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 crimsonplum.etsy.com! (Of course, I'll post anytime we have something up for sale.)