Archive for Chocolate

Chocolate Show Gripes

Bloomsberry chocolate

It’s hard to believe that chocolate can make someone grumpy, but that was the case at New York’s 10th annual Chocolate Show last Friday. The show has declined in recent years, with cheap-o brands slowly taking over the artisan booths. Of course there were stand-outs, but do you really need another cliche “chocolate is delicious” wrap-up? Instead, I’m going with the more entertaining (and arguably more useful) Worst in Show.

Greedy if you ask me!

$2 water
Photo: Niko/Dessert Buzz

When the Chocolate Show first began, it only cost $5 to get in and sample chocolates from all over the world. Two years ago, the admission ballooned to $25, and this year, it again rose to $28. In the words of a fellow chocolate lover: “Greedy if you ask me!” Upon entering, the coat check costs $2 (you can’t really skip out on this in chilly NY), and water costs another $2 (you need something to wash all that chocolate down). You’ve just spent $32 without eating a single piece of chocolate.

Sample Snobbery

A note to the booths: please stop hiding your samples. Visitors just spent $28 on admission and are entitled to a taste. They don’t enjoy inquiring about a possible sample, hearing a long sales pitch and then getting their requisite treat at the end. Ironically, the more the vendors gushed about their chocolate, the worse the product tended to be.

cacao beans
Photo: Robyn Lee/The Girl Who Ate Everything

Some vendors offered samples up front, but they came with tweezers and little spoons. I understand we’re all concerned about cleanliness, but when there’s 20 people waiting in line, using chopsticks to pick up pebble-sized chocolates is hardly efficient. At the very least, please offer more than one spoon per bowl. And when vendors slice a piece of a truffle and insist on handing it to me, I just think, “I’m perfectly capable of picking up my own chocolate!” True, there are some people who horde samples in plastic containers, but it’s not fair for the rest of us.

matcha truffles
Shiki Matcha Crunch truffles, why must I pay $2 to sample you?

The worst policy is not even offering samples at all. I think the chocolates should sell themselves, and if I can’t try them, I won’t buy them.

The Bad and the Irrelevant

Being a chocolate show, you’d think that every booth sold something related to chocolate. Let’s just say that this year’s show offered one-stop shopping, so you could get a Capitol One Visa card, a subscription to the NY Times and book a Marriott vacation.

so-called French truffles
Photo: Robyn Lee/The Girl Who Ate Everything

Two booths sold cocoa-rolled truffles that were ostensibly from France and had hydrogrenated vegetable oil. The French would roll in their graves if they had to eat these!

Mars chocolate
Photo: Niko/Dessert Buzz

Mars also had their own booth. Not only were they out of place, but they pretended to be up to par with the prestige chocolatiers. They bragged about selling 100% real chocolate, but did you know that they’re part of the Chocolate Manufacturer’s Association, the same trade group that wanted to replace cacao butter with shortening in chocolate? Last month, Mars turned around and said they’d only sell chocolate with 100% cocoa butter, as they always have. That’s not true. Dove dark chocolate (which I admit tastes pretty good) has milk fat and technically isn’t pure chocolate.

Bueller, Bueller, anyone?

The same chocolate lover above reported that some exhibitors had no idea where their cacao beans came from or whether they were bought for a fair price. Call me a snob, but how and where cacao is grown makes a world of difference in the finished product. When vendors don’t know their product, it’s unattractive to the consumer.

Gobo's vegan chocolate cake

In another puzzling case, Gobo restaurant demoed a vegan chocolate cake, which called for vegan flour and vegan cocoa powder. It pains me to say this, since Gobo and its sister restaurant, Zen Palate, are among my favorites in the city (and the owners are really nice), but I almost laughed at those ingredients. Flour comes from a plant. Cocoa comes from a plant. When are animals involved? If you can find me animal-derived cocoa, I’ll give you a lifetime supply of vegan cocoa as a consolation.

For the Chocolate Show highlights, visit Dessert Buzz and NYCnosh.

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Raising the bar on candy

Tumbador chocolates

Pastry chefs differentiate between chocolate and chocolates — the first is a pure ingredient, while the second is a confection. Think of it this way: you savor chocolate like fine wine, but you hand out chocolates during Halloween.

To illustrate the difference, New York magazine had renowned pastry chef Francois Payard taste 14 chocolates a couple years ago. The results were entertaining but very telling.

Payard on Junior Mints: “I know these are meant to be refreshing. I wouldn’t say it tastes like toothpaste, but something like that.”

On Ferrero Rocher: “Ewgh, no, this is terrible.”

On Cadbury Dairy Milk: “No, this one is not good; it’s too dense, too thick with sweetness. This is like Belgian chocolate; it tastes very fatty. There’s no interesting character. You can’t even enjoy the cocoa liquor in it.”

