Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best Chocolate We Tested in 2014

Here is a list of the chocolate and chocolate related products we tested over this past year in order of their features going live:

Swiss Miss
Equal Exchange
Wolfgang Puck Bar and Grill
South Beach
Emvi Chocolate
Doreen Pendgracs
XOXO Chocolates
Sea Point Farms from Praim LLC
Grandstand Ink
Wusic Tech
Askinosie Chocolate
Peacetree Mountain Truffles
Viva Labs
Freedom Superfoods
Mrs. Freshley
Michel Cluizel
Think Fun!
Sucré Bleu
Cocoa Cravings
Old Factory Candle
Lisabeth Protherough

Some of these brands are not specifically food or drinks so they can be discounted for this annual declaration. Some of the excellent brands we have yet to fully tested because the amount of products they sent us was so numerous we'll still be writing about them in the coming year; they will definitely be in the running for 2015.

The brand that which we tested all samples of and whose products were declared Sacrament worthy each time, and thus the brand that is this year's Best is...

Michel Cluizel

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Massive Snoqualmie Recall

I think this is the first time since we've been letting you know about chocolate related recalls here that we have such a large one to share with you all. Please read this careful and follow the directions in the FDS shared post.

Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream, Inc. Voluntarily Recalls Ice Cream, Gelato, Custard And Sorbet Because Of Possible Health Risk

Consumer Contact: 213-316-8323

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — December 24, 2014 — Snohomish, WA — Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream, Inc. has issued a voluntary recall of all ice cream, gelato, custard, and sorbet for all flavors and container sizes produced on or after January 1, 2014 until December 15, 2014 because these products have the potential to be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

Listeria monocytogenes is an organism that can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

The ice cream, gelato, custard and sorbet were distributed in Arizona, Idaho, California, Oregon, and Washington may have been further distributed and sold in various retail outlets in Alaska, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming.

The products are labeled Snoqualmie Ice Cream, Snoqualmie Gelato, Snoqualmie Custard, Snoqualmie Sorbet or Emerald & Spruce Ice Cream or Top Pot Hand Forged Ice Cream and have a production date code located on the bottom of the container. The date codes included either end in “4”, e.g. XXX4 (pints and cups) or are listed by date: January 1, 2014 through December 15, 2014 (trays & tubs).

The voluntary recall was initiated based on the confirmation positive result of Listeria monocytogenes in the samples collected within the production facility and ice cream products that were analyzed by Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA). The company is working with the FDA and WSDA to investigate the root cause.

The Washington State Department of Health and local health disease investigators and the state Public Health Laboratories have today linked two Listeria illnesses to products recalled by Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream Company. We understand both persons were hospitalized and are now recovering.

This voluntary recall is being made with the knowledge of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the WSDA.

Customers who have purchased the affected product should dispose of it or return it to the place of purchase where they will receive a refund. Consumers with questions or concern may call Snoqualmie Gourmet Ice Cream, Inc. at 213-316-8323 during normal hours of operations (Monday-Friday 9:00am-4:00pm PST).

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Is KIND Kind to Your Mouth?

Have you heard of KIND, LLC?  I was first introduced to them a few years back when I did a feature on our local food co-op and their organic chocolate products that you could buy.  Today I want to look at the KIND Dark Chocolate Chunk chewy bar that I got via the Amazon Vine program in the fall.  I've already done a review there but today we're going to look at his bar in more depth using all of our senses you except on The Chocolate Cult.

The first thing to note is that this bar breaks apart easily so it is not difficult to chew yet still crunchy. As soon as I opened the plastic bag this was in I was hit with a very sweet coconut scent that really surprised. I realize that the ingredients list coconut but given how far down on the list this was I figured I could try it without turning it over to one of our specialists... wrong. The main flavor is this coconut through and through and frankly unless I bite directly into the chocolate pieces I couldn't taste much else.  The chocolate is made of both chocolate liquor and cocoa butter but without at least twice amount it really doesn't stand a chance to compete with the coconut and other sweet flavors here.  It is very crunchy yet soft and the various ingredients make for an interesting texture but the flavor needs to be chocolate at least here on The Chocolate Cult.

But what do you all think, Sisters and Brothers?  Have you tried this bar? Did you think it had enough chocolate?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Chocolate Covered Almonds Recall

Just one recall to share with you right before Christmas time, Sisters and Brothers. This might be the sort of product you'd have have out for guests to nibble on so take a look.

