Chocolate has come a long way in recent years. It’s up there with raw honey, extra virgin olive oil and fine wines in terms of terroir. A gourmet product involves craftsmanship and loving care so, as with all slow food, take the time to appreciate the work and ingredients that have gone into each tantalising mouthful. Less is best when it comes to consuming sweet foods so it’s worth ensuring the chocolate you eat is delivering the best possible experience in every bite.
Small is beautiful
Our love affair with chocolate continues unabated. Chocolate consumption has soared during lockdown as comfort eating has taken a hold with a particular increase in sales (a staggering £40m) of multipacks and large “sharing bars”. However, if you’re serious about your chocolate the single bar is the champion. Choosing a small but beautifully made bar of chocolate will allow you to taste a wider variety so that you can begin to develop your tastebuds in the same way you would with fine wine or speciality coffee. Take your time to appreciate the individual characteristics that make a product unique.
“Happiness. Simple as a glass of chocolate or tortuous as the heart. Bitter. Sweet. Alive.”― Joanne Harris, Author Chocolat.Tweet
Traceability means you know what’s in your chocolate, where it came from, how and where it was made. Independent artisan makers tend to be more transparent about what goes into their product so read the label. Chocolate begins as cocoa beans, roasted and ground into a liquid state to produce raw chocolate. Try experimenting with the amount of cocoa solids, the fatty component of the bean remaining after the cocoa butter is extracted from the chocolate liquor, to develop your personal taste. The higher the cocoa solids percentage the more intense chocolate flavour, and this information will be shown on the wrapping. In the same way that dark chocolate works better in baking, as it has a higher coca content and less sugar than milk chocolate, a couple of squares or a few buttons in your morning cup of coffee will make an intense mochachino.
Recipe: Chocolate nut butter
Recipe Good Housekeeping Complete Book of Chocolate (1993). Serve with hot pancakes and waffles, or on toast. Serves 4.
125g (4oz) butter, softened; 10ml (2 level tsp) caster sugar; 30ml (2 tbsp) grated chocolate; 30ml (2 tbsp) finely chopped walnuts, hazelnuts or pecans.
Beat the butter until very light and fluffy then beat in the remaining ingredients.
The nut butter would also work as a ‘sandwich’ filling in baking.
Food as medicine
In its raw state the cocao bean is choc-full (pun intended) of polyphenols and minerals. Health benefits have been attributed to cocoa which contains flavanol antioxidants and several minerals, including calcium, copper, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, and zinc. Tryptophan, an amino acid found in small quantities in chocolate is the precursor for Serotonin, the neurotransmitter that mediates satisfaction, happiness and optimism. In the same way that good red wine, rich in tannins, is believed to impart health benefits, it’s all about quality when it comes to chocolate. Not all chocolate is equal when it comes to both taste and healthy attributes. For instance, the beneficial minerals are found in greater quantities in raw cocoa powder than either cocoa butter or chocolate liquor, and in those products containing higher levels of between 70% to 80%.
“Chocolate is right up there with raw honey, extra virgin olive oil and fine wines in terms of terroir.”Tweet
In the spirit of chocolate appreciation then, here are five premium chocolate bars, beans and powders made by independent makers to truly satisfy your taste buds.
Coastal Chocolate is an independent company, founded by James Bridger in 2019. James first learnt to make chocolates on a course at the Leith School of Food and Wine over 15 years ago, and now produces a handmade range of sweet treats in his seaside hometown of Hastings. I tried the Ginger and Pecan 70% dark chocolate. The combination of the sweet but spicy ginger, toasted pecans and dark chocolate is truly decadent. This is a chocolate bar to nibble. The beauty of chocolate of this quality is that you only need to savour a couple of pieces at a time for an intense cocoa experience. Ginger and Pecan 70% Dark Chocolate, suitable for vegans. £5.00 (100g). www.coastalcocoa.co.uk
Noble and Stace
At his Midhurst studio chocolatier, Mike Noble, searches out award-winning local ingredients from fellow artisan producers who share his passion for creating extraordinary products. Noble and Stace make chocolates, truffles and tablettes. The Lockdown Tablette is a solid bar for nibbling with a crazy amount of toppings. Made using a satiating 41% cocoa solids the texture is smooth with an intense caramel flavour that develops in the mouth. Limited Edition tablettes, chocolates and truffles are created throughout the year, depending upon availability of local produce and as the mood strikes!
“Topped with pretty much everything we could think of, including Milk, Dark and White chocolate chips, chunks of Milk and Dark chocolate”… Lockdown Tablette.Mike Noble, Chocolatier, Noble and Stace.
