Tag Archives: caramel

Theo Chef Sessions limited edition confections

The idea of limited edition is kind of like eating seasonally. Something that’s limited edition is less likely to be taken for granted, though you run the risk of turning it into something precious. Or, worse, a marketing scheme.

Thankfully, in the case of limited edition things that are actually kick-ass and that, when they become available you need to snap one up immediately, there’s the Theo Chef Sessions limited edition confection collection. (Say that five times fast.) Featuring collaborations with some of the top chefs from Seattle, Portland and San Francisco, this might be the only opportunity you’ll have to try things like carrot caramel, pine resin ganache or candied beet pate de fruit.

Theo Chef Sessions limited edition confections

Standouts in the collection were the Chris Cosentino (Incanto) agro dolce brittle, a crispy crunchy brittle with pine nuts, capers and currants. Your brain expects sweet and it gets salty and savoury. I wanted more of the Maria Hines (Tilth) tamarind lime chili caramel, with its juicy, complex flavour profile. And, featuring the most traditional flavours of the bunch, the creation from Jerry Traumfeld (Poppy) didn’t disappoint with the huckleberry pate de fruit and cinnamon basil white ganache.

This limited edition (whee!) collection is only available for Valentine’s Day, so get ’em while you can.

Disclosure: The lovely team at Theo Chocolate sent me a box of these, gratis.

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Mountain Nugget Chocolate Company

I’m always looking for chocolate, and I’m continually surprised and delighted by teeny tiny chocolatiers in the most unlikeliest of places. For example, my recent trip to Salt Spring Island find of Chocolate Beach. Or, more recently, on my fabulous weekend in the mountains of Rossland, B.C., visiting the Mountain Nugget Chocolate Company.

Mountain Nugget Chocolate Company

I think the universe conspired to put this little shop on my radar. I found them through Twitter, and then my friends G & M, who live in Rossland, mentioned this great little chocolate shop that had just opened in their town. With G & M’s recent nuptials in Rossland, it seemed that it was time for us to meet face-to-face.

Trish Dyer, the chocolatier, is delightful with just a hint of sass. If I had had more time in Rossland I would have taken her out for a beer so we could revel in our mutual sassiness.

As fate would have it, I had to settle for a mere box of chocolates. There’s a nice selection of traditional flavours, updated by using local or regional ingredients, and some decided wackiness.

Mountain Nugget Chocolate Company: Wasabi!

The wasabi confection is adventurous and ambitious. I popped it in my mouth and experienced a tongue-whooping blast of wasabi. My nasal cavities braced themselves for the pain that usually accompanies that kind of wasabi power, but it never came. Instead, the wasabi mellowed into chocolate ganache with serious brownie notes. I can’t say that I love it, but the play on senses is definitely intriguing.

There’s the requisite sea salt caramel: perhaps a bit heavy-handed with the salt but the caramel is thoughtfully chewy without being sticky. Standouts include Noir, a classic French truffle, delightfully dark, perfectly smooth and rolled in cocoa powder. The filling in the truffle is a bit softer than the other Mountain Nugget confections, and I like it.

The peanut butter barrel is essentially two peanut butter cups stacked on top of each other to look like a barrel. I preferred to eat it as two peanut butter cups—one treat spread over two tasting sessions. Peanut butter and chocolate are a natural combination, but the peanut butter here really sings. It’s a rich, deep nut butter that tastes like the peanuts roasted in the oven for a minute more than they were supposed to—not because anyone forgot about them, but because they wanted to hang out a bit longer, dammit. This peanut butter is badass.

Mountain Nugget Chocolate Company - assortment of chocolates

The star of the show has to be the coconut log. A grown-up version of Bounty bar, this is a white chocolate ganache with toasted coconut, maybe a hint of honey, and just a touch of saltiness to cut through the richness. Choose from dark or milk chocolate on the outside, and get two because you won’t want to share with anyone.

