Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with (or without) Chocolaty Inclusions

My daughter likes vanilla ice cream. NOT chocolate ice cream. Vanilla. And although I would prefer to rant about how unfair it is that my chocolate-loving genes were not passed down to her, I decided to accept it, and instead learn to make the best vanilla ice cream possible. And potentially add in some chocolaty bits that would be acceptable to her, and satisfy my chocolate needs.

Truthfully, I like vanilla ice cream. but only when there are real vanilla bean specks in it and when it is rich and creamy.  Ten years ago when I lived in France, I noticed that vanilla ice cream always had specks of vanilla bean in it.  And when I tasted it, it compared to no other that I had tasted before. But when I came back to Canada, it took another few years before some producers on this side of the ocean figured out that real vanilla bean is better.

By making my own ice cream, I can make it healthier and all natural, and I can make it just as tasty as the stuff at the super market. And my little home ice cream maker (I have a Cuisinart), is all I need to make great ice cream.

So after many, many experiments over the last several weeks (and yes, I've eaten most of the experiments, but this stuff really must be healthier because I've lost a few pounds at the same time!), here is my super healthy, real vanilla bean ice cream recipe that has no cane sugar, is all natural, and of course, super delicious.

Please note:  The recipe below can exclude the corn starch and the simmering, so you can simply mix all the ingredients together and pour into your ice cream maker right away (with no waiting time for the mix to cool!), BUT your ice cream will not have the same creamy texture.  It will still be creamy tasting, and quite delicious, but with an imperfect texture. Think 'frosty dairy dessert'.

Recipe: Vanilla Bean Ice Cream with (or without) Cookies and Cream or Chocolate Chunks

Preparation Time: 8 hours and 30 minutes (if simmering for a smoother, creamier texture), or 30 minutes if not simmering and excluding the corn starch)

You need:
  • 2 cups of whole milk (homogenized makes it creamy, but you can use skim/fat free if you prefer, it just won't be as smooth and creamy)
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup blue agave syrup (use regular or raw sugar, coconut sugar or honey if nothing else)
  • 1/4 tsp ground vanilla bean (or the scrapings of 1 or 2 vanilla beans)
  • 1.5 tbsp. corn starch (exclude if not simmering, see note above)
Inclusion Options: 1/2 cup Crushed Oreo Cookies, 1/3 cup (about 2 oz) milk chocolate or semi-sweet dark chocolate, melted (you can use high quality chocolate chips if you like, or broken up chocolate bars)

  1. Place the milk, whipping cream, agave syrup (or sugar), vanilla bean and corn starch into a medium sauce pan.  Stir with a whisk or an immersion blender until fully mixed. 
  2. Bring to a simmer on the stovetop over medium heat. Then let simmer for five minutes, stirring constantly.
  3. Cover and let cool in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight.
  4. Place ice cream into the ice cream maker for 20 minutes. 
  5. If you are not adding inclusions, either eat immediately for soft ice cream, or pour the ice cream into an air tight container and freeze until ready to use.

For Cookies and Cream Ice Cream:

  1. Crush your Oreo cookies in a sealed zipper sandwich bag and roll over the cookies with a rolling pin or strong cup to crush. 
  2. Pour cookies slowly into the ice cream maker in the last 2 minutes of ice cream making time (see above).

For Vanilla Ice Cream with Chocolate Chunks

  1. Once you pour your cream/milk mix into the ice cream maker, measure out your chocolate and place in a heat proof bowl. 
  2. Melt it in the microwave for 1 minute, then remove and stir. Place back in the microwave for 20 seconds. Stir until smooth and set aside until the ice cream reaches about 18 minutes.
  3. Drizzle the melted chocolate very slowly into the top of the ice cream maker.  Use a spoon to separate it as it reaches the ice cream or you will have very large chunks. Once it is all in, stop the ice cream maker.
  4. Stir and place in an airtight container with a lid.  Freeze until ready to eat!
Now that you have the basics, it's time to experiment! Next week I'll be changing up the vanilla and agave for maple, honey, caramel, and maybe even peanut butter! 

To learn more about my ice cream adventures this summer, or to try other recipes, view these posts:

Make Milk Chocolate Ice Cream with Instant Hot Chocolate Mix
Homemade Dark Chocolate Ice Cream

Monday, July 27, 2015

Buttermilk Dark Chocolate Buttons, made bean-to-bar at home

I make up a new batch of 'homemade' chocolate weekly. And by homemade, I mean that I still have no proper equipment for making chocolate from bean to bar at home, except for a blender and a coffee grinder, so my chocolate is not super smooth like you would find in stores. But it is not overly gritty, and it is still pretty delicious. Also, it is lecithin-free chocolate, junk-free, organic, and all natural.

