Learning (more) about chocolate

I’ve been on an uncharacteristic splurge in the last couple of weeks, and been to two different chocolate evenings. Although I consider myself a keen chocolate consumer, some would even say a chocolate snob, I surprised myself by how much I learnt on these two evenings.

The first was a demonstration session at Divertimenti, given by Paul A Young. I know him only by reputation, and because I got his beautiful book, Adventures with Chocolate, for Christmas. I haven’t even been to his shop, although it’s now on the list. This was a great evening – Paul’s passion for chocolate came through vividly, and was completely infectious. He started with a short run-down of how chocolate is made, and a tasting session that started with roasted nibs, and went through to several types of chocolate. Then he started the recipes, and elaborated on a few topics that he’s really keen on – using herbs with chocolate, and pairing chocolate with unusual ingredients, in this case a white chocolate sauce with sole. He spoke about flavour matching a lot – choosing which chocolate goes with what, whether it will overpower, what else to match with it to balance the flavours. The fish with chocolate was actually really good – not unlike fish with vanilla, if you’ve ever had that combination. Shallots, creme fraiche and aniseed notes from dill and Pernod balanced out the sweetness of the chocolate really well.

Inspired by this evening, I started browsing around seventypercent.com and came across their Chocolate Tasting Workshop. This was at the Scotch Whisky Society (who knew that existed?) and was really a series of tools to equip you for tasting chocolate. We looked at the way chocolate’s flavour changes over time, the many different notes you can distinguish, particular qualities that make chocolate ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – things like over roasting, a coarse texture, lack of length (the persistant chocolate aftertaste in the mouth), or a bad aftertaste. It covered quite a few things I knew, but also some new things. Most of all, it was good to put aside some time just to sit down and contemplate nothing more than the flavour and smell and texture of the chocolate you’re tasting. It might have been good to taste a wider range of chocolates, including some rubbish ones, but I can see how your palate would start to get overwhelmed very quickly.

Here are some things i’ve learnt from these two sessions:

  • I really like fruity chocolate – and I’m most likely to get that hit from Madagascan beans, hence my preferences for Valrhona Manjari and Malagasy Mora Mora.
  • I am pretty tolerant of all sorts of chocolate, equally happy to eat caramelly, biscuity (probably cheap ones) as the dark and bitter sort (although we’re still talking fine chocolate here: Galaxy is scum, and Dairy Milk is fine but gives me an unpleasant sugar-comedown).
  • Chocolate is ground down into very varied granule sizes, and some are much smoother than others. Brands like Amedei feel especially smooth and liquid. Green & Blacks is much coarser.
  • Water ganache is a revelation. I’d read about it before, but never made it, and tasting Paul A Young’s fresh mint ganache, made with just water, mint, sugar and chocolate has totally converted me. I’m now really keen to try this with tea – guinea pigs wanted!
  • The thing I most want to learn about next is tempering. I’ve done it a couple of times at home, but I would really love to be able to do it without having to clear the whole day – to make it something that I can contemplate doing in smaller quantities.

Some useful chocolate links that I’ve been collecting:

  • Seventypercent – a chocolate blog and (very comprehensive) review site for fine chocolate.
  • Paul A Young – lovely man, and great chocolates: the salted butter caramel I tried was indescribable, and has won 2 Gold medals. In Islington and the City.
  • Rococo – chocolate shops in Marylebone and Chelsea and also a chocolate school offering tempering and truffle-making classes.
  • William Curley – shops in Richmond and Belgravia.
  • Melt chocolates – little white boutique shop in Notting Hill and also available in Whole Foods
  • Matcha chocolates – recommended by Shuna aka eggbeater, so must be good 🙂

My chocolate books:

4 comments on “Learning (more) about chocolate

  1. Toby Gee says:

    The sea salt caramels are by far the best things that Paul A Young makes; actually, as soon as I wrote that I remembered the brownies, which are very nearly as good (I always bring some back and keep them in the freezer here). Definitely the thing I miss most about living in Islington.

    [n.b. found this site while doing some nostalgic browsing recently – impressive!]

  2. Choclette says:

    I have just bought Paul A Young’s book and really loving it. I love living in Cornwall, but it does make it a tad difficult to pop into his shop to try some of his sea salt caramels. I have been thinking about trying tempering, but haven’t yet struck up the courage to do so. I’d love to go to a chocolate class, just to give me the confidence.

  3. Katie says:

    Hi Louise – you had mentioned before that chocolatiers often don’t like to use mechanical equipment when tempering chocolate. So no microwaves or tempering machines etc. Have they ever given any reasons why?

    Still has me wondering…

    I am thinking that mechanical equipment is what has made velvelty smooth chocolate possible. It’s ground down and conched for hours in machines. To hear someone say not to use machines for any re-tempering process seems counter-intuitive? Any ideas on this would be much appreciated???

    • louise_m says:

      It’s a good question – not sure what the bias is. My first guess would be that, much like bread makers preferring to start by hand, it’s more to do with learning about the feel, and that if you get good by hand, it can be just as quick for small quantities.
      Will have to look into it further.

      By the way, I now have a digital thermometer, so will be giving tempering another go soon 🙂

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