Cacoa Nibs and Cocoa Powder

The difference between Cacao and Cocoa. From left to right: Cacao Nibs, Cacao Nib Syrup, Chocolate Mocktini, Chocolate Syrup and Cocoa Powder.

The difference between Cacao and Cocoa. From left to right: Cacao Nibs, Cacao Nib Syrup, Chocolate Mocktini, Chocolate Syrup and Cocoa Powder.

Did you know that cacao nibs are the raw form of chocolate? Did you know that they are said to have one of the best sources of magnesium. According to WebMD “Researchers estimate that the average person’s body contains about 25 grams of magnesium, and about half of that is in the bones. Magnesium is important in more than 300 chemical reactions that keep the body working properly.” National Institutes of Health lists some of these chemical reactions “including protein synthesis, muscle and nerve function, blood glucose control, and blood pressure regulation” And that is just five! If your into nutrition and science then check out the links to find more.

Ok, but back to food right?

What the heck is Cacao? and why are they spelled different? Is that just a Canadian thing, eh?

Nope. Nothin’ like that. Turns out that Cacao is unprocessed and the real  raw deal. Cocoa processed and can refer to products with added sugar. But not always.

I checked this out by reading the ingredients on the back of my Fry’s Cocoa Powder. Processed – yes. Sugar added – nope. Here is the ingredients on my container: Cocoa, sodium carbonate. May contain peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, wheat and/or sulphites.

So the last bit is all about the “don’t sue us if you have an allergic reaction, we processed this somewhere where other stuff you may be allergic to is held and/or processed.” But the first bit? So Cocoa and … what? Sodium Carbonate. An additive used to keep the powder from caking, grumping up, compacting like a lump. Get the picture? So processed, but pretty pure, well mostly.

Ah sorry, again with the science right? Jeez. This blog is called Experimental Virgins for a reason. Love me some science.

Back to drinks though. Why do I care? Why bother with all this research?

I want to make drinks as close to the original tastes of the adult versions as possible, when possible. Infusing Cacao Nibs will give a clear fluid, while using Cocoa Powder will give an opaque look. Think of it as the difference between cinnamon sticks and powder, there is a place for both. You don’t put whole cinnamon sticks into cinnamon buns (mmm cinnamon buns…) and you don’t put ground cinnamon into a clear iced tea. Same thing with Cacao Nibs and Cocoa Powder.

On to the recipes and enough with the preamble.

Cacao Nib Syrup

I came across cocoa nibs in my research to find a way to make an alternative to creme de cacao and looked up as my starting point DIY Chocolate Liqueur. The basic ingredients for flavouring? Cacao nibs. Infused in vodka along with sugar, water and vanilla.

So can you make a similar syrup and how? Turns out it’s pretty easy and has been done. I found the recipe simply with Google and a little poking around on a site describing a yummy iced tea using a cacao infused syrup. Great! The ingredients? Cacao nibs, water, sugar and vanilla. Sound familiar? You can check out the original recipe here for the whole drink. For the syrup alone here is what they say:

Ingredients:
  • 3 tbsp cocoa nibs
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
Procedure:

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil stirring to dissolve sugar. Simmer 5 minutes, then remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Strain the syrup through a fine sieve; discarding the solids. Store in fridge until needed.

My Thoughts:

First thing you should know is 1 made six, yes six, times the recipe. Go big or go home I say, and I am gonna use this a lot! Gotta have stuff to test with, and gotta have enough to make mistakes and go “ick” and chuck the drink in question down the sink.

Second I have trouble telling if sugar is dissolved completely when there is particulate matter in my syrup. So I tend to make the syrup first and then add the flavouring to it, simmer a few minutes, and then continue as before. Will that affect my final product? Not sure…

After the said time I strained the syrup, keeping the nibs for the time and tasted the syrup. Then in an exercise of science, I divided the syrup in half (remember I made six times the recipe) and added the nibs back to half the syrup. According to the DYI for chocolate liqueur, it calls for 8 days to steep the cacao nibs in the vodka before adding the remaining ingredients, then one more day to blend flavours. Since sugar syrup is thicker than alcohol I gave it two weeks in the fridge.

