Sal de Maras Caramels

February 26, 2016 by Plum Brook Chocolate

This week we made a fresh batch of salted caramel topped with Inca salt brought to me by my brother-in-law John and his wife Helen who recently returned from a trip to Peru. Maras is a town along the slopes of the Sacred Valley of the Incas and known for its salt evaporation ponds. People here still collect salt from the ponds just as they did thousands of years ago.

 

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Peruvian women collecting salt from Maras salt pond. (photo courtesy of JC Dorgan)

 

Since pre-Inca times, salt has been obtained in Maras by evaporating salty water from a local subterranean stream. This highly salty water emerges at a spring from the underground stream. The flow is directed into an intricate system of tiny channels down onto the several hundred ancient terraced ponds. Maras is near the city of Cusco that was once the capital of the Inca Empire. Set at an altitude of 11,150 feet, it’s the gateway to the Inca Trail that ends at the mountain citadel of Machu Picchu.

Peru and cacao share an age-old intimate relationship. It has been said that the cacao shrub originated in the foothills of the Andes where it was domesticated then introduced by the Maya in Central America and Mexico.  Today Peruvian cacao is recognized for its superb flavor and exports are on the rise.

So it seemed very fitting that we give this ancient salt a try!  Flor de Sal is a very robust and salty salt, more so than the milder French Fleur de Sel we usually use to top our caramels.

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Plum Brook Chocolate Salted Caramels topped with Maras “Flor de Sal”. 

 

We love the taste of Maras salt on our caramels!

UPDATE!  Our salted caramels with Maras salt received the blue ribbon – first place – in Connecticut from the CT Specialty Foods Awards 2016!  Whoa!

Farm to Table: The Litchfield Market

November 2, 2015 by Plum Brook Chocolate

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Tonight I roasted heirloom root vegetables from Wild Carrot Farm bartered with some Toffee-Almond Bark. Fresh and delicious! I’m excited to be back at the Litchfield Hills Farm Fresh Market. It’s my 3rd season here and I’m humbled to be among farmers and artisans who are so passionate and good at what they do. I feel like I’m among the royalty of Litchfield County’s farm to table movement…and I am!

It is here that I’ve met some very important people in my chocolate life. Kay Carroll is our market master who is responsible for running things when she is not tending to her maple syrup farm, Brookside Farm II. It is her rich robust dark amber syrup that popped my Sugar Shed Maple Truffle, which eventually led to it taking 3rd place at the CT Specialty Food Awards this year.

 

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Kay Carroll, Market Master at the indoor Market

 

And this is where I met my friend Jim Baker while he was helping his mom Janet set up her honey table (Berry Ledges Apiary).  Jim is the brilliant wine master at Hopkins Vineyard. Our meeting led to co-developing a luxurious Cab Franc truffle that opened the door to meeting the wonderful folks at Hopkins Vineyard.  I’ve had many good times there.

It is here that I met Howard Rosenfeld, owner of The Smithy Store in New Preston and Chef Brendon from At The Corner in Litchfield who both frequent the market as friend and guest chef respectively. PlumBrook Chocolate is now on the shelves in both of these shops!

 

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Raspberry Jam Truffles

 

Ron and Fran, my kitchen landlords at Winding Drive Jams & Jelly are here and it is there seedless fresh jam that gives my Raspberry Truffle its vibrant flavor.  I could fill a page with interesting people who frequent the Market on Saturdays!

This is definitely not your run of the mill farmers market, thanks to Kay’s creativity and attention to detail. Cooking Light Magazine named it one of the 50 best markets nationwide and after a visit or two it is obvious why. In addition to incredible farmers and artisans who offer fresh produce, jams, pickles, breads, maple syrup, honey, natural bison and beef, and more, there is often a guest chef and talented musicians to add spice.

Vendor requirements are very specific with emphasis placed on local, fresh and high quality with a willingness to engage and educate customers about your product. (This is right up my alley since I love to talk about chocolate!) Everyone is so knowledgeable and an expert in their field. I aspire to live up to their expectations and am honored to be in their presence.

My fellow vendors readily share their expertise and support each other. Regular and new customers visit my table each week and I meet so many wonderful and diverse people. From 9 to 96 years old, it is fun to talk about chocolate with everyone.

It has been said that “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear”. I am fortunate to have new teachers every week in my fellow vendors and market customers. It is yet another road in which this amazing journey of chocolate has led me. One of making new friends, gaining a deeper knowledge of the rich farm to table culture in Litchfield County and how it has become such a important and popular movement.

Please visit all of us at the Litchfield Hills Farm Fresh Indoor Market this season and take home some of the best that Connecticut has to offer. Hope to see you there!

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http://litchfieldhillsfarmfresh-ct.org

Click here to see when Plum Brook Chocolate is at the market.

As local as it gets!

March 22, 2015 by Plum Brook Chocolate

Snow showers on the first day of spring?!  Even with winter’s seemingly endless grip, signs of the season are all around us. We all have our favorites. I must admit top of my list of early signs is baseball spring training and opening day.

But spring’s arrival is most elegantly ushered in by its many signs in nature. One of my customers says his favorite is the arrival of the beautiful rose-breasted grosbeaks on his office feeder in Woodbury.  Every year without fail they arrive during the last week of April, neither earlier nor later. Such are the joys and mysteries of the season.

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As I write this, Western Connecticut’s sugar maples are dotted with sap buckets giving way to maple syrup celebrations and announcing the arrival of warmer days. Maple sugaring time, a New England tradition, is underway.

In Woodbury, Flander’s Nature Center taps over 300 maple trees around town to make their syrup.  Its intense maple flavor and rich buttery taste is absolutely perfect on pancakes!  Which is why their annual pancake breakfast – complete with fresh maple syrup – is always a much-anticipated tradition in Woodbury. Demonstrations are being held at their Sugar House this month.

In Litchfield, Brookside Farm II makes four grades of maple syrup the old fashioned way with delicious results. Sap is collected from their sugar bush of 500 trees.  Using a high-efficiency oil-fired burner, their production process yields 100% pure organic maple syrup.  It is Brookside Farm II’s dark amber syrup that makes our Sugar Shed Maple Truffle “pop” with flavor.

At Plum Brook we proudly support our local community and the communities of cacao farmers, sourcing local ingredients and fair trade certified chocolate to craft our delectable creations.  It isn’t just about great chocolate, but about enriching the community through chocolate.  Caring for our community and about communities as far away as South America and West Africa and all the places where cacao is grown and traded is important to us. Folks here in the Northwest Corner and elsewhere in rural Connecticut know that choices about how and where things are grown and produced can make big differences for local communities wherever they may be.

Our Sugar Shed Maple Truffle is but one example of this. This is why we combine fine, ethically produced chocolate with the freshest locally produced and grown ingredients we can find. Love and passion for what we do is included! We think the results speak for themselves and hope you will too.

“No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.” – Proverb

Enjoy!

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.

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 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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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