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March 05, 2008

Chocolate and desserts in New Orleans!

While down in New Orleans, we visited a couple of chocolate places and a nice dessert place:
  • Blue Frog Chocolates: Nice, homey chocolate shop with very friendly folks. They have a wide variety of chocolate products, some made in-house, others are major brands of chocolate bars, etc. This is the place if you want to get cure chocolate frogs or other animal shapes.
  • Prince Michael Chocolate: A cool, small chocolate store where they serve organic chocolates -- truffles and hot chocolates. They have some great truffle flavors and the truffles are mostly made from 70-90% cacao with non-dairy milk. Taste great! They also have a wonderful spicy drinking chocolate.
  • Sucre: This is a dessert place. Very nicely decorated with some nice gelatos/ice creams and desserts.
  • Cafe du Monde: Of course, go have beignets at Cafe du Monde!

February 13, 2008

Chocolate Decadence: At the Ritz-Carlton in DC

So I finally went to the Chocolate Decadence at the Ritz-Carlton in DC (near Foggy Bottom), This time it was a $25 per head event where you can choose any 5 of the ~20 chocolate offerings they had. Only five seemed kind of limiting at first but we barely managed to finish 5 items (and we went for the 6pm seating that basically served as dinner for us). The desserts were arranged on a small bar/buffet with the pastry chef, Jerome Girardot, standing behind and answering questions and explaining the offerings. Some of my favorite ones were the ones with more interesting ingredients like the dessert with carrot puree and ganache, and the chocolate and lavender pastry. The yuzu "ice cream cone" was also pretty good.

January 30, 2008

Best Hot Chocolates in DC

So, the Washingtonian has an article on its web site about the best hot chocolates in DC: http://www.washingtonian.com/blogarticles/restaurants/bestbites/6320.html. It mentions a bunch of places that are worth going to just to try the hot chocolate. I've had the hot chocolate at a couple of the places and they were pretty good. Enumerating the best places to try hot chocolate invariably means that you leave out some that, by all accounts, should be in there: ACKC being one of them but *shrug*

[rant mode]
The problem with most places serving hot chocolate is that they seem to feel that the more cream you put in the better the hot chocolate (i.e. the richer the better) even if that means that the actual taste of the chocolate comes out a poor second. (In some cases, that is certainly meant to be the case -- most mexican and spiced hot chocolates tend not to allow the cocoa taste to shine but then they make up for it through a medley of tastes that complement the cocoa). The other big problem with most restaurant/cafe hot chocolates is the milky concoction that has barely noticeable traces of chocolate in it but is sweet enough to give you a sugar high.

Anyway, enough with the complaining, go try some of the places mentioned in the article.

November 04, 2007

Chocolate and Child Slavery

I'm a proponent of Fair Trade chocolate products and try to buy them over non-Fair Trade ones. I also keep a lookout for news on Fair Trade issues and forced labor involved in chocolate production. However, most of the time, there's nothing new -- just people rehashing the same old items and so it tends to drop off my radar.

But since I haven't posted anything on Fair Trade in a long while, here's a random sampling of Fair Trade news bites:

and some interesting links:

See previous Fair Trade posts and also see my now abandoned attempt to keep track of fair trade cocoa products.

October 10, 2007

Choc-o-lait: it really is hot-chocolate on-a-stick

So, the trip to Amsterdam was interesting and fun, and especially so from a hot chocolate perspective. The bad news was that almost everywhere we went, "hot chocolate" turned out to be Chocomel. This is a chocolate-flavored milk sold mainly in th Netherlands, Germany and Belgium. However, it is much better than the chocolate milk you get in the US. It tastes pretty decent when you think of it as chocolate milk. However, when you ask for Hot Chocolate and you get Chocomel, it's somewhat of a disappointment. :-) However, we did manage to stop by this Tea and Coffee store on Herengracht where I asked for hot chocolate and they said it was chocomel, but offered us hot-chocolate-on-a-stick (which they sell but not as a prepared drink). So I bought some hot milk and used the Cho-o-lait in it to produce some tasty hot chocolate. Believe me, after all the Chocomels I had been drinking, this was manna from heaven!

August 31, 2007

XOX Truffles: Yum

So, while in San Francisco recently, I stopped by XOX Truffles on Columbus near Washington Sq. It was decidedly a good experience. I'm not a big truffle fan, but the truffles there were fantastic. As we were there, we started up a conversation with Chef Gorce who was hand-making new batches of truffles. All the while we were talking, we got treated to samples of all the truffles he was making. So, what with the great truffles, the friendly owner and folks behind the counter, and some good hot chocolate, it was a memorable experience. Definitely worth visiting when in San Francisco -- amble on over to North Beach, grab some truffles, a cup of hot chocolate and enjoy it in Washington Square a couple of blocks away.

July 20, 2007

Starbucks and chocolate

So, it seems that Starbucks will be going into partnership with Hershey's to bring more chocolate-based items to their stores. One of the first products emerging form the partnership will be a hot chocolate drink. Considering my reaction to Starbuck's first attempt at a chocolate drink, I'm not too sanguine about the prospect of getting something that will qualify for being a good chocolate drink.
However, even putting the quality of the purported drink aside, I'm not quite sure whether to be happy or sad about the popularization of chocolate these days. Considering the fact that cacao grows in a limited set of environmental conditions, and that the hardiest varieties of cacao tend to be the ones with lesser flavors, it's looking like we are in for a glut of mediocre cocoa beans because those are the ones who can withstand the demand.
Also, the bigger question about what such increased demand would do to the several poor and/or war-torn regions where most of the cacao is grown, remains. I wish I had enough confidence in the human race to say that increased demand for cocoa will cause less dissension and encourage peace so that everyone in the cocoa-growing regions will prosper. However, it seems more likely that increased demand will cause more repression and feed war more than any of the poor farmers growing the cacoa (like it supposedly did in the Ivory Coast).