How did the original syrup taste?

Chocolatish. Ok so that’s not a word, but cacao nibs don’t taste like a chocolate bar. Remember not processed and unsweetened? They also have a nutty taste and are a bit acidic. The husband says it tastes a bit like maple syrup with a dash of apple cider vinegar.

14 days later I tested the second batch of syrup that had been infusing in the nibs for in the fridge. The flavour had mellowed and was more chocolatey but also less acidic. Much more pleasant but still the hint of a bite is there. I wonder…

In order to be completely scientific I purchased a different brand of nibs to repeated the recipe. My first reaction to the new brand was that they smelled different. When I made the recipe again using the new product, the resulting syrup was the best of the bunch, chocolaty and sweet with only a hint of acidity. (My husband still finds it unappealing, give him regular chocolate syrup any day.)

Final thoughts? The quality of the nibs makes a difference, and infusing the nibs for 2 weeks with high quality nibs will give you the best product. What name brand did I finally choose? Navitas Naturals Raw Organic Cacao Nibs (unsweetened). If you can’t find them locally, I got mine from HealthyPlanetCanada.com.

Homemade Chocolate Syrup

Sometimes you need a real thick chocolate syrup for the job. Our family tested out a few we found on the net with the “chocolate milk” test. Does the syrup make a good cup of chocolate milk? Is it chocolaty enough, too bitter, too sweet?

The first from Allrecipes.com was too weak in our minds, especially when mixed with milk. The second passed the muster. This one is from KitchenTreaty.com and is thick and strong, but makes a great chocolate milk. You can find all the instructions on their site here, but to get you started here is the basic list of ingredients you will need.

Ingredients:
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

Chocolate Mocktini

Ingredients:
  • 1 oz chocolate syrup
  • 1 oz cacao nib syrup
  • 2 oz club soda

To show the difference in density and opaqueness of the two syrups I decided to make up a simple martini using both drinks, layered and topped with soda water. I probably wouldn’t serve this, as is, since the Cacao Syrup doesn’t work alone with soda water. Once it’s mixed it is reminiscent of a rich cold cocoa drink. – more appealing, but again, not quite there yet. My husband added a splash of cream and it became “OK”.

It is pretty though, and if one were to mix something else with each layer, and serve with cream on top, or maybe a candy cane for stirring, this could have potential. I think I will revisit this around Christmas time, maybe add some mint and see if I can’t come up with something inspirational.

Simple Syrups

simple syrup making is pretty easy: sugar, water and any flavouring you want.

Simple Syrup: a key ingredient.

As I work my way through recipes for drinks, both common and unusual, simple syrups keep showing up as a key ingredient. Simple syrups, like alcoholic infusions, can be flavoured with herbs, spices or fruit and add sweetness and flavour to cocktails, lemonades, iced teas, coffees, fizzes and sodas.

When I started working to create virgin drinks with similar tastes to the original alcoholic drinks, I found that simple syrups were a way of creating flavours that imitated some of the sweeter liqueurs like cinnamon and peppermint schnapps, Curaçao, and even Kahlua. Unlike their originals, these syrups lack the bite or kick that the alcohol provides, and will be sweeter. This means that in order to adapt recipes less syrup should be used or the drink will become simply too sweet for most palates.

In my testings and trials of drink making I have found that adding bitters, soda water or more sour beverages can counteract the sweetness of the simple syrup. The key, though, is to make the flavouring in the simple syrup strong enough that the amount needed is halved in comparison to a liqueur, without loosing flavour.

Simple Syrup – basic recipes

Ingredients:
  • 2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups water
Procedure:

Measure water and sugar into a pot and heat at medium high. Stir occasionally until all the sugar is dissolved in the water and the water turns clear.  Turn off heat and allow syrup to cool. Store in container, well sealed, in cool location.

My Thoughts:

Simple syrup recipes are easy to find online. The basics are that the more sugar the stronger the syrup but the components are the same: Sugar and water.

