Holiday Chocolates

Holiday Chocolates
Holiday Chocolates -beats cookies any day!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Making Chocolate - the Colonial Way

Here is a great little video clip I found on how chocolate was originally made. I can't figure out how to include links into the context of my posts so I have added this link down below under the heading "Cool Links". If for some reason that doesn't work for you, copy and paste the following into your browser:

Friday, January 22, 2010

Health Benefits of Chocolate

Don't let anyone tell you that chocolate is not good for you. That's an old-wives' tale. Chocolate has one of the highest levels of antioxidants of all foods, more than red wine or green tea. It contains a substance called theobromine which acts as a vaso-dilator, reducing blood-pressure. It also helps release endorphins, the feel-good chemicals in the brain, which is why chocolate is always a good mood-lifter. If you haven't tried it, the next time you feel cranky and irritable treat your self to a good bar of chocolate. I guarantee you will be feeling better within 15 minutes of eating it. The saturated fat of chocolate is mostly in the form of stearic acid, which is a cholesterol-neutral fat. That means that it does not affect your cholesterol levels one way or the other. The darker your chocolate, the less sugar it contains and the higher the anti-oxidant level. The higher the quality of your chocolate, the less likely it is to have non-nutritive substances like milk powders (a source of oxidized cholesterol - not good for us) and soy lethicin. Those tend to be additives used by large companies concerned more for profit than quality.
Chocolate does not cause acne - sugar does. However, because of the stearic acid content of chocolate, whatever sugar it does contain is slowly absorbed and most of the negative aspects of sugar are greatly reduced. If you are going to consume sugar, consume it in the form of chocolate.
Chocolate does contain caffeine but not nearly as much as you have been led to believe. A few oreos after dinner will not keep your children up all night. The caffeine content is quite miniscule. Theobromine, on the other hand, is a caffeine-like stimulant that effects the central nervous system in a gentler way than caffeine. Most scientist who study theobromine are skeptical about it being an addictive substance. I haven't tried this yet because I still love my coffee, but if you are trying to quit caffeine, try supplementing with a little chocolate for breakfast for a few days and see if that gets you through caffeine withdrawal without the headache! If it works, write in and tell me!
There is tons of information on the internet about the health benefits of chocolate. Chocolate is rich and you may have been led to believe that it is somehow sinful to consume it in our Puritanical society, but those who do consume it regularly without guilt seem to be happier and healthier! Throw away the oreos and go get the good stuff!

Dolfin Noir 88%

This was truly a surprise to me. Dolfin is a Belgian chocolatier. It has a gorgeous, smooth texture (which is difficult to do over 85%) and starts off with a bang of cinnamon. Okay, not really a bang, but a distinctive enough cinnamon-like flavor that it made me re-read the label. It is in fact just dark chocolate with 88% cacao. It tastes sweeter to me than other chocolates of such high percentage, and that cinnamon flavor really lasts, rather than a fleeting "spice-like" nuance. This chocolate scores big points for its texture, but if you love really dark chocolate, you will be disappointed in the lack of depth. Think about it like coffee: if you love espresso, you won't be impressed with a shot of medium-roast coffee. I would definitely recommend this bar to people who love their chocolate sweet and to those who want to venture into higher percentages but remain a bit timid. As for myself, I think I will melt the rest of this bar and whisk in some half&half for a wicked-good cup of hot chocolate!

Amadei Toscano Black 66%

This is another Italian chocolate - the Italians do chocolate well. Amadei prides itself on its single-origin chocolates from small estates and controlling the whole process from fermenting to roasting the cacao beans to their specifications. This comes in a pretty green package with a black box in the center as their label. To me, 66% is awfully sweet, so I just bought two individual squares of this chocolate to try rather than a whole bar. It would definitely make a good replacement for milk-chocolate lovers who want to take a step above Hershey's.
Amadei has a whole line of chocolate from different parts of the world and it will be fun trying them all. The only downside is that these bars are expensive - $6.50 in my chocolate shop, and probably steeper in the big cities. The texture is very smooth and nice, though, and it is a good treat to have once in a while or for a special occasion.

