Saturday, October 31, 2009

Spokandy Elegant Treats

Sisters and Brothers, you may recall the name "Spokandy" from a June 27, 2009 Saturday Sacrament. With the fall and winter being incredibly busy holiday periods in many cultures, your Chocolate Priestess has decided to do two of the offerings they sent us in today's Revelation instead of just one. I hope you will read my journey with their products and then look at their website to see if their treats might make a delightful and elegant addition to your holidays.

Spokandy first enters into our toffee category with their "English Almond Toffee," which is made with milk chocolate (though it looks dark in color to me), butter, almonds and other ingredients, both natural and artificial.  A 6-ounce box of their toffee has 4 servings in it, or 8 pieces of candy.  Each serving has 220 calories, 7 grams of saturated fat, 20 milligrams of cholesterol, 190 mg sodium, 1 g fiber, 24 g sugars, and 2 g protein, with 2% of the calcium and 4% of the vitamin A an adult needs every day.  All of this information seems on par with previous toffees that I have revealed on The Chocolate Cult, but as you know, Sisters and Brothers, we have to embark upon the full sensory journey in order to truly compare it to the four toffees that have come before this one.

The pieces are almost uniform in shape, in 1.75-inch squares of a good half inch thickness.  I can smell both the almonds and the butter, but primarily it's the cocoa I smell, and once again, even though the ingredients list says milk chocolate, it is darker than what I expect.  The chocolate feels a bit slippery as I lift it up to take a bite, which makes a loud snap after a bit of effort.  Inside is a very solid, golden toffee that is incredibly buttery.  The chocolate mixes very well with this, and neither gains control of my taste buds until after I finish chewing, when the buttery tang lingers.  This is important because, as I've revealed several times, with toffee the cocoa can easily be hidden, and that isn't what we want in The Chocolate Cult.  Taking a bite with bigger almond pieces on the top involves more salty and nutty flavors that hide the chocolate a bit more, letting more of the toffee itself out.  I think this is a great balance of flavors, and with almost uniform pieces it is easy to monitor and control portions.  Overall there is more of a sugar rush than cocoa, but you never forget the chocolate is there.

Spokandy also creates dinner mints, and this category is a first on The Chocolate Cult, so they have no competition yet.  They sent two types, dinner mints and pastel mints, which came in four color schemes. All of the mints are one-inch squares with a thickness of half an inch.  The pastels are three layers, with one color over and under another, as you'll see soon.  The dinner variety is only two layers, mostly the milk chocolate with a thinner layer of mint green.  As soon as I unwrap the outside plastic sheaths, the scent of mint hit me and continued to remain strong for several minutes.

The Dinner Mints, the dark ones,  came in a 3-oz. box containing two servings of six mints for a total of 12 mints.  Like the toffee, it is made of primarily chocolate, and then other natural and artificial ingredients.  The mint comes from pure peppermint oil, but the green layer isn't chocolate.  Each serving is 260 calories, 16 g saturated fat, 35 mg sodium, 21 g sugars, and 1 g protein.  This is a sugar rush waiting to be released, as most mints are. The mint's scent is primarily mint, but there is also a hint of cocoa.  These are basically bite-sized pieces, so I try one with the milk chocolate side down and one with the green layer down.  They make no sound when I chew them and are smooth and creamy, releasing a cooling sensation in my mouth that travels upon to tickle my nose.  There is only a slight difference in taste, a tiny bit more cocoa, when I eat one with the darker side against my tongue.  Primarily the taste is mint, not chocolate.

The Pastel Mints are made of white chocolate dyed blue, yellow or pink and also flavored with pure peppermint oil.  They have the same number of servings as the Dinner Mints but slightly different nutritional value, with 250 calories, 17 g saturated fat, 40 mg sodium, 22 g sugars, and 1 g protein.  I see no indication that these different colors should taste differently, so, since I urge you practice moderation, I will try only two, the pink and green, to see if there is any difference. These have no cocoa scent as the Dinner Mints did, and that is to be expected with white chocolate, but upon further inspection of the label I am annoyed: I see no part of the cacao plant being used in these mints, meaning this is not chocolate in any form.  At the very least it should have cocoa butter in it, but that is not listed.  Because of that, I must leave these aside for a later date.

I could easily see a bowl of Spokandy English Almond Toffee laid out for guests, as well as the mints.  The mints, though, offer greater variety in ways to serve them, because I think these might make lovely additions to cookies or brownies, but just remember that only the Dinner Mints actually use any part of the cacao plant and choose wisely.  I think I'll try that in the future, Sisters and Brothers, and let you know how it turns out.  Until then, please check out Spokandy and see their wide range of products.

Have a great Halloween today, if you celebrate.  Please look back at the 10 tips I offered earlier this week.  Yes, holidays and Saturdays are wonderful times to indulge in the Sacred Substance, but never forget Moderation and Purposefulness, so you can fully enjoy what you eat and drink.

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Last Chance for Chocolate Walk Pilgrimage

Sisters and Brothers, you have only until tomorrow, Halloween, to purchase your tickets for the Brown County Chocolate Walk at the lower price of $15.  Starting November 1, 2009, the price will rise by 33%!  Now is your last opportunity to get your tickets and make arrangements with me, your Chocolate Priestess, to carpool with myself and the Chocolate Coconut Acolyte to this event on November 14, 2009, from 10am until we finish or it is 5pm.

This is what you need to do to participate in this Pilgrimage.

1) Go to the event's link and purchase your ticket.

To do this as an official part of our Pilgrimage you also need to do two more things:

2) Become an official member of The Chocolate Cult via the "Followers" list on this site or through Facebook.

3) Carpool to the event because remember the environment we save means more room for growing the necessary components for the Sacred Substance.

To carpool, please send me an email (thetammyjo via gmail) and let me know if you want to a ride or if you have a car you can use to help transport people. The Chocolate Coconut Acolyte's car can hold three more passengers and hopefully we'll get one or two more cars volunteered. Once these are volunteered to meet in Bloomington, Indiana, I'll let those know who have rides where exactly to meet around 9:15am that day so we can meet, get into the cars, and then head over to Nashville. If you go with the official group you'll get your picture and thoughts published on this blog about the experience.

In terms of money, you'll need to pay for your tickets, $15 now or if you wait until November the price rises to $20, bring some money for any thing you might want to buy including lunch if we stay that long, and a dollar or two to help the person volunteering a car to pay for parking and gas.

I hope you will join us for our first official Pilgrimage with The Chocolate Cult.

In other news, I have the winners of our "2009 Halloween Treat Challenge".

Since this was our first year with any challenge I was pleased that three of our four categories were filled.   Here are our winners all of whom will have the right to place a free ad on this blog for 30 days.  Each will be contacted to be told they won.

"Best Mass Produced Halloween Treat 2009" is Equal Exchange for offering fair trade and mostly organic "Reverse Trick or Treating" bars at a reasonable price.

"Best Baked Halloween Treat 2009" is The Cookie Sandwich Co. whose huge cookies offered a hint of pumpkin with a solid chocolate cookie for Halloween as well as their regular flavors.

