Archive for November, 2010

Some Thanksgiving Thoughts

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

— Ed Engoron, Co-Founder of Choclatique

Early ThanksgivingThis week we will be celebrating Thanksgiving with many of the foods that have been the holiday’s custom since the very first celebration. And, as hard as it is to believe, chocolate was unknown to the early settlers and did not have a place at their first celebration—something we have changed in later years. Regardless, Thanksgiving is the authentically American holiday which is celebrated on the final Thursday in November. But did you know it was not always so?

It wasn’t until December 26, 1941 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved this date to give the country an economic boost, making Thanksgiving a national holiday and setting it to be the fourth (but not final) Thursday in November. But long before the official proclamation, it was an annual tradition in the United States since 1863. Thanksgiving was historically a religious observation to give thanks to God.

Pilgrims and IndiansThe event that Americans commonly call the first Thanksgiving was celebrated to give thanks to God for helping the Pilgrims of Plymouth Colony survive their first brutal winter in New England. The first Thanksgiving feast lasted three days providing enough food for 53 pilgrims and 90 Native Americans. The first Thanksgiving feast consisted of fowl, venison, fish, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin, squash, beetroot and turkey.

Our modern day Thanksgiving holiday traces its origins from the original 1621 celebration at the Plymouth Plantation, where the Plymouth settlers held a harvest feast after a successful growing season. This was continued in later years, first as an impromptu religious observance, and later as a civil tradition.

The Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans lived near the Pilgrims and taught them how to catch eel and grow corn. The Wampanoag leaders had allowed their own food reserves to be shared with the fledgling colony during the first winter when supplies brought from England were insufficient to keep the population alive.

HarvestWisely these first Americans set apart this day to celebrate at Plymouth immediately after their first harvest. At the time, this was not regarded as a Thanksgiving observance; harvest festivals existed in English and Wampanoag tradition alike. Several colonists gave personal accounts of the 1621 feast in Plymouth, Massachusetts. It was quoted that, “the Pilgrims found the Lord to be with them in all their ways, and to bless their outgoings and incomings, for which let His holy name have the praise forever, to all posterity.”

Our forefathers began to gather their small harvests and prepare their houses against winter cold. In future years some of these adventurers were employed in civic affairs, others were fishing for cod, bass and other fish, which was dried and stored, of which every family had their share. As winter approached they began to store salted fowl, of which there was plenty. Beside the abundance of waterfowl there was great supply of wild turkeys. All of this lead to a grand meal for ever person as the harvest of Indian corn was brought in from the field and stored for the winter months.

Today we celebrate Thanksgiving with turkey, corn, squash or pumpkin, cranberries and nuts. Many the recipes we use today use the very same ingredients from earlier Thanksgiving celebrations. While chocolate was not a part of the first feast, we have adapted many recipes that have been enriched with the dark stuff.

Choclatique's Dark, Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mini ChipsOne of my personal favorites is Chocolate Pecan Pie which is made with our Choclatique Dark, Semi-Sweet Chocolate Mini Chips. I like this chocolate the best not only because of its wonderful rich flavor but for the miniature size. There are over 4000 mini-chips to a pound which ensures that every single bite will have a fair share of chocolate.

I encourage you to give this recipe a try and experiment with other chocolate desserts. If you have one that you think is out-of-this-world, send it to me and I will post it so others may share. Finally as we all express thanks for this year’s bounty, let’s not forget to offer a special thanks and prayers for our military men and women who are protecting us from others who do not share our beliefs.

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Unwrapping the Chocolate Genome

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

— Ed Engoron, Co-Founder of Choclatique

Chocolate Bar MakerAfter more than 10 years of teamwork planning and two years of mapping genes, two separate research groups have announced the complete sequencing of the genomes of two of the major cacao tree varieties.

Cacao TreeMuch of the world’s chocolate comes from cocoa beans harvested from the Theobroma cacao tree. The Forastero variety—used mainly in the bulk of the world’s chocolate production, and Criollo—used for its exceptionally fine taste.

Unfortunately, almost all cacao trees are highly susceptible to disease and cacao growers are constantly fighting plant plagues and the disruption of the sources of supply.

Witch's Broom FungusBrazil’s cacao crop, which once dominated the world market, was been decimated by a fungal blight known as witch’s broom. The fungus probably co-evolved with the cacao tree in Amazonia. Once the domesticated trees were cultivated in fields of genetically similar plants, the fungus had a field day and spread uncontrollably.

