I HAVE developed a new interest in chocolate. Not that I didn’t like it before – I was indifferent to it, didn’t crave it like some people, it wasn’t my be all and end all. Yes, I cooked with chocolate, but didn’t really know much about it.
Until that is, I went to an inspiring demonstration at the recent Durham City Food Festival by endearing ‘cheeky chappie’ Paul A Young, who was brought up in Durham. A chocolatier who is passionate about his craft, Paul was an excellent, engaging teacher, enthusiastic about sharing his huge knowledge with the audience. In fact he had us all in the palm of his hand.
First of all he turned on its head the general belief that for cooking we should use chocolate that has minimum 70pc cocoa solids. Apparently the percentage is no indication of quality, and indeed he was using 64pc Madagascan for the demonstration. More important is where the beans come from and how they are extracted and treated – how it’s been made and by whom.
For us home cooks he recommends buying supermarket own brand chocolate, as they employ experts who visit cocoa-producing countries, research and get the best made for them. It is often single origin (country) and a single bean variety. It is also cheaper than the well-known brands.
When choosing chocolate we should look for purity – i.e. the only ingredients should be cocoa beans, sugar, sometimes vanilla and sometimes cocoa butter. It should contain no vegetable fat, palm oil or anything artificial, or ‘any word that you can’t pronounce’ – a sound piece of advice that we should probably consider when we shop for anything!
Milk chocolate should contain milk, which sounds obvious but often isn’t the case. In short, buy the best chocolate you can afford. The overriding pieces of information I took away with me were quite simple; cook with chocolate that you like eating – whether that be white, milk or dark – if you wouldn’t eat it, don’t cook with it, and buy the best you can afford.
Really good chocolate is expensive, but Paul’s advice was to eat less and buy better. And finally, dark chocolate should never taste burnt or bitter.
A graduate of New College, Durham and Leeds Metropolitan University where he studied hotel and catering management, Paul has three eponymous shops in central London.
Everything is entirely handmade using fresh ingredients at every stage and no preservatives; he is the only artisan chocolatier of his type in London. Last Christmas they sold 120,000 truffles in one shop alone, and I haven’t got my noughts muddled up!
Back to Durham, where Paul showed us how easy it is to temper chocolate (the process of taking it from solid to liquid to solid again, which gives it a crisp shiny smooth texture once it has been melted) at home using an inexpensive marble slab from Argos and a (clean!) wall paper scraper, instead of expensive specialist equipment.
This is used to coat truffles and chocolate bars and to make moulded shapes. We were advised to practice tempering on cheaper chocolate until we have got the hang of it.
Paul has won many awards, including for his first book Adventures with Chocolate, which won the World’s Best Chocolate Book award.
It is very much geared to the home cook and is full of delicious recipes, one of which is today’s recipe. Muscovado Truffles are a cinch and would make a lovely end to any feast over the festivities and impress friends and family into the bargain. Why not make a few extra and package them prettily to give as presents as well.
Truffles can be flavoured in endless different ways. Paul likes to keep his flavourings seasonal. We were lucky enough to try his Cedarwood, Orange and Roast Walnut, and Soreen Malt Loaf truffles, but the out and out winners for me were his Sea Salted Caramels, which were utterly delicious; not surprising as they have also been voted the best Sea Salted Caramels in the world.
So, follow Paul’s very easy recipe and I am sure yours will be worthy of the same accolade.
Jane will be signing copies of Make it Easy at Waterstones, Morpeth tomorrow from 1pm. Find more recipes in Jane’s book, Make it Easy, available from www.janelovett.com, bookshops and Amazon.
Follow Jane on Twitter @Jane_Lovett