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Our Blog: Chocolate Talk

Chocolate Talk

  • 5 Questions for Brewmaster Dean Jones

    Chocolate and beer is one of our favorite combos, and luckily Genesee Brewery agrees! Over the years we’ve worked with the Genesee Brew House’s Brewmaster, Dean Jones, to create indulgent new beers that combine the very best Hedonist and Genesee have to offer. Recently, Genesee was awarded a gold medal at the World Beer Cup in the Chocolate Beer category for their Dark Chocolate Scotch Ale, a decadent brew imbued with the flavors and aromas of Hedonist 72% bittersweet chocolate!

    Join us in celebrating this award-winning partnership with a special tasting at the Genesee Brew House on Wednesday, June 13 to sample beer and some of our limited-edition bacon chocolates, just in time for Father’s Day!

    In advance of our tasting, we spoke to Dean about his prize-winning beer and his role as a brewmaster.

    Hedonist: You've brewed beer with chocolate a number of times. Why do chocolate and beer "work" together?

    Dean: Chocolate goes extremely well with a number of different beer styles. It truly compliments the flavors in beer and gives people a reason to try a new beer as everyone loves chocolate!!

    H: If you had to serve Dark Chocolate Scotch Ale with food, what would be on the menu?

    D: I love cheesecake, and a Salted Caramel Chocolate Porter cheesecake served with the beer sounds awesome to me!

    H: Has there ever been a time when a flavor combination just didn't work out, and you had to give up?

    D: Never!  Flavor combinations are only limited by your imagination, you just have to find a beer that they will work with.

    H: If you had the opportunity to brew the beer of your dreams and could use any ingredients you wanted, what would you make?

    D: The beer of my dreams…Not really a special ingredient but I would love to go to Germany and brew a Bavarian Pilsner with a Master Brewer.

    H: Can you tell us what you're working on next? Or is that a trade secret?

    D: I am designing our new year round IPA loaded with cool juicy hops and also working on peppercorn beer of some sort.

  • Why Does My Chocolate Look Weird?: The Story of Bloom

    Several years ago, my mom and I went on a road trip to New England in July. I packed the provisions we’d need for the drive, including two or three chocolate bars (naturally). When we got to Rhode Island, we parked the car in the sun, then walked around for several hours. When we returned, it was already too late for our poor chocolate bars. They had not just softened in the hot car, but completely liquefied. However, they were still contained within their wrappers, so my mom and I thought they might be salvageable. When we got to Boston, we tossed the chocolate bars in the fridge to firm them back up.

    They certainly firmed up, but they weren’t the same chocolate bars we started with. In addition to being misshapen from their ordeal, the bars now had a dull, whitish coating - what we in the chocolate biz call bloom.

    Bloom can happen when cocoa butter fats in the chocolate separate and come to the surface. It’s not harmful - chocolate that has bloomed is perfectly safe to eat - but it is unsightly and can lead to a crumbly or greasy texture that’s less than ideal. Ideally, chocolate should be glossy, shiny, and snappy. Those qualities indicate good temper, which is essentially a stable crystallization of cocoa butter particles. (If you want a deep dive into the world of tempering, check out articles like this one). When chocolate isn’t tempered properly, or is thrown out of temper, the cocoa butter crystals go haywire, clustering up on the surface and creating those unappetizing smudges.

    Bloom most frequently occurs when chocolate is improperly heated and cooled, as was the case with our road trip bars. Chocolate is a surprisingly delicate substance, and has to be gradually and gently melted and cooled. A hot car followed by a fridge is a recipe for disaster.

    At Hedonist, if our chocolate blooms during the production process, we can sometimes fix the problem by re-melting the chocolate and starting over. If we can’t fix it, we have different, creative uses for the chocolate - for example, it may end up in ice cream!

    As the weather warms, bloom is more likely to occur. If you’ve got chocolate at home, make sure it’s stored in a cool, dry place. If you absolutely must refrigerate your chocolate, wrap it tightly in plastic to protect against condensation. And never, under any circumstances, leave your chocolates in a hot car.

