Monday, January 7, 2008
I was at the grocery store and saw these “petite mint chips” on post-holiday sale. At only $1.24 for a 12 ounce bag, I could hardly resist. Sometimes I find myself spending six or eight dollars a pound for these little beauties in pastels at a candy shop when I get one of those strange cravings. They come in two different sizes, the regular which are the size of a squat Hershey’s Kiss and these that I picked up are the petite size that are like little chocolate chips.
What are Smooth n Melty? Sugar, partially hydrogenated oils and mint ... and a few nonpariels thrown in for a little crunchy texture.
While that doesn’t sound good, they’re simply buttery melting mints. They’ve very sweet but not too minty. There’s a milky component to them, but it’s not an overwhelming dairy flavor. They’re completely unsatisfying in the sense that I have to eat them one after another until the whole bag is gone. (Well, there are a few left in the bag right now.)
The only thing I didn’t like about this “baking chip” variety over the pastels is that I had that little bitter taste from the red nonpariels (red dye #40 again).
Back in ‘06 when Hershey’s introduced their Candy Cane Kisses I was so excited. They were Smooth n Melty, only made with cocoa butter instead of partially hydrogenated tropical fats. Sadly Hershey reformulated those seasonal Kisses so they are no longer made with just cocoa butter so I didn’t buy them this year.
Now if the partially hydrogenated thing puts you off, I did talk to Gary Guittard about Smooth n Melty. He said that they are working on reformulating them to include no trans fats. (But Guittard has no plans to make a real cocoa butter version, drat!) You can also get the mint disks without the nonpariels on them (usually for melting & candymaking) but I prefer the little crunch.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
One of the great new products I picked up in San Francisco last weekend was the new Akoma Extra Semisweet Chocolate Chips from Guittard. They’re Fair Trade certified from beans sourced from West Africa (one of the hotspots of poor working and wage conditions for plantation workers).
Unlike the standard Guittard semisweet chips, these are 55% cacao ... just a smidge darker than the usual chips. They come in a sassy metallic pink package instead of the also-easy-to-spot gold package for regular Guittard Dark Chocolate Chips.
The chips have a nice rounded chocolate flavor. Some strong berry notes, a little light smokiness and a good creamy melt. They maintain their shape when baked, as all good chips do. The ingredients are pretty simple as well: cacao beans (fair trade certified), sugar, soy lecithin and real vanilla.
I haven’t seen them in stores in Southern California yet, but you can definitely buy them at Chocosphere for the same price as their regular chips. So good fuzzy feelings for Fair Trade and still a decent price.
Dice the peel of the orange and place in a microwave safe cup with 1 cup of milk with five crushed cardamom pods. Microwave until warm, stir and let sit for 30 minutes, then stir again and heat again. This can be done a day ahead of time and refrigerated (this will make the orange peel especially soft).
In a sauce pan put the 1 cup of pre-made milk mix (dig out the cardamom pods) along with the other 3 cups of milk, sugar and the loosely beaten eggs. Clean and crush the cardamom in a mortar & pestle. Add to the mix, warm over low heat.
Put half of the bread into the bottom of the baking pan. Add half of the milk/egg mixture to the pan. Stir to combine and get the bread soaked. Take half of the chips and cover the egg/bread mixture. Then put the rest of the bread into the saucepan to get it completely wet. Add that to the top of the baking pan. Sprinkle more chips on top.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes. The pudding will pull away from the sides when done and the center won’t move. It’s a pretty dry bread pudding, so try it warm with a little milk or perhaps some ice cream or whipped cream.
Thursday, May 3, 2007
Quetzalcoatl is one of the gods of the Aztec pantheon with a serpent head and feathers. He was the morning star, the giver of agriculture and creator of books & calendars. Most importantly, the legends say that he gave cacao to the Aztecs. (Truly making it a food of the gods, as the botanical name for the plant implies Theobroma cacao.)
The traditional chocolate of the time was made by taking whole beans and crushing them/grinding them on a metate (also used for corn). The resulting paste (what we now call cocoa liquor) was combined with milk or water and spices to make their chocolate. Xocoatl, the early name for chocolate actually means “foamy water.”
Gary Guittard created this bar using whole cacao beans and no added cocoa butter. So the ingredients are just about the shortest you’re going to see on a chocolate bar: Cacao Beans, Pure Cane Sugar, Soya Lecithin, Vanilla Beans.
The package characterizes the bar thusly:
This bar is dark and roasty with strong woodsy flavors in the cedar family along with smoke and tobacco. There are a few dried fruit flavors in there as well, with some raisin and cherry notes. It has a dry finish and is very filling. I have to admit that I’m a big fan of high-cocoa butter chocolate bars, as I think the butter buoys the flavors so that they can roll around on the tongue a little longer and you can tease out more of the intricacies. I was really missing the extra fat here.