There’s also a nice selection of bars with inclusions (that is, chocolate bars with stuff in them) like almonds, dried fruit and nuts.

Mountain Nugget Chocolate Company
2076 Columbia Avenue
Rossland, BC
250.362.3338

Marriage, macarons and mountain time

Lean in close, and I’ll tell you a secret.

I don’t really like people.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no curmudgeon, and I’m social enough when I need to be, but let’s face it: I’m an introvert. And I’m a writer. And as much as I hate to stereotype, that really does mean that, given the option, I’d rather sit inside with a good book than go to a raging kegger.

(That said, had you asked me the same question five years ago, I probably would have picked the kegger. So maybe this is just a sign of getting old.)

Increasingly, getting old(er) has meant more moving around, and friends moving around. A few years ago, two of My Most Favouritest People Ever, G & M, moved to the mountain town of Rossland, B.C. And while I was sad to see them go, I recognize that this means that I have another place to visit and discover, and more opportunity to miss—and look forward to seeing—two of My Most Favouritest People Ever.

Bears are in Rossland

Things are different in the mountains.

G & M got married last weekend in their backyard, surrounded by a small group of friends and family. We sat on bales of hay and watched two people agree to continue having exquisite adventures with each other. And before I even had time to shed a tear, they were kissing. It was done. And it was lovely.

G & M are pretty simple people. In lieu of a gift, they asked me to bring something sweet for dessert. And though I know they benefited from it, I think they also understood that that was the gift I really wanted to give them. Food as love.

So I brought macarons. I know, they’re almost irritatingly trendy right now, but even I’ll admit that they’re awfully pretty. And when done right, they’re one of my favourite things. So, one of My Favourite Things for two of My Most Favouritest People Ever. And let’s be clear—I didn’t set out to bring macarons. But Rossland is a nine-hour drive from Vancouver. Between nine hours without refrigeration and my desire to not spend the morning of the wedding in a kitchen, macarons just made sense.

Wedding macarons, raspberry and nutella

Turning a hotel room into a macaron factory is easier than you might think.

I made the cookie portions in Vancouver and froze them in preparation for the drive there. The morning of the wedding, I transformed the hotel room desk into a staging ground for macaron assembly: pink ones full of raspberry jam, chocolate ones full of nutella. Of course, some of the macarons didn’t fare the car ride so well…good thing, too, as every good (pastry) chef tastes her wares before serving them to guests.

The reception, dinner and dancing passed by in a blur. I have vague memories of salmon with mango salsa, a caramelized nut bar on shortbread, kicking off my high heels and bouncing around the dance floor and generally revelling in the glow of being around Good People.

Whether it was the hangover (literal and figurative) of the wedding or the innate idyllic nature of Rossland, that feeling permeated the entire weekend. It wasn’t long before I was saying hi to everyone walking down the street. That simply doesn’t happen in the city. And watching kids run into their friends on the street and make impromptu plans to play with each other? It’s nice to know that still happens.

The more time I spent in Rossland, the longer time got. I stopped checking my watch to wonder what I was supposed to be doing. I hiked to the top of a mountain. I took a nap in a park. I stopped to chat with people. I poked around antique shops. I sat in the children’s section of a bookstore and looked at picture books.

And it was wonderful.

Now I’m back in the city and trying to hang onto that feeling of mountain time. Savouring the morning cup of coffee and staring out the window, thinking about what the day holds. Striking up a conversation with strangers. Because I can.

San Francisco Fancy Food Show

NASFT San Francisco - street signFive years ago, I worked in a fancy kitchen store. The owners would take off every summer for the New York Fancy Food Show and come back exhausted, a little bit pudgier, and full of stories about all the fabulous new things we’d be getting in the store.

Well, last week, I made the visit to the San Francisco winter show…and I came back exhausted, a little bit pudgier, and full of stories. I went down with my sweet tooth, my eating pants, and comfortable shoes. Comfortable shoes, because with nearly 6000 exhibitors in halls of the Moscone Center, it was going to be an intense couple of days.