"Best Halloween Treat Source 2009" is Taraluna for offering only organic and fair trade trades from different companies at a reasonable price.

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Cookies for Breakfast?

Your Chocolate Priestess bought these McVitie's Digestives, "Milk Chocolate" variety back for World Chocolate Day which is September 4th as a way to demonstrate how easy it is to find chocolate from around the world, even in your local Kroger's as she did..  If you don't remember the two posts related to this huge "holiday" you can click on the "Chocolte on the Calendar" subject link to find it, Sisters and Brothers.  The company and their products has been around for some time, their first chocolate digestive came out in 1925 according to their website.

While most people in the UK enjoy their digestives with tea or coffee, I thought I try mine at breakfast.  Made of wheat flour and wholemeal, they don't have as much fiber as I'd hoped or normally want for breakfast, only 1g per two cookie serving.  That same serving also has 4g saturated fat, <0.5g sodium, 10g sugars and 2g protein according to the nutritional label on the tube they came in.  In total there are seven servings in the package and for an imported product I thought they were reasonable and not simply candy.  But how do they taste?

Of course taste isn't our only criteria here in The Chocolate Cult.  The smell of this digestive is part wheat and part light chocolate.  The chocolate coating feels a bit waxy to my touch and I bet that is from the several different types of oils listed on the ingredients label.  Each is almost 3.75 inches across with a cross hatch coating of chooclate on one side and the words "Mc Vitie's Original" on the plain wheat side.  The first one I eat wheat side down; it tastes a lot like a less sweet graham cracker to me, the chocolate adding a touch of sweetness.  The cracker is also rather crumbly, it's texture is a bit mealy but that is what I expect given my research on digestives.  Eating it chocolate side down reveals a sweeter taste which makes perfect sense.  Overall not the best breakfast choice in terms of nutrition but a nice less sweet cookie choice for a snack or dessert. 

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween Advice from The Chocolate Priestess

If you live in almost any English speaking country and many other nations as well, you've are aware of what this Saturday, October 31st is: Halloween.  While some cultures take this time of year to honor or appease the dead, in the USA and some other states it is a time to dress up, get candy, and hang out with friends to gorge on sugary treats.  Your Chocolate Priestess has a few suggestions to share with you to help you remain on the Path of Moderation and Purposefulness.

1.  Buy at least two types of candy if you are welcoming trick or treaters to your home.

Obviously one of them should be chocolate not simply because this is The Chocolate Cult but because chocolate is very popular, just check the profits in the cocoa and chocolate industries.  Remember that not everyone likes or can even eat chocolate so bye a non-chocolate variety or something that isn't candy like raisins or stickers.

2.  Buy only what those in your household like.

Sometimes you run out of candy during the course of a Halloween evening but often times you do not.  So buy only what you know people in your household will eat so you haven't wasted money.

3.  Compare prices before you buy bulk.

At first glance it seems that buying the 100+ bags is the best price but be aware that your stores know this is your instinct and their prices may not actually be lower.  Take along a calculator and compare prices per piece.

4.  Use coupons and consider sales.

One big risk in waiting until the last minute is that the candy you want will be sold out.  This year it seems that candy sells are doing great.  I can see in our local stores that they have not dropped prices as they did last year by this time suggesting they are making good sales and see not need to lure you in with lower prices.  Look for coupons in your newspaper or the store flyers but read them carefully because $1 off one bag is certainly a better deal that $1 off three bags.

5.  Hide the candy until right before trick or treating or party time.

I remember when we bought candy a few weeks before the holiday and then had to buy more because we ate it.  No more.  We have a big Halloween decoration box that we put the candy we are going to hand out in and then only put out decorations the day of Halloween.  The candy stay in the box until about 15 minutes before we expect the costumed candy seekers to arrive.

6.  Watch your own treating on Halloween.

While you hand out the candy it is very tempting to grab handfuls yourself. Maybe you'll be lucky and like us you'll have little down time between waves of super heroes, princesses, and puppies arriving with their pails and sacks out held.  If you aren't, come up with a family guardian of the candy, someone known for her or his self-control.  That person can dole out one piece of candy at a time to anyone who wants it.

7.  Eat other food on Halloween.

Make sure you have a good breakfast and lunch on that day.  Don't skip meals so you can gorge on candy.  You might want to do something fun for dinner but again think of what your body needs and feed it well before  you turn to the treats.

8.  Track what you use.

For years I've kept track of how many trick or treaters we get.  One of us makes a mark on a piece of paper for each that comes while one or two others hand out the treats.  This helps a great deal when I plan my purchases for next year but I also keep an eye on how my neighbor is changing.  We've added a few new families with children in 2009 so I bet I'll have 150+ visitors this year.  If you have new neighbors approach them and let them know how many trick or treaters they can expect.

9.  If you are throwing a party, think higher class treats.

If you have dozens or hundreds of trick or treaters, I'm unlikely to convince you to go for the organic, fair-trade chocolates because they do cost more.  But if you are having a party and know how many guests you will have, I urge you to consider places like Taraluna or Equal Exchange or The Cookie Sandwich Company to get your treats from.  Or make them yourself so you can control the type of ingredients  you are using.

10.  Store the leftovers.

If you have leftovers store them and use our guiding principles of Moderation and Purposefulness.  Limit how much you and others eat, see if you can give some away or use any leftover candy in homemade goods for the rest of the fall and winter holidays.  Why buy more candy to use to decorate your Christmas cookies or add a burst of color to your brownies at Thanksgiving or New Years when you can use these?

I hope this list of suggestions gave all of you, Sisters and Brothers, some time for reflection.  If you haven't bought your treats or decided what you are doing, if anything, to celebrate Halloween, it isn't too late.  If you have, use this year to track what you use so you can purchase more wisely in the future.

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Gift of Frango

Your Chocolate Priestess had never heard of Frango mints before she received them as a gift from the Chocolate Coconut Acolyte more than a month after she officially took on that position of service to The Chocolate Cult.  I know, I know, some of you, Sisters and Brothers, are amazed and wondering "How can you not know Frango?"

Well, the Frango products, there is an entire line of them, were first created by the Frederick & Nelson department stores, then used in the Marshall Field and Company department store, and now only available in Macy department stores.  Where I grew up, none of these stores exited.  In fact it wasn't until 1994 or so that I saw a Macy's in person and we certainly could not afford to show there as we struggled to survive in New York City.  But the Milk Chocolate Acolyte had heard of these so I shared with my entire household.

I shared this: a 1.4oz box of the Frango "Dark Chocolate Mints".  No nutritional information came on the box but there was a list of ingredients.  All of the chocolate itself is natural but an emulsifier has been added, lecithin, and there is artificial vanilla flavoring along with partially hydrogenated soybean oil.  If you have allergies to milk or soybeans, this  is not for you.

