"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Red Menace in Steve's Evil Kitchen

For the uninitiated: If I ever start a business selling what I concoct ("cook" and "bake" don't seem correct terms, somehow), I'd name the company Steve's Evil Kitchen and the product line Illicit Confections.

Sometimes an idea has to percolate for a long time before it starts to form properly. It was more than a year ago that I mentioned to someone that I'd never had red velvet cake; then I looked up recipes and found that most of them used an entire bottle of red food coloring (yes, the very one that's banned in many countries and is probably safe if one swallowed a drop, but could lead to cancer if one consumed, say, an entire bottle). Then I was informed that there were recipes, mostly older ones, that used beets for the color; beets are sweet and earthy, so they might work with chocolate, but my instinct says... blecch!

People's reactions to chocolate have bewildered me. For one, people think that dark brown chocolate has more cocoa solids, when it's just been dyed. Look at cocoa powder and you'll see that 100% cocoa is a reddish tan, not dark brown. It was that ruddy color that had me thinking back to red velvet...

Red Chocolate!

The first instinct was to add cinnamon, which works beautifully with chocolate, as Red Hots are, yes, red. Cinnamon does have a slight ruddiness, but less so than chocolate and cinnamic acid and cinnamaldehyde are yellow [doesn't your kitchen have a copy of the CRC Handbook of Chemistry and Physics?] and Red Hots turn out to be dyed red.

Raspberry is the go-to red additive to chocolate, but some feel that the fruit acids don't work well with dark chocolate - and I'm one of them. Add enough cream and sugar and they work together, but you end up with vanilla candy with chocolate bits and raspberry bits.

Cherry seemed obvious. The main flavor is benzaldehyde, which is the same as in almond and both work well with chocolate. Childhood memories of bad chocolate-covered cherries notwithstanding, this seemed part of the answer. Cranberries are a possibility, as well.

Anise works, in small amounts, with chocolate and star anise is deep dark red. Now we're (metaphorically) cooking!

The crucial point was what to use for sweetening. There are some honeys that are dark amber and almost red, but I think, if mixed with chocolate, would impart no red color. Then I hit upon crystal malt. Malt works with chocolate - malted milk balls! - and crystal malt gives a red color to some beers.

So, the plan today is to shop at a homebrwe supply store and get crystal malt, then go home and steep them like tea, strain them, boil off the water until it starts to crystalize... and hope that maltose is less refractory to candymaking than fructose was (I have a weird candy glass made of fructose... omg, I just realized it's red).

Unfortunately, while cherry, star anise, cinnamon and malt all work with chocolate, I don't think they work together. I'm going to try to pull it all together by Easter, as candy and Easter go together well, even if the candy comes from an Evil Kitchen.


Robyn said...

I think you should just roll with the beets -- flavor should blend well and the color is perfect. If you don't like them, boil some in water and use the colored water -- less flavor, no texture, lots of color. Could reduce it for more concentrated color.

Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

Apparently I am the first, though I trust I won't be the last, to admit to reading "crystal meth" for "crystal malt" ... the first time around.

You might want to consider using the former because that candy would sell better than hotcakes!

It'd sell like crystal meth.

Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...


Using crystal meth would significantly increase your Kitchen's EQ (Evil Quotient).

Robyn said...

Also, think about pH. Acid ingredients (and non alkali-processed [Dutch] cocoa) will give your cocoa a more reddish hue. Acid will also make your beet juice a bit redder.

No, Glaven, not THAT kind of acid.

wildknits said...

I think you should try the beets. Just a bit grated into the mix perhaps (kind of like hiding zucchini in a chocolate cake).

I am not a beet lover by nature, but have grown to like them - when properly prepared - over the years.

Robyn said...

Random thought on this morning's run: Hibiscus tea. Lovely red color. May be little too assertively tart.

Emily said...


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Thanks and have a great day!

SteveQ said...

@Emily: What's the website? Can't email you back without your address... ladies first!