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

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.


***
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! 

Sunday, November 2, 2014

#ChocolateGives: A Caring Campaign with a Delicious Twist

It's a wonderful thing to give to people in need, and it is even more wonderful when chocolate is involved.

From November 1st  through to the end of the year, for every social media post with the hashtag #chocolategives and for every item purchased on the seattlechocolates.com website, Seattle Chocolates will donate a serving of fresh food to food banks.


Have you not yet heard of Seattle Chocolates?  This is a chocolate company that focuses on delicious coconut oil-based truffles enrobed in chocolate. In fact, they offer just about every flavour of truffle that you can imagine.  This can be seen in their bag of Assorted Truffles, which is 1 lb (or about 48 truffles) with flavours for every kind of chocolate lover, including: Espresso (my fav!), Coconut Macaroon, Extreme Dark, Milk Chocolate Mint, Peanut Brittle and Strawberry Crème.  It is big, but still fits in a Christmas stocking - what greater gift for a chocolate lover than to offer an immense selection? It would also be a great assortment at your annual Christmas party or a holiday gift for business customers who have a team of people to feed.

Seattle Chocolate's large selection of chocolate truffle bars are also, in my opinion, the greatest thing in the world. I have been working my way through a 10-bar stack and I am having difficulty NOT eating them all. My two favourite chocolate bars are Perfect Peanut Butter and San Juan Sea Salt.  Perfect Peanut Butter really is perfect; I've tried many, many peanut butter and chocolate combos in my day and this one is the best dark chocolate and peanut butter combination yet.  And I was blown away by San Juan Sea Salt, which is a delicious milk chocolate truffle bar, with unbelievably rich, thick milk chocolate and crunchy toffee bits, and of course, sea salt. 


Others that are equally as good as my favourites, include the newly launched Christmas bar called Kris Kringle Crackle - a dark chocolate truffle bar with popcorn pieces (a perfect stocking stuffer this season). And based on the truffle assortment, the milk chocolate mint bar, espresso bar and other flavours are all bound to be delicious.

So if you want to help donate fresh food to people in need, while doing your holiday shopping, check out Seattle Chocolates holiday gift boxes, like this Snow Day Assorted Truffle Box (about 18 pieces for only $12.95), or even an Advent Calendar. And be sure to tell your friends on social media by tagging #chocolategives (@SeattleChoc) - this simple action will give one serving of food to someone in need!


To learn more about Seattle Chocolates food donation campaign, visit the #chocolategives website: http://www.seattlechocolates.com/chocolategives for more information.

Happy Holiday Shopping!


Order online on www.seattlechocolates.com,
and the company will donate one food serving to people in need,
and get your box filled with chocolate for holiday gifts it in no time!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Last-Minute Home-Made Halloween Treats!

Want to make a quick Halloween treat for your office potluck?  Simply pull out those Halloween-shaped cookie cutters, and get to work! Here are two methods using cookie cutters to make chocolate shapes.

Method 1:

Step 1.  Lay out a large piece of waxed paper on your largest cookie sheet or flat baking pan.

Step 2.  Melt and temper (see here for tempering instructions) 8 to 12 ounces of milk chocolate (or dark or white, whatever you like!).

Step 3:  Place the cookie cutters onto the waxed paper.

Step 4:  Pour your tempered chocolate into the cookie cutters, careful not to move them around.

Step 5:  If you don't have enough cookie cutters, pour the remaining chocolate into a freezer bag and cut the end - then make these Halloween ghosts on the remaining waxed paper.

Step 6:  Let set on the counter or in quickly the fridge.

Step 7:  Pop out of the cookie cutter and package in small plastic treat bags or add to a Halloween treat platter for your office Halloween potluck!

Method 2:

One other way is to spread your tempered chocolate out onto a large piece of waxed paper, then just as it starts to set (stiff but still sticky, not completely hardened - you'll need to watch it closely and do not put it in the fridge!), use the cookie cutter to cut out shapes. See the picture below for an example of chocolate pumpkin cutouts.

Flavour tip:  Just after pouring, sprinkle on a mix of chunky sea salt and toffee bits (like SKOR). This will add a wonderful tasty flavour and crunch.