July 18, 2007

Hot Chocolate on a stick

Well, maybe not on a stick but certainly in a stick. Apparently, Aimia, which produces some mainstream hot chocolate brands (Galaxy and Maltesers, neither of which I've ever tasted) is coming out with the equivalent of tea bags for hot chocolate, except that the bags are shaped like a stick. Well, anything that helps spread the hot chocolate mantra can't be bad, can it? Now, if only Dagoba or Green & Black's would come out with hot chocolate on-the-go products!

July 16, 2007

Why we love our mainstream chocolate makers

Cadbury's let salmonella get into bars -- gotta love 'em.

July 15, 2007

NYC Chocolate mini trip

So, I made a weekend trip to NYC to visit Bobby and Catherine. While there, we went to a couple of chocolate places (we used a NYC chocolate map downloaded offf the net -- Chocolate Guide Manhattan but there are others like Chocolate Obsessions map).

We went to Vosges first, which is by far my favorite chocolate bar store. They were out of the new bacon chocolate bar, which I had wanted to taste and so I was a bit disappointed. However, the store had just started doing floats! So, we tasted the 2 float combinations they recommended -- root beer with wattleseed custard ice cream and ginger ale with pandan dark chocolate. While both were great-tasting, the root beer with wattleseed won hands down for me -- it was a wonderful (but subtle) twist on the standard root beer float. We also sampled a few of the truffles at the store, and while I'm not a truffle person (too sweet), they were good, even the olive oil truffle which used "white chocolate" (an oxymoron if I've heard one and a concept that personally offends me).

After Vosges, we went to the upper east side to La Maison du Chocolat, where we decided to sit in the cafe and chill. We ordered a couple of hot chocolates, some macarons and relaxed. The place was deserted (on a Saturday afternoon) which seemed a bit weird to us, especially considering the current chocolate craze. However, busy or not, the hot chocolates were good -- rich, creamy and about what you expect from a european hot chocolate.

However, after the crazy goodness of the float, some trufffles and the hot chocolate, we were kinda full and decided to adjorn the chocolate tour for the nonce and continue onto other pleasures. I figure we are going to continue the tour next visit.

April 09, 2007

What's in a name?

A lot: FDA wants to change the definition of chocolate

December 28, 2006

NoKa: Expose

DallasFood has a good article on NoKa, a chocolatier: What's Noka worth?. Even if I don't agree with all assumptions in the article, the author has done some good work and its worth reading if you are a chocolate lover.

May 19, 2006

Review: Lake Champlain New World Drinking Chocolate

Lake Champlain New World Drinking Chocolate:
Overall: ***

Lake Champlain's New World drinking chocolate is very much a drinking chocolate. You would never mistake it for a hot cocoa drink or a hybrid. Given my predeliction for cocoas versus drinking chocolates, I figure all you hot chocolate lovers might want to consider my bias, even though I'm trying my best to be impartial.

The mix is a 70% cocoa concoction which is essentially liquid dark chocolate. The taste of dark chocolate comes through in spades and together with the cocoa butter results in a rich and full drinking chocolate. If I was in the mood for carping, I would wish that they used better cocoa beans. Somehow the taste that comes through leaves a little bit to be desired. However, just about most hot chocolate lovers would be happy with the drink.

Being a drinking chocolate, it melts very well in the heated milk and leaves virtually no dregs, much to my dismay. The sugar content in the mix is just right allowing the cocoa/chocolate taste to shine without letting the sweetness put a whammy on your tastebuds.

My main problem with drinking chocolates is that I like drinking a cocoa drink several times a week. If I partook of a mug of drinking chocolate every couple of days, I think I would end up gaining a couple of pounds a week. Most drinking chocolates, and the Lake Champlain New World mix is no exception, contain a lot of fat calories -- especially saturated fat calories. Out of 290 calories in the New World mix, 200 are fat calories, most of which are saturated fat. All hail the wonders of cocoa butter. Yeah, I know: no one wants to hear about the amount of fat in what is essentially a luxury item, mais c'est la vie. Or should I be saying "Caveat Emptor"? I enjoy an occasional hot chocolate, but only very occasionally. My everyday drink will probably always remain a hot cocoa.


Recipe used: 6 flat tablespoons of the mix with 7 oz of 1% milk. According to instructions, it should be: 7 heaping tablespoons of the mix with 6 oz of milk.

February 22, 2006

Chocolate Decadence

So, The Washington Post has an article in today's paper mentioning that the Ritz-Carlton is having its "Chocolate Decadence" buffet again. I had forgotten about it but am looking forward to over-indulging in chocolate desserts for $30! The buffet runs every Friday evening from Feb 3rd to March 31st. So hurry up and get there before it disappears.

January 23, 2006

Fairfax Chocolate Lovers Festival 2006

So, the City of Fairfax is holding its annual Chocolate Lovers Festival on February 4-5, 2006 in Old Town Fairfax. Last year's festival, the first I attended, was fun. It was pretty packed but we had luckily gotten there early enough that it wasn't a problem. I would definitely recommend going there if its a nice day. The problem with going there in bad weather is that you might end up waiting in line to get into the Taste of Chocolate portion of the festival outside the Old Town Hall in freezing weather.

January 18, 2006

Godiva's New Chocolate Drink: Chocolixir

So Godiva, following in the footsteps of its less esteemed cousin Starbucks, has come out with a new chocolate drink called Chocolixir. Details are sparse, but the drink can be ordered both hot and cold. The "Cold Chocolixir" comes in a 12 oz. size and 3 flavors:

  • Dark Chocolate Decadence – Godiva 72% Extra Dark Chocolate pieces blended with rich dark chocolate flavors.
  • Milk Chocolate Latte – Godiva Milk Chocolate pieces blended with coffee and caramel flavors.
  • White Chocolate Raspberry – Godiva White Chocolate pieces blended with light vanilla flavors and topped with rich red raspberry.

