Although I prefer less rather than more sugar in my confectionary, there is no doubt about it, I have a sweet tooth – a sweet tooth combined with a love of chocolate. And I am not alone it seems. According to the Belgian chocolate company Callebaut, two out of three people are more likely to choose a chocolate dessert over a non-chocolate one.
For those of you who’ve been watching Lorraine Pascale’s latest cookery series on BBC2, How to be a Better Cook, this new cookbook will come as no surprise. Whether you’ve seen the series or not, Lorraine’s easy style makes this an accessible book for both beginners and those wanting to expand their range of techniques; the more advanced cook may also find it useful for inspiration. She carries us through the recipes with characteristic grace and modesty. The cover states, “100 quick and easy recipes”, a statement that grabbed my attention. Time is at a premium for most of us these days, so any help we can get to enable us to produce tasty and nutritious food that also looks good and is simple to prepare has got to be a good thing.
Published by HarperCollins, with a cover price of £25, this hardback edition of How to be a Better Cook is very similar in style to her last one A Lighter Way to Bake. The recipes are for simple every day food and are not too excessive when it comes to the use of fats and other such “naughty” ingredients. Chocolate tart I hear you cry? Well yes, there is a chapter on desserts, cakes and treats, what cookbook is really complete without one? But even the tart is made with more milk than cream. Similarly her recipes for panna cotta, ice-cream and Bircher muesli use yogurt to replace some or all of the cream associated with these dishes.
This is not a book aimed at vegans and vegetarians and I could wish there was a little more in it for me. However, despite the three chapters devoted to meat and fish, a few recipes caught my eye. Many of the meat dishes can easily be adapted to include vegetarian alternatives and there are chapters for canapés & cocktails, starters, snacks & soups, salads, vegetables & sides which also contain many vegetable dishes. It’s been a long time since I tried making harissa but Lorraine’s recipe has me inspired once again. She is a self-confessed harissa junky and uses it in all sorts of ways. I keep meaning to unearth my slow cooker from the back of the cupboard, but it’s a bit of a faff, so tends to stay put. However, this is about to change as I’m now really keen to make slow cooker lentil, sweet potato and cumin soup with ginger and coriander – I can just imagine how good that tastes.
As a fan of incorporating vegetables into sweet bakes, thus trying to make them a little more nutritious, I was pleased to see a recipe for pumpkin, brown sugar and pecan cake with cream cheese icing and very nice it looked too. Lorraine also incorporates wholemeal flour in some stem ginger and apricot biscotti, an addition which I obviously heartily approve of.
With Halloween and Bonfire Night just a few days away, it’s useful to find that Lorraine has these covered. Ghostly black-eyed meringues, lighter chocolate muffin spiders, s’mores pops and toffee apple slice pops are great fun to make, with or without the children.
The pages are shiny which makes them a little difficult to read in certain light. I also found the photographs to be rather hard and a bit stark. There are plenty of them in the book and many of them are of Lorraine. As a former model, this is perhaps not surprising, but much as I like Lorraine, I prefer my recipe books to show pictures of the food rather than the author. However, I liked the stylish use of colour running through the book, a picture of something on a green plate for example would be matched by green text on the opposite page. A recipe for chargrilled green bean, sugar snap and courgette salad with poppy seed dressing printed in pink, had pink forks shown in the accompanying photo. You can see what I mean from the recipe excerpt below.
Lorraine gives tips and tricks throughout the book, but also includes a few pages at the end detailing her store cupboard essentials, kitchen equipment essentials, how to look after knives and how best to store food.
As soon as I saw the recipe for Ridiculously Rich Chocolate Tart, I knew that was the one I was going to make for this review. As per usual, I changed things around a little. I had some goat’s butter from St Helen’s Farm that I was keen to try out in the pastry and some goat’s milk in need of using up. I also wanted to give the tart a bit of a salted caramel edge. To do this, I used a pinch of salt and 100g of Cacao Barry caramel milk chocolate and 165g of 72% dark chocolate, which included one of the Seed and Bean bars I reviewed a while back. I also made the pastry with half wholemeal flour and half white.
Apart from faffing around with pastry, which is never my most fun activity in the kitchen, this tart was a breeze to make. If you are in a rush, Lorraine allows for a nice easy get out clause for this stage – buy the pastry. But that’s not my way. The only problem I experienced, other than trying not to eat it before it set, was getting the tart into the oven without spilling the filling. Needless to say, I didn’t achieve this. Lorraine suggests pouring the filling into the tart case once it’s actually on the oven shelf. My oven and kitchen preclude this, so I didn’t quite get the nice clean edges I’d have liked. I also found, I had more pastry and filling than I needed, so I made three 10cm tartlets as well.
