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December 29, 2005

Cold Weather and Hot Chocolate

lakechamplaincocoa.jpgOf all the wonders of winter that we enjoyed growing up in Ohio hot chocolate has to be one of the best. Coming in from the freezing cold to find a steaming cup of cocoa waiting for you is a wonderful feeling. Today we find hot chocolate becoming a bit of a trend among adults with an emphasis on quality that we didn't get when I was a kid. Hot chocolate came out of a packet with crunchy little marshmallows in it and more often than not was made with hot water and maybe - if you were lucky - a dash of milk as an afterthought. Today we are talking about real hot chocolate full of - pinch me - real chocolate and actual milk. Ah, heavenly.

I have a handful of articles to share today on the subject of the trendiness of hot chocolate and even an alternative to it.

First up USA Today has a write up of 10 great places to savor exquisite hot chocolate. Tartine Bakery catches my eye with their use of Scharffen Berger chocolate (which is absolutely excellent stuff). None of the places are anywhere in my neighborhood or I'd run out to give them a try.

Next up is CNN Money with their article Best hot chocolate which takes a general look at the growth of gourmet hot chocolate.

Our local paper, The Columbus Dispatch, gives a nod to our local chocolatier, Pure Imagination, who is now offering up hot chocolate. If the picture is any indication it is thick. I may be forced to go and give it a shot. There is good sushi to be found close by and a trip to get both makes for a nice lunch.

Lastly I offer up a peculiarity: Hot Vanilla. The headline for the article claims that it puts chocolate to shame (blasphemy!). I think that recipe sounds good, but until I try it I'll remain skeptical as to it's superiority over chocolate.

Sweet Savings

godivalogo.gifJust a quick update on the post-holiday sale front. Godiva have started to heavily discount some of their Christmas collection to the tune of 50% off. This is a great way to get some great chocolate at an amazing price so be sure to check it out. I'm probably going to grab the Holiday Cocoa Collection (since I can't recall seeing either Dagoba or Green & Black cocoa locally) and maybe a box of truffles. Yum!
Chocolate Covered Sale

December 27, 2005

Post-Holiday Bargain Hunting

lakechamplain.gifA belated 'Happy Holidays' to everybody! Now that the madness is behind us - both of the big day itself and the big shopping day yesterday - we can get on with more important things. Things like chasing down holiday packaged chocolates at 50% or more off! A quick wandering through a few stores yesterday yielded a beautiful variety of good to excellent chocolates at steep discounts. Even the most pedestrian of grocery stores probably has some Dove chocolates in Christmas-colored wrappings and if you have a store close by with a more tasteful selection you can find great deals on brands like Lake Champlain.

Those who wish to skip fighting the mobs in the stores and having to hunt for their bargains can go the online route. Lake Champlain has a big sale selection on their website where they are doing as much as 66% off of their holiday products (the small package of Gelt - chocolate coins - is 1/3 it's normal price) making for some easy bargains without quite so much effort. A quick check of Godiva's site yields no sales yet (and they also "can no longer guarantee delivery by Christmas" - hee!) but they are sure to come soon enough.

Lake Champlain Chocolates on Sale

December 23, 2005

Choctail Recipes

News.jpgPRNewswire has up a post with recipes for 10 different chocolate cocktails - or "choctails" as they call them - and they sound nice. They go relatively light on the alcohol focusing instead on the milk but the flavor combinations are nice. In fact, looking over the recipes I actually found two that I make for myself - the Irish Cream and Seattle Spiked Mocha. As I love those two recipes I'm apt to give a few more of these a try.

Keystone Chocolate Village Revised

Last week I reported on the 10th annual Keystone Chocolate Village being on display at the Keystone resort in Keystone Colorado. I was disappointed when posting that there were no pictures to share. 2500 pounds of chocolate sounds great but it's a little difficult to get a good picture of just how much chocolate that really is. Two different mountain news sources have now released pictures of the village and, more importantly, the press center for Keystone has released video of the village. It really is amazing to look at. There is a chocolate train, chocolate gondolas, mountains - really impressive work. Chef Ned Archibald deserves a lot of credit for this impressive piece of chocolate art.

One last thing: look carefully at the big white christmas tree in the first article and in the video. Remember what I said in my prior posting? It's white chocolate with blown sugar ornaments. And is it ever beautiful.

On the Snow Article with Photo

Summit Daily Article with Photo
Keystone News Release with Video Link

December 21, 2005

Chocolate and Your Health

News.jpgIt's pretty frightening how many articles I see on a daily basis touting dark chocolate as a 'health food'. I've stated my personal views on the subject and because of those views I try not to post all of these articles unless there is something that really catches my eye. Today I have found an article on Confectionery News that actually represents the voice of reason. It summarizes a slew of the findings on ways chocolate is good for us but it quickly turns it around and brings us all back to reality discussing the physical and ethical issues surrounding chocolate.

