May 15th, 2008

Egg, dairy & nut free chocolate cake

(& about my Birthday trip to Lewes)

Vegan Chocolate Cake - Egg, dairy & nut free chocolate - with Recipe - Coco&Me

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Hello there everyone! I’ve been away from posting on the blog for sometime haven’t I…? Sorry (tell me you missed me) ^^.

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It’s because I haven’t had any exciting desserts to post about!

Since I gave birth, I’m feeling just plain flabby. I hate hate hate it (I can’t even face looking at the full-length mirror), & so I have been staying away from making & subsequently scoffing sugary desserts. Call me vain, sometimes vanity overrules appetite, even if it’s for my passion for cakes! Hope you understand…
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Wednesday two weeks ago was my birthday (32!), & so in that following weekend, we decided to drive to Lewes (a small town in SE England) to stay over at our friends L & W’s place as a special birthday treat. Loyal blog-readers would know that I tried & miserably failed to reach Lewes last year, but hurray! this time we managed to get there no problem, & in just over 2 hours!
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Our friends L & W has a beautiful daughter who has serious allergy to egg & nuts. If she were to accidentally eat any of these ingredients, it could be life threatening for her. It must be tough for the whole family when you ALWAYS have to check the ingredients list on the back of products, & to tell your toddler that some products are not for her to eat, when other kids can.

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I made the mistake of boasting to the family about my son’s wonderful strawberry toothpaste, that it is the only one my son likes. Their daughter wanted to try, & we were about to let her, when our friend spotted that the toothpaste has horse chestnut listed in its ingredients… It was a total shock, & then horror moment for me – that a toothpaste had nuts as an ingredient, & that I could have made their little girl very ill.

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It didn’t occur to me that a non-food product could also be dangerous for her. I was then told that even a small amount of nut-oil that happened to be hidden in the hand moisturizer that her mummy was using would swell up the little girl’s hands by contact.
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So it is no surprise that her house is a ‘egg & nut free haven’. And that we were treated to foods under that rule.

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Soon as we arrived, L made us beautiful lunch – & while we were eating it in their country-side garden, L had a chocolate cake baking in the oven. The delicious smell wafted & lingered in the air. Ahhh…, I love home-baking. Nothing like the excitement of straight-from-the-oven cake for dessert. But when L told me it’s Vegan, & that it uses vegetable oil & vinegar as replacements to butter & eggs, I felt a little wary & my excitement deflated. I felt deprived of “the real thing”. Butter & eggs gives cakes flavour, so replacing them didn’t sound at-all apetizing.

(The science: Mixture of vinegar & the bicarbonate of soda creates carbon dioxide gas & raises the cake as it tries to escape out. (you can inflate a balloon this way!) And as for the inclusion of vegetable oil: it is 100% fat in replacement of the fat from the butter that you would’ve used. Butter has atleast 80% milk fat.)

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BUT to my surprise, it was totally TASTY! It was super moist & airy too. And you know what? I can even go as far as to say that I rate the “moist-ness” better than any other chocolate cake I’ve tasted in years (except for my very own ‘Moist Chocolate Cake’ from my stall ofcourse! ^^). And that is a big statement coming from a cake-fanatic like myself. I must say though, that it lacks in the depth of chocolate flavour, but eating it with the ganache filling sorts that problem out.
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So here is the recipe that I scribbled from L’s copy of “Allergy-free Cookbook” by Alice Sherwood. (The recipe book gets a big thumbs up from L who says every recipe in it is really good.) I took the liberty of changing the measurements around a bit to make it slightly more chocolatey, & less oily. I replaced the castor sugar it suggests to light brown sugar for the molasses flavour. Oh, & converted the there-abouts ‘tablespoon & teaspoon’ measurements to proper & precise grams n’ milliletres!

