Monday, October 31, 2016

Best Halloween Treat 2016

We had a small pool of Challengers for our Annual Halloween Treat Challenge but what we had was quality. Let's review before I name the winner.

UNREAL Halloween themed candies and peanut butter cups are made with natural ingredients and come in easy to hand out and use single servings. The decoration on both types make it very appropriate for tonight's celebrations.

Yolli's candy melts are a great way to make your own treats for parties but many places frown upon homemade treats. The quality of the melts in terms of texture and flavor varied also we discovered through testing.

Enjoy Life's Snack Pack were not Halloween specific but their being free of many common allergens, being real chocolate, and come in easy to handle and hand out pouches makes them a good choice for Halloween.

Ultimately our choice has to be a the one that best balances the needs of Halloween. Without a doubt that is the UNREAL candies and peanut butter cups.  Congratulations to the 2016 Halloween Treat Winner: UNREAL!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Enjoy Allergy Free Treats for Halloween

In my private life I've tried some products that I've never written about here on The Chocolate Cult. Why? When companies and individual makers send us products I want them to know that is appreciated so I don't just talk about the products I buy or am gifted very often. I have seen Enjoy Life Foods products in the organic and natural food section of our local grocery stores for years and when they've been on sale and I've had coupons I've tried them. They vary widely but this summer Enjoy Life sent me some products to test out and write about and two of these fit into our Halloween theme in October. These are the NEW Snack Packs that while not packaged with spooky designs are easy to hand out as treats. I don't know about you, but as a little girl and a teenager I used to eat chocolate chip right out of the bags that my mother bought to make cookies with. I know, not the healthiest thing to do and a bit sneaky, too. These snack packs are portion controlled variations on what I used to do. Enjoy Life Foods sent me these two bags to test and write about honestly here on The Chocolate Cult; no other form of compensation was received in exchange for my honest written opinions.

Enjoy Life Mini vs Regular Chocolate Chips
The nutritional information on the snack packs is identical. Each 1 ounce snack pack has 140 calories, 11 grams of total fat, 7 grams saturated fat, 14 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams dietary fiber, 9 grams of sugars, 2 gram protein, with a touch of calcium (2%) and 20% of the daily iron you might need. By comparison, these are better than an average candy bar. Not only are they nutritionally better but Enjoy Life Foods is focused on making "Allergy Friendly" products. If you or your child has problems with common food items (dairy, tree nuts, peanut nuts, and soy), you might find these products useful alternatives. In this photo you can see the difference in the sizes of the chips in each snack pack -- mini chip versus morsel -- before we look at each pack in depth.

The bright yellow bag has the Semi-Sweet Mini Chips. These have that strong dark chocolate with an equally strong sweet scent that I associate with semi-sweet chocolate. As you can see these is quite a few of these little chips in a snack pack. Picking up a few with my fingers and popping some in my mouth is fun! I'm playing with my food! The flavor is what I would expect, intense chocolate with an edge of sweetness that does not dull the chocolate experience. The chips make a soft sound as I chew them. Like most chocolate chips, these are designed to maintain their shape if you were to bake them in a cookie so they are a slow melt if you just want to hold them in your mouth. The flavor was more intense when I chewed so I recommend that. This would be a good treat for older children, ages 10+ because of the intensity of the chocolate. Many kids don't like the bitterness of chocolate, one reason we give them milk chocolate, but if your kids like darker chocolate, this is a good choice.

The dark red back holds the Dark Chocolate Morsels which sounds awesome to me! However at 69% cacao these may not be ideal for kids because of the bitterness reasons mentioned in the previous paragraph. However teenagers may love it as may adults. Again know your trick o'treaters or party goers and choose accordingly. As you could tell from an earlier photo, these morsels are much larger than the mini chips but the stack of them in the snack pack is still impressive. These have less of a sweet fragrance but not more of a dark chocolate scent; I know that seems odd but that's the best way to describe when I smell when I take a whiff of that pile. When I bite into one the flavor starts off smooth then quickly sharpens to slight bitterness which I personally love but I know for some of you reading that you don't like the bitter stuff so this would not be the best choice for you -- go back to the yellow packs and enjoy those. It only takes a few of the morsels to start that cocoa rush I'm likely enough to get with certain chocolate products -- testing these relieved a headache I'd been challenged by for hours!

