Category Archives: cookies

Chocolate Naive’s Dark Chocolate Coated Blueberries, Strawberries, and Caramelized Hazelnuts

Chocolate Naive’s new trio of freeze dried blueberries, strawberries, and caramelized hazelnuts in chocolate is a unique addition to the plethora of products vying for your chocolate fund.

Eating even one of the tiny blueberries is like being transported into a fairy tale. Each mini orb an amazing combination of ethereally crunchy, freeze dried blueberries. The texture somehow melts on the tongue, along with 41% Madagascan chocolate, while a little dusting of cocoa provides the perfect hint of intensity. Out of curiosity, I bit into one to discover a shocking burst of magenta, which just added a visual thrill to the whole experience.

The strawberries are Brobdingnagian in comparison to their Lilliputian brethren. With a thicker shell of dark chocolate and a huge berry inside, these confections offer up the essence of strawberry with a super rich dark chocolate. (Can this really be 41% cacao?) These are as different from a fresh strawberry dipped in chocolate as chalk and cheese. I am not a fan of the fresh ones, as they always seem like a mess: fruit juice mingling with broken pieces of chocolate and none of it cohering. Here, you have a seamless marriage of textures, flavors, and the gustatory excitement of something new.

Their chocolate covered caramelized hazelnuts are just divine. Unlike the couverture on the fruits, which tastes like dark chocolate to me, this is a dark milk finished with confectioner’s sugar. The nuts are perfectly roasted and lightly caramelized. Crunchy, creamy textures along with a just sweet enough chocolate shell deliver a supremely satisfying, decadent treat.

One thing that takes all three of these up a notch is the addition of sea salt. It’s the tiniest bit, but it catalyzes the fruit, nuts, chocolate, and sugar into something really remarkable.

Sheila G’s Brownie Brittle

First of all, kudos to the marketing genius who thought of calling these super thin brownie crisps “brownie brittle.” Alliterative, alluring, and descriptive.

They are like a brittle, or a wonderfully chocolatey tuile; perhaps a cross between a brittle and a cookie. But why quibble over terms when all that matters is how incredibly light and crunchy they are?

I was immediately drawn to the Toffee Crunch variety with its toffee craters studding a chocolate lunar landscape. I often find toffee inclusions ramp up the sweet meter, but this iteration was balanced and had the same amount of sugar as the chocolate chip variety.

Traditional Walnut was delightfully nutty and extra crunchy, with that slightly bitter edge those nuts typically bring to the table.

Chocolate Chip intensified the deep cocoa bean experience, while adding little creamy textural notes.

Sheila claims there are six to a serving, but half that would probably satisfy a moderate sweet tooth.

You could easily make a simple dish of ice cream into a company-worthy dessert by drizzling it with Kahlua and artfully sinking a large piece of Brownie Brittle at a rakish angle off to the side. Actually, the flavor of these reminded me a bit of Famous Chocolate Wafers, which got me thinking about making them into a refrigerator cake with lots of freshly whipped, vanilla infused whipped cream. If you have never made this, it’s shockingly good.

Araya Artisan Chocolate

The people at Araya really get it. They make beautiful chocolates that taste fabulous, and present them in lovely boxes designed to keep each little sculptural piece in pristine condition.

I sampled 28 of their luscious line of 35. Each fulfilled my quintessential idea of dessert. The shells were all tempered to a lovely shine and adorned with an appealing array of abstract designs, making them visually tantalizing.

Araya uses El Ray couverture from Venezuela, which isn’t surprising as the three founders, Stefano Zullian, his wife Carla, and her sister Silvana, are from that part of South America. All three quit their day jobs and studied with local chocolatiers before choosing Houston, Texas as their company’s home base.

Araya is the name of a Venezuelan town that straddles the lush rainforest where many of South America’s finest cocoa beans are grown and the parched land across the peninsula where a salt mine stands.