  • Why Salty and Sweet Belong Together

    If you’re the type of person who likes chocolate covered pretzels, maple bacon, and Hawaiian pizza, you understand the powerful appeal of foods that are both salty and sweet. It’s an addictive combination, and one of our favorites at Hedonist. From our famous salted caramels to our milk chocolate sea salt bark to our hazelnut truffle, we never get tired of this combination. But what makes this pairing so uniquely addicting? After all, sugar and salt are completely different flavors - so why do they make such a happy couple?

    The answer has to do with the wondrous science of taste. For a long time, the conventional wisdom was that the human tongue was divided up into five areas, each one responsible for sensing one of five flavors: sweet, salty, bitter, sour, and savory/umami. However, now we know that all the taste buds on your tongue can taste all five flavors - and they do a pretty good job at it. In fact, each one of your tastebuds has about 50 to 100 taste cells, which do all the tasting work.

    These tasting cells do a lot more than deliver delicious flavors (although that’s important too). Our taste buds evolved to help us identify which foods will help us and which will harm us. Very sour or bitter flavors alert us to the presence of compounds that might make us sick, so we usually avoid them. On the flip side, we’re hardwired to crave sweet foods because they’re carbohydrate-rich and full of energy. We’re also fond of salt, because sodium is a necessary nutrient.

    Logically then, when we taste two flavors we love at the same time, the experience is even better than tasting each of them separately. Barb Stuckey, author of TASTE: Surprising Stories and Science About Why Food Tastes Good, compares this marriage of flavors to “hearing beautiful music while sniffing rose petals: two positive sensory stimuli.”

    However, that’s not the end of the story. Salt is not just an essential nutrient we’re hardwired to crave - it’s also a flavor enhancer. At low concentrations, salt suppresses bitter flavors and increases sweet, sour, and umami flavors. Chefs call this interplay “flavor layering.” This is why your cookies taste bland when you forget that teaspoon of salt in the dough, and why kettlecorn, with just the faintest whisper of salt, is so addictive.

    The final reason the combination of salty and sweet is irresistible is a little phenomenon called “sensory specific satiety.” Because humans are historically omnivorous, we’re built to crave a variety of taste experiences. When we taste the same flavor over and over again, we tire of it. Binge on birthday cake and eventually you’ll yearn for a salty chunk of barbecue, and vice versa. But when flavor layering is at work, salty and sweet meld together and don’t satiate you with one particular taste. And that’s what keeps you coming back for more.

  • Tricks of the Trade: How to Infuse Flavor

    As we roll out our Afternoon Tea and Wildflower collections to welcome the (hopefully) warmer weather, we’re getting a lot of questions about how exactly we create these flavors. Are there tea leaves in the chocolate? Are there real violets in the violet truffle?

    The answer is both yes and no. Yes, the flavor you’re tasting comes from real tea leaves and real flowers. But don’t expect to come across bits of leaf or petal in your truffles - those ingredients aren’t added to the chocolate directly. Rather, we impart flavor through a process called infusion.

    Though it might sound complicated, infusion is something you’re probably already doing without even realizing it. If you’ve ever steeped a teabag in hot water, then you know how to infuse. Infusion is simply the process of extracting flavor by soaking an ingredient in liquid. Maybe you’ve had olive oil infused with herbs, or water infused with cucumber or orange. We use a similar process to transfer flavor into our chocolate truffles.

    We begin almost all of our truffles by preparing a ganache, a velvety filling made by gently mixing hot cream with chopped chocolate. To infuse the ganache with our chosen flavor, we simply simmer the cream with that ingredient, let the mixture sit for a few minutes, strain out the bits and pieces, and then mix the now-infused cream with chocolate.

