Sunday, December 19, 2010

Chocolate truffle cookies

Although I want this blog to focus primarily on reviewing chocolate, I can never pass up the opportunity to share my favorite chocolate recipes. The following is one of my favorites to make around Christmas, although the only reason I think of it as a Christmas recipe is because I found it in a December issue of the now-defunct Gourmet magazine. The only way to really describe these sinful cookies is with one word: potent. There are three sources of chocolate in them: unsweetened baking chocolate, chocolate chips, and unsweetened baking cocoa. Thus, there's so much chocolate in these babies that you have to make them on the small side, or else they'll be too rich to finish. So, without further ado, I bring you my chocolate truffle cookies:

4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

  1. Melt unsweetened chocolate, 1 cup of the chocolate chips, and the butter in a 1-quart heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and seat aside to cool.
  2. In another bowl, stir together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt.
  3. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs, vanilla, and sugar until thick and pale, about 2 minutes.
  4. Mix in the melted chocolate mixture. Add the flour mixture until combined well. Stir in the remaining 1 cup chocolate chips.
  5. Cover dough and chill for two hours.
  6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Roll chilled dough into 1 inch balls with dampened hands. Place on ungreased cookie sheets (or sheets lined with parchment paper) so they are 2 inches apart.
  7. Bake for 10 minutes in the preheated oven. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

The cookies before entering the oven.

After their trip to the oven. As you can see, they don't expand much.

A few notes...
- the original recipe calls for ungreased cookie sheets, but I've found that the cookies can still stick a little once they're done. So I prefer to use parchment paper instead.

- you definitely want these cookies on the small side. As noted above, they pack quite a punch, so 1 inch balls is really all you need. (That's what she said?)

- although the recipe says to have the dough refrigerate for two hours, you can probably get by with just one hour.

- it's a little hard to tell when they're done; I take them out when cracks start appearing in the top of the cookies (which should be after 10-11 minutes). These cookies are definitely ones that taste better undercooked rather than overcooked.

- they taste fantastic when warmed up. You can microwave them for 10-15 seconds to get that gooey, warm taste; the chocolate chips melt when they're warmed up and taste amazing!

If anyone makes these cookies, let me know how they turn out! They're always a hit with my family :)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Okay, so I'm kind of lazy about updating...

Greetings, fellow chocoholics! I've been meaning to update for a while now, but I decided that I couldn't do a proper post without first consuming all of the chocolate I was planning on blogging about. Obviously.

Today's post is about a brand of chocolate that I have wanted to try since it was introduced in 2005. Unfortunately, until last week I could only ever find it in box form - and as much as I like chocolate, I draw the line at buying boxes of chocolate for myself (however, I will never say no to a box of chocolate given to me as a gift...).

I am, of course, talking about Choxie, and if you've never heard of this brand, you clearly haven't looked carefully enough at the chocolate section of Target. Choxie is Target's brand of chocolate, and, in terms of packaging, it's just what you would expect from Target: bright colors and cute designs. It's no small wonder that I've wanted to try Choxie for the packaging alone; I'm a sucker for Target-brand goods.

Truth is, I almost missed the Choxie bars when I was at Target last weekend, but then my eyes fell upon the "Buy 2 get 1 free" sign and I was in heaven.

First up is the Dark Chocolate Bar, which I decided to buy in order to have a comparison of Choxie dark chocolate vs. Ghirardelli/Lindt/Godiva dark chocolate.

smooth, dark and rich all in a solid bar of decadent chocolate. who needs handsome and mysterious?
(that's what the label says)

Nowhere on the package is the cocoa percentage listed, but I would guess 45-50%. Also, one serving = half the bar (whereas with Ghirardelli it would be, say, a square), so it's really not that strong. But is it GOOD? Well, kind of. The dark chocolate by itself is better than Hershey's, but still not quiet as smooth and rich as Ghirardelli or Lindt. I enjoyed it, but in the future probably would stick with buying some of Choxie's more exotic flavors.

Which leads me to the second bar I bought:

Uh, I guess my wrapper got a little beat up...

Here's the description provided on the package: "dark chocolate surrounds a sweetly tart raspberry lemon-flavored truffle filling with biscotti bits added for intrigue." Basically you have a center, which is solid raspberry filling with a touch of lemon flavor, surrounded by a thin layer of biscotti, which in turn is surrounded by a slightly thicker layer of dark chocolate.