If you’re like me and love Halloween candy but not its overwhelming sweetness, you can make your own PB Cups, Almond Jays, Twixts and Snickles, thanks to Chow.com! They even have diagrams, videos and printout candy wrappers.

If you don’t want to go through the trouble, here’s some store-bought options in New York.

La Maison du Chocolat's roche
Photo: Robyn Lee/The Girl Who Ate Everything

La Maison du Chocolat – This premiere shop sells giant roches and nougats, all with their proprietary blend of Valrhona chocolate.

Tumbador Chocolate s'more bar

Tumbador Chocolate – Jean-Francois Bonnet, formerly of Daniel restaurant, now has his own chocolate factory in Brooklyn. For a classically trained chef, he’s surprisingly playful with the s’more and PB&J candy bars. You should try these not just for their deliciousness, but because he’s a really nice guy. I only wish the base chocolate weren’t Callebaut, which has a weak flavor. Available at Fresh Direct.

Lion Bar – This candy bar is a mix between a Kit Kat and a 100 Grand: crispy, crunchy and caramely. Because it’s from the UK, it’s also less sweet than American candy. Available at Economy Candy and Fairway.

Of course, you can always get a free bag of generic candy at KMart. Coupon expires on Halloween.

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Caramel surprise chocolate chip cookies

garlic brittle chococlate chip cookies

Before you think I’ve gone nuts for pairing chocolate with garlic again, I have an excuse. These cookies were a birthday present for my roommate, who loves garlic. She stores several cups of garlic in the fridge and even pre-minces it so it’s ready when the moment strikes.

Since my idea of a gift always involves sugar, I made garlic brittle chocolate chip cookies, inspired by the Gilded Fork. The garlic is pre-cooked and added to caramelized sugar, so it has a sweet, nutty flavor. If you’ve ever had roasted garlic, you know that garlic loses its bite after a long period of cooking.

Because I’m a sucker for new recipes, I made the cookie dough from a review copy of Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts. The first chapter is devoted to chocolate chip cookies. (The premise sounds better than it is. I hoped for a chocolate chip cookie primer, giving variations on chewy, cakey and crisp cookies, like Alton Brown did so well in Good Eats. Elizabeth’s chapter is a compilation of really different cookies, like traditional chocolate chip and chocolate-chocolate chip, without a thorough explanation.)

These cookies didn’t turn out, and it had nothing to do with the garlic (they didn’t taste nasty, but I don’t think the garlic was necessary). They were as thin as credit cards and extremely floppy. The dough didn’t seem to cook.

Lessons learned:

  • When adding hard candy to cookie dough batter, reduce the sugar in the dough accordingly. Elizabeth’s dough had 3/4 cup more sugar than the Gilded Fork recipe. Too much sugar prevents the dough from setting up. You’ll burn the sugar before the dough’s done.
  • Corn syrup creates a pliant, chewy cookie. I found this out because the brittle had a little corn syrup. Finally, the secret to chewy cookies is revealed!
  • For the deepest flavored brittle, cook the sugar just before it burns. My caramel never registered hot enough to reach the “hard crack” stage, so I kept cooking it. I only pulled it off the heat right when I smelled a little of it burning. Luckily, I got a smoky, molasses-flavored brittle.
  • Grey sea salt rocks. I used salt from Guérande in Brittany, France, which has a deep, almost smoky flavor. The large, irregular crystals melt on your tongue slowly, so the flavor pops. From now on, I’ll add it to all my cookie doughs. At $8 a pound it’s seems frou frou, but if you use it strategically, the canister lasts you a while.

garlic brittle

The idea of brittle in cookies is promising, but this recipe needs some work. Next time, I’ll use cacao nibs instead. No more garlic and chocolate for me. If you’re feeling adventurous, maybe diced fried bacon would go well in the brittle, too.

Garlic Brittle Chocolate Chip Cookies

Garlic Brittle Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

For Garlic Brittle:
8-10 garlic cloves, depending on size
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn syrup
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon fancy coarse salt, such as grey salt
For Cookies:
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, chilled
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 1/2 cups minus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup chocolate chips
1 batch garlic brittle