Zachary Confections, Inc. Announces a Nationwide Voluntary Recall of Market Pantry (Target) Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds For Undeclared Peanut in Product

Consumer Contact:(800) 316-6151

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — December 18, 2014 — Frankfort, IN. — Frankfort -based Zachary Confections, Inc. announced today a nationwide voluntary recall of one lot of Market Pantry Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds, sold exclusively at Target Stores, because they include peanuts which are not declared on the label.

People who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to peanuts run the risk of a serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume this product. No allergic reactions or illnesses have been reported to Zachary to date.

Included in the recall are:

Market Pantry Brand Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds

9 oz., UPC 085239555644
The recalled lot code is: R4112D
Best Before Date: 7/4/2015

The lot code and Best Before Date are on the back of the package below the Nutrition Facts box and above and to the right of the UPC Code.

No other Market Pantry candy items are included in the recall.

The safety and quality of Zachary Confections, Inc. products are of utmost importance to the company. Consumers with peanut allergies are advised not to consume these items. The product may be returned to Target for a refund or they may call Target Guest Relations at 1-800-440-0680.

Consumers with additional questions on the recall may contact Zachary Confections Customer Service at (765) 654-2510 Monday through Friday between the hours of 8:00am and 4:30pm EST.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Will Think Thin Bars Help You?

As some of you may be aware of, Your Chocolate Priestess has been working (sort of) to lose some weight.  I hate exercising so I went with the increase normal activity and decrease calories method.  The downside of this is that I had to keep track of everything I ate, counting calories in effect.  In this effort I tried a lot of foods that I could easily keep track of to help me out.  Two of these were thinkThin bars sent via the Amazon Vine program I'm a member of.  I wrote a quickie review back in June and then in August on the sponsor website but today I'm going to go a bit more in-depth on these products.

We'll start with the "Dark Chocolate" high protein bar they make. As you can see from the photo it has a dark center that is mostly solid and a few, tiny pieces of something very dark every now and again. When I look at the ingredients list I am immediately disappointed -- all I see in terms of cacao products is powdered cocoa listed twice for some reasons.  This bar adds in other oils but has no cocoa butter and you know I really dislike that, Sisters and Brothers.  The bar has a sweet, oddly sweet scent to it even after I break it open but no chocolaty scent whatsoever.  The scent and the ingredients list makes me very wary of trying this but I do for you all.  It is dry, the dark pieces are apparently not in this first bite at all because I taste nothing different and encounter no other texture than this rather graininess.  There is a slightly sweet flavor but frankly no other flavor especially not one single iota of cocoa or chocolateness.  This is so bad that I just can't take another bite for you all.

The second bar was the "Chocolate Fudge" variety but with basically the same nutritional values and as you can see the bar liked almost identical (slightly lighter in color) to the "Dark Chocolate" one above.  Interestingly this bar has less of the sweet scent I complained about above and a stronger cocoa fragrance.  The texture is a bit less dry but the flavor is very bland, not chocolatey at all.  There is a slight fruity sweet aftertaste but basically this is like eating nothing; I can eat nothing if I want to eat nothing if you know what I mean.

Both of these thinkThin bars were really disappointing.  I had high hopes since the nutritional values are so good but as is often the case with this "diet" or "health" bars they add so many unnecessary and often overly chemical ingredients that it isn't enjoyable.  If you aren't enjoying it, why eat something made of chocolate?  If it isn't good chocolate flavor why use or Sacred Substance at all?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Great Cookie Swap 2014 Recipe

For the fourth year, The Chocolate Cult is participating in the Great Cookie Swap that benefits Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. Food bloggers around the world swap cookies and try new recipes in the process of helping children fight these afflictions. I found the recipe I based my cookie in an old Land O'Lakes spiral bound cookbook.  I found bananas on sale and even had a coupon for them so these seemed like an awesome test to make.  I bought holiday themed tins and packed the cookies with baking style tissue paper in various designs.

Chocolate Banana Cookies
By TammyJo Eckhart, PhD

Ingredients for Cookies:
4 medium bananas, very ripe
1.5 C white granulated sugar
3 sticks butter (1.5 C) softened
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
1 1/3 C raw cocoa powder
2 1/3 C whole wheat flour
1/2 C mini chocolate Chips

Directions for Cookies:
1. Pre-heat oven 350°F and grease the top of large cookie sheets.

