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8 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Chocolate-Makers

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Americans consume nearly 9.5 pounds of chocolate per capita annually, with December being one of the busiest seasons for chocolatiers. The sweet treat is made from the fruit of the cacao tree, native to Central and South America, although it’s now grown in regions all around the equator. When the fruit is harvested, the sweet, pulpy flesh is scooped out and fermented before the seeds are separated and dried. These seeds are the cacao beans, which are roasted (usually), ground, and processed into chocolate.

According to Michael and Sophie Coe’s book The True History of Chocolate, for most of its history chocolate was a drink. The Maya were the first to grow cacao millennia ago, drinking it hot or cold and blended with flavors such as honey, chili, or vanilla. Chocolate came to Europe in the 16th century, where it became wildly popular in part because it was the first caffeinated beverage introduced to the continent, predating tea and coffee. The first chocolate bars didn't come around until the 19th century, when, as Deborah Cadbury writes in her book Chocolate Wars, chocolate makers in Europe devised the process of blending ground cacao beans with extra cocoa butter (the fat present in the beans), as well as sugar, dairy, and other ingredients.

The process of making high-quality chocolate continues to be innovated today. Mental_floss spoke with Rhonda Kave of Roni-Sue’s Chocolates, Peter Gray of Raaka Chocolate, and Andrew Black of MAST Chocolate—three New York-based bean-to-bar chocolate makers—for their insights into this ancient confection.

1. KNOWING WHERE CACAO BEANS COME FROM IS IMPORTANT.

Most mass-produced chocolate is made from what's known as “commodity” cacao. Kave moved away from commodity cacao because she felt there wasn’t enough transparency in how the chocolate was sourced—much commodity cacao is grown on the Ivory Coast, where child labor is used. Gray feels similarly: “Bean-to-bar brings a lot of focus on to sourcing. You’re finding out where it comes from and letting the consumer know what they’re getting. For us, the most important step is sourcing.”

2. CACAO FROM DIFFERENT PLACES TASTES DIFFERENTLY—LIKE WINE.

Whereas commodity chocolate is made from beans from multiple regions that are blended to create a consistent product, being bean-to-bar—which means a company starts with unroasted cacao beans and oversees the process through to finished chocolate—entails embracing the variations in single-origin cacao beans. Not only do beans grown in different areas taste differently, but cacao harvests from the same farm can taste different during different seasons. Terroir, or the qualities of the place where chocolate is grown, can affect acidity, fat content, aromatics, and more.

“Where the region is, what grows around it, the nutrients in the soil … that all determines what the cacao tastes like,” Black explains. For example, he says the cacao that MAST sources from Madagascar tends to be really fruity and acidic, with a taste like fresh berries, while their beans from Tanzania are more earthy, toasty, and nutty, and have a higher fat content.

3. THERE WERE THREE MAJOR VARIETIES OF CACAO—BUT THAT’S CHANGING.

Generally speaking, there are only three varieties of cacao—criollo, forastero, and trinitario. (Most of the world’s production is made from forastero.)

“But that’s kinda all blown up with genetic profiling,” Kave says, pointing to the work being done by the Heirloom Cacao Preservation Fund. “What they’re doing is going out into the field in all the various cacao-growing regions of the world, getting samples of cacao people find pleasing, or have an interesting flavor, and then genotyping the trees.” The group hopes to understand each tree, so they can breed for certain qualities, or blend the chocolate in different ways. “There are a lot of different varieties of cacao now; much more subvarieties than previously thought. ... It’s kinda a cool time to be interested in cacao."

4. TWO BARS LABELED WITH THE SAME PERCENTAGE WON’T TASTE THE SAME.

When a bar says it’s 60% or 80%, the percentage refers to the amount of cacao solids in the bar. In general, a bar with a higher percentage is more chocolatey, but can also be more bitter. But two bars with the same percentage won’t taste the same: Not only do beans from different areas taste unique, but the remaining percentage can be made up of any combination of sugar, dairy, emulsifiers, and other ingredients. Kave mentioned a 60% from Brazil that uses goat’s milk and tastes vastly different from any other 60% bar on the market.

