Respect the (Chocolate) Bar

nestleWhy is the chocolate bar a drugstore staple and not a bakery highlight? That was growling-ever-louder debate earlier today between Swiss intern Hans Subebraune, our assistant baker Theo Panadero from Honduras and the all-American (as in Archie Bunker American) Grumps that at one point nearly frightened a couple customers out the door before picking up their cakes, worried that fisticuffs were likely to break out and spill out beyond the display cases.

None of the three tell the same story of what started the argument-to-the-death that ended in a draw, at day’s end. Maybe it was just all the recent chocolate bar “news.” A British journo declared the winner of his “chocolate ‘world’ cup” competition was Twirl Chocolate. There was the heart-warming story of a Giant Gourami — which maybe should be renamed a Giant Gourmet-mi — being raised on KitKat Bars in a London aquarium. And one of the her majesty’s 25-year-olds, Aneesh Popat, created chocolate mouth-pop-em, with 20 calories, featuring flavoured waters in a cocoa-rolybit.

In news away from HM’s realm, Mars introduced a vegetarian bar (no eggs, but still milk) into India, M&M debuted its new multicolored mini-M&Ms milk chocolate bar, and pundits weighed in with ideas like Hershey chocolate bar sales could serve as a stock market indicator and that bingeing on dark chocolate bars can sunproof skin.

Probably the only item that was all-positive was that Denver emporium Hammond’s Candies sent six new chocolate bars out into the world this past year and one, Red Velvet Cake, was named “Most Innovative New Gourmet Product of the Year” by the National Confectioner’s Association. (The five Hammond runners-up are Pigs n Taters, Chocolate Crisp, Double Truffle, The Cookie Jar and Caramel Mocha.)

As the argument was raised, maybe our concern should be that instead of continuing to be thought of as drugstore crapchocolate, barred chocolate concoctions are on their way to winning more respect. So, we’re inspired to try and come up with a few Cupid Alley Chocolatieres bars. We like the path Hammond’s Candy (factory tours available) is taking and are also inspired by the idea of a healthy Nestle-Crunch-like bar substituting dark chocolate and toasted quinoa put together by the folks at Diets In Review.

Maybe we should combine a marshmallow/bittersweet chocolate/pomegranate or hazelnut/chia/honey/semi-sweet chocolate bar? Trying to get those recipes right might just result in the taste success we’re looking for, although it will also likely get everyone yelling again.

Questions and Answers with ihearttruffles.com’s Judith Antelman

trufflesWhile “follow your nose” is the better known advice, around the store you’ll hear a lot more urging to “follow your mouth.” The idea is to taste, and not in haste, until you track down the elusive flavor with some oomph. We don’t want to proscribe ignoring the other senses in seeking out the best in chocolate, but following just that bit of advice as part of her own lifelong quest for the perfect truffle — those cocoa dusted or otherwise coated bites of ganache — led assistant baker Valentina Quetzl to I Heart Truffles of Montclair, N.J. and trufflemeister Judith Antelman.

Antelman, a writer with credits ranging from the 2001 New York Giants Media Guide to corporate presentations with names like Global Structured Products Strategy (and a whole bunch of stuff in between), transformed a lifelong passion for dark chocolate that first began to germinate while making ‘smores with her sister in their family kitchen into her current business of artisinally crafting truffles and bark featuring fair trade organic dark and milk chocolate complemented by other organic ingredients and flavors from pumpkin to mint to lemon to peanut butter to amaretto to lemon zest to wherever else imagination and inspiration take her.

What struck Valentina when she finally tracked Antelman down was the chef’s self-described search for “the pure truffle.” And so, after she also agreed to the courtesy of answering a few questions, it was about that we first wanted to know:

Cupid Alley Chocolatieres: Can you describe how truffles snagged your heart?
Judith Antelman: I was looking for a pure truffle, which is dark chocolate and cream. I couldn’t find anything made without a combination of butter, egg, oils, corn syrup, glucose, etc. So, I experimented in my kitchen, reading and researching until I perfected the original French truffle. From there, I started infusing the truffles with pure fruits, herbs, coffee beans, liqueurs; using fresh organic ingredients only.

CAC: Why were you looking for a pure truffle? Was it a personal quest or a followup to your Wall Street career or had you already decided to start up the business?
JA: Everything I tasted was mixed with added ingredients, thus the pure taste of cocoa was lost. Many truffles tasted like plastic, or were too buttery, or just weren’t right for any number of reasons. I like clean food; I wanted a clean pure chocolate tasting truffle; not a mush mouth of sugar and butter. Thus, I experimented. The business was purely a whim initially. I love making chocolate truffles and bark, and was encouraged by friends who loved my truffles.