Inside were four identical chocolate mints. I ate two and shared two.  They had a very thick layer of bittersweet chocolate all around the outside, so thick that it took more effort to bite into this than most chocolates I reveal to you all, Sisters and Brothers.  Inside was a surprisingly firm milk chocolate center.  The chocolate tasted good, a bit firm, but I was disappointed because the mint flavor was very light, I had to search for it and let each bite melt a bit before I could really taste it.  The Acolytes who tried these as well agreed that the mint was lacking.  It is a tricky business you know if you read The Chocolate Cult reviews and Sacramental revelations.  If you must have a non-chocolate flavor, it must be strong enough to be identified easily and yet it should never overwhelm the Sacred Substance itself.

I do want to thank the Chocolate Coconut Acolyte for this gift.  I hope that Macy's will read this and consider sending more offerings for us to reveal on The Chocolate Cult because I hope this one small example is not representative of the entire line they market.

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Mousse Filled Chocolate Shells YUM

Your Chocolate Priestess made a second recipe from this book she will be revealing to you all soon, I promise.  This time I also used a potential Sacrament in the process, one from our friends at Astor Chocolate.

I've never made mousse before so I thought this "Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse" recipe would be fun to try. The ingredients list was short as you can see to the left so I thought it would be quick to make.

Wrong!  There are four different stages to making this mousse and each took a bit of time.

First I had to melt the two types of chocolate -- milk and bittersweet -- with sea salt and peanut butter.  I learned a long time ago that you need to melt these on low heat or can burn chocolate easily plus if you have more than one item to mix, slow melting allows you to stir it together more thoroughly.  Also by letting it melt at a lower temperature I find it easier to keep stirring, Sisters and Brothers, just be careful not to let any extra moisture, particularly water, get into the sauce pan or the chocolate will harden.

While I did that, I watched as my skim milk slowly scalded right on the other burner.  Again slow heating is important here or you get milk burnt on the bottom of your sauce pan which I think is a very unpleasant smell.  The recipe didn't specify if I should use whole, skim or another percentage of fat milk but I knew I might be taking a risk in terms of quality using skim.  Once both were done, I transfered it all to a large glass bowl and whisk them until smooth.  Then it had to cool to room temperture which took about an hour.

I didn't know it would take so long so I started beating the heavy whipped cream up with my Kitchenaid mixer.  Here's the silly thing.  The recipe called for 1 cup of heavy cream but the store only had pint sized, which is 2 cups.  So I doubled all of the ingredients for the recipes because I just knew I wouldn't be using heavy cream during a normal week day and I figured I could freeze the left over mousse to have as a frozen dessert later.  Using this mixer made the cream whipping really easy and it didn't take long for the peaks to form.

Then I waited and waited and waited for the chocolate mixture to cool enough, Sisters and Brothers.  I kept stirring it so the heat would dissipate more quickly.  Again, the recipe didn't say this was but even though I've never made mousse, I applied years of cooking logic to make this choice.  We'll see if it worked out.  Once it was cooled I poured the chocolate liquid into the mixer bowl and folded it all together on low for a few minutes.

While the mousse was in the refrigerator cooling and setting for an hour, I got out these chocolate dessert shells I received from Astor.  I've never used this sort of product before but the box said you could use the little chocolate cups for all sorts of things ranging from ice cream to fruit to mousse so I decided to try it with this mousse. 

Even though the box said these were 2.75 inch squares, 1 inch deep, Sisters and Brothers, I didn't realize how big that was until I looked at them.  In total the box held 3oz of chocolate but each shell was very solidly constructed so I had no fears about putting anything in them.  In terms of ingredients, three are listed on the box: chocolate, lecithin and vanilla.  Each shell adds 70 calories, 3g saturated fat, 15mg sodium, 1g fiber, 7g sugars, 1g protein and 2% of your daily iron to each dessert you make so keep this in mind when you prepare and eat.

Once the mousse was set a bit I spooned two bit scoops into each shell and then added some colored jimmies to it.  I think they turned out beautifully.  I returned them to the frig and then the next day my family and some friends tried them.  Everyone loved them.  The shell's chocolate was a different flavor than the mousse and it added a crunch once we all spooned out a good portion of the filling.

I was very pleased with how these Astor Chocolate Dessert Shells worked.  It made even my first mousse attempt look a bit more elegant.  With several major holidays approaching, I could see these used in a variety of ways.  They could become a grave that you put a candy tombstone or bones on top of -- I saw things like that at my local Target recently.  They could become a basket for Thanksgiving samples or a gift box of fruits and candies.  I think only your imagination could limit what you could do with these shells.  Astor also has round dessert shells and liquor cups as well.  You can buy one box or in bulk, bulk is a better price.

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Chocolate Humor You Can Eat Up

Your Chocolate Priestess has been a book reviewer for several years now.  Even the official book reviewer for an online bookstore for a few years.  Thus books are very common gifts I receive and gifts I give myself.  At my recent birthday I acquired several about chocolate.  One of them is a classic of humor and some useful information from Sandra Boynton.  Not only had the gift giver, the Milk Chocolate Acolyte, read this when he was young but so did several guests.  I had been deprived of the joys in this book so I was anxious to read it.

Sandra Boynton is the illustrator and author of many children's and non-children's book, this one Chocolate: The Consuming Passion was her first outside of the children's genre published in 1982 and continously published until 2002.  Sadly this means you'd have to find it in a used bookstore if you wanted your own copy.  Or you might want to ask relatives if they have one stored away somewhere.  Oh, yeah, she's done other things as well and is currently working on short films so check that website link if you want to smile.

The book is a very humorous and often opinionated look at chocolate in all it's varieties.  White Chocolate Lovers may be rubbed the wrong way but the message I saw was that we have a love affair with chocolate and we need to be both more serious about it and less serious about it.  That's heavy philosophical stuff, maybe.  Perhaps it's all just an attempt to get you to smile and break out in laughter.  I did both for me in parts labeled "The Many Faces of Chocolate" and "The Physiology and Psychology of Chocophilia" plus "Knowing Your Chocolate" and finally "Where to Get It".

As both the front and back covers I hope show, the illustrations are delightful with or without the words.  Hidden in all that humor though are some facts about chocolate though you'll want to double check before you tossing out some of the silly words made up for this book.  There are also insightful questions lurking in the humor as well if you want to find them.

I enjoyed this book very much and all of you can find or borrow a copy to read.  Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Small, Fine Chocolate Bars from Donnelly

Sisters and Brothers, welcome to our Saturday Sacrament.  Some of you may recall Donnelly Chocolates from a Revelation back on May 30, 2009.  That chocolatier submitted two potential Sacraments for The Chocolate Cult, and today your Chocolate Priestess will take you on a journey of all five senses as she reveals the nature of the ten 1.6 oz. bars they sent, which came in a simple white box wrapped in beautiful orange recycled paper and wrapped with a big green ribbon.

Eight of the bars were wrapped in beautiful, recycled paper again over gold foil wrappers; two were in simple clear plastic.  Three of the bars are milk chocolate, while the other seven are dark chocolate.  I'll start with the milk chocolate, then build to what I think may be the most complex flavor.  I'll show you the bars in groups in the photos, starting with the two milk chocolates I am revealing: "West African Cocoa Blend" and "Hazelnut Almond Toffee."  Then there will be a report from our Chocolate Coconut Acolyte.

