Monday, February 29, 2016

Bonus! National Cupcake Day!

In December, every year, there is a "National Cupcake Day" but in honor of year, several charities around the USA are pushing another such date in an attempt to generate sales for baked goods that will in turn benefit those charities. While none in my area are doing so, I thought it would be a good time for our interview with cupcake creator, Jacob Langham, of Palette Cupcakes. Sisters and Brothers, I am very proud to introduce you to a friend of my husband and myself, Mr. Jacob Langham, who is the lead baker and owner of Palette Cupcakes in the city where we currently live. Jacob, thank you for agreeing to our interview.

How did you get interested in baking?

I’ve got a massive sweet tooth.  I used to volunteer at a food bank/soup kitchen, and one of the things I’d do was check over the storeroom to see if anything had expired.  One thing I kept seeing each time I went there were these two big canisters of vanilla frosting.  Eventually they were getting near the expiration date, so I asked one of the supervisors if they were ever going to use them, and if not, could I have one.  Yeah, I was a lot younger back then.  He said yes though… and well, ever hear the saying “be careful what you wish for”?  Yeah.  So here I have this big canister of frosting, more than I could ever use in a reasonable timeframe… and I just started baking.  I started out with brownies first… I made this absurd double-decker brownie-orange… thing… that came out kinda terribad.  Tasted kinda okay, looked like a lukewarm mess.  From there I went to cakes… double-layer 9 inch rounds.  Those were alright, but they didn’t look great, and I had a hard time getting people to eat them.  From there I tried cupcakes, and it just sorta clicked.  After the first batch, I went out looking and found a Wilton-brand decorating kit that included a filler-tip.  I still use that same tip.

What draws you to cupcakes verses cookies, brownies, full-sized cakes, or other items?

Simply put, I’m better at them, and I can do more with them.  I have a tendency to burn cookies, and I find brownies to be… formulaic.  Tasty, yes, but there’s only so far you can go with a brownie without too much work.  I did dabble with full-sized cakes, but have you ever tried decorating one of those?  Bleh.  Not my skillset.  Cupcakes are small enough that making them look decent isn’t a hassle, and you can just do so much with them.  Sure, if a customer really wants a cake or a pie or something, I can oblige. But I can only promise that my cupcakes both taste and look good.

I'm sure there is a story behind your business name, Palette Cupcakes, would you tell our readers who you chose that name?

Man, that was years ago.  I think it mostly goes back to some play-on-words I came up with at 4AM some random day.  A Palate is a part of the mouth, and is usually associated with someone’s preferences tastewise, and a palette is a something an artist uses to hold paint, they sound the same out loud (or close at least) and then there’s the whole “Cupcake as canvas for flavors” thing I had in mind… I don’t even know anymore.  For some people, naming a business is the most important day of their life.  For me it was a Tuesday (proverbially speaking).

Your website says that you've been around since 2010 but you've really starting pushing the business more recently I've noticed. Why now?

 *shrugs* I’m just more motivated, I guess?  For reasons I’m not getting into here, I’ve been kind of blah for the last year or so, and things were pretty sedate before that.  This is mostly me just getting up off my butt now that I’ve gotten the requisite kick-in-the-pants.  Shaking off the ennui of life, or whatever.  The whole “Art of Chocolate” really kicked it off too.  I didn’t even know about the “Week of Chocolate” before I was asked directly by Shelton to do something for it.  She just happened to be one of the recipients of a ‘for fun’ batch (I think they were Red-Velvet Ermine).

Do you have hopes of expanding Palette Cupcakes in the future?

Heh, nope.  I’ve got no intention of making a living doing this.  It’s mostly just a monetized hobby for me.  Bit of a fun diversion for a bit of pocket money, like someone who has a normal job, but does something else on the side, like babysitting or painting.

Obviously here on The Chocolate Cult we are interested in all things chocolate. I've had a few of your chocolate variations so let's turn to working with chocolate and varieties of cupcakes. When you do a chocolate variety, do you use cocoa, chocolate, or combination of those? Do you have a favorite brand?

