Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Healthy Treats: Dark Chocolate-Dipped Figs with Raspberry

Dried figs and chocolate are a naturally sweet pairing. But instead of using plain dark chocolate to dip figs in, why not use a flavoured chocolate?

Simply melt and temper two 100 gram bars of dark chocolate with raspberries, coconut or other flavours of your choice.  I melted together one organic and fair trade raspberry dark chocolate bar and one coconut dark chocolate bar (both Canadian Camino brand by La Siembra Co-operative), along with 1/8 cup of cocoa butter (you can buy this at a health food store, or from a chocolate/ingredient supplier like VanillaFoodCompany.ca).

You don't need to add the cocoa butter, but it certainly helps when dipping your figs in chocolate, and you will get a beautiful shine. For any amount of chocolate that you melt, simply add 10% of the weight of your chocolate in cocoa butter before melting the chocolate. Then be sure to temper it correctly and test the chocolate on a small piece of waxed paper before dipping anything in it. Place a little on the waxed paper, and let it set (harden), then if there are no streaks of white cocoa butter in the chocolate, it is ready to use.

Dip figs gently with a fork, tap off any excess on the side of your bowl, and set them on waxed paper. Sprinkle shredded coconut on top while it is still wet for added effect, or place a fresh raspberry if you are eating within 1-2 days.

To learn how to temper chocolate, click this link.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Last Minute Gift You Can Do Online - Give the Gift of Bean-to-Bar Chocolate!

Chocolate subscriptions are all the rage these days, especially in the UK with the regular Twitter excitement around Cocoa Runners. But did you know that we now have a few in North America?

So if you still don't have the perfect gift for that chocolate-obsessive person in your life, hurry up and buy a chocolate subscription for them!

I received a monthly subscription box from Choco Rush earlier this week, and in it was four bars of craft chocolate. That's right, quality bean-to-bar chocolate delivered straight to my door!  This month's box included:

  • An Original Beans Chocolate bar: the Beni Wild Harvest 66% chocolate bar is made from cacao grown wild in the Bolivian Amazon. It has amazingly complex bitter floral and tea flavours that are nearly hidden beneath the strong and sweet taste of honey. Very enjoyable.
  • An Amano single origin chocolate bar: the Morobe 70% dark chocolate is made from fine cacao grown in  Papua New Guinea.  This small 2 oz chocolate bar is packed full of tangy citrusy flavour, which is quickly overtaken by the taste of smoke. The smoke flavour is not overwhelming though, making this chocolate quite interesting and enjoyable.
  • An award-winning Castonovo Chocolate bar - made in sunny Florida, this 72% Columbian-origin dark chocolate won a Silver at the 2015 Academy of Chocolate awards. This chocolate bar has become one of my favourites.  Read my review here.
  • Ritual Chocolate's Fleur de Sel 70% chocolate bar has only three ingredients: cacao, organic cane sugar and fleur de sel (sea salt). It is a sweet and savoury combination of bold, bitter, and tangy sea salt flavour with a bit of sweetness to still call it dessert.

So hurry! You can still give the gift of bean-to-bar chocolate! You can buy gift cards for one-month, three month or six-month subscription boxes on Choco Rush's web page here: https://chocorush.co/shop/product/120606751.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Let's Not Forget: Chocolatiers are artisans too!

With all of the controversy about Mast Brothers Chocolate this week, and whether or not they make the chocolate from scratch (i.e. from bean to bar), has got me thinking.  Although this publicity for craft chocolate is succeeding in educating people about bean-to-bar chocolate (a cause which I have been passionately writing about and promoting online for years), it seems that we are losing sight of the immense skill-set of a chocolatier.

In recent years, a distinct and more accurate definition of chocolate maker has taken hold.  At one time, a chocolatier who created beautiful truffles, ganaches, artistic chocolate show pieces, and chocolate-dipped anythings, could describe themselves as a chocolate maker and no one would argue. It seemed natural, since they make chocolate confections out of - well - chocolate. And most often the chocolate they used was high quality and made by large manufacturers.

But since 2005 and 2006, a group of craft chocolate makers began the tough and lengthy task of making chocolate from bean-to-bar in small workshops across North America. They roast cocoa beans (what you often hear called 'cacao' [pronounced ka-kow]), and then tackle the difficult job of removing the shells, grinding them down with specialty refiners, and then melting, tempering, and molding the chocolate into bars. So now, there is a clear division between chocolate maker and chocolatier

Both jobs are important. And both jobs require artisanal skills that can take years to master.

But unfortunately many of the articles and comments that have been published online since Megan Giller's December 18th article on Slate.com have been negative towards businesses that 'simply melt down other company's chocolate'. And I am concerned that there will be backlash on traditional chocolatiers from these statements.

