While some may ask, “Why make chocolate when it’s so much easier to buy it?”

I ask, “Where’s the fun in that?” Plus I really love gourmet dark chocolate bars, the ones made with exotic flavors and textures. But, they can cost five dollars a bar, sometimes more.

I set out to see if it was even possible to make chocolate from scratch. Now, because the chocolate used for candy-making sometimes requires heat tempering, (a special process which preserves the shiny, dark appearance), I figured that making it was going to be complicated and time-consuming. Wrong! No kidding – you can easily whip up a batch in under 30 minutes. Mind. Blown.

And, creating chocolate from scratch allows you to tailor ingredients to satisfy your own personal tastes, and you can modify it in so many ways!

For instance, I’ve been reducing my intake of refined sugar lately. It has really worked wonders for me, in eliminating cravings, and keeping post-treat crashes at bay. I’ve found that honey and maple syrup work really well as sugar replacements. So I’ve used them in this recipe.

As for the rest of the ingredients, there are only 3 basic elements in chocolate: cacao/cocoa powder, cacao/cocoa butter and sweetener.

Cacao butter

What’s the difference between cocoa and cacao? Put simply, cocoa and cacao butters are both vegetable fats derived from the cacao bean. Cacao powder differs from cocoa powder in that it’s less processed, considered more pure, and is also processed under lower heat, therefore is considered a “raw” food. There is a barely-noticeable difference in taste and texture, and cocoa does cost a bit less. Also, some say that cacao is more nutritious. They use words like flavonoids and phytic acid… but… snore… I went to sleep after reading about those. If you’re interested, check out this site.

From there, any flavors or extras are what make your chocolates your signature. Do you like peanuts better than almonds? Add some! Or add raisins or craisins. Swap out the vanilla with mint, orange or rum flavorings. You can even add spices or powdered flavors: instant espresso, cinnamon, red chili powder, etc.

However, this is IMPORTANT:

Do not let even one drop of water get in your chocolate mixture. If you do, it will seize and become a gritty, nasty, mess. Also, don’t add things like brewed coffee, non-alcohol-based liquid flavorings, etc.

Now let’s make some chocolate!

Gourmet Salted Almond Dark Chocolates – makes 20 to 30 pieces

(Click here for printable recipe)

1 cup cacao butter (100 grams)

1 cup cacao powder  (70 grams)

1 tsp. vanilla extract

½ cup honey or maple syrup

½ cup chopped almonds, toasted

½ tsp. flaky salt

Chop almonds, and toast in a sheet pan in the oven, 350° for 8 to 10 minutes, or until light golden brown.

Melt cacao butter in a glass bowl (or double boiler) over a barely simmering pot of water. When most of the solids are melted, remove the bowl from heat. Place on a dishtowel on the counter to cool for a few minutes.

If using honey, heat in microwave for 15 seconds. This helps with incorporating the honey in the mixture, as they will have similar viscosities.

Add honey (or maple syrup, if using) to melted cacao butter, and mix well with a whisk. **It takes several minutes for the honey/syrup to combine with the cacao butter – longer than you might expect. Be sure to take the time to ensure the sweetener is well combined with the butter. If you skip this step, you will end up with unevenly sweet chocolate. You can see the honey is well mixed when it goes from being a two-toned mixture to one with tiny bubbles, or “globs” of fat, to finally being slightly cloudy.

Once the sweetener is fully incorporated, add cacao powder and vanilla. Stir well.

 

Add almonds and mix to combine.

Scoop a tablespoon or so of mixture into candy cups or mini cupcake wrappers. Top with a few flakes of sea salt.

Refrigerate until set.

Enjoy!

Click here for a printable version of the Gourmet Salted Chocolates Recipe

Fruit Shaped Cheeseballs The Tamara Blog

Come on… who doesn’t love a cheese ball? They’re fun to eat, and easy to make. Being a bit of a cheeseball myself, I have a particular affinity for these orbs o’ dairy.

Oh, I know what you’re thinking, “Cheese balls in Autumn?! Heaven forfend! Everyone knows National Cheese Ball day is April 17th. What kind of celebration enthusiast are you, Tamara?”

In truth, I have no idea why cheese ball day is in April. Makes no sense. These lactose spheres are perfect for football parties, I mean… in my family, we call October the beginning of cheese ball season! So, if you’re going to eat ’em in autumn, why not serve ’em in fall-fruit form?

Here I offer a simple and delicious way to ‘fancy up’ a cheesy classic. 