Instructions

    Make Garlic Brittle:
  1. Blanch the garlic in boiling water for about 5 minutes. Drain, peel, and mince the garlic. Cool completely. (This step mellows the taste of raw garlic.)
  2. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat, parchment, or wax paper. In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the sugar and corn syrup over medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Continue to boil until the mixture reaches 300° F (hard crack stage) on a candy thermometer and is dark golden brown.
  3. Immediately remove from the heat and add the butter and vanilla, stirring until the butter melts and is completely blended. Add the garlic, and stir to coat completely.
  4. Carefully pour the hot mixture onto the prepared baking sheets and spread evenly with a heatproof, rubber spatula. Sprinkle with salt. Cool completely, about 1 hour, and break into small chunks.
  5. Make Cookies:
  6. With an electric mixer, beat the butter with the granulated and brown sugars until just combined and sandy (do not whip). Mix in the egg until just combined, about 3 seconds. Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and mix until just incorporated. Mix in the chocolate chips and garlic brittle.
  7. Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 min., preferably overnight.
  8. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper or a Silpat (do not attempt with greased foil, which makes the cookies spread, or wax paper unless you like the taste of crayons). Drop one-inch balls of dough a few inches apart. Bake until just golden around the edges, about 13-17 min. Rotate the pans from top to bottom and front to back after 7 min. Transfer the cookie sheet to a rack to cool completely.

Notes

Brittle adapted from Gilded Fork; cookie dough adapted from Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts

http://www.sugoodsweets.com/blog/2007/10/caramel-surprise-chocolate-chip-cookies/

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Yes, of course you can pair garlic with chocolate!

chocolate with garlic and chile powder

I say this as a half jest. Today I made garlic-flavored chocolate (no really, I made it from cocoa beans, sugar and vanilla), and incidentally Danielle at Habeas Brulee is hosting a one-time food blogging event, “Yes, of course you can pair garlic with that!” Danielle thinks garlic goes well with hazelnuts and wants to explore other combinations.

Why not chocolate and garlic, then? “…garlic tends to do very well, super well, with things that are oily (olive oil), fat (cream, pine nuts) or acidic (lemon),” writes a commenter on her blog. Chocolate is oily and fatty (and sometimes acidic), so this could work. Plus, Marianne’s in Santa Cruz, Calif., makes chocolate-garlic ice cream.

me making chocolate liquor

Today when I attended a chocolate-making seminar through the NY Metro Discover Chocolate Meetup, a brave soul put raw garlic in the finished candies. I didn’t dare try a piece — its pungency lingered in the room even after it was eaten — but why don’t you try some and let me know how it goes?

If you would like to make chocolate from the beans themselves, here’s the approximate recipe we used today.

Chocolate-Covered Garlic

Ingredients:
3 pounds whole cacao beans, in their shells
2 cups sugar
1 vanilla bean
1 cup dried whole milk powder
1/2 cup cocoa butter
A couple cloves minced garlic
A couple pinches chile powder

Special equipment:
Roasting pan
Crankandstein cocoa mill
Blow dryer
Broom and dustpan
Champion juicer
Food processor
Wet grinder
Chocolate molds

  1. Roast beans in a preheated 425F oven for 30-35 minutes, or until they become fragrant and reach an internal temperature of 260F.
  2. Crack the shells by running the beans through a Crankandstein. (If you don’t have this machinery, crack the beans by hand and discard the shells. Skip the next step.)
  3. Transfer the beans and the shells to a large roasting pan. Take the pan outside or in your bath tub. Hold a blow dryer a couple feet away and aim directly down, blowing away the shells. You will still have small pieces of shells left; that’s okay. Don’t forget to sweep the leftover shells on the floor.
  4. Liquefy the beans by running them through a juicer. You now have cocoa liquor.
  5. Combine the sugar and vanilla bean in a food processor and grind for a couple minutes, or until the sugar turn into a powder.
  6. Turn on the wet grinder and add the cocoa liquor. Add the sugar mixture, milk powder and crumbled cocoa butter. Let the machine run for 24 hours. This step is called conching, which will refine the texture and flavor of the chocolate.
  7. Temper the chocolate and fill the molds halfway full. Sprinkle garlic and chile powder over the melted chocolate and fill the remainder of the mold with the chocolate. Vigorously tap the molds on your counter to even out the surface and get rid of air bubbles.
  8. Refrigerate the chocolate for 10 min., or until set. To release the chocolate, flip the mold upside down and tap the surface with your fingers.

Variations:
Shortcut version: Sprinkle minced garlic on top of dark chocolate and eat.

View a photo tutorial on making chocolate at home.

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Chunky Chocolate-Apple Coffee Cake

chunky chocolate-apple coffee cake

I admit I’ve scooped several cartons of cookies ‘n’ cream ice cream, taking the Oreo chunks and leaving behind the vanilla ice cream. I’ve seen other people maim crumb cake, slowly picking at the top until it resembles a giant network of holes. It’s all for the love of chunky bits. Tell me, what’s the latest topping/mix-in that you’ve picked at?

For all of us chunk stealers, I wanted to make a coffee cake that would never run out of bits, no matter how many times you picked at it. I started with seasonal apples, added chocolate (because everything tastes better with chocolate), then walnuts and streusel. To keep the batter light, I first looked to a butterless, eggless recipe in the Joy of Cooking. While it could easily be veganized (substitute the buttermilk with soy milk and apple cider vinegar), it actually had more sugar and fat than the regular recipe.

