Tuesday, January 31, 2012

February Chocolate 2012

The entire month is a Chocolate Celebration literally called the "Celebration of Chocolate Month!"

You ready to celebrate every day not just these special fun food holidays, Sisters and Brothers?

February 1 = National Dark Chocolate Day -- 70% and above for your Chocolate Priestess is best

February 5 = National Chocolate Fondue Day -- potentially romantic, too

February 5/6 =  World Nutella Day -- a fairly new "day" which I've found listed on both dates; I say we declare it for the 6th since fondue day is already on the 5th

February 9 = Chocolate Day -- what a boring name but hey it is what it is and it is chocolate

February 11 = National Peppermint Patty Day -- very common flavor combination that your Chocolate Priestess prefers with darker chocolate

February 14 = Valentine's Day (in some places) OR National Cream Filled Chocolate Day -- again with the doubling up, I don't like it, lots of other days to celebrate on

February 19 = National Chocolate Mint Day -- yes, mint is not the same as peppermint so you can have both in one month I think

February 25 = National Chocolate Covered Nuts Day -- tree nuts, I think, not peanuts

February 28 = National Chocolate Soufflé Day -- Should I try to make one this year?

I wonder if anything special might happen because it is a leap year?  Suggestions, everyone?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Kissable Chocolate Lips

Chocolate can be used for a lot of things and in 2011 we started reviewing products that were not food nor drink but body care items.  Just in time for Valentine's Day 2012, the folks from indi chocolate sent us a five pack of their "Chocolate Lips" -- lip balms made with chocolate and cocoa absolute with added flavors for the different varieties as well as coconut oil, shea butter, olive oil, bees wax, and vitamin A.  As you can see these were cutely wrapped so they'd make a lovely gift to give as is from the box.  The box also was not over packed so there as little to throw away.  Let's see how this lip balm works and if I or those who got to kiss me while I tried this out could tell the difference between the types.

The first type was simply "Chocolate Love" and had no added flavors.  This is the purest of the chocolate lip balms yet it didn't smell like cocoa or chocolate at all.  I didn't smell anything nor did it taste like much other than oils.  It went on slick though it felt a bit gritty when applied and it stayed slick for a while until I ate or drank something.  Kissing didn't get much of a reaction from my partner who also couldn't smell or taste any chocolate.

So next I tried the "Chocolate Vanilla Temptation."  First difference from the pure variety was that now when I opened it I could smell vanilla but also cocoa.  In fact the vanilla and cocoa scent was noticeably by my kissing partner but neither of us could taste chocolate.  Everything else was the same as with the first lip balm.

The third lip balm I tried was "Chocolate Mint Devine" -- yes, that is what the label says. Once more the mint scent brought out the chocolate scent as well as a slight tingle though that might have been more mental than real since mint is not listed on the ingredients.  My partner also could smell the mint and since chocolate mint is one of his favorite combination we did a bit more "testing" also known as kissing but we never tasted chocolate or mint.

The final balm I tried was "Chocolate Orange Smooth," and it confirmed my theory that the added flavors and scents are what is allowing the chocolate to come through the other ingredients, primarily oils.  The chocolate is there but something is blocking the cocoa scent that the vanilla, the mint, or the orange is helping cut through.  All of these were easy to use but I did notice that the paper wrapper started to come loose once I started handling them to just apply it.

The "Mocha Madness" I actually gave to one of our mocha Acolytes to try out with his boyfriend to see if they liked it.  Yes, men do wear lip balm and since I'm not a fan of coffee nor is anyone I'd kiss a fan, this seemed only fair. This is what he thought of this variety and as you'll read, it is very much in line with my own experiences so I'm going to let his words add to my specific variety comments above: Mocha Madness Lip Balm looks rather mocha-colored and like normal lip balm.  It has a strong mocha scent that is composed of chocolate, cocoa absolute and flavored oil, from which the coffee part is derived.  The lip balm feels no different than other lip balms when applied, though it may be a little lighter in density, the feeling on one's lips is the same.  Oddly, when tasting the lip balm, there is not real flavor to it.  After applying, I kissed my intimate other and neither of tasted mocha.  We could definitely smell it, but could not taste it, which is a bit of a failing since that is the premise of putting on the lip balm.

No one can claim that the "Chocolate Lips" from indi chocolate isn't made from chocolate, it clearly goes well beyond what most companies would in terms of using real chocolate for anything they label chocolate that isn't food or drink.  Sadly we've encountered many companies who don't even use chocolate in their "chocolaty" products at all.  In the past we've had a lip balm we've featured on The Chocolate Cult that both smelled and tasted like dark chocolate; the down side was the application required.  In comparison, these balms are easy to apply but miss the mark when it comes to flavor and fragrance and that's sad to say because I know that indi chocolate is promoting fair trade, making products from bean to consumer, and using real chocolate to make everything.  I don't know if the oils and fats being used are blocking the chocolate's taste and scent but I hope they re-work their formulas and make a better product so we can fully support them.

Update January 2014 --
Finally used the last of the lip balm and I can say that my earlier critique still applies but that this was the longest lasting and most effective balm I have ever used.  These lasted two full years which means that each lasted just under five months of daily use.  If you want to support a fair trade company and get a very, very high quality lip balm you need to check these out but don't expect this to have the flavor and fragrance you might expect from lower quality lip balms in "chocolate" varieties.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Book Review: The Treats Truck Baking Book

Near the end of 2011 I received two cookbooks to review via the Amazon Vine Program and today I want to share my evaluation of one of these books. The Treats Truck Baking Book: Cookies, Brownies & Goodies Galore!is a fairly small book of only 159 pages from start to finish, you might expect a lot more given the long title, huh?