This isn’t a bar I’d eat all the time, but I like it as an educational piece of chocolate.
As part of the effort to Keep it Real, I asked Guittard if they’d be willing to donate something to the cause that I could give away. So after I pledged my $100 Chocosphere gift certificate to the lovely chocolateactivists who took the challenge, I also got a package of a dozen of Guittard’s bars (a $38 value) plus this extra bar for my own enjoyment, of course. I did a second drawing yesterday using all those people who entered with the “raffle ticket” that commented to the FDA (to kind of even the playing field). The winner was reader desertwind! Congratulations ... I hope you enjoy the array of fine (and real) bars.
Friday, January 27, 2006
I got this fantastic single origin tasting kit from E. Guittard. The photos are deceptive, these are tiny little bars, each is 10 grams (a little over a third of an ounce) and measured a mere 2.5” x 1.25”. There were four different varieties that came in a box of 16 wee bars. What was most stunning about these bars is the packaging. The little labels are lively and elegant with their gold leaf and description of the flavor of the particular varietal. Inside, the foil wrappers were beautiful too, with a delicate pattern featuring an impressive bas relief style scene of heaven knows what with three figures probably worshipping the cocoa bean or something. (The comprehensive press kit and tasting kit brochure made no mention of the scene.)
Each of the bars looks slightly different as well (except for the Sur del Lago and Quevedo) from different molds. All bars were 65% cacao, which is a good midrange for dark chocolate, allowing for lots of room for cocoa butter to give a nice fatty background to support the complex flavors.
Ambanja - notes from package: You’re in for a rich chocolate experience! Made primarily from rare Criollo beans from the fertile Sambriano Valley in Madagascar, Ambanja mingles sour essences with deep rich, chocolate flavor.
Dark with a slight amber/red tint, this bar was buttery and smooth. There were overwhelming raisin and cherry notes in this bar. It definitely has an acidic tone to it, but not in an unpleasant, bitter or acrid way. It’s really very nice.
Sur del Lago - notes from package: Complex chocolate flavors underlie subtle hints of red berry fruit. Cacao beans used to make this chocolate were harvested from trees of Criollo and Trinitario heritage in Venezuela’s Sur del Lago region.
This one started out rather woodsy and sour. It reminded me of the zesty smell of piles of fresh sawdust from a fruit tree. Then the other notes started coming out, including the light berries and maybe some grape. It’s pretty mellow and pleasant, but the high sour note is a little odd.
Chucuri - notes from package: Long, deep, slow chocolate flavors are accented by pleasant hints of spice. The Trinitario cacao beans used to make this chocolate were grown in the San Vicente de Chucuri Valley of Santader in Colombia.
Deep flavors dominate this little bar. It starts out woodsy with some balsam notes of juniper or rosemary. Then it’s got some very strong cherry notes that linger for the rest of the melt on the tongue. It’s got a high little topnote of lavender or maybe it’s bergamot. It gives this bar the best balance of the four.
Quevedo notes from package: Quevedo’s extremely dark color forshadows its powerful but flowery chocolate taste. The intensity of this rarefied Forestero varietal produces rich green forest, tea and slight nut flavors with a lingering banana and pound cake finish.
Smooth but with a notable bitter dryness at first. Rich and woodsy with an exceptionally buttery texture that makes it feel almost fluffy and buoyant on the tongue. I’m getting the tea notes, but I’m totally missing the pound cake the wrapper promises.
If you’re looking for single origin chocolate that doesn’t skimp on the cocoa butter and is so dry that it leaves you gasping for water, this might be the stuff. At only 65% cocoa solids, there’s an excellent mix of flavor and texture that’s not too sweet. All of the bars are exceptionally smooth without a hint of grain. Here’s a tip: this would make an excellent Valentine’s Day gift for someone. It’s sensual, educational and you can share it.
You might think you’ve never had Guittard chocolate, when you probably have. Guittard is one of the top chocolate makers in the country, but most of the business is making chocolate for other companies. Guittard makes the excellent chocolate that you find on See’s candies. It’s hard to know who they supply chocolate to, but they’re a huge operation and that chocolate is going somewhere tasty. I don’t see Guittard in the stores very often, except for their baking chips. They’re definitely worth going out of your way for. Most of the varietals from other brands that I’m seeing lately are higher cocoa percentages, so you’re missing out on the cocoa butter, which I think is an equal part of the chocolate experience.
They’re a little pricey directly from E. Guittard’s store, you can also find them at Chocosphere (throw some Dolfin and Dagoba in your cart while you’re there).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.