Friday, April 27, 2012

iPod, iPhone, iChoc?

Although I live on a rural Island in Northern Ontario, I still can get my hands on new and interesting chocolate.  When I do not buy online, my friends and family are often kind enough to drop different chocolate bars in my lap when they come to visit.  The latest find was by my mother, who brought me a chocolate bar called iChoc "Chillout Caramel".  Seriously?  First the iPod, iPhone, iPad, and now iChoc?  Yikes, talk about trying to ride the wave of success.  Now even chocolate is trying to sound all 'techy' and cool?

What is really sad here is that I have no idea how to use an iPod, an iPhone or an iPad (I just recently got the Blackberry Playbook instead).  I know, I probably should not have admitted that I do not know how to use an iPod, but whatever, judge me all you like. Why would I need to? I still listen to Hot 89.9, my favourite Ottawa radio station online for the first half of my day.

But eating iChoc was surprisingly easy.  No buttons, no sliding screens, no touch-screen and no scrolling.  Just eating, savouring and enjoying.

And although I have no idea how this caramel crisp chocolate bar is related to music, I do know that it tastes pretty good. Also, I like that it is in a 40 gram package - a nice portion-controlled size. The crisps are small and add a nice little crunch. So overall as a chocolate snack, it was a good and tasty treat.

The milk chocolate tastes very similar to the Camino milk chocolate couverture that I buy and have blogged about here more than once or twice.  There is a similar flavour in earthy, muddy flavour and given that Camino's chocolate is made from beans from certified organic cooperatives in third world countries and processed in Europe (iChoc is a German brand), I would not be surprised if iChoc's chocolate is made from the same raw materials from the same co-operatives. 

The website is where the music theme is tied in: a different song is associated with each chocolate bar.  From what I can tell, there are four kinds (Wild Milk, Electric Licorice, Chillout Caramel and Gogo Mango), which all look interesting, particularly the Electric Licorice since it is a white chocolate and licorice bar - a combination that I have never tried before. The music that plays on the info page for the "Chillout Caramel" chocolate bar is definitely chill-out music, but I also feel like I am on an elevator ride that just won't stop.

Truthfully, I don't really get it.  What does chocolate have to do with music and an iPod or anything in the "i" product range for that matter? I'm not saying chocolate and music cannot be connected, I'm just saying that the idea that there is a connection feels a little forced and it seems a bit like they are just trying to ride the wave of "i" success and its current popularity.

You can download a few things on their site though, like a hand-written music sheet for the song associated with each type of chocolate.  For instance, this is the one for the Chillout Caramel bar:  You can also download the different chocolate bar colours and wrapper graphics for your iPhone and some funky Christmas music (I know, what?), like the "funkynic" song. So they have gone to some lengths to create the chocolate and "i" music connection.
Although I was not into the music connection of this chocolate brand, I was into the chocolate.  I think it is a good little portion-controlled snack and and I would probably try the three other flavours that they sell, since they seemed interesting. Plus, the chocolate is organic, and I am all about eating Organic food in order to lead a healthier life.

Here are the package details from the chocolate bar that I tasted today:
iChoc Chillout Caramel, "Milk Chocolate Caramel Crisp", 40g
EcoFinia GmbH/VIVANI (Germany)
Organic Milk Chocolate with pieces of Caramel.  Ingredients: raw cane sugar*, cocoa butter*, whole milk powder*, butter caramel crisp* 10% (raw cane sugar*, maize glucose syrup*, butterfat*, sea salt), cocoa mass* cream powder*, skimmed milk powder*, bourbon vanilla extract*. Cocoa solids: 33% minimum.  Milk solids: 22%.  May contain almonds, hazelnuts and wheat components. *from organic agriculture certified by DE-OKO-013.

Friday, April 20, 2012

"The Healthy Chocolate": What's Up With That?

Xoçai: “The Healthy Chocolate”.  We`ve seen it EVERYWHERE. Well, I have.  I have seen it at farmer’s markets, tradeshows, chocolate shows, health food stores and there always seems to be a Google advertisement somewhere online about “The Healthy Chocolate”. And yet, I have never tried it. Until now. 

