Chocolate and Beer?

November 8, 2014 by Plum Brook Chocolate

Love chocolate?  Love beer?  Pairing beer and chocolate will lead you down an exciting road to discovery. Not to mention add zest to any get together with friends, office parties, special dinners and family celebrations.

Beer-Choco

 How about a beer and chocolate pairing for one of your events?

My family’s interest in craft beer has led us on an active and fun journey of chocolate and beer pairings. You can’t go wrong trying different combinations. There are lots of exceptional and delicious beers to choose from, as Connecticut has established a reputation for making some of the nation’s best craft brews.

Many top quality, superb breweries dot the map. See CT’s Beer Trail for more information.  If you live outside of New England, seek out your own local breweries.  Mass marketed beer certainly has it’s place, but not for our purposes here.  The same is true for chocolate.  Seek out smaller, quality chocolate makers for your pairings.

Of course, we would love to have Plum Brook Chocolate be a part of your pairing fun and so we offer the following suggestions (just a tip of an iceberg really) to get you started on your own journey.  It’s a great way to support your local craft beer industry, taste great chocolate and add zest to your gatherings.  Many of these beers pack a punch, so try sharing a bottle among friends as you move through different pairings.

A Basic List

American Double and / or Imperial IPA: We found the extraordinary Two Roads “Road 2 Ruin” paired with our Caramel Latte blissful.  This big, hoppy brew has plenty of bite.  The caramel’s sweetness and the espresso-salt dusting perfectly compliment the bitterness and hoppy flavor.  Not an espresso fan?  Our Salted Caramel should work just as well.   In general, pairing caramel with a hoppy beer should provide a nice contrast.

American Pale Ale: Try City Steam Brewerys Blonde on Blonde.  Brewed with German and Cascade hops, it touches of sweetness up front and finishes with floral, bitter hops which should interplay well with our Ginger Rum Truffle.  The ginger and floral compliment each other and the truffle’s overall mellow profile should round out the flavors.

Not a true APA, but Willi Brews Certified Gold is another choice for our Ginger Rum Truffle.  The bright, golden ale’s german hops aroma are floral and well balanced and mingles well with the truffle flavors.

Stout: New England Brewing Co.’s Imperial Russian Trooper is a bourbon-barrel stout that will be fabulous with big fruit flavors.  Our Raspberry Truffle’s vibrant flavor and tartness balances some of the stout’s prominent bourbon flavor and pops it’s dark fruit notes.

Imperial Porter:  Thomas Hooker describes their Imperial Porter as “Full bodied..hints of roasted coffee, cocoa with a generous hop finish…smooth yet complex”.  A match made in heaven with our 72% Double Dark Truffle?  You decide!  The truffle’s silky smooth meltdown followed by an intense chocolate flavor that lingers will interplay with the porter’s roasty malt flavors. And it’s delicate profile provides overall balance with this full bodied beer.

If you’ve never thought about pairing beer and chocolate before, what better time than now?  For yourself, your guests or as a unique gift of various local brews and chocolate for your hosts.

Just send an e-mail or give a call and specify the Beer Taster’s Box.  We will fill one of our boxes with truffles designed for your beer pairings.  Suggestions included!

 

 

Hello Fall

September 30, 2014 by Plum Brook Chocolate

Perhaps I should be a little sadder. Because right now, even with New England’s most beautiful season here, a long, freezing winter is right behind it. I love summer and it’s over, so why do I have a feeling of excitement about the days ahead?
Because I know that I will be spending a busy chocolate season doing something I love. Producing even better chocolate, reacquainting with customers and friends and meeting new and interesting people.
I’m excited to have expanded my flavor selection to include some milk chocolate (thank you Ovens of France for requesting white and milk chocolate during these hot days) as well as a killer 72% dark truffle. While I’ll always believe that dark chocolate is the most rewarding chocolate experience, I have come to appreciate a quality milk chocolate, rich and creamy. “Black Pearl”, a divine coconut cream, and Jasmine are 2 new milk chocolate offerings this season.
Onward to fall and winter!

A Day at Better Connecticut

April 22, 2014 by Plum Brook Chocolate

I was honored to be invited to appear in a live kitchen segment on Better Connecticut on April 21. If you tuned in to watch me, thank you so much! I was excited as the morning approached, but nervous too. What could I do in 5 minutes?  What if something went wrong? There were no retakes!

As it turned out, I was anxious for nothing. I arrived at the studio expecting high security, lots of busy people pointing where to go, and overall chaos. It wasn’t like that at all! As soon as I walked through the back door I was greeted with a smile and “Oh, you’re the chocolate lady!” I was introduced to technicians Bob and Hanes, who not only showed me where to go and what to do, but offered support along the way.

My segment was scheduled for 10:45. I sat in the guests’ waiting room, collecting my thoughts as I listened to the quartet of buccaneers who had showed up to promote the Arc’s annual Pirate Party joke and sing.