I liked both varieties for different reasons. For Halloween treats, the only drawback is really the cost. But if we go by $6.99 that you can see on the website if you bought several of them, that puts these snack packs in the range of the single candy bars that my grandmother used to hand out to her grandkids who come to her house on Halloween.  I'd use these Enjoy Life Snack Packs for kids that I know have allergy concerns, someone you are closer to than the random trick or treater that might show up at your door. However, I haven't seen these new products in our local stores so I can't say what the cost would be there, how often they might go on sale, or if coupons could be a factor in reducing the cost.  If you have and you've tried them let me and Enjoy Life Foods know what you thought about them by leaving a comment below. I can say that for quality of chocolate, allergen concerns, and packaging for portion control, these earn Sacrament Status here on The Chocolate Cult. Will they win "Best Halloween Treat 2016"? Come back on Halloween in just two days to find out.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Don't Lay a Finger on My Skull

I had this buy one get one free coupon for Butterfinger Cups Skull candy but was unable to find it until yesterday. My local Kroger had them and they were on sale, too. In terms of allergens, this 1.2 oz treat has milk, soy, and peanuts (obviously chocolate, too). Nutritional, it is candy, so okay as a special treat not for an everyday snack because it comes in at 190 calories and since it is from a big candy company (Nestle) it also has a lot of ingredients that might not appeal to some folks. But I know a lot of you love candy so I thought I'd try it out and share the results with you.

The skull is pretty big measuring 2.5 X 1.5 X 0.75 inches. The details are intriguing -- crack in head, hollow eyes and nose, little teeth but I think it also is  a touch flattened around the mouth. It has a strong Butterfinger scent -- peanut, sweet syrup, just a hint of milk chocolate. Surprisingly it does not crunch when I take a bite but chewing it is a bit loud. Inside is much what you'd expect from a Butterfinger cup. It very much a Butterfinger bar with a light milk chocolate flavor so if you don't like Butterfingers or at the very least average toffee, this isn't a treat for you. For a freebie is good and it could make a nice treat for special trick o'treaters who come to the door or your own kids or grandkids. If you find it on sale and/or use a coupon, it also isn't very expensive. Mine was 50¢.

Have you tried these out? What did you think about them?

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Yolli For Your Homemade Spooky Treats

So happy to have another UK based company join our list of brands whom we've featured on The Chocolate Cult. Why? Well, our 3rd highest readership is from the United Kingdom. We've featured other UK brands in the past but today we are looking at Yolli a company that focused on helping you, whether you are an average consumer or a candy business, make your goodies. Today we'll look at their candy melts that can be used in conjunction with chocolate to make treats. I experimented over the course of an entire weekend day to see how they worked best with a mold I have with ghost and jack o'lantern shapes. I was sent two bags of the black, white, and orange candy melts in exchange for this review.

I learned that that "painting on" the colors melted the chocolate and it wasn't a great idea as you can see here with the partly melted ghosts. So I turned next to layering the melts and the chocolate in the molds. That was a bit tricky given my basic home equipment. Remember I'm not a professional chocolatier only a woman like you who loves chocolate and wants to spend my money wisely. I'm sure a professional would have much better equipment but doing this did teach me to respect the candy makers even more.

The Black Yolli Melts were my least favorite of the three. The melted pieces made a thick liquid and it was difficult to spread. I also tasted them and yuck... really, that just tasted horrible to me. So at that point I decided not to continue to use them. If they had tasted like licorice, awesome, we've had that type of chocolate before but this taste was just horrible. The ingredients of this product includ Sugar, Hydrogenated vegetable fat, Sweet whey powder, Skimmed milk powder, Emulsifier (soy lecithin), Food acid, Vanilla Flavour, and Natural colours.

The White Yolli Melts melted into a thinner liquid and was easier to spread. It had a very creamy vanilla flavor to it so I paired it with a basic dark chocolate. The ingredients in these melts included Sugar, Fully hydrogenated vegetable fat (palm kernel oil), Skimmed milk powder, Emulsifier (soy lecithin), and Flavour. It took me a few tries to get a thin enough layer that still provided a white cover for the ghosts. The final products may not be professional quality but still not horrible for just setting out for friends and family to eat. In the photo you can see the plain white melt ghosts versus my attempt to make a layered ghost with 55% chocolate as the bulk and a thin layer of the white over it. I did this by applying the white coating to the mold first then adding the chocolate and spreading it out.