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Apple Cheese Ball

  • 8 oz package of cream cheese, softened
  • 2 Tbs. butter, softened
  • 8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated (must be finely grated)
  • 1 Tbs. apple brandy
  • 1 Tbs. apple jelly or apple butter
  • 2 cups fried onions
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • branch and leaves for garnish

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Pear Cheese Ball

  • 8 oz package of cream cheese, softened
  • 2 Tbs. butter, softened
  • 5 oz. crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese, softened
  • 1 Tbs. pear jam or jelly
  • 1 Tbs. pear brandy
  • 1 cup walnuts or pecans
  • yellow food coloring
  • branch and leaves for garnish

Ingredients note:

You can use flavored liquors instead of brandy — it’s just that the brandy has a richer, fuller flavor than a liquor.

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Process:

In a bowl, combine cream cheese, butter and cheddar or gorgonzola cheese. Beat with a hand mixer or stand mixer until fluffy.

Add in jam and brandy, and beat until combined.

Place mixture in refrigerator while working on next step.

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For Apple cheese ball:

Place fried onions in a ziplock bag and crush finely.

Add smoked paprika, and toss/knead to combine.

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For Pear cheese ball:

Toast walnuts/pecans in a dry frying pan over medium heat, or in the broiler, until golden brown. Set aside to cool. Once cool, chop nuts finely (you can use a food processor for this step). Add 8 to 12 drops of yellow food coloring, if desired.

Place mixed coating in a small bowl.

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Remove cheese mixture from the refrigerator and shape into desired form with your hands. Cheese mixture can also be placed in plastic wrap and molded, to keep hands clean.

Once a rough apple or pear form is achieved, drop cheese ball into bowl with coating, and press coating into the surface, refining fruit shape as you go.

After cheese ball is formed, add decorative leaves, and display.

Apple and Pear Shaped Cheese Balls printable recipe

These can be refrigerated for 2 days, or frozen for up to a month. Be sure to allow time to thaw before serving. No one wants a tooth chipped by chilled cheddar.

Enjoy these glorious globes of cheese, an homage to the fromage in you!

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I must say, this is one of the most delicious snacks ever. Salty and sweet, easy to make, it’s perfect for a party favor. It can be a little fancy but at the same time, familiar and homey. You can use any type of chocolate (milk, semi-sweet, etc.), and if you use white chocolate you can alter the color to fit the occasion. Make it in big batches for a crowd, (think football party) or small ones for movie-night.

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You’ll Need:

Popcorn

Salt

Oil

White Chocolate (colored if you like)

Bags

Twine

Stickers

Let’s talk popcorn and quantities (there is a chart at the bottom of this post with measurement calculations). My target was 50 party favors. I figured that we needed 3 to 4 cups per person/favor. That meant 200 cups popped corn (!). I calculated that 1/3 C un-popped corn yields 8 C popped. So for my favors, we needed to pop 8 to 9 cups of corn. (Turns out that the bags looked better with 3 C popcorn inside, so … leftovers! More for ME!)

When I pop corn at home, I always measure by eye. I pour oil into my pan until it just covers the bottom of the pan. Add corn until the bottom is covered without any corn-overlap. (A good rule of thumb is, use half as much oil as popcorn. So for 2/3 C corn, use 1/3 C oil.) Turn the pan on medium-high, cover and wait for it to pop. As the kernels pop, give the pan a shake now and then. When you hear the kernel pops slow down, remove from heat and pour into mixing vessel. Don’t wait until you don’t hear ANY kernels popping… you’ll scorch the finished corn.

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Chocolate. For this recipe, I prefer white chocolate, but milk or dark is tasty too. I wanted the finished product to be delicious sweet-salty corn, not like a candy with popcorn in it, so the chocolate was used sparingly. In the end, for my 200 cups of corn, I used about 1-1/2 pounds of chocolate.

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Pour your popcorn into a (very clean!) large mixing vessel. Add salt as desired. Melt chocolate in a double boiler. Drizzle onto popped corn and mix. If you have a helper, this job goes much more quickly! Taste, adjust chocolate and salt if needed.

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Using a scoop, fill the bags with corn, tie closed (with divine twine!) and add labels. I added the classic pink bubble-gum cigar to the bag.

Update: Looks like the supplier who carried my bags no longer does… try Nashville Wraps for some really cute bags, at good prices.

NOTE: This popcorn favor should be made no more than one day in advance. If it’s made earlier than that, it becomes a bit soggy.

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Supply Calculation Table:

1/3 C un-popped corn = 8 C popped = 2 to 3 party favors

1 C un-popped corn = 24 C popped = 7 to 9 party favors

½ oz. chocolate per party favor. Test this – your desired taste may vary. (2 oz. = 1/4 C)

Some SUPER CUTE labels are available here. (Full disclosure: I’m a big fan of Whisker Graphics, but also a relative!)

Enjoy!