Last weekend, when I was shopping at Bulk Barn, I discovered powdered buttermilk. The wheels in my chocolate brain started turning, and I had visions of buttermilk milk chocolate. So I bought some, and the experiments began. Well, truthfully, experiment. The first batch was very dark and interesting, but reminded me so much of some of the craft dark-milk chocolates I tasted in the winter, that I thought I would share the recipe here.

With 63% cocoa solids and only 18% sugar, these buttons taste like dark chocolate, but they have a nice sweet buttermilk taste that melts in your mouth.  The taste will change depending on the type of cocoa beans you use, and the roast. I used roasted cocoa nibs of Peruvian origin (purchased from Jedwards International), which have low acidity and a nice light roast. Jedwards also sells cocoa butter, but I just learned that Bulk Barn now sells small-ish bags of organic cocoa butter, as well as cocoa nibs in bulk bins. If you are not near a Bulk Barn, your local health food store may have them.

Recipe: Sweet Buttermilk Dark Chocolate Made at Home

Batch size: 11 oz (314 grams)
Time: less than 1 hour

You need:
  • 6 oz roasted cocoa nibs (or cocoa beans). Roasted for 15 minutes in the oven on 320º F, and then, if whole beans, remove shells and break into pieces/nibs)
  • 2 oz organic coconut sugar (you can use raw cane sugar if you like, but I prefer low-glycemic coconut palm sugar)
  • 1 oz cocoa butter (melted for 1 minute & 30 seconds in the microwave)
  • 2 oz buttermilk powder (non-instant)

  1. Place the nibs, sugar and buttermilk powder in a food processor, single-blade blender, or smoothie maker (I use the Ninja blender with the Smoothie attachment) and grind for a few minutes, until the beans begin to melt into liquid. Stop it and stir (stir before, if they are not moving or melting in the grinder).
  2. Add the melted cocoa butter and grind in increments, stirring in between, on and off for a few minutes (feel your blender base to ensure it is not getting too hot and overheating. Let rest if it feels too warm. Also if you detect a slight appliance 'burning' smell, stop immediately).
  3. Pour into a bowl and quickly reduce the temperature by placing over ice or in the fridge.  Reduce until it is slightly cooler than the temperature of the back of your baby finger when dipped in.  My preferred method is to use a digital candy thermometer to ensure it reduces to 82º F.  If it stiffens and the edges 'set' (begin to harden), rewarm in microwave for 3-to-4 seconds and stir. For proper chocolate tempering technique, click here.
  4. Pour into chocolate molds (if you have them) or into mini cupcake pans for small chocolate 'buttons', or a regular cupcake pan for larger ones. Bulk Barn also has flower molds for chocolate and candy, which work great.
  5. Place the chocolate molds or cupcake pans into the fridge for about 30 minutes.  Then flip over onto waxed paper on the counter and tap out of the molds.  Let rest until the chocolate comes back to room temperature and package.
  6. If your  chocolate is white and streaky, it means it is not in temper. Don't worry, you can simply re-melt and temper the chocolate following the instructions here.
If you have questions, please feel free to ask in the Comments below and I'll do my best to get back to you in a timely fashion.



Thursday, July 23, 2015

From Island to Island: Spencer Cocoa's chocolate visits Manitoulin

Sometimes, there is a chocolate that I think I might NEVER taste. That's the type made on the other side of the world, far far away from my little Island in central Canada. But every once in a while, I get my hands on a chocolate that I had lost all hope of tasting.

Spencer Cocoa is one of those chocolate brands. Based in Mudgee, Australia, this chocolate maker focuses on a specific type of chocolate: single origin chocolate made from cocoa beans grown on the Island of Malekula, Vanuatu. Each harvest, Luke Spencer visits the plantation to buy cacao from that season, which he ships back to Australia to turn into chocolate in his factory (ref).

The growers ferment and dry the beans before they are shipped to Spencer Cocoa. What makes this unique, is that in Vanuatu cocoa beans are often dried by wood fire smoke, which creates a distinct taste profile specific to chocolate made from the region's cacao. And this profile can certainly be found in Spencer's unique single origin chocolate.

Some call this method of fire drying the beans 'contamination' or 'artificial drying', but I call it Pure Genius. What better way to infuse smoke flavour into chocolate naturally than to actually smoke the beans? No gross smoke flavour oils need to be added to infuse flavour, just pure, natural, real smoke.

