Monday, December 23, 2013

More Last-Minute Chocolate Stocking Stuffers

Do you still need some chocolaty stocking stuffers for a chocolate-lover your list?  If so, here are three that I tried in the last month and liked:

Long Grove's 99 gram Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cup, available at Target.  I couldn't resist purchasing this extra-large chocolate peanut butter cup when I saw it at the newly opened Target in Sudbury, Ontario. It is a little on the sweet side, with the peanut butter centre composed mainly of icing sugar and peanut butter, but it is ideal for that sweet-tooth chocolate fanatic who also loves peanut butter. And it is impressive to look at!

Lindt Chocolate Wafer with Hazelnut Filling - this crunchy crepe inside of a milk chocolate and hazelnut bar is so tasty, that even a dark-chocolatarian like myself loved it. This would satisfy any kind of chocolate lover on your holiday gift list. I bought it at Valu-Mart, but I suspect it is available at most grocery stores and pharmacies now.

Aero 70% Dark Chocolate - even an appreciator of fine chocolate may need a quick fix of dark chocolate now and then, which makes Aero's 70% chocolate bar the perfect stocking stuffer if you need to buy dark chocolate NOW! I found the bubbles to be refreshing and the dark chocolate actually tastes good (it is dark chocolate, as opposed to those commercial super-sweet chocolate bars that are only labelled as dark).

Finally, if you really need a good chocolate treat for someone who cares about their health, the environment, or social responsibility, then head over to your local health food store.  Most health food stores have a great selection of 100 gram chocolate bars and sample-sized chocolates that are organic, Fair Trade and all natural.  You can probably fill a stocking with what you find there.  Good brands include:
  • Camino's Organic and Fair Trade Chocolate bars
  • Alter Eco's range of organic chocolate bars
  • Green & Black's
  • Dagoba
  • Pacari's range of raw chocolate bars
  • and so many more....
Have a happy holiday and a fantastic New Year everyone!  May 2014 bring you a lot of amazing chocolate experiences.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Buy it or make it! More quick, but rich chocolate desserts for the holidays...

Still need a quick, but rich, chocolate dessert for the Holidays?

Make something easy, but decadent!

Flourless chocolate cake does not take long to make and requires minimal ingredients. Try these quick and easy recipes:

Hazelnut Flourless Dark Chocolate Truffle Cake - you could also replace the hazelnuts in this recipe with 1 cup of thawed, crushed raspberries or even try peanut butter or almond butter for a different flavour!

Raspberry Pie-in-a-Flourless-Chocolate-Cake PIECAKEN - make this recipe as is, or eliminate the pie and you will have a really large flourless chocolate cake.  Top with a flavoured whipped cream of your choice (i.e. cinnamon, a hazelnut syrup or any other flavour of coffee syrup, peppermint, ginger, maple, etc.).

Maple Dark Chocolate Truffle Cake  Oh yum!  Need I say more?

Change up any of these recipes by using organic coconut sugar instead of cane sugar, or replace the butter with organic coconut oil to make a vegan and dairy-free version.

Buy it and make it your own!

If you are really strapped for time, buy a dessert and just add a few finishing touches to make it your own!  President's Choice just launched a new 'Decadent" Flourless Chocolate Cake that is great for the chocolate lover.  It is a little on the sweet side, but tasty.  

If you want to add your own spin to it, whip up some whipped cream, add a little Peppermint flavouring to it and top the cake with a beautiful whipped topping. You could also change up the flavouring to cinnamon, pumpkin spice, ginger or any other festive flavour.  Or top it with a chocolate ganache (boil 1/2 cup of cream and pour over 8 ounces of milk or dark chocolate and stir until smooth - add 1 tbsp of corn syrup to add a shine - then pour over the cake and smooth out with a spatula and chill).

You can always buy a simple chocolate cheesecake or New York-style Cheesecake in the freezer section of your grocery store and add a fruit topping or the chocolate ganache that I mentioned above. Pile a bunch of chocolaty cookies or wafers on top and voila! a beautiful chocolate dessert is born.

