Whether you hate Valentine’s Day, love it, or are as confused as I was about it a year ago, here’s to all of us agreeing that this is pretty clearly a heart.
Whether you hate Valentine’s Day, love it, or are as confused as I was about it a year ago, here’s to all of us agreeing that this is pretty clearly a heart.
There’s a common saying out there concerning the manufacturing of sausages. It implies that once someone learns about the intestines, guts and other general all-around yuckies that go into something as wonderful as a sausage, that our newly graduated sausage scholar friend will lose his or her appetite for the very sausage he or she just studied.
As it turns out, that saying really doesn’t apply when it comes to chocolates.
I’d never taken a ton of time to consider how the truffles, bonbons and other filled chocolates are made, but given how much Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood I watched as a kid, I kind of generally assumed the process was a lot like how people make crayons or macaroni: mostly using big machines, with some oversight by men wearing hats and distribution by means of Mr. McFeely.
That in mind, when my friend and noted chocolatier Chef Amanda Tommey Terbush told me that she was getting ready to make some bonbons to sell during Valentine’s Day weekend at her Southern France Patisserie*, I was intrigued, as her kitchen featured neither big machines nor Mr. McFeelies. [Ed. note: I can’t say one way or another about hats.] Immediate further investigation revealed my preconceptions were woefully inaccurate and that I actually had no idea how one creates a bonbon; for the benefit of my vast readership, Amanda was kind enough to invite me to observe her make a batch.
*[Ed. note: Southern France Patisserie is a hybrid French and American Southern bakery on Irving Park and Southport just north of Wrigley Field. It’s a perfect place to eat pastries, drink coffee and complain about Mizzou football, and has become one of my favorite spots in the whole city. If you find yourself free on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday morning, mosey on over and give literally anything a try; there’s a more than 50 percent chance you’ll giggle at how good it is.]
Constructing a Bonbon
When I arrived, Amanda was already hard at work, having already completed batches of milk chocolate/Tahitian vanilla bean ganache and white chocolate/strawberry champagne ganache bonbons [Ed. note: Scroll to the bottom for tasting notes]; I was going to watch her make a dark chocolate variety, which would be filled with a blood orange salted caramel ganache, because of course it would.
The first step of creating one of these confections is to create the outer shell of the bonbon. Amanda had already taken care of this at the time, with racks upon racks of dark chocolate shells already cooled and ready to be filled.
Now, just about anybody would see that rack and get excited, but Amanda made sure to note to look more closely to ensure that everything was going according to plan. Perhaps the most important thing to look for at this point is the shine and coloring of the chocolate shells. If it’s shiny and uniform throughout, it means that the chocolate was tempered at the right temperature; this chocolate will taste wonderful and “crisp” when it breaks. However, if it was tempered improperly, the chocolate will demonstrate “blooming”: streaks of lighter brown interspersed with the darker chocolate.
Have you ever had a candy bar that totally melted and you tried to save by putting it in the freezer, and when you pulled it out and opened it, it mostly looked the same save some lightish stuff on the outside? That’s bloom.
Bloom is evidence that the chocolate was tempered at the wrong temperature; the fat from the cocoa butter does not emulsify with all of the chocolate and separates. This will lead to imperfections in the mouthfeel and cleavage of the chocolate, a major bummer for all involved. No “crisp”, no glory.Continue reading
Happy new year, everybody! An entire month and change late!
Apologies for the hiatus; life’s been a bit of a whirlwind lately: I left a job, went on a Christmas vacation to the California coast and a New Year’s vacation to the California mountains, found a Lady Bar, worked at a fashion convention and lost a 1-on-1 basketball game for $100.
As I’ve navigated the highs and lows of the past few months, one of the great constants has been the support of my friends, who, in addition to being overall swell people, have also supplied me with more than my fair share of candy bars to sample.
A very genuine thank you to all of those who sent bars my way, including:
The friend who goes to visit a candy factory and knows you like silly hats
Many thanks to Jacki Bar, who not only sent along some delicious treats from her tour of the Hammond Candies factory in Colorado, but also sent this sweet-ass hat, which I immediately put on, because attention:
Of course, she also sent some sweets:
Hammonds Whoopie Pie bar was, well, not exactly a whoopie pie facsimile, but, instead a dark chocolate bar with vanilla creme. It was definitely a tasty chocolate bar, but given the whoopie pie billing, I can’t say it completely lived up to my expectation (me and the whoopies go way back).
More than anything, the bitterness of the dark chocolate overpowered the gentle vanilla in the creme, and anyone who’s had a whoopie pie knows that the creme is paramount. If Hammonds had adjusted the ratio ever so slightly, this would have been a knockout. Continue reading
When I was a wee lad, my grandma used to babysit me a lot. She was a sweet lady who loved Arnold Schwarzenegger and had a right hand that didn’t open up all the way on account of an industrial accident at a factory where she worked.