The "African Cocoa Blend" is in a cream wrapper that has no nutritional information.  Remember, whenever you do not know the amount of calories, fats, fiber and other components of a chocolate, exercise careful moderation as you eat.  The ingredients listed are all pure, as they are for every one of these bars, so I won't go into details.  Each bar measures 3.25 × 2.4 × 0.4 inches in dimensions and is etched into four equal sections you can break off.  The paper wrapper tears easily, but the foil is taped, so it's a bit more difficult to unwrap.  As this description is the same for each bar, I will not repeat it later in this Revelation.  The light brown "African Cocoa Blend" bar has a very earthy cocoa smell to it when I take a breath in after snapping off a piece with a soft sound and gentle pressure.  The same soft snap happens when I bite into the quarter bar. It melts very, very slowly in my mouth, which allows the cocoa's simple creamy yet tangy flavors to coat my tongue.  No real cocoa buzz here, but that is very rare with milk chocolates.  For a sharper flavor I find that chewing it slowly achieves this difference in taste.  Overall this is an amazing piece of light milk chocolate whose essence lingers for minutes afterwards.

The dark lavender-wrapped bar is the "Hazelnut Almond Toffee" flavor.  These two nuts together may make for an interesting product, so I tear open the wrapper.  On the bottom and top of this light brown bar I can see the two different shapes and colors of the nuts inside, as I hope this photo to the right can reveal.  Their scent mixes with the chocolate to become something unique to my nose — not unpleasant, just complicated to describe, since all three aromas mix together in a balanced fashion.  A dull snap is the sound that breaking off a quarter of this bar makes, probably because the nuts create more surface area to break in an uneven fashion.  The bar has a very strong nutty flavor, the two varieties mixing together and making it difficult to tell them apart at first, though the almonds leave an aftertaste.  It is sort of like toffee, but it can't compare to the actual toffees of previous Sacraments, Sisters and Brothers.  I'd say this was more of a milk chocolate for nut lovers than anything else, the smooth chocolate underlying the crunchy kernels encased in it.

One of the bars was a coconut variety, so the Chocolate Coconut Acolyte invested her time and energy to try it for all of us.  These are her words: "This bar came in a simple cellophane envelope sealed with a sticker that gave basic information about the company as well as the ingredients: milk chocolate and coconut.  It measures 3 1/2" × 2 1/2" × 3/8" and weighs in at 1.5 ounces and is divided into four smaller sections, and there are a few flakes of toasted coconut sprinkled on the exterior of the bar.  The cellowrap crinkles as I slide the bar from the wrapper.  There is no discernible chocolate odor until I bring it to my nose.  Once I break off the first section, the scent becomes quite apparent.  I get a pleasant rush just from the smell.  The chocolate is not at all waxy and begins to melt on my fingers within seconds.  The coconut is visible in the bar and adds a slight crunch as I break off a section.  My teeth sink into the bar for the first bite, and I can feel the coconut scrape against my teeth.  Chewing slowly, I appreciate the silky smoothness of the milk chocolate.  This bar has a nice ratio of coconut to chocolate; however, the chocolate flavor is predominant, and I don't taste the coconut so much as feel it.   The second bite has me paying more attention to the chocolate than the coconut.  It's got a rich cocoa flavor that is only slightly overwhelmed by the vanilla.  Despite my normal preference for dark chocolate with coconut, I'm pleasantly surprised by this bar, and by the time I finish it, the rush that started with that first sniff has developed into a full-blown cocoa buzz."  Thank you, Chocolate Coconut Acolyte, for your witnessing.

The next two bars are dark chocolate with plain labels.  The plastic-wrapped one is a coffee flavor called "Dark French Roast," while the light lavender one is "Sea Salt," an ingredient I'm seeing in more and more offerings as well as in a cookbook I'll soon be revealing to you all here in The Chocolate Cult.  I'm going to start with the "Sea Salt" first, since I know that coffee flavors tend to have a strong aftertaste.

In the past, sea salt or salty chocolates have had the sea sprinkled on top, but this one has the grinder-sized crystals on the bottom of the bar.  I don't smell the salt, only the dark cocoa, when I take a whiff of this very dark brown bar.  I snap off a quarter that has a fair amount of salt on it — the crystals are not evenly spaced over the bar, suggesting this was done by hand and not by machine, which would give uniformity to the product.  The chocolate snaps loudly when I take a bite with the salt side down, and the chocolate touching my finger even starts to melt.  At first it isn't very salty, but it builds up, suggesting that the sprinkles on top are not the only sea salt here.  That seems confirmed when I flip it over and take a bite on the clear side — a little less saltiness to begin with, but it emerges as I chew.  This is the first salted chocolate I've had where the salt was added into the mixture, not merely placed on top.  I like that much better, because it allows my taste buds to adjust to the combinations of flavors without reacting to an acrid sting.

After washing the salty cocoa flavor from my mouth, I turn to the "Dark French Roast" bar.  The plastic-sheathed bar is difficult to open, a bit like the taped gold foil paper, but by pulling on the label I can pull the folded-over end back, and then the rest comes openly easily.  While the label goes into detail with the ingredients for the dark chocolate, it merely says "coffee" for the coffee, so I can't say where those beans came from or what was added to them.  Remember, I'm not a lover of coffee, so the flavors and scents I describe may seem more intense to me than to those Sisters and Brothers who consume coffee daily.  The smell is very dark coffee with a hint of the cocoa underlying it, reminding me of walking into a coffee shop to meet friends.  The bar is very solid, and it takes more pressure to snap off a quarter of it.  At first the bar tastes like neither chocolate nor coffee, but as I chew more of their flavors are released to blend in a surprisingly smooth fashion that the sharp scent did not suggest.  After several bites the result is a taste that isn't too cocoa or too coffee in nature but has a nice kick with a lingering light bitterness.  Normally I'm not thrilled by coffee or mocha flavors in chocolate, and I worry that the buzz from the coffee will compete with our Sacred Substance's potential, but I do like this bar.  That may mean it is too lightly coffeed for some of you, but for others who aren't lovers of coffee, give this one a try.

The next three flavors are floral or fruity in nature.  Their names, "Lavender," "Rose" and "Orange" dark chocolate bars, match the colored paper wrappers you see to your right.  I know what Orange should taste like, but even after doing these Revelations for all of you for the past eight months, I can't say I fully understand what floral flavors are supposed to taste like — smell like, certainly, because I've enjoyed looking at and smelling flowers my entire life, but I have not routinely eaten them.  If you are allergic to flowers, you might want to avoid these floral flavors, since they use the plant oils themselves.  Let's see if I can tell the difference between these bars after cleansing my palate of the coffee.

I'll start with the "Lavender" bar, which has lavender oil in it as well as the naturally made dark chocolate.  As soon as I break through the wrapper, my nose picks up the scent of lavender; once I have it fully unwrapped I can breathe in a bit of the cocoa essence as well, but primarily this is a floral frangrance.  As I chew a softly snapped-off bite, the scent floods my nose again, and there is a sharp, somewhat spicy flavor to the chocolate.  In fact the combination of this unique taste and strong scent overpowers the cocoa itself, and I can't say that I'm very pleased by the result. This combination of flavor and aroma lasts for several minutes after I eat the quarter piece.