I can’t tell you exactly what goes into my product, but I can say that more of it comes off-the-shelf than you’d think.  That said, I am rather fond of Hershey’s brand cocoa powder.  Somewhat pedestrian, I know, but it works well.  Oh and Hershey’s Special Dark syrup.  Love that stuff.  Not by itself mind, but mixed in, or as a garnish.

I've noticed that your cupcakes tend to have the cake and frosting but also filling yet you have a very open product and pricing list for customers. Do most of your customers want cake, frosting, and filling?

Generally speaking yes.  I’ve not had any orders for unfilled cupcakes that I recall.  Kinda defeats the purpose of ordering from me otherwise.  I have had a few folks just order flavored frosting though.

While you are open to a range of flavor combinations, your website also lists "Favorite Orders." Are these combinations you came up with or ones that past customers wanted that you discovered worked really well?

I’d say about 90% of that list is just stuff I tinkered with in my first year.  Just trying a ton of different combinations to see what worked well.  Stuff that I think worked best, or resonated best with my test-audience went on the list.

What is your favorite chocolate cupcake combination?

It’s funny… my favorite cupcake doesn’t have any chocolate at all.  Since you specified though?  Yellow cake with a chocolate frosting filling, and a buttercream or vanilla frosting top.  Simple, yes… but honestly you do fancy stuff for so long and you really want to get back to basics.  Despite what I bake, I actually have very uncomplicated tastes.

Have you ever said "no way" to a cupcake combination that a customer wanted because you knew that cake, frosting, and filling would just clash?

Not really.  I’ve had to say ‘no’ once or twice simply because it outright wouldn’t work (I couldn’t source an ingredient, or they wanted something that just wouldn’t work mechanically) but yeah, “The customer is always right” and “Buyer beware” both apply here.  I’ll chip in if it’s something unusual, and my customers usually ask for my input, but one of my mottos is “You name it, I cupcake it”.  So yeah, order something weird, get something weird.  I really don’t mind as long as I’m getting paid.

Finally, if someone wanted Palette Cupcakes for their Easter celebration, how far in advance would you suggest they contact you?

Well, on my website, I ask for a week’s notice.  Keep in mind this isn’t my primary job, and I buy ingredients on an as-needed basis (I keep some of the basics on hand, but not much).  That said, the more time you can give me, the better.

Thank you, Jacob, for talking with us today. Sisters and Brothers, leave some comments and let Palette Cupcake know what "Favorite Orders" variety looks tastiest to you. (I'll link directly to that page here)

Also, feel free to make any suggestions.  I’m always interested in hearing other folks tastes or takes on combinations or flavor matches.  More viewpoints is usually better.  If I see something really good or really interesting, I might just try it out myself!

Cool! I hope you will check out Palette Cupcakes, Sisters and Brothers!

Sunday, February 28, 2016

1 Recall = Dozens of Brands Affected

Wow, I think this is the greatest number of brands we've ever shared here on The Chocolate Cult that have been part of the same recall. I'll highlight the brands and add images for as many of then as I can find to help you out.


WARREN, Mich. - Lipari Foods, LLC has issued a voluntary recall of dark chocolate covered coffee beans packaged by sister company JLM due to an undeclared allergen of tree nuts (almonds). People who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to almonds run the risk of a serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume these products. The products are safe for consumption by those who do not have an allergy or severe sensitivity to almonds.
The products were distributed to retail stores throughout Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

Products were distributed under the following brand names Angeli Foods, Harding's Markets, Goosberries Fresh Food Market, Martha's Vineyard, Hollywood Market, Daniels Foods, Snook's Butcher Shoppe, Martin's, Holiday Market, The Purple Onion, Remke Market or as generic product without branding.

