Sunday, May 21, 2017

Tree Nut Allergy Alert for Chocolate Chip Cookies

Only one recall to share today.

Arabella Station Whole Foods Market Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

The Arabella Station Whole Foods Market store, located at 5600 Magazine Street in New Orleans, is voluntarily recalling packaged oatmeal chocolate chip cookies because the product contained tree nut allergens (walnuts) that were not listed on the product label. People who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to walnuts run the risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume these products. 
All affected products have been removed from store shelves. The recall affected oatmeal chocolate chip cookies sold in packs of 18 with a best-by date of May 19, 2017. They can be identified by UPC code beginning with 247191. The products were sold at the Arabella Station Whole Foods Market store at 5600 Magazine Street. No other stores were affected by the recall. 
One allergic reaction has been reported to date. 
Customers who purchased these product and wish to return them can bring a valid receipt into stores for a full refund. Consumers with additional questions should contact the local store at (504) 899-9119.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Lying Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar

You may have noticed that in 2017 I not only continued to be honest about what is in the products we review but also ramped up my language. I'm just disgusted with the misleading labels and images on products that try to trick us into buying and consuming all types of products. If it's clothes, what's the most harm it can do to you other than your wallet? But anything you put in your body can harm you, too. Today we're looking at another protein bar that looks great on the wrapper but may not be what you think once you look more closely at it. I received this PowerBar ProteinPlus Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar for free using my Kroger Loyalty card; neither Kroger nor PowerBar knew they'd be subject to a feature article here on The Chocolate Cult. I'm doing this for all of you, Sisters and Brothers in Chocolate.

The first thing to note is that the bar looks much like it does on the wrapper minus the distracting mound of peanut butter, pieces of chocolate, peanut pieces in the art. Oddly the bar has almost no scent to it when I unwrap it. It continues to have little scent when I break it apart to take this photo and bring it up to my nose, the scent is bland, not even sweet, definitely neither peanut nor chocolate. Of course if we look at the label we see the "chocolate coating" is made with cocoa not chocolate liquor and certainly no cocoa butter. Nutritionally this bar is loaded with protein as promised, 20 grams of it, which is more than the 12 grams of sugars. It also has 4 grams of dietary fiber and only 3 grams of saturated fat. Not a horrible protein bar by any means though in terms of pure ingredients, particular chocolate, it is disappointing. The bars makes a light crunch when I take a bite and when I chew which is surprising since I see only what appears to be creaminess inside. The peanut butter is rather bland, not sweet but also not roasted either. As for chocolate, our most important flavor concern, I taste none of it. The chocolate coating must have used very little cocoa plus consider the photo above again, it is a thin coating over a lot of peanut buttery inside.  The texture isn't bad, the flavor isn't overwhelmingly sweet so I don't hate it, I'm just disappointed in it. This isn't something I'd buy again.

Now you tell me if you think it is fair for products to claim any "chocolate" title of they are only made with cocoa or are they lying to us? How do you feel about companies lying? Do you just assume they all do?

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

What are You Baking Today?

Today is World Baking Day. We have a lot of "National" days but not so many "World" days to celebrate with chocolate. So I thought we might celebrate by looking back at a few of the recipes I've created over the years. Then I want to hear from you in a comment telling me if you are going to bake today and if so, what are you making.

I've introduced you to Chocolate Chunk Blondies very recently.

Back in 2015, I tried out a recipe for Zebra Cookies.

If you are sensitive to gluten, look back at this Rice Flour Chocolate Cake.

So what are you baking today?

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Chocolate Recall for Mother's Day 2017

Well, drat! I have a chocolate related recall to share with you all on Mother's Day.

---------- Recalls ----------

Recall of Mikawaya Chocolate Chocolate Mochi Ice Cream

Mikawaya is issuing a voluntary recall of a limited number of Mikawaya Brand Chocolate Chocolate Mochi Ice Cream, which may inadvertently contain peanuts. People who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to peanuts run the risk of a serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume the product. Only product labeled with UPC code of 070934990609 and lot number LOT 090-17 is included in this recall. The UPC code can be found on the back of the box and the lot number is printed on the top enclosure.

The affected product is sold in a paperboard box, containing 9.1oz (258g) of 6-1.5oz (43g) pieces with UPC code of 070934990609 and lot number LOT 090-17. The product was distributed to all Trader Joe’s stores nationwide and has been removed from sale.

The recall was initiated after receiving one customer report that a Chocolate Chocolate Mochi Ice Cream contained the presence of peanut butter. Mikawaya has not received any reports of illness or allergic reactions associated with this product.

No other Mikawaya Brand products besides this specific lot of Chocolate Chocolate Mochi Ice Cream are affected by this voluntary recall.

Customers who have purchased Mikawaya Chocolate Chocolate Mochi Ice Cream with the affected UPC code and lot number, and have an allergy or sensitivity to peanuts, are advised not to consume the product. Customers may return the product to any Trader Joe’s for a full refund. Customers with questions may contact Mikawaya at (323) 587-5504 (Monday – Friday) between the hours of 9:00 A.M. and 5:00 P.M. Pacific Time.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Quinoa Goes Unreal with Chocolate and Peanut Butter

While not an official fun food holiday, a few years back, a petition was circulating online and through to declare May 14th National Quinoa Day. Back around Halloween we tested out a Milk Chocolate Crispy Quinoa Peanut Butter Cup from Unreal Candy but I saved the focused review today in honor of the quinoa lovers attempt to get a fun food holiday started. Maybe this will post will help them out. As you can see the bag these come in is a bright green one, one of my favorite colors, but that doesn't mean I'll automatically love the treats,  you'll have to keep reading to find out. I did receive this bag of treats to test out, share, and write about from Unreal via the Tryazon program, no other form of compensation was received for this honest review.

These cups come individually wrapped in silver with the "UNREAL" label in matching green so you cannot confuse them if you happen to mix several varieties together but kept them wrapped. The cup is 1.5 inches across and 0.25 inches thick and looks a lot like the Halloween version of Unreal's Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter cups did. There is no external sign of any crispy anything inside so we'll need to take a bite to find out. The cup has a light chocolate and sweet fragrance to it. The chocolate itself makes no noise when I take a bite but the inside makes a very loud crunch when I chew. However even though the inside makes noise it is thick and creamy, tasting almost entirely like a sweet yet roasted peanut butter. The flavors blend very well in this cup and I like it though not as much as I have Unreal's dark chocolate treats in the past. Each cup is 80 calories made of some organic ingredients with over 30% of these certified fair trade products. This is milk chocolate so it has dairy but also sunflower, quinoa, and coconut derived ingredients in case any of those are an allergy problem for you.