So far, witch’s broom and its equally destructive cousin, frosty pod, have not spread to cacao trees in Africa, where 70 percent of the world’s cacao is now grown. The old world cacao fields are not disease-free, however. Other fungi, such as black pod, as well as viruses and insect plagues have also affected cocoa bean crops in Africa and now in the newer plantations in Southeast Asia.

Cocoa bean shortages resulting from these plagues cost farmers an estimated $700 million in losses each year and are of particular to concern to larger candy companies which account for more than three-quarters of all the chocolate products sold in the United States each year.

TreesTo help ensure the health of cacao trees all over the world, two years ago Mars and Hershey announced separate plans to fund the sequencing of the cacao tree genome. The group that received funds from Mars and the U.S. Department of Agriculture went after the Forastero genome while Hershey partnered with Penn State University and CIRAD, a French agency based in Paris that studies agricultural issues in developing countries, to work on the Criollo genome.

DNA StrandThe goal isn’t to produce genetically modified candy bars. Rather, by sequencing the cacao tree genome, geneticists are providing plant breeders all over the world with a powerful new tool known as marker-assisted selection (MAS) that can be used to accelerate the breeding process for disease resistance and other valuable traits like drought tolerance and even flavor and texture.

Having the cacao genome in hand could also provide a unique opportunity to study genetic interactions between pathogens and hosts. Since scientists already have the genomes of witches broom and frosty pod allowing them to find the genetic triggers underlying the infection, that could be a very useful weapon in fighting disease.

Genetic SequenceHowever, even with these advancements, there is much work that remains to be done. The next step, identifying molecular markers, is a complicated and painstaking process. Sequencing is the easy part. Assembling the genome and identifying the markers is really the art form. It’s kind of like assembling a 3-dimensional jigsaw puzzle—one for each of the 10 chromosomes in the cacao genome, each comprised of 40 million puzzle pieces.

ScientistsIn the end, a team of 60 scientists working at 20 different institutes in six different countries were able to assemble 76 percent of the Criollo genome and identify 96 percent of the genes. The Forastero genome project met with even greater success, with 92 percent of the genome assembled, including 35,000 genes.

While the two simultaneous projects might recall the infamous race between Celera Genomics and the publicly financed Human Genome Project to sequence the human genome, both cacao genome groups compliment each other for providing the opportunity to compare the two closely related Forastero and Criollo varieties.

Pouring LiquidThe Forastero genome recently became available online and the Criollo sequence will be posted on the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) website, also home to the human genome.

Both groups intend to continue perfecting their respective sequences, while moving into the next stage of translating the roughly 420 million-unit DNA sequences into heartier cacao plants around the world.

Cacao GrowerIt’s not only about helping chocolate manufacturers make better products; it should also help farmers create a more reliable crop that can be grown in an environmentally sustainable way.

That’s great news for 3.5 million substance farmers who depend on growing cacao for a living, and for chocolate-loving people who can look forward to enjoying great chocolate for years to come.

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Selecting the Perfect Chocolate

Tuesday, November 9th, 2010

— Ed Engoron, Co-Founder of Choclatique

Chocolate HeartIf you love to bake anything chocolate you may have found that choosing chocolate for baking has gotten a little complicated. It used to be pretty straightforward — dark, milk, white, sweet, un-sweetened, semisweet or bittersweet. But these days, sorting out which chocolate belongs in your brownies or chocolate chip cookies can seem more like selecting a fine wine than whipping up a batch of your kid’s favorite cupcakes. Your choices can be very confusing with all the different percentages listed on the package. Chocolate Chip CookiesYou can find 33%, 47%, 64% or even 91% percent cacao is available on the market and some chocolate with no percentage of cacao listed at all. Then the question must be asked is one any better than the other? And, what’s all this percent stuff about cacao, anyway?

Wine BottlesAmerican chocolate companies have taken a page out of the wine and coffee industries’ marketing books and have begun labeling their bars with the source of origin, single origin (estate grown) and according to the percentage of cacao content which is the combined blend of cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

Dripping chocolateThe biggest problem is there’s way too much emphasis on the percentage of cacao and not enough attention paid to the ratio of the ingredients. Most people think the higher the percentage of cacao, the better the chocolate. There are other factors that go into chocolate quality. It’s really misleading to just claim that one bar compared to another is better just because it has 80 percent cacao versus 70 percent cacao for another.