The affected products can be identified by:

Product                                       Lipari Product # Lot # Weight Best By Date UPC
Dark Chocolate Covered Coffee Beans

Angeli Foods                               510526 22201512 12oz Tubs 12/21/16 094776131761

Harding's Markets                       510526 22201512 12oz Tubs 12/21/16 094776131761

Goosberries Fresh Food Market  510526 22201512 12oz Tubs 12/21/16 094776131761

Martha's Vineyard                      510526 22201512 12oz Tubs 12/21/16 094776131761

Hollywood Market                      510526 22201512 12oz Tubs 12/21/16 094776131761

Daniels Foods                             510526 22201512 12oz Tubs 12/21/16 094776131761

Snook's Butcher Shoppe             510526 22201512 12oz Tubs 12/21/16 094776131761

Martin's                                       510526 22201512 12oz Tubs 12/21/16 094776131761

Holiday Market                           510526 22201512 12oz Tubs 12/21/16 094776131761

The Purple Onion                        510526 22201512 12oz Tubs 12/21/16 094776131761

Remke Market                          510526 22201512 12oz Tubs 12/21/16 094776131761

Generic                                     477308 22201512 12oz Tubs 12/21/16 094776131761

There are no reported illnesses in connection with these products to date.

This was brought to our attention by our sister company, JLM who discovered that dark chocolate almonds were unintentionally mixed in with the dark chocolate covered coffee beans during packaging of private label products. As a precaution, Lipari Foods private label and non-branded products are being recalled as they have the potential to be contaminated. We are working closely with the FDA to ensure that all affected product has been pulled from commerce.

Consumers who have purchased this recalled product should not consume it. They should return it to the point of purchase. Consumers with questions should call Customer Service at 800-729-3354, 8:15 am - 4:30 pm, EST, Monday through Friday.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Cupcake Checkers!

As you know, The Chocolate Cult, does not only look at candy made with chocolate -- we are open to trying out anything related to chocolate so that chocolate lovers like you can find fun products that are worth your money. Today I want to look at the MaddCapp Game version of checkers called Madd Capp Checkers - Cupcake Lovers Edition. This product might be a calorie free way for you to celebrate an extra National Cupcake Day on Monday, February 29, 2016; we'll also have an interview with a local cupcake business owner. I was sent Madd Capp Checkers to review via the Amazon Vine program.

How is this chocolate related? Unlike the box's idea, the cupcake pieces that you play with come in only two varieties -- pink (strawberry) and brown (chocolate). Here they are laid out on the board from the chocolate view. Chocolate, by the way, always starts the game just like black always starts a traditional checkers game. In effect, the strawberry has replaced the red pieces while the chocolate has replaced the black pieces. The basic rules of checkers still apply as far as we could tell from the directions but there is one big change.

The dice popper! As you can see the lavender color of the popper base matches the lavender squares on the game board above. You basically push down on the plastic dome -- not too hard or it might crack -- and the three dice tell you which color of cupcakes you can more.  You could be making three moves of your own or up to three moves of your opponents pieces. That's the big difference in this game from traditional checkers -- multiple moves and you do not fully control what you can move. This can make it more challenging to plan out your moves in advance since you do not know which dice will come up.

You can't move just any piece that matches the color on the dice however. When a cupcake has moved to the other side of the board you "king" it by placing a candle in the top. These are made of foam material. As you can see they are not identical on each side though why not I'm not sure. You insert them into the top if the cupcake pieces by squeezing the bottom flat and slipping it in. The foam then expands and fits without falling out but is easy to remove with a gentle tug.

Because you make three moves every turn this game of checkers can go much faster than the traditional game. I'm not great at checkers, it wasn't something I grew up playing, but the rest of my family did and so we all tested it. The biggest checkers (and chess) lover in our house really liked this game, I think he would have played it as long as we were willing to go so I imagine we'll be playing this regularly in my house.

Would you buy this game for someone you loved who really like cupcakes? If so, consider ordering it through the link below right now.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

The Art of Chocolate 2016

Normally on Saturdays we have a Sacrament, our feature review, today instead of a chocolate item, a baking product, or a book review, we are going to do an event review. This is The Art of Chocolate, an event which is part of The Week of Chocolate. While The Art of Chocolate was marking its 10th anniversary, The Week of Chocolate has been around for almost as long as I've lived in Bloomington, Indiana. I've been The Art of Chocolate four times in the past when it was in the Indiana University Art Museum. I attended the first few Week of Chocolate events downtown in the Fountain Square Mall and I've attended other events over the years at various locations. I received a free ticket to the 10th The Art of Chocolate courtesy of Palette Cupcakes and LIFEDesigns, the organization that created The Week of Chocolate and The Art of Chocolate; no other form of compensation was received for this honest review.