I love the feeling of the "Rose" bar's wrapper; the leaf and stem pattern is raised on the rose colored recycled paper, making it different from the other wrappers.  No overwhelming fragrance here, only a light rose scent coupled with dark chocolate once the bar is fully unwrapped.  The quarter piece breaks off with a solid snap but only light pressure and releases a bit more of the floral scent.  This has an oddly sour-sweet taste to it, but the bitterness of the dark chocolate is also there and lingers longer.  This has a bit of a roughness to the texture as well, though I see nothing in the chocolate itself that suggests it should be anything but smooth in my mouth.  With each bite the rose oil essence builds up until it does start to overpower the cocoa, so stick with one to two bites at a time for the most chocolate flavor.

Compared to the two other floral flavors, this "Orange" bar has a barely detectable aroma when I open the bar.  Breaking off a quarter section hardly releases any more of the scent I was expecting.  The flavor, though, is delightful, a sweet light orange blending almost perfectly with the dark cocoa, building up more if you let it melt in your mouth, but not growing stronger than the cocoa's own bittterness, even by the end of that entire piece.  Of these three floral or fruit flavors, this "Orange" has to be my favorite, because it allows the chocolate to be dominant, using the fruit nectar to tame it.

Spicy chocolates are something I have only experienced since beginning my journey with The Chocolate Cult, Sisters and Brothers.  They can be an amazing experience or can simply be too hot to allow the cocoa to shine through.  Donnelly Chocolates sent us two of their spicy flavors, "Smoky Spicy Chipotle" in the maroon wrapper and "Five Spices" in the red.  I'm not sure which to try first, so I'll go with somethng I have some familarity with, the chipotle.

The "Smoky Spicy Chipotle" dark chocolate bar has a definite smoky scent when I unwrap it and bring it to my nose.  It reminds me of going to a steakhouse, and my brain is confused for a moment, because I don't associate meat with chocolate.  I brace myself for intense spice and take a bite.  Oh, that burn is there, but it builds up with each chew, making my eyes start to water.  In this case, the lighter smell downplays the actual taste, and soon the spice is drowning out the cocoa.  The burn moves out of my mouth and down my throat, and I have to get some water to try to weaken it.

On the website, the "Five Spices" dark chocolate bar is labeled as Chinese, but since the ingredients on the label do not list out the spices, I can't tell which they are.  I hope they aren't as hot as the previous bar.  After removing the paper wrapper, even with the gold foil on, there is a savory spicy aroma that comes from this bar; it reminds me of the spices I use in baking breads, or those that I associate with teas.  This has a light crunchy sound as I chew and a slightly rough texture, but again I don't see anything.  In this spicy chocolate the spice again overpowers the cocoa, but it isn't a hot spice, more of a pungent or savory flavor — very unique, not like any other spicy chocolate I've had before.  Since here in The Chocolate Cult we always want the Sacred Substance to take top billing, both of these spicy offerings disappoint, though of the two I find the "Five Spices" much more pleasant to eat.

If these bars intrigue you, Sisters and Brothers, you can get them directly from Donnelly Chocolates.  You can choose milk chocolate, dark chocolate, assortments of either, or specific flavors.  The milk chocolates have five regularly offered flavors plus any seasonal recipes, while the dark chocolates have a greater variety, with 11 standard flavors plus seasonal ones.  Of the ones I revealed today, my favorites were the "African" and "Sea Salt" varieties, with the "Orange" and "Hazelnut Almond Toffee" coming in at a close second tier.  None of these were bad chocolates — merely of lesser or greater cocoa intensity, and as always there is an element of personal taste.  All natural with no artificial ingredients or flavors, Donnelly once more provides us with an excellent selection of the Sacred Substance.

Additionally, you may have noticed that I reduced the size of the photographs this week.  This is my attempt to help your browsers load pages more quickly.  Please leave me a comment and let me know if you prefer larger photographs or these smaller ones.  That will help me decide what to do by our next Saturday Sacrament.

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Are Mrs. Freshley's Brownies Worth Your Money?

Your Chocolate Priestess always keeps her eyes open for new products.  Several months ago my local Kroger had a new display of products that seemed very similar to those I grew up with from Dolly Madison and Hostess.  These were Mrs. Freshley's products that come in thirteen different categories and several varieties in each category.  The Milk Chocolate Acolyte loves these, Sisters and Brothers, so I tried a few myself.

The boxes are marked that they is made of 100% recycled paperboard.  Anything that reduces waste and saves land for cacao is good for The Chocolate Cult at least at first glance.  This box of "Fudge Brownies" has 6 brownies of 1.75oz weight and measuring 3 X 1.5 X 0.5 inches.  A single brownie equals one serving containing 210 calories, 4g saturated fat, 120mg sodium, 1g fiber, 19g sugars, 3g protein, 6% iron that an adult needs daily.  Each brownie is wrapped in plastic that you can tear open fairly easily.  The brownie has a thin chocolate frosting and several large chocolate chips on the top though as you'll note in the picture below the amount of chips varies widely from brownie to brownie.  Cocoa is the 6th ingredient listed on the label and much further down the list is chocolate liquor.  No artificial flavors or colors are listed however so that is a good thing.  It has nuts, wheat, soybean oil, and milk for those with allergies concerns.

The brownies are soft and moist but not overly so.  They have a very solid cocoa flavor and remind me a good deal of the Little Debbie variety of brownies.  The amount of chocolate tastes varies a little if you eat a bite with the chips or without.  Frankly, Sisters and Brothers, I can’t say that I taste nuts nor do I feel them as I chew or mush a bite around in my mouth to search for them.  I get the start of a duel buzz from sugar and cocoa after eating one entire brownie.  The softness and the frosting do stick to my mouth and tops of my teeth a bit, much like you’d want a brownie to do.  I find these often on sale in my local Kroger and I’ve seen them in my local Dollar Tree as well.  The end result is that if you can get these on sale or at your dollar store, they are well worth that price and probably a little more.  The Milk Chocolate Acolyte just bought three more types of Mrs Freshley's products last night when we went grocery shopping.

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

3 Sugar Free Chocolates

Not everyone who wants chocolate can indulge or even practice moderation with the Sacred Substance.  Some of us have medical and health conditions that require us to really watch our sugar intact.  Luckily your Chocolate Priestess herself does not have these concerns but she certainly knows people who love chocolate and have had to give it up.  During the next few months this is particularly difficult as candy commercials rise to all time highs, stores are packed with bags of chocolate, and TV shows spread the joy of making cookies and candies with recipes and decorating ideas.  I want to look at some of the sugar free chocolate on the market today starting with some products from Weight Watchers and Sorbee.

