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OPTIMISM & PASSION AFTER HURRICANE MARIA

I’ve just returned from visiting Puerto Rico’s west coast and am full of inspiration!  It is inspiring to personally witness the optimism and resiliency of the western folks since the ravage of Hurricane Maria.

The Hotel Cofresi, oldest on the coast, was severely damaged and reopened more beautiful than ever in mid December after much hard work.  They opened their doors immediately after the storm to citizens and FEMA staff to offer shelter and provide meals.  They gave FEMA a headquarters to work from.  Here I am at the newly renovated lobby and bar right on the water!

HACIENDA JEANMARIE – A YEAR LATER

And nowhere has passion and optimism been more on display than at the Hacienda Jeanmarie.  Last year I posted my excitement (Hacienda Jeanmarie – A Visiting a Puerto Rican Cacao Farm) to meet Juan Echevarria, leader of the Puerto Rico Cacao Project, and visit his family’s beautiful farm, the Hacienda Jeanmarie.

The project’s goal is to build a working cooperative that connects small organic Puerto Rican cacao famers to the fine chocolate industry through direct, transparent relationships. Many farmers on the island joined the project and the fine cacao industry was beginning to take hold again in PR.

At The Hacienda Jeanmarie February 2017

Hurricane Maria devastated most of this hard work. Juan’s large farm, purchased in 2014, is 90% lost. The smaller, old family farm (which I visited in 2016) survives. Of his 30,000 trees before Maria there are now 3,000.

The Hacienda Jeanmarie – AFTER Hurricane Maria – FEB 2018

Juan has started to produce new trees to replant for his and other farms and has resumed holding workshops to teach others. Since cacao trees take at least 2 1/2 years to make pods, he and other farmers in the project are targeting 2021 to be back. This target assumes all goes well and requires at least 3 full time workers at his farm.

Juan teaching students about the Cacao Industry

TO LEARN MORE

More than 200,000 cacao trees were planted through the cacao project initiative since Juan began in 2009. Since cacao is considered a new crop in Puerto Rico, the Agriculture Dept does not offer insurance so all losses are personal.

For lots more information or to make a contribution towards rebuilding the island’s economy by providing high quality trees to farmers visit   https://www.facebook.com/jeanmariechocolat/

I look forward to returning to the Hacienda Jeanmarie and watching the rebuilding of Project Cacao under Juan’s leadership.  Yet another wonderful place that chocolate has led me.

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Plum Brook Chocolate by Plum Brook Chocolate - 8M ago

TRUFFLES FOR THE HOLIDAYS

The year-end holiday season – whether it involves Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa or some other treasured family celebration – evokes nostalgia in many of us. Many of you bake homemade goodies to give as gifts or take to cookie swaps and what is more appreciated than something from the heart and the kitchen?

Creamy and elegant, these truffles have a soft, melt-in-your-mouth filling. Beautiful enough to give as gifts or serve to guests, this truffle recipe is easy, too!

The key is to keep it simple and use the best ingredients you can find and you will end up with a rich, creamy ganache. What is “ganache” and how did it get that name? It’s simply a mixture of chocolate and cream. Rumor has it that a chef called an assistant a “ganache” (French word for idiot) when he dumped hot cream into a bowl of chocolate. Serendipity I say!

Be prepared to get your hands “dirty” with chocolate!

SPIRITED DARK CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES

Yield: 12-15 truffles

Ingredients

4 oz. whipping cream
7 oz. finest quality dark chocolate (61% or higher)*
1/2 oz. butter, very soft but not melted
1 oz. bourbon whiskey (if you’re not a fan of bourbon, substitute another liquor)
1/2 cup cocoa powder

Bring whipping cream just to boil.

Pour slowly over the chocolate and mix rapidly to create an elastic and shiny mixture. Add butter and mix it again with the spatula. Add bourbon whiskey and mix to incorporate.

Let ganache set for 12 hours in the refrigerator or till firm enough to handle. Dust hands with cocoa powder and shape into one inch balls using a scoop or teaspoon and roll in cocoa to coat surface.

Drop in cocoa powder and roll around with a fork.

Store covered in refrigerator until ready to serve. Serve at room temperature. Enjoy compliments!

Variation: After rolling in cocoa powder, drop into finely chopped nuts (we like hazelnuts), pressing lightly.

*I use Guittard Chocolate, a 4th generation family owned San Francisco chocolate maker.

Photos courtesy of Ecole Chocolat.

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It was a perfectly cloudy and drizzly Seattle day when I, along with husband Peter and brother-in-law John, made a visit to the Theo Chocolate Factory.  I had been eagerly anticipating this day since planning our visit to Seattle -now it was here!

Joe Whinney, Theo’s founder, is a rock star in the world of fine, fair-trade chocolate.  His vision to be the first fair-trade certified, organic chocolate maker in North America came to fruition in 2006 when the Theo factory opened in the Fremont neighborhood and had its first run of chocolate bars.  Theo’s is as much about promoting social responsibility as it is about making great chocolate.

If it weren’t for a small sidewalk sign pointing the way you could easily pass by the chocolate factory housed in the historic 1905 red brick building (formerly a trolly car station and later Red Hook Brewery).  Walking in we were greeted by a super-friendly staff and the delectable smell of chocolate.  After donning hairnets our group was in the hands of Janet, our friendly charming tour guide determined to combine interesting educational information along with lots of delicious samples.

We learned that Theo gets its name from the Cacao tree – Theobroma Cacao, Food of the Gods.  Janet engaged us in a discussion about cacao trees and their pods, the harvesting, fermentation and drying processes and the many steps in the journey that cacao undergoes to become the wonderful chocolate all of us enjoyed.

Onto the factory floor the roasters, grinders and other chocolate machines – some of them vintage – were working hard in each area. I felt like I was in the magic world of Willie Wonka!  My favorite area was the kitchen where truffles, toffee and various bon bons were being finished…what envy I had!

The tour ended at the retail chocolate shop which was filled with many, many tempting choices and I left with a bag full.  I loved the Curry Coconut Bar and found their 85% Chili Bar complex and satisfying.  My favorite was Big Daddy, layers of gram cracker, marshmallow and burnt caramel in dark chocolate which was to die for!

My pilgrimage left me inspired and in awe of “mind-bending” chocolate that is not just satisfying and delicious but totally transparent and socially responsible from farm to consumer.  One can change the world through chocolate and they have. Do not miss Theo’s tour if you ever visit Seattle!

theochocolate.com

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