Vegetable oil is a “good” fat, but if you use a lot and it doesn’t have any flavor, it’s not worth it. I’d rather use a small amount of the good stuff. So, eggs and butter were back in. Traditional cakes get their light texture by whipping air into butter and sugar. Then eggs are added, just until they are incorporated. Since this recipe doesn’t have a lot of butter, you instead beat the heck out of the eggs, until the mixture becomes light and fluffy.

All the mix-ins balance out the lean cake. If you’re looking for something lighter, you can omit the streusel topping (see the variation below) or chocolate chips. Don’t be scared by all the steps below; they’re only there because of all the goodies.

Chunky Chocolate-Apple Coffee Cake

Chunky Chocolate-Apple Coffee Cake

This over-the-top cake gets its chunks from apples, walnuts and chocolate chips. The streusel sinks into the cake and resembles soft cinnamon bun filling.

(Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours, 30 minutes active)

Adapted from recipes and techniques from The Joy of Cooking, Coffee Cakes and Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts

For the cinnamon streusel:
1/3 cups Grape-Nuts cereal
1/3 cup lightly toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 egg white
1 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/4 tsp vanilla

For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 large Golden Delicious apples, peeled, cored and diced into half-inch cubes (about 2 cups)
2/3 cup chocolate chips
1 cup plain yogurt, buttermilk or sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
5 Tbsp (1/2 stick plus 1 Tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs

  1. Position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour a 9″-round springform pan.
  2. To make the streusel:
    • In a small bowl, stir together the Grape-Nuts cereal, walnuts, sugar, flour and cinnamon.
    • In a separate bowl, beat together the egg white, butter and vanilla.
    • Stir the egg white mixture into the cereal mixture with a fork. Cover and refrigerate.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt together. Set aside.
  4. In another medium bowl, toss the apples and chocolate chips with 1 Tbsp of the flour mixture. This way, they won’t sink to the bottom of the cake.
  5. In a small bowl or cup, combine the yogurt (or what you have chosen) with the vanilla and set aside.
  6. In a large bowl (the last one, I promise), cream the butter with an electric mixer until soft, about 1 minute. Add the sugars gradually, beating for about 3 minutes. Beat in the eggs, one by one, at medium-high speed until light colored and airy, about 2 to 3 minutes.
  7. Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the liquids in two parts, beating on low speed or stirring until smooth and scraping the sides of the bowl with a spatula as necessary. Just before the batter comes together, gently stir in the apples and chocolate chips.
  8. Scrape the batter into the pan and spread evenly. Evenly sprinkle the top with large dollops of streusel.
  9. Bake for 45-60 minutes, or until the edges are brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean (except when touching the apples and chocolate chips). Cool the cake on a rack for 15 minutes, then unmold. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature. Serves 12.

Nutrition per serving (121 g): CALORIES 330 (32% from fat); FAT 12 g (sat 8g); PROTEIN 6 g; CHOLESTEROL 52 mg; CALCIUM 10%; SODIUM 193 mg; FIBER 3g; CARBOHYDRATE 53 g. (If made with 50% whole wheat flour and plain low-fat yogurt.)

Variations:

Whole wheat coffee cake: Substitute 1 cup whole-wheat flour for 1 cup of all-purpose flour.

Simplified: Omit the streusel and add 1 tsp cinnamon to the flour mixture. Sprinkle the top of the batter with 1/2 cup toasted, coarsely chopped walnuts.

Notes:
This is an experimental recipe. I used a couple tablespoons more buttermilk than called for, and the middle took a long time to cook while the edges got dry. That’s why I reduced the liquid to one cup. I also only baked half a cake for 45 minutes, so the cooking time above is an estimate. My oven loses heat quickly, so it should take you less time. I also only used half a stick of butter, and my edges were slightly rubbery (the result of gluten formation and over baking). The extra tablespoon of butter should do the trick.

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Askinosie: The New American Chocolate Maker

Askinosie chocolate bar

Anyone who makes something as delicious as chocolate is bound to be the most popular person on the block. Not so with Shawn Askinosie. During his former life as a criminal defense attorney, he received death threats. When he had an epiphany to make high-quality chocolate (it was either that or cupcakes) in 2005, he alienated both the chocolate and law community. Robert Steinberg, co-founder of Scharffen Berger chocolate, was unimpressed with Shawn’s science background: a lone forestry class from the University of Missouri. His colleagues thought he was crazy, running back and forth from the courtroom to the factory. When Shawn was needed at “work,” he donned the emergency suit he kept in the factory and wiped the brown stains off his face.