A chocolatier's job is not an easy one.  There is no simplicity in melting down and molding chocolate. To create a simple bar of chocolate, from couverture chocolate provided by a manufacturer (the manufacturers do not provide chocolate in bars that can just be re-packaged - they come in small chips or drops, or sometimes slabs that have to be cut with the force of an ax) requires science and skill.  Once melted, chocolate must be tempered - brought up to a specific temperature such as 120º F for dark chocolate, then dropped to 82º F, and finally brought up to working temperature again.  This cooling and heating process needs to be practised and mastered. 

And as a chocolatier becomes better at tempering, they also need to gain knowledge about humidity in the air and in cooling units, mold temperatures, room temperature, water exposure, and so on. One little miscalculation, and the final chocolate product can turn white with bloom because the cocoa butter has not crystalized properly. This is science.

Once the tempering has been mastered, then the chef and artisan skills come into play. Flavor combinations are tested, and need to be modern or traditional, depending on the chocolatiers' philosophy. Textures need to be mastered for ganaches and truffles - again learning to temper ganache in order to have smooth results.

And don't even let me get into chocolate artistry, where a Master Chocolatier creates showpieces for events and weddings! You can watch the entire Netflix documentary on that.

So does a Master Chocolatier really have time to roast cocoa beans, shell them, and grind the chocolate into something smooth that he or she can work with? NO! They must use other chocolate maker's chocolate.

And nor does the chocolate maker have time to learn all the skills required to become a Master Chocolatier.  Often, when a small chocolate maker grows and expands their product line, they hire chocolatiers to create wonderful confections out of their bean-to-bar chocolate.  Soma Chocolatemaker in Toronto is one such example (I, myself have nearly applied to a chocolatier job at Soma!). 

Sure, a chocolate maker can become skilled at chocolate confections.  And a chocolatier can become skilled at chocolate making (ahem, I am one of those people trying to learn the bean-to-bar craft in my spare time).  But mastering both is a tough task, and takes years to accomplish.

So I just want us all to remember: the next time we visit a chocolatier's shop and taste a wonderful, beautiful, hand-painted, perfectly textured chocolate truffle, we should not become incensed when we find out that they use Valrhona, Cacao Barry or Michel Cluizel chocolate to make that confection. Beyond the job of melting Valrhona's chocolate, hours of work has gone into that confection.

And on the flip side, we cannot become annoyed if a craft chocolate maker only offers three types of chocolate bars.  The work that has gone into sourcing the beans for those three bars is hard enough, let alone crafting and packaging them.

And if a chocolate maker also wants to offer some chocolate products created from 'other company's chocolate', THAT IS OKAY TOO.  Just so long as they are upfront about it.

Happy Holidays to both Chocolatiers and Chocolate Makers! I greatly appreciate your individual artistry and craft, and all that you do for my taste buds!

And Happy Holidays to all of you chocolate lovers! Without you, we chocolatiers (and occasional chocolate makers like myself) would have nobody to create for, but ourselves. 

I hope you enjoy some good chocolate this holiday season!

This is one of my creations - a peanut butter truffle inside of a hand-wrapped dark chocolate toffee.
It's called The Chocolate TOFFLE, and it's delicious!!!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Recipe: Peppermint White Chocolate Bark with Crushed Candy Cane

Nothing says Christmas like candy canes and sweet chocolate treats.  And although chocolate candy cane bark seems to available everywhere during the holiday, the price on it can seem insanely high. Especially when you find out just how easy it is to make.
It is also easy to make chocolate bark look extra pretty, making it great for homemade gifts or holiday parties. You can make your chocolate bark more 'gourmet' by using a few simple and inexpensive tools, like the plastic fondant imprint mat sets that Cake Boss started selling last year. These sheets are inexpensive, and not only help you jazz up your chocolate creations, but they also are handy when you need to decorate a cake.

For the last month, I have been perfecting my recipe for Peppermint White Chocolate Bark and spreading it out on various imprint sheets, so I have one side that looks beautiful, with lovely patterns on it from the imprint sheets, and the other side sprinkled in festive-coloured candy cane pieces.  No matter how you package or display it, you can't go wrong.

This recipe has only three ingredients, and takes no time at all. So let's get to it...

Peppermint White  Chocolate Bark:

You need:
  • 1/16 tsp of peppermint oil (make sure you get the oil, and NOT extract! liquid will ruin the chocolate, but oil is fine - see below for recommendation)*
  • 16 ounces white chocolate (see suggestions below for what chocolate to use)+
  • 6 candy canes, crushed (lightly whirl in the blender or single blade coffee grinder - careful not to turn it into fine powder, you still want some chunks of candy cane for colour, texture and taste. Or, if you don't have a device from crushing them, simply place them in two plastic bags and pound with a rolling pin).

