This month is all about mint, mint, glorious mint! It started life in the Eastern Mediterranean, but grows like a weed in an English garden which may explain why people have tended to take it for granted. For years it just went in the peas, then it found a new life in Mojitos and Mint Tea, but the nature of the minty taste that comes to mind in all these things is pretty much the same. So you can guess what’s coming… cacao beans all taste different and so do mints!
Let’s take a little moment to think about how to taste chocolate. Most important by far is to make sure your chocolate is at room temperature. That way when you put it in your mouth it will immediately start to melt. Cold chocolate takes much longer to release its flavour, and I find it’s tremendously hard to resist chomping.
Break off a shiny square and listen for the snap that tells you your chocolate has been well tempered, catch the aromas, then pop it in your mouth. Ideally you would let it melt in the centre of your tongue, breathing all the time because it is said that 90% of taste is perceived by the nose. When you can’t bear the suspense any longer you can start your chomping, and now what you are looking out for is how the flavours are evolving. A good chocolate will have layers of flavour that break like waves, and the final notes should stay with you for a while, not wash away on a tide of cocoa butter.
The three dark chocolates we have today are oh so very different. If you want to introduce your friends to real chocolate this is the place to start, tasting the stunningly individual flavours of different fine cacaos.
Let’s head to Madagascar for the fruity Sambirano 71, light, bright and juicy. On the opposite side of the flavour wheel you’ll find the Rio Caribe 72 with its complex coffee nutty notes. This is the chocolate I most often turn to for making cakes and brownies because it is simply a classic. Ottolenghi makes his brownies with it, so that must tell you something. Finally we turn to the rich caramel notes of the Surabaya 69, a deep brooding bean for real connoisseurs, and the bean I use to make Milk of the Stars. Some chocolate makers caramelise their sugar to make milk chocolate, but here those toffee notes come naturally from the bean.
For the flavoured bars this month we have the Luscious Orange and Ginger Lime, both made with a trinitario bean from Baracoa in Cuba, because its honey notes dance beautifully with these ingredients. People often ask if white chocolate is real chocolate, because all they taste is the sugar and vanilla that has been added to de-odourised cocoa butter. I use much less sugar and cocoa butter pressed from the best beans with all its natural flavours. So yes El Blanco is a proud member of my chocolate family - naturally light, creamy and delicious. To make Matcha, I take the sugar down even further because the flavours in this ceremonial grade green tea are so incredibly delicate.
When you think mint, it is most often peppermint that comes to mind with its high menthol content and strange cooling effect, but the foodier mints have very little menthol and are all about flavour not minty freshness!
To capture them in their full glory I have refined the mint directly into the chocolate. This is handmade chocolate at its best.
Apple mint, Surabaya 54 milk chocolate with apple mint
The soft fruity apple mint gently entwines with the caramel notes of the milk chocolate. It dances the dance then leaves the chocolate to take the bow. This is a far cry from your average mint.
Black mint. Creamy white chocolate with black mint
A green goddess of a bar, to celebrate the rising sap and lengthening days of spring. I have refined whole mint leaves into smooth creamy white chocolate. Don’t be fooled by the name, Black Mint is in fact green through and through, with a delicate spring like freshness.