2. Cut or tear up bananas into small pieces and place into large mixing bowl.

3. Add in sugar, salt, and vanilla. Cut butter into small slices and add to mixture. Blend on medium until smooth until bananas are in a smooth semi-liquid state.

4. Add in cocoa powder and blend on low for one minute.  Scrap sides of bowl and turn speed to medium until it is all a smooth mixture.

5. Add in flour 1/3 cup at a time and blend on medium-high until stiff dough.

6. Blend in mini chocolate chips.

7. Using a small spoon or scoop place dough on greased cookie sheet.  Flatten out the balls of dough with the floured bottom of a glass cup -- this will make a flour color on the top but it won't affect the flavor and otherwise the cookies will not spread much on their own.

8. Bake for 12-15 minutes depending on how crisp you like your cookie.

9. Remove from oven and place cookies to cool on paper covered table or counter top.

10. Eat and enjoy!

These do have a strong banana flavor so if you do not like bananas these are not for you.  The cocoa flavor is also very strong with little pops of the chips. You can increase the amount of chips but I wouldn't go over another 1/2 cup unless you want to risk the melting chips changing the texture too much.  At 12 minutes they have a brownie like texture without oil or eggs however. Each cookie has approximately 85 calories each, the vast majority of those calories from the butter.

I hope that the three people I sent cookies to from Sweet Potato Bites, NY Foodgasm, and The Dinner-Mom.

The return cookies/bar I received were Easy Oatmeal Lace Cookies from The Dinner-Mom, Salted Chocolate Caramel Shortbread Cookies from Majorly Delicious, and Easy Holiday Chocolate Chip Cookies from JavaCupcake.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

2 Cold Treat Recalls

Always sad to have to report FDA recalls to you all, Sisters and Brothers, but part of our job of covering chocolate is to make sure you are safe.  Today we have two cold treat recalls to share with you. Remember if you live outside of the USA check with your local government food safety agencies to see if a similar or the same product has been recalled where you live. Also always click on the links and follow the directions in the recall.

Safeway Recalls Safeway Select French Salted Caramel (Fleur De Sel) Premium Ice Cream Sold November 4 through December 5 Due to an Undeclared Peanut Allergen

Consumer Contact:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE — December 5, 2014 — PLEASANTON, Calif. — Safeway is voluntarily recalling Safeway Select French Salted Caramel (Fleur De Sel) Premium Ice Cream sold in all Safeway-owned stores from November 4, 2014 through December 5, 2014 due to the inclusion of an undeclared peanut allergen.

People who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to peanuts run the risk of a serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume this product. The recalled product is in a 1.5 quart package and displays the following UPC Code and Best Before Date.

Product Name UPC Code Best Before Date
Safeway Select French Salted Carmel (Fleur De Sel) Premium Ice Cream 21130 08970 Nov 03 2015
The UPC Code is located on the side panel. The Best Before Date is located on the bottom of the package.

No illnesses or injuries have been reported. The recipe’s caramel cups ingredient was replaced with peanut butter cups due to a supply error.

The recalled Safeway Select French Salted Caramel (Fleur De Sel) Premium Ice Cream was sold in all Safeway, Carrs, Genuardi’s, Pak ‘N Save, Pavilions, Randalls, Tom Thumb and Vons stores throughout the United States.

Customers are asked to discard the product or return it to their local store for a full refund. Customers who have questions about the recall can contact Safeway at 1-877-SAFEWAY.
House of Flavors Issues Voluntary Recall Due to Possible Undeclared Dairy Allergen in Ciao Bella Dark Cocoa Sorbetto

Ludington, Michigan-based Company Issues Allergy Alert

Consumer Contact: Tom Watkins, 231-845-7369 x 2229

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – December 1, 2014 – Ludington, Michigan – House of Flavors, Inc., based in Ludington, Michigan, is recalling Ciao Bella Dark Cocoa Sorbetto manufactured by House of Flavors because it’s ingredients may include an undeclared dairy allergen. Consumers who may have an allergy or severe sensitivity to dairy run the risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume this product. For consumers who are not allergic to dairy, there is no safety issue with this product. The recall was initiated after receiving one complaint that included an allergic reaction from a consumer allergic to dairy. The company is conducting an internal audit to determine possible cause.