The "Hot Chocolixir" comes in a 8 oz size with only 1 flavor:

  • Dark Chocolate - Godiva 72% demitasse pieces blended for a hot drinking chocolate

The cold version costs $4.50 while the hot one is $3.50. I'm not quite sure why there's a difference in size between the hot and cold version. Do people drink more when the drink is cold?

The important news here is that some Godiva stores will have free samples of the drink on Jan 19th and 20th. You can find out whether there's one near you by going here.

January 05, 2006

Memphis Chocolate Fantasy

One of the blog's readers (Thanks RheAnn) pointed me to the Memphis Chocolate Fantasy being held on Jan 28th as a benefit for the National Kidney Foundation of West Tennessee. It's got some cool presenters, including Frederick Schilling of Dagoba Chocolates. He's going to be giving a talk on "The Trend towards Sustainability". All in all, it's quite an interesting bunch of people that the NKF folks have managed to get together.

Now, if I only Memphis was closer...
(If you do attend though, leave a comment about your experience there.)

November 27, 2005

Chocolate for the monied masses

The Washington Post has an article on the marketing of luxury chocolates.. On one hand, I'm happy with this trend since it leads to a lot of good chocolate being easily available. One the other hand, most of the luxury chocolates are over-priced and over-hyped, and taste excessively sweet. There are some that I do love, ridiculous price and all -- Vosges' chocolate bars come to mind. They are a wonderful balance of some very sense-ational flavors. However, some of the others, including Dove and Godiva, I find to be not so special seeing as they tend to emphasize sweetness over the taste of cocoa. It's the inherent weakness in mass marketing to the bourgeoise -- you tend to have to compromise down to the level of the Lowest Common Denominator (and no, mass marketing luxury chocolates is not a contradiction, just capitalism in action). In America, with chocolate, that means more sugar and less cocoa.

Even worse, IMO, than the perpetuation of the shoddy, sugary sweet version of chocolate is the fact that none of these luxury chocolate makers feel the need to use organic, sustainable or Fair Trade certified cocoa. If you are going to go for the bourgeois market and charge accordingly, at least put some of that money into ensuring that you are offering a product to your customers that everyone can feel good about!

Leaving aside such social and moral considerations, I would also be interested in knowing what cocoa varietals the luxury chocolates are being made from. I wonder if the vendors are going to the trouble and expense of using Criollo varietals or whether the luxury chocolates are being made from the same varietals as their poorer cousins.

November 09, 2005

Dagoba in DC

One of my favorite natural food stores, Roots, has just started selling the Dagoba Hot Chocolate mix ($5.59 a canister). As if that wasn't good enough, I found that they have also started carrying Green & Black's Organic Hot Chocolate Drink mix as well as Lake Champlain Organic Hot Chocolate mix. Of course, on the downside, I now have 4 more boxes of hot chocolate to consume. That....I can probably live with.

August 09, 2005

Cocoa's health-food benefits

So, the Washington Post has a story titled "Junk-Food Science" debunking the purported benefits of chocolate that chocolate vendors are espousing these days.

There's also a Q&A session with Lalita Kaul which for the most part is shrug-worthy, but has some interesting Q&As like:

Tucson, Ariz.: I absolutely hate chocolate, weird, I know, but I get absolutely sick to my stomach when I smell milk or dark chocolate. I do, however, like white chocolate. Does white chocolate have the same health benefits?

Lalita Kaul: Milk chocolate may not give you as much flavnoid as dark chocolate but it will give you protein and calcium.
Talk about a non-sequitur. Firstly, I wish people would realize that "white chocolate" is NOT chocolate. Even our milk chocolates hardly deserve that name. Secondly, I don't think Ms. Kaul answered the question: white chocolate, not having any cacao powder in there, probably doesn't have any of the purported benefits of flavanols. Finally, I wonder whether the amount of protein and calcium in milk chocolate is worth mentioning when talking about the health benefits.

July 18, 2005

Raw Organic Chocolate Party in Maryland

From Ryan, news of a Raw Organic Chocolate party in Maryland. Sounds interesting and definitely worth going to. Unfortunately, I can't make it :-(

May 27, 2005

My hot chocolate collection

While in a picture-taking mood recently, I decided to take pictures of all the hot chocolate mixes I had. I could have just lined them up in a row, but that would have offended my sensibilities. So, here's 2 different arrrangements.

Shown here, spiraling in clockwise from the top left, Dagoba hot chocolate, Vosges Aztec Elixir, Max Brenner Dark Chocolate (orange peel oil), Nestle Abuelita, Jacques Torres Wicked Hot Chocolate, Dagoba Unsweetened Hot Chocolate, Dagoba Xocolatl, Green & Black's Organic Hot Chocolate, Ibarra Mexican Chocolate, Domori Hot Chocolate, Domori Very Hot Chocolate and Moonstruck Mexican Hot Cocoa.
This was actually my first attempt at taking a picture of all the mixes. Nice concept, bad execution.

May 15, 2005

Review: Domori Hot Choolate

Domori Hot Chocolate
Overall: ***

Domori hot chocolate is very much a drinking chocolate. A rich, dessert-like drink, it is meant to be slowly sipped at the end of a meal. The taste of good, dark chocolate is very evident throughout the experience, though it seemed to me that there was just a taste of of bitterness present.

The "mix" itself consists of thin, flat chocolate sticks that need to be mixed into milk or water. The recommended recipe is 9 sticks (each package comes with 72 sticks) dissolved into 60ml of heated water or milk. This gives you a small cup of overwhelmingly chocolatey experience. I actually tried it with a cup of milk and even then the chocolate was very evident. The best part was being able to lick the chocolate dregs from the bottom of the mug (melted chocolate readings, anyone?).

