Archive for the ‘chocolate’ Category

24
Feb

Chocolate Studies

   Posted by: Livia Tags: ,

So I have a friend who is serious about Chocolate, who for the last 15 years has been taking a week off to make chocolate things. Many things. Amazing things.

Since I started making truffles, the possibility of making desserts has seemed slightly less intimidating and I’ve started exploring baking.

This year, I took a couple days off work to help/apprentice with the chocolate making. Confectionery was the first half of the week, and I’m here for the baking portion.

Things I have learned so far:

  • I had an impression that both egg whites and cream were similarly fussy when whipped. I was wrong. They’re both fussy, but differently. Egg whites want a completely clean and dry bowl (no water or fat) and room temperature eggs. Cream is not so fussy about water or fat (since that’s what it’s made of anyway), but everything should be cool/cold.
  • lozenges of baking chocolate are not so awkward to use/store as I’d thought they’d be, so I’ll probably buy that form next time
  • Michel Cluizel processes their chocolate more than most and so they don’t use soy lecithin as an emulsifier
  • Using coconut fat in the vegan truffles as a brilliant idea because professionals pick coconut fat to create meltaway centers (from Chocolates & Confections by the CIA) – keyword: lauric fat
  • it’s no so hard to spot soft peaks of whipped cream
  • double boilers are for suckers. Melting chocolate in the microwave is where it’s at.
  • I should get some larger smooth glass bowls
  • the weird transfer of stuff between containers before folding in whipped stuff is not so much about temperatures (since they should probably both be cool) but about making the heavier stuff light enough to mix all fluffy-like
  • jelly-rolls – you can wait 5 min after making, roll them up, and then let them finish cooling rolled up.
  • you really should buy superfine sugar sometimes
  • it’s awesomely helpful to have cooling racks that fit inside your jelly roll pans
  • I’m not sure I could duplicate it, but I saw two gorgeous textbook perfect demonstrations of pouring ganache over cake to make a mirror-shiny coating. – proportions came from Cocolat by Alice Medrich
  • I used a disposable (brand = Wilton) pastry tube for the first time. To make white chocolate drizzles. Easier than expected. All pastry tips come in 2 sizes. There are universal screw couplers to keep them on the bag. Used a pastry bag again to frost cupcakes. Think that went well, too. Kept worrying my hands would be warm enough to melt the frosting.
  • I’d forgotten, but this household is where I picked up the knack of wrapping teabag tags around the mug handle to keep them from slipping into the cup when you pour hot water.
  • I had not forgotten, but this is also where I picked up the strong opinion that am important step toward sharing food accessibly is to just fucking label everything with the ingredients. It takes a little time and thought, but it’s not that hard.
  • bread pudding out of stale croissants!
  • If you have fresh croissants and a bowl of excellent mousse (Saturday is going to be yummy), you should scrape up that mousse with the croissant. I will be every bit as good as you think it will.
  • Cakes and cupcakes iced with cream cheese frosting should not be packed away in plastic right away. They need to sit out until the frosting has a slight crust, lest moisture condense and they become all melty and not pretty inside the container
  • there’s a(n avoidable) reason dried milk tastes nasty. Look for ones without lipase “a fat-degrading enzyme, resulting in a sort of controlled rancidity… done to increase the buttery flavor… to obtain the signature flavor profile the manufacturer seeks.” (Also from the CIA book)

I think I’ve separated about 3 dozen eggs. With only 1 broken yolk among them.

10
Jan

Bread! No, really – bread!

   Posted by: Livia Tags:

I have started baking!

Now I’ve tried baking before, and I have ruined cookies. I have ruined more than one box mix of bread made in a bread machine. I just don’t get dough.

And now, all of a sudden, I’m baking. Bread. Without a bread machine.

Okay, so the without a bread machine part was entirely accidental, but I’d already added water to flour when I found out the motor on my bread machine had given up, and it would have been more difficult to clean up at that stage than to keep going and give it a try completely by hand.

I’m trying to keep myself to eating no more than a loaf of bread a week, so there hasn’t been an explosion of bread products. But it’s the second week of fearless breadmaking, and the second loaf of tasty bread… so I’m ready to confess to it.

Premise: Michael Ruhlman wrote a book, Ratio. And after talking it up with my friends, it was a yule gift to me (thanks!). I thought it was a book about baking, but it’s really more a book about all kinds of cooking – at a very high level. It pretty much says, “All of those techniques you know that come with complicated recipes? Well the recipes are secretly rather simple, and here are the magic formulae behind them all – in graph form, no less.”

Okay, well, I have a scale and I’m feeling a lot more comfortable with bread being able to be reduced to a framework with some flexibility.

But I’m also not an expert, so I can tell right away that the scant ten pages on bread will not be sufficient, so I also pull out the book of bread machine recipes and my Joy of Cooking.

Experiment 1:
I look at the lean dough recipe (Ratio, p.10):

20 ounces bread flour (about 2 cups)
12 ounces water
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon active or instant yeast

And I compare it with the recipes for 2 lb loaves in the bread machine cookbooks. Those tend to call for about 3 cups of flour, so I scale down the recipe to:

15 ounces flour
9 ounces water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
yeast

Yeah, so I didn’t measure the yeast. The store only had packets, so I just went with a whole packet and figured that should be a loaf of bread worth.

So I pulled out my measuring cup (because it’s microwave safe) and poured in 9 ounces of water. And then I chucked in the random egg yolk I had in my freezer (thawed first) and 2 teaspoons of butter (because every recipe in the bread machine cookbook had about that quantity of lipids). And then I carefully microwaved it up to about 90F and poured some over the active dry yeast to soften it.

Into another container (a quart yogurt container was the perfect size), I started measuring out my flours. And of course I didn’t go the easy route, but I went for whole wheat flour right away. I added about 5 ounces of whole wheat, maybe another 3 ounces of rye flour, and then I was just careful adding the white bread flour to get it to exactly 15 ounces.

