The Ultimate Chocolate Blog is for people who love to taste and compare high quality chocolate, improve their palate and increase their awareness of chocolate from around the world. The main goals for this blog are to: connect people to fine chocolate, connect fine chocolate to people, and connect fine people to people who love fine chocolate. Make sense to you? If so, read on! And check us out on Facebook!

Quick Links: List of Craft, Bean-to-Bar Chocolate makers in America, List of Bean-to-Bar Chocolate Makers in Canada, The Ultimate Raw Chocolate List (worldwide), Organic & Fair Trade Chocolate List (U.S. and Canada), Soy-Free Chocolate List, Chocolate Recipes.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Easter Rice Treat Nests with Golden Milk Chocolate Truffle Eggs

A fun-filled Good Friday afternoon of baking with my five-year old daughter produced wonderful results.  We made rice treat nests, brushed on some melted chocolate, dipped them in sweetened coconut and then filled them with handmade, gold-dusted milk chocolate truffle eggs.

We followed the Kellog's Rice Krispie recipe found here. Then lined some muffin cups with plastic wrap and formed the nests inside using this method.

We melted organic dark chocolate and organic milk chocolate (Camino brand) and brushed it on the upper edges of the nests, then immediately dipped the nest in shredded coconut.  I also brushed a few with melted cocoa butter (by Cacao Barry) and dipped those in coconut, which lessened the sugar content, but not the taste.  In fact, the taste of pure cocoa butter with coconut was surprisingly delicious.

Once the nests were made, we took some milk chocolate truffle mix and formed small, egg-shaped balls between the palms of our hands (find some chocolate truffle recipes here). Then we dipped them with a fork in both the melted dark and milk chocolate. Once they were set and hardened on waxed paper, I brushed them with a little gold dust. We placed them in the nests with a few Smarties Easter Eggs and Voila!  we had fun and pretty little bird's nest for an Easter dessert.

My daughter also got excited about dipping 'stuff' in chocolate, so we kept on going and this was the result: chocolate dipped apple pieces, chocolate dipped strawberries and chocolate dipped rice treat eggs!

Rice treats and chocolate always offer easy and fun things to do at Easter with kids.

Happy Easter everyone!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Dark Chocolate Bark with Roasted Pecans and Sea Salt (Recipe)

A few weeks ago, I purchased a bag of BarkTHINSSnacking Chocolate, a delicious sweet and salty dark chocolate bark with crunchy pumpkin seeds. I really enjoyed this snack and sadly, I ran out earlier this week. Since it takes 2.5 hours to drive to the nearest Costco from my town on Manitoulin Island, there really was no chance of buying more any time soon. So yesterday, when I found that I had some leftover tempered dark chocolate on hand, I decided to make my own version.

Instead of pumpkin seeds, my version included what I had on hand, which was some freshly roasted pecans and Canadian sea salt by Vancouver Island Salt Co. And do you know what? I enjoy these as much as the original! The hint of sea salt really brings out the flavours of the chocolate and the nuts, and it somehow makes the 71% dark chocolate seem sweeter. The fun is in the crunch and the unconventional shapes (solid chocolate bars and their rectangular-shaped pieces seem so boring to me now), so every piece is a surprise. Try it! You may never eat a 'normal' chocolate bar again.

And now for this super simple recipe...

Recipe for Dark Chocolate Bark with Pecans and Sea Salt

You need:

  • 12 ounces of dark chocolate (you can use 50% to 75% dark chocolate, I used CacaoBarry's 71% Organic dark chocolate, which was a perfect match with sea salt. See below for my tips on where to buy chocolate)
  • 1 cup of raw whole pecans
  • pinch of sea salt
  • 2 tbsp. olive (or other) oil
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt, plus a pinch for the pecans
  • waxed paper

  •  
To roast and prepare the pecans:

1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. 

2. Place the pecans single layer on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Pour on about 2 tbsp. of olive oil (or other oil of your choice) and stir with a spoon or your hands to coat the pecans in oil. Lightly sprinkle on sea salt.

3. Bake in the centre of the oven for 10 minutes.  Remove pan and stir the pecans to turn them over.  Then spread them back out (single-layer) and put back in the oven.  Bake for five more minutes and check to be sure nothing is burning. Add another five minutes as necessary, constantly checking the pecans. The overall cooking time is about 15 to 20 minutes, depending on your oven.