Happy Halloween!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

An Afternoon of Chocolate Tasting in Sudbury,Ontario


Are you in the Sudbury area and looking to improve your chocolate-tasting palate?
Join us at the Fromagerie Elgin for an afternoon of chocolate tasting on November 23rd!  Learn about the differences between commercial and fine chocolate, bean-to-bar chocolate, and why single origin chocolate is so special. Enjoy several different chocolate samples, a beverage (a paired glass of wine, or tea/coffee/latte beverage) and take away a tasty gift from Ultimately Chocolate! This event will take place at the Fromagerie Elgin in Sudbury, Ontario, and will be hosted by Lisabeth Flanagan, Owner of Ultimately Chocolate (Manitoulin Island), writer for The Ultimate Chocolate Blog and contributor for Kitchen Daily Canada, an AOL/Huffington Post site.  With more than 10 years of chocolate tasting and five years in business as a chocolatier & pastry professional, Lisabeth knows all the best brands of fine and origin chocolate.  She will take you through a tasting experience you will never forget, and offer guidance for buying chocolaty gifts for the holiday season.

Here are the event details:

Event Name: Afternoon of Chocolate Tasting
Price: $35.00 (only 25 tickets are available.  Advance ticket purchase only.)

Location: Fromagerie Elgin at 5 Cedar Street, with entrance on Elgin Street in downtown Sudbury. Parking available across the street on Elgin.
Date/Time: 2:30 pm to 4:30 pm on Sunday November 23, 2014

Contact:  E-mail info@ultimatelychocolate.com or call 705-282-3535 if you have questions or for further information, or to register with another method of payment.

To register for this afternoon workshop, buy online by clicking on the "Buy Now" button below:

See you there!
 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Make Your Own Chocolaty Treats for Halloween, like these White Chocolate Ghosts!

Tired of handing out the same ol' mini KitKat and Mars bars for trick or treaters?  Make your own chocolate treats this year!  These Halloween Ghosts look great in cello bags or on Halloween dessert platters at the annual office costume party.

Here is how you make them:

You need:

-340 g / 12 oz (makes 22-24 ghosts) or 16 oz / 454 (makes 30-32) of white chocolate.
-semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips (about 70 to 100 pieces).

Instructions:

1. Lay out a very long piece of waxed paper on your counter top.

2. Melt and temper 12 ounces of white chocolate.  (Tempering is an important step to ensure your treats look and taste their best. See here for instructions on tempering white chocolate).

3. Place your chocolate in a plastic pastry bag with a very small round tip, or cut a small hole in the end of the bag.  A sandwich or freezer bag can also be used with a small hole cut in one corner.

4. Squeeze the white chocolate out in a circle, then drop the white chocolate below and squiggle it to the right to make a ghost belly shape and its tail.

5. Let cool and set.  Once completely hard (about an hour) peel off the waxed paper and place in cello bags or on a Halloween Party treat platter with other desserts.

Makes 22 to 30 ghosts (15 grams or 1/2 ounce each).

White chocolate tips:
  • I used Camino brand of organic and fair trade white chocolate, but you can buy large quantities of good quality white chocolate at bulk stores, such as Bulk Barn in Canada. You can also purchase white chocolate online at many sites, such as the CacaoBarry and Callebaut brands, as well as Valrhona at Vanilla Food Company (ships to both the U.S.A. and Canada with low flat rates). At Walmart, Joe's is a good brand of white chocolate to use. Learn about and compare about other brands of white chocolate here.

  • White chocolate can be finicky and hard to work with, compared to darker chocolate. Ensure your room is no less than 21 degrees C (70 degrees F) when working with white chocolate, or it will harden on your before you are done making your ghosts.  As soon as it starts to stiffen in the pastry bag, throw it into the microwave for 5 seconds only and squeeze the bag to mix the chocolate around and re-melt the hardened bits. If you wait too long to re-heat, it will harden completely and you will need to re-temper it. I find the best temperature of white chocolate while working with it is 80 to 81 degrees F (27 degrees C).

Friday, October 10, 2014

Choklat: Delicious chocolate that I tried not to love!

