- Published on August 14, 2014
- Written by Heather Haskell
Chocolate brownies are an iconic piece of Americana. The first written evidence of them refers to the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago where the proprietress, Mrs. Bertha Palmer, asked her chefs to prepare a special ladies’ dessert for their guests’ boxed lunches at the 1893 Columbian Exposition. That dessert is a super-rich fudgy bar topped with an apricot glaze which is still served today at the hotel.
It took some time for brownies to be codified into recipe form. Various not-chocolate-oriented cookie bars evolved at last into the first written chocolate brownie recipe in 1904 with the introduction of the “Bangor Brownie” in both the Service Club of Chicago’s cookbook, and Home Cookery, by Elinor Quimby, published in Laconia, NH. Brownies really began to hit their stride in the mid-1920′s as chocolate became more affordable and available in the US. America’s love affair with the brownie has continued unabated ever since.
So what happens when the “old American” brownie meets TCHO “New American” chocolate? We had an amazing experience trying to answer just that very question. We took a whole bunch of submissions from our fans on Facebook and ended up choosing six chocolate brownie recipes to test with TCHO. Some used cocoa powder, some chocolate chunks; all used butter, one also used oil(!). There was a very mysterious specification for cold eggs in a couple (to cool the chocolate, supposedly; the TCHO Baking Team was skeptical, but kept the faith). In the end, we found one that set the bar very high and left us confident that the most TCHO-riffic recipe had been found. It scored the highest on our taste test in each measured category like flavor, texture, and “it” factor, and it’s pretty darn simple to make, too.
Without further ado:
Alice Medrich’s Best Cocoa Brownies
(adapted from Bittersweet by Genius Recipes for Food 52)
10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1-1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons TCHO Natural Fair Trade Organic Cocoa Powder (ok, we edited that part)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cold large eggs
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (unsifted, measured by stirring briefly, spooning into the measuring cup until it’s heaped above the rim, then leveling it with a straight-edged knife or spatula — it should weigh nearly 2.5 ounces)
2/3 cups walnut or pecan pieces (optional)
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F. Line the bottom and sides of an 8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.
Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test. Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot.
Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using. Spread evenly in the lined pan.
Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack.
Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.
We aim to make this recipe testing business a regular thing… So what should we test next? Head on over to our Facebook page or ping us on Twitter or Instagram and let us know what other definitive chocolate recipes you’d like to see us evaluate. Slog away over chocolate in a hot kitchen? Oh yes, we’d do that for you. Of course we would.
- Published on July 24, 2014
- Written by Heather Haskell
All hail the brownie throw-down! We’ve put ourselves onto a big project here at TCHO – to try and figure out which of the world’s favorite chocolate brownie recipes is not only the best, but the best with TCHO chocolate. This is going to take some serious testing. Oh, the sweet suffering!
We settled on six (six!!) different chocolate brownie recipes to run through their paces. There are famous chefs, food technicians, and at-home tinkerers all represented in the group – no names too big or too small for us to explore. Also, we purposefully explored chocolate brownie recipes with cocoa powder, chocolate pieces, both milk and dark chocolate and everything in between. We also decided to bake them essentially blind: our bakers won’t know which recipe is whose.
Finally, when the big unveiling happens, the delicious brownie cornucopia will be unlabeled: our tasting panel (lucky, lucky office mates) will not know what is in each recipe, who baked it, or which recipe author they are tasting. It’s for science, people! It may take all day to get through them, but when the comment cards are revealed we’re going to have some pretty definitive proof of what the “best” brownies might be like. But we all know the best ones are #TCHOMade!
Stay tuned – results next week. We hope that the photos will come somewhat close to doing the finished products justice.
- Published on June 7, 2014
- Written by Heather Haskell
It’s no small task to move a factory, and we’d like to think that moving the TCHO factory has been a particularly delicate task. Our conching, tempering and depositing components are large, heavy, and fragile: like huge chocolate-wrangling Fabergé eggs. Those machines have seen the sweet inner molecules of literally thousands of tons of chocolate, and they’ve traveled more than some people do in a lifetime. Now, they’ve made their landing in Berkeley.
We’re pleased to report that our chief engineer, Matt, mechanic Bob, operations director Jim, and our quality assurance manager Monika are all still sane with most of their hair attached (except Jim, but he was missing the hair before we started). That team, along with our usual suspects on the Bean Team, has been tasked with getting this whole thing back in working order with all of our Kosher, Organic, Food Safety, and Fair Trade certifications intact, not to mention permits to operate, business licenses, etc. They’ve answered the call with stoic determination and skill, and as a result of their efforts we’re starting production in Berkeley this month!
