Fabrizia Spirits imports US’ first lemon-peeling machine to increase limoncello production

peelerUS-based Fabrizia Spirits, a craft producer of all-natural citrus spirits, has imported a custom-built lemon-peeling machine from Pompei, Italy, to best meet consumer demand for its all-natural limoncello.

The machine is the first of its kind to be used in the US and enables Fabrizia to increase beverage production and maintain a superior level of quality.

In autumn 2015, brothers and co-owners Phil and Nick Mastroianni travelled to Italy to purchase a lemon-peeling machine to aid in expansion. Prior to the purchase, Fabrizia peeled all lemons used to make its limoncello by hand, totaling 155,000 lemons in 2015 alone.

The new machine streamlines that time-intensive process and is capable of extracting the zest of 2,400 lemons with minimal pith every hour. Previously, it took the Fabrizia team an entire day to peel that equivalent number of lemons. Once the zest is peeled, the remainder of the fruit is juiced on site to make lemonade for Fabrizia’s Italian margarita, a ready-to-serve cocktail.

“Our goal every day is to produce fresh limoncello that mirrors what is served in Italy – and we have successfully been doing so since 2008,” said Fabrizia founder Phil Mastroianni. “Our investment in this machine ensures we are operating as efficiently as possible, and bottling the same quality liqueur our customers have come to expect from Fabrizia.”


What part does packaging play in reducing food waste?

packaging-1024x680The statistics around global food and drink waste are staggering. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3bn tonnes — gets lost or wasted. In Europe alone the food currently wasted could feed 200m people.

Wasted food and drink can be tackled in a variety of ways – from technology to education, at both an international and a domestic level. But the role of packaging in these reduction efforts has been underplayed.

In reality, the lifecycle of the products we buy and consume each day is inextricably linked with the packaging that protects and preserves them. Cans, bottles and wrapping have a crucial stake in whether food ends up wasted or consumed. Plus, as the last and most powerful call to action in our decision to buy, packaging represents a key intersection between retailer and customer.

The Courtauld 2025 Commitment, led by resource efficiency charity British Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), is a sign of things to come – and not just in the UK. Britain is often viewed as less environmentally friendly than its European neighbours, but this week saw retailers and brands come out in force. International players such as Coca-Cola and Pizza Hut agreed to ambitious 20% reduction targets across food and drink waste, emissions – along with efforts to reduce the impact associated with water use in the supply chain.

As those with the power to fix the inefficiencies of the food and drink join forces, packaging designers must stand up and be counted too.

It’s easy to forget that the packaging industry already does an effective job of ensuring food lasts longer. The vegetables we buy in the supermarket are a typical example. The shelf-life of cucumbers, for instance, would be reduced by three to five days without plastic wrapping. We take for granted that many day-to-day products remain fresh and edible because of the packaging designs that sustain them.

So how will packaging evolve to counteract food waste going forward? In the years ahead we’ll see the continued rise of intelligent packaging. The technology at the heart of temperature indicators used in beer cans could be used to show when food is no longer suitable for consumption. Chemical indicators will provide more accuracy in alerting us to approaching use-by dates.

Informative labelling on-pack will also be key. Now more than ever, retailers will have to ensure that guidance around reducing waste is clear and accessible. Technological solutions such RFID and image recognition can play a part here too, allowing consumers to view additional details online where on-pack space doesn’t permit.

As well as trying to influence behaviour, packaging must also adapt to it. According to Love Food Hate Waste, the main reason we throw away good food is through either preparing too much or not using food in time. Designers can’t help what consumers do with the food they cook from scratch, but with they can cater better to changing modern lifestyles.

In 2014 the most common household type in the EU was the single person living alone (32.7%). As our cooking habits change, with the proliferation of ready meals, for instance, portion control can have a powerful effect. Resealables can also solve the issue of wasted pre-prepared food but forward-thinking ideas are emerging in other areas too. Ever discovered an old, soggy bag of salad in the back of your fridge? Salad packs designed in two halves with separate portions, thereby extending the life of the pack, demonstrate that often the simplest approaches are the best.

