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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Make Your Own Chocolaty Treats for Halloween, like these White Chocolate Ghosts!

Tired of handing out the same ol' mini KitKat and Mars bars for trick or treaters?  Make your own chocolate treats this year!  These Halloween Ghosts look great in cello bags or on Halloween dessert platters at the annual office costume party.

Here is how you make them:

You need:

-340 g / 12 oz (makes 22-24 ghosts) or 16 oz / 454 (makes 30-32) of white chocolate.
-semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips (about 70 to 100 pieces).

Instructions:

1. Lay out a very long piece of waxed paper on your counter top.

2. Melt and temper 12 ounces of white chocolate.  (Tempering is an important step to ensure your treats look and taste their best. See here for instructions on tempering white chocolate).

3. Place your chocolate in a plastic pastry bag with a very small round tip, or cut a small hole in the end of the bag.  A sandwich or freezer bag can also be used with a small hole cut in one corner.

4. Squeeze the white chocolate out in a circle, then drop the white chocolate below and squiggle it to the right to make a ghost belly shape and its tail.

5. Let cool and set.  Once completely hard (about an hour) peel off the waxed paper and place in cello bags or on a Halloween Party treat platter with other desserts.

Makes 22 to 30 ghosts (15 grams or 1/2 ounce each).

White chocolate tips:
  • I used Camino brand of organic and fair trade white chocolate, but you can buy large quantities of good quality white chocolate at bulk stores, such as Bulk Barn in Canada. You can also purchase white chocolate online at many sites, such as the CacaoBarry and Callebaut brands, as well as Valrhona at Vanilla Food Company (ships to both the U.S.A. and Canada with low flat rates). At Walmart, Joe's is a good brand of white chocolate to use. Learn about and compare about other brands of white chocolate here.

  • White chocolate can be finicky and hard to work with, compared to darker chocolate. Ensure your room is no less than 21 degrees C (70 degrees F) when working with white chocolate, or it will harden on your before you are done making your ghosts.  As soon as it starts to stiffen in the pastry bag, throw it into the microwave for 5 seconds only and squeeze the bag to mix the chocolate around and re-melt the hardened bits. If you wait too long to re-heat, it will harden completely and you will need to re-temper it. I find the best temperature of white chocolate while working with it is 80 to 81 degrees F (27 degrees C).

Friday, October 10, 2014

Choklat: Delicious chocolate that I tried not to love!

No matter how frustrated you can be with a chocolate maker for their customer service, it is difficult to remain angry with them once you discover that their chocolate is undeniably delicious.  This is precisely how my feelings for Choklat from Calgary have developed over time.

A few years ago, I tried very hard to get my hands on some Choklat chocolate (I was, after all, on a mission to try all of Canada's bean-to-bar chocolate).  I e-mailed. I called. I begged. I was not a 'blogger' asking for free samples, I was a customer trying to buy the product and pay for them to ship it to me.  The owner told me flat out: "find a friend in Calgary and have them ship it to you", he even went so far to say that his website gets thousands of hits per month, so, well, the gist of it was that I was not necessary to keep his business pumping, so why bother going out of his way for me? 


Being a former student of business and marketing for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees, this did not sit well with me.  Refusing a paying customer, particularly one that might write about your service on the Internet, seemed like a strange business decision. In the time that he spent sending me the long e-mail, the owner could have just slapped a label on a box and taken my credit card number over the phone. Oh, and that was the other thing, the business was cash-only until recently, which was another customer-unfriendly decision that I did not understand. In this day and age, refusing card payments of any type simply does not make sense.

And as much as I wanted to write about all of these frustrating things on this blog, I stayed silent.  My general policy is not to criticize chocolate makers because I know they are passionate about their craft. I simply find the good points about their products. So with Choklat, I decided to wait until I could taste the chocolate.  And one day last February, I finally did.  A friend of mine sent me some chocolate bars.  I tried them all and loved them.  But I was not yet ready to admit it.  So I waited until I received another package of their chocolate bars a few weeks ago, which were purchased at a franchise location in Edmonton. This last package confirmed it: Choklat's chocolate bars are delicious.