The Treats Truck can be found in Brooklyn, New York, so not far from where I lived in the mid 1990s while I earned my master's and then continued some other work at Columbia University including getting my first two book published.  I never saw the Treats Truck, but then it's been a while, right?  From this cookbook it looks like a storefront plus a truck they send out with treats to sell along the street or in parks and other locations.  The book has photos of the truck, the lady in charge, Kim Ima, along with customers enjoying their treats.  What is lacking are the traditional photos of the recipes' results.  Instead of these photos the book has a lot of colorful graphics and drawings; cute but not a big help when you want to check to see if your batter looks like it should or you want inspiration to urge you to put in an extra effort to try and get your pie to match the picture.

Graphics and photos aside, I think the most important aspect of any cookbook is the recipes.  Are they clear?  Can you follow them?  Are techniques described so that someone with less experience can figure things out?  On this front The Treats Truck Baking Book: Cookies, Brownies & Goodies Galore! is fairly good but not great.  Most of the techniques are described in opening sections though a few hints are included in individual recipes.  Each of the recipes I tried missed something or didn't offer a hint that could have been very helpful.  I tried three recipes so let's look at those.

First I made the "Chocolate Cookies" (p 12) a roll out version of a cookie that seemed like a basic sugar cookie with cocoa.  Since Valentine's Day is approaching I decided to use my heart cookie cutter to cut out around 50 cookies with enough left over for a solo round cookie.  While most of the directions were clear, this recipe is also a good example of "read the entire recipe first".  If you followed the directions as numbered you'd be wasting a lot of energy by preheating your oven and leaving it on while you mix the cookies, put the dough in the frig, and then roll and cut them out.  Don't start heating up you oven until you have the dough chilled and can roll it out.  Also do use the parchment paper as suggested because you can just slip that entire think plus cookies off to cool. I turned these cookies into sandwich cookies (p 270, a category itself in this cookbook but an odd category where it primarily references the cookies from an earlier chapter and one of the frostings or fillings in a later chapter.  I made the Chocolate Ganache (p 64) and it went well in the microwave though to be blunt I had to use a lot more chocolate to get the consistency I wanted and the recipe didn't give me many details of how thick it should be.  Easy to make but again lacking information that a less experience cook might need. Together these two recipes make a delicious treat but the cookie itself was very bland.

The ganache was way too much; even this week I was dipping cookies and nuts in it still and this is after  I made another recipe from the book and covered it with the ganache.  I made brownies, dark cakey ones (pp 40-41). Now I don't normally make brownies from scratch because I find they are much less healthy than making them from a box -- I can get a mix that has no transfat and little other fats and then use applesauce or healthier oil but from scratch brownies tend to  use a lot of butter or vegetable shortening and this recipe was not exception to that rule.  As you can see in the photo the brownie was thick (I made it in a big pan) and I put a good layer of the ganache on top.  These smelled good and they tasted fairly good but, oddly, they were also a bit dry.  I think this might have been a reflection of the weather but with the only liquids being butter, eggs, and vanilla I didn't feel comfortable adding in extras that I might if the recipe asked for a bit of water.   This recipe was well written and organized and the dryness issue is more my house issue perhaps.

If this sounds like a good little book for you or another baker in your life, check it out and please use our enclosed links to help support The Chocolate Cult when you do so.

The Treats Truck Baking Book: Cookies, Brownies & Goodies Galore!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

French Chocolate for Valentine's Day 2012

Many European nations boast of a particular style, taste, or formula for their chocolate.  Europeans can do that because they are the ones, one people at a time, often one chocolatier at a time, who took what the native Central American populations did with cacao and turned it into the chocolate that we know and love.  What do you do if you don't have that tradition because you're in the good old USA?  Don't fret, many European companies sell their chocolates here, too, and many of their techniques are being employed by chocolatiers around the country.  Thus is the case with Chocolats du CaliBressan whose chef Jean-Michel Carre has won international notice for his French chocolate.  Now they have a shop in California so you can sample what he has to offer much better than taking a trip to France, though that wouldn't be bad to do either, would it, Sisters and Brothers?

This is slightly longer feature but I hope you enjoy the twelve individual flavors we are going to reveal to you today.  As you can see inside the heart-shaped box the pieces are laid out to offer a visually pleasing display this will be what you can buy from CaliBressan with one except that we'll mention in the course of our review today.  Your Chocolate Priestess was assisted by two Acolytes as well for this article and I'll give you their words in italics.  We'll start at the upper left hand side and then work our way around the box and finally inward for the final two pieces.  This process took a lot of time, a lot of water, and a lot of patience because to fully appreciate our Sacred Substance we must allow each variety, each piece to be experienced fully.

We'll start with Canadien that looks like a walnut but it should be a maple caramel flavored milk chocolate with pecans under a milk chocolate shell. This is unique on a few levels but it really stands out in this heart as a milk chocolate. The milk chocolate is the strongest scent but there is a hint of maple, too.  How will the maple play with the caramel?  A too tart or too sweet flavor?  I take a bite, making a soft snap, to discover a semi-soft, creamy center with crunchy pecans incide of it, a burst of tart caramel which fades into the maple sweetness before returning to the pecan and a creamy cocoa aftertaste.  Very complex chocolate that turned into an entire journey for my mouth in just one bite.  Brilliant!  Easily two bites so be sure and share this with your loved one unless they can't eat tree nuts like mine.

The eye catching red lips are called Bisous (kisses) and I think nothing but these chocolates might be a wonderfully seductive gift to offer your lover from a visual viewpoint alone.  One set of lips has all three of our chocolates -- the white chocolate shell then inside a milk and dark ganache with a tangerine liquor.  Let's see if the rest of our senses are as thrilled as our eyes.  The tangerine comes through the creamy fragrance when I bring the lips to my own and breath in.  These lips are as large as mine but I only bite them in half so I can share the other half.  The tangerine is the first flavor I can taste followed by the thick white chocolate's creaminess on the bottom; so thick that it make a snap when I took that bite.  Then the milk chocolate creaminess and a slight bitter edge that must be the darker chocolate appears. Primarily the creamy white chocolate and the tangerine are the strongest flavors; our Acolyte agrees when he tried it.

