Friday, March 20, 2020

Small Plea for Small Businesses

Stamp, Panic, Fear, Anxiety, Excitement

We interrupt the history of chocolate to talk about the issue effecting everyone right now.
Coronavirus COVID-19

Yes, it's a big deal.

But one thing I'd like to remind you that small businesses like ours are doing everything we can to survive. And we've taken all the precautionary measures to keep our customers safe.
We are offering curbside pick up and online shipping orders.

Now all we need is for our loyal customers to keep us busy.

We don't have many employees, less than a handful.
Our shop is small enough to keep sanitized and clean.

Please support small, locally owned businesses. If you want to keep them around, take them up on their offers. Small businesses won't get bail outs. We get offered loans, but the last thing a small business needs is to borrow money. We need liquid assets to pay our bills, our employees, and keep up with our supplies.

So please, please, go to the local restaurants, shops. Call them and see how you can get what you want and stay safe. Small businesses are depending on you, they are willing to work out a deal. But they need you!

Don't lose your favorite shop!

Support Small Business!

Thank you!

Monday, March 9, 2020

Columbus and the Chocolate Craze

So History has shown us that Christopher Columbus wasn't quite exactly the great guy we thought him to be. But he did help in making chocolate as we know it today.

If it weren't for explorers like Columbus, Cortes, and missionaries like Jose de Acosta, we would all be grinding our beans and frothing it into a bitter, spicy drink, and not into the delicious, melt in your mouth delight it is today.

Columbus brought cacao beans back to Spain, but it didn't gain traction until Spanish friars introduced it to the royal courts, where it quickly became a favorite.  It was still consumed as a drink, but sugar and honey was added to it to combat the bitterness.

(It is rumored that the word cacao is derived from the Spanish word "caca" or poo. And if you ever have eaten unsweetened, high cacao percentage chocolate, you can probably identify with these early chocolate consumers.)

Vanilla was added and other spices which sometimes gave the illusion of a more potent vanilla flavor. It became known that chocolate without the vanilla was called "healthy chocolate."

Jose de Acosta, a Spanish Jesuit who lived in Mexico and Peru in the late 16th century, wrote of the medicinal qualities of the chocolate drink with chili. "... they say is good for the stomach and against catarrh." Catarrh is a medical condition involving excess mucus in the sinuses and throat. And recently it was found that chocolate can help with sore throats.

So Chocolate was gaining popularity across Europe in the 1600's. So popular that in 1662, Pope Alexander VII declared that religious fasts were NOT broken by consuming chocolate drinks.

You hear that, the church wants you to consume chocolate!

So here is where we come to our first controversy!
Chocolate had become so popular, and the demand so great, it brought with it a massive slave market as Cacao plantations began to crop up all over. And with all the conquering Europeans coming over to the Americas, they brought with them diseases which wiped out the Mesoamerican workers. So the production of chocolate fell on African slaves, and low-wage workers.

The industrial revolution brought on quicker ways to produce chocolate (a process that will be discussed in a future blog). It began with Dutch chemist Coenraad van Houten, who introduced alkaline salts to reduce the bitterness, and then he created a press to separate the cacao butter from the the liquor. This made the chocolate cheaper to produce and kept the product consistent.  This is known as "Dutch Cocoa."

In 1847, Joseph Fry discovered a way to make chocolate moldable, and began launching chocolate bars.

Then in 1875, Daniel Peter added powdered milk (produced by Henri Nestle) to the chocolate liquor, and invented Milk Chocolate.

Finally, in 1879, Rudolphe Lindt invented the conching machine which further improved the texture and taste of chocolate.

Cadbury began manufacturing boxed chocolates in England by 1868, and created the first Easter egg in 1875, by developing a pure cocoa butter, which produced smooth shapes.

Chocolate came to the United States in 1765, when James Baker and John Hannon founded the Baker Chocolate Company, using the cocoa beans they brought back from the West Indies.

In 1893, Milton Hershey began his career with chocolate coated caramels... and that is another fight we will save for another blog, my sweet Barn Animals.

What do you want to know more of? Leave a comment!

Monday, March 2, 2020

All hail Quetzalcoatl: The god of chocolate

If you ever needed a reason to worship chocolate, here is your idol.

Quetzalcoatl was an Aztec god. He is the feathered serpent god of wind. He can bring on whirlpools and whirlwinds, which makes sense if you've ever watched chocolate melt in a tempering machine.

He was cast away by the other gods, because Quetzalcoatl shared the secrets of chocolate to us lowly humans.

Now the details of this transfer of information is fuzzy. But I imagine Quetzalcoatl was being tributed to by the Aztecs, who were giving him sacrifices of vestal virgins and corn (or as they called it maize), and he probably was getting tired of this routine. Everywhere he goes, sacrificed virgins and maize. So he then thinks, all this would be better with a little cacao.

We could not be more thankful for the knowledge passed down from this god.

So the Aztecs took to this news and stopped sacrificing virgins and replaced drinking their blood, by drinking a frothed chocolate drink and would add achiote to make it more red. Achiote is a natural dye and is used today to make butter yellow and cheddar cheese orange.

