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Thursday, December 18, 2014

Christmas Truffle Selections for the Average Chocolate Lover (and recommendations for the connoisseur)

Christmas is coming and the stores are bursting with chocolate truffles everywhere you look.  Godiva and Lindt are competing head-to-head for the packaged 'gourmet' truffle market, making it hard to choose which truffle selection is best to purchase for the average chocolate lover.

So who is the average chocolate lover?  Someone who loves to eat sweeter chocolate (milk, white or a semi-sweet chocolate) and who does not always care if artificial flavours are included.  They also don't care to differentiate between real-cream truffles and oil-based 'meltaways', which have a long shelf life and often called 'truffles' on the package (i.e. a Lindor Truffle is an example because it is made with coconut oil instead of fresh cream).  The average chocolate lover usually enjoys receiving a Ferrero Rocher or a box of Lindt's Lindor Truffles on special occasions.

So this year, if you are sick and tired of buying the 'usual' box of Lindor Truffles for your friend, try stepping it up to some newer truffle products.  I've tried them all and have written an overview below.

If you have a non-average chocolate lover to buy for - an absolute chocolate connoisseur -  keep scrolling to the end of this article for some great gift ideas.

Truffle selections for the average chocolate lover:

1. Lindt has launched a new box of gourmet truffles this year, which appear to be a step-up from their original Lindor Truffles, and compete in terms of price and presentation with Godiva's truffle selection.

The truffles are presented beautifully and would make a nice gift for the average chocolate lover.  But if the person you are buying for is picky about artificial flavours, keep in mind that there are artificial flavours in these truffles, which can be tasted in each an every truffle. There is also a sweet coconut oil flavour tasted in all of the truffles. For example, I found the hazelnut tasted more like a coconut-vanilla-flavoured truffle, with nearly no hazelnut flavour. 

This box is also meant for someone who likes sweeter chocolate treats - the vanilla truffle was pretty tasty. The 'Extra Dark' had a centre that looked like milk chocolate and overall, I'd say it did not taste as dark as a 70% chocolate, but it did taste good regardless. So if you are buying for someone who only likes 'bitter' or 'dark' chocolate, you'd better look elsewhere (be sure it is about a 65%- 70% dark chocolate or higher for someone who prefers dark chocolate).

2. If you really want to impress the Lindor Truffle lover in your life, I'd say find Lindt's new Peanut Butter Lindor Truffle.  They come in boxes of three and are absolutely delicious (so delicious, in fact, that I can forgive the artificial flavour).  They have not been easy to find, but that may have something to do with where I live.


3. Step it up while being socially responsible and healthy!
I discovered the most delectable milk chocolate truffle at Wholefoods in downtown Toronto under the Alter Eco brand.  These have no artificial flavours and taste like buttery smooth, real melt-in-your-mouth milk chocolate.  I loved them so much that I did not share with anyone! 

They also come individually wrapped, so you can add them to Christmas baskets or toss them into your family's stockings for a tasty treat Christmas morning.

4. Godiva's Truffle Selection always impresses the average chocolate lover, since most people know how expensive Godiva chocolate can be and they will rarely purchase a box for themselves. I find the flavours a bit sweet for me and truthfully, the cocoa bean flavour is a little dull.  But of course, I am not your average chocolate lover!


My recommendation: get Godiva's newest bar, the milk chocolate truffle bar and stuff it in someone's stocking.  It is made with real cream and it is super delicious.  I usually buy it in the cash register area of the Chapters-Indigo in my region.

5. National chocolate retailers (Canada) offer other great Canadian gift ideas to step up from your usual pharmacy chocolate truffle purchase, including Purdys 2014 Christmas Collection (you can still order online with Priority shipping!), Laura Secord's Hostess Gift Box, has a variety of chocolates, including an entire box layer devoted to truffles and Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory also offers a truffle selection in their retail stores.

What to get for a true chocolate connoisseur?

If you have to buy a gift for that person who researches, talks about and orders fine chocolate regularly - you'd better buy fresh, real-cream truffles and ganaches, like those of MoRoCo or Stubbe Chocolate in Toronto (also at Wholefoods). Or go with a gourmet local chocolate shop, like the new truffles made by Manitoulin Chocolate Works (see pick below) or my Original Chocolate TOFFLEs on Manitoulin Island.  And if you are really stuck, go and see a local expert, like Joanne at JoJo Coco in Ottawa, who can help you find just the right chocolaty gift for any kind of chocolate lover. If all else fails, e-mail me at info@ultimatelychocolate.com and I'll help you figure it out.