Buddha Beauty is a caramel in dark chocolate that stands out as unique when I think back to our almost three years now with The Chocolate Cult.  The photo on the website is better but there isn't a direct link to it thought you can find it under the bonbons category.  This has a very dark scent with a hint of dye to it when I take a whiff before biting; the color is very dark red, bordering on purple so this suggests a good deal of dye was used.  The caramel oozes out a bit as I take off his head first, my general procedure for all headed candies to put them out of their pain quickly. The caramel is more tart than sweet and definitely salty.  It blends well with the dark chocolate but I save the rest for my assistant to try because biting again would only let the rest of the caramel loose.

The next may be the Tanzanien 75%, a sample the single origin chocolates CaliBressan offers.  Single origin chocolate is great when you want to experience the effects soil, moisture, farming conditions, and year to year changes creates in chocolate.  I assume most of you know by now that cacao is a plant, a seed from a bean grown on trees but I still find people who do not know this so they are surprised by single origin variety.  The fragrance is nicely dark and it makes a very soft snap when I take a bite.  Inside the center is firmer than the previous chocolates and it melts almost immediately attesting to the purity.  This is a lightly sweet chocolate with an almost fruity hint that that comes solely from the cacao itself and nothing added.  Makes me wonder which plantation it comes from since even Tanzanien single origins taste different from one another in my experience.  After two bites, I make this last three bites, there is a slight cocoa buzz and that is what I want from pure dark chocolate.  At 75% this is also healthy for you too in moderation, of course.

Wrapped in a vibrant magenta is the Champagne truffle.  While this looks like a regular cocoa dusted truffle, and the cocoa that comes off on my fingertips confirms that it is indeed cocoa I see and smell, there is also a strong champagne essence as well to the scent.  This is large, at 1.25 inches diameter and clearly hand rolled from textures you can see even in our photo to the right.  Taking a bite makes a soft snap and reveals three layers -- the cocoa outside, a dark shell, then a semi-soft very champagne intense dark yet creamy center.  These all begin to melt on my tongue and this blends the three layers together. At first, the champagne is strong then it starts to fade until the darker shell and the cocoa dusting become the last flavor in my mouth, lingering after I eat half of this before sharing it and confirming my experience.

The dark chocolate shell is a with a boysenberry ganache.  We've tried on other boysenberry chocolate in the past but right now I can't recall if it was milk or dark chocolate. This has a strong boysenberry fragrance that cuts trough the dark cocoa.  At 0.75 inches tall this is a mouth full for even one bite.  The shell is quite thick and makes a sharp snap from every side.    The soft center is strongly fruity in flavor but there is a hint of spiciness at the end and the dark chocolate surrounds both flavors.  The contrasts between the soft center and the hard shell is interesting, the center almost oozes out like the caramel in the Buddha Beauty above.  Of course, boysenberry is a tri-breed fruit -- raspberry, blackberry, and logan berry.  Very unique but the spiciness was a bit over bearing compared to the fruit itself.

I turned to one of our Mocha Acolytes, Tim, for his evaluation of the large Coffee truffle that is up next.  Hat (on top) is dark chocolate not a coffee bean, no crunchy bits in the teeth (which he liked a lot).  The coffee taste is powerful, but isn't very strong as in from a strong coffee (like espresso).  Texture is much like you would expect from a truffle  Chocolate and coffee mingle very nicely and evenly evenly.  He made a very contented and pleased face when the tried this chocolate.

Jean-Michel, the Chef and owner of CaliBressan, told me that this bright pink heart is going to white for the box you can order for Valentine's Day. Inside the white chocolate is a raspberry caramel, again something I don't think we've had before and that makes me very eager to try it.  There really isn't a scent beyond the cocoa butter itself but when I take a bite the shell makes a moderate snap. Inside is a very sweetly tart soft center that begins to ooze out a bit.  I hand it to another volunteer who loves raspberries for his opinion: This is like a raspberry jam in terms of flavor but not texture, the white chocolate really moderates the tartness a lot.

The round chocolate with the yellow specks must be the Tahitien which should be a vanilla flavored dark ganache in a dark shell.  This has a strong dark cocoa scent with a mild vanilla fragrance when I take whiff of it.  The shell makes on a soft soft when I take a bite to discover the inside is a deeply bitter soft center.  This bitterness suggests a very high cacao percentage and it tempered by a strong vanilla essence. Together these two ingredients create a very intense bonbon that was even a bit too much for this dark chocolate lover to truly enjoy beyond one bite.

Before we head to the interior of the box we are going to look at the dark chocolate heart dark chocolate with a spicy rose ganache; spice and rose in one chocolate is not something we've tried before so I'm very curious.  The scent is primarily dark cocoa but there a hint of spiciness there as well.  As you can see in the photo, unlike most hearts available right now, this one has texture on the top in the form of curving ridges.  My assistant said: What is this? This is odd. It tastes darkly spicy, bitter, like Earl Grey tea.  When I told him it was rose he was surprised because he primarily tasted the spices.  Rose can be under or overplayed with chocolate and normally darker chocolate would compete well but the spices here were a bit too much perhaps.