Given the global issues of food waste, the packaging industry is constantly finding innovative ways to ensure responsible consumption– but of course we can do more. New advances are a signal of what will hopefully be a brighter, more responsible future. Ultimately though, the deciding factor will be a unified response across all fronts.


IFE World Food Innovation Awards – best new food concept

crobar610The World Food Innovation Awards once again hosted a wonderful array of products in the best new food concept category – all revolutionising their respective segments of the food and beverage industry, from snacking to ingredients and convenience food.

Offering a truly groundbreaking option that challenges long-established culinary traditions in the UK, Crobar by Gathr stands out with its natural dairy- and gluten-free energy bar that contains cricket flour. As an alternative protein source, crickets emit 80 times less CO2 than cattle, use ten times less space and a lot less water, while containing as high a protein content as beef but lower in fat.

Cereal Lovers also taps into the ever-expanding healthy, on-the-go food trend of recent years with its Crunchtime Nuggets. This convenient snacking option uniquely bakes all of its ingredients together, making digestion easier and healthier, offered in resealable pouches that double as a mobile cereal bowl and can be eaten dry or with milk or juice.

On the dairy front, V&H’s Little Moons brings a new concept to the ice cream category with scoops of gelato wrapped in mochi, which is made by steaming and pounding sticky rice flour until it gains a soft and delicate elasticity. Mochi not only brings taste and texture to gelato, but also allows the ice cream – free from gluten and artificial colours, flavours and additives – to be eaten by hand.

Mexicana Hot Shots from Norseland, on the other hand, snackifies another dairy favourite, cheese, by offering spicy cubes of cheddar wrapped up in a ready-to-go packaging. Flavoured to perfection with a blend of bell peppers and hot chilli spices, each cube promises the same punch as the last with a unique spicy flavouring consistent throughout the cheese.

Simply Saffron of Ethical Blends is made by using a unique low energy process that ensures the actual spice is encapsulated in an additive- and preservative-free, ethically sourced saffron paste, offering a completely new way of consuming saffron. The ingredient is available in jars and single-dose Easysnap sachets, which makes it possible to add the saffron in seconds to recipes in a pre-measured portion, removing the risk of overdosing.

Another innovation in the ingredients shelf is FortiSalt, which provides a full, rich and salty gourmet flavour but with 50% less sodium than regular salt. Furthermore, FortiSalt combines nutritionally balanced essential minerals and trace element salts, such as magnesium and potassium that help our bodies to better balance and utilise sodium.

For those looking for a visually enticing pasta experience, Le Violetta from Surgital offers a revolutionary ravioli with a purple filling, which is made mainly from the small, sweet and soft-textured violette potatoes, rich in antioxidants and anthocyanins that give them their vivid colour.

Making the world kitchen classics accessible for all, the Versatile Mini Koftes from Snowbird Foods offers a convenient solution for fans of authetnic Middle Eastern flavours, with a delicate heat that has found favour with older children as well as adults, while Foodie Fusions’ Green Gram Pudding brings a traditional Indian taste to the world stage. A traditional recipe with the delightful aroma of clarified butter, the pudding serves as the ideal end to any meal.


Why the kitchen scale will make life so much easier

As a professional recipe developer, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen. In fact, I often call myself a “professional dishwasher,” and though it’s a joke, it’s not too far off. Despite these credentials, when I tell people that a kitchen scale is one of the useful, helpful tools you can own for cooking and baking, I’m often greeted with skepticism. It sounds like something too finicky or controlling for the everyday cook—sure, maybe it’s something a professional pastry chef would use, but isn’t it easier just to grab a set of nested measuring cups?

