Saturday, November 27, 2010

DOVE Discoveries for the Holidays

I'm sure all of you have heard of DOVE Chocolate, Sisters and Brothers, especially readers in the USA.  DOVE Discoveries are these online kiosks where you can order a much wider range of products made by the DOVE company but sold by independent boutique owners.  One of these owners, Kimberly Lucak, sent me a few samples that I want to reveal to you all today.  Here is a link to her boutique so you can check out her products directly.

The first sample was a Smoothie Mix of the white chocolate made with cocoa butter but also with milk, soy and some added fats in it.  One packet is two servings of either a smoothie or a hot chocolate drink. Because of the current weather of late November in South Central Indiana, I made the hot drink recipe on the back.  I actually served it in 3 cups because it makes 16oz and 8oz is bigger than the hot cocoa we normally drink.  The nutritional value is entirely dependent on the type of mix, coffee or hot water you use but the packet itself has 380 calories made of 14g saturated fat, 150mg sodium, 22g sugars, 3g protein, with some vitamin C and 8% of the daily calcium an adult needs.

Upon cutting open the packet, the scent of white chocolate was intense.  The powdered substance mixed up very well and thoroughly in the warmed skim milk I used, frothy up a bit and releasing a very creamy essence that was matched by a smooth, white liquid.  If it wasn't for the scent, you wouldn't know this was other than milk though it was a bit thicker, like a quality cream.  The texture was very smooth and quickly coated my tongue and throat. It really didn't have a taste below a creaminess so you could easily add some flavor like a peppermint I imagine for a kick. Of course the only sound was us sipping or swallowing.  Most importantly, our White Chocolate Acolyte  reports "it is not rich but sweet and extremely creamy."

The other samples came in small quantities so I hope the photos come out fine for  you to see.  For most products this isn't a problem.  I don't need 100 1 inches pieces of identical bite sized candy bars for example to give you an honest review.  However, when the product is normally used for baking or making other items like candies, breads, cookies or cakes, as you know, I like to go all out and make some for you.  In this instance I have to go purely by the sample I received.  If any of you out there have used these products to make something with and you are NOT a member of the DOVE company in any fashion, please do leave a comment and let us know how they baked or melted or didn't melt as makes sense.

Single Origin Baking Bits from the Dominican Republic are the next sample we'll look at though I'm sad that I couldn't bake anything with them.  These are about 5/16th of an inch across and almost have a curl at the top of each.  They are very dark though what percent cocoa I don't know but they smell dark as well.  As we've discussed before, single origin chocolate is a great way to understanding how climate, soil, and agricultural methods can influence the flavor of chocolate just like it does with coffee and other fruits and vegetables. these have a very bitter start and then a surprise kick that is almost spicy at the end.  So keep that in mind for baking and be sure to leave a comment if you have used these but are NOT part of the DOVE family of chocolatiers.

The Peanut Butter filled Baking Bits sound like the sort of thing I'd love to make cookies with or add to brownies however I didn't receive enough so we'll have the opportunity to really see how much peanut butter is here and how the two flavors blend.  I turned two upside down in the photo so you could see that these look like tiny peanut butter cups you may be familiar with from check out lines.  These are just over 0.5 inches across and are 0.25 inches deep so a good size for baking.  They have a very milk chocolate scent but when I put one in my mouth the primary flavor is a roasted peanut essence that still allows a bit of the creamy chocolate through. If you eat more than one at a time, more of the chocolate comes through initially but the peanut but is the final flavor.  These are not smooth and shiny and they melt quickly in my hand so I wonder how well they hold their shape when baked; if you know, please leave a comment.
The malt balls covered in milk chocolate with crunch a light coffee flavor are called Cappuccino Biscottini.  Since I don't have a Mocha Acolyte handy this Saturday morning after Thanksgiving, I'll give you my opinion and later I'll update this review with his opinion as well.  These are small globe measuring about 0.5 inches in diameter, covered with smooth milk chocolate it looks like and they have a light coffee scent. The coffee flavor is light at first when I take a bite but with each chew it intensify to become the ending essence.  The milk chocolate is creamy but is overcome by the cappuccino.  The malt ball adds a bit of it's own flavor and a nice solid crunch that last for the entire chewing.  I think if you like cappuccino you'll like these but I'll let you know what our Mocha Acolyte says.

The Chardonnay Wine Brittle is made with California Chardonnay, peanuts and caramelized cocoa nibs. We've had other Sacraments of toffee before but not brittle and they are different.  First thing to note is that these have peanuts not tree nuts.  However they also have wine and cocoa nibs which I've tried to show in the photo again.  It has a very buttery scent as well as a hint of peanut and cocoa when I pick up the hard shiny piece.  The part without a nib is nice and crunchy, the tangy buttery tastes blends well with the peanut. The part with the nibs has an extra crunch as a burst of bitter, earthy essence.  I couldn't say if I tasted the Chardonnay or not but that might be good since it means all the flavors supported the nibs and the tangy buttery flavors.

