As the days gradually shorten and the temperature drops, there’s nothing quite like a bracing afternoon walk followed by a comforting mug of hot chocolate. Most hot chocolate is good in my book, but for the ultimate Theobroma experience, it’s worth taking that extra few minutes to make yourself some real hot chocolate.
Every so often I like to bring you a taster of some of the chocolate that has passed through Tin and Thyme HQ. You can find plenty of additional chocolate review posts if you fancy seeing a few more unusual and artisan confections.
Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and it doesn’t seem right not to cover some of the fabulous chocolate offerings out there for this special day. I’ve taken the burden from you and reviewed a few. There’s a selection from Miss Witt, who’s an award winning artisan chocolatier. There’s also some chocolate bars from Madécasse and some treats from Godiva.
January is the traditional time to follow through with good intentions and try for a healthier lifestyle. I am always full of New Year’s resolutions and sometimes I actually manage to pull them off. This year I have set myself a tough one, but as it doesn’t involve food or drink, I was happy to take on the teapigs #matchachallenge as well.
I’ve had a love affair with matcha ever since CT brought some back from his Japan trip in 2007. I’d never heard of it before then, so it was a real novelty. Green tea was my tea of choice, so once I got used to the idea, it wasn’t such a big step to drinking matcha: it’s a very finely ground Japanese green tea with a distinctive flavour. Because you are ingesting the whole leaf this way, it provides a concentration of all those healthy nutrients that green tea is renowned for. It’s very high in antioxidants, has plenty of betacarotene and contains vitamins A, B and C. It’s said to boost energy levels for four to six hours after drinking it as well as raising metabolism and relieving stress. Teapigs matcha is organic and comes in 30g packs, normally costing £25. There is currently a 20% discount.
As well as a great drink, matcha lends itself very nicely to baking, not only giving a distinctive flavour, but also an interesting green colour. I have made a number of cakes and biscuits using matcha, but was particularly pleased with matcha shortbread, matcha and white chocolate cupcakes and chocolate matcha battenberg.
Much as I like matcha, it’s not something I’ve had every day, so I was interested to see if drinking it regularly made any difference to my flagging post flu energy levels. The teapigs #matchachallenge is to drink ½ tsp of matcha a day for a fortnight. It’s early days yet as I’m only on Day 5, but I have been enjoying finding different ways to drink it. I have so far made two different kefir matcha smoothies, drunk it as normal in a mug of hot water and tried it as a matcha shot in a glass provided by teapigs. Today I made a frothy matcha white hot chocolate. I used white chocolate so I could retain the beautiful green colour.
This is how I made:
Matcha Hot Chocolate
- Warmed 150ml of milk to just below boiling.
- Poured it into a mug containing 2 heaped tsps of white chocolate powder (I used Mortimer’s) and ¼ tsp matcha powder.
- Used an electric milk frother (kindly provided by teapigs) to mix and froth the drink.
- Sprinkled a little matcha powder over the top.
It was delicious. The frothing gave it a really light texture and the white chocolate was creamy, but the matcha cut through the sweetness with strong refreshing notes.
If you fancy entering the Matcha Challenge there is a chance to win a year’s supply of matcha from teapigs and a pack of matcha is being given away daily via instagram. The challenge runs throughout January and it’s a nice easy way to get your New Year off to a healthy start.
Thanks to teapigs for providing a pack of matcha green tea, a shot glass and aerolatte frother in exchange for blogging about the challenge.
I am sending the matcha hot chocolate off to Nayna for her event, Let’s Cook/Create Hot Drinks over at Simply Food.
Afternoon Tea at a top London hotel was mighty fine, but my main reason for going up to our bustling capital was to learn more about using glass for food presentation. Friends of Glass is committed to promoting awareness of the benefits of using glass over plastic. As we know, plastic is the scourge of the environment and particles of it can now be found in every part of the globe, even Antarctica. Glass on the other hand, is reusable and 100% recyclable. Glass is also a healthier option. It is the most inert packaging material we have and thus highly impermeable making it far less likely to taint any food stored in it. I’ve long been passionate about using glass for storage rather than plastic and I have collected a lot of glass jars and containers over the years. Bring back the milk bottle and deposits for glass bottles I say.
Last Thursday evening, a bunch of bloggers and journalists turned up at Cactus Studios, Michel Roux Jr’s cookery school, where incidentally, Saturday Kitchen is filmed. We were there to brush up our Christmas creativity using glass. What a delight to come in from the cold and dark to be greeted with a glass of warm mulled cider and a room glowing with candlelight and glass. As we chatted, we were served shot glasses of red pepper soup with pesto. The colours were fantastic and immediately I started to see the point of serving food in glasses. The colours and textures of the food really shine through and can make your dish look even more enticing. Not long after the soup, we were served cranberries and melted brie in the most adorable little glass jars that I coveted immediately. Bread sticks were cunningly placed in the metal clips. Here already, were two fabulous ideas for Christmas canapés, starters or pre-dinner nibbles.