The brand logo piece is simply called Calibressan and is a dark chocolate and "Ventura" limoncello liqueur ganache in a dark chocolate shell.  There is a definite alcoholic scent to this chocolate that comes through the dark cocoa as well as a citrus essence.  The bottom makes a sharp snap when I take a bite and immediately I can taste the darker chocolate.  The semi-soft inside has a sharp citrus and somewhat spicy flavor though it also creates a cooling sensation in my mouth. The dark chocolate is this bitter edge around the other flavors, almost circling my mouth as I chew or let another bite melt in my mouth. Very different from anything else I've ever had and also very refreshing.  I liked it a lot.

Finally the long, bright blue wrapped piece is an unusual shape for a truffle but it is their Buchette Irlandaise clearly. This has a strong whiskey fragrance with an edge of powdered sugar, and given that the sugar comes off on my fingertips, I don't want to take a very big whiff.  The piece has a  flat side and then 3/4 round like a log that has been in the same position might acquire over time.  One of our other Acolytes helped me out by trying this one and this is his opinion: Light alcohol flavor but chocolate is first.  Thin chocolate layer, very soft center melts almost immediately.  Powdered sugar is very messy. Whisky flavor is very subtle and nice.

Chocolats du CaliBressan is a good example of how chocolatiers and lovers of chocolate are making the world a smaller place.  Le CaliBressan may have been created in France but Jean-Michel love for his wife brought his craft to our side of the world.  Their chocolate are fresh so you need to enjoy them without four weeks but Valentine's Day is fast approaching so you don't want to wait much longer.  Remember the key to keeping chocolate well is to control the moisture and the temperature.  The key to enjoying it, is to share it with your loved ones.  These beautifully crafted, often unique, chocolates were born of love and they are worthy Sacraments for your consideration this Valentine's Day and any day.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chocolate Heart Box For Valentines 2012

Heart shaped boxes are popping up everywhere in the USA as Valentine's Day is now only a little over three weeks away.  Originally created back in the 19th century, chocolate boxes allowed chocolatiers to sell a selection of what they created and allowed the giver to present it in a decorated box.  The heart-shaped chocolate box seems to have appeared soon after the turn of the 20th century and it did not become associated with Valentine's Day for several years but instead was first solid at Christmas time;  the exact dates and innovation of this varied from source to source that I consulted but the general time frame and earliest use was consistent.  If anyone has further historical evidence please leave me a comment with a citation so I can do more research.  Taraluna sells only fair-trade and organic chocolates for your loved ones and two of these their available gifts this year go well beyond the traditional heart-shaped chocolate box; you'll see why very soon as your Chocolate Priestess reveals one of the Sjaak's Chocolate Hearts that Taraluna currently has in stock.  To the right you see it against the bag Taraluna also sent me that represents the bulk of what they sell, household items, gifts items, and clothes made by small business women around the world.  Their chocolate selection changes seasonally as well as annually as their suppliers try new ideas though you can generally find chocolate bars there.

This is the milk chocolate version of this Valentine's Day surprise; it also comes in dark which is also vegan.  Now look at the photo to the left, Sisters and Brothers.  Notice anything once the heart is unwrapped?  No, that is not brown plastic you see, that is milk chocolate!  The box is made of milk chocolate.  The label on the above fully wrapped version was a bit stealthy -- "Milk Chocolate Filled Hearts" could have meant milk chocolates inside, you see them in this photo, too, or it could have meant the big heart was milk chocolate.  For a box, the milk chocolate needs to be thick, you can see that, and sturdy.  At first because the scent was so light, I thought it might be plastic but when I brought it closer to my face, I caught more of a cocoa scent so I scratched it with a fingernail and some came off.  I was very happily surprised to discover this heart is actually chocolate. It is fairly large, to, at 4.5+ inches at the widest section, 4.75 inches at it's greatest length, and slightly more than half an inch deep.  I can think of so many things to do with this "box" even without the five pieces of chocolate inside but let's turn to them next.

I have no idea before I try these what these might be, Sisters and Brothers, because no guide or listing in on the package.  While chocolatiers keep resisting, I'll keep pointing out that not telling us what is in each piece is a big allergen risk for more and more consumers.  That's not at Taraluna's door but it is at Sjaak's who makes this product.  Our focus is on Taraluna so I'm going to only briefly go over the individuals chocolates and keep returning to the entire gift itself.  Let's start with the red foil wrapped heart inside the heart which turns out to be a dark chocolate, surprise, filled with a strongly tart but slightly creamy milk chocolate center.  The piece to the left of the heart sort of looks like a butterfly and has a slightly nutty scent and a slight buttery flavor with a hint of hazelnut that builds up when I take a bite.  Working to the tip of the chocolate box we find a square with a few dark stripes in the milk chocolate that has a slightly different nutty scent that turns out to be a caramel nougat with I think tiny pecan pieces.  The next square piece with three raised lines has a darker nut scent to it and the drier nougat center has a more walnut flavor to it as well as far less caramel.  The final oval piece has several almonds engraved on them so I'm betting this has another nutty center but the very creamy, soft center has only a slight almond essence.  If my reading of these fives pieces of chocolate are correct this is not a safe gift for anyone with tree nut allergies which means my husband is not a good choice to receive such a gift. But wait!  I still have the milk chocolate box itself and I'm going to save that and use it to present some homemade treat that I know is safe for him.