Then I added the liquid to the bread machine, added the flour, and topped it with the wet yeast. Plugged it in and nothing happened. Nothing! Whah!

After much despairing, I pulled out the bowl part and twirled the paddle for a bit by hand – and it came together pretty quickly and painlessly into a ball. So I dumped the ball into a large, heavy bowl to mix a little more. And here was the real moment of brilliance that will keep my coming back to bread making – I realized that I didn’t have to get a whole table messy/floury to make bread – I could knead it right there in the bowl!!! Not only was my table not getting dirty, but I was also amazed to discover that my hand didn’t end up all that messy, either. I love bread dough!

I kneaded it in the bowl for a bit, but it fairly quickly became apparent that there wasn’t enough liquid in the dough and it just felt grainy. So I slowly added water in batches as I was kneading. And then I was reading more in Joy of Cooking as I was kneading, and I saw that it said you must have sugars in the dough, too, in order to feed the yeast. So the next time the dough felt dry, I grabbed the honey bottle and squeezed in some honey. I think I ended up adding slightly less than al 1/4 cup of water and maybe an eighth of a cup of honey.

And then I had to let it rise… except my kitchen isn’t hot enough. I live in a tiny studio apartment, and I’ve come up with a solution where I heat my bedroom just a little and the kitchen not at all and this winter (thanks to the help of friends) I have the place insulated enough that it’s enough for me to be comfortable… but the kitchen’s around 40F on most days. So I (oiled the bowl, rounded the dough, turned it in the oil) dampened a kitchen towel and microwaved it until it was warm and steamy. Then I put the bowl on a cutting board and wrapped the top in the warm towel and tucked it all up close to the baseboard heater in my bedroom.

By morning it had doubled in size. Punched it down, kneaded it a little, had some errands to run, so I re-wet and microwaved the towel and put it up for a second rise. Came home and heated up the oven and baked it. (400F for 10 minutes, 350F for 25-30 more minutes – from Joy of Cooking)

Results of experiment #1: So I fully expected this loaf to fail. From no recipe to the equipment failure, from starting off trying a whole wheat loaf to the random inexplicable tinkering – this recipe was doomed to fail. Only it didn’t! It was delicious! It was bread! Okay, so it was a bit solid and tough and more suited to toasting that gobbling up straight, but it was still hard not to gobble it all up right away. I even took some to my mother that night, and she agreed it was tasty bread! Success!

Experiment #2:But I can do better.

This time I only went up to 3.5 ounces of 15 to be whole wheat flour. And I mixed some whole milk with the water (still a total weight of 9 ounces).

And I kneaded it for longer in hopes of making it chewier. Oh, and I figured that since I can keep kneading the flour in a bowl and my hand isn’t getting too dirty that the whole project is portable! So I tucked back into the warm bedroom and kneaded the flour for a whole episode of Earth 2.

The dough still needed more liquid (about the same amount more) and I still added honey (2 Tablespoons-ish). And I accidentally – because I didn’t check back with the book – only included 3/4 teaspoon salt.

And even with the long kneading time, it never reached the stage Ruhlman describes where, “To know if you’ve kneaded the bread dough enough, cut a small piece and stretch it gently. If it reaches the point of translucency before it breaks, the dough is ready.” (Ratio, p.8) But I figure that’s a feature of using the whole wheat flour. And I was starting to worry after 50 minutes of desultory kneading whether I might not be doing too much. I kept adding liquid until the dough was just slightly tacky/sticky after a thorough kneading.

Since the initial mixing had been done in this bowl, too, there was a fine crust of floury bits around the rim, so I did have to wash and dry the bowl before oiling it and putting the dough back in it to rise. But I used the same set up as last week. Only one rise, though.

Results of experiment #2: OMG BREAD! No, really – bread! Just the right amount of gumminess. It could use a bit deeper flavor, but it was exactly what bread should be! Without a recipe and done by feel! I can not express how happy this makes me! It wasn’t just beginners’ luck, either! Wooo! I can not wait until next week when I’ll let myself have another go, but I have no idea how this loaf will last through the night without getting completely devoured.

Plan for experiment #3 So I’m going to need to buy more yeast for next week, so I was perusing the King Arthur Flour website, and I stopped by to look at their recipes – some of which convert back and forth between volume and weight. I’ve noticed that they tend to go with a 16oz flour : 10 oz liquid ratio. That would be a little more wet, and I think I’ll try that next.

12
Nov

More Chocolate

   Posted by: Livia Tags: ,

Oh, right – there’s more chocolate from last weekend.

So one of the things I had been delighted to note when I was planning the trip to New York was that there was a Vosges store near my aunt’s apartment. But, hey, I figured I’d see them at the Chocolate Show anyway – only they weren’t there. (I found out later that they were in the other side of the convention area in the Food & Wine section… and once I finished the Chocolate Show I did stop by the ticket counter to see how much it would cost to upgrade my ticket, but there was no way I was paying an additional $50 when I was already stretching my limits with just the chocolate.)

So I stopped by the store on Sunday. And while my favorite local purveyors of fine chocolate (and excellent coffees and teas), Walnut Bridge Coffee House (I am biased because I was dating someone who lived in the same building as the owners when the shop opened, and so there was the whole introduction and the hearing about their hopes and dreams and quest for amazing chocolate, but still – it’s run by a wonderful couple) have introduced me to their bar chocolates, I have never tried their truffles.

So I popped into the store, chatted up the people behind the counter, and was introduced to the truffles they had in stock.

