Labor Day in our Chocolate

by D. Prinz on September 6, 2015

bunches of Equal Exchange  (3)

Every day is Jewish Labor Day. Jewish tradition expounds the importance of work and those who do it. Even God worked for six days and only then rested on Shabbat.

Chocolate is one medium for uncovering themes of worker equity, food justice and ethical kashrut. Many cocoa farmers, those who tend the cocoa trees and harvest the beans, never taste the final product of chocolate.

Worse, thousands of children, some of them slaves, work cocoa production in West Africa’s Ivory Coast or Ghana, the primary market for much of the world’s cocoa beans. This past July the US Department of Labor released a study that estimated that 2 million children work in hazardous conditions in West African cocoa. It has designated $12 million dollars for programs to reduce these numbers. This builds on the Declaration of Joint Action among the ministers of labor of Ivory Coast and Ghana and the United States from 2010. Unfortunately in this regard, chocolate does not always mix well with Judaism’s value of oshek, honest and fair labor practices.

The Harkin-Engel Protocol, known as the Cocoa Protocol, an international agreement, sought to eliminate the worst forms of child labor in the chocolate industry. While at least eight multinational chocolate producers have signed onto the Protocol including Guittard, Nestle, Hershey, M&M/Mars, and Callebaut, it has not yet been fully implemented.

In an effort to provide fair compensation to cocoa farmers, several chocolate companies use fair trade certification systems to establish a minimum price above market value for cocoa. Other chocolate makers prefer to sidestep that certification, claiming that their farmers benefit more from their direct contact and superior financial arrangements. Fair Trade Judaica’s Ilana Schatz offers Fair Trade merchandise and chocolate options. She also promotes guilt free Chanukah gelt produced by Divine Chocolate and Kosher for Passover Fair Trade chocolate from Equal Exchange.

This Labor Day may we choose foods, including chocolate, that honor these everyday Jewish values, enhance our precious resources, sustain our work, and enhance our rest.

An earlier version of this post appeared at


Bringing Buckeye Candy to Experts

by D. Prinz on July 20, 2015

IMG_1523I only know about Buckeyes because I have family in Ohio. I love peanut butter and chocolate together so I decided to make them for the first time for a 4th of July party for local friends and family in Cincinnati, mixing in small amounts of presumption, appreciation and exploration. Some might say stupidity. After all these folks are Buckeye experts.

Buckeye trees abound in Ohio. The Buckeye Ball resembles the nut of the tree. Some say that the association of buckeyes with the state of Ohio stems to General William Henry Harrison in 1840 when he referred to the “Buckeye State” in his election campaign. Or, native Americans saw Colonial Ebenezer Sproat process with a sword extended to open the first court in the Northwest Territory in 1788  in Marietta, Ohio, and they nicknamed him after “the eye of the buck.” In 1952 the Ohio General Assembly declared the buckeye the official state tree.

If there were an official state candy it would probably be the Buckeye, the chocolate enrobed peanut butter ball that resembles the nut of the buckeye tree. Columbus company Anthony Thomas produces 100,000 pounds of buckeyes each year. Coco Beans Candy boasts the world’s largest Buckeye, weighing 271 pounds in Fremont, Ohio.

Gail Tabor claims to have created the first Buckeye Balls according to an article she wrote for the Arizona Republic in 1983. Years prior to the article, during Christmas season, she was trying out a candy recipe. Thinking it did not look right, she showed it to her husband and then realized “Hey, it looks like a Buckeye.”

Tabor concocted lots of them for friends and family and they were wildly popular. People repeatedly asked for the recipe. She resisted. Every year for 17 years she made the Buckeye Balls  for the Ohio State-Michigan game. Finally Tabor gave in and gave the recipe to a woman who was moving to Oklahoma, figuring it would stay secret. Only later did Tabor find out later that she had been betrayed when the recipe was published in the Ohio State Alumni Magazine as having been created by that “friend.”


The recipe that Tabor tried to protect all those years contained 4 pounds of powdered sugar to 6 or more tablespoons of smooth peanut butter. The chocolate was mixed with a block of canning wax. I selected the Smitten Kitchen (Deb Perelman) recipe with its decreased sugar, plus add-ins of cream cheese and graham crackers. This foodified things for the sophisticated palates of my Buckeye experts. I in turn adjusted Perelman’s version, using a crunchy wholesome peanut butter and a bit of oil (people recommend rapeseed) in the chocolate to make it shinier and harder.

My gracious Cincinnati friends kindly said they liked them. I would even share the recipe if they asked.