Friday, January 15, 2010


This is the other Kakawa chocolate elixir I ordered. They are these big 1.5 oz. chocolate balls blended with vanilla, agave and ancho chilli. You're supposed to chop or shave them into little pieces, add hot water and whisk to make your hot chocolate drink. I did this and made a nice hot chocolate but it seemed to lack depth. Now to me a fine cup of hot chocolate (and the only kind really worth considering) is a melted chocolate bar with half & half whisked in. So while I did like this chilli hot chocolate I couldn't help thinking it needed a little cream. I didn't put any in because I had a hard time reconciling chillis and cream in my mind. So I finished the cup and then ate the other chocolate ball. I have one left. I think I'll eat that one too.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Hot Chocolate

Today is a very exciting day! My order of hot chocolate "wafers" arrived from Kakawa (see link below) and I was finally able to sample one of their concoctions. Kakawa is based in Sante Fe and they have dedicated themselves to discovering and recreating ancient drinking chocolate recipes. They have ancient Aztec, Mayan and Zapotec recipes as well as the first European recipes from the 1600's up to 1800. I found their website back in the summer and bookmarked it, thinking this would make a great winter treat. They make their hot chocolate by grinding spices, chillis, and other aromatic ingredients and blending them with bittersweet chocolate, forming wafers or balls that you then mix with hot water and whisk until fully melted and blended into a hot chocolate drink.
Today I sampled Aztec Warrior, a blend of unsweetened chocolate, herbs, flowers, nuts, chilli and vanilla. This is a recipe that was considered a favorite of rulers and warriors throughout Mesoamerica. It is very aromatic: almond, allspice and vanilla seem to be the dominant flavors, with a little chilli kick, but not too much. It is intentionally unsweetended as that is how chocolate was consumed back in the day. So I drank mine unsweetened, just enjoying the contrast between the bitter chocolate, the chilli kick and the sweet spices. You could, of course, add a teaspoon of sugar if you wished, but I would not recommend too much as there is something to be said for experiencing a recipe based on the ancient tradition of chocolate drinking. I did find it to be a bit heavy on what seemed like almond extract. I like that flavor but it could be a little lighter, in my opinion. I initially thought these wafers would be easy to make at home, but the more I sipped the more I noticed the different flavors underlying the almond.
These hot chocolate elixirs, as they are called, are not inexpensive, but they are a fun treat and probably could be recreated by creative types in your own kitchen, sparing you a great deal of money. On the other hand, the menu at Kakawa is quite extensive, tempting you with all sorts of magical chocolate elixirs from Mesoamerica to European blends, like 1631 Spanish, 1775 Marie Antoinette, to "modern" American 1790's Jeffersonian and Havana Rum.
As a bonus, your order arrives with a page and a half of information about the health benefits of chocolate!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Accidental Truffle

If you are reading this blog, chances are you like truffles. I like truffles. In fact, I accidentally bought three truffles today. Okay, it wasn't exactly an accident, but I switched direction while walking through town with the express purpose of avoiding a strong and bitter wind that was slapping me in the face. I took the long way back to work and lo and behold, there was the chocolate shop! So I ventured in and decided to be a good customer and sample the truffles that the young man working there had just recently created. In actuality, I had been dreaming about these truffles for a few days ever since I saw him dipping them in melted chocolate and coating them with cocoa powder. Well, they were fabulous. They had a thick hard shell of dark chocolate that enveloped a soft, truffly center. They were sweet, but not too sweet. They had a fine coat of cocoa powder, but not so much as to leave you with a cocoa mustache. They were really quite delightful.
So what exactly is a truffle? I never really knew and never really cared until one day I accidentally made some truffles. I was trying to make an icing of sorts for a fancy cake, not following any recipe, just my imagination as I am wont to do (not generally recommended in the kitchen). I melted a bar of good chocolate in a double boiler and slowly added cream, whisking it in until it created a thick, and then really thick ganache. It was a giant truffle! It was too thick to be used as any sort of icing (I probably should have used half&half) so I scooped it into little balls on a tray and left them to set. They were really good. I don't remember anything about the cake.
By the way, of the three truffles I bought today, I only ate two. I gave the third to the nice lady who works in the office in my place of employment.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Chocolate, The Meso-American Way

Venchi Perperoncino. 75% chocolate with chillis! It may not sound good to you at first, but I think this is really worth a try! Venchi is Italian and they make a mean chocolate. It's imported so that means two things: you can probably only find it in chocolate shops or gourmet food stores and it is more expensive than your average bar. But any Venchi you can get your hands on is well worth the extra dollar. If you like spicy things in general, this simply can't be missed. It is a smooth, sweet chocolate with a taste that sort of reminds me of Oreos and it has a little kick to it from the chillis. The spice is mild in my opinion, but if you are not fond of spicy, try another Venchi bar instead.
There is a general trend these days in chocolate circles to recreate the Meso-American experience of blending chocolate with chillis and other spices. I haven't tried them all, but this is one I keep coming back to whenever I want a little excitement.
It is a small bar, 45 g. or 1.58 oz. with gold foil and a chilli-red wrapper with an illustration of a Mayan Temple, cocoa pods and chillis. The English translation is "Pure Extra Bitter Chocolate with Chilli Pepper". I don't consider this particularly bitter, so if you are new to dark chocolate don't be turned off by that. All the Venchi bars, even the 85% are quite creamy and sweet. If you want bitter, stick around and I'll introduce you to bitter!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Theobroma - Xocolatl - Chocolate