The Orange Yolli Melts melted into the thinnest liquid and it was much easier to spread in the molds. Because it is easier to spread you can see that the coverage is more even and nearly blocks out the 55% chocolate unless you look at them from the bottom. I also tested these melts by alone, pre-melted. I don't know if it just my mind playing tricks on me but I think there was a hint of citrus. A specific flavor isn't listed in the ingredients which include Sugar, Vegetable fat (fractionated and hydrogenated), Skimmed milk powder, Emulsifier (soy lecithin), Color, and Flavour.

The candies that you see above clocked in at 25 calories for the chocolate only (not shared in photo form) since I'm focused on the Yolli Melts) vs 27-28 for the layered pieces. It took about 10 minutes to make the layered pieces and then an hour to cool in the refrigerator so not a lot of time.

I got some other molds that were larger and tried another set of candy making but my initial results reminded the same. The Black has a icky taste by itself, the white is good, but the orange is best in terms of flavor and pourability.

If you haven't used candy melts before a few words of advice. Treat it much as you would chocolate -- keep water away from it, do not add any water based ingredients to it, and heat it in short burst with stirring between the heating. If you are used to working with chocolate you know how hot it can get but I notice that these candy melts fully melted more quickly and therefore did not heat up as much. The upside of that is that you can work with it more directly than with chocolate but you can also overheat more easily.

Since I know that we have many readers in the UK I'm curious to your comments about Yolli products. I loved the white and orange candy melts and I'm looking forward to trying the chocolate flavored sugar strands for the winter holidays.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Listeria Recalls Infect Wide Range of Products

Wow, talk about massive recalls! Not only are there a lot to share with you today (check the links to get all the information) but some of these brands are big names with large markets. Please, for your health and for your family's, take these seriously and check them out.

Note that most of these recalls involve a particular supplier because companies often do not make every ingredient that they include in their products.


Nestlé USA Initiates Voluntary Recall Of Nestlé® Drumstick® Club 16 Count Variety and 24 Count Vanilla Pack Due to Possible Health Risk






Saturday, October 15, 2016

Will Your Halloween be UNREAL?

Promo Photo from Unreal
How many of you hand out treats at Halloween?

How many of you host a Halloween party?

How many of you just love getting the treats for yourself?

Once more I'm honored to be chosen through the Tryazon program to share a chocolate product with local friends and with all of you reading The Chocolate Cult. I have talked about UNREAL products in the past but for the first time, UNREAL is offering Halloween specific treats so that they can be part of your Halloween experience. I received samples of the Unreal products in exchange for giving them out to friends and writing an objective blog post about them; no other form of compensation was received.

We received five types of Unreal treats to look at.

Original Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups (Halloween) come in the yellow bag that has 10 cups in it. Note that these cups weighs 14g vs the 34g Reese's Pumpkin single serving which you might also give out for Halloween. So it isn't really fair to compare the 80 calories in this cup to the 150-200 calories per other peanut butter cups which are later. It measure 1.5 inches across and is 0.25 inches thick, again smaller than the Reese's cups which probably come to mind when you think peanut butter cup. The cups contain 30% fair trade certified ingredients as well as some organic ingredients like cacao and powdered sugar but it also contains palm oil. If you are allergic to peanuts, chocolate, milk, or sunflowers you don't want this. The cup has a domed top but otherwise looks very similar to any Reese's cup. It has a strong chocolate scent with an edge of sweetness and roasted peanuts before you even take a bite. Taking a bite makes a soft sound as I push through the thick edges. Immediately I taste sweet chocolate then a burst of very intense roasted peanuts that fade into more chocolate and sweetness as I chew it. The inside is creamy and thick and a touch gritty but not unpleasantly so. The peanut roasted flavor is really the biggest difference between this and an average peanut butter cup but the chocolate also has a strong aftertaste. I really like it. The folks at my little party that I shared these with liked these though they agreed with my assessment that these were smaller than a traditional peanut butter cup.

