Thursday, July 31, 2014

Summertime but Chocolatey 2014

The temps keep going up here in Indiana where The Chocolate Cult is headquartered but that doesn't stop us from enjoying and appreciating Chocolate.  While you may have to pay extra to order chocolate online during this hot months you should check out your local shops and stores for deals and new varieties.  Why?  First of all -- CHOCOLATE, second of all -- Holidays!

August 2 = National Ice Cream Sandwich Day (we'll have a Saturday Sacrament for this one including a link to the very simple recipe)

August 4 = National Chocolate Chip Day; National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day

August 5 = National Waffle Day (see the 24th for a related holiday) -- Check out an older recipe idea for Simple Chocolate Waffles

August 6, 1826 = Birthday of Joseph Storrs Fry II who took over his grandfather’s thriving chocolate business in England. (mostly because I couldn’t find an accurate birthday for the chocolate genius that was Joseph Storrs Fry)

August 10 = National S’mores Day -- Check out our last S'Mores feature
                 August 10th is also the birthday of Henri Nestlé, German Confection and founder of the Nestlé corporation along with Daniel Peter who created the Milk Chocolate bar using Nestlé expertise with condensed milk

August 12 = John Cadbury Birthday (1801-1889) -- his company is still around though not part of an international company

August 18 = National Soft Serve Ice Cream Day

August 20 = National Chocolate Pecan Pie Day

August 24 = National Waffle Day (anniversary of the first US patent for the waffle iron)

August 25 = National Banana Split Day

August 27 = National Pots de Crème Day

August 29 is the Saturday before Labor Day this year so that means it is International Bacon Day

August 30 = National Toasted Marshmallow Day -- you could make s'mores again to celebrate

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Lady behind My Chocolate in the UK

Sisters and Brothers, today we are meeting the woman behind the UK company "My Chocolate," Hannah Saxton.  We've done this interview because the UK is our third highest readership here on The Chocolate Cult and we've featured a few companies in the past from the UK and hope to include more in the future. If I should ever make it that way, I hope that "My Chocolate" invites me to an event to review it for you all.  With that in mind, let's move on to the review.

Hannah, would you tell our readers what exactly "My Chocolate" is?

MyChocolate specialises in chocolate fun! We run chocolate making workshops for private parties, team building events, gift experiences, birthday parties and hen dos. 

During the workshops our Chocolatiers entertain everyone with the history of chocolate and the process from cocoa bean to chocolate bar (samples are of course mandatory!). Everyone makes their own giant chocolate buttons, fresh cream truffles and milk chocolate fudge using organic chocolate and oodles of decorations.

We very much focus on playing with chocolate and getting guests to release their inner child!

How did you start this business and why?

While I was studying at the Slade School of Art, I had a Dutch boyfriend so we spent a lot of time in Amsterdam. During one of our visits, he took me to a chocolate workshop held at the back of a tiny chocolate shop. The workshop was brilliant and I realised how interesting (and fun!) it was making chocolate from scratch. 

That’s where the initial idea for MyChocolate came from and I realised the workshops would also be great for corporate events and parties.

When we got back from Amsterdam, I left university and used part of my student loan to set up the company. 

At first I ran the workshops from my flat in West London but after a few years, MyChocolate really took off and I now rent a large kitchen space in Farrington. 

MyChocolate has now been in business for 10 years. 

You have several different types of parties and workshops that you offer.  Could you briefly explain to our readers what these different types are?

As well as the Original Chocolate Making workshop, where everyone samples flavoured chocolates, learns how chocolate is made and makes their own handmade treats, we run the following events:

This is definitely a favourite amongst hen parties. The workshop includes a chocolate vodka martini and truffle making from raw ingredients. 

Apprentice Challenge 
Our Apprentice Chocolate Challenge is the most popular workshops for corporate clients. Each team receives a challenge to make a chocolate product and advert for a certain market niche. 

Luxury Chocolate 
This is the ultimate gift experience! During the three hours event, you get to sample matching wines and flavoured truffles, make exotic flavoured chocolate slabs and blend chocolate martini, all while enjoying a few glasses of Prosecco. 

Check out one of the My Chocolate Recipes here.

Of these various workshops and parties, what is your personal favorite to work on?

The Luxury Chocolate Making! Our milk chocolate vodka martinis and gooey American style fudge recipes are amazing! 

Do you have a central location that you offer our workshops and parties at or do you travel to the individual customers?

We do both. 

We have our own workshop space in Farrington where most of the workshops are run and we work with lots of partner hotels across Central London, including the Hilton and The Zetter.

Most of the workshops we run are completely mobile so we often travel to company’s offices and people houses, especially when we run kids parties. 

What is the largest event you've run?

In the run up to Christmas, we run lots of office Christmas parties which are often for a few hundred people. 

I think the largest event we’ve run so far was for just over 500 people at the Ritz. We organised a ‘round the world’ chocolate making event. Each room was based on a different country with chocolates made using traditional flavours and ingredients from each country. 

Most of our readers are not in the UK so what might "My Chocolate" offer to the non-UK reader?

The workshops are based in the UK (London, Manchester and Brighton) but we are actually just about to launch a chocolate making kit, which is an at home version of our chocolate workshop. This can be posted around the world. Watch this space!

I hope when you get that kit ready you'll consider sending us one to test and write about here on The Chocolate Cult.

