Valentine’s Day Chocolates – 2015

One of the most important (and lucrative) times of the year for chocolatiers is Valentine’s day. So here is my round-up of the best British Valentine’s chocolate around, to please every chocolate aficionado.

Montezuma’s Valentine’s Chocolate Truffle Selection – £10.99 for 16 truffles

Beautiful packaging with diddy little truffles, with the following flavours:

  • White chocolate with Strawberry ganache
  • Milk chocolate with Maple Syrup ganache
  • Dark Chocolate and White chocolate with Vanilla ganache

Valentine's (x16) Truffle Collection

The Chocolate Society – The Valentine’s Collection 2015 – £24.50 for 18 handmade hearts

Artisan handmade chocolates, made with Valrhona couverture in small batches.

Flavours include:

  • Blonde sea salt caramel
  • Raspberry and Rose caramel
  • Madagascan truffle

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Demarquette – Chocolate Caramel Hearts – 6 hearts for £12

Melting caramels made with fresh fruit purées.

  • Devon Strawberry caramel
  • Passion Fruit caramel

Demarquette Luxury Chocolates: Chocolate Caramel Hearts

Lauden – Strawberries & Cream Chocolates – £10 for 10 hearts

Dark chocolate shells filled with a dreamy strawberries and cream filling.

10 x Strawberries and Cream Chocolates

Chococo – The Love Pod – £17.50

A Venezuelan chocolate cocoa pod, filled with fresh truffles and chocolates.

Flavours include:

  • Melting Milk Truffles
  • Raspberry Riot
  • Salt Sweet Smoke
  • Romantic Rose
  • Champagne and Kalamansi
  • Perfect Passion

Melt – Valentine’s Box – 10 fresh chocolates for £19

  • White chocolate bonbon with raspberry marshmallow filling
  • Dark chocolate hearts with salted caramel
  • Rose and Lychee pate de fruits
  • Dark chocolate crunchy square
  • Gianduja dome

And finally, my personal favourite…

The Chocolatier (Aneesh Popat)  – Love Heart – £25

A glorious chocolate heart, filled with Piedmont hazelnut praline, rice crisps, caramelised hazelnut crumble and popping candy. Deelish!

Now, although not strictly chocolate, I had to include this little beauty. The packaging, the contents and the description just made me salivate.

Anges de Sucre – Valentine’s Sweet Treat Box – £15

Each box includes two macarons, two marshmallows, one muffle (a marshmallow truffle) and two teacakes.

Valentine's Day Surprise Sweet Treat Box

Happy Valentine’s everyone!

Macaroon Making at L’Atelier Des Chefs

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This weekend, I treated myself to a Macaron (or Macaroon) making class at the formidable L’Atelier Des Chef in their Oxford Circus branch. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised upon arriving, to be welcomed into a warm and friendly atmosphere, with a view of one of their kitchens in the background and a wonderful array of kitchen implements and gadgets galore to the left of the entrance.

We were shown to a large wooden table where I met the rest of the group (10 of us in total) and given some fetching plastic aprons to put on. Then we were let loose in the kitchen, under expert guidance from the friendly (and very patient) chef. Between us, we made the shells and fillings for the following flavours:

  • Pink shells with a buttery salted caramel filling
  • Vanilla white shells with a creamy praline crème pâtissière filling
  • Orange shells with a zingy orange and lemon buttercream
  • Green shells with a lip-licking chocolate and mint ganache

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In groups of three or four, we blitzed, mixed and folded our way to near-perfect macaroons. Some were slightly flatter than others (due to over-mixing) some did not have the crunchy shell like some of the others (due to not drying out as much) but overall we had a fabulous batch of macaroons, to nibble on the train home. The best thing, was that we were able to learn from the chef, exactly what we were doing wrong and how to get it right next time. Just what I needed, as a complete Macaron novice!

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We had two fun-filled hours and we didn’t feel rushed or under pressure to fit in too much in the time available. The class was very well organised and I am already itching to do one of their other classes – maybe one of the Baking courses (home-made jam doughnuts anyone?).

