Whenever we head west out of Liskeard, we have the delight of driving down the glorious Glynn Valley. It makes for a fantastic mini road trip. Glynn is the Cornish word for a deep wooded valley, so the name is a bit of a tautology, but an attractive one.
|Picture courtesy of Sadie Phillips|
Have you ever wanted to do a chocolate course? Wondered what tempering chocolate was all about or how to make ganache or truffles? As some of you may know, I have been struggling with tempering chocolate for a long time now. Occasionally it’s worked, but more often than not it hasn’t and the chocolates I’ve made with love just don’t look very good. Not only that, they don’t last very long and I don’t mean because I have scoffed them all. The chocolate is dull and often produces a white bloom after a couple of days. This not only looks unappealing, but just doesn’t taste right. So when given the opportunity to attend a morning’s chocolate session with Cornwall’s top chocolatier, Nicky Grant, I was determined to attend.
|Picture courtesy of Sadie Phillips|
Nicky Grant, patissiere and chocolatier, has won several awards for her delectable fresh handmade chocolates; I’ve tasted them on a number of occasions and reviewed them here on my blog. Flavours I haven’t tried yet but am particularly keen to include, cardamom & pistachio, lime & chilli, honey & cinnamon and Cornish Blue & port. Nicky’s fennel & ginger won an Academy of Chocolate Gold in 2011 and her Cornish seasalted caramel, which is to die for, won a Gold Great Taste Award. Behind every great woman there is a great man and husband Tom is sous chef and business manager. The couple have recently branched out into hosting bespoke chocolate courses. If you want to learn a specific aspect of chocolate making, cake making or decorating, give them a call. For those unable to attend a course in a remote (but very lovely) part of the country, there are plans afoot to run various courses online.
We all know that Cornwall is God’s own country, but it was a thoroughly awful day weatherise. The cold driving rain, made for an unpleasant journey, but the allure and aroma of melted chocolate soon eliminated all other thoughts. A select band of Cornish bloggers along with a journalist and photographer gathered in the Grants’ farmhouse kitchen and dried out in front of the Aga. Nat of the HungryHinny I knew, but the others I was meeting for the first time: Rachel of Saffron Bunny, Sadie Phillips from Cornwall Food and Drink, Jessica of FishWifey and journalist Eleanor Gaskarth.
Tom is knowledgeable and quite passionate about the science behind chocolate. Nicky is the artist and creator of flavours and is highly adept at her chocolate craft. Both were very keen to impart their knowledge and expertise. In the short time we were with them, I learnt loads and now have a much clearer understanding about how chocolate works. We listened, asked questions, watched, tasted and then got to play with chocolate. The session was divided into three main parts. I am not going to include everything that was imparted to us as that would be a book in itself, but I’ve noted one particularly useful tip for each part.
Tempering – The transformation of chocolate from molten goo to a stable, shiny substance, that has a good snap to it. This is very temperature dependent and if you don’t get it right, your finished chocolate is likely to develop a white bloom, look dull and have a rubbery consistency. It’s all to do with polymorphism, Tom’s favourite word. What this means is that chocolate can take many forms depending on how it is treated.
Top Tip – Test the chocolate before using. Dip a piece of greasproof paper in the chocolate and leave it for a few minutes. If it is tempered you will soon start to see the chocolate crystallising and in about three minutes it should be set and shiny. The chocolate will continue to crystallise for the next 48 hours. What you’re after is Beta 5, apparently, chocolate in its perfect state. Untempered chocolate will take ages to set, we did two strips and compared them; it was easy to see which one was tempered and which wasn’t.
Tasting – We, er, did get to try some chocolate whilst we were there. A high cocoa content milk chocolate is my favourite so I was delighted to be trying a Venezuelan 44% milk – it was truly good. A dark 73% was also rather good and not particularly bitter.
Top Tip – 11:00 is apparently the best time of day to taste test as that is when our tastebuds should be at their optimum.