Leave me a comment and let me know if you have tried these out and what you thought of them, please. If you haven't tried them, is this a variety of peanut butter cup you've be willing to give a chance?

Friday, May 12, 2017

Fair Trade and Chocolate

Fair Trade Challenge Image
This weekend, May 12-14, 2017, people around the world will be celebrating the growing practice of fair trade. Today I want to reveal what I've learned about fairtrade and the chocolate industry. Not all of it is as good as you may have been led to believe by the big announcement from some brand names. I want to talk about what fair trade is, how it connects with cocoa production and manufacturing, and how it affects consumers. I'm going to be using a lot of graphics and images from some organizations to demonstrate which chocolate making brands stand in terms of fair trade and I'll note which sites gave me with graphics as we go along.

Let's start with a definition of "Fair Trade" -- At the most basic level this simply means that the producers, the cocoa farmers and workers at cocoa plantations, are paid a wage that they can live on. It can also mean good treatment of workers by employers. However the specifics of what qualifies as fair wages and treatment varies and is certified by different organizations in different ways. Sometimes "Fair Trade" refers to a relationship between the chocolate grower and worker and the company that ultimately turns their raw ingredients into the chocolate products you buy. The phrase "fair trade" is used in a variety of ways. If you care, look into the brand of chocolate you are buying and into the organization that they received fair trade certification from, if they did at all. Given that "fair trade" is increasingly desired  by some consumers (if not backed by their spending), companies are putting those labels on their goods. We've seen enough lies from brands here on The Chocolate Cult to know you can't assume that what the label claims is true. Yes, you'll need to do a little work, folks, if you care.

Why should you care? Think about it this way. If you were paid horribly and had to work for a long time, do you think that you'd honestly do the best you could? Do you truly believe that you'd produce the best quality of products that you could under conditions you felt were unfair? If you want high quality products, safe chocolate, maybe you need to pay a bit more so that the producers and those working for them are motivated to the best job they can. I really like the below graphics as a simple visual of the benefits of fair trade.
Let's look at some graphs to show you what manufactures stand in regards to fair trade. You'll recognize some of the names of companies we've test and written about in the past.

There are a lot of brands not on the lists or the above charts, too. When you find a chocolate bar, when you walk into chocolate shop, check out the labels, ask the questions, and then look into the organizations that have verified this particular treat is whatever you are interested in be it fair trade, sustainable agriculture, or GMO free. Don't assume, research. But realize that you will pay more and decide if paying more worth it to you.

For me, when a brand is actually doing everything it claims on the label, it is worth paying more for most of the time.

Are you concerned about Fair Trade at all? Leave us a comment and let us know.

Sources Consulted for this Essay:

Green America

Fair Trade Challenge

The Good Shopping Guide

Fair Trade USA

Fair Trade International

Lake Champlain Chocolates

Slave Free Chocolate

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Fish and Peanuts = Chocolate Recall

Yes, you read the title correctly -- issues of undeclared peanuts and fish are causing the two recalls below.

----------- Recalls ----------

LOS ANGELES, CA – May 1, 2017 – Herbalife (NYSE:HLF), a premier global nutrition company, is voluntarily recalling certain lots of its Protein Bar – Peanut Butter because the product may contain a trace amount of fish gelatin, which was added to the product as part of a flavoring ingredient provided by a third-party supplier. The amount of gelatin in the finished product is extremely low (approximately 0.02%). The gelatin is a highly processed collagen from fish skin, which contains a negligible amount of parvalbumin, a fish allergen.
There have been no reports to date of any illnesses or adverse health effects associated with the affected product. Nonetheless, the Company is taking this voluntary action out of an abundance of caution. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been notified of this recall.

The product was distributed in the U.S. from 6/30/2016 to 4/7/2017, exclusively to individual independent distributors as 14-pack cartons. Lots numbers affected are 066539A11, 066553A11, 066601A11, 066660A11, 066688A11, and 066691A11.

Herbalife maintains high quality standards for its products and is dedicated to the health, safety, and satisfaction of its consumers. Independent distributors and their customers that have purchased this product are urged to return the product for exchange or refund. Consumers with questions about this issue may contact Herbalife’s customer service department from 9:00am – 6:00pm Pacific Standard Time, Monday – Friday at 1-866-866-4744.

Ben and Jerry's Undeclared Peanut Recall

Unilever is voluntarily recalling a limited number of boxes of Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Fudge Brownie Pint Slices, which may inadvertently contain Vanilla Peanut Butter Cup Pint Slices. Although the slices were individually wrapped and identified as Vanilla Peanut Butter Cup Pint Slices, the ingredient peanut butter (containing the known allergen peanut), is undeclared on the outer product packaging. Persons who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to peanuts run the risk of a serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume the product.
This limited voluntary recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The affected product is sold in a paperboard box, containing 9 fL oz (266 mL) (3 individually wrapped ice cream slices) with UPC code of 076840657940 best by date AUG1218LT2 and lot number of AUG1218LT2.

The product was manufactured in the United States. The product was distributed nationwide and reached consumers through retail stores. No product was shipped outside of the U.S. No other Ben & Jerry’s products – besides this specific lot of Chocolate Fudge Brownie Pints Slices - are affected by this voluntary recall, including other Pint Slices, pints or any products served in Ben & Jerry's franchised Scoop Shops.

The recall was initiated after receiving one consumer complaint, where it was discovered that Vanilla Peanut Butter Cups Pint Slices were distributed in outer packaging that did not call out the presence of peanut butter. Unilever has not received any reports of illness associated with this product, but the company is voluntarily recalling this product out of an abundance of caution.

Consumers who have purchased boxes of the above product with the affected UPC code and date code are asked to immediately discontinue use of the product, retain the outer box and call 877-270-7397, which is operational 24 hours a day, for more information about the recall and to request a replacement coupon. A consumer services representative is available between the hours of 8:30 AM and 5:00 PM EDT.

The company is placing a notification on the Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE) web site

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Chocolate Toffee Trio

Mel's Toffee Trio
On Wednesday you met the woman behind Mel's Toffee so today I'm going to introduce you to three of the seven varieties of chocolate toffee they make. There are the alcohol free varieties; I'm going to be helped out by three Acolytes when I test the four other varieties because they have more expertise with different types of liquor than I do. Let's get back to the three types of toffee I'm looking at today. First thing to note is that there are not made with almonds so this is a safe toffee for anyone with tree nuts. I'm not going to get into the debate about whether or not it even qualifies as toffee when there aren't almonds, I'm just glad that some of you could enjoy this because I know that tree nut allergies are common. The three types I'll be covering today are Plain Jane, Sea Salt Pretzel, and Chocolate Peanut Butter. Mel's Toffee sent me one bag of each of these three flavors to test out and write as objective a review as possible here on The Chocolate Cult; no other form of compensation was received.