Of these five samples, I have to say that I liked the Single Origin Baking Chips from the Dominican Republic the best.  That little kick at the end was unique and I hope they'd maintain that through baking. If they do, then they are definitely a worthy Sacrament for you higher class baking projects like the holidays coming up.  The others are good as well and will appeal to different people's tastes more or less based on what you like.  Remember, now your audience whether you are baking, sharing a drink or giving a gift for any reason.
 Kimberly lives in Ohio so for my Ohio readers, you may want to know that DOVE Discoveries has parties you can host where you and your friends taste their products, cook a bit, fondue a bit, and then have the opportunity to buy.   Sadly I don't live in Ohio so I can't really schedule such a party but maybe there is a similar boutique owner near Bloomington, Indiana, who might contact me in the future.

There are so many products from DOVE Discoveries that you can choose from.  So if these sounded good you can find them or lots of other things to help with your holiday treat and dessert preparation.  As Kimberly pointed out, supporting DOVE is also supporting an American company that is still family owned and operated which is decreasingly the case with big chocolate companies.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Chocolate Babka

Hanukkah starts in one week and so I thought this was the perfect time to review Aunt Ida's Chocolate Babka to you all, Sisters and Brothers.  I, being a Midwest Christian girl didn't know what a babka was when I was offered one so I did what any intelligent person should do: I asked questions.  A babka is a Russian style coffee cake to be simplistic.  This one has chocolate added to it so I was happy to be offered the opportunity to review one and thrilled when Aunt Ida's offering arrived at my door.  The contact person offered me suggestions on how to store it and refreshen it so I could use it at the best time for a Special Sacramental Review.  I followed her instructions on Saturday, November 20, 2010, and was not disappointed.  I'll share these instructions with  you.

The babka has no artificial ingredients of any type so if you aren't going to eat it within a week, you should freeze it.  Then about 8 hours or so before you want to use it, put it into the refrigerator.  When you want to eat it, put it in the oven at 300 degrees and bake for 5-8 minutes, I used the maximum time because our oven has never been perfect with heat at a consistent level.  You could also increase the time if you want it warm but I liked it just unfrozen really.  I also put it in a glass dish to catch the crumbling bits that were threatening to fall and did fall off of it as I unwrapped the inner plastic wrap.  This does have flour milk, and eggs as well as chocolate liquor, cocoa, and cocoa butter plus Marscapone cheese if any of these are concerns for your diet, Sisters and Brothers.  One 20oz (1.25 pound) loaf has 10 servings though I cut ours into 8 slices because it is easier for me to visualize that.  Each serving has 240 calories made of 5g saturated fat, 1g transfat (so watch how much you eat per day), 40mg cholesterol, 190mg sodium, less than a gram of fiber, 20g sugars, 3g protein, with Vitamin A, Calcium, and Iron as well.

When I was younger, I always ate butter or margarine on coffee cake, not sure why but I did.  So I tried a slice of the Chocolate Babka with and without butter.  I liked the plain one best because the ribbons of thick chocolate didn't have much to compete with in terms of flavor.  After baking, this had a very wheat scent but the cocoa came out as I cut it.  This doesn't have cinnamon and spices which we might normally think of in coffee cake but who cares when the chocolate is so thick and dark tasting.  The bread part was very flaky on the outside and light on the inside. I could see it and the chocolate were wrapped in layers which made it easy to separate and take bites of.  Getting it out of the tinfoil pan was another matter. I could cut it in the pan but I decided to cut down one side to make it easier to give out so I'd have a better photo for you.

If this sounds delicious to you, and I promise it is indeed delicious, then you should check out the Chocolate Babka at Aunt Ida's.  They have other products as well but this is the chocolate one you know you want.  Perfect not just for Hanukkah but for any wonderful morning celebration.  But if you want it in time of Hanukkah then you better order now.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

French Chocolate History Tidbits

As you know, Sisters and Brothers, we like to celebrate the history of chocolate and it's role in the world here at The Chocolate Cult.  Your Chocolate Priestess was curious about when chocolate came to France and went and did some research among her chocolate books and online.

Chocolate made it's biggest impact in France with the marriage of Anne of Austria, the daughter of Philip II of Spain to Louis XIII of France on November 24, 1615.  The Spanish, of course, found cacao when they conquered parts of Mexico and Mesoamerica.  As with all of Europe, chocolate was originally a drink and it was first enjoyed among the courtiers and the most wealthy in France.  It remained a very expensive treat until the French took control of Cuba and Haiti in 1684 and established their own cocoa plantations.  When I type plantations, yes, you should be thinking of slave labor because that is indeed what was used.

Found here:

Today the French are considered one of the traditional chocolate makers and their processes are known worldwide. Indeed some American chocolatiers boast of their French techniques and being trained in France.  For most of us, buying French chocolate is an expensive prospect but we can find French products with chocolate in them if we look.

In my local co-op called Bloomingfoods, I can find products from around the world and there I found these cookies from Roland that are made in France.  These Chocolate Tartlettes were on sale and very reasonably priced when I used my membership card and the monthly coupon.  This 7.05oz bag didn't explicitedly say it had nuts but I discovered it had hazelnuts, not a big surprise from Europe, when I looked more closely at the ingredients when I got it home.