Only Ciao Bella Dark Cocoa Sorbetto 14oz. plastic containers stamped with UPC code 9951201206 and date code 14102 and marked “Best by Date: October 12, 2015” are affected by the recall.

No other Ciao Bella products or any other Ciao Bella Dark Cocoa Sorbetto are affected by the recall.

House of Flavors it is taking precautionary steps, including removing all potentially impacted products from retail store shelves and the entire distribution system.

Consumers who have purchased the recalled products should return them to the store where they were purchased for a full refund. Anyone requiring more information should contact House of Flavors consumer affairs at 1-800-930-7740, extension 2229, Monday through Friday 7 a.m. until 5 pm. (EST).

Saturday, December 13, 2014

More Biscotti for the Holidays

We've looked at biscotti already this holiday season but today we have another brand's biscotti to reveal to you all -- Nonni's, a new brand for our growing list of products we test and write about to help you, Sisters and Brothers, make better chocolate buying decisions.  These Nonni's Biscotti Bites may be found on your grocer's shelves in some areas so it isn't too late to add them to your holiday party or feast menus. If you've tried these before, let us know what you thought about them in a comment.  Please remember that we love seeing comments and we do reply to each and every one of them that we get. To help test these, I made a basic hot cocoa available to my tasters since biscotti cookies are often dunked in a warm liquid before enjoying. Some tasters did that, some did not. Below is our collective opinions about the the two samples The Chocolate Cult was sent.

The Double Chocolate Salted Caramel Bites come in a 4.75oz, orangish design bag. These are milk chocolate biscotti with the back and the straight bottom, sometimes the front, covered or drizzled in more milk chocolate. This has chocolate liquor and cocoa butter though for some odd reason also palm oil; primarily the ingredient list is easy to understand which only a handful of chemicals.  It does have wheat, milk, soy and eggs if those are allergy or food lifestyle choices you need to think about. As you can see in our photo they are about a 2-3 bite treat. But you want to know how they taste, smell, feel, etc, don't you? The strongest scent is a tangy caramel really followed by a soy creaminess; no cocoa in terms of fragrance. Our tasters liked this one the best of the two varieties.  They felt it had a great balance between salt, tangy caramel, and a definite cocoa flavor.  Dunked it soaked up the liquid well without getting too soft but it wasn't so hard that it was brittle and still fun to eat in 2-3 bites. We noticed that the way the coating of chocolate was added to the chocolate cookie varied greatly -- some was drizzled on the top, some of one side was completely covered, while others had the flat side dipped higher or lower. This made us feel like these are handcrafted.

The Almond Dark Chocolate Bites come in a 5oz, reddish design bag; these have tree nuts. These are vanilla biscotti with the straight edge dipped in bittersweet chocolate; as you can in our photo how far they were dipped varies a bit from piece to piece. Besides tree nuts, allergens include wheat, milk, soy, and eggs. These are made with chocolate liquor and cocoa butter, happily no palm oil and fewer chemical names on the ingredients list. The primary scents from these are almond and wheat with a subtle sweetness; oddly the bittersweet chocolate gives off only a light fragrance. So let's turn to the other sense of our tasters. These were the same texture over all, not too hard on their own but also good for dunking. The almonds were a solid flavor along with vanilla but the dark chocolate was equally strong when you bit into it.  There was less chocolate on these and all of them had the straight bottom dipped, no drizzles, no entire side coated. Personally I liked these the best because I felt they soaked up the hot cocoa better.

Have you seen these or other Nonni's products in your local stores?  If so please let us know where below so other readers can find them. We thought these were yummy and highly recommend that you check them out if you haven't seen them or tried them already. There is one more variety of the Biscotti Bites that doesn't have chocolate but these two go find and buy, Sisters and Brothers.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Pops and Milkshakes for the Holidays?

You might think that a Holiday feature about frozen pops, milkshakes, or slushies is crazy during December but some of our readers are in the southern hemisphere where the month is summertime.  Plus as my husband likes to say "no such thing as too cold for ice cream." I was chosen by Tryazon to try out some products from ZOKU and they sent me a huge box of items to try out. I used these on two occasions -- one just yesterday evening and one coming up next Saturday. I'll add this article when I have more photos from the second party but I wanted to get this all out to you now so that you can think about it as a possible holiday gift to give.