The Tarts were sublime. They had a crisp, buttery, flaky pastry which melted in the mouth – not a soggy bottom in sight. The filling was rich and creamy and had the hint of salted caramel I was looking for. It also had a subtle goaty tang which did a good job of reinforcing the robust flavour of the chocolate and added another welcome dimension.
I’m sending the tarts over to Lucy at SuperGolden Bakes for her weekly event #CookBlogShare.
In case you would like to try Lorraine’s recipe out rather than my slightly adapted version, I am taking the unusual step of including an exact copy here for you with kind permission of HarperCollins.
|Photography © Maja Smend|
Recipe taken from How to be a Better Cook by Lorraine Pascale (HarperCollins, £25).
For years I’ve raged against the invasion of the very American Halloween and associated trick or treating; in the UK, we have All Hallows Eve, from which Halloween is derived. Just five days later we have our very own Guy Fawkes Night, with its pagan effigy burning associations – OK Guy Fawkes was a catholic, but never mind. Well, finally I’ve come to the conclusion that if you can’t beat them you’d better join them! In fact I had no choice as this month’s We Should Cocoa theme is Halloween.
Well, it’s been a busy seven days in the chocolate world and Chocolate Week has culminated in the prestigious Chocolate Show in London this weekend. For me, the grand culmination is a Cocoa Runners box of bean to bar chocolates from around the world. I’m very excited.
All this blustery and quite frankly miserable weather we’ve been experiencing down here in the last few days means that warming comfort food is required. What could be more comforting than wrapping your hands around a mug of steaming hot chocolate in cheery defiance of the weather gods?
Luckily I have both hot chocolate and some rather fine goat’s milk in plentiful supply.
The goats at St Helen’s Farm in East Yorkshire have been producing fresh milk for the last 27 years. Many people who find themselves unable to drink cow’s milk, are able to tolerate the goat version. Do watch out for future goaty posts where I will be trying out other products from the farm. I’m not normally a fan of skimmed milk, or even semi-skimmed milk, but I did like both of these in goat form and they do work remarkably well with chocolate. There is a slight goaty tang, but it’s not too strong and adds another dimension to the drink which I could become quite addicted to.
Chocolate Week has brought me many delights and one of these was a chocolate bar from Barry Callebaut with my name iced on the top. This put a big smile on my face. It wasn’t long, however, before the bar disappeared. Half of it went into a pan of skimmed goat’s milk to make the hot chocolate you can see above and the other half was shared with CT a little later.
Hans Sloane Drinking Chocolate
Back in May, I reviewed Hans Sloane Natural Honey and Rich Dark drinking chocolates and was favourably impressed. I was hoping to try their award winning Madagascar and Ecuador single origin varieties, so I was delighted when a fragrant parcel arrived in the post. CT and I girded our loins and got down to the difficult business of doing a compare and contrast exercise. It was difficult to see much difference in the appearance of these two chocolates but when it came to smell and taste the resemblance disappeared. Thick and rich as these drinking chocolates are, I decided to taste test them with water once again. The shiny chocolate beads melt beautifully this way and the flavours are not masked by dairy. I found, with absolutely no surprise whatsoever, that we liked both of them. We did, however, both have the same preference.
Madagascar 67% – a rich and fruity aroma wafts up from the packet on opening. It has a strong fruity taste with aromatic cardamom notes. It’s also a little bitter and leaves a slightly drying sensation behind in the mouth.
Ecuador 70% – the fragrance is more of tobacco in this case. It has woody notes with liquorice tones that make it quite robust. It is less sweet, richer and drier than the Madagascar which makes it our favourite.
There is currently a 20% discount on the Ecuador, so now is a good time to try it. You’ll find this on the Hans Sloane website.
Mortimer Chocolate Powder
Some of you may be aware that I’m a big fan of Mortimer’s chocolate powders. They are fabulous used in bakes where chocolate is called for, as no melting is required; the chocolate is ground down to a powder so can go straight into the mix – less fuss and less washing up. The powders also make excellent hot chocolates. Not only do they taste good, but the chocolate melts quickly and easily. The dark chocolates are both 70%, but come from two different continents: one from Ecuador and one from West Africa. I have reviewed these in a previous post, so I won’t repeat my findings here. The fruity West African, however, worked particularly well in these rich chocolate scones.
The white couverture powder is equally impressive and contains 40% cocoa solids, which is much higher than many brands. Flavoured with natural vanilla, it is free from both gluten and soya. I’ve used it in various recipes, but you can find specific mention in my red gooseberry cakes and burnt butter cupcakes. I have to confess that I’ve not tried this as a hot chocolate, but for those with a sweet tooth, I expect it would make a very nice drink indeed.