Making Chocolates – We left the cosy kitchen and headed for Nicky’s chocolate studio. There we saw how to make ganache and how to pipe it, including how to fill a piping bag which is something I always struggle with. Nicky did a demo of how to make a piping bag out of paper – she made it look very easy, but I suspect I’ve already forgotten what to fold and where. At this point we were allowed to get our hands dirty and we all had a go at rolling the dark tear drop ganache shapes in cocoa powder (Red, Extra brute). We then dipped the milk chocolate ganache forms in tempered milk chocolate and rolled them in milk chocolate shavings – what a pleasure.
Top Tip – Making ganache seems to be a hit and miss affair with me, my ganache splits as often as it doesn’t. I learnt that the varying temperatures of ingredients and implements might be one of the causes. This could explain why it happens so often to me; it goes back to my kitchen again where the cold implements probably give the ganache an unwelcome shock. We were told there are two ways of rescuing split ganache: 1) cool the mixture and whisk with a balloon whisk, 2) add a little additional hot cream to the mixture and whisk with a balloon whisk. As it happened, the ganache Tom was making split and he was then able to demonstrate the first method – to my amazement, it worked.
I have yet to put the tips I learnt into practice, but I’m actually looking forward to my next tempering experience. As I suspected, my kitchen makes working with chocolate particularly difficult as it is usually too cold in the winter and too hot in the summer; the ideal working conditions are a temperature between 18C and 20C and a humidity of less than 70%.
Working in the studio was a feast for the eye, beautifully crafted chocolates, Easter eggs, and decorated cakes covered virtually every surface. The massive tray of melted chocolate was so inviting I just wanted to dive straight in. How Nicky and Tom remain slim is a mystery, although they did say something about intensive workouts. I must try this myself.
Thanks to Nat for organising the course. Getting five busy bloggers and a journalist to agree on a date which would fit in with Nicky and Tom was quite a feat in itself. Thanks also to Sadie who kindly allowed me to use some of her photographs – she’s a much better photographer than me. And of course thanks to Nicky and Tom who generously gave of their time, expertise and chocolate.
When I was doing my bit at the Liskeard Food Day, I was in the company of The Brownie Baker, a wonderful Cornish outfit making handmade brownies in St Agnes. They supply local bakers and cafes as well as selling them direct at local markets and food fairs. They very kindly gave me one of each of their six flavours to review. Strangely, I was very happy to do this.
Fudge – This brownie was liberally studded with chunks of Cornish fudge. It was good but my least favourite of all, as it was a little too sweet for me. The overall taste suggested it had picked up the caramel notes from the fudge, giving it its own unique flavour and softer texture. CT and I agreed that pieces of salted fudge would have counteracted the sweetness and suited us better.
Orange – The flavour was unmistakably orange with a slight bitter grapefruit tone which gave it a more realistic and rounded orange taste. However, it was a bit too strong for both CT & I who are rather fussy about orange flavoured chocolate.
When I checked the website for more information on the products, I was pleased to see that that they use locally sourced ingredients. Sadly, no other information pertaining to the ingredients was available at the time of writing, although I did notice that the website said it was under construction. For me, knowing what is in my food is of paramount importance so I would like to see more on the website as to the specific ingredients used.
Nevertheless, these brownies are absolutely delicious and would make a fabulous gift at any time of the year including Christmas – I certainly wouldn’t say no to a box. For those of you lucky enough to be in Cornwall, you will find them at the Bude Christmas Fair this coming weekend (8th and 9th December) and at the Stithians Christmas Fair on 15th December.
Thursday was the grand opening of the Liskeard Town Shop and the last day of filming by the Mary Portas team. This followed on from a high street clean up event a couple of weeks earlier, where residents from the town and local area turned out in force to scrub, sweep, paint and plant. CT and I were on planting duty; I don’t think I’ve ever planted as many polyanthus in my life. Thursday’s event was intended to showcase the fine foods of Liskeard. Mary, with film crew in tow, commenced proceedings by opening the shop. The gathering throng then descended on the samples of local producers and munched and slurped their way through them in traditional Liskeard style. I had been asked by the good folk of Love Liskeard if I’d like to provide some cake samples. What could be better than combining cake baking with helping my home town? An offer I could not refuse.