For a chocolate connoisseur, you can always achieve gifting success by buying Michel Cluizel or Valrhona brand bars from an online fine chocolate site such as ATasteforChocolate.com or a bean-to-bar brand from La Tablette de Miss Choco in Montreal. But you had better do it quickly!  Christmas morning is just 9 days away!!!


Manitoulin Chocolate Works Salted Caramel Truffle

Monday, December 15, 2014

Last chance for chocolate, get your order in NOW!

Craft and fine chocolate can often be hard to come by, and Christmas is just 10 days away!  So if you are planning to order online, you must do it NOW.  Here are three great online shops where you can order bean-to-bar craft chocolate, and fine chocolate in Canada:

1. New Bean-to-Bar, Craft Chocolate Retailer Launches Online Sales in Canada

La Tablette de Miss Choco is a lovely Montreal-based retailer who sells craft, bean-to-bar chocolate in a quaint store. But just a few weeks ago, they launched an online sales site, so the rest of us Canadians can purchase our favourite craft chocolate bars from afar. I have already placed and received an order of chocolate bars, including Askinosie Chocolate's unique white chocolate bar made with goat's milk and cocoa nibs, and a Palette de Bine chocolate bar made in Mont-Tremblant, as well as some other Canadian and American craft chocolate brands.

La Tablette de Miss Choco offers a great selection and their service was fantastic. So be quick! If you have a chocolate connoisseur to buy for this Christmas, get your order in today or tomorrow! If you do not speak French, "Achats en ligne" means "Buy online", but to make it easier for you, this is the direct link to their online shop: https://boutique.latablette.ca/.

2. FoodiePages.ca - where true Canadian foodies get their chocolate
On FoodiePages.ca you can not only order my Original Chocolate TOFFLE™, or my CacaoCookie only but you can also buy some of Canada's most delicious craft, bean-to-bar chocolate online, including Hummingbird Chocolate Maker's origin chocolate bars from Ottawa, and Waterloo-based Ambrosia's delicious Ghana-origin 55% Dark-Milk Chocolate bar.

3. A Taste for (Fine) Chocolate sells the world's top brands
ATasteforChocolate.com is one of the few places a Canadian can purchase Michel Cluizel, Amedei, Bonnat, Pralus and all the world's most well-known fine chocolate brands. A huge selection of single origin and blended fine chocolate bars await you.  The service is always exceptional and you can count on having your chocolate delivered in just days.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

SOMA Smoke Monster: The Most Interesting Chocolate Bar I Ever Tasted


When I was ordering chocolate bars for a tasting workshop recently, someone at Soma suggested that I try out their new chocolate creation called Smoke Monster. It sounded so interesting that I could not resist. And upon tasting it, it turned out to be extraordinary.

Both the flavour and aroma is very strong of smoke - like that of smoked meat or cheese.  It is nearly overwhelming when you first taste it, but in a naturally smoked way rather than that horrid taste of artificial smoked flavour that is sometimes added to food. It takes some getting used to, and if you can get past the first few pieces, you might even crave it.

So why is this chocolate bar full of smoke flavour? 
Well, it begins with the beans, grown in Vanuatu in the South Pacific. When they were dried, instead of using the traditional method of drying the beans in the sun, the farmers dried them using wood fires, which caused the beans to take on a smoke flavour. 

According to the International Cocoa Organization (ICCO), drying cocoa by wood fire is a method of 'artificial drying' of cocoa beans. They say "Artificially dried beans can be of poor quality due to contamination from the smoke of fires..." (ref).  The smoke flavour is caused when there is not adequate ventilation for the wood fired dryer. However, Soma has used these beans as an advantage to create a uniquely - and naturally - flavoured fine chocolate bar.

Despite its strong flavour, why do I love it?
This chocolate bar is the perfect example of how any one element in the process of harvesting cocoa beans and making chocolate can affect the overall flavour of the resulting chocolate.  Because the beans have been affected by wood smoke, the entire bar tasted like it was smoked. Had the beans been dried out in the sun, the chocolate bar would have taken on an entirely different flavour (likely fruity and somewhat tropical).

