Saturday, February 17, 2018

Help for the New Baker

Wilton Cake Baker's Tools and Parchment Paper Set
I've been making cakes since I was a preteen. My mother seemed to have everything we needed. I thought I had everything that I needed when I was offered the opportunity to check out the Wilton Cake Baker’s Tools and Parchment Paper Set via the Amazon Vine Program. I had been thinking in 2017 that I wanted something to help me make layered cake better and here was my chance to try out a Cake Lifter. I've always used a knife to chop up ingredients but here was a Baker's Blade to test out. I've used Parchment Paper a lot and I've become fond of the individual sheets you can get now but I was willing to try Wilton's version. I've always used toothpick to test of baked goods were done then felt guilty about tossing them so the idea of a washable and reusable Cake Tester was appealing. Wilton expected a review on Amazon as a result of sending this to me to review. They  got their Amazon review but this article for all of you chocolate lovers is a bonus for them. As always, this review is based on my use of the products over several baking episodes. No form of compensation was received in exchange for this blog essay.

I tried all four of the items in this kit -- Baker’s Blade, Cake Lifter, Cake Tester and Parchment Paper. I didn't try them all for one recipe nor with chocolate very time. Let's look at each one of these.

The Baker's Blade is for cutting up ingredients, scooping them up, and lifting them to your bowl or pan. While it has purple, hard plastic sides on the scoop and handle part that material is not over the edge making this a bit difficult to hang on to with the steadiness that you need to chop. The chopping edge isn't especially sharp so I had to use some force when trying to chop up some chocolate. The photo below shows the small dent I made in the chocolate after two strikes when my normal method does as well if not better. That amount of needed force them caused the non-plastic covered edge to dig into my hand. Honestly I have better luck chopping with a very sharp knife. It is dishwasher safe.

Wilton Baker's Blade
The Cake Lifter made moving the cheesecake I created for Cookie for Kids' Cancer charity event earlier this month. The trick is to not put the entire layer you want to move on the lifter, leave a small part off of it so you can then put that part on the surface you are transferring it to and then gently slide the rest of the treat off the lifter. I like the purple hard plastic edge where you hang on to the lifter when you are using it. It is dishwasher safe.

Wilton Cake Lifter
The Cake Test is like a reusable toothpick that you might use to check out your baked goodies, as I'm sure many of you reading this do. Calling it a Cake Tester is marketing; it can be used with all sorts of baked items like the cornbread muffins in the below photo. It is very easy to clean but do that by hand, do not put it into the dishwasher. The cover allows me to safely store this with my baking tools such as my rolling pin and measuring cups without worry that the thin metal of this tester will break or bend.
Wilton Cake Tester
Wilton's own version of Parchment Paper is pretty much like all other rolled parchment paper I have ever used. You have to be careful when creating the piece you need or the result will be too small or two large as you can see in this photo. I did like that the sharp edge is inside the box not on the lid where it is very easy to cut yourself.

Wilton Parchment Paper Roll
If you'd like to check out this Wilton Cake Baker's Tools and Parchment Paper Set, please do so using our links to it. When you do so you help support not only The Chocolate Cult but also our founder so she and we can continue to bring you interesting and useful articles.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Learn More about Sjaak's Organic Chocolates

Sjaak's Hearts of Cherry
Sisters and Brothers in CHocolate, on Sunday and Monday we shared some of the Vegan and Organic Valentine options from Sjaak's. Today I want to introduce you to Jessica Holten-Casper from Sjaak's Organic Chocolates to The Chocolate Cult today to answer some questions about the company she works with and her own relationship to chocolate.

Thank you for joining us, Jessica.


Jessica, what is your position at Sjaak's?

We are a small family owned and operated business, therefore Jacques and I both wear many different hats. I have many positions, from sales and marketing to product development to customer service and packaging design to shipping assistant all the way to custodian. 

How long have you worked at Sjaak's?

