Splurging at Vosage on International Chocolate Day

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One of my goals for this year’s trip to Las Vegas is to visit as many chocolatier shops as possible. Well, more like as many as I can afford. Today I stopped at Vosges Haut-Chocolat in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace, which was unintentionally appropriate as today is also International Chocolate Day.

Why unintentionally appropriate? Well, I had forgotten about International Chocolate Day, and the Vosges business card provided by the lovely and knowledgable Kara has the tagline “Travel the world through chocolate“. Like my name, it couldn’t have worked out better if I had tried (that’s actually a quote from my Mom about the translation of my name–which includes donkeys. And that’s probably more than you need to know).

Back to Kara and traveling the world through chocolate. I had heard so much about Vosges’ exotic chocolate bars, but once I was there, I couldn’t make up my mind about which ones I wanted to try. I certainly couldn’t afford all of them. Luckily, I found the Mini Exotic Chocolate Bar Library for $25. It contains nine 1/2 ounce candy bars, including: Black Pearl, Red Fire, Naga, Amalfi, Barcelona, Woolloomooloo, Oaxaca, Bapchi’s Caramel Toffee, and Mo’s Milk Chocolate Bacon Bar. I haven’t decided if I’m sharing any of these with anyone as they’re tiny little bars.

While ringing me up, Kara talked me into sampling one of the truffles. This was the first time that I’ve ever picked out a food item based on nothing else other than its name.

Funk and Disco.

How could you not eat a truffle called Funk and Disco?

It was wonderful and I had to have more.

So… I ended up purchasing a four-piece box of truffles. And because the Taleggio cheese truffles were too large to fit in that box, I had to get another set of two (I really wanted to try it).

I’d have also walked out with the Red Fire Toffee (sooooo tasty!!!), but they only sell it by the half pound. If I win another few games, I’ll grab some to take home.

NOTE: I would like to take a moment to point out that our room is not set up for taking photographs of candy. The lighting sucks, as does my photography skills, and I had to use my pillow case as the backdrop. Also, chunky, serrated knives are not very good at slicing tempered chocolate with delicate centers without mangling them a bit.

Now to introduce the truffles:

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Funk and Disco
Buttermilk banana pudding + vanilla powder + milk chocolate truffle (41% cacao)

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It was pretty damn good, which is how Kara suckered me into purchasing more than I originally planned. Dusted with vanilla powder, the banana pudding flavor was nicely strong and the slight tang of the buttermilk kept the milk chocolate from being too sweet. (Now I need to find out if adding a little buttercream will improve my banana pudding recipe.)
 
Ambrosia
Australian macadamia nuts + Cointreau + white chocolate

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I’m a sucker for good white chocolate and anything with orange, so the Ambrosia truffle was an obvious choice. I’d have preferred a few more of the chopped macadamia nuts, but other than that, it was very smooth and non-greasy with a light taste of triple sec (I hate it when all you can taste is the booze. If I wanted that, I’d be drinking instead of eating truffles). Definitely one that I’d purchase again.
 
Tlan Nacu
Mexican vanilla bean + Venezuelan 65% dark chocolate

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This one had a card with a full description. “Tlan Nacu, meaning “good heart,” is the name of a small vanilla bean plantation in thetown of Papantia on the Gulf Coast of Mexico. Plump vanilla beans are infused in warm cream imparting a very distinct Mexican vanilla flavor. Dark chocolate and hand-picked vanilla beans…simply enchanting!”

I’m in love. Dark, velvety chocolate love. I’m going back for a box of Tlan Nacu before leaving Vegas. (I only ate half of this one. I’m saving the other half for a perfect moment.)
 
Balsamico
12-year aged balsamic vinegar from Modena + dark chocolate + Sicilian hazelnuts

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The one thing I’ve noticed about the truffles so far is that the additional flavors don’t overpower the chocolate. That’s important, especially when you’re adding vinegar to the equation–even if it’s balsamic vinegar. While I selected the Balsamico because I was curious about it, I’d definitely eat a few more of them.
 
Rooster
Taleggio cheese + organic walnuts + Tahitian vanilla bean + bittersweet dark chocolate

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The Rooster has a fairly long description that starts off reading like a description of wine and ends up asking you to open your mind and deconstruct what you know about chocolate. Warning: When someone starts asking you to open your mind before trying something… it may be time to rethink what you’re getting ready to do.