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The book gives you a choice of either spreading chocolate ganache cream or chocolate buttercream (both dairy-free). Both cream recipes are at the end of this post. The chocolate buttercream was a bit too sweet for me, but it was popular with children. The amount of sugar together with the sugary cake scares the heck out of me though… – I suggest if you’re going to serve this cake to grown-ups, go for the ganache.
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Please bare in mind though that if you’re going for the ganache option, nut-free chocolate may be hard to obtain. Most Confectioners use nuts in many of their products, & they might be using the same production-line to make products without nuts in the ingredients. This is where the problem for people with nut-allergy lies. Pretty much all the chocolate bars on the market may have traces of nut, or nut-oil.

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Thankfully there is a UK-based company Kinnerton who produces guaranteed nut-free chocolate products. It is apparently sold in selected Sainsbury, Asda, Tesco, Morrisons & Waitrose stores. Or you can buy in bulk directly from them too. Kinnerton has really gone the extra mile to manufacture nut-free products by allocating nut-free zones, as well as following strict safety measures to keep it nut-free. Read all about how they did it on their website.
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There are a few moderations I’ve made to the recipe:

  • Vinegar is to be added as the very last ingredient. – It’s to delay it reacting with the soda. You should get the maximum rising-power out of it that way.
  • I’ve included cherries & jam. – Our friend L spread fruit jam in-between the layers & mixed cherries in to the cake, which I thought really made this extra special.
  • I propose using apple cider vinegar instead of white vinegar as the book suggests. – Apparently the concentration of acidity is stronger, & without any scientific background, I’m hoping it’ll react even more with the soda & produce a fluffier sponge. – It’ll add a tiny bit more flavour to the cake too. And did you know that cider vinegar is good for treating sore throat? – Hey! A cake that’s good for illness? Now we’re talking!!
  • And optionally, you can add a splash of Kirsch cherry liquor in to the ganache to add to the cherry theme!

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Vegan Chocolate Cake - Egg, dairy & nut free chocolate - with Recipe - Coco&Me

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Egg, dairy & nut free chocolate cake Recipe:

(serves 10-12)

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Ingredients for the sponge:

  • 330g of plain flour
  • 400g of light brown sugar
  • 12g of Bicarbonate of Soda
  • 65g of nut-free cocoa powder

    (Note: check the back ingredients list to make sure it is nut-free. Cocoa powder is often made in chocolate factories that also handle nut products.)

  • 2g of salt
  • 450ml of unsweetened soya milk
  • 90ml of corn or other nut-free vegetable oil, plus extra for greasing

    (Note: don’t use olive oil as its flavour is too distinct)

  • 23ml of white vinegar
  • 7ml of vanilla extract
  • A large tin/ jar of pitted cherries
  • Fruit jam of your choice (cherry, apricot, strawberry, raspberry, etc)

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You’ll need:

  • 2 x 20cm (8 inch) round baking tins

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Method for the cake sponge:

  • 1. Pre-heat oven to 180C (350F, gas mark 4).
  • 2. Grease both tins with oil. (No need to line it with grease-proof paper. The oil on the tin & the oil from the cake is sufficient enough lubricant for de-moulding the cakes.)
  • 3. Sift together the dry ingredients in to a bowl: flour, sugar, bicarbonate of soda, cocoa powder & salt. (The light brown sugar tends to clump, so please don’t skip sifting!)
  • 4. Mix together the wet ingredients in another bowl: soya milk, oil, & vanilla extract.
  • 5. Mix wet ingredients to the dry ingredients.
  • 6. Stir in the cider vinegar.
  • 7. Divide mixture in to two greased tins.
  • 8. Spread evenly.
  • 9. Evenly scatter the cherries on top of the batter. Here make sure you don’t place any cherries in the centre – this way you’d be able to cut a clean slice with a straight angle when serving.
  • 10. Bake for 40 minutes, until it rises, & is firm to the touch.
  • 11. Cool in the tin for 10 minutes, & then turn out on to a wire cooling rack ( – I like to cool it upside down, so that the domed top becomes flat surface perfect for icing). Cool completely.
  • 12. Make the dairy-free ganache or the chocolate buttercream using the recipe below.
  • 13. Place one sponge upside down on the stand/ platter on which you’re going to present on.
  • 14. Slather jam of your choice.
  • 15. Use spatula to spread 5mm thickness or so of the ganache/ buttercream.
  • 16. Pop the other sponge on top.
  • 17. Artfully (painterly) slather the rest of the ganache/ buttercream on the top & the sides.