CAC: What was your specialty on Wall Street and what led you there first, instead of to the world of chocolate?
JA: Wall Street was an accident. I previously had worked as an editor in publishing and academia. Through a friend, I fell into a freelance editing gig in the mid 90s at a Wall Street bank. It was flexible, lucrative, and I enjoyed the other editors, so I continued as a freelance editor until the credit crisis. I worked for a few different banks until the recession.

CAC: What was the process like in putting together your business and why do you think it has found a niche?
JA: It is a small business, and mostly word-of-mouth and my website, ihearttruffles.com. I started plying friends and then parties with truffles, until friends encouraged me to try selling them. It took off slowly, and is still in the baby stages. The niche I found is a result of individuals like me desiring a pure cocoa truffle. Using high quality chocolate and ingredients are crucial to garner a clean smooth truffle. My demographic is usually the foodie with a sweet tooth, but not a sugar addict.

CAC: Is there something in particular that you have learned as an artisan that can help the at-home truffler?
JA: Practice. Practice. Practice. One must love crafting truffles as it truly is laborious, thus it is a labor of love in the greatest sense. It took many years of practice, a few chocolatier classes, and experimentation, which still continues.

truffle plateCAC: What are some of your favorite current and can you share the secret of truffles you are working on for the near future?
JA: Without sharing truffles secrets, some of my favorites are: maple-cinnamon; coconut; and mocha.

CAC: Are there one or two aspects to truffles that you wish your customers knew more about before or when ordering from you?
JA: I want customers to know I combine the highest-quality ingredients, fair trade chocolate, and a whole lot of love in every small batch of truffles and chocolate bark.

CAC: What other projects are near to your heart and what is to be expected from I Heart Truffles?
JA: I hope to open a small chocolate shop at some point in the near future. Location still unknown. Currently, I am crafting orders for Easter, Passover, weddings, and Bat Mitzvahs. I sell to the NJ/NYC area. When I start shipping, I will sell nationwide. Interested customers may refer to: ihearttruffles.com for further information.

Chinese New Year with Changchun Chocolate Crunches (and Questions)

chinese chocolate soldiersChina’s Spring Festival (also known as its “new year”) combines something of the celebratory feel (in America-speak) of Thanksgiving, New Year’s Eve Year and the Fourth of July.

What it doesn’t include is anything extraordinary and chocolatey. Despite the country’s incredible legacy of inventiveness — from silk, paper, kites, cards, gunpowder — the “best” chocolate recipe that can be concocted to celebrate this occasion is a riff on their invention of noodles with a transformation into Changchun Chocolate Crunches. The chew is named for the relatively young (only a couple hundred year old) city located amidst the natural beauty found in northeast China. It’s also a pretty easy recipe to make with kids in case you want to celebrate the Chinese New Year at home before picking up your cartons of takeout.

Changchun Chocolate Crunches

Ingredients
1 1/2 cup dark chocolate
1 1/2 cup crispy chow mein noodles
1/2 cup peanuts
1/2 cup pistachios
1 tsp almond extract

Procedure
Microwave or double boil to melt chocolate. Slowly stir in remainder of ingredients. Remove from heat and spoon out small round mounds on waxed paper (about 15). Refrigerate for about two hours.

Notwithstanding the current World Chocolate Wonderland celebration [Earlier: Chocolate Around the World May Keep You at Home] it’s hard to believe the country is so laggardly in chocolate consumption and enjoyment. Maybe it’s a pride thing getting in the way of Chinese confectioners? Will it be a spur to their creativity that the country’s fashion designers are beginning to use the cacao bean as an inspiration for couture, most recently in a fashion show held as a feature of the WCW?

Or, in this year of the black water snake maybe the country will build from even the simplest of ideas until it creates an appropriate chocolate legacy. Quick hit ideas before it is too late, consider Peanut Butter, Banana, Chocolate Snake Cake; Icelandic Chocolate Snake Cake; even microwaved German-Chocolate Snake Cake; or, close to lowest of all, the Halloween-themed Chocolate Muffins with Gummy Snakes.

Really, we know they’re not much of a start, but all we are really doing is (yes, selfishly) looking to the future, when we’ll have something more sophisticated and authentic to offer than our not-yet-famous Changchun Chocolate Crunches.

Chocolate Santa Rant (Advisory: Not SC)

chocolate santaIT’S NOT SEASONALLY CORRECT (Can we copyright that? Lawyers?), but Chocolate Santas are mostly stupid. Honestly, how is it still considered festive to participate in a ritual long passed its expiration date of biting the simulated head — and other body parts — of a demi-deity worshiped for bringing joy from the sky?

Now, we don’t loathe the false-idol chocolate Santas with the vitriol of Albert Burneko, a world-class ranter who really, really detests and despises cheap chocolate and is not at all afraid to let you know about it, but we do hate waste.