Using a kitchen scale to measure cupcake ingredients
Using a kitchen scale to measure cupcake ingredients

No way! A kitchen scale is a must-have for anyone who wants to be a better, happier, healthier cook. It’s a game-changer in two ways: first, a scale’s accuracy makes it a 100 percent guaranteed approach to keep your portion sizes under control. Second, it’s an all-around champion at making your prep work and ingredient measuring more efficient. Accuracy and efficiency? Two of the sweetest sounding words in my book.

Even as a professional cook, I have always found portion control one of the hardest things to, well, control and to wrap my head around. I’m frankly terrible at eyeballing a single serving of pasta and figuring out how much of a block of cheese constitutes 1 ounce. Trying to estimate these portions did me no favors and all that excess just piled up around my waistline. But with a kitchen scale, it’s easy to see exactly how much I am eating and how much I should be scarfing down. A half cup of almonds (2 1/2 ounces) might sound like a sensible snack portion for the day, but when you realize you’ve been eating an entire cup of almonds in one fell swoop, it’s a big eye-opener. Never again!

And then there’s the help it provides with prep and measuring—even better than a second set of hands. Whether or not you own a dishwasher, I’m sure you’ll agree that the pile of dishes left in the sink after cooking is no one’s favorite part of the meal. But by using a kitchen scale, you can cut that pile down considerably. Instead of chopping onions, then piling them them in a 1-cup measuring cup, then scraping them out and adding them to a mixing bowl or casserole, wouldn’t you rather just chop a 6-ounce onion and add it directly to your bowl?

For an even more visually compelling example of how much time and dish-washing you’ll save with a scale, I’ve prepared this tasty beet-chocolate cupcake recipe measuring by both weight and volume. Measuring all the ingredients—from pureed beets to chocolate chips to cocoa powder—by volume leaves you with a mess of measuring cups. But if you measure by weight, you’ll only need 3 bowls: one for the melted chocolate, one for the cupcake batter, and one for the frosting. That’s a huge difference!

Baking can require lots of measuring cups, and that's just more dishes to wash.

Ready to buy a kitchen scale and change your life? Look for a scale with these two functions:

  • a tare/zero button, which lets you zero out the weight in between additions to the bowl
  • the ability to switch between ounces (oz) and grams (g), since many baking recipes include both (Why? It’s easier to measure smaller amounts for ingredients like herbs, spices, or yeast in grams, since they’re so light.)


Sweet Snacks Could Be Best Medicine For Stress

051128011306_1_540x360Researchers from the University of Cincinnati (UC) have found that eating or drinking sweets may decrease the production of the stress-related hormone glucocorticoid–which has been linked to obesity and decreased immune response.

“Glucocorticoids are produced when psychological or physical stressors activate a part of the brain called the ‘stress axis,'” said Yvonne Ulrich-Lai, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of psychiatry. “These hormones help an individual survive and recover from stress, but have been linked to increased abdominal obesity and decreased immune function when produced in large amounts.

“Finding another way to affect the body’s response to stress and limit glucocorticoid production could alleviate some of these dangerous health effects.”

The laboratory findings were presented during a poster session Tuesday, Nov. 15, at the annual Society for Neuroscience meeting in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Ulrich-Lai and a team of researchers from the department of psychiatry showed that when laboratory rats chose to eat or drink sweet snacks their bodies produced lower levels of glucocorticoid.

She said that sweets–especially those made from sugar, not artificial sweetener–might do the trick.

“The sweets we are talking about are not the low-calorie, sugar-substitute variety,” said Dr. Ulrich-Lai. “We actually found that sugar snacks, not artificially sweetened snacks, are better ‘self-medications’ for the two most common types of stress–psychological and physical.”

Psychological stress could involve things such as public speaking, being threatened, or coping with the death of a loved one. Examples of physical stress are injury, illness, or prolonged exposure to cold.

During the study, researchers gave adult male rats free access to food and water and also offered them a small amount of sugar drink, artificially sweetened drink, or water twice a day. After two weeks, the rats were given a physical and psychological stress challenge. Following both types of stress, rats that had consumed the sugar drink had lower glucocorticoid levels than those that drank the water. Those drinking the artificially sweetened drink showed only slightly reduced glucocorticoid levels.

