Monday, September 26, 2016

Brach's and Blue Bell Recalls

Well, drat! After two weeks without more chocolate related recalls we have two new ones -- one for Brach's, a brand I grew up with, and one for Blue Bell which was plagued by recalls just last summer.

Ferrara Candy Company has initiated a voluntary recall of Brach’s® 5 ounce Almond Supremes with a best by date of 4/22/2017 after discovering that some Brach’s® Almond Supremes packages may include Brach’s® Bridge Mix, a product that contains peanuts and wheat. No other Ferrara Candy Company products are affected.

People who have an allergy or severe sensitivity to peanuts run the risk of serious or life-threatening allergic reaction if they consume these products. If you are a consumer and have purchased one of the affected products, please return the unopened product to your retailer for a full refund or replacement. If your package has been opened, you may still return the empty package to your local retailer for a full refund or replacement.

The affected product was distributed throughout retail stores in Florida, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin. Recalled items include:

Item Description Item UPC Code Date:
39733 Brach’s® Almond Supremes, 5oz 11300 397336G23CC33102

After discovering the issue, Ferrara Candy immediately investigated and determined that the packaging error was caused by an incorrect roll of packaging film being accidentally loaded in one of its manufacturing facilities. Ferrara Candy has moved quickly to locate the potentially affected product and has currently retrieved over half of it. To date, only six bags of Brach’s® Almond Supremes have been found to include Brach’s® Bridge Mix, and to date no illnesses have been reported in connection with this issue.

Consumers looking for additional information on the recall are encouraged to speak with one of Ferrara Candy Company’s representatives regarding this issue by calling the Company during normal business hours, Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. CDT, at 800-323-1768.

Blue Bell Ice Cream is voluntarily recalling select products produced in its Sylacauga, Alabama, plant because they were made with a chocolate chip cookie dough ingredient supplied by a third party supplier Aspen Hills, Inc., due to the potential for it to contain Listeria monocytogenes.

Listeria monocytogenes which can cause serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, Listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.

This recall covers the following products.

Blue Bell Ice Cream Half Gallons: Code Dates

Blue Bell Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough 082618226

Blue Bell Cookie Two Step 080418222, 081818224

Blue Bell Ice Cream Pints: Code Dates

Blue Bell Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough 081518242, 082418242

The products can be identified by the code date found on the bottom of the carton. The products produced with the chocolate chip cookie dough pieces were distributed in the following ten states Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia.

No illnesses have been reported to date. Blue Bell identified a potential problem through intensified internal testing and notified Aspen Hills. Aspen Hills then issued a voluntary recall of the products supplied to Blue Bell. Although our products in the marketplace have passed our test and hold program, which requires that finished product samples test negative for Listeria monocytogenes, Blue Bell is initiating this recall out of an abundance of caution. This recall is being conducted in cooperation with the FDA.

Consumers should not eat the recalled products and are encouraged to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund.

We continue to work closely with our regulatory agencies, and we remain committed to ensuring we are producing safe products for our consumers to enjoy. For more information, consumers with questions may call 979-836-7977, Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-5 p.m. CST.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

A Darker Brownie Brittle Snack

You might recall our Brownie Brittle party. No? You can check it out here. But since that party, Sheila G. has introduced new varieties and lines of those delicious brownie in cracker form. Earlier this week, we introduced you to Sheila G. herself and today is the first of four feature articles looking at these new flavors and the new organic line of Brownie Brittle. Now we're going to look at just one of the four samples of her product that her company sent us. We'll cover the three organic varieties in later posts but let's begin with something I hope will become a favorite of mine: Dark Chocolate Sea Salt. The Sheila G's Brownie Brittle company sent us samples of their four newer flavors in exchange for us testing them out and writing honestly about our experience with the product them here on The Chocolate Cult; no other form of compensation was received.