I like to think that chocolate is a treat and not a cure all. It is good for us emotioanally and dark chocolate in particular carries a lot of beneficial substances, but it is still just a treat - not a health food. The good news is that, in small doses, our treat is at least as good for us as it is bad.

December 19, 2005

Review: Dagoba Lime

Had an itch to try something new and this time it was the Dagoba Lime bar that received the nod. So far I have had good luck with Dagoba's products (aside from one bar I bought at a standard grocery that was covered in bloom). This is one of the bars I picked up on the Chocolate Safari and I've been saving it while I try other things. The bar is, according to the label, "forest grown organic dark chocolate infused with lime essence and macadamia nuts" and lists a cacao content of 59%. The bar sounds great so lets see whether it delivers the goods in terms of taste.

Upon opening the bar I noticed a strong smell of lime. The smell of lime is almost as strong as the smell of the chocolate, which comes across as very sweet. It's sweet on the tongue as well, with a nice smooth texture. The lime doesn't come forward in the flavor at first, but after you swallow your first bite the taste of lime lingers on your tongue and is there through each bite after that. The lime flavor lingers long after the taste of the chocolate is gone, too.

Another thing of note is the scarcity of the nuts. I'm beginning to think that this is normal for Dagoba. The Brasilia bar didn't seem to have a lot of coconut or nuts in it. This bar seems to have very few actual nuts. If I ate chocolate in larger bites maybe I would get some nut in every bite but I tend to take the approach that you get the same amount of chocolate flavor in a tiny bite as you do in a big one so why rush your way through a bar? I would love for the nuts to be more plentiful.

Aside from my gripe about the nuts I really enjoyed the bar though the lime aftertaste was a little much. The chocolate itself was lovely, as I would expect from Dagoba, so in light of my minor complaints I'll go on record with a score of 8.5 out of 10. A very very good bar that, with a couple of small changes, could become an excellent bar.

December 16, 2005

Keystone Chocolate Village

News.jpgI really wish I had a picture to go along with this. There is a tradition at the Keystone Resort in Keystone Colorado to build a chocolate village for display in the lobby for the holiday season. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the annual display and features 2500 pounds of chocolate including a six foot white chocolate Christmas tree with blown sugar ornaments. It took 10 months (!) for Keystone chef Ned Archibald to build the display which runs through January 2nd. Hopefully they'll post some photos of it so I can actualy see (and share) this marvel but for now it's just up to my imagination.
Press Release
Keystone Resort

December 13, 2005

17 Foot Tall Chocolate Christmas Tree

440 pounds of chocolate. Just think about that for a moment. Think about just how much chocolate that is. A whole lot, right? Well, at a hotel in Bangkok they are using that much chocolate to make a giant chocolate Christmas tree over 17 feet tall. There isn't a whole lot more information than that which is kind of disappointing. I want more details! Anyway, it's cool and it's chocolate so I figured I had to post it. The article here on Hospitality Net shows another good shot of it being built so if this sort of thing floats your boat like it does mine then check it out.
Photo: REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom

December 12, 2005

Rumor: Godiva Ready-to-Drink Coffees

godivalogo.gifRumors circulating as far as CNN/Money would have us believe that Coca-Cola will be helping to bring a line of ready-to-drink coffees to stores under the Godiva brand. If I go to the grocery store I can buy Godiva ice cream. In some stores I can buy their cocoa. As they already have their own coffees available through their retail outlets I don't see it as too much of a stretch of the imagination that they would see to put it in cans and in stores. With Coke as a partner they could end up in every grocery and convenience store in the country in short order. The rumor feels pretty much right. Godiva have been seeking to expand their brand in the last year and this would be a natural extension of what they are already doing. As yet, it remains a rumor only. Nobody has confirmed anything to anybody. If it does turn out to be true I'll be certain to give it a try. I have a decent respect for Godiva and have only rarely been disappointed with their products.