There are about 12 cookies in the bag or 6 servings so each cookie is rather rich.  A serving has 160 calories made of 3.5g saturated fat, <5mg cholesterol, 75mg sodium, 1g fiber, 8g sugars, and 2g protein with some calcium and iron.  These did not taste sweet but creamy and they made a good crunch.  I was very pleased by them though saddened that I couldn't share them because of the nuts.  The package isn't easily reusable so you'll either need to share or store else where if you can manage to avoid gobbling them all down.

A French chocolate I'm sure you can find almost any where in the USA and Canada has to be the Lindt & Spr√ľngli chocolate bars.  I can find them in almost any pharmacy in South Central Indiana so I'm betting you can find it in California, Quebec, Florida, let me know if you haven't heard of these bars, Sisters and Brothers.  I've reviewed the 90% and 85% before, I've even had the 99% which you really should use for baking.  Today I wanted to look at the 70%.  At 70% we are in the health benefits range but not so bitter that the majority of you won't even want to try.  I know you White and Milk Chocolate lovers are sad when you hear the health benefits only apply to higher cacao but remember you can still have those treats in moderation, just not every day.

One 3.5oz bar which I can find in so many different stores at the 70% mark, has 2.5 servings or 4 sections of the bar per 220 calories.  Those calories are made of 10g saturated fat (ouch!), 20mg sodium, 2g fiber, 11g sugars, 3g protein, with $5 calcium and 10% iron you need every day.  When I saw that amount for the saturated fat (OUCH), I knew I had to point out this is 1/2 the amount of that type of fat an adult should limit herself to each day.  Best to eat square I think and stretch this bar into 10 servings.  Taste wise this is wonderful, you get the bitterness and the buzz, a hint of sweet, it satisfies and makes your eyes feel like you can see the world in a brighter way.

Of course, our deceased French monarchs wouldn't have had treat quite like these.  They were still looking at chocolate as a drink, a spicy one as that.  Over the course of the next century that would start to change as pastries and candies would begin to appear with added milk, sugar and fewer and fewer hot or savory spices.  Chocolate had to begin somewhere in French at some point to have the treats I liked at today available to us now.  We have Spanish princess Anne to thank for that.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Artisan Marshmallows & Giveaway

A friend of your Chocolate Priestess gave me some artisan marshmallows from an Indiana company called 240sweet back at the end of September.  She gave me the Chocolate Chocolate Chip kind and they are huge.  So  I contacted the company to let them know that one of my readers recommended them.  They responded  by not only sending me three samples but also offering my readers a gift.  We'll get to the giveaway in a moment.

My friend, Razzle, gave me the first threesome.  All the marshmallows come in hot sealed bags and they can be found in some stores around Indiana or you can go directly to 240sweet in Columbus, Indiana, to find them.  I think Razzle said she got these at our local co-op, Bloomingfoods, where I have a membership, too, but I've never seen these in there.

240sweet sent me these three flavors: Caramel Swirl with Chocolate Chips, Chocolate Chipotle, and Chocolate Caramel Swirl.  On their website they mention that the swirls are only available November through February of each year.  Of the four flavors I'm going to reveal to you, they are all large but vary widely in size.  The Caramel was the largest in terms of width and height while the Chocolate Caramel Swirl the shortest.  Since these are handmade and small batch made the size may vary so I don't want to give exact dimensions that might mislead you, Sisters and Brothers.  They are all much bigger than the average store bought, every day marshmallow.

The Caramel Swirl with Chocolate Chips stuck to the seal plastic wrapper a bit after I cut it open but they came out in one piece.  There was a light caramel and sugar scent to them and they were not sticky at all to my fingertips but seemed lighted dusted.  They were easy to separate and with three of us about to make smores with them, we decided to try different ways.  One of us cut his into three pieces and laid them on three graham crackers and put them in the microwave for about 30 seconds.  As you can see they melted too much.

The next one of us just cut the marshmallow into two pieces and placed them on graham crackers.  After microwaving for 10 seconds they looked good and the report was that they tasted very much like caramel and sugar with a crunch and a charge of chocolate when the eater got to the chips.

I did a more traditional smore by cutting my marshmallow in half and then placing it on top of a chocolate bar.  Then I microwaved at 15 seconds, more matter to go through means more time for the radiation to work, and they turned out great.  Now the marshmallows were so thick that with one half I had to watch it as it tended to squish out around the edges.  Overall a very nice change of pace for the smores.

The Chocolate Chipotle came out of it's package more easily since it was a bit smaller the Caramel Swirl.  It has a strong scent of chipotle and a light chocolate scent.  If you looked at it however you'd see only a cocoa color to the marshmallows.  We decided to add these to hot cocoa in an attempt to make a Mexican or spicy version. The intense scent should have been our clue that one marshmallow per cup would be too much for me but about right for the Milk Chocolate Acolyte.  I used sugar free cocoa mix so that any sweetness would come from the marshmallows and not the cocoa.  When I first took a sip, it tasted just like decent hot cocoa, nothing I'd cross the street for but that I'd buy in bulk for home use everyday.  Then when I swallowed my eyes went wide.  That's when the heat hit.  I tried holding a sip in my mouth and no heat reaction until I swallowed.  The heat lasted for minutes and minutes.  Now, different parts of our tongues and mouths react to different sensations and flavors so I think this is what happened here.  Let me clear: If you don't like a lot of heat, cut your chipotle marshmallow in half or less to use in hot chocolate.