I'd never heard of Sorbee before, Sisters and Brothers, but I got this bag on sale at my local Kroger for $1.19 compared to it’s usual $2.29 price.  This 2.9oz bag has 2 servings of four truffles each.  Each serving has 180 calories, 7g saturated fat, <5mg cholesterol, 2g dietary fiber, 19g Maltitol, 3g protein, and 15% of the daily calcium an adult is recommended.  Now, Maltitol is a sugar alcohol that your body will not treat the same as sugar, in this case in the form of Splenda; it can have laxative effect on the body so don’t eat it large quantities.

Inside are eight individual red foil wrapped truffles that are easy to unwrap.  As soon as they are, a strong scent of cocoa hit my nose.  Chocolate liquor and cocoa butter are the third and fourth ingredients after the Maltitol in two forms but “lowfat cocoa powder processed with alkali” is also on the list.  In other words, several forms of cocoa are in this product. Unfortunately it also wheat, soy and milk products if you have allergy concerns.

Each unwrapped piece looks like it has been molded to try and resemble some sort of flower petals on the top.  These aren’t handmade but mass produced truffle so I don’t expect high quality compared to other truffles revealed in The Chocolate Cult.  The chocolate feels cool to my fingers but they do not start melting with my day heat.  The truffle is just over an inch in diameter and rise up about an inch in height.  Inside the thick shell is a very dry and cocoa heavy center which is just weird.  I’ve never had a truffle with a center harder than the shell and certainly not powdery.  It is very cocoa tasting, not really chocolate, not refined or smooth enough in flavor or texture to be chocolaty.  It isn’t bad but it isn’t great either and certainly I’m not tempted to eat much of it.

There were two servings, or six pieces, of these turtle-like candies in the 3oz bag of Weight Watchers “Pecan Crowns” that I bought when they were on sale at a local CVS.  Each serving has 160 calories made up of 6g saturated fat, <5mg cholesterol, 20mg sodium, 9g dietary fiber which really surprised me, 10g sugars, 2g protein with 2% of the daily iron and 4% of the daily calcium an adult needs.  If you are on the Weight Watchers program, one piece, 1/3 of a serving equals 1 point you can spend per day.

The Weight Watchers brand is created by Whitman’s Candies and have a warning about over consumption causing a laxative reaction even though I don’t see any substitutions on the ingredients list that explains why.  The first ingredient in that list is milk chocolate and the candies once unwrapped from their individual gold foil bags have a solid milk chocolate smell.

I can see the nuts poking out all over the candy but they are thoroughly covered by the milk chocolate.  Biting into it I discover a very chewy and tangy caramel filling that quickly overpowers the chocolate and the pecans. The result is disappointment since in The Chocolate Cult we primarily are concerned with the chocolate.

I also purchased these Weight Watchers “Double Chocolate Mousse” candies from my local Kroger at some point in the past when it was on sale.  3 pieces = 1 serving = 3 WW Points! with 160 calories, 6g saturated fat, 20mg sodium, 6g dietary fiber, 11g sugars, 2g protein, 6% daily iron.  Very first ingredient is dark chocolate made of chocolate processed with alkali and cocoa butter.  It contains Maltitol so it may have  laxative effect if you eat too much too soon.  1 circle piece measures 1.5 inches across and over 0.25 inches tall. 

It smells very deep chocolaty.  The outer shell crunches a bit and the inner lighter soft center is a bit sweet but over all it has that slightly bitter taste as you’d want from darker chocolate.  No horrible aftertaste as is sadly common in some sugar free chocolates and no let down in terms of cocoa flavor.  This type of candy from Weight Watchers is superior to the previously mentioned product so if you have to chose between the pecans and the mousse, go with the mousse.

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Chocolate & Pain

For the past week I've been seeing news stories about studies connecting chocolate to lessening pain in human beings.  Sisters and Brothers, if that is true, that may explain why The Chocolate Cult has almost cured my former drive to eat chocoalte blindly and in large quantities for emotional reason but has no effect on craving during that certain time of the month.  Let's look at some of these news reports.

I found seven news articles about this report that chocolate can lessen pain in the past week.  I'm going to look back at the studies chronologically to see if information has been added.  I'm linking the articles at the end of this post for you to examine yourself.  Remember that you should never just accept what mass media reports on health matters but think about it, try to find more evidence and ask some logical and rational questions.  Never trust companies selling chocolate to be completely honest about health benefits, even the most honorable company still has profit as the primary goal.

First, I note that once again this is a study done at the University of Chicago and published in the Journal of Neuroscience was conducted with rats then the results are being expanded to human beings without any research on humans.  What these studies clearly show is that rats can be distracted from their perception of pain when they eat or drink something.  That might be enough to get more grant money to study higher level animals but how is that evidence of what happens in humans?

Second, the study used three substances to distract the rats from pain: chocolate chip, sugar water and plain water.  Guess what?  They all seem to work about the same in terms of distracting the rat from feeling pain.

Third, the pain in question was purposefully added to the experiment.  So these weren't rats with chronic pain conditions or who had been injured but rat who were given something to eat or drink then heat was added to their cage to see if they would react.  Even in rats then we can't say that eating or drinking will reduce the perception of existing pain.   Further studies on these rats did discover that pain caused by induced illness was not dulled by eating or drinking.

Finally, the drink or food in question had to be pleasurable for the rats for the distraction to work. When they were given drinks that tasted terrible to them, they reacted as quickly to the pain stimulus as when they were doing nothing than just hanging out in their cages.  This is both bad and good news because if this is shown to be the case in higher animals as well, it may explain why we reach for fatty and sugary foods -- they taste better to many of us but they also aren't as healthy for us.  The study removed certain parts of the rats' brains in parts of the study and found that the distraction is purely biological and automatic not a reflection of conscious choice or valuation of the drink or food.  So it may not be so much about willpower as it is about your brain and body.

I hope, Sisters and Brothers, that I summarized the study well and asked a few interesting questions for you.  Maybe in the future studies will be done on humans you'll have an opportunity to volunteer in the name of science, of course.

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.

The Articles:
University of Chicago release
Newsport Online
The MoneyTimes

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Delightful Mini Baked Goods

Yesterday your Chocolate Priestess went out with a friend for lunch and to talk.  This friend had to miss my 40th birthday bash, which you may remember, Sisters and Brothers, was just last month.  All he told me was that he had some chocolate for me but I was surprised to see this box from Angel B's Galleria of Cakes, a local bakery here in Bloomington, Indiana.  The stains on the box are a result of my carrying them home but they were so well packed that they didn't lose much in terms of their design which you can see below.

He gave me five of their little cakes.  The two cube ones tasted like a vanilla and a lemon cake covered on five of the six side with chocolate; both were very good.  The round one with some missing chocolate was a cheesecake that was very rich.  The other round one whose edges are covered in nuts tasted a lot like a hazelnut-chocolate mousse in side topped by two wafer cookies.  The biggest slice was a very decadent solid chocolate that tasted like a combination of mousse or cheesecake and fudge.  Obivously in terms of chocolate that last one stood out among the five but all of them were very tasty.

