I would like to introduce you to my new series of Magnificent Creations. These are handmade chocolates I am making in small quantities from rare beans or exceptional ingredients that I have found on my travels. They really are the chocolates of my dreams. From now on I will make new Magnificent Creations every month to put in my Monthly Chocolate Tasting Boxes.
I don’t know about you, but there is nowhere in the world I find more inspirational for food than Japan. It’s their astonishing palate of ingredients and obsessive perfectionism. So when I came to make my first special edition chocolates that’s where my mind immediately took me.
You can find these Japanese Creations in The Discovery Tasting Box, and they will always be in the first Monthly Subscription Box, whenever you start your subscription because they are simply too good to miss! The only other way to try them is to join my Chocolate Lovers’ List and every few months we will send out a link to a hidden page on the website where you can buy them individually. We only have very limited numbers so not everyone can have them. You will have to have the link!
I started by making both Dark and White Yuzu chocolates. Yuzu is a citrus fruit unlike any other, more aromatic and floral, almost other worldly. In the white chocolate I took the sugar right down to just over 20% because the flavour is so delicate I didn’t want to drown it. 20% is really low when you think a 70% dark chocolate has 30%. In the dark chocolate I paired it with the Baracoan bean that has natural honey notes. This is a match made in heaven. The two chocolates are very different and equally delicious depending on the kind of chocolate you prefer.
Yuzu is widely used as an ingredient, not just in sweet dishes… you can easily imagine a Yuzu sorbet. But at The Yuzuya Ryokan in Kyoto, it was the theme of their whole menu and this was quite honestly some of the best food I have ever had.
I first had it in Gen Yamamoto’s cocktail bar in Tokyo. This is an experience. There is space for just 8 people so you book your place as you would in a restaurant and sit back and watch as magic is conjured. There is a set menu of perfectly conceived cocktails. This sounds daunting but it isn’t about the alcohol, the alcohol is simply there as are carrier of flavour. Spices are ground, juices are squeezed and there isn’t a whiff of anything as prosaic as vodka or rum… rather fresh Sake or Shochu. It is like 3 Michelin star menu in liquid form. I hope he would enjoy my Yuzu chocolates as much as I do his cocktails!
Then in the dark box you have a chocolate that I have called Super Oishi. That means super delicious and it was the chorus that followed me around Japan as went from city to city doing tastings and events as part of the Salon du Chocolat. It is said that 80% of all chocolate in Japan is sold in the lead up to Valentines Day, and I can believe it. Hundreds of people queued for hours to get into the events… not this year I fear.
My Super Oishi is an Awajun 70 dark chocolate with Black Garlic and Miso. The Black Garlic is nothing like fresh garlic. It has complex smoky caramel notes and is packed with umami. The miso provides a background savoury note and so the overall effect is something like a Japanese version of Salted Caramel. All I can say is wow!
You make black garlic by slow cooking whole bulbs for c. 3-4 weeks at c. 60 degrees without letting it dry out. This is something worth perfecting because its price puts it in the Special Treat category! I experimented with fat bulbs from markets in France and it got pretty good, but for these bars I bought it from The Black Garlic Company because I simply couldn’t make enough myself. To get your genuine Japanese miso in the UK go to The Wasabi Company… European made equivalents really don’t cut it. While you’re there try their Stream Junmai Daiginjo Sake, it’ll transport you straight to your favourite back street Izakaya.
The final Japanese Magical Creation is the Hojicha. We had Hojicha for the first time at a tasting with a Japanese tea master near Kyoto. A French lady working with the tea master saw the Matcha Mousse cake I put on twitter and asked if I wanted to try their teas. As it happened I was about to go to Japan so I went to visit them and we had an eye opening tasting. The tea master could actually taste the fields each tea was grown in and when it had been picked… that was extraordinary. Hojicha is made by toasting green tea in porcelain pots over charcoal which creates its signature smoky, caramel notes that are simply sublime in white chocolate. It is widely used in ice creams and deserts in Japan and is set to take over the foodie world much as matcha has before it. We get all our matcha and hojicha direct from these tea farmers now and have been back to visit twice. The second time we went with them to the Suntory distillery that was very close by, to taste old Hibiki whiskies. You didn’t even need to drink the 5ml of Hibiki 35 year old that we had… it was enough to smell it!