Hannah, are there any final thoughts you'd like to leave our readers with?

People often don’t realise how easy it is to make flavoured chocolate bars. 

Melt a bowl of chocolate and stir in spices, herbs or cooking essential oils. Pour the melted chocolate on to a flat surface covered in baking paper. Use a spatula to evenly spread the chocolate so it’s a cm thick. Once the chocolate has set, break the slab into pieces. 

Brothers and Sisters, please do leave a few comments for Hannah about our interview today.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Chocolate Chewies Recall

Today I have only one chocolate related FDA recall to share with you all Brothers and Sisters.  I know, I know, one is still one too many, but you are in charge of your health so you must keep on top of these recalls.  We're just here to offer a little assistance.  Please do go and check out the links in the recall.

Consumer Contact:617-492-5500

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - July 18, 2014 - CAMBRIDGE, MA - Whole Foods Market is recalling "Chocolate Chewies" produced and sold in the Hyannis, Massachusetts location due to an undeclared tree nut allergen. The product was sold in the store between Sunday, July 13, 2014 and Friday, July 18, 2014 in clear, clamshell packaging and has a Use By date of: 7/18/14.

The chewies contain walnuts as an ingredient. People who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to tree nuts run the risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume these products.

Signage is posted to notify customers of this recall, and all affected product has been removed from shelves.

No allergic reactions or illnesses have been reported.

Consumers who have purchased this product from Whole Foods Market Hyannis may bring their receipt to the store for a full refund. Consumers with questions should contact their local store or call 617-492-5500 between the hours of 9am and 5pm EST.

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Saturday, July 26, 2014

Raw Organic Cacao Powder from Freedom Superfoods

Today we're going to look at another type of cocoa from the company Freedom Superfoods. Are all cocoa created equal? No, actually they aren't and this goes beyond merely being Dutched or not. This Pure Raw Cacao Powder from Freedom Superfoods is different in two ways -- it is certified organic and it is raw which in the case of cocoa means that it was not initially processed under high temperature.  As I pointed out in an article a week and a half ago, how exactly it is processed isn't standardized or legally dictated so consumer be aware.  If you order this product from the links provided you will get a small eCookbook as well so I prepared two of the recipes to test both the raw cacao powder and the booklet to see if they created treats of equal quality to using traditionally processed cocoa powder.

I made the Cocoa Cupcakes and the Natural Cocoa Brownies with ingredients I had on hand so there were some substitutions but I've been baking and testing for long enough that I'm 99% certain that my substitutions were appropriate. The raw cacao powder itself was dark in color and had a strong cocoa scent to it.  The bag stood up a bit shaky but it resealed very well meaning that it will last for a while but I'd be careful about how long you keep it in the foil bag compared to the standard tins of cocoa powder I normally receive or buy.

The Cocoa Cupcakes seemed a bit dry when I finished the dough and had to be spooned into the cupcake liners. Given what I know about cupcakes this seemed like a 6-cupcake recipe but since I don't want to let the raw cacao powder go bad I doubled it to make a dozen.  The resulting cupcakes were not exactly what I or my testers expected in a cupcake, they had a more muffin texture that was thicker and heartier but they did taste chocolatey, sweet, and a bit salty. Thus they didn't require frosting to enjoy, a big plus if you are are worried about calories because you can simply enjoy without it; you can add frosting too, I'd recommend something more bitter to bring out the chocolate even more.  The next time I try this recipe I'll add a touch more moisture and decrease the amount of salt.

The Natural Cocoa Brownies I also doubled for the same reason above.  This problem was the opposite of the cupcakes -- too wet so I ended up adding in both more raw cacao powder and flour.  I'm just not sure why you'd need so much water, oil, and milk in one brownie recipe!  The results were sadly what I expected -- horrible!  These are so moisture and even though I added in extra raw cacao powder it could overcome the lack of flavor in all of those wet ingredients. To be blunt, we dumped the entire batch minus what we tested into the trash. I cannot recommend this recipe and I won't be trying it again because it was so bad I'm not sure where to begin experimenting with changing it.  I'd use a regular brownie recipe and see how that works.

The recipes I tried were hit and miss but the greatest problem with the eCookbook is that the recipes lack pan size information.  For example how many cupcakes should that recipe make?  6, 12, 18?  Which pan do I prepare for the brownies?  8 X 8, 9 X 9, or 13 X 9?  This makes a big difference especially with cooking times and in planning what you might be baking for.  The recipes also asked for a few non-standard pantry items like flax, spelt, and coconut oil.

The raw cacao itself wasn't a problem, if I'd had time I imagine it would have performed exactly like last week's test product -- different brands, same product really.  I'll continue to use this in the future so when I do I'll be sure to mention it so you can check it out again. If you'd like to try out this raw cacao powder from Freedom Superfoods and to help out The Chocolate Cult, you can click on the image below or use the links elsewhere in this post to order it through the company's preferred link.

There you have it, Sisters and Brothers, our testing of the Pure Raw Cacao Powder from Freedom Superfoods.  I received one or more of the products mentioned above for nearly free using Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Organic Raw Cacao Powder from Viva Labs Revealed

Can a company called Viva Labs made an organic cocoa powder that is useful in recipes, tastes great, and is healthy for you?  They think so with their Viva Labs Organic, Non-GMO, Raw Cacao Powder, 16 oz. Pouch that they sent us a pound bag of recently.  Their contact person also sent me a little ecookbook but the recipes required a lot of the other products they produce so instead of trying one of their recipes, I tried a very simple recipe.  I figure the greater potential market for this product isn't the raw food movement or vegan but everyday folks like me and you who just want to see if there are better products out there for a reasonable price.