Let's start by looking at the product itself. This was a perfect addition to my hubby's birthday party since the bags are a deep purple color (purple is his favorite color, too). While his theme was video party and most of the snacks were junkie, putting this out allowed me to offer some folks a more sophisticated snack choice. There are 5 servings in a 5 ounce bag, each with 120 calories that is made up mostly of carbs in the form of sugar; 14 grams of sugar to be precise. For a sea salt product these have surprisingly little sodium, just 100 mg a serving. By the way it is a lie that sea salt products are innately healthier for you, it depends entirely on how much you use of it just like with any ingredient! In terms of ingredients from the cacao tree, the brittle is made with cocoa processed with alkali and the chips in them are made with unsweetened chocolate and cocoa butter. There are many other ingredients as well in this product including potential allergens like wheat, eggs, soy, and milk. One extra thing I really like about this company is that they are a "Proud supporter of cookies for kids' cancer" and that is a charity we've supported for the past five years on The Chocolate Cult through their The Great Food Blogger Cookie Swap in December.

We tried the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Brownie Brittle two ways -- plain and with a sweet dip. These are a good size, if you can find an unbroken piece (not much luck for us in these bags). You could make small frosting sandwiches as I did when I was a child or even mini s'mores. The chocolate chips are visible in each piece but I don't see sea salt crystals which I think is a very good thing since that can be overdone and then saltiness becomes the main flavor. These are very crunchy with each bite and chew. The first flavor is sweetness that becomes tinged with cocoa until you hit a chip then there is a burst of darker chocolate before it all fades into a good balance of chocolate, sweetness, and flour with just a slight hint of salt. This lower salt flavor is great when you eat them alone but I was expecting it to be much stronger so with the sweet dip it was a bit too sweet. To learn about that dip and our previous experience with Brownie Brittle, check out this post, don't worry it will open in a new tab so you can come back here and keep reading.

I really love these treats but I'm looking forward to the organic varieties will tackle next and I bet a lot of you are as well. Is the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Brownie Brittle Sacrament worthy? Almost, I'm hoping the organics ones will definitely meet our high standards. Brownie Brittle is getting out into stores but you can also buy it online. I have not seen all of their varieties in our local stores in Indiana. Have you? Leave a comment and let me know not only where you've seen Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Brownie Brittle but if you have tried it yourself.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Sheila G Brings the Edge to Brownie Snacking

Sheila G. Mains
Sisters and Brothers in Chocolate, please join me in welcoming Sheila G. Mains, the founder of Brownie Brittle, to our blog. We've covered her wonderful products some time ago with a party we hosted to introduce you all to the brand. Now we're going to be featuring new variations of this delicious snack. Now let's learn more about the woman behind the brand. Thank you, Sheila, for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer a few questions for us.

Let's start with a basic but important question. How did you get into baking? Did you start as a child or was this an adult pursuit?

My love of baking was handed down by my mother and grandmother who were phenomenal bakers.  My fondest childhood memories took place in the kitchen of our Upstate NY home, watching those two amazing women work their magic as I took in all the wonderful aromas.

Why did you decide to turn a love of and skills in baking into a career?

I had spent over twenty years in the corporate world, until one Friday in November, 1992 when I was told that was going to be my last day.  I knew the company was in trouble financially, but I had always thought that as Exec VP, I would be going down with the ship.  I was devastated.  I had worked hard, putting in more hours than I should have and I knew I could never do that again for someone else.  As I sat in the unemployment line the following Monday I began to think and plan.  My first thought was, no matter what - I’m going to do what I love. And that was baking.  I had this amazing brownie recipe handed down from my mother and grandmother that everyone loved and I decided that I would give it three months to see just how good that recipe really was.  That was 24 years ago.

A lot of chocolate entrepreneurs try to do everything and often with limited success. You focused on brownies and then on the Brownie Brittle. Why did you decide to make the core of your business brownies and brownie brittle versus a wide and varied range of products?

I focused just on Brownies because it was a product that I was so passionate about.  And the more I worked on it, the more I thought about flavor variations like cookie dough brownies, and macaroon brownies - the ideas would just flow.  And with that I began to think of other product launches where I could use brownie batter, or even blondie batter.  That’s what my new cookbook, “Butter & Chocolate" is all about.  Before long people were calling me “The Brownie Lady” or “The Brownie Queen” - and it just stuck.   I loved the idea of being really good at just one thing!

Would you tell us a bit about your brownie business before the transition to Brownie Brittle? Do you still sell brownies to restaurants and theme parks? (if so, which ones?)