Dr. Ulrich-Lai noted that although her team was not studying the health effects of the sweetened drinks, they did not notice a body-weight increase in the rats consuming the sugar drinks.

James Herman, PhD, co-author, professor and stress neurobiologist in the department of psychiatry, said the next step will be to determine how these sweetened drinks are decreasing glucocorticoid production.

“We need to find out if there are certain parts of the brain that control the response to stress, then determine if the function of these brain regions are changed by sugar snacking,” he said.

Co-authors also included Dennis Choi and Michelle Ostrander, PhD, both of UC’s psychiatry department.


Teatro Group’s executive pastry chef a late bloomer, early riser

PastryChefShe used to take temperatures, measure medicines and give needles. Now Leah Gamache is injecting flavour into Calgary’s culinary scene.

Gamache, the executive pastry chef for the Teatro Group, heads up the baking side of the new Al Forno restaurant in downtown Calgary. But before turning her hand to cakes and pastries, she spent a decade working as a cardiac intensive-care nurse in Victoria and Vancouver.

She liked the job, but she never forgot her childhood passion for baking. When she wasn’t in her scrubs, she was at home, stirring up treats for her co-workers: cakes, cookies, muffins. “I eventually got to the point where I was baking more than I was nursing,” she says, “and I thought, ‘Maybe there’s something to this.’”

In 2010, that thought turned into a full-scale life change when, during an Italian vacation, she decided to quit her nursing gig. She came home and signed up for the professional baking and pastry program at the Pacific Institute of Culinary Art. “I was one of the oldest students in my class, but I didn’t care,” she says. “It was so much fun. Everything I had been dying to learn was just handed to me.”

After graduation, she worked at the prestigious Hawksworth and Chambar restaurants in Vancouver. Then a friend told her about an opening at Teatro. She headed to Calgary, landed the job and has been making European-style cakes and pastries for the restaurant ever since.

A typical day at Al Forno starts at 5 a.m. The offerings created by Gamache and her team, including head bread maker Daniel Gorse, vary from day to day, but include ciabatta, tiramisù, focaccia, pizza, croissants, cakes, baguettes and cookies. Gamache says some of her favourites are the cream puffs filled with blueberry cheesecake, chocolate mousse or dulce de leche.

She also loves some of the more unusual European specialties, especially kouign-amann. Pronounced “queen-aman,” it is a buttery, caramelized sugar pastry from the Brittany region of France. “And it’s delicious,” she says.

It’s a good thing she loves her work, because Gamache is putting in long days, often working until closing time, around 9 p.m. That leaves her barely enough time for a workout (she’s an avid runner) and some sleep, before she heads back to start all over again.

“It won’t always be like that,” she says, noting that the new restaurant has only been open for a few weeks. “I just want to make sure everyone is really comfortable with what they’re doing. It’s my control-freak nature.”

A more charitable interpretation might be that Gamache still has a nurse’s attention to detail (and ability to be on her feet all day). “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t so detail-oriented,” she admits with a laugh. “You don’t get to this level if you put out sloppy work.”



A lighter blueberry & white chocolate cheesecake in a glass by Scrummy Lane

Since arriving here in Australia a few weeks ago, one thing has been a regular feature of my evenings – the TV cooking competition Masterchef. It’s on six days a week and sees contestants chopping and stirring and icing and grilling and sweating and shaking and crying their way through custards and soufflés and fillets of fish and ribs and everything in between.

Now maybe you’ve seen the show. But if not, let me tell you, these contestants are beyond talented, night after night creating what can only be described as culinary masterpieces. There have been chocolate chili lava cakes, fish tostaditas served in the shape of a swan and an amazing sculpture-like ‘croquembouche’ dessert. It isn’t all so pretty, though. One girl literally started crying and shaking when she was presented with an ugly long black eel in a box for a mystery ingredient challenge. It looked just like a snake, which the poor girl happens to have a phobia of. She is also a vegetarian, and yet she still managed to create an amazing smoked eel salad while choking back her tears.