I think that the chocolate used in this mix is good, and the taste very obviously comes through (it has a minimum of 65% cacao). However, I prefer my dark chocolate in a solid form (you can eat the hot chocolate sticks. They taste good), and my hot chocolate to be more towards the hot cocoa variety. Hence, this doesn't rank quite as high in my rankings as some of the other more cocoa-oriented mixes. I also tend to stay away from mixes (usually drinking chocolate mixes) which include cocoa butter or milk fats, since that detracts from the cocoa experience.

Recipe used: A cup of 1% milk heated to just below boiling and then 9 sticks slowly dissolved in to the milk.

May 09, 2005

Another Online Store for fair trade products

So, I discovered through TreeHugger, that there's an online store that will sell only fair-trade products. This, of course, includes chocolate. Check it out: Fair Trade Online Store. Yes, they do sell Dagoba! But, they need to expand their chocolate and hot chocolate selection and include some of the other fair-trade chocolate products.

April 24, 2005

Review: Green & Black's Organic Hot Chocolate

Green & Black's Organic Hot Chocolate:
Overall: ****

Green & Black's organic hot chocolate is really a hybrid between a hot cocoa and a drinking chocolate. Although I prefer hot cocoas to drinking chocolates, this particular hot chocolate is good! There is a lot that sets this mix apart from the rest: the taste of the cocoa, the hybrid nature, the amount of sugar and also, the texture of the mix.

The taste of the cocoa does come through, though I would have preferred a more vibrant cocoa taste. Interestingly enough, it has much less sugar than most hot chocolate mixes. For most people, this will cause them to add a dash of sugar when preparing the hot chocolate, but it does taste fine as is. As for the texture, it looks like granules as opposed to a powder and it melts amazingly well into hot milk. And while I like this quality, it does deny me the pleasure of being able to eat the cocoa-y goodness that usually remains at the bottom of my hot chocolate.


Recipe used: According to instructions: 4 teaspoons of the mix with one cup of milk.

April 19, 2005

Restaurants serving good hot chocolate?

I tend to order hot chocolate in restaurants and cafes, instead of coffee. Most of the hot chocolates I get tend to vary from mediocre to undrinkable. However, a few weeks ago when I went to Great Sage, a vegetarian, natural foods restaurant in Columbia, MD, I was pretty happy to discover that not only were they serving organic hot cocoa, but that it was from Dagoba! Wish more restaurants and cafes would start serving good (and of course organic and FTC) cocoas.

Anyone know of any other places serving organic or FTC hot chocolates?

April 08, 2005

Drinking Chocolates

So, Heidi over on 101 Cookbooks posted a list of drinking chocolate suggestions solicited from her readers. The list is pretty nice, but doesn't differentiate between drinking chocolates and hot cocoas, which is kind of sad since people continue to remain confused about the difference :-)

Heidi lists them in alphabetical order since she hasn't tasted them all, so I don't get to see how she ranks them.

March 31, 2005

Review: ChocoSoy

ChocoSoy Soy-Milk Chocolates

So, this isn't in my normal line of reviews for this blog, but serendipity rules. My co-worker, who writes the VegBlog, got some of the ChocoSoy Soy-Milk chocolates to review and we decided to both do reviews. Besides, I was intrigued by the concept of milk chocolate for vegans, using soy milk, especially considering how closely people tend to associate milk and chocolate.

The chocolates are packaged in a nice little container that is made from buriti palm, which their site says is environmentally-friendly and sustainable. The knot in the packaging is a little hard to open, but that's what scissors are for. Each package contains 5 pieces, weighs 1.76 oz. and costs about $1.79 per pack. Each piece has about 50 calories in it with only 3 grams of fat.

So, I unwrapped the first piece from its foil and popped it into my mouth. The pieces were just about the right size, small enough to fit in your mouth and big enough to satisfy. The very first taste I got from the chocolate was that of soy. The soy flavor was very evident throughout the whole experience. That, however, was to be expected. What was not expected was that the chocolate flavor was almost non-existent. This, coming from a chocolate-centered universe as I do, was disturbing. While I did realize that the soy-milk would change the flavor of the milk chocolate, I also expected the chocolate to contain a decent amount of cacao. If it does, I couldn't taste it. I would be interested to know what percent of the chocolate was cacao powder. The ingredients only mention "chocolate flavorings", which is vague and implies that there wasn't much cacao being used.

I do think that ChocoSoy has potential but for me to enjoy it as a chocolate product, it does need to increase the amount of chocolate/cocoa (not cocoa butter!!) it uses. And while they were doing that, it would be nice if they used FTC and organic cocoa. :-)

Full Disclosure: I'm not a vegan. However, I do enjoy soy in various things and drink quite a lot of soy milk. To get a vegan's view of ChocoSoy, go read the review at VegBlog.

March 27, 2005

Domori's Chocolate Tasting Guide

I recently came across Domori's tasting guide to chocolate. They classify the differences in chocolate by the 5 Senses (sorta): Sight, Sound, Aroma, Taste and Texture. Some of it is pretty easy to discern. For example, in the Sound category, they mention that the chocolate should make a clear sound when broken (i.e. a "snap"). This is easy enough to observe.

However, in the Aroma category, they talk about secondary aromas like berries, nuts, spices, etc. Most of the time, my nose (or palate) is not sensitive enough to tease out the secondary smells and tastes. I have found that it's easier to classify chocolates in such categories if you have multiple different chocolates to compare and contrast. Anyone find it easy to spot these secondary aromas and tastes in chocolates?