My brownie business started out as tins and platters for gifting.  It was a great idea, but the holidays were a crazy time.  There weren’t enough days in December, and then phones didn’t ring in January.  So I started taking brownie samples to local restaurants and cafes and the orders began to flow.  My big break came when I had a call from Disney inviting me to come up to Orlando and do a presentation in front of 12 Executive Chefs.  That was the turning point in my little brownie business!  Becoming the primary brownie vendor for Walt Disney World not only provided a steady source of income, it also gave the brand credibility.  It wasn’t long before our brownies became the base for a brownie sundaes for several restaurants and restaurant chains.  All was going well until the 2008 housing crisis.  People weren’t saving their money to go to Disney, they were trying to save their homes.  Dining out was not an option and when it was, no one was ordering a $5 brownie sundae.  I had to find something that would sell in grocery and I also knew that brownies, being a “me too” item was not the answer.  Too many times I had heard  “we already have a brownie.”  And that’s when Brownie Brittle was born!  No one could say we already have a Brownie Brittle.  As for the brownies, we recently discontinued our brownie production so we could focus entirely on Brownie Brittle - but we’re proud of the fact that we had a wonderful, 22 year relationship with Walt Disney World.

How long as Brownie Brittle been around?

Brownie Brittle hit stores shelves in April, 2011.

There are many ways to operate a business and when we think chocolate we often think of the small shop owner. You've turned Brownie Brittle into a product that those of us in the eastern of the USA can find in stores such as Kroger, Sam's Club, Target, and several others. What was the biggest challenge you overcame to get your products into all of these chains?

The retail buyers had to say “yes” of course - and in almost every case they loved the product, and I think they were also excited about having something on their shelves that was totally new and different.  So that part was easy.  The challenge was - and still is - about building brand awareness.  I used to say “the good news is, we’ve created a product that no one has ever heard of before - and the bad news is, we’ve created a product that no one has ever heard of before.”  When people tried it, they liked it and they bought it.  AND, they love to share it with friends.  So, getting those bags ON the shelf was one thing, getting them to move OFF the shelf is another.  We've had to do a lot of sampling, but we’ve learned that its the best investment we can make for our brand. 

Brownie Brittle has expanded into an Organic line as well as some new flavors such as dark chocolate sea salt and peanut butter chip. Do you have plans for further flavor expansion or new product forms?

Yes - stay tuned!  We are passionate about keeping this brand fresh and exciting and have some very interesting new products in the pipeline.

This might seem like an odd question, but have you gotten tired of brownies personally? Do you still enjoy brownies and those crusty edges as much as you did before you went into business?

There was a time when I was not only the CEO, the CFO, and the CMO - but also head of operations.  And that meant being on the floor everyday overseeing production, and that’s when a little bit of my passion for baking and brownies began to fade.  I was living on brownie scraps and I think I may have overdosed!  Now Doug Scott , our VP of Operations and Ken Willis our QA specialist have taken over that roll and I’m back to loving the R&D side of the business.  I love to open a bag of Brownie Brittle, savor the aroma and dig in!  An each time we launch a new flavor, I’m become addicted all over again.

Do you like other chocolate products beside brownies? If so, what are some of your favorites?

I’m loving this new chocolate bark that we just launched called Thindulgent.  It’s made with a high quality, melt in your mouth chocolate to which we’ve added some amazing toppings like salted caramel cashew, 

You have a book coming out as well which perhaps we'll get to read and write about in the future here on The Chocolate Cult, but for now, tell us a bit about the book and how you found the experience of writing compares to baking.

The cookbook is titled Butter & Chocolate.  There are some recipes using Brownie Brittle, but most of the recipes are variations based upon two of my favorite brownie recipes and one buttery rich blondie recipe.  For instance, you’ll be able to use the same brownie batter to make brownie truffles, brownie bites, or even brownie waffles.  The idea is to learn one basic recipe and get creative!  It was quite a project -  and a true labor of love.  I also learned that baking for a living is one thing, but putting it all down in a cookbook is something else entirely.  Having to carefully explain each step, with details on bake times and test for doneness was so outside my world of baking with just my gut instincts.

Of all of the varieties of Brownie Brittle now available, do you have a favorite? How do you enjoy eating them most? Alone or as part of a recipe?

The newest flavor is always my favorite, and that would be Dark Chocolate Sea Salt!  I love to get creative using brownie brittle in recipes, but for me, there is nothing like opening a bag and savoring each and every bite on its own.