Getting the factory moved, installed, and operational has been our number one goal – without that there’s nothing to see on the tour, or any chocolate to eat, for that matter. Once that part of the project is complete and our insanely delicious chocolate is rushing down pipes and conveyor belts again, we can finally put the finishing touches on the factory store and tour. Bear with us, as this part is taking a bit longer than we’d hoped it would. When we can pin down a date you’ll be the first to know; right before we start shouting from the virtual rooftops, that is…
- Published on April 29, 2014
- Written by Heather Haskell
The TCHOSource team just returned from a productive visit to Ecuador. One of the key efforts on the trip was the installation of a cocoa flavor lab at a farmer’s association that didn’t previously have access to this technology. This is the ninth flavor lab TCHO has installed world-wide, and each time we install one we’re reminded of how necessary and valuable it is for the farmers with whom we work.
The flavor lab helps farmers assess the outcome of their harvesting, fermenting and drying efforts, and tune their processes toward specific flavor profiles. How does the flavor lab do this? By making chocolate! We’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: most cacao farmers have never tasted any chocolate, much less chocolate made from their own crops. Once they learn to taste what we’re tasting, they are well on their way to improving everything about the work that they do. And they can’t do it until they have a facility at hand to make chocolate themselves.
Of course, we’re with them every step of the way as suppliers first learn to use the lab, and then, more importantly, learn to taste cocoa the way chocolate makers do. Once they can match their processes with the outcomes, they are truly a partner for TCHO as we work together to make obsessively good chocolate.
- Published on March 25, 2014
- Written by Heather Haskell
Pier 17 has been our colorful home since the beginning of TCHO, and practically since the first day we’ve been pushing at its walls and edges trying to make room: room for growth, room for our mad-scientist experimentation, and room for our friends and fans to enjoy the fruit of our labors with us.
It was quite a process outfitting the pier with our East German/Scottish/American-made chocolate-making system – we had to pour a brand new floor, build a bunch of new “rooms” within the pier’s walls, and basically turn an ancient warehouse into a food production facility worthy of food safety top grades. Anyone who’s been on our tour has been a witness to our success in that endeavor.
We learned a lot in that process – and that learning is really going to come in handy as we approach the next chapter in TCHO’s story. We are relocating to Berkeley, to a much larger building that will help us build upon the work we’ve only just begun – obsessively creating the world’s best chocolate that celebrates the inherent flavor notes in cacao and brings real economic benefit to the farmers who grow it.
Our new location is in the Marchant Building at the Berkeley/Emeryville border (we’ll be on the Folger Street side). Within a few blocks’ radius are myriad up-and-coming gourmet food producers, breweries, coffee roasters, and other foodie destinations, as well as a host of great galleries and shopping opportunities (Berkeley Bowl West!!).
Our tour and factory store are on a short hiatus while we dismantle the production facility and rebuild it, but if you’re in the City and hankering for a chocolate fix – we’ve got you covered: we’re opening a kiosk at Westfield San Francisco Centre on the second floor in front of the Bebe store!
We’ll be posting regular updates on our progress both on our Tour page, and in our social media channels to keep everyone in the loop – we’re targeting mid-April to open across the bay. In the meantime, we thank you all for your continued support and chocolate love and we’re looking forward to writing more great chocolate history and joining the West Berkeley food community!
- Published on October 8, 2013
- Written by John Kehoe
It was a dream come true — the America’s Cup held on San Francisco Bay! Having raced sailboats competitively in high school, college, and later, internationally, it has been incredible to see up-close and personal, the transformation the America’s Cup has taken. And it doesn’t hurt being able to catch some of the racing just down the Embarcadero from TCHO!
My love of sailing and the America’s Cup goes back almost 40 years. I grew up racing sailboats in Marblehead, Massachusetts. And, I toured the yacht, Courageous, in the summer of 1974 when it triumphantly returned to Marblehead after local sail maker and hero, Ted Hood, won the America’s Cup in Newport, Rhode Island.
A few years later, I watched from a friend’s roof as Courageous and Intrepid, another potential defender, would practice off of the coast of Marblehead. Courageous went on to win the America’s Cup for an unprecedented (and unrepeated) second time in 1977, skippered by CNN’s Ted Turner. Years ago, my father gave me a print of Courageous winning in 1974, signed by Ted Hood and yacht designer, Olin Stephens.