We were soon shepherded upstairs to the teaching kitchen to watch chef Bridget Colvin and BBC TV presenter Cherry Healey demo some further ideas. I really enjoyed this part; not only was Bridget knowledgable and competent, but the two made for a good double act. Spiced parsnip soup served in little glass jars with parsnip crisps was a winner which I will be replicating at some point during this festive season. Much ribald hilarity ensued whilst Cherry whizzed up some delicious pesto.
The piece de resistance, however, was a pie in a jar. I’d not come across this concept before. The beauty of making individual pies this way, is not only do they look enticing, but they can be tailor made to suit individual tastes and tolerances. The demo was for a ham hock pie, but vegetarian ones had been made for Nayna of Simply Food and I and very delicious they were too. Layers of butternut squash, spinach, potatoes, shallots and peas with cheese sauce and a puff pastry crust all cooked and served in a clip top jar. What a fantabulous idea. A glass of wine made for a very welcome accompaniement.
Feeling somewhat full, we were called over for the final demo: brandied clementines in a jar. This time we had to pay attention as this was the dish we were going to make. We were shown how to prepare clementines and I now know how to remove most of the pith easily. It’s the sort of thing that looks pretty and makes for a lovely gift, but not something I’d ever thought of doing. The vanilla brandy syrup we made tasted heady and decadent and would work well with most fruits I reckon – so that’s one of my Christmas presents sorted.
Then it was back downstairs for mince pies and the final activity of the evening. An array of enticing edible delights were laid out in various bowls and jars and at last chocolate made an entrance. We were going to make up our own hot chocolate gift in a jar – what fun. We started with a layer of drinking chocolate and then it was a free for all. I added a layer of white chocolate buttons, followed by little fudge pieces. Milk chocolate buttons went next, then marshmallows and finally a layer of milk chocolate buttons. The part I really loved about this was tying on extras around the outside of the jar: a stick of cinnamon, a candy cane and my absolute favourite, a miniature bottle of Amaretto Disaronno found there way onto my jar. Finished off with a tag which I’d stamped with gold stars, this was the gift I was most pleased with. It came in very handy as a thank you to my friend for putting me up for the night. I have to say she was very impressed with it and thought it a lovely gift to suit both her and the children.
Many thanks to Friends of Glass for a fun, friendly, entertaining evening, plus the bonus of leaving with some really nice Christmas gifts, including a jar of Rubies in the Rubble red onion & chilli chutney. I had a splendid time and would be very happy to do this all over again. You can see some far better pictures of the event than mine over at the Friends of Glass Facebook page.
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.
This quick and easy malted hot chocolate cake is not only a frugal one, but it’s delicious too. It’s made with drinking chocolate and Horlicks for flavour and includes both free range eggs and organic sunflower oil. The ingredients cost less than £1 and it produces a decent sized 8″ (20cm) round cake.
Time for tea? Or did I mean time for chocolate? In this household it’s both. We drink a lot of tea of varying sorts and we drink quite a bit of chocolate too. Our chocolate usually comes in the form of a teaspoon of cocoa in a mug of hot water. Occasionally we add a splash of milk. Sometimes though it’s fun to splash out and have what most people think of as hot chocolate – chocolate made with milk. Enthusiastic as we are for these drinks, I was delighted to be sent some drinking chocolate, some chocolate tea and a whisk to review.
Canton Chocolate Tea
This tea came in a very elegant white tin from the Canton Tea Company and was well packed in a sturdy white box. I really liked the signature crane which I found to be particularly apt as well as attractive. The tea is a loose leaved black tea with added cocoa nibs and vanilla pod and weighs in at 50g. It is actually a blend of two fine Chinese black teas: Bai Lin Gong Fu and Yunnan Black. I’m not normally a fan of black tea, preferring green, white or rooibos, but I was keen to try this one due to the cocoa content. Gosh and golly, I was in for a real treat. On opening the tin a strong aroma of chocolate wafted out. This was followed by a fruity note and then finally the tea came through.
Neither CT or I like our tea particularly strong, so I brewed a pot of tea for two with one heaped teaspoon, rather than the recommended two to three flat teaspoons per mug. I steeped it for the stated two minutes with water that was just off the boil. This gave us a perfect cup of tea which was full of flavour, well rounded and really quite moreish. It wasn’t in the least bit bitter and tasted simultaneously of chocolate, tea and plum. When I later read the tasting notes on the tin I was surprised to see that plum was one of the flavours mentioned, along with cocoa of course. We both failed, however, to notice the caramel sweetness that was also described.
One of the benefits of using good quality tea leaves is that you can use them again and sometimes again and again and still enjoy a really good cup of tea. We had two good brews out of our one heaped teaspoon, so I suspect more would be achieved if the full amount was used. For a black tea I would give