Gourmet Secrets: Confessions of a chocoholic
What makes chocolate the world’s favourite flavourUpdated: Dec 08, 2018 21:19 IST
Chocolate for me is the culinary equivalent of a big fat hug. And I share my passion with millions of people, some more famous than others. The writer Roald Dahl was a self-confessed “chocoholic” who loved not only the hand rolled and hand “blobbed” centres from Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly, but also the bars from what he refers to as “the golden decade”, the 1930s when all the great commercial classics like Crunchie, Mars, Aero, Kit Kat, Rolo and so on were invented. This forms part of his early childhood memories and it certainly forms part of mine. I too grew up, albeit much later on Mint Aero and Rolo with a caramel centre. At university, I moved onto lovely smooth Belgian chocolates, not because I could afford them but because my flat mate had a boyfriend from Brussels who wooed her with those Belgian ballotin boxes bulging with pralines.
In today’s world, when many of yesterday’s food choices are forgotten, chocolate lovers should rejoice that its innocent yet wicked pleasure show no signs of abating. The very mention of the word elicits an instantaneous response: a closing of the eyes, a guilty smile, a sinful smirk. It is almost like confessing to a secret flirtation…. Chocolate is mysterious. Its ancient history is clouded by pagan rituals and human sacrifices. Cacao trees, bearing the cacao pods, from which chocolate is manufactured, were cultivated by Central and South American Indians. The harvest was used for a bitter drink, said to have aphrodisiacal powers. Christopher Columbus was the first European to discover the bean, which subsequently became popular in the French court in the early 17th century through the Spanish Infanta. At the court of King Charles V of Spain, improvements like the addition of sugar and fruit and spice flavourings coupled with the feverish passionate Spanish imagination only enhanced chocolate’s reputation as a seductive stimulant. Even Casanova rated it above champagne for its seductive qualities.
Chocolate is the world’s favourite flavour. The smooth mouthfeel is actually cocoa butter, the fat in chocolate, melting at body temperature, creating that special moment when it is neither solid or liquid, sending an intense rush of flavour from the mouth to delirious nerve endings. Cocoa beans are picked when ripe, and they are fermented, dried, cleaned, and then roasted. The shell is removed to produce cacao nibs, which are ground and made into chocolate liquor. Unsweetened baking chocolate contains primarily cocoa solids and cocoa butter in varying proportions. Fat and sugar are added to make the more common sweet chocolate.
Milk chocolate is sweet chocolate that also contains milk powder or condensed milk. Fine dark chocolate is the real luxury I am interested in. Rich in nutrients such as calcium, potassium, iron, riboflavin, niacin and Vitamin A, it also contains flavonoids and a high level of phenol, which help prevent heart disease. Other components like serotonin and tyramine help to calm and balance moods. Dark chocolate is not considered fattening. Is expensive chocolate worth it? Hell yes. In the sublime heights of chocolate, you should look for chocolate with a purer content of cocoa.
Chocolatiers, like wine makers, look closely at how the cocoa bean is grown and produced and consider several factors, including the origin of the cocoa beans, if they’re blended or not, and how they are fermented. My all-time favourite chocolate is a small company in the south of France called Valrhona. In the 80s Valrhona and other serious chocolatiers began labelling their products with the percentage of cocoa beans used. That helped spark a revolution and a birth of artisan chocolate makers all over Europe. Valrhona started in 1922 in a tiny village in the Rhone Valley (hence the name). They are so committed to quality that they decided to open and operate their own plantations, first in Venezuela, and more recently, in the Dominican Republic. I visited their factory a few years ago and am now addicted to their heavenly dark chocolate coated almonds dusted with unsweetened coco powder, their single origin bars and their candied orange strips coated in dark chocolate.
I was sent a couple of quite extraordinary chocolate desserts for Diwali by a young woman who is almost as obsessed with Valrhona as I am. Nayantara Thomas has a completely non patisserie and in fact non food background and yet through her passion for baking managed to make it to the Cordon Bleu London where she fulfilled her dream of starting on her road to becoming a great patisserie chef. The desserts she gave me were so stunning that I closed my eyes and almost felt the heady chocolate sensation of the Valrhona factory again. She uses Valrhona when she can get her hands on it in her cakes, pastries and entremets (French desserts). When it’s not available she uses Callebaut from Belgium. Here is her recipe for the strawberry mousse cake she made for me. Along with a partner she has co-founded her patisserie company Parisserie, a bit of a sweet mouthful with a café in Bandra and a central kitchen in Opera House.
Chocolate strawberry delice chocolate pound cake
100g caster sugar
20g cocoa powder
5g baking powder
Pre-heat the oven to 190 degrees.
Mix the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder.
In a bowl, whisk together the butter and the caster sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Use a spatula to fold in the flour mixture. Add the milk and mix lightly.
Bake in a eight-inch square tin at 180 degrees for around 12 to 15 minutes. Use a toothpick to check if the batter is fully cooked through.
100g strawberry puree
40g caster sugar
Mix the pectin and caster sugar in a bowl.
Heat the puree in a saucepan to 40 degrees. At this stage, add the pectin mix to the puree in two inclusions. Make sure to whisk in well and avoid lumps!
Bring this mix to a boil and leave aside to cool.
120g the best dark chocolate you can find (70 per cent ideally)
30g egg yolks
70g egg whites
20g caster sugar
80g whipping cream
Melt the chocolate and stir in the butter till fully incorporated. Whisk in the egg yolks and keep aside to cool. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites to a soft peak. Gradually add the sugar until it forms stiff peaks to make a meringue that is firm. Using a spatula, fold the meringue into the chocolate mix in three parts. Whip the cream to a stiff peak and fold into the above mix. Cling wrap an eight-inch square ring. Place the cooled cake into the ring and soak well with a sugar syrup. Pour the mousse over the cake. Pipe the strawberry compote as a swirl into the mousse and leave to set in the freezer for at least three hours.
Top with fresh strawberries and dig in!
Culinary expert and explorer Karen Anand has been writing extensively on the subject of food and wine for 30 years. Apart from having her own brand of gourmet food products, she has anchored top rated TV shows, run a successful chain of food stores, founded the hugely successful Farmers Markets, and worked as restaurant consultant for international projects, among other things. Her latest passion is food tours, a totally curated experience which Karen herself accompanies, the first of which was to Italy.
From HT Brunch, December 9, 2018
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First Published: Dec 08, 2018 21:18 IST