Sunday, January 27, 2013

Sour Cream or Crème fraîche? Either way, make a rich, delicious Chocolate Pot de Crème with this new product!

The Canadian sour cream industry is finally taking a turn for the better. While shopping at my local grocer last week, I noticed a new sour cream product in the refrigerated section: Gay Lea Gold Premium Sour Cream.  Since my dessert business relies on fresh cream products, I needed to take a closer look. I picked it up, read the ingredients and instantly noticed the difference between this new product and all the others: it is more natural and has very few ingredients.

If you have ever tried crème fraîche in Europe, you will know that it is similar to North American sour cream. However, it is not the same.  During the year that I lived in France, I spent a lot of time reading labels and ingredients. I was trying to figure out what made French food so different (i.e. so much better) than North American food. What I learned is that French food products are just more natural than what is (or was in 2004) available in North America. In fact, European labelling regulation "disallows any ingredients other than sour cream and bacterial culture" in crème fraiche (ref).

The ingredients for Gay Lea GOLD premium sour cream.
The ingredients list for a No Name sour cream brand.

Crème fraiche simply contains "cream" or "milk ingredients" and the bacterial culture used to sour it.  North American sour cream has all sorts of added ingredients, including: milk, cream, modified milk ingredients, modified corn starch, disodium phosphate, guar gum, carrageenan, carob bean gum, microbial enzyme, bacterial culture. However, this new Gay Lea Gold product has only three ingredients (milk ingredients, bacterial culture and microbial enzyme), making it the closest thing that I have seen to crème fraiche on the shelf of my local grocery store since I arrived back from France in 2005.

The difference is also clear as soon as you open the container.  Gay Lea Gold sour cream is thick, rich and dense - like Greek yogurt.  The 14% No Name sour cream is thick, but it is no where near the texture of Gay Lea's.  Also, Gay Lea Gold has a mild flavour, much like how crème fraîche is not as sour tasting as sour cream (ref). In fact, the flavour was so mild that I could have eaten a bowl of it plain; something I would never do with regular sour cream! 

I bought a few containers and tried Gay Lea's Gold sour cream in my baking. My cheesecakes came out creamier and my cakes tasted richer.  But what I just had to try with this product was a simple Chocolate Pot de Crème - my very own rich chocolate pudding! I made a semi-sweet dark chocolate version, and then followed it up with a rich milk chocolate. I preferred the dark chocolate , but I have outlined both in the recipe below.

Warning: If you are looking for a sweet milk chocolate dessert, this is not for you! This is rich and, well, slightly sour. Which is how I like my chocolate desserts! But if you prefer, you can always add a tablespoon of agave syrup for a sweetened version of this dessert.

Simple Chocolate Pot de Crème (egg-free and no whisking required!)
  • 2 ounces (57g) semi sweet dark chocolate chips (I used Guittard's All Natural 63% Extra Dark chips) OR 2.5 ounces high percentage milk chocolate (I used Camino's 40% organic milk chocolate chips)
  • 2/3 cup Gay Lea Gold Premium Sour Cream at room temperature
For a maple topping:
My dark Chocolate Pot de Crème
made with Gay Lea GOLD
Premium Sour Cream is extra thick
smooth and delicious!
  • 1/3 cup Gay Lea Gold Premium Sour Cream
  • 1-2 tablespoons maple syrup (to taste) or agave syrup & 1/4 tsp cinnamon
For a cinnamon topping:
  • 1/3 cup Gay Lea Gold Premium Sour Cream
  • 1-2 tablespoons agave syrup or honey & 1/4 tsp cinnamon
For a crumble bottom (North American cheesecake-style!):
  • 1/4 cup chocolate cookie crumbs
  • 1 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp butter
  1. Melt the chocolate in the microwave for two minutes on half power (50% power). Stir until smooth. If it is not fully melted after two minutes, melt for five second increments ONLY.
  2. Let cool slightly (five minutes).
  3. In a small bowl, mix the melted chocolate with the sour cream using a spoon. Stir quickly so the chocolate does not harden (it can harden if your sour cream is too cold; if this happens you will have little pieces of hard chocolate in your Pot de Crème. So if you have to, heat your sour cream in the microwave for 10 seconds to get it to a similar temperature as your chocolate).
  4. Pour into two or three small ramekins or small coffee cups or espresso cups, depending on the size of serving that you like. If you want a crumble bottom, place in the bottom of each ramekin before pouring in the Pot de Crème.  Refrigerate at least one hour.
  5. Top with whipped cream, a chocolate, or one of the toppings mentioned here (see instructions below).