Thank you, Sheila G., for talking with us today.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Lake Champlain Chocolates Go Organic

September 22nd is Organic Food Day so let's look at an organic variety from one of the bigger names in chocolate in the USA, Lake Champlain. These three organic bars from Lake Champlain are more than plain chocolate, they have added ingredients that we'll look at in depth for each variety. Each bar is 2-3 servings so you can easily share these if you want to, you might not want to. I got these three bars free from Lake Champlain Chocolates through a Foodieblogroll program; I was not otherwise compensated for this review.

The organic bars vary in terms of amount of cocoa content and the added flavor ingredients but all three are certified organic by QAL, Fair for Life Fair Trade certified by IMO, Kosher Dairy, and USDA Organic certified. We'll look at each of these bars one at time and I'll highlight what is the most different for each one. Note that when I say X% cocoa I am not mistyping, this is what the labels all say themselves. The nutritional details vary quite a bit but I'm going to focus on calories and serving sizes which I found very interesting. Read the labels yourself before buying if you have concerns about specific nutritional information.

We'll start with the salted caramel bar that is 60% fair trade ingredients and has 57% cocoa content. This is the largest bar at 3.25 oz but don't be fooled by the nutritional information on the back. This bar is three servings at 160 calories each so the entire bar is 480 calories. The biggest challenge to this nutritional information is the fact that the bar is etched and designed as 8 individual squares... 8 doesn't divide easily by 3, folks! This has a roasted cocoa scent to it but not a caramel tang nor sweetness and no salt fragrance. the individual squares required a bit of effort to break apart. Two of the squares were a bit sticky on the top so I plan to test those two and expect some caramel inside the dome shaped square. Yes, I was right, there is a pool of soft, slightly sweet caramel right under the dome which cracks open easily when I take a bite while the bottom makes a loud snap because it is much thicker. The caramel and a light hint of salt gives the chocolate a very smooth quality but then I don't think of 57% as all that dark though milk chocolate lovers might worry about that. Don't worry, unless you only love white chocolate, you may like this.

The spicy aztec bar also has 57% cocoa and 93% of the ingredients are fair trade. This is a 3 oz bar and the nutritional label says it has 230 calories per serving with 2 servings per bar for a total of 460 calories, that's 20 calories less than the first bar in the feature. The most surprising aspect of this bar is not the spices but the presence of pumpkin seeds... of all of the discussions of Aztec chocolate, I've not heard that they added seeds to it. Pumpkin was very popular for Aztec and all Mesoamerican cultures but that doesn't mean they had to put it in their chocolate or that they didn't. Given that they consumed chocolate as a hot spicy drink, it seems unlikely but back to the bar. The spicy scent and the dark chocolate is released when I break the bar into individual squares. The pumpkin seeds look to range from large to small pieces and aren't as numerous as in the almonds and sea salt bar we'll look at next, you can take a bite and get no pumpkin at all. Taking a bite makes a loud snap and the seeds are crunchy when I encounter one. At first there is a smooth slightly dark chocolate but very quickly the cayenne pepper and cinnamon build up with each chew and within half a square I've broken into a bit of a spice sweat! The pumpkin seeds didn't really add much in terms of flavor but were a change in texture. I liked it but it was very easy for me to only each one square before I needed a lot of water.

The highest cacao content bar is the almonds and sea salt which comes in at 72% cocoa and 90% fair trade ingredients. This is also a 3 oz bar with two servings but this time with 240 calories per for a total of 480 calories just like the first bar. I break the bar into pieces and more of the dark chocolate fragrance escapes with a hint of salt riding the edge. I can see the pieces of almonds within a dark, nearly black bar. The bars makes a loud snap which I break it apart but it breaks easily. Taking a bite makes a loud snap and there is an audible crunch whenever I encounter an almond piece. I want to say that the chocolate is bitter or smooth and that the almonds are roasted or not but I can't because the first and strongest taste is salt, salt, and more salt; I needed a lot of water and to rinse my mouth out after this just one square. This is deeply disappointing for a dark chocolate lover like me. Cut the sea salt amount at least in half please!

These are only 3 of the 24 organic chocolate bars you can find on Lake Champlain Chocolates' website. Perhaps in the future we'll be able to test and write about other flavors they offer. Until then, check out these bars while you're planning for your winter holidays. If you have had any of these bars, leave us and the brand a comment below to let us know what you thought.