Why have I not tried it?  I don’t really know. I saw Xoçai chocolate years ago at a farmer’s market and thought the price was too high. And I guess I just avoided it ever since. But that was back when I was still scraping by on a student’s budget, and I thought that a Lindt Excellence chocolate bar was expensive.  But these days I spend more on chocolate that I know is top quality, all-natural, craft-made, handmade or designed to be healthier for me. And since I have begun to make my own handmade, all natural chocolate treats, I now understand the amount of work, research and cost of ingredients that goes into creating high quality chocolate. So today Xoçai chocolate does not seem as expensive to me as it did when I was younger.

Last week, I received two samples of Xoçai in the mail from an independent distributor: a Xoçai XoBiotic Square, a dark chocolate with Probiotics included in it and a Xoçai X Power Square™, which is a dark chocolate loaded with a higher ORAC FN (more antioxidants).

Yesterday, I opened the package and after reading the brochure, I decided to start with the XoBiotic Square because I was getting over a terrible two-day stomach flu.  Since Probiotics are supposed to assist with digestion, I figured this was a win-win situation for me.  I got to eat chocolate and help settle my very unhappy tummy!

The smell of the chocolate XoBiotic Square was surprising.  For something with `Probiotics` in it, I thought it would smell...hmmm...healthy? You know, that smell of oats and granola or wheat germ (blah!) or like something overly healthy and fibrous. But in fact, it smelled like chocolate chips – yup, that very familiar chocolaty smell that we all grew up with.

It also tasted like a chocolate chip.  The texture is not completely smooth, a sort of finely-ground grittiness, but nothing like my home-made chocolate or stone ground chocolate.  And it was very sweet, like a 50% (for the life of me, I cannot find the ingredients list on the Xoçai website and the company does not mention the % of cacao solids, which is the only thing that really bugs me about this product).

The XoBiotic Square contains two Probiotic cultures to assist with digestion. I won’t get into all the gory details, but you can read about how the Probiotics can help your stomach and digestion here:  But what is important to know is that Probiotics are supposed to help prevent heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome and stomach ulcers, along with general digestion problems.  Normally, you can find Probiotics in yogurt, but if you do not like yogurt, you can choose the Xaçai XoBiotic Square instead!  Isn’t that the tastier choice? And at 11 grams per piece (Xaçai recommends 3 to 5 pieces per day), they are portion-controlled and certainly will not cause you any weight gain!

The other chocolate by Xocai was their X Power Square, which I ate today.  This one was loaded with antioxidants and flavonoids because it is made with "cacao that is blanched, unfermented, sun-dried, non-roasted and cold-pressed" and mixed with acai berries and blueberries".  Again, the percentage of cacao solids was not listed on the package, but it tasted like it had a higher cocoa content – like a bitter chocolate chip! I did not really taste the açai berries and blueberries that were supposed to be in it, but a higher cacao content means it has more antioxidants and flavonoids already, which are great for fighting cancer (again, you can read the details of how this works on the Xoçai website.

Overall, the two Xoçai chocolates that I tried tasted pretty good.  They are just right for that afternoon sweet treat and to curb chocolate cravings.  Although they are not flavourful in the way that single origin chocolate is, and not bitter like a craft-made 70% chocolate bar, you will find a whole lot of added health benefits.  Check out their site for chocolate with Omega-3 Fatty acids in it (forget the daily supplements!) or if you prefer supplements , Xoçai is launching a line of “anti-aging” supplements that contain their signature cocoa-açai-blueberry blend, plus added vitamins.  Ye hah! to eating chocolate that makes you look and feel younger!

Xoçai also discloses the number of Weight Watchers Points per square.  They print it in their brochure.  For instance, the XoBiotic Square that I ate equals 4 Weight Watcher's Points per 3 squares.  I do not follow Weight Watcher`s and never have (I am on my own life-long Chocolate Diet), but for people who are following Weight Watcher`s special points system, this is very helpful  - no need to calculate the number of points!