I left with

  • Gianduia
    • store description: Crunchy hazelnut praline + milk chocolate + praline bits
    • my description – I’m not even sure that this is the right one… my receipt says I left with a Jazz truffle, and I’m sure I did not buy anything with any flavor of coffee. So this is my next best guess. Anyway, this was the one that was a pretty standard chocolate truffle with no distinguishing flavors at all.
  • Dulch de Leche
    • store description – Argentinean dulce de leche + milk chocolate + Costa Rican cashews. A creamy caramel-like spread, Dulce de Leche is a staple among Argentinean breakfast fare and desserts. Our Dulce de Leche truffle combines Argentinean caramel, milk chocolate and Costa Rican cashews to reference a truly Latin tradition.
    • my description – truffle. with creamy caramel inside. I had a better one at the show
  • Balsamico
    • store description – Twelve-year-aged balsamic vinegar from Modena blushes with dark chocolate and roasted hazelnuts
    • I had to really strain to catch the faint notes of the vinegar. This was very modest and dainty, and I far prefer the unapologetic (but well chosen and balanced) flavors in their bars.
  • Olio d’Oliva
    • store description – First press extra virgin olive oil + white chocolate + dried kalamata olives
    • my description – Okay, finally, one with a little boldness. The olive oil flavor was very pronounced. Now I was a little tentative choosing this one since I am not a fan of olives… but I think it was just strengthening the oil flavor because I was not put off by the olives at all (and I probably should have had to work a little harder to like it because and olive fan might be disappointed).

And when I went to the counter, the Rooster (Taleggio cheese + organic walnuts + Tahitian vanilla bean + bittersweet dark chocolate) caught my eye as it popped up in a proud little mountain, but they hadn’t gotten a proper shipment at this location, so I didn’t get to try that one.

Conclusion: I’m sticking with their candy bars.

~*~

And then I walked over to the 92nd Street Y to see Neil Gaiman be interviewed by Chip Kidd, and I figured I’d ooze into a sexy coffeeshop somewhere along the way and pick up some hot tea. Only the Upper East Side seems to be a vast wasteland for coffeeshops. There are corner diners and fancy restaurants, but I don’t think I passed a single coffeeshop. When I got to the Y, I asked the guys manning the desk, and they waved me over to the Dunkin Donuts across the street. Now I have nothing against Dunkin Donuts, but there’s one across the street from where I work, and I’m not going there when I’m in New York City. So I saw two properly urbane-looking women conversing on the steps, so I asked them if they were local enough to offer a recommendation – and it worked!

They pointed me up a block to a cupcake shop called Crumbs!

So one hot chocolate (ghirardelli powder, I think) and a lemon poppyseed muffin later, I was camped out on the steps myself waiting for a line. And then right before we started queuing to be let in (no real line because there was assigned seating), I popped back over for a second hot chocolate – because the beverage and the service was just that good.

10
Nov

11th Annual Chocolate Show in New York

   Posted by: Livia Tags:

So it started off with hearing Neil Gaiman was doing a thing (being interviewed for the 20th anniversary of Sandman) in New York. And then it involved bopping around the internet to see what else was interesting that weekend. And I ended up with a weekend full of chocolate and goodness –

Chocolate Show

So I didn’t go to any of the scheduled events. I was just in and tasting the chocolate. Booth by booth.

Chocolat Moderne: Seems to specialize in fancy decorated bon bons, but they were offering cookies for samples (which do not appear on their website for ordering at all). I tried one called Snake Charmer. It was a spice cookie that was less sweet than usual and had a touch of chocolate. It was good enough to wish a friend had the recipe, but I was generally unimpressed by their selections. The card they were handing out had a promotional code for their online ordering – FRIENDF426 for 15% off an online purchase of $30 or more.

Amedei: SO I only picked up a program book as I was on my way out so I could write this up better, so I didn’t read that it was the Gold Award Winner at the World Chocolate Awards for the last 3 years running. All I knew was that they weren’t offering any samples.

Christopher Michael: truffles and bon bons all made from from single origin Venezuelan chocolate. They were offering samples of a honey & chipotle truffle. Nice, clear flavors that popped, but it was near the beginning, and there was a lot yet to come. Still – honey and chipotle – that combination would work well with my usual cooking repertoire.

Roni-Sue’s: Looked charming, but I didn’t hit them when they were offering samples. I’m mentioning them, anyway, because a quick googling led me to this nice write up of their storefront.

Sendall Chocolates: Has one product, and one product only – Toffee Taboo. Now it’s a good product with almonds and cashews being bright and salty in a bed of dark chocolate all drizzled over with white. It was busy, but it all balanced nicely. But I am just fascinated by them only making one thing and then just marketing it in various shapes and sizes.

serendipiTea: They had 5 teas available for unlimited tasting with the purchase of a $1 cup. And, honestly, I suspect that I didn’t like their teas, but it was delightful to have something not chocolate in between the chocolates that I went back every 5 booths or so and even enjoyed their chai despite not being a chai fan. They and the Susan G. Komen people selling teensy bottles of water were very important parts of this show. I was charmed that they would combine rooibos with black teas, since that’s unusual and implies that they are willing to sacrifice tradition for flavor… but all I can tell you is that it made an excellent palate cleanser. –

  • Buccaneer – Coconut, Chocolate Bits, Vanilla, Rooibos, Nilgiri
  • Holiday Cheer – Peppermint, Mint, Cloves, Cardamom, Ginger, Spearmint, Orange Peel, Chinese Black
  • Once Upon a Tea – Peppermint, Chocolate Bits, Vanilla, Mint, Rooibos
  • Strawberry Kisses – Chocolate Bits, Vanilla, Strawberry, Rooibos
  • Xocatlatl Chai – Chocolate Bits, Vanilla, Mint, Cloves, Cardamom, Ginger, Pepper, Cinnamon, Rooibos, Assam, Indian Black

Lily O’Briens was staffed by very sweet people who were willing to let me steal their pen to take notes (though I returned it once the Fairytale Brownies people were giving free pens away). Their sample was a filled chocolate with some of the richest, butteriest “sticky” toffee filling. But not any stickier than your average gooey caramel. Still – nice people, tasty sample. And the card they were giving out has an offer for a Buy One hot beverage Get One free. Their cafe is at 36 W. 40th Street (Bryant Park), and I’ll mail the card to the first person who promises to go there and use it (and try a bon bon).

