Whilst there’s not much left unsaid about chocolate, without a doubt it is not just the best friend of the lonely single female of the world. However, chocolate, if only temporarily, does makes you feel better whatever incarnation you consume it in: hot chocolate, cookies, brownies, cake, liqueur or a kilo bar. As an example of this, whilst eating half a Snickers Bar, I was reading a recipe for giant chocolate chip cookies and writing a shopping list down that noted, yes, chocolate. Chocolate is time consuming – once you start to crave it nothing will shift it from your desire and certainly not a punnet of Blueberries – healthy though they may be. Food fascism is a real prison of the mind and, like smokers, food fascists insist that there is nothing wrong or unhealthy with their lifestyle choices. This may or may not be true, but let’s face it, life is stressful enough these days and to deny yourself the pleasure of eating food is to deny yourself oxygen. Food and eating is the one thing that ties people, families, together. It is difficult to imagine any joy in sharing a Quinoa Stir-Fry or Broccoli smoothie (although my husband, the crazy American, would probably love a Broccoli smoothie!) whereas sharing a homemade chocolate cake or fresh batch of cookies is another matter altogether.
Like the capacian in chillies which lifts your emotion, chocolate contains Seratonin AND Phenylethylamine, mood enhancers that occur naturally in the human brain. In fact, the very idea of combining chilli and chocolate seems like a natural and delicious alternative to other mood enhancers, i.e. drugs, alcohol etc. and whilst the effects fade a lot quicker, it is certainly cheaper and not quite as bad for you (well, have you ever had a chocolate hangover?). Chocolate also gives you a real energy boost, the darker and more bitter the chocolate, the more caffeine it will contain too, although much less than a cup of Espresso. Ironically, a square or two of chocolate before bed helps me sleep. I say ironic, but really it’s just that the Seratonin helps you relax, one of the main factors behind a good nights sleep.
But to be honest, who really cares about what chocolate can do for your well-being? It tastes good and that’s what matters. Like watching a bad movie, you know that nothing good will come of it if you indulge too often really but it seems like a good idea at the time. More importantly, to a cook, it is a versatile ingredient and can be used in both savoury and sweet dishes. I use a chunk of Mexican chocolate in Chilli Con Carne. The Mexican chocolate comes in round, segmented tablets and has a grainy texture. It is flavoured with Cinnamon and tastes quite unlike regular eating chocolate. It is perfect however for making hot chocolate as it has excellent melting qualities and a unique redolent warming taste, quite unlike that of British hot chocolates. In the Chilli however, a couple of chunks thrown in at the end and these qualities add a complex back-note to the spiciness of the other ingredients, a hidden depth that rounds the dish off perfectly, in the same way that prunes add a mysterious hint to less spicy (but no less tasty!) meat dishes.
Of course, the area where chocolate really shines is baked desserts: puddings, cakes, biscuits, muffins, soufflés etc. And because it is versatile, you can combine it with fruits for summer desserts or liqueurs for dinner parties and it has a wonderful affinity with garden herbs such as Rosemary or Lavender.
One evening some organic chocolate cocoa powder saved, if not my life, then my cooking reputation. My husband had a work colleague over for supper and I, not really knowing the correct protocol for such events, hadn’t prepared a dessert although I had spent a good hour preparing a chocolate bread and butter pudding which needed 48 hours chilling in the fridge before baking. Later on that evening, I mentioned to our guest if he liked desserts – the question was really meant innocently enough as I was flipping through a cookbook of puddings at the time – to which he replied ‘well, if you’re offering I’m not going to say no, seeing as you’re kind enough…’ I cast my husband an aghast look and quickly scanned a “Meals in Under Thirty Minutes” cookbook. Only one recipe could be used in accordance with our pantry status (pretty scant at the time) and that was Self-Saucing Chocolate Puddings. Great! I gave my husband a triumphant wink and headed, cookbook in hand, towards the kitchen, wondering why on earth I hadn’t just said to our guest that ‘well, we don’t actually have any dessert, I was just making conversation…’ I guess I must enjoy a challenge. The recipe is painfully easy. Grease four ramekin dishes. In a mixing bowl combine some melted unsalted butter, good quality (I always use Green and Blacks) cocoa powder, baking powder, self-raising flour, pinch of salt and a couple of eggs. Oh and some caster sugar. Divide this mixture into the ramekins. Boil a kettle at this point. Now, sprinkle a dessertspoon each of Demerara sugar and cocoa powder onto the top of each pudding, followed by a quarter of a cup of boiling water. This seems like a lot of water but melts with the sugar to make your sauce. Place ramekins (actually before you add the ‘sauce’ mixture) into a roasting tin and bake in a hot oven, about 180c for 15 minutes or so. The puddings puff up over the top of the ramekins, soufflé-like but an inserted skewer will not come out clean as the sauce that was poured on the top, will have sunk to the bottom of the pudding. Dust with some icing sugar and serve as is. The sponge has a delicate chocolate flavour, not cloying at all, which is fortunate when you consider that the sticky sauce is incredibly rich. You could easily gussy up this dessert with some fresh raspberries or other soft fruit of your choice or a ball of good vanilla ice cream. And best of all, it was, literally, thrown together in less than 10 minutes, ready to eat in less than 30. I don’t see that there would be a problem with preparing the pudding mixture in advance and then adding the ‘sauce’ mixture when you’re ready to cook them.
My point is that chocolate is the cook’s friend. You can prepare something exotic in advance or whip something up in a hurry. And I’ve yet to meet anyone who refuses a square of expensive chocolate if time/ingredients really are against you.
The main goal of this blog would be to educate, enlighten but most of all entertain people with our own experiments with chocolate. We hope to offer you reviews of the latest Premier Cru bars from Michel Cluizel or Amedei or the newest confectionary from Cadbury, recipes using unusual chocolate ingredients like Cacao Nibs or how to make your own truffles for Christmas. We know that we will enjoy eating the chocolate – we hope you will enjoy reading about it!