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Archive for October, 2008

Finland - Surprising Contestent for World's Best Milk Chocolate

Finland - Surprising Contender for World's Best Tasting Milk Chocolate

For most of us, chocolate is a comforting food. We turn to it when we’re feeling low, we eat it during periods of celebration. A simple candy bar (as can any food. My husband is transported to Fridays in 1970s LaCrosse when he eats McDonalds Filet o’Fish) can transport us back to our childhood, a more simple time when we were so much more easily pleased and our expectations were much lower (and people expected less of us too!).

It is true though that as we grow older, our palate changes and we demand more of the foods we eat. We prefer steak to hamburger, savoury foods to sweet and salad to crisps. Likewise, the chocolate aficionado will choose a more exclusive brand of chocolate to the cheaper candy bars, often settling for a specific cocoa content and blend that is pleasurable on the tongue. Paradoxically, the chocolate lover will try bar after bar, always looking for the chocolate nirvana. Inevitably and perhaps most excitingly of all, we will never find that perfect bar but we will have a tonne of fun searching for it!

My own favourite type of chocolate to eat is a milk chocolate of around 40-50% cocoa content. It is probably frowned upon by professional chocolate eaters to enjoy milk chocolate but I enjoy its warming flavours, sometimes spicy, sometimes creamy, always delectable.

And because I’m always looking for the next great bar, I spend a lot of time surfing the net looking for unusual bars from around the world. Just this week alone I have eaten chocolate from South Africa, Switzerland, Germany, France, UK and Finland.

Sorry? Finland?

That’s right, our Nordic friends the Finnish seem to be keeping one of the best kept choco-secrets in the world: their chocolate is ace.

Karl Fazer has been producing Finland’s biggest selling range of chocolate since the 1920s, still using the same recipe for their famous blue label bar. Such is the popularity and power of Fazer chocolate that in 2001 they became Finland’s first registered colour trademark, meaning that no one else can sell chocolate products in blue packaging.

Fazer's Red Label Chocolate

Fazer's Red Label Chocolate

This might all sound a little pompous but the Fazer take this honour with pride and with good reason. 7.5 million kilograms of Fazer chocolate is produced yearly and they hold 65% of the chocolate market. More than that though, their chocolate is just delicious.

It is produced using excellent cocoa beans and a finely tuned production process and, as they state on their website, they are the only Finnish chocolate manufacturers using fresh milk instead of milk powder. The finished product is a full bodied, rich chocolate that tastes deeply of cocoa. It is a true eating chocolate in every sense, a milk chocolate for the grown-ups.

To please the more discerning palate, Fazer are now branching out into the 70% cocoa range, and whilst they are not quite dabbling in Single-Origin bars, the flavour of these bars is enough to warrant a second (or third) tasting.

Unfortunately for us Brits, unless you visit Finland (certainly worth a thought) or have Finnish friends, the only place we can find Fazer chocolate is on online auction sites where it is quite expensive. However, for the true chocoholic, it is well worth sourcing if only for a special treat.

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So I’m cooking lunch for my mum and, at 10.30am the same morning she asks me what we’re having:

Mum: “Meat?”

Me: “No.”

Mum: {pleading voice} “Not vegetarian?!”

Me: “No.”

Mum: “So…it must be fish?”

Me: “Yes, yes it’s fish”

Mum: “Oh. So have you made a big dessert then?”

Me: “No. Did you want dessert?”

Mum: “Well, fish isn’t very filling and if it’s a fish dish I haven’t had before, I probably won’t like it.” Me: “So you want dessert so fill up on. Just in case?”

Mum: “Well, you do write for this chocolate blog now so it might make sense to give yourself something to write about. Pleeeeease?”

End of telephone conversation.

I suppose I should be offended really but I’m used to my family’s complete and utter fear of what they see as my maverick style of cooking. And all because I’ve cooked maybe 3 or 4 really dud dishes over the last 10 years. And I think that’s pretty good odds myself.

But, I like a challenge so I start rustling around my cookbooks. Paul suggests the 30 minutes chocolate puddings but I don’t want any extemporaneous faff when I get to my mums so I find this perfect recipe, ironically in a cookbook that my mother bought me for my birthday, called Good Food 101 Chocolate Treats: Chocolate Brownie Cake.