Jacques and I began this business about 14 years ago. Jacques has been making chocolate for my entire life, in one way or another.  Jacques and I began this business about 14 years ago when we decided that organic chocolate was the next logical step, as it was in line with both of our priorities of trying to consume only organic foods. 

Jacques' Training in Europe
On the Sjaak's website there is a small amount of historical information about the company. We learn that Jacques, the owner and creator of Sjaak's, is from The Netherlands and that the brand logo refers to his roots. Could you tell us a bit more about him and when he created this brand?

Jacques was born and raised in Holland. The windmill in the logo was actually his family mill, his family were millers. Unfortunately the mill was destroyed by the Nazis in WW2. His family then went on with a mechanical mill. 

Jacques began culinary and confectionery trade school at the age of 12, which was the practice in Holland at that time. He went on to work in chocolate houses throughout Europe before coming to the US. 

When people ask how long I have been in the chocolate business, i laugh and say my entire life, as He has been making chocolate for as long as I can remember. He had a bakery at one point and then a brick and mortar chocolate shop, which i spent countless hours at as a child and then worked at as a teenager. 

Organic and vegan are important parts of Sjaak's chocolates. Has that been true from the foundation of the company?

Yes, we started this company to be in line with our priorities of sourcing all organic ingredients, which are not only better for us as consumers, but also better for the farm workers and the environment. 

Jacques has been lacto vegetarian since the early 70's, I was raised vegetarian. About 5 years ago we both transitioned to vegan and slowly transitioned the entire line to vegan as well. 

I notice that the individual hearts we got for Valentine's Day are part of a group of products on your website called "Melk Chocolate" but I'm unclear what that actually is. Would you explain what "melk" is?

Melk chocolate is our version of a milk chocolate. As all of our chocolates are vegan, we wanted to create the same creamy milky type chocolates that people love. therefore we offer melk chocolates. they are made with a variety of organic ingredients, such as almond milk, coconut oil, rice milk etc. 

Sjaak's also wants to be a socially responsible business. Could you give us one or two examples of how the company pursues that goal?

Like I mentioned above, we only source organic ingredients, as it is better for us all. We  source Rainforest Alliance or Fair Trade certified cocoa. This ensures there is no child or slave labor on the cocoa farms. 

In addition, for all of our Eli's Earth products, we donate 5 % of sales to non profits that benefit children. Eli's Earth candy bars were named after my son (Jacques' grandson). these were created with the vision of not only providing a delicious organic and vegan candy bar, but also in helping to create a better future for all of our children; "Celebrate life, Treasure children and always Dream Big!"

It has been years since we first featured Sjaak's products on The Chocolate, first sent to use by a retailer in 2009 and than directly from you in 2010. What has been the biggest change at Sjaak's since 2010?

We are a small business and have decided to grow more slowly and keep our priorities always in mind. I would say the biggest change is our outlook. Rather than chasing big accounts or big deals, we try and focus more on our loyal customers that we appreciate so much. 

Eli's Earth Dream Bars
This is the truly important question, Jessica. Are you a chocolate lover? If so, what is your favorite type?

I LOVE chocolate and eat it nearly every day. When people ask me that, I say it depends on the day, which it truly does. But I will say, I often go for the Eli's Earth Dream Big bar, it is so delicious!

I know that the chocolate business is highly competitive and new products are constantly being developed. Is there anything new in the works at Sjaak's that has you really excited that our readers should be on the lookout for?

We are constantly exploring new recipes and products.We try and launch new items pretty frequently, while keeping our customer favorites.

Thank you, Jessica Holten-Casper, for speaking with us here on The Chocolate Cult.