Candy Coated Milk Chocolate Gems (Halloween) are similar to M&Ms because they are small, round, chocolate, candy-coated pieces, 14-15 pieces to a small 12g bag. These have fewer calories than the previous treat coming in at 60 calories for a pouch. The first ingredient is milk chocolate with organic ingredient, 40% of the ingredients are certified fair trade. Since this is milk chocolate it has dair if that is an allergy concern for you. I'm a bit concerned when I read the ingredients and see red cabbage juice -- I'm allergic to cabbage so I'm taking a risk trying these out for you all, let's hope I don't have a negative reaction. The colors are muted tones of yellow, purple, blue, and green in the pouch I opened so maybe I didn't get any of the red cabbage dyed ones. Yes, the dyes are natural not some code number like you'd see on most similar candy. The pieces make a loud crunch when I bite and chew them, the sweetness is much less than I expected, the chocolate is more intense but that sweetness returns to the forefront at the end of each piece. The four colors I tried do not taste different to me at all, and I do not believe that they are supposed to taste different based on the packaging information. I like these just not as much as the previous treat and sadly not as much as M&Ms. Of my guests who tried the Gems last night one claimed he could taste a difference between the colors but when I pressed him to try a different color he didn't mention that it tasted different. Two people found the muted colors off-putting even though I explained this was natural not artificial dyes and the tones were duller. One asked if they were dark chocolate even after tasting them; I think for here the lower sugar content equal a darker flavor than she is probably used to.

Halloween Themed Unreal in Pumpkin Plate

All Unreal samples in Halloween Pail
The other three samples I'll mention here but I'll review them in greater detail in later posts. These are in everyday bags so no decorative theme to set them up as a Halloween, Christmas, or other holiday treat. This includes the Dark Chocolate Coconut Peanut Butter Cups in a blue bag, the Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups in a red bag, and the Milk Chocolate Crispy Quinoa Peanut Butter Cups in a green bag. Each cup is 14-15 grams and has 80 calories but again this makes them smaller than most other peanut butter cups so compare weight equivalents or merely portioned pieces as you think you'd use them.

I introduced these products to a group of friends last night.

I gave each person a baggie containing one of each treat, most of them tried one or two while with me but also took some home with them. We talked about what Unreal is and my guests seemed interested. Sadly I haven't seen most of these treats in my local stores but you can order these online using the links above.

So tell me. Would you consider buying and handing out or serving up Unreal treats for Halloween?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Meet the Official Chocolatier for The Chocolate Walk 2016

Sisters and Brothers in Chocolate let's look at the official chocolatier for the Brown County Humane Society's Chocolate Walk this year, Crystal Jeffries. This is her second year helping the Society out directly. Welcome, Crystal, and thank you for talking with us today.

What does it mean to be the chocolatier for the Brown County Humane Society? What are your responsibilities?

What it means is I basically make the chocolate for the Humane Society. I have a store front (sic) but I would rather be the chocolatier for the Humane Society. If I can take one burden from them I am doing what I should be doing! So instead of having a number at my shop I pass out my cupcakes for at the Humane society's stop.

How were you chosen for this position?

 Last year my shop opened too late to be put in the brochure but I really wanted to be involved. Jane got ahold of me and asked me if I wanted to be their chocolatier instead. Of course I said yes!

Do you have pets and how does that connect  you to the Human Society?

I currently have 4 cats, 2 dogs, and 2 hamsters! All of them except for 1 dog and the 2 hamsters are rescued!

You also have a store in Nashville, Indiana, called Forever Sweet. Would you please tell us about it?

I opened on August 1, 2015. It's always been a dream of mine to own a shop and sell my cupcakes. I am still awe struck that it actually happened. I have 6 flavors everyday. I change those flavors about every 3 weeks. I offer a local, military, and student discount. I love what I do. 

Since you are the official chocolatier for the Brown County Humane Society, will your shop in Nashville be one of the stops on the walk on November 12, 2016?

My shop will not be a stop. However, since I am right next door to Boneappetit I will be open and it will be very easy to come in and get a cupcake! 

How long have you been working with chocolate and cocoa products?