Taraluna is a great company that purposely chooses the products they sell based on both empowering those how make the items from start to finish and on the needs and desires of those who buy from them.  The lady in charge there, Penny, is always responsive to customers so if you order, drop her a note and let her know what you think.  Your words and your purchasing will help her continue her good work and offer an even better selection.  If your sweetheart likes milk chocolate or dark, this chocolate heart-shaped box of chocolates is a neat gift at a good price, made with great ingredients and created under better conditions.  There is nothing about this gift that could drag down any joy for Valentine's Day 2012 which makes this a very worthy Sacrament.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Slitti Selection of Pralines Part 2

This is our second featured review of the Slitti Selection of Praline's box from PastaCheese.  We looked at 8 pieces on Saturday and so we'll finish the final 8 today with a bit of help from some of our Acolytes.  Five of the reminding eight pieces have something added to them that your Chocolate Priestess doesn't really love -- coconut, coffee, tea -- rather than just tell you that each piece has that flavor in it, we have volunteers who help me out for nothing more than chocolate.  But then I also don't get paid for our work here on The Chocolate Cult so we're all volunteers trying to help of you spend your money and treat your body more wisely.  With Valentine's Day approaching you want to offer your loved one, or yourself, something really worth the money but also something a little different or lovely. Let's see if the second half of the collection is as good as the first half we wrote about on Saturday.

I'll start off then turn things over to our Acolytes.  This time we'll begin then with three darker chocolate pieces.  This is a fairly original treat, Banana (says so on the writing in light yellow on the top).  In fact, as I think over the past two years, I can't think of more than one other banana chocolate I've reviewed for you all, other than a banana smoothie giveaway we did last year.  Bananas are one of those foods that people seem to love or hate but when used with chocolate it can either enhance the cocoa or cover it up. Let's see if which is the case for this 1 X 1 X 0.5 inch praline.  I smell dark cocoa when I take a whiff of this.  A bite makes a soft soft and inside is a very firm bittersweet center with a light banana flavor.  The banana is sweet and that helps offset the bitterness of the chocolate just a touch.  Since the fruit flavor is light I don't you would need to be a big banana fan to enjoy this but you must love darker chocolate.

Sticking with fruit, Passionate Fruit has also been relatively rare in our experience here so far.  I can think of two chocolatiers who used it in their truffles in the past.  Like the previous flavor this is easily identified by the writing on it though this time it is in purple.  This is the same measurements as the banana one and the same dark chocolate.  However there is a little edge to the cocoa fragrance here, a hint of sweetness.  I do note that the top of this piece is also shinier though I don't think you can see it in the photo.  When I get extra money, Sisters and Brothers, I promise I will look into getting a better camera for up close shots; than you all for dealing with my photos until then.  Back to the Passion Fruit chocolate. This makes a solid snap when I take a bite and immediately I can taste the tart sweetness of the passion fruit building up; in fact, the texture inside is a bit springy as well compared to the others with this sort of firm bittersweet center, in a few chews I think I actually feel pieces of the fruit itself on my tongue.  The tart sweetness does not completely overwhelm the bitter edge of the chocolate but it comes very close to it.

I'll finish my share of this feature with the Pepe di Penja, a 1.1 X 0.8 X 0.6 inch piece that isn't quite a square and isn't quite a rectangle either but it has this pretty scrolling on top of it.  Penja refers to where the pepper is grown but I don't know if this is white, black, or green variety; I don't think I can tell the difference by tasting this piece though it reminds me of simple black pepper in flavor.  The dark chocolate shell is thick and makes a loud snap when I take a bite.  The heat and flavor of the pepper does not appear at first in the firm bittersweet center but it builds up with each bite to become the lingering flavor.  It isn't as hot though as many pepper chocolates I've had so if spicy frightens you a bit in your chocolate, this might be a good starter variety.

Two volunteers, a regular Mocha Acolyte of about two years now and a new volunteer willing to give it a go, helped with the remaining pieces from this half of the box.  Cocco is actually actually a coconut treat but our Chocolate Coconut Acolyte wasn't available so our new person described this piece of chocolate as pleasantly sweet but with various elements that did not blend well such as coconut not spread evenly over the chocolate and leaving an odd but persistent aftertaste in her mouth.  The outer shell was also much harder than the inner filling.  She didn't seemed thrilled by this one but without out expert we have to do what we can for you, Sisters and Brothers.

Tim, one of our regular Mocha Acolytes tried the other coconut sample, the Caffè Cocco which did not have the shredded coconut on top as the photo indicated.  He ate this piece in quarters, slowly, letting each piece stand on it's own but only gave me a few sentences.  The milk chocolate taste is the most powerful, then coconut, then a hint of coffee.  The coffee flavor lingers in the background nicely but the chocolate was the principle ingredient.  Over all Tim seemed pleased by this one.

Our new volunteer also tried the Thè, or tea chocolate that she describes thusly.  Very dry, but only mildly bitter. Tasted hints of the tea filling but it was overwhelmed by dryness. Inside looked powdery but was actually quite smooth.  Flavors blended reasonably well, but overall tasted very much like dark chocolate without any additional fillings.  Good for fans of dark chocolate but fans of other types might find it too dry/bitter.  Sounds like fans of tea flavors may also be disappointed as well, doesn't it?

Our final two coffee chocolates were also sampled by Tim.  Caffè Turco has the name inked right on it so you can easily identify it.  This balanced well, the spices mingling nicely.  He told me it reminded him of our 2011 Chocolate of the Year winner in terms of the spices because he thought he tasted anise. The coffee flavor is the after flavor of the darker chocolate.  Not being a big fan of our historical chocolate we had last year, he didn't seem terribly pleased by this though I'd say he liked it more.

Finally Tim tried the Caffè Sambuca that looks almost identical to the Caffè Cocco though darker all around.  This has both espresso and Sambuca liqueur in it so we were curious to how strong those flavors would be.  He wrote: Sweet, no alcoholic aftertaste. Flavor similar to the Caffè Turco but still very chocolatey.  From his expressions I'd say he liked this one best of the three he tried.

Now that you've had a chance to check out this entire 16 piece collection in two posts, what do you think of it, Sisters and Brothers? How many of you went and check out the website for PastaCheese? What other chocolate goodies did you find there? Don't forget the special offer they have for The Chocolate Cult.

