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Our Blog: Chocolate Talk

Chocolate Talk

  • 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.

  • 4 Reasons Vanilla is Anything But “Vanilla”

    How many times have you heard “vanilla” used as a synonym for “plain,” “basic,” or “boring”? Maybe you’re still using a “vanilla” flip-phone while all your friends have the iPhone X; maybe your co-worker who’s always in bed by 9 p.m. has a “vanilla” social life. Or maybe you’ve said, when asked for your ice cream preference, “I’ll just have vanilla.”

    But there’s nothing blah about vanilla, which is such a common flavoring that perhaps we’ve stopped noticing it’s even there. That little brown bottle of extract in your cupboard is a lot more interesting than it seems. Vanilla is a highly coveted, exotic substance with a rich and complicated history, and doesn’t deserve to be lumped together with “plain”. Here’s four reasons why everyone should start giving vanilla a little more credit.

    (left) vanilla-orchid-rs by Augustine Fou; (right) Vanilla bean by Whitney. Both licensed under CC BY 2.0

    1. It's derived from orchids

    Vanilla beans aren’t beans - they’re actually the seed pods of orchids from the Vanilla genus. (Incidentally, the word “vanilla” itself is derived from the Spanish vainilla, literally “little pod”). Split open a vanilla bean - or a vanilla “fruit”, if you want to be scientifically correct - and you’ll find it’s full of a sticky, grainy black paste. Each of those grains is a vanilla seed.

    At Hedonist, we use the back of a knife to scrape all the seeds from the pod and add them to our salted caramels and vanilla ice cream, which is why you’ll see tiny black specks in both.

    In vanilla extract, those seeds are macerated and filtered in ethanol and water. There’s a hearty splash of vanilla extract in Hedonist waffle cones and tiny toffee!

    f5198784 by Ryan Sitzman is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

    2. It’s BFFs with chocolate

    There’s a reason you always see vanilla and chocolate side by side - they grew up together! The vanilla orchid originally grew wild in the tropical forests of Mesoamerica, where the cacao tree is also native. The Maya used vanilla, cacao, and spices to make a flavorful beverage; a little later on, the Aztecs added vanilla to a similar beverage called chocolatl.

    When the Spanish arrived in Mesoamerica in the early 16th century, they took a liking to both the fragrant vanilla orchid and the dark, rich cacao bean. Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés is credited with introducing both vanilla and chocolate to Europe in the 1520s. The two have been inseparable ever since.

    Vanilla vine by foam is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

    3. It's super high-maintenance

    Though the Europeans loved vanilla, it was clear vanilla did not love them back. Growers were able to cultivate the flower in botanical gardens in England and France, but could not get it to produce the prized seed pods. Unfortunately, vanilla’s natural pollinator, the Melipona bee, is a Mexican native and does not exist in Europe. Without bees, there was hardly any vanilla production outside of Mexico.

    That changed in the mid-19th century, when an enslaved 12-year-old boy living on the island of Réunion, a French territory in the Indian Ocean, discovered how to pollinate vanilla flowers by hand. His painstaking technique helped vanilla cultivation spread to other tropical locations like Madagascar and the Comoros Islands, and is still in use today. Vanilla’s high-maintenance pollination process is part of the reason why it remains the second-most expensive spice in the world after saffron. A bottle containing just two vanilla beans will set you back $13-$18.

    4. It's got copycats.

    If vanilla is so expensive, why are vanilla-flavored products ubiquitous? Plot twist: not all vanilla flavors come from the vanilla flower. Because of the scarcity and expense of natural vanilla, most of the vanilla flavoring out there (as much as 99%) is synthetic.

    In the late 1800s, scientists learned how to derive vanillin — the compound that gives vanilla its unmistakable aroma — from sources far less expensive than the vanilla orchid. Early versions of vanillin were extracted from clove oil, although most modern-day synthetic vanillin is extracted from guaiacol (obtained by distilling wood tar) or lignin (derived from the cell walls of plants).

    The prevalence of vanillin doesn’t mean natural vanilla is going away, however. Thanks to increasing consumer demand for all-natural food and drink, natural vanilla is more popular than ever. At Hedonist Artisan Chocolates & Ice Cream, we only ever use natural vanilla seed pods and extract in our products.

    Want to know more? Check out these articles:

    The Bittersweet Story of Vanilla - Smithsonian
    The Problem with Vanilla - Scientific American
    The History of Vanilla - National Geographic

  • Spooky, Scary Halloween Chocolates

    NEW FOR 2017 • Deep in the Hedonist labs, we've concocted a new collection of spooky and delicious chocolates to scare up some Halloween fun! (All treats, no tricks!) Made with Pittsford Farms Dairy cream and fresh ingredients, these truffles are perfect for an undead loved one, a haunted house party, or simply to indulge your inner chocolate ghoul.

    Featuring 3 unique flavors, each box contains 5 chocolate truffles, painted and decorated by hand, and packaged in a red-tissue-lined "coffin" wrapped in "chains." Included are a white chocolate eyeball with a pistachio and cranberry ganache, a bittersweet (72%) chocolate skull with a hazelnut "brain" inside, and a mummy made of white chocolate with toasted coconut and lime.

    Available until they return to the grave, so don't miss your chance to celebrate the spookiest season with a box! Available in our shop and online, for a limited time!

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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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