Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Week of Weird Flavours: Chocolate Wasabi plus Milk Chocolate with Raspberries and Popping Candy?!

While I was out shopping this week, I found some strange chocolate bar flavour combinations and thought: “Oh why not?”. I decided to venture out of my chocolate comfort zone and to give them a try, despite being quite sure that I was not going to like either flavour.

The first was a Hammond’s Crackle Crunch chocolate bar containing “Milk chocolate with raspberry popping candy”.  Although this chocolate bar was displayed at Chapters, which is known for selling tasty, gourmet chocolaty treats, I immediately thought: “Raspberry flavour and milk chocolate? These people are crazy!”  Personally, I believe raspberries should be paired with dark chocolate. And sometimes raspberries pair well with white chocolate because their bitterness can offset the sweetness of the white chocolate (and they provide a beautiful contrasting colour combination!). But raspberries with milk chocolate? Never.  I find the sweetness and milk flavour just does not pair well with raspberries and I have not yet enjoyed a chocolate combination containing those two flavours.

But the reason why I bought the chocolate bar was because of the popping candy.  Since I have only ever tried one chocolate-and-popping candy combination (by Toronto-based chocolate maker Soma) and loved it, I was excited to try another ‘explosive’ chocolate combination.

What was the result?  A really fun-to-eat chocolate bar!  I actually liked the raspberries and milk chocolate, even if it was a little too-sweet.  And the popping candy made it a fun treat to eat.  Just don’t look at the ingredients, or you might not try it!  It is a little heavy on the artificial stuff – which I normally avoid but decided to ignore for the sake of having a little kid-like fun with my chocolate.

The second chocolate bar that I tasted this week was Lindt’s new Wasabi Dark Chocolate bar. It is funny because I am often thinking about what food flavours would pair well with chocolate.  Wasabi is most definitely a flavour that I never thought about pairing with chocolate.  And now that I have tasted it, I still believe that it is not meant to be paired with chocolate!

But that said, I am not a Wasabi fan.  Most flavours and spices that I have tried in past years I have liked.  In fact, the ones that I have not liked (i.e. curry) at first, have grown on my over time.  Wasabi is one of the few flavours that has not yet grown on me.  And believe me, I have tried to like it.  So if you are a big fan of Wasabi spice, you might disagree with me and LOVE the Lindt Wasabi chocolate bar.  Because really, the success of a flavour pairing is really just dependent on the preferences of the individual consumer.

What’s more, Lindt’s Wasabi chocolate bar immediately attacked my sneeze trigger.  I took a bite and I wanted to cry and to spit it out at the same time.  Don’t get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for Lindt and the smoothness and consistency of their chocolate (despite being a true believer in small-batch artisan bean-to-bar chocolate), but I am not on the Wasabi-chocolate bandwagon just yet. But who knows....maybe it will still grow on me in time.

Here are the package details from the two chocolate bars that I tasted this week:

Hammond’s Crackle Crunch Milk Chocolate with Raspberry Popping Candy, 2.25oz (64g)
Hammond’s Candies, Denver, CO (U.S.A.)
Ingredients: Milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, chocolate, milk, soy lecithin, salt, vanilla), carbonatd crystals (sugar, lactose [milk], corn syrup solids, artificial flavor, artificial colors [red 40, blue 1], Processed with Carbon Dioxide.  Contains soy, and milk.  May contain traces of wheat, egg,peanuts and tree nuts.

Lindt Excellence Wasabi Dark Chocolate Bar
Lindt & Spr√ľngli
Ingredients:  Sugar, cocoa mass, cocoa butter, milk ingredients, artificial flavour, soya lecithin.  May contain peanuts, hazelnuts and almonds.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Chocolate in Sudbury for your 'Sudbury Saturday Night'

So maybe you have to buy this chocolate in the afternoon, but you can certainly enjoy it on a Saturday night. And you do not have to attend 'bingo' or get 'stinko' to enjoy it. Sudbury has come a long way since  1967 when Stompin' Tom Connors wrote his famous song depicting the life of nickel miners in the Northern Ontario city, which can be seen in the changes to their art, culture and foodie opportunities. For a girl like me, who grew up in Sudbury and never knew what fine chocolate was (because it simply was not available), I see huge changes in the availability and selection when I visit my home town.

Ten years ago, I could buy a few Lindt Excellence chocolate bars at Sudbury's Shopper's Drug Mart or Walmart locations. Then I discovered that HomeSense always had a good selection of gourmet and imported fine chocolate and occasionally, Winner's would also have a small selection. And if you are looking for an interesting chocolate gift at a good price, I recommend that you still go to HomeSense to see what they have in their gourmet food aisle.