  1. Prepare your imprint sheets (if no imprint sheets, just lay out waxed paper on the counter and spread bark on that or in snowflake or other festive moulds as mentioned above)
  2. Ensure your candy canes are ready and in a dish by your side for sprinkling.
  3. Melt and temper your white chocolate. Check it to be sure it is in temper. For tempering instructions, click here.
  4. Once tempered, add the oil and stir quickly. Pour quickly on waxed paper, on imprint sheets or into molds. Immediately sprinkle candy cane pieces on top over your entire batch of bark.
  5. Let set for 5 to 10 minutes on counter, and then before it is hard, make slice marks with a flat-edged knife in portioned or bite-sized pieces (see photo on right).
  6. Place in the fridge for exactly 20 minutes (set the timer! Too long in the fridge can mean humidity problems and sticky chocolate!).
  7. Remove and break up the bark into pieces.  Package however you like and seal in plastic containers or bags until ready to serve!  No need to freeze, as this chocolate will last you six months, if well sealed.

*Peppermint Oil: You can buy peppermint oil from specialty ingredient companies, such as Vanilla Food Company.  Find it online here. If you can't get some in time, simply go without, your candy cane is likely minty enough.

+Chocolate Recommendations: I used Camino brand of white chocolate couverture, but Bulk Barn sells nice white chocolate discs (please do not use 'candy melts' which are filled with hydrogenated oils and no cocoa actual cocoa butter - check the label on the bins) or Joe's brand at Walmart is nice too. Green and Blacks is always good, but in this case you might not want the vanilla bean mixed in with your peppermint. And you can order from websites like Vanilla Food Company  - a large bag of Cacao Barry or Callebaut will go a long way!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Café Petit Gâteau: Wonderful coffee, tea, and chocolate treats can be found in Sudbury these days!

Yesterday I visited the cutest little café in downtown Sudbury. In fact, it was probably the tiniest café I have ever been to.  And what I discovered was some chocolaty deliciousness!  Not only did Café Petit Gâteau sell small squares of Michel Cluizel tasting chocolate as well as Michel Cluizel mushrooms, they also sold handmade dark chocolate truffles, chocolate cheesecake croquettes (I've never heard of a 'chocolate cheesecake croquette', but who cares because they were one of the most delicious things I've ever eaten!) and cute little lemon Madeleines. 

The chocolate truffles were bright and cool tasting, and were perfectly - more like luxuriously - textured. I only wish there had been more!

The Michel Cluizel mushroom was something I hadn't tried before, and was surprised that it was less chocolaty and more chewy-caramel with crunchy praline.  It wasn't my thing, but perhaps for those who like chewy caramel (who am I to argue with one of the world's finest chocolate brands?).

I regret not picking up some of the small squares of Michel Cluizel tasting chocolate (hint! hint! to my family members who work in the downtown), because it may be the only place in Sudbury that sells Michel Cluizel's fine chocolate right now.

So if you are in downtown Sudbury, Ontario and looking for a treat (or a great coffee or gourmet tea), check out this little café! Here are the details you need...

Café Petit Gâteau
129 Durham Street, Sudbury, Ontario
Website: http://cafepetitgateau.com/
Twitter:  https://twitter.com/cafepetitgateau
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CafePetitGateau
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/cafepetitgateau/

In Sudbury's South End?
If you in the south end of Sudbury, check out Salute Coffee Company on Armstrong Street for wonderful chocolate TOFFLEs (yup, those are my handmade chocolate confections from Manitoulin Island) and other amazing coffee and baked goods. Sudbury is certainly becoming the place to be to enjoy the finer things in life (ahem, coffee and chocolate of course).

Salute Coffee Company
2195 Armstrong St.
Sudbury, ON
Website: http://www.salutecoffee.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/salutecoffeecompany
Twitter: http://www/twitter.com/SaluteCoffeeLtd

Note: I was not paid or compensated to write this post - I just really enjoyed my experience there yesterday (and I can't stop thinking about those truffles!) so I thought I'd share.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Chocolate Snowflakes: Make your chocolate creations extra special this holiday season!

Are you planning to make chocolate gifts this year? Or supply your office with something scrumptious for the annual holiday party? Well if so, don't forget that delicious things need to look good if  you want people to eat them!

I found a few simple baking items at HomeSense, Canadian Tire and other home goods retailers that have really added a pop to my chocolates this year. 