|For one day only – Mary in overalls|
Our very own fudge lady The Gingham Chicken was represented with huge baskets stuffed full of her tasty fudge. Yummy, a new cake shop specialising in wedding and other celebration cakes provided plates of sponge, bakewell tart and little chocolate mayonnaise cakes. I happily drank a glass of wine provided by a local producer, but rather stupidly didn’t take note of the name and no, I wasn’t drunk. The Liskeard area is fortunate to be well endowed with cheese makers. The award winning Cornish Blue is just up the road as was the now famous Yarg, wrapped in nettles. Sadly, Lynher Dairies outgrew its original premises and has now decamped down west. But we now have a third cheese from the Cornish Gouda Company, the only gouda to be made in the South West. I can vouch for the quality of the cheese, which we’ve bought a few times from the recently restarted farmer’s market. Giel Spierings is from a Dutch family and presumably fuels his epic canoe exploits with his cheese. The cheese comes in various varieties, my favourite being the mature one. The honey and clover is also delicious: aromatic with essence of hay meadow. Cornish Orchards, a now quite famous Liskeard apple juice and cider company was there, but I didn’t get to see them.
We were also joined by a not so local producer, but one we felt glad to accommodate. The Brownie Bakers is a Cornish company making scrumilicious handmade brownies which it sells all over Cornwall. We were very happy to have platefuls of their samples to dip into when the desire arose. And last, but by no means least (I hope), was yours truly, with two types of chocolate cake and a few pictures of my cakes of yore. I made a Cardamom Chocolate Traybake and an Apple, Rose and White Chocolate Traybake, both cut into 36 pieces.
Later in the day, my favourite greengrocer, Beddoes unveiled their newly developed leek, broccoli and Cornish blue cheese pie. I am particularly thrilled by this as I love pies and it can be quite hard getting hold of a good vegetarian one – this was delicious. A competition was held to find a suitable name for the pie, but the results have not yet been revealed; I’m still on tenterhooks to see if CTs suggestion of Leekskeard Pie will be adopted. This was to compete with a fish pie from the fish shop and a road kill pie from the butchers – neither of which I was interested in, but their samples disappeared quite quickly I noted.
Other festivities included a window display competition, prepared by art students at Liskeard Community College. I was pleased to discover that the winner was our most excellent bookshop. The local yarn bombers, organised by the Knitting Fairy, were out in force and covered the recently arrived benches in Fore Street. Music and singing competed the entertainment. At some time in the not too distant future, some of this may be appearing in a Mary Portas series on Channel Four. I sincerely hope any footage of me is edited out.
What a glorious first birthday party. A bunch of Cornish cake fans gathered last Friday to celebrate the first birthday of Cornwall’s Clandestine Cake Club. Ellie Michell, our generous founder and mistress of ceremonies, has been coming up with interesting themes and locating fabulous venues over the last twelve months.
I have great pleasure in welcoming CT to my blog for his annual guest review. Crafter of language, food pioneer, gardener, botanist extraordinaire and eater of cakes, he can now be found at From our Owen Correspondent as well as at his well established blog Radix. From our Owen Correspondent is a new blog featuring various tracts from his writing career on such varied subjects as fermented foods, travels around Australasia and garden visits.
Our celebratory trip to the Isles of Scilly this year, taken as our annual holiday, was utterly and completely glorious. Good walking, a bit of pampering and relaxation and delicious food in a quiet and beautiful location was what we were after and that is exactly what we got. The weather wasn’t too bad either. We only got three days of drizzle and mists and the rest of our week was near unbroken sunshine – not bad for this part of the world.
|View from Samson Hill Cottage|
|Cromwell’s Castle, Tresco|
|Rocky islet, Bryher|
|Our last night|
We’ve been promising ourselves a trip to the Scilly Isles for years. I went to Bryher on a school camping trip when I was twelve and fell in love with the island then. I’d never been back and CT had never been at all despite all the botanical delights to be seen there. If it hadn’t been for Issy of Clotted Cream Diaries, I very much doubt we’d have made it this year either. Issy is Scillonian born and this year left her life here on the mainland to go home and set up an eco B&B which just happened to be on the island of Bryher. What with significant birthdays to celebrate and total exhaustion to alleviate, the call was just too strong.