Spencer's 72% dark chocolate offered a boldly smoky flavour that was noticeable, yet quite delicious. The chocolate was perfectly tempered, quite dark in colour, and was lightly creamy. Although texturally, it led with the cocoa beans, not cocoa butter, which was quite noticeable when I tasted it against a high-cocoa butter Pralus chocolate bar. 

I was expecting the smoke flavour in Spencer's to be stronger, after having tasted Soma's limited edition Vanuatu origin chocolate last year. The 'Smoke Monster' bar was just that: a monster-sized flavour of smoke, upfront and in your face, like you'd been monster-slimed with it. It was bold and very much a great teaching bar. However, Spencer's is a little more subtle.  Clearly the smoke flavour is present, a little bold and a little in-your-face, but not abrasive like Soma's was. Overall, it is easier on the palate.

The smoke flavour is certainly milder in Spencer's 42% milk chocolate bar; only detectable in the finish. The milk chocolate was also rougher in texture - nearing chalky but enjoyable none-the-less. The aftertaste of smoke adds an interesting element that is not often experienced when eating milk chocolate.

Overall, I enjoyed my first tasting of Spencer Cocoa's chocolate. And I look forward to my continued tastings of Australia's bean-to-bar chocolates; a market which seems to be growing just as rapidly as the US and Canadian craft chocolate movements.

I purchased Spencer Cocoa chocolate online from La Tablette de Miss Choco in Montreal for $11.99 (CAD) each. Here are the package details of each bar:

Spencer Cocoa
Mudgee, Australia

Milk Chocolate 42% Cocoa, 100g
Ingredients: cocoa mass (Vanuatu), cocoa butter, raw sugar, whole milk powder.

Dark Chocolate 72% cocoa, 100g
Ingredients: cocoa mass (Vanuatu), cocoa butter, raw sugar. Made on our equipment which we also use to make milk chocolate.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

barkTHINS back at Costco! This time it's the Dark Chocolate Almond bark!

Last year, I wrote about barkTHINS® snacking chocolate and I have been amazed at the response.  People everywhere have been searching online for more information about barkTHINS® at Costco. The Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Seed Bark was absolutely delicious, and just as quickly as it was at the bulk retailer, it was gone. So all those newbie barkTHINS® lovers out there have gone crazy trying to find it again.

On Saturday, I ventured into the city for a Costco shopping trip and immediately I noticed barkTHINS being sampled. I asked the sample-giver to lead me to the display and was so excited that I didn't even try a sample!  As it turned out, only one flavour of barkTHINS was available at Costco: Dark Chocolate Almond bark with Sea Salt. So I bought a bag and gave it a try.

The almond bark is very similar to the pumpkin seed bark that I tasted before. I personally preferred the Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Seed bark. Oh don't get me wrong, the almond bark is still just as addictive and quite tasty. It also is 'Packed with Almonds' as promised on the package. For some reason, I have always preferred my almonds whole and coated (panned) in a layer of chocolate, or just on their own. But chopped almonds in solid chocolate seems to be a popular combination, included in many chocolate bars, so other people must love it.  And the hint of sea salt makes it perfectly enjoyable and easy to reach for more.

The dark chocolate has a nice balance of sweet and salty. It is definitely not as bitter as a 70%, but not super sweet like some commercial dark chocolate brands out there (the percentage is not listed on the package or brand website, but I'd guestimate a 55% to 65% dark chocolate). The chocolate is also fair trade certified.

Funny thing, when I tried to take a picture of the bag, I put it in the grass for about, oh, 3 seconds, and a small ant clung on to the bag, and held on for dear life no matter how much I tried to shake it off.  He must have known this was good stuff!

In addition to Costco in Canada, and a slew of other retailers in the U.S., such as Wholefoods and Target, you can buy barkTHINS® online on Amazon for between $10 and $12 US.

Here are package details and ingredients from this flavour of barkTHINS® chocolate:

Dark Chocolate Almond with Sea Salt, barkTHINS® Snacking Chocolate, 482 g
Ripple Brands Collective (Congers, NY)
Ingredients: Dark Chocolate (Chocolate Liquor*, Sugar*, Cocoa Butter*, Soy Lecithin, Vanilla), Dry Roasted Almonds, Sea Salt.
*Fair Trade Certified by Fair Trade USA. Over 65% Fair Trade Ingredients.

