Chocolate advertising tells us a lot about chocolate itself and our attitudes towards the brown stuff (proletariat), the dark stuff (posh), the white stuff (chocolate at all?). When Cadbury’s substituted the usual sensual codes associated with chocolate advertising (a woman in a state of undress, optional dressing gown, obligatory bath with taps running and candles) for a gorilla, some drums and Phil Collins, it was clear that chocolate as a product had transcended conventional advertising.
We (mostly women) no longer needed to be told that a few chunks would send us into a Sophie Dahl Opium-esque yogic bridge of pleasure or that it provided death-defying anti-oxidants as well as life-enhancing endorphins. The benefits of a furtive chunk (or inhalation of an entire bar) speak for themselves.
Chocolate was considered so dangerous a drug that in the 17th-century, Charles II unsuccessfully tried to close down the newly popular chocolate houses which he deemed ‘hotbeds of sedition’. From its origins in South America, a chocolate beverage mixed with sugar and spices had been the Spanish nobility’s best kept secret for about 100 years until Anne of Austria, daughter of Philip III, introduced it to her new husband, Louis XVIII in France where its reputation as an aphrodisiac was firmly established. A Jamaican-inspired version took the Spanish version a luxurious step further with the addition of milk, a recipe developed by Hans Sloane who introduced it to the trendy coffee houses of London and where it was bought by the Cadbury brothers. This seditious drink then wound its way to Vienna and on to the US to be reincarnated in the UK in solid form by J.S. Fry & Sons in 1830. Chocolate had become a confection.
That we can’t get enough of the stuff is never more obvious than at Easter. An estimated 80 million eggs are bought and consumed each year in the UK and the market is thought to be worth a staggering £200 million. How many of us however, have the confidence to resist the temptation of Lindt bunnies and Cadbury’s Creme eggs to make our own? (if you haven’t made the new Cadbury’s Creme egg brownies then stop reading this and make some now). Not many I would warrant. Why? Because the idea of chocolate tempering can be intimidating. Spending a morning with Cornish chocolatiers, Nicky Grant and husband Tom, however and I realised that 1) aspects of making your own box of chocolates does require a certain understanding of science and some kit but 2) that making a ganache is the easiest way around all of that.
“You can’t just be a chocolatier, you’ve got to learn the science before the art”, explains Tom, as he stirs a silky brown mix in a tempering machine with a spatula. Late arrivals for the morning trickle in to the couple’s isolated farmhouse for coffee and a lesson in the alchemic art of chocolate making. A hushed awe follows the movement of Tom’s spatula as he explains the polymorphic nature of the substance and how chocolate essentially works like paint – just like an emulsion, it will split. I’ll admit that not even the coffee was enough to keep me focused on the science of tempering but I got, more or less, that movement, time and temperature are critical elements of the process. What pricked my ears Lindt bunny high was the best time to eat and therefore to taste chocolate: at 11 in the morning. Tom explained how it was done:
First – smell it; then feel the texture by placing it on your upper lip – it should be smooth, break it and it should ‘snap’ cleanly then place a piece in your palm and rub it with your other palm – cup your (now dirty) hands and smell to get the aroma. Wine descriptors seem to work here – tobacco, vanilla, leather, fruit, caramel. Then finally put a piece on your tongue and leave it there until it begins to melt and breathe through your nose to get the aroma again. Chew a little and move it around different parts of your mouth to maximise on texture and taste. I was grateful that chocolatiers do not resort to the uncivilised wino act of spitting.
From tasting and tempering, we made our way to an outbuilding where Nicky works her magic, quite often starting at 4 in the morning. We made a vanilla ganache but the vanilla could just as easily be substituted for other flavourings such as cardamom (recipe below) or alcohol. Pouring the just boiled cream on to chocolate callets for a ganache is tempering for beginners, no gear necessary:
Ingredients (should all be at room temperature)
300g Ghana 40% chocolate callets (or small pieces)
150g whipping cream
20g cardamom pods ground in a pestle and mortar (or other flavouring)
42g softened (unsalted) butter
- Boil cream with the cardamom seeds, heat to boiling point and leave for 15 minutes
- Leave to rest for 10 seconds and sieve on to the callets or chocolate pieces
- Gently shake the bowl so that all the chocolate is covered
- Leave for 10 seconds and begin to stir from the middle of the bowl outwards
- Once the ganache is blended together (no lumps) add the butter
- Put cling film over and put in the fridge until it begins to set at the edges
- Pipe or scoop into little chocolates
Nicky and Tom are in the early stages of setting up their own on-line chocolate tuition and forum on YouTube but meanwhile go to their site, nickygrant.com to order wedding cakes, award winning handmade chocolates, wedding favours and of course, Easter eggs.