Yes, it’s a Brownie baked in a cake tin but it’s more than that. It is fast. All the sugars, chocolate and butter and melted together in a saucepan and then your flour, cocoa and baking powders are stirred in. Almost like your American Dump Cake. Not only is it fast and easy, it is incredibly rich and delicious. I think this could be alluded to the additions of Golden Syrup and cocoa powder, not generally used in traditional brownies.

Anyway, I baked the Chocolate Brownie Cake and was thrilled to see it had the traditional ooey, gooey middle and rich, deep flavour.

We served it with some single cream and raspberries (Paul had vanilla ice cream but then, he is American). Mother was pleased. Oh, and she said the fish dish was filling too…

CHOCOLATE BROWNIE CAKE – serves 6-8

Ingredients:

100g Butter

175g Caster Sugar

75g Muscovado Sugar (light)

125g Good Quality Dark Chocolate, chopped

1 Tbsp Golden Syrup

2 Large Eggs, beaten

1 Tsp Vanilla Extract

100g Plain Flour

½ Tsp Baking Powder

2 Tbsp Cocoa Powder

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 180c.

Line an 8” Cake tin.

In a large saucepan, gently melt together the chocolate, butter, golden syrup and sugars until the mixture is amalgamated and quite smooth.

Remove from heat, beat in the eggs and vanilla and sift in the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder. Stir thoroughly and pour into your prepared cake tin.

Bake for 25-30 minutes (mine took 28 minutes).

Leave to cool in the tin for at least 15 minutes, then cut into slices and serve with cream, ice cream or crème fraiche and some fresh fruit.

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It seems that the days of the corner shop are fading into obscurity. Supermarkets can supply the time-pushed shopper with everything, all under one roof.

However, is this a smart way to shop? The days of my childhood were mostly spent reading but I did look forward to a visit to the local sweet shop where I would buy a quarter of Butterscotch sweets and red shoelaces. As I got older, I, like so many other children, got sucked into collecting bubblegum cards. My favourite were Garbage Pail Kids and regular readers of this blog and our last one will probably find this of no great surprise.

But as the supermarkets grew bigger, these smaller shops became pushed out, made redundant. They couldn’t compete with the low prices being offered in larger stores.  This is a reflection of our faster, one-stop lifestyles, aptly implemented with fast food chains and internet shopping too.
The days of looking forward to visiting the local sweet shop seemed like they were over, but the tide is turning.

Only recently, whilst (I admit it) surfing a well-known internet auction site, I came across a shop selling all the penny sweets I had once loved as a child, but, of more interest to me now, a variety of chocolate bars that are difficult to source. The most startling discovery of all? This shop is not just a cyber-shop with a favicon as its shop front but is an actual living, breathing, functioning sweet shop by the sea-side in Great Yarmouth.

Sweet Dreams Traditional Sweet Shop is just that: old fashioned and sweet. Just how all sweet shops should be. So the external décor isn’t quite reminiscent of the sweet shops of Dickensian times but these days customers (notably children) are lured in by colourful signs and the promise of more colour and excitement inside. And besides, the myriad colours of the jars, filled to the brim of sweets, candys, sherberts and liquorice are enough to make the most anti-sugar person melt.

Sweet Dreams Traditional Sweet Shop was opened by Patricia, Nigel and Andrew on the 9th March 2005 and have recently opened up their cybershop too, providing almost every sweet you can remember from your childhood (and some you can’t), they also cater for the diabetic or person watching their sugar which is thoughtful. And, if you wanted to bring back a gift from your trip to Great Yarmouth, they have a vast selection of Swiss Lindt and British Beeches chocolates, along with Britain’s other well kept chocolate secret, Caleys. In effect, what Patricia, Nigel and Andrew are doing is keeping other British industries going, as well as bolstering the smaller, specialists businesses.

So, next time you visit Great Yarmouth, make sure to pop into Sweet Dreams Traditional Sweet Shop, buy a bag of penny sweets for yourself and a box of chocolates to take home and find yourself revelling in a childhood dream brought to life. And if you can’t get to Great Yarmouth, maybe you can find a traditional sweet shop closer to home (and let me know where they are!!).

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Sugar High Friday. Perhaps the most famous food blogging event, certainly the one with the greatest longevity. Is it because we all have a sweet tooth at heart? Or perhaps food blogging events encourage the experimentalist in us all, ushering us on to cook that recipe that you’ve always looked longingly at but skipped the best, fearing our own abilities or taste buds?

Whatever the reason, blogging events are a great way to connect with other bloggers. Where else can you find people just as mad about food and eating?