Fortunately for chocolate lovers like us, Shawn opened his Springfield factory this January. This is a big deal because there are very few chocolate makers in the world. Most companies who sell chocolate don’t actually make it themselves. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Chocolate making is a 70-step process.

If you grew up on Hershey’s bars, you might think, “How good can American chocolate be?” When American chocolate is bad, it’s grainy, sour and artificial tasting. But when American chocolate is good, it’s among the best in the world. Some of my favorite brands, like Dagoba, Theo and Amano, are American. Askinosie is a worthy contender.

Pure chocolate is only pure cacao solids, added cocoa butter for smoothness, sugar, an emulsifier like soy lecithin (to keep everything together) and vanilla. A few chocolate makers exclude the soy lecithin or vanilla in the name of purity. I think the chocolate usually suffers as a result (for example, Michel Cluizel is crumbly without the emulsifier and Chocovic is flat without the vanilla), but it’s a commendable effort and a sign that the brand is serious about its chocolate.

Askinosie’s single-origin bars don’t have vanilla or soy lecithin, a double whammy. When I tasted the free sample that Shawn shipped me, I couldn’t tell that anything was missing. The bars were exceptionally smooth, glossy and had strong flavors.

Askinosie Chocolate nibs

For all you chocolate nerds, Askinosie is also unique because it makes single-origin cocoa butter and nibs. When other companies add cocoa butter to their chocolate, they use whatever’s available. The problem is that the two cocoa butters can result in waxy chocolate.

For all his meticulousness, it comes as no surprise that Shawn buys cacao directly from the farmers for more than market value (most cacao farmers live in poverty). Each bar also comes with a map detailing the region and the farmer. The bars also come with individual Choc-O-Lot numbers, so you can trace their journey.

Askinosie chocolate packaging

Askinosie is dedicated to sustainability: the tie on top of the bar comes from cocoa bean sacks, and the inner wrapping is compostable.

The 70% San Jose del Tambo bar from Ecuador has a unique tart red fruit and maple flavor. Ecuador is known for mild, nutty tasting beans, so these flavors were unexpected. The 75% Soncusco bar from Mexico is even better. It’s so unusual that I’m at a loss for words, but I guess it’s like grass, hay and dirt. Although Mexico is the home of spiced hot chocolate and mole, I don’t know of any other artisan bar from there. I guess something got lost in that 70-step process.

In short, Askinosie’s chocolate is impressive but not quite one of my favorites. Part of it is a bias on the flavor. While it’s strong, it’s not what I’m used to. Also, at $40 a pound, it’s expensive. As a point of reference, Valrhona, one of the gold standards, is $15 a pound. Is Askinosie worth that much, when it leaves a slightly scratchy feel in the back of my throat and could have a fuller range of flavors? I’m not sure, but it’s  worth a try.

Askinosie Chocolate
514 E. Commercial, Springfield, MO 65803
phone: 417-862-9900
fax: 862-9904

Chocolate is available at their factory (adult tours are $3!), their website and stores in Alaska, California, Colorado, Oklahoma, Florida, Oregon, New Mexico, Missouri, Philadelphia and Texas.

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Fall Baking Preview

Summer vacation’s over, so it’s time to get down to business. Baking business, that is. While last year was prevalent with home baking handbooks (in the vein of Baking: From My Home to Yours and Tartine), this year has more niche, sophisticated books. I can’t wait to see these books by the baking super stars.

Warning: with the exception of the first title, I haven’t actually seen these books, so these selections may be skewed.

Pure DessertChocolate’s first lady is back after four years on hiatus, but this time, she’s giving chocolate a back seat. Pure Dessert devotes each chapter to an artisan ingredient, such as dairy, sugar, grains/nuts/seeds, herbs/spices/flowers, wine, fruit and last but not least, chocolate. These recipes are pared down to the essentials. There’s no frosting or other hullabaloo, just interesting flavor combinations like kamut pound cake and sesame brittle ice cream.

Alice Medrich previously wrote the books on chocolate, including Cocolat, Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts and Bittersweet. She’s tied with Alton Brown for being my biggest culinary inspiration. I’ve made a gazillion of her things, like low-fat chocolate mousse truffles and chocolate-hazelnut cake, with great success.

Release date: Sept. 5.

Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain BreadsEver since I made bagels from the James Beard and IACP award-winning cookbook, The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, I’ve been a fan of Peter Reinhart. His new book promises the same artisan type loaves, but with whole grains.

While I was a recipe tester for the book, he was an excellent teacher, even over e-mail. He walked the testers through growing wild yeast with nothing more than flour, water and pineapple juice. Even though I wouldn’t feed some of my early loaves to my enemies, Peter kept encouraging us to continue. After a year of keeping my wild yeast starter, I gave up on it and killed “the beast.” It was a hassle feeding it every couple of days and using the excess for muffins and crumpets.