I’m always blown away by what incredible cooks all of the contestants are, but I also find myself thinking how on earth they can put themselves through something like this. Apparently, the experience is so intense that there’s a psychologist to help the contestants cope with it all. It makes me feel nervous just thinking about being on such a show.


So, sorry to disappoint you, readers, but I am not going to be appearing on Masterchef Australia or Masterchef UK or Masterchef any other country any time soon. Or ever. Not that I would have the talent to. Nope. I much prefer being a humble food blogger hiding anonymously in my kitchen and behind my computer screen. I can also experiment to my heart’s content and then post a recipe in my own time when I feel it’s ready to be presented to the world (or as ready as it’s ever going to be).

Another reason that I wouldn’t like to be on Masterchef is all that fancy food. I love to eat it, but as you know by now if you’re a regular reader here, I don’t do ‘difficult’. The kind of recipes I enjoy creating the most are the ones that end up looking and tasting pretty posh even though they have a tiny ingredients and cooking steps list. Such as … you know what’s coming next … these cute little blueberry & white chocolate cheesecakes. As you probably already gathered from the post title, they are a little lighter than a regular cheesecake thanks to using Greek yoghurt instead of cream and light cream cheese. Oh, and they are served in a glass.

A lighter blueberry & white chocolate cheesecake in a glass by Scrummy Lane

I decided not to call these ‘deconstructed cheesecakes’ for fear of coming across all Masterchef when I just told you how much that really isn’t ‘me’. But that’s exactly what they are, really. They are just tablespoons of crumbled ginger cookies, a simple cheesecake of cream cheese, Greek yoghurt and white chocolate and blueberries roughly layered up in a glass. With a little extra grated white chocolate for good measure. I also added a little sprinkle of ground ginger here and there.

making blueberry & white chocolate cheesecakesA lighter blueberry & white chocolate cheesecake in a glass by Scrummy LaneThis was just as tasty as a regular cheesecake but with far less fuss. There was no base to construct and no baking. This is also the ideal kind of dessert to make ahead and store in the fridge until you’re ready to eat.

I’m sure this dessert would never be Masterchef worthy, but I can’t deny that it still tasted great.

A lighter blueberry & white chocolate cheesecake in a glass by Scrummy Lane

Soooo … do you have Masterchef in your country, and if so do you like watching it? Would you like to be a contestant on this show or would you run a mile at the mere suggestion like I would?


Creative Ideas for Summer Gelato

This month the warmer weather has us looking to gelato. We’re excited by playful presentations and flavors that elevate the appreciation for the art of the hand-crafted frozen dessert.

Fudgesicle Swirl
Fudgesicle Swirl

Our first suggestion for this summer is plated Gelato Pops for the restaurant. We created this swirled gelato pop and presented it like a plated dessert. Diners are reminded of summer ice cream and frozen novelties like Fudgesicles, Push-up pops and Good Humor Bars – all childhood treats are fair game for our guests and customers.

Prius Pops
Prius® Pops
JMPurePastry produced these ‘Prius Pops’ for Toyota® Prius® Family Playground to give away at rock music festivals across the country. A variety of natural flavors included Blackberry Basil, Pineapple Coconut, Mango Passion and Red Fruits. Custom Molds by Chicago School of Mold Making. Photo by JMPurePastry.

One of our coolest summer projects has been producing ‘Prius Pops’. Master mold maker Michael Joy of the Chicago School of Mold Making was commissioned to create a popsicle mold shaped like the popular hybrid vehicle. These pops were shipped by the thousands to outdoor music festivals across the country. Music fans at festivals like Bumbershoot in Seattle, Music Midtown in Atlanta and New Orleans’s Voodoo Music Festival won the frozen treats at games in the Prius Family Playground tent. Blackberry Basil, Pineapple Coconut, Red fruit and Mango Passion fruit were among the flavors made with highest quality fruit purees. We’ve included these popsicle ratios here for you to try. Note the addition of some gelatin and xanthan gum for a slower melt and chewy texture.