Then Chapters opened on the Kingsway, which has a consistent selection of Godiva and other seasonal chocolate and expensive confectionary gift items. The attached Starbucks also sells Starbucks' Milk Chocolate bars, which are surprisingly quite good. And the selections at Walmart and Shopper's Drug Mart have improved over the years.

But if you really want the high end stuff and you have an inkling to spend some serious cash on imported chocolate, head to the Fromagerie on Elgin Street in Sudbury's downtown.  Although this is primarily an imported cheese shop and cafe, the Fromagerie began selling a range of Michel Cluizel's single origin chocolate bars a few years ago, and most recently added to their chocolate selection by bringing in Italian brand Amedei and American brand Vosges Haut Chocolat, a chocolate maker from Chicago that I have written about many times.

Since I had purchased the entire flavour range of Michel Cluizel from the Fromagerie previously, I had not gone back since. Until I heard that Vosges was also available there.  I was surprised to find a large flavour range of Vosges' chocolate bars, including the Smoke & Stout Caramel bar that I had also recently purchased in Toronto, as well as the similar Black Salt Caramel Bar. Vosges is known for their interesting flavour pairings using only real and gourmet ingredients.  And although the Fromagerie does not carry Vosges' entire line of chocolate flavours, they do have a great selection.

What was most interesting about the Smoke & Stout Caramel bar was the strong hint of beer flavouring in the bar.  Well, perhaps that wasn't surprising since "Stout" was included in the name of the chocolate, but the surprising part was how great it tasted and how nicely the stout paired with dark chocolate. Also, there was a soft centre to this chocolate bar that just melted away.  The Black Salt Caramel Bar was very similar in taste and texture, but lacked the beer flavour.  I liked both chocolate bars very much.  The only downside is that the pieces do not break where they are supposed to, so it can get a bit messy when you are eating it.  But of course, what does that matter when it tastes so great?
There was also a small selection of Amedei that run at about $10 per 50 gram bar.  I took home Amedei "9", a chocolate with 75% cacao solids and made from a blend of beans from 9 plantations.  It also won the Academy of Chocolate Gold award in 2011.

So if you are searching for chocolate for a tasting party or as a special gift for that discerning chocoholic in your life, I highly recommend that you check out the Fromagerie.  Perhaps you will even pick up some imported cheese while you are there!

If you know of any other places that sell imported, single origin or bean-to-bar craft chocolate in Sudbury, feel free to add it to the comments.  I will also update this article as I discover more about Sudbury's chocolate scene.

The Fromagerie is located at 5 Cedar, but the entrance is on Elgin Street in Sudbury's downtown. There is a city-run parking lot directly across the street, with free parking for up to 2 hours.

Monday, September 3, 2012

From bean to bar....second time around!

Making chocolate from the bean is not easy.  I have learned this the hard way. But after the second chocolate-making session yesterday, which included roasting and shelling the beans, the messy process of grinding the sugar and the cacao nibs in a tiny coffee grinder, then using my blender to mix the ingredients together, I have learned that it is a rewarding process. Doing this has not only provided me with a tasty treat, but has taught me why chocolate makers are so passionate about their craft. 

A friend brought some cacao beans back from a recent trip to Costa Rica and dropped them off at my door along with some Costa Rican-made chocolate (yes, that's right, I do have great friends).  They gave me about eight ounces of beans, which was just enough to roast, grind and make about 6 small chocolate bars and some tasting squares. Check out my step-by-step process below if you want to try the same thing at home.

So this was my second time roasting cacao beans.  The instructions that were provided in Madre's Bean-to-Bar chocolate making kit said to roast the beans about 10-20 minutes until they smell like brownies and no longer taste "green".  They did smell like brownies and I honestly could not taste a difference between the beans before and after roasting (part of me wondered if they had already been roasted? Since I did not have the original packaging for the beans, I had no information about them other than they were from Costa Rica and possibly Criollo beans). I left them in the oven at 280 degrees for 25 minutes.  I did not burn any, so that was a great start.

Once cooled I, and my summer student who was wonderfully patient, shelled the beans.  She cracked off the shells off by hand as they were, and I tried the cool air technique (I used a hair dryer to blow cool air on the shells to help crack them off).  It seemed to take us about the same amount of time to crack the shells off, which was about an hour (yes, that`s right, an hour to crack the shells off of 8 ounces of beans!).
Like the first time that I made chocolate from the bean, I still only had a small coffee grinder to grind the beans.  Unfortunately it only grinds about a quarter cup at a time, and it heats the beans a bit too much which causes them to stick to the sides of the coffee grinder.  And because they were sticking, I could only grind them to a fine gritty level, about the same as a finely ground coffee bean. So I knew the chocolate would not be perfectly smooth. But it did the job.