I would say I have been working with cocoa products since I learned to bake.

What is your favorite product that you make at Forever Sweet?

My favorite cupcake I make is the pumpkin! Which I have right now!

Have you found that working with cupcakes makes you more of a fan of them (and chocolate) or has it made you less of a fan of sweets?

I would say I'm more of a fan. I have to force myself to go thru the day without eating them.

Finally, some people are intimidated by baking and working with chocolate. What advice would you offer someone who would like to make goodies at home but just is afraid they will fail?

It is all about trial and error. If you love what you do just keep at it. The love you put into will shine thru! 

Thank you, Crystal, for talking with us today. I hope when I'm at the Walk in November we'll have time to say "hi" to you in person and maybe get a photo. Sisters and Brothers, leave a comment to say "hi" to Crystal and if you are going on the Chocolate Walk, check out her shop.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Energy Shot from a Cookie?

We've covered quite a few chocolate, cocoa, and chocolate chips cookies here on The Chocolate Cult but we haven't covered energy drinks or energy bars yet. Today we're going to tackle our first energy cookie! Yup, a chocolate cookie infused with caffeine called a Smart Energy Cookie from a company called Get Up and Go. I am not a fan of coffee, as you may well know from reading this blog, but in this case the caffeine isn't from coffee but from coffee bean extract so I'm hoping it won't taste or smell like coffee. Besides the coffee bean extract, this Chocolate Chip Smart Energy Cookie's chips are made with chocolate liquor and cocoa butter as the first and second ingredients. The other ingredients are pretty standard for cookies (fruit juice though!) with allergens of soy, milk, eggs, and wheat. I received two free samples of the Chocolate Chip cookie variety from Get Up and Go through the Tomoson program in exchange for an honest review; no other form of compensation was received.

As  you can see, the two cookies vary in color and slightly in size. As soon as I opened the plastic wrapper there is a sweet cookie dough scent from the lighter colored cookie and a sweet wheat scent from the other cookie. The chips are visible and seem average sized and there are many of them in each cookie. The chips have a strong chocolate scent to them when I break them open and bring them to my nose to get a deep whiff of them. I try the darker cookie first: It is soft but the outside is a bit crispy, the flavor is not as sweet as the scent suggested, but the chocolate chips are definitely on the sweeter side; I do not taste anything remotely like coffee. The lighter cookie: Softer, no crispiness, less intense wheat flavor and oddly less sweet even the chips taste sweeter. Was one cookie baked a minute longer? Odd but time in the oven can have a big impact on the flavor of baked goods. I notice in the case of both cookies that the caffeine kicks in within three bites and it is pretty intense; but then I'm not a big caffeine consumer so it might hit me harder than you. It makes me feel more awake, makes my vision seem a big zoomed out, and any tension in my head and neck disappeared. In other words, very similar to the effects I can get from 80% dark chocolate.

Chocolate Chip Smart Energy Cookies are the main products from Get Up and Go but they also have two types of brownies which I'd love to check out in the future. Have you tried them? If so, leave a comment and tell me what  you thought of them. If not, do you think this is the type of product you'd like to try in the future?

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

3 Must Haves for a Spooktacular Treating Halloween

Halloween is 27 days away. I'm mostly ready. I have the treats, I have a schedule, I have a plan. I just need to decorate. There are lots of lists out there for Halloween but today we are going to focus on the Must Haves for a great experience as a stop on the trick o'treating route of your town.

#1 An Estimation of How Many Treats You'll Need

Ever since we moved to our house 15 years ago, I've kept a record of how many trick o'treaters we get. After a few years this allowed me to estimate how many treats we'll need. We get 150-200 every year. Couple that information with how much we will give out (1 treat a person, honestly they don't need more and you can save money this way) and I know how much I'm going to need to buy. Then I just watch sales and gather coupons and we have a wonderful assortment, we don't run out, and we feel good about participating in our community and about our wallets.

#2 At Least Two Food Options

While we love chocolate here on The Chocolate Cult, the sad fact is that some people do not. Ever worse, some people are allergic to chocolate. So even if you love chocolate like me, you want non-chocolate options. This means having at least two food treats you can hand out. You could get even more intense with your record keeping and track how many of each treat is chosen by the trick o'treaters who come to your house but as record focused as I can be, I don't even do that!