Luckily by then, Peter developed recipes that used packaged yeast. The final recipes I tested – the 100% whole wheat challah and potato rosemary – were good for whole wheat breads but not as good as white flour breads.

Release date: Aug.

Sticky, Chewy, Messy, GooeyI don’t know of a more inviting cookbook name than Sticky, Chewy, Messy, Gooey. If you’re like me and adore caramel and chocolate sauce, this book looks good. Chocolate caramel-pecan souffle cake, cinnamon-donut bread pudding and double-crumble hot apple pies sound like guilty pleasures.

Release date: Aug. 6.

Dolce Italiano

Mario Batali’s Babbo cookbook had some interesting recipes, like olive oil gelato. Now there’s an entire cookbook devoted to Babbo’s desserts in Dolce Italiano. If you think Italian desserts are just dried out sponge cakes, Gina De Palma shares recipes for sesame-white corn biscotti and Greek yogurt cheesecake with pine nut brittle.

Release date: Oct. 15.

Demolition Desserts

The desserts at Citizen Cake are like traditionalist meets rebel. There’s rocky road cupcakes, passion fruit mousse fillings, and cakes that are carved like geometrical shapes. If you can’t make it to San Francisco, you can make these desserts at home, thanks to Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts. She was named Bon Appétit’s Pastry Chef of the Year in 2006 and was a finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s pastry chef of the year in 2005.

Release date: Oct.

I'm Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas

The holidays Life wouldn’t be complete without chocolate. Although there are a million chocolate books out there, they never get old. Marcel Desaulniers, Mr. “Death By Chocolate,” shares holiday desserts in I’m Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas. Honestly, why can’t chocolate sour cream crumb cake and chocolate-peanut butter ice cream sandwiches be year round?

Release date: Oct. 1.

Desserts by the YardSherry Yard, the pastry chef at Spago in Beverly Hills, has probably fed every major celebrity. Whereas her first cookbook, The Secrets of Baking, was a tutorial on master recipes and their variations (ie how to make a ganache and turn it into truffles, hot chocolate and frosting), Desserts by the Yard features sweets that Sherry makes for the stars. There’s even a recipe for Bill Clinton’s favorite oatmeal raisin cookies. Hmm, I wonder what Paris eats.

Release date: Nov. 1.

Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & MoreCarole Walter has written an award-winning series of other “great” cookbooks, including Great Cakes, Great Cookies and Great Pies & Tarts. I felt uncomfortable around her when I assisted in one of her classes, but in all fairness, her recipes are inventive, fool-proof and delicious. Maybe Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins & More will end my search for the perfect babka.

Release date: Oct. 16.

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Who needs a money tree when you can grow chocolate?

chocolate tree
Graphic created from an Echocolates.com tree and a Michael Recchiuti bar

Money doesn’t grow on trees, but at least chocolate does. But unless you have a machete and want to travel through the rain forest, you probably won’t get to the source of your favorite food, until now.

Echocolates.com ships live chocolate trees and includes two free Vintage Plantations chocolate bars for $9.95 plus $8.30 shipping. This type of plant is native to the Amazon basin. Besides growing cacao fruit, these trees provide shelter for frogs, birds and other small mammals. By growing the tree inside your home, hopefully you’ll appreciate where your chocolate comes from.

Because the trees are sensitive to cold weather, they are only shipped on the first of June to October. So, you have five days to put in your September order, or else you’ll have to wait till October first. After that, you’ll have to wait another eight months.

If you’re deciding which chocolate bars to pick, my favorite is the 90%. That may sound awfully dark, but “Arriba” Ecuadorian cacao tends to be mild, it’s best without a lot of sugar. This tastes nothing like Baker’s unsweetened chocolate; I promise it’s not bitter.

Here’s my tasting notes on the other bars:

38% milk – toasted almond/pine nut aroma. Tastes like toffee, a bit salty.

65% dark – couldn’t make out the subtle flavors, but the texture was a bit coarse. No added cocoa butter.

75% with salted peanuts – chewy texture.

75% plain – surprisingly different from the peanut version. The chocolate was harder and tasted more fermented

90% – best texture. Very chocolaty without any bitterness.

100% unsweetened – spicy flavor. No sugar, vanilla, added cocoa butter or lecithin (a smoothing agent). A good effort for “pure” chocolate, but it’s an acquired taste.