Some call a one to one ratio thick or rich simple syrup as does What’s Cooking America others refer to a rich simple syrup as a stronger sugar concentration While Allrecipes  suggests that a 1:1 ratio is known as simple syrup. . About Food suggests a rich simple syrup is 2:1 ratio. Whatever it’s called there is four common ratios. 1:1 sugar to water; 2:1 sugar to water; and 1:2 sugar to water; and 1:3 sugar to water.

I find that the stronger syrups are better for more sour or bitter combinations such as dark or semi sweet chocolate, coffee, lemons, grapefruit and raspberries. More dilute syrups work best for drinks where multiple syrups and strong juices will be used without diluting the drink with soda water or use of bitters.

Simple syrups can also be made with flavoured or alternate sugar sources. Brown sugar makes a pleasant and darker tasting simple syrup, and caramelizing white sugar then introducing the water changes the flavour of the syrup to introduce darker flavours into your drinks. I provided the recipe for carmel syrup in my post all about apples here as it takes a few more steps and some practice to get right.

You can also find how I make my coffee syrup which I use at half strength instead of kahlua from my previous post used in my version of Carmel Apple-Disiac, and my cinnamon heavy syrup recipe here as part of my recipe for apple pie shooters.


Orange Simple Syrup

This is a wonderful bright tasting syrup that is infused with the essences of orange zest. The resulting syrup is clear and slightly orange in colour.

Ingredients:
  • Orange zest from two oranges
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cup sugar
Procedure:

Heat water in pot on medium high and add orange zest, bring to boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to steep half hour. Return to medium high heat and add sugar. Bring back to a low boil and cook until sugar is dissolved and no crystals are left on the bottom. Remove from heat, cool and pour into container for storage. Leave rinds in place to continue to infuse. Store in fridge until use and strain rinds as used.

Mint Simple Syrup

Ingredients:
  • Peppermint leaves – chopped (about half cup)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
Procedure:

Heat water to boil in pot and add peppermint leaves – allow to simmer 5 minutes then turn off heat and allow to steep up to 1 hour. Strain leaves from water, keeping the infused liquid, and return peppermint water to medium high heat. Add sugar and dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and taste liquid for strength. If liquid feels too weak, add more peppermint leaves and allow to infuse for a few days in the syrup. If desired add a drop or two of green food colouring.

My Thoughts:

I didn’t have a fresh source of peppermint leaves when I first created this recipe. In order to “cheat” I simply added a few drops of real peppermint extract. Careful to taste the recipe as you add more mint – peppermint is very strong and you can end up with toothpaste floured syrup instead of something wonderful for drink making purposes.


Depending on how often you make a certain drink, or use a flavoured syrup it may be better for you to have the basic recipe for sweetness and add flavour other ways. In many cases I have chosen to make a simple syrup and add flavourings by muddling them into the drink instead of infusing the ingredients into a number of syrups and then storing these for later use.

Storing multiple simple syrups can take up space and be expensive if you choose to procure fancy bottles for your liquids to reside. I keep some of my most used syrups on hand – in fancy bottles- cause it looks much cooler when mixing drinks then pulling out multiple plastic Ziplock tubs or old pickle jars. But the majority of my syrups are stored in the cheapest containers I can find and reside in an old fridge in the basement for when I need them.

An Apple a Day…

Fall Apple Cocktails

Fall Apple Cocktails. From left to right: Sweet Orchard, Apple Ginger Sparkler, Caramel Apple-disiac, Apple Temple, Apple Lemon Fizz and Apple Pie Shooter.

Today was the day to start my first set of experiments – apple drinks. All the prep work was out of the way, all my ingredients laid before me. The ham and baked potato was in the oven, the potatoes peeled and ready to cook.

The Sweet Orchard

First on my list: something called The Orchard from Saveur which would use two of my new infusions. Pulling out the Apple Jack Syrup Infusion and All Spice Dram Infusion, grabbing a lemon and a rather expensive bottle of maple syrup (yep more sugar, you can see where this is going) I mixed up the first tester and just to be scientific… the original recipe (gotta know what your aiming for).  WoW! Sweet like eating candy!! And instant sugar rush. Ok, so I can work with this, the trick is how to cut the sweetness without diluting the taste – which was splendid. The original does this with the … you guessed it… booze.