House of Brussels Releases ChocoMed Bars

brussels.jpgHouse of Brussels Chocolates announced recently the release of the first of it's new line of ChocoMed fortified chocolate bars. With more than two years of research going into their creation the ChocoMed Pure Chocolate brand marries nutritional supplements with fine chocolate. The inial six varieties are Anti-Aging, Stress Free, Strong Bones, Pre-Natal, Sweet Dreams And Vitamin Bars.
With two years research and real doctors involved in the poject - as well as a quality company like Brussels - I have higher hopes for this product than I do for most of it's sort. If I find any of them I'll see about giving the Stress Free, Sweet Dreams, and Vitamin bars a try. I'm curious as to how well they have managed to 'marry' chocolate and nutraceuticals.
ChocoMed Site
House of Brussels Site
Press Release

Britains Going for the Good Stuff

News.jpgAccording to an article on Yahoo! News the people of Great Britain are beginning to shift their tastes from more generic 'candy' chocolates and over to more quality chocolate. Sales of dark chocolate are up 30% and the increase is thought to be because of - what else - the potential health benefits of chocolate. A small article but interesting news.

December 10, 2005

Santander Gift Pack

While perusing the holiday goodies at the Anderson's General Store just up the road I ran into a pair of gift packs of Santander single origin chocolate bars - a product of Compañía Nacional de Chocolates. One set was all 70% cacao dark chocolate, one straight bar and one each with coffee bits and espresso. The other gift pack contained a 36% milk chocolate bar, a 53% semi-dark bar, and a 65% dark chocolate bar. Both came in a nice plastic sleeve wrapped up in a gold ribbon and were priced at an absurd $4.99. Paying that little for three single origin chocolate bars is something that doesn't happen all that often and one of these sets would make a great gift for a chocolate lover this holiday season. A small but simple gift idea.

December 9, 2005

Review: Irish Coffee Truffle Bar from Butlers Irish

Today we at last unwrapped the bundle of joy that is the Butler's Irish Coffee Truffle Bar from the good people at Butler's Irish Handmade Chocolates. The bar is made with real Jameson Irish whiskey, a product near and dear to my heart, and sounds absolutely lovely. Chocolate. Coffee. Irish Cream made with Jameson Whiskey.
I consider it my sacred duty to review this product.

First I want to address the packaging. I was sold on buying something from Butler's based on the packaging. The gold foil surrounding the bar is a nice touch and the outer wrap just screams class. I wasn't sure what variety to get until I read the ingredients on the back of the bar. When I saw the word 'Jameson' on the wrapper I knew what I was getting. Irish coffee truffle sounded wonderful and I am a fan of Jameson so it was an easy choice.

I popped the wrapper open and the bar looked pretty much like the picture on the wrapper - nothing too impressive but I'm not buying to look pretty. I found that it smelled like Irish cream more than coffee or chocolate and the aroma was pleasing. The bar itself is divided into smaller blocks so I broke one off. The first thing I noticed was that there is a thick sheet of chocolate on the bottom of this bar. It tasted fantastic. The Irish Coffee truffle filling was subtle. Maybe a bit too subtle. I got more of a milk chocolate taste than an Irish Coffe taste.

Overall I enjoyed it a lot. I'm looking forward to the next piece (I only had one) and that is a good sign. If forced to give it an numerical review I'd give it a solid 9. Not perfect but more than good.

Opinion: Healthy Chocolate

fun.jpgThe idea of chocolate being a health food has really taken root in people’s imaginations. It isn’t terribly surprising that the concept of a decadent treat being good for you has people excited and in the modern world of consumerism that means It will be in your face, every day, as more studies are completed and new products are announced. I thought I’d share a few thoughts on the topic.

As you can imagine, I’m watching it all with both great interest and great amusement. As a chocolate lover I would be overjoyed to find that my daily dose is, in fact, good for me. As an experienced consumer, however, I can’t help but be wary. I think that a lot of companies will want a piece of the chocolate pie and this will result in a glut of chocolate products, each with it’s own claimed benefits, and a massive amount of confusion for the consumer in general.

Of immediate worry is the always truthful but rarely honest packaging. Flavanol will be finding it’s way onto packages no matter how little the product actually contains simply because it is a word that will be in the consumer mind. Many won’t even bother with flavanol but simply try and sell based on a healthy image and the presence of chocolate. And I guarantee that products will be released that have many implied benefits but will also have the major drawback of being very high in fat and sugar.

That brings me to one of the bigger issues I have with selling chocolate as a health food: It’s chocolate. It’s high in fat. It’s usually coupled with sugar or, even worse, corn syrup. All the fat and processed sugar can’t be ignored. The problem is that when you are selling chocolate as a health food you are forced to either ignore them or remove them and I take issue with both approaches. One tries to sell a product loaded with fat and sugar as healthy and the other requires you to make major changes to the product.

And here is where my biggest issue with the marketing of chocolate as healthy arises. There will be a great deal of competition between companies trying to sell the ‘healthiest’ chocolate product. When it comes right down to it flavanol and polyphenols aren’t a lot to sell a product on, even with chocolate. Companies will need to differentiate their product from the others in the pack and, as chocolate is now perceived as a health food, they will naturally want to add more health benefits to do so. They will try and strip out the fat and sugar and add in vitamins and minerals until their product’s nutritional information reads like a box of breakfast cereal.