I liked how ZOKU packed these supplies, not much wasted packing paper, everything firmly in place yet easy to remove. I do have to say that opening the two recipe books was a challenge because of the plastic being so tightly over them but I got it. They sent me a ton of extra pop sticks and guards so I can serve a huge party... how to store these in the freezer is challenge. There are a lot of pieces to this entire thing that is a storage challenge in general. Companies need to really think about that more.

Let's start with the Slush and Shake Maker and the accompanying recipe book. The book has five chapters plus an index and conversion chart for American to UK (or the other way around).  The first chapter is an introd with a graphic history of slushies and milkshakes, an introduction to the product, and some advice on how to use it.  The other four chapters are recipes that you can follow or use as general guides.

I made a simple chocolate malted milkshake with this for our testing. The box holds three pieces -- the inner core that you put in the freezer at least 18 hours before you want to use it, the outer sleeve that lets you hold the container while you stir, and a slush spoon you use to stir and scrape whatever pureed mixture you put into it.  What first looks like a single box of tools to create your treat turns out to not be true because you need a blender to puree your ingredients and of course whatever you are going to need to scoop or measure said ingredients.  I did not find the general "stir until thick" that is part of every recipe particularly helpful nor did I find the spoon's plastic wrapper message to stir every minute very useful. The core is very cold and any of the pureed product you put in will harden up fast and be difficult to scrap unless you do it far more often than every 60 seconds. Did it make a milkshake?  Sure but I didn't really find it "fun" or "fast."  Given the amount it makes you will be sharing one single milkshake or slushie or you may each need one.

The other boxes I was sent are all focused on making frozen pops and I used each of them in some fashion for the testing. Let's just briefly look at each item before I get to the creation of pops.  I had an assistant (my hubby) for this as well and multiple taste testers at two separate parties.

Quick Pop Maker Trio makes 3 pops at a time.  Inside is the maker itself plus 6 sticks, 6 drip guards, and a Super Tool which is a gripper to help you remove the sticks with the pops on them.

The Storage Case is basically a bottom that holds 6 sticks and a cover so you can store 6 finished pops.  The cover is semi-transparent so you can sort of see what designs are inside. It would be better if it were truly transparent to show off your creations. We'll use the bottom part as a sort of serving track to offer the pops at our big party like I did for my mini party last night.

A box of 6 sticks and 6 drip guards... for those keeping track that makes 18 sticks and drip guards so far...

A box of Tools that includes 3 Pour Cups, 1 Angle Tray, 1 Siphon, 1 Fruit Wand, and 2 Fruit Stencils made of metal.

The Chocolate Station has five pieces -- lid, the chocolate melting and dipping station, the Drizzle Spoon, and 2 dipping trays that you put additional items like nuts, candy sprinkles, marshmallows, whatever to add to the pops. The little booklet here has directions for making the pops and for making quick shells that you can add to the frozen pops. I could see this device being useful for more than the pops frankly.

The ZOKU folks also sent me additional pop sticks and drip guards -- 36 of each which bring the total of pops I could make to 54!  Seriously? Why would I possibly

16 canvas bags that say "ZOKU" on them which I gave away to the folks willing to try the pops out at my two parties and give me their opinions of them. You'll see them in the photos of some of the folks I gave them too; I only took photos with permission to post them.

Finally I received the Pop recipe book and three of the ZOKU catalogs for their other products. I gave the catalogs away, too.

In case you'd like to look and see what recipes you could make before you buy these, check out the ZOKU blog for ideas here.  I looked at this page myself and it goes beyond the cookbook as well as repeat the basic directions and suggestions.

So what did I make with all of this? Note: I used a zero calories substitute in these and it worked just fine.  Using lower fat products may also help but I opted for whole milk or heavy cream where called so I was switching out too many ingredients at once.

I started with a basic chocolate recipe, not exactly their "Oh, Fudge!" recipe (page 82) since I used darker chocolate but it turned out great.  Here you see the five pops in the storage case.  I learned two lessons from this first batch. First, the top of the stick is not getting fully covered by the pop... I had an idea that I tried after that so we'll see if I was able to fix that problem. Second, you really need to end your fill below the fill line because the recipe really does only make the amount of pops available and even the slightly amount over will short your final pop. Six pops at 67 calories each since I used zero calorie sugar substitute; real sugar will add more calories. Add a white chocolate coating and you increase the calories to around 150. Everyone who had the single flavor pops found that the strongest chocolate came at the top (the bottom when you are making them) but that bottom (near the drip guard) was very water tasting.  We think this reflects how they freeze in the maker.