After some research I discovered that the mixologist secret for a sweet drink is bitters. Well that’s great, except these are hard to come by and also booze. What do to… more research of course! And a solution, cider vinegar. Testing this on my two kids proved to be successful, the drink maintained their required sweetness but added a bit of brightness and that bitter taste that helps cut the sweet just enough to make the drink come alive.

Ingredients:
  • 2 oz applejack syrup
  • 3/4 oz lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz maple syup
  • 1/2 oz all spice dram infusion
  • 6 drops apple cider vinegar
Procedure:

Mix all ingredients in a cocktail shaker, fill with ice and shake well to break up syrups. Strain into a glass and serve.

My Thoughts:

When I offered this to my kids the first thing they said was “can you make this again, lots?” As far as simplicity, once you have the two specialty ingredients made up, it’s a cinch.

While this is a wonderful recipe, it’s more of a sipper due to it’s sweetness. Consider this a desert drink, maybe with some wonderful cheese.

Kid-o-metre 5/5. My kids can’t get enough
Taste: 4/5 very sweet so not for everyone
Simplicity: 3/5. Two special ingredients to make for the recipe but then easy to make
Ingredient finding: 4/5 All spice berries not available locally here, had to get from out of town.

Here are the recipes for the two specialty syrups. For more details see my previous blog.


 Apple Jack Syrup

2 cups green apples, peeled and chopped really thin
3 cinnamon sticks
1 1/2 cup water
2 1/2 cup sugar

Dissolve sugar in water, add apples and simmer until tender about 10 minutes. Apples should become translucent. Add cinnamon and simmer 5 minutes. Remove from heat and pour into mason jar, add 2 tablespoons brandy extract and let cool completely before sealing and storing. Let sit overnight or as long as you want in fridge.

All spice dram infusion

2 1/2 cup water
1/4 cup all spice berries
1 cinnamon stick
2/3 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons imitation rum.

Boil water and spices and simmer 10 minutes. Let steep half hour. Strain and add sugar. Heat to dissolve sugar, remove from heat and add rum extract. Cool and store in fridge until needed.


Next to tackle – another drink that required some form of bitters. Since this was not something I had originally prepped, back to the research and the grocery store for the most bitter of citrus: Grapefruit.

Most bitters involve some form of bitter herb as well as some flavouring agent. I chose to pair the flavour and bitterness of grapefruit peel with the essence of thyme and a touch of lemon and vinegar for some bite. The results turned out perfect and the recipe is a snap to make.

Thyme and Citrus Bitters

Ingredients:
  • 1 lemon – zested and juiced
  • 1 grapefruit – peeled and half it’s flesh
  • 2 oz apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 2 Tbsp dried Thyme
Procedure:

Zest and juice lemon into blender, cut skins off grapefruit, chop coarsely and put in blender with half of grapefruit flesh, add remaining ingredients and pulse until blended. Turn to high speed and pluse a few times more.

Pour into storage container (plastic is fine) and refrigerate overnight. Next day, strain with a fine wire mesh strainer into a bowl and discard pulp. Keep liquid refridgerated until use.

The Apple Temple

The original for this next drink comes from Bonappetit. Known as the fall classic, this martini used bourbon and brandy for it’s kick. In order to create something new and exciting without simply being another sparkling apple cider I added a splash of grenadine, and worked with as many fresh flavours as I could.

The result is not a perfect replica of the original, but hints at some of the flavour components, while being available for any palate.

Ingredients:
  • 1 oz applejack syrup infusion
  • 1 oz fresh apple sour (see below)
  • 1 oz fresh apple cider
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp thyme and citrus bitters
  • 2 oz club soda
  • splash of grenadine
Procedure:

Measure first 5 ingredients into a cocktail glass. Add ice and shake well to blend flavours and chill the drink. Rim a chilled champagne glass with sugar. Pour cocktail into glass and add soda water to top up. Add a splash of grenadine just before serving, and let it sink to the bottom for effect.