    Hot cream getting an infusion of dried rose petals

    For example, to make the White Mint truffle in our Classic Collection, we heat the cream with dried spearmint, then run the mixture through a sieve, pressing on the leaves to make sure we extract all of the flavor. The mint is then discarded and the infused cream (now a light yellow-greenish color) is mixed with white chocolate. The finished truffle will have all of that cool minty flavor, but no grainy particles.

    We use the same process for many of our other flavors of truffles. The entire Afternoon Tea collection is made with tea infusions - just imagine making a really big cup of tea, but with hot cream instead of water. For our Wildflower collection it’s much the same, except we use dried flower petals rather than tea leaves. Simply simmer, steep, strain, and voila - you’ve infused!

    After our chocolate ganaches have been infused and mixed, they’re spread out in a frame to set up, cut into squares, and then dipped in chocolate. You won’t be able to tell just by looking at it, but the truffle below is infused with flavor!

    If you want to taste infusion in action, browse our Afternoon Tea and Wildflower collections.

    A square of chocolate ganache goes swimming in melted 72% bittersweet chocolate
  • How It's Made: Chocolate Farm Eggs

    Being a chocolatier requires all sorts of fiddly detail work, and none of our chocolate demands so much concentration as our Farm Egg truffles. These speckled, ganache and caramel-filled beauties are a lot of work, but when they pop out of their molds, all glistening and (hopefully) flawless, it's all worth it.

    We'll take you through the process of making one of our coconut lime Farm Eggs from start to finish.

    Step 1: The filling

    First, we prep the coconut-lime filling so that it has time to cool and set before being piped into the eggshells. We mix together heavy cream, shredded toasted coconut, and lime zest and bring it to a simmer before pouring the mixture over white chocolate. When mixed together, the ingredients form a velvety emulsion called a ganache. Below, the finished filling.

    Putting the lime in the coconut.

    Step 2: The molds

    Next, we hand-paint our molds with dyed cocoa butter. For white chocolate eggs, the molds get a coating of purplish, iridescent cocoa butter, which we apply with a paintbrush. Next, they're speckled with green and dark blue. The secret to those tiny specks? A regular ol' toothrush. No, really. We dip (clean) toothbrushes into cocoa butter paint and then run a finger through the bristles so that they spring back, flicking micro-splatters of color onto the molds (and sometimes everywhere else).

    Not pictured: the hours and hours spent cleaning these molds with cotton balls.

    Step 3: The shells

    Any filled, molded chocolate we make involves a process we call "shelling." After our colors have set, we fill our painted molds to the brim with melted chocolate, and then immediately pour it back out again. This process leaves behind a thin layer of chocolate, which will set and become our eggshell. The molds are placed on a rack upside down, so that the chocolate doesn't pool in the bottom.

    Kaila fills the egg molds with white chocolate.
    The excess chocolate is poured right back into the tempering machine - nothing goes to waste!

    Step 4: Filling & capping

    Now we've got a lovely, empty white chocolate shell with plenty of room for filling. A gob of ganache is piped into each cavity with a piping bag (essentially a triangular plastic bag with the corner snipped off). The eggs are then "capped" by spreading a layer of white chocolate over the surface of the mold. This final step seals in the filling and finishes off what will become the bottom of the egg.

    Step 5: Unmolding

    After being capped, the eggs are typically left to set up overnight. The next day, they are very carefully removed from their molds (they are just as fragile as real eggs!). If all goes well, we need only flip over the mold for the eggs to pop out - although sometimes they need a little coaxing. Any extra chocolate left on the surface of the mold can be chipped off and melted back down again.

    We repeat steps one through five for the milk and dark chocolate Farm Eggs, using different colored speckles and different flavors of filling. When finished, the egg trios are packed up in Easter grass and then hit the shelves.

    These Easter truffles are in stock for a limited time, so snap up a box before we close down the egg farm! Shop our Easter chocolates today!

    Farm Egg Truffles Hedonist Farm Egg Truffles, available for Easter
  • Why Do We Eat Chocolate Eggs and Bunnies on Easter?