Come back tomorrow for more ChocolateWeek tasters and don’t miss out on those posted earlier this week:
Thanks go to Hans Sloane, Mortimer Chocolate Company, St Helen’s Farm and Barry Callebaut for the various samples. I was not required to write positive reviews and as always, all opinions are my own.
Chocolate Week is about a number of things, but right up there at the top has to be indulgence. Well indulgence and pampering was certainly what it was all about for me when I was sent some Rachel’s Divine Desserts and a load of luxurious goodies to accompany them.
Fairtrade products have had a lot of bad press recently, but it is an important concept to which I feel we should adhere. As far as chocolate goes, according to the Fairtrade Foundation, Fairtrade is enabling small scale farmers in Cote D’Ivoire, Ghana and the Dominican Republic to trade their way out of poverty. This is done by not only giving them a premium on the price they get for their cocoa but giving them long term contracts which provide stability allowing them to invest in their farms and communities. For more information on how lives in West Africa have been improved by Fairtrade, you can read the report from Fairtrade International, published earlier this year.
Divine was one of the very first chocolate companies to adopt the Fairtrade ethos and they have remained true to their principles ever since. The company is unique for a British mainstream chocolate business in that it is part owned by a co-operative of cocoa farmers in Ghana. You can read all about it here. Divine are one of the main sponsors of Chocolate Week. They have come up with two new chocolate bars as well as some new chocolate recipes especially for the occasion. I’m very keen to try both the 70% dark chocolate with mango and coconut and the milk chocolate with almonds. They have also helped organise a number of events around the country. Visit their website to find out what and where these are.
Living in Cornwall, means it is not always possible to attend some of the food events I would ideally like to. A celebration of twenty years of Fairtrade held in London a couple of months ago was one such. The diversity of products now out there carrying the Fairtrade label is really quite amazing. I remember when there was only tea, coffee and chocolate and they were hard to find. As I was unable to make the celebration, I was kindly sent a few of the products that were being showcased on the day. One of these was a bar of Divine chocolate.
Divine Milk Chocolate (38%) with Spiced Toffee Apple – I was very excited by this new bar on the block, not a flavour combination I’d come across in chocolate before. With the apple season fast approaching I wanted to keep this for a suitable appley occasion. You’ll find out what I made with it in a future post. But meanwhile, I had to try a little of it. A mixture of apple pie and toffee apples, this was as good as I was hoping it might be. Pieces of crunchy toffee and chewy cinnamon flavoured apple punctuates Divine’s signature high cocoa content milk chocolate. One piece lasts a satisfyingly long time and leaves fruity spicy notes in the mouth which are just perfect for autumn.
Divine has always decorated its outer wrappers with traditional West African symbols called Adinkras, each of which has it’s own special meaning. This was the first Divine bar I’ve seen where the Adinkras are imprinted on the chocolate itself.
I also have my sights set on these two new recipes on the Divine site (photographs courtesy of the Divine):
|Hazelnut & Raspberry Dark Chocolate Truffles|
|Lemon and Chocolate Tarts|
Don’t forget to come back tomorrow for more chocolate tasters for #NationalChocolateWeek and don’t miss out on these:
Thanks to the Fairtrade Foundation for sending me these products to try. I was not required to write a positive review and as always, all opinions are my own.
Awaiting us when we got home from Ireland the other week was a very welcome box of salted caramel truffles from a dear friend. She must have known how tired we’d be from a six hour drive in the early hours of the morning; we were definitely in need of a pick-me-up.
These Salt Caramel Truffles were from a company I’d not heard of before, Terre à Terre, but it was one my friend had been impressed with and thought I should know about. As it turns out, it’s a vegetarian café in Brighton which, in its own words, “is more about indulgence than abstinence”. I was very glad to hear this as there doesn’t seem much point in going out to a good café if you are going to abstain. Catering for vegans and various allergy sufferers as well as vegetarians, the menus sound very tempting and if ever I am in Brighton I will be making a call. If you are not lucky enough to live close by, you can purchase these truffles from Terre a Terre’s online shop along with a number of other treats – chocolate and otherwise. A 130g box containing twelve good sized truffles costs £8.20.
So what were they like? Sturdy rich dark chocolate shells rolled in cocoa powder, but with plenty of room for the generous amount of salted caramel contained within. They had perfect liquid centres which weren’t too runny; they weren’t too salty either. All in all a beautiful combination. CT was very lucky to get a look in, even though they were meant for both of us.
When I first came across The Grown Up Chocolate Company on Twitter @grownupchocs, I was intrigued. This innovative British company specialises in “childhood chocolate classics with a grown-up twist”. Well I’m not sure about the grown up twist, but they have achieved the indulgence and decadence the company aspires to. These bars are pure fun and the company delights in being rather silly – quite childlike in fact. I heartily approve.