Instructions for the topping:
Stir together the sugar, syrup, cinnamon or maple syrup with the sour cream.  Once smooth, place a dollop on top of each pot de creme.

Instructions for the crumble bottom:
In a small bowl, stir together the cookie crumbs and sugar.  Melt the butter in microwave for 15 seconds. Then mix the butter into the crumb mixture. Place into the bottom of the ramekins or the coffee cups that you are using for your Pot de Crème. Pour the Pot de Crème mixture on top and refrigerate for 1 hour.

Other desserts....
I also made a Vanilla Cheesecake on a Shortbread Crust with the Gay Lea Gold sour cream and an Cookies & Cream Cheesecake.  Both cheesecakes turned out richer and creamier as a result of the new premium sour cream.  They are also now more natural!

(I know this sounds like I was paid to endorse the product, but I was not. The makers of Gay Lea have no idea that I am writing this article. I am just excited about this new, thick premium sour cream product!).

For more information on Gay Lea and Gold premium sour cream, the website is:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Chocolate Easter Eggs for Valentine's Day?

While perusing my local grocery store yesterday, I came across a huge bin of colourful chocolate treats.  Thinking it was a display of Valentine's Day treats, I went over to see if there were any new products this year. What a surprise when I realised that the display contained Easter chocolate! 

To be honest, my first thought was: are commercial chocolate manufacturers trying to convince us that we should give chocolate eggs for Valentine's Day?! Yup, it was a silly thought. But what do you expect when Valentine's Day is three weeks away and yet Easter chocolate is the main display at the grocery store? It turns out that the Valentine's chocolate was displayed on the end of an aisle at the back of the store, and there was less than in the Easter chocolate bin.

Once my confusion passed, I decided to get a head start on Easter this year. I started reading some chocolate egg labels to decide which to buy. What I discovered was: not all commercially-sold milk chocolate Easter eggs are unnatural and filled with hydrogenated oils, modified starches and artificial flavours (as I had suspected they were). And in fact, they are not all imports to Canada either.

One Better is a brand of solid milk chocolate Easter eggs with only seven straight-forward ingredients, including natural flavours and NO hydrogenated oils. Although I prefer milk chocolate to have high cocoa percentages and to be made from high quality beans, I think this is not a bad choice when you need to save money on Easter chocolate, but still want to make the day special for your kids.

I also purchased another bag of eggs by One Better called Original EggSquisites, which are pure milk chocolate eggs with Peanut Butter. I love peanut butter and these did not disappoint me. The eggs are sweet overall, but the peanut butter is not overly sweet from icing sugar like many peanut butter treats are. Palm Oil is used in the peanut butter filling, which is not listed as hydrogenated like most commercially sold peanut butter is. And although artificial flavour is included, the ingredients overall are not as bad as some milk chocolate available on the market. But most importantly, they were tasty.

The only down side is the lack of information on the manufacturer. The package claims to be "Made in Canada" from domestic and imported ingredients and is distributed by One Better Inc, a company located in Oakville, Ontario. Interestingly, I cannot find a website for that company or for the One Better brand. Nor can I locate the company on For me as the consumer, I find this confusing; these days anything can be found online and most companies are enthusiastic to promote their products on the Internet. So when no information can be found online, it makes the information on the product package seem unreliable.

Regardless of a lack of online information, the products do exist and can be found in stores now until Easter. I purchased mine at Valumart, which is owned by Loblaws.

Here are the package details from the chocolate that I wrote about today:

One Better Milk Chocolate Easter Eggs, 800 g
Distributed by ONE BETTER (Oakville, ON)
Ingredients: Milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, unsweetened chocolate, milk ingredients, soya lecithin, salt, natural flavour).
Allergen information: May contain peanuts, tree nuts, eggs and/or wheat. Made in Canada.

Original EggSquisites, Pure Milk Chocolate Eggs, Peanut Butter, 335 g
Distributed by ONE BETTER (Oakville, ON)
Ingredients: Sugar, milk ingredients, cocoa butter, unsweetened chocolate, peanuts, palm oil, soyabean lecithin, artificial flavor, salt). Allergen Information: May contain tree nuts, eggs or wheat (and peanuts of course!). Made in Canada (from domestic and imported ingredients).

Monday, January 21, 2013

A Taste of Colombia with a Twist of Swiss Tradition

Imagine the tropical flavours of Colombia combined with Swiss-style chocolate.  Well imagine no more because Astor, a Colombian chocolate brand, makes that precise range of chocolate bars.