So was the owner right to refuse me?  Maybe. I am a business owner myself, and I understand how easy it is to lose focus and waste time on special requests.  But I also understand that one poor interaction can end a customer-seller relationship. He would have lost me if I was not so determined in my mission to taste all of Canada's bean-to-bar chocolate.  And with just two tastes, I will likely be back for more someday....of course, that is if I can find a friend in Alberta.

So here is the down-low on Choklat`s chocolate bars:
  • They make a series of 70% dark bars from different single origin (and in some cases single plantation) beans. The bars also have the same amount of cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla, etc., which makes it a lot easier to hold a tasting session and truly tastes the differences between origins. I love this - nothing is more frustrating than when you are trying to compare origin chocolate by one chocolate maker, and one bar has  67% cocoa solids and the other has 72%.  In those cases, the sweetness of the 67% overwhelms your ability to taste the flavour differences of the cacao. So I applaud Choklat for this. And of the four 70% bars that I tasted, I liked the Ocumare the best, but all four were delicious and full of interesting flavours.
  • Choklat makes amazing milk chocolate. Truly a MUST-TRY is their Brazilian 48% Milk bar. It is bursting with flavour and aroma. The Cuyagud (Venezuela) 48% Milk bar is just as delicious and flavourful.  I wish I had 10 more of each bar.  Right now.
  • Choklat puts a lot of cocoa butter in their chocolate.  Except for their intense 80% bar, their chocolate bars generally contain 30% cocoa butter, which gives all of their chocolate a melt-in-your-mouth quality.  The purists (those who make chocolate from just cocoa beans and sugar) may argue this is too much cocoa butter, but I like it.  It adds a rich element that quickly melts in the most delicious way, even in cold temperatures.
  • Choklat makes a range of Venezuelan bars, which allows the taster to truly taste the differences between regions within the same country.
  • The range of truffles were delicious, I found the Key Lime to be my favourite, as well at the Dark Chocolate Buttercream, and the Mint offered an interesting experience (there was perhaps a hint of basil in it...?).  I even enjoyed the Orange and the Amaretto truffle, which are two flavours that I normally stay away from.

And now that I have tasted nearly all of Canada's craft, bean-to-bar chocolate, I can say with certainty that Choklat's products are in the top three or four for taste, texture and quality. It is certainly worth a try, if you are in the Edmonton or Calgary area.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Want chocolate on your pillow? Go for the hotel with the good stuff!


I stayed at the InterContinental Yorkville in Toronto this past weekend, and with the turndown service, chocolate was left in the room.  The best part?  It was Valrhona dark chocolate!  Not only was the service at the hotel fantastic, but they also chose one of the world's best chocolate brands for their guests.

And it wasn't just the brand name, the actual piece of chocolate was bitter, smooth and delicious.

So if you are a chocolate lover and looking for a hotel to stay at, this might be the right place for you! 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Milk Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cake; a flourless melt-in-your-mouth-truffle-on-a-plate!

This cake is a big melty peanut butter truffle on a plate. It was truly designed for chocolate lovers, and certainly not something you might think of as 'healthy' when you taste it (and when you see how much butter is in it), but for those who need or want to eat gluten-free, it is the perfect dessert.

Recipe: Flourless Milk Chocolate and Peanut Butter Cake
Serves: 12-14 servings

You need:
  • 10 oz of milk chocolate (I used organic and Fair Trade milk chocolate), chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/2 lb (1 cup) butter, chopped into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2/3 cup of organic, raw cane sugar (or white granulated sugar, if that is what you have)
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 cup of natural peanut butter (I used organic, smooth)
  • 1 tsp salt

For the topping, you need:
  • 6 ounces of milk chocolate (5.5 ounces chopped and 0.5 ounce shaved for topping)
  • 1/3 cup of cream
  • roasted and salted peanuts, partially crushed