The Chocolate Caramel Swirl marshmallows were sampled in two ways.  The first two we toasted, or attempted to toast, over the flame on the top of our gas stove.  Warning: Just like regular white marshmallows you can find in any store these will catch on fire but fastest because I think the sugar in the caramel caught on fire for me.  No, no pictures of the fire, it was just a corner.  The caramel started to melt but the body of the marshmallow didn't puff up like the traditional ones can over a camp fire.  The result was a very gooey and warm treat. The last marshmallow I just ate as it was in the bag and I really like that too. Definitely sweet but it clearly had the bitterness of the cocoa and the tang of the caramel as well.  Overall the scent was mostly the caramel and again they were dusted so my fingers didn't stick until I toasted one.

That leaves us with the flavor that Razzle gave me for my birthday: Chocolate Chocolate Chip. I was all ready to try these in the sugar free hot cocoa plus a smore when I cut open this bag marked "Best by: 12-9-10".  I tried this yesterday but I received about six weeks back.  On them were signs of fuzzy green mold that made me cry.  These looked so good with a chocolate marshmallow and mini chocolate chips.  Let this be a lesson, Sisters and Brothers: Eat these quickly!

The artisan marshmallows I could try were very tasty, clearly head and shoulders above any other marshmallow I've ever had.  You can use them in a variety of ways but just make sure you consume them with a week or two please.  The result is a worthy Sacrament for those of you who like a sugar rush with your cocoa buzz.

The good folks at 240sweet are offering one lucky reader a $15 gift pack of artisan marshmallows that they can either have sent directly to them or as a gift to someone else.  With several winter holidays right around the corner, I think you'd be crazy to not want to get this gift.   Here is how you can get a chance to win, the steps will look very familiar to you all.  Sorry, only people in the continental USA can win.

1.  You must be a public follower of The Chocolate Cult because I will check.  Three ways to follow -- blogspot itself, Facebook, or Networked Blogs. You can find these three ways on the right hand bar at the top.  Also make sure you have an email set so I can contact you if you should win.

2. Leave a comment telling me what flavor of 240sweet marshmallow looks the best and the most questionable to you.  You can find that list here.

3.  You must leave your comment and be a public follower by midnight on Friday, November 26, 2010.  The winner will be contacted by email.

Spread the word about the giveaway please and keep reading and commenting on our posts.  Your appreciation gives us all the energy to keep bringing you reviews and news about chocolate. Thanks you 240sweet for entrusting us to reveal your products to the world and for offering this giveaway.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Book Review: "Whoopie Pies"

Your Chocolate Priestess does book reviews for several places one of which is the Vine Program.  Back just as the seasons were turning to summer, I received whoopie pies by Sarah Billingsley and Amy Treadwell to review.   I make a point of not baking or using the oven much once the daily average is above 80 and it was above 90 far more often than normal this past summer.  So I only recently tried out the three recipes I always make sure to attempt before doing any review.

The first thing to note is that I made these recipes with nothing more than what the book suggested -- ingredients, bowls, a mixer with a paddle attachment.  My pies as you'll see were lopsided, not perfectly round, and varied widely in size.  I kept thinking, "I wonder how bakeries and companies make these things look so good?  They must use a mold."  Then I discovered one such mold or baking pan for whoopie pies.  While my pies may not be so beautiful, they are honestly homemade and we loved them in spite of their "flaws".

I made three types of whoopies and three types of fillings for a double of the normal number of recipes I try from a book.  The book itself is designed fairly well though it could lay a bit flatter.  It had a cushy cover over it and the photographs are great though there is not one for every recipe.  The 120 page book has basically three sections.  The first section is an introduction to what whoopie pies are and speculation on their creation.  The second section has 21 recipes for the pies, the cookie parts of the treat, including a cake sized version.  These range from the traditional chocolate to vegan variations and savory tastes.  The third section has 28 filling recipes and a glaze including vegan, traditional and savory variations as well.  Several of the recipes also includes hints and suggestions for changing the recipe slightly which I did in one case.

The first whoopie pie I made was a traditional chocolate (page 43) with a crunchy peanut butter filling (page 87).  The chocolate whoopie was made with just store brand cocoa.  The crunchy was the slight variation for the peanut butter filling since I had a jar of it and I had been looking for ways to use it.  I also cut down on the salt as suggested too since I didn't want the salt to overwhelm other flavors and this peanut butter had it's own salt.  In this photo you can see that these whoopies were a bit flat but I noted this was turn for various flavors of whoopies and frankly it made them easier to eat compared to later ones I tried.  These received rave reviews from everyone who tried them and they disappeared fast.

The second combination I tried was a vanilla whoopie (page 46) with a chocolate ganache filling (page 82).  For this I used Guittard's 65% Cacoa Machu Picchu-Peru chocolate.  This is the third of the four baking chocolates they so generously sent me to review for you all.  I will post one big review going back over all these baking chocolates soon after I finish using them.  These were as easy to make as the first recipe, even more so because the ganache was super simple to make and tasted divine.  In something where the major ingredient is chocolate, the type you use is very important.  I gave a dozen of these to our neighbors who recently spotted that one of our tree limbs fell on the power lines and was on fire -- they save our lawn and perhaps our house with their quick action though they lost power for hours afterward.