For instance, festive silicon moulds, such as the Snowflake mould by Birkmann that I bought at HomeSense last year, do not have to be used for baking or freezing. They can be used for chocolate!

I did all sorts of things with my snowflake pan.  First, I used it as a mold for my rustic Brazilian bean-to-bar chocolate.  Then, I made white chocolate bark with almond and coconut in the shape of snowflakes instead of spreading the bark on waxed paper (this recipe will be posted later today).

I also made peanut butter meltaways with crispy rice crunch (those were the most delicious treats EVER, I have to admit).  And finally, I made GIANT milk chocolate peanut butter truffles in a white chocolate shell.  Using soft silicon was not easy for making the chocolate shells, since you have to flip it upside down to let the chocolate drip out, which doesn't work so well with silicon, but somehow I did it! I only made four of them, but they are so big that they will be decadent gifts.

Tips to make chocolate snowflakes (any flavour: dark, milk or white) with silicon baking pans or cupcake moulds:

1. Wash and dry the pan or mould.

2. Carefully buff the pan with dry, soft cloth or paper towel to remove any markings from dried water drops.  This will ensure you have shiny chocolate creations.

3. Be sure the pan is cool to the touch when you pour the chocolate into it (do not leave it on a warm surface, or your chocolate will go out of temper when you pour it into the pan).

4. Melt and temper chocolate according to my tempering instructions (see here and also at the "How to Temper Chocolate" link at the top of this blog page).  Stir in any ingredient inclusions (such as almonds, coconut, raisins, candy cane) as soon as the chocolate is in temper and then immediately pour into your moulds. Immediately bang the moulds on the counter to remove any air bubbles from the bottom (for silicon pans, place the silicon pan on a baking sheet and bang the baking sheet, otherwise it will flop all over the place).

5. Place in the fridge for 20 minutes. Set the timer to remind yourself (the fridge can have humidity that will affect the chocolate if left in too long).

6. Pop out of the moulds carefully onto a clean surface.  Wait until they come back to room temperature to seal in a container or package in treat bags.  

Stay tuned for recipes later this week for the chocolate snowflakes pictured above, and tips and recipes for making festive chocolate bark!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Win a Gift Basket of Chocolate!

This contest is now closed. Thanks to everyone who entered! The winner was randomly selected this morning using Rafflecopter's automated tool.  And the winner is....
Lori Lewis! (Twitter: @Miss_Elles).  I will be contacting you to find out where to mail the basket.  Stay tuned for more contests on this blog!

Do you need a chocolate fix RIGHT NOW? Here is your chance to win a gift basket of products by Ultimately Chocolate, my own chocolate company. Enter for your chance to win a gift basket including the following:
  • A gift box of three delicious extra large milk chocolate and peanut butter truffles
  • 10 individually wrapped chocolate TOFFLEs in three flavours: Peppermint, Hazelnut and Peanut Butter
  • A package of 2 gourmet salted dark chocolate toffees
  • A package of 2 gourmet milk chocolate toffees
  • 3 CacaoCookies - made only with cocoa beans, coconut sugar and an organic chocolate coating, these 'cookies' will make you forget that cookies made with flour ever existed. Three flavours: Espresso, Original Dark Chocolate and Milk Chocolate Dipped.
  • 71% Dark Chocolate Bark, made with organic and fair trade dark chocolate.
  • White chocolate candy cane bark
  • Festive gift box

The contest runs from November 30, 2015 until December 7th at midnight. Open to residents of the U.S. and Canada only. One lucky winner will be announced within 1 day of the contest closing, and the basket will be mailed to the winner within five business days.

Enter now: a Rafflecopter giveaway

Don't forget to follow on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram for upcoming contests like this one!

Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Best Chocolate Brownies Recipe EVER

I have been making brownies off and on for years, but I have never found a recipe that I truly like.  My baking is sold through restaurants and cafes, and usually includes chocolate layered cakes, cheesecakes, flourless chocolate cakes and tarts filled with chocolate truffle.  Plus I make packaged chocolate confections, so I just don't have that much time to experiment with brownie recipes.

But as soon as I saw the brownie recipe Megan Giller posted on her new website ChocolateNoise.com, I knew I had to try it. It was full of single origin dark chocolate, butter and more dark chocolate, so it looked like it was right up my alley. I was worried my family wouldn't like all the bitter chocolate in it, but the sugar certainly took care of any bitterness. In fact, since we ate the last piece three days ago, my kids have been begging me to make more.

The brownies were lightly crispy on the edges and super moist and fudgy on the inside. They were sweet and yet rich in chocolate flavour.  And the melted chocolate chips in the middle made all the ooey-gooey difference. Overall, they were DELICIOUS.