Mel's Toffee -- Plain Jane

Plain Jane Toffee is jazzed up a bit with that dark chocolate drizzle that Michelle mentioned in our interview on Wednesday. Didn't read that? Go check it out then come back. It is made with butter (cream), sugar, water, dark chocolate, and salt and has both dairy and soy in it if those are allergy concerns. As you can see, the chocolate drizzle is generous and the toffee is thick. The toffee has a rich caramel color to it but the drizzle stands out against it. I cut open the resealable bag and the buttery sweetness hit me immediately. When I take a bite the toffee makes a snap and then continues to crunch as I chew. It gets stickier with each chew as I expect with thick toffee but it also melts off of my teeth with a few more chews. The flavor is buttery and sweet but the dark chocolate adds a hint of bitter when I bite into. As expected the toffee flavor itself is the dominant one. I like it.

Mel's Toffee -- Sea Salt Pretzel 
The Sea Salt Pretzel Toffee is more than just drizzle with chocolate, it has chocolate on the top and the bottom, the amount of pretzel pieces varied from piece to piece. I chose one that was looked to be balanced between toffee, chocolate, and pretzels. Of course this has more ingredients on the label but for those of you with allergies the ones that stand out will be dairy, wheat, corn, and soy. The sea salt is himalayan pink though I can't really see the salt crystals. This had a salt and chocolate fragrance when I opened the resealable bag but the sweet buttery scent became apparent when I brought the piece I selected to my nose. This piece makes a loud snap and continues to be crunchy as I chew it. it is a bit less sticky on my teeth. The initial flavor is the chocolate followed by the salt and the buttery sweet of the toffee which builds as I continue to chew a bite, the pretzels themselves are more texture than different flavor. Of the two so far, this is my favorite and you know that is all about the amount of dark chocolate.

Mel's Toffee -- Chocolate Peanut Butter
Chocolate Peanut Butter Toffee has very few ingredients again with salted peanuts and dry milk powder added to the basic list from Plain Jane Toffee thus you have three allergens -- dairy, peanuts, and soy. The orange label makes me think of peanut butter which isn't orange but still for some reason it feels right. I was not expecting a strong peanut butter fragrance when I opened the resealable bag but it was the dominant scent. As you can see, the toffee looks quite different from the Plain Jane version because you can see the pieces of peanuts in what appears to be a lighter colored toffee but also less chocolate drizzle. I was expecting more chocolate drizzle given the name and given the photo on the website, weren't you? Maybe I just got an under-chocolated batch. The toffee itself without drizzle is crunchy and has a flavor almost exactly like a sweet crunchy peanut butter would, the light chocolate drizzle doesn't affect the flavor very much. Of the three flavors this is my least favorite but if you really love peanut butter this would be the variety you'd want.

While I liked all three flavors of Mel's Toffee, the amount of chocolate on them really made it easy for me to pick my favorite: Sea Salt Pretzel Toffee. You can buy quarter, half, and one pound bags of these flavors at multiple locations in Michigan or online. If you've had any of these three flavors yourself please leave us a comment and let us know what you think about them.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Meet the Woman behind Mel's Toffee

Michelle at All Things Detroit
Sisters and Brothers in Chocolate, we've looked at a lot of chocolate toffee over the years but it has been a while since we found a new brand. Today I want to introduce you to the woman behind Mel's Toffee, a brand and a product that our own Chocolate Coconut Acolyte, Lisa, discovered and has been enjoying for some time now. This coming Saturday we'll feature some of that toffee but today let's meet, Michelle Williamson.

Thank you for answering some questions from us, Michelle. 

Thanks for the interview.  Let the fun begin!!

Let's begin with your job title, "Chief Toffee Officer" what does that mean and how long have you held that office? 

Chief Toffee Officer means I am IT.  I do everything in this company from the production of the toffee, the packaging, marketing, delivering, event planning......I wear many, many hats.  Some better than others.

On your website you say that Mel's Toffee began as a "5 layer pretzel company" -- what was that called and it it still around today? 

The name of the company was called MEL'S Toffee and Treats, it was a chocolate company.  I used to make chocolate covered pretty much anything.....then it just became too diverse. I made 5 layer pretzels for gifts, showers and different parties. The layers were: Caramel, Rice Krispies, Chocolate, whatever I sprinkled on top and a drizzle of chocolate.

The company just kept growing in many directions and I wasn't able to keep up with what everyone wanted.  So, I chose toffee....and still can't keep up.  I wish I were able to make every flavor that pops into my head.....but.....sadly...can't.  The toffee business is fun, growing by the week, hard work, but rewarding at the same time. 

Do you have formal training as a chef or has your creation of those layered pretzels and now your toffee grown from a lifetime of cooking? 

Growing up, my Dad was always into gourmet cooking. Think pheasant under glass...yep, that was him.  In order to get my way through college, I was a waitress in fine dining restaurants.  Being in that environment reawakened my zest for food and deepened my appreciation of the word foodie. I have no formal training.  I am 100% self taught and have many burns on my hands to prove that.

Why is your brand "Mel's Toffee"? Are you Mel?

I am the "M" in Mel's.  Mel's stands for (me)Michelle and daughters Erin and Lauren.  I was hunting for a name and it came to me in a dream one night and it stuck. answer a popular question, NO, my girls don't help.

Of course this is The Chocolate Cult so we are interested in chocolate but toffee does not need or even normally have chocolate. Yet all of your flavors include chocolate. Why did you decide to include it?

Lots of toffees I have seen/eaten are enrobed in chocolate.  You mostly get the chocolate with a bit of toffee.  Mine is mostly toffee with a drizzle of chocolate. As I was concocting the flavors, I had to think of a way to keep the toffee from sticking together.  By placing the drizzle on the toffee, that helps.

How did you come up with the idea of using alcohol to make four of your seven flavors? What challenges did you have to overcome when using this unique ingredient?

One of my first flavors was Honey Dark Rum.  I found the recipe someplace and wanted to give it a whirl. At first, it was selling, then it petered off.  I had to replace it with something.  Thus, Maple Bourbon Pecan. To this day. Maple Bourbon is one of my best sellers. THAT one is just like a Pecan Pie in a toffee form.