Finally my family wanted a break from chocolate -- I know, they are insane sometimes -- so I made a gingerbread whoopie (page 53) with the classical marshmallow filling (page 76). These were my least favorite.  They puffed up a lot so I started pushing them down before placing them in the oven. The gingerbread taste was subtle and I have to confess that now knowing what exactly is in the classic marshmallow recipes made me a bit uncomfortable eating it.  Talk about walking heart attack.

That leads to the only general and serious compliant about the book. The cookie recipes do not match the filling recipes in terms of the amount you make. I didn't skimp on putting filling in the cookies and yet I always had left over filling.  So much so with the classic marshmallow that I made a small cake from a Jiffy chocolate chip muffin box and it still didn't use all the fluff!  By the way, the Jiffy mixes are great for simple, fast cornbread but I wasn't impressed in terms of this mix at all. As you can see very flat for a cake and even though it was supposed to be for muffins, I've done this sort of change before and gotten much fluffier cakes from muffins mixes and pouches.

If this sounds like a good book for you or for someone you know who is willing to experiment with the traditional whoopie pie in some incredible ways, you must check out Billingsley and Treadwell's  whoopie pies for yourself.  If you all ready have this book and have tried it, please let me know if you concur with my review.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Chocolate Walk 2010 Report

Your Chocolate Priestess feels great a few days after the Brown County Humane Society Chocolate Walk in Nashville, Indiana.  As you may recall, I mentioned this event, ways you could find accommodations to join us, and really talked up the charity it was supporting.

A fine group of cultists joined me on Saturday morning between 9 and 9:15 AM November 13, 2010.  Next year I'll tell everyone to come a bit earlier because we got off to a late start.  As you can see it was a mixed group with five women and three men venturing forth as a group.  Once in Nashville we split into two groups then into three as one of us met others whom they recruited to the walk.  Two groups met up for a late luncheon to chat and eat something more than chocolate.

And we ate and drink a lot of chocolate.  This year we had 31 stops, one more than last year.  Our group of five headed west then north to cover one half of the artist colony.  I hope some of the others will send in photos or share them on Facebook at The Chocolate listing there because I only took a few this year.  If you want to see Nashville, check out the Pilgrimage from last year when it was only our Chocolate Coconut Acolyte and myself.

Several of the stops were the same though only a few times were the treats identical to last year.  We paused at one place, Common Grounds Coffee Bar, where there were choices between a beverage and candies and then further choices. In this photo you can see us, another group mate and two more even in the background.

Different people wanted to do different things.  We were focused on trying to hit all 31 before lunch -- we did it in less than 3.5 hours covering almost 30 square blocks of distance.  One couple wanted to shop because they'd never been to Nashville before.  Other lady was looking for her other friends and once she found them, spent the rest of the day with them.

I took notes but frankly I don't want to do the detailed review I did last year when so many places were the same locations.  However I do want to mention a few more highlights and lowlights if you like that turn of phrase.

The Brown County Historical Society was new this year and they offer colonial style gingerbread cookies with chocolate buttons and decorations.  When you hit the chocolate it didn't disappoint and I appreciate their attention to historical re-enactments even at this level.

Some places had their treats more logically stationed with a line attempting to enter one way and then out the other.  However one place stands out as very poorly planned and that has to be Ole House.  The freebies were by the cash register and the only line we saw was to the deli where everyone places orders for food, we even heard one employee tell others to get into the line.  This made things incredibly slow.  While I understand that placing the treats in the back or by other food may seem like a good idea, if you slow people down, they get annoyed.  Furthermore, the town was not off limits to anyone else so you had hundreds of chocolate lovers competing with regular tourists and art lovers for space.

Some stops like Harvest Moon Pizzeria and Artist Colony Inn & Restaurant placed their treats outside which made the flow much better because it separated the folks wanting to shop and eat from those of us on the walk.  Other places like Hobnob Corner Restaurant were an absolute nightmare to get into and back out with only one door and crowds wanting to eat.  Luckily the line was less there this year either because we were earlier to arrive or because people just gave up and moved on.

Some locations like Iris Garden Gallery and Trilogy Gallery had restaurants they hosted to come in and give out treats.  Others like Brown County Visitors Center and Bone Appetit Bakery had mass produced treats though with local or regional representatives on hand.  Obviously some stores made their own treats and others handed out ones they either bought or received from companies.

I'm very pleased with everyone who went. I know I have at least four people from the group in the photo who want to return.  The trick we discovered is to eat what you must on the walk and save the rest to take home.  This is half what I received and laid out once I was back home.  Double that with drinks, delightful cakes, and soft candies and you can see what you missed, Sisters and Brothers.  I hope more of you will join me next year.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Make Your Chocolate Kit

With Christmas and other winter holidays approaching I know that some of you, Sisters and Brothers, are thinking of gifts.  What better gift than chocolate and time together?  So making chocolate or chocolate treats is almost an ideal present for any age group.  The folks from Glee Gum sent us a "Make Your Own Chocolate From Scratch Kit" and they are also going to give one of you a kit as well.  We'll get to that giveaway at the end of this review.  I had a kit all ready from a non-profit organization that I bought it from so I decided I need an assistant to help me try both out.