|One of many roadside stalls with honesty box, St Agnes|
|Get your pizzas here|
The Scilly Isles are made up of many islands, but only five of them are inhabited. Bryher is the smallest, but also the least developed with a particularly wild moorland quality, which made me feel right at home. We managed to visit all five islands whilst we were there and although Bryher remains my favourite, we were both taken with St Martin’s and St Agnes as well. One of the great delights was the virtual absence of motorised road traffic – bliss. We found the Scilly Isles in general to be very laid back and the people friendly – it was like stepping back in time and reminded us of our six months spent in New Zealand back in the 90s.
|Scilly rock art on Bryher|
|Weather forecasting on St Agnes|
|Boys and their toys! Tresco|
|Gaia, Tresco Abbey Gardens|
|Last resting place of Harold Wilson, St Mary’s|
Samson Hill Cottage is the last dwelling on the sheltered side of the island, so it was wonderfully quiet and secluded. Overlooking Tresco, we had a stunning view of the sometimes turquoise waters. On the day of our arrival, we were welcomed with a huge cream tea, with local clotted cream and jam and a pile of scones made by Issy, which we scoffed in the garden. As well as a fabulous breakfast with more menu choices than I’ve ever seen and using as much local produce as possible, we also enjoyed three evening meals. Each afternoon when we returned from our various outings, we’d find a piece of delicious homemade cake in our room. Goodness me, Issy’s double chocolate brownies were something else, in fact they were so good, I forgot to take a picture. In addition to the B&B, Issy and her husband Gareth also do two pizza nights a week from their wood fired pizza oven in the garden. Despite our feeling of repleteness, we couldn’t resist a pizza on our last evening and we are so glad we indulged. Oh, did I mention the fudge? We had a packet of locally made fudge (which just happened to be made by Issy’s mum) left in our room on a couple of occasions too.
|Sweetcorn Fritters, one of the many vegetarian breakfast options available|
|CT raring to get started on the Full Scillonian|
|Issy’s homemade pain au chocolat – what’s left of it anyway|
|Scilly pea soup with goat’s cheese & croutons|
|Couldn’t resist this cheeseboard with four Cornish cheeses – who needs dessert?|
|Not on the menu – Portuguese Man-of-war, all washed up with nowhere to go|
As well as the chocolate brownies and pain au chocolat, we did have a couple of other chocolate indulgences whilst visiting the other islands. Sadly the chocolates, handmade on St Agnes, were not available on our visit, but luckily the island had chocolate ice-cream, made with Jersey and Ayrshire clotted cream. It was the best ice-cream I’ve had in a very long time – thick, creamy and rich. It worked really well with the, ahem, “bonus” scoop of rose geranium – a complete revelation.
|Troytown Farm Ice Cream|
So with all that food, lunch and sometimes dinner was hardly a priority for us. Quite honestly, the flapjacks I made before I left were not really needed, but they did come in useful on the long boat trips to and from Scilly and allayed any possible hunger pangs that arose during the day whilst we were out walking. I think we’ve come back two stone heavier than when we left.
- Melted 125g unsalted butter in a large pan with a heaped tbsp of Cornish runny honey.
- Stirred in 75g demerara sugar.
- Stirred in 280g rolled oats.
- Added 50g chopped dried figs, 50g chopped almonds and 25g dark 70% chocolate chips.
- Stirred until all incorporated.
- Pressed into a 9 x7 inch tin and scattered with sesame seeds.
- Baked at 180C for 20 minutes.
- Allowed to cool, then cut into 12 rectangles.
Laura from How to Cook Good Food has wisely chosen figs as this month’s One Ingredient, an excellent challenge that she co-hosts with Working London Mummy. I do like figs.
