Tuesday, May 22, 2018

K + M Extravirgin Chocolate: Extraordinary Chocolate from Exceptional People

At the four-way culinary intersection of Art, Passion, Experience, and Science, world renowned
Chef Thomas Keller in Napa, California and Armando Manni in Florence, Italy have created an award winning chocolate experience with K + M Extravirgin Chocolate. Recently Frank Price and I met with Chef Keller and Chi Bui, chocolatier/chef, at the Napa Factory. What a treat! The process was as fascinating and nuanced as the chocolate tasting itself.

Keller and Manni's passion for excellence, the art of combining ingredients, the decades of combined food and culinary experience and the science details and data of cooking have been combined by K + M to deliver a series of sensational chocolate bars that meets their strict standards in terms of flavor and taste--and have the added boost of providing remarkable health benefits. Together, Keller and Manni have spent the past five years on a unique mission: crafting the world’s finest chocolate and one that retains the significant antioxidant health benefits of cocoa beans. The result of their collaboration: K+M Extravirgin Chocolate. K + M Extravirgin Chocolate delivers a fabulous taste, a silky mouthfeel, and has built-in health benefits.

The story of K + M Extravirgin Chocolate is quite remarkable. Keller and Manni avoided the seemingly traditional methods of manufacturing dark chocolate that reduces the level of the antioxidants. At the University of Florence, their team researched the multifaceted manufacturing process to create a unique process that uses science to deliver to the consumer a delicious chocolate with many of the health benefits still intact.

Thomas Keller and Armando Manni worked for five years to find a proprietary process to reduce the typical flavonoid loss by their specific and scientific process of making a delicious chocolate bar while making a silky smooth bar. Their collaboration has resulted in winning in the Chocolate Dark category at the prestigious Specialty Food Association (SFA) SoFi Awards.

Chi Bui is the head chocolatier of Thomas Keller and Armando Manni’s K+M Extravirgin Chocolate. She oversees production, bean sourcing, product development and K+M’s ongoing research with the University of Florence. At a tour at their factory in Napa, Chi Bui, the Head Chocolatier/Chef described their reliable network of knowledgeable chocolate growers whose beans are already high in aroma and high in volatility. Sourcing their cacao beans has been a major priority.

From many single origin cocoa pods that are harvested, dried, and fermented, the beans are sent off to the laboratory in Florence where they are tested. Each step of drying and fermenting helps to build on the qualities of chocolate that are most desired among chocolatiers. These samples are tested to see which will potentially ultimately deliver the desired aroma, special volatility, and high flavonoid content that Keller and Manni desire. The farmers of the selected beans are paid a fair market price and these farmers than become partners as growers and also as part of the supply chain.

The beans are then sent to the factory in Napa. The K + M team gives special attention to each stage of production. They start by sifting and sorting through the newly arrived beans by hand. The single origin beans are sourced from Ecuador, Nicaragua, Madagascar, and Peru. They may visually look the same to the untrained eye, but not to the sorters. The length of time for each process in the factory is determined by the type of bean that is harvested.

At a temperature deemed the optimum for each of the single origin beans, the beans are roasted and ground into nibs. At this point the nibs don’t taste like a chocolate bar, but the chocolate aroma is quiet recognizable. Cacao is beginning to become chocolate. At each step in the process at the state of the art factory, the duration of time and the temperature or pressure is adjusted according to K + M scientific research. Science determines what is best for specific beans to insure that the desired aroma, volatility, and flavonoid level remains high. Single origin beans command respect and diligence from the K + M team.

There is an almost magical moment in the process. Most bar manufacturers re-add the cocoa butter that was squeezed out of the cocoa beans, cocoa butter being a byproduct of the process. But as Mr. Keller explained, reintroducing the cocoa butter later in the process, adds nothing to the flavor profile. Through research, K + M have discovered that the cocoa butter may inhibit the taste buds from fully sensing the variety of flavors. This is where the unique Tuscan extra virgin olive oil comes in.

It is widely recognized that Mr. Manni makes a direct contribution to the entire process. His organic extra virgin olive oil, made by using wine making technology, is added to the mixture. The addition of a silky single origin oil adds a light palate-pleasing and mouth-feel quality that enhances the chocolate. The Tuscan oil opens up the taste buds. The extra virgin olive oil also adds flavonoids to the chocolate. Olive oil is a tastidious ingredient to work with. It's sensitive  to light and oxygen and heat.

Other ingredients? Very little organic sugar is added. The conching time is determined by scientific research to again arrive at the optimum health and flavor benefits. The tempering stage is important to give the much desired cracking sound to the bar when it is snapped in half. The temperature is critical so that the chocolate crystals are lined up just right.

The flavor profiles of each bar are well defined, well balanced, yet filled with nuances that allows the consumer to enjoy a smooth and velvety texture. The tasting notes are rich and elegant. All the chocolates are great, but the dark chocolates are exceptional and intense in taste and flavor. For the milk and dark milk chocolate, organic non-fat milk, cocoa butter and organic cane sugar create a fruity flavor forward bar. The extra virgin olive oil is blended in so well and is important for the smooth mouth-feel.