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Ingredients & method for the dairy-free ganache:

  • 150ml soya cream (in place of double cream)
  • Nut-free & dairy-free dark chocolate 200g
  • 100g castor sugar
  • 7ml Kirsch cherry liquor
    Method:
    Bring soya cream & sugar to simmering point & pour over the finely chopped chocolate. Mix gently with spatula (If the chocolate has not fully melted, zap it in the microwave 10 seconds at a time until melted). – Use immediately.

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Ingredients & method for the dairy-free chocolate buttercream:

  • 175g dairy-free spread
  • 400g icing sugar
  • 90g of nut-free cocoa powder
  • 10g of vanilla extract
    Method:
    Cream the dairy-free spread to thoroughly soft. Add vanilla extract & mix. Slowly & gradually add icing sugar & cocoa powder until creamy and smooth in texture. Use immediately.

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coffee mugs - lewes park - Coco&Me

(In Lewes, we visited Southover Grange gardens. I was extremely happy to get a proper porcelain mug (& not the usual paper throw-aways with plastic lids) for my Rooibos tea from their kiosk! And how wonderful that everyone dutifully returns it to the kiosk when they finish! (if this was a park in London, more than half would probably disappear I’m sure…) – It reminds me of drinking Glühwein from a porcelain mug at a German Xmas market, but only you’d have to pay extra first, & you’d get a little money back if you return the mug!)

Lewes park - Coco&Me

(From left: Me, L, cutie girl I, W, & my boy upside down. And in the right picture, my daughter S asleep.)

March 4th, 2007

Luxury Brownies (the secret recipe)

Luxury Brownies - homemade by Coco&Me.

Dearest readers, this week I’d like to share with you my secret recipe for BROWNIES that I sell on my stall.

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The Brownies War:

As you can imagine, brownies being so popular, there are many stalls selling them at my market (I counted ten stalls/ shops). It’s big headed of me to say this I know, but, I’m proud to say that mine always sell-out no problem. I make tonnes of it too – about 30 chunky slices per week – & on a week when I know the business will be good (ie: sunny weekends, & Christmas weekend), I make 40 – 50 slices, & they still go.
Because of this, I briefly debated wether to share this recipe online like this, but…, what the heck, I’ve got enough ‘regulars’ devoted to mine, & it’s competitively priced. Even if someone do a copycat, I’m confident that it won’t affect my sales!
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The history of Brownies:

Obviously, the name comes from the colour of this cookie/ cake. The origins, on the otherhand, is uncertain – but folklore has it that it was created by accident by a careless cook who’d forgotten to add baking powder to the chocolate cake. (Many origins of cakes are invented by careless cooks! Tarte Tatin was also created similarly.)

The first brownie recipe was published by Fannie Merrit Farmer in 1896, which calls for a nut tobe embedded in the centre. All early brownies contained chopped nuts too.

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LUXURY BROWNIES RECIPE

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These brownies are ‘seriously’ the BEST. I can assure you. Wanna know why? Because it’s got plenty of delicious nuts (pistachio, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans) in them, & it is double chocolatey, as it uses both cocoa & solid chocolates in the recipe – which is unusual, when most recipes call for just ‘either or’.

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Texture: moist, dense & fudgy.
Difficulty: easy as pie.

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Ingredients:
230g Butter, roughly cubed
310g Sugar
(Granulated or Castor)
200g Whole eggs (approximately four) whisked up
230g DARK Chocolate
– in small pellet form or chopped finely so it melts quickly (very important)
140g Flour
40g Cocoa Powder

200g of nuts of your choice (pistachio, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans – You can use just one type or use all four types like I do. They add different crunchy textures to every fudgy bite, which makes the brownie interesting til the last bite)

20cm square baking tin
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Prepare:

a. Butter the baking tin. Then line the bottom & the sides with baking paper.

b. Sift together the flour & the cocoa powder.

c. Have the chocolates ready in a large mixing bowl.

d. Leave aside some nuts to decorate the surface of the brownies with (in my opinion, walnuts look best).

e. Preheat oven to 180 degrees.