The biggest problem with this sample was the bag itself.  I cut it open along the line marked on the package and as you can see it opened up very wide making it easy to measure out.  That's the upside of the bag.  The down side is that even though I tried and tried I could not get it to reseal.  In the photo I believe you can see that it does have a resealable lip but I just couldn't get both side to align.  The result was a less safely sealed product compared to traditional canisters and the use of clips that I normally use for other things. Because I can't trust in the seal now I'll have to use this up quickly so I'm going to try the recipe below again... let's move on to that recipe.

I decided a great treat to test the flavor and use of any cocoa would be a flourless cake that uses only cocoa, not other chocolate and not flour.  I based my recipe on this four-ingredient one from Prepared Pantry.  Making it with ingredients I have on hand changed the recipe in this way:

8 eggs became 7 egg substitutes + 1T water (I'll leave out the water next time because the cake seemed a bit softer than it should have at the right temperature)

1.25 cups sugar became 1.25 cups sugar substitute (I'll reduce this just a bit, by 1/8th of a cup next time as well to see about making it a bit darker tasting)

1/2 cup butter became 1/2 cup light margarine

1 cup rich dark cocoa became 1 cup Viva Labs Organic Raw Cacao Powder

I followed the directions and the result was a sweet chocolate cake that was good on it's own.

It was also good with a little whipped cream or chocolate fudge drizzled on top of it.

Later I made a second test cake with 1/4 cup less sugar and the result was much darker and oddly a little less moist.  I topped it with a simply powdered sugar and cocoa frosting with orange extra flavoring.

Aside from the bag issue and general questions about safety, this is just raw cacao powder and it worked great.  Therefore this earns a Sacrament Status! If you'd like to try this Raw Organic Cacao Powder from Viva Labs the best way is through Amazon and if you use the link below you'll also help out The Chocolate Priestess who tested and brought this post to you.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Raw Cacao?

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We've used and tested various companies cocoa powder in the past, Sisters and Brothers, but sometimes we get a type of product we've never tried before and sometimes it rains products.  This is the case the next two weeks for raw cacao powder.  Your Chocolate Priestess is going to be trying some recipes to see how they work and sharing that with you as part of the next two Saturday Sacraments.  But first I had to learn what raw cacao powder was so I thought I'd share my new knowledge with you.

Raw cacao powder is very similar to traditional dutched or non-dutched cocoa powder in that all are one of the first types of chocolate you get from processing the cacao beans.  That a "raw" food is processed may surprise you but "raw" often means uncooked or unheated, not unprocessed.  Think about it for a moment. Raw chicken isn't simply a dead animal but is processed so that the meat can be used before eating.

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The first problem I encountered when doing research on raw cacao is that there do not seem to be international or even national requirements for what counts as raw processing, often called "cold pressing" by many manufacturers.  The simple nature of cacao beans means they need to be heated (roasted) to just remove the shells around each but cold pressing temperatures can vary from 104-118°F -- not really "cold" in any sense of the word for me personally but at least it isn't the traditional over 212°F for initial processing of the cacao beans.

There are also safety concerns about not roasting cacao beans to a certain temperature including the major health concern we see pop up about foods all the time in the USA -- Salmonella.  Cacao beans and by extension chocolate is not a low-fat food and fats are a great way for such food contaminations to begin and thrive for long periods of time.  While cocoa powder can have little fat left in it, raw cacao tends to have a much higher fat content so Salmonella could still linger. Because of this I'm only going to be making baked or cooked recipes with the two types of raw cacao I've been sent. While I'm willing to try and ask our Acolytes to try all sorts of products for you all, I'm not willing to risk our health.  Since I have no way to test the raw cacao, I'm going to practice extra safety.

Fermentation is another stage of cacao processing that some raw cacao manufacturers use and others do not.  Likewise how the shells of the beans is removed varies from some companies using machines to others doing it by hand.  Some of the sites I consulted for this post made claims of "one true way" but often didn't explain why any stage of the processing that doesn't involve roasting or high temperatures was "better" than another.

Another issue in raw cacao powder are the nature of any added ingredients.  If any of the added ingredients (particular sugar) are processed using high temperatures can it be considered a raw product?  Legal issues aside, I'd say that for us on The Chocolate Cult the matter is more about the cacao processing than the added ingredients in terms of rawness.  Those folks who follow a raw diet will be less forgiving.

Nutritionally in some aspects raw cacao powder seemed better -- more fiber and protein for example -- but in other ways it wasn't as good -- more fats and calories.  I don't have a lab or I can't test for other values not listed on the basic labels.  If I ever do get a lab to do such testing I can promise you all that you will be charged money to access our site and companies will be charged to have their products tested and written about.

There's a very quick write up of what I've discovered about raw cacao versus traditionally processed cocoa powder.  Have you used raw cacao powder in your recipes?  Please leave a comment and let me know.