Food of the Gods. That was the very first name for chocolate. In other words, that is what chocolate means in Aztec. Columbus was the first European to discover cacao beans in his fourth and last voyage to the Americas. These beans were used as a form of currency among the native people he encountered. He wasn't much impressed. It was Cortez, twenty years later, who brought a boat-load of these babies back to Spain. Cacao beans were considered to have magical healing powers by the ancient Mayan, Incas and Aztecs. Montezuma used to sip a bitter concoction of ground beans, vanilla and chillis all day long. It was considered the drink of royalty which conveyed power and virility. (Although I think Montezuma eventually went mad, so perhaps drinking chocolate all day long is not a very good idea - everything in moderation).
Europeans were not necessarily delighted by this first concoction of bitter cacao and chillis - it was definitely an acquired taste. Soon enough, they replaced the chilli with sugar and the popularity of the drink began to soar. (That's the heroin-like addiction thing starting to kick in). It was a drink of the nobility of course, as shipments of the beans were still rare and the price was steep. The chocolate that we know today was in fact a European invention that began in the early 1800's when a Dutch chemist squeezed out half the cocoa butter from the beans using a hydraulic press, pulverized what was left, and added potassium or sodium carbonates to make a powder that was easier to mix with water. This became known as Dutch Process, or Dutching and it is still how cocoa powder is made today. From there the powder could be mixed with sugar and chocolate drinks were then much easier to make. Later on that century, an Englishman figured out how to make an edible chocolate by reintroducing the extracted cocoa butter to the powder and sugar mix. (God bless the English for their devotion to saturated fat!) The Swiss grabbed the ball at that point and figured out how to blend it into the smooth consistency we have come to expect from chocolate by a process called "conching". They also introduced their own most recently created product, dried milk, to make what is now known as milk chocolate. So while it took a good three hundred years from the first shipments of beans to the first Nestle and Lindt bars, it was truly a European collaboration to make the EU proud. As our knowledge of nutrition has evolved in leaps and bounds, we now know that sugar is bad for us, and so is powdered milk. Saturated fat, on the other hand, has been acquitted as nutritionists now believe it is a very essential nutrient indeed. Therefore, the verdict stands that the English contribution to modern-day chocolate is by far the the wisest and most nutritious. God Save the Queen.

How to Eat Chocolate

Now that's a crazy title, admittedly. After all, who needs help learning how to eat chocolate? Well, I have come to learn that we all could use a little advanced course in chocolate-eating. Back in my Hershey's days, my favorite method was chewing which turns out was probably a good idea because there is a lot of crap in Hershey's that we most likely don't want to savor. Once you begin to upscale your chocolate habit however, you are going to need to control that mastication habit in order to truly savor the differences and nuances of these finer chocolates. Sugar is a very addictive substance, on par with heroin and other such goodies. The more sugar a chocolate contains the more likely we are to suck with a frenzy, trying to absorb every last glucose/fructose molecule with reckless abandon. If this is happening to you, you need to increase your cacao content. Those little percentages that are turning up on the packages of chocolate bars these days are the actual percentage of pure cacao that the bar contains. The higher the percentage, the lower the sugar content. After all, something has to give in order to make room for more cacao. If you take out the cocoa butter, you end up with an unpalatable product, so it's the sugar that gets decreased. Do not despair. You can do this. You don't have to go cold-turkey, but you can wean yourself off some of that excess sugar. As a reference, your traditional Hershey's milk chocolate bar has only about 30% cacao content. What is the rest?? Dried milk and soy lethicin and SUGAR! What is soy lethicin? You really don't want to know.
Back to tasting: choose your new chocolate and place a square on your tongue. Close your mouth and just forget it is there for a few seconds. Try hard not to suck. Just let it melt and the flavor will actually come to you. What do you taste? You may feel you are tasting the best hot chocolate you ever experienced, or you may taste vanilla. Or caramel. It may be bright and acidic like a fruit, or rich and earthy like fine dark coffee. Each chocolate will be different, and sometimes you may get several of these sensations in the same bar!
I admit that sometimes I just want to chew and that isn't a crime. However, there is a lot going on in a good bar of chocolate and it takes patience to discover it all. Once you get into the dangerously high percentages of 80 and above, you will need this place-on-the-tongue-and-wait technique all that much more to truly receive the precious gift such chocolate has to offer.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Black Panther