The LoC Maria brand of crepes/wafers (see photo on the right) taste great and look fantastic on any cake or dessert. I bought these at Costco, but there are a number of different brands available at various stores. You might even find some coated in dark chocolate!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Simple Chocolate Dessert: Chocolate Truffles in a Cup with Whipped Cream

Need a simple, but indulgent, chocolate dessert idea for your Holiday gathering?  Here is one:

1. Make some simple dark chocolate truffles dusted in cocoa powder (see recipe below), drop one truffle into the bottom of an espresso cup, then spritz with real whipped cream.  Then drop a second truffle into the cup on top of the whipped cream, and then spritz again with more whipped cream.

2. Top with chocolate or snowflake sprinkles, silver candy balls, chocolate shavings or even pieces of cookies (like the chocolate-covered crepe shown in the picture).  If you have a lot of espresso cups or if you find extra-small party cups, Dixie cups or tea cups, you can put these out on your dessert display table for guests to enjoy. Or serve them at the table after dinner.  Either way, it is a delicious and indulgent dessert!

Recipe: Best Ever Super Simple Chocolate Truffles

You need:
  • 2/3 cup whipping cream
  • 8 ounces of semi-sweet dark chocolate (you can also use 70% dark chocolate, depending on how you like your truffles)
  • 1/3 cup of cocoa powder in a small bowl for dusting your truffles

  1. Chop your chocolate and place in a heatproof bowl.
  2. Bring the cream just to a boil in a small saucepan on the stovetop. 
  3. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate. 
  4. Stir slowly with a wooden spoon until smooth. If it does not completely melt, place over a double boiler or in the microwave for 5 or 10 seconds at most and then continue stirring until completely melted.
  5. Place an airtight lid over the bowl of truffle mix or wrap well with plastic wrap.
  6. Let set on the counter overnight (or for at least 6 to 8 hours)
  7. Refrigerate for 1 hour.
  8. Take out of the fridge.  Roll into 1-inch balls and then roll in a bowl of cocoa powder. Place on waxed paper in a container with a lid until you are ready to use them.

What else do you need?
  • Don't forget to buy or make your whipped cream!  I used GayLea Real Whipped Cream (Light) for the purposes of this article, but you can also whip up real whipped cream yourself or use any other brand in the can.
  • You need espresso cups or very small serving bowls. Dixie cups may also work if they look nice!
  • Toppings, such as: cookies, hazelnut wafer rolls, festive sprinkles, chocolate shavings, Skor bits, etc.

Make your truffles one day in advance or at least pour your truffle the day before, let set overnight and then roll your truffle balls on the morning of the party.  Put the dessert together just before you serve it, if using whipped cream in the can (it is very soft).  If you make your own whipped cream and it is very stiff, you can assemble the dessert just before the party and let it chill in the fridge.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Festive Nuts! Saxon Cinnamon Hazelnuts vs Organic Traditions Dark Chocolate Hazelnuts

On the left: Saxon Cinnamon Hazelnuts
On the right: Organic Traditions Dark Chocolate Hazelnuts
Organic Traditions 'Dark Chocolate Hazelnuts' are a tasty and healthy snack (I have written about these before), so I just had to buy a new bag when I saw them at HomeSense last week. But alongside them on the shelf was a perfect comparison product: Saxon's Cinnamon Hazelnuts.

So what was the verdict?  Saxon's was definitely sweeter, and had just a subtle hint of cinnamon flavour, which was nice.  It also seemed more 'gifty' than the Organic Traditions bag.  But my cravings for bitter chocolate (with less guilt) won out, and I opted to finish the bag of Organic Traditions, while saving Saxon's chocolate for a time when I can indulge in something sweeter.

So here is my recommendation:

If you want to have a healthy, protein-rich treat that tastes great with a dark roast coffee - go for the bag of Organic Traditions.

If you want a sweet treat that also is rich in protein, or if you need to buy a gift for a chocolate lover, go for the bag of Saxon Cinnamon Hazelnuts.

