July 4, 2017
Here is my review of chocolate supremo Mark Tilling’s new book.
There are recipe books aplenty hitting the shelves, but when a new one launches by Mark Tilling, entitled Mastering Chocolate, I prick up my ears.
Mark has serious chocolate pedigree, as you will know if you read my account of attending one of his famous classes. He is a two time UK Chocolate Master, two time competitor at The World Chocolate Masters, ranking 7th on his second attempt, at the time the highest ever UK ranking. Last year he won the BBC’s Great British Bake Off Crème de la Crème, heading a team to take the crown as the top pastry team in the UK. He is also head tutor at the renowned Squire’s Kitchen International School in Farnham.
So with all that prowess, what sort of a book is Mark’s first offering since winning Crème de la Crème, and what can we expect from it?
When I spoke to Mark, it was clear that this book is a passion project. He is aware that his biggest audience to date will be looking out for this book, and he has conceived it as a book for all. He wants to be sure than anyone with any inclination to have a go with chocolate could succeed with this book.
Mark is an instinctive and natural teacher. Brilliantly technical himself, he is charming, clear and calm, imbuing confidence into even the most anxious of students. As he puts it himself the novice student will exclaim; ‘We’re never going to make that! And three days later, they have!’ Facilitating this mastery of his subject is what he loves, what feeds his teaching, and what drove the content and style of this book. It is a natural extension of his daily teaching at Squire’s Kitchen. Every recipe is immaculately photographed step by step, holding your hand from start to finish.
We are lucky that Mark, who is more in demand than ever, teaches regularly. If you want to immerse in chocolate patisserie and are able to get to Farnham, his courses are technically excellent, and tremendous fun. If not, or in addition, this book is well worth it.
The book is divided into four sections. Firstly bite-size pieces, covering petit fours, truffles and the like. Then come petit gateaux, and individual patisserie and desserts. After which things go on a step to larger pieces, big tarts, and entremets. Finally Mark goes all out with celebration pieces, a croquembouche, elaborate layered cakes and wedding cakes. There are many stages to each, but all are meticulously explained. There are beautiful tempered decorative elements and many facets to each dish. But if you are ever going to have a chance of succeeding with those things it will be with Mark.
There is plenty of advice on equipment and technique, again all photographed in detail. Some recipes require specialist equipment and ingredients, but many don’t, merely enthusiasm and time. My only point of contention is that the information on cacao varieties is out of date. Since the cacao genome was decoded in 2000 a lot of research has been done on cacao varieties and the previous received wisdom has been rewritten. In particular the Motomayor study of 2008 establishes a very different picture to the old assumptions of three cacao types. I would say in Mark’s defence that this view of things is still very prevalent.
I decided to have a go first at the Triple Chocolate Berry Tart, as I loved the idea of the cocoa nib pastry, and had a helper that day who is mad about chocolate custard, so the chocolate crème patissier really appealed. It didn’t disappoint. The result was stunning, loved by all in my household, and was no stress at all to achieve! Every element was straightforward and held its place on the dish. I do confess that I didn’t add the tempered decorations, but simply grated some extra dark chocolate over my serving plates.
I am not recommending that you leave bits out of each recipe out necessarily. Merely that you don’t need to be put off by the superficial complexity of the dishes. They don’t all involve tempering, and you could easily leave of the decoration, or make an element of the dessert, say the ice cream, or a pannacotta, without doing the full monty. All the recipes are deliciously multi-layered, and for your home cook the more ambitious of them are challenging and hugely tempting rainy day projects. However the extras are the Mark Tilling touch. He is a two time UK Chocolate Master after all. But you can learn from him without competing! You would feel a great sense of achievement at the result, in addition to having a delicious treat to congratulate yourself with! And the lucky guests who you deign to share your creations with will be bowled over.