Chocolate Tart with Dipped White Chocolate Gelato
Chocolate Tart with Dipped White Chocolate Gelato

One of our preferences for frozen plated dessert elements has become molded and dipped gelato. To accompany our plated Chocolate Pot De Crème Tart, we cast white chocolate gelato and dipped the frozen rounds in a mixture of cocoa butter and white chocolate.

Melon Lychee Verbena
Melon Lychee Verbena

Frozen fruit desserts are the perfect fit for upscale brasserie or spa menus. Delicious fruits cut or scooped into shapes can be served with gelato (or in this case sorbetto) in the restaurant or even poolside. We took cantaloupe, honeydew and watermelon and piled them high on top of a half-round of lychee sorbetto. Served with a sidecar of lemon verbena-melon sauce, this dessert is refreshing and gluten free.


A Delicious Encyclopedia: The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Our affinity for sweets, pre-history to the present, haut to humble, Hershey to Hermé, is the enticing subject of a notable new 900 page culinary compendium: The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets. There are close to 600 alphabetical entries, à la mode to zuppe inglese, in this super-sized encyclopedia, encompassing all aspects of sweetness including chemistry and biology, technology and trade, tradition and ritual, culture and aesthetics.

The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

Editor-in-chief Darra Goldstein, founder of the illustrious magazine Gastronomica, enlisted a cadre of 265 experts, neuroscientists to pastry chefs, to write the lively, anecdotal text, which is enhanced by numerous illustrations and specialized appendices. The book is as addictive as its subject, “a tantalizing delight that is impossible to put down,” says pastry chef Pichet Ong. Entries range from fascinating trivia (did you know that the frisbee is named for baker William Russell Frisbie’s pie tins? The 16th century origin of “baker’s dozen?”) to serious food for thought.

The Companion explores the ways in which our taste for sweetness – for better and for worse – has shaped and been shaped by history; how even scent and sound influence our perception of sweet. Along with the story of the evolution of sugar from rare luxury to basic commodity, there are a variety of related essays, among them the development of artificial sweeteners starting with saccharin in the 1870’s; natural sweeteners including agave, stevia, pine sap, birch xylitol; and yellow, fine crystal Japanese wasanbon. You can also read about sugar painting, blowing, sculpture, war-time rationing, riots during the French Revolution, and the invention of sugar cubes in Moravia in the 1840’s.

In his saccharine-sweet confectionery landscapes, many featuring cotton-candy clouds and nude women awaiting the viewer’s pleasured gaze, American artist Will Cotton explores desire and the needs that fuel our consumer society. Candy Curls dates to 2006. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND MARY BOONE GALLERY, NEW YORK.

While there are no hands-on recipes in the book, desserts and candies are described in detail. Zabaglione is traced back to Bartolomeo Scappi’s Opera of 1570; the distinctive lattice decoration that characterizes the Austrian Linzer Torte was depicted in recipes dating back to 1653; and Life Savers were created in Cleveland, Ohio in 1912.

That there are no geographical boundaries for our sweet tooth is evident from entries about the Indian ball-shaped rosogolla, Chinese New Year sweets offered to guests on an octagonal “tray of togetherness,” sweet soups from central Europe, the Arab origins of nougat, and Boston cream pie. The Companion offers insights into traditional customs beginning with Christening parties at birth, concluding with Day of the Dead commemorations. There are many pages devoted to holidays. Valentine’s Day, of course, inextricably linked to sweets, morphed from a pagan fertility ritual to a saint’s day, and is serendipitously cross referenced in the encyclopedia with aphrodisiacs, associating love, sex, and sweetness.