Buckeyes from Smitten Kitchen

Yield: 36 to 42 tablespoon-sized candies; I made 64 with a #70 (1/2-ounce) scoop and got 64

1/4 cup (2 ounces) cream cheese, softened

1 1/2 cups peanut butter (smooth, but you can use chunky if you are looking for more texture)

1 cup graham cracker crumbs (from about 14 graham crackers)

Salt (optional)

3 cups confectioners’ (powdered) sugar

10 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks or 5 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

12 ounces dark chocolate (60 to 72%), coarsely chopped

Make the filling: In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and peanut butter together until combined. Add the graham cracker crumbs and beat for 10 seconds. Add the sugar and butter, and mix on the lowest speed until it stops floating off everywhere, then increase the speed until the ingredients are combined. Scrape down the whole bowl well, then mix again. The mixture will be quite sturdy and a little dry — perfect for shaping. Set it aside while you prepare the coating.
Make the coating: Melt the chocolate either over a double boiler, stirring until it is completely smooth or in a microwave in 30 then 10 second increments, stirring before you start it again until it is completely smooth. Let it cool to tepid (about 100 degrees, though I’d go a little cooler next time for a thicker coating; I had a few ounces of chocolate leftover) while you shape the peanut butter centers. {DRP: I added a small amount of vegetable oil to the chocolate. People recommend rapeseed oil for this}
Assemble the candies: Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Scoop out slightly more than one tablespoon’s worth of filling (their suggestion; I used a scoop that made them a little smaller) and use your hands to form it into a ball. Place the ball on the prepared sheet and repeat the process until all of the candies have been shaped. They can sit close to each other but make sure they are not touching.
Using a fork or large skewer, dip each ball into the chocolate and roll it about so that almost the entire candy is coating, leaving a small circle uncoated. Play around with a few practice pieces; I found it easiest to stick the skewer in the side, angle the bowl I was using towards it and make sure it became submerged as I rolled the candy around. But don’t fuss too much; even the “ugly” ones won’t go to waste.
Chill the Buckeyes until they are set, about 30 minutes.



Fathering Chocolate

June 11, 2015

Fathers, Dominicans that is, helped bridge the New World’s chocolate to the Old World. In 1544 Padres tantalized the Spanish court with chocolate prepared and presented by a Kekchi Maya delegation of New World natives. Fatherly faith indeed aided in spreading chocolate to new regions of the world, to new religious contexts, and to new […]

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Minding Our Chocolate

May 29, 2015

How does chocolate help you? For me a piece of chocolate here and there smooths transitions from one project to another, one task to the next. At a congregational visit after the Senior Rabbi blessed the Associate on her last Shabbat, someone said, “we need chocolate for our stress at her departure.” At other stops […]

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Anschluss Launches Bartons Passover Favorites 77 Years Ago

March 11, 2015

Bartons Chocolate Pops. Bartons Almond Kisses. Do you long for these and other iconic Passover favorites made by Bartons Chocolate? They exist because of the March 12, 1938 Nazi accession of Austria (Anschluss) when Stephen Klein fled Vienna for his life. A Nazi competitor had seized Klein’s chocolate company. He hurriedly left his two children […]

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Ten Teaspoons of Sugar in My Chocolate?

February 26, 2015

The recently released revisions of the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee for the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion Health bring the conversation about sugar circling ‘round the measuring cup. These warnings against more than 10 teaspoons of added sugar a day boil up questions about nutrition. Surprisingly, just a century ago, nutritionists touted the […]

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Adventures On the Chocolate Trail: Atlanta, Portland, Seattle

January 31, 2015

In my recent travels speaking about On the Chocolate Trail, I have been able to sample some unusual chocolates and related products. Consider these: Atlanta:     From Chef Brulee amazing colors make the bon bons and the matzah very appealing.   *Chocoley  A source for making chocolate creations, including molds, compound chocolate , kits, utensils […]

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It’s Chocolate Season

November 30, 2014

Chocolate season started on November 1 for Joanne and Jerry Kryszek’s company, Chocosphere. This is the busiest time in their on-line chocolate wholesale and retail company which operates from a warehouse in a Portland suburb. I have known about the company for years and finally had the opportunity to meet the Kryszek’s and see their […]

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Chocolate Signals

September 12, 2014

The Trappistine nun appeared to levitate as she welcomed us at the factory door with urgent questions about how to market chocolate for Father’s Day, about aspects of kosher certification and about increasing their Chanukah sales. Sister Christa-Maria, in her Bavarian tinged English, broke the Benedictine prohibition against speaking to give us a tour of […]

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Can’t Live Without Chocolate?

August 22, 2014

  It seems a given that many of us depend on chocolate. Everywhere I speak about On the Chocolate Trail (Jewish Lights), people confess: “I can’t live without it.” And they want reassurance that the popular headlines about chocolate’s health advantages are true. Whether my body temperature slowly melts a mouthful, or, I am chomping […]

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