So if you are looking for a way to eat chocolate while getting your daily intake of Probiotics, antioxidants, and important vitamins and minerals, check out Xoçai.  There are many independent distributors out there, but for anyone in the Toronto region, e-mail Debbie Innes, the lovely lady that sent me the samples at: or follow her on Twitter (XocolateChic)!/XocolateChic . Debbie's website is

For ingredients and more detailed information about each product, check out the detailed PDF fact sheets about each product:

X Power Square™:

Xobiotic Squares™:

Friday, April 13, 2012

Making Chocolate From Bean-to-Bar at Home

Did you ever think that you could make a chocolate bar in your own home kitchen?  I am not talking about melting some chocolate chips and pouring them into a mold to make a chocolate bar.  I mean making chocolate from the cocoa bean by roasting the beans in your own oven, grinding them in your coffee grinder, then blending the ground beans with sugar, vanilla and cocoa butter in your blender or food processor, melting and tempering it on your stove and THEN pouring it into chocolate bar molds.  All in your very own kitchen in one afternoon?

Well, that is just what I and a good friend (and fellow blogger: Life on Manitoulin) did last week in my kitchen.  And we have Madre Chocolate, a chocolate bean-to-bar artisan manufacturer from Hawaii to thank for it. 

You see, a few weeks ago I decided to buy myself a lovely birthday present: Madre’s Hawaiian chocolate. I was curious about Hawaiian cocoa beans and chocolate, and Madre was the first Hawaiian bean-to-bar chocolate maker that I have heard of.  So I thought that my birthday was a great excuse to try some of their chocolate bars and spend the extra money on the shipping cost from Hawaii.
Madre also sold a bean-to-bar chocolate making kit on their website  For me, this was an exciting product.  If you have read this blog before, you might know that I am on a mission to become a true chocolate connoisseur someday.  But I have set such high standards for what I think a true chocolate connoisseur should be that the task is a bit overwhelming.  One of the things I believe that I need to learn is how to make chocolate from the bean.  And I don’t mean that I should just take a couple of factory tours to learn how to make chocolate from bean-to-bar.  I mean really make chocolate from the bean by grinding it myself and turning it into real and tasty chocolate.  Madre’s Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Making Kit was offering me a chance to do just that....well, at least a chance to take a first and amateurish stab at making chocolate in my own kitchen.

The kit had the following:
  • Cacao beans
  • Cacao nibs
  • A dark chocolate bar
  • A recipe
These were the items you needed to make a basic chocolate bar. The kit was not all that expensive, so there are a few items that were not included that you might want or need to enhance the chocolate bar that you are planning to make, including:
  • Cocoa butter
  • Sugar (we used Camino organic & Fair Trade cane sugar)
  • A vanilla bean
  • Lecithin (soy or other)
  • Herbs like chili, mint leaves, thyme, or whatever you might want to flavour your chocolate with.

I have to admit, I was not really all that prepared for the project when my friend arrived at my house.  I have limited time these days, so I had just glanced at the ingredients list and made sure that I had the ingredients on hand and out on the counter (I had a vanilla bean and cocoa butter, and decided not to flavour the chocolate with anything else).  I did read that I needed a coffee grinder, so I took that out too, but I missed the mention of needing a “food processor”. Duh, why didn’t I realize that? How else would I mix the ingredients?  I could have asked my friend to bring hers, but since I hadn’t, I pulled out my trusty old blender.  Perhaps a food processor would have worked better, but we had to make do with what we had.
The other equipment that we needed included: a double boiler, spatula, chocolate molds, a thermometer and a hair dryer (I know, what?!?). Luckily, I had all those things on hand.
So the instructions told us to start by roasting the beans. This was the second thing that I was not really prepared for. For some reason I assumed the beans were pre-roasted. But I am glad that we had to roast them because it was fun to learn about roasting cocoa beans. What I learned was: when cocoa beans are roasted, they smell like freshly baked sweet brownies, even though they still taste like bitter cocoa beans.
Roasting took about 20 minutes in the oven on a cookie sheet. Although we were not sure that the beans were fully roasted, we were being extra careful not to over-roast them (if we had, Madre had also supplied pre-roasted cocoa nibs in the kit so that we could use those in case of a roasting mishap – good thinking Madre! My next project is to make some chocolate from the nibs provided).