March 17, 2005

Review: Moonstruck Mexican Hot Chocolate

Moonstruck Mexican Hot Chocolate
Overall: **1/2

This is a very mellow drink, unlike what you would expect from its name. The main flavors that come through are that of vanilla and cinnamon. The cacao, when apparent, is more of a background taste. Unfortunately, the aftertaste is simply one of sugar. This really disappointed me since I liked the various hot cocoa drinks that they prepare at the Moonstruck Chocolate Cafes.

Recipe used: 4 tablespoons of the mix with 8oz of milk, as recommended.

March 05, 2005

Vosges Black Pearl Layer Cake

Having loved the Vosges Black Pearl Chocolate Bar, I was thrilled to find a recipe for a cake with the same ingredients on Epicurious. The recipe came from Katrina Markoff, founder of Vosges and had appeared in the January 2005 Bon Apétit magazine.

Now I'm off to find wasabi powder. Hopefully, I can get it at the local Wegman's.

Update: I got sidetracked into making another cake. However, check out "In My Kitchen's" description of making this cake.

March 04, 2005

Cardamom Hot Chocolate

So, after tasting cardamom hot chocolate as part of a dessert at Indebleu, I decided to make it at home. This was especially appealing to me since it was in accord with my need for simplicity and minimalism (*cough* laziness *cough*). The idea was simple and elegant: add cardamom to my hot chocolate. So, I did and the result was highly satisfying.

The short recipe:

  1. Prepare your hot chocolate as you normally would. Use plain hot chocolate. No flavored ones, please.
  2. Towards the end of the heating period, add 1/4 tsp. of finely powdered cardamom to the hot chocolate. If you microwave your hot chocolate, I don't want to know about it.

The more complete Viren recipe:

  1. Measure 1 cup of milk (preferably 2%) and pour into pot.
  2. Slowly heat up the milk on a medium low setting.
  3. As soon as vapors start rising from the milk, slowly mix in 3 tablespoons of Dagoba Hot Chocolate mix into the milk. Ensure that the milk never boils.
  4. Keep stirring slowly the entire time that the milk is being heated.
  5. Just before removing the hot chocolate from the stovetop, add 1/4 teaspoon of finely ground cardamom powder. I sometimes add a little more cardamom depending on my mood, but more than 1/3 tsp. would be a bit much.
  6. Froth up the hot chocolate either with a molinillo or a hand blender.
  7. Pour into a big mug -- the better to wrap your hands around.
  8. Go stand outside in the cold.
  9. Drink!

February 28, 2005

Valrhona Drinking Chocolate Recipe #1

I decided to experiment with drinking chocolates. Since I had a bar of Valrhona Dark Bittersweet Chocolate (Le Noir Amer: 71% cacao) around the house, I used that as the base.

2 squares (approx. 1 oz.) Valrhona Dark Bittersweet chocolate
1 glass milk (8 oz.)
1/4 tsp. sugar (optional)

Grate as much of the chocolate as you can without getting tired or shredding your fingers. Break up the reamining chocolate in small pieces (as much as you can break with your fingers assuming the bar has been residing in a cool place). Seperate the grated chocolate from the broken pieces.
Pour the milk into a pot and heat over medium low heat until vapors start to rise. Slowly mix in most of the grated chocolate, leaving aside some to sprinkle over the finished drinking chocolate. Change the heat to low. Keep stirring the milk until the chocolate has dissolved. Now slowly add the chocolate pieces one by one into the milk. Thoughout the process, keep stirring the milk making sure that it doesn't burn or boil. If desired, mix in the 1/4 teaspoon of sugar.
After all the chocolate has dissolved, pour into a mug and sprinkle the remaining grated chocolate over the drinking chocolate. Enjoy!

Just a note: Drinking chocolates traditionally have much more fat than hot chocolates. In the case of this recipe, you are getting almost 50% of your daily requirement of saturated fat from 1 glass of drinking chocolate. So be careful, or at least be aware :-)

February 20, 2005

Iron Chef America: Chocolate & Coconut Battle

I finally got around to watching the "Chocolate and Coconut" Battle on Iron Chef America. Normally I'm only a moderately interested ICA fan -- I vastly preferred the original -- however, the fact that chocolate was one of the secret ingredients had me hooked. Even more interesting was that the chefs (Batali and challenger Laiskonis) had to prepare at least 3 savoury dishes using chocolate andd coconut. Mmmmmm.
While watching the show I was just thinking to myself that mixing cocoa with non-traditional ingredients would be really interesting (I had just finished off another of Vosges Haut Chocolate's Exotic Chocolate Bars) when the judges were introduced, and Katrina Markhoff, founder of Vosges Haut Chocolate, turned out to be one of them. Katrina, who happens to be blessed with stunning looks, in addition to her incredible talent at combining chocolate with different flavors, makes some of the most interesting chocolate bars I've ever tasted. (Now, I just wish that she would use organic and FTC cacao). She seemed to be a very appropriate judge for tasting the savoury chocolate creations. Her comments during the judging phase were mostly focused on the combination and layering of various spices and flavors with the chocolate.
As for the battle itself, I was disappointed. Both chefs made these complex dishes in which it looked like the taste of chocolate and coconut was overwhelmed by other ingredients. Don't get me wrong: I would have been happy to eat any of those dishes, but they lacked focus on the secret ingredients. I was especially hoping for better from Laiskonis' performance since I expected him to show the flair and creativity worthy of Bon Apetit's Pastry Chef of the Year. He did make his signature eggshell dessert, though and did show more creativity than Batali (but the judges didn't think so).
Both chefs made a hot chocolate as part of one dish: Batali made a thick drinking chocolate from cream (a "dipping chocolate" -- you really don't want to try to drink it like a regular drinking chocolate or cocoa) to dip churros in. Laiskonis, on the other hand, made a more traditional hot chocolate but used Hawaiin red salt with it. His use of salt on the dishes was interesting -- wish I could have tasted the hot chocolates.