Fairytale Brownies: Had the best giveaway all day – a pen with which I look all of these notes to share with you. Just for that I would say nice things about them, but they were also sampling a new addition to their brownie line: Cream Cheese Brownies. And you know how I feel about cream cheese. MMmmmm! They were all rich and creamy and yet not a bit of chocolate was sacrificed for the addition of cream cheese. They also offered blondie brownies, but whatever, they had cream cheese ones. Also, starting in 1992 was good for something – they managed to snag the brownies.com URL, lucky bastards.

Christopher Norman: Sat there looking all fancipants as if they didn’t need to offer samples to let people know just how artistic their message of chocolate might be. But I have no idea.

Quady Winery: specializes in dessert wines. I tasted 2 of the 4 they were offering (because, oddly, there was a crowd for this booth *g*). The wines were too sweet, the names too clever, and on the whole just a little too self-impressed.

  • Essensia, Orange Muscat – Yes, yes it was. Very sweet and very candied orange rind. It wasn’t something I’d drink, but I could see someone using this in a chocolate.
  • Elysium, Black Muscat – Now I like me some Manischewitz, but this was too sweet for me. Seriously, the write up in the guidebook gives tasting notes of rose and litchi. And so I left after just two.

Romanicos: These were the people advertising diet chocolate. Though, honestly, I have no idea how caloric your standard dark chocolate truffle would be to compare. They don’t use butter. And so their truffles are 38 calories each. But despite that, I tasted them anyway. And they were good! I would totally eat a whole box of the original sin ones. Melty, luscious dark chocolate rolled in little nibs to give it a nice, crunchy (gluten free) shell. I’m finding it hard to get away from the health claims, but really, they were tasty.

Green & Black’s: I don’t know if it was the way the booth was tucked into a niche or because it was a well-known name, but I ended up feeling guilty taking up space in front of the booth and fighting to reach the samples, so I grabbed ones near the ends and didn’t try their whole offerings. What I did try:

  • Dark 85% – dark, bitter, not much to mellow it out. Prefect for those who consider chocolate a way to express machismo (i.e. not me)
  • Maya Gold – no hot peppers, but it does have orange, cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla. Tasty, but it also managed to not stand out in the midst of the chocolate show. It was just a decent bar chocolate.
  • Mint – filled squares. Urgh! It just tasted artificial and too strong… and from the write up on their web page, they know that this is a problem and have tried to tone down the mint… and, yeah, no.

Peanut Butter & Co: had a whole bunch of interesting peanut flavors out to try, but I kept having to elbow little kids out of the way to try them… besides, I am loyal to Skippy and am only thinking of cheating on them for something a little more organic and separated… so I only tried their spicy one with the warning that it really was quite spicy. And it was – with also a good peanut flavor. In fact, their peanut butter reminded me quite a lot of my beloved Skippy, so no complaints from me… but also no need to seek them out unless you want someone to mix up exciting flavors for you so you don’t have to. They also had peanut butter filled pretzel snacks that looked very tempting, but they weren’t free. But they did look very promising and possibly superior to similar products.

Charles Chocolate: Had these mojito chocolates. You bit in and out gushed fresh lime and mint – and it wasn’t too sweet. It was quite refreshing and exciting, and while I was there someone was dragged over my her friend because she just had to try get the friend to try them.

Republica del Cacao: this was the only booth where I bought chocolate. Just saying – I paid money for this chocolate. And I should have bought more of it. it’s all single origin from places in Ecuador.

  • 67% from the El Oro province – totally the one I bought. It has layers of flavor. The floral notes are interesting instead of cloying, the fruitiness is rich and luxurious.
  • 75% from Manabi – I just jotted down that it was mild for that concentration and creamy
  • 75% from Los Rios – had a smoky undertone that was quite nice.

Lindt: Yeah, I know Lindt. I have adored them ever since I discovered them in Switzerland in 1987. But that also meant that I just pocketed the Excellence 70% they were handing instead of trying it right there. I already know this isn’t the chocolate bar for me. My favorites are their milk chocolates (esp with hazelnuts) and their extra dark (black wrapped) truffles. But their real strength is in their creaminess (and I have long suspected that it’s secretly creamier when you buy it abroad). So I’ll be keeping the sample as a bribe instead of eating it.

Mary Chocolate: had a huge booth and used it all as an open kitchen where you could watch them filling bon bons and decorating them ever so daintily. But I’d have had to elbow people with cameras out of the way to get all the way over to the side where they might (or might not) have had samples, so I have no idea how it tastes. Definitely pretty, and (at least for show) hand decorated.

TCHO: TCHO (why all caps?) is all about innovating the way you think about chocolate.

No longer do you need to rely on unhelpful descriptors like “percentage cacao,” “varietal,” or “origin” to select your chocolate.”

So it is not, as I first guessed, a clever ploy to mask their supply chain so they could distract you from fair trade issues – because while their site does not specifically claim they buy fair trade cacao, they still have statements and goals toward social justice. Instead, I think it’s just a marketing ploy so they can use their snazzy color wheel. I mean, didn’t chocolate always have varying flavors? Anyway, so I tasted their four options: Chocolatey, Citrus, Fruity, and Nutty. And they were all very bitter, except for the nutty one. I couldn’t tell what flavor note they were highlighting as more citrusy than the others. And the Chocolatey one was distinct to me as having a bit of a coffee aftertaste… and I am not a coffee fan. Of their upcoming flavors (Earthy and Floral), I was curious about what made Earthy more so than any of the others, but the guy behind the counter just shrugged. Meh.

Barry Callebaut had some lovely humongous bars of chocolate, but the booth was rather spare and staffed by one harried woman on the phone to someone asking where were the other people who were supposed to show off. The display was geared toward the chocolate chef, and the samples were lozenges for cooking. I have no idea how to judge what will temper well or any of that, but it tasted like straight forward chocolate with neither bitterness nor complication.