Chocolate IngredientsGood chocolate makers use simple ingredients, a blend of cacao—fats and solids—sugar and dairy in the case of milk chocolate. The ratio of the blend affects taste, texture and how it reacts in making chocolate both for eating or baking. A higher percentage of cacao doesn’t guarantee a more intense chocolate flavor, because cacao percentages represent the total of all cocoa solids (from which chocolate gets its flavor) and cocoa butter (which imparts chocolate’s lush mouth feel). While different chocolates may have the same percent of total cacao, they could contain vastly different ratios of solids and fats, and that dramatically influences both the taste, texture of and the “bakablity” of the chocolate.

Cacao BeansHigher cacao percentages also don’t necessarily result in higher quality either. Taste is influenced more by the origin, drying, fermenting, roasting and the blend of beans. Better beans can produce better chocolate, even with lower percentages and cacao ratios.

Private Reserve Dark BarSo What Should You Buy?

For eating, stick to less than 70 percent cacao. Sugar enhances the flavor and texture of chocolate… bars with higher ratios, especially European chocolate can taste bitter and chalky depending on how the bean has been roasted. I recommend Choclatique’s Private Reserve Dark Chocolate Bar (64%).

Chocolate PastillesFor baking, I like to use and 70 to 80 percent dark chocolate depending on the ration of fat to solids. Our Ebony Dark Chocolate Pastilles (72%) are perfect for both flavor and mouthfeel. If you want a great milk chocolate, I suggest our Heirloom Milk Chocolate (41%) and for the best baking white chocolate I only use Choclatique’s Snowy-White Chocolate Pastilles (32%).

Of course, it ultimately all comes down to taste. If you’re looking for great baking chocolate, don’t use one that you wouldn’t enjoy eating.

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Choclatique Chocolate Weddings

Tuesday, November 2nd, 2010

— Ed Engoron, Co-Founder of Choclatique

BridesDid you know that 2.3 million couples get married in the United States every year? That breaks down to nearly 6,200 weddings a day. The average age of a bride is 25 and the average age of a groom is about 27. An average of 178 guests are invited to each wedding where an average of $20,000 is spent per wedding—nearly $72 billion per year. Oh, and by the way, nearly one-third of those getting married are retreads, having been previously married.

WeddingA wedding is that wonderful ceremony in which two people are blissfully united in marriage or a civil union, pledging their lives together. Wedding traditions and customs vary greatly between cultures, religions, nationalities and social classes.

Wedding RingsWedding ceremonies involve an exchange of vows by the couple along with the exchange of a gift—often wedding rings—and a proclamation of marriage by an authority figure. We normally celebrate after the ceremony with a wedding reception which almost always includes a beautiful multi-layered wedding cake. And, more often than not, chocolate is as commonplace as music, great food and champagne.

Chocolate CoupleScrumptious, incredible, edible chocolate wedding favors are now as popular with guests as they are with brides! After all, who doesn’t love chocolate? These chocolate wedding favors accomplish so much. They add a touch of sculptural art to all of the guests’ tables. They are unique and sure to make every guest—young and old—smile when they arrive at their assigned seat. Finally, they are absolutely the most delicious way to say thank you to all who attend the wedding.

New traditions for nuptials are always being added. Many brides are now opting for different ways to show their sweet savvy, choosing a “wedding cake” made of multiple tiers of cupcakes, his and hers wedding cake and a “chocolate table” filled with a beautiful array of miniature chocolate truffles.

Chocolate Commitment HeartRecently, Choclatique was invited to compete in the 2010 International Bridal Salon for the coveted chocolate awards. We joined a group of esteemed fellow chocolatiers and confectioners in this historic juried competition for the Bridal market. The 20 or so judges for this competition were from national and regional Bridal publications and they were there to decide our fate.

Choclatique Wedding FavorsChoclatique submitted 3 entries: our mini, 3-layer wedding cakes—these stand only about 2-inches tall yet are completely decorated, filled with strawberry white chocolate angel food ganache and brushed with either 24 karat gold or silver; 4-piece Gemstone truffles (each one has been designed to represent a different birthstone) and our gold leafed Commitment Hearts. What bride wouldn’t love to include any of these at her wedding?

Apricot TopazThe judges’ decisions were rendered and Choclatique was recognized as the Top Artisan Chocolatier and the Most Gifted Chocolatier / Chocolate Maker. We were also recognized for the Most Artistic Designs, Best Traditional Chocolates and the Best for Wedding Receptions. It’s always great to be recognized as the best of the best, especially in chocolate.

Weddings are not just in the month of June any more… and love and marriage along with engagements and anniversaries—can and should—be celebrated every day… with Choclatique chocolate, of course!

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