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Method:

1. Melt the butter completely in a large pot.
2. Add the sugar. Dissolve.
3. In a separate mixing bowl mix the solid chocolates & eggs (make sure to mix well).

4. Pour the piping hot mixture (from 2) over the chocolates/eggs in a bowl. Mix quickly & thoroughly – make sure all the chocolates have dissolved (if you still have lumps of chocolates left, zap it at 10 second intervals in the microwave until it melts).

5. Spatula in the flour & the cocoa powder. Mix until no traces of flour can be seen.
6. Mix in the nuts. (Make sure you leave some aside for decorating the top with).
7. Pour the mixture in to the prepared tin.
8. Evenly decorate some more nuts on the top surface.
(Make sure each slice would have a decorative nut)
9. Bake in the oven (that has been pre-heated to 180 degrees) for 18 to 22 minutes. It’s cooked when the edges have gone slightly dry, the top is shiny & has cracked. The centre of the brownie shoudn’t be wobbly when shook. Remember: the toothpick method won’t work on this fudgy brownie!
10. Leave aside to cool. Don’t cut until they’ve reached room temperature, or even better leave it untouched for a WHOLE DAY to rest – I can promise you, it’ll taste better tenfold.

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Brownies recipe explained in image sequence.

Note:

This recipe is versatile – instead of nuts, you can put pretty much anything in there – like dried fruit such as dried cherries, or fresh fruits like raspberry. Baking is meant to be fun & so don’t go out-of-your-way to buy the nuts if you haven’t got it (as nuts can be expensive). Use whatever that is in your store cupboard & experiment! like, be creative with sliced almonds & spell a letter on the surface!

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November 12th, 2006

Chocolat Chaud (real hot chocolate)

chocolat_chaud.jpg

Last Saturday:

Chilly winter weather is here to stay. The morning started off with just 4 degrees. My mother bought black fingerless gloves for me, true market trader stylee, & despite my low reservation with it in the trend-o-meter rating, I must admit it was a welcome piece of garment! Just goes to show, ‘mother knows best’ right? – – – – – The trade went smoothly enough. My truffles went quickly. Huge help came from two girls looking for something to take to a dinner party & bought a huge quantity of the caramel ganache truffles coated in tempered dark chocolate. – – – – – One bit of sad news of the day was that a local couple who had been buying my Tarte Tatin every morning say they are moving from the area, & next week they will buy my Tarte for the last time… – – – – – One bit of bizarre moment was when the girl with a Halloween mask & orange bucket asking around for treats was still loitering the market four hours later & I realized that, hey, that ain’t an innocent Halloween anymore, it’s ‘begging’!

This week’s entry is about my ideas & plans for the stall that I am always conjuring up, but never have enough time to fully develop:

There is the Jam making – I have 41 empty jars waiting to be filled… The labels are designed & I have done numerous product tests to perfect the technique. So far I have only made & sold three jars (Strawberry jam with a tablespoon of Kirsch cherry liqueur). But when it comes to actually making more, I have no time to spare & it’s always on the back burner… Or maybe my fire for it has watered down now that I have satisfied ‘the need to know’, like ‘been there, done that and got the T-shirt‘.

I have 2kg of Pecan Nuts that need to be used. My plan was to make Pecan Tart or Tartlette aux noix with it but I haven’t found the time to test bake. I know it’s right for the season we’re in, so I better get going…

Another plan is to serve Hot Chocolate (in French they say Chocolat Chaud – somehow French language sound so beautiful…). I know some people think it’s a sweet drink for children, but This drink is thick, rich & truly the ‘food of the Gods’ (which is the translation of the Latin name for Cacao).