I made minor modifications to the recipe, such as choosing to use a smaller square pan instead of the larger one recommended, which increased the baking time. But it turned out so beautifully that I think I will stick to my version.  I have written the recipe below, but you can find the original one here, which will tell you why Dandelion Chocolate recommends using single origin chocolate for brownies (yup, so they can make a 'brownie tasting flight', BEST. IDEA. EVER. right?).

For the chocolate, I used a Camino brand Peruvian origin chocolate by La Siembra Co-Operative, which also happens to be organic and Fair Trade certified.  Under the Cuisine Camino brand, there is both 71% dark chocolate chips and baking chocolate of the same percentage. This chocolate has quite a distinct flavour that I find works well in desserts - it is sweet and bright, with a standard chocolate chip flavour, but also a slight sharpness that makes it interesting to taste. I tried the recipe one time with another 71% organic chocolate, but it was much more bitter tasting. So I think I will stick with Camino for this recipe in future. If you can't find that brand, don't worry, you can still use any 70% dark chocolate.

The Best Ever Chocolate Brownies
Adapted from ChocolateNoise.com

Time: Takes about one hour from start to finish.

You need:
  • 1 cup of about 70% dark chocolate (I used Cuisine Camino 71% Baking Chocolate), chopped into 1 to 1/2 inch cubes
  • 3/4 cup of butter, chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 tsp real vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/3 cup sugar (again, I used Camino brand for the sugar - it's golden cane sugar that is both organic and fair trade and not bleached!)
  • 1 cup, plus 2 tbsp. unbleached flour
  • pinch of salt (1/8 tsp)
  • 1 1/4 cups of 70 or 71% chocolate chips (for something a little sweeter, go for 55% or 56% semi-sweet chocolate chips)

  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Melt the chocolate and butter together in a medium-sized stainless steel bowl over a small pot of simmering water. If you prefer, use a heat-proof plastic or glass bowl to melt them together in the microwave for 2 minutes on half power. Stir until melted and smooth (do not overheat, just melt until you can stir the mix smooth and no longer or the cocoa butter will start to separate from the chocolate).
  3. In a second bowl, whisk together the vanilla, eggs and sugar. Once combines, add to the chocolate mixture and stir.  An immersion hand-held blender works well for this step.
  4. Gently fold in the flour and salt and stop stirring once mixed.
  5. Fold in the chocolate chips.
  6. Bake for 25 minutes in a square 9" x 9" pan. Add five minutes cooking time if using an 8" square.
  7. Let cool before serving.  Cut in squares and serve at room temperature.

Baking times for alternate pans:

If using a large snowflake pan, like I did on my second batch of brownies (which I purchased at HomeSense, also bake for 25 minutes. 

If using a larger 11 x 8 inch sheet pan like in the recipe on ChocolateNoise.com, then bake for 14 to 16 minutes as recommended.

Optional Topping: Shredded Coconut and White Chocolate Ganache

Although these brownies are lovely with a lightly crispy top to them, you can also make them festive for a holiday potluck or party by topping them with coconut.  To get the coconut to stick, make up a small batch of white chocolate ganache by combining 3 tbsp. of whipping cream together with 4 ounces of chopped white chocolate in a bowl, and microwave for 1 minute.  Stir until smooth and spread over the brownies, then sprinkle an abundance of coconut on top of the ganache.  Let the ganache set on the counter or in the fridge for 1/2 hour.  I also used Camino organic and fair trade shredded coconut for mine, but any will do!

Note: I was not sponsored/paid by Camino to write this post. I already use Camino brand of couverture chocolate, and raw cane sugar in my business because I believe in using organic and fair trade chocolate and ingredients as much as possible. Camino did send me a care-package of the Cuisine Camino products to try out, and this is what I decided to make with them! And as usual, I just love to tell you about quality ingredients and chocolate that I review.

Happy Chocolate Baking!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Chocolate from Austria, Zotter-Style: and the Most Interesting Dark-Milk Chocolate EVER

A few weeks back, I ordered the Zotter 'hand-scooped' line of chocolate bars, and a few bars from Zotter's Labooko line of 'pure chocolate'. I've been wanting to taste Zotter chocolate for years and finally got my hands on not one, but FIVE of their chocolate bars.

Zotter is an Austrian bean-to-bar chocolate maker, founded by Josef Zotter in 1987. The company's motto is "quality, creativity, sustainability" and they focus on making Organic and Fair Trade chocolate.

Zotter promotes that they offer over 300 different kinds of chocolate, making this one of the widest offerings of chocolate flavours that I've ever heard of! I could devote an entire blog to tasting a Zotter chocolate!