No matter how frustrated you can be with a chocolate maker for their customer service, it is difficult to remain angry with them once you discover that their chocolate is undeniably delicious.  This is precisely how my feelings for Choklat from Calgary have developed over time.

A few years ago, I tried very hard to get my hands on some Choklat chocolate (I was, after all, on a mission to try all of Canada's bean-to-bar chocolate).  I e-mailed. I called. I begged. I was not a 'blogger' asking for free samples, I was a customer trying to buy the product and pay for them to ship it to me.  The owner told me flat out: "find a friend in Calgary and have them ship it to you", he even went so far to say that his website gets thousands of hits per month, so, well, the gist of it was that I was not necessary to keep his business pumping, so why bother going out of his way for me? 


Being a former student of business and marketing for both my undergraduate and graduate degrees, this did not sit well with me.  Refusing a paying customer, particularly one that might write about your service on the Internet, seemed like a strange business decision. In the time that he spent sending me the long e-mail, the owner could have just slapped a label on a box and taken my credit card number over the phone. Oh, and that was the other thing, the business was cash-only until recently, which was another customer-unfriendly decision that I did not understand. In this day and age, refusing card payments of any type simply does not make sense.

And as much as I wanted to write about all of these frustrating things on this blog, I stayed silent.  My general policy is not to criticize chocolate makers because I know they are passionate about their craft. I simply find the good points about their products. So with Choklat, I decided to wait until I could taste the chocolate.  And one day last February, I finally did.  A friend of mine sent me some chocolate bars.  I tried them all and loved them.  But I was not yet ready to admit it.  So I waited until I received another package of their chocolate bars a few weeks ago, which were purchased at a franchise location in Edmonton. This last package confirmed it: Choklat's chocolate bars are delicious.

So was the owner right to refuse me?  Maybe. I am a business owner myself, and I understand how easy it is to lose focus and waste time on special requests.  But I also understand that one poor interaction can end a customer-seller relationship. He would have lost me if I was not so determined in my mission to taste all of Canada's bean-to-bar chocolate.  And with just two tastes, I will likely be back for more someday....of course, that is if I can find a friend in Alberta.

So here is the down-low on Choklat`s chocolate bars:
  • They make a series of 70% dark bars from different single origin (and in some cases single plantation) beans. The bars also have the same amount of cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla, etc., which makes it a lot easier to hold a tasting session and truly tastes the differences between origins. I love this - nothing is more frustrating than when you are trying to compare origin chocolate by one chocolate maker, and one bar has  67% cocoa solids and the other has 72%.  In those cases, the sweetness of the 67% overwhelms your ability to taste the flavour differences of the cacao. So I applaud Choklat for this. And of the four 70% bars that I tasted, I liked the Ocumare the best, but all four were delicious and full of interesting flavours.
  • Choklat makes amazing milk chocolate. Truly a MUST-TRY is their Brazilian 48% Milk bar. It is bursting with flavour and aroma. The Cuyagud (Venezuela) 48% Milk bar is just as delicious and flavourful.  I wish I had 10 more of each bar.  Right now.
  • Choklat puts a lot of cocoa butter in their chocolate.  Except for their intense 80% bar, their chocolate bars generally contain 30% cocoa butter, which gives all of their chocolate a melt-in-your-mouth quality.  The purists (those who make chocolate from just cocoa beans and sugar) may argue this is too much cocoa butter, but I like it.  It adds a rich element that quickly melts in the most delicious way, even in cold temperatures.
  • Choklat makes a range of Venezuelan bars, which allows the taster to truly taste the differences between regions within the same country.
  • The range of truffles were delicious, I found the Key Lime to be my favourite, as well at the Dark Chocolate Buttercream, and the Mint offered an interesting experience (there was perhaps a hint of basil in it...?).  I even enjoyed the Orange and the Amaretto truffle, which are two flavours that I normally stay away from.

And now that I have tasted nearly all of Canada's craft, bean-to-bar chocolate, I can say with certainty that Choklat's products are in the top three or four for taste, texture and quality. It is certainly worth a try, if you are in the Edmonton or Calgary area.