This is the 88% Endangered Species Brand of chocolate with a photo of a black panther's face on the package, so I'm calling it Black Panther 88. Admittedly, I bought this at the supermarket and not at some fancy-shmance chocolate shop. It is pretty good. You will notice eventually that I vacillate between high-end and easy-access chocolate. I prefer the high-end stuff, but let's face it, it is not always available, say when traveling and getting stuck in the airport. So I believe it is very important to have a broad base from which to choose. Green and Blacks, Endangered Species, and Theo are decent brands of chocolate that are available even in many airports these day. I don't think I've ever had Endangered Species before and this Black Panther is a little chaulky. But the flavor isn't bad, and to me it is really quite sweet. If you've never gone above 70%, don't jump up to 88% right away. Work your way up the ladder with 75% and 80% first. The next time I find myself stuck in an airport without my Cluizel, I will reach for Black Panther 88 if I am lucky enough to find it. Plus, the panther on the package really is pretty cool and I'm a sucker for good packaging.


Okay, I made these up, but they are awesome and you can make them any way you want, with whatever ingredients you wish. Mine are hard-core so I don't recommend them for beginners, but go ahead and make them with your favorite chocolate.

1 Big Bar of chocolate (I use Green and Black's 85%)
A lot of shredded coconut
A lot of cacao nibs

Melt the bar of chocolate, preferably in a double-boiler so as not to burn it. Stir in as much coconut and nibs as you can until you have a big mass. Line a tray with wax paper and spoon out globs of this concoction onto your tray. They will not look pretty, and they won't even seem to hold together very well - don't worry about it. Put the tray in the fridge for about 30 minutes until they are set. Now you have Choco-Bombs. They are so named because 85% plus lots of nibs gives you quite a kick. They can be made without the nibs, or with milk chocolate. You can use nuts instead of nibs, or nuts and dried fruit, eliminating the coconut if you don't like coconut. It is basically melted chocolate with whatever you like stirred in - enough to form a big mass so you have something to spoon out in little clumps. That's it.

Lindt - not my favorite but what the hay

Lindt Milk Chocolate with Almonds
Full confession: I did not choose this chocolate - it chose me. My son brought it home yesterday and I ate most of it. After three years of indulging in some of the world's finest dark chocolate, milk chocolate just isn't really chocolate to me, yet I still have a habit of snarfing it down. Lindt makes a nice, smooth milk chocolate, however I would not recommend chocolate with nuts, ever. Most nuts in this country come to us in semi-rancid form and just plain do not belong in what is otherwise a good bar of chocolate. In fact, if I were the Minister of Chocolate in the Obama Administration, I would be hard at work outlawing nuts in chocolate until we get the nut situation under control in this country. (That would make a good campaign platform, wouldn't it?)
Nonetheless, the semi-rancid almonds did not stop me from enjoying most of my son's bar of chocolate last night.


Let's face it. The world could do with one more narcissistic blog devoted to chocolate. We're all addicted. Most of us, anyway. The only person I ever knew who truly, honestly did not like chocolate was my father, and he was a pretty strange guy. The idea for this blog came to me as I created a "Chocolate of the Week" section on my other blog, devoted to living a yogic life. I was having just a bit too much fun writing sidebar reviews of the chocolates I was consuming, that I decided to create this blog devoted solely to chocolate. These are the rules: chocolate, and only chocolate. If you want me to try a certain chocolate that you love, make sure to let me know where I can purchase it. If you've heard of a chocolate you want to try but have not yet found it, mention it because there is a good chance I have tried it, or can at least access it. If you send me free chocolate, I will be your friend forever, but cannot guarantee a stellar review. I can do no more than two actual chocolate reviews per week. If I start reviewing three or more chocolates per week, somebody please remind me to step on the scale and deal with reality.
My journey beyond Hershey's began about four years ago with a little book called "The Chocolate Connoisseur" by Chloe Doutre-Roussel. If you love chocolate and have not read this book, get it and be prepared to transform your taste in chocolate. I just happen to have a little chocolate shop in my town that carries a few of the brands that Chloe recommends in her book, so my tasting began in earnest. I tasted a little of this and a little of that, 65%, 70%, 75%, 77%, 80% and so on. I even contacted a man named Steve Devries out in Colorado who was mentioned in the book as a budding chocolatier of exceptionally high standards. I left my name and email address on his then-under-construction web page and just waited. Months passed and then the Word came: Devries Chocolates was open for business. Thus began my initiation into the world of real, unadulterated chocolate like no other I had known before.