    Here at Hedonist, we never need an excuse to eat chocolate. Nevertheless, Easter is a pretty big deal for us and the rest of the chocolate industry. After Halloween, Easter is the best-selling candy and chocolate holiday in America. This time of year, you'll see shelves with chocolate eggs and bunnies - some solid, some filled with gooey caramel or almonds. But before you nibble the ears off that rabbit... how did chowing down on chocolate become such an integral part of Easter to begin with?

    Easter indulgence

    Remember that Easter occurs at the end of Lent, a period of 40 days of fasting and contemplation observed by some Christians. Maybe you or someone you know has given up something for Lent - sweets and alcohol are popular choices. Back in medieval times, fasting was a little more rigorous, with many people giving up all meat and animal products, including dairy and eggs. Once Easter arrived, it was feast time, and people celebrated by indulging in all those rich and forbidden foods again. They certainly wouldn’t have been feasting on chocolate in the Middle Ages, but in modern times, indulging in a box of truffles once April 1 hits only makes sense.

    Okay, so why eggs and bunnies?

    The two most prominent symbols of Easter, eggs and bunnies, crop up in chocolate form every Spring. The egg has been a symbol of new life since ancient times, and in Christianity it came to represent the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Easter tradition of decorating eggs is thought to go back as far as the 13th century. Since eggs were also commonly forbidden during Lent (see above), Christians would paint and decorate the eggs during the 40-day fast and then eat them during Easter celebrations.

    As for bunnies, these fluffy critters are also widely associated with fertility and birth (you’ve probably heard the phrase, “breeding like rabbits”). Rabbits are a common theme in medieval Christian art, often pictured alongside the Virgin Mary. The hare was a common symbol of Easter in Germany, where children set out nests to be filled with colored eggs by a hare called Oschter Haws. In the early 1700s, large numbers of German immigrants began immigrating to Pennsylvania and brought Oschter Haws with them, laying the foundation for the modern-day Easter Bunny.

    But why chocolate?

    True, chocolate isn't the only sweet treat we indulge in at Easter (jelly beans also have a long association with the holiday). But at about the same time that Germans were arriving in America by the thousands, the Industrial Revolution was ramping up. In addition to transforming the textile and iron industries, the Industrial Revolution launched the modern-day chocolate industry. With new mechanization processes, chocolate evolved from an expensive beverage consumed only by upper classes into a less expensive, solid food. The first chocolate bar came on the scene in Europe in the mid-1800s, and other molded chocolate shapes quickly followed. Germany in particular gained a reputation for producing elaborate tin chocolate molds. It’s no wonder, then, that chocolate Easter bunnies and their accompanying eggs caught on in the late 19th century. Judging by the Easter treats we now see every year, their popularity shows no signs of slowing down.

    Your modern-day Easter celebrations, then, are a product of ancient symbolism, Lenten restraint, immigration, and the advent of eating (rather than drinking) chocolate. No matter how you choose to celebrate the occasion, a little chocolate can make the season even more special. Browse our full line of Easter products by clicking here.

  • Is White Chocolate Actually Chocolate?

    White chocolate is one of those foods, like olives or anchovies, that causes people to take sides. You either can’t stand it, or you’d defend it to the death. Proponents love its satiny, creamy texture and mild flavor. Detractors say it’s unbearably sweet, lacking in complexity, and - perhaps the worst insult - not actually chocolate at all. The debate about what white chocolate is (and isn’t) is not new. At Hedonist, we get a lot of questions about whether white chocolate deserves its name. Here, we’ll answer your questions once and for all.

    First, a quick lesson on how white chocolate is made and why it’s different from the brown stuff. All “real” chocolate begins with cacao beans. In the early stages of chocolate making, those beans are finely ground into a smooth, brown paste called chocolate liquor (no, not that kind of liquor). The chocolate liquor is then separated into its component parts: cocoa solids and cocoa butter.