So how does a Colombian chocolatier make Swiss chocolate? Well, way back in 1930 in Medellin, Colombia, a Swiss couple, Enrique Baer and Anny Gipppe, opened a tearoom called Astor. With seven other locations still open today, its mission is to develop, produce and market bakery products, ice cream, confectionery and more (ref).  So with a strong influence of Swiss tradition in chocolate-making, the company now makes a range of chocolate bars in Colombia.

So how did I learn about chocolate in Colombia? Astor chocolate has made its way to Canada! I was introduced to Astor's chocolate bars at the Toronto Luxury Chocolate Show last Fall by FLO Trading, a Toronto company that imports and distributes gourmet Latin American products to the Canadian market, including the Astor line of chocolate bars.

Although many of Astor's confections are based on Swiss tradition and recipes, they combine chocolate with fruit and ingredients native to Colombia to create interesting flavour combinations.  For example, the "Milk Chocolate with Physalis" bar is one such combination.

You might be asking yourself: What exactly is physalis? "I asked myself the same question when I first read the label of the chocolate bar. As it turns out, Physalis fruit are a significant export product for Colombia" (ref: Wikipedia) and are native to warm temperatures and subtropical climates. They look like small orange tomatoes enclosed in paper husks. These are also often called groundcherries.

This is Physalis.
The photo originated from

In Astor's milk chocolate, these dried physalis have a very strong, tart flavour, much in the way that raspberry or cranberry flavours can offer an explosion of sour flavour in chocolate.  But the taste and texture is similar to a mix of dried fig and cranberry. It definitely offsets the sweetness of the milk chocolate. And it certainly offers a taste of Colombia.

I also tried Astor's White Chocolate and Coffee bar, which was a nice combination of not-too-sweet white chocolate couverture with crunchy ground and whole coffee beans. With 32% cocoa solids (i.e. cocoa butter), it was quite good.

I purchased two other chocolate bars by Astor that I have not yet tried, a 59% Dark Chocolate with Feuilletine bar and a 59% Dark Chocolate with Almond and Sun Dried Banana. Certainly the Feuilletine reminds me of a Swiss chocolate combination and the Sun Dried Banana adds a nice Colombian tropical touch. However, I will not eat these two chocolate bars. Instead, I will share them with some lucky readers! Follow this blog on Twitter or 'Like' it on Facebook or become a blog 'Follower' (on the right side of this screen) by January 31, 2013 in order to enter the contest to win these two chocolate bars.

More on Astor (Colombia)...
For more information on Astor's products and particularly their range of chocolate bars, visit:

Astor the American Brand...
You may be confused by this information if you have heard of an Astor Chocolate before. In fact, there is another Astor Chocolate, the family-owned business that was established in New York in 1950 and uses Belgian chocolate to make their confections. They are very different from the Astor-branded chocolate from Colombia; although they sell some chocolate bars under the brand, they also market a huge range of chocolate gift items and confections.

More on Colombian Chocolate...
The only other Colombian chocolate that I have tried, which was very tasty, was Chocolate Santander's 65% single origin Colombian chocolate bar. The beans are of Trinitario and Criollo variety (unlike the inferior-tasting Forastero beans which are used in mass-produced chocolate) and the chocolate is made with environmentally friendly techniques.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Guilt-Free Chocolate Snacking with Saxon

Although we should choose healthy foods all year long, January is the season where many people want to make healthier snacking choices. And for a lot of us, chocolate is a real craving that does not go away during the first months of the new year. So now is a good time to tell you about some 'healthier' chocolate snacks that I have recently found. These might just help satisfy those chocolate cravings with minimal guilt.

Saxon Chocolates is a Toronto-based chocolate business that makes a large range of chocolate treats, which are sold in the United States and Canada. I have tried many of their products and have liked several, but also tasted a few that I would not buy again.  However, there are a few great ones that stand out in my mind, and also happen to be 'guilt-free'.

A local cafe recently began selling three kinds of Saxon 100 Calorie Chocolate Bars: a 38% milk chocolate, a 64% dark chocolate and a 70% dark chocolate.  These are excellent snack-sized chocolates for those times when you need a pick-me-up, like during that mid-afternoon sleepy lull at the office. The bar is small enough to control your portion and large enough to satisfy your craving.

I really liked the milk chocolate bar, despite my usual preference for dark chocolate. I also enjoyed the 64% dark chocolate, which was a perfect balance of sweet and bitter, but was not a fan of the 70% (which I felt had too much vanilla flavour in it, causing it to taste sweeter than the 64% and also flatter in chocolate flavour).