Want to make milk or dark chocolate bark at home? Check out my Recipes page for several chocolate bark recipes that you can make in your own kitchen!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Chocolate Dipping with The Chocolate Doctor, and the EZtemper!

Summer is a great time of year here on Manitoulin Island.  And not just because it's beautiful in the summertime, or because the tourists are here livening up the place (in winter time it is a wee bit quiet, to say the least). It is also exciting because we get an annual visit from the famed Chocolate Doctor. 

Kerry Beal is a Canadian physician who comes up to Manitoulin Island every summer to work in one of our two hospitals.  In fact, when I first met Kerry, I was at the hospital for a prenatal appointment.  I had no idea that she was a chocolate educator, consultant, and all around chocolate superhero at the time. And she had no idea that I was starting a small chocolate business and blog here on Manitoulin.

Then, four years ago, I attended The Toronto Luxury Chocolate Show and there was Kerry, at the front of a very large group of people, teaching a chocolate truffle-making workshop. I said to my mother, who was attending the show with me, "that looks like a doctor at the hospital on Manitoulin Island!"

I didn't think much of it at the time, but then some time later I needed help with a chocolate 'problem' (ha! like chocolate can ever be a problem!), and posted a question on The Chocolate Doctor's website. Kerry responded with a book recommendation, and said she had extra copies, and then asked where I was located.  I said "don't worry about it, I'm way up here on Manitoulin Island - too far away to just pick it up. I'll buy it online." Needless to say, I was surprised when she wrote back, "I'll be there in the summer, we should meet up!"

So as it turned out, The Chocolate Doctor is also a very real medical doctor, with whom I had an appointment in the past!

And meet up, we did.  Let me tell you, it is wonderful to 'talk chocolate' with someone for several hours without worrying that they will be tired of hearing about chocolate!  Last week, Kerry came to my home and commercial kitchen for lunch.  We played around in the kitchen a little bit with her new EZtemper Seed Generator appliance, which helps small-batch chocolatiers and craft chocolate makers, temper chocolate instantly. I was amazed to see how much time could be saved in making chocolate meltaways.

Then, yesterday, I visited Kerry in her summer kitchen across the Island, and we had a little chocolate dipping workshop. She showed me how to dip chocolate in a new way, different from how I've been doing it. And we tested out her EZtemper to see how it faired by placing chocolate for painting and decorating in it. It worked very well actually. The chocolate that had rested in the machine for 12 hours prior to use was in temper, a little thick but great for painting. Kerry patiently painted out a Santa Claus mold that I brought over, and some fossil chocolate bar molds.

We also dipped giant chocolate marshmallows and some very delicious boozy white chocolate ganache centres, as well as a unique caramelized almond and orange dessert that Kerry recently brought back from Spain.

I am continually amazed by Dr. Kerry Beal. Somehow she manages to juggle a career as a physician, an active family life, an entrepreneurial venture, and a busy career as a super-duper chocolate educator.

If you are looking for recipe development for your chocolate business, or private courses in chocolate, instructional DVDs on how to make, mold and temper chocolate confections, check out Kerry's website at:  For more information on the EZtemper Seed Generator to make chocolate tempering simple and quick,  visit

And now, here are some pics from our adventures chocolate this week...

Bowls and bowls of chocolate for dipping and molding!

Giant chocolate dipped marshmallows with dipped ganache behind it.

Painted and molded chocolate Santa Claus.

Kerry's painted Santa Claus mold.
Dipped ganache in white and dark chocolate.

Fun cocoa butter faces for the marshmallows.

Dark chocolate 'fossil' bars made from molds painted with white chocolate.


That's me! Dipping ganache in chocolate using Kerry's super cool 'clean' method
of dipping with a cake cutting wire over the bowl.
Turrón de Yema a la Naranja (caramelized almond bar with egg yolk and oranges) from Spain.

Turrón de Yema a la Naranja dipped in chocolate

Monday, July 13, 2015

List of Specialty Retailers of Bean-to-Bar Chocolate & Fine Chocolate, Plus Chocolate Subscription Services

Updated May 31, 2016

All this talk of bean-to-bar craft chocolate in the media recently, and you keep wondering: where do I buy bean-to-bar chocolate? Sure, you can visit each and every website on the U.S. list or Canadian list of chocolate makers, but if you want to try more than one brand, that can be time consuming and costly in shipping charges. But fear not fine chocolate lovers! I have put together a list of specialty shops that primarily sell bean-to-bar craft chocolate, as well as other fine chocolate brands and single origin chocolate.