Last fall, TCHO was invited to tour the Pier 80 compound of this year’s America’s Cup defender, Oracle Team USA. Russell Coutts, a three-time America’s Cup winner, and team CEO, and Jimmy Spithill, also an America’s Cup winner and this boat’s skipper, signed a copy of my print.
Once a gentleman’s offshore yacht race, Larry Ellison, Russell Coutts and Oracle Team USA have launched the America’s Cup into the 21st century with ultra-modern, high-speed, carbon fiber, winged-sail catamarans which hydro foil across the water at speeds reaching 50 mph.
Watching these high-tech behemoths battling it out at high speeds on San Francisco bay was an incredible spectacle that amazed everyone, including my wife and one-year-old daughter when we would watch from a bluff over the Golden Gate Bridge in Sausalito. Sailors where naturally drawn to the event, but these incredible machines, flying across the water drew the attention of many more to this new era of sailing and sport.
While much of the action was visible from all over the San Francisco waterfront, NBC Sports and Live-line brought TV viewers out on to the Bay with helicopter and onboard cameras. Live-line is lead by Sam Honey, a long-time sailor. The company invented the on-screen first down line for football and the blue puck in hockey. Their work won an Emmy Award last fall for the creative new ways to show TV viewers what was happening on the water in sailing. On-screen grids, boundaries and visual effects all added to the interest and excitement of the event.
If all that was not enough, Sam Honey and friends invented an app, Virtual Eye. This app tracks the boats on the course in real time through GPS, with more on-screen telemetry data – speed, direction, and angles.
Then, of course, there was the racing and the drama. Emirates Team New Zealand won the right to challenge for the cup through an uneventful, one-sided challenger series. At the start of the first race of the America’s Cup, Oracle Team USA and Emirates Team New Zealand proved to be closely matched and provided exciting racing in their flying machines. Emirates Team New Zealand was initially faster, maneuvered better, and sailed smarter, bringing the regatta to a precipice. They were at match point with a score of 8 races to 1. Oracle Team USA orchestrated one of the best sailing and sports comebacks of all time by making major changes to their boat and bringing aboard a new tactician. The team refocused and came roaring back from the precipice to even out the regatta 8 – 8. That was an exciting week of racing!
In a last, winner-take-all, race, Oracle Team USA was the faster boat and dominated the last race. The determination and never-give-up attitude of Oracle Team USA was, and remains, inspirational. The shore team was instrumental in this comeback using reams data that Oracle Team USA deployed to analyze the thousands of data points from the boat and film each night. This allowed them to find new speed every day.
Emirates Team New Zealand almost took the America’s Cup Down Under with their fast boat and solid teamwork by a group of talented sailors. But, it is formidable to compete in a technological battle with the U.S. team who has almost unlimited resources and an equally talented and dedicated group of sailors.
TCHO celebrates this extraordinary America’s Cup and Oracle Team USA’s win with our Sail SF artist series commemorating the innovation, speed and design of this amazing America’s Cup.
John Kehoe is TCHO’s VP of Sourcing and Development. He leads our TCHOSource farmer programs and our Bean Team that helps make great chocolate while helping make a better world.
- Published on October 4, 2013
- Written by Katie Gilmer
The TCHOSource Team visited Noarandino in northern Peru. Here we are with reps from the co-op, at one of their cacao drying patios. It’s empty because the harvest had already finished for the year.
The insides of a fresh cacao bean. Look how different two beans from the same pod can be! About 99.99% of the world’s cacao beans are purple in color when fresh from their pod, however the white bean is apart of a rare variety found only in northern Peru and holds a complex and unique flavor.
Mototaxi, the preferred method of transport in Northern Peru.
Fermented beans at a fermenting center in northern Peru. The color variation is due to different varieties of cacao.
Aldo goes in for a close up! He is the technical coordinator for our USAID grant which works in partnership with Equal Exchange, to improve cacao and coffee cooperatives in Peru, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic.
Close up of cacao beans in the fermentation process – crazy to think that stuff will become delicious chocolate, right?
- Published on September 27, 2013
- Written by TCHOsen
“TCHOPairings are all about taking classic, delicious chocolate combinations, and making people do a double take. Mint, hazelnuts, and strawberries are timeless partners with chocolate. With TCHOPairings, we really wanted to push these classics way out of their comfort zones by using completely new, unique ingredients (like freeze-dried mint gelato or custom baked pie crust), combined with TCHO’s award-winning Organic and Fair Trade chocolate.” - Brad Kintzer, Chief Chocolate Maker
TCHO’s next wave of tree-to-bean-to-bar New American Chocolate includes three mind-blowing TCHOPairings – TCHunky TCHOtella; Galactic Gelato; and Strawberry Rhubarb Pie.