Amano Dos Rios barI wasn’t all that surprised by any of the chocolate offerings, though I did get a chance to finally try Amano Chocolate‘s Dos Rios bar. I tried a (then-secret) prototype of this bar last summer, and even as a prototype it was pretty remarkable: floral, delicate and tasting distinctly like bergamot. The finished bar is redolent with orange and bergamot, with just a hint of spice (nutmeg?) at the finish. Art Pollard, the chocolatemaker, touched briefly on the challenges of processing the beans while preserving the vibrant flavours. I can believe it; this chocolate packs a serious punch.

Poco Dolce double shot espresso toffee Poco Dolce‘s double shot espresso toffee squares were stellar. The toffee is crisp and crunchy but doesn’t get stuck in your teeth. The espresso, if you ran into it in a dark alley, would jump out from a dark corner, deliver a swift one-two punch to your forehead, and then run off into the darkness. It’s bold and brash and utterly delicious.

Happy Goat caramelsHidden away in a quiet corner were the folks at Happy Goat Caramel. If the logo and name weren’t cute enough for you, the caramels are really quite good. It’s a caramel made with goat’s milk and real vanilla. The goat’s milk provides a nice savouriness and slight tang to offset the aromatic, sweet vanilla. The finish is definitely goaty, but in a subtle, delicate way.

I also attended a Foodfete event where I met the folks who make Amella Caramel. The lovely 8chocolate reviewed these a while back, and I’ll admit that I was still pretty skeptical. Carrot cake caramel? Really?

Really.

Amella caramelsThe carrot cake caramel tastes like you took a carrot cake and stuck it in a transmogrifier on the “caramel” setting. It’s not too sweet and has a pleasant nuttiness. My least favourite is the black forest caramel, which tastes like a chocolate caramel with dried cherries, but not so much like black forest cake. However, the passionfruit caramel is sharp, tart and almost juicy. It’s definitely my favourite of the bunch. Aside from the fun flavours, the texture of the caramels is perfect – solid enough to provide a thoughtful chew, but without getting all gloopy and glommy in your back teeth.

Aside from sweets, I also ate my weight in cheese. Thanks to Amy for guiding me on my cheese expedition, and for posting her top 10 list of Fancy Food Show favourites.

Christmas cookies

I’m such a delinquent blogger. But see, I have excuses. I disappeared to Portland for a week, which was lovely and glorious and relaxing. There was lots of chocolate. As much as I love these mini-trips across the border, I’m always a bit relieved to get back to Canada. This informative sign was at the Seattle train station. Just in case you wanted to know what you can and cannot bring across the border.

And then I got back and this craziness we call the holidays came at me, starting out like a wee snowball at the top of a mountain. And by the time it got to me, well, it was a not-so-wee snowball.

Mostly, I’ve been drowning under kilograms of flour, sugar, eggs and stuff that needs to be piped. I’ve been making the same two cookies (gingerbread and cranberry shortbread) every year for twelve, count ’em, twelve years. You’d figure I could get the recipe right, especially having gone to Le Fancy Culinary School. This year, the part of my brain responsible for reading and following instructions just wasn’t working. I have one batch of dough in the fridge that was supposed to be gingerbread. However, it has twice as much butter as it’s supposed to, and no ginger. I’m afraid to bake it. Maybe I invented molasses shortbread?

Speaking of shortbread, I forgot the cornstarch this year but made up for it by putting in twice as many cranberries as I was supposed to. They’re, erm, festive.

At least the macaroons turned out. Oh, and chocolate caramel. The wonders of caramel never cease to amaze me. You can put bacon in it and it’s all wacky and weird and delicious. But chocolate caramel, with its classic simplicity – it hides in dark corners and gives you that look, and before you know it you’re in over your head with dark, delicious chocolate mingled with smoky caramel, and just a hint of salt.