    Cocoa solids are responsible for the fruity, bitter, nutty, and tannic notes in the chocolate - in short, the ‘chocolaty’ flavors. (It’s also the part that contains antioxidants). Cocoa butter is the fat of the cacao bean, and is responsible for chocolate’s silky, melty texture. After the solids and butter have been separated, they are then mixed together again with sugar and/or dairy in certain proportions according to the type of chocolate being made. Here’s the important part: in making white chocolate, the cocoa solids are never added back in. The final product is composed of cocoa butter, sugar, and milk. Because no cocoa solids are present, it appears light yellow or ivory in color and is considerably smoother than milk or dark chocolates. Its flavor is subtle and milky, delicately perfumed with a cocoa aroma.

    But is it chocolate?

    Some are of the opinion that because white chocolate contains no cocoa solids, it can’t be chocolate. But what chocolate does have in abundance is cocoa butter, which comes straight from the cacao pod just like the solids. Some high-quality white chocolates can be up to 40% cocoa butter by mass! For us, that makes white chocolate part of the chocolate family.

    Whether white chocolate is “real” chocolate isn’t just a matter of taste. It’s a real, legal issue with significant ramifications for the chocolate and confectionery industries. Until recently, the FDA considered white chocolate to be “confectionery” and not actually chocolate.

    Standards dictated that chocolate must contain cocoa solids in order to be marketed as chocolate. That changed in 2002, when the FDA established new standards for white chocolate in response to petitions from Hershey and the Chocolate Manufacturers Association of the United States of (yes, that’s a real thing). The new standards dictated that for a product to be labeled and marketed as ‘white chocolate,’ it must contain at least 20% cocoa butter, and least 14% milk solids, and 3.5% milkfat.

    Even with FDA standards, white chocolate isn’t always taken seriously. Some of its bad PR is attributable to the large number of cheap imitation white chocolate products on the market. Maybe you’ve seen them in the supermarket aisles labeled as “white baking morsels” or “white baking bar.” These are products which haven’t met the standards for white chocolate, most likely because they contain little or no cocoa butter. Imitation white chocolate contains sugar and milk just like the real stuff, but the cocoa butter is swapped out for a different fat like hydrogenated vegetable oil. Why not just stick with cocoa butter? Because cocoa butter is extremely valuable, and not just to chocolatiers. For example, the cosmetics industry uses cocoa butter in lotions, lip balm, and makeup.

    These white chocolate wannabes are likely to be chalky, waxy, and super-sweet, rather than soft and subtle. If you want to discover the breadth and depth of what white chocolate truly can be, go for quality and always read your labels! True white chocolate is voluptuous and silky and yes, sweet, but not overpoweringly so. Pair it with some salty almonds or tangy fruits and you just might become a white chocolate believer.

  • A Trio of New Chocolate Barks

    It's time for something a little different! We're thrilled to show off three NEW flavors of our popular chocolate bark:

    • White Macadamia Coconut: Roasted and salted nuts with toasted coconut atop French white chocolate and a drizzle of dark chocolate.
    • Milk Chocolate Sea Salt: Creamy milk chocolate topped with a dark chocolate swirl and crystals of sea salt.
    • Ancho Chile Pumpkin Seed: Inspired by ancient Central American flavors, this dark chocolate bark features ancho chile, clove, and cinnamon, topped with toasted pumpkin seeds.

    Three delicious flavors to fit any mood or occasion, and perfect for snacking. Now available in our shop and online!

  • Our 5 Favorite Chocolate and Wine Pairings For Valentine’s Day

    Looking for your one true pairing? Let us be your chocolate and wine matchmaker this Valentine’s Day! Red or white, dark or milk, we've got a pairing for everything — but sometimes we play favorites. Here’s what we’ll be nibbling and sipping on February 14th (and every other day, really).

    1. Milk chocolate sesame bark + chardonnay

    One of our tried-and-true all-time favorites, these two are the perfect couple you never saw coming. We swirl sesame oil right into melted milk chocolate to impart that unmistakable nutty aroma, then top it all off with toasted sesame seeds and sea salt. A buttery, oak-aged chardonnay creates a creamy, luscious harmony that’s perennially popular with our customers.