Readers, do you have any questions for Jessica about Sjaak's? If you do please leave a comment.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Sjaak's Vegan, Organic Valentines Part 2

Sjaak's Limited Edition Birdie Gift Box of truffles
Sjaak's sent us so much Valentine's Day chocolates to test and reveal to you all that this is Part 2 of that feature. The next box of Valentine's Day Chocolate from Sjaak's frankly could be a spring box in light green with a tree branch and two birds; only the hearts on the birds' tummies are Valentine-like. This is called the Limited Edition Birdie Gift Box. The box lid comes off easily to 11 several truffles inside. Some of them appear to be the same given the decoration of them so I think there are 9 flavors here for us to look at. Each one is big, about 1.25 inches tall and about that diameter on the bottom. This is going to be a bit of a guessing game for me, Sisters and Brothers in Chocolate, so please keep reading. I promise, it will be worth the time to keep reading about these vegan and organic truffles. Sjaak's sent us this box of chocolates in exchange for a fair and honest review here on The Chocolate Cult; no other form of compensation was received.

The first upper left piece looks very similar to the right second tier piece so I think they are the same flavor. This has a strong almond scent to it so I'm betting it will have a almond center of some type. I bite off the top and the shells makes a soft sound. Inside is a semi-solid light brown center that tastes like almond cream. Not like the individual hearts from yesterday, that was almond butter. This has a more roasted flavor not as sweet and that allows more chocolate to come out if you chew it or let it melt on your tongue.

The third truffle is dusted with cocoa across the top. From the top the truffle has a strong cocoa scent but from the bottom it smells basically like their melk chocolate. When I bite off the top the shell makes soft snap. The cocoa flavor floods my mouth first then the melk chocolate inside is a creamy semi-solid that tastes like a creamier melk chocolate.

The second truffle looks the same as the first truffle on the third row, each have a dollop of dark chocolate with a sort of heart shape but also a long tail. This smells similar to the previous but it has a roasted edge to it. The shell is thicker, it takes more effort to bite off the top half. Inside is a firmer light brown cream with tiny black flakes. I try to lick at the center to determine the flavor and I think I get a coffee flavor... if I'd know, I'd saved this for one of our coffee experts to test. All I can say is that the coffee isn't strong which is a good thing for me!

The next truffle starts the second row in the box. It has three lines of darker chocolate over the entire top. From the bottom this has a strong nutty scent to it that reminds me of walnuts; from the dome top it has less of that fragrance. I try to take a bite and find the shell is very thick which with my orthodontic work is challenging to my teeth. I peel off the shell and discover a semi-solid light brown center that I take of bite from and work on my tongue. I still can't place the flavor which subtle compared to the scent I got. It isn't hazelnut, but it blends so well with the melk chocolate that I can't decipher it.

The next truffle has off white drizzles over the top dome section. I pick up the truffle and bring it close to my nose. I think this has a strong vanilla scent mixed with the melk chocolate. Again the shell is thick and it makes a pop sound when I bite off a section. Inside is another semi-solid creamy melk chocolate. It has a very light vanilla flavor but it is primarily the melk chocolate that I taste. That's isn't good or bad but it is rather boring because it doesn't differ much from the previous truffle except that the blended flavor lingers longer on my tongue this time.

The pink flakes on the next truffle are not salt, I peeled one off and it seems to be pinked white chocolate or pink candy coating. The truffle itself has a berry fragrance though I can't decide if it is strawberry, raspberry, or cherry though between those three it smells more cherry to me. Only one way to find out, I guess. The shell is thinner and it breaks off in a big section when I try and take a bite. The shell has a bit of the berry flavor but is primarily the melk chocolate with a hint of vanilla. The semi-solid creamy center has a unmistakable cherry scent to it. The center is softer than the previous two truffles and I bite off just part of it and let it melt on my mouth. The cherry favor is there but it blends into the chocolate. Just chewing a bite with the shell actually intensifies the cherry flavor to the point of a slightly sour aftertaste. I recommend letting this one melt in your mouth for maximum melk chocolate and light cherry.

There are bright yellow drizzles over the top of the next truffle. From the bottom, this truffle has a lemon scent so I expect lemon flavor inside, wouldn't you? I bite into it and discover the same semi-solid melk chocolate center. Immediately I taste a citrus flavor but it isn't lemon, it tastes more like orange to me. Is that a function of the melk chocolate's rice milk perhaps or is it orange not lemon? I'm a bit confused so I take some more of the truffle and let it melt on my tongue; that lets more of the flavor out but I still think it has a more orange than lemon flavor. Of course, organic orange probably has a different flavor that the mainstream orange I'm used to has, too. Regardless if you want more citrus chew this truffle, if you want more melk chocolate, let it melt.I like how the citrus blends with the melk chocolate either way you consume it.