4. Take out and let cool.

5. Finely chop, crush or grind half of the pecans (1/2 cup). I used my single-serving cup on the Ninja blender for a few seconds, but I also could have used the Cuisinart handheld immersion blender with the chopping device attached. If you do not have a chopper or grinder, simply place half the pecans in a Ziplock bag and roll a rolling pin over the bag on the counter or on a chopping board until you have crushed them to a fine consistency. Set aside with the other half cup of whole pecans until you are ready to use them.

To make the chocolate bark:

1. Lay out a long piece of waxed paper on the counter on a large cookie sheet.

2. Melt and temper the chocolate. For tempering instructions, see here.

3. When the chocolate is in temper (i.e. sitting at about 88 degrees F), toss in the crushed and whole pecans, as well as the 1/4 tsp sea salt and briefly stir until well mixed.

4. Immediately pour the chocolate mixture onto the waxed paper in a long strip and quickly spread around with a spatula to a thin consistency (see picture to the right).

5. Let set slightly (until the chocolate is still soft, not hard, but no longer 'wet'), this should only take a few minutes so watch your Chocolate Bark carefully. Then take a large sharp knife and cut rectangular and triangular pieces.  DO NOT attempt to remove or lift the pieces. Let the chocolate set until it is completely hard and begins to lift on its own from the waxed paper.  That way you will have a shiny bottom side to your bark. If your room is warm, you can carefully place it in the fridge to set it for up to one hour.

6. Once set, remove each piece from the waxed paper and place them in an airtight container to store. If you had put it in the fridge, let your bark come back to room temperature before sealing in a container. These should keep for months at room temperature, like any chocolate bar.
Serves 1 person daily for 12 days or serves 12 people for one day - your choice! 


Tips:

I spread my chocolate bark onto 'impression mats'', which gave the back side a textured look.  You can buy impression sheets online on Golda's Kitchen website at: http://www.goldaskitchen.com/merchant.ihtml?pid=11618&step=4.

Where to buy your chocolate:

Organic & Fair Trade

Although CacaoBarry's chocolate is designed for professional chocolatiers, pastry chefs and bakers, you can get your hands on a bag of their organic 71% dark chocolate at a variety of wholesalers, including Vanilla Food Company (click here).  

The Camino brand, by La Siembra cooperative makes chocolate for professionals, so if you have a business, I recommend that you check them out. Their semi-sweet couverture pairs well with sea salt.
www.lasiembra.com/camino/.  Also, for the home baker, their 100 gram (3.5 oz) 55% dark chocolate bars (or chocolate chips) are now available at many grocery stores and health food stores in Canada, or can be purchased online. In the U.S., you can find Camino 55% and 71% chocolate chips here. You will need at least four (4) 100 gram chocolate bars (or two bags of chips) to make the recipe above.

Non-Organic Chocolate (with NO artificial flavours) at a Great Price:

A non-organic 1 kg box of Callebaut Semi-Sweet Chocolate Couverture is available on Golda's Kitchen website for $17.25, which would make nearly 3 batches of chocolate bark.

President's Choice Extra Dark 72% Chocolate is great for home-made chocolate treats. Each bar has 300 grams (about 10.5oz), so be sure to buy two and watch for regular sales at your local supermarket!  If you do not live near a store that carries President's Choice, Lindt makes a dark, semi-sweet chocolate bar in about the same size. 

For beginners, the Lindt brand is a great go-to chocolate for practising your skills as a wanna-be chocolatier. Buy several of their 100 gram dark chocolate bars when they are on sale and test out the recipe above - you won't be disappointed!

Monday, April 7, 2014

There is more than one method to temper chocolate

In order to have shiny, streak-free chocolate, chocolatiers use a number of different methods to temper their chocolate. Tempering is a science that needs to be applied. You do not need all the scientific details, but in order to coat chocolate truffles or make your own chocolate bars at home or for your business, you do need to learn how to temper chocolate so that your confections looks shiny, beautiful and, well, appetizing.

When I first started, I typed out the first method below and printed it.  I then taped it on the inside of a cupboard door in my kitchen.  I now have the temperatures memorized, but for a long time it was a great reference and quite handy.

To heat your chocolate up to the maximum temperature (as per the below chart), place it in a stainless steel or glass bowl over a double boiler. If you do not have a marble slab, you can cool the chocolate over a bowl of ice.  Keep your pot of water on the stove to quickly reheat it to your final 'working' temperature. But be aware, and this definitely needs capitals: DO NOT GET A SINGLE DROP OF WATER IN YOUR BOWL OF CHOCOLATE!  Keep a cloth on hand to dry off the bottom of the bowl and your hands very well every time you touch the bowl.  One drop of water will seize the entire batch. See below for a tip on what to do if your chocolate seizes (i.e. hardens, lumps and becomes way to thick to work with).