February 18, 2005

Ganache for Lips

So, a friend pointed me to Ganache for Lips, which makes lip balm with real Scharffen Berger chocolate in it. It amused me no end, especially considering that the fact that there's chocolate in it ("it stays on the lips, not the hips!") is their sole marketing spiel.

On one hand, I'm all for products using chocolate. On the other, products like this mean less cocoa being used in products I can eat/imbibe.

The icing on the cake is that my hair salon is one of a handful of locations that sells it. I can't wait for my next hair cut.

February 13, 2005

Fair Trade Certified Chocolate: Part 1

One of the things that kept showing up on my radar when I started exploring the world of chocolate (and hot chocolate) was the phrase "Fair Trade Certified". One of the chocolate vendors' sites even had a short blurb on it about how fair trade certified chocolate ensured that small cacao farmers earned a fair price for their product. That was enough for me initially, but the more I saw the phrase and logo, the more I wanted to know the details behind them. So, I decided to do a little digging.

The first site that you should visit for more information on the "Fair Trade Certified" (FTC) mark is that of Transfair USA. Transfair USA is the only independent certifier of fair trade products in the US. What does that mean? Transfair USA works with importers and manufacturers in the US to audit their business practices, their supply chain, etc to ensure that fair trade practices are being used all the way from the producer (cacao farmers or farmer cooperatives) to the organizations involved in importing and distributing the ingredients and final product.

Benefits of Fair Trade Certification

The certification for fair trade covers social, economic and environmental aspects of the global supply chain:

  • Farmers and farm cooperatives get a fair price for their product.
  • Decent living and working conditions are mandated for workers
  • Slave labor is not allowed on farms and organizations involved with fair trade. Also, child labor laws have to be followed
  • There is no middleman -- the producer is directly connected to the importer or manufacturer.
  • The farmers have better access to capital as well as credit when needed.
  • Farms must use sustainable agricultural practices

How does this affect you?

Chocolate, in our society, is a luxury item. This is not a staple like cacao tended to be for the Mayans and the Aztecs. It is not an integral part of survival for us, nor is it, in any way, shape or form, a necessity (though some of you might dispute that). You are spending discretionary money to buy chocolate and cocoa. Also, chocolate is usually associated with celebrations and a sense of happiness and well-being (and there's a chemical reason for that, but that is another blog entry). Now, how does it feel to know that it is very likely that the cacao in your chocolate was farmed and gathered through slave labor or substandard working conditions? Puts a little damper on the celebrations? Great! So, modify your purchasing habits just a little and try and buy FTC chocolate when you can. Baby steps. Baby steps.

Now, some of you are very likely to be thinking that 1. I'm preachy, and 2. FTC chocolate is bound to be more expensive. Well, the former is intentional and the latter is not necessarily so. Take the case of hot chocolate for example. My favorite hot chocolate is Dagoba hot chocolate (actually, the Dagoba Xocolatl). It costs approximately $8.50 for a can of the mix. A can of Xocolatl has 12 servings. Hence my per serving cost is about $0.71. Now consider a box of the mix from Vosges Haut Chocolate. specifically, the Vosges Aztec Elixir. It comes in a box that contains approximately 11 servings and costs $22.00. that comes to $2 per serving. Dagoba chocolate is not only FTC but also organic, while the costlier Vosges does not claim to be either.

So, FTC cacao is not only good for the producers, but also goes down easier, and it's not necessarily more expensive! In addition, it's better for the environment.

If that doesn't convince you, you hard-hearted facsimile of a human being, consider the purely selfish motivation: Subsistence economics and non-sustainable agricultural practices are going to result in less cacao farmers and less cacao. This would mean less chocolate and more expensive chocolate in the future. And none of us want this, right?

Well, where are these fabled FTC chocolates?

Well, you can always look at my FTC & Organic Chocolate Vendor List, which is something I'm going to maintain. You can also try http://www.transfairusa.org and http://www.ccof.org for Fair Trade Certified and Organic Certified chocolate products respectively.

Same Bat Channel

This was only a superficial introduction to FTC products, but, in an upcoming blog entry, I'll try to talk more about the underlying criteria for such certification and who decides on the criteria.

February 09, 2005

Easing the chocolate-induced guilt

So the Washington Post has an article in the Food section talking about the health benefits of cocoa due to the presence of flavanols. The interesting part of this to me is that dutch cocoa has less flavanols (and thus health benefits) due to its processing method. I've never been a big fan of dutch cocoa -- it tastes less flavorful and flatter to me. So this is just one more reason for me to ignore dutch cocoa.

Luckily for me, my favorite brand of hot chocolate (Dagoba) doesn't use dutch cocoa.

February 07, 2005

Chocolates Galore & More

The Loudoun County Branch of the YMCA is having their 17th Annual "Chocolates Galore & More" fundraiser at the Lansdowne Resort in Ashburn on Friday February 18 from 7-11pm. The cost is $40 in advance, and $50 at the door. The blurb on their site goes:

"Chocolates Galore & More is a wonderful event that allows residents from Loudoun County and beyond to gather in merriment while sampling some of the finest food - and, of course, chocolates - across the county."

I wish they would put up more information at their site about the event. Granted that it's a charity event, but I would still like to know who is participating in the event.

Anyone out there know more about this?

February 06, 2005

Fairfax Chocolate Festival 2005

It being a lovely day, we decided to go to the City of Fairfax Chocolate Festival. The festival usually happens on the first weekend in February -- no doubt making a good primer for all the Valentine's gifts.

The festival is held in Old Town Fairfax near the intersection of Rte 236 and Chain Bridge Rd. The actual events take place in several government buildings: The Old Town Hall, City Hall, the Regional Library, and the Court House. All the venues are within easy walking distance of each other as well as the designated parking lots. I love the fact that the festival is held in these old buildings, which have a charm all their own.