Sugar High Fridays, founded by The Domestic Goddess (no, not that Domestic Goddess) in 2004, has seen 47 months of artistic, imaginative, fanciful, brilliant, cavity-inducing and just plain crazy desserts, sweets and confections. For those of you unfamiliar, each month an inventive host (fellow food blogger) spends ages wracking his/her brain deciding on an even more interesting theme to previous months. Some months it can be something really tricky like cacao nibs, last month it was the humble cupcake. But this month, Pastrygirl from Dessert First has given us a really inspired theme: Sugar and Spice. The only criteria is that it must contain one or more spices and – of course – be sweet.

I have been pouring over Andrew Garrison Shott’s Making Fine Chocolates and his own innovative flavours of truffles and decided, after much deliberation, to make his White Chocolate with Lemongrass and Coconut Truffles. A truly exotic sounding truffle, these are fiddly and sticky to make but the flavours harmonise on the tastebuds perfectly. They also look almost professional and would make a charming petits fours after a rich meal that doesn’t really call for dessert. The main talking point (aside from discussing who does and doesn’t like coconut) is the unexpected dark middle, spiked generously with rum, and the crisp, tropical flavours of the coconut and lemongrass. A bit like a cocktail in a truffle. What more could you ask for?


I admit that I had a few issues with the recipe. I’m not sure if this came from the conversions of US to UK measurements and descriptions of ingredients but I added some extra cream and this loosened up the lemongrass steeped mixture a treat.

The Finished Truffle!

LEMONGRASS & COCONUT TRUFFLES

makes about 20-30 depending on size

Ingredients:

154g Milk Chocolate, chopped

21g Dark Chocolate (64% or higher), chopped

3.5 Tablespoons Double Cream (I added an extra tablespoon to slacken off the mixture, you may not need to)

2 Tablespoons Coconut Milk

1 Thick Stalk Lemongrass, chopped

1 Teaspoon Corn Syrup (or Golden Syrup)

1.5 Teaspoons Salted Butter, cubed and soft

1 Tablespoon Rum

To Finish the Truffles:

2 Cups Shredded Coconut, toasted lightly in a frying pan

2 Bars of 100g White Chocolate, melted in a double boiler and cooled slightly.

METHOD:
Place the chopped milk and dark chocolates in a smallish bowl.

In a small saucepan, heat together over gentle heat, the coconut milk, cream, lemongrass until it almost boils.

Remove from the heat, cover and leave to steep for 10 minutes.

Add the Syrup to the cream mixture and return to the heat. Bring slowly back up to a rolling boil and strain through a sieve onto the chopped chocolate.  Leave to melt for 2 minutes then slowly stir until the chocolate has all melted. You may have to place the bowl in a microwave for a few seconds to help the melting process along.

Add the diced butter and rum and stir well.

Leave this ganache to firm up for 45 minutes to an hour before forming it into round balls and leaving on greaseproof paper overnight to dry out slightly.

To finish the truffles, dip them, one at a time, in the melted white chocolate before rolling in the coconut. Leave the truffles in the coconut to harden completely before removing.

Enjoy!

Taken from Making Fine Chocolates by Andrew Garrison Shotts

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We’re all looking for a guilt-free way to indulge ourselves in heaps of chocolate, right? I think I may have the solution.

For all Chocoholic Gaming Afficionados, it was recently brought to my attention that there are three (yes, three!) games out there devoted to Theobroma Cacao.  Since then I have played all three games (not at the same time) avidly and I can confirm that even the most anti-gaming person will soon find themselves hooked on the charming graphics, fun dialogue and compulsive tasks of Chocolatier.

Designed by Big Splash Games, the Chocolatier Series follow a young rookie Chocolatier (that’s you), ably guided by Evangeline Baumeister, of the Baumeister Confectionary Corporation, on his/her travels around the world, opening up new ports, discovering new types of Cacao Beans, buying up sweet shops and chocolate making factories, not to mention developing new and delicious looking recipes.

In the first instalment of the game, set in the mid-1800s, you open up new ports and introduce the whole world to the joys of chocolate, whilst trying to to avoid rivals, hellbent on reducing your chocolate empire to cocoa powder. Perhaps the official website blurb can put it better than I can:

Oh the gloriously rich and delectable life of a chocolatier! Constantly surrounded by mounds of chocolate bars and boxes of mouth-watering truffles! Become a master chocolatier one ingredient at a time as you travel the world to find the best prices and maximize production…

Educational (well, sort of) AND addictive to the chocolate fan, this will eat up your time without you gaining a single ounce, visit Playfirst for a free download to try out this great game!