Here is your temperature chart and some easy methods for tempering chocolate:

Tempering Chocolate (with marble slab or over an ice bath):

Heat white, milk and dark chocolate to different temperatures:  

Step 1. Heat dark chocolate to 120°F, milk chocolate to 115°F, and white chocolate to 110°F.

Step 2: Then let it cool:  dark to 82°F, milk to 80°F, and white to 78°F.

Step 3: Then reheat it to 90°F for dark, 86°F for milk, and 82°F for white.

 

Tempering Chocolate with the Seed Method:

Step 1. Heat dark chocolate to 120°F, milk chocolate to 115°F, and white chocolate to 110°F.

Step 2: Then let it cool by tossing in ¼ of the amount of already tempered chocolate and stirring until it cools to F for dark, 86°F for milk, and 82°F for white.  For instance, if you are melting 12 ounces of chocolate, throw in up to 3 ounces of chopped tempered chocolate to cool the 12 oz of melted chocolate. If it cools beyond these temperatures, reheat for five seconds in the microwave until you get it back up to this point.  Use the baby finger method (see below) along with a thermometer to ensure the chocolate is in temper. 

TIPS ON CHECKING IF CHOCOLATE IS IN TEMPER:

1.       The best measure to know if chocolate is in temper is the back of your baby finger.  If the temperature of the chocolate is the same as the temperature of the back (or knuckle) of your baby finger, the chocolate should be in temper. If it is too warm, it will be streaky. If too cool, it needs to be warmed in the microwave for 5 seconds. If you have been stirring vigorously with one hand, use the baby finger on the other hand because the hand you have been stirring with will be warmer than normal.

2.       Also check the look of the chocolate – is it shiny?  If so, it is likely in temper.  If dull, it is not.

3.       Spread a thin/tiny amount on a piece of wax paper and put in fridge and check in 30 seconds.  Any streaks? If so, it is not in temper.  If shiny, it is in temper.  Make sure the chocolate in your bowl has not cooled too much while you do this or you may need to reheat a little (no more than 5 seconds in microwave).
 
Tip: If your bowl of chocolate seizes, you can only salvage the chocolate by turning it into a truffle, glaze or ganache. If you are melting 12 ounces of milk chocolate and it seizes, bring 3/4 of a cup of whipping cream just to a simmer in a pot on the stove and pour over the chocolate and stir until smooth. If it is 12 ounces of dark chocolate, use 1 and 1/4 cup of cream.  If you want to make a glaze, heat water just to the boiling point and our over chocolate (1/2 cup for milk chocolate, 3/4 cup for dark chocolate). You can also use Baileys or coffee liquer or whatever you like.  Let it sit to set for 8 hours to make truffles or immediately pour the smooth mixture over a cake as a yummy icing or glaze.

Peanut Butter and Milk Chocolate Truffle Recipe - delicious!


 
These are not your average peanut butter balls! Consume these rich and delicious peanut butter truffles within 10 days, or freeze immediately for consumption at a later point in time.

For the Truffles You need:

·       8 oz of good quality milk chocolate, chopped
·     1/2 cup of heavy cream, (ie. Whipping cream)
·       ½ cup all natural peanut butter (I like MaraNatha Smooth Organic Peanut Butter or Kraft Natural Smooth Peanut Butter)

 
For the Coating You Need:

·   12 oz milk chocolate, chopped & set aside 3 ounces for ‘seeding’ – see my tempering chocolate page

OR

·  1 cup of Skor bits AND/OR shaved milk chocolate or finely chopped or ground peanuts (to grind, whirl in blender for a few seconds)
  
To make the truffle mix:

1.  Place the 8 ounces of chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl.

2. Pour the cream into a small saucepan and place on the stovetop on medium-to-high heat. Bring just to a boil (do not let boil, so watch it closely).

3.  Pour over the chopped chocolate and stir slowly with a wooden spoon until smooth. If the chunks are not melting well, place over a double boiler (if using a stainless steel bowl) or in the microwave (if using a glass or plastic bowl) for 10 second intervals and stir until melted.

4.  Warm peanut butter in microwave for about 20 seconds – until just warm (not hot).

5.  Stir the peanut butter into the cream-and-chocolate mixture. Stir until smooth.

6.  Place a lid (or plastic wrap) on the bowl and set aside for 6 to 8 hours, until set (i.e. thick enough to roll balls).