When it’s cold like this, hot chocolate is bound to go down well. So what’s stopping me?
1. I need to purchase a drinks dispenser. We’re talking £500.00 just for this.
2. I have no electricity. I need to buy a portable generator – The cheapest I have found is £60.00 on ebay UK – which is probably the wrong model for my type of usage. Apparently they are noisy & I have no idea how to use it. And it’s operated by fuel?? Wouldn’t that be smelly for my chocolates & cakes?
3. I need to source cheap & good looking cups. Would I also need get lids too? Or can I get away with serving the drink without the lid…
I wonder what price people would pay for a cup of takeaway hot chocolate? £1.50? £2.00? I don’t think no more than that. And besides how many cups would I need to sell before I see the returns?

Since I will never be able to serve this drink on my stall, please make & drink this at home instead!

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Chocolat Chaud Recipe:

I have a fantastic recipe for Hot Chocolate. It is dark, rich & thick, it is like drinking liquid ganache, & is for adult consumption. Ideally be served in a cup, not mug, or a nice porcelain demitasse cup. Rule of thumb is 1:5 ratio of chocolate & milk+cream liquid. You can vary the thickness of your drink by how much double cream you put in it, in substitute of milk.

(for one cup)

18g Dark fine chocolate (button form or chopped from a block for quicker melt)

72g Whole (full fat) milk

18g Double cream

1. Simmer milk & cream in a pot.

2. Pour (1) over the chocolate in a bowl.

3. Whisk & melt the chocolate.

4. Return the mixture to the pot & heat.

5. Whisk until preferred consistency.
6. Strain the liquid (with a tea strainer) in to a pre-warmed cup.

You can infuse the milk (step 1) with spice such as: cinnamon stick, grated nutmeg, vanilla pod, cloves, chilli… Or what about a dash of Triple sec (means ‘Triple distilled’ orange liqueur) like Cointreau? Experiment & create the original cuppa.

… For super indulgence, if you have raspberries, you can place a couple in the drink to fall to the bottom of the cup for a nice surprise at the end!

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October 29th, 2006

About chocolates (with ganache truffles recipe)

chocolate jars

First, a quick report on last Saturday’s trade:
Broadway Market being outdoor, weather plays an inevitable part in the sales & general foot count. Rain is my enemy & whenever I checked the weather forecast during the week, it had the ‘double raindrop with dark clouds’ symbol for Saturday. So not expecting great number of customers to show up, I made considerably less…

On Saturday morning, it was raining & was piercingly cold when I was loading the car. It was to be expected but the thought of bad prospects of sales gave me a mild depression anyhow… But by the time we were in the market unloading, the rain had stopped & soon as my table was set up, three large fruit tarts got sold to one couple organising a big celebration. That’s my stall rent sorted easy! And no more large fruit tarts to flog. That set my happy mode for the day, & I managed to sell all my stuff except for five truffles which I gave away to my stall neighbour.

– In the end, it didn’t rain again until four o’clock! Damn you, weather forecast…! I could have made more & sold more…

Anyway, for this entry I ought to start writing about my favourite subject; my absolute devotion to chocolate, that is to fine & honest chocolate, not to the usual suspects lining up the shelves in corner shops.


Chocolate is my first love before pastry, & the initial intentions of the Coco&Me stall was to sell just chocolates.

The stall name itself is a play with the word ‘cocoa’, & was the idea that came out with my good friend Ari. It makes me smile when I look back at the list of candidate names we came up with at the time; there was choko, choco, choco&co, cocoa&jo… Coco&co was the major candidate, but the name was already taken by a business some where obscure in England. Hence, a slight variation of it ‘Coco&Me’ was born. We thought ‘Me’ sounded more personal & friendlier anyway.
Now I’m just glad the name is something that doesn’t especially tie me down to solely selling chocolate, because as for the Summer I am a 100% cakes stall (I can not sell chocolates in the Summer because they melt from 19 degrees temperature, & it is virtually impossible to try to temper it in a hot kitchen!).