Of course the final Must Have might undo the need for a non-chocolate treat but still, the kiddies do like an option so two food treats is a good idea.

#3 At Least Two Non-Food Options

Just as some folks are allergic to chocolate there is a huge array of potential allergens in the Halloween themed food treats on the market today. If you can afford it, you can find allergen-free products but I won't lie to you, these are more expensive. When you have 150-200 stop by for treats, that issue can make it unfeasible for you to participate or force parents to go through their kids bags and pails adding stress to their lives and disappointment to the kids' Halloween experience. There are a lot of non-food treats you can find these days ranging from pencils to stickers to silly plastic jewelry. It is all a matter of what you want to spend but they do no need to be more expensive than the candy option. Last year, as part of the Teal Pumpkin Project, we didn't hand out any food items and the kids and their parents seemed to be thrilled. Again just like with food treats, having an option is a good idea particular since the age of trick o'treaters in my community ranges from pre-school to high school. A high schooler might like the fake tatoo but a parent may not want that for their 6 year old.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Cookies, Cookies, Cookies!

October is "National Cookbook Month" which is interesting and not something we've focused on yet here on The Chocolate Cult. Normally we spend the entire month on Halloween but since October 1st is a Saturday and Halloween may not quite yet be on your mind, let's look at one of the cookbooks that I was sent to review this year: The Southern Cookie Book from Southern Living. The temperatures and humidity was excellent for baking two weekends in May, so I spent two entire days trying recipes from all five of the main chapters in this book.

As most cookbooks do, this one offers information about the types of ingredients and equipment you'd need to make the recipes inside however I note that of the five recipes I choose, one ingredient that I had not heard of (sanding sugar) was not mentioned in the ingredient section. I think if you are going to have an ingredient section, you need to make sure that you mention all the ingredients that will be showing up. Other tips for making cookies are laid out before the recipe chapters but also included  at the beginning of each chapter and sometimes with the recipes themselves. Some tips were located in very useful places, others not really so it was a mixed bag.

Chapter: Drop Cookies does not necessarily mean just by the normal teaspoon or tablespoon full but also by cookie dough scoop. The tips here to chill the dropped dough did make a difference in terms of texture and shape of the final cookie. You could also chill the dough itself and achieve the same results I discovered. I tested "Brownie Cookies" (p 44) but substituted out the pecans for mini chocolate chips because of allergies.

Chapter: Filled Cookies was a touch disappointing because it included not just cookies you put a filling inside of but basically different ideas for the "sandwich" or "whoopie pie" cookie. I tried the "Cream-Filled Chocolate Chip Wafers" (p 111) and found two issues -- the wafer are very fragile and there needed to be advice about using them in the recipe; also the amount of chips and nuts you are supposed to use makes a filling that was really too thick to spread on the wafers.

Chapter: Rolled Cookies includes recipes for cookies that you roll out with a rolling pin to cut, that you roll out by hand, and that you roll into a dough tube that you later cut. I tested "Molasses-Spice Crinkles" which are basically a variation of other types of Crinkles that I've made with cocoa.

Chapter: Bars and Brownies... not really cookies, right?I tested "Peanut Butter Streusel Brownies" and discovered a very serious problem-- the streusel is far too dry and there is too much of it. It really did not want to stick on the brownie and was very crumbly. I'd recommend using 2-4 times the amount of crunchy peanut butter unless you want to eat it with a spoon like we did.

Chapter: Confection... why is this in here? Not cookies, Southern Living! Anyway I tried out "Sweet and Salty Popcorn Snack Mix" was was easy to make but I was annoyed that the candy piece are not meant to stick to the popcorn... what's the point then? Just have caramel popcorn with a side of candies?

Southern Living is a magazine that has been around since 1966 so I was hoping they'd have some wonderful Southern cookies that I, a Midwestern gal, wouldn't know. Sure there were many things I hadn't hear of but my spot testing didn't result in products I felt very happy about. Maybe you'll have better luck. If you are interested in this cookie recipe book, check it out using our links. Not only will you be able to buy it, but you'll also be supporting The Chocolate Cult when you do so.

Matched Content Ads