The truffle center didn’t immediately melt when hitting the tongue like the other selections, probably due to the inclusion of cheese. The cheese was slightly strong and salty, and it worked surprisingly well with the bittersweet chocolate. While I wouldn’t purchase the Rooster again, it was interesting and I was still more than willing to eat both of the ones I purchased.

Overall, this experience has taught me that Katrina Markoff, Vosges Haut-Chocolat’s owner and chocolatier, has a way of making exotic, and sometimes extremely odd, ingredients work with chocolate. At their best, they’ll have your eyes rolling up in the back of your head while and making obscene moaning noises (you–not your eyes); and at their worst, they’re still edible (utterly unlike a bleu cheese truffle I purchased in Austin).

I’d even give the Olio D’Oliva truffle a try, and that means a lot since I absolutely despise Kalamata olives.

FINAL NOTE: If anyone from Vosges reads this, please, please either give Kara a raise or at least let her know how amazing she is. Kara was willing to answer any questions I had without making me feel like a complete idiot, and she’s obviously great at up-selling chocolate–which should make any company happy.

Wow, mango IS better than apricot!

Last year I tried a new recipe from a Betty Crocker Christmas Cookies book from 2010 (you know, the little ones they sell right up by the cash registers at grocery stores. I’m a sucker for those). The Apricot-Chai Almond Bark recipe had a lot of potential, but it didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped. The dried apricots made it rather bitter, and the almond topping ended up all over the other cookies and candies. Sadly, it was the only thing left when I took the cookie tray home from work.

This year I changed it up a bit and it turned out pretty good. In fact, I’m eating the little reject pieces for breakfast as I write this. Since the annual hunt for the hand-written gingerbread cookie recipe* every December is such a pain in the ass–I’m setting down this new recipe so I don’t forget it.

If you’d rather try the original recipe, here’s the link to it on the Betty Crocker site: Apricot-Chai Almond Bark

And here’s my take on it:

Mango-Chai Almond Bark

1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
24 oz vanilla-flavored candy coating (almond bark), chopped
1/4 cup mango nectar
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup finely chopped dried mangos

  1. Sprinkle almonds in ungreased heavy skillet. Cook over medium heat 5 to 7 minutes, stirring frequently until nuts begin to brown, then stirring constantly until nuts are light brown. Cool 10 minutes. In food processor, process almonds and coconut until finely chopped; set aside.
  2. Line 15x10x1-inch pan with waxed paper. In medium microwavable bowl, microwave 12 oz of the candy coating on High 1 minute; stir. Microwave in 15-second intervals, stirring after each, until melted. Quickly stir in the almond and coconut mixture. Spread evenly in pan. Refrigerate 15 minutes or until set.
  3. In small bowl, mix mango nectar, cinnamon, allspice, cardamom, vanilla, lemon juice and lemon peel; set aside.
  4. In medium microwavable bowl, microwave remaining 12 oz candy coating on High 1 minute; stir. Microwave in 15-second intervals, stirring after each, until melted. Quickly stir in mango nectar mixture and dried mangos.
  5. Pour and spread over chilled bark. Refrigerate at least 1 hour. Cut diagonally into one-inch diamond-shaped pieces.

Makes approximately 48 servings

Variation: I changed up the measurement for the almonds from the original recipe because I had a lot of leftover unsweetened coconut from a birthday cake last month. I’m still not sure the inclusion of the coconut added anything or not (toasting it didn’t make much of a difference either), so next year I may change it back to 3/4 cup of almonds and leave the coconut out completely.

I also doubled this recipe for my cookies trays. Yes, it’s really that good now.
 
 
*Hopefully I’ll finally convert the measurements for the gingerbread cookies and get it added to my working cookbook so every time I want to make awesome gingerbread cookies I don’t have to hunt down that tiny slip of paper with the recipe my old pastry chef scribbled down for me.

A Halloween Candy Corn Review

Before I begin, I just want everyone to know that I am ALMOST sick of candy corn now. Not quite sick enough to give away my stash of the winning brand, but enough to unload the 9 remaining bags on my coworkers.