The American chocolate company Baker’s was an early proponent of mass advertising. This ad plays on chocolate’s Latin name, Theobroma (food of the gods), as cocoa is offered up to the Aztec king in a solid gold cup.
This portrait by the South African photographer Zwelethu Mthethwa (1960 –) captures the proud grace of a sugarcane worker, who engages directly with the viewer, machete and cane stripper in hands silvered with dirt. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST AND JACK SHAINMAN GALLERY, NEW YORK.

Biographies abound. The letter ‘M’ for example, features 19th century New York chocolatier Henri Maillard, British Victorian ice cream authority Agnes Marshall, and 16th century Italian-born Catherine de Medici and her influence on French cuisine. Contemporary culinary luminaries pitched in to provide their expertise: Bill Yosses on the effects of aroma on taste, and on the elaborately decorated and filled meringue, the Vacherin; Jim Dodge on cookies; Nick Malgieri on cake; Peter Reinhart on sweet breads. Maricel Presilla contributed a five page discourse on pre-Colombian chocolate.

Colorful Indonesian kue, traditional bite-sized desserts, are often presented on a platter called jajan pasar (“market treats”) and given as gifts during Javanese holidays. PHOTOG RAPH BY GUNAWAN KARTAPRANATA.

Following the alphabetical entries, four bonus appendices on films, songs, pastry shops, and museums evoke different sensory perspectives. Looking through a dessert lens, movies illustrate “different ways that sweets can be used to heighten the flavor of a film’s narrative fiction or feed the premise of a documentary,” among them American Pie, King Corn, and the Keystone Cops, faces full of cream pie.

Considering that musicians “have cast the words ‘sugar’ and ‘sweet’ and seemingly every dessert, juice and candy in unexpected ways,” a playlist of 50 mostly American songs references Elvis Presley’s Cotton Candy Land, Kelis’s Milkshake, and the Beatle’s Savoy Truffle.

The table in German artist Georg Flegel’s Large Food Display (ca. 1630) is resplendent with fruit, nuts, pastries, and, at the center, sweetmeats and ragged comfits in a silver compote. It conveys wealth and cultivation, while also recognizing symbols of Christian faith.

The selection of pastry shops is relatively small, highlighting mostly venerable establishments around the world, a list that most readers could readily lengthen by many pages. The final appendix on museums is a lure to travelers to explore institutions like the Museo del Turron in Alicante, Spain, the Thai Dessert Museum, or Schimpff’s Candy Museum in Jeffersonville, Indiana.

As Goldstein writes in her introduction, “The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets will carry you across many thousands of years, and around the globe many times


The Craft of Bean-to-Bar Chocolate 2

dp_bean_to_bar2_hdWhether you make chocolate, work with chocolate or simply enjoy eating chocolate, there’s always something to learn, and who better to learn the complexities of flavor development from than your fellow chocolate professionals, who have “bean there . . . done that!”? We’ve enlisted bean-to-bar chocolate makers to share with you an experience, good or bad, from their chocolate exploration.

Who are we? We’re David Arnold, Brady Brelinski and George Gensler, founding members of the Manhattan Chocolate Society, and we’ve been focused on bean-to-bar chocolate since 2007. Our goal is to promote the highest standards and innovations of the craft of chocolate. Our hope is that our contributors and readers will learn from each other and collectively advance the chocolate-making process.

This issue we hear from Rob Anderson. Rob is founder & craft chocolate maker at award-winning Fresco Chocolate. Fresco produces origin bars which include information on roast and conche times. Here’s what he told us:

Everything Matters

We had no idea what to expect when over 400 pounds of Jamaican cocoa beans arrived on that March day in 2004. Our first experience with Venezuelan cocoa several months earlier went surprisingly well. The Venezuelan Carenero Superior cocoa was transformed into pretty good chocolate with very little effort. A couple of days in a grinder with a little sugar produced remarkably flavorful chocolate. How hard could this be? Equipped with a countertop rotisserie oven for roasting, a wheat grinder-shop vac creation for cracking and winnowing and a small spice grinder, we were making chocolate. The Carenero formula was sure to work on the Jamaican cocoa. What happened? Why did our guinea pig chocolate tasters generously designate our Jamaican creation as having notes of “lawn clippings” and “wet cigars”? The dismal Jamaican results drove us to do additional research on the chocolate making process. That’s when we discovered the existence of machines called conches, dedicated to mixing and heating chocolate to develop flavor. Easy, we just need to make a conche.

Enter heat lamps stage left, and our spice grinder doubled as a conche. Using the heat lamps we tried to force this flavor development to happen in our little grinder. First, we tried mixing the chocolate at about 150°F for around four hours. Our toxic Jamaican mess magically improved. If less is good, then more must be better. Heating the chocolate to about 200°F for eight hours would be awesome. Other than grinder parts melting, the results were encouraging. We’re not sure if fumes from the melting grinder components had contaminated the chocolate. We may have unknowingly cooked up a Jamaican-polymer blend. At the time we didn’t know what we were doing. Melting parts was our first clue that we needed to upgrade equipment for our chocolate experiments to continue. So we redesigned portions of the grinder to allow higher temperature experiments. After all, being engineers, that’s what we do. Eventually our goals outpaced this early equipment and we upgraded our operation. With a combination of larger capacity equipment (some purchased and some we designed and built ourselves) work could continue. What we didn’t realize until much later was those little stone grinders that we started out with generate heat from friction and cause a limited amount of “self conching” effect, whether you want it or not. This unintentional heat must have been enough to accidentally develop a nice flavor from that first Caranero experiment.

An important outcome of these early experiments was the realization that chocolate could be made with almost endless variations. Early on, we discovered that cocoa roasting time and temperature were both important to chocolate flavor. Of course, the ratio of ingredients is important as well. Cocoa, sugar, milk powder, vanilla, cocoa butter, lecithin and so on, each affects the outcome. On a side note, we used soy lecithin in our first few batches of chocolate because we read somewhere that chocolate needed lecithin. When we realized this information was erroneous, we stopped adding it and never looked back. During our conching experiments a few new variables hit main stage. The chocolate temperature, mixing intensity and duration each affects the flavor. Wow, this was getting complicated. How many permutations of chocolate recipes could there be? A quick calculation and I was completely overwhelmed: Even limiting the variability of each parameter results in a staggering number of potentially unique chocolate recipes. To illustrate, run a quick calculation with these limited variations: number of bean types = 10, different roast temperatures = 3, different roast durations = 5, different ingredients and ratios = 8 (stick with dark chocolate only for now), conche temperatures = 4, conche durations = 6. These limited parameters have the potential of producing over 28,000 different and unique chocolate recipes. I guess we better get started.

Going back to our Jamaican vs. Venezuelan experience, we found that the unprocessed Jamaican beans had an unpleasant flavor note that needed heat and time to eliminate. In those early days a “chocolate expert” told me that the Jamaican beans were no good and that I should throw them out. When we finally figured out that the Jamaican cocoa needed a longer conche time at a higher temperature, the results turned from bad to pretty good. We discontinued production of Jamaican-based chocolate in 2011, but several of the retail shops that carry our products still ask for our Jamaican recipe because of its unique flavor profile. This really highlighted to me that there are many unique flavors hidden inside those little beans from around the world that are yet to be discovered.

Since that first bag of Venezuelan Carenero we’ve made just over 300 batches of chocolate. Some were good, others were pretty bad, but all were different. I tell this story to illustrate a point: everything matters. No two cocoa origins or harvests are the same, changing the cocoa roasting time or temperature affects all the steps down the line. Grinding and conching can be accomplished in many different ways, and on it goes. We have a motto that represents how we approach chocolate making, and it goes like this: “Exceptional chocolate is created through a series of events, change any one event and the outcome is a new creation.” We believe this to be true. For chocolate makers, the possible outcomes are endless. If you’re just starting down this path or thinking about starting, be patient, learn something from every misstep, enjoy the process and remember, everything matters.