Join a club! Chocolate-of-the-Month clubs are popping up all over. Get a great selection sent to you each and every month, so you can always satisfy your chocolate curiosity. These 'clubs' and subscription services are also listed below and marked with: *Chocolate of the month club*.

United States:

2|beans (New York, NY) - Selling a large fine chocolate selection in New York City, this brick-and-mortar retailer also offers an online store

Bright River Chocolate (San Francisco, CA) - With Millcreek, Pacari, Raaka, Castronovio, Venchi, Zotter and many more, Bright River Chocolate has you covered. Online shop: Also offers a *Chocolate of the month club*. Order here.

Cacao (Portland, Oregon) - Cacao features a carefully selected range of chocolate from around the world, with a focus on North American craft chocolate makers and Northwest (U.S.) chocolatiers. Location: Portland, Oregon (2 stores).  Online shop coming soon.

Cacao Notes (San Francisco, CA) - founded by Brian Smith, this service offers craft bean-to-bar chocolate packages on a monthly basis. Buy one month or a monthly subscription package. If you buy a monthly subscription package, you can have a personalized consultation before your next package arrives.

Chococurb (Seattle, WA) - *Chocolate of the month club* A monthly chocolate subscription & gift service. The differentiator is that the chocolate is chosen for the subscriber each month based on the profile completed (i.e. you can specify "only dark chocolate" and that is what they'll send). They also ship to Canada, Europe, Asia and Australia and New Zealand.

Choco Rush (Charleston, SC) - *Chocolate of the month club* A monthly bean-to-bar subscription service.  Will start shipping in mid-September 2015. Twitter: @chocorushco

Chocolate Covered (San Francisco, CA) - A retail shop where you can "discover the best and most unique in premium chocolate".  "a chocolate shop featuring the most delicious small batch ethically sourced chocolate bars in America" @ChocBarSupplier

Chocopolis (Seattle, WA) - This retailer of fine chocolate has both a store front and an online shop offering over 200 artisan chocolate bars from 20 different countries.

Cococlectic (California) - *Chocolate of the month club* Every month, Cococlectic brings their customers a curated selection of single-origin, dark chocolate bars. They ensure the chocolate selected contains five ingredients or less, and is gluten-free, vegan, fair trade, dairy-free and nut-free. Sign up for only one month, or for 6 months at a discounted monthly rate!

Cocova (Washington, DC) - This is a tasting room and boutique store selling over 300 unique chocolate bars and confections from artisan chocolate makers worldwide. Also buy online.

The Chocolate Garage (Palo Alto, CA) - retails a "carefully curated selection of the best bean-to-bar chocolate from around the world" in downtown Palo Alto. 

The Chocolate Clinic (Philadelphia, PA) - *Chocolate of the month club* Purveyor of craft and bean-to-bar chocolate. Buy online or at Sweet Elizabeth's Cakes at 4409 Main St.

The Meadow (Portland, OR and New York, NY) - This specialty retailer uses a team of tasters to select chocolate bars on a monthly basis to ensure quality and uniqueness. Buy in-store at two locations in Portland, or in Manhattan's West Village in New York city. Also buy chocolate online, over 700 chocolates available


A Taste for Chocolate (Toronto) - Sells fine chocolate through online ordering system, or book tasting workshops if in the Toronto area. Fast and reliable service.

Cocoa Couriers (Toronto, ON) - *Chocolate of the month club* Selling a collection of bean-to-bar chocolate, including chocolate imports that are not available anywhere else in Canada. Receive a box of four selected chocolate bars a month, or buy individually online.

ChocExchange (Montreal, ON) - *Chocolate of the month club* Online sales of artisan bean-to-bar chocolate from all over the world, with chocolate bundles and a monthly subscription service.

JoJo CoCo (Ottawa, ON) - This specialty retailer sells both bean-to-bar chocolate and specialty artisan chocolate and confections in its shop on Hazeldean Road (Kanata).

La Tablette de Miss Choco (Montreal, QC) - A collection of craft, bean-to-bar chocolate only, ordered in from all over the world. Buy in store or through the new online ordering system! Fast and reliable online ordering service.

The Candy Bar (Toronto, ON) - Offering a selection of fine chocolate, including Venchi, Slitti, & Amedei, as well as bean-to-bar chocolate including B.C.-based Sirene Chocolate and Ambrosia Pastry from London, Ontario.