Jacques Torres: There were these gorgeous square bon bons with ginger. It wasn’t too sweet – so the ginger in the chocolate wasn’t too candied, and it was dusted on top with powdered ginger. And it was just delightful and different. And not sold individually on the website at all, so you’d have to go to the store. I had a brief look at his cookbook, and I’d recommend a longer look to anyone who enjoys making chocolate preparations, but I can’t actually recommend the book because I know too little about the craft side of things.

Berkshire Bark: yeah, I don’t know. It’s just not my thing, but it seemed well made and full of interesting combinations.

Valrhona: I think they had something to taste, but I think I was thinking I’d remember it because I don’t have any notes on this booth. Sorry.

Chocolove: I did my best to taste through the whole line, but I ended up giving up through lack of interest:

  • Milk – a nice, creamy kind of milk chocolate
  • toffee & almonds eh – my little piece didn’t have much of either. It was a bit crunchy, though (might just be a sample problem, but I was just selecting at random)
  • orange peel – it sounds like such a good combination, but I don’t think anyone at the show had a tasty one.
  • ginger – the ginger taste was mild, but it was still refreshing
  • Chilies & Cherries – I was a bit nervous trying this since I don’t like cherries, but I didn’t notice any. The chilies were also mild. But, hey, that means it’s not a challenging bar to eat… Yeah, I was bored, too.

Cotton Tree Lodge: Yes, it sounds like a hotel instead of chocolate, but they had free flowing chocolate, so I gave it a try – and it was very tasty, nutty stuff. And then they had the sweetest person ever behind the table, the woman in charge of their sales and marketing, and we ended up conversing about how I was taking notes for a blog entry and she tried to give me a full press kit before I told her I was completely amateur. But – let me tell you how awesome this place looks. Well, have a look at the website – you get to go down to the Belize jungle and stay for fairly reasonable rates doing nifty/relaxing ecotourism. They have a Chocolate Week where you harvest and make chocolate from scratch… and get to keep it. I am seriously thinking about doing this someday. The only odd bits are that on their FAQ, there are two separate questions about shampoo, and neither one is coming up with an answer for me.

ETA: The people from Cotton Tree Lodge stopped by to comment, and they are offering a 10% discount off their published rates with the code SHAMPOO – and you can see how sweet they are in the comments below.

Divalicious looked like a fun booth with its chocolate fountains… but since it looked like a quantity over quality kind of thing and I was more than halfway though, I didn’t step up to try it. But it looked like the people organizing the booth were having fun with it.

Guittard: these people had the most complete and most generous tasting selection of the show. And it was a really well set up booth with lots of information density, too.

  • Bar Chocolates
    • Nocturne – 91% dark, blend of 7 different beans. Sadly, too dark for me to appreciate.
    • Quetzalcoatl most other offerings with this name have had spices or peppers, but this was just rich, tasty chocolate. They are calling it bittersweet, but it was dark and smooth to me.
    • Tsaratana – 61% wonderfully rich. Seriously, my notes just say, “\o/!”
    • Orinoco – 38% milk – good, but not exceptional in the land of milk chocolates
    • Chucuri – 65% Columbian – Another \o/ – melty & sexy
    • Ambajana – 65% Madagascar, Criollo cacao beans – did not stand out to me
    • Sur del Lago – 65% Venezuela, Criollo and Trinitario beans – I really liked the complexity of this one
    • Quevedo – 65% from centuries-old, Ecuadorean Nacional cacao beans – tasted mildly flowery to me. not my favorite.
  • Baking Wafers
    • I tried the bittersweet and the semisweet – and both were okay. No off notes, but no special ones either.
  • fancy fancy – chocolate too fancy to be listed on their website (yeah, I have no idea how to categorize it.
    • Columbian 65% – \o/!
    • Peruvian, single bean, 65% – so smooth it almost tasted like milk chocolate – yum!
    • kokoleka – actually was milk. It goes up there with some of the best milk chocolate I’ve tried. I don’t know why this was so good and the bar wasn’t, but hey

Bloomsberry & Co.: Looked like a chocolate company, but there were really only two chocolates – dark and milk. I only tasted the dark, and it was pretty standard for chocolate. The specialty here was charming and cute boxes for the chocolate. Stop by the website and peruse. Did I mention cute?

Eclat – Huh – if I’d noticed that it’s one single location was in my hometown, I would have gushed to the people at the booth. But, hey, I’ll have to stop by and try some. I didn’t try any at the show because it was $2/truffle to sample them. But local! Woooo!

Chuao – Nice, generous people. But these were the chocolates that almost made me hurl. I don’t know if it’s because they were at the end, but I tried their chocolate pods – Banana: and my mouth was awash with syrupy sweet banana and caramel flavor. I mean, it was a very clear flavor and well done, but very sweet. So I swallowed it down and decided to give them a decent second chance – Modena, strawberry and balsamic vinegar – shouldn’t be too sweet, right? Urgh – wrong. And, really, I don’t know if I would have liked it, if I’d started here. But, anyway, I gave it one more try because I didn’t want to have nothing good to say. So I figured the pods were bad news right then, what with their reservoirs of sweet – so I went for a truffle – Firecracker. And I’m listening to the description as I put it in my mouth – chipotle, yay!; salt – woo!; and pop rocks… erm. So, yeah, that one wasn’t a success, either.

So I sat down for a break with some bracing SeredipiTea (thank you!) and then set out to conquer the rest.