Homemade by Fleur is doing a flapjack challenge, so I couldn’t resist entering these figgy delights, even though it is a little late in the day (11/10/12).
Every county in the UK will have a regional recipe or two, but Cornwall has a wealth of them. It’s famed for its dairy, saffron, fruit, cauliflowers and potatoes as well as fish. It’s also a poor county so the thrifty folk of Cornwall had to be inventive with their frugal fare to come up with something interesting and delicious. Read on to find 14 Cornish recipes made by our Best of British participants.
For Mother’s Day this year, I decided to make some cake truffles. I had some left over lemon & poppy seed cake from the book swap event which, I thought, mixed with orange, would make some nice tangy St Clements Truffles.
This is what I did:
- Creamed 1/2 oz unsalted butter with 1 oz icing sugar until very pale.
- Crumbled in a square of lemon & poppy seed cake.
- Beat this together until all incorporated and smooth.
- Added a couple of teaspoons of orange liqueur & beat some more.
- Formed into small balls and placed in the freezer for 30 minutes to harden.
- Melted 60g dark chocolate (Green&Black’s 72% cook’s chocolate).
- Dipped the cake balls into the chocolate and placed on some greasproof paper to set.
- Almost immediately, placed a sugar flour on top of each before the chocolate set.
- Placed in a pretty box and tied a ribbon around.
An elegantly presented little package arrived through the post the day before Mother’s Day. I was very tempted to save it to give to my mother, but I had promised to review the chocolates, so the job just had to be done by me – it’s a hard life!
The quality of ingredients are key to really good chocolates and Nicky uses single origin and plantation chocolate. She also uses local produce, such as cream butter and honey, wherever possible; this makes them doubly appealing to me. Last year Nicky won Gold at the Academy of Chocolate Awards for her fennel and ginger truffle.
Ginger hit me straight away with this one. Lovely smooth and creamy ginger ganache with toffee notes. Covered in rich dark chocolate, this was rich, spicy warming and delicious. I wondered if it contained a touch of chilli, as it left a lovely warm feeling in my mouth and back of my throat long after I’d finished. I could have quite happily consumed a box full of these. I am now wondering if this may in fact be the award winning fennel & ginger and I just missed the fennel?
As I was hoping this was a fruit puree with a rich deep pink colour. I thought at first it was raspberry, probably because of the colour. I then started doubting myself and thought it tasted more like blackberry. Either way it was delicious and I would have been happy to have had several more.
This domed milk chocolate shell with white and dark marbled across contained what tasted like cardamom & hazelnut praline. The flavour of cardamom was delicate but very much present and combined well with the sweet milk chocolate. I’m beginning to sound like a broken record here, but this too was really delicious.
Covered in dark chocolate and coated with cocoa, this was a dark chocolate ganache through and through. It was good; it had bitter notes and wasn’t too sweet, but somehow it just wasn’t quite as rich as I would have expected. I wouldn’t, however, say no to a box of these either.
This shiny chocolate dome looked to have a piece of crystallised ginger on top. Could this be another ginger I wondered? It was. Less rich and sweeter than the first it was still very gingery. It did not have the distinctive warmth of the first, which sort of confirms my suspicion of chilli. I liked the fact there were two different type of ginger chocolates in the box, for I am a fan – one for the more sweet toothed and one for the, err, more discerning palate!
A dark chocolate shell dusted in cocoa and containing this Cornish seasalt caramel. It was utter bliss. Beautiful smooth caramel which flooded my mouth with salty sweetness. This is another gold award winner and no wonder; the balance of salt to sweet was just right and the dark chocolate offset the sweet caramel wonderfully. Much as I loved the first three chocolates I tried, for me this was the best of the box.
This box of chocolates were a lovely mix of flavours, textures & shapes and were deeply satisfying. All six chocolates disappeared rather too quickly, but the taste of ginger, caramel and chocolate lingered on for quite some time making for a doubly great taste experience.
As well as filled chocolates Nicky also makes bars, cakes and amazing chocolate sculptures. You don’t have to be down in Cornwall to taste these chocolates however; they are available to buy online.