286891_$10 off $75 Order - Chocolate Cult

Monday, January 16, 2012

Meet Claire Robinson & Win DOVE Chocolate

Sisters and Brothers, your Chocolate Priestess has an amazing opportunity to do a very high profile interview with one of the stars of The Food Network.  I'm sure many of you watch this cable challenge and I'm betting many of you have seen Claire Robinson's show 5 Ingredient Fix or the show she hosts called Food Network Challenge.  DOVE Chocolate offered me the opportunity to conduct an interview with Ms Robinson that you need to watch below.  Watch it all because at the end, I'm going to ask a question and anyone who leaves a comment with the correct answer will be entered into a random drawing for a gift basket of DOVE chocolate which I'll also discuss below the interview.

Did you like the interview?  Of course I had to focus on chocolate issues not just because this opportunity came from DOVE Chocolate but also because we are The Chocolate Cult, right?  To go along with the interview, DOVE also sent me a gift basket of their chocolate.  We've featured DOVE over the past year but this is our first giveaway with them.

One of our followers can win a basket of 11 DOVE items -- 2 9.5oz bags of Dark Chocolate Promises, 3 3.3oz Roast Almond Dark Chocolate Bars, 3 3.3oz Dark Chocolate Bars, and 3 3.3oz 71% Cacao Chocolate Bars.  As you can see from the photo these all come in a nice rectangular basket that you can reuse as you like.  We haven't reviewed these particular DOVE products in the past so after the Valentine's and Easter rush we will do one or two featured reviews on the products in this basket but the giveaway is starting today.

Let's get the necessities out of the way before I ask the question you need to answer to be entered.

You must be a public follower of The Chocolate Cult.  You can do this three ways -- follow this blog, follow us on Facebook, or connect through Networked Blogs.  Please make sure you use the same name in your comment below so I can confirm.  If you include a note saying which way you are following that will help me a lot.  Any comment that does not address the question below for the contest will be removed so I have an accurate number for the giveaway.

You must include your email address in connection to your comment or I cannot get in touch with you. Note: This does not mean you should include your email in your comments -- no, don't do that, that will only invite spammers.  Instead make sure an email is listed under your contact information for how you are following us here -- for example, if you follow the blog directly, you can list your email in your information and I can access because you follow us.

You must also be living in any of the 50 United States of America or Canada -- our first giveaway that has this reach so I'm hoping to see a lot of correct answers from our Canadian, Alaskan, and Hawaiian readers.

Finally this giveaway will run from today, Monday January 16, through Friday January 20th when I'll announce the winner by 5pm Eastern Time.

So to win your very own gift basket, perhaps in time to give as a Valentine's Day gift, you have to leave a comment with an answer to this question: What is Claire Robinson's favorite recipe using chocolate?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Chocolate Recalls 01.15.12

Sorry to have to bring these recalls to your attention, Sisters and Brothers but I want you all to stay safe if you are in the USA.  I get these from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration's weekly summaries.  Keep your eyes and ears alert for recalls during the week so you have the most up to date information.

D.F. Stauffer Biscuit Co., Inc. Issues Allergy Alert and Voluntary Recall on Safeway Snack Artist Sugar Free Bite-Sized Chocolate Chip Cookies Due to Mislabeling and Undeclared Allergens

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – January 4, 2012 – D. F. Stauffer Biscuit Co., Inc. is voluntarily recalling one specific lot of Safeway Snack Artist Sugar Free Bite-Sized Chocolate Chip Cookies because they contain undeclared milk and eggs. People with an allergy or severe sensitivity to milk or eggs run the risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reactions if they consume this product. Symptoms may include itching, hives, wheezing, vomiting, anaphylaxis and digestive problems, such as bloating, gas or diarrhea. No illnesses have been reported to date.
The recall affects only Safeway Snack Artist Sugar Free Bite-Sized Chocolate Chip Cookies bearing the Best By date of 07-11-12 and Lot # L07112B packaged in 10 oz clear plastic tubs and sold in Safeway, Carrs, Dominick's, Genuardi's, Pak 'N Save, Pavilions, Randalls, Tom Thumb and Vans. The Best By date and Lot Number are printed on the product lid.
The products were distributed across the United States. No other lots or products are affected. The recall was initiated after it was discovered that the incorrect rear label was applied to the container and the presence of the milk and eggs was not declared. Consumers who have purchased the recalled product are urged to return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.
Consumers with questions may contact D.F. Stauffer Biscuit Co., Inc at 888-480-1988.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Slitti Selezione di Praline Part 1

Valentine's Day is approaching and you may not be thinking that far ahead but the chocolatiers and companies who send us products to review for you all, certainly must think this far ahead.  Today we are looking at another product you can find at the website of PastaCheese, one box of Selezione di Praline from Slitti, a Tuscany chocolate company started in 1969.  Starting in 1993, their head chef has won several gold medals and gold rating at several major chocolate competitions through 2010.  This is a beautiful selection of 16 of their chocolate works in one box.  Now because there is such variety, this will be Part 1 of our feature and we'll do Part 2 on the 18th since PastaCheese sent us this for Valentine's Day.

We'll start with the milk chocolates and see how far we get for today's Sacrament.  We'll start with the Mandorla-Latte which is a rectangle with a large cocoa covered almond on top which measures 1 X 0.75 X 0.5 inches; you can see it in the upper right hand of the photo of the entire box or the close up to the left.  Not surprisingly it has a cocoa and almond scent before I even take a bite.  The almond makes a snap but otherwise this praline is silent.  The inside is smooth and creamy, also very buttery with a very light almond flavor unless you are chewing on the nut itself.  The chocolate flavor is also very light making this more butter than cocoa in essence.  The almond though is what lingers in terms of flavors in my mouth for minutes after I eat this one.