Xoxolat (Vancouver, BC) - A retail store filled with single origin and estate chocolates, made from bean-to-bar, along with confections. Offers in-store chocolate tasting workshops several days a week at 5:00 p.m. for $25 per person, or book a private tasting event for at least 10 people.

Cook Culture (Vancouver, BC) - Buy online or in store! A selection of fine chocolate and bean-to-bar chocolate from around the world curated by author Eagranie Yuh (The Chocolate Tasting Kit).


CocoaRunners (UK) - *Chocolate of the month club* Buy a monthly subscription or buy single chocolate bars online, your choice.  This chocolate curator has all of the great bean-to-bar chocolate to satisfy any chocolate lover.


Chocolate Craft (Costa Rica) - buy chocolate made in Costa Rica, such as Sibu and The Beach Chocolate Factory and have it shipped to your door.

Chocolate Journey (Melbourne, Australia) - Appreciators of fine chocolate, particularly single origin, bean-to-bar chocolate.  Online store, coming soon.

All About Chocolate (New Zealand) - Selling fine chocolate from around the world, as well as a selection of fine chocolate from New Zealand's artisan producers. The online store includes chocolate made by Original Beans, Marou, Amedei, Fresco and more.

Know of others? Hey I get it. My list is a little sparse in the 'UK' and 'Other' sections.  If you know of any other specialty craft chocolate retailers in ANY part of the world, please tell me in the Comments below!

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Amma Chocolate's Gula Merah 70%: Fruity tasting and made with coconut sugar

Amma Chocolate is one of the few tree-to-bar chocolate makers worldwide.  It is based in Brazil, grows its own cacao trees, and produces some of the most interesting flavours of chocolate that I have ever tasted. Recently, Amma has been getting some traction in North America.

Last week, I tasted Amma's Gula Merah 70% chocolate bar. This is a chocolate made with an alternate sweetener to cane sugar, called Gula Merah, which is also known as coconut palm sugar. It is made from "the sap of cut flower buds" (ref) of the coconut tree and is said to cause less of a glycemic spike in our bodies than cane sugar. The world's largest producers are from the Philippines and Indonesia. Amma has used Gula Merah from the Island of Java, Indonesia for its chocolate bar.

This is by far my favourite chocolate made by Amma yet. Although on paper, it really shouldn't be.  Initially, there is an obvious crunch to the chocolate, although smoother than stone-ground chocolate but still slightly crunchy, none-the-less.

Also, it is very bitter tasting, and tastes much darker than a 70% chocolate (I would have guessed it had 85% cocoa solids) and it's a little acidic. But often chocolate made with coconut sugar will taste more bitter than when made with regular cane sugar.

The Gula Merah chocolate also has a citrus fruit flavour that is reminiscent of sweet orange, and perhaps raspberry.  The Meadow website lists the flavours as grapefruit, coconut and honey. The coconut taste is a given, since it is sweetened with coconut sugar. And I can see how the high acidity, combined with the fruit taste would reveal itself as a grapefruit flavour to some.

Also according to The Meadow, the cacao beans used to make the Gula Merah bar were grown in the Rio de Contas Valley in Itacaré, Bahia, Brazil.

So the chocolate is bitter, slightly crunchy, and acidic, which is why 'on paper' it should not be my favourite of Amma's selection.  But the fruitiness is quite tangy and surprising upon first taste, making it immediately interesting. Perhaps it is the local pitanga fruit that creates the taste, much like in Akesson's Brazil-origin chocolate bar that I tasted last week. Or perhaps it is the combination of local fruit grown and coconut sugar that creates such a uniquely fruity chocolate.

Also, I like that the ingredients are simple: organic cacao, organic coconut sugar, and organic cocoa butter.

The other reason why it is my favourite by Amma, is because I have had mixed tastings. There is sometimes a strange flavour in Amma's chocolate that I cannot pinpoint - which may have something to do with the interior packaging they previously used and the time it took to travel through humid climates to arrive here in Canada, or perhaps it just has a very distinct Brazilian origin flavour that is unknown to me. Although I did like Amma's 85%, and the Gula Merah 70% chocolate is now a favourite among cane sugar-free chocolates for me. So I intend to revisit Amma's other chocolate bars again in future.

If you want to learn more about Amma Chocolate and their quest to make the finest chocolate in Brazil, there is an interesting story of how the company came to be founded by Diego Badaro, a Brazilian cacao planter, and Frederick Schilling of Dagoba Organic Chocolates in the U.S. To read it, click here.

You can purchase the Gula Merah 70% chocolate bar from La Tablette de Miss Choco in Montreal for $7.49 CAD, from The Meadow website for $10 US, and also in Asia online from Cult de Choco.