Soma tackled these Vanuatu beans head on and made an extremely bold chocolate bar.  However, what could be done to overcome the strong flavour is to make a blended bar, where only, say, 10% of the beans used in the resulting chocolate bar are the smoke-flavoured beans, which would add just a hint of smoke flavour to a chocolate bar. A master blender could make something very interesting from these beans, and I don't doubt that Soma has this in mind for the future.

What is Vanuatu doing to improve its cocoa farming and processing methods?
Cocoa in Vanuatu is considered high-quality and organic, however most of the farmers and co-operatives do not have the money to get the 'organic' certification. (ref). This is an unfortunate cycle because they cannot reap the rewards from higher prices in order to pay for certification, which will certainly enable them to charge higher prices.

Vanuatu mainly supplies the bulk cocoa markets in Asia, but since 2012 there is a strong effort to export 20% cocoa to the fine chocolate industry worldwide. In fact, there is an effort by a local organization (ACTIV) to start a chocolate factory, which will help locals understand how their farming and production methods affect flavour, and to sell chocolate to tourists.  Certainly the more they learn about making chocolate, the more they will understand how fermenting and drying the beans affects the flavour of the final chocolate product, which will lead to changing processing methods.

My Recommendations...
Soma's Smoke Monster is a great chocolate bar to add to any chocolate tasting workshop because it offers a great talking point. You can easily learn about and demonstrate how cacao processing methods affect chocolate flavour.  Also, as a foodie or wannabe chocolate connoisseur, it is simply something worth tasting. In Soma's usual way, the chocolate is immensely smooth and texturally easy on the palette.

If you do not like 'smoke' flavour, go for Soma's Peruvian Nacional bar instead - it just won a bronze at the International Chocolate Awards.  It is smooth and delicious and full of rich chocolate flavour.

And if you find smoky chocolate interesting, you might also like Bourbon-flavoured chocolate by Brooklyn chocolate maker Raaka, where the beans have rested in used bourbon barrels to create a distinct flavoured chocolate bar.  Soma also makes the Stratus bar, which involves resting the beans in Stratus Vineyards' oak wine barrels to create a lovely wine-flavoured chocolate.

Package Details and Where to Buy

Here are the package details from the chocolate bar that I tasted today:

BLACK SCIENCE "Smoke Monster - Vanuatu 70%", 80g
SOMA chocolatemaker (Toronto, ON)
www.somachocolate.com
Ingredients: cacao beans, organic cane sugar, cocoa butter. May contain trace amounts of nuts, gluten, soy & dairy.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Choco-Nutty-licious Cookie Recipe

These delicious cookies taste like roasted hazelnuts with a side of dark chocolate. As a bonus, they are naturally gluten-free and made with low-glycemic coconut sugar instead of cane sugar.  Best of all, they taste amazing!

You need:
  • 1 cup of hazelnut butter (you can also use peanut butter, if you like)
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup of organic coconut sugar (or cane sugar if preferred)
  • 1/2 cup or more of chopped dark chocolate or dark chocolate chips (for Organic and Fair Trade, try Camino's Bittersweet (71% cocoa solids) or Semi-Sweet (56%) Chocolate Chips or Cacao Barry 71.5% Organic couverture).
  • 1/2 cup of mini white chocolate chips (optional)
  • 1/4 cup of chopped hazelnuts (optional, and you can also use almonds or pecans, if preferred)


Instructions:
  1. Preheat your oven to 350 F.
  2. Line a cookie pan with parchment paper.
  3. Mix cookies well by hand or with an electric hand mixer until smooth. 
  4. Toss in the chocolate and nuts and stir until evenly combined.
  5. Using a spoon, scoop out balls of cookie dough (about a tablespoon or more) and place on the cookie sheet, leave about 1" between cookies or more.
  6. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes on centre rack in the oven. Remove from oven when edges are starting to brown.
  7. Let cool and dig in! Or freeze in an airtight container and add to your holiday baking platters.




Sunday, November 30, 2014

Give a Gift of Glamour this Christmas with Toronto's MoRoCo Chocolat



With its prestigious Yorkville location, beautifully presented products in stunning packaging, and a win at the 2013 International Chocolate Awards, expectations were high as I took my first bite out of a MoRoCo chocolate.

I was not disappointed. Although the price was very high for chocolate not made from bean-to-bar on site, the effort MoRoCo puts in to their flavour combinations and in their packaging makes it a worthwhile try. Beautifully presented, shiny, gorgeously tempered chocolate creations in gift-perfect packaging makes MoRoCo an easy choice for holiday shopping.