Instructions:
  1. Prepare a 9-inch springform cake pan by lining the bottom with parchment paper. Then butter the paper and up the sides of the pan to prevent the cake from sticking.
  2. Place your chopped butter and 10 oz of chocolate into a stainless steel or glass bowl, and place over a double boiler (a pot with 1 inch of water nearly simmering in it). Stir with a wooden spoon until melted together. Take the bowl off the heat as soon as it is melted, or better yet, when there are a few pieces of chocolate & butter left and stir until combined (do not overheat, or you will separate your cocoa butter from your chocolate).
  3. Add the sugar and stir until combined.
  4. Add the eggs and beat with a hand mixer or immersion blender just until combined (stop beating if your batter starts to puff and gain volume).
  5. Slightly warm the peanut butter in the microwave for about 15 seconds and stir.  
  6. Add the salt and the warmed peanut butter to the batter, and beat briefly with the mixer, or stir them in by hand.
  7. Pour into the prepared cake pan.
  8. Bake for 35 minutes at 350 degrees F.
  9. Turn off the oven and let sit for five minutes with the door closed.
  10. After the five minutes is up, remove from the oven and then let cool for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the inside of the springform pan and remove the sides carefully. Let cool completely (1 hour, then refrigerate for 1/2 hour), then flip it onto a serving plate, before adding the ganache.
Instructions for the ganache topping:
  1. Place your cream and chocolate into a heatproof, microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 1 minute on half power (50% or Power 5).
  2. Remove from microwave and stir until smooth.  If it is still not completely melted, microwave for 10 seconds more and stir.
  3. Once melted and combined, pour onto the cake and use an offset spatula to spread around.  Push to the edges carefully and drip a little over the sides for a delicious effect. 
Topping ideas:
  • Sprinkle salted, roasted peanuts and chocolate chunks on top.
  • Top with beads of peanut butter.
  • Decorate with a little peanut butter buttercream icing.
  • Top with peanut butter chips and milk chocolate shavings.
  • Squiggles of melted milk chocolate squeezed through a pastry or Ziplock bag.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Baroness Chocolate: The Flavours of Happiness

The chocolate scene has flourished in and around Ottawa in the last ten years. With new bean-to-bar chocolate makers and several new chocolatiers, as well as many shops offering imported fine chocolate, a chocolate lover certainly has endless choice in Canada's Capital.

One more chocolatier has been added to the list: Baroness Chocolate. And they may very well be the most unique addition to Ottawa's tasty trove of treasures. By mixing several different Rainforest Alliance-certified couverture chocolates together, including milk and dark chocolates, Baroness has created completely original chocolate bars with inclusions that are made in-house.

I received a box of seven of the newly launched line of chocolate bars by Baroness Chocolate. Without hesitation, I tasted them all. Each bar offered an explosion of flavours new to my palate.

So why were these chocolate bars so good?  For starters, one of my favourite treats is sponge toffee. So I was delighted when I discovered that Baroness Chocolate makes two different chocolate bars with large, delicious pieces of sponge toffee inside of them: Mocha krunhjay and Subversive squirrel.  They were two of the tastiest chocolate bars that I have ever eaten.

I also love cookies dipped in chocolate, and so I was again excited by Baroness's chocolate bar called Tummy Rub, which had large pieces of a very crunchy and tasty cookie inside of a rich, creamy milk chocolate. It was so delicious that I had trouble resisting it.  If you like milk chocolate and cookies (which happen to be gluten free), you will LOVE this chocolate bar.

On a final note, I sometimes cannot choose between milk and dark chocolate. I love them both (I prefer dark chocolate, but milk chocolate was my first love). And with Baroness, I never have to choose.  Most of the their chocolate bars combine milk and dark chocolate.  So no chocolate flavour is too sweet, nor are they too bitter. To be clear about it, they have a little graph printed on the front of the package to show how they fold deep milk chocolate together with medium semi-sweet chocolate and dark bitter-sweet chocolate.

In order, here were my favourites:

1. Tummy rub - Milk Chocolate and Cookies
2. Subversive Squirrel - Dark chocolate, salted peanuts and peanut brittle (oh baby, more sponge toffee!)
3. Mocha krunhjay - Dark, semi sweet and milk chocolate, almonds, coffee and toffee (here is that sponge toffee!)
4. Aiyaaaa! - Chocolate, butterscotch and almonds (oh yum..., seriously nice for any kind of chocolate lover).
5. Dob Dobs - Chocolate, caramel and pecans
6. Love & Blessing - Straight up organic milk and dark chocolate (I am not sure what to make of this one.  It is like dark chocolate, but with a melt-in-your-mouth quality, like that of milk chocolate).
7. Tantric Tiger - milk and dark chocolate with cranberries, almonds and sea salt (this was tasty, but dried fruit in chocolate is not my thing).

