virtual one. I launched the museum online in 2003. With the advent of sites like Pinterest and Flickr, sharing one’s collection may seem ordinary now, but not back then. It still is unusual to present a collection on a dedicated website rather than a blog.

How do most visitors find out about the Candy Wrapper Museum?

A lot of people share links from it. They get a kick out of the unusual concept, or they find a hard-to-find wrapper from their youth via an online search, and sometimes they will post their findings on a chat board, etc. The CWM was also featured on The Food Network’s Unwrapped, it was About.com’s Funny Site of the Week, and I have been interviewed for various major news sites over the years. Part of my collection was even featured in an art exhibit in Los Angeles that centered around the theme of food.

Are you still adding to the museum and if so do you yourself consume the candy that used to be in the wrapper?

I’m always adding to the museum. Candy wrappers are great to collect because you can just buy a piece of candy for relatively little expense and save the wrapper. Holidays are especially good for new finds. I usually at least sample the candy so that I can know what it was like, but I often don’t eat the whole thing. Even I have my limits, ha ha!

Before moving on to your book, "Classic Candy," do candy companies ever send your wrappers or memorability for the museum?

Not very often. I can count the times I’ve received any complimentary candy or anything else on one hand. However, I have had people who have enjoyed the museum send me donations of wrappers they’ve saved. There are some really nice people out there.

Your book, "Classic Candy," is published by Shire Publications.  Did you approach them or did they approach you with the idea for this small guide about candy in America?

They came to me with the idea to write a book on American candy. We worked together to decide upon its focus, and then I set to writing. They have been a wonderful publisher to work with. Very supportive.

Where can our readers find your book?

Mostly online at the usual places: Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Shire’s site, and other online booksellers. The Smithsonian Museum has decided to sell my book in their gift shop, so I’m excited about that!

I’m also on Goodreads, Pinterest, and Twitter. Look for Darlene Lacey and/or The Candy Wrapper Museum.

In your book you discuss several topics about candy in America but what was your favorite topic to research and write about?

My favorite topic in general is candy with celebrity endorsements or tie-ins. That topic alone spreads so far and wide and is full of surprises. The celebrities run the gamut from Reggie Jackson to Neil Sedaka to The Smurfs. It’s just a great topic.

Was there a topic you wanted to write about that you left out?

No, I covered all the bases that I considered vital, but I would love to still write books about other time periods, other countries, and/or delve into any of the topics in the book in greater detail.

You write a bit about the changes in advertising and marketing candy over several decades in your book, calling the "golden age" the 1950s-1980s.  What are a few of the big differences you can see between those four decades and 2013, today?

The primary difference between that period and today is the variety of candy and the number of companies making candy. Starting in the early 1900s, cities across America often had several candy companies working hard to compete and catch the public’s eye with a catchy candy bar name or a new twist on the candy itself. The candy bars sometimes had far-flung themes like the Denver Sandwich, which was meant to be as satisfying and nutritious as any lunch, and then we saw new inventions like Pop Rocks, which took the country by storm but still faced problems when an urban legend spread that kids’ stomachs were exploding from eating them. Rumor even had it that adorable little Mikey from the Life cereal TV commercials (“Mikey likes it!”) had died from this ghastly fate. Of course, this was untrue.

Of course here we focus on chocolate so we have to ask some chocolate related questions. What is your favorite chocolate candy over the years?

As you might imagine, this is difficult to answer! When I was a kid, I particularly loved the old Hollywood candy bars like the Milkshake, which was their version of the Milky Way. I also really miss the big braided chocolate and caramel Marathon bar. As an adult, I find my biggest weakness is See’s candy. Any of their candy, really, but especially their chocolate and cocoanut candies, or bonbons like their Maple Walnut with brown maple sugar and walnuts covered with dark chocolate.

Would you say that your tastes in chocolate candy have changed as you've gotten more mature?

I still enjoy it all, but I have developed more of an appreciation for the more refined chocolate from Europe from companies like Droste and Milka. Usually the European candy is better if it is not a special version made for Americans; what you want are the bars that are made for the Europeans and imported here. You can tell by the labeling on the wrappers.

In general how much has chocolate candy today (2013) changed from chocolate candy of the "golden age"?

The quality of chocolate has taken a nosedive in America over the years. Many of the candy bars have substituted higher quality chocolate with less expensive fillers. Due to this, the chocolate in my many bars has a chalky quality and tastes more sugary than like chocolate.