    2. Raspberry espresso bark + ruby port

    This bold and visually striking bark combines tart, punchy raspberries with deep, mellow espresso against a backdrop of both white and semisweet chocolate. We love this flavor explosion with a glass of ruby port, a fortified wine so named for its intense, Valentine-red hue. It’s fruity enough to draw out the perky berry notes of this bark, but full-bodied enough to support the darker notes of espresso.

    3. “Be My Honey Bee” honey caramels + mead

    Highlight the delicate, floral aromas of local Davis honey in these limited-edition caramels with a splash of mead! If you’re not familiar with mead, it’s made by fermenting honey with water and sometimes grains, fruits, and spices. As you’d expect, meads can be very sweet, but some drier varieties are available.

    4. Spice truffle collection + white wines

    If your Valentine is unconventional and likes a bit of a risk, a box of our spice collection truffles is both a gift and an adventure. We often turn to white wines when we’re eating chocolates with a kick. We love the raspberry wasabi truffle with a dry Riesling, while both the coconut curry and lemon pepper truffles marry well with a tingly Grüner Veltliner.

    5. Valentine’s Day truffle assortment + Zinfandel, Madeira, and Sauvignon Blanc

    Every year we like to mix things up a little with our Valentine’s Day truffle bags. This year, our classic bittersweet is joined by peanut butter and coconut passion fruit truffles. You can’t go wrong pairing deep, 72% bittersweet chocolate with a dense Zinfandel. The peanut butter truffle is complemented beautifully by Madeira, which gets its nutty flavor from being heated repeatedly. Finally, a refreshing sauvignon blanc highlights the tart, exotic flavors of passion fruit and coconut in a creamy white chocolate ganache.

  • Tricks of the Trade: How Transfer Sheets Work

    Out of all the questions we receive at Hedonist, one of the most frequently asked is, "How do you get those designs on your chocolate?"  We make an array of chocolates with colorful, completely edible designs that appear to be printed on the surface of the chocolate itself. Is it magic? Almost. Introducing a chocolatier's secret weapon: transfer sheets!

    Think of transfer sheets like those temporary tattoos that were especially popular in the 90s. With temporary tattoos, special paper printed with an image is applied to the skin, dampened with a cloth, and then peeled away, leaving the image behind. Transfer sheets for chocolate work much the same way: an image is printed in dyed cocoa butter on a sheet of cellulose acetate (the same material film is made from) and applied to melted chocolate. When the chocolate has set, the acetate is peeled away, and the cocoa butter “tattoo” is left behind on the surface of the chocolate. Here are some of our bittersweet truffles, part of our Classic Collection, decorated using transfer sheets:

    The transfer sheets in the photo above are printed with a repeating pattern in green cocoa butter, but you can print (almost) anything on a transfer sheet. Stripes, polka dots, text, and logos are all popular choices with clients looking to customize their chocolate order. Whether you want wedding truffles printed with the bride and groom’s initials, or a corporate gift branded with your company logo, transfer sheets can make it possible.

    At Hedonist, we also use transfer sheets to showcase the work of local artists. For ten years, we’ve featured the designs of Rochester artists in our Valentine’s Day collections. To make these custom transfer sheets, the design is rendered digitally and sent to a company for printing (unfortunately Hedonist does not have a cocoa butter printer!). Each individual design must be trimmed from the larger acetate sheet and applied by hand, one by one, to each truffle. Trust us, it’s worth it.

    This year’s Valentine’s Day collection was created in collaboration with Brittany Statt of Bee Paper House. The honey-infused, chocolate-covered caramels are decorated with five beehive-themed images and a letterpress-printed tag. Ten-piece boxes of the “Be My Honey Bee” collection are available for a limited time, so grab one for you Valentine before they’re all gone.

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Pleasure, handcrafted. Hedonist Artisan Chocolates are handmade with fresh ingredients to give as gifts or indulge yourself.
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