The first inspector balked at me using alcohol.  I told her that it cooks off after 20 minutes, so it's all good!!

I haven't had any challenges with the alcohol, really.  The only challenge I have is which brewery do I hit up next to see if they'll do a collab.  So far, Right Brain has used it twice for their collaboration day.  The toffee beer has gotten all the way down to Indiana.

You have seven flavors of toffee, of these do you have a favorite, and if so, which flavor is it and why?

Picking a favorite is like picking my favorite daughter.  I like all the flavors for different reasons.

Sea Salt Pretzel is sweet and salty and just plain irresistible

Maple Bourbon is like a Pecan Pie in a toffee form.  I love the maple-y flavor and the rich pecan flavor

Plain Jane sometimes just hits the spot.  It's simple and pure.  Just really good.

Peanut Butter is made with salted Virginia peanuts.  You still get that sweet/salty taste with that.

Totally a guy flavor Coconut Almond is like a Mounds bar in a toffee form.  Anything that is coconut and chocolate is good to me.  

This one is made with Arcadia Ales Cocoa Loco which is a triple chocolate stout.

CEO Stout is a rich espresso-y, chocolately and crunchy toffee.  kinda gives you that caffeine jolt you need. This is Made with Right Brain Brewery CEO Stout.

Chocolate Raspberry is the latest and greatest.  Anyone who loves chocolate and raspberry together would be a sucker for this one.  Made with Dark Horse Raspberry Ale.

What is your best selling flavor?

The Sea Salt has always been #1....closely followed by Maple Bourbon.

Right now your in-store sellers are spread around Michigan and you are a Michigan made brand but do you have plans to spread into Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio, or even Canada?

I would LOVE to be in other states.  If the opportunity presents itself, I'm grabbing it and running with it. So...if anyone out there knows someone who'd like to sell this in a store/gift shop out of state, let me know.  You can contact me at my email.

Michelle, is there anything we haven't asked about that you'd like our readers to know about you or Me's Toffee?

I think we have all the bases covered here.  You did a great job concocting the questions.  Thanks to everyone who took the time out to read this!

Thank you, Michelle, for answering all of our questions and sharing your photos with us. We're looking forward to revealing your toffee creations to the world in the near future.

Monday, May 1, 2017

May Chocolate Be With You All Month Long

Yes, it is the start of a new month and that means time for our Fun and Serious Holidays that you could celebrate with Chocolate. Two important figures in the history of chocolate have birthdays this month as well a national month long holidays, cultural holidays, and fun food holidays. All can be celebrated with chocolate. Leave a comment and tell us which holidays you intend to celebrate with chocolate.

May = National Chocolate Custard Month; National Mental Health Month; National Egg Month; Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month; Rainforest Awareness Month

May 1 = National Chocolate Parfait Day

May 2 = National Truffle Day

May 5 = National Chocolate Custard Day -- Wait! The entire month celebrates chocolate custard so why a day, too?

May 5 = Cinco de Mayo -- Make sure you use spicy chocolate to celebrate!

May 11 = National Eat What You Want Day

May 12 = National Nutty Fudge Day

May 13 (2017) = World Fair Trade Day -- Empower the farmer, protect the chocolate, help keep the future delicious.

May 14 = National Buttermilk Biscuit Day

Coenraad Johannes van Houten
May 15 = National Chocolate Chip Day

May 15 = Birthday of Coenraad Johannes van Houten (1801) who treated cocoa mass with alkaline salts to reduce the bitter flavor, a process still called “Dutch” to this day; his father, Casparus van Houten, created the cocoa press

May 17 = World Baking Day

May 19 = National Devil’s Food Cake Day

Joseph Rowntree
May 24, 1836 = Birthday of Joseph Rowntree, Chocolatier and Philanthropist

May 29 = National Biscuit Day

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Recall of Cocoa-dusted Chocolate Ginger

Cocoa-dusted Chocolate Ginger
Only one recall to share today.

Hummingbird Wholesale Issues Allergy Alert on Undeclared Hazelnut in Organic Cocoa-dusted Chocolate Ginger

Hummingbird Wholesale of Eugene, Oregon is recalling 5lbs of Organic Cocoa-Dusted Chocolate Ginger, because it may contain undeclared hazelnut. People who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to hazelnut run the risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume these products.

Product was distributed to Capella Market in Eugene, Oregon and sold in their self-serve bulk food section from April 11th, 2017 through April 17th, 2017 The label below was attached to the bulk bin from which the affected product was offered. The product containing hazelnuts can be identified as dark brown spheres with a cocoa powder coating.

No illnesses have been reported to date.

The recall was initiated after it was discovered that product containing Hazelnut was distributed in packaging that did not reveal the presence of Hazelnut.

This recall is being made with the knowledge of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Consumers who have purchased Hummingbird Wholesale Organic Cocoa-Dusted Hazelnut from Capella Market in Eugene, Oregon are urged to return it to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-541-686-0921 ext. 105 from 8 am – 4 pm PST, Monday through Friday.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Chocolate Mystery Series by Dawn Greenfield Ireland

Did you know that May is "National Mystery Month"? I didn't know that either until recently. What does that have to do with chocolate? Well, we've looked at other mystery novels where chocolate was a plot element usually in terms of what the amatuer sleuth does as a career but in Dawn Ireland's trilogy about the Alcott Sisters, chocolate isn't what they do but it is foundation of their family wealth. Unlike the humorous science fiction mystery series of Jackie Kingon or the oddly popular Hannah Swensen series, this book promises a combination of the two with quirky characters and a solid mystery. According to the book's back cover this is a "funny, cozy mystery with astrology theme." Of course you'll have to keep reading to see if the novel delivers on those promises. On Wednesday we had an interview with the author of The Alcott Family Adventure so today we're going to look at book one of the series, Hot Chocolate: Book 1 of the Alcott Family Adventures. I was sent a paperback copy of this book in exchange for this honest and objective feature on the Chocolate Cult; no other form of compensation was received.

I went looking for definition of "cozy mystery" and all of them said that the violence and sex very common to hardcore mysteries are downplayed, vaguely described, or made humorous. Hot Chocolate meets those criteria though personally I'm not a fan of the comedic objectification of nurse Bambi's body and clothing. The problem is that when I amused while reading it wasn't laughing with the sisters or the situation, it was more of a uneasy laughter or simply discomfort at how characters were described.