The K + M brand set out to create a chocolate bar with exquisite taste and remarkable health qualities. The team strove without wavering on quality to maintain the high level of antioxidants found in the unprocessed bean while keeping the aromatic flavors and the volatility to allow the consumer to enjoy those flavors. The result: a remarkable chocolate bar from start to finish.

Stay tuned for a review of the sensational chocolate bars in a future installment.

This post was written in collaboration with chocolate expert Frank Price. Frank Price spent 3 years in Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), the world’s largest cacao-growing country. Frank gives seminars and tastings on chocolate to corporate and non-profits groups, as well as contributing articles to chocolate blogs and magazines. He has been a judge at the International Chocolate Salons for over 10 years. Frank is a member of the Fine Chocolate Industry Association (FCIA).

Monday, May 21, 2018

STRAWBERRIES & CREAM ICE CREAM PIE: National Strawberry & Cream Day

Today is Strawberries & Cream Day! One way to celebrate would be to stuff strawberries with whipped cream and dip in chocolate. Yum! But here's another way to celebrate the day -- Strawberries & Cream Ice Cream Pie with Chocolate Crust. This would be perfect for your Memorial Day dessert.

Strawberries & Cream Ice Cream Pie with Chocolate Cookie Crust

1 Chocolate Crust
3 cups Strawberry ice cream or Ben & Jerry's Strawberries & Cream ice cream, softened

Whipped Cream
1 cup Sliced fresh Strawberries

Chocolate Cookie Crust
30 Chocolate wafers
5 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
Pinch of salt

Directions for Cookie Crust
Whirl cookies in food processor until finely ground.
Put crumbs in mixing bowl and add butter and salt until crumbs are moistened.
Press mixture across bottom of 8-inch pie plate and up sides. Pack tightly.
Bake in 350 degree oven for 6 minutes.
Cool before filling.

Directions for Pie
Be sure and cool crust before adding ice cream
Spread ice cream evenly over crust.
Smooth top.
Put pie in freezer until solid (or until ready to serve - for up to 3 days)
Before serving, top with whipped cream and fresh sliced strawberries.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

DEVIL'S FOOD CAKE vs CHOCOLATE CAKE: National Devil's Food Cake Day!

People always ask what's the difference between Devil's Food Cake and Chocolate Cake. It's a good question, and there are many different interpretations. Some recipes use cocoa, some melted chocolate, some add coffee or hot liquid, and some increase the baking soda. And, since it's National Devil's Food Cake Day, here are some answers.

According to Wikipedia:

Because of differing recipes and changing ingredient availability over the course of the twentieth century, it is difficult to precisely qualify what distinguishes Devil's food from the more standard chocolate cake. The traditional Devil's food cake is made with shredded beets much the way a carrot cake is made with carrots. The beets add moisture and sweetness to the cake, helping it to be very rich. The red of the beets slightly colors the cake red and due to the richness of the cake it became known as the Devil's food. 

O.k. That's a beet cake or a 'natural' red velvet cake, and I make a good one, but it's not a Devil's Food Cake in my opinion.  

Devil's food cake is generally more moist and airy than other chocolate cakes, and often uses cocoa as opposed to chocolate for the flavor as well as coffee. The lack of melted chocolate and the addition of coffee is typically what distinguishes a Devil's food cake from a chocolate cake, though some recipes call for all, resulting in an even richer chocolate flavor. The use of hot, or boiling water as the cake's main liquid, rather than milk, is also a common difference. 

Devil's food cake is sometimes distinguished from other chocolate cakes by the use of additional baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) which raises the pH level and makes the cake a deeper and darker mahogany color. Devil's food cake incorporates butter (or a substitute), egg whites, flour (while some chocolate cakes are flourless) and less egg than other chocolate cakes. Devil's food cake was introduced in the United States in the early 20th century with the recipe in print as early as 1905. 

A similar cake, the red velvet cake, is closely linked to a Devil's food cake, and in some turn of the century cookbooks the two names may have been interchangeable. Most red velvet cakes today use red food coloring, but even without it, the reaction of acidic vinegar and buttermilk tends to better reveal the red anthocyanin in the cocoa. When used in cakes, acid causes reddening of cocoa powder when baked, and before more alkaline "Dutch Processed" cocoa was widely available, the red color would have been more pronounced. This natural tinting may have been the source for the name "Red Velvet" as well as "Devil's Food" and a long list of similar names for chocolate cakes.

I'm partial to Devil's Food Cake.

Here are several mid-century recipes. Sorry about the light print on the first cookbook.

I've posted many Devil's Food Cake recipes in the past, but today I have four mid-century recipes.