When I got tired of watching Predator and started beating up on my sisters, she would Stop That Right Now, Young Man Or Else You’re Going To Get THE CLAW.
She would beckon at me with her semi-clenched hand, her fingers extended and her long, sharpened fingernails pointed directly at my heart.
And I would stop, sit back down and get right back to watching Predator.
Grandma (Grambo to those who knew her – she loved Stallone too) passed a couple of years ago. As my family gathered to mourn and pore over pictures, possessions and memories, my cousins and I all came to realize that nobody ever actually got The Claw [Ed. note: It turns out, to some’s chagrin.] – the object of our abject fear was merely a ruse to get us to stop being such little shits.
A similar ruse?
“If you don’t behave, all Santa is going to bring you is a lump of coal.”
Ignoring the fact that these days coal is a precious resource that might have a higher value than a great many other gifts, for a child, this is a scary-ass proposition. And, for the most part, it works.
Now, I know I’m not breaking new ground here, but we all recognize that nobody has ever – outside of the Kingsford briquette that your wisenheimer dad decided was a funny joke one year – gotten coal in their stocking in lieu of Christmas presents, right? The fortitude a parent would need to deal with the repercussions on Christmas morning alone would make it a futile decision, not to mention the therapy they’d need to pay for years later.
We continue to propagate the threat, though. And finally, someone’s taking advantage!
Butterfinger decided to market their holiday varietal as lumps of coal (pictured at top), and I couldn’t be happier. For one, it means the kids whose wisenheimer dads were going to put charcoal in their stocking now have a shot at a delicious alternative, but, really, it’s a creative way to package the best-possible form of Butterfinger. The chocolate-to-Butterfinger-stuffins ratio is higher than a typical Butterfinger, which offers a gentler tasting experience, both in the ways of initial taste as well as a more reasonable amount of candy that gets stuck in your teeth.
You probably remember this.
Here’s how Reese’s responded [Ed. note: For some reason Twitter embed doesn’t work on my template. Sorry, Twitter.]:
And when someone tried to throw shade?
You win, Reese’s.
I just returned from a magnificent and too-short weekend in Portland, Ore., where I got to celebrate a Festivus I might have accidentally foisted upon my hosts.
I highly recommend at least a cursory exploration of the town. If you’re at a loss for what to do, you might consider just following your host around town as he/she runs errands. That might sound like a snide thing to be saying, but, very genuinely, I got to see a great deal of the city in a very efficient manner. Whoever figures out how to monetize #TaskTourism might just stumble onto the next AirbnB.
Before my trip, my hosts Chris and Rachel Bar had spent some time on St. Juan Island in Washington State and brought back the lavender milk chocolate pictured above for me to try.
Now, before I go any further, it is important for me to note that when I was growing up, my mother had a therapeutic neck pillow that contained lavender beads. You could put it in the microwave and wrap it around your neck, and it would somehow make life better.
It is also important for me to note that said pillow also was shaped like an otter and my mother named it Jethro.
The lavender chocolate is uniquely delicious. It is smooth and light and the lavender complements the milk chocolate in a fun way that dances across the tongue. It’s almost like enjoying a chocolate-covered flower.
But all I could think of when I ate it was my mother’s microwavable therapeutic neck pillow otter Jethro.
I also ran into an Alcove Banana Cream Crunch bar out there, which seemed like it would be a lot of fun. It turns out it’s not; the banana flavor comes across as too fake, even if it’s not, and the crispy rice bits compromise the integrity of the admittedly nice chocolate — you end up having to chew it to get the full effect, which is kind of a bummer.
At the same liquor store I bought that lackluster bar, though, was a wonderful invention/craft beer distribution system called the Crowler. Basically, instead of having to fill an entire growler of beer, the store/bar pours beer into an oversized can and SEALS THE GIANT CAN RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. I took home 32 oz. of Boneyard’s Notorious triple IPA, and also took home a newfound sense of wonder.
Google Search That Brought Traffic to BOaP of the Day
“keebler elf house”
No fewer than four independent people sent me a link to stories about people being mad about the shape of this year’s crop of Reese’s Trees, the cups’ Christmas seasonal shape varietal similar to the pumpkins and eggs of Halloween and Easter, respectively.
It seems the detail on the sides is not up to snuff.
That’s it. Apparently it resembles a turd. Because the edges aren’t jaggy enough.
Bruh. Continue reading
Sometimes, there a distraction. Other times, a fire-in-a-barrel.
Sometimes, there’s a distraction, in a fire-in-a-barrel.