 
To make the truffle balls:

1. Once set, scoop out small amounts of truffle mix using a spoon and roll into balls.  Choose whatever size you like (the recipe makes about 40 to 50 small truffles, or 30 to 40 large truffles). TIP: Use food preparation gloves to prevent heat transfer (to prevent melting!) and to keep your hands clean.

2.  Place on waxed paper and cover with plastic wrap while you prepare your coating.
 

To coat the truffles:

You have a few options to coat your truffles.
 
1. Dip them in melted and tempered milk chocolate to have a shiny, milk chocolate shell. If you do not know how to temper chocolate, visit my 'Tempering Chocolate’ page for instructions for melting and tempering your coating chocolate.
 
OR
 
2. Dip them in the in the tempered chocolate and immediately roll them in ground peanuts, Skor bits or shaved chocolate. I whirled some Skor bits and roasted peanuts in a blender for a few seconds (do not blend for too long or you will have peanut butter!). This gives the truffles a lot of additional volume and a tasty crunchy, crispy shell.
 
OR
 
3. Skip the dipping, and make it simple by rolling your truffle balls in the chopped peanuts, Skor or shaved milk chocolate. These still taste great and add a flavour punch to any dessert tray, without all the extra work! 


Note:  The recipes that I post on this blog are a result of experimentation in my commercial kitchen until I get just the right combination. There is no reference on this recipe, because it is my own creation!

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Clark Bar is the 'All Natural' Version of our Canadian Favourite


A quick stop into a local candy store last weekend revealed something new and exciting. I discovered the Clark bar - a milk chocolate coated peanut butter-crunch bar that rivals our Canadian "favourite" (refCrispy Crunch. The Clark bar is American and what's unique is that it is 'all natural'. Now I'm not saying that sugar and corn syrup (the first two ingredients) are good for us, but I do like it when a candy bar maker includes ingredients like real vanilla, and excludes nasty junk like hydrogenated oil.

Since I am a huge peanut butter-and-chocolate fan and I am Canadian, my go-to chocolate bar has always been the Crispy Crunch bar.  As much as I love fine chocolate and bean-to-bar craft chocolate, I still need comfort food every now and then. And since my stop at the candy store fell on my birthday last Saturday, I thought I would treat myself to something similar.

So what's the difference? Besides the obvious Canadian vs American factor, there are a few differences between the two chocolate bars. The Clark Bar is slightly thicker, which makes it a bit messy to eat. But it was tasty. Cadbury's Crispy Crunch is very tasty because it is a bit moister and sweeter, but there are some modified milk ingredients and modified oils in the product (ref).

The differences may not matter depending where you live. But I'll leave it to you to make the choice.

More details on the Clark bar:
The Clark bar was founded by 'Irish immigrant David L. Clark' in 1886 (ref) and the brand is now owned by New England Confectionery Company (NECCO). You can find more information here.

The package details are as follows:

Clark Bar - Real Milk Chocolate, Real Peanut Butter Crunch (60g)
NECCO (Revere, MA)
www.necco.com
Ingredients: Sugar, Corn Syrup, Ground Roasted Peanuts, Milk Chocolate (Sugar, Cocoa Butter, Chocolate Liquor, Whole Milk Powder, Soy Lecithin, Vanilla Extract), Molasses, Corn Flour, Invert Sugar, Coconut Oil, Salt, Natural Flavours, Soy Lecithin.
Allergy Information: Contains peanuts, milk and soy. Processed in a factory that also processes wheat, eggs and tree nuts.

I bought the Clark bar at Boo-Bah-Lou 2 in downtown Sudbury, Ontario - a fun candy store known for carrying imported candy bars. Learn more about this store on Facebook here.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What's new at Costco? barkTHINS™ Snacking Chocolate, that's what!

Costco always has great chocolate finds. So whenever I make my way off Manitoulin Island to venture into 'the big city', I inevitably find myself in their chocolate and treat aisle, just to check the selection. And Costco being Costco, they always have something new, interesting and healthy to try. This time, it was 'barkTHINS Snacking Chocolate' by Ripple Brands Collective of Congers, New York.

This large bag of snacking chocolate contained thin pieces of very tasty Fair Trade Certified dark chocolate, filled with sea salted-pumpkin seeds. I am not a huge fan of pumpkin seeds (unless I cook them up myself at Halloween), so I was undecided on whether or not I would like this treat.  But being the dark chocoholic that I am, I made the purchase anyway and was pleasantly surprised.  In fact, I like this 'snacking chocolate' so much that I cannot seem to stop snacking on it!