My friend Razzle, who has commented from time to time on here, agreed to come and help me.  The kit includes everything you'll need: cocoa butter, cocoa powder, confectioner's sugar, starter crystals, candy cup liners, even a temperature indicator.  Of course it has instructions and the "story of chocolate".  We read the instructions carefully and felt this definitely needs an adult to help out in the kitchen.  There are actually three ways you can make it, Razzle took the microwave simply following the basics directions while I took the double boiler method and added two extra ingredients that were recommended.  Overall, she finished about 15 minutes before me.

The story of chocolate was simple and short but covered the discovery of the Aztec drink by Europeans to the modern cocoa farmer.  Given the image on the box, I thought we might get more about the Aztec and maybe even instructions and spices to make a drink like them.  That was really the only less than ideal part of this kit.

Let us tell you, making chocolate takes patience.  The most time you will spend is tempering the chocolate which you see me working on here.  You can't see it, but the temperature indicator was placed on the side of the pan, easily removed later, and it turned a green color when it hit the correct temperature.  It just took a lot of stirring from me, about 20 for me but just about 15 minutes for Razzle and her microwave bowl.

I added 1/4 teaspoon of real vanilla to the mixture when that as indicated.  While it was melting together, I put mini marshmallows into the paper cups as you can see here.  The difference in flavor between the two was incredible.  Razzles made as directed had a very bitter, intense chocolate flavor.  Mine had a lot less bitterness but also it wasn't sweet because I poured the chocolate over the marshmallows so they didn't melt and you didn't taste them unless you bit into them.  It should take about 15 to finish in the refrigerator but the chocolate was setting up within minutes so pour, or spoon it like we did, quickly into the cups.

We shared these with lots of friends and family and they all gave it a big thumbs  up.  Razzle and I got to hang out, get lunch, and just get to know each other even more. Next project for us will be chocolate gingerbread cookies when she gets this wacky cookie cutter.  If any of you know a good chocolate gingerbread cookie recipe, let me know.

Want to win your own Chocolate Kit?  To entry to win is easy, just follow these steps, and yes, I do check to make sure they are followed.  Please only comments from folks in the continental USA.

1.  To enter you must be a public Follower of The Chocolate Cult either through blogspot, Facebook, or Networked Blogs.  I do check this each time so if you joined for the last contest then left us you must rejoin -- honestly why would you leave your Sisters and Brothers in Cocoa behind?  You can join in either of those three ways linked to on the left hand side of this blog.  Make certain that your listing as a follower includes a way for me to contact you directly by private email. If you win and I can't contact you, I'll move on to the next person in line.

2. In a comment, tell me who you'd share your kit with and why you think this would be a great git for them.  We don't need real names, definitely not full names, just "my son" or "my best friend" or something like that.

3.  You must leave a comment below by Midnight, Friday, November 19, 2010.  Make sure I can email directly so I can contact winner. If can't email you, I'll redo the drawing until I get someone I can directly email. 

The order of your comments will determine your number for the random drawing so the first person to comment will be #1, the fourth person will be #4 and so forth.  The winner will be chosen using this random number generator.

Thanks to the folks at Glee Gum and to Razzle for helping me try out this kit.  We made several people very happy with the chocolate we made.  If you want to find any of their products, check out this store locator.  For example, I found out that our local coop carries the gum but not the treat kits.

NEWS:  Glee Gum has partnered with "Tree for the Future" and you can support the environment and get their gum by ordering HERE.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Night of Sugar & Chocolate Sculpting

Last night a friend and I went to Nashville, Indiana, and visited their amazing public library to see Donia Justice and learn about sugar and chocolate sculpting.  The event was free and we had a lot of fun in an hour and a half.

There was a nice crowd, almost filling up the entire room which is in the basement.  From the front, we didn't realize how big the library is.  They have a lot more parking than our public library has.

Donia was busy setting things up and chatting with the crowd when we arrived about 10 minutes before the start.  We left right after my friend's work and had a bite to eat at one of the few restaurants open that evening.  I don't understand why restaurants in what is really a community based on art and tourism close before 5pm or even 10pm. 

She primarily worked with sugar and showed us how to make a couple types of flowers, the basics of working with sugar to sculpt, and demonstrated how much patience is the necessary ingredient with a sugar church.  Sugar, she told us, isn't difficult to work with but I was very pleased when she said that sculpting with chocolate is even easier.  While she mentioned Wilton's as a source of her supplies, she gave the pros and cons of using more readily available ingredients, too.

Here is a bowl of sugar flowers.  Donia is a traditionalist, she wants sugar decorations to be mostly white but here we see some light color.  I laughed when an audience member asked if they could make something red or purple with sugar and our sculptor got this horrified look on her face.

 This is a sugar plate.  I loved the fact that Donia made things simple giving us a lot of hints about how to make shapes using every day items.  She also focused on what was practical not the most expensive or the most fancy. Plus she pointed out that if you make a fancy plate, you don't have to do much decorating on the cake.

