Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Cheap white chocolate

No creations to share, but I'm just excited about this. In two different Cincinnati Kroger stores, we discovered Kroger White Chocolate Chips - which are real white chocolate! If you've never tried to buy white chocolate, it's a lot harder than you'd imagine. Many supermarkets only sell Nestle "White Baking Chips," which have hydrogenated oil instead of cocoa butter - less healthy and WAY less tasty. I accidentally bought them once to make peppermint bark, and it turned out downright disgusting. That was several years ago, and since then I have never, ever failed to check the ingredients list when looking for white chocolate.

Strangely, it seems to be the store/generic brands that are most likely to have real white chocolate chips. President's Choice has them, which used to be sold at the Jewel Oscos near me, but they stopped carrying them. Whole Foods' 365 generic has white chocolate chunks, which is what I've been using. (Whole Foods also carries Callebaut bulk white chocolate, which is good, but when we're making a LOT of candy for Christmas price is a concern.)

The Kroger ones are less than $3/bag, whereas WF 365 is $4.50/bag - that little difference adds up when you're making a lot. For some reason, no other Kroger I've been to, or other stores that carry the Kroger brand, has carried the white chocolate chips. So I'm excited to give them a try and see if they're worth using!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Chocolate Sudoku

It turned out a bit streaky - not sure why, the truffles we dipped that night didn't. Might be because we'd first started to spread out the leftover chocolate on a sheet of wax paper to set for later use before we realized that what we really should be doing is trying out our new mold.

It's filled with graham crackers! My pics of the center didn't come out, though.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Guittard Couverture Part 3: Marginal Success!

We made one more attempt at tempering the Guittard tonight. It was a cooler night and the stove/oven hadn't been used in a few hours, so the kitchen was even cooler. Success! We dipped some ganache lumps we'd had in the fridge for a couple days, and they set up very quickly!

One thing I've learned: I'm not a fan of putting ganache in the fridge to set up quickly, which we did when our original experiments with this chocolate were failing. It just isn't as stable as ganache that has set up at room temperature over a few hours - as soon as you get it out of the fridge, it starts melting. So that the truffles we dipped tonight wound up having very mushy centers. :(

As for the chocolate itself: It's got a very fruity flavor, but for supposedly having more cocoa butter than average it's not terribly creamy. At about 90 degrees it is very fluid and easy to dip in, which is a plus. However, we both agreed that we actually like the flavor of the Ghirardelli 60% chips better, and the slightly lower viscosity of this just isn't enough to justify paying over 3x the price for general use. Maybe for something extra-special - it does make a nice thin shell for the truffles.

Bonus: We used the leftover melted chocolate in the sudoku mold! I will post pics this weekend.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Guittard Part 2: Continued failure

Well, I think that it is officially too hot and/or humid in our house to temper chocolate. Our second evening of attempted tempering was a massive failure. We finally topped off the molded truffles and put them in the fridge to set up, and are waiting for better conditions before trying dipped truffles so that we don't waste too much expensive chocolate. Which means either cooler weather or the AC getting fixed!

I brought the refrigerated truffles to a meeting today, though, and they went over quite well. The ganache is really soft, though - I think that setting it quickly in the fridge just doesn't leave it as stable as letting it set up at room temperature overnight does. When we do that, we have nice firm centers. Now they're very mushy when not right out of the fridge. I like my truffles firm, like Harry & David's.

Not going to bother with the pics, I don't think - save that for when something actually works!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Guittard 72% Couverture Wafers - Part 1

We made it down to CakeWalk Chicago - wow! What a great little store! Too bad they're 45 min away; we only made it there on our way to Cincinnati. But we scored some Guittard couverture chocolate as well as a couple of new molds - they have a TON of molds. We'll be coming up with something creative to do with this Sudoku mold for the puzzle competition we go to every January...

Anyhow, I've been hoping to get my hands on some real couverture chocolate at a decent price. Couverture has a higher percentage cocoa butter, which makes it thinner and ideal for dipping. Since our recent attempts have been plagued by a goopiness that makes it hard to dip anything, I thought this would be great. Guittard is considered the "low end" for couverture, and it was still $13.50 for a one-pound box. If I find something I like, I'll be able to buy online in bulk for less per pound, but I don't want to shell out $50+ for 5 lbs unless I know I'll use it!