All of these things combine to form Christmas Goodies Fantastico, which contains:

  • “Economic downturn” gingerbread, which feature sad faces and fancy suits. Because, well, we’ve got to keep up appearances in these tough times. But in the crazy market this year, some of these gingerbread folks lost an arm, or a leg…or, a head.
  • The aformentioned cranberry shortbread, looking very festive indeed.
  • Chocolate macaroons, beautiful and classic. In my original plan, I was going to make a rainbow of these (espresso, pistachio and raspberry) but then I snapped back to reality.
  • The much sought-after chocolate caramels. For those of you lucky enough to receive these, you may want to hide these. I don’t want to have to say I told you so.

As I probably won’t be posting before Christmas, have a safe and happy holiday. I hope there are cookies in your future.

Working as a chocolatier

IP 5 Chocolate box 2-sizedThere are two kinds of people in this world: those who are cut out for food service, and those who aren’t. I tried to be in the first category, but I know that I really belong in the second. I started as a pastry chef, working in bakeries, pastry shops, restaurants, and hotels. Wherever I was, I always ended up working with chocolate.

It was only a matter of time before I worked for some of the country’s top chocolatiers. I started in a teeny, tiny, family-run business where everything was done by hand. At the other end of the spectrum, I worked in a high-volume, high-end setup where, at the height of Christmas craziness, we produced 80,000 chocolates per week.

The family-run chocolate shop

The shop was owned and operated by an eccentric German family. Everything in the shop was handmade from family recipes that dated back three generations, written in faded ink on yellowed paper that was spattered with ancient stains.

In the basement, there was a bakery where I learned to make 25 litre batches of dense German nut tortes, roll out 6 feet of puff pastry by hand, and make soup vats full of caramel.

Caramel is also known as liquid napalm, as the two-inch scar on my right thumb will attest. If you are unfortunate enough to have it contact your skin, this is what will happen: your neurons will register that a liquid at 165 degrees Celsius has just hit your skin. A half-second later, your brain will realize that in the time it took the first neurons to fire, said liquid has burned its way through the top five layers of your skin and is making its way through your flesh, on its way to the bone.

dark heart 2-sized

The basement bakery was hot, and dusty with flour. I preferred working upstairs in the 6-foot square space that I shared with two co-workers, where we stirred endless vats of chocolate. Gym? Who needed a gym? I had the world’s best biceps, trained from hours on end of stirring stirring stirring.

We whispered sweet nothings to the chocolate. We coaxed it until it formed precious Form V crystals, the required crystal formation for perfectly tempered chocolate. Then we would transform the chocolate into heart-shaped boxes, Easter bunnies clutching baskets of flowers, and happy face lollipops.

piano 4-sized

We dipped truffles by hand. I can still hear the tap tap tap of the dipping forks on the edge of the bowl. My favourite days were when we made molded chocolate confections: domes full of pistachio marzipan, square buttons full of coffee ganache, faceted jewels full of mint ganache…

In my last week there, I made a piano out of chocolate.

The high-volume chocolate shop

The high-volume shop glittered with machines. The enrobing machine, with its long conveyor belt, brought to mind the chocolate episode of I Love Lucy. My co-workers were, quite honestly, the most efficient people I have ever worked with. Ever.

Here, we didn’t have to coax the chocolate into beta crystals. Two tempering machines kept dark and milk chocolate circulating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

We worked clean and we worked fast. We were a well-oiled machine. We made bonbons, we cut them, we enrobed them, we decorated them. And, the next time we did it, we worked cleaner and faster. Lather, rinse, repeat.

We spent most of our time on the enrober, which coated the bonbons in a thin shell of tempered chocolate. There was a small platform where we’d set the naked bonbons, and then they’d take a chocolate bath in the enrober. They emerged on the other end and we would finish them with custom decorations.

My favourite task was to set the bonbons. The machine beeped at set intervals, and I raced myself to see how many bonbons I could place on the belt before the beep sounded. I raced around to the other end of the enrober to pick up the finished bonbons, then back to the other end to set some more. Meanwhile, two co-workers stood calmly in the middle, decorating the enrobed bonbons with what can only be described as zen calm.

