Archive for August, 2009

Why I Hate Marshmallows

Thursday, August 20th, 2009
— Ed Engoron, Co-Founder of Choclatique

When I was a kid at Boy Scout camp we used to sit around the campfire immolating Kraft puffed marshmallows on a stick. Everyone said they thought these smoldering lumps of puffy sugar were great—I didn’t and I don’t believe anyone else did either. The only good thing about a burnt Kraft marshmallow was that they usually fell off the skewer and I didn’t have to eat it. Now don’t get me wrong, I had a sweet tooth unparalleled to anyone. I loved sweets (still do), but hated those over-puffed, sickeningly sweet, machine-made, sticky, white, commercial marshmallows.

A marshmallow is a confection that, in its modern form, typically consists of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, water and gelatin. Commercial manufacturers add some artificial flavors and colors, then whip it into a sticky, spongy mass.

The original recipes for making marshmallow used an extract from the root of the (marsh) mallow plant, Althaea officinalis, instead of the gelatin used today. The Althaea officinalis is a pink-to-white flowering perennial herb, indigenous to the salt marshes and sea-bordering wetlands of Eastern Europe, North Africa and Asia. While not a native to North America, this member of the Hibiscus or mallow plant family was eventually brought to the Americas and became naturalized in the eastern portion of the continent.

Marshmallows were originally made from the stems of the marsh mallow plant (no kidding; that what it’s called). When peeled they reveal a soft and spongy pith with a texture similar to manufactured marshmallow. This pith was boiled in sugar syrup and dried to produce a soft, chewy concoction. This mucilage was used to soothe sore throats in the days when the Egyptians ruled the world around 2000 B.C.

In 1948 things changed (for the worse) when Alex Doumak got a patent on an extrusion process where marshmallows were extruded as soft cylinders, cut in sections and rolled in a mix of finely ground cornstarch and powdered sugar. This began the bastardization of the marshmallow.

Why I Love Marshmallows

At Choclatique, we make marshmallow better. Our artisanal, all-natural ingredient marshmallows are made the slow, old-fashioned way—one batch at a time. While we don’t use the pith of the Althaea officinalis, we carefully blend Hawaiian cane sugar, egg whites, gelatin, corn syrup and natural vanilla to create Choclatique’s fantastic artisanal marshmallows.Choclatique's Chocolate-Covered Marshmallows While the sugars are being cooked, the egg whites are beaten. Then we slowly merge the hot and cold ingredients together and continue to blend and whip the mixture into a fluffy air-filled mass. The mixture is poured into trays and the marshmallows are set aside for 24 hours to cure before cutting, coating and drizzling with our rich, smooth and creamy Private Reserve Dark or Prestige Milk Chocolate. The marshmallows themselves more closely resemble what would have been made and eaten in the early 1900’s. And, that’s a really good thing.

We are always looking to develop new flavors of marshmallows. This holiday season we will introduce our new Candy Cane Marshmallow. For Valentine’s Day 2010 we will introduce our new Cinnamon Marshmallow and for Easter, our new Lemon Drop Marshmallow. If you have a great marshmallow flavor, let us know. We will name it after you (provided your name is not “Stinky”) and enroll you in the Chocolates of the Month club for a 3-month, free membership. Remember, free is a good thing.

So now you know that there’s no need to continue burning marshmallows over an open fire or dipping them in chocolate or anything else for that matter. Choclatique’s chocolate-enrobed artisanal marshmallows are great all by themselves.

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About Ice Cream

Thursday, August 13th, 2009
— Ed Engoron, Co-Founder of Choclatique

I love ice cream! No ifs ands or buts about it. I am one of those “a pint is not enough” men. No matter what size the container, I can usually finish it in one serving. Okay, I have to admit, as I have gotten older, I do struggle a little with the gallon size. I also have to confess that it is a struggle to maintain my high school, athletic figure. Yeah, I’m sure you can imagine the guy who eats Choclatique chocolate all day has got to look like the “blob” that swallowed Hollywood. I digress…

I have been on the low carbohydrate Choclatique Q-91 diet since the beginning of summer. I haven’t had a “lick” of ice cream or much of anything else I love for over two months. I have lost about 16 badly needed pounds, but I still have another 12 to go. I get obsessive-compulsive about things like diets and nothing can even tempt me-even all of the great new luscious marshmallow flavors they are turning out of the Chocolate Studio this afternoon. If I can’t eat any ice cream at the moment, let me at least write about it.