All Noble and Stace chocolates are dipped, decorated and piped by hand before being packed by hand. Oddly, I couldn’t find an indication of the weight of the bars, either online or on the packet, and I didn’t think to weigh it before I tucked in! Lockdown Tablette £8.50. www.nobleandstace.co.uk
The Blind Chocolatier
Cookies & Cream milk chocolate bar from The Blind Chocolatier. £3.00 (80g). www.theblindchocolatier.co.uk
Hann-made by Stuart Hann who has been a professional pastry Chef since 2007. Stuart was diagnosed with a rare eye condition in 2015 but this hasn’t stopped him maintaining his role in a 2 Rosette kitchen whilst opening his own shop. The Cookies & Cream bar is a smooth chocolate and not as sweet as the name might suggest. The biscuit element adds a light crunch.
Noble and Stace, Coastal Cocoa, Harry’s Tremendously Chocolately and The Blind Chocolatier are also available from Melted Inside a markplace supporting artisan makers and the local community. www.meltedinside.com
These big dark chocolate buttons are very moreish. Made from fino de Aroma cocoa beans from different regions of Colombian to produce a delicate smooth dark chocolate that give a satisfying chocolately taste. Chocolatier, Kerry Witt, a former Pastry Chef at a number of high profile venues such as Le Poussin (for Michelin star winner Alex Aitken) produces award-winning chocolates in the New Forest, England. Cocoa solids 60% min 200g. Colombian Dark Chocolate Buttons, £7.00. Miss Witt Chocolate at BuyBritain.com.
“The high cocoa solid content helps to balance, restore and sooth from the inside out, whilst maintaining all the flavour. When using it for fitness, it allows you to work harder for longer and gives you the perfect carb/protein ratio in a simple and easy way.”Carole Armitage | Founder, 80Noir Ultra
This is a speciality 79.3% dark chocolate without the bitterness often experienced with high cocao solids. 80NoirUltra comes in mini bars and beads. It has a smooth rich consistency and intense flavour, and the bars are good to nibble too. There’s no need to melt the chocolate, simply add a few to hot water for an alternative to an energy-giving espresso. Perfect too for a ‘fat mochaccino’ by blending hot milk and water and a few beads in a powerful blender like the Magic Bullet, together with a slosh of MCT oil, a spoonful of your favourite nut butter and a dash of tumeric.
Winner: Women’s Running Product Award 2019, 2020 and Great Taste Award 2019, 2020. Vegan friendly and Palm Oil free. 80NoirUltra Dark Chocolate Drinking Beads £12.50 (300g). www.80noirultra.com
Tip: *No electric blender? You might like to try this idea for making cocktails and shakes from The Dairy Boook of Family Cookery (1990). “If you don’t have a proper shaker, use a glass jam jar, or other screw-topped container”.
Cocoa powder is the powdered form of the dry cocoa solids with a small remaining amount of cocoa butter. Untreated cocoa (cacao) powder is also available as raw cacao buttons. Both are a little bitter and acidic but you can acquire a taste for the raw version, and it’s also excellent in cooking or added to a cup of coffee.
Harry’s Tremendously Chocolately is made using 55% dark chocolate and cocoa powder with a higher fat content to give a rich, smooth taste. There are no additives, preservatives or anything artificial (and no Palm Oil). Ingredients are Fairtrade. Made with soya lecithin it is suitable for vegans. Packaging is recyclable including the tin which you can return for a refill on your next order. Harry’s Drinks Co. is an independent company based in Cheshire. They also make Harry’s Cookies in Dark, Milk or White Chocolate and, new for 2021, Harry’s Brownies. Tremendously Chocolately, £5.95 (300g). harrysmilkshakes.co.uk
Molasses and chocolate cooler
While we tend to think smoothies and protein drinks are a 21st century invention, this recipe for a Molasses and chocolate cooler is from Eating To Be Healthy (1973).
Ingredients. 1/2 tablespoon molasses; a pinch of ground ginger; 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon; 2 tablespoons hot water; 6 fl.oz (3/4 cup) milk, ice cold; 1/2 teaspoon grated plain chocolate (semi-sweet) chocolate; 1 scoop vanilla ice-cream.
Method. Stir the molasses and spices into the hot water until they are well-mixed. Allow to cool. Add the milk, sprinkle with the grated chocolate and, if liked, top with a scoop of ice-cream.
By ‘hot water’ I would imagine boiling water is needed to dissolve the molasses. Of course, now you could simply blend everything except the ice-cream in one go. Or try using a quality coffee or chocolate ice cream. Also, I’d add more grated chocolate but maybe that’s just me. Enjoy!
Thanks to everyone who sent me chocolate to try. Just to finish, did you know there is such a thing as a Chocolate Sommelier? They get to travel the world to personally taste and select fine chocolate. Something to think about.
Unless otherwise stated, I have no affiliation with the brands mentioned but simply aim to share places and products that have caught my eye. I will always state if a post is sponsored or gifted in the text.