We started out with some molded truffles tonight, and ran into some problems. Basically, the chocolate just never really tempered properly. I have no idea what we did wrong, or if it's just too warm in here - the AC doesn't work, so the room temperature was in the high 70s. But I'm afraid these truffles will not be shiny and pretty the way that properly-tempered chocolate should be. We lined the molds, and piped in the ganache, then piped the rest of the ganache into lumps to be dipped tomorrow once they're set.

We'll see how this all works out - maybe tomorrow we can get the temper to work better. I will post pics of the results later this week, either way. So far, I'm disappointed and am still on the search for anything that can beat my old standby $4/lb Ghirardelli 60% chips (which we used for the ganache today, btw) in value for the money.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Callebaut Semisweet Chips

We were out of town visiting family all last week, and while we were there we tried dipping some homemade vanilla marshmallows in Callebaut semisweet chips, which were on sale for $4/lb at Whole Foods.

They were less goopy while dipping than the Callebaut 70%, and creamier-tasting than average semisweet chips. But overall, I don't think they were better than the Ghirardelli 60% chips. I like the darker chips better, and both sets melt about the same. We did mess up the tempering on these ones, so it's possible they would have been harder to work with if they'd cooled more for a proper temper.

We often wait too long before declaring the chocolate tempered enough to dip - which means that sooner than we'd like, it's cooling to a point where it's hard to dip, and we have to rewarm it. And about 1/3 of the time, when we rewarm it we lose the temper. This time, we overcompensated and started dipping too soon, so it just wasn't tempered well enough yet. It eventually solidified at room temperature, but not to the nice crisp shininess that properly-tempered chocolate should give.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Free Chocolate

It's not exactly Valrhona, but Mars (makers of M&Ms, Snickers, Milky Way, Twix, etc) is giving away 250,000 coupons for free candy bars every Friday through September. It will take up to six weeks to get your coupon, and only four total per household over the entire period of the giveaway are allowed.

What's really interesting is that they seem to be specifically doing this to promote the fact that their candy is made with actual cocoa butter chocolate, rather than the "chocolatey" substances some companies use. Now, I would not call Mars a source of high-quality chocolate, but I do love M&Ms and yes, the fact that they do use real chocolate certainly is a step up from some companies (Palmer, I'm looking at you with your icky Easter bunnies made of shortening). And IMO, any attempt to educate the public about this difference is laudable, especially considering the health differences between cocoa butter and hydrogenated oils - although they make no reference to the health angle. In fact, they don't really say why real chocolate is better, just that it's real, and you don't want fake. Eh, whatever.

Go get your free candy! On Friday. Well, sign up for it and get it six weeks later. What can I say, I'm just a sucker for anything free.

(Found over at the Candy Blog.)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Chai Marshmallows

Last night, I made chai marshmallows!

I used Alton Brown's recipe as the base, making a half recipe. Instead of ice cold water, I took some very strongly-steeped black tea, emptied out the tea bag and refilled it with a Tea Masala spice mix I bought at an Indian grocery store, and re-steeped it with the spices. (The spice mix has black pepper, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg, but I don't know the proportions. It's perfect, though!)

I also added a half a teaspoon of the Tea Masala plus a half teaspoon of cardamom (I just love cardamom!) with the vanilla, as well as a touch of cardamom in with the powdered sugar/cornstarch that goes on the outside.

Overall, they are very yummy... If maybe a bit spicier than intended. You can feel a bit of a spice burn in your throat after you eat one - next time maybe only a 1/4 tsp of each spice. But the chai flavor goes really well with the creamy, sweet marshmallow - a couple of weeks ago I made cinnamon (as in, Red Hots cinnamon) marshmallows, and while they were yummy, the flavor + texture combo threw you off a little. This is a much more natural combination!

I will definitely be making these in the future, with just slightly milder spices.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Book Review: Bittersweet

Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate by Alice Medrich. 2003, Artisan Books.

Alice Medrich is the Queen of American Chocolate, and this book showcases why. Where to begin on why you need this book? I guess I'll break it down into three reasons: The recipes, the stories, and the knowledge.

The Recipes
This won IACP Cookbook of the Year for 2003, with good reason. I have yet to try a recipe that didn't work beautifully and deliver the perfect chocolate punch. Medrich has specifically engineered each and every recipe in this book to put the flavor of the bittersweet chocolate at the center. Most are written to be made with chocolate in the 60% range, but also include alternate instructions to use semisweet (50-60%) or 70+%; some also include instructions for milk chocolate, and some cocoa-based recipes are included. The recipes run the chocolate gamut, from cakes/cookies/brownies to mousses, truffles, ice cream, and even a chapter on savory uses of chocolate.