I added the beans to my trusty old blender, along with the scrapings from one vanilla bean, about an ounce of melted cocoa butter (which took at least 2 minutes on half power in the microwave) and sunflower lecithin (I prefer it to soy lecithin for a few reasons, read more here on that).  Then the blender miraculously turned the beans, sugar, vanilla bean, lecithin and cocoa butter into a liquid form. I threw in some sold, tempered chocolate (about 25% of the total weight of chocolate that I made) and stirred until the temperature was just right (about 90 degrees F for dark chocolate).

I waited almost 24 hours to pop the chocolate out of the moulds so that they would have a nice shine, and voila! I have made some beautiful, smooth looking chocolate.  To me, it tasted wonderful.  Admittedly it is slightly gritty, but smoother than I thought it would be and in fact, it was smoother than my last batch and smoother than Soma`s 'Old School' chocolate as well as Taza's Stone Ground chocolate.

Since the solid chocolate that I used was tempered, organic chocolate from Peru, it likely changed the flavour a bit from the true Costa Rican bean flavour, but it also smoothed out my chocolate a little bit.

Do not get me wrong, I am not out to compete with any bean-to-bar chocolate makers any time soon.  In fact, probably never. But I am sure that I will be making more chocolate from the bean in the near and not-so-near future. With two tries, I seem to have caught the chocolate-making 'bug'. Admittedly the first time went well, (well, except that tiny error when I got the spatula caught in the blender and small pieces of rubber ended up in the chocolate, but don't worry, I was the only one eating it!), then the second time went a lot better.  So now I want to learn how to make the chocolate smoother, while not over processing it.  I would also love to use beans from different countries and see how the origin of the beans affects the flavour.  And I would like to try different roasting times as well as a variety of other ways that I can improve my own method of making chocolate.  See?  Clearly I am becoming addicted to bean-to-bar chocolate-making.

Now I would like to share my new addiction with all of you. If you would like to try to make chocolate at home using your own household appliances, here is how you do it step-by-step:

Step-By-Step Guide to Making Chocolate From the Bean At Home

Step 1: Roast the cacao beans in the oven between 250 and 325 F for 15 to 30 minutes (this is according Chocolate Alchemy, but Madre's instructions said 280 degrees F for 15-20 minutes).

Step 2: break off the shells by hand and separate the husks from the beans.  Your nibs may crumble a lot, but that is okay.

Step 3: Grind some sugar and the scrapings of one vanilla bean (or not, this is your choice) in a coffee grinder until sugar is very fine.  You can decide how much sugar.  Basically you want about an ounce for four ounces of beans to give you approximately 70-80% cacao solids.

Step 4: Grind four ounces of shelled beans.

Step 5: Add the beans to a blender or food processor (from what I understand, a food processor is better because you can run it for longer, but I have no experience with it) and add the sugar and vanilla with the beans.

Step 6: Melt some cocoa butter (about 3/4 of an ounce) in the microwave at half power for about 2 minutes.  I had trouble melting it and had to add a little time to the microwave, but as long as it is stirred, melted together and slightly warm, you should be okay.

Step 7: Add the cocoa butter and lecithin to the blender (for the lecithin, about 0.08 oz or just 1% of the weight of the total recipe)

Step 8: Blend on high, stir, then blend on low for as long as you think your blender can handle it (20 minutes or so).  If using a food processor, mix for 20 minutes to one hour.

Step 9: The mixture will be hot.  Transfer to a glass (or other microwavable) bowl.  Add about 1 oz of tempered, solid chocolate and stir until melted and the chocolate is about the same temperature as the back of your baby finger.  If too cold, put in microwave for about five seconds and stir until it is the right temperature.

Step 10:  Pour into chocolate moulds (or plastic containers if you have no moulds).  Wait 24 hours before popping them out.  Then eat and enjoy!  Or package up in an airtight container and maintain in a cool, dark cupboard until you are ready to eat them.

Don't have the supplies?  Purchase Madre's Bean-to-Bar kit online!  You just need some cocoa butter and lecithin, which you can buy at your local health food store.  Oh, and maybe a vanilla bean too.  There is also a great step-by-step chocolate making guide on Hummingbird Chocolate's website at: