I'm amazed at how superior your vanilla is!
- Des, The Grommet
I opened the bottle of your vanilla extract last weekend to bake some cookies and the difference in taste is extraordinary." – Judy

How Much Should Chocolate Cost?

Have you noticed that prices for cocoa powder and chocolate have gone up recently?  One of the members of the Baker’s Dozen, San Francisco group was shocked when he priced a 4-1/2 pound pail of cacao recently.

Sticker shock should be no surprise.  There’s a horrendous political standoff in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) that began with elections in November, but that doesn’t appear to be getting any closer to resolution.  Electricity and water were cut off to half the country recently and food shortages loom.

An article posted by Jaelith Judy in Care2.com explains part of

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Pu’erh & Chocolate: What’s Not to Like?

I’ve never been a coffee drinker.  I tried when I was a Freshman in college, mainly because everyone else drank coffee.  They served coffee and doughnuts in the morning in my dorm great room on the weekend.  While I loved the aroma, I didn’t like the taste unless I poured in cream and sugar.  Even diluted, coffee made me jittery.  As I wasn’t a doughnut eater and given that the coffee made me feel strange, I let it go.  It wasn’t until my forties that I started to drink tea in the morning, and more to warm me up than wake me up.

In recent years I’ve grown quite fond of tea, usually drinking green during the day and a decaffeinated tea in the evening such as Numi’s Vanilla Nights decaf.  When I took the Pu’erh challenge I thought it would be an interesting way to learn more about a tea with a big history in China.  I hadn’t expected that I would get hooked.  I am.

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What is Chocolate Tempering and Why do We Do It?

Courtesy of Chef Stephany Buswell: www.chefany.com

When you melt chocolate you are melting the cocoa butter crystals as well as the sugar. In order to achieve the original luster and stability of the chocolate you must temper it before dipping or molding.

The technique is not difficult; it only requires practice with care and patience.

Some important information about tempering:

The room used for tempering and dipping should be at 65? – 70? F. and draft free. If the room is too warm the chocolate will

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Chocolate’s Really Good for You!

Did you know that dark chocolate can improve your vascular function?  Better said, did you know that dark chocolate is actually really good for you?  Well, it is!

Dark chocolate is part of a category of flavonoids called flavonols. Within that group are a number of compounds that have catechin. Those two compounds, catechin and epicatechin, are naturally occurring chemicals that can increase the levels of nitric oxide in your bloodstream.

Raising the nitric oxide level makes your arteries dilate and relax, promoting better blood flow.  As we age, our arteries can narrow and become constricted.  If they become inflexible and narrow too much we develop athersclerois. When this occurs, our blood pressure goes up, which can lead to cardiac disease or stroke.

In 2004,  Mary Engler, a professor in the School of Nursing at the University of California San Francisco (and who should probably be nominated for sainthood), set up a clinical trial to

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Chocolate Tempering: Seeded Method

Courtesy of Chef Stephany Buswell: www.chefany.com

This is one of the easiest methods of tempering chocolate. The chunks of tempered chocolate “seed” the melted chocolate with crystals of cocoa butter that help your molded and dipped chocolate pieces set up shiny with a snap.

Take one pound of high quality chocolate (higher in cocoa butter is best), chopped into pieces or in wafers and melt 2/3 of it over a double boiler using hot not boiling water stirring slowly. Being sure not to get any water in the chocolate or it will seize up.

Dark chocolate melts at

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Sugar, Coffee, Chocolate, Vanilla: How Much Do You Know About The Issues Surrounding These Products?

Sugar, Coffee, Chocolate Vanilla: the backbone of the tropical foods economy. Four products that most of us use daily. But, do you know where your morning coffee is grown, or the conditions under which it’s grown? What about that chocolate bar you had yesterday afternoon? Who processed the sugar you sprinkled over your cereal? Is the vanilla in your ice cream natural or synthetic?

The truth is, few of us know much about where these food staples are grown, or whether the people who grow them earn enough to feed their families, have schooling available for their children, or have access to basic medical care.

Consider this: Coffee and chocolate traditionally grew in the

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The Magic of Chocolate

Remember the game where you’re asked what three things you’d bring with you if you were stranded on an island?  Of course, as the game is a fantasy, we could choose three outrageous items. However, if we were realistic, we’d want three things to guarantee our survival.  Fantasy or reality, chocolate would be on my list…how about you?

There is something so appealing about the sharp snap that good dark chocolate makes when we bite into it.  The magnificence of the mouth feel as the chocolate slowly melts on the tongue.  The ever-so-slight bitter undertaste of the alkaloids awakening our taste buds, and the

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The Mathematics of Chocolate

Courtesy of Chocolate Expert, Stephanie Zonis

This article isn’t about how much chocolate costs to produce, though that would be an interesting topic to explore sometime. Instead, there are two aspects of numbers and chocolate I want to discuss. One is percentages, those you might see on a chocolate bar wrapper or a chocolatier’s website; just what does that 70% or 38% figure mean? The second is price. Why are some chocolates so much more expensive than others, and are the higher prices worth it?


The percentage figure you see associated with chocolate is an indication of how much of that chocolate comes from the components of the

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What’s All This Talk About Cacao Percentages?


By Carole Bloom:  Author of Bite-Size Desserts and The Essential Baker: www.carolebloom.com

I truly love chocolate and I especially like high cacao percentage chocolate. Currently I’m working on a book on this subject to be published by Wiley in 2010. We are all seeing the labels on chocolate bars, and even on restaurant dessert menus, that give the cacao percentage, like 70% or 85% or even more. What does all this mean and how does it relate to semisweet, bittersweet, and all of those other terms we hear?

First I should say that different people have different preferences when it comes to chocolate. Some like milk chocolate, some like darker chocolates, others are crazy about white chocolate.  Lucky for us

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From Cacao Nibs to Handmade Designer Chocolate

 From Cacao Nibs to Handmade Designer Chocolate

Courtesy of anne Baldekowski


Anne Baldekowski is a culinary instructor at Cabrillo, which gives her ample opportunity to share the alchemy of baking and to sample her students’ creations.  While much of her work with her class is fairly routine, there are a few unique lessons that are both memorable and pleasurable.  Turning raw cacao nibs into artful, smooth and creamy handmade chocolate confections is one of those special occasions where everyone shares the “wow” moment.   

You can learn more about Anne Baldekowski here: www.cabrillo.edu/services/extension/culinary.html  

You can also contact Cabrillo College in Aptos, CA to learn more about their excellent culinary program.
This following is a short visual presentation of how raw cacao is processed and

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Fascinating Facts About Chocolate

Theobroma cacao, originally considered by the indigenous peoples of Mexico, Central and northern South America, as the food of the gods, is known to us as chocolate. It grows in tropical forested areas within 20 degrees latitude either side of the equator.  It originated along riverbanks in the Amazon basin in Northwestern Brazil.

There is major controversy about cacao’s origins in Mexico and Central America.  Whether it developed independently in the tropical forests of Mexico and Central America or was taken there by an indigenous Mesoamerican group is at the heart of the debate.  The current scientific belief is that cacao was taken from the forests in Northwestern South America and brought to Mesoamerica probably around 1500 years ago.  However, an equally plausible theory is that criollo cacao is also indigenous to Southern Mexico.

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Chocolate’s Bittersweet Relationship With the Rainforest

By Matt Ford for CNN

  • Unsustainable cocoa farming could make chocolate increasingly expensive
  • Intensive farming in rainforests threatens habitat and long-term livelihoods
  • Hope for the future with partnerships between farmers and chocolate companies

(CNN)— “I think that in 20 years chocolate will be like caviar,” says John Mason, executive director and founder of the Ghana-based Nature Conservation Research Council (NCRC).”It will become so rare and so expensive that

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For an update on the 2016 vanilla shortage, please see "Why is Vanilla so Expensive?"

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