Melk chocolate truffle drizzled with more melk chocolate might be difficult to make out but check out our photo. I think it turned out great. This has a strong fragrance that reminds me of either almond or vanilla... I know they smell different so I'm curious about what is inside this truffle. Once I've bitten into it and peeled off some of the shell, I work a bit of the inside semi-solid cream center on my tongue. My nose was wrong, I think this is hazelnut based on the flavor my tongue is revealing to me. The center and the shell blend seamlessly into a wonderful chocolate experience.

The final truffle in this limited edition birdie box has white flakes over the top. These are white chocolate or candy coating not salt. This one has a strawberry, perhaps even a champagne, fragrance from the bottom of the truffle. When I try to take a bite there is a loud popping sound and a chunk of melk chocolate shell comes off the top so I eat it. Inside is the creamy semi-solid melk chocolate center that I bring to my nose again to try and smell it. What? Now I'm getting a coffee scent nothing like what I got from the truffle before I opened it up. I take a bit of the center and work it on my tongue. Yeah, this is a coffee center for certain. If I had known, I could have had one of our specialists test this out but for me, this is a "no" flavor.

Inside Sjaak's Truffles
All of these truffles are easily 2-3 bites; they are big. You can cut them with a sharp knife in case biting into something this large might be a problem for your beloved on Valentine's Day.  Sjaak's Limited Edition Birdie Box has a lot of variety in it. Without information on or in the box or on their website you can't know what flavor you might be biting into so be careful if you or your loved ones have food allergies. I hope if vegan and/or organic chocolates are what you or your loved want that you will check them out not just for holidays but any time of the year. I'll be publishing an email interview I did with a representative from Sjaak's later on so I hope you come back and learn more about this company because it deserves your attention.

Now you tell me. Would these treats be a good idea for your beloved Valentine's Day 2018?

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Sjaak's Vegan, Organic Valentines Part 1

Sjaak's Valentine Options 2018
It is easy to go to a store and find mass made chocolates for Valentine's Day. These can range from okay quality to very good quality though for excellent chocolates you may want to visit a candy or chocolate shop itself. What about vegan or organic treats for your loved one? That can be more challenging to find unless you live in a large enough city that has a few shops to choose from. If you have time you can also order some online. Today we are going to look at three Valentine's Day option you may still be able to order through Sjaak's Organic Chocolates if you follow our links and jump on it. Sadly we got their samples after our Saturday Sacrament was scheduled and as  long time readers know, we don't rush through out testing so today was the fastest we could get this feature published. Sjaak's sent us these products for free in exchange for a fair and honest review; no other form of compensation was received.

Sjaak's Almond Butter Melk Chocolate Hearts
We'll begin looking at the trio of Almond Butter Melk Chocolate Small Hearts. You'll need to cut off the ribbon and the wrap as well because the heart fits very snuggly into the sleeve. The heart is 0.5 inches thick and weighs 2 ounces or 56 grams. I'm not sure what "melk" is but it isn't a typo unless that is one being repeated for several products; I'll ask in our future interview about that. One of these is 2 servings of 140 calories so be aware of that. I cut one in half for testing for this feature and saved the other half for another day. Inside as you can see in our photo is the almond butter filling. Peanut butter filling is very common, there isn't anything unvegan about it any more than it almond butter would be unvegan; both can be organic. By choosing almond butter as their filling, Sjaak's makes their heart stand out from the crowd but are they tasty? The almond scent intensifies when I cut it open and overwhelms the melk chocolate scent. I take a piece and discover that is also the case with the flavor. The almond butter is very sweet and strongly almond, it is creamy but not particularly soft when I lick some from one of the broken sections. Taking a bit of the melk chocolate I discover it is creamy and chocolatey but also sweet. The melk chocolate is made with organic rice milk and organic evaporated cane sugar, both ingredients can produce an intense sweetness. While a bit too sweet for me personally, I think this was a balanced treat that vegan folks who love sweet and almonds will really like.