Chocolate domes-sized

It was a game I played, willing myself to beat my old record.

Each bonbon got its own delicate decoration, none of which were simple. Many of them needed a cocoa butter transfer, which had to be applied in the 20-second window after the chocolate emerged from the enrober, before the chocolate set. Some bonbons were christened with a nut, placed at a very precise angle. Others got a sprinkle of sea salt, a drizzle of white chocolate. My least favourite decoration required a single leaf of edible gold. Gold leaf likes to stick to itself and to the container that it’s in. It’s like ketchup: you get none, or you get the entire bottle.

We also made molded chocolate caramels. Lots of them.

My kitchen, today

In the end, I found out that I’m just not cut out for food service. I’m not knocking it, just saying that it doesn’t work for me. The 16-hour days, the (ahem) less-than-ideal pay…it just doesn’t make sense.

Working in someone else’s chocolate shop, you have to make whatever is in their product line. Customers expect those products every time that they visit the shop. Consequently, being a chocolatier is one of the most routine jobs that I could have chosen. It also happens to be one of the most technical, which is why I was drawn to it—but I’m easily bored, so routine doesn’t sit well with me.

I don’t make money playing around in my kitchen, but I can be creative with what I make, and make money elsewhere. If it’s delicious, then my friends and family get to benefit from my brilliance. And if it isn’t…well, I’ll probably eat it anyway.

…I’m back!

Huzzah!

Hello, lovelies. Thanks for your patience while I took a bit of a break. It was a case of life spinning madly out of control, and something had to give. While I’m sad that it was this blog, I’m glad to be back and writing. I’ve had a good think about how to balance the things I need to do with the things that I want to do, and I’ve come to a decision.

I’m going to post, at minimum, once a week. Yes, that’s significantly less than the daily posts that I started with. However, seeing as how I started this blog while I was delightfully unemployed, I think that a weekly post is a happy compromise. It’s a case of quality versus quantity. This way, I can have a week to think about what I want to say, and make it count. [So she says hopefully.]

Yup. And now we return to your regularly scheduled programming.

I’ve started working with chocolate again. I’ve been writing about it and tasting it for nearly a year now, but I really needed a break from working with it. It didn’t occur to me how much I missed it, but I’ve been experimenting for the past couple of weeks. And, I’m pleased to report, I love it again. LOVE. IT. There’s something about watching chocolate melt, playing with the temperatures, tempering it, and inspecting the final products. And, of course, eating it.

In honour of International Bacon Day, I made a batch of bacon caramels and dipped them in chocolate. Dipping the caramels was surprisingly tricky. They were softer than caramels that I’ve worked with before, so I had to work quickly before they relaxed into limpid pools of caramel goodness.

And, each caramel donated a bit of bacon fat to the bowl of chocolate. It was exceedingly generous of them, but by the end of the batch the chocolates were looking like they weren’t setting as well. I panicked a bit (oh noes! have I lost my tempering touch?) until I realized that it was a layer of bacon fat on top of the chocolate. Hrm. They did set in the end, and they were delicious, but this is a logistical detail that I’ll have to work out.

This weekend, when gifted with some fresh basil from a friend’s garden, I made some lemon-basil truffles. They’re more basil than lemon, but they taste bright and summery and delicious, and I’ll take it.

In culinary school, I always emerged from chocolate classes looking like I had taken a bath in it. I was notorious for getting two horizontal streaks, one each at chest-level and waist-level. Chest-level corresponded to the rim of the giant bowl of chocolate that I was tempering, and waist-level corresponded to the height of the granite counter.

Thankfully, I work cleaner these days. The kitchen is spotless and I didn’t get anything on my apron – though, I confess that on my evening run yesterday, I found a  streak of chocolate on my high-tech, air-wicking running shirt. The chocolate pixies must be after me. It only makes me run faster.