I thoroughly enjoyed every bite from this collection. Some of my favorites were:

Manhattan, a dark ganache infused with Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Vermouth and cherry juice. I would happily order a box of those, all by themselves.

Dulce de Leche, the classic caramel blended with milk chocolate ganache. Another winner.

Orange Marzipan, a deliciously tropical riff on marzipan.

Margarita, truly stellar, housed a dark ganache with Jose Cuervo Tequila and lime zest. It was finished with a few grains of salt and couldn’t be better.

Peanut Butter and Berries, an inspired combination of dark chocolate ganache and peanut butter topped with blackberry pâté de fruit.

Chipotle, an ultra silky 61% Venezuelan ganache perfectly balanced with smokey chipotle heat.

Chai Spice, a gustatory trapeze artist poised on the brink of black tea cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. A true melding of flavors where the whole was far greater than the sum of its parts.

Passion Fruit, the essence of this marvelously addictive flavor in a white chocolate mousse.

Strawberry Balsamic, just enough rich vinegar reduction to heighten the strawberry ganache.

Acai Pomegranate, another layered affair with acai berry pâté de fruit atop a pomegranate dark chocolate ganache. Heaven.

Salty Caramel Rum, a sublime deep caramel and chocolate ganache with anejo rum and a sprinkle of sea salt.

Araya aims to please. If the alcohol infused chocolates appeal to you you can order a box of just those flavors. Ditto for the Dark, Milk, or Nuts collections.

They offer a few different package designs. All are lovely and would make a welcome gift.

Quick and Easy Chocolate Tempering

True chocolatiers visibly flinch when I suggest tempering chocolate in the microwave, but for personal consumption, less mess, and speed it works well.

Here is my tried and true method:

In a four cup Pyrex measuring cup put 3/4 of the amount of chopped chocolate you are tempering. (I use anything from three ounces to a pound. If you are using chips, just measure out one cup and divide it into two portions, one with 3/4 cup and one with 1/4 cup.)

Take the remaining 1/4 and divide it into two equal portions. Chop this into pea sized pieces.

Nuke the chocolate in the measuring cup on high for one minute. Stir. If it is not completely melted nuke it again for another 10-15 seconds. Stir until smooth.

Add one portion of the remaining pea-sized chocolate and stir until smooth. (This may take a minute, or two, so be patient. Don’t re-nuke the chocolate. You’re seeding the melted chocolate to bring down its temperature.)

Add the last portion of chocolate and stir until smooth.

Now, you are ready to make barks, clusters, or chocolate covered anything.

I like making a bark with crisped rice cereal and maple-sugared nuts. Just mix in whatever ratio of ingredients to chocolate you like, stir and spread out on a sheet of foil, or drop by teaspoonfuls.

(To make easy glazed nuts put 2 TBSP. maple syrup—the real stuff—in an 8-9″ skillet and heat on medium until it bubbles and reduces by about a third. If you want to add a bit of cayenne, chipotle chili powder, smoked paprika, cinnamon, or curry powder, do it now. A dash of sea salt always points up flavors. Add about 1-1 1/2 cups of chopped nuts and stir until nuts look dry in the pan, about 5-7 minutes. Pour onto a piece of aluminum foil and let sit until crispy, about a few minutes.)

I have coated pieces of halvah, small cookies, home-made caramels, etc. with melted bittersweet chocolate and they have been delicious.

Almonds, dried cherries, different cereals, peanuts, pretzels, cacao nibs, dates, walnuts, and anything else that appeals to you will probably work. The simplest things are often the best, like dark milk chocolate (62-70%) with corn flakes.

If you feel artistic, you can make mendiants by dropping tablespoonfuls of chocolate on a foil sheet. Round them out with the back of the spoon, and place a beautiful whole nut, piece of glaceed fruit, caramelized cocoa nib, and dried fruit on top. Just gently press your additions into the chocolate so they won’t fall off.

Note: Every chocolate hardens at a different rate. How quickly your chocolate will harden depends on the humidity. Some will set up in minutes, while others may take more than an hour.