These 65g cardboard covered packs of unsophisticated delight contain two bars. Perfect for sharing, but not with the little monsters, apparently. I was sent two packs to try. I may not have revelled in the taste of both of them, but I certainly enjoyed the experience. These chocolate bars are well worth looking out for. You can buy them online for £2.50 a pack as well as at Ocado, Booths, Fortnum and Maison and various other independent retailers, both in the UK and abroad.
Glorious Coconut Hocus Pocus – a mixture of coconut, nuts, fruit and white chocolate, covered in milk chocolate, this bar was gloriously chewy and really very tasty. Even though I could taste almonds, apricots and citrus peel through the coconut, this bar made me think Bounty Marathon hybrid.
White Chocolate Praline Wonder Bar – another bar which had plenty of texture, but was too sweet for me. I found it hard to get to the flavours through the sugar, which was a shame as it sounded rather good with its caramelised wafer praline, fudge and biscuits.
Another British chocolate company, but a much older one is Beech’s Fine Chocolates. Established in 1920 it specialises in classic British chocolates. I really enjoyed their chocolate bars which I reviewed a while ago. This time around I’ve been sent After Dinner mints to try out. The mint used is English Mitcham Mint oil and is grown in the very English county of Hampshire.
Special Offer – Beech’s have offered Chocolate Log Blog readers a 10% discount code for their online store if you’d like to indulge in any of their products or buy presents for those that appreciate traditional English chocolate. Please use code BFC04061410.
Mint Crisps – thin dark chocolate (55%) wafers containing crispy mint pieces which give a knobbly effect are perfect after dinner fare. I’ve found they are also rather good before dinner! They are refreshing with a good crunchy texture and just the right size to help yourself to a second piece without feeling too guilty.
Mint Creams – I’m a bit of a sucker for mint creams, even though they are really rather sweet. These are no exception to the sweetness rule which is why the dark chocolate (55%) coating is particularly welcome – it takes the edge off the sugar just a little. The mint has a good flavour and the creams have a smooth texture. I found that one was plenty.
So much to taste in Chocolate Week.
Chocolate Week: Day One
Chocolate Week: Day Two
Thanks to my lovely friend A, The Grown Up Chocolate Company and Beech’s for the chocolates. I was not required to write a positive review and as always, all opinions are my own.
If you can’t get to the Fat Duck in Bray, an experience I have yet to enjoy, never fear. You can always try some of Heston Blumenthal’s alchemical concoctions in chocolate form. Waitrose have teamed up with Heston to offer a box of twelve planet like chocolate orbs for their Christmas Collection. Heston’s Cocktail Chocolate Box will be available from Waitrose at £13.50, if it isn’t already.
As you might expect, these are not your average box of Christmas chocs. Not only are they inspired by cocktails, but the textures and flavours are a little unusual. They are best suited to those of an inquisitive nature and an open mind.
The concept is fun and I enjoyed them as a one of experience. They are distinctly alcoholic and you probably ought not to operate heavy machinery after eating one. I found the milk chocolate a little too sweet and this seemed to detract from the complex flavours. This was a prototype box and it didn’t include a description card, so I had to guess which ones were which; I only managed two. I know certain of my readers will be most unimpressed with my limited knowledge of cocktails, but I had no clue what most of them are meant to taste like.
A fruity caramel with and orange coloured and flavoured fondant running through the middle with a milk chocolate coating – I guess Negroni.
I guessed this one! A thin milk chocolate contained a Gin and Tonic soft milk chocolate centre. The botanicals left a clean and slightly bitter taste in the mouth which I really liked.
A fruity jelly with a pink frothy centre slap bang in the middle, enrobed in a thin dark chocolate shell. The alcohol hit to this one was a delayed reaction that was stronger after rather than during consumption. I couldn’t even guess as to its identity, but Cuba Libre didn’t fit anywhere else.
A green lime flavoured jelly like centre with soft caramel wrapped in a thin milk chocolate shell. I found this to be an interesting eating experience. I think I detected a hint of mint – my money is on Mojito.
A soft dark chocolate ganache with an oaky flavour wrapped in dark chocolate. This one was particularly boozy and warmed my throat nicely as it went down. I’m guessing Sherry and Whisky.
A lime citrus jelly and dark alcoholic ganache contained within a dark chocolate shell. Very nice it was. Could be Caipirinha.
Don’t miss yesterday’s post: Chocolate Week: Day One
I was sent a Heston’s Cocktail Chocolate Box to try. I was not required to write a positive review and as always, all opinions are my own.