COOKING WITH CHOCOLATE
“The magic is in choosing the chocolate with the specific flavour profile to fit your recipe.”
Generally, my approach to food is very similar to my approach to making chocolate. It is all about flavour. Flavour coming from the best ingredients, perfect flavour combinations and balance.
Top Chefs like Marco Pierre-White and Ottolenghi use our chocolate, quite simply because it brings such incredible depth and beautiful pure flavour notes.
Purity and naturalness is key. If I wanted soya lecithin or vanilla in my recipes I would put it in, but I don’t want it coming in by the back door in the chocolate! My chocolate has neither of these, the dark chocolates are simply cacao and raw cane sugar.
I make all my chocolate with the finest single estate cocoa beans. Each one tastes quite different, one of fruit, another of nuts, another of caramel. So the real magic is when you start choosing a chocolate for its specific flavour profile to fit your recipe. For example Rio Caribe is always wonderful in recipes using brandy, because they have the same intensity and complementary flavour notes. You may want to try the fruity flavours of Chulucanas or San Agustin in a mousse served with a fruit coulis.
TIPS FOR COOKING WITH CHOCOLATE
- Ingredients at room temperature.
Melted chocolate hates coming into contact with cold ingredients. If you are making a mousse for example, take the eggs and cream out of the fridge an hour or so before and use them when the chill has gone off them
- Melting chocolate.
Never let your bowl touch the water. Always melt chocolate very slowly, and stir constantly. Take even more care to go slowly with milk and white chocolates.
- Cool your melted chocolate.
Don’t try folding cream or beaten egg whites into melted chocolate that you have just taken off the heat. Cool it for a few minutes first.
- Don’t try grating 100% cacao directly into a hot pan.
It will end up everywhere except in the pan. Just stir in small lumps.
You can be endlessly innovative with chocolate, choosing beans with different flavour profiles for different cakes and desserts. I make some of my chocolates into Chef’s Drops and these are easier for weighing out and melting. But if you want to experiment with more flavours, simply break up my bars. These are some of the ways I use my chocolates.
- Rio Caribe 72 dark chocolate with coffee, nutty notes. This is the ultimate chocolate for baking. Ottolenghi uses is to make the brownies for his shops because it has the classic chocolate taste, and it is hard to beat as the chocolate for my Cloudforest Cake.
- It goes perfectly with many alcohols, particularly rum and cognac so you can make a cake and soak it with cognac like in my Paradise Found, or soak raisins in rum and put them in a cake.
- Chulucanas 70 dark chocolate with notes of raisins and plums, or San Agustin 70 dark chocolate with honey red fruit notes. I’d use these in recipes that involve fruit. So to make mousse served with a fruit coulis like Twin Peaks, or to make Goey Puddings when I put Amarena cherries or a dollop of jam in the bottom
- Surabaya 69 dark chocolate with caramel toffee notes. This makes a fantastic mousse, a wonderful ganache and incredible truffles. It can complement caramel sauces.
- White chocolate. I originally started making El Blanco because I was fed up of buying other people’s overly sweet white chocolates that all have vanilla and lecithin in. If you are simply making a white chocolate mousse El Blanco will make it pure and creamy. If you are using it as a base for delicate ingredients like matcha or strawberry then it won’t over power them. El Blanco really is the perfect white chocolate for cooking.
100% cacao is the ultimate chef’s weapon. It is a building block of flavour, adding richness and depth of flavour. It also adds a wonderful shine to your sauces because of its cocoa butter. The key is in the name, 100% cacao means it has no sugar in it. This is why you are using it in savoury recipes.
The trick in savoury dishes is to use it the same way as you would salt and pepper. You can add it in at the end, and how much you use depends largely on personal taste. I keep my cacao cylinder by my cooker because I use it so much.
What recipes do you use 100% cacao in? Rich meat dishes like gravies, casseroles or pasta sauces always benefit from a little cacao. But if you only do one thing with it, put it in your gravies on special occasions like Christmas Day. It will make all the difference. You’ll have super impressive shiny, dark, rich gravy that could have come out of one of the finest restaurants.
Simply lop off a cherry sized chunk and stir it in. There is no need to grate it in, but sometimes it can look good just before serving. I’d grate a little over a mushroom risotto for example, and I always give a heavy grating to my eggs in the morning.
Melting chocolate can be a difficult process as if it overheats (over 65⁰C) or comes into contact with moisture, the chocolate can 'seize', forming an unusable, grainy-solid substance.
Be patient and take it slowly. This is even more important with milk and white chocolates.
The best way is to use a bain-marie, a bowl placed on a saucepan over heat, with a centimetre or so of simmering water in it. Don’t let the bowl touch the water.
If you are not already using drops, break the chocolate into pieces, the smaller you break it the faster it will melt! Put this into your bain marie bowl and stir until melted and shiny. This can take up to 10 minutes, and you must keep stirring.
If you want to make seriously impressive desserts in chocolate cases, or your own Easter eggs or coated truffles, then you will need to know how to temper. This is what makes gives them their snap and shine. Have a look at my Twin Peaks, or Mousse in a chocolate case, the fun is in the contrast of textures, between the chocolate and the mousse. It also means they melt at a slightly higher temperature so you can pick them up and move them without leaving finger marks.
Tempering chocolate requires concentration and a good thermometer. It involves slowly heating and then slowly cooling the chocolate so that the fats crystallise uniformly. The easiest way to do this for small quantities at home is the Seeding Method.
The seeding method
To temper 300g chocolate, first roughly break up or chop 200g of it and grate the remaining 100g. For other quantities of chocolate simply use the same 2/3 to 1/3 proportions.
Place the roughly chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water until melted, making sure that the bottom of the bowl is not in contact with the hot water.
Use the sugar thermometer to check the temperature of the chocolate. When it has reached 45˚C, remove from the heat and stir in the 100g grated chocolate.
Keep stirring until the temperature of the mixture drops to 29˚C for dark chocolate, or 28˚C for milk or 26˚C for white chocolate.
Use this chocolate straight away to coat your truffles or make your chocolate shell.
The traditional marble slab method
Slowly melt your chocolate in a bain marie stirring constantly until it is all melted and has reached 55°C for dark chocolate and 50°C for milk and white.
Remove from heat and pour three-quarters of the melted chocolate on to a cool marble slab, leaving the rest of the chocolate in the bain-marie. Work the chocolate across the surface using a palette knife until it reaches 26°C.
Return the chocolate to the bowl and stir well to incorporate all of the cooled chocolate with the remaining chocolate in the bowl. The temperature should read 29˚C – if the chocolate is hotter than 30˚C for perfection you would want to repeat the process. If it is cooler then heat it up to 29˚C. For milk chocolate the temperature is 28˚C and for white it is 26˚C.