Pralus: don’t have their own store, but they are carried by chocosphere.com and Dean & DeLuca. They had an assortment from their specified origin collection

  • Venezuela & Ghana – 80% – possibly the darkest chocolate I liked. It had a good flavor and coated the tongue nicely.
  • Trinidad – clean flavor
  • Melissa – 45% – smooth (yeah, sorry my notes aren’t more detailed here)
  • Tanzanie – 75% – very nice
  • Equateur – complex and tasty, not bitter
  • Brut de Sao Tome – 75% – meh

sweetriot – An activist candy company! Very active! And young! And full of exclamation points! And they made their chocolate into Tic Tac/Nerds kind of mini shape so you can eat it on the go! And after a closer look, I just walked on without trying it.

Crossings Importers of French Epicurean Specialities – representing three groups, but I think I only have notes for two of them:

  • Bonnat
    • Java 65% – bitter
    • Asfarth 65% – meh
    • Hacienda el Rosario – manages to be both bitter and floral all in one bar, not my thing
  • Mademoiselle de Margaux chocolate twigs
    • orange twigs – still not appreciating the orange selections at this show. Decidedly meh
    • toffee – YAY! Delicious (and I think the note that it was salty went with this one even though it’s next to cappuccino because I would have passed on something coffee flavored)
    • mint – tastes like real, fresh mint on a twig! Delightful.

Campagnia del Cioccolato – another group table, but this is an Italian association going around finding the finest Italian chocolatiers. And they found some delicious and charmingly amateur people. I just wanted to be sweet to them all.

  • First, there was the Dolceria Donna Elvira – and when I asked for a card on which to make notes, as I’d been doing at all the booths, the guy offered me this beautiful spiral bound book with laid paper and I felt horribly guilty making notes in it with my crappy ballpoint pen. And I felt even worse when I didn’t like the chocolate. Well, at least I didn’t like the chocolate bars they had on offer, the dolceria makes other things, too. I know! I was sad. But maybe it will be your thing. So these chocolate bars, they weren’t creamy at all. They were granular. Like crystals of chocolate. It was hard to tell if the bars themselves were sweet or if it just seemed as though they should be because the texture was so much like gnawing at a sugar cube.
    • limone – this one went best with the crunch, and the lemon flavor was very intense. Like nothing else
    • Chili peppers – not that spicy, but it was really hard to get a handle on this one
    • vaniglia – felt very sweet even though I don’t think it actually was. Probably the second best
    • Cannella – possibly the most disappointing because at this point I had figured out the granular part and was expecting it would go well with a strong cinnamon taste, but it ended up being a subtle cinnamon taste that disappeared in the rest of the experience
  • L’Artigiana di Gardini was offering Chocolate with the sweet sea salt of Cervia with liquorice… and I don’t like liquorice in general, but it blended nicely with the dark chocolate and the salt and made for an amazingly layered and different taste. And the salt was just wonderful. YAY!
  • Guido Gobino offered for tasting Cremini al Sale: refined gianduja paste with integral sea salt grains and Extra-Virgin Olive Oil. It very rich and very smooth and melty and an absolutely delightful way to finish the show.
10
Nov

Quick overview of the weekend

   Posted by: Livia

Saturday
Went to New York.

On the way up, was overcome with guilt and called my grandmother to tell her I’d be in the city. Ended up agreeing to spend the night with her instead of the Chelsea hostel. Called up and canceled my reservations.

Caught a train up town. Got off and walked a bit to get to pier. Went to a Chocolate Show. OMG – will write up in detail today. Really tested the limits of my abilities to eat free chocolate. I will attempt to write up up in detail. There will be a lot of interminable detail wherein I say, “And this one – it, too, tasted like chocolate.”

Took cab to grandmother’s. Socialized. She was happy. Ate dinner.

Went uptown again. Saw a Chekhov Play about emo unrequited love and emo bad actors and emo bad writers. It was kind of awesome, and also kind of overdone.

And even though I promised I’d go home by cab, I took the subway back to grandmother’s.

Sunday
Had been planning to meet up with ex from college. Lost her number when I lost my phone. Had sent her emails with my temporary number but hadn’t heard back from her, so I had breakfast with grandmother. (Got an email this morning letting me know she was in Atlanta this weekend)

Then hopped a train to the Upper East Side to visit my aunt and see the Met. Called her up to find out her schedule and ended up going with her to a preview at Sotheby’s for their upcoming Contemporary Art exhibition. People! My name. Was On a List.

It was kind of cool already. And then the stuff – it was almost as complete a look at modern art as going to MoMA. (Oddly/luckily, Modern Art is one of the few areas of art where I am vaguely passingly conversant because after I flunked out of my freshman year at college, I spent three weeks with my aunt in New York wandering museums – and it just so happened at the time that not only did I spend a lot of time at MoMA, but also the Met had an exhibition featuring Modern Art and the Guggenheim had a chronological thing on Modern Art and the Whitney had an interesting exhibition – and so I ended up being able to see the shape of it a bit. But that isn’t the fun part of this story – let me just tell you that there was a representative sample of mediocre and decent works by *everybody*)

And, yet, because it was modern art – and up for sale, instead of at a museum, you had people wandering around saying what they really thought about it. “Oh, look, you could have a wall of camouflage instead of having to bother wallpapering.” And while no one seemed to be willing to admit to being old enough to have Andy Warhol stories anymore, everyone (okay, just several people) was talking about how while there particular samples were crap, let them tell you about how they had known Basquiat and bought his stuff for a song. “Why I used to own this piece. I bought it for $4000, and then sold it for only $5000 and then, and then….”

And have a look at the website – it was crazy. Right now, I am only seeing the link for the evening sale (that was on the 10th floor), but there was a morning set on the fifth floor and an afternoon sale on the second and third floors. Ah, here they are: day (must include both morning and afternoon)

Oh, and there was a section with the diamonds collection. That part didn’t even have estimated prices listed. And people! There was a woman who called someone over and had them open the case so she could try on a ring.

Also, it was the kind of thing where there was a woman going around with a camera, but only taking pictures of the people. My aunt said that she had no idea who most of the people were, but hey. Oh, and someone took my picture in a group, too, but I’m guessing that isn’t actually going to make it as far as publication anywhere.