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An Afternoon at La Pâtisserie des Rêves – South Kensington

This weekend, I went to a beautiful place that I have wanted to visit for a loooong time. La Pâtisserie des Rêves in South Kensington.

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I have had the La Pâtisserie des Rêves cookbook for a while, and have drooled over the mouth-watering pictures of delicate pastries, tarts and biscuits, elaborately covered by glass domes. So you can imagine my excitement when I gazed upon  perfectly manicured platters of patisserie set inside a pastel coloured sweet shop for adults.

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The displays were eye-catching and glamorous.

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I felt that I had to try one of the signature dishes, and so plumped for the decadent Paris Brest – a light and airy choux pastry ring, filled with a praline cream and pure praline paste. The dish was very rich and sumptuous, and I am already contemplating a return visit to sample the Millefeuille.

The teaware provided was so stunning. I almost wished they would sell the teapots in store – but no such luck.

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Others in my group selected the Saint Honoré, Vanilla Gran Cru, Baba au Rhum and the Chocolate Eclair.

Saint Honore Grand Cru

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Eclair 1

All of the dishes looked gorgeous and a few more trips are required until I can be certain of my favourite. The staff were helpful and attentive, and the prices were surprisingly good for such high quality of produce. The portions are very generous and so too are the fillings.

I purchased some goodies to take home and share with The Husband. Firstly, a d’Enfants box, filled with miniature versions of full-sized patisserie. Also I bought home a packet of Coconut Marshmallows and three small tins of biscuits (I wanted the pretty tins, more than anything else!)

D'Enfants

Enfant Selection

PB Bite Choc Bite Crop

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The Cake and Bake Show 2014

I totally forgot to tell you about my trip to The Cake and Bake Show in October last year. I must be losing my marbles! Hours of fun was had at Earls Court in London, ooohing and aaaahing over beautiful cakes, lovely lace fondant and Mary Berry on a Unicorn.

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There were cooking demos by the Neff ladies (well that’s what we called them) – they were ladies who used Neff ovens to make delectable dishes. They had the ovens that are used on The Great British Bake Off (you know the ones – with the sliding doors), and some other gadgets that got me very interested (love shopping for my kitchen).

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There were pretty stalls selling brownies, cakes, meringues, tarts and pastries.

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My favourite display was from the Meringue Girls – beautiful rows of multicoloured meringues.

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There were a lot of cakes on display, showing off new techniques like the fondant embossers (something I had never seen before).

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All in all, a grand day out. Looking forward to the next show already!

World’s Best Cakes – Chocolate Gianduja Torte

It’s not often that I crave cake. Usually I crave salt or chocolate, and indulge in a manic burst of crisp-scoffing or jump head-first into a box of Ferrero Rocher (my guilty pleasure). This weekend, I was determined to bake a cake. Of course, I needed to incorporate chocolate in there somewhere, seeing as I have literally piles and piles of bars lying around my house.

My husband often reminds me of this.

‘Honey, did you know you have five bars of ‘Madécasse’ on the dressing table?’…’Yes dear’.

‘Honey, did you mean to leave that bar of Duffy’s on top of the fish tank?’…’Yes dear’.

Having spent several hours pouring through my cake books, I came across a delectable recipe for Paul A Young’s Torta Gianduja in The World’s Best Cakes, by Roger Pizey . If you are wondering, Gianduja is a paste consisting of chocolate, hazelnuts and sugar and is pronounced ‘Gi-an-doo-ya’.

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Roger Pizey is a renowned Chef and has worked alongside Marco Pierre White, who wrote the forward for his fabulous book. Marco describes him as ‘One of the finest pastry chefs Britain has ever known’, and going by his recipes, I couldn’t agree more.

So, on to the business of cake-making. This is a large and very rich cake, which will comfortably feed twelve peckish people or eight piggy ones!