New American Chocolate takes inspiration from our favorite flavors world-wide. We’re all about taking classic flavors and adding a New American twist. So we took an Italian classic since 1800 called gianduja (pronounced “john-do-ya”) and made the flavors all our own. Gianduja is traditionally made by combining hazelnut paste and milk chocolate, or some variation thereof. (A somewhat similar flavor known outside of Italy by the familiar jar of brown spread, Nutella — although, we hasten to add, that Nutella doesn’t have any chocolate in it.)
We innovated this classic flavor profile by adding hazelnut chunks to heighten the hazelnut flavor. And, of course, by tossing in a dash of sea salt – to heighten all flavors. The organic hazelnuts are sourced from Piedmont, Italy, be- cause they simply taste the best, and the chocolate is our award-winning SeriousMilk™.
The result? A New American Gianduja, with an utterly spectacular, decadent rich mouth feel. Incredibly sophisticated, insanely addictive. This is TCHunky TCHOtella.
Galactic Gelato came from the idea of taking one of our favorite desserts – mint ice cream with chocolate chips – and turning it inside out: chocolate with mint ice cream chips.
But how could we turn this classic ice cream flavor inside out? We had to channel our inner child. We loved astronaut ice cream as kids! We would go to a science museum and save up the few dollars our parents had given us to get a souvenir. Some kids sprang for the sea monkeys; some for the Venus fly traps. We knew what was really worth our much-deserved room-cleaning money most: Astronaut Ice Cream. With just one bite (and a little imagination), we were “3, 2, 1 … Blast Off!” in a rocket ship, hurling hundreds of miles an hour, leaving the world behind. We were, literally, out of this world! Years later, we wanted to bring that euphoric blast-off feeling back again. Galactic Gelato does just that. So sit down, close your eyes, and prepare for blast off.
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
Q: What’s a more New American dessert than pie?
A: Nothing. Our grand country is known for its fondness of, and creativity in, pie making. Pie is classic American dessert; a staple at every holiday meal. From Autumn apple to Thanksgiving pumpkin, Southern pecan, winter Sweet Potato, Boston Cream, lemon meringue, Banana Cream, Cherry, Coconut Custard, the American innovation in pie-making is astounding. We even have Pi DAY!
So how to blend New American chocolate with a classic American staple?
Step 1: Find the pie flavors that taste best with chocolate. We decided on strawberry rhubarb! The distinctive fruit sweetness of organic strawberries and the tang of a touch of rhubarb is absolutely divine.
Step 2: Work with one of our favorite bakeries – Starter Bakery, in Oakland – to craft the perfect piecrust. Ours is salty-sweet, and perfectly flaky, with a dash of cinnamon.
Step 3: Fresh whipped cream just wasn’t an option. So we mimicked the flavor by drenching the deconstructed pie parts in our delectable SeriousMilkTM chocolate. With warm, creamy, caramel notes, SeriousMilkTM is the perfect chocolate!
Step 4: Nosh on this insanely fun, all-around New American bar, Strawberry Rhubarb Pie.
“New American Chocolate, indeed!”
All this mouth magic is wrapped in striking, design-forward packaging developed by Wired’s former creative director John Plunkett — perfecting an experience that delights like no other chocolate available today.
Kintzer sums up this chocolate milestone perfectly: “Welcome to TCHOPairings – part flavor nostalgia, part craft chocolate, part San Francisco psychedelic; 100% New American Chocolate.” CEO and Chief Creative Louis Rossetto adds: “These new bars will wow your taste buds, stun your optic nerve. New American Chocolate indeed!”
- Published on September 10, 2013
- Written by Chloe Stewart
You are cordially invited to a 5-course tasting menu. The catch: each dish is chocolate infused. Are you a chocaholic? Could you handle these taste explosions?
Il Fornaio’s San Francisco Restaurant recently partnered with TCHO to bring this fabulous concept to life. Spearheaded by Chef Ivan Giansante — an Italian through and through, with a passion for chocolate, hand picked each ingredient, from creamy caramel SeriousMilk™, to dark and intense PureNotes, and innovatively integrated it all into a set of uniquely conjured dishes, and carefully selected wines. How on earth would a chocolate enthusiast such as my self, pass up this opportunity? You might have guessed, I had the good fortune of attending.