In terms of taste, here are a few examples of tasty creations that I purchased and sampled:

Their signature Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Mouse was delicious. It was not very sweet; it was just the way peanut butter should be.  And the 'mouse' could have been called 'mousse' because it seemed like a mousse inside: light, fluffy and rich-tasting. And what's funny is, mice really like peanut butter.

Along the same flavour lines, MoRoCo's Chocolate Peanut Butter Bar is much sweeter and has crunchy peanuts in it.  I think I liked the mouse better, but it still satisfied that peanut butter lover inside of me.

I really love The Dirty Blonde chocolate bar, which is 32% blonde chocolate (a caramel-like mix between milk and white chocolate) with espresso and caramelized hazelnuts. The crunch was perfect, very fine pieces but truly crunchy. What a great stocking stuffer for someone with the same hair colour.


As for the box of chocolate ganaches - or square truffles, as you might call them - each one was very creamy, smooth and in fact, texturally perfect. The Marquis de Noir, which is described as a "classic Parisian dark chocolate ganache", was very creamy and yet, it was light on the palate.

The Full Throttle ganache had a strong espresso flavour, with no taste of 'instant' that can sometimes be present.  It was delicious and bitter - just the way an espresso should taste and the way I like it. Along the same lines, the mint ganache was made with fresh mint leaves - no taste of peppermint extract or oil.

And I LOVED the slight crunch in the Dulce de Leche caramel enrobed in 62% dark chocolate. Also a slight crunch in the Monkey in the Middle (Peanut Butter and Jam - Strawberry and Raspberry Jam).  It really does taste like a PB&J sandwich. The crunch was a nice addition.

All of the ganache's were very delicate with a nice light snap.  The outer coating was so fine that it truly allowed the smooth centre texture and flavour to shine.

So if you are looking for a truly beautiful chocolate gift this holiday season, MoRoCo may be the answer to your shopping prayers. In addition to the beautiful gift boxes and bars, they make nice seasonal products like this amazing solid chocolate reindeer; a gorgeous stocking stuffer for a chocolate lover. You can either buy in the store or, if you are not in Toronto, buy online on MoRoCo's website. And for students, MoRoCo also offers "Student Tuesdays", where you can enjoy 20% off with your student ID.

Happy Holiday Chocolate Shopping!

Note: I paid for my products and was not encouraged in any way to write this post.  My opinions are my own!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Milk Chocolate Paté and Shortbread Cookies: A Perfect Holiday Party Dessert

Planning a holiday party but have no idea how to fill in the dessert table?  Chocolate Paté is an easy dessert that can be as simple or complicated as you want it to be. For instance, you can buy gourmet oat and shortbread cookies (see one delicious suggested gluten-free brand below), or you can make the cookies from scratch (see my recipe below for buttery shortbread cookies).

This recipe is also very flexible; you can use fine milk chocolate or something commercial and from the cupboard - like sweet milk chocolate leftover from Halloween! I used up some mini Halloween Hershey's milk chocolate bars for this particular paté, but I have also at times used organic milk chocolate and high percentage (45%) milk chocolate for a less-sweet, richer-tasting paté.
 
Milk Chocolate Paté Recipe:

For the paté, you need:
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • 1/4 cup whipping cream
  • 8 ounces of milk chocolate (about 20 mini Hershey's bars)
Instructions:

1. Line a small loaf pan with plastic wrap.


2. Break or chop your chocolate into 1/2-inch pieces and place in a heatproof bowl.

3. Chop up the butter and place it in a medium saucepan with the whipping cream.

4. Place your cream/butter mixture on the stovetop and melt together over medium heat.  Once mixed, heat the mixture just to a boil (do not let it boil, stop it just before), and immediately pour over the chocolate. 

5. Stir slowly and in one direction with a wooden spoon until completely melted. If you have a little trouble getting the chocolate to melt completely, place some water in your empty cream pot and heat it on the stove, then place your bowl over the pot and continue stirring slowly until it is completely melted and mixed.

6. Immediately pour the chocolate mix into your lined loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let set on the counter overnight or in the fridge for 4 hours.

7. Once firm, take off plastic wrap and trim edges (if need be) and place on a serving plate. Place shortbread and sugar cookies all around on plate.  Cover with plastic wrap until ready to serve.  Serve at room temperature.