Okay, you probably have lots. But when Tyler Bar, a member of my Game of Thrones crew, mentioned that his girlfriend Leena Bar had just returned from a trip to Iceland and had some candy bars to try, I couldn’t pass up the chance to shoehorn in as many D2: The Mighty Ducks references as I could — lest I get accused of eating ice cream with the enemy.
Leena was kind enough to snag some Pypp bars — a med myntufylling bar, according to its packaging — and some Lakkris bars, which were explicitly recommended to her by a few different Icelanders, an anecdote I am going to use as the basis for my assumption that the Lakkris is Iceland’s favorite treat.
We decided to dive into the Lakkris first. From the packaging (pictured above), we put together that it was either a caramel or light-milk chocolate bar interspersed with some sort of dark matter [Ed. note: Which seemed to be falling from the sky for some reason] made up of coffee beans, rabbit pellets or small cylinders of poison. Leena confirmed it was the last of those. Continue reading
[Ed. note: Sorry about the hiatus, loyal readers. Calendar year-end is like tax season in the fundraising game; I’ve been getting decimated. I hope to up the posting regularity now that things have slowed at least a little bit.]
I’ve spoken at length about how awesome moms are.
Really though, that sentiment doesn’t extend only to nuclear mothers. Grandmas, aunts, sisters, dads, coaches, neighbors … there are any number of people who take time to care about you and offer a guiding, stabilizing presence. And sometimes bake you cookies.
I’ve been fortunate to have no fewer than 7 women who have been mothers to me in one way or another. Jacki Bar, otherwise known as “Mrs. Max” [Ed. note: But not actually Mrs. Max, just his mom], is one of them. In the past decade, she’s come to my regattas, attended my college graduation [Ed. note: granted, Max was there too] and made time to see me whenever she’s been in town.
This summer, she went on some worldly travels and picked up a few bars for me to try. Once the weather cooled down to provide for risk-free shipping [Ed. note: Those moms … always thinkin’], she sent them my way to give a try. Big thanks to Jacki, and a big thanks to all the moms out there.
Nutella B-Ready (Italy)
Once I got past how to enunciate the name of the bar — Be Ready? … Bready? … Be Ready. — there wasn’t much difficult about eating this bar. The outside of the bar was entirely wafer, reminiscent of a compartmentalized, more brittle ladyfinger (the compartments, assumedly, are for breaking off pieces). Each bite was light but not so much so that it was unsatisfying: The Nutella filling brought a needed gravity to the wafer exterior, which had a texture something like the lovechild of a one-night stand between the phyllo in baklava and the inside of a Kit Kat. Thumbs up.
Another bonus: A relatively healthy bar! Only 399 kilojoules!
Cote d’Or (France)
Some straight-up delicious-ass chocolate with hazelnuts. The chocolate was dark, but not so much that it couldn’t be described as milk chocolate, and the tasty hazelnuts gave a welcome crunch. This wouldn’t be my first choice in the French candy aisle, but I would not be mad if it were the only choice. [Ed. note: Which would call into question why the hell that was how that store decided to stock that candy aisle.]
Nougat Stick (France) (There’s probably actually a name for it but I don’t speak French and this was tough for me)
This was a revelation: In the States, it’s very rare you see a nougat not a) encased in chocolate or b) with a jelly center in the bulk candy aisle. This was a whole stick! With indiscriminate nuts (which, upon later inspection, were pistachios and almonds)!
The Nougat Stick was very light, much lighter than most US nougats aside from Three Musketeers, but was slightly chewier than you would expect. It almost had the consistency of a packing peanut, but I mean that as a compliment? I’m as bewildered by that sentence as you probably are, but let me just say, I liked this a lot.
Charles Chocolates Toffee Coffee Bar (California)
I’m a fool for a good toffee bar.
I’m also a fool for a good coffee.
Mix the two together with some dark (but not too dark) chocolate? Dang. This was a good-ass candy bar.
Because of the bitterness of the coffee and dark chocolate, however, it’s not a bar to be eaten in one sitting, more like a break a piece here and there sort of thing. You know, just in case you were thinking otherwise.
Kit Kat has a penchant for weird flavor combinations. Typically, that’s been reserved for more international fare, but I ran into some Halloween-style combos.
The first of which, pictured above, featured an orange-tinged, white chocolate outer casing with a chocolate filling in between the wafers. Which is another way of saying that it featured an orange-tinged, white chocolate outer casing with it doesn’t matter in between the wafers, because the white chocolateyness of it all overpowered the candy bar.
If you’re a white chocolate fan, man, this bar is for you. Otherwise, give this one to the trick or treaters. They will be excited about the orange and won’t remember it was you.
Now this triple chocolate Kit Kat, on the other hand, tastes … pretty much like a Kit Kat. Highly recommended!
The only demerits this one gets is for simple counting: They swapped out regular-flavored wafers for chocolate wafers and somehow got to three entire chocolates.