Paul A Young’s Torte Gianduja

Ingredients:

160g butter at room temperature

180g dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids, Paul A Young uses Valrhona Guanaja, but I used Pacari Raw Organic 70%)

65ml hot water

60g cocoa powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp Frangelico or Amaretto (Frangelico is a hazelnut liquor, whilst Amaretto is an almond based liquor)

260g light muscovado sugar

4 eggs separated

150g ground hazelnuts

A pinch of well-crushed Maldon sea salt

Method:

Preheat the oven to Gas mark 2 ½/160oC/310oF and line an 8 inch (21cm) round cake tin.

Melt the butter with the chocolate in a bowl, over a pan of simmering water, on a low heat, stirring constantly.

Pour the hot water into a bowl and whisk in the cocoa powder until there are no lumps. I found that the cocoa powder and water mixture became a sticky ball, instead of a paste, so I added a little more water to make it ‘whiskable’. Then add the vanilla and the liquor.

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Cocoa 1

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Add the cocoa mixture to the chocolate and butter. Mix well to make a smooth batter.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar, until thick and light in colour. Now, as the recipe does not give you the size of egg required, I used medium eggs, and found the yolk/sugar mixture was slightly too thick to whisk. So I added a splash of water to the egg yolk mixture, to enable me to mix it properly.

Sugar Yolks

Then pour in the chocolate mixture and add the ground hazelnuts. Fold well until fully incorporated.

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Cakey Swirl

Choc n Nuts

In a clean, dry bowl, whisk the egg whites with the pinch of salt, until you have soft peaks.

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Gently fold in the egg whites with a large metal spoon.

Pour into the cake tin, and bake for 40-45 minutes. I found that the centre of my cake was very soft (which I didn’t mind as I like my cakes squidgy, but if you like yours cooked through, you can leave in the oven for an extra 5-10 minutes.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely in the tin.

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Serve on its own, with a cup of strong coffee or as suggested in the book, with a dollop of sweet mascarpone (mascarpone cheese mixed with icing sugar).

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Et Voila! My cake and sugar fix is fulfilled, and not a Ferrero Rocher wrapper in sight.

A stonking Saturday at the Shard, via Borough Market & Tredwell’s Restaurant

This weekend was a bit of a whirlwind. It’s funny, I always feel that as the weekend is only two days long, and the week is a massive five days, that I need to make those two little weekend days count. Most of the time, it is spent doing the boring stuff like chores, cooking meals and cleaning up afterwards. This weekend however, I decided to drag my husband (the Mister) out of the comfort of the armchair and venture into the city.

First stop was The Shard, at London Bridge – the tallest building in the EU. We chose the wrong day to go – it was very cloudy and visibility was quite poor. Nevertheless, it was a really enjoyable experience! We were led up to the 69th floor, where there was a viewing platform, looking over the whole city. London looks spectacular from above in any light, and the views were really worth the £25 ticket price. Next we went up to the 72nd floor, which is open to the elements.

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I loved watching the trains coming in and out of London Bridge station, chugging over Borough Market.

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I have a thing for angles and industrial buildings…this is the view if you look straight up whilst inside the Shard.

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Love-birds over London…

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There was a short discussion between the Mister and I, as to which experience was better – the Shard or the Eiffel tower – we decided that we had enjoyed the Eiffel tower more, but only because visibility was excellent, and we went at dusk, as the sun was sitting low in the sky. I think if we were to go up the Shard a second time, we would choose to visit in the evening to see the sun setting over the horizon and London lit up in glory.

We followed our vertiginous ascent, with a short trip to Borough Market, who are currently celebrating their 1000 year birthday! We timed this quite badly too, as it was lunchtime, and the place was rammed to the rafters with hungry punters. I had wanted to grab a quick bite from Horn Ok Please, who are masters of Indian street food, but we couldn’t even get near their stall. They do a mean dosa and an even meaner pani puri and so the Mister promised to take me to their Brick Lane stall where I could indulge in as much chai and golgappas as I wish.