Shortbread Cookies Recipe:

I used coconut sugar for my recipe, which gave the kids less of a sugar-high and also added the 'brown sugar' colour to the cookies - but granulated cane sugar works even better in this recipe, so use whatever you like!

You need:
  • 1 lb of butter (2 cups/454 grams) - cold
  • 3/4 cups of granulated, organic or coconut sugar
  •  4 cups of unbleached all-purpose flour

1. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and preheat your oven to 350 degrees F.

2. Place the flour and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or large mixing bowl if you do not have a stand mixer) and briefly mix on low or stir until combined.

3. Chop the butter into 1 or 1/2 inch pieces and add to the butter/sugar mixture.

4. Using the paddle or dough attachment for your mixer, stir on low until it becomes crumbly and eventually moist and fully mixed (if no stand mixer, use a whisk or wooden spoon to pulverize the mix until it becomes moist, but be aware that this will take a while!).

5. Pour the dough onto the counter and kneed with hands until you have a large ball.  Roll it out until you have a long smooth roll. Sprinkle flour onto your counter and on your rolling pin, then roll the dough out to 1/8" thickness or thicker.

6. Use a round cup or cookies cutters to cut shapes.  I used the thicker back of mini cookie cutters to imprint snowmen and butterflies on the cookies.

7. Bake on centre rack for 12 to 15 minutes, and remove from oven just before the cookies start to brown.  If you have a cooling rack, transfer each cookie with a spatula to help them cool faster, and to reuse your pan and parchment to bake more cookies! Otherwise, let cool on the pan and then serve or store in an airtight container for up to 1 week, or freeze for later consumption.


This milk chocolate pate is very delicious sandwiched between
two cookies as an afternoon snack with tea.
Also delicious on these Scottish Nairns Oatcakes (www.nairns-oatcakes.com),
which I purchased at an Independent Grocer in Ontario - bonus, they are gluten-free.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Belfine Finger Pup'pets and other great Belfine chocolate gifts for the holidays

There is no greater sweet treat than one that kids can both play with and eat.  Think of the popularity of Kinder Eggs, Ring Pops and Pez dispensers. They are popular because they are  treats that keeps on, well, treating.

But move over Kinder Eggs, there is a new chocolate-and-toy combo on the market. Belfine, a Belgian chocolate company, has recently launched an award-winning concept in chocolate treats. Finger Pup'pets is a decorated Belgian chocolate figure on a ring, so kids can wear them on their fingers while they eat. What's more, parents can go online (to this link) and print out paper finger puppets. Their kids can colour and attach them to the plastic ring, once the chocolate has been eaten.

If the kids are young, they can choose chocolate-coloured or pre-coloured cut-outs. You can also print out a circus tent to put on a puppet show. What a great way to spend some time with your children during the holidays. And it is a great activity for a birthday party - first give out the chocolate as a prize, then have the kids decorate their own finger puppets and put on a show.

With 32% minimum cocoa content and 27% milk solids, you can feel assured that this is a real chocolate treat, not filled with hydrogenated oils or other 'modified' ingredients that commercial confections have these days. Most commercial chocolate 'candy' has 20% or less cocoa content, and includes oils to make up for real milk and cocoa butter.

The Finger Pup'pets are great 'stocking stuffers' at Christmas, but also an excellent activity for young cousins at your family Christmas party. They are available at Shoppers Drug Mart throughout Canada, and in many, many other countries around the world.

Want to Know More About Belfine?


Belfine is a family-owned business in Belgium that is known for their beautifully decorated holiday chocolate figures and lollipops. They only use a strict selection of Madagascar cocoa beans - which explains why the chocolate is so flavourful and so delicious.  Their mission is to 'bring enjoyment and delight to millions of people all over the world', and I think they have accomplished just that.

They also sell chocolate Santa Claus's and other hollow Christmas figures that are absolutely delicious.  You can feel good knowing that the ingredients are natural - event the colourants used for the red on Santa are naturally derived.

For other stocking stuffers, check out their figures on sticks - white and milk chocolate are available and very tasty.

Belfine recently won a Top Innovation Award this year at the ISM conference (for sweets and snacks) in Germany for their Finger Pup'pets.

For more information on Belfine, go to www.belfine.com.


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Keep checking the Ultimate Chocolate Blog for chocolate stocking stuffers and chocolaty gifts all season long. And follow on Twitter or Facebook for regular chocolate recipes and how-to's. Happy holiday chocolate shopping!