We got there about 11:45 on Saturday, which was the first day of the festival. Initially, I was concerned that parking was going to be a problem, and after passing by the Old town Hall (where the Taste of Chocolate was taking place) and seeing a long line of people waiting to get in, I was sure that parking was going to be a hassle. However, much to my surprise, parking was easy to find, especially with the helpful parking map on the chocolate festival website.

After parking, we decided that the Taste of Chocolate had to be our first stop, seeing as it was the star attraction. We joined the long line of people waiting to get in, but the line was moving fast so we didn't mind waiting. It helped that the weather was gorgeous: sunny and 50. By the time we got in (about 15 mins of waiting), we were eagerly anticipating the chocolate.

The tables inside the Old Town Hall were on two floors. Even with that, the number of vendors seemed a mite disappointing to me. I was expecting a bigger turnout and a lot more variety. There were just over a dozen vendors there and the place was packed with people. However, there was still room to move around and buying something never took more than a minute or two.

After sampling a bunch of different items, I decided that my favorite vendors were Victoria's Cakery and the Watergate Pastry Shop. The former had a great chocolate cake and a white chocolate with rasberries. You must try them especially the pure chocolate one! Watergate pastries has delicious tarts and pastries: the kiwi fruit tart was awesome.

After the Taste of Chocolate, we went to the Chocolate Challenge (at the City Hall) which had some nice chocolate art there, but once again the number of entries were disappointing. One of the poor chocolate sculptures (which won the 1st prize in "Professional Sculpture" had broken down by the time we got there. What seemed strange was that they charged admission to enter the Chocolate Challenge -- it was only $1 but still.

One of the more surprising events was the Chocolate Capers in the Old Courthouse. We went there 'cause my nephews were along and though they would enjoy it. It turned out to be entertaining for the adults as well. The plays are put on by the Fairfax Bar Association. Apparently they do this pretty regularly, especially for elementary schools. The play was a twist on Jack and the Beanstalk: a criminal trial against Jack for stealing various items from the giant. The play was well done and the actors certainly were having fun doing them. All in all, worth going to if you have kids along.

From what I heard, some of the vendors at the Taste of Chocolate were running out of items late afternoon on Saturday. So, it seems like the best time to go is early on the first day of the festival. Remember that for next year.

February 04, 2005

Fair Trade Certified and Organic Chocolate List

[Last Updated: 4 March, 2005] This is intended to be a continuously maintained list of fair trade certified (FTC) and organic chocolate vendors. It is important to note that FTC certification is given to products and not vendors. Thus, some vendors have multiple FTC prodcuts while others have only one or two FTC products.
Manufacturer Fair Trade Certified Organic Practices Hot Chocolate? Where to buy
Art Bars (Ithaca Fine Chocolates) FTC Yes No www.ithacafinechocolates.com
Cocoavino Chocolates [1] FTC CCOF Yes www.cocoavino.com
Dagoba FTC Yes Yes www.dagobachocolate.com
www.chocosphere.com
Divine Chocolates FTC No? Yes www.divinechocolate.com
Equal Exchange FTC Yes Yes store.yahoo.com/eeretail/index.html
Green & Black's FTC CCOF Yes www.chocosphere.com
Lake Champlain Chocolates [2] FTC Yes Yes www.lakechamplainchocolates.com/
Newman's Own Organics No Yes No www.newmansownorganics.com/
Rapunzel Yes Yes Cocoa powder www.rapunzel.com/
Shaman Chocolates FTC CCOF No www.shamanchocolates.com
  • FTC = Fair Trade Certified by FLO standards
  • CCOF = Organic certified by CCOF standards

If you do know of other vendors/manufacturers, that are FTC or certified organic, please let me know. I'll add them to the list.

Footnotes

  1. Cocoavino uses Green & Black's chocolate which is FTC and CCOF certified. It also tries to use other organic ingredients when it can. It sells Green & Black's Hot Chocolate.
  2. As far as I know Lake Champlain only makes one product that is fair trade & organic: a hot chocolate. None of their other products seem to be either organic or fair trade.

January 31, 2005

Review: Max Brenner's Chocolat blended with Orange Peel Oil

Max Brenner's Chocolat with Orange Peel Oil

Overall: ***

The drink is smooth and blends the orange flavor very well with the cacao. Maybe too well. The orange flavor from the orange peel oil almost overpowers the taste of the cacao, and makes it hard to discern the characteristics of the cacao itself. It's a good drink, especially if you like the orange and chocolate combination in the first place. However, as a hot chocolate, it falls short.

Recipe used: 2 1/2 tablespoons of the mix with a glass of milk. I followed some of the directions that came with the mix: I dissolved the mix in a little bit of hot water and then added the milk and heated it up. I also added about 3/4 teaspoon sugar (though this isn't necessary).

January 25, 2005

Review: Vosges Exotic Chocolate Bars

Vosges Exotic Chocolate Bars
Black Pearl Bar: ****
A 55% cacao dark chocolate bar with ginger, wasabi and black sesame seeds. The bar tastes wonderful with the cacao and the ginger working off each other very well with just a hint of wasabi evident. I wasn't too fond of the black sesame seeds present in the bar, even though they do add to the taste, because the seeds tend to spoil the experience by getting in the way.
Naga Bar: ****
A 40% cacao milk chocolate bar with Indian curry powder and coconut flakes. This one grows on you. The initial taste just bemuses with a very oxymoronic taste. However, it just gets better and better. The dominant taste of the "curry powder" seems to be coriander, which goes strangely well with the chocolate. The coconut flakes blend in almost seamlessly with the taste of the curry powder, giving us a great chocolate bar.
Red Fire Bar: ***1/2
A 55% cacao dark chocolate bar with ancho and chipotle peppers and cinnamon, is a wonderfully subtle bar which leaves you with a lingering taste of sweet heat in your mouth. The taste of the chillies is smoky, almost earthy and is muted givng the bar a well-rounded flavor that lets your taste the cacao as well as the chillies. The cinnamon blends in so well that you can barely discern it.
Gianduja Bar: **1/2
A 30% cacao milk chocolate bar with a praline made of hazelnut and almonds. Very smooth and creamy. The least amount of cacao of any of their exotic chocolate bars.