I did find a few things I would pay a couple hundred dollars to own… but that didn’t really look like an option. Craziness!

Got back to my aunt’s. Went to the Vosges’ store. Within the last year, they have opened a branch 2 blocks from her door, so that was convenient.

Then I rested my feet a bit before heading over to the Met for a quick breeze through the New Greek and Roman galleries (saw a vase with what looked like a man soliciting a boy for sex 52.11.4; Saw a stele commemorating a Bacchic rite with a list of participants and the offices they held, roughly a third were names of women and the ethnicities were mixed; looked at the white-ground lekythoi for pictures of pomegranates and didn’t find any)

Went through Africa and Oceania (no, really, when did that become a real place?) and saw some gorgeous textiles (and one fascinating art one made of found bits of scrap metal)

Popped briefly in Modern Art because there was a brilliant Picaso-esque (Umm… Cubist) painting of the Graces that was stunningly well done – it looked realistic from some angles and the colors were warm and delightful and I don’t remember the painter’s name at all

Said hello to some of the Rodin sculpture and Sargent’s Madame X. Saw a painting that reminded me of Augusta Longbottom’s hat and a luminously spooky dead christ – I think I like Manet a lot more in surprise small doses instead of in a large exhibition of just just his work.

Oh, and I happened into a retrospective of the last three decades of acquisitions to honor the retirement of Philippe de Montebello, director. I love having places and eras all mashed together – and apparently this guy had a thing for musical instruments because those were some of the more unexpected impressive items. But also, such a wide range of selections. I was glad to have caught this exhibition.

And then with a brief swing through Cypriot Art, I hobbled on home – too much walking around while I’m still just getting back to closed toed shoes.

Had a nap. Read a cookbook.

And then I headed out to the 92nd Street Y for Neil Gaiman. Sadly, there were assigned seats, so there wasn’t much joy in waiting in line. But I got there an hour and a half early to give it a shot anyway. Delightfully, about half an hour later there were a couple people from Brooklyn who had the same feelings on the matter, so we had a grand time making fun of ourselves. Also, there were people who could point me to a snazzy cupcake shop a block away where I could get a cup of hot chocolate.

Neil Gaiman was adorable as always. Decided not to buy a book and get an autograph no matter how fun the line looked because the only book I really wanted to buy was over $100, and… well… not right now. Nor any time particularly soon. The last questions led him to discussing what I’d always wanted to, you know, have a leisurely chat about – mainly how he came to mythologies and what he treasured about them. And he was even more delightfully wicked in his approach than I’d hoped. Also, he cut the image of a highly literate seven year old, but then maybe I don’t have a clear image of what children do when. I certainly don’t remember my own experience, that’s for sure.

Walked back. Slept.

Monday Got up at a decent hour. Took the bus downtown instead of the train so I could see a part of the city I haven’t seen yet (2nd Ave) – nifty new construction, some cute stores and intriguing restaurants, and a significant chunk of time later – got on the bus in Chinatown. For the first time on the Chinatown bus I ended up next to someone who wanted to talk to me. Ended up getting to sleep anyway. :)

Had breakfast at Maoz – first time I’ve eaten there. Good deal, tasty cauliflower, decent falafel, but not the best ever. Some time I need to go back to my college cafeteria to see if it’s still as good as I remember it being.

17
Apr

moar chocolate

   Posted by: Livia Tags: ,

So I’ve been sampling local hot chocolates. Well, today I went to Starbucks because a co-worker had a coupon for free coffee. And I’m afraid their hot chocolate might be the best of the lot. It was the least sweet and possibly the most flavourful. A medium, however, was $2.94

And then I had three 30g chocolate bars from Dolfin:

  • Dark w/ pink peppercorns from Brazil – I’d had this one before and adored it. One of the things I like is the occasional crunch of a piece of peppercorn. It’s a nice balance of spicy and intriguing flavor.
  • Dark – white pepper & cardamom from Guatemala – surprisingly tasty. This one was a bit of a risk for me, since I’ve had bad cardamom experiences in my past, but it ended up being quite tasty; it did not taste at all like chai to me. Sorry to get poetic, but it kind of tasted like dancing.
  • Milk w/ green tea and jasmin from Morocco – I love how people have discovered that the bitterness of the tea makes it go better with these dark milk chocolates instead of with dark chocolate. It makes these (by which I mean this one and the Vosges bar) incredibly sensuous, and it makes me unwilling to eat them with any restraint at all. As for the Jasmine? That flavor was subtly there, but I didn’t think it changed the character of the bar much.
9
Apr

If Vosges had a cult, I’d probably join

   Posted by: Livia Tags:

I walked from my place to the theater on Sunday (~4 miles), so I stopped along the way at my coffee/tea/chocolate place and bought some chocolate.

I am becoming a big fan of Vosges Chocolate. They are not afraid to use milk chocolate, and they end up with wonderfully balanced flavors that I gobble up like two dollar chocolate instead of savoring because they are just that seductive.

Macha Bar – Just slightly bitter. It’s that powdered green tea that’s used to make green tea ice cream, but this doesn’t have any powdery taste to it. And the deep milk chocolate the pair it with is fatty enough to rough out the flavor nicely, but it’s still dark enough to be all sleek and sexy and have no obvious milk flavors. This was a repeat purchase – because it’s yummy!

Barcelona Bar – grey sea salt and hickory smoked almonds. With big chunks of salt that crackle on your teeth. A simple bar made very sexy.

Red Fire Bar – ancho & chipotle chillies & ceylon cinnamon. At first this 55% cacao dark chocolate just tastes a bit smoky and spiced, but afterwards a nice burn builds on the tongue. It’s just the right amount of heat. I’d get this again.

I’d get all of them again.

29
Dec

Death Bi Chocolate?

   Posted by: Livia Tags:

I do not have a baking talent… or really much of any talent for desserts.

