December 6, 2017
Chocolate news and recommendations for your Christmas shopping.
It has been an exceptional year for chocolate. My top ten of the year will be posted in a few weeks, and never has it been harder to choose. At this time, I usually post a Christmas shopping guide. And that is what this post is, mostly. But I also wanted to let you know what has been happening during the 2017 chocolate season. Plus, as a little early Christmas present, I’m including a wonderful recipe from the lovely folk at Guittard, so you can make your own chocolate presents if you so wish. And it’s a doozy!
Firstly, you might want to consider a chocolate tasting course. As a gift for the chocolate lover/obsessive in your life, or indeed for yourself, it is the gift that keeps on giving. Learning how to fully taste and appreciate chocolate will certainly enhance all your subsequent chocolate eating, and might be the start of something more. I now teach at The Institute of Chocolate Tasting, which runs the accredited Level 1, 2 and 3 chocolate tasting courses. The courses run in London and various locations in Europe and the US. The first courses in Taiwan and Hong Kong are this month. Students come from all over the world, and range from chocolate and patisserie professionals to intrigued enthusiasts looking to taste more and train their palate. The courses are all enormously informative, great fun, and seriously delicious! So maybe see you there.
But, if you want to buy some special chocolate, where should you start? While the shops at this time of year are particularly sparkly and chocolate-centric, I am asked this questions all year round. My answer always starts with the words The International Chocolate Awards. You all know that I am on the Grand Jury, and what we do each year is to taste literally thousands of things in order to select a dream list of wondrousness to guide you to the best of the best. Martin Christy (seated above with two multiple award winners) strives year round to seek out and encourage excellence in fine chocolate. So, go online, and look at the world winners and the winners in your region, and there begins your shopping list.
The Chocolate Show (in London every October – put it in your diary for next year) is a wonderful chance to catch up with lots of awards winners, taste their chocolate and meet them in person. There are also incredible displays, such as this year’s chocolate art. The Great Wave (above) is the famous Hokusai picture recreated by Rococo in white chocolate. Duffy Sheardown brought along his new coffee bars, both of which are stunning. The Moccachino is going in my favourite coffee lovers present pile, coming on like the ultimate café au lait. I love these bars!
Gold world award 2017 for the best plain/origin dark bar by a microbatch maker. Gold world award for best in show 2017 over all! Shattell from Peru are doing something very right indeed! With intriguing green herbal notes, and stunning length, these are serious chocolates that will open your eyes to the potential of fine Peruvian cacao. It isn’t always easy to buy some of these makers except at events like The Chocolate Show. If you are in the UK your best bet is to go to Cocoa Runners, who stock a lot of world makers year round. Luckily for you, they do stock Shattell.
Wonderful home grown talent is to be found at Manchester’s Dormouse Chocolates. When their toasted white chocolate bar was featured this year by Cocoa Runners in one of their increasingly regular television appearances, they sold out within hours. Deservedly!
I’ve been loving Dormouse’s Dark Milk Speculaas bar. It is the right balance of luxurious indulgence and spicy intense flavour. Very Christmassy feeling.
New comer Beau Cacao, are working wonders with Malaysian beans. I am really excited about the flavours and craft of this bean to bar maker who exhibited at The Chocolate Show for the first time this year. The diversity of the two bars they make with cacao from this region is stunning. I will be bringing you more on them in the future!
There are some things Rococo always get right, and flavoured bars in gorgeous packaging is one of them. I loved all of these, the beetroot being an unexpected earthy treat. Watch out also for Creative Director Chantal Coady’s lust-worthy design collaboration with Jigsaw.
Chocolatiers 5Dimension are always worth catching up with. Their experimental flavours reference different cultures and locations around the globe. These aren’t shy, if the label says curry, expect curry. Their newest sensation is with brie. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the cheese takes the edge off what might be a very sweet mixture of milk chocolate and honey, and adds a meltingly rich texture. This definitely works, and I went back for more.
I particularly like the 5Dimension caramel sauces. All the flavours are well balanced with the good dark caramel, and in the new smaller jars are excellent little presents. The Yuzu over vanilla ice cream is a joy indeed!
Chococo are wonderful at Christmas, they just get it right. Check their website for an array of fun shapes and ideas, all made with great chocolate. I think their large milk chocolate bauble (see the top of this post) is stand out gorgeous! And the filled chocolates are festive and delicious. The Tawny Fig is one of my favourite things this year. Happily they recognise their appeal, and you can buy boxes of just them!
Guittard had a strong presence at The Chocolate Show this year. This long-established American bean to bar company are now on our shores. Their chocolate will be widely available, and is a good option for baking or chocolate work at home. They are also working with some top names, including Paul A Young. Watch this space for their exciting collaborations.
Amy Guittard has published a truly appealing chocolate cookbook (a good gift for the baker in your life), and their Christmas message is to encourage making things at home. To that end they have given me their Almond and Ginger Bark recipe to share with you. You are welcome. There is nothing like a homemade gift when it is as delicious as this one!
Amy Guittard’s Dark Chocolate Almond & Ginger Bark
230g sliced almonds
30g icing sugar
2 Tbsp golden syrup
1 Tbsp warm water
50g candied ginger or other dried or candied fruits, cut into 2.5cm dice
340g Guittard 74% Bittersweet Chocolate Baking Wafers.
Preheat the oven to 180c. Line a rimmed baking tray with greaseproof paper.
In a small bowl, combine the almonds, icing sugar, golden syrup and water and mix until the sugar has dissolved. Pour the almond mixture onto the prepared baking tray and spread it in a thin, even layer covering the entire tray. Toast the almond mixture for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the almonds are golden brown. Remove from the oven and let the mixture cool in the pan on a wire rack.
When the almond mixture has cooled to room temperature, add it to a medium bowl along with the candied ginger and mix to combine. Set aside. Melt the chocolate using a hot water bath or the microwave oven. Stir until completely melted and smooth. Remove the bowl from the water if you used a hot water bath and cool the chocolate.
Add the melted chocolate to the bowl with the almond-ginger mixture and stir until the almonds and ginger pieces are uniformly coated. Pour the mixture onto the prepared baking tray (re- line with greaseproof paper, if necessary), and use an spatula to spread it out evenly, working quickly so the chocolate does not set before an even layer can be created. Let cool at room temperature for 30 minutes then refrigerate until the chocolate is hard, at least 3 hours and up to overnight.
Break the chocolate bark into pieces. Store in an airtight container in a cool place for up to 2 weeks.
May I just add, I made the above (very small effort for a stunning result) and there is nothing left. Nothing! It is one of the most moreish things you can imagine! Thank you Guittard.
Happy Christmas all. And enjoy your chocolate, whether it be tasting, baking, making or eating. See you in 2018!