I would never have thought to put all these flavors together, but it's actually pretty incredible. At the same time, though, there's almost too much going on; the bar would still work just fine if the biscotti was taken out. Would I buy it again? Absolutely. The lemon/raspberry combo is not a flavor that you normally find in chocolate, so I enjoyed it for that alone. But what I really liked is how not one flavor overpowered the others; they all blended together so well.

I can't find a fill list of Choxie bars anywhere, but many of there bars are similar to the raspberry one; I saw a creme brulee one last weekend, and I know there's a key lime pie one floating out there too. In short: I'm keeping my eye out for other Choxie bars, if only because it's the only brand that I've found with chocolate flavors as unique as these.

Choxie Dark Chocolate Bar: 3.5/5
Choxie Dark Chocolate Raspberry Lemon Biscotti Truffle Bar: 4.5/5

Monday, November 15, 2010

Amazing news, fellow chocoholics!

The public release of the genome of the cacao tree - from which chocolate is made - will save the chocolate industry from collapse, a scientist has said.
Howard Yana-Shapiro, a researcher for Mars, said that without engineering higher-yielding cacao trees, demand would outstrip supply within 50 years.
Dr Yana-Shapiro said such strains will also help biodiversity and farmers' welfare in cacao-growing regions.
The genome's availability will likely lead to healthier, tastier chocolate.
The sequencing of the genome was an international, multidisciplinary effort between firms including Mars and IBM, the US department of agriculture and a number of universities, and was announced in September.
Dr Shapiro, once described as a "biodiversifarian", was speaking at an event at IBM's research labs in Zurich when he called the date the genome was released "the greatest day of my life".
"In late 2007, it became very apparent to me that we would not have a continuous supply of cocoa going into the future if we did not intervene on a massive scale to secure our supply chain."
"Cote d'Ivoire is the largest producer of cocoa in the world," Dr Shapiro continued. "Mars has bought cocoa from there for sixty years - but when we started to understand the environmental and ecological conditions, the productivity, sociocultural and economic conditions, I realised this was a moment of crisis for this region."
What is at issue is both the inherent yield of varying strains of the Theobroma cacao tree, which on average currently produce 400 kilograms per hectare of land. What is needed is to make more cocoa from fewer trees and less land.
"In 10 years, under a 2% increase in consumption we will need (an area corresponding to) another Cote d'Ivoire. There is no more place to grow it, productivity with less land must be our driver."
The genetic codes of major global staple crops such as rice and wheat have been decoded, with a view to improving yields or nutritive properties. However, those crops are grown principally on large, industrial farms.
Cocoa, by comparison, is grown for the most part on small farms by individual farmers and sold on in a less centralised market.
For that reason, Dr Shapiro said, increases to yields or the cocoa butter and fat content - for which cocoa farmers are actually paid - could directly affect the lives of some 6.5 million small farmers around the globe.
Under his direction, the consortium sequenced the Theobroma cacao genome in a remarkably short time, finishing three years ahead of schedule.
The whole of the genome was first published, as Dr Shapiro puts it, "in the public domain and protected from patenting for perpetuity - so everyone would have free and continued access to it".
Now correlations between certain characteristics - such as disease and drought resistance or higher proportions of healthier fats - can be made in the field with the benefit of relatively inexpensive laboratory equipment. In this way, each region ensures it has strains that will produce the most, and the best, cocoa.
There are a number of other characteristics that, in time, may be maximised on a genetic basis - such as the level of chemicals known as flavinols, which have been implicated in laboratory tests of heart health.
"Soon it will be the norm as opposed to the exception: healthy fats, high levels of flavinols, so that chocolate will actually become something quite different. Whether that's 10, 15 20 years away, it's on that track now."
Higher yields will free up land for other under-utilised crops in the region such as yams, sorghum and plantains. Dr Shapiro sees such small changes - that a chocolate consumer never sees - as a tangible human benefit of science-driven agriculture.
"It gives you social stability in the rural sector, it gives you cultural stability that doesn't break up the rural sector, it gives you environmental stabilty because we're reducing the risk to the environment from agricultural chemistry, it gives you ecological stability because we're protecting the remnant forest, it also sequesters carbon," he said.
"This is the really 'Green Revolution' of understanding the entire ecosystem from which you are working."

This is also the greatest day of my life. brb wiping a tear from my eye.