THE BASE MIXTURE

Ice cream is a simple combination of dairy products, sweeteners, and flavorings. There are basically two kinds of ice cream: Philadelphia-style, which is made with various combinations of milk, cream, flavorings, and sugar; and custard-based, which is made with egg yolks, sugar, some milk, a lesser amount of cream, and similar flavorings. Custard ice creams, sometimes called French ice creams, are whipped before they are frozen. With the exception of the egg yolks in the custard ice cream, basically the ingredients for both are the same, although the proportions are different.

THE FAT’S WHERE THE FLAVOR AND TEXTURE ARE AT

We all love ice cream that is smooth and velvety. Ice cream has to contain a certain amount of butterfat to be so smooth and creamy. The butterfat in ice cream comes from the milk products in the mixture, and the higher the butterfat content, the richer the ice cream. The amount of butterfat in commercial ice cream is regulated by the FDA. For vanilla ice cream, the standard is at least 10 percent; for chocolate ice cream, it is at least 8 percent. Many ice creams that you buy in the store barely reach that minimum, while others reach 15 to 20 percent. When making your own ice cream, you can increase the butterfat content even more, resulting in the smoothest ice cream you’ll ever eat.

If you’re making your own ice cream, here are the ratios you need to follow. There are three cups of heavy cream and one cup of half-and-half in most Philadelphia-style ice cream recipes. There are two cups of heavy cream, one cup of half-and-half, and four egg yolks in most custard-style ice cream recipes. These standards yield ice cream that far surpasses any of the commercial brands, some of which substitute chemical additives, gelatin, and other stabilizers to provide smoothness and body. We don’t believe in better living through chemistry.

Smoothness in ice cream is achieved only with some sacrifice. That same butterfat that makes the ice cream so tasty can also be a problem for people with high cholesterol levels. You could reduce the amount of butterfat in the ice cream by substituting half-and-half for the cream and milk for the half-and-half. The problem is that you’ll get an icier ice cream. The ice cream just won’t be as smooth. It tends, especially in home ice cream freezers, to become icy and granular when there’s too much water and not enough fat in the mixture. If you want smoothness, the only solution is to eat very, very good ice cream—and only eat a little bit of it. Ice cream that’s well made (or anything else, for that matter) need not be eaten to excess to be satisfying. In France they serve ice cream in tiny cones. The cones are perhaps an inch and a half in diameter at the widest point. They are perfectly satisfying.

OVERRUN—IS THAT JUST A LOT OF HOT AIR?

If you simply mixed up a batch of cream, sugar, and flavoring and then froze it, you would get a solid block that you’d have to chip at with a chisel. The mixture has to have some air added as it freezes. This is the second most important factor in making good ice cream. The air lightens the mixture and increases its volume while keeping the cream soft. Too little air makes a solid ice cream; too much results in frozen foam.

Some commercial ice cream makers use an air pump, which pumps air into the mixture as it is being frozen. Home ice cream machines do a similar process mechanically by stirring a small amount of air into the mixture with the beater as it freezes. To some extent you can control the amount of air being incorporated and thus control the density of your ice cream.

The percentage of air that is whipped into ice cream is referred to as “overrun.” The FDA has standards for the weight of ice cream, and these weights are a direct reflection of overrun. A gallon of commercial ice cream must weigh at least 4.5 pounds. The ice cream you make at home will weigh twice that. Some popular brands of ice cream advertise a low overrun—for example a 20% overrun. That means for every 100 ounces of cream mixture, they beat in enough air to produce 120 ounces of frozen ice cream. Try testing this yourself. Hold up two different containers of ice cream at once and notice which is heavier. The heavier one has the lower overrun, which means you’re getting more ice cream and less air for your buck.

INGREDIENTS—ONLY THE BEST WILL DO

It pays to use only the best ingredients. Why spend all that time and effort to make something that is second rate? If you want second-rate ice cream, you can find that easily at the store. Go that route and along with second-rate taste, you’ll get junk like homogenizers, stabilizers, and emulsifiers; corn syrups instead of sugar; and artificial flavors instead of real flavors. The freezing process tends to bring out all the imperfections in ingredients. If you compromise on quality here, you’ll taste it later.

FOOD SAFE & FLAVOR

Remember that in making ice cream, you are working with dairy products (milk, half and half and cream) and eggs that when not totally fresh, can have higher counts of bacteria and possibly get you sick.

If you are going to use the freshest cream, half-and-half, and eggs, you should be using only real vanilla or vanilla extract. Vanilla reinforces the flavor of the cream and gives the ice cream its characteristic dairy taste. It also enhances the flavor of chocolate ice cream. Phony vanilla just doesn’t cut it and it leaves a metallic aftertaste.

If you’re using chocolate, it should be the best. We recommend using Choclatique Private Reserve Dark Chocolate (64%); Choclatique Prestige Milk Chocolate (32%); or Choclatique Snowy White Chocolate (33%). For cocoa, use Choclatique Red Cocoa Powder. It is a light, Dutch-process cocoa that still gives a nice, warm brown color and enhance the chocolate flavor.