Another criteria for "cozy mystery" is that the heroine, and it is always a heroine, is someone the reader needs to like especially when series are very common in the genre. Quirky describes the Alcotts well from their old-fashioned names, interfamilial oddities, candy and chocolate colored luxury cars, and what to me often seemed like outlandish fashion and lifestyles. But quirky isn't likeable and to be blunt, I didn't like any of the three sisters. Of the three -- Madge, Lila Mae, and Dorothea -- Lila Mae is the one who gets most "screen time" and she is the least likeable of all of them. Her life is driven by a belief in astrology and other new age or "ancient" beliefs yet she makes sudden decisions when she really should be holding steadfast to her proclaimed beliefs. Overall I found her rude and self-centered. Dorothea is also very self-centered though I felt something for her given that her father has been her primary responsibility; taking care of elderly, ill parents can be very draining. Madge, the eldest, is the most likeable but we really don't spend enough time with her.

Obviously a mystery needs to be central to any subgenre within that larger literary category of mystery. The mystery is usually a disappearance or death. In the "cozy mystery" it is not shown, merely referred to, though a body may be examined just not in graphic detail. As I kept reading the book, I kept looking for a mystery. Normally the mystery should be revealed by the end of chapter three... honestly that feel late to me but standard guidelines for mysteries give it up to chapter three for the murder to happen. Remember the focus is on the mystery, not on world building or funny interpersonal relationships, that would be a different genre of fiction. There is no mystery in this book until chapter 11... chapter 11, page 123 is where a body is found (I'm not going to reveal which character). In a "cozy mystery" the victim, either murdered or missing, has less than a sterling reputation in his or her community and the victim in Hot Chocolate fits that criteria to a tee.

A "cozy mystery" should really revolve around the sleuth's actions, thoughts, and relationships she has with the small community where the mystery must be solved. We see a lot of interactions between the characters, we spend a lot of time on individuals, too, looking at their homes, their clothes, digging into their thoughts but the focus should be on the mystery and solving it. In the "cozy mystery" the heroine generally has a romantic or at least deep friendship with someone who can give her information the case -- a coroner, a detective, a reporter, etc -- and Lila Mae is romantically involved with Police Detective Chance Walker indicating that Lila Mae, as unlikeable as she is, is our sleuth. Yet that isn't what happens. The story continues to bounce around from characters -- we follow Detective Walker, we follow Bambi, we follow Lila Mae, there is no central sleuth. Without a central viewpoint sleuth the story roams around, not focused on gathering clues trying to find the killer.

In any mystery subgenre, solving the mystery should rely upon the sleuth's logic, use of experts or her own expertise, and be realistic. Given the astrology focus of the book I was worried about this criteria because through chapter 11 I wasn't seeing much from the Alcotts that spoke to their abilities at all in the mental skills required to be a sleuth. I didn't have to worry so much about that because there was no sleuth to follow as she searched for clues, using her relationships and mental prowess to solve the case. When Lila Mae thinks she has it solved, it comes out of the blue because the plot hasn't focused on her gathering any evidence or making any observations until that moment in chapter 33 when she declares that she knows who the killer is. Of course, it can't be that straight forward in any mystery, there have to be red herrings but in the end Lila Mae didn't solve the mystery, the police did. To be blunt, this book would be much better at half the length and following Lila Mae as she does her cozy mystery solving.

Finally I want to mention the style of the writing. We are told a lot about each of the Alcott sisters in highly descriptive paragraphs that layout everything from their clothing and homes to their histories. Written in a third person narrative fashion that switches between the sisters and some other characters, the style of detailed telling is fairly common in many books I've sent to review. I can't say that I'm a fan because I was taught to show more than tell, to let the world and the characters come into focus through their actions and words. The details we get on characters varies as we might expect with the sisters the main characters they should be the most detailed but which other characters we are given details about their looks, their clothes, their backgrounds, their attitudes, that varies quite a bit. I was thinking there might be a trend but even by the end of the book I couldn't find a pattern to which characters are more detailed than others beyond the sisters. This isn't to say that we aren't shown the sisters and their world, we are, I just wanted more showing and less telling. But what do I know when so books are coming out like this over the past decade?

If book one of the chocolatey fueled series sounds interesting to you, check it out on Amazon using our link below. You can find it in paperback, Kindle, and Audio form. Or you can visit Dawn's website to check out all of her books.

Sites Consulted for information about Mystery and Cozy Mystery genres:

Top Rules for Mystery Writing 

Cozy Mystery List

Immense Popularity of Cozy Mysteries

Mystery Writing Basics -- Characters and Plot

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Meet the Author of the Hot Chocolate Mystery

Dawn Greenfield Ireland
Sisters and Brothers in Chocolate, help me welcome, author Dawn Greenfield Ireland to our blog today. She is the author of a series that we'll review the first book of on this coming Saturday. The series sounds yummy so let's learn more about Dawn. Dawn, thank you for answering our questions.

Dawn, how did you get into writing fiction?

I have always been a daydreamer. Back in 1979, I had a very long commute to work. A portion of that drive was over Addicks Dam/Barker Reservoir in West Houston, which, at that time, was beautifully forested on both sides of Highway 6 before getting to the I-10 freeway. 

I’m not even sure how I got to work in one piece from all the daydreaming, but I had a story developing in my head for several days, and I started jotting notes. I had no idea that I was going to write a book. I knew nothing about writing.

But, from this story that kept building in my head, I made sure I had a lined tablet and a pen on the passenger seat. When traffic (sic) backed up, I’d write furiously. That was the beginning of my first science fiction novel, back then called Second Chance. Now it is called Prophecy of Thol, to be published in 2017.

How many books have you have published?

Artistic Origins is the name of my company, which was created in 1995, and incorporated in 2005. Back in 1995 it was basically my technical writing company.

I’m the head dog, the author, publisher, the distributer (sic), the packer and the stand-in-line-at-the-post office gal (shipper).

Everything that goes out the door will have my logo:

The books I have written, to date are as follows: 

1. The Puppy Baby Book (2000)
2. Mastering Your Money (2009)
3. Hot Chocolate (2011)
4. Bitter Chocolate (2014)

My books coming in 2017:

5. Spicy Chocolate
6. Prophecy of Thol
7. Writers’ Preparation Handbook

Other books I have published:

1. Memoirs of a Dog by CousCous (Barbara) Mackey
2. Trail Blazers (10th Anniversary Edition) by Joseph Lawrence Thompson
3. A Journey Within by J. Mitchel Baker (coming Summer/Fall of 2017)

The Alcott Family Adventures focus on a family who have made their money through their chocolate business. Why did you decide to make their background in this business?

It could have been computers, electronics, or anything else. Then I thought about everyone I knew and what we all had in common: big time chocolate lovers. 