So, we are giving a pass when Jacaques Torres creates a choco-Nick

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But we’re coming down hard on the excess of a Vegas mega-waste of inedible Chocolate Santa, lovingly crafted as it may be and showcased at the Jean Philippe Patisserie. We are also calling out the unseemly sacrifice of cacoa beans to create an an estimated 2,956,818 calories of inedible white, milk and Disney World chocolate Santa.

Our heart and palates begin to soften when the idea of a 30-pound, three-foot tall (about 270 or so candy bars worth) Chocolate Santa gets raffled for Charity. Still, if you have to create something in Santa’s image, just use legs and make some amusing looking chocolate cupcakes or much better yet, forget sacrificing a man and go hog wild with creativity building upon the yule log of Michel Richard (author of Sweet Magic) with an incredible yule log.

In short, as we say all the time because it’s best for business: leave the fat man alone!

Questions and Answers with “Bug Chef” David George Gordon

IN addition to ingesting cocoa-coated squirmies, can there be a better, more appropriate way to celebrate Oct. 14, National Chocolate-Covered Insect Day, than to check in with Eat-a-bug Cookbook chef David George Gordon, whose recipes include Ants in the Pants (below), which features baked and then chocolate-pantsed ants.

Currently living in Seattle with his wife (and illustrator), Karen Luke Fildes, and a tank full of tropical fish, the just-a-shade-over-60 Gordon grew up poking and turning things in his backyard before getting a degree in biology, working at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium and then Tacoma’s Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. Since, he has written on bugs he hasn’t eaten, as well as slugs, dolphins, sharks, and horses … and attained a fair degree of harmonica harmonium. Taking a break from writing, tweeting, making what a 2008 Time magazine article referred to as his “classic dish” of orthopteran (cricket) orzo, and cooking for students and food festival attendees around the world, he was kind enough to answer a few questions and help us celebrate NC-CI Day

Cupid Alley Chocolatieres: How did you get your start as the master of insect recipes?

David George Gordon: I’ve been involved with this topic of entomophagy (that’s bug-eating to you) since 1996, when I started collecting materials that would eventually appear in my Eat-a-Bug Cookbook. Since the book’s publication in 1998, I’ve watched public interest (and media attention) grow by leaps and bounds. I’m currently working on the revised and updated Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, which will be released by Ten Speed Press in July 2013. The climate into which this new book will be born is quite different than for the original edition, which, by the way, is still in print, nearly 15 years later.

CAC: Are there particular bugs or specific ways of preparing chocolate that go best together?

DGG: My best tip is to get the proportions of chocolate and insects correct—too much and you can’t taste the bug; too little and the bugs are overpowering, adding a little too much crunch.

CAC: What kinds of health benefits are there with insects that more people should know?

DGG: From my cookbook [Reading] :

What’s to be gained from a diet of bugs? A grasshopper’s body is more than 20 percent protein. Compare this with the protein in lean ground beef (about 27 percent), and you’ll see why even professional wrestlers could sustain themselves on a diet of food arthropods. Since grasshoppers and their insect relatives contain large quantities of water, their protein content jumps to around 60 percent after these animals are dried — that’s plenty of protein for both John the Baptist and Hulk Hogan to get by.

Many protein-rich bugs are also good sources of vitamins, minerals, and fats. Ladies, are you worried about warding off osteoporosis? Then eat crickets, which are loaded with calcium. Want to avoid anemia? Try termites; they’re rich in iron. One hundred grams of giant silkworm moth larvae provide 100 percent of the daily requirements for copper, zinc, iron, thiamin, and riboflavin. It turns out that animals that eat greens have higher levels of Omega-3 fatty acids — the “good” fats in our bodies, whose powers as an anti-oxidant can thwart certain forms of cancer and disease. Many insects contain abundant stores of lysine, an amino acid deficient in the diets of people who rely heavily on corn. Could the ancient Aztecs have known this? They sold corn infested with corn earworm (a small green and black striped caterpillar that more modern farmers consider a nuisance) for more money than corn without the nutritionally supportive bug.

CAC: Are there ecologically sensitive and/or fair trade movements in the farming of insects as there are with cacao?

DGG: Not yet, but it’s coming. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations is investigating ways of mass rearing (as opposed to wild-harvesting) insects in tropical countries where bug eating is already part of the culture. It’s their hope that the results of the investigation will help to alleviate world hunger. It’s my hope that the FAO “certified” farms will be considerably less harmful to our planet that the farming of more traditional sources of protein — cattle and pigs.

CAC: What is your favorite chocolate bug recipe?

DGG: It’s Ants in Pants. Here’s the recipe from The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook [by David George Gordon; copyright 1998, Ten Speed Press]:

Who knows what inspired Reese Finer Foods to discontinue its product line of exotic fried and candied insect treats. It couldn’t have been from lack of consumer interest; one out of three grown-ups I’ve contacted recalls eating (and, in many instances, enjoying) Reese’s chocolate-covered grasshoppers and ants as a kid.