ORTS, CHIPS, BITS, PIECES, TEXTURIZERS AS INCLUSIONS

Inclusions are those things (fruits, nuts and chips) that you can add to ice cream to give it that Ben & Jerry’s texture. I prefer to only add frozen inclusions. Adding room temperature inclusion may develop ice crystal in the ice cream and delay the freezing process. At the very least make sure anything you add is well refrigerated. And always start with the coldest mixture of dairy products.

You can add in unsalted nuts, dried fruit, chocolate Choclatique chocolate chips, fresh candy or crisp cookie pieces. These are added just before the ice cream is packed for hardening in the freezer.

THEM NEW-FANGLED MACHINES

Ice cream is made by stirring the cream mixture while it freezes. The mixture has to be cold, stirred constantly and not too quickly, but at a pace that allows the cream to freeze without becoming solid and without separating. For the home, there are basically only a three kinds of machines.

The old-fashioned hand- or motor-cranked machine is essentially a canister that is held within a larger bucket. By turning the crank, you are able to turn the canister, which has a beater, or dasher, inside it to stir the cream. Between the canister and the bucket, you pack in layers of crushed ice and salt. The salt keeps the ice cold. Salt lowers the temperature of the ice while melting it, thus making a very cold casing around the canister to help freeze the cream.

If you don’t want to make a production out of it at the 4th of July picnic and mess with all the salt and ice, then the frozen core machine is just what the doctor ordered. The core is pre-frozen in your freezer. Then just fill the bowl with the cream mixture and turn it on. It will yield between a pint and a quart in about 20 minutes.

If you want to spend about a zillion dollars, there is yet another type of machine available—the self-freezing variety, with a canister inside the machine and with the freezing coils wrapped around the canister. It is a mini electric freezer with a small compressor and everything. The cream mixture is stirred inside the canister as it is frozen, without need for salt or ice. The big advantage of the self-freezing machines is that they are quick, easy to clean and virtually foolproof. Most people can’t make a mistake.

PACKING IT IN

Some people like to eat the ice cream fresh, right from the bucket. Others like to chill it to make it quite hard. When ice cream comes from the ice cream making machine, regardless of the type of equipment, it is light and fluffy and at about 17ºF. When you pack it in containers to store in the freezer, it hardens (if your recipe is good, the ice cream should remain creamy and smooth). The best storage for ice cream is about 0º to -10F°. Pack it tightly in airtight containers and top the ice cream with a layer of food film, tapping it down to cover the surface. Place the cover on top of the container on to seal. Label, date and rotate. Just because it is kept in the freezer doesn’t give it the shelf life of plutonium.

When ready to serve, take your ice cream container out of the freezer and place it in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to slightly soften. If you can’t wait, put it in the microwave for about 15 seconds at 50% power.

So here we have presented some simple tips to eat healthfully, stay fit and above all have fun in your kitchen.

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Congress Is Out for the Summer

Tuesday, August 4th, 2009
— Ed Engoron, Co-Founder of Choclatique

Not A Moment To Soon

After months of debates over the Wall Street bailouts, the stimulus bill, the government take-over of the automobile industry, cash for clunkers and health care reform, Congress finally adjourned for their summer recess. Just in the nick of time. I’m not sure if they needed a vacation from all the long hours at work or we needed a vacation from them.

While I like to think I’m well informed (compared to the people I see on Jaywalking on the old Leno “Tonight Show”), I am not a particularly political person. I have never had the urge to run for any elected office. After all, in today’s world who would ever want to put themselves or their families through that tortuous process? I was once appointed as a County Commissioner overseeing the botanical gardens, parks and arboretums in Los Angeles; not a particularly challenging position. I have been in the media spotlight with my “10 minutes of fame” on ABC both in the news and entertainment divisions, the latter with a series of food shows—not exactly controversial. I am not anywhere near as glib as Bill O’Reilly, as good looking as Keith Olbermann, or as wise as the late Walter Cronkite.

I am fairly well-educated; I keep up on current affairs; I work my butt off in both of my small businesses where we still believe in the strength of the American work ethic. I have voted for both Republicans and Democrats if I thought they made sense and shared my views on America. I have written a letter to every incoming president (since I could vote) Republican and Democrat—wishing them the best of luck and offering them my prayers for success. After all, whether or not I voted for them they are my president. If I don’t seem to be anyone special, you’re right; I’m not. I’m a lot like you—a middle of the road, moderate American.