In all seriousness, this is actually pretty cool. Most people don't really think about the impact cocoa has on the economies of countries like Cote d'Ivoire. Making the cocoa genome public will both help cocoa growers around the world economically and create better chocolate! Huzzah!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mini post-Halloween post

In the last two weeks since Halloween, I have received several Halloween-themed chocolates from friends at work, so I thought I might make a mini Halloween post reviewing them. Oddly enough, given the immediate association of Halloween with candy, I have never considered this particular holiday as one for having special chocolate flavors (as might be found with Christmas chocolate or Valentine's Day chocolate). All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by the different flavors I've tried in the post-Halloween lull.

First up: Ghirardelli's Sublime White Vanilla Dream. Here I must offer a full disclosure: I really, really do not like white chocolate. However, I rather enjoyed this square; the mix of white chocolate and vanilla beans was absolutely perfect. It was neither too sweet nor too white chocolatey. At the same time, though, it did not offer the "timeless pleasure" that one should receive upon devouring this chocolate, as the Ghirardelli website claims:

The luxuriously smooth and creamy white chocolate in Ghirardelli Sublime White Vanilla Dream is infused with real vanilla delivering unrivaled flavor intensity.

Enjoy the tranquility of Vanilla Dream and experience a moment of timeless pleasure.

Furthermore - as a friend at work noted - how can one experience a moment of pleasure if that moment is timeless?

Alas, the Vanilla Dream doesn't hold the answers to these important questions. But I still recommend this chocolate anyway.

Ghirardelli Sublime White Vanilla Dream rating: 5/5

Couldn't find a decent pic of this anywhere so you'll have to excuse my crappy iPhone capture.

Up next is another Ghirardelli, Pumpkin Spice Caramel. This particular chocolate doesn't try to fool you; it tastes exactly as it sounds. Think pumpkin, caramel, and nutmeg, and you've got this square. It would have been absolutely perfect had it involved dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, because with the milk it tasted a little too sweet for my palate. As such, I probably wouldn't be able to eat more than two or three of these in one sitting.

Apparently this chocolate is a limited edition Ghirardelli product, so I don't know how readily available it is in stores. But if you can find it, give it a shot. Recommended for people who like pumpkin-flavored chocolate.

Ghirardelli Pumpkin Spice Caramel rating: 4/5

Moving on to a different brand, here we have the Dove Peanut Butter Promises. Admittedly, there's not much special about this chocolate because you can buy it year-round, but the square I had was wrapped in foil with autumn leaves on it, which I guess means it's Halloween-themed. Or something like that. Anyway, you can get this in either the milk chocolate or dark chocolate variety; I had the milk chocolate, though I assume the dark chocolate is better (but, I am biased). As with the Pumpkin Spice Caramel, the milk chocolate made it way too sweet (since peanut butter is already super sweet by itself). But if you like milk chocolate, I would recommend the milk version of these squares.

Dove Peanut Butter Promises (milk chocolate) rating: 3.5/5

Last, but certainly not least, we have one of my favorite non-elite chocolate bars: the Milky Way Midnight (aka: dark chocolate Milky Way). Like the Dove Peanut Butter, you can get these at any time of the year. But that's okay, because they should be eaten year-round. These things are just so, so good. I had my first Midnight around the age of 10 or so, and since then I haven't been able to eat regular Milky Ways. I'm a sucker for caramel and dark chocolate, and the Midnight is no exception. Eating this Halloween-themed chocolate evoked a flood of nostalgia and taste bud explosion that had me craving more for the rest of the day.

Milky Way Midnight rating: 5/5

Happy belated Halloween, everyone!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Chocolate coffee time!

You know you're a chocoholic when you look down at your work badge and discover that you have bits of chocolate stuck between the plastic. Not that that happened to me... just, you know, hypothetically speaking. Yeah.

Anyway, I know it's been a while since I last updated, but never fear! Today I come with not one, but TWO, chocolate reviews. Both, oddly enough, are similarly-styled chocolate bars (dark chocolate and coffee beans), though I didn't plan it this way.

When I was at the Market a few weeks ago buying the Dolfin Earl Grey chocolate, I also picked up a bar of Endangered Species Chocolate.

Extra coffee beans not included.

According to the package, 10% of the net profits go towards helping endangered species and their habitats; if nothing else, this statement makes you feel good about purchasing a chocolate bar. And as if that doesn't tug at your heartstrings enough, there's a rather formidable close-up shot of a tiger's eyes, giving the impression that the entire tiger population will go under if you don't buy one of these bars.

Buy chocolate, save a tiger.

What could be more tempting than dark chocolate with espresso beans and the notion that your purchase is saving the environment?