5. INSPIRATION COMES FROM INGREDIENTS.

Kave is known for the bold flavors of her truffles, which include pomegranate, sour cherry, key lime pie, pear-walnut-gorgonzola, pickle, and many more. Kave says, “I love to go to different markets and different shops, like Kalustyan’s on Lexington Avenue.” Kalustyan's is known to New Yorkers as an ingredients-focused store with an enormous spice selection, a huge offering of exotic imported foods, and even fresh produce like hatch chilies and makrut limes. “I can go in there and go ‘what the hell is this? I need to learn how to make something from this.’”

Raaka offers pink sea salt, ghost pepper, and smoked chai tea chocolate bars. Their motto is “Be as innovative as possible.” They’ve started a club called “First Nibs.” Every month, subscribers get two flavors that “are a little wild and experimental,” according to Gray—like porcini mushroom or pine needles.

MAST, meanwhile, has a six-bar herb collection (with flavors like bay laurel, lemongrass, and sage) that Black says is inspired by springtime trips to the greenmarket, as well as a “fruity, savory” olive oil bar. But Black notes that adding flavors to chocolate can be tricky, since cacao has a strong taste on its own: “Sometimes you’ll add a flavor in there that you think may work well, but you can’t even taste it because the chocolate is too overpowering.”

6. STORE YOUR CHOCOLATE DRY—IF YOU’RE STORING IT AT ALL.

“You should always store your chocolate at room temperature,” Black notes. If you put it in the fridge, condensation can develop, and “water is the enemy of chocolate.”

Gray agrees. “It’s good to store between 55-70 degrees. But I’m always baffled by people who don’t eat it within a couple days ... at the most.”

7. YOU SHOULD EAT CHOCOLATE BECAUSE IT’S BIGGER THAN YOU.

Gray feels an almost spiritual connection with chocolate. “It’s something that’s been consumed for 3000 years. The consumption of chocolate has outlasted most cultures and societies and empires. It’s bigger than me. It’s rare that there’s something that’s good for your body, mind, and soul—and I think chocolate is that.”

Kave feels that “Craft chocolate makers now are doing really exciting and innovative work, and I love to see that ... It’s almost like a rediscovery.”

8. EVEN YOU CAN LEARN TO MAKE CHOCOLATE.

Roni-Sue’s, Raaka, and MAST all offer opportunities to learn about chocolate-making. Kave always starts her classes off with a chocolate tasting, while MAST offers tours that include tempering and wrapping your own chocolate. Raaka, meanwhile, will be launching classes on bean-to-bar chocolate-making in January 2017. Both Roni-Sue’s and Raaka also offer occasional chocolate-focused trips to cacao-growing regions; visit their websites for details.

With additional reporting by Bess Lovejoy.

All photos via iStock.

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Eggo Came Up With 9 Perfect Recipes for Your Stranger Things Viewing Party
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As the return of Stranger Things draws near, you can expect to see fans break out their blonde wigs, hang up their Christmas lights, and play the Netflix show’s theme song on repeat. But Eggo knows the best way to celebrate the season two premiere on October 27 is with a menu featuring Eleven’s favorite snack. As Mashable reports, the brand has joined forces with Netflix to release a menu of gourmet waffle recipes to serve at your Stranger Things viewing party.

The lineup includes nine creative takes on Eggo waffles, each one named after an episode from the new season. The menu kicks off with “MADMAX,” a spin on chicken and waffles served with maple syrup and Sriracha. As the season progresses, pairings alternate between sweet (like “Will the Wise,” featuring ice cream and hot fudge) and savory (like “Trick or Treat, Freak,” a waffle version of a BLT). Check out the full menu below with directions from the experts at Eggo.

EPISODE 1: "MADMAX"

Eggo recipe.

1 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon Sriracha
1 deli hot chicken tender

1. Toast Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle according to package directions.

2. In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine syrup and Sriracha. Microwave on high for 15 to 20 seconds or until just warm.

3. Place warm chicken tender on top of waffle. Drizzle with syrup mixture. Serve with knife and fork.

EPISODE 2: "TRICK OR TREAT, FREAK"

Bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiched between two waffles

4 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle waffles
2 lettuce leaves
4 thin tomato slices
1/8 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
8 slices turkey bacon, crisp-cooked and drained
3 tablespoons blue cheese salad dressing

1. Toast Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffles according to package directions.

2. Top two of the waffles with lettuce and tomato slices. Sprinkle with pepper. Top with bacon. Drizzle with salad dressing. Add remaining waffles. Cut each into halves. Serve immediately.