The Art of Chocolate was a more formal event this year with a much smaller number of tasting businesses and a sit down dinner on the west side of Bloomington, Indiana, in the Liberty Ballroom. As always there was a live auction there as well and all proceeds help out LIFEDesigns which helps I took a lot of photos that I'll be sharing during this review. The email I received confirming that I was going said "formal dress" so I had to scramble to find something; I'm not a very formal sort of gal. However I notice a wide range of clothing including jeans and sweaters so I didn't need to worry. But thanks to my in-laws for jewelry and one of my dearest friends for the shirt, I think I did okay. That smile on my face was before the event, image how happy I'd look after getting a lot of wonderful chocolate?

Entry from parking lot
The venue was a very good size with ample parking but I don't think the space inside was used in the best way as I hope my photos will show. After figuring out where to hang up coats, you walk down a hallway then turn down a much shorter hallway and then into the ballroom space. I would have started with the food sampling and artists out in at least that shorter hallway. Why? because it got very, very crowded. Luckily I was there when it started and had some time to chat with some of the treat makers and artists but that didn't last. It actually was difficult to get to my table through the overflow groups chatting.

I think it was a great idea to mix the artists and the chocolate treats together so you had to look at everything. There were baked goods, candies, alcohol, cold, and hot goodies to sample. Let's look at some of these; this is not everyone but pretty close. The only artist I didn't get was Cassidy Young whose table was crowded whenever I went over there after my initial conversation with her. Next year (if I attend), I'm wearing pants with a pocket so I can handle my camera better and just do all the photos before the crowd arrives.

Function Brewing, 3 choices 1 with cacao nibs
No Coast Reserve's new desserts
Zeitgeist had two different products
LIFEDesigns Treats
Artist Anne-Karinne Bley

Palette Cupcakes had 4 Full-Sized Varieties
Sugar and Spice from the University with 5 Treats
Cynthia Moriarty Event and Banquet Catering but No Chocolate?
Oliver Winery is always at these events!

The guys from STIR BTown again!
Artist Jeanne Ellen Duttun's creations and chatting to guest.
Auction Items
Some More Auction Items

Look at the crowd!
This was table #25 where I was seated. As you can see, One World aid the table out nicely but the food was brought in odd fashion. First the Starter course came out before the Online Auction and Tastings were done. Then the Main course was served family style; luckily we were short one person at our table so we were able to set the bowls in that spot but otherwise it must have been crowded. The Dessert course, frankly unnecessary, was there from the very start.

After the meal the auction took place in the front of the ballroom. Here you can see the layout before then. They used the screens for a short video describing what LIFEDesigns does and also to show the items up for auction. This is just the shot to the left of where I was seated; there was another screen and more seating to the right as well as a keyboard player who played for 90 minutes and even took requests!
Peacetree Mountain Truffles (whose creations we've reviewed and whose owner we have interviewed in the past) also was one of the main backers for this event and they gave out these lovely little truffles at the end of the banquet part of the dinner. Cherry Cheesecake was delicious plus look at it, perfect heart shape with red highlight for Valentine's weekend, too. They also offered a free gift to anyone who used the Chocolate Passports and went to 6 events from February 5-22 but no one offered to stamp or mark the passport at The Art of Chocolate. Perhaps next year they'll promote this more.

The event was good but, as I said, a bit crowded into that ballroom. I suggest moving the tasting and auction parts elsewhere in the building if there is more room. Also I won't call it "formal wear" really unless you are going to have a formal sit-down meal that is served course by course at specific times. Otherwise, have a buffet that is served only after the tasting part is over, that would save time and frankly you don't need a dessert course given the tastings so you could have more options. As it was, it was only chicken, rice, and pumpkin for the main course. What if someone had a serious allergy to one of those? I'd also suggest starting the event earlier and having the tasting part be longer so that folks can chat and check out the auction items more. At our table we noticed that the big items up for auction weren't doing so well. Honestly, the bids were started much longer than the reserved prices but there wasn't anything in the information we received at the event about what that reserve price was. That was a bit awkward to listen to yet those items still didn't sale; there is only so much peer pressure can do at events like this.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Woolery Market Review

Our local newspaper has started a new market for local, county, and state makers to showcase their goods to the public. They call it the Woolery Market and I went to the very first one this past Saturday, February 13, 2016. I went because there were going to be four food places at the event and two more outside in food trunks. As you know, for our On the Road articles I'm always looking out for chocolate related stops to share with you. That just rarely happens where I live. So what was the Woolery Market, was there any chocolate, and would I try it again?