I haven't visited Angel B's yet, it's across town and fairly new to the local market.  Perhaps they will invite me to their store some time to give an interview so I can reveal more of them to you all.  If you have local bakeries where you live, check them out to see if they offers small desserts.  Most bakeries focus on their custom made cakes for events but some offer daily treats so you can sample their work.  As long as you do this in moderation and for a reason, like to celebrate a small victory in your life or as a gift like my friend K did, then you are enjoying the Sacred Substance wonderfully.  Thank you, K, for bringing this bakery to my attention and for making my 40th birthday a bit sweeter and longer lasting.

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Halloween Treats: Cookie Sandwich Co.

The Cookie Sandwich Company sent me five of the eight flavors they currently have on their website.  Seven of these are continuous flavors and one, Spooky” is for Halloween and this become our first Challenger in the “Baked Treats” category for the haunted holiday.  The company is offering you, Sisters and Brothers, a 20% discount if you type in coupon code “tcp20” on your order and place it by October 23, 2009.  Now let’s see if these are cookies you should be ordering for Halloween or any other occasion.

All of them are approximately 2.5 inches in diameter, about 1.6 thick 0.5 of that as the filling center.  Sadly I don’t think my photographs will do them full justice but I hope they help.  A dozen cookies in total came in this box packed inside another box with some Styrofoam peanuts that I can take to a mailing center not far from me to reuse.  There were three Spooky, Red Velvet cookies, and Peanut Butter types with two of the strawberry shortbread and one mint brownie variety.  Each was slipped inside a plastic bag and sealed with a simple paper label with their name.  No nutritional information was included but on the website I found the list of ingredients for each type I was sent, each has something chocolate in it either the cookie itself or in the filling.  None of the ingredients are artificial though there is food coloring in the Spooky and Red Velvet variety.  My initial thought, Sisters and Brothers, was “How the heck do I get one of these into my mouth to take a bite?”

On the website, the Spooky Cookie is supposed to have sprinkles on the frosting’s edges but mind didn’t for some reason.  In terms of flavor they should add more sugar and of course the an extra texture as you chew.  Without them, the cookie’s filling is light orange from food dye sandwiched between two cocoa cookies that smell a bit like brownies.  Inside the filling are visible semi-sweet chips that add a touch of bitterness to the otherwise sugary and creamy filling.  Also there is a light pumpkin spice that builds up with each bite but never outweighs the chocolaty sweet essence of this treat.

The Red Velvet cookie sandwich is the second cookie with a food coloring but this is to be expected if you know anything about the cake this is named for.  The question for me, Sisters and Brothers, is very simple: Do the chocolate and other flavors overcome the taste of the dye?  The ingredients list two types of chocolate in this treat.  The first is white chocolate chips that I see in the cookie itself and the second is cocoa.  The scent is what I’d hope from a red velvet cake: simply cake without the dye.  In the first bite I can taste the sugar, cream, and white chocolate, no dye and but no cocoa either meaning that those two flavors are balancing each other to the point of cancellation.  Perhaps someone can explain it to me but I’ve never understood the point of adding this much dye to a chocolate cake.  That said, for red velvet anything, I’m pleased if I can’t taste the dye and the chips add that necessary chocolate component.

The Mint Brownies is the only one of the five flavors of cookies sandwiches The Chocolate Cult received that has nuts in it so unlike the others, I won’t be getting second opinions from the Milk Chocolate Acolyte on them.  Like the Spooky variety this smells like chocolate brownie but this has a light green colored center that must be from the crème de menthe only since no coloring is listed in the ingredients.  Inside that green I can see what should be semi-sweet chocolate chips.  With the very first bite the coolness of the mint floods my mouth but quickly it is followed by the cocoa of the cookie and the slight bitterness of the chips.  It all blends well leaving a nice, crisp aftertaste that makes me desire more.  In the second bite I can sense out the walnuts in both texture and crunch as well as their earthy added flavor.  I think I like this cookie the best of the bunch.

The Peanut Butter cookies smell almost exactly like the last cookies of this flavor we made in my house late last spring.  The filling is a pale tan color and has some semi-sweet chips in it but I can’t taste those much as I chew each bite.  I can feel the oats as I chew and the principal essence is really peanut butter followed by cream, sugar and butter.  Not really enough chocolate to satisfy that cocoa craving but a good cookie nonetheless.

The Strawberry Shortcake type smells like sugar cookies and I can see grains of sugar on the cookie parts.  Cutting it open, I can see red flecks in the center which is a strawberry cream cheese flavor.  When I take a bite and chew, the fruit’s sweetness overcomes the cream cheese’s sourness just a touch.  In the sugar cookie I can feel and taste the white chocolate chips.  With white chocolate I expect a smooth flavor that helps highlight other flavors or calm them down.  This is exactly the purpose the chips seem to serve in these cookies.  The end result is a fruity, sweet cookie that isn’t too sugary. 

All of these cookies from the Cookie Sandwich Company were exactly as advertised and each had excellent flavors and textures to offer me.  Remember, if these cookie sandwiches sound good to you, you can use the 20% discount by typing in coupon code “tcp20” on your order and placing it by October 23, 2009.

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

National Chocolate Cupcake Day

National Chocolate Cupcake Day is October 18, 2009. That means TODAY, Sisters and Brothers.  Your Chocolate Priestess searched and search to try and find out how it began and how long it has been celebrated but found absolutely no information online on any of the sources I use for such research.  Instead I found a lot of recipes so I won't share one with you, only my minor adventures in making cupcakes yesterday for today.

As it so happens, I need to review several cookbooks and one of these had a homemade chocolate cupcake recipe I've never tried before.  I'll be reviewing that book, salty sweets, next week after I make two more recipes from it.  First I gathered my ingredients making a few substitutions for my family's health considerations.  Yup, that is part of my kitchen there that you'l see in this post.  It is a good sized kitchen but when I'm baking I wish I had more counter space.

I followed the directions exactly and the mix turned out very thick as you can see in this photo.  I was a bit concerned because when I use a cakemix to make cupcakes the batter looks much lighter and fluffier.  But then this reminded me of the werewolf cupcakes that were thicker for frosting and decorating sake.

The White Chocolate Acolyte was a big help to me as I made these.  He stirred the butter, oil and water mixture as it heated, got down some higher up ingredients, and then filled the cupcake pan.  Technically I know I shouldn't need the foil liners but I find that just placing the batter into the metal pan makes them stick unless you grease the pan -- less grease = better health around my household.

The cupcakes rose a bit but much like those werewolf ones these didn't double in size like I normally get from a mix.  They smelled very chocolaty though and rose enough that I could frost them.  The recipe in the book suggested this butterscotch icing but if you'll recall, Sisters and Brothers, I got this European Chocoblenz product last week and I wanted to try it on something else.  Since yesterday was a Sacramental Day for us all in The Chocolate Cult plus the birthday party for a friend, I decided to save some time and use that on these cupcakes.  I think they look good this way, the Chocoblenz was lighter than the cupcakes themselves and had that two-tone blend of the caramel and chocolate in it.  What do you think?

Verdict around my house is: These are very chocolaty and very good.  Right balance of moisture, sweetness, and chocolate.  The frosting idea was a pleasant taste that lingered after the cupcake.  HURRAY!