Then came the shelling, which was the HARD PART. That is where the hair dryer came in.  Apparently you can toss the beans into the wind in order to get the shells to loosen so you can crack them off, or you can blow cool air on them with your hair dryer.  I warn you: even a bowl with high sides still will not prevent the mess of shells that want to fly everywhere, so just be prepared to sweep up. Admittedly, it was a bit funny when I first turned on the hair dryer and there was a sudden shower of bean shells that we had already tried to crack.  Again, “duh” I should have figured that one out before I turned on the hair dryer!
The only down side of the instruction sheet was that the recipe was for one chocolate bar. Therefore, we had to do some math in order to make chocolate with all of the beans that were provided in the kit. I think my friend and I both just wanted to be told exactly how much sugar, vanilla, cocoa butter, etc was needed to make chocolate from the amount of beans that were provided.  But I understand why Madre had a recipe with quantities that did not match the amount provided.  For one, it teaches us how much of each ingredient is needed as a percent (%) of the entire chocolate bar, so we will know in the future should we make chocolate again.  Also, if we messed up while roasting the beans and burnt some, then we could simply follow the recipe using less beans. 
But since we wanted to make enough chocolate so we could both take some home at the end of the day, a little math was required in order to use up all the beans.  So I pulled out my scale and weighed the beans once they were roasted and cracked, then we measured up all the other ingredients to match that number of beans (which, bye the way, was about 4 ounces of beans). 
Once roasted and shelled, the beans could be ground in the coffee grinder in batches.  My friend took care of that part and stopped the grinder when the beans started to get a bit pasty from the heat of the grinder (a grinder that does not warm up would be better for chocolate making!). We also used the coffee grinder to grind the sugar and the vanilla bean. Once ground, the sugar, vanilla and cocoa beans were put in the blender along with a little less than 1 ounce of additional cocoa butter and a touch of lecithin. In the blender, a miracle happened!  The mixture quickly melted into a liquid!  Although the instructions said to blend for 20 minutes to 1 hour, we only had 20 minutes, so that is all we did.
Once blended (or amateurishly 'conched'), we then followed Madre’s instructions to temper the chocolate.  I have my own method of tempering that I am used to, but thought I should follow Madre’s method and use the pre-packaged chocolate bar provided to stabilize the cocoa solids during tempering.  We also ate some of that pre-packaged Hawaiian chocolate – it couldn’t be helped!  Then we poured it into a few different chocolate molds, let it cool and VOILA!  We had made beautiful chocolate!  The sea shell mold that I loaned to my Life on Manitoulin pal to take home with her was quite appropriate, since we were making some tropical chocolate from Hawaiian cocoa beans.

So, you might be wondering: How does our chocolate compare to commercially manufactured chocolate? Well, the texture is very different than the chocolate that we all know.
This is OUR finished product! 
Looks great, right?
And it was made from
bean-to-bar in MY kitchen!
Instead of turning out like Madre’s beautifully smooth-textured chocolate bars, our chocolate was more like TAZA Stone Ground Chocolate, an American small-batch chocolate producer who believes in minimally processing their chocolate. I happened to have a TAZA 87% Stone Ground Chocolate bar (single Origin: Bolivia) on hand that we compared it to ours.  TAZA’s bar was slightly more bitter and acidic and the cocoa bean flavour was different (the Hawaiian chocolate had a distinct tropical fruit flavour), but the sand-like texture was very similar.