Four ways to order:

  • Visit Echocolates.com ($20 minimum order)
  • Call 800-207-7058 x104, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST
  • Fax an order form to 908-354-9265
  • Mail the form to Chocolate Tree Offer, Vintage Plantations Chocolates, 1 Atalanta Plaza, Elizabeth, NJ, 07206

The fine print: Technically, cacao plants don’t grow chocolate as we know it. They grow cacao, whose fruit is fermented and seeds are later processed into chocolate. Also, it takes two plants to cross-pollinate and produce fruit. So unless you have two plants and have lots of bees, you won’t grow cacao.

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Favorite Fancy Foods: The Chocolate

Fancy Food Show favorites

It’s that time of year again: the Fancy Food Show! From July 8-10, more than 5,700 booths from 73 countries and regions populated New York. Established and fledgling companies hobnobbed with food service professionals and the media, hoping that their product would be distributed to the masses. It’s a preview of what’s to come to the supermarket shelves.

The natural food products were greatly improved. Last year, there were pseudo whole-grain products and stuff that tasted like medicine. This time around, there was lots of flax, peanuts in all forms (salt-blistered cocktail nuts and natural peanut butters), whole-grain crisps, creative oils, fruit-sweetened sodas and even gluten-free experimentation.

As for non-healthy foods, there were gourmet potato chips and sweet/salty/savory confections. I had some good peanut brittle with seafood seasoning. Long a practice in France, there were also several salted caramels. I think U.S. candy is actually pretty salty to hide the flaws. These candies, however, used salt deliberately and carefully.

On the chocolate front, there was a continuation of single-origin chocolates and cacao nibs. Nothing ground breaking, but there was fine tuning. I felt bad for chocolate giant Ghirardelli, who was proudly handing out 73% chocolate. Cacao percentage is so 2005; artisan makers are focusing on cacao quality rather than quantity.

I enjoyed going a second year in a row, because I developed a better strategy: eat a light meal beforehand (there’s enough food in the Javits Center to feed a village, but all that random stuff churning around in your stomach doesn’t feel good) and go to the Focused Exhibits first. Otherwise, you’ll get lost in the random food booths. Also, it was nice seeing the fruits of last year’s show. Whole Foods now carries Skotidakis Greek yogurt and 34 Degrees fruit pastes, two of my favorites from last year.

Let’s get on to my personal Best in Show, shall we? I had a hard time paring down my favorites, hence the super-specific categories. First, the chocolate.

Best Chocolate Bar – two-way tie

Amano chocolate

Amano – At 4,441 feet above sea level in Orem, Utah, Art Pollard is one of the few remaining independent American chocolate makers (Hershey’s bought out Scharffen Berger and Dagoba a couple years ago). He doesn’t use emulsifiers like soy lecithin, which create smoothness but can interfere with flavor. He also swears by the mountaintop setting, saying it allows him to process the chocolate at a lower temperature and preserve more flavors. He only makes 70% chocolate, but they taste radically different because of the origin. The Ocumare from Venezuela tastes like berries, apricots and plums, while the Madagascar tastes like oranges. He also has a limited edition Cuyagua.

Domori chocolateDomori from Italy also doesn’t use emulsifiers, and it’s a wonder how they get their chocolate so smooth and thick. Two of their 70% Venezuelan chocolates are also very different. (Which is why the percentage gives you limited information. Purists swear by the country of origin, and super-purists insist of single plantations.) The Rio Caribe Superior has notes of plum, apricot, peppercorns, coffee, milk, and sugar. If you think that’s a mouthful to say, wait till you taste it! The Caranero Superior, also from Venezuela, tastes like mocha, nut, raisins and dirt.

Best Fair Trade and Organic Chocolate

Theo chocolate

Theo – Okay, so they don’t have competition because they’re the first roaster of Fair Trade Certifiedâ„¢ cocoa beans and the only roaster of organic cocoa beans in the U.S., but they’re darn good. My favorite is the nib brittle, which has nuanced chocolate bits encased in hard candy. Going along the salty-sweet trend, their Bread & Chocolate bar has toasted bread crumbs (it’s not so weird; they’re crunchy like nuts) and salt. I wanted to like this bar, but I found it too salty. They also have several single-origin chocolate bars and tasty truffles. The bars are a bit hard though.

Best Truffles

Garrison chocolate truffles

Garrison Confections – Chocolatier Andrew Shotts was the executive pastry chef at the Russian Tea Room and helped formulated Guittard’s high-end couverture, E. Guittard. In 2001, he started his own chocolate company with seasonal truffles. His coffee truffle sang in my mouth.

Best Healthy Chocolate

Vere chocolate

Vere – This New York company only uses Ecuadorian cacao, which is naturally sweet. As such, Vere adds just a little sugar and some fiber to their chocolate. My favorite is the chocolate coconut cluster, and I don’t even like coconut that much. It’s wonderfully crunchy and paper thin. Although their chocolate is delicious, I wouldn’t shell out $2.50 for a truffle. No worries though, you can get generous free samples every Friday from 12:00-6:00 at their factory (12 W 27 St. between 6 Ave. and Broadway).