MORE MAGNIFICENT CREATIONS
If you were one of the early birds to take out a subscription in October, your second box should have dropped through your letterbox by now. The flavours this month are Fruity, one of which Hibiscus, a flower that tastes more of red fruits than they do themselves. I have them growing all the way up the path to my house on the farm in Venezuela. Check out that pink.
December’s Creations are full Christmas joy and are real labours of love. I have already started candying orange peel and I am going to be chopping this and putting it in both dark and white chocolates. Then for something that takes even longer to prepare, cacao nibs soaked in rum for a couple of months, dried, caramelised and left nestling in Sur del Lago 69 dark chocolate.
These are the most super indulgent of them all, and the only way you will get them is if you take out a subscription before the end of November.
TO GET THESE CHOCOLATES
You’ll find these Japanese inspired chocolates in The Discovery Tasting Box, and whenever you take out a Monthly Subscription, the first box you receive will always have them in it.
Alternatively sign up to join my Chocolate Lover’s List and every few months we will email you a link to a hidden page on my website where you can buy them individually.
November 18, 2020
Many people ask me if dark chocolate is always vegan and the answer is yes. Mine contains simply cacao, natural cocoa butter and raw cane sugar because when it comes to flavour I’m a purist. Actually the majority of chocolates I make are vegan, I suppose because that’s where my taste naturally lies.
I grew up on Horse Island, an island off Southern Ireland, with my parents and five brothers and sisters leading as close to a self sufficient life as possible. We grew and milled our own grains, kept goats for milk and cheese, foraged for everything and even evaporated off sea water to make our own salt. So my taste has always been for the natural, and I’m not big on dairy or sugar. When I reach for a chocolate bar it is always a dark one, and when I drink hot chocolate it is a vegan version made with 100% cacao and water. The Aztecs didn’t realise they were vegans!
The other reason I love dark chocolates so much is that they enable you to taste the flavours of the beans in their most pure form. For all my chocolates I use the best single estate cacaos in the world – I have to be one of the luckiest people alive, because my quest to make great chocolate takes me on the cacao trail across the world, around the Equator, in search of the finest beans. Every trip turns up something new.
These beans are like fine wines, each one is totally different because of its genetics and the soil and conditions it is grown in. Take a look on my Flavour Map. So both Las Trincheras 72 and Rio Caribe 72 are both made from Trinitario beans, both come from Venezuela and both are 72% cacao but they taste really very different. Then compare these to the astonishingly juicy, fruity Madagascan Sambirano and you will be blown away. I want to introduce everyone to real chocolate with these long forgotten flavours. People are so used to generic brown chocolate, they don’t realise that mainly what they are tasting is sugar, vanilla and lecithin, not the cacao at all!
My early life also meant that when it came to making chocolate, my natural instinct was to go back to the basic raw materials and to make it from scratch. So about 20 years ago, I was on my cocoa farm in Venezuela wanting to set up a chocolate factory in the UK, and everyone told me I should simply buy bulk liquid chocolate and remould it like other companies did. But this was not in my nature. I wanted to choreograph every step of the dance. So I ended up setting up the first ‘bean to bar’ chocolate factory in Britain for hundreds of years, to start with making just 100% cacao cylinders with no added sugar or milk or anything.
My cylinders are what I use to make my Hot Chocolate. I have one religiously every morning made Aztec style with 100% cacao, water and a little sugar, so it is dairy free. It’s a wonderful caffeine free way to get a little energy boost and lift. The theobromine in cacao stimulates your body to produce endorphins which is what makes you feel good after taking exercise. And it is slow release so you don’t get an unpleasant spike. It is quite powerful stuff, so you can drink it in smaller quantities than a milk hot chocolate – treat it a bit like an espresso. To make a more classic vegan hot chocolate just use an Oat Milk or similar with my Hot Chocolate powder which simply contains cocoa powder and raw cane sugar.
If you haven’t had dark chocolate before, I would always say to try my Las Trincheras 72 first. It has soft nutty notes and is gentle and welcoming. Some people get put off dark chocolate because they find it bitter. Often enough this is because people using lower quality beans give them a heavy roast (like some coffees) in order to give them a flavour – this is what creates the bitterness. I always give my beans a light roast – just enough to bring out the flavours. If you like this, you could move on to my Dark Tasting Box which will take you on a journey to discover the different tastes of different beans and how I pair them with different ingredients in my flavoured bars. And of course you will get the incredible Japanese inspired Magnificent Creations. For me to join you in your tasting, virtually that is, watch my Tasting Videos.