As a self-professed chocoholic, I thought of my late mother who had a serious chocolate addiction going on – she had Hersey’s chocolate bars stashed all over the place. 

I thought Hot Chocolate would be a fun way to treat everyone to a great little story with eccentric characters who grew up with chocolate – as their livelihood, and as an indulgence. 

Everyone loves the family I have created, their relationships with the large cast of characters, and the recipes in the back of the book.

How important is the Alcott chocolate business to the plots of the books?

Without the wealth from Alcott Chocolates, the story would not be set in Houston’s ultra-wealthy River Oaks. Bernie Alcott, the founder of Alcott Chocolates, and the patriarch at 92, is a wily character who constantly gives his middle-aged daughters fits.

These ultra-wealthy sisters are not like the socialites one might read about in the news. These gals have their own agendas.

Half of Dawn's Library
I know you have two books in the series currently out. Would you tell us the names of the first two books and where readers might find them?

Both Hot Chocolate and Bitter Chocolate are available on my website and on Amazon. 

Hot Chocolate is available as a paperback, eBook, and audio book. 

Bitter Chocolate is only available as an eBook, and audio book at this time.

If you want an autographed copy of the Hot Chocolate paperback, you can only get that on my website.

How many books do you plan to have in this series?

I’m currently working on #3 – Spicy Chocolate (available sometime in 2017). I don’t see any reason to quit now! And just think of the different titles I could create!

Let's get back to chocolate, our favorite topic here. Do you like chocolate and if so, what is your favorite kind?

I DO NOT DISCRIMINATE ☺ -- that said, I LOVE dark chocolate! I love chocolate with peppermint! I love white chocolate! I love milk chocolate! Ooohhh, and I love chocolate-covered almonds!

If chocolate were banned tomorrow, I would definitely be involved in a chocolate black market, or the chocolate underground movement!

Part of Dawn's Office
I know your books include recipes, are these family recipes or original ones that you created for this series of books?

I spend a lot of time in the kitchen cooking and baking, when I’m not writing or reading. Every recipe in the books are recipes that I have made multiple times that I thought my readers would enjoy. 

Some are old time favorites of mine. Some are new recipes I’ve come across from various emails or websites that I have tried and liked. Most of the time I tweak those recipes to make them my own. Sometimes they no longer resemble the original recipe with all my tweaking.

Have you considered a chocolate item tie-in for your series, such as a boxes of hot chocolate mix or bars?

This has been on my mind for a while now. The problem I come across is that I lean toward organic, gluten free, and soy free, not to mention that I am phobic about high fructose corn syrup. It is so hard to find products that contain pure ingredients. It is very stressful!

I would love to get to the point where I could have a sponsored product!

Other half of Dawn's Office 
What do you do when you aren't writing, Dawn?

When I’m not on my laptop creating something, or reading, I’m most likely cooking or baking something, or watching Netflix or Amazon Prime content. 

Several years ago, I began cooking on the weekends for the week ahead to make my life easier. I have continued this process, and I have to tell you, it sets me free to do everything else. 

Whether it is a pot of soup, a roast, or spaghetti sauce, I use canning jars to store liquid items, and freezer bags for meats and things. 

Just so you know, I’m going to document some of my life shortcuts and create a book.

Finally is there anything else you'd like us to know about your or your books?

Several years ago, I discovered there were several people named Dawn Ireland, so I started to use my whole name – Dawn Greenfield Ireland – so people would know it was me. I had been in contact with one of the Dawn Ireland’s who used to live in South Dakota, but we have lost touch.

The books have a very large cast. When I was writing Bitter Chocolate, I hired a guy to create a family tree of the characters. It is a great reference to see the relationships and connections of the characters. You can download the family tree for free.

The family tree will be updated in Spicy Chocolate with color coding so people can see the original cast in Hot Chocolate in one color, who was added in Bitter Chocolate in another color, and the newcomers in Spicy Chocolate.

About me, I’m originally from a small farming community in Western Massachusetts, which is no longer there – it is all subdivisions and a golf course now. I moved to Texas in 1968, and spent two years in San Antonio, then moved to Houston. I spent 44 years in Houston. This is where my career as a technical writer began in 1984 at Compaq Computer. In 2010, my oldest son moved to the east coast, then my youngest son moved in 2013!

When I was downsized from my technical writing job in 2015, I decided this was a good opportunity to move back to the east coast to be closer to my boys. I bought a house in the Catskill Mountain area of NY. I’ve spent two winters up here and I don’t want to experience another! I have recently put my house on the market. I can’t wait to get back to Houston – my tribe of creative people and the world I created there.

Twenty-two years ago, I created a critique group for writers. While we have tried to carry on online, it doesn’t work for me. When I get back home I’ll be happy to embrace my group once again!

Thank you, Dawn, for talking with us today. Readers, if you have any questions for Dawn or if you've read her books, leave a comment and maybe she'll get back to you.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Jimmy's Cookies Recall

While I'm disappointed whenever I have to share any type of chocolate related recall with you, Sisters and Brothers, at least there is only one recall to share with you today.

---------- Recalls ----------

Jimmy's Cookies Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk

Jimmy’s Cookies LLC of Clifton, NJ is recalling LOT #047 The Bakery Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies from all retail stores, because it may contain undeclared milk. People who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to milk run the risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume this product.

The Bakery Peanut Chocolate Chunk Cookies LOT #047 was sold in retail stores and distributed Nationwide in bakeries.

The Bakery Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies LOT #047 are packed 10 cookies to a 14 oz. container with an orange label. LOT #047 can be found printed in black ink on the top of the package.

No illnesses have been reported to date.

The recall was initiated after it was discovered that the product containing milk was distributed in packaging that did not reveal the presence of milk. Subsequent investigation indicates the problem was caused by a temporary breakdown in the company’s labeling processes.

Consumers who have purchased The Bakery Peanut Chocolate Chunk Cookies from retail stores are urged to return it to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may contact the firm Monday through Friday, from the hours of 8:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (EST) at (973) 779-8500.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Can Coconut Make Organic Brownie Brittle Even Better?

Organic Coconut Brownie Brittle, Sheila G's
We have been looking at the Organic Line of Sheila G's Brownie Brittle and today we turn our attention to the Organic Chocolate and Toasted Coconut Brownie Brittle. Since as many of your regular readers may know, I don't like coconut, years ago you (the readers) selected our first Acolyte to help me test products, specifically coconut ones. So today, Lisa is the author of this article, every word is hers after this initial paragraph. The Chocolate Cult was sent two bags of these variety of Brownie Brittle from Sheila G's Brownie Brittle in exchange for a fair and honest review; no other form of compensation was received in exchange for this article.