Here are the package details of Saxon's Hazelnuts:

Chocolate Enrobed Cinnamon Hazelnuts (150 g / 5.3 oz)
Saxon Chocolates (Toronto, ON)
Ingredients: Chocolate (Belgian unsweetened chocolate, sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, skim milk powder, milk fat, cocoa fat, soya lecithin as an emulsifier, vanilla extract), dry roasted hazelnuts, cocoa powder, cinnamon sugar. May contain peanuts and gluten proteins.  Made in Canada with imported ingredients.
I bought this for $4.99 at HomeSense.

As for Organic Traditions, I did not know about the controversy or the recall (because trace amounts of milk was found in the product by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency), when I purchased the bag and wrote this article. However, when this recall is over, I will still likely buy this product if I see it in stores!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Tempering chocolate without power - am I a true chocolatier now?

Yesterday, we experienced a power outage on Manitoulin Island.  I have come to realize that this is a normal occurrence here on the Island. In fact, I have become so used to the outages now, that whenever the wind picks up, I automatically fill the kettle, boil water and fill a thermos, just in case I may be without power (I will not be without coffee or tea). And although the decision has been made to buy a generator, I have not yet done so.

And so when the power went out yesterday - rather unexpectedly I might add - I was desperate to finish off the batch of 250 chocolate TOFFLEs that I had been working on.  The only thing I had left to do was to add the little squiggle of chocolate on the top of each TOFFLE and then package them.

And so what did I do to melt and temper the chocolate? Well, it went something like this:

1.Without a kettle full of hot water, I thought about what I could do to melt the chocolate. I realized that I had just taken some soup off the stove and the soup was still hot.

2. Pouring the small amount of chocolate into a stainless steel bowl and then pouring some soup into another bowl, I used the bowl of soup as a double boiler!  The white chocolate mixture melted  quickly (don't worry, I was careful not to get any soup into the chocolate).

3. I could not get the temperature of the chocolate up to 110 degrees F in order to temper it, so I then found a small chocolate fondue maker.  Although this usually would burn the chocolate if left to sit, I made sure that I constantly stirred until it reached 110 degrees.

4. I cooled the chocolate over an ice bath to 78 degrees F (the power was not out for long by this point, so my freezer had not yet had the chance to melt the ice).

5. I reheated the chocolate to 82 degrees over the soup again. 

6. Voila! I had tempered chocolate and was able to add the squiggle onto my chocolate TOFFLEs! I celebrated by eating the bowl of warm soup.

I feel like this MUST make me a true chocolatier now....right?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

President's Choice Sea Salt & Toffee Chocolate Squares; a great new holiday treat!

As advertised, President's Choice Sea Salt & Toffee Chocolate Squares really deliver a tasty combination of sweet and salty. One side is a solid, not-too-sweet dark chocolate, and the other is a melt-in-your-mouth milk chocolate with little crunchy toffee pieces and sea salt. You could say that one side is guilt-free and the other is pure pleasure. But get it now, because this is a "Limited Edition" product.

So why do I like it so much? It is true that I am an avid dark chocolate eater.  But I remember what it was like to enjoy milk chocolate as a child, a teenager and a young adult. So I appreciate any brand that tries to combine both milk and dark chocolate to satisfy the needs of any kind of chocolate lover (this is obvious to anyone who knows that I invented the chocolate TOFFLE).  And although scrumptious as is, it is also fun to pry the dark and milk chocolate squares apart to savour the individual flavours.  It is the same sort of fun that you get out of an Oreo cookie.

The box is more practical-looking than 'gifty', so it would be a good treat to take out of the box and add to your holiday dessert platters (or enjoy with a coffee on Christmas morning).

There are no artificial flavours in this product and no colours added. And the price is right at $4.99 for a 200 gram box.

Here are the package details:

President's Choice Sea Salt & Toffee Chocolate Squares
Loblaws, Inc. (Toronto, ON)
Ingredients: sugar, unsweetened chocolate, cocoa butter, milk powder, toffee pieces (sugar, glucose syrup, cream, butter), milk fat, sea salt, sunflower lecithin, natural flavour. May contain tree nuts, soy and wheat.

Note: I have not been paid or rewarded (as much as I would like free samples!) for writing about this product.  As usual, I just like the taste and thought I would share with all of you holiday chocolate shoppers. In fact, the company has no idea that I am giving the gift of free advertising this year.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Giant Belgian Milk Chocolate Bar for Baking or Eating - with NO Soy Lecithin!