I will sign off with a quick mention for my No Added Sugar bars, also vegan. These are my answer for the increasing number of people wanting to reduce the sugar they eat, but don’t like the idea of artificial sweeteners. They are 100% cacao naturally sweetened with fruit and nuts and make wonderful afternoon snacks. The Pistachio Date and Raisin Hazelnut get their sweetness from the dried fruits, while lovers of the Pure Gold 100% Sur del Lago cacao bar will find Orange Almond more similar to that as it has less than 2% naturally occurring sugars.
Each month I create Tasting Boxes on a particular flavour theme. One is always all dark chocolates, so suitable for vegans and the other one includes milk and white chocolates too. They are a wonderful way of discovering new flavours because each contains 10 bars, 2 of which are handmade chocolates made specially for that particular box. They are not available in any shop and when they have gone they have gone.
Take a walk on the dark side
December 30th, 2020
Willie has always known that the tea we drink in the UK is a poor imitation of tea how it’s supposed to be. By adding milk, and often sugar, we drown out the antioxidants and much of the flavour that gives tea it’s respect in Japan and China.
Matcha is the ultimate green tea, as it uses the entire leaf. The preparation is careful and considered, with crops being covered before harvest to encourage new shoots which provide the essential nutrients. Matcha is believed to help with a wide variety of diseases and health complaints from high blood pressure to cancer.
The Matcha Mousse Cake
With respect for the history of Matcha, and inspired by its taste, Willie created a layered Matcha Mousse Cake and shared a photograph of it on Twitter.
“After I shared the photo on Twitter, a tea master got in touch to invite me to Uji to try their ceremonial grade Matcha. I promised to make time to visit when travelling to Japan for the Salon du Chocolat. I believe in chance encounters, of tangents and unexpected opportunities. I was excited to see Matcha at the source and to find out more about this incredible tea.”
To Uji, With Love
Japanese architecture tends to favour the new and bold, as efficiency is revered and so older, historical buildings may be torn down if the aesthetics are damaged or they are not fulfilling their purpose. So Willie found himself directed down a long winding lane, to an unremarkable house that was in fact a small powerhouse for some of the world’s best Matcha.
Willie explains, “After the initial warm greetings, and a tour of the house and facilities, where they had stone mills grinding this organic green powder to the finest dust and chambers to store the tea, I sat down to begin the ceremony of the tea tasting.
In China, a long time ago, I realised that the tea we drink, with milk and sugar, is a poor imitation of how it’s supposed to be. The taste of a soft black unadulterated tea is sublime. We tasted every level of Matcha from what is typically used as an industrial ingredient, to cooking matcha, drinking match and finally Kotabuki Ceremonial Grade Drinking Matcha. This is where the colour was the brightest, the taste the purest and the freshness and clarity simpley extraordinary. They couldn’t believe this is what I was going to make my chocolate with… it was eye wateringly expensive!“
Perfecting the Pairings
From the village south of Kyoto, Willie returned to the chocolate factory in Devon to begin the creation of the new bar. He wanted to celebrate the flavour, to put it on a pedestal and to ensure that it was respected, not only by the ingredients paired with it but by all who tasted this new, highest grade Matcha chocolate.
In the meantime, others sent Willie Matcha to try and each time he made a little batch, tempering it on marble to make a test bar. This reinforced his belief that he had tasted the very best. As with all of Willie’s creations, choosing a cheaper alternative was not an option. The quality of ingredients in Willie’s chocolate is paramount. Everything is driven by his belief that the finest ingredients make the finest flavours.
The Jewel in the Crown
Matcha is such a delicate and refined flavour that it was obvious it could never shine in milk or dark chocolate. So Willie paired it immediately with white chocolate, disregarding the others. He is keen to point out that this wasn’t from laziness, but from a chocolatier’s ingrained understanding of pairing flavours.
Willie’s Cacao white chocolate has a lot less sugar than conventional white chocolate, c. 30% compared to 50-60% in many others. Yet Willie felt even this low amount seemed to cloud the flavour of the Matcha. That’s when he brought the sugar content of his white chocolate right down to 23%. This really did put the Matcha on a pedestal.
To check he was on the right track he sent a few bars back to the Tea Master in Uji. They loved it!
Willie's Cacao Matcha Bar
Now the emerald green jewel in Willie’s range, the Matcha bar is the most popular of Willie’s Cacao bars at this moment. You can buy yours here.