Sweet Sally’s Brownies & Rugelach

A really fantastic pastry is so satisfying that a few bites will suffice. Sweet Sally’s rugelach with dark chocolate, jam and currants is a perfect example. One piece will sate your cravings for chocolate, deliciously flakey pastry, and wonderfully chewy little currants. Sally Saltzbart Minier, the owner of Sweet Sally’s, made the right choice to use currants rather than the more traditional raisins, as they infiltrate every bite with an extra burst of fruity sweetness that carries the chewiness of baked jam and dark chocolate to all your sweet-loving taste buds. Her rugelach are simply A-plus.

I also sampled a delicious heart-shaped brownie that was another joyful experience. Fudgy, and redolent with dark chocolate, every bite made me smile.

Sweet Sally’s offers many more delights, like classic rainbow cookies with almond paste, Mandel bread, gluten free macaroons, cinnamon raisin rugelach, chocolate and ginger scones that look heavenly, and a host of other treats to tempt you.

Green’s Chocolate Babka and Rugelach

My grandmother made the most fantastic chocolate babka on earth. Ever since my teen years, I have tried to replicate it, but with no success. Though the craving never abated, I despaired at ever enjoying this treat again. Yes, I have optimistically ordered chocolate babkas from other New York bakeries only to find they contained hydrogenated oils. Recently, I came across Green’s bakery in Brooklyn. They bake a wide assortment of babkas, rugelach, rainbow cookies, seven layer cake, marble cake, and other traditional Kosher sweets. Of course, my attention immediately went to the babka.

Their version is visually appealing with its multitude of alternating layers of chocolate and cake. It’s rich, moist, chocolatey, and delicious. In the past, when I sampled other babkas I found them to have a very high addiction quotient. Perhaps, they had more sugar? I don’t know. All I can tell you is this cake was very satisfying, yet I had no trouble exerting some self-restriant.

I was also intrigued by how the same ingredients could taste appreciably different when made into rugelach. The major difference is the cake to chocolate ratio: the rugelach are a bit more cakey which makes them an excellent choice when you want something a little less rich, but still decadent.

These treats are baked with palm oil. Like coconut oil, which used to have a bad reputation, palm oil is beginning to be recognized as far healthier than many alternative fats. If you want more information, check out: http://www.brighthub.com/health/diet-nutrition/articles/39863.aspx

Last but not least, Green’s offers their baked goods at extremely reasonable prices. A 24 ounce chocolate babka is $7.99 and a 14 ounce bag of rugelach is $5.99. With a croissant selling for almost two dollars around the corner, this seems like an incredible bargain and a great gift option. Both products also come in a cinnamon version.

Q.bel Chocolate Wafer Bars & Rolls

I must confess, I have always liked these wafer bars but had not eaten them in years because most brands are loaded with hyrdrogenated oils.  Q.bel’s bars have non-hyrdogenated coconut and palm kernel oils. This discussion makes the cookies sound medicinal, but nothing could be further from the truth. They are a delicious light snack; or, a great little sweet bite after lunch or dinner.

I tried both the bars and the rolls.  In general, I preferred the bars as they seemed more substantial. Actually, they weigh 1.1 ounces while the rolls come in at .09 ounces. You might think that’s not much of a difference, but it seemed noticeable to me.

The wafer flavors are: peanut butter, mint, 70% chocolate (which is particularly neat for a product of this type), milk chocolate,  and crispy rice.  All are enrobed in dark chocolate, except the milk and peanut butter varieties.  The rolls come in peanut butter, dark chocolate, and milk chocolate.  As you might expect, I was partial to the 70% bar, but I also loved the crispy rice. The mint rendition was refreshing and crunchy with a creamy white filling.

If they had been available when I was raising my children I would have put them in their lunch boxes, as they come two to a package. The design is attractive keeping the wafers and rolls intact, no mean feat. If you crave this classic cookie, Q. bel offers a healthier way of sating your desire.