My thoughts:

This is lovely and refreshing, the thyme and citrus add a nice touch but the grenadine may not work with this flavour complex. Alternates would be to make a red apple syrup and use that to keep the flavours more pure.

Kid-o-metre 4/5 sweet enough for kids to love
Taste: 4/5 grenadine not best option for colour
Simplicity: 3/5. Three special ingredients to make for the recipe
Ingredient finding: 5/5 everything available in a small northern town with only one store


Apple Sour Recipe
4 green tart apples
2 oz lemon juice (bottled is fine for this)

Quarter the apples, with skins on, cut out the cores and chop into thumb size bits. Fill blender with apples and add lemon juice. Start blender on lowest setting, chop by pulsing until apples are finely chopped. Turn to next setting and blend until the apples are moving freely through the blades without help. Increase speed and continue until you get to top speed and the apples are pulp. Pour apples into strainer over the bowl, and use the back of your wooden spoon to push and squeeze all juice out of the pulp.


 Caramel Apple-Disiac

This recipe proved to be the most challenging to get close to the original four at cosmopolitan.com. When creating a coffee liqueur replacement, the concentration of coffee per tbsp of syrup becomes double what would be found in the most common coffee liqueurs. So, when I created this recipe using the same concentrations of each ingredient and compared it to the original I found the taste of coffee in the virgin drink too overpowering – you couldn’t taste the apple at all.

In altering the recipe, it soon became apparent that additional ingredients would be required to add depth and richness. After about 6 tries, I finally came up with something that is very close to the original in flavour, but milder in kick.

Ingredients:
  • 1 tbsp coffee syrup (see below)
  • 2 oz fresh apple sour (see above)
  • 1 tbsp apple juice concentrate (undiluted from frozen)
  • 1 oz carmel syrup (see below)
  • 2 oz fresh apple cider
  • 6 drops apple cider vinegar
  • 1 oz cream
 Procedure:

Measure all ingredients into cocktail shaker with ice. Shake well and strain into martini glass. Garnish with a slice of apple if desired.

My Thoughts:

This is an acquired taste. With the addition of carmel and decrease in amount of coffee flavour, my non coffee non drinker husband found the drink more enjoyable and finished the glass. My kids however do not like this, due to the richness of the flavours.

I made this for a few relatives this thanksgiving at dinner – one thought there was banana in the drink due to the way the flavours mix. She said “I taste about five things at once in the first sip”. Do these flavous work together, the veridic is still out with my family.

Kid-o-metre 0/5. Definitely an adult taste complex
Taste: 3/5 as not everyone will love this.
Simplicity: 1/5. Three special ingredients to make for the recipe
Ingredient finding: 5/5 everything available in a small northern town with only one store


Coffee Syrup Recipe

2 cups strong coffee
1 cup brown sugar
4 tbsp vanilla

Heat coffee and sugar in sauce pan until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and add vanilla. Bottle and keep in cool place until needed.

Caramel Syrup

2 cups white sugar
1 cup boiling water

Boil water and have measured and ready. Heat sugar in sauce pan on medium heat stirring regularly. When sugar starts to melt it will caramelize, keep stirring just until sugar is almost all melted. Remove from heat and carefully pour in hot water. The sugar will sizzle and pop from the water and the results will be a ball of toffee and some caramel tasting water, don’t worry. Return to heat and dissolve toffee sugar in water until the results are a thick dark rich syrup.

IMPORTANT: Hot melted sugar will keep on cooking and burn quickly if you don’t work quick, don’t let the sugar start to boil and bubble this means it’s burning. YEP, this took me two tries to get it right.


Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t worry, choose one drink and enjoy. Then when your ready, try another. This is the first three apple options I created this holiday season – and the most difficult. My next blog will be the other three : Apple Pie Shooter (virgin), Apple Lemon Fizz and Apple Ginger Spritzer.

Stay Tuned!