Resources consulted for this post:
Chocolate Alchemy
The Chocolate Life
Raw Cacao
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Monday, July 14, 2014

Celebrate 200 on The Chocolate Cult

Sisters and Brothers I have an important announcement.

We have just reached our 200th brand, company, chocolatier mark!

This means that we have received samples from 200 different businesses ranging in size from multi-nationals to individual crafter.

These 200 businesses have sent a total of 380 products since March 24, 2009! That's 1.9 sample products per business on average!

We're still working on testing some of these and bringing them to you but I think you know by now that we will always test under the same conditions using the same criteria and give you the most objective descriptions of each product.

Spread the word about The Chocolate Cult and help us reach more readers so we can bring more products to your attention so that you don't waste your money or damage your body but just grabbing some random item off of a store shelf.

To celebrate these companies and our years together I've put the entire list up for you to consider.  These are in alphabetical order to not preference any single business or brand.

1. 240 Sweet Artisan Marshmallows
2. A Candy
3. Abbott’s Also
4. Abbott’s Candy
5. Aequare Fine Chocolates
6. Alternative Baking Co.
7. Amazon Vine
8. American Heritage Chocolate
9. Anna Shea Chocolates
10. Antoine Amrani Chocolates
11. Asher’s Chocolates
12. Askinosie Chocolate
13. Astor Chocolates
14. Attune Foods
15. Aunt Ida’s
16. Beviamo Ltd
17. Bloomingfoods
18. Bloomsberry & Co.
19. Blue Bunny
20. Bodacious Biscotti
21. Breyers
22. Broadwalk Chocolates
23. Brooke’s Candy Company
24. Brown County Humane Society
25. Burst’s Chocolates
26. Bubble Chocolate
27. Candy Favorites
28. Captivating Confections, Inc.
29. CBC Chocolates
30. Cero’s Candies
31. Cerreta Fine Chocolates
32. Certified Steak & Seafood Company
33. Charbonnel et Walker
34. Chef Robert Irvine’s FortiFX
35. Cheryl’s
36. Chocion Premium Chocolate
37. Choco Style
38. Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate
39. Chocolate for the Spirit
40. Chocolate Says it All
41. Chocolats du CaliBressan
42. Choffy
43. Chukar Cherries
44. Coastal Mist Artisan Chocolates
45. Cocoa Dolce Artisan Chocolates
46. Cocoa Nymph Chocolates & Confections
47. Cosmos Brownie Company
48. Cow Girl Chocolate
49. Creating Harmony LLC
50. Creative Chocolates
51. CSI, Cocoa Paper
52. CSN —
53. Dannon
54. Dark Chocolate Imports LLC
55. Dean’s Over the Moon
56. Divine Decadents
57. Divine Morsels
58. Donnelly Chocolates
59. Doreen Pendgracs
60. DOVE Chocolate
61. DOVE Chocolate Discoveries
62. Drew’s Chocolates
63. Drumstick
64. DVO Enterprises
65. Emily’s Chocolates
66. Emvi Chocolates
67. Endangered Species Chocolate
68. energems
69. Enstrom’s Candies
70. Equal Exchange
71. Fairytale Brownies
72. Fannie May
73. Farthest Star Cookies, LLC
74. Ferawyn’s Artisan Chocolates
75. Fleurir Hand Grown Chocolates
76. Fouts Family Chocolate
77. Francois et Mimi
78. Freedom Superfoods
80. Fullmoon Milk Soaps
81. Gail Ambrosius Chocolatier
82. General Mills
83. Ghirardelli
84. Ghyslain Chocolat des beaux arts
85. Glee Gum
87. Good Humor
88. Grandstand Ink
89. Grazia
90. Grék
91. Guittard Chocolate Company
92. Häagen-Dazs
93. Harry & David’s
94. Healthy Chocolate Company
95. Hedonist Artisan Chocolates
96. idea village
97. indi chocolate
98. Intemperantia: European Designer Chocolates
99. Intentional Chocolate
100. Intrigue Chocolate Company
101. Island Angel Chocolates
102. Island Treasures
103. J. Drizzle Gourmet Popcorn
104. Jackie Kingon
105. Kallari Chocolate
106. Kane Candy
107. Kara Chocolates
108. Keebler
109. Kernel Season’s
110. KIND
111. King Arthur Flour
112. Kinky Barcelona
113. Klondike
114. Krause’s Chocolates
115. Kroger
116. Life by Chocolate
117. Life is Sweet
118. Life So Sweet
119. LIFEDesigns
120. Lindt Chocolate R.S.V.P
121. Magic Choc
122. Magnum Ice Cream
124. Merrie Lynn's Specialy Nuts & Sweets
125. Michel Cluizel
126. Monica’s Chocolates
127. Montana Tom’s Chocolate Factory
128. Mrs Fields online
129. MyXocai
130. Nabisco
131. Nashville Toffee Company
132. Nestle-Dreyer’s Ice Cream
133. Nicole by O P I
134. Noble Works Cards
135. Nutty Bean Company
136. Obrigadeiro
137. Ococoa
138. Old El Paso
139. Old Time Candy
140. Oliver Kita Chocolates
141. Olympian Candies
142. Pasta
143. Peacetree Mountain Truffles
144. Pinch Me
145. Popsicle
146. Praim, LLC
147. Premier Protein
148. Premium Chocolatiers
149. Prometheus Books
151. Santa Cruz Natural, Inc.
152. Schwab’s
153. Seattle Chocolate Company
154. SENSA
155. Shaklee 180
156. Shaman Chocolates
157. Shire Books USA
158. Sili Bake!
159. Simply Divine
160. Sjaak’s Organic Chocolates
161. Skinny Cow
162. Slim-Fast
163. South Beach Diet
164. South Bend Chocolate Company (The Chocolate Café)
165. Spice Rack Chocolates
166. Spiegel & Grau publishing
167. Spokandy Chocolatier
168. Suave
169. Sucré Bleu
170. Sweet Memories
171. Sweet Mona’s
172. Sweet Poppin’
173. Sweetriot
174. Swiss Miss
175. Taraluna
176. TCHO
177. TerraSource Gourmet Chocolates
178. The Best Chocolate in Town
179. The Candy Dish
180. The Cookie Sandwich Company
181. The Protein Bakery
182. Theo Chocolates
183. Theodent
184. Think Thin
185. Tipped Cow Cookies
186. Traviata
187. Tru Chocolate
188. Turkey Hill Dairy
189. Uncle Sam’s Chocolate Factory
190. Unilever
191. V8
192. Van’s Chocolates
193. Viva Labs
194. Walnettos Inc.
195. Watertown Confectionary
196. Williams-Sonoma, Inc.
197. Wiseman House Fine Chocolates
198. Wolfgang Puck’s Bar & Grill at the MGM Grand Resort in Las Vegas
199. XOXO Chocolates
200. Yoplait

