Close your eyes and think of summer in the British countryside… the smell of freshly cut grass, trailing plants laden with strawberries, humming bees, swooping swallows. When the sun is out that is how I like to imagine our summer, even if the reality is more about holiday traffic jams and pleading with delivery companies to do pre 9am deliveries so truffles don’t arrive as hot chocolate!
Berries are joyful things and one of the highlights of summer. They are so very delicious picked warm off the plant and fantastically good for you. They’re packed full of fibre, and loaded with antioxidants and vitamin C, particularly blueberries, which appear high up on all the super food lists.
Yes, this month I have been playing with berries.
Tastings whether of wine or chocolate or anything else are always best done early in the day when your taste buds are fresh. Have a glass of water on hand and always start with the darkest chocolate with the highest % cacao and work towards the sweeter ones. Keep the flavoured chocolates to right at the end.
In this weather, try to find somewhere cool to keep your chocolate, but if all else fails and you put it in the fridge, remember to take it out and get it to room temperature before you eat it. It won’t release its flavour when it is too cold.
So take your Rio Caribe 72, break a piece off and listen for the snap of a well tempered bar. Place a piece in the middle of your tongue and try to resist chomping. Breathe and take in the coffee nutty notes of this glorious Trinitario bean. I’d follow this up with the caramel toffee notes of the Surabaya 69 before getting fruity with the San Agustin 70 and the fruitiest of them all the Sambirano 71. It is often hard to believe that all these flavours can come simply from the beans. These are single estate chocolates at their best.
After a little break, start with Almendra as this has the most delicate flavour of the remaining bars. I made it with the light, nutty Sur del Lago bean which provides the perfect backdrop for the freshly roasted almonds. When I am making chocolates with inclusions it is all about pairing the flavour notes of the bean with the other ingredients. So I use Chulucanas 70 with its notes of raisins and plums for Hazelnut Raisin and the honeyed Baracoa bean to make Ginger Lime. Pistachio Date is 100% cacao naturally sweetened with fruit and nuts, so without the sugar it was important not to use a bean with too much oomph.
Berries are wonderful on their own but there are a few ingredients that elevate them even further up the culinary scale. Thyme, black pepper and balsamic vinegar are some of them.
Blueberry Thyme. Sur del Lago 70 dark chocolate with blueberries and thyme.
This is a wonderful combination, the thyme bringing a delicate fragrance to the blueberries giving them a little lift. The light Sur del Lago bean simply provides their stage.
White Mulberry & Black Pepper. Chulucanas 70 dark chocolate with white mulberries & black pepper.
A not so hidden secret about eating all kinds of berries is that a couple of grinds of black pepper brings out their sweetness. These white mulberries are naturally sweet, and are brought alive by the mild touch of spice.