Of the mere five chocolate bars that I tried, I found new favourites, and certainly a few that I will NEVER forget.
My passion for chocolate was sparked yet again (truthfully my passion for chocolate is sparked each and every day, but it really was special this time) when I tried the Labooko 'Milk Chocolate "dark Style" 70% without sugar bar'.  That's right, it is without sugar.  That does NOT mean there is a sugar substitute like maltitol, aspartame or stevia added to this chocolate - it means that there is ABSOLUTELY. NO. SUGAR. ADDED.  And yet it is milk chocolate. Genius!

While researching dark-milk chocolate earlier this year, I thought about making milk chocolate with no sugar added.  I wondered why no one else was selling it, and thought perhaps I might be the first.  But sadly (or rather happily) I was wrong. This chocolate bar by Zotter has all the creaminess of milk chocolate, and all the bitterness of dark chocolate.  And once you get over the first bold and bitter bite, the creaminess takes over and a savoury crème fraiche flavour of deliciousness sweeps over you. It reminds me of my sour cream truffle recipe, only much more savoury. I think every foodie and dark chocolate lover should try this bar.

The Labooko 100% Peru chocolate bar by Zotter had a quite distinct roast flavour, with something perhaps floral.  There was very low acidity, especially when I tasted it up against a bean-to-bar 100% chocolate of Brazilian origin. However, it may not just be in the processing and the 34 hour conche; the packaging says this is the "mildest cocoa" Zotter has ever encountered (cultivated by the El Natanjillo coopertaive in Peru), and also describe the chocolate as "Mild, balanced and original."  And that is definitely a true statement for this chocolate bar by Zotter.

Of Zotter's 'hand-scooped' chocolate bar line, my absolute favourite was the BitterClassic Mousse. This had a beautiful straight-up taste of dark chocolate, with a lovely fluffy-melt-in-your-mouth centre.  The flavours were real (I suppose that's because there are NO vanilla or artificial flavours in this product) and there was a lovely mild heat after from just a hint of chilli spice that Zotter included in the mousse.  

I was also excited that the ingredients were simple and NO hydrogenated oils or modified palm oils were added to the product. I have found other commercial 'mousse' chocolate bars often have unnatural ingredients, so this was a nice change.

Zotter's 'hand-scooped' Espresso dark chocolate bar was also quite tasty, although not my favourite of all time.  And the Hazelnut bar was interesting, with a strong flavour of real honey, yet not very sweet at all for a milk chocolate.  It was not one I would re-visit, but I think the slight alcohol taste and crunchy hazelnut would appeal to Europeans or people who like European-style desserts with low sweetness and ground hazelnuts.

Overall, my first experience with Zotter was pretty amazing.  I look forward to tasting the other 360 flavours! There are some very interesting flavour combinations that should definitely be tasted.  Check out the list here.

You can buy Zotter chocolate in Canada from Cook Culture, in the U.S. online from the new Zotter USA website at https://www.zotterusa.com/  or in the UK at: http://www.zotterchocolate.co.uk/Buy-OnLine(2603292).htm . Or check out the company's main website at: http://www.zotter.at/en/homepage.html.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Chocolate Buttercream Icing Recipe for a Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake

I have tried many chocolate buttercream icing recipes over the years, and I have not yet settled on one recipe as my favourite (this might be obvious, but I usually choose to use chocolate ganache instead of icing!). But last week, I tried a new one that might just be a contender for my favourite 'best chocolate buttercream' recipe. 

I was making a Salted Caramel Chocolate Cake, and wanted a chocolate icing that could pair nicely with salt and caramel sauce. So when I began my search for a new chocolate buttercream, I stumbled upon the thekitchenmagpie.com and tried the Chocolate Buttercream Icing recipe by blog author Karlynn Johnston.  I made a few minor changes based on my past experiences with buttercream icing, and this is the final recipe that I came up with:

Salted Chocolate Buttercream Icing Recipe:

  • 2 cups salted butter (or 1 full pound)
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 6 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, melted, then cooled (I used the Cuisine Camino brand of organic and fair trade semi-sweet chocolate with 56% cocoa solids, for baking)
  • 6.5 cups icing sugar
  • 1/4 cup canola oil to 1/2 cup canola oil (optional)
  • 1/2 tsp chunky sea salt

  1. Melt the chocolate in the microwave for 2 minutes on half power, and stir until smooth. If it is not fully melted, continue melting for 5 second intervals in the microwave until fully melted.  Let cool.
  2. Whip the butter in a stand mixer or with a hand mixer until light and fluffy - stir often to ensure every un-whipped portion of the butter is incorporated.
  3. Add in the cocoa powder and beat until it is combined.
  4. Add the cooled chocolate to the butter/cocoa powder mixture.
  5. Add the icing sugar. Sift in if lumpy. Stir regularly until combined while mixing with the mixer.
  6. Add the canola oil and beat until combined.
  7. Sprinkle in the sea salt.

Spread between layers of moist chocolate cake. Top each layer of icing with salted caramel sauce or dulce de leche caramel sauce and sprinkle with chunky sea salt. Delicious!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Organic Cocoa Beans from Brazil: A Review of the Beans, Where to Buy Them, and Recipes to Try!

I started exploring Brazil-origin chocolate a few years ago, and what I found then was nearly no chocolate of that origin in North America  Since then, some very different chocolate bars, with varied and unique flavour profiles, began to pop up here and there.  But now, Brazil origin chocolate seems to be making a splash among chocolate makers across North America and Europe.

One of the reasons* for the recent increase in Brazil-origin chocolate bars is likely due to a recent increase in access to cocoa beans from Brazil.  They are emerging direct from the farm for many of the bean-to-bar chocolate companies to convert into chocolate.  In fact, I received a wonderful sample of cocoa beans from Cacao Bahia, the global sales and marketing arm of a picturesque organic cacao farm called Fazenda Camboa. The farm is located alongside the Almada River in the southern part of the State of Bahia, Brazil. The cacao trees grown on the 500-hectare farm are mainly sun-dried Trinitario and Forastero type.

I had tasted samples of chocolate made by Chaleur B Chocolat, who also used Cacao Bahia`s beans to create a wonderful 80% dark chocolate bar. I LOVED what chocolate maker Dany Marquis did with those cocoa beans (see the post here).  The chocolate was fruity with a hint of roast and smoke flavours.

So when I received the beans, I decided to do something different.  I experimented a little, and turned them into rustic-style chocolate (think stone-ground chocolate, except due to equipment limitations it is really 'blender ground' chocolate for me). I made a sweeter dark chocolate, one with 70% cocoa solids, and I also made a 62% dark-milk chocolate (see below for the recipes and the measurements that I used).

These turned out beautifully.  There was little acidity compared to other chocolate that I have made (since I do not have the equipment to conche the chocolate, I have to choose beans with low acidity or the chocolate will be too acidic to be palatable!).  The fruitiness was certainly there, and the flavour overall was nice in both the dark-milk and the 70% dark chocolate bar.

Overall, I've been very pleased with these cocoa beans from Cacao Bahia. Also, the information provided from the company was detailed on the quality control, and the processes for fermentation, drying, testing and harvesting at the farm. The company's information kit also explains the working conditions, mentioning that the farm pays their 65+ workers above-average wages for the region.

If you are looking for Trinitario or Forastero cocoa beans from Brazil - single origin and particularly from a specific farm, contact Cacao Bahia at info@cacaobahia.com  or visit their website at: http://www.cacaobahia.com/.

*Short History of the Brazilian Cacao Industry and the Fazenda Camboa farm:

In the late 1980's, Witches' Broom disease infected and killed the leaves of cacao trees all across Brazil.  This reduced the yield of the trees until they no longer produced cacao. In the early 1900's Brazil had been the largest producer of cacao in the world (ref) and was the second-largest pre-1989 (ref), but Witches Broom changed that drastically and caused the collapse of the cacao industry. That year, output went from 380,000 tonnes per annum to 90,000 tonnes per annum less than 10 years later (ref).

Bahia is one of Brazil's 26 states, and it was where Witches' Broom began. Farms like Fazenda Camboa were devastated by the disease, and family cacao businesses folded, causing many of the family members to move into other industries. Two members of the family that owned Fazenda Camboa began revitalizing the farm and applying methods to combat the disease.  They have been successfully reclaiming sections of the farm ever since. The farm is now focused on organic production and on producing higher quality cocoa beans for the fine chocolate industry.

Recipe for Rustic Style Chocolate Made with Brazilian Cocoa Beans

70% Dark Chocolate
  • 6 oz roasted and shelled* cocoa beans
  • 1 oz cocoa butter (see here for methods to extract cocoa butter if you want cocoa butter from the same beans)
  • 3 oz sugar

62% Dark Milk Chocolate
  • 6 oz roasted* and shelled* cocoa beans
  • 1 oz cocoa butter
  • 3 oz sugar
  • 1.25 oz skim milk powder (or coconut milk powder if making vegan milk chocolate)