There was just one problem: the expiration date, like the Dolfin bar, had passed long ago (March 10, 2010, to be exact). I didn't notice this when I bought it, but hear this, Market employees: I'm on to you. Selling seven-month old chocolate for $4 is not cool and results in sub-par chocolate.

With the Dolfin, I wasn't bothered much by the fact that the chocolate was a bit old. Unfortunately, the Endangered Species doesn't hold up so well once the date passes. The bar was very hard, which affected the dark chocolate/espresso bean combination; I could barely taste the beans. I also felt that 72% cocoa was a bit much for this bar; it was almost too strong (60% would be much better and would help emphasize the chocolate AND espresso bean flavors simultaneously). The texture was hard and crunchy and not particularly appetizing. As a result, I had a hard time motivating myself to finish this bar.

All in all, I wasn't too impressed, although I would like to try it again when it hasn't expired so I can see how much the age of the chocolate affected the taste.

A week later, I found myself at Burger's Market picking up some bacon. Burger's is a small store with a very modest chocolate selection right next to the cashier--a location that I dislike because I felt as though the cashier was staring me down, impatiently waiting for me to make my choice so she could ring me up. So I quickly grabbed the first thing I saw:

Chocolove, according to their website, is sold primarily at Whole Foods and World Market (the latter, by the way, is one of my favorite places to get chocolate). However, for whatever reason, the only kind of Chocolove chocolate I have ever tried (or even seen) prior to my Burger's trip was Raspberries with Dark Chocolate, which I don't recall enjoying all the much.

The Coffee Crunch, though, is pretty amazing. It is essentially the same as the Endangered Species with one exception: Coffee Crunch is 55% cocoa, while Endangered Species is 72%. The cocoa percentages make a HUGE difference; in the Coffee Crunch, the taste differences are much more apparent than in the Endangered Species. The Coffee Crunch is milkier, which gives it a richer flavor.

My only criticism about the Coffee Crunch regards the coffee beans themselves. They were smaller than the beans used in the Endangered Species and tended to get stuck in my teeth; after eating a square, I found myself wanting to swish water around in my mouth to get the beans out. This didn't happen with the Endangered Species.

As with the Endangered Species, Chocolove offers an incentive for buying their chocolate: each bar includes a love poem! OMG YAY! In reality, each "love poem" is an excerpt from a famous work of literature; I believe the Raspberry contains a piece from Don Juan, while the Coffee Crunch excerpts Twelfth Night. The work doesn't really relate to the coffee in any way, but, as an English major, I'm a little amused by this sort of thing.

Another reason to buy the Coffee Crunch? According to the package, 30 grams (or 1/3) of the bar = one cup of coffee. So the entire bar contains three cups of coffee. Nice!

Endangered Speies Dark Chocolate with Espresso Beans rating: 3.5/5
Chocolove Coffee Crunch rating: 4.5/5

Friday, October 22, 2010

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Tea + Chocolate = ???

Mid-week I found myself in desperate need of chocolate after I started nodding off at my desk at work, so I popped over to the Theatre Square Marketplace for my caffeine fix. For those of you in Louisville, the marketplace is located on south Fourth Street and is home to a restaurant, wine shop, Nancy's Bagel Box, and a small grocery that contains a modest chocolate selection. Almost all of the chocolate bars sold in the grocery are imported brands; when I was there this past week, I'm pretty sure the only American brand was Scharffen Berger.

I ended up buying this:

Yes, that's right. DARK CHOCOLATE WITH EARL GREY TEA GROUNDS. According to the Dolfin website, "Our Master Chocolatiers dare the most unexpected associations, inventing harmonies subtle look at the team finest ingredients, they select from what Nature has to offer." (Okay, their website is in French so I had Google translate it... but you get the idea.) Needless to say, I was intrigued by the tea+chocolate combo, so I paid the $5 for this bar, ignored the red sticker on the back that stated it was best before February 28, 2010, and dug in.

The first thing that caught my attention was the packaging. Rather than being wrapped in the standard paper packaging of most bars, the Dolfin came in a resealable plastic pouch (to preserve freshness) with the actual bar tucked inside and wrapped in an additional, much thinner, layer of paper.

I have mad Photoshop skills.

The second thing that struck me was the smell. The Dolfin smells exactly like a hot mug of Earl Grey tea would; as a coworker who sits on the other side of my cubicle noted, it was so strong that she could smell it over the divider between our desks.