It is time to get your Christmas baking on! So what is the best way to do that?  Start with the right ingredients.  And for me, the right ingredients include good quality chocolate. 

For the average consumer, accessing a large amount of good quality baking chocolate is not all that easy - particularly when it is milk chocolate.  But Indigo Books & Music (Toronto, Canada) has the greatest milk chocolate bar for you.  It is 1 kilogram of quality milk chocolate, made in Europe.  And that is not even the best part.  The emulsifier used in the chocolate is NOT soy lecithin, it is sunflower lecithin.  So for all you chocolate-lovers who cannot have soy for a variety of reasons, you can eat this chocolate (however, there is a "May contain..." statement on the label, so just be aware if you have a severe allergy, but it is NOT in the ingredients list).

I find this a little bit sweet for me, but I am known to be addicted to bitter chocolate.  I think it has a rich flavour and the inclusion of natural vanilla makes it awesome. It would make some great milk chocolate truffles or a milk chocolate ganache. See a recipe for a Sour-Cream Milk Chocolate Ganache here.

Also, if you know someone who just LOVES to eat solid milk chocolate - this would make a great gift. And it is a good gift for the baker in your life. You might also benefit by enjoying all of your friend's baking!

I bought this chocolate bar at Chapters/Indigo in Sudbury for $19.50, which is not a bad price for 1 kg of chocolate. I also saw a similar chocolate bar at Valu-Mart for about the same price, and if you do not have a Chapters near you, President's Choice 300 gram Milk Chocolate bar is made with canola lecithin and also has natural vanilla flavouring.  It is also great for baking.

Here are the package details from the chocolate that I wrote about today:
Belgian Milk Chocolate Bar (1 kg)
Made in Germany for Indigo Books & Music, Inc. (I know, funny right?  - is it Belgian or is it German?)
Ingredients: Sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, unsweetened chocolate, sunflower lecithin, vanilla extract.

If you are a person who cannot have soy, here is a great list of soy-free chocolate:

PLEASE NOTE: No company or person has paid or encouraged me to write this article.  Being a small-batch chocolatier and baker, I am just really excited about the availability of good quality chocolate in 1 kilogram packages!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Celebrate the Holidays with Firecrackers!

What's popping in the chocolate industry these days? Chocolate makers are combining traditionally popular candies with fine chocolate. And the currently popular - and totally fun - combination is chocolate and popping candy!  I have written about my love for Toronto's fine chocolate maker, Soma, and their delectably exciting chocolate truffle with popping candy. But since then, I have come across a few more chocolates that 'pop'.

The latest is Chuao Chocolatier's 'firecracker' chocolate bar.  It has sea salt, smoky chipotle spice and popping candy in a 60% dark chocolate.  The heat of the spice, combined with the popping candy (which continues to pop in your mouth long after the chocolate has been melted away), gives the effect of firecrackers, and so the name is certainly fitting.  It is bitter and spicy, which places this chocolate bar in the middle of the spectrum between sweet and savoury. And what's more, it is all natural, which is certainly different than the average 'candy' bar and makes us feel better about indulging in this chocolaty treat.

It would certainly spice up any chocolate lovers' stocking for Christmas. I know I love it!

I bought this chocolate bar for $6.46 Canadian (on special from $6.75) at Chapters-Indigo in Sudbury, Ontario.
Here are the package details:

'firecracker' by Chuao Chocolatier, 80 g (2.8 oz)
chef: Michael Antonorbi
Chuao Chocolatier (San Diego, CA)
Ingredients: Premium dark chocolate (60% cacao, sugar, cacao butter, soy lecithin, natural vanilla), popping candy (sugar, corn glucose, lactose, carbon dioxide), chipotle chili, pasilla chile, sea salt. Contains: Milk lactose, soy. Manufactured in a facility that uses tree nuts, milk and wheat in other products. No Gluten.

Looking for other chocolate with popping candy? Check out this article on Hammond's: and this one on Soma's Poprocks truffle: