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!