So, dear friendslist, is it a plausible goal to produce something chocolatey and tasty (but not necessarily gourmet) for the Death Bi Chocolate people by Monday noon?

Especially considering that I recently re-injured my knee with the grotty cartilage?

Ingredients should cost no more than $15 and be light enough to be hopped across the street. Preparation should be able to mostly take place sitting down.

Are there any recipes that fit these requirements? (even if I don’t make something for the event, it’ll still be great to know if such recipes exist)

I know this isn’t the best year to try my hand at participating, but it has come to my attention that this year it will be held somewhere more local than it used to be, so I’d love to see the event do well.

Plus – chocolate!

Wisdom from the comments: Epicurious Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Orgasms, Whacky Cake, French Chocolate Candy, and these fancy shaped brownies:

Fancy shaped brownies are very easy. You will need:

brownie ingredients
a sheet of parchment paper
a half sheet pan
a spatula
cookie cutters

Line the half sheet pan with the parchment paper.
Spread the brownie batter over the parchment-lined pan. Bake till set. Let cool.

Cut in shapes with the cookie cutters. Place on a serving plate. Eat the scraps.

If desired, microwave butterscotch chips or white chocolate till they melt and drizzle over the cutouts. Lick the drips off your fingers.

26
Nov

Virtuous

   Posted by: Livia Tags: , ,

So yesterday I was feeling antsy and a little achy, so I went for a leisurely three hour walk.

I bought some chocolate bars, popped into DiBruno brothers for some gooey cheese and a loaf of bread to eat it with, stopped in Williams Sonoma and registered for a free class on cocktail party tips (and ate yummy free samples), and then got some tea at Last Drop (which no longer carries Mad Hatter’s Teaparty, which doesn’t seem otherwise to exist outside of Canada) and sat outside to drink it with my cheese and bread.

Then I happened across a nifty block of Pine Street with a whole row of cute little boutique shops – my favorite one is here. Then I was almost there and I hadn’t been in a while, so I went over to check out Passional (NWS) – they now have two stores! – one for clothing and corsetry and a whole separate two-story shop with the sex toys and art gallery.

And then today, I went to the gym, too.

At work, however, I found out that I wasn’t supposed to work on Friday. It was a holiday and no one told me. However, my boss was there, too, and she saw me there. So I am going to get paid (overtime?) for showing up. Woo HOOO!

Also, I just tasted the chocolate I bought – Vosges’ macha tea dark milk chocolate – I am so happy – This stuff is incredible. It’s not astringent at all, just smooth and soothing.

Skate America 2007 was in Reading, PA
The plan was to get to Reading, PA in time for the 9am start of the ice dancing practices. Hah! I found out later, though, that because they were practicing for their compulsories that getting there on time would have meant listening to the same short piece of music played eighteen billion times, but by missing it, I was able to not kill anyone during the actual competition.

Here is the schedule – warning, PDF

Also, missing it meant that I hit the patisserie in the turnpike rest stop just as the chocolate croissants were coming out of the oven. MMMmmmmm!

But, woo! Skating!

One of the joys of parking in the farthest lot: having walked past a real restaurant

dinner
We were kicked out of the rink after the practice sessions and weren’t allowed back in for another 2 1/2 hours, so [redacted] (did I mention she was the one to hook me up with the awesome last minute tickets?) and I headed off for the only non-fast-food restaurant in walking distance of the rink (or so it seemed), which I had passed on the walk from the parking garage.

The Ugly Oyster looked like your average Irish pub, but the food was quite tasty. I had possibly the best fish & chips I have ever eaten (all really crispy and flavorful on the breading and absolutely melting inside), and the chips were greasy and hot from the fryer and all kinds of lovely. And I’ve had fish and chips in the UK and Boston and Baltimore’s Inner Harbor – these really were the best.

Wedding – Saturday
After the ceremony, my coworkers and I went off to get drunk – and since the bar was organized by my friend, in addition to wine there was good Belgian beer which I didn’t even get to because there was incredibly tasty hot cider (spiked with apple jack).

I wandered out to enjoy the grounds and the view and was soon joined by all of the other guests who also worked in the library – and we giggled about how the ceremony was very typical of our friend. We also giggled about our friend’s brother who had been given money to buy a suit for the wedding but hadn’t managed to take all of the tags off (we were betting whether he was just unaware or planning to return it – turns out both, he was thinking that the label with the designer’s name would be kinda classy to keep on, but he took off one of the other tags).

Then there was food (tasty, but completely barren for the vegans (including the bride’s ex-girlfriend) who had been invited). I ended up sitting next to the photographer and his assistant/girlfriend. I did my best to bond and ask whether he usually did photography for wedding or other artistic purposes, but he ended up not admitting to me that he was a fetish photographer (which the bride told me later).

When she had first been deciding on favors for the table, I had suggested little mice from Burdick chocolate, but her mother had wanted to do something more arts&crafts – so they ended up getting small wooden boxes that would just fit little jars of jam, 2 shortbreads, and a little spreader. But there were also chocolate truffles from Burdick’s for every table. Oh, man! After people started leaving, I went around checking to see which tables had left these behind – because they were worth dropping a little dignity. And there was wedding cake. And someone, who couldn’t attend the wedding, had sent homemade italian cookies dipped in insanely rich chocolate, but that was far less impressive than the tasty coffee and tea with whipped cream & chocolate shavings.

Sunday
Back in Philadelphia for some Yum Cha
6 people this time.

So I had hopes for trying to chicken feet this time, since I’d missed them last time, but there weren’t any to be found.

We did have tofu skin wrapped dumplings that were dubious looking, but tasted yummy.

I don’t think there was anything I didn’t like – well, maybe the sweet and sour pork because I had trouble finding any meat around the bits of bone.

I’ll have to remember to get the taro rolls next time, they hadn’t caught my eye before because they looked like room-temperature pastry. And it ended up being incredibly affordable. Group consensus: we are so doing this again!