And so, we bid farewell to a buzzing Borough, and made our way to our next, brand-new venue in Seven Dials, Covent Garden.

Marcus Wareing’s new Restaurant – Tredwell’s.

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Marcus Wareing already has two (most excellent) fine-dining restaurants in London – the Gilbert Scott at the Renaissance Hotel and Marcus at The Berkeley, and when I was invited for a ‘soft-opening’ for Tredwell’s, I had to jump around a little bit and get far too overexcited. Tredwell’s is marketed as an informal dining experience, with an emphasis on ‘sharing’. You can order small and large bowls of food, to share with your table and we were not shy, treating ourselves to eight bowls of culinary delights.

The salty, smoked pork cheeks arrived with a sweet cauliflower purée and slices of pickled cauliflower, adding a sour kick. Next came the delicious, pillow-soft, curried lamb sweetbreads, which were delivered with carrot purée and lentils. Third on the list was the spinach and wheatgrass soup, with chunks of artichoke – this was full of flavour and felt quite healthy!

The harissa-glazed aubergine was a delight, accompanied by crunchy peanuts and slices of chilli which warmed our cockles. For our mains, or large bowls, we chose the sticky smoked chicken thighs and the lamb chops, both of which were tender and impeccably cooked. Finally, we chose to close our meal with a ‘Virtuous chocolate brownie’, and a fruit and nut chocolate parfait. The brownie was decadent and rich, but still felt light and not at all heavy. The silky-smooth parfait with fruit and nut chunks stole the show, and the Mister declared it was the best thing he had tasted all year (not including my cooking, of course).

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The cocktails were also really rather good with their vodka, avocado, cucumber and lime concoction, leaving an impression on the two of us. Immediately we came home and made ourselves an ad hoc, avocado based cocktail, filling us with health and vitality (and Vodka).

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Waitrose Seriously Intense 49% Milk Chocolate

 

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I stumbled across Waitrose’s 49% Seriously Intense bar, as I went looking for a lunchtime chocolate fix last week, Usually my hand automatically reaches for the Grenada Chocolate Company bars, but I thought I would give Waitrose’s offering a try, as being only 5 bars away on the shelf, I assumed it would be a similar type of product (oh, how wrong I was).

The shiny blue wrapping is appealing to the eye, and gives an air of simplistic elegance. On the back, there is some blurb explaining that Waitrose have worked with an “Italian Chocolatier” to create a unique “blend of chocolate”. It is a shame that there is no mention of the providence of the beans used to make the chocolate. I always enjoy matching the flavour to the producing country, but I suppose that the majority of consumers will not know about the flavour complexities of the varieties of bean available, so maybe it made sense for Waitrose to withhold this information.

I wonder how soon this will change, now that the UK fine chocolate industry is experiencing meteoric growth. Hopefully, not too long until we are told which country our cocoa beans are from on the packet?

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Upon opening, there was a very chocolatey smell, no other distinct aromas came through. I expected some other indication of the origin of the bean, so I was baffled to begin with. I was confident that it wasn’t Ecuador, Peru or Madagascar, all of which have very powerful aromas, so I was inclined to think that it may be an African country, maybe Ghana – which tends to have pronounced ‘Cocoa’ notes.

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The surface of the chocolate was very waxy – as you would expect from the high cocoa butter content. The texture although smooth, was a little grainy, but not so much that it is noticeable to the average palate and it melted quickly in the mouth. The flavour was one-dimensional (Chocolatey) with no other discerning flavours leaving very little after-taste. A slight hint of cocoa remained, but nothing lasting.

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Which brings me to my conclusion; although marketed as ‘Seriously Intense’, I’m sorry to say that I was left disappointed with the lacklustre flavour of this bar. It claims to be “unique” and “bursting with flavour” both of which statements I am afraid, I do not agree with. From this offering, I think there is a long way to go, before supermarkets can begin to compete with the best artisan bean-to-bar manufacturers out there.