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Well, if you’re going to make a chocolate cake, you may as well push the boat out right? Wrong. At heart I love truly simple things: choc-chip cookies, chocolate with no nuts, no caramel, no nougat, chocolate sponge cake with buttercream icing or maybe just whipped cream. My favourite pizza is even plain ol’ cheese and tomato and my drink of choice? Water. Well, during the week anyway.

Yet, to push the boat out for the penultimate day of Chocolate Week, I decided not to make a simple chocolate sandwich cake. I chose (that’s right, chose) to make that Hungarian classic, Dobos Torte.

A multi-layered gateaux, reminiscent to some of Martha Stewarts Crepe Cake, although much simpler than that to produce, the Dobos Torte was invented by Hungarian Confectioner Jozsef C Dobos. Dobos idea was the produce a long-lasting cake and the caramel topping on the final layer was his solution.

It is simple enough to produce, eggs whisked with sugar, vanilla and flour, then this frothy batter is spread out on five 7″ baking paper circles and baked for 10 minutes. The resultant thin layers are then sandwiched together with chocolate buttercream, the top layer coated with hot caramel.

So far so good, my cake looks a little shabby. My icing skills are not honed enough and the cake is too domed for the crisp top layer to rest flat but it looks OK. In fact, it looks almost impressive.

And then we come to tasting it. The sponge has a mean, rubbery texture that is not particularly pleasant. This is no doubt down to Dobos desire to produce a cake that will last into infinity. Well, these sponge slices certainly resemble their car-cleaning cousins.The butter cream is tooth-achingly rich but curiously still not chocolatey enough. The topping is tricky to cut and can only really be eaten with the fingers, in one piece.

My own cooking notes would be as follow: ground almonds rather than flour would be a worthy edition to the sponge recipe and a dark, dark chocolate ganache better for the filling. You can’t really improve on the caramel topping for sheer drama and your guests are happy to wrestle with that layer than all well and good.

Incidentally, there are over 100 variations of this recipe, some include butter in the sponge which I think would improve both the texture and the flavour immeasurably. However, I have given the recipe below should anyone wish to replicate it. Good luck!

DOBOS TORTE – serves 8

Ingredients:

SPONGE LAYERS

3 Eggs

100g Caster Sugar

1tsp Vanilla Extract

100g Plain Flour

FILLING:
175 Dark Chocolate

175 Softened, Unsalted Butter

2 tsbp Milk

350g Sieved Icing (confectioners) Sugar

CARAMEL:

100g Granulated Sugar

4 Tbsp Water

METHOD:

Preheat oven to 200c/400f.

Cut out five 7″ dia Greaseproof Paper Circles and, place two of them on two baking sheets.

Whisk together the sugar and eggs for 10 minutes using a hand-held whisk, until pale and voluminous. Sift in the flour, pour in the vanilla and fold in.

Spoon three dessertspoonfuls on each of your two prepared circles, spreading out with the back of the spoon to within 1/2 an inch of the edge of the circle. Bake for 8-10 minutes, until lightly golden and slightly puffy. Leave to cool, on the paper, on cooling racks.

Repeat with the remaining 3 circles, to give a total of five layers.

To make the buttercream, melt the chocolate over a double boiler and leave to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, whisk together the icing sugar, butter and milk. Beat in the melted chocolate.

To assemble, you will probably need to trim each of the layers slightly to ensure that they are the same size. there is no easy way to do this except to say, ensure that you do not layer the cakes bottom sides touching as they will just stick together.

Place one layer on your serving plate and spread with the buttercream, ensuring you get right to the edges and do not have too much in the middle. Repeat with three more of the sponges. Spread the icing around the edge of the cake.

To make the caramel layer, melt the sugar and water in a saucepan over medium high heat until it turns golden but not dark. Place your final sponge layer on a cooling tray over some sheets of kitchen paper (the caramel will run everywhere when you pour it over the sponge).

When the caramel turns golden, about 5 minutes or so, working quickly, pour over the final sponge layer, tilting the cooling tray to ensure that the whole cake is covered. Leave to cool for a few minutes then, using a long bladed knife, mark (but do not cut) the segments of the cake.

Carefully remove from the cooling rack and place on top of your iced cake. If you have any icing left (and you should have plenty), pipe whorls on each segment.

Leave to setup for a couple of hours and then serve.

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