I reviewed a combination of flavored candy corn (flavors other than the regular one everyone is familiar with), and the normal everyday variety of candy corn but from different manufacturers. They are not reviewed in any particular order.

  1. Gummy Candy Corn (Target Gourmet brand): I don’t know why I bothered since it’s not really candy corn, but I was curious to see what it tasted like.  Not good.  It was sort of sour and not much of a candy corn flavor. It’s better than eating a gummy eyeball, but not by much.
    Gummy Candy Corn (1)
  2. Pumpkin Pie Candy Corn (Target Gourmet brand): Most of the Target Gourmet candy corn had a softer texture than the regular stuff.  It tasted less like pumpkin pie and more like candy corn with cinnamon and all the other standard pumpkin pie spices.  I didn’t care for it at all, but some of my coworkers have been contentedly munching on it.  Unlike the other flavors of this brand – it left an odd coating on the tongue.
    Pumpkin Pie Candy Corn (2)
  3. S’mores Candy Corn (Target Gourmet brand): Once the bag was opened, all I could smell was brown sugar with a hell of a lot of molasses. The first blast of flavor was ass gas… sweet, sweet ass gas.  The second wasn’t as bad, but I didn’t try for a third.
    S'mores Candy Corn (3)
    4. Chocolate Covered Green Apple Candy Corn (Target Gourmet brand): The bag had a combination of the Green Apple candy corn without chocolate, and some completely coated in chocolate. The plain candy tasted like the combination of a green apple Jolly Ranchers and candy corn. The chocolate covered version was pretty darn good. The bag currently resides in a desk drawer where I can sneak it out without having to share with my coworkers.
    Chocolate Covered Green Apple Candy Corn (4)
    5. Blood Orange Candy Corn (Target Gourmet brand): Sadly it didn’t taste anything like a blood orange. It was everyday fake-orange flavored candy. Okay for mixing with regular candy corn, but not great on its own.
    Blood Orange Candy Corn (5)
    6. Strawberry Cotton Candy Candy Corn (Target Gourmet brand): It actually tasted like cotton candy. Sadly, that only came out at the end after almost being overpowered by the mandatory artificial flavor that everyone uses when you want candy to taste like strawberries. It was also way too sweet, but then again so is cotton candy, so I’m not sure if that’s good or bad here. After trying this one – I’d like to see a regular cotton candy candy corn without the strawberry.
    Strawberry Cotton Candy Candy Corn (6)
    7. Hill Country Fare Candy Corn: Hill Country Fare is the low end house brand at the HEB grocery stores in central Texas (mid range is HEB Brand, and high end is Central Market). Do not purchase this candy corn. Please, please do not even think about purchasing this unless you hate the person you’re giving it to. It was remaniscient of plastic and cardboard soaked in bug spray. I threw this one away because I don’t hate anyone that much.
    Hill Country Fare Candy Corn (7)
    8. Brach’s Candy Corn (made with real honey): It took two bags of Brach’s Candy Corn to get this review written. The first bag was emptied before the review actually started, and the second kept me going in between some of the nastier entries. Tonight a friend introduced me to the best way to eat Brach’s candy corn – add a can of salted cashews to the bowl/bag and eat both at the same time. I will now need a third bag to make sure that I wasn’t imagining it’s salty-sweet goodness.
    Brach's Candy Corn (8)
    9. Market Pantry Candy Corn (Target house brand sold in bulk): This candy is 2/3’s the size of Brach’s, and the flavor was only about half as much. It was sorta like eating a wax copy of candy corn.
    Market Pantry Candy Corn (9)
    10. Lammes Candies Candy Corn: These looked exactly like the Market Pantry Candy Corn (and were the same size), but they tasted much better. Not quite as good as Brach’s, but close.
     Lammes Candy Corn (10)
    11. Brach’s Milk Maid Caramel Candy Corn: It tastes like cheap caramel candy. I assume they’re supposed to taste like Brach’s Milk Maid candy, but in this case, that’s not a good thing.
    Brach's Milk Maid Caramel Candy Corn (11)
    12. Brach’s Indian Corn: This tastes like candy corn with a little caramel and chocolate added. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I guess I could try a few more.
    Brach's Indian Corn Candy (12)