Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The terrifying final page, or, Reading quirks (Part 4)

This came up in a fairly recent Facebook discussion, and I realised it's another one of my reading quirks. When you discover an author whose books you love and find out that the author has written several books, do you go and acquire and devour them all at once? When you come across a captivating first book in a series, do you keep reading them (assuming the entire series is out already, or at least more than the first volume) until you have none left?

I don't. I read just the one. Then I wait. (And read something else, of course!) Then, after some time has passed, I pick up the next book in the series, or another book by that great, “new” author. Again I take a break before moving on to the next one. In other words, I never read books in the same series one after the other (unless, perhaps, they've been published as a single volume). I'm calling this a reading quirk because I've been told it's a weird way of doing things and other readers have questioned my method. (I wish they had admired my patience and self-control and will power, but no...)

Which made me wonder, why do I do that? If the series really is that good, why don't I race through it? I would want to, sure. But even more than that I want to avoid that inevitable feeling of the end. As long as I don't read the next book, and, in particular, the very last book, the characters are still there, the world is still there... it's not over yet! Anything can happen! I can always go back. And I want that feeling to last.

Yes, I can always re-read the series, and so go back into that world, but somehow it's just not quite the same when you know how it's all going to turn out. The last book, the last page... there is a terrible finality there!

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Review: Marabou Premium 70 % Cocoa Coffee

This is another one from the Marabou Premium brand (I've reviewed the mint chocolate earlier), a coffee flavored dark chocolate. I find the wrapping rather attractive, what with the simple but stylish combination of gold and various shades of brown. The cocoa content is announced in clear, big numbers, which saves you the time of looking for the information somewhere among the small print on the package. The squares are thin but otherwise of a nice size.

This chocolate has a wonderful scent. It's dark, sweet, rich, mellow, warm, full-bodied... I'm running out of adjectives! I don't know what it is about it that I like so much – perhaps a whiff of coffee? I've always loved the scent of coffee, long before I learned to like the flavour.

And the taste? That's what we're here for, right? ;) The chocolate is smooth overall, there are no crisps or granules or anything like that in it. With the cocoa content of 70 % and the sharpness of coffee, I can almost detect a tiny hint of bitterness here. But it is not at all unpleasant, and might be just due to the fact that the chocolate isn't as sweet as I'd expect from its scent. Chocolate and coffee are a lovely combination, with the coffee's sharper roasted aromas softened by the mellow chocolate. The aftertaste is long and lingering.

Of those Premium brand chocolates that have no filling, this might be my new favourite. Marabou markets it as a perfect companion to a cup of coffee. Too bad I only drink coffee in the mornings and can't give it a try... unless I have some chocolate for breakfast! ;)

Sunday, 16 November 2014

A flourless / gluten-free chocolate cake

Okay, this is not a baking blog, but since this is about chocolate... ;) I found this recipe for a flourless chocolate cake some time ago and it sounded delicious... now I got a chance to bake it. My daughter kindly assisted me, which means we needed a fairly uncomplicated recipe, since a six-year-old's enthusiasm greatly overpowers her patience and baking skills. ;) This recipe is perfect in that regard: the cake is very easy to make, just a few simple ingredients, and there isn't much mixing or whipping involved.

And the cake turned out really good: dark and intensely chocolatey, with a somewhat gooey centre and firmer edges. I would have preferred it slightly less dense, so if I give it another go, I'll try and see what happens if I reduce the time it spends in the oven. I almost always end up tweaking any recipe at least a bit, but this time, I only used just a little less sugar.

The cake isn't very tall, but if you top it with whipped cream or something (we used a sort of very light whipped custard, Flora Vanilla), it works out beautifully. A chocolate frosting would also work, but on the other hand, the light vanilla fluff gave a nice contrast to the heavy, dense chocolate cake.

And just in case you'd like the recipe in English:

125 g chocolate (definitely recommend the darker varieties!)
125 g butter
175 ml sugar (I used about 150 ml)
3 large eggs
125 ml unsweetened cocoa powder

Butter the sides of a round (20 cm) cake pan and line the bottom of the pan with baking parchment. Melt the butter and chocolate. Add the sugar while mixing with an electric mixer. Add the eggs, mix well. Add the cocoa powder. Beat the mixture for about three minutes. Pour into the pan and bake at 200 C for 20-25 minutes (I took it out after 20 minutes). It'll look like it's not done yet, but as it cools, it will settle.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Blasphemy or creativity?

It was one of those days when my six-year-old daughter keeps whining: “I'm bored! I've nothing to do! Play with me!” Sometimes I can persuade her to listen to a story or we do some drawing or colouring, but unless I make a suggestion quickly, I'll end up playing house with her. And every time (every single time!) I get to be the mother and I get to cook. Come on, that's what I do anyway, every day!

So what do you do to keep things interesting for both of you? Witness the miraculous powers of chocolate... works every time, in any situation!

My suggestion, “Let's make some chocolates!” was met with boundless enthusiasm, manifested in happy shrieks, hand-clapping and a little dance. Well, we didn't actually make chocolate. We didn't have the ingredients. But I took out all the leftover chocolates – the sad, odd extra pieces, the bits and slivers that are born when chocolate refuses to break into neat pieces or when the squares can't be divided equally. I normally use them in baking (chocolate chip muffins etc.), but now I just melted the whole lot and blended it all together. This is probably the part that would be frowned upon by every chocolate connoisseur and would make them cry sacrilege... but I thought we were being rather creative! And thanks to this idea, no chocolate was wasted. Thus, a tragedy avoided.