With those lessons in mind I tried a more complicated pop -- "Chocolate Peanut Butter" (pages 87-88). For this I had to make two recipes and alternate them, letting each layer freeze before adding the next.  Given the small opening for the pouring into the molds I used the pour cups from the Tools kit. One problem with this recipe is that it doesn't suggest a time between layers so it was difficult to assess when to do the next layer, I went with 5 minutes on the timer myself assuming that since these were smaller they'd freeze faster and then 7 minutes for the final layer to make sure it was all frozen.  The flavor here was evenly laid out between the strips -- again this may reflect the making process, where you poured a layer, let it freeze, then added another but the layers are shorter so there is less water to push out. Around 150 because of the peanut butter in these.

Finally using the two recipes I followed I made up my own for a white chocolate peppermint pop -- basically I switched out the peanut butter and chocolate for white chocolate in the previous recipe and added peppermint flavoring.  I dipped these in the white chocolate recipe from the Chocolate Station and tried to add some red and white peppermint candy pieces but they were a bit too large to adhere very well. Also, if you are adding anything to the dipped pops you have to work fast because if you made the shell recipe correctly it will freeze fast. The flavor of these was the most even of the pops -- does this have to do again with the layer?  Maybe it also reflects the high fat content of these. Each has around 150 calories again.

There is a problem with the Chocolate Station that is not covered in the little booklet that comes with it. Every time you dip you lower the temp of the topping and after a few pops the topping starts to harden in the station. I found drizzling worked much better.

I served these at two events so I'll look at each below; adding the second after it happens next weekend.

Event #1 Gaming Night: My gamers often help me test products out and they seem to enjoy it.  I showed them the boxes and things and they asked me questions about the process, they offered their opinions of the pops and helped me figure out what happened with flavor variations and textures in some of them. It was nice to hear them confirm my opinion of the process of making them and they helped me figure out that hands-on time to make 6 pops is around 35 minutes. I'm hoping some of them leave comments below so they can speak for themselves.

They tried the varieties I mentioned above. I used the storage base to serve them at our bigger annual holiday party that had close to 30 guests.  A few people were brave enough to go into the freezer and get a few of them but whenever I took the half dozen around like this, folks took them. Oddly all of the adults loved them but not the few kids we had... very strange.  I gave away the bags at both the small gathering and the large party, each bag had coupons in them from the company for a discount until the end of 2014.

I didn't take photos of folks with the pops at the big party -- too much going on -- but here is one of just some of our guest hanging out playing games so you can see what half of the attendees were doing at any given time. As you can see they were eating and playing Christmas BINGO at the same time... yup they also ate the pops while they played.

"FAST!" as it says on the pop maker box is not what these treats are. The maker itself only makes 3 pops at a time yet the recipes are for 6-9 pops -- pouring the basic ingredients then letting them set to freeze at the fastest means you could get six in 20-22 minutes... I suppose that might seem fast but consider the steps before then. You must put the maker into your freezer for at least 24 hours before you make them, this is not a "I want it now" treat.  Unless you are making 100% fruit juice, milk, or other pre-made drink, making the recipes and chilling them down adds an hour to three hours to the process.  If you do anything more complicated than a basic one, it takes even more time.  When I'm sent something to try for you all I need to be honest about it. As a very small group, planned activity, this was fun to do with my husband and our partner.  For any larger group though it will leave people out and only make them wait more.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Espresso Brownies Kick the Holidays into High Gear

"National Brownie Day" is on Monday December 8, 2014, but to mark it a bit early we're going to look at the Espresso Brownie from XOXO Chocolates. Since Your Chocolate Priestess is not a coffee fan our Mocha Acolyte, Tim, and a group of five others who do drink coffee regularly gave these brownies a try.  Our descriptions below are a combination of their opinions and I've made sure to note differences of opinions. This sort of feature is a great example of why I try to get help with our testing and how the full sensory approach reveals subtle difference not only in chocolate but in the individual using our Sacred Substance.

The brownies came in a tin baking pan and we were surprised by the thick, nearly one inch layer, of chocolate frosting that was on top of it, the frosting everyone agreed had the bulk of coffee flavor in it and was very sweet.  It also tended to separate from the brownie itself easily but that only allowed everyone to sample both brownie and frosting together and apart as well.  It was a bit o a challenge to cut out pieces from the pan but that is always the case when you bake brownies or cakes in my experience.  Both the tin baking pan and the plastic lid are recyclable in our area and I always recycle to save this chocolate producing planet from changing too much so that we don't lose our dear cacao.