Finally, it was time! Hanes gave me a microphone and led me into the studio kitchen. “You are going to do great,” he reassured me. I did the final set-up in the kitchen, and voila: Scot Haney and Duby McDowell appeared (I admit that I was a bit starstruck!). When I saw them both in purple, I “thanked them” for wearing their Plum Brook colors, and they put me completely at ease. In fact, the segment was the fastest four minutes of my life!

Pam on Better Connecticut

After the show was over, the crew and audience gathered around to devour the red wine truffles that I made, along with some of our popular buttercrunch toffee. Bob said, “See, it was easy!”

Hanes walked me to the car and gave me a hug as he helped me load my equipment. “You must come back and visit us again,” he said, and I hope that I do. It was yet another exciting adventure on which Plum Brook Chocolate has led me.

Click here to get Pam’s at home recipe for Red Wine Truffles!

At the Foot of a Cacao Tree: A Note from Puerto Rico

March 25, 2014 by Plum Brook Chocolate

From the time that the conquistadors brought cacao across the Atlantic from South America, it has been a difficult-to-obtain luxury in the Western world. The plant only grows within twenty degrees of the equator, requires shade, and produces only a few pods per harvest. This makes the price of chocolate volatile, like the price of oil. Lately, rising demand for cacao in developing countries has created a shortage. According to a March 20 article in the Wall Street Journal, some candy makers are now resorting to a cacao variety called CCN 51 that yields more beans but produces chocolate with a sour flavor. Needless to say, those chocolate suppliers that take maintaining taste and quality more seriously than cutting costs, including our sources, Guittard and Valrhona, are being careful to avoid CCN 51.

We have hope that the growing demand for chocolate will create opportunities for economic development in cacao-producing regions. Fair trade cacao gives farmers in those countries new chances for success. I recently was able to visit Puerto Rico, where the Puerto Rican Cacao Project is evaluating the potential for commercial cacao production on the island. In the mid-1600’s, cacao was one of Puerto Rico’s biggest export crops, until a hurricane at the end of the 17th century caused a food shortage that forced farmers to abandon it. The Puerto Rican Cacao Project collects samples from old cacao trees on the island to preserve their genetic variability. “Unique cacao on the island,” reads its website, “might make Puerto Rican cacao and chocolate stand out.”

My parents winter in Puerto Rico, and while visiting them this month, I decided to go to the Tropical Agricultural Research Station (TARS) in Mayaguez. In this complex, funded by the US Department of Agriculture, cacao and other tropical crops are preserved and studied.  The visitor’s entrance led to a beautiful old hacienda style building, where a friendly woman directed us to the cacao plants.

cacaobeans

The cacao tree I found was 50 years old and 24 feet high. Farmed cacao trees can grow as high as 26 feet and live about 60 years, so this one was definitely mature. Although not abundant with fruit (yes, the cocoa you eat started as a fruit!), the tree was still producing beautiful pods.  Flower buds along its trunk indicated that more pods were in the making, since the pod begins as a beautiful white flower.

Until the day when I actually visit a working cacao farm, this will have to do. It was a thrill to see the tree once named the “food of the gods” up close and personal. To understand how it grows and the elaborate process required to transform a cacao pod into chocolate gives me reverence for this amazing fruit.

Spring and Easter Are On Our Minds

March 10, 2014 by Plum Brook Chocolate

At Plum Brook Chocolate, Easter is one of our favorite days of the year. At no other time does chocolate play such an important role in bringing the family together around the holiday table. We use chocolate to tell the story of the Easter’s true meaning through age-old symbols of the triumph of life over death.

While the lamb’s association with the Easter story comes straight from the Bible, other symbols of the Resurrection were derived from pre-Christian traditions. Rabbits, for instance, were associated with Eostre, the pagan fertility goddess from whom our Christian holiday most likely derived its name, and the ancient Egyptians and Greeks buried their dead with eggs.

Bunny cropped

I like that Easter doesn’t have a fixed date like Christmas. At the Council of Nicaea, the Church fathers decided that the date of Easter would depend on the lunar cycle and equinox because of Passover. Back then, people used the moon to determine the passage of time, and they wouldn’t have had trouble figuring out when Easter would take place. Now that we rely on clocks and other devices to show us what we once learned from nature, the shifting date lends the holiday an air of mystery appropriate for a celebration of eternal life.

I only hope that we won’t have to wait as long for spring this year as we will for Easter. April 20 is a long way off! I suppose it’s fitting to give this particularly harsh winter extra time to run its course, so that the Easter Bunny doesn’t get lost in the snow.

Showing Our Love For Our Community This Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2014 by Plum Brook Chocolate

One of the best things about being a local business owner is that it strengthens your ties to the community. It’s been wonderful to receive support and enthusiasm from fellow citizens and businesses in Woodbury who are excited that our town now has one more good thing to offer. We love our community, and are excited about a special event this Valentine’s Day weekend that will bring all of Woodbury together. Thanks to the efforts of Charles Bartlett and the Woodbury Mini-Golf Committee, helping your neighbors has never been more fun! The annual Indoor Miniature Golf Open is taking place at the Woodbury Senior Center from Feb. 14-17, and one round costs just $2 to $4. The proceeds benefit Woodbury Community Services, which helps those in town who are in need.