The Caracas is our next piece and it is square with a spot of hazelnut on the top measuring 1 X 1 X 0.5 inches.  This is a hazelnut brittle with milk chocolate coating so let's see what that is like for our senses, Sisters and Brothers.  The hazelnut scent is very strong but a creamy, buttery cocoa essence is there as well.  This makes a very soft snap when I bite it in half and a soft crunch as I chew.  The hazelnut and milk chocolate blend very well in this smooth piece.  The smooth is actually surprising and disappointing since the description calls this a brittle and thus I'd expect something crunchy that broke apart when I took a bite.

The Vaniglia is a white chocolate covered with milk chocolate; as you can see it also has darker chocolate drizzle over it.  Inside are supposed to be vanilla berries -- I'm not sure what those are so let's see if we can figure it out.  This a globe with one flat end that is about 1 inch in diameter.  It has a buttery cocoa scent with a hint of vanilla.  This is very soft and makes not a sound when I take a bite.  Inside is a bright white semi-solid cream that tastes very vanilla. The milk chocolate shell loses out completely to the cream inside in terms of flavor and texture both.  So far the milk chocolates are not competing well to their added flavors and ingredients in terms of cocoa buzz or chocolate rush.

To directly compare let's jump to the other sphere in this collection, the Grand Marnier.  This is the same shape and size as the previous praline even down to the dark drizzle over the top.  A bite releases a very soft sound and a burst of Grand Marnier that works very well with the creaminess of the semi-solid center and the white chocolate shell.  A surprise is found at the bottom where a dark chocolate disc is located that adds a further dimension to the over all flavors and textures.   I can't tell if this darker disc of chocolate is a normal feature of this variety, it isn't listed on the little booklet that comes with the box, but I think a darker shell over this alcoholic center would be very good indeed.

The most oddly shaped piece in this selection has to be the Coppetta Praline that looks like someone chopped up a piece of chocolate then fused it back together with more chocolate.  It is sort of a round piece with an inch diameter but has an uneven top that raises to an inch at it's tallest peak and is covered with flakes of something.  It has a strong hazelnut fragrance with a creamy while chocolate base. It makes a loud snap when I take a bite and now I can see that this is pieces of hazelnuts mixed with a cream colored white chocolate so that the nuts bunch up inside the paper cup and then up on top.  You need to love hazelnuts to love this particular piece and they certainly do love their hazelnuts in Italy.

Now we'll return and finish the milk chocolates from this selection.  The Piemontesi-Latte looks like a mini peanut butter cup to my eyes.  It has a drop of darker chocolate on the top of it's 0.75 inch height as well as a about an inch diameter on the base.  Clearly it is milk chocolate but we'll need to sample it to see what else it is.  This has a creamy milk chocolate scent but also a hint of darker cocoa and a light hazelnut fragrance.  This is the hardest piece yet in the collection, solid and very loud when I take a bite round the edges so I can first taste it without the dot on top.  I'm not getting much hazelnut at all until I take a deeper bite and discover an entire round nut inside.  Very cute surprise that is very crunchy as well.  By doing this, the hazelnut is still very earthy and the milk and dark chocolate are more separate as flavors.  I really like this particular praline in the box.

We'll cover two of the dark chocolate pieces today and leave some of the milk chocolates for our Acolytes to try for the mid-week feature.  Let's try the Cannella, a dark chocolate with cinnamon.  Now for those who are unfamiliar with cinnamon in chocolate, you may want to note that, yes, it might have a heat to it that you may not notice in baked goods very often because they are countered by a lot of sugar.  I expect in a darker chocolate this heat should be strong but I have to try to to see.  One whiff and I can smell the cinnamon and the dark cocoa of this 1 X 1 X 0.5 inch piece.  The top makes a solid snap when I take a bite but the bottom is much softer and simply caves.  The bitterness is excellent and the heat and flavor of the cinnamon keeps pace with it, both linger even for a good minute or so. The inside is a soft slighter lighter, perhaps bittersweet chocolate which seems to hold most of the cinnamon.  A really great piece that combines several sensations into this flat square.

That leaves us for today with the Barolo Chinato -- see the name is written cross the flat top several times.  Even though it looks bigger than the previous piece this has the identical measurements.  There is a slight alcoholic hint in the dark cocoa scent when I bring this piece to my nose.  This makes no noise when I take a bit, the shell isn't as thick as the previous piece and inside the lighter bittersweet chocolate isn't as soft either.  The added flavor is from Cocchi Barolo Chinaton, thus the name, a red wine with some unique flavors to it, a sort of tart sweetness that reminds me of rhubarb.  Normally I'm not a rhubarb fan but the bitterness of the two chocolate works really well with this and if someone made a rhubarb pie with this level of chocolate, I'd give it a try.

So there you have it, another wonderful chocolate option from PastaCheese one you have time to check out well before Valentine's Day.  While the milk chocolate failed to deliver that kick I normally want from my chocolate, for milk chocolate and white chocolate lovers, this was good.  The dark chocolate pieces we ventured into today will be further evaluated on the next Special Sacramental Review this week.  My favorite of this half of the Praline Selection has to be the Mandorla-Latte because it was a unique twist on the old hazelnut and chocolate combination that can get tiresome for me at times.  Don't forget that for us here on The Chocolate Cult, they have a special offer that you can see below.

286891_$10 off $75 Order - Chocolate Cult

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Semi-Homemade Recipe: Peanut Butter Chocolate Chips Bars

I'm sure you've all heard the phrase "semi-homemade," right, Sisters and Brothers.  Magazines, websites, even books are put out giving recipes about using mixes and pre-made food items into something else by twisting the directions, adding extra ingredients, or using it in different ways.  We review a lot of products here on The Chocolate Cult because part of our goal is to help you spend your money wisely.  So starting today, and from time to time, I'm going to give you "recipes" for how I mix up mixes or add in ingredients to make something new.  As a busy woman, doing semi-homemade is a wonderful thing I can do for myself and my family that saves us money as well as time.  If I'm careful, I can even make it more healthy though not this time.