You also discuss regional candies in your book.  What allows a regional treat to become nationally known?

It can vary, but word-of-mouth has had a lot to do with it. Some regional candies develop a cult reputation that spreads. This can lead to a larger company acquiring the smaller company and then the candy can get national distribution. With the exception of candy from the “Big Three” (Mars, Hershey, Nestle), most candy bars began as regional favorites.

Do you think the variety of candy is going to increase or decrease over the next decade?

If the current trends continue, it will decrease. If you look at the candy on the shelves, you’ll see many variations on the same candy such as Reese’s or Snickers, but these are just variations on the same thing… they’re lighter, darker, larger, smaller, nuttier, etc. You don’t see many unique candy bars being introduced anymore.

Finally if you could be very bold for a final question, what do you think is going to happen to candy in the next decade or so?

It’s easy to predict continued dominance by the Big Three since they have acquired most of the smaller competitors, but I hope that a secondary market with new regional companies will start to grow in the same way that we’ve seen the craft beer industry take off. In my opinion, the more variety the better!

Thank you so much, Darlene, for your time.

Thank you for inviting me here, TammyJo! It’s been my pleasure.

Sisters and Brothers go check out the online museum and come back on Saturday to read our review of the book Classic Candy: America's Favorite Sweets, 1950-80.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

National Cookie Day(s) All Year Long

You did not misread the title of today's Special Sacramental Review, Sisters and Brothers, I did indeed put an S into round brackets because there are two different "National Cookie" days that I have tracked floating around various fun holiday calendars.  The first week of December is is "National Cut-Out Cookies Week" but for some reason the 4th and the 15th of the month have been called simply "National Cookie Day."  Today I'm going to show you two different cookie clubs through Cheryl's that you make an annual gift for a loved one or for yourself.

The first sample we received was for the Gourmet Cookie Club with one cookie from each month and half the year you'll get cookies that are all chocolate or have chocolate pieces or cocoa used in them.  The photo to the left shows all 12 cookies still individually wrapped.  Today I want to look at these six and give you our opinion of their degree of chocolate intensity.  I'll put these in chronological order that you would receive them with a note in the second to last paragraph about the other six flavors.  Note: all of the cookies are the weight but the calories vary by 110 so don't just go by the nutritional list on one if you that matters to you, Sisters and Brothers.  Also I did not test these cookies in one or even two days but spread it out -- Moderation, remember?

We start the year with January's cookie: Cocoa Sugar Cookie.  This has a surprisingly strong flour scent, not a sugar or cocoa scent like I was expecting when I open up the bag.  It is made with alkalized cocoa and chocolate powder (made with chocolate liquor) and it also has flour, milk, and eggs if any of those are allergen concerns for you.  This is a slightly soft cookie with a crunchy outside. The first bite is flour then sugar then fading into cocoa.  Personally I prefer a stronger cocoa flavor but it tastes just like its title suggests it should.

February is a cookie that always shows up on almost every "best loved" cookie lists I've ever seen: Chocolate Chip Cookie. Of course Cheryl's recipe is their own so let's see how it does.  This has cocoa butter and chocolate liquor both along with the usual allergen concerns for cookies -- dairy, wheat, eggs but also soy.  It has a very wheat scent with a hint of chocolate when I take a whiff of it.  The cookie is very firm but not dry and also not crispy.  It has an odd baking soda and salt flavor to it but on the opposite side it is more vanilla and brown sugar.  When I hit a chocolate chip there is a burst of chocolate and sweetness but the cookie part itself seems almost poorly mixed in terms of the ingredients being well blended.

March, perhaps in honor of St. Patrick's Day, has the Chocolate Mint Chip Cookie for that bit o'green you want to be wearing on the 17th of the month. This has milk, soy, wheat, and eggs just in case any of these are allergens for you, Sisters and Brothers.  The cocoa is alkalized and the chips are actually made with chocolate liquor and cocoa butter -- just dyed green.  This is the least caloric cookie of the half dozen chocolate varieties included in this club's offerings.  This has a strong cocoa and mint scent as soon as you take it from the plastic.  The cookie is a bit dry but it doesn't crumble to pieces.  The first flavor is the cocoa then a cool mint that builds until it recedes back into the cocoa.  Very simple, very easy, basic cookie.