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Enhanced Wine Chocolate Tasting

On Thursday your Chocolate Priestess introduced you to Linda Armes, the woman behind Peacetree Mountain Truffles and as promised today we are looking at some of their creations -- a selection of four of their wine truffles plus one of their balsamic truffles.  I was aided by two Acolytes and for the first time we also used wine in our testing because these chocolate are supposed to be used with wine (a simple Moscato) as well as taste like wine.  We also tested them on clean palates as well so we'll discuss the differences below.

We'll start off today's Saturday Sacrament with the Dark Chocolate Balsamic Truffle infused with an aged Balsamic Vinegar which may make you hesitate when you first think about chocolate and vinegar.  These have a dark color with a reflective golden luster that looks a bit like a football or perhaps a cocoa pod. It has a strong dark chocolate scent but no hint of balsamic.  It makes no sound when we take a bite simply because the top is thick but the rest of the coating is rather thin; the bulks is the ganache inside which is soft, creamy, and smooth.  It has no vinegar flavor but a bit of fruitiness and bitterness when tasted with water.  Then we added the Moscato and wow did it change things -- suddenly a sweetness was brought out that countered the bitterness and enhanced the cocoa and fruitiness.  Excellent for an end of meal treat with white wine.

We'll begin the wine truffle revelations with the Port Wine Truffle made with Brown County Winery's Old Barrel Port.  This looks the same as the previous truffle but with a purplish sheen.  It has a light chocolate scent but makes almost no sound just like the previous piece. The ganache inside is soft, creamy, and smooth.  Our testers varied in their opinions on the flavor -- one felt it was a light chocolate flavor without the bitterness while the other found notes of butter and fruit.  Our testers also varied in terms of their opinions of the Moscato with this truffle -- one really didn't like the combination, felt it clashed while the other tester felt that the wine really brought out the port flavor and would be even better with a red wine.

The next three truffles are all made from wines from Oliver Winery, a winery not far at all from where your Chocolate Priestess lives.  First up is the Oliver Vidal Blanc Wine Truffle. These are almond or cocoa pod shaped with a golden sheen.  It has a solid chocolate aroma.  It makes a soft sound when we take a bite to reveal another soft and smooth ganache center that one tester thought was less creamy.  It has a definite white wine flavor that is fruity that the Moscato enhance with some bitter notes that the wine basically erases.  Very delightful for white wine lovers but gentle enough for anyone.

The Oliver Blackberry Wine Truffle is is identifiable by the purple shine on the top of the ridges.  Only one of us could smell any blackberry before we took a bite but all three of us got a chocolate fragrance.  It makes almost no sound and the inside is very soft and a bit gooey because it made with a white chocolate ganache topped with  blackberry jelly.  The center is very sweet with a strong blackberry flavor with creaminess and just a hint of chocolate from the shell.  Not ideal with Moscato but I'm sure the folks at Peacetree could make a good recommendation.

Finally we turn to the Oliver Catawba Truffle, a fully white chocolate truffle with a pink sheen over the tear or leaf shaped top -- our testers differed on how to describe the shape but you can see it in our photo.  This has a slight cream and sugar scent that turns very sweet when you take a bite. Surprisingly this makes the loudest sound when we take said bite which is not what you expect from white chocolate.  The center is much like the previous truffle but not as soft, it doesn't threaten to spill out.  The jelly is very peach in flavor and slightly sour but the Moscato brings out more of a sugary, cotton candy flavor.  Really for folks who love sweet, sweet, sweet truffles.