The evening was a palate-opening experience. A culinary journey. A defiant moment in time, readying each willing personage present that night, to explore what it truly means to taste. After having our palates teased by some bubbly, olives, meat and cheese, followed by a warm welcome and introduction from an excited Chef Ivan, entered the first course…
Chocolate covered nibs added the perfect crunch to a berry adorned, and vinaigrette drizzled salad.
A roasted garlic and rosemary infused chocolate sauce married surprisingly well with salty and earthy flavours from pancetta-wrapped, eggplant and ricotta-stuffed quail.
And finally, where Chef Ivan truly showed his skill and expertise, his passion and his culinary know-how, was in a simple, and yet intricately concocted, milk chocolate mousse. Every flavour was pronounced, and allowed to shine in its own time, in its own right; while simultaneously highlighting the next. Each layer was distinct, evolving naturally from one to the next. From a flash of salt, to rich, creamy milk chocolate, moving smoothly on to the most fabulously flavourful honey, followed by the subtlest yet powerful peppery finish. The definition of balance. Perfection.
While, as one might imagine, there was indeed, a lot of chocolate, to experience another’s desire and excitement, to overturn prejudice, and contradict tradition, was too enticing to miss. The pairing of sweet and savoury elements in any dish, is so grossly under appreciated. I encourage you all to explore beyond your boundaries. To trust that mind-blowing culinary experiences can be made outside traditional circumstance. Don’t be afraid to try.
Thank you, Chef Ivan and your culinary team, for taking us on this journey with you at Il Fornaio. This is only the beginning of a fabulous, chocolate adventure.
As part of TCHO’s Inside Sales team, Chloë manages specialty retail accounts, wheeling and dealing to bring them all of the TCHO Chocolate they so desire. A true chocoholic to the core, she even has her own tumblr blog dedicated to exploring (and indulging) in a few of her favourite things: photography, travel, and of course, food! Check it out here — cocoamemo.tumblr.com
- Published on August 27, 2013
- Written by Katie Gilmer
A pivotal component to the TCHOSource program is to truly empower the farmers we work with, in country of origin. I recently had the chance to visit the Dominican Republic, and see first hand how our co-op partners are working to improve “farm productivity” — meaning how to get more cacao out of the same amount of land.
Theobroma cacao, the scientific name for a chocolate-producing tree, typically takes approximately 4 – 5 months to grow cacao pods (which are then fermented, dried, roasted and refined into chocolate). While quality and flavor are paramount to help raise farmer incomes and livelihoods, the challenge is also how to maximize both the output of the trees, and the sheer number of trees on their farm. But it can take years for a cacao tree, to grow and reach maturity from a seedling, posing a tough dilemma for cacao producers around the world.
Recently, as part of our USAID cooperative development grant with Equal Exchange, I was able to visit a few of the TCHO model farms in the Dominican Republic and experience first hand how they are working together to develop solutions.
The cacao producers/co-ops identified five farming management techniques to help them increase their level of productivity:
• Cacao tree pruning
• Shade management
• Applying compost and organic fertilizer
• Weed/pest control
• “Renovating” the plantations
The last method puts a new meaning to the term “renovation”. “Renovating” cacao tree plantations meaning they replace low producing trees with new, young trees — quite an innovative concept, but I couldn’t help wondering, “How?”
So I spoke with Doña Fermina, who owns a 20 acre cacao farm in the DR, and learned that there are two different methods they are testing out:
- A grafting technique: where a seedling is grown in a nursery, and then attached onto already-growing tree, this technique gives complete control to the farmer to decide which genetic variety is ideal for them.
- A basal chupon (“base sucker” in Spanish): a small offshoot is allowed to grow off the base of a mature tree, sharing the same root system. When the basal chupon is big enough, the old tree is cut down, allowing the younger tree to flourish using the already-established root system (this means the tree can produce cacao pods faster than a grafted tree and much faster than a tree planted from seed!).
Learning the techniques used by the farmers growing the cacao we use for our chocolate was an empowering experience! Not only was it interesting to better understand the advances being made on the ground in country of origin, but also to experience, firsthand, the founding principals of the TCHOSource program.
As part of TCHOSource, Katie Gilmer manages quality improvement projects at top-notch cocoa producers in Latin America and Africa, ensuring that TCHO gets the best cacao beans, year after year. She likes to travel (naturally!) and play ultimate frisbee.