I combined two cookies mixes I found on sale at our local Kroger over the Christmas break to make a bar that my family loved.  The Kroger brand chocolate chip cookie mix was on sale and after comparing it to the other brands, it was just as good nutritionally or better nutritional than them at a much lower cost.  The Betty Crocker peanut butter cookie mix was also on sale and I had a coupon.  I had several of the peanut butter mixes at home, something I keep on hand that my husband can make easily and we all enjoy.  So after I had these I started thinking: Could I make peanut butter chocolate chip cookies?  I mentioned it to my hubby and he said "yuck" but he changed his mind when he had what I created.

First I decided that my arm still wasn't up to snuff when it came to manipulating cookie sheets yet so I'd go with bars.  Consulting both packages I found bar directions on the chocolate chip cookie mix box.  First I mixed together all of the wetter ingredients and made sure they were mixed very well meaning that the butter was thoroughly blended.   Then I added the peanut butter cookie mix and made sure that was mixed very well. Finally I added in the chocolate chip cookie mix and got that all blended together.  Don't worry, I used my electric stand alone mixer so I didn't hurt my arm.  Then I spooned the batter into a     13 X 9 X 2 inch glass pan that I also have a plastic lid for -- I wish I had more of those because plastic wrap and foil never seem to stay on very well.

Then I baked it at 10 minutes beyond the maximum time listed on the box.  I had to test it with a toothpick at the max time and then added a few more minutes at a time until it was slightly golden and not doughy at all.  I let it cool for an hour then cut it into 18 pieces.  There  you can see to the right the results -- you can see the peanut butter and the chips of chocolate both.  My husband could smell it and so I let him try a bar.  He loved it!  So much for my bad idea, huh?

Now of course it might not have turned out well.  Just a few days before my attempt at a tomato cheese sauce was horrible but generally when I'm manipulating mixes or products I do a decent job of it.  How about you?  Do you ever combine cookie mixes to make your own variety or own dessert?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Toffee for National English Toffee Day

Where do you expect to find English toffee, Sisters and Brothers, to help you celebrate "National English Toffee Day" which tomorrow, January 8th?  If you live in the UK it will probably be easy to find or even makes some from a family recipe.  For the rest of us, we may have to turn to other sources and some of these combine our Sacred Substance with the toffee.  One such place is Brooke's Candy Co. not far from us over in Dana, Indiana.  The sent us three different chocolate covered toffees that we want to reveal to you today.   This is an example of our pre-written featured reviews -- this post was written not long after we received the samples and after consultation with the company who sent it, we decided to use it for this prelude to one of our fun food holidays.

One of these is their "Coffee Toffee" or "Mocha" toffee which our two Mocha Acolytes sampled.  It is a Belgian milk chocolate treat, as opposed to the darker chocolates of the two samples your Chocolate Priestess worked with herself.  It also has a pale green swirl pattern on top with a coffee bean in the center.  Here's our Mocha Acolyte's opinion's on the rather large treat that is 4oz measuring 4 X 3.5 X 0.5 inches.  Crunchy yet creamy tasting, the coffee is mostly around the bean at the center.  Very pretty to look at, chocolate is main flavor plus a butteriness. Could use a bit more coffee flavor for my tastes.

The "Almond Toffee" Brooke sent us was in Belgian dark chocolate which you can see in this photo looks very dark and has tiny pieces of almond over the top.  This particular 2oz piece measures 4 X 2.25 X 0.75 inches and has a drizzled look to the top while the bottom is almost smooth; I can even see the caramel colored toffee inside at one point through the bottom.  This has a wonderfully intense dark chocolate scent and I can barely make out the toffee or almond which only tells my nose how think this chocolate layer must be.  Of course it makes a loud snap when I take a bite and I can see a thick layer of solid toffee surrounded by the dark chocolate. This inside layer remains crunchy with each chew and I an even taste and feel the small slivers of almonds in it.  For all the tangy toffee flavor, that dark chocolate really holds on and I think this is the best dark chocolate toffee I have yet tasted here on The Chocolate Cult.  The cocoa buzz mixed with the sugar rush, is truly powerful.

The final variety is the "Créme De Mente Toffee" also in a 2oz serving.  While the chocolate coating looks lighter, the ingredients tell me that it started with unsweetened chocolate so this should higher cacao content than the every day milk chocolate, as I'd expect from Belgian chocolate.  This has a definite mint fragrance that comes through the lighter chocolate essence when I bring the 3.75 X 2.25 X 0.5 inch piece to my nose.  This doesn't appear to one one of their regular flavors of toffee and that isn't surprising because small chocolatiers often make seasonal or occasional flavor combinations.  The toffee crunches with each bite.  It's the mint that is the strongest flavor in this treat, the buttery tang of the toffee comes through and the creamy milk chocolate is definitely there but the mint is really strong.  That doesn't make it bad just very unique and certainly only for those of you, Sisters and Brothers, who really like mint.  I liked the overall balance of flavors, the crunch and the cooling sensation but while I'd eat the Dark Almond Toffee again and again, this would only be a very rare variety I'd want gain.

If you live near or in Dana, Indiana, you still have time to run out and visit Brooke's Candy Co. to get some toffee for tomorrow.  If you don't, you know there's really no reason to limit your toffee enjoyment to only one day a year.  They have an entire toffee collection that you can look over.  Handmade, these are truly a good example of the "Indiana Artisan" label they proudly display especially the Almond Toffee made with dark chocolate.

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