The first recipe is for Cocoa Devil's Food Cake from How To Get the Most Out of Your Sunbeam Mixmaster (1950). I posted a "Mix-Easy" Devil's Food Cake for Mother's Day a few years ago, and you might want to look at that one, too. It's pretty much the same as the following recipe. The following page in the Sunbeam Mixmaster cookbook pamphlet is great for today's post since there's a Chocolate Cake recipe next to the Devil's Food Cake recipe.

This same cookbook has a recipe for Black Devil's Food Cake, so now we have Cocoa Devil's Food Cake, Black Devil's Food Cake, and a Red Devil's Food Cake. As you see, the following Black Devil's Food cake is made with cocoa and with the addition of strong hot coffee or boiling water.

The Red Devil's Food Cake is a variation on the Chocolate Fudge Cake on the same page, and to save space, they didn't reprint the entire recipe! It's a very small pamphlet. The baking soda is increased, but otherwise it's the same cake. This recipe is from the Recipes for your Hamilton Beach Mixer-17 Delicious New Cakes (1947). Don't you just love that someone wrote good next to the recipe? It's the same recipe I posted (but from a different pamphlet) on Devil's Food Cake Day for Mother's Day. 

And one more Red Devil's Food Cake from the same mid-century period. This one is from Kate Smith Chooses her 55 Favorite Ann Pillsbury CAKE RECIPES.

Enough Devil's Food Cake recipes? Never! Have a look at Martha Washington's Devil's Food Cake from Capitol Hill Cooks: Recipes from the White House by Linda Bauer. It's a great Buttermilk Devil's Food Cake!

So what's the difference between Devil's Food Cake and Chocolate Cake? You decide.

Thursday, May 17, 2018


Unless you're living in the back of beyond, you're aware of the Royal Wedding this weekend of Prince Harry and American Meghan Markle. The wedding couple are departing from tradition and not having a fruitcake for their wedding cake. Good for them. Alas, it's not chocolate either. Nevertheless, I'm all for lemon. They have chosen a lemon elderflower cake. I've seen recipes all over the Internet for this multi-layer cake. One of my friends has made it several times, tweaking it each time so she has it right for her wedding celebration here in the States. When Prince William got married, I posted his groom's cake which was a chocolate biscuit cake, a favorite of his grandmother, the Queen, too. Alas, I have not seen anything posted about Harry's groom's cake.

I'm not one for layer cakes, so after much searching I found great recipes on My Recipes and The Queen of Scones's blog for an Elderflower Lemon Bundt Cake. If you've never visited these sites, you must! I chose the Queen of Scone's adapted recipe. I love it because 1) it's a bundt cake and I love Bundts 2) it's easy! Two of my favorite things. You'll want to go to the original recipe site for photos and tips.

Just an FYI: I used Meyer lemons in this recipe. I have several Meyer Lemon trees in my yard, and I love the distinctive taste!



Bundt Cake
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
3 cups sugar (or caster sugar if you have it)
5 large eggs room temperature
2 Tbsp elderflower syrup (or liqueur)
1 Tbsp Lemon zest from 2 lemons
3 cups all purpose flour

Lemon Elderflower Glaze
1/2 cup powdered sugar (more as needed)
2 Tbsp elderflower syrup
2 - 3 tsp lemon juice  (more if needed)

Elderflower Lemon Cream
2 cups heavy whipping cream
4 Tbsp elderflower syrup  (more as desired)
1 teaspoon clear Vanilla (not vanilla bean)
3 - 4 tsp Lemon zest, freshly zested
1/2 cup powdered sugar  (more if desired)
Dried Elderflowers
1 or 2 lemons, freshly zested
(Add fresh lemon zest and dried Elderflowers just before serving)


Bundt Cake
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Prepare Bundt pan with oil and flour.
Beat butter on medium speed with stand mixer until creamy. Gradually add sugar, and beat until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition.
Stir in liqueur and zest. Add flour and Elderflower syrup alternately to butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour, beating on low speed just until blended after each addition.
Pour batter into a prepared 10-inch Bundt pan.
Bake for 60 minutes: Tent with non-stick aluminum foil after 45 - 50 minutes to prevent excessive browning, if necessary.
Cool in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes; invert cake onto rack, and cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Lemon Elderflower Glaze
Add glaze ingredients together. Mix icing sugar, syrup, and lemon juice together in bowl until reaching desired consistency. If glaze is too thin, add more icing sugar. If too thick, add  few more drops of lemon juice or Syrup.
Spoon Lemon-Elderflower Glaze over cake.

Now to top it off, you must make Lemon Elderflower Cream!

Lemon Elderflower Cream
Add all ingredients but sugar to very clean, preferably chilled mixing bowl. Whisk with stand mixer {fitted with whisk attachment} or use handheld mixer until Cream starts to hold stiff peaks. Add sugar to taste and continue whisking to achieve desired peaks.

Before serving, sprinkle a bit of lemon zest and dried Elderflowers on top of Elderflower Cream. It's a wedding, after all!