The next Valentine's Day option is this red Melk Chocolate Filled Hearts. The red heart is foil wrapped melk chocolate. You can untwist the ribbon and slip that out of the plastic sleeve. then carefully cut the two pieces of tape on each side and you can open it to discover 5 pieces of more vegan chocolate inside. First, a photo of the opened heart before we look at each piece inside.

Sjaak's Melk Chocolate Filed Hearts

The foil wrapped heart; this foil is more a deep pink color compared to the foil around the chocolate box itself. As soon as I unwrap it there is a strong cherry scent making it one of the Hearts of Cherry that you can find on Sjaak's website. The chocolate looks darker brown that the edible container or the other pieces inside of it so it might be darker chocolate. I take a bite and the shell makes a snap, it is thick and my mouth is flooded by chocolate and cherry but there is only a soft creamy center, no fruit. The cherry flavor is sweet and it fades with each chew to reveal that the chocolate is indeed a darker type. The darker chocolate is still vegan but I find that higher cacao is better at overcoming the rice milk and sugar making this heart very yummy to me.

Across from it is with what appears to be almond design on top. Like the first Almond Butter Filled Heart this has a strong, sweet almond scent. The chocolate is tall about 0.75 inches at the highest point. Taking a bite makes no sound because it is very soft to bite into which is surprising considering how heavy the piece is in my hand. Inside is a lot of very creamy and softer almond butter and perhaps something else because it is very smooth and not sweet. Is that a bit of caramel I taste and feel? I liked this piece much more than I did the almond butter heart we started with because the almond and sweetness was less intense.

The square piece had diagonal ridges of chocolate over the top. This not as thick as the almond piece above but it is over half an inch thick. This has only a rice milk chocolate scent to it before I bite into it. I take a bite and while it makes no sound I discover a very thick caramel inside. The caramel is a good balance of sweet and butter, it blends very well with the chocolate. This is delicious!

Across from that is a stylized butterfly shaped chocolate, or at least, it looks like a stylized butterfly to me. What do you think? This has the same sweet chocolate scent to it and it as thick as the almond butter chocolate above. I take a bite and there is a soft snap from the thickness on the bottom of the shell. Inside is chocolatey cream that has a hazelnut flavor and scent to it. It is not super sweet and the hazelnut chocolate cream center blends very well with the melk chocolate shell.

Finally at the tip of the heart is a thinner square with one signal diagonal ridge on the top. This is 0.5 inches tall and it has a strong sweet and slightly fruity scent to it. I take a bite and find it is sticky but not so sticky that it adheres to my teeth. The flavor is peanut butter and caramel.  I think I see little nuts inside of it even though I'm not getting a crunch. The melk chocolate blends very well with the filling. When I get done, I want more!

What about the melk chocolate heart box itself? I broke off a small part of it and tested it out. It has that rice milk and evaporated sugar smell that is very sweet. Because this is a box it is thick and the piece I cut out of it to test makes a snap when I cut it and when I bite into it. The flavor is subtle, very creamy and not as sweet as the scent suggests it will be. Letting a piece melt on my tongue increases the creaminess and allow more of the cocoa flavor out.

Sjaak's Melk Chocolate Heart Box
That's these two Sjaak's Valentine options. Of the two, I preferred the Melk Chocolate Filled Hearts. I hope if vegan and/or organic chocolates are what you or your loved want that you will check them out not just for holidays but any time of the year. Come back tomorrow to read Part 2 of their Valentine to learn about another bigger box of chocolates you could give to your beloved. I'll be publishing an email interview I did with a representative from Sjaak's later on so I hope you come back and learn more about this company because it deserves your attention.

Now you tell me. Would these treats be a good idea for your beloved Valentine's Day 2018?

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