Overall we were very pleased with these truffles in terms of flavor and their ability to change in a positive with with the wine; we're sure guidance on the ideal wine would only improve these more.  We also are very happy to see a local chocolate maker turn to other local and state companies to use in her creations.  This type of community building benefits all of us in the area in terms of our economy and the quality of our chocolate. For these reasons, this selection of truffles from Peacetree Mountain Truffles earns a Sacrament Status.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Peacetree Mountain Truffles Foundations

Sisters and Brothers, today I'd like to introduce you all to Linda Armes, the woman behind Peacetree Mountain Truffles, a company right here in the town I live in.  I hope you'll find, as I did, that her story is a testament to the possibility for the small chocolate maker to make it in today's market but also the struggles that such companies can face.

Linda, would you tell us how you got into the truffle making and selling business?

A few years ago, I won an Emeril Live! Cooking With Your Kids Contest and was featured on Food Network. Ever since then, all my family and friends have encouraged me to start a food business. So, I started searching for something that would fit well with my passion and my family schedule. When I started making truffles as a treat for the holidays, everyone agreed - I had found what I was looking for. I started experimenting and really loved the results, and that's when I started the company.

Would you tell us a bit about how you met your two partners in the business?

Gretchen, Lisa and I have been friends for years. We have all homeschooled our kids together, co-oping for weekly science and history classes. When I decided to open Peacetree Mountain Truffles, they were so excited that they both volunteered to be my partners and help me get it going. It's been a great decision and I couldn't ask for any better partners. We make a great team.

There's a story behind your company name, could you expand upon it?

Peacetree is actually a tribute to our faith. We believe that real peace can only be found in Calvary's tree, and we strive to run our business the way people of faith should - with integrity and commitment to excellence. Mountain is a tribute to our love of the beautiful rolling hills here in Southern Indiana. Our office is on one of those hills, and we have always called it our Indiana mountain. 

You do a lot of work with other Indiana companies.  How did you begin connecting with other local and state businesses?

Mostly, it starts with an idea popping into my head - like Oliver wines. I decided I wanted to make a wine truffle. So I went over to Oliver and did a wine tasting, then chose some wines to experiment with. When I got the taste the way I wanted, I just took a box over there and left them for the manager. Honestly, it hasn't been hard - once people taste what I do, they are won over! Most of our connections have been that way - just a cold call where I leave the product. It pretty much sells itself. 

Making truffles can be challenging for many people who try to create them at home.  How did you learn to make them?

First, I went online and ordered a book; Chocolates and Confections. I devoured it, then gathered a lot of ingredients and turned my kitchen into a laboratory. I made so many chocolate truffles! My husband even coined a new term - whenever the kids asked where I was, he would say I was in the kitchen - truffling! Truffles really aren't that hard to make - they just take so many steps and so much patience while they temper - that's what scares people away from making them at home. That's good for me, I guess!

There are so many choices in terms of couverture for chocolate, how do you choose the couverture and other chocolate ingredients you use?

We like to focus on the flavors of our fillings, making them unique and full of flavor - the ganaches are the real star of our truffles. So, we actually do a whole lot of tasting before we settle on a chocolate to use. Each flavor that we are going to highlight in a truffle requires a chocolate that will complement but not overpower it. Many times, we make 5 or 6 test batches, each with a different chocolate, and then decide which one allows the flavor to shine the most. Every time I go to a chocolate convention, I taste and collect as many different samples as I can, so that I have a large variety to test with. I believe this gives our truffles a depth that other companies don't have - we aren't stuck with one chocolate company's flavor profile. We actually dip into quite a few different company's chocolates. I have to admit, though, that I am somewhat partial to Ghirardelli chocolate products. I do use them as my coatings - they have a divine flavor that lingers in your mouth as you finish the truffle. And I like that.

Each of your truffles has a unique look.  Why take the extra time to make them all so lovely and unique?

People who buy chocolates, do so for their sheer pleasure - so we want to make sure that our customers get the most enjoyment out of them that they possibly can - from the first minute they lay their eyes on them, to the last lingering flavor in their mouth. We try to make the outside of the truffle be a true reflection of what you will find inside - and that's delicious flavors unlike anything you have tasted before. It doesn't hurt that all 3 of us are OCD perfectionists that just really enjoy making them beautiful! 

Finally I know that you are having a fundraiser to expand your business.  Would you tell our readers what they can do to help you continue to create such lovely truffles?

We would be delighted for everyone to visit our Indiegogo page and check out the great truffles we are offering as a reward for contributing to our kitchen campaign. 

You can see our page here: (Note from The Chocolate Priestess: This is really worth your investment in, Sisters and Brothers.  Their creations are great now but imagine what they could craft given a dedicated kitchen.)

We are sharing a commercial kitchen right now, and we are actually having trouble keeping up with demand. We desperately need our own kitchen, where we can settle in and keep production going. We are offering people a chance to partner with us in the campaign, and as a thank you, we are offering our brand new wine truffle collection featuring only wines made from grapes grown here in Southern Indiana. Southern Indiana was recently recognized for growing fabulous wine grapes - that what makes our wines so special. And that's part of what makes our truffles so special. This new collection is going to be fabulous! Check out our page and please consider supporting us. Thanks. 

Thank you so much, Linda for speaking with us today. On Saturday, Sisters and Brothers, we'll share our testing of the Peacetree Wine Truffles with all of you.  Make sure you come back to check out our Saturday Sacrament.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

For S'Mores Lovers

The awesome folks at Askinosie have a new product that they kindly sent us a sample of -- their S'Mores Bark!  This is a limited edition product so if you want some, you need to go now and see if it is still available.  It comes in a very plain box and contains several broken up pieces, five of them in my particular box but it's a matter of weight really so however many that comes to 150g.  This is made with their dark milk chocolate from Davao Philippines cocoa beans, cocoa butter, organic cane sugar, goat's milk powder, sea salt, Golden Grahams cereal, and mini marshmallow bits.