Sugar sculpting requires a lot of time and space.  Time not as one continuous period of work but a lot of down time waiting for ingredients, objects, and decorations to set enough to work with.  Of course if you have to let each stage of your sugar building dry before you add the next wall or roof or other necessary, you need the room to lay it out in.  Donia told us that she has a studio in her home even though she is officially retired.  A sugar plate or bowl or whatever can last 3-4 years if stored probably.  She stores hers in simple cardboard boxes or tupperware.

Chocolate is easier to work with but also trickier in some ways I thought.  First, what you make with chocolate may last up to 6 months and I'm sure that's because of the fats in chocolate.  Second, it will set very quickly as you work with it, in a matter of an hour or so so you have to work faster.

You can make plates and containers as with sugar but in my shapes it seemed to me.  We see a plate that was auctioned off on the lower right hand sight, a small round rustic bowl, and a box of chocolate to hold chocolates in!  The white you see is white chocolate.

This is probably my best photo from the night.  A chocolate bowl, semi-sweet is what Donia loves working with, and again chocolate to eat inside.  You can eat the bowl too, it tastes like Tootsie Rolls.  White chocolate is more difficult to work with because it starts to melt quicker as you manipulate it.

I hope you can make this out.  This is a chocolate bowl of maple leaves with chocolate acorns in the center.  She showed us how to do the acorns and they are surprisingly easy.  I might even be able to make them.

At the end of the evening, we sampled the fine spread of chocolates and pumpkin treats the Friends of the Library laid out.  For $10-20 a year you can become a voting member however I don't live close enough to make it worth my time.  Donia was very kind and nice, hopefully she'll do an email interview with me so you can all meet her, Sisters and Brothers.

Donia Justice is retired now but she had a long career that I look forward to revealing to you all in a forthcoming interview.  Thank you to the Brown County Public Library for hosting this event.  Sadly I cannot go tomorrow afternoon for the hands on workshop focused solely on chocolate.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Final 2010 Chocolate Walk Round Up

On Saturday, this coming Saturday, November 13, 2010, Sisters and Brothers, a group of chocolate lovers is gathering at your Chocolate Priestess' house to meet up and then carpool caravan over to Nashville, Indiana, to spend the day walking, eating chocolate, hanging out with like-minded folks, and helping animals in need.

The Chocolate Walk has some tickets left at $20 a piece for 31 different chocolate stops on a scenic walk around the artist colony.  You can still buy them online until 6pm on Friday if they last that long.  You can take chance a just show up that day to buy them but I wouldn't count given the popularity of this event last year.  Remember tickets are limited.

For anyone who has purchased tickets and wants to join our caravan, you MUST send me an email if you have not all ready done so.  You can contact me at "thetammyjo" -- yes you'll have to fix that a bit so that spammers have to work harder to annoy me and drag me from the chocolate you all want me to review.  When I've received your email, I'll give you my address and cell number for that day.

I'm making a check list of folks who want to come with us.  We are gathering at 9am, taking a group photo, then getting into cars, fewer cars I hope so we are carpooling and saving space (parking) and energy/money.  Note: parking can be an issue so we want to leave as soon as possible after the photo so we can find parking, hopefully free, and then go to the starting point of the Walk.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

LUXE Chocolate Revelations & Giveaway

Back for Valentine's Day 2010, the generous folks from Ghiradelli sent us samples of several of the holidays gifts you could get from them to give to your loved ones.  At that time the new LUXE like, a milk chocolate variety, was very new.  Later they contacted me about doing a review and hosting a contest to help them promote this LUXE line and since they didn't have anything specific for Halloween, I wanted to get to them as soon a possible so today is the best I can do.  This also continues our November Giveaways because one person is going to win two coupons for free Ghiradelli LUXE and two $1 coupons as well.  We'll get to the giveaway in a little bit.

I received several coupons for free LUXE bars or bags of individually wrapped chocolates as well as a few $1 off coupons.  I went to their website and looked up this new product and found I had enough to get four of the flavors for free as well as a bar for $1 off. Now I had to find them.  Hint: Use the $1 coupons for the bars because they cost less, save the FREE coupons for the bags.

Now I see Ghiradelli chocolates all the time at our grocery stores, our discount stores, and pharmacies.  They are located with the other higher quality but still mass produced chocolates usually at the ends of aisles or in their own section of the candy aisles.  You are ready, Sisters and Brothers, because this was an adventure.  

First I went to my everyday grocery store, Kroger, because I have to make a trip there anyway.  I find one variety of LUXE, the hazelnut in the green title.  OK, I turn to our nearby Target and find that one plus almond in the red title.  I don't find this flavor at all in another grocery or discount store so I turn to our nearest CVS.  I find those two flavors again plus the plain milk chocolate in the blue titles. I go back online and look for retailers and find that the only other one in my town is Walmart which to be honest, something I am with you all 100% of the time, I try to avoid for variety of reasons.  A friend who is far more familiar with their layout, takes me and we find the three previous flavors plus a trio bag that has the crisp variety and a bar of the toffee version of LUXE.

Wow!  That was an adventure for October when I had the time to look in stores.  But you know what, it was also fun because I got to hang out with various friends, look through stores, and when I found a flavor I felt like I'd accomplished so much.  But now I know you are asking: How are they? What do they taste like?  Were they worth it?  The short answer: Excellent, wonderful, and yes.