All of the flavour inclusions are made by Baroness, including the sponge toffee and gluten free cookies that can be found in my favourite bars.

Owners Kaye Wong and Bill Macy started Baroness Chocolate to honour Ms. Wong's daughter. You can learn more about this in the Ottawa Citizen article written in 2013 (updated May 2014). Their Kickstarter campaign was funded last November and their factory opened in February of this year. Check the website for more information on where to buy Baroness Chocolate.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

A Spooky Chocolate Bar Just Launched by Seattle Chocolates

Halloween is just around the corner, and what better way to enjoy the spooky season than with a gourmet truffle bar designed for the occasion?   "Devil's Delight" by Seattle Chocolate Company is a dark chocolate truffle bar with a peanut butter and crunchy pretzel centre, and it has a fun packaging design to boot. With all sorts of devilish, Halloween-related words printed all over the package, this chocolate bar makes me wish that Halloween would come sooner.


So besides the packaging, why is this chocolate bar so ghoulishly evil? Well for starters, peanut butter and chocolate is a bit of a 'devilish' combination, don't you think?  Simply because it is so addictive! And 'addictive' is certainly the right word to describe the taste of this particular chocolate bar.

I knew as soon as I took it out of the wrapper and cracked off a piece that my bar would not be long for this world.  It looked delicious inside and out.  Dark chocolate on the outside and a combination of peanut butter and white chocolate on the inside, making the pairing perfectly balanced between sweet, bitter and salty.  I wanted to eat the entire bar in one sitting!


So check out this 'devilish' combination - it will be in stores starting today! It may be just the thing to give to family and friends this Halloween. Or, if you really want to impress your neighbours, go high-end and hand them out at the door on Halloween night!  Everyone will think your house is the 'coolest' one on the block. 


Here are the package details:


Devil's Delight Dark Chocolate Truffle Bar with Peanut Butter & Pretzels, 2.5 oz (70g)
Seattle Chocolate Company (Seattle, WA)
www.seattlechocolates.com
Ingredients: White chocolate (cane sugar, cocoa butter, milk, soya lecithin, natural vanilla), dark chocolate (chocolate liquor*, cane sugar, cocoa butter*, soya lecithin, natural vanilla), peanut butter (roasted peanuts, salt), pretzels (unbleached enriched wheat flour (flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid], malt, salt, soybean oil, yeast) salt, natural flavour. Contains milk, soya, wheat, and peanuts, This product is manufactured in a plant that processes milk, soya, peanuts, tree nuts, egg, and wheat products. *Rainforest Alliance Certified (TM) (50% of total cocoa).



Additional Notes:
Seattle Chocolate Company makes a whole range of chocolate truffle bars with all sorts of interesting flavour combinations, such as Lemon Ice - a white chocolate truffle bar with lemon oil and lemon candy pieces, as well as a Birthday Cake Batter Truffle Bar and a Peanut Praline Truffle Bar. And if you like their combination of chocolate and peanut butter that they have come up with for Halloween, they also make a Perfect Peanut Butter Truffle Bar.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The International Chocolate Awards 2014: The Canadian Competition


The International Chocolate Awards are coming to Canada again this Fall. If you are a Canadian chocolatier, get your very best chocolates together and enter by October 1st. Judging takes place from October 5-8th at Vancouver Community College's downtown campus. Winners will be announced on Thursday October 9th at Xoxolat.

Last year, more than 100 products were entered into the competition, and nine companies made it to the U.K. for the World Finals in London. Edmonton's Sweet Lollapalooza, Toronto's MoRoCo Chocolate, Montreal's Christophe Morel and Vancouver's DC Duby and Beta5 Chocolates took home winning medals. Vancouver's Beta5 Chocolates were the first Canadians to win a World gold medal.

So get ready chocolatiers and show your stuff!   Maybe even this year I'll enter....if only my unique chocolates fit into one of the categories (truthfully, I'd rather be a judge, which sounds like the best job in the world!). for more information, visit: www.internationalchocolateawards.com.