The reason for the grittiness: Lack of equipment! Although TAZA intends for their chocolate to be gritty, we just did not have the right equipment to finely grind the cocoa beans, and my blender couldn’t grind it up any further. This also meant that the flavour still had a bitter cocoa nib taste to our chocolate (similar to TAZA’s also), a flavour which is usually processed out of chocolate made with professional chocolate-making equipment. But regardless, it was still chocolate and we enjoyed it none-the-less!
If you are curious about Madre’s awesome Hawaiian chocolate, I have recently written about the chocolate bars that I bought from them:
If you are curious about making chocolate at home, you can buy Madre’s kit online at  This is a GREAT gift idea for that chocolate lover in your life.  And here is a good article on turning your home kitchen into a miniature chocolate making factory:, which also recommends some good home equipment to get started. Check it out:
Don't forget to check out the fantastic blog (and her blog post about making chocolate with me) by my friend and chocolate-making partner here: Life on Manitoulin.
If you are interested in TAZA's Stone Ground Chocolate made with Bolivian cocoa, which I tasted this week, here are the package details:

87% Dark Stone Ground Chocolate (Organic), 3 oz (85g)
TAZA chocolate
Ingredients: organic Bolivian cacao beans, organic cane sugar, organic vanilla bean. May contain nuts.

Looking for Madagascar Vanilla Beans for your home chocolate-making project?

They are available through Chef Central.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Like Salt and Chocolate? Try these Canadian combinations!

If you are into the flavours of Salt and Chocolate....together....I have been sampling a few Canadian chocolate bars that offer their take on that flavour combination.

Soma offers a Dark Peruvian 64% chocolate bar with Maldon Salt (one of the best-known brands of sea salt). Soma calls it "The Starry night" chocolate bar. Their Peruvian chocolate is bitter, strong and flavourful and with 64% cacao solids, it offers just the right sugar level to complement the salt that is sprinkled on the back of the bar. You can taste the salt and the chocolate separately if you like, or combine the flavours in your mouth for pure sweet and savoury perfection.

Camino does not make their chocolate from the bean, as Soma does, but it focuses on paying fair prices to the cacao farmers for beans and by making organic chocolate. Camino's standard 38% milk chocolate bar is known for being smooth and creamy with a hint of hazelnut flavour (the secret ingredient to making it so yummy) and their Milk Chocolate with Sea Salt chocolate bar is the same great milk chocolate with the addition of sea salt. The sweet and salty combination is nuttier (thanks to the hazelnuts) than Soma's and has more of a nut-butter flavour because of the salt.

Soma's The Starry Night chocolate bar can be found on site in their store in Toronto, or via e-mail or telephone order across Canada. Camino sells its chocolate in health food stores and major grocery store chains across Canada, but they now also sell their chocolate online. See below for wesbite information for both companies.

If you are in the Montreal area, Suite 88 makes a 45 gram Chocolat NOIR a la Fleur de Sel chocolate bar. Check out my review of that bar at:

And for those of you Canadians who are out West (or out East but like to online shop!), you can check out the Canadiana chocolate bar by Organic Fair Inc. It is an organic dark chocolate with maple syrup and salt and is very tasty! Check out the review here:,

Of course, there are a tonne of other salt and chocolate choices on the market right now, but these are just a sampling of the Canadian ones! Below are the package details from the two chocolate bars that I tasted today:

The Starry Night Dark Peruvian Chocolate 64% with Maldon Salt, 80g
SOMA chocolatemaker (Toronto, Ontario)
Ingredients: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter, Maldon Salt, natural vanilla, soy lecithin.  Junk-free, all-natural. May contain traces of dairy, gluten and nuts.
Camino Fair Trade, Organic Milk with Sea Salt, 38% Cacao, 100g
La Siembra Co-Opertaive (Ottawa, Canada)
Made in Switzerland.
Ingredients: whole milk powder*, golden cane sugar*+, cacao butter*+, cacao mass*+, whole cane sugar, ground hazelnuts+, sea salt (Guerande), ground vanilla beans*+. *Fair Trade Certified(TM). +Certified Organic.  Minimum 38% cacao.  May contain traces of peanuts nd soy. Contains dairy products and nuts.