If you are looking for an 'alternative' to chocolate, try a Cupacu bar - made with the Cupacu fruit.  It looks and tastes very similar to chocolate, because the fruit is in the same family as cacao, but it is not chocolate. Amma makes a bar, similar to chocolate, from Cupacu. The one I ordered was not in good condition, so I cannot comment on taste, but there have been some interesting stories and good reviews online. See this article for more information.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Make perfect Milk Chocolate Ice Cream with Instant Organic Hot Chocolate Mix!

In June, I began the greatest summertime chocolate adventure: I embarked on a quest to make the perfect chocolate ice cream. I started with dark chocolate ice cream, and after several experiments, I provided one recipe here on the blog. 

This week, I have been trying to make the perfect milk chocolate ice cream. Like the dark chocolate ice cream, I wanted to keep it healthy. But I was not sure how to do it - ice cream is made with milk, so technically it should already be milk chocolate, right? My first thought was to reduce the cocoa powder in my dark ice cream and increase the sweetness. But instead, I decided to try something entirely new. 

Camino's Organic and Fair Trade instant Milk Hot Chocolate mix has been sitting on the shelf of my cupboard staring at me for some time. And when I opened the cupboard looking for cornstarch, I was suddenly inspired when I saw it. Since Camino has already perfected that 'milk chocolate' taste, I thought, why not use the mix in my ice cream?  It would be a great way to use my hot chocolate mix in the summertime (who's drinking hot chocolate when it's 30º Celsius anyway?). So I dove right into the experiments.

In the first batch, I replaced the cocoa powder in my dark chocolate ice cream recipe with Camino's mix, and I used 3 cups of milk (half skim milk and half whole milk).  I did not add cream because Camino's mix already has a creamy taste, so I figured it would be creamy enough. And it was. The ice cream mixture simmered beautifully on the stovetop, and once it cooled and was placed in my home ice cream maker, the texture was perfectly creamy.  It was also very milky, like milk chocolate. The only problem was - it wasn't sweet enough.

Now listen, I am not a person who likes my desserts sweet.  It's all about richness for me and low sweetness. So if the ice cream was too bitter for me, then it definitely won't be liked by regular chocolate ice cream lovers. Nor would the average milk chocolate lover eat it. So I went back to the 'lab' and tried it again.

On the second round, I added 1/4 cup of organic agave syrup to the mix before boiling it, and although it still did not taste sweet after boiling it, it came out of the ice cream maker with perfect sweetness. My kids loved it, and if I overcame THAT colossal challenge, then I must have gotten it right!

The best part is that the ingredients are all natural, and if you use organic milk, you can make your own fully organic ice cream at home. If you can't locate Camino brand hot chocolate mix, you can use another one.  But if you use a hot chocolate mix that does not have milk in it*, like this one by St. Clair's, you may want to replace 1 cup of your milk with 1 cup of cream, to give the ice cream an added creaminess, and cut back on the hot cocoa mix by a 1/4 cup for a 'milk chocolate' taste.

Recipe: All Natural Milk Chocolate Ice Cream

You need:
  • 1.5 cups of regular or organic skim milk
  • 1.5 cups of whole milk (if you don't want to split the milk, you can simply use 3 cups of homogenized/whole milk or 2%)
  • 3/4 cup of Camino Instant Milk Hot Chocolate Mix
  • 1/4 cup agave or regular sugar
  • 1.5 tbsp. of corn starch
  • 1 home ice cream maker (such as Cuisinart)

  1. Pour your milk into a pot.
  2. Whisk in the remaining ingredients, or better, use an immersion blender or hand mixer for easier mixing. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Let simmer lightly for five minutes until it looks thickened.
  3. Pour into a bowl and cover. Let cool in the refrigerator for 6 to 8 hours (until cold). Be sure to freeze the ice cream maker bowl at this time too!
  4. Pour the ice cream into the top of the ice cream maker and then let run for about 20 minutes. 
  5. Turn off the ice cream maker and scrape it out with a silicon spatula or plastic scraper (to prevent scratching of the ice cream maker bowl) into an airtight container.  You can consume the soft ice cream immediately or freeze until hardened.
If you want to add some milk chocolate chunks to this ice cream, chop and melt a Camino Organic and Fair Trade Milk Chocolate bar in the microwave for about 1 minute (use any other if none available, such as Lindt Excellence milk chocolate or an American organic brand such as Alter Eco, or try dark-milk chocolate). Stir until melted - add back into the microwave for 5 second intervals until fully melted.  Drizzle very slowly into the ice cream maker about 3 minutes before it's done.  Now you have extreme milk chocolate ice cream!