So, how did you celebrate National Chocolate Cupcake Day?  Drop us a comment and if you posted your own chocolate cupcake recipe somewhere else, I have no problem with you revealing that in your comments today. 

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Halloween Treats: Equal Exchange

Sisters and Brothers, here is another eco-friendly, fair trade option for you this Halloween from Equal Exchange, which is competing in the "Best Mass Produced Halloween Treat" category of our 2009 Halloween Challenge.  Normally, a smaller company might be competing in the "Gourmet" category, but as you will see, Equal Exchange offers a perfectly formed product you can get in large quantities, so your Chocolate Priestess placed them in this section of the Challenge.

Equal Exchange is part of the "Reverse Trick or Treating" program, which you can learn more about HERE.  Their dark chocolate minis fit perfectly on the cards that you can use in this program.  The card is pictured to the left, and the minis above.  These tiny little candies measure 1.5 × 0.75 × 0.25 inches and are made of 55% dark chocolate.  The cute little thing smells only like dark chocolate and has a very intriguing, almost fruity taste, which probably comes from the cane sugar in it.  The chocolate is firm enough to make a very slight sound when I chew, and each of the three bites I make of it builds a good little buzz.  Now, as I've said before, darker chocolate is an acquired taste that most younger children do not like, but in my neighborhood we get Trick or Treaters who are clearly in junior high or even high school, and of course the younger ones are usually accompanied by adults.  That group would certainly be able to handle 55% cocoa.  If you want to do something environmental and humanitarian for Halloween, check these out.  Right now I notice on the website that they are having a sale on this product until October 23, 2009.

Equal Exchange also sent eight — one of each flavor — of their bigger 3.5oz chocolate bars, so I'm going to reveal those to you as well, Sisters and Brothers.  My grandmother used to give larger bars of candy to her grandchildren on Halloween, or you might be thinking about the various winter holidays that are approaching.  Each bar is shrinkwrapped in plastic underneath the paper wrapper that identifies each one, and the plastic has a guide on it to tell you how to open it; frankly, I found the plastic wrapping a bit obnoxious to open, even following the directions.  The paper wrapper itself has information about Equal Exchange and their mission, along with a portrait of one of their worker-owners, four men and four women, covering one on each bar.  Each bar measures 6 × 2.9 × 0.4 inches and has 24 etched squares in it so you can break it apart easily.  The bars each have 2.5 servings in them and range in nutritional value from 216-230 calories, 8-12 grams saturated fat, 0-12 milligrams cholesterol, 0-40 mg sodium, 1-5 g dietary fiber, 7-17 g sugars, and 2-4 g protein in each serving.  I'm going to reveal them in order from the least percentage of cocoa to the greatest amount.

I'll start with the 38% "Milk Chocolate with a Hint of Hazelnut" flavor.  Primarily the scent is milk chocolate, though at 38% this is a darker one than many Americans will be familiar with.   I break one four-piece line off and then one of the pieces from that.  The chocolate feels a bit rough, not waxy or smooth like most mass produced candy bars do, and it also does not melt in my fingers as I hold it.  It does, however, immediately start melting in my mouth, a slow melt that reveals the cocoa, sugar, hazelnut, and vanilla notes that contribute to this bar's flavor, making it far more complex than I had expected.  Chewing a second piece mixes the flavors together more, but overall the cocoa is not the strongest flavor in this bar, nor do I feel a firm cocoa buzz beginning.

There are two 55% bars, one with almonds and one with espresso beans, so I'll start with the nuts first to help separate the buzz from cocoa from the one you can get from coffee. The "Almond" bar smells like cocoa while the "Espresso" one has a very strong coffee scent that I can smell even when it is across the table from me.  The "Almond" bar has visible slivers of nuts in it when I break off a section, but the scent is still of cocoa.  The nuts add a crunch to the piece as I chew it, and now their flavor is revealed to mix very nicely with the dark chocolate.  Since the "Espresso" bar has such a strong coffee scent, I'm going to store its leftover pieces in a separate container, because scents, like flavors, can cross food items.  The flavor in this very crunchy bar is coffee with only a bare hint of the cocoa, so if you love coffee flavor you want this bar, but if you don't at least like coffee give this one a pass.  Sisters and Brothers, this is intense coffee flavor, and I have to cleanse my palate before I can continue to the next set of bars.

There are three bars which have cocoa in the 60% range, starting with the "Orange Dark" at 65%, going to the "Mint Chocolate with a Delicate Crunch" at 67% and ending with "Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs" at 68%.  The "Orange" bar has a definite orange scent to it, while the "Mint" has a cool, crisp mint essence when I breathe it in, and the "nibs" bar is simply dark chocolate in smell.  The orange flavor is different from any other such bar I've had before; the fruit is more tangy and less sugary, and it adds a sharpness to the cocoa that intensifies its bitterness — a very interesting taste that is good in small quantities, but there is no danger that I'd want to eat this entire bar in one setting, although that's true of darker chocolates in general.  There is a little crunchiness in the "Mint" bar, as well as a wave of coolness that floods my mouth when I chew a bite.  The physical sensations and flavors of the mint threaten to overwhelm the cocoa itself, but I can still taste the chocolate in this bar, so it balances in a fair fashion, though the mint tingle lasts for a few minutes after I've finished eating it.  If you have not had nibs before, I recommend trying them first in some chocolate. This bar has the definite intense crunch and flavor of the nibs along with the high cocoa content, so while I like it a lot, it may be too bitter for many of you, Sisters and Brothers.

The final two bars are the 71% "Very Dark Chocolate" and the 80% "Panama Extra Dark Chocolate" bars.  Note that out of all of these, if you want to say that you are using chocolate for its health benefits, only this last bar I'm going to reveal qualifies, at the 80% level of cacao.  Even just smelling the 71% bar makes my eyes flutter a bit, while very oddly the 80% seems to have very little fragrance.  The 71% is bitter with just a hint of vanilla hidden deep inside, and after just a few chews the rush goes from my mouth into my sinuses and into my mind, making the room seem a bit brighter to my eyesight.  I can only imagine now what the 80% bar will reveal to me, so I break off a piece and place it in my mouth.  It's odd — gone is any hint of vanilla, but the bitterness, which should be more intense, is somehow smoother on my tongue, though there is a definite aftertaste to the 80% bar.  Both of these bars are not for anyone who dislikes darker chocolate even slightly, but they will certainly create that cocoa buzz you hope to get from the Sacred Substance.

I really love the fact that so far two of our Halloween Challengers are committed to fair trade and eco-friendly practices.  Both Equal Exchange, a worker-owned cooperative, and Taraluna, a woman-owned, organic, fair trade retailer, fit well within The Chocolate Cult's statement to use chocolate in moderation and with a purpose.  I am impressed by both companies' offerings.  If the Reverse Trick or Treating program, handing out minis for Halloween, or the 3.5 oz. bars from Equal Exchange sound good to you, Sisters and Brothers, then check them out.  Remember the minis sale only lasts until the 23rd of this month.

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.

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