June has a long titled cookie, Honey Roasted Peanut Butter Chunk Cookie with two versions of chocolate liquor inside of it in the form of dark chocolate chunks.  This is the highest calorie cookie of the year-long set but hopefully in June you can work it off outdoors before it gets too hot and humid.  Something I can't show well with my camera are the odd sugar crystals along the bottom -- yes I tasted one to make figure out if it is salt or sugar.  Do you really need that much extra sugar in this type of cookie?  It has a roasted and slightly sweet peanut flavor and you can see the extra peanuts in it almost with the chocolate chunks.  The primary flavor here is the peanuts (there are whole peanuts in this!) followed by the sugar, honey... not so much really, and bursts of chocolate when I hit several of them together --- chips and flavored chunks do that in my homemade cookies, too.  Very thick, a bit drier than I was expecting, but all over decently balanced in terms of the flavors.  This has wheat, soy, milk, eggs, and peanuts obviously if you are concerned about any of these.  The chocolate chunks are made with chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, and chocolate liquor processed with alkali.

October has the Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookie because you know, pumpkin is everyone during that month.  Given that these are individually wrapped you could hand these out to some trick o'treaters I bet if you didn't want all dozen that would be coming your way if you ordered the Cookie Club.  The key here is that if you are allergic to any of the traditional spices in a pumpkin pie then this is not the cookie for you -- in fact the nutmeg and the pumpkin are the fragrances that jumped out at me when I first took this cookie from its wrapper. The chips are made with chocolate liquor and cocoa butter; you can see there are quite a few but as often happens in all cookies they kind of bunched up here and there.  Eating a non-chip part of the cookie first to get a feel for it, the flavor is lightly pumpkin with the spices building with each chew.  Adding in a few bites with the chips added a bit of chocolate semi-sweet flavor to it that lingered along with the spices. I skeptical about this flavor before I ate but I really liked it a lot!

Finally we end the year in December with the Chocolate Peppermint Bark Cookie that has not only cocoa in the dough and darker chocolate chips but also real white chocolate chips made of cocoa butter not palm or other oils! Well done, Cheryl's for this!  The other chips are made with chocolate liquor and cocoa butter, too.  I don't know if anyone out there is allergic to it but there is peppermint in this along with the traditional cookie ingredients of flour, milk, and eggs.  From the top you cannot see how much of the peppermint bark there is in this cookie because when you flip it you see a lot of them have gone to the bottom of the cookie.  This suggests that eating it one side up or done will greatly affect the flavor you'll get so I'll try it both ways. Taking a bite from the top down -- the bottom against my tongue -- have a very strong peppermint flavor that turns creamy when I hit a white chip then cocoay and sweet, the cookie is crunchy and the peppermint is the flavor that lingers longest.  Flipping the cookie over so that the top is against my tongue the first flavor is a cocoa flour followed by the creamy white and milk chocolate then the cooling sensation but less peppermint.  So if you want more peppermint eat it with the bottom on your tongue, Sisters and Brothers! I liked it best with the top against my tongue because more of the chocolate reached me then.  It reminded me a lot of Christmas cookies that I've made.

Every cookie in the Gourmet Cookie Club is 1.6oz and individually wrapped so you can share them and they will last for a while allowing you to practice our Purposeful and Moderate beliefs here on The Chocolate Cult -- you thought I forgot about that, Sisters and Brothers, no, no, I'm just not repeating it every post like I did in our first year since I know you all have advanced beyond Novice level, right?

The other six non-chocolate cookies in the Gourmet Cookie Club are the following: Sugar (April), Oatmeal Raisin (May), Lemon Coconut Cookie (July), Peach Cobbler Cookie (August), Brown Maple Sugar (September), and Snickerdoodle (November).

The other cookie club we received from Cheryl's was their Buttercream Frosted Cookie Club ($19.99 for 6 deliveries of 24 cookies) and most of these appear to be cut-out cookies so they might be prefect to order right now during this fun food holiday week.  Unfortunately none of these have chocolate on or in them so I can't test and review them for you.

If you've used either of these cookie club please leave a comment below and share your experiences.  I loved that every chocolate cookie used real chocolate ingredients.  A few of these were very tasty but most were very average to below average and given the price they really should have been much better, don't you think, Sisters and Brothers?