So the Aztecs began cultivating the Cacao bean, and used it for more than just drinks. They used it for money as well. In fact an avocado was worth three beans. Unfortunately, I don't know if my creditors would take chocolate beans for my debts though.

So this is how the Mayans were able to get cacao beans, as they couldn't grow cacao trees in their native land, but they ruled over many Aztec lands, and thus would demand cacao seeds for taxes.

The Mayans drank their chocolate hot, while the Aztecs as mentioned before liked it cold. The Aztecs would also season their drink with with chiles, allspice, vanilla and honey.

In Mexico, archeological digs have found residues in vessels showing that they used not only the bean, but the white pulp around the bean which is a source of fermentable sugars to make alcoholic drinks. Nothing like a Pre-Columbian Cocktail.

So I hope that the next time you enjoy a decadent truffle or sip a frothy cup of cacao, I hope you say a little thanks to the god who brought it to us.

All Hail Quetzalcoatl!

Next on the blog, we will continue with how cacao turned into chocolate.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Are You A Chocoholic?

Hey Sweet Barn Animals!

In the next couple of weeks I thought I would delve into the history, lore, and controversy (because there is always a controversy these days) of chocolate.

Love it, loathe it, can't get enough of it, chocolate is quite the interesting ingredient.

Everyone has their preference as well. Milk, dark, white (which is technically not a chocolate), organic, free trade, with nuts, coconut, fruit, and the evil mass produced "chocolates".

And don't get me started on percentages!

Here are some of the topics I will discuss on the blog (and coming soon, summarized in our PODCAST):

What is Chocolate and how does it go from slimy bean pods to melt in your mouth bars?

The History of the Almighty Cocao Bean!

Ganache - The best filling ever

The Dark Side of ChocolatešŸ˜±

Let me know in the comments what other topics you'd like to discuss

Monday, February 17, 2020

Confections We DO NOT Make and Why

We get a lot of requests, from fancy macaron cookies (we are not a bakery) to notary services (still don't understand that one).

Every once in awhile we get asked if we have the following classic old fashioned confections and why we don't have them. I'd like to address those questions now.

Sea Foam or Honeycomb Candy

This has to be our number one requested item. There is a good reason we do not make this, though many people don't believe me.

Sea Foam/Sponge/or Honeycomb Candy is a lot like a peanut brittle minus the peanuts and a whole bunch more air, which is achieved by a chemical reaction.

Let me explain more. Brittle is made by boiling sugar and syrup until it reaches around 300 degrees F. Then baking soda is added to make it "brittle." It foams up and creates that wonderful snap we love brittle to be.

With sea foam, additional lift is required to make the boiled syrup even lighter, and that is usually done with vinegar. If any of you have made the grade school volcano science project, you know exactly what this does. (I've also seen some recipes with whipped egg whites.)
The result of this extra lift makes a very light and airy candy that melts in your mouth when you eat it.

Unfortunately, it doesn't stay that airy for long, especially when you add in our erratic weather patterns in the Rocky Mountains. There are specific directions on most of these recipes that emphasize NOT to make this candy if there is a storm coming or if there is a lot of humidity.
Even when we make toffee and brittle, if the weather is wonky, it doesn't turn out. It will be soft, bendy, and sticky. However, unlike brittle and toffee, the sea foam candy will deflate and not be pleasurable to eat. There are ways to combat that, such as dipping the confection in chocolate. By then we run into labor issues, and then we wouldn't be able to provide this confection at a fair price. And being that it is not asked for that often, it's not worth us having it in our case for a once in awhile purchase.

Divinity - A Confection from the Heavens?

Every Christmas we get requests for divinity, mostly from people over a certain age, or people who know what a pain in the butt is is to make, but their grandma always made it.

Divinity is another whipped wonder, using boiled sugar syrup and whipped egg whites. This time, the syrup is boiled to a lower temperature, then it is slowly added to whipped egg whites to form a very sweet and sticky meringue. Nuts are usually added, sometimes fruit. It is then spooned onto greased parchment and left out to dry for a day.

I'm sure you can see where we run into issues here.

As before, our wonky mountain weather is unpredictable, especially with the storms that pass over during the winter, to guarantee a proper dry on these sweet little clouds.

And once they are made, they only last a week.

AND it is not a popular item.

I can't imagine eating a whole piece of this confection as they are super sweet, and if I did, I imagine I would look like the goddess figurine below.

Ribbon Candy - Delicate and Beautiful

I love ribbon candy, it is also a highly requested item during the Christmas season, and also is requested by people over a certain age.

We actually considered making this for the holidays. However after I actually made a batch, it became clear why making this by hand wouldn't be practical for our shop.

Ribbon Candy is made by boiling syrup to a certain temperature, adding flavor, color, and letting it cool just to be able to touch it. Then the tug of war begins. To make the proper color and consistency of ribbon candy, you have to start twisting and pulling the hot candy while it cools, but doesn't get too cool before it hardens. This required multiple trips to the oven to rewarm the candy. Then when it starts to look opaque, it is formed and cooled. 