The brownie part was soft while the fudge icing on top was relatively hard.  The edges of both the topping and the brownie were harder than the inside but that commonly happens with baked goods and suggests it was baked in the tin pan it came in.  The fudge topping made a soft crunch for most testers while the brownie itself was so moist that it made no sound at all.  Everyone agreed that the fudge part had only a coffee scent but the brownie had a chocolate scent.  In terms of taste opinions varied widely along with the recommendations of whether or not you should try this, Sisters and Brothers.  All agreed it was very sweet and several testers compared it to a heavily sweetened coffee from a brand name coffee shop I won't repeat here (they can send us products to test if they want to get their name on The Chocolate Cult).  Some testers felt the sweet fudge and the brownie created a balanced coffee and chocolate flavor while others felt the coffee was stronger. Everyone said this really was a treat for adults who like sweetened coffee.

XOXO Chocolates Espresso Brownie were not as good as some of the other creations we tested from them.  Yes, we did indeed test everything before the "Best by" date on each item and brownies did not come in a damaged box at all.  However as I hope you noted the range of opinions varied from not liking it at all to merely saying it was a bit sweeter than they would like ideally.  To check out their full range of products you should check out their store or if you are in the Las Vegas area look them up.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Chocolate Drizzled Biscotti

We are back with another goodie from XOXO Chocolates out in Las Vegas! This time an elegant biscotti with both dark and white chocolate.  I turned this over to our fruit specialist and what you're about to learn that I didn't know before is that she has her own particular level of pickiness that I think reflects some of the general pickiness of the chocolate and baked goods market.  I'm very sure I did say that this had both coconut and raisins but, oh, well, we've done our best.

The Biscotti is also attractive with dark and white chocolate drizzled on top. The biscuit smells faintly of coconut, generally sweet, like a sugar cookie with a whiff of coconut. There was no detectable chocolate smell. It was good and crunchy, the way biscotti is meant to be. It snapped in half crisply, without too much force or too much crumbling. The pieces themselves were smaller and thinner than most other biscotti I've had.In this case, oddly enough, the raisins are definitely front and center in flavor. There's plenty of them, they're chewy, they're raisiny. While I love raisins in chocolate, I hate them in baked goods. In this case they interfere with the expected crisp texture of the biscotti by interrupting the crunch in every bite with sticky, chewy bits. If the raisins were NOT there, this biscotti would be an excellent accompaniment to coffee.  If the chocolate actually contributed anything to the flavor profile, I couldn't detect it. This was all RAISIN. In the bites I took around the raisins, there were plenty of coconut shreds and a good, sweet vanilla/coconut balance in the flavor. 

While our Acolyte's preferences do impact her review, I think she also has a few important pieces of information for you all to consider.  I'm sure some of you really like raisins in baked goods and if that is you, then you should check these out from XOXO Chocolates.  The biscotti sound like they were excellent and we give them Sacrament Status those of you who love raisins.

Monday, December 1, 2014

End 2014 with Chocolate

As we look to the final weeks of 2014 and either dread or hope for wonderful winter holidays, we'll continue to bring you gift ideas in our features but for now let's think about all the fun reasons you should be celebrating with chocolate.

Because your Chocolate Priestess is so busy with preparations for her family's annual holiday party I won't do a pool again but I'll do one in January so you can help me decide what recipe to try that month.

1st Week of December = Cookie Cutter Week

December 1 = National Pie Day -- one of my closest friends has a pie party every year the day after Thanksgiving... I wonder if she should move it the 1st of December?

December 4 = National Cookie Day -- ah, look below, yup, another National Cookie Day on the 15th.

December 5 = National Sacher Torte Day

December 8 = National Chocolate Brownie Day; Bodhi Day marks when Siddhartha experienced Enlightenment and in 2012 we marked it with a chocolate buddha

December 9 = National Pastry Day

December 12 = National Cocoa Day

December 13 = National Hot Chocolate Day -- Don't we celebrate this in January, too?

December 15 = National Cookie Day, National Cupcake Day

December 16 = National Chocolate Covered Anything Day

December 28 = National Chocolate Candy Day

December 29 = National Chocolate Day

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