Overall, I loved the Naga and the Black Pearl bars due to their great blending of unique flavors. The Red Fire bar was also good, but the flavor wasn't that exotic. Finally, the Gianduja bar was decent, but suffered in comparison to its brethren -- slightly too creamy and with an almost bourgeois taste.

Due to the added ingredients, it was hard to get a good idea of the cacao itself, but the few times that its taste came through, the cacao tasted good.

January 20, 2005

Review: Starbucks' Chantico not very heavenly

Overall: **

So I had occasion to go to Starbucks' today and found the walls plastered with ads for their new chocolate drink "Chantico". Named after the Aztec goddess of home and hearth, this seems like someone took chocolate syrup (the generic kind), added whole milk to it and steamed it up. While it is better than Starbucks' hot chocolate, I can't find anything else nice to say about it.

"Imagine drinking a melted truffle and you're close to the Chantico chocolate experience," according to Michelle Gass who is Starbucks' senior vice president of category management (attribution: money.cnn.com). Let me just tell you that this thing tastes nothing like what a good truffle should taste like. The drink I got was only slightly thicker than their regular hot chocolate and was palate-scalding hot. As far as I can tell, the chief ingredient is cocoa butter (all the fat, with none of the taste of cacao) with grudgingly added cacoa powder to get some chocolate-y taste. If you need a quick pick-me-up and are averse to coffee, by all means go ahead and order this. It has enough sugar in it to keep you awake through several episodes of the Lawrence Welk show.

For those of you who care: A six-ounce cup of Chantico contains 390 calories, 20g of fat and 50g of carbs. Yikes! Save your calorie quota for something better and more sinful. However, if you are going for a regular Starbucks' hot chocolate and don't mind the rather excessive fat, try this instead.

If you want to know what other people think, someone's already done a survey of online opinion: www.blogaholics.ca

January 15, 2005

Review: Dagoba Xocolatl Hot Chocolate

Dagoba Xocolatl:
Overall: ****1/2

My current favorite hot chocolate, this one is simply superb. Granted that the taste of chocolate is subdued by the spiciness of the chilies. However, the overall effect is wonderful, with the first and last impressions being that of the chilies, while during the main part of the experience, you can feel the cacao base under the punch of the chilies. The cinnamon is there mainly as the ghost of a presence, and adds only moderately to the taste. The drink tastes only slightly creamy, and is certainly meant only for people who can stand spiciness.

Recipe used: According to instructions: 3 tablespoons of the mix with one cup of milk.

January 14, 2005

Fairfax Chocolate Lover's Festival

So Fairfax is having a chocolate lover's festival on Feb 5-6 in Old Town Fairfax. The website is http://www.chocolatefestival.net/. While I suspect this will leave chocolate snobs disappointed, it should have some good desserts there.

Even if it doesn't satisfy your chocolate/cacao cravings completely, it should certainly do wonders for your sugar addiction.

AOL Cityguide also has a nice short schedule of events and description up at: http://www.digitalcity.com/washington/entertainment/event.adp?evid=1899348

January 09, 2005

Hot Chocolate Recipe Tips

Just a note: this isn't a recipe as much as tips on making hot chocolate:

  1. Use milk (or soy milk for vegans). Please don't use water unless the hot chocolate milk has milk powder/fat mixed in already (in which case, desist from using it altogether). I tend to use 1% milk since that's what I have lying around the house. I prefer 2% milk for hot chocolate in general. Whole milk makes the drink a little too rich for my taste.
  2. Heat up the milk in a saucepan. Places like Williams-Sonoma will happily sell you a cast iron "hot chocolate pot" for $99. *rolls eyes* I'm fine with using a stainless steel pot. I prefer milk that is heated to just below boiling. There will be another blog forthcoming on the different ways of heating milk
  3. Make sure you froth up the drink with a hand mixer or a proper mexican molinillo if you happen to have one lying around
  4. If you are using good hot chocolate, please do not dump in whipped cream or marshmallows. They just detract from the taste. If you are using Swiss Miss or Nestle, go for it -- after all, I need my sugar rush sometimes, too

However, to quote Theodore Roosevelt: "Do what you can, where you are, with what you have."

January 06, 2005

Cold Weather, Hot Chocolate

Jacques Torres Wicked Hot Chocolate:
Overall: ***1/2

The only reason that this didn't get a 4 star rating is that it was way too rich. The taste is very creamy and rich with chocolate. However, the addition of milk powder turns the resulting drink into sludge -- a rich, creamy delicious sludge, but one that is certainly not an everyday drink. The ingredients for this mix contain corn starch, which seems to be a major cause of the sludginess. I still like it, but it's too rich for everyday use.

Recipe used: 1 cup 2% milk with 1/2 cup mix.

Note: This might be one hot chocolate mix that I might try with water instead of milk.

January 01, 2005

Review: Vosges Aztec Elixir

Vosges Aztec Elixir:
Overall: ****

Even though this is thickened with cornmeal, the texture is quite pleasing. The drink has a very rich chocolatey taste to it, which goes well with the strong chili component present. The chilis play an important part in the aftertaste, providing a spicy, hot memory of the drink. The big negative to it is the presence of very coarse-grained nut pieces in the mix that impinge upon the experience.
Recipe used: 2/3 cup 1% milk with 1/2 cup mix. I did not follow the
given directions for the mix.