After all that work (about an hour of pulling and heating and pulling and swearing), I got one pound of ribbon candy, half of it looked decent enough to sell.

Then it started to stick to each other. I'm sure you all have opened up a bag of ribbon candy and have found that fused piece, surrounded by shattered shards of sweetness.

Thus, again, ribbon candy is time consuming - which makes it expensive, it sticks together with just a hint of moisture, and it breaks if you even look at it funny.

So there you have it. We do make a lot of things, but we can't make EVERYTHING, as much as we would like to. Some are too delicate to make, others are too labor intensive, but mostly, as a business, it is not possible for us to have a product for a sporadic sale.

That's just how the sea foam crumbles.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Everything is coming up KALE

Are you a gardener, or a CSA receiver? Then you know one of the first crops to come up is kale, the good for you super green superfood that is prolific and sometimes hard to choke down.

One of our favorite ways of getting rid of it... consuming it is in chip form. And here at The Sweets Barn, we have all the savory ways to help you achieve this.

Kale Chips

For this demonstration we used our KTLC Poultry Seasoning, with Safflower oil, but 9 different seasoning blends, and five infused safflower oils, all blended and made in our store, there are endless possibilities. Try our Curry, BBQ or Taco Seasoning with our Chili, or Lemon oils.

Anyhoo, gather your ingredients. 

Thoroughly wash and dry your kale and cut it into bite sized hunks.

 Drizzle the Kale with the oil

 And sprinkle with the seasoning

 Massage the oil and seasoning into the leaves

They should look nice and green, but not oily.

 Spread out onto a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees F for 10-15 minutes

 They should be toasted and crisp. Let cool and enjoy.

Eating your greens have never been so tasty.

Your mother would be proud.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Infini-Tea Wars

Welcome to the first Sweets Barn Blog Post!
We are excited about spring, the warmer weather, traveling and the new Avengers movie.
Well two of us are, the other one just doesn't understand.

To celebrate our first blog, and the anything Marvel, Heather, the chocolatier, has created an exciting post she is calling the:

INFINI-TEA (and truffle) WARS - a pairing of tea and truffles with different Avengers.

 We'll start with Iron Man. We all know he's not a fan of secret identities, thus Tony Stark is a bold man. He loves his gadgets, being the center of attention, and he loves to drink. That's why we chose our Vanilla Bourbon Rooibos tea. It's red, it's bold, it's sold in bulk.
And of course, our Montana Whiskey Caramel Truffle is the perfect pair for the socialite superhero.

Next up, The Incredible Hulk.
He's strong, green and packs a punch. 
Just like the Gunpowder Green Tea. The strongest, greenest tea we have. You will be ready to "SMASH" anything in your way after a cup of this brew. Along for the ride is our Lemon Wasabi Truffle, smooth and citrus, with a surprising sucker punch of wasabi at the end.

Spiderman is a gentle soul, he's just a babe wanting to play with the adults.
That is why he's been paired with the Root Beer Rooibos Tea.
All the youthful taste of Root Beer, and all the adult sophistication of tea.
Spidey is also a fan of the Vanilla Bean truffle. This ice cream-like bonbon even looks like it was adorned with Spiderman's signature webbing.

Doctor Strange
If you suffer from aching joints and inflammation, Stephen Strange can relate. The car accident that crushed his skilled hands and the endless line of surgeries that followed left the doctor searching for alternative treatments. But you don't have to go to Kamar-Taj and train in the Mystic Arts, just drink this anti-inflammatory tea with real turmeric root. Paired with the Cinnamon Vanilla Rooibos truffle, the experience is out of this realm.

The legend of the Black Panther and his powers is an honored tradition in his tribe. The Wakandan Prince drank an elixir made from the heart shaped, purple herb.
Though we don't have access to such plants, we do have the Purple Earl Tea. A royal blend of Earl Grey and Lavender.
A flavor so great we had to put it in the chocolate as well.

Besides eating a whole box of pop tarts upon arriving to earth, Thor experienced another great human
Thor is also a pretty boy, so we matched him up with our Coffee Lover's Vanilla Tea. A blend of black tea, coffee, real vanilla flavor, and roasted Yerba Mate. 
And so he doesn't shatter any more mugs, we will give him our Cowboy Coffee Truffle, our version of a chocolate coffee bean.

Captain America, The First Avenger, and now... we don't know what he is now, or which side he is on.  Of course he is loyal to his best bud, Bucky. But who knows how far down the brainwashed Buck will drag Ol' Cap.
He's fighting against good and evil, dark and light. That is why we would give him our Decaf Russian Chai with our White Raspberry and Dark Raspberry Truffles.
Let's just hope he chooses wisely.

Finally, when you are AntMan either everything looks like an avalanche or you are the avalanche. Our Avalanche White Tea, with it's pineapple and coconut flavors will blow you away. And for a little truffle with big flavor, try the Cookie Butter truffle. The fond flavor that brings to mind waffle cones, and ice cream shops... whatever is fresh and hot. (Dude)

So that is our pairing of teas and truffles.
What pairings would you do?

See you at the movies.