Alas, I’ve been unable to uncover so much as an empty can from this once-great bug supplier, or even someone who worked for Reese during its heyday. So in the spirit of entomological entrepreneurship, let’s rekindle the lost art (or is it ant?) of fudge making with Formicidae.

In this recipe, wild ants are frozen, baked in the oven, then dressed in tantalizing chocolate “pants.” My only precautionary note: It’s too easy to “overdress” for the occasion, inadvertently burying the tart flavor of the ants with their rich chocolate coating. So don’t be stingy with the ants. They’re a dime a dozen and only slightly more expensive if you purchase them from a biological supply house.

1/2 cup (about 80 to 100 individuals) western thatching ants (Yield: 10 or 12 candies)

(Formica obscuripes) or other large-bodied ants, oven baked

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, broken into chips

1/2 teaspoon Grand Marnier, or orange extract to taste

4 ounces (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 tablespoon corn syrup

1. Combine the chocolate, butter, and corn syrup in the top of a double boiler set over hot (but not boiling) water. When the ingredients are evenly blended, stir in the Grand Marnier. Remove from heat and allow the chocolate to cool to 90°F. The chocolate will be shiny and will coat the finger well.

2. Drip small amounts of the melted chocolate on a sheet of foil or parchment paper, forming 10 or 12 1-inch-diameter discs. Quickly pile up a spoonful of the baked ants in the center of each circle, then cover with the remaining chocolate. Refrigerate.

3. After the chocolate has set, use a spatula to transfer each chocolate bundle of Ants in Pants to a plate

CAC: How are you celebrating this year’s National Chocolate-Covered Insect Day?

DAG: I’ll be playing harmonica with my band at a house party. Hopefully they’ll have plenty of chocolate for the entertainers as well as the guests!

CAC: What are the best and worst bug and chocolate experiences you have had?

DAG: I haven’t had any bad experiences with the chocolate; but I have been attacked by soldier ants while trying to collect their nest mates for my Ants in Pants recipe.

The best experience has been the purchase of my Cuisinart CFO-3SS Electric Fondue Maker Cuisinart electric fondue maker, which allows me to include chocolate-covered bugs on the menu of my traveling bug-cooking demos.

CAC:What’s next for you and bugs and chocolate?

DGG: I have a wonderful new recipe for Chocolate Fondue with Chapulines (small grasshoppers from Oaxaca, Mexico, roasted and seasoned with salt, chile and lime). It and eight other new recipes using insects will be in my updated and revised Eat-a-Bug Cookbook, which will be released by Ten Speed Press in July 2013. In fact, I believe the chocolate-covered grasshopper will the cover photo for that book.

: What kinds of health benefits are there with insects that more people should know?

Britain Goes Cocoa

IT’S a busy week and we will not get there, but there’s still a few days left for you. Hop on a plane or unmoor a speedy boat to cross the pond as the United Kingdom turns its taste buds over to chocolatieres from 8-14 October in celebration of independent artisans (no mega-brands) at Chocolate Week 2012.

This is the eighth year for the the wide-ranging celebration of cacao products and cocoa dreams run by Nudge, flacks for foodies. Three hundred-plus talks, tastings, product launches, demonstration and samplings scheduled in bakeries, restaurants, bars, at the Chocolate Unwrapped food show and even with a showing of Nothing Like Chocolate, the documentary of Mott Green, Oregonian and founder of the Grenada Chocolate Company.

For planning purposes consider their event search site. If you, too, can’t get there, you can always follow their Tweets or Facebook posts … as well as trying out the “exclusive recipes.

Choco Porn

Go ahead. Salivate. Let your heart beat faster and sweat bead on your brow. At home. In the dark. Alone or with a loved one. And by “this” we mean William Curley’s Couture Chocolate.

The gorgeous, salaciously lighted pictures and drool-inducting text claims to be a master class in learning how to make a confectionery cornucopia. But, face it, even for us looking at the incredible concoctions is basically pornography — something we desire in the pits of our stomach (so deep it touches us to our loins). TRY IT AT HOME. We dare you to follow in the whisk steps of Curley, the many-times decorated by the British Academy of Chocolate decorated chocolatiere delux.

So that potential purchasers won’t feel dirty and in need of a shower (and maybe a purge, or two), the book’s pitch is that pretty much anyone can eventually work themselves into a chef-state where they can produce the mesmerizing options available in Curley’s shops. And we’d love to believe that, but while we don’t want to dissuade you from a wet food dream, we do feel the need to offer just a teaspoon of reality.

It look easy enough. Go ahead and give a shot to creating  some rosemary and olive oil (chocolate) truffles in your kitchen. Or just buy the book and admit to what you’re really up to.