Chocolate

Chocolate

By
Skye Gyngell
Contains
6 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781844006212
Photographer
Jason Lowe

There is an aura of luxury about chocolate – it feels indulgent, almost clandestine. We make a decision to eat chocolate in a way that we don’t make about eating other food… a considered ‘Shall I?’ and if the answer is ‘Yes’, we are likely to feel slightly decadent about our decision. Each little mouthful is savoured, sometimes with an association of guilt. Yet above all, chocolate is treasured – a gift for loved ones on special occasions. Somehow it gives a message to the recipient that they are valued and special – and therefore so is chocolate itself.

When it comes to cooking, I recommend that you buy the finest quality chocolate you can afford – dark purple-black in colour, glossy and bitter, with an almost smoky quality. In my view, chocolate desserts should be intensely rich, but not too sweet – and eaten in small quantities for ultimate pleasure.

For centuries chocolate has been prized around the world. It is produced, of course, from the beans of the cocoa tree (Theobroma cacao) native to South America, Theobroma meaning ‘food of the gods’. As long as 3,500 years ago chocolate was produced in Mexico, though right up until the 1800s it was only ever consumed in the form of a drink; in fact the word chocolate means ‘hot beverage’.

Chocolate as we know it today is made from the seeds (or beans) of the cacao pods. The beans are fermented, dried, roasted and hulled in order to separate the nibs from their shells. The nibs are then ground and melted to make a paste known as chocolate liquor. On cooling, this sets and hardens to become unsweetened cooking chocolate. At this stage it consists of nothing more than half cocoa butter and half cocoa solids. Other things are later mixed in, such as sugar, vanilla and milk; in lesser quality products emulsifiers and stabilisers are often added, too.

The chocolate is now ‘conched’ (or kneaded) for at least 12 hours (as long as 3 days for fine quality chocolate) to make it as smooth as possible and eliminate any gritty texture. Finally it is ‘tempered’ or cooled and reheated in several controlled stages so that it hardens to a shiny gloss and snaps when broken. The chocolate is then aged for 60–90 days.

You may have heard of couverture in connection with chocolate for cooking. This is chocolate with a high cocoa butter content, designed to provide a thin even coating and a high finished gloss. It is also good for more general use, due to its superior quality.

At the restaurant, we use the best quality chocolate that we can find, usually Valhrona, an intense and beautiful chocolate from France (64 per cent cocoa solids minimum), or Amedei an Italian chocolate made by a family in Tuscany.

Dark chocolate has a shelf life of about a year. It is best kept in a cool larder or drawer – in one large block rather than pieces and wrapped in foil. Storing chocolate at a higher temperature can cause cocoa butter to rise to the surface causing dull brown patches known as a ‘bloom’ to appear, making the chocolate unusable. Conversely, if you keep chocolate in the fridge the humidity can cause white ‘sugar bloom’ spots to form on the surface.

Melting chocolate The best way to melt chocolate is in a double boiler, or heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water. It is important that the bowl in which the chocolate is to melt does not sit directly in the water. Break up or chop the chocolate first to encourage it to melt evenly and don’t stir it during melting as this can dull the shine. If you are melting chocolate with cream, then you can stir the pieces of chocolate directly into the hot cream; otherwise add chocolate to cool rather than hot liquids and melt slowly and gently in a pan over direct heat.

When it comes to pairing chocolate with other flavours, dark, salty caramels, almonds, hazelnuts, coffee and candied citrus fruit work best. With the exception of citrus fruits and a few others, I find fresh fruits less compatible with chocolate. Slightly bitter oranges complement dark chocolate beautifully; cherries and chocolate are also natural partners. And if a chocolate dessert calls for some cream on the side, I’ll invariably serve it with a bowl of thick unpasteurised cream as opposed to crème fraîche, whose slightly sharp acidity tends to rub against the smooth flavour of the chocolate rather than enhance it.

Rich and intensely flavoured, good-quality chocolate should be eaten in small pieces. Don’t rush it – let it linger in your mouth and savour its lovely bitter, smoky aroma and flavour. Like many good things, a little goes a long way…

Hazelnuts go particularly well with chocolate, providing a texture and flavour that are truly compatible. Their earthy flavour serves to balance the rich bitterness of good-quality dark chocolate.

Recipes in this Chapter

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