Happy Summer Ice Creaming!

*Please note:  Camino has not sponsored this post in any way. I proudly purchase Camino's organic and Fair Trade couverture chocolate for use in some of my confections, and so I regularly have their products on hand. I am also a fan of their instant hot chocolate mixes because they are the only ones I can find that are both natural and organic AND can be mixed with hot water instantly, as they contain powdered organic milk. Feel free to use the comments below to tell me about others, if you know of them - but I haven't found any instant hot chocolate mixes yet that compare! (Yes, I am a big fan of craft drinking chocolate, but sometimes I just want to grab a packet to take to work, or elsewhere, and not heat up milk on the stovetop.)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Akesson's Single Plantation Chocolate: Three origins and three bean types

When I purchased a selection of Akesson's chocolate last month, I had not realized that I choose three origin chocolate bars made from three different types of cocoa beans. Akesson's Brazil-origin chocolate is made from Forastero beans, the Bali-origin chocolate is made from Trinitario beans, and the Madagascar chocolate is made from Criollo. This tells a lot about the cacao (cocoa) commonly grown in each country. And it also says a lot about Akesson's as a fine chocolate maker.

Why? Well, it is commonly thought that Forastero beans generally do not make good chocolate. However, good chocolate makers know that there are fine flavour Forastero beans, as well as 'other' ones. Those 'other' beans are used for most commercial chocolate bars, which require a LOT of vanilla flavouring to make them taste good!  Fine chocolate makers - the craft, bean-to-bar type - are usually determined to make good chocolate from various origins, and so, when there are no Criollo or Trinitario to be found in a country, they will seek out fine flavour Forastero instead. And if they see to fermentation, proper roasting and just the right conche, they can bring out delicious flavours in chocolate unique to the origin of the bean. Akesson's has done just that with their Brazilian forastero beans.

It certainly helps that Akesson's owns the cacao plantation, called Fazenda Sempre Firme, in Bahia, Brazil. Being an owner means controlling the harvest, the fermentation, and the drying methods of the cocoa beans. Akesson's Brazil origin chocolate bar has 75% cocoa solids and to me, offers a unique taste of sour fruit and a smoky cigar flavour. The texture is very smooth and full of cocoa butter creaminess. It by far the most interesting and delicious tasting Brazil-origin chocolate that I have tasted to date.

Although acidic and reminiscent of burnt cherry sauce (I've been known to burn some on occasion), the fruit flavour in Akesson's Brazilian chocolate was not one I could easily identify, but that may be explained by the description on the package, which says the chocolate tastes of the local Brazilian pitanga fruit. These fruit look like a mix between ground cherries and cherries, and yet have the shape of mini pumpkins and, according to Wikipedia, their taste can range from sweet to sour. I have not tasted pitanga fruit, so I will have to take Akesson's word for it. The texture is very soft in this chocolate, and just melts away in the mouth.

Akesson's Madagascar chocolate bar has an abundance of fruit and raspberry flavour, nearly overwhelmingly so.  It also has an incredibly smooth texture and a reddish colour that is typical to Madagascar origin chocolate, but unique compared to other origins. This truly is a bold flavoured chocolate bar with, I think, just the right cocoa percentage and cocoa butter to bring out that bold fruity Madagascar flavour.

Akesson's Bali 75% chocolate, made with the cacao grown by Sukrama Farms, was the toughest to figure out. I found the bitter cocoa taste to overwhelm any other origin flavours in the chocolate. Which simply might be the origin flavour of the chocolate. There was also a little smoky spice, like the flavours added to a BBQ'd steak might have. I liked this chocolate least of the three, but the cocoa buttery smooth texture made it enjoyable none-the-less.

Overall, my first venture into tasting Akesson's 'Single Plantation Chocolate', was good.  I found the key differentiator for their chocolate was the texture.  There was a great balance of cocoa butter to cocoa solids and sugar. It was not overly creamy, like Pralus or Bonnat, but definitely creamier than most.

The other differentiator for Akesson's chocolate is the story of each chocolate's origin. Not only does the company fully describe each plantation on the chocolate package, so we know precisely where the flavours are coming from, but also, they own their own cacao plantations, so we know that Akesson's fully understands the entire process of chocolate making, from tree to bar.

I look forward to tasting more from this chocolate maker!