December 18, 2012
I wouldn’t miss my annual Christmas date with Chocolate on London’s South Bank for the world.
As I mentioned in my Christmas Shopping post, one sure-fire way to get all your Christmas shopping done is to head to one of the December Chocolate Festivals. I always head to London, but do check their website for details of their other locations.
It was blowing a gale, but the mood was buoyant. Some of the best chocolatiers and chocolate makers to be found were clustered into what it, for three days, became an epicentre of chocolate deliciousness. I was lucky enough to kick off this year’s visit in style, in the demonstration tent, at the official launch. This tent hosted a truly tempting array of demonstrations and talks throughout the weekend. These are open to all, many of them free, and are an opportunity to learn from and taste the very best.
Two wonderful chocolatiers took to the stage and plied us with chocolate to get us in the mood. I hadn’t needed any persuasion!
Damian Allsop was celebrating being declared one of the top eight chocolatiers in the world by chocolate expert George Bernadini in his new tome Der Schokoladentester. We were treated to one of his divine water ganaches, Pacari 70% Raw. These chocolates more purely celebrate the unique qualities of the individual couverture used than anything else I have tasted. Next came one of Damian’s ‘clouds’, an aerated fruit fresh fruit puree. The combination of strawberry, raspberry, blackberry, cherry and Madagascan vanilla in a fruity dark chocolate shell, was bursting with fresh flavour and had a pleasing light texture. The best of his ‘clouds’ I have tried yet.
Paul Wayne Gregory bounded onto the stage next, a bundle of energy and enthusiasm with his chocolate story to tell and yummy things for us to try. His mantra is that of indulgence, and he takes his time to ensure the fillings to his chocolates pack a punch of rich and dreamy flavour. His passion fruit chocolate took a year and a half to get right, and the result is an explosion of the fragrant fruit, both bright and buttery, that only mellows into a more chocolatey flavour at the finish.
He brought along his newly launched Christmas pudding chocolate, which in addition to the pudding itself, contained butter, wine, apple juice, cognac, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, star anise and a few more things besides. The result is less complex than that sounds. Paul calls it “Christmas in your mouth”. I was warmed up with a boozy, spicy hit of molasses and raisin that was both tasty and a perfect combination for the time of year.
There was so much to enjoy this year, many stalls groaning with some of the best chocolate around: Original Beans, Duffy’s, Pacari, Valrhona, Paul A Young, William Curley and of course Paul Wayne Gregory and Damian Allsop. Alistair Croll of Simply Handmade had the most delicate macarons alongside his yummy handmade chocolates.
Direct Cacao had a stand, on which Martin Christy was informing people about this essential initiative to preserve and support the use of fine flavour heritage cacao varieties.
Rococo was going great guns, with both Chantal Coady (founder) and Barry Johnson (Principal Chocolatier) in evidence. They were busy demonstrating wondrous things from Chantal’s new book, and overseeing a gourmet hot chocolate stall, as well as a delicious, and delicious to look at, array of their wonderful chocolates.
They have four new winter chocolates and they are a real treat. The Caramelized Pumpkin and Lebküchen Spice in milk chocolate is redolent of a warm pumpkin pie, homemade with cinnamon and served with fresh cream. The Spiced Pecan Praline hits similar notes, but this time it evokes a pecan cake, with crunchy nibs of caramelised nut and luxuriously smooth milk chocolate. The Mandarin Ganache hits the Christmas nail on the head. Pretty as wrapping paper with smart orange stripes contrasting with the glossy dark cocoa-rich shell, the zingy citrus conjures up the essential fruit from the toe of my Christmas stocking. My favourite of these though, and a mouth-pleasuring surprise is the Kalamansi Lime Caramel. I’m not sure I like chocolate and lime, but this is a game changer. It tastes of the best imaginable citrus curd, gloriously buttery and yet fresh as can be. The fruit is not quite lime, it is more fragrant, there is grapefruit there or the intensely tasty kumquats that my family filled a bowl with to grace the Christmas lunch table. The chocolate that encases this divine filling is deep and fruity and prevents the whole being too rich or acidic. Altogether glorious!
It was a frosty Chocolate Festival this December, but I would go so far as to say that the chill wind gave a particular piquancy to the treats on offer. Hot chocolate to warm hands and belly, fine chocolate to waken and excite the taste buds. A wonderful way to end a great chocolatey year.
My next post will be on New Year’s day; a top ten round up of 2012, before we look forward to all the tastes of 2013. Until then, have a happy holiday, a great New Year’s Eve, and I hope Santa brings you lots of chocolate!