Fortifying a cereal isn’t a big deal. I can’t imagine there is a lot of art to puffed wheat or crispy rice and the addition of a multi-vitamin and some preservatives to the mix isn’t going to have that big an effect on the end product. Chocolate, and I can’t stress this enough, is not cereal. You can’t just hammer things into it and expect it to be good. There is an art to working with chocolate, which is why artisan chocolatiers exist. In the process of changing it they will produce a product that is far from fine chocolate. It will be the Wonder Bread of chocolate. It will have more vitamins than you knew existed and every mineral under the sun but just won’t be the same as the real thing.

In the end it doesn’t mean a lot for the true chocolate lover. They will continue to eat quality chocolate from quality companies instead of the mass-marketed pseudo-chocolate that is in our future. And I’m sure that there will be some companies that achieve a balance between quality and healthiness. I’m quite curious to see what some of the better chocolate producers around the world will create. They may manage to produce an excellent product with a myriad of health benefits without sacrificing everything that makes chocolate wonderful. Until then, I will maintain my skepticism and continue to watch.

Free Chocolate Reminder!

godivalogo.gifJust a quick reminder that through tomorrow, December 10th, Godiva will be offering free samples of their Pop Chocolates. The Pop Chocolates are truffles with an effervescent kick to them and come in two flavors: CranOrange Dark Chocolate Dazzler and White Chocolate Raspberry Sparkler. As is always the case, quantities are limited, only one per customer, and not all locations will be participating. Me, I'm going to head out. I can't pass up the offering of free truffles and the effervescence twist to it has me curious.

December 7, 2005

ChocolateChocolate in the News

I'm a chocolate cookbook junkie and Lisa Yockelson's new book, ChocolateChocolate, is sitting high on the list of books I want to get this winter. The Chicago Sun-Times has posted an article on the book and the author which even features a few recipes. If you're like me and always on the prowl for recipes (and good cookbooks) then give the article a read, it's worth your time. The book sounds like it is right up my alley with a lot of the author's personality showing through - like in Alice Medrich's books - and it really sounds like the author has an exuberance for the subject. Hopefully I'll be laying my hands on a copy before long so I can write up my own review.

December 6, 2005

Lake Champlain Spring Gifts

lakechamplain.gifLake Champlain Chocolates, one of the many companies I love, has announced their upcoming new gifts for spring. They have an amazing array of new and returning products to cover the Valentine's Day to Mother's Day season and a batch of specialties for Easter as well. Among the new items my eye settled in on the dark chocolate java filled chocolate egg which sounds excellent and is being added to my list of things I have to try. All the details are available in their press release so head over and take a look.

December 5, 2005

Chocolate Overkill

Lindt, maker of those little Lindor Truffles and the much better Lindt Excellence line, are now bringing us a bar of chocolate with 99% cocoa mass. I had always thought that such high content was only to be found in baking chocolate. To date, the highest percentage I have had is the 85% Valrhona (which I made truffles with) and it was probably as high as I'm ready to go on a normal basis. Still, I'm curious about this and will probably give it a try at some point.
Via CalorieLab

December 1, 2005

More Potential Chocolate Health Benefits

barrycallebaut.jpgBarry Callebaut - parent company of Callebaut, Brachs, Cocoa Barry and many more - have announced new findings with regards to chocolate and your health. What's more, this time it isn't all about the flavonoids. This time we get to hear about the wonders of polyphenols and how they can help fight cancer and aging. Somehow these polyphenols managed to slip beneath my radar but apparently they are the next wave of marketing and will probably be as big as flavonoids. Barry Callebaut already have a special premium brand of chocolate rich in polyphenols called Acticoa which this news can only help. The article is a good read and I recommend it.

It does raise a few questions for me, however. First, if consumers preceive chocolate as healthy what effect will it have on prices and production methods? I can't help but think in terms of supply and demand and the price would have to rise accordingly. Additionally there would be pressure to increase production which could hurt the Fair Trade movement. And would this have an effect on the role of the small plantations, the sort from which we get single origin chocolate? I would imagine that there would be an effort by large producers to get as much land for cultivation as possible and that could mean the acquisition of smaller plantations. Just a few thoughts. And these all assume that all of this craziness regarding chocolate and your health actually pans out. I think it has a shot at being legitimate, but there are other health concerns that go along with chocolate (fat anybody?) that need to be considered along with the potential benefits.