I let my daughter pour the molten chocolate into tiny moulds, chopped up a few leftover pieces of white chocolate and “pink” chocolate (raspberry flavoured white chocolate) and let her decorate the pieces with those. I thought that there'd be chocolate splattered all over the kitchen when we finished, but she surprised me with her attention to detail and the precision and care with which she worked. And that was not only when she got to lick the mixing bowl and all the utensils... The chocolates turned out pretty and yummy and, most importantly, nobody was bored. :)

Friday, 7 November 2014

Reading, dreaming... or, Reading Quirks, Part 3

Image from the Facebook page of "Grammarly"

A good book is a book you don't want to put down, right? But a great book is a book that makes you want to close your eyes and dream... and dream... What I mean is that, for me, those really great books are the ones that give me materials for my dreams. And that includes both the dreams we have when we sleep (I love it when characters from a book invade my dreams!) and daydreams. Anything else interrupting a session with a great book is irritating, but these dreams and musings I actually love!

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Review: Marabou Premium 70 % Cocoa Mint

I am familiar with most, if not perhaps all, Marabou premium products. I've liked most of them, with my favourite being the Lemon & Ginger and, especially, the (Winter) Caramel. The latter was one of my favourite chocolates of all time (yes, there are many...), but, very regrettably, it seems to have disappeared from the selection! Anyway, on to the Mint version. This mint flavoured dark chocolate has been around for some time, at least in a tablet form. I've never seen these pretty boxes before, though, and that's a good enough reason to take a little taste.

The box looks very nice with the colour combination of black, green and gold. With the picture of mint leaves, it's clear what it contains. I only needed to open the box and out wafted a very strong aroma of mint. However, it wasn't the crisp, fresh aroma one usually associates with mint but a softer, more... sophisticated (?) scent. Perhaps the aromas of cocoa mellowed it? Each chocolate square comes in its own wrapping: the outer one with a picture (see the picture on the right) and the inner one of plain silver foil. The squares are of a satisfying size, thin but not too small, with the simple, stylish pattern that's familiar to all who have ever sampled Marabou Premium products.

The chocolate has a cocoa content of 70 %. I already mentioned the strong minty scent, but on second sniffing, the aroma of cocoa is also distinguishable. The chocolate snaps when you break it apart and melts in your mouth. It's also very smooth and has an intense cocoa flavour, to which the mint provides a nice counterpoint. Some mint chocolates include the mint in big, very hard pieces of brittle (and I always fear it will damage the enamel of my teeth), but here it's scattered in the chocolate in tiny pieces of crisp that provide a nice amount of crunch yet aren't too hard. The mint flavour, while strong, isn't “toothpasty”.

Mint chocolate seems to be ever popular, most brands offer some variety of it. As a child, I used to love mint chocolate, but perhaps got a little tired of it; it no longer counts among the “chocolates to get excited about” for me. But it is a classic. And there are times when I crave the soothing yet refreshing taste of good mint chocolate. Since this is dark chocolate, you also get the benefit of telling yourself it's good for you... and, another good argument (as if I needed any when it comes to eating chocolate): according to the box, at least 30 % of the cocoa comes from plantations with the Rainforest Alliance certificate.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Review: Mars Caramel (limited edition)

If I had to pick a favourite chocolate bar, I'd probably pick the Mars bar. Why? Because of the caramel! There's plenty of it, and there are no crunchy nuts or crispy cookies messing it up – not that I don't like those, but when I want the best, it's the smooth, simple combination of chocolate, caramel and nougat that I always go for. And did I mention the caramel?

So imagine my excitement upon learning that there was a special edition of Mars bar, called “Caramel”! I had to try that, but didn't manage to find it anywhere, until my dear husband finally hunted down a few specimens. (Apparently the bar isn't exactly new, but was launched a couple of years ago – but I don't remember ever seeing it in Finland until now.)

Nothing special about the wrapping, it has the familiar Mars logo/text on it and plenty of orange (because of the caramel? Possibly.). Now, the bar has been shaped differently: it's thinner than the regular Mars bar! This is disappointing; I like my bars thick and... well, I'm unable to think of an adjective that wouldn't make that phrase dirty so let's leave it at that.

The thinness is explained by the fact that the bar consist of just chocolate and caramel, meaning that there is no nougat layer. The chocolate coating is the same milk chocolate as in the regular Mars bar – perhaps not exactly exciting, but tasty and reliable (you know what you're going to get). I suspect the caramel is also of the same kind, or at least very similar. There is a thicker layer of it, or rather, the entire filling is made of it. I am a huge caramel fan, so I can't view this as a bad thing. It's sweet, sticky, yummy, and has a nice consistency (not too thin and runny). Since the bar is, in essence, chocolate coated caramel, it is very, very sweet, but that is something one expects from a Mars bar.

If you love caramel, you'll probably find this delicious. I definitely enjoyed this limited edition treat, and I always find these variations on a theme interesting. Still, it is the classic Mars bar that remains my favourite.