Sheila G's Brownie Brittle is an attempt to make a snack based on what most people say is the best part of a brownie... the crunchy corners.  It definitely meets that criteria.

When I opened the bag and sniff, I couldn't quite identify what it is that I smelled.  A little sweet but no overwhelming chocolate or coconut scent.  I was worried.  The sniff test is one of the senses I rely on most and this wasn't cutting it.  The pieces are thin and the coconut is very obvious.  I bit off a small corner and got a nice crunch; far more so than any brownie corner I've ever made.  Chocolate was the predominant flavor.  The coconut adds a nice bit of texture but not as much flavor.  Chewing it is definitely a crunchy delight.

The package says a serving size is one ounce but since the pieces are not all the same size, it can be hard to determine exactly how much you're eating unless you have a good food scale.  I determined that five of the largest pieces available the bag come up to 1.25 ounces. For that you get 16 grams of sugar, 1 gram of fiber and 5 grams of fat and the serving comes in at 150 calories.  I mention this because it's easy to blow through an entire bag without realizing how much you've eaten.  I know this from experience.

Also to be aware of, there is a non-organic version of this treat on the market.  I had some many months ago and I didn't think this tasted much different but to be certain, a friend helped me do a blind taste-test.  I couldn't tell the difference.  I like the product and the only thing I can say that I'd change would be to make the coconut flavor a little stronger.

Have you tried the Organic Chocolate and Toasted Coconut version of Brownie Brittle? If so, leave us a comment and let us know if you agree with Lisa's assessment.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Chocolate Recalls on Easter 2017

How disappointing to have recalls on this weekend with Passover, Western Easter, and Orthodox Easter as well as Ostara the traditional holiday to which Easter was connected. back in the 4th century Check these out to protect yourself and your family.


Recall of Chocolate Kokosh Cake

Orthodox Baking Co. in Belleville, N.J. 07109, today announced a voluntary recall of its 16 ounce packages of Oberlander Gluten Free Brand “Chocolate Kokosh Cake" chocolate filled cake because they contain undeclared almond paste. People who have allergies to almonds run the risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume this product.
The recalled "Chocolate Kokosh Cake" were distributed nationwide in retail stores and supermarkets. No other products are impacted.

The product comes in a 16 ounce, clear plastic package with a wraparound label. It is marked with a “last date sale” of April 30 printed on the back of the label and further identified with UPC #43711 18093 7.

This voluntary recall was initiated on April 5, 2017, after an unconfirmed report of an allergic reaction was investigated by Orthodox Baking Co. and it revealed that the almond paste-containing cake was distributed in packaging that identified in the ingredient declaration the presence of “kernel paste” instead of “almond paste”. The problem was caused by a labeling error limited to this item.

Production of the product has been suspended until FDA and the company are certain that the problem has been corrected.

Orthodox Baking has informed the FDA of our actions.

Consumers who have purchased 16 ounce packages of “Chocolate Kokosh Cake" chocolate filled cake are urged to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

Due to Passover Holiday consumers with questions may contact the company only during these specific dates and times: Thursday, April 13, 2017 from 1PM to 3PM EDST at the following number 1- 347-450-7077


Nassau Candy Distributors of Hicksville, NY, is voluntarily recalling 8 oz. bags of H.E.B brand Pomegranate Infused Cranberries Covered in Dark Chocolate because they may contain undeclared Almonds. People who have allergies to Almonds run the risk of serious or life threatening allergic reaction if they consume this product.

The product is packaged in 8 oz. zipper bags with UPC CODE 041220985883 and has a Best By Date of 02/27/18 on the lower right back panel of the packaging. No other product or Best By Dates are affected by this recall.

The recalled Pomegranate Infused Cranberries Covered in Dark Chocolate was distributed to H.E.B in San Antonio, Texas. All product with the Best By Date of 02/27/18 has been removed from the store shelves and destroyed.

The company has received one allergy complaint to date.

This recall was initiated after it was reported via a social media complaint that a bag contained almonds but were not listed on the packaging. The company continues its investigation into the matter and has temporarily suspended production of this item.

Consumers who have purchased the 8 oz. bags of H.E.B brand Pomegranate Infused Cranberries Covered in Dark Chocolate are urged to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may contact Nassau Candy Distributors at 516-433-7100 ext. 7297, Monday - Friday 9am - 4pm EST.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Burst of Spring for Easter or Mother's Day from Ococoa

If you have been reading the Chocolate Cult from the beginning you might recall a fairly early feature we did about Ococoa about their butter cups. They have expanded beyond butter cups now and now do a lot of products centered around holidays throughout the year. Right now, for a limited time, you can find their Forget-Me-Not collection which might be a lovely treat for Easter or Mother's Day or just to say "I'm so happy it is finally Spring!" I used a black or Easter Egg backdrop depending on the chocolate of the cup to show them in a more interesting fashion in several photos today but these are not only around for Easter. Today we're going to look at this current seasonal collection and give you our full sensory experience with them. Ococoa sent us a free 4 piece favor box of Forget-Me-Nots in exchange for writing an honest review of them; no other form of compensation was received.

The cups have salted butter caramel, vanilla marshmallow, and dark chocolate ganache -- all handmade in small batches. I'll show you the layers inside the cups when I reveal each type but for not here's another view of the cups as they were packaged in recyclable materials, well cushioned so they were not damaged at all. The tops of each cup has vintage style flowers in different colors. These are so cute to look at, aren't they? The cups themselves are dark chocolate or white chocolate. When I first opened the box, the white chocolate fragrances, creamy, sweet, with a strong hint of vanilla, was dominant. Separately the two types from each other for a while I then breathed them in individually. The white chocolate cups smelled the same but the dark chocolate cups had a strong vanilla scent with a deep undercurrent of darker cocoa to them. No caramel, salt, or marshmallow fragrance at this point.

Let's begin with the white chocolate cups. The layers are from bottom to top: marshmallow, ganache, and caramel. For my own enjoyment I'd just bite them open but to show you I used a very sharp knife and careful pressure. The white chocolate is still the main fragrance but not there is a hint of salt as well. I pop one half into my mouth and the first flavor I get is the salted caramel, tangy not sweet then the vanilla from marshmallow and white chocolate, and finally a light darker essence. The I try each layer by itself, well as much as I can bite it off clearly. The marshmallow is fluffy and really just has a very light vanilla taste that makes the white chocolate seem creamier. The dark ganache layer covers up the vanilla taste and brings out the creaminess of the white chocolate even stronger. The caramel layer's saltiness is lowered when I taste it with just the white chocolate and the caramel tastes even tangier. I rinsed my mouth out and rested my taste buds for 15 minutes before moving on to test these. Remember that to get the taste of an individual chocolate, whatever kind it is, don't mix it with other food or beverages when you first have it. That's the only way to learn what the chocolate itself is like. After that feel free to experiment with ways of eating it or combining it with drinks.