All of these LUXE flavors are a very creamy, but not sweet milk chocolate.  Each one makes a light snap when you take a bite but not even the nuts really crunch after that though as we'll see that is not the case with the newest flavor.  They all have a light cocoa scent with just hints of the added nuts or toffee; the milk and crisp ones merely merely are the cocoa essence when you take a deep breath of them.  None of these have trans fats but they vary in terms of other nutritional information.  They also have milk and soy added for those Sisters and Brothers with allergies; for severe peanut allergies, these were made on machines that process nuts.  Four of the flavors were previously detailed in a February 13, 2010, review so I won't repeat that information here so we can get to the giveaway faster.

Let's start with the Almond variety in the red label.  The almond flavor was distinctive but the chocolate was definitely the primary essence.

Next we'll look at the green labeled Hazelnut variety.  Often chocolate and hazelnut together results in a heavier hazelnut flavor but that's not the case here where the chocolate is again the dominant component.

Let's say you don't like nuts or like our Milk Chocolate Acolyte you are allergic to tree nuts.  There is the Milk variety which is plain, simple milk chocolate marked with a blue label.  This is creamy and cocoay, not sweet at all and thus easy to enjoy without feeling guilty.

A yellow label marks the Crisp variety that has crispy rice pieces in it.  I don't actually find that chocolate covered crispy rice tastes like much other than chocolate, the rice gives more a bit of crunch and texture really.  I could only find this flavor in a bag of milk, almond, and crisp varieties.  Let me know if you find it bars or as a solo bag please, Sisters and Brothers.

Finally, the newest member of the LUXE family is Toffee in a goldenrod label.  Now toffee can be (should be according to purists) made with almonds but this is not made with tree nuts to get that toffee flavor. In fact it has no nuts at all. Because this is a new flavor and has not been previously reviewed here on The Chocolate Cult, let me reveal more about it.  The flavor here is very buttery and sugary in the toffee pieces and this balances well with the milk chocolate though this is the only LUXE product that is really sweet at all in terms of taste.  The tiny pieces of toffee are visible in the squares when you break them off or after  you bite into them.  This one does make a slight crunchy sound as I chewed it.  This one bar has 4 servings or two squares per serving at 230 calories made up of 9g saturated fat (whoa), 15mg cholesterol, 65mg sodium, less than 1g fiber, 24g sugars, 2g protein with 4% iron and 6% calcium an adult need daily.  This is a treat not a daily bar you want to eat on a regular basis.

Sisters and Brothers, you ready to go hunting for LUXE in your area?  If you are, enter this Giveway and you'll get a few coupons of your own.   First, you need to be living in the USA or Canada so I'm sorry to my readers in India, the UK, Australia, and other places.  Then follow these three simple steps to enter the giveaway.

1.  To enter you must be a public Follower of The Chocolate Cult either through blogspot, Facebook, or Networked Blogs.  I do check this each time so if you joined for the last contest then left us you must rejoin -- honestly why would you leave your Sisters and Brothers in Cocoa behind?  You can join in either of those three ways linked to on the left hand side of this blog.  Make certain that your listing as a follower includes a way for me to contact you directly by private email. If you win and I can't contact you, I'll move on to the next person in line.

2.  Go to the Ghiradelli website and look at their LUXE line. Then, in a comment, tell me which flavor you prefer.

3.  You must leave a comment below by Midnight, Friday, November 12, 2010.  Make sure I can email directly so I can contact winner. If can't email you, I'll redo the drawing until I get someone I can directly email. 

The order of your comments will determine your number for the random drawing so the first person to comment will be #1, the fourth person will be #4 and so forth.  The winner will be chosen using this random number generator.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Winners in Halloween Treat Challenge 2010

October was time for our Annual Halloween Treat Challenge here on The Chocolate Cult.

We had six categories but not every category produced a winner, there was no retailer entry this year though last year we did have a winning retailer.

Here are our categories and the winning chocolate companies.  Companies were judged on the specific Halloween nature of their treat, the ease of using said treat for parties or to hand out to trick or treaters, and over all quality of the chocolate and other ingredients.

Best Mass Produced Halloween Treat: Sjaak’s

Best Gourmet Halloween Treat: Obrigadeiro

Best Baked Halloween Treat: The Protein Bakery

Best Independent Halloween Novelty: Sweet Mona’s

Best Halloween Treat Source: No Entries

Best Halloween Treat: Sjaak’s

Sjaak's wins because their treats are small yet individually wrapped making it easy to hand out.  They are also available not just from the creators but from some retailers as well making them easier to find.  Their only draw back is that they are dark chocolate which little kids often do not like. 

Winners may submit a 250X250 HTML coded ad to place on the side bar of the The Chocolate Cult with the category they won as the header for 30 days starting whenever they wish.  Each winner will be contacted individually by your Chocolate Priestess.

Just a note: Both Intemperantia and TerraSource submitted treats. While their chocolates were delicious they didn't quite match their competitors in their particular categories. We hope you go back and reread the Sacraments and visit all these great sports and wonderful chocolatiers, buy their products if you can.

Thank you all for reading and leaving comments on The Chocolate Cult.

Hang on.  November is a month of GIVEAWAYS for us.

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