If you'd like a sample before you buy, try the Best Cocoa Brownies, which have been posted at Epicurious. These are so good, I haven't even gotten around to trying the other brownie recipes! I mean, come on - any recipe with more cocoa than flour is sure to be epic.

The Stories
Bittersweet, as the subtitle indicates, isn't just a cookbook. It's also a memoir of Medrich's chocolate journey, from a year spent in France to opening her legendary chocolate shop Cocolat in Berkeley, CA, to sharing the chocolate experience with her children. The book is a joy to read even before you try any of the recipes - anyone interested in memoirs or food history should pick it up just for a good read!

The Knowledge
Just glancing at many of Medrich's recipes, you'll notice that the text is long and dense - no mere bulleted list of steps. She is careful to explain exactly why different techniques and ingredients are used in each recipe, and why one recipe differs from another. These explanations are sometimes worked into the recipes themselves, but there are also sections devoted entirely to them. Once I read her explanation of what tempering actually does to the chocolate and why it works, it became so much easier! Baking and candy-making are more science (or perhaps engineering) than art, and understanding the mechanisms by which the recipes work goes a long way to making sure you won't mess them up and will be able to create variations of your own that actually work. Consider this a recipe book, a memoir, and a textbook for a class on the science of chocolate.

The book does have one flaw that really bugs me, though - there is no useful table of contents! The main TOC lists only the section titles and the names of the individual memoir essays, it does not include recipes at all. Each section has its own recipe TOC, but there are no tabbed pages for these, making it very difficult to flip right to the TOC you want. The index becomes the only quick way to find anything. I highly recommend bookmarking your favorites.

Even if it can be hard to find what you're looking for, though, the content is 100% worth digging through. If you don't already have this in your kitchen library, grab it now.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Callebaut truffles

A recent project we've been working on is making truffles using a mold, rather than just dipping the centers in chocolate as we usually do. Last weekend was our first attempt, using ganache that had been cut into circles about 1/4 inch tall, and using various methods to surround these with chocolate in the mold - dipping then placing in the mold and filling it the rest of the way with chocolate; putting chocolate, then center, then chocolate in the mold. None were ideal, and the shell-to-center ratio was high.

So this weekend we decided to try a new method: Coat the mold in a thin layer of chocolate, let it set up, then pipe in soft, unset ganache. We use Ghirardelli 60% chips constantly; they're easily the best value in terms of quality per dollar that we've found ($3/11.5 oz at Target). This time we decided to try something better, just to see how it went, so we got some bulk 70% Callebaut from Whole Foods.

The verdict: Thumbs up on the new truffle-molding technique. Worked like a charm, the ganache set up nicely inside the truffles and the shell was thin and crispy. We still need to work on making the bottoms of the truffles smooth, but the rest is shiny and pretty!

Thumbs waggly, however, on the Callebaut. It is a better-tasting chocolate than the Ghirardelli, but not necessarily twice as good (it costs about twice as much, $8/lb). It was also harder to work with, which I wasn't expecting. It was very goopy at the low temperatures required for tempered chocolate. I'd read that chips are to be avoided because they're formulated not to melt well (as you want them to hold up when baking), but the Ghirardelli 60% chips definitely melted better than this bulk chocolate.

I noticed that WF has Callebaut semisweet chips on sale for $4/lb, so maybe we'll try those sometime soon.

Monday, June 1, 2009


Crimson/Plum is a husband and wife team (I am the wife and Plum half, Crimson is not big on blogging) who adore eating and working with chocolate. We have enjoyed making chocolates for friends and family at Christmastime for several years, and we are turning this into a year-round hobby.

Here you will read of our chocolatey exploits - we are starting to play around with different brands, percentages, and techniques, and I will report on the results of our experimentation. You will also likely find reviews of chocolate brands, photographs of our creations, and tutorials if you would like to try making some of these tasty treats for yourself. Although chocolate-making is the main theme, we will also be making (and posting) about other confections (I am particularly fond of marshmallow and caramel) and probably a bit of baking will sneak in as well.

Eventually we plan to sell off some of the fruits of our labors (my coworkers are enjoying them so far, but I'm guessing they can only eat so many truffles a week before they start blaming me for their extra gym hours) - so keep an eye on! (Of course, I'll post anytime we have something up for sale.)