The dark chocolate cup layers are a bit harder to make out in the photo but I think it still turned out fine so you can see them.  The fragrance from the cut open cup is well balanced between the salty tangy, the darker chocolate, and a hint of sweetness. I try one half of the cup in two bites to see how the triple layers interact with the dark chocolate cup. The initial flavor is the dark chocolate followed immediately by a salty tangy and a creaminess, as the salt fades the tang and the dark chocolate return until the chocolate is the final taste on my tongue. Wonderful! Testing layer by layer adds a deeper experience. The marshmallow layer greatly intensifies the bitterness of the dark chocolate and I loved that. Interestingly the ganache layer makes the flavor very smooth and creamy. The caramel layer has the strongest salt flavor and the tangy of the caramel is very intense as is the chocolate, this was my favorite of the individual layers.

I liked both cups a lot but as you know, darker chocolate is my favorite so it isn't surprising that I loved the darker cups best. Both are worthy Sacraments for us so I hope you check them out. Even though Easter is tomorrow and it is too late to get Ococoa unless you live near one of their retail partners, you can order these online in time for Mother's Day easily.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Meet the Woman behind Ococoa

Diana Fill Cup Molds
Sisters and Brothers in Chocolate, help me welcome Diana Malouf, the founder and chocolatier beyond Ococoa to our blog today. Thank you Diana, for joining us.

Diana, Ococoa started the same year as this blog, 2009, and we did a feature on your butter cups in January 2010. At that time we weren't doing interviews so we're very curious, how did you get started in the chocolate business?

I frequently hand-made edible gifts for friends. Often times they were baked treats but one year I decided to try my hand at making peanut butter cups. I hand-painted the inside of the paper candy cups with what I thought was tempered chocolate. I honestly don’t remember if it tempered correctly, but nevertheless I was hooked. After a few years of experimenting, a friend talked me into starting Ococoa. 

Ococoa Cut and Stacked Butter Cups

You began with butter cups, delicious butter cups, that were not limited to the commonly and mass produced peanut butter cups many of us in the USA grew up with. Where did you get the idea of making different types of butter creams to fill chocolate cups?

After making that initial batch of peanut butter cups, I became curious about how other types of nut butters might work with chocolate and began experimenting from there. 

My Middle Eastern heritage largely influenced the flavors I initially gravitated towards. I use a number of ingredients that are popular in Middle Eastern desserts such as tahini, rose oil, pistachios, figs. 

One of the rules you follow at Ococoa is to "Use excellent ingredients" so what type of couverture do you use and has that changed as your business has grown over the years?

I have always used E. Guittard chocolate for most of my confections. It’s excellent quality and Fair Trade. I find that it nicely complements the fillings in my bon bons. When chocolate takes center stage such as in our Valentine’s hearts and the peat smoked truffle, I’ll use Valrhona. 

We've tested and written about E. Guittard here on The Chocolate Cult and I agree with your assessment wholeheartedly. What do you think has been the greatest challenge you've overcome to have a successful chocolate business?

I started Ococoa because I enjoy making chocolate confections, playing with flavors, and learning new techniques. However running a business isn’t just about pursuing a passion; it involves a lot of nuts and bolts. My business partner Liz and I have to wear a lot of hats. Luckily she and I are very curious and determined people. 

Ococoa Caramelized Almonds
I see that the types of chocolates you offer now has expanded into Truffle & Caramel Bars and Caramelized Almonds. Why did you decide to expand your product line and do you think you'll expand it again in the near future?

If it were possible, I’d be introducing new products all the time. I love experimenting. However, launching new products requires a lot of care and resources and since time and space are finite, we have to be careful about how many products we offer at any given time. That being said, I’ve been toying with the idea a new line of caramel bars for the Fall. 

Currently you have seasonal gifts as well as your year round flavors of bars and butter cups. How many seasonal lines do you offer?  What is your best selling season?

 We have seasonal confections for Fall, Valentine’s Day, and Spring. In fact, we are currently carrying our Spring Forget-Me-Nots, which are filled with layers of caramel, marshmallow, and truffle. Valentine’s Day is naturally a big season for us. We offer a gift collection of hand-painted raspberry hearts that are simply delicious. My favorite is the White Chocolate Ganache with Raspberry Shrub; you get the sweetness of the white ganache with the tartness of the raspberry vinegar jam. It’s such a surprising yet balanced combination of flavors.

Diana Malouf

Let's get back to a more personal question. We know from your story of how you decided to get into the chocolate business, that you have a lifetime relationship with candy. Do you have a personal favorite type of chocolate -- white, milk, semi-sweet, darker?

I like well-crafted chocolate and that can include dark, milk and even white. I am heartened by the rise of the bean-to-bar movement over the past several years and that people are learning that chocolate can be enjoyed much like wine where you learn about the terroir of the bean and the importance of how the beans are processed. A good couverture is the result of quality processes. Having said that, I mostly work with dark chocolate because my flavors tend to be more rich and savory, rather than the sweeter notes of white or milk chocolate. 

Of all of the flavors of butter cups that you make and sell what is your personal favorite(s)?  Is that the same best selling flavor you offer?

My favorite amongst the butter cups is Sesame Fig. I love the combination of savory tahini blended with dark chocolate and balanced with the fig jam. The Peat Smoked Truffle is also near and dear to me. I infuse cream with smoked organic peat; then the cream is used as a base for the ganache. It’s a strong flavor, and it’s not for everyone, but I’m partial to peaty scotch so this suits me. 

Is there anything else you'd like our readers to know about Ococoa?

Well, this is a fun fact. Ococoa’s tag line is “thoughtfully crafted chocolate.” The primary motivation behind that choice was to emphasize how much time and deliberation goes into each confection we create. But it’s also a nod to the fact that Liz and I were both worked in brainy professions in our previous lives: she was a professor and I worked at a think-tank. Our love of learning has transferred over to Ococoa and all things chocolate.

Thank you, Diana, for speaking with us. I'm looking forward to sharing your Forget-Me-Not line with our readers on Saturday.