Most Creative Use of Chocolate

chocolate figs

Rabitos Fig Bon Bon – Imagine a truffle encased in a bulging dried fig and then covered in chocolate. Genius! These figs are Pajaritos, which only grow in the southern Spanish region of Extremadura.

Best Cult Chocolate
Pralus chocolate-covered cocoa beans

Pralus claims to be one of only three chocolate makers in France. I’m not sure what criteria he’s using, since Valrhona, Bernachon, Weiss and Michel Cluizel also make chocolate. No matter, each of his single-origin chocolates taste like a different color of the rainbow. They take a little getting used to, since they have sharp white cheddar and mushroom notes. The Madagascar chocolate-covered cocoa beans have that signature Pralus taste. His chocolate is hard to get in the U.S., so treat yourself if you can find it.

Best Snacking Chocolate

Charles Chocolate

Charles Chocolates from San Francisco makes fun things, like triple-coated chocolate nuts, tea truffles and peanut butter butterflies. They use a combination of Guittard and Cacao Barry chocolate, which are pretty neutral (no high notes of fruit or soil). I like my chocolate stronger, but this chocolate is nice if you don’t want to think too hard.

Coming up in part two: everything else.

Related posts:
Fancy Food Show 2006 Favorites, part 1
Fancy Food Show 2006 Favorites, part 2

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My Mayabars

homemade chocolate Larabars

When it comes to sugar, I let nature be the guide. Instead of eating flavored yogurt with one tablespoon of added sugar, I’d rather eat plain yogurt with real fruit. For breakfast, I sweeten my oatmeal with raisins rather than maple syrup (maple syrup may have trace minerals, but you have to eat a lot to get the benefits).

Although I love sweets, most packaged stuff is overkill. Case in point: Quaker chewy granola bars are 1/3 sugar by weight. There’s more sugar than fiber and protein combined. Their 25% Less Sugar line sounds like a great idea in theory, but it has calorie-free sweeteners. The solution is dialing down the sweetness, not replacing it with lab-made “food!”

Larabar, on the other hand, makes excellent no-added-sugar snacks. They use the natural sugar of dates, nature’s sweetest fruit. White sugar isn’t evil per se, but it lacks the fiber, vitamins, and minerals of fruits.

Larabar used to make Mayabars (which I dubbed the best chocolate energy bar from the 2006 Fancy Food Show). They were fruit-sweetened chocolate bars with crunchy cacao nibs. Unfortunately, they revamped the line (now called Jocolat) and removed the nibs for a “smoother texture.” Bah, I want my essence of chocolate. The other problem is they’re expensive at $2 each. Since their bars are essentially dried fruit and nuts, it’s not that hard to figure out the recipe.

Anna at Cookie Madness developed a formula: 1 part of dried fruit to 1/2 part of crunchies (nuts, oatmeal, puffed rice, cacao nibs, etc.) by weight. I added a little more cocoa for extra chocolatiness. It’s not an exact recipe; you can adjust the ingredients by taste.

These are delicious chocolate bars that are actually good for you! You get a one serving of fruit with plenty of omega-3 fatty acids.

Naturally Sugar-Free Chocolate Bars

Adapted from Cookie Madness

Makes 6 bars or 24 “truffles”

2/3 cup walnuts
1 cup packed, pitted dates (about 24)
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed
2 Tbsp cacao nibs or finely chopped dark chocolate

Toast the walnuts in a preheated 325F oven for 15 min., or until browned and fragrant. Stir the nuts half way through baking.

In a food processor, pulse the walnuts until they are pebble sized pieces. Set aside in a medium bowl.

Place the dates in the processor and pulse until coarsely chopped. Process until they’re smooth and form a ball around the blade. (At first, you will get lots of sticky pieces.) Add the cocoa and process until smooth.

In a bowl, knead the date mixture with the walnuts and cacao nibs until they stick together. If the mixture is too sticky, add more nuts or cacao nibs. If too dry, add a couple teaspoons of water.

On a cutting board lined with plastic wrap, shape the mixture into a long 1″-wide rectangle. Slice pieces with a sharp knife. Or, roll into 1″ balls. Store leftovers in the fridge.

Note: You can use natural or Dutch-processed cocoa, depending on your tastes. Natural cocoa has more complex flavors, but it is more acidic. I like to use it in cooked recipes. Dutch-processed cocoa has some the edge taken out, but you also loose other flavor elements. I like it for frostings and other raw uses. Generally, don’t swap one cocoa for another in baking recipes, since it can throw off the pH and affect the way cakes rise.

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