As you can see it looks very much like something you might make at home and to me that that's a good thing.  I know that I could make something like this but it wouldn't have the same chocolate in it and really, this is about how Askinosie gets their chocolate and what they do with it, not how fancy something looks. Even before looking at the nutritional and ingredient information on the box, something I really appreciate any company doing, I thought those looked like Golden Graham type of cereal pieces; I used to eat that when I was a kid and every now and I think I get it to use for some candy or bar I'm making.

These have a nice dark scent to them with an undercurrent of graham and sweetness but the chocolate is the main fragrance.  This bark makes a very loud crunch and continues to crunch with each bite and chew.  The first consistant flavor is the bitter yet slightly sweet and creamy chocolate followed by a bit of graham taste and a hint of sour from the goat's milk I'm betting; I'm not getting much marshmallow.  The marshmallows are not hard but not particularly sticky possibly because they are so tiny but I wish they had a bit more flavor impact given what I expect from S'Mores.  Then again they also don't taste burnt which was always a danger with campfire made treats.

The darkness of the chocolate may surprise some folks, so you are warned, but if you like that, give this a try.  If you think that S'Mores are for kids these are definitely putting them in the adult realm of flavor and combinations of flavors, give them a try.  These are another high quality treat from Askinosie and deserve another Sacrament status. Don't wait to check this S'Mores Bark out, Sisters and Brothers, it may already be sold out by the time you read this.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Learn More about Askinosie Chocolate

On Saturday, July 5th, we'll be looking at a limited edition treat from Askinosie Chocolate that is very timely but I thought it might be a good time to also introduce you all to one of the folks behind the company and to learn more about what they do.  I hope all of you who read this will leave a comment to let us know what you think or to ask a question.

Sisters and Brothers, please join me in welcoming our guest to The Chocolate Cult, one of the people behind, a chocolate company whose creations you will discover here on this coming Saturday and for several Saturdays to come, Ms. Cash.

Ms. Cash, would you please tell us who you are and what your role is at Askinosie Chocolate?

Allison Cash, Chief Operating Officer

Askinosie Chocolate goes beyond Fair Trade practices. How exactly do you do that?

First and foremost, we treat farmers as partners in our business. We travel to each of our four origins at least once a year to maintain the personal relationships he has built with each of our farmer partners over the years. We work together with the farmers to craft exceptional chocolate from exceptional cocoa beans. To do this, we are dedicated to Direct Trade, which means we not only know the regions from which the cocoa beans come, but more significantly, we can build long-term and mutually supportive relationships with the farmers who grow some of the world’s best cocoa beans.

Secondly, we pay the cocoa farmers significantly above the per-ton Fair Trade market price for their cocoa beans. And on top of that, we also profit share with these farmers! At the end of the selling cycle, which also happens to be the time to inspect the new crop, we visit the farmers and pay them directly. Because we also do not use a broker, this is just another example of removing layers of middlemen. With our model, it’s just us and the farmers. This way, we both have more control and the farmers make more money.

Finally, at origin, our farmers partners collaborate with other farmer groups and teach them the techniques they learn from us, from moisture reduction to proper storage. In turn, this creates better beans. Because the beans are better quality and because our company pays more for them, this allows the farmers to leverage a better price for them. In some cases, this has created a ripple effect that raised cocoa bean prices for the entire country to a much more fair and reasonable price.

We practice Direct Trade because we think it’s the right way and the best way to run our business.

One of the great things that Askinosie does is that it offers single origin chocolates so that we can taste the difference that environment and farming practices make on the final product.  How did you get the idea to go beyond single origin and specify the location of the farms that produced the cocoa beans?

Since we have a direct relationship with the farmers (and farms) it just made sense to talk openly about the location of the farms. We know where the beans come from, first-hand, and want everyone who experiences our chocolate to know too. Knowing intimate details about origin enhances the chocolate experience for everyone.

Which community did you partner with first and why did you choose them?

Our first-ever origin was San Jose Del Tambo, Ecuador. Shawn Askinosie, founder and CEO, visited this storied town in 2006 and has been excitedly journeying back every year since. 

As for why we chose them, we feel Shawn answers this question best: “Ecuador was the first place I traveled in my journey to discover chocolate in Aug 2005. I met and talked to a lot of people on that trip. I went back in 2006 and learned even more than on my first trip. Since I knew we would be directly trading with farmers and I was looking for unique, high quality, special cocoa beans, the best place to start is where I had the most contacts.”

How much of the production of chocolate is done at the cocoa farms?

The work that is done at the farm is all about the beans. After finding small farmer groups with top-notch beans, we work with them on proper fermentation and post harvest techniques. To accomplish this, we travel to the countries and works with the farmers directly. We examine and classify beans in the field and also use the old-fashioned method of looking at the beans, taking a handful, crushing them together and taking in the aroma. Moisture content is very critical also. We determine the moisture content of the dried beans at the farm and check the temperature of the beans that are fermenting. Finally, we taste the raw beans repeatedly for flavor and consistency. Then, the beans head to our factory in Springfield, MO, USA where we roast, winnow, conch, temper, mold, and hand-package the chocolate you know and love. 