The first thing to know about this event is that is was freaking cold that day. According to, the high that day was 21°F. Second the event started at 10am but we planned to leave our house around 10:30am even though there were late announcements in the newspaper about giveaways and coupons available only to the first 1000 attendees. We were wrong when we thought folks would stay away. We got one of the last entry forms and coupons when we arrived at 10:50am. Look at all the folks in their heavy coats! Yes, they did have these heaters also around the perimeter but given how tall they were and that heat rises... unless you were right next to one, it didn't do much.

It was very crowded. We had friends who arrived at 10am and they told us there was parking near to the building. We got very lucky and parked right next to our favorite local radio station's van B97!

I had downloaded a copy of the vender layout for the event but once we were inside I realized it wasn't set up that way. There were four food stops and the first of these was right after the entry table -- Dip Chicks Dips which I hope will talk to me in the future about one of their chocolate related products.

In the back corner was Wagon Wheel Country Market... no chocolate that day but they say they do sell chocolate items so I hope they contact me, too. You can see the plastic that was raised to separate the venue. Frankly I wish they had used more of the venue because it was crowded and didn't encourage lingering which would have increased sales. I know, I've done such events myself.

Sofra Cafe was also there but no chocolate and I don't imagine they do much with chocolate but here's a photo of their booth.

The best chocolate vendor was Nate's Candy Jar which was focused on fudge but also had a few other items including pet friendly items. My lover got enough fudge that we also got a free sample of their fudge in this delightful Valentine themed box. I really hope to hear from them again because of the fudge we had from them was great.

There were other vendors with a hint of chocolate. Earth and Wind Creations uses cocoa butter in their products and Monarch Apothecary and Milkweed Soaps told me that she's been experimenting with cacao nibs. Sadly the photo of the apothecary was blurry but here is one of Earth and Wind Creations who had heart shaped samples of their solid lotions that are made with cocoa butter. Again the hanging plastic dividing the space.

Of course the bulk of folks were non-chocolate related vendors. Here's a shot of the head of Press Puzzles where we stopped and I may have done some Christmas shopping for 2016...

Outside there were a couple of food trucks and one of them, STIR BTown, served both coffee and hot chocolate; I saw them later that same day at The Art of Chocolate which I'll be reviewing this coming weekend.

If this event was a success, the Woolery Market is supposed to return on May 14, 2016, and if they have more food vendors I would certainly check it out again. There are a few suggestions I have for the future of the market.

1. Have someone helping out with parking. As it was, folks were all over the place on the open grounds outside of the venue.

2. Have more space for each vendor but don't charge them more. To be blunt, it was very difficult to get into the little vending areas and really check things out. Perhaps there were less crowded periods but for the hour we were there it was nearly impossible to move at times let alone really check out items. Open up the entire building if it is safe to do so. Not only could you give more space to each vendor but get more of them into the space.

3. Forget the heaters unless you plan to place a lot more of them. For all the good they did, it really was just a waste of energy. If you place one between every two vendors I bet that would have made a huge difference but it is February! Folks can just cope.

4. Strongly suggest that each vendor bring business cards or offer to list their websites or contact information on the website for this event.

5. Finally, you need some help with that traffic. It was fine to leave turning right but if you had to turn left it was a nightmare.

Here are some of the great things about the event.

1. Good mixture of products and they were mixed well so that there wasn't a food only court or the wall of wooden signs. This encouraged us to keep looking left and right.

2. Friendly vendors. Every maker we could get close enough to chat with was friendly and that doesn't always happen at these sorts of events.

3. Good music outside that didn't interfere with business inside. You have to be able to talk with vendors and your friends you came with but the music outside was a good introduction and break from the crowds.

4. Easy to find location... at least from where we live. It only took a few turns and we found the venue.

If you went to Woolery Market last weekend what did you think of it? Leave a comment and let us know!

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