The sea salt stands out and pairs well with the not-too-sweet dark chocolate.  The pumpkin seeds add a nice, healthy crunch. This would be a great addition to your party dessert table, or for an afternoon meeting with tea and snacks. Or just keep it on hand to curb your sweet cravings!

Get them while they last! Costco often changes their stock, so although there was a large quantity this past weekend (in Sudbury, Ontario), you just never know how long they might carry the product.

I paid only $9.99 for the 454 gram bag - that's $2.20 per 100 grams - a great price when compared to a 100 gram Lindt chocolate bar (usually about $2.99 per 100 grams) or a 100 gram Fair Trade chocolate bar!

If you want to learn more about this product and its maker, here are the package details:

barkTHINS Snacking Chocolate, 454g
Ripple Brands Collective (Congers, NY)
www.ripplebrands.com
Ingredients: Dark Chocolate Fair Trade Certified chocolate liquor, Fair Trade Certifiedsugar, Fair Trade Certified cocoa butter, soy lecithin, vanilla), dry roasted pumpkin seeds, sea salt.
Contains: pumpkin seeds, salt.
May contain traces of peanuts, tree nuts, eggs, wheat and milk.
Fair Trade Certified by Fair Trade USA.

***
As per usual, I am not encouraged or paid to write positive product reviews. I just like this product! If I do not write about it, it is because I do not like it.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Chocolate-Covered Treats for Weekend Snacking

We all have food phases. You know how it is, suddenly you find yourself craving one type of food for a week or a month, or however long the phase lasts. Well, I go through 'chocolate phases', where I crave specific kinds of chocolate for short periods of time.

I just went through one such chocolate phase that was rather fun.  I suddenly found myself purchasing treats and healthy snacks that were covered in chocolate. It started out a little less on the healthy side with chocolate-covered sponge toffee (although it was 'all natural' which offered less guilt) and moved to very dark chocolate-covered superfruit and rice cakes.

Today I am going to tell you about these great products (and where you can get them) because a chocolate-covered snack is the best kind of snack! 


1. David's All Natural Sponge Toffee is a very tasty sponge toffee with just the right sponginess-to-crunch ratio. I warn you: it might be difficult to NOT eat the entire 140 gram package in one sitting. Despite being a dark chocolate devotee, I happily tucked in to this milk chocolate treat. But next time, I will definitely try the dark chocolate version, available from Chocolate Signatures LP of Toronto. 

I bought David's Sponge Toffee at Loco Beanz Coffee House in Gore Bay, Ontario, but it is available in many different retailers. Follow Chocolate Signatures on Twitter or check their website for more information: www.chocolatesignaturesinc.com.



2. Organic Traditions is always surprising me with their amazing 'chocolate-covered' products and just how healthy they can be. First I fell in love with their 70% dark chocolate-covered hazelnuts, and now they are offering something even darker and, well, tart. The Dark Chocolate Golden Berries by Organic Traditions are made with a Dairy and Sugar Free 80% Dark Chocolate (sweetened with low-glycemic Yacon syrup) and organic dried golden Inca berries.

This is the most tart, sour and bitter combination they could come up with, but I really enjoyed each morsel's burst of flavour.  And what a great treat if you are following a Paleo or gluten-free eating plan, or just trying to reduce your cane sugar intake!

I bought this at Durham Natural Foods in Sudbury, Ontario (Twitter), but you can find out where to buy them in your area on the Organic Traditions website: www.organictraditions.com.



3. Dark Chocolate Enrobed Mangoes offer a slightly sweeter fruit-and-chocolate experience.  The flavour of the dark chocolate was paired perfectly with the tropical tanginess of the dried mango.  Although the pieces are rather large, one is definitely NOT enough! My entire family enjoyed these treats. This product was made by Barry Callebaut in Quebec for a Nature's Intent (an American business), but I was lucky enough to find them at Costco in Sudbury, Ontario!  They are also available in the U.S. on Amazon for $18.99 per bag.



4. Finally, milk and dark Chocolate-Covered Rice Cakes by Sarchio were the biggest hit at home last week. This uber-healthy treat from Italy was barely sweet, and had the added bonus of being a wheat-free snack option. The concept was so simple: a plain rice cake (yup, that means just organic whole rice and no other additives) with a small covering of 74% organic dark chocolate.


The milk chocolate version was slightly sweeter, but the rich organic milk chocolate still offered a reduced-sugar snack that left me feeling guilt-free. I bought these at Bulk Barn in Sudbury, Ontario. The Sarchio website is: www.sarchio.com for further product information.

I hope you enjoy a chocolate-covered weekend!

And now onto my next phase...whatever that might be.