A bake sale will be held during the open on Saturday. When asked to donate something, I thought: what better way to wrap up Plum Brook’s Valentine season than with a few plates of chocolaty confections to support those who need our love and generosity the most? So, I whipped up a batch of shortbread cookies (adapted from this recipe) and melted the week’s last few ounces of chocolate.

Cookies

Mmm… They taste like little heart-shaped pieces of chocolate-drizzled pie crust. I hope these tempting treats will fetch Community Services some good donations!

Cookies2

Please join me in supporting Woodbury Community Services and coming to the Indoor Miniature Golf Open. I hope to see you there!

Celebrate Valentine’s Day with Local Wine and Chocolate

February 10, 2014 by Plum Brook Chocolate

Some of our friends in Connecticut don’t realize that in their own backyard, they can find gourmet food and drink that rivals what they are used to buying from other coasts and other countries. It isn’t uncommon to find maple syrup from Vermont in a Woodbury family’s pantry. Granted, it may be more convenient to get all your grocery shopping done in one stop, but there’s nothing like covering your pancakes with syrup fresh from your neighbor’s tree. As for chocolates — well, never mind chocolates. Take wine. Isn’t the art of winemaking better left to the easygoing residents of places like northern California, where the sun shines on the grapevines all year long?

Certainly not! Those who have followed the state’s Wine Trail can attest that these New England hills, soil, and seasons produce a manner of wine that is Connecticut’s own, and one that we can be proud of. If you’d like to try one of the best examples of Connecticut wine, we at Plum Brook Chocolate suggest that you take a drive through the rolling hills of southern Litchfield County — beautiful even in winter, when the bare trees and old stone walls are powdered with snow — to Hopkins Vineyard in New Preston, located on the north side of Lake Waramaug. Tastings take place in the vineyard’s antique barn, at a cozy bar overlooking a panoramic view of the surrounding highlands. For $7.50, you can try seven of the vineyard’s award-winning wines, including the delightfully crisp “Duet,” a blend of Chardonnay and Vidal Blanc, the smooth, semi-sweet Peach Wine, and my favorite, the Cabernet Franc: rich, earthy, and deeply satisfying.

We have had the pleasure of working with winemaker Jim Baker and winery manager Rachel Greklek on creating a Cabernet truffle made with this sumptuous wine. Jim and Rachel could not be friendlier taste-testers. After working with them, I recognized that their perfectionist determination and keen attention to the details of flavor and texture help explain why Hopkins wines are so good. We have worked hard to perfect a truffle that will be worthy of their Cab Franc, using the best chocolate that we can find — a Valrhona Grand Cru — and are especially proud of the result!

P1030956

Our new Cabernet truffle is available in sampler boxes just in time for Valentine’s Day. Speaking of the holiday, our friends at Hopkins are hosting special wine tastings accompanied by an artisan food platter (featuring our chocolates) and live music next Friday, Saturday and Sunday evening, the 14th through 16th. If you’re looking for an extra special Valentine’s Day evening, check it out! For more information, visit the vineyard’s website.

Chocolate for a Cold Night

January 24, 2014 by Plum Brook Chocolate

I often wonder if the winters have gotten colder since I was a child, or if children are simply more tolerant to the weather than adults. Probably the latter. As a child, I played outside with my friends well into many a bitter midwinter evening, and I don’t remember the chill ever bothering us much. What I do remember is racing inside as fast as we could the moment we heard that Mom was making hot chocolate. I must say that it never tasted better than it did under those circumstances. However, Plum Brook Chocolate’s “Velvet” Drinking Chocolate mix is rich, flavorful and satisfying enough to bring back those fond childhood memories of coming in from the cold, and to make many new ones.

drinkingchocolate3

As adults, of course, we even have the chance to improve on the hot chocolate experience by adding our favorite liqueur. Our packaging suggests adding Kahlua to our drinking chocolate, but the possibilities are vast. Amaretto, peppermint schnapps, bourbon, or high-quality Jamaican rum like the Meyer’s we use in our ginger truffle all blend nicely into our cocoa.

In addition, our truffles can be combined with other warm drinks for a fulfilling winter lift. Because we endeavor to produce chocolates that leave a deep, enduring aftertaste, the taste of one small truffle from Plum Brook Chocolate can linger as you finish your whole cup of tea. Of course, you’re welcome to have more!

Here are some tea-and-chocolate pairings that we recommend:

  • Ginger Rum + Tazo “Zen” (a green tea infused with lemongrass)
  • Sugar Shed Maple + blueberry tea (available from Celestial Seasonings and others)
  • Winter Night + Earl Gray, or a stronger black tea

We hope that you can stay warm this January with Plum Brook Chocolate!

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