Another of my Saxon-favourites are Cocoa Cinnamon Almonds.  These have a nice crunch and are not very chocolaty, in fact there is only cocoa powder in the ingredients list with the almonds, cane sugar, natural flavours, spices and salt. There is no added fat or unnatural stuff and they are not slathered in milk chocolate, so the almonds are a perfect not-so-sweet sweet snack.  This is also a filling snack, perfect for mid-morning when you feel that pre-lunch hunger or four o'clock p.m. when you need to fill up a bit before the ride home from work. And with the perfectly portioned package size, you can either have a handful of almonds for good heart health each day, or eat more without the nagging guilt that comes with eating too many traditional chocolate-covered almonds.

I purchased these products at Loco Beanz cafe in the town of Little Current on Manitoulin Island.  However, Saxon sells a large variety of chocolaty gift items at retailers in Canada and the United States (like Chapters/Indigo and Neiman Marcus).  You can see the full list of retailers here:  You can also purchase some items online:

Happy Chocolate Snacking!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Path to Becoming a Chocolate Connoisseur is Made Easier with a Bounty of Chocolatey Gifts

I was blessed to receive a lot of chocolate this past holiday season. This is becoming the usual tradition since I started expressing to my husband and family that I really only want gourmet chocolate as gifts at holidays. Since my goal is to become a true chocolate connoisseur, which can be an expensive endeavour, any gifted chocolate helps me reach that goal. So I feel happy and lucky to have received such a bounty at Christmas.

I liked all of the chocolate that I received, but my absolute favourites included:

Vosges Haut Chocolat's Organic Peanut Butter bonbons which have a milk-chocolate and peanut butter center and are enrobed in more of Vosges' "deep milk chocolate" (it is considered 'deep' because it has 40% cocoa solids, which is very high for milk chocolate!).  This is not smooth and not sweet and definitely salty, since the top is sprinkled with "pink Himalayan salt", but overall it is a delicious treat when you want something filling and tasty with minimal sugar guilt. This is a great organic and all-natural alternative to Reese Peanut Butter Cups. And any Vosges chocolate is usually a favourite of mine because of their usage of high quality ingredients and interesting flavour combinations. Who can forget Mo's Bacon

Bovetti Artisan Chocolatier's Milk Chocolate Caramel Sea Salt is a 100 gram milk chocolate bar sprinkled with crunchy and chewy caramel bits. Although a wee bit hard on my delicate teeth, this milk chocolate bar was not too sweet and was made with natural vanilla, flavours and colouring. This is a product of France, but was bought for me at the Fromaggerie in Sudbury, Ontario (Canada). However, Bovetti is sold in more than 35 countries and you can likely find Bovetti chocolate at a retailer near you. They make many artisan chocolate bars and the full range can be found here.

Christophe Morel Pure Nacional Pérou 68% bar is made from a cacao bean that was thought to be extinct, and made with a 60 hour conching giving it an extremely smooth texture. The flavour is said to have fruity, floral and hazelnut tones; I am still just beginning to savour this chocolate and nursing a sinus cold, so I cannot yet comment on the flavour. But even with the cold and no sense of smell, the flavour is strong and wonderful and has a well balanced bitter and sweetness. This chocolate bar cost about $20 CAD (plus taxes and shipping), and is the most prized chocolate gift that I received this Christmas.

Michel Cluizel Mangaro bar has 65% cacao solids and is made from beans of a single plantation in Madagascar.  Single-origin Madagascar chocolate is quickly becoming my favourite type of chocolate overall, since I love the tropical fruit flavours often found in Madagascar beans.  Michel Cluizel also makes unbelievably smooth chocolate with an unparalleled flavour. I enjoyed every single square of this chocolate bar.

Endangered Species Dark Chocolate with Raspberries is a very interesting 72% dark chocolate bar because the chocolate makers have used unbleached water-filtered beet sugar.  This is a sugar that I have not seen  used in any other chocolate and I am a big believer that all of the food we consume should be 'unbleached', so I am looking forward to researching endangered species reasons for using beet sugar. There are not a lot of raspberries in this bar and I haven't decided yet if I like the flavour, but I do love what the Endangered Species brand is all about.

I was also blessed to received some cacao nibs and a new, larger coffee grinder, to assist with my hobby of making chocolate from the bean at home. So all-in-all, 2013 has started off just right.  I am still on my path to becoming a true chocolate connoisseur!