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!

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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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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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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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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

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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.

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.

 

 

Wild Blackberry, Coconut and White Chocolate Blondies

This year, we have an awful lot of weeds in the garden. Luckily for me, some of them are blackberry plants, and in the past few days the canes have been bowing heavily, full of ripe and juicy, blackish-purple fruit.

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SONY DSCSo, what is a girl to do with so many wild blackberries? Well, a thumb through of the Flavour Thesaurus (without which, I am lost), told me that white chocolate is a great pairing and since I have a huge bag of it in the house, my mind was made up!

A quick Google search bought me several recipes for blackberries and white chocolate, including muffins, fools, parfaits and cheesecakes, but I had a hankering for cake or brownie. Something sweet and satisfying, something to give you a hug when you are down, and tastes great with a cup of Masala Chai.

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And so I bring to you, my recipe for…

 

Lightly Spiced, Wild Blackberry, Coconut and White Chocolate Blondies

(makes 9 big or 12 smaller blondie squares)

You will need:

113g Butter (melted in microwave)

165g Coconut Palm Sugar

2 Medium Eggs (beaten)

1 teaspoon Vanilla Extract

5 Cardamom Pods (seeds crushed finely in a pestle and mortar)

4 small sticks of cinnamon (crushed/ground into a fine powder)

96g Plain Flour

1/2 teaspoon Baking Powder

1/4 teaspoon Salt

64g White Chocolate (chopped)

90g Wild Blackberries

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Then you need to do this:

  • Preheat your oven to 190C (160C for Fan assisted).
  • Grease and line an 8 inch square baking tin
  • Beat together the melted butter, beaten eggs and coconut palm sugar until smooth and lump-free
  • Add the vanilla extract, crushed cardamom seeds and cinnamon. Mix well.
  • Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir well.
  • Add the white chocolate, wild blackberries and coconut. Stir gently and combine fully into the mixture.

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  • Pour into tin and level with the back of a spoon. Bake for 25-35 minutes or so. The top should be golden brown and a wooden toothpick placed into the centre should come out relatively clean (a few sticky crumbs is fine).
  • Leave to cool in the tin for 20 minutes. Then tip out onto a wire rack to cool fully.

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Or cut into squares whilst still lukewarm and enjoy with a cuppa.

The result? A satisfying and soft, fluffy blondie, with the occasional sharp and fruity tang of blackberry, alongside the mellow creaminess of coconut and white chocolate. A beautiful combination.

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Now, if you don’t have coconut palm sugar at home, don’t fret, you can use soft brown sugar instead. I happened to have some Biona Coconut Palm Sugar in the cupboard, and it reminds me of Jaggery, which is used a lot when making Indian desserts. Along with the cardamom and cinnamon, this addition contributes to the really unusual flavour of the blondie. Try it as a dessert after an Indian meal, maybe with some vanilla ice-cream. Yum!

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Also, if you want to add other ingredients or even take some away, then go for it! Just remember to balance out the recipe (i.e. remove some liquid (maybe use smaller eggs) if you decide to take out the coconut).

On to the chocolate, I used deZaan Obsession 30 white chocolate, bought from Keylink (who else!) This chocolate is not as sweet as some shop bought versions, so you may want to taste a few before you choose one to bake with. I have a sweet tooth and I really love this chocolate, even though I find most white chocolate is far too sweet for me.

Finally, as if this recipe wasn’t amazing enough, I realised when tidying up, that my flour was gluten free (Doves Farm – thank you!) and so was my baking powder. So in essence, I managed to make a gluten free recipe, without even trying. Result!

If you do decide to try this recipe, please let me know how you get on. I hope you love my blondies as much as I do.

Now, off to hide them from the husband!

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Do me a favour!

I apologise for being absent for many weeks – it’s been incredibly busy, what with planning and making wedding favours for a friend.

Yes! You heard it right! I actually got to make chocolates for real people! For people who were obliged to take home my tiny boxes of delight, and (hopefully) ate the contents (or not – I don’t like those people). Can you tell I’m quite proud of this achievement?

Let me take you into my world for the past two months. My crazy world of chocolate. Thinking of chocolate. Dreaming of chocolate. Noting down recipes for chocolate. Eating copious amounts of chocolate. Starting to really dislike chocolate…

It all began last year, when my friends announced their impending nuptials. Immediately, I leapt at the chance to make their wedding favours, and (thankfully for me), they accepted my offer. However, once the initial excitement wore off, and I really thought about what I had let myself in for, the panic set in. I was required to produce 100 boxes of 2 moulded chocolates, all beautifully decorated and wrapped in organza ribbon – for a wedding in July.

July – one of the hottest months of the year (Gulp).

I started in earnest, researching furiously and finding several ganache flavours that I felt would be appropriate for a summer wedding. I thought I would stick with fruity flavours as the bride-to-be had indicated that she likes these, rather than the spicy ganaches that I was accustomed to making. So a short-list was made, to include Raspberry, Rhubarb, Strawberry and Lemon. After a tasting, the lovely couple decided that their favourites were (drum roll please) Strawberry and Basil, and Lemon. Woo!

So the hard work really began. I finalised my recipes, adding a little more butter and a little less liquid, to ensure that the chocolates stayed fresher for longer. Then a week before the Big Day, I procured the ingredients and made a plan of action. For two long (hot and humid) days before the wedding, I de-hulled, sliced, puréed, tempered, poured, moulded and scraped my way through mountains of strawberries and seas of molten chocolate, before a final flourish with some red colouring. Along the way, I encountered several problems. Primarily, the temperature was too high (at 25 degrees centigrade) which made tempering very difficult. The solution was to temper using Mycryo (powdered cocoa butter) in my living room (whilst watching Wimbledon on the telly), where it is slightly cooler.

Also, I had a pain of a time trying to release my chocolates from the moulds (probably due to my tempering problem). I had made 120 of each flavour, just to ensure that I had plenty available in case some of the chocolates did not come out of the moulds, however, I did not envisage that around 40% would refuse to budge. So to make the experience even more stressful, I spent several hours, checking each mould and tap-tapping them furiously on the kitchen counter, trying to release the stubborn few. Eventually, I managed to get 100 of each flavour out of the moulds, but with hardly any to spare.

The beautiful Blue & Red Floral Boxes were a find at Keylink, and the bride-to-be was instantly drawn to the tiny burgundy accents which matched the colour scheme perfectly. Seeing the finished product on the banqueting tables was a real treat for me, as all the hard work paid off, with plenty of compliments and not one box left behind.

‘A few pictures if you please!’

Oh go on then…

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