EPISODE 3: "THE POLLYWOG"

Eggo recipe.

1 1/2 cups vanilla ice cream, divided
3/4 cup strawberry ice cream
3 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle waffles or Kellogg’s Eggo Chocolatey Chip waffles
1 Banana, sliced
3 Strawberries, sliced
2 cups frozen reduced-fat, non-dairy whipped dessert topping, thawed
Assorted small candies (optional)
Gold-colored decorator’s sugar or edible glitter (optional)

1. Place vanilla and strawberry ice cream in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes until slightly softened.

2. Meanwhile, on large piece of parchment paper or wax paper, trace 4 1/2-inch circles. Place paper on baking sheet. Working quickly, spoon 3/4 cup of the vanilla ice cream onto one circle. Flatten into a 1/2-inch-thick, 4 1/2-inch-diameter disk. Repeat with remaining vanilla ice cream and strawberry ice cream, making disks. Lightly cover with wax paper and freeze at least two hours or until firm.

3. Toast Kellogg's Eggo Homestyle Waffles according to package directions. Cool. Leave one waffle whole. Cut remaining waffles into quarters.

4. Remove paper from ice cream disks. Top with one of the vanilla ice cream disks and four waffle quarters, leaving a small space between pieces. Top with vanilla ice cream disk and more waffle pieces (always arrange waffle quarters so they align with waffle quarters on lower layers). Add the remaining vanilla ice cream disk and more waffle pieces. Top with strawberry ice cream disk and the remaining four waffle quarters. Wrap in plastic wrap. Gently press down on the stack. Freeze at least 3 hours or until firm.

5. Remove waffle stack from freezer. Remove plastic wrap. Let stand at room temperature for 15 minutes. Mound with whipped topping. Decorate with candies and gold sugar (if desired).

6. To serve, cut into four pieces, cutting between waffle quarters.

TIP: To easily form ice cream disks, place a 4 1/2-inch round cookie cutter on parchment or wax paper on baking sheet. Place ice cream inside of cookie cutter and smooth into solid disk. Remove cookie cutter and repeat for remaining ice cream disks. Freeze as directed above.

EPISODE 4: "WILL THE WISE"

Eggo waffle.

1 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle
1 tablespoon hot fudge ice cream topping
1/3 cup vanilla ice cream
1 tablespoon caramel ice cream topping
2 tablespoons aerosol whipped cream
1 tablespoon dry roasted peanuts

1. Toast Kellogg's Eggo Homestyle Waffle according to package directions. Heat fudge ice cream topping according to package directions.

2. Scoop ice cream onto center of waffle.

3. Drizzle with fudge and caramel toppings. Add whipped cream. Sprinkle with peanuts. Serve with knife and fork.

EPISODE 5: "DIG DUG"

Eggo waffle.

4 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup canned pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
6 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle waffles
3 tablespoons orange-colored decorator’s sugar
6 oblong chewy fruit-flavored green candies or 2 small green gumdrops, cut into 6 pieces

1. In a medium bowl, stir together cream cheese, pumpkin, powdered sugar, pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, and vanilla. Cover and refrigerate at least two hours or until firm enough to shape.

2. Meanwhile, toast Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffles according to package directions.

3. Place orange-colored sugar in a small bowl. Using a small ice cream scoop or tablespoon, shape about 2 tablespoons of cream cheese mixture into pumpkin shape. Roll in orange sugar. Place on one waffle. Repeat with remaining cream cheese mixture, sugar and waffles.

4. Press green candy into each cream cheese ball for pumpkin stem. Serve with spreaders or knives to spread cream cheese mixture over waffles.

EPISODE 6: "THE SPY"

Eggo waffles.

3 frozen fully-cooked sausage links
2 tablespoons green bell pepper
2 tablespoons water
1 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon Sriracha

1. In a small nonstick skillet, cook sausage links, bell pepper, and water, covered, over medium heat for five minutes. Remove pepper from skillet. Set aside. Continue cooking sausage, uncovered, about two minutes more or until browned, turning frequently.

2. Meanwhile, toast Kellogg's Eggo Homestyle Waffle according to package directions.

3. In a small microwave-safe bowl, combine syrup and Sriracha. Microwave on high for 15 to 20 seconds or until just warm.