And then... oh, the taste. At first, I thought the Earl Grey was underwhelming compared to the rest of the chocolate. But the more I ate, the more I realized that it contained just the right amount of Earl Grey. If any more tea leaves were added to the chocolate, it would taste way too strong and the chocolate flavor would be overwhelmed. I also loved how the ground tea leaves were visible in the chocolate, adding a crunchy texture that I rather enjoyed.

My only complaint is that the chocolate seemed rather hard, but that may have been because it was apparently way past the expiration date. Either way, it's a small quibble that I'm sure most people won't even notice.

All in all, an excellent chocolate bar. If you like Earl Grey tea and dark chocolate (and don't mind paying $5), this is the perfect bar for you. I'm on the prowl now for other Dolfin chocolates; apparently they have bars with peppercorn, ginger, mint, crystallized orange peel, green tea, cinnamon... the list goes on!

Dolfin Noir Earl Grey rating: 5/5

Sunday, October 10, 2010

OMG. I have followers!

People are following this blog, so I figured I'd do my first review. Actually... I haven't tried any new chocolate in a while. >.> So I have to go back about a month to my last foray into the chocolate world: the Wonka Exeptionals Domed Dark Chocolate.

My bag didn't say anything about a golden ticket...

I should point out here that I usually stay away from big-name chocolate brands like Hershey's and Wonka because, frankly, the quality just can't compete with more refined chocolates (Ghirardelli, Lindt, etc.). In my opinion, chocolate companies like Wonka sacrifice quality for cheap prices, so their chocolates end up being of a lesser quality and taste.

So what brought me to try these chocolates? As it may be, fate intervened in the form of my grandmother, who loves to try any new candy product (especially if it's Hershey's or Wonka... obviously, we have very different tastes in chocolate). Unfortunately, she bought a bag of these without realizing that they were dark chocolate, which she dislikes. So after trying one or three, she bequeathed the bag to me.

As soon as I bit into my first square, I had flashbacks to another (much better) chocolate bar that I had tried quite some time ago: the Ghirardelli Luxe Milk Duet.

A much better product.

Both products center around a combination of milk and dark chocolate; in the case of the Wonka, a circle of milk chocolate is encased by dark chocolate to form a square. The duet, on the other hand, places a thin layer of milk chocolate over another thin layer of dark chocolate. The Ghirardelli Duet is the superior product for two reasons: first, the quality of chocolate is better; and second, because the Duet squares are much thinner than the Duet squares. Thus, when I bite into a Duet, my mouth is filled with a perfectly rich, creamy, milk and dark chocolate combo. Unfortunately, with the Wonka, a bite of the same size just gives me the impression of dark chocolate with a hint of milk. In this case, less is more; perhaps the Wonka would have a much better taste if the squares weren't so thick, which would even out the milk and dark taste in each bite.

Of course, Wonka isn't catering to chocolate aficionados such as myself. If you enjoy Wonka products, or don't really care about the quality of chocolate and want something cheap, you'll probably love the Wonka. I took the bag to work and within 24 hours my coworkers had helped me devour every single piece.

Wonka Domed Dark Chocolate rating: 3/5
Ghirardelli Duet rating: 5/5 (note: these aren't listed on the Ghirardelli website anymore, which makes me think they're not being sold anymore. Alas!)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

In which Hannah attempts to try as many different chocolates as possible.

I decided to start this blog because I like chocolate. Actually, that's not true. I love chocolate. And somewhere along the way, my love for chocolate turned into something of an obsession, and then an addiction. I grew up, as many kids do, eating chocolate. But I never paid much attention to the quality of different kinds of chocolate until I hit college and started branching out in my culinary interests. The problem, of course, is that once I began trying different brands and flavors of chocolate bars, I became unable to stop. These days, every time I'm at a store--whether it's Target, Whole Foods, or a local market--I try to buy a kind of chocolate I've never tasted before.

It recently occurred to me, however, that after trying so many different kinds, I've forgotten which ones I've tried, and, more importantly, which ones I liked and disliked. Hence, the creation of this blog.

My goal is to try a different kind of chocolate bar each week, meditate on it, and then review it here. I want to do this partly so I can keep track of what I find delicious or disgusting, and partly so that others out there who have a similar love for chocolate can get ideas for what to try.

Of course, I'm not without my biases. I love dark chocolate, hate white chocolate, and only try milk chocolate on special occasions. I also hate nuts (that's what she said). But I'm willing to put all that aside for the sake of this blog. Who knows, maybe I'll come to find that milk chocolate isn't too bad, or that nuts and chocolate can actually be a good combination.

Anyway, enough about this blog. On to the chocolate!