In very very basic terms there are two types of chocolates in this world:

  • Cheapo chocolates using vegetable fat (a substitute to cocoa butter to reduce costs) & poor percentage of cocoa solid content. It uses artificial flavourings & preservatives to make up for poor quality starting ingredients. It might use a chemical substitute called Vanillin instead of Vanilla, which has a cheap ‘candy’ like metallic after taste.
  • Fine chocolates using cocoa butter (the cacao bean’s natural fat) & high quality natural ingredients. Good chocolate should only contain cocoa, cocoa butter, sugar & sometimes real vanilla & soya lecithin as an emulsifier.

On my stall I have four big jars of fine chocolate buttons. I sell them by weight from 50 grams upwards. I scoop them out on demand in to a transparent satchel bag & tie it with colourful Mulberry paper string.

Currently the jars contains the following:

  • White: El Rey ICOA. The only white made with undeodorized cacao butter (deodorization is a chemical process that strips flavour). It is buttery smooth, & it isn’t cloyingly sweet like any other whites around either (others use more sugar) I truly think it is the best white the industry offers (although based on looks only, I like the Green&Blacks’ white bar with vanilla seeds – black specks on densely cream coloured chocolate looks rather lush). The ICOA is the best seller out of the four, & is very popular with the parents with small children. (By the way did you know that white chocolate is actually not really classified as ‘chocolate’? It is because it contains only cocoa butter & no cocoa solids!)
  • Milk: El Rey Caoba 41%. It is one of the darkest milks around (the usual milk chocolate has around 35% cocoa content).
  • Dark: Organic Noir Selection Belcolade 53%. It has a perfect balance between bitterness & sweetness. It is important to have ‘organic’ on my stall. It attracts so much more interests!
  • Dark: El Rey Gran Saman 70%. For the true chocoholics. Deep & intense chocolate with slight berry flavour.

You’ve probably noticed that I am El Rey-ed out in my selection. It’s plainly because my main chocolate supplier doesn’t sell any other brands that are just as worthy, & I don’t want to buy different brands from different suppliers as it’ll incur additional shipping costs for them. Besides, aesthetically I like it that all the buttons are the same size! It looks good when customers want a mixed bag.

On the subject of selection, I must let you know of the existence of a treasure cove for chocolate lovers called In’t Veld Schokoladen. It stocks chocolate bars from most of the best fine chocolate brands! Probably the best chocolate shop in Germany in terms of the huge selection on offer. That said, my less-chocolate-aware partner had a ‘bitter’ experience in their cafe when he asked the man about the wonderful hot chocolate they served… D asked them “what do you put in your hot chocolate? Is it cocoa powder and milk…” when the cafe man snapped on my poor guy & scoffed at the mere thought of using anything other than real chocolate! Maybe he was having a bad hair day… But what is all this snobbery surrounding fine chocolates about hey?!

If the subject of fine chocolate interests you, there are some specialized websites like seventypercent.com, where I swotted up & gained knowledge on the last two years. Through what they had organized during the National Chocolate Week, I have been to talks & seminars & even a factory tour at L’artisan du Chocolat, which was insightful as to how ‘fine chocolate’ can be made at a huge production like theirs. I also bought two fresh cocoa pods from their shop in Sloane Square for £7 each. One for consumption (the white pulp was sweet, the beans were acrid) & one for drying whole (which I have as a display on my stall).

Working with chocolate is initially all about trials & tribulations. Tempering (a specific method of melting the chocolate so that the end result is shiny with a crisp snap) really is tricky to master. It’s another whole new chapter if I was to write about it, so maybe that’s for future posting.

But instead, maybe I can share a recipe for a basic ganache (‘ganache‘ is a french term referring to the blended mixture of chocolate & cream) & how to make rolled truffles which does not require you to temper if you coat it with cocoa powder. Also from this I can briefly discuss how to easily make varieties of flavoured truffles with it. Please click HERE to view the recipe on another page.

I know, it was a long entry again… But… but, I really can go on forever about chocolates…! Thank you for reading til the end. Please leave a comment if you’d like to, & I’ll be hoping that you’d come back for my next installment next week!

t xx