We know what you give profits back to the cocoa farming communities but how hands on is Askinosie with the cocoa farmers?  Do you have oversight for the farming practices or the initial stages of chocolate production?

We are very involved with the farmers. For us to make exceptional chocolate, the cocoa bean quality must be perfect and meet our standards for sourcing. In addition to everything outlined above, the farmers adhere to our very detailed specifications, which means we have input on all of the facets that impact flavor, such as fermentation and drying. We are intimately involved with these processes, which means modifications can be made early on to ensure the resulting beans taste as perfect as possible.  Our farmers sign a contract agreeing that they are committed to healthful and responsible cultivation method and that no child labor is used (among other things). Although many of our farmers cannot afford organic certification, our cocoa beans are grown using organic, pesticide- and chemical-free practices that are ecologically responsible. We know this because we see it firsthand! Our chocolate is 100% traceable, which means we know the name of every farmer in the groups we work with and can trace our beans directly back to the farmers from whom we purchased them. We have the opportunity to reject defective beans at the farm, and he has done this before. Plus, we can help identify and solve problems before they become unmanageable (e.g. suggestions on ways to combat disease and pests which could wipe out a crop). We have input on how the beans are stored before shipment, another detail that has a big impact on flavor. And we control the types of bags that the cocoa beans are shipped in, which impacts air flow, moisture content and ultimately the flavor of the bean.

Would you please explain the Chocolate University to our readers?

Sure – Shawn started the Chocolate University program shortly after the first chocolate bar rolled out of the Askinosie Chocolate factory. He and the Askinosie Chocolate team began seeking (and have never stopped!) opportunities to serve the local community, specifically students, in our bean to bar adventure. We didn’t have to look too far to see the Missouri Hotel, Springfield’s largest homeless shelter, was only one block away from the factory on Commercial Street. As many as 80 children sleep there on any given night, and those kids and teens attend schools within walking distance of our factory. 

We were inspired to begin a program that would involve young people from our community in our small, international business, and the idea for Chocolate University was born.  Chocolate University is an experiential learning program with a worldwide reach for local students. The goal is to inspire students through the lens of artisan chocolate making to be global citizens and embrace the idea that business(es) can solve world problems. We involve neighborhood students from Boyd Elementary, Pipkin Middle School and local high schools in our business through visits to their classrooms, field trips to our factory, updates from origin, visits to origin and much more. The goal is not for these students to become bystanders during a lecture on chocolate making. It’s to provide them with a hands-on experience that takes them from the inner-workings of the factory to the cocoa bean farms across the world.

Each year, Chocolate University accepts applicants from local high schools to participate in a special course that will take them from the campus of Drury University to the lush cocoa bean farms in Tanzania. The cooperative program brings the students to the Askinosie factory for immersion learning sessions. During summer break, the students stay in Drury dorms for a week and are coached in a crash course of direct trade methods, cacao agronomy, Tanzanian culture, Swahili and more. Then, Shawn, Drury faculty and the students make a 36-hour journey to the Mababu region of Tanzania where they are introduced to our farmer partners and their community. The students participate with Shawn and the farmers in the cocoa bean inspection and profit sharing meetings before witnessing firsthand the benefits of our Direct Trade relationship with the farmers.

How did you personally get into the chocolate business?

I met Shawn in 2008, while I was attending Slow Food Nation in San Francisco. He was there with his chocolate and it was the first time I had tasted it, though we are from the same area, Southwest MO. I was immediately blown away by the chocolate and his approach to business. We kept the conversation going and I joined his Advisory Council back in 2008. I have always worked in food & beverage so joining the team full time as COO in late 2013 made perfect sense. 

How many years have you been making chocolate?

I have only been making chocolate since I joined the team in 2013, but have been part of product development since I joined Shawn’s Advisory Council back in 2008. 

Popular culture says that chocolate is difficult to work with but have you found that to be true?

I think chocolate can be difficult to work with, but that is in part due to the fact that we are not satisfied unless it is exceptional. It can be fickle, to be sure and is not for the faint of heart. The biggest challenge with chocolate production is scale. Many people have hand-tempered at home. When you scale that up to our capacity, for example, it’s an entirely different ballgame and creates its own set of challenges, as we still do everything “by hand.” We are fortunate to have Shawn’s expertise as a chocolate maker and innovator as well as our Head Chocolate Maker and Production Manager Kyle Malone. They, along with a very small product development team, take concepts and turn them into delicious reality. 

Of the various products that Askinosie creates and sells, what is your favorite and why?

My favorite bar is our 72% Mababu, Tanzania Dark Chocolate Bar. One square of this bar is a nightly ritual for me.  I love the smooth texture and fruit notes that perfectly complement the soft hint of graham flavor. 

Finally, is there anything else you'd like our readers to know about Askinosie Chocolate?

Askinosie Chocolate is a small, family owned craft chocolate factory that is truly and uniquely dedicated to creating outstanding chocolate while positively impacting everyone we encounter. I have been witness to countless conversations and discussions about “what else we can do” locally, regionally, globally. It’s invigorating to work with someone like Shawn (and the whole team) who can take an idea – whether it be for chocolate or social impact – and make it happen. 

Thank you so much for your time, Ms. Cash.

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