  1. Melt your cocoa butter over a double boiler or in the microwave until liquid (about 2 minutes in the microwave).
  2. Grind all the ingredients in a blender, smoothie blender attachment, or food processor until they begin to look wet and melt. Stop to stir often and be careful not to overheat the motor on your blender. For the milk chocolate, leave the skim milk powder out until you've melted the chocolate.  Add the melted cocoa butter and continue grinding until chocolate is fully liquid and as smooth as you can get it (about 10 to 20 minutes total). If adding, add the skim milk powder now and grind for another minute or so.
  3. Transfer the chocolate to a bowl and temper it. For a guide on how to temper chocolate, click here.
  4. Pour into molds. You do not need to spend money on fancy molds, for instance, I used a silicon snowflake baking pan as my mold for the dark chocolate - you can also use simple cupcake pans for round discs.  I also used a washed and dried chocolate bonbon tray from a gift I had received previously, for my dark milk chocolate - see the top photo for those.
  5. Let set for a few hours on the counter, or in the fridge for just a few minutes (not longer than 15 minutes or humidity will affect the chocolate).
  6. Pop out of the molds and enjoy! These can keep - well sealed - for about 1 year.
*To roast the cocoa beans and remove the shells, place them on a good quality cookie sheet in the oven, and spread evenly.  Roast at 325 degrees F for 20-30 minutes, stirring and turning them over halfway through roasting. When they smell like baking brownies, they are ready! Let cool, then remove the shells by hand, or place in a plastic zipper freezer bag and crush with a rolling pin, then place in a large bowl and use a hair dryer to blow the shells off  (best if this is done outside). Ensure all shells are removed before using to make chocolate.

Explore Other Brazil-Origin Chocolate:

Certainly Akesson's, who I wrote about earlier this year, has contributed to the popularity of Brazil origin chocolate. The company owns a plantation in Brazil and their fine origin chocolate has highlighted unique flavours that Brazilian cocoa has to offer, including that of the local pitanga fruit. Learn more about it here: http://ultimatechocolateblog.blogspot.ca/2015/07/akessons-single-plantation-chocolate.html.

And if you didn't already click on the link above to my article on a round-up of Brazil-origin chocolate, you can find it here: http://ultimatechocolateblog.blogspot.ca/2015/09/weekly-chocolate-round-up-its-all-about.html.

Happy Chocolate Tasting!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

President's Choice Black Label Chocolates: A Great Choice for Holiday Gatherings

I was recently surprised with a lovely gift basket of President's Choice chocolate products.  It was quite a mix of chocolate, from the high-end Black Label brand of chocolates, to the everyday milk chocolate caramels and chocolate-covered raisins.

My husband attacked the chocolate caramels and raisins so quickly that I could barely have a chance to asses them.  In fact, I did not even get one PC chocolate-covered raisin before the bag was gone!  But they must have been good, since I have never seen him eat chocolate-covered raisins before and he really liked these.

The caramels were also pretty good, but sweet stuff isn't my thing. Again, with the rapidity that my husband ate through the bag, I feel that they must have been delicious for a someone with a chocolate sweet-tooth!

I set aside the Dark Chocolate Cashews and the PC Maple Brown Sugar Caramels for me.  I had not seen either of these products in stores before, but they looked beautiful and delicious, and I was delighted to taste them.  I LOVE the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Cashews, which were not too sweet like some chocolate-covered products can be, and the salt was balanced perfectly.  The ingredients were pretty good and there was NO artificial vanilla flavour - something I always appreciate in PC products.

Also, my family and I really enjoyed the Maple Brown Sugar Caramels.  They were flavourful, again without being overly sweet.  And yet they were also a little chewy, but not hard.  I liked the very Canadian addition of 'maple' - and who doesn't want a brown sugar anything this time of year? I truly think these can be called 'comfort food'!

The way I see it, the PC Black Label chocolates are great for adding to dessert trays at your upcoming holiday parties. Little dishes each containing a different kind, with a small spoon in each dish to serve, all on one serving plate or spread throughout the dessert table would be great at any party. They would also make a nice gift basket addition for a gift for a chocolate lover.

I found the PC Black Label Collection at an Independent Grocer in Northern Ontario, but they are available at Loblaws or any Loblaws store, and likely anywhere that sells PC products.

Ooh, and don't forget to add the delicious President's Choice Chocolate Sea Salt Fudge to your party mix.  I bought a bag earlier in the year and told you about here.

Happy Holiday Partying!!!

Note: although PC sent me these products for free, it was my choice to write about them!  I thoroughly enjoyed the package of President's Choice chocolate products, and I love to tell you about great products that have natural ingredients, no artificial flavours and are all around tasty.  PC, in my opinion, delivers on all of these important aspects in their Black Label selection, as well as their line of sweet milk chocolate treats.