4. Arrange sausage pieces and pepper pieces on waffle. Drizzle with syrup mixture. Serve with knife and fork.

"EPISODE 7"

Eggo waffle.

6 cups canned pineapple slices, drained
1 tablespoon flaked coconut, toasted
1 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle
2 tablespoons aerosol whipped cream
1 tablespoon macadamia nuts, chopped

1. Cut pineapple slices into four pieces.

2. Toast Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle Waffle according to package directions. Place on serving plate. Top with coconut, pineapple slices, whipped cream, and macadamia nuts. Serve with knife and fork.

"EPISODE 8"

Eggo waffle.

6 eggs
1/3 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
6 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle waffles
1 tablespoon butter
3 slices bacon, crisp-cooked and crumbled
6 thin slices Monterey Jack cheese or cheddar cheese (3 oz. total)
Ketchup or salsa (optional)

1. In a medium bowl, beat together eggs, milk, salt, and pepper with a fork until well combined. Set aside.

2. Place frozen waffles in a single layer on baking sheet. Bake, uncovered, at 450°F for five minutes.

3. Meanwhile, melt butter in a large nonstick skillet. Pour in egg mixture. Cook, over medium heat, until mixture begins to set on bottom and around edges. With spatula, lift and fold partially cooked eggs, allowing uncooked portions to flow underneath. Continue cooking and folding for two to three minutes or until egg mixture is cooked through.

4. Top waffles with egg mixture, crumbled bacon, and cheese slices. Bake, uncovered, at 450°F about one minute more or until cheese melts. Serve with ketchup or salsa (if desired).

"EPISODE 9"

Eggo waffle.

6 Kellogg’s Eggo Homestyle waffles
6 slices mozzarella cheese or provolone cheese (6 oz. total)
24 slices pepperoni (about 2 oz. total)
1/3 cup pizza sauce

1. Place Kellogg's Eggo Homestyle waffles in single layer on baking sheet. Bake at 450°F for three minutes. Turn waffles over. Bake at 450°F for two minutes more.

2. Cut waffles into quarters. Return to baking sheet.

3. Cut cheese slices into pieces to fit on waffle quarters.

4. Top waffle quarters with cheese pieces, pepperoni slices and pizza sauce. Bake, uncovered, at 450°F for three to four minutes or until cheese melts. Serve warm.

Making the full nine-course menu might take a lot of work, but then again, it’s probably healthy to plan some cooking projects to break up your binge-watching session. Once you're done burning through all those waffles (and episodes), Eggo has a few suggestions for what to do with the empty box. Accessories like an Eggo flashlight or a bloody tissue box sound like the perfect way to make your Stranger Things costume stand out at this year’s Halloween party.

Instructions for crafting with leftover Eggo box.

Instructions for crafting with leftover Eggo box.

[h/t Mashable]

All images courtesy of Eggo.

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The Little-Known History of Fruit Roll-Ups
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David Kessler, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

The thin sheets of “fruit treats” known as Fruit Roll-Ups have been a staple of supermarkets since 1983, when General Mills introduced the snack to satisfy the sweet tooth of kids everywhere. But as Thrillist writer Gabriella Gershenson recently discovered, the Fruit Roll-Up has an origin that goes much further back—all the way to the turn of the 20th century.

The small community of Syrian immigrants in New York City in the early 1900s didn’t have the packaging or marketing power of General Mills, but they had the novel idea of offering an apricot-sourced “fruit leather” they called amardeen. A grocery proprietor named George Shalhoub would import an apricot paste from Syria that came in massive sheets. At the request of customers, employees would snip off a slice and offer the floppy treat that was named after cowhide because it was so hard to chew.

Although Shalhoub’s business relocated to Brooklyn in the 1940s, the embryonic fruit sheet continued to thrive. George’s grandson, Louis, decided to sell crushed, dried apricots in individually packaged servings. The business later became known as Joray, which sold the first commercial fruit roll-up in 1960. When a trade publication detailed the family’s process in the early 1970s, it opened the floodgates for other companies to begin making the distinctive treat. Sunkist was an early player, but when General Mills put their considerable advertising power behind their Fruit Roll-Ups, they became synonymous with the sticky snack.

Joray is still in business, offering kosher roll-ups that rely more heavily on fruit than the more processed commercial version. But the companies have one important thing in common: They both have the sense not to refer to their product as “fruit leather.”

[h/t Thrillist]

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