I am quite disturbed over many of the events going on in Washington and in other like-minded Western European capitals today with proposed legislation leading us down the path of a “Nanny State” where the government is all-knowing, all-ruling and where we citizens take virtually no responsibility for our own actions.

I saw an article from London this week where Parliament is trying to regulate the size of soda cans and candy bars. I don’t see any reason to reduce the size of a chocolate bar from 58 grams to 50 grams all in the name of obesity and weight control. If one is so inclined to eat chocolate (which I hope most of you are), what’s to keep you from eating a second, third or fourth bar or drink a second can of pop? Government has a place in our lives, but it should be limited—not in our business, doctor’s office, bedrooms or our kitchens.

Over our 233 year history, government hasn’t run the most successful of enterprises. Most have failed to be cost effective or have neglected to deliver the programs as promised—are all fraught with fraud and abuse hurting the very citizens they were created to help.

After listening to the congressional debates this week, I read a “New York Times” article about Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez and his continuing interference in the commerce of his nation’s cacao industry (cacao from which chocolate is made). A great example why governments should stick to those powers granted to them by their constitutions.

The article, In Venezuela, Plantations of Cacao Stir Bitterness by Simon Romero, talks about Kai Rosenberg who owns a cacao plantation in Venezuela. In the years since President Chávez has come to office, he has for all intents and purposes, nationalized the cacao growers. In that time, squatters have tried to control Rosenberg’s plantation, a fungus nearly wiped out his entire crop, government inspectors and export officials have solicited bribes and officials have created a mountain of red tape and the requirement for endless permits.

Cacao from Venezuela is so desirable that European chocolate makers sometimes engage in cut-throat competition to gain access to it. Chocolatiers talk of the unique factors on the Caribbean’s edge in a way that resembles the goût de terroir, or taste of the earth, so crucial to fine wines. My friend and quality California chocolate maker, Gary Guittard, says, “Venezuela is in a league of its own [when it comes to chocolate]. It takes years to develop the uniqueness of the best cacao, maybe 20 or 30 years, maybe 100.” It is a Venezuelan natural treasure and shouldn’t be wasted.

President Chávez, usually obsessed with selling his country’s oil reserves and making derogatory comments about the United States, recently challenged the reasons why chocolate made from Venezuelan cacao should fetch such high sums in United State and Europe. He singled out cacao grower William Harcourt-Cooze, a plantation owner for particularly harsh comments.

President Chávez said after listening to residents’ complaints about Mr. Harcourt-Cooze’s farm. “…that he is getting rich while the workers are living in poverty.” Following these comments government inspectors began an investigation into Harcourt-Cooze’s alleged labor and land violations. While later vindicated, it was a distraction from the commerce of Venezuelan cacao.

Other growers have not been so fortunate. After partnering with Chávez and the government in a cacao venture in Barinas, the El Rey Chocolate Company, one of the leading companies in Venezuela’s gourmet chocolate industry, is still unable to stop squatters who invaded the farm earlier this decade and who inhibit the successful growing of cacao. “[Venezuela] could be a world leader with cacao, what beef is for Argentina or rice for Thailand,” said Jorge Redmond, Chocolates El Rey’s chief executive, reflecting on the industry’s upheaval. “Instead we’re faced with 52 different permits to export a single container of our chocolate, compared with four steps to export before Mr. Chávez came to power.”

This is exactly what happens when uninformed and/or greedy politicians interfere in areas that they know little about. The government bureaucrats have created a monopoly over the industry which has eroded incentives to produce high-quality cacao. Yields have continued drop. Today, Venezuela only produces about the same amount of cacao as it did three centuries ago: 15,000 tons a year, less than 1 percent of global cacao output.

Venezuela, once a thriving democracy, rich in oil, cacao and people resources has become one of the most difficult places to do business due to government interference in commerce. Cacao yields have languished; even though cooperatives employ triple the number of workers it would if owned by a private company.

But Venezuela still produces what most chocolate makers consider the world’s best cacao. When the Venezuelan oil reserves are depleted and the current oppressive government is replaced with a more democratic bureaucracy, they’ll be doing what they have done for centuries; relying on cacao for their survival.

Choclatique's Venezualan Single Origin TabletIf you want to taste this special Venezualan Cacao before it disappears from the marketplace entirely, go to www.choclatique.com. Choclatique is having a special sale on our single-origin, Growers-Reserve Venezuelan Chocolate 100 g bar. Choclatique’s Venezuelan single-origin is rich in chocolate aroma with complex chocolate notes accented by subtle hints of red berry fruit. The cacao beans are sourced and harvested from trees of Criollo and Trinitario heritage in Venezuela’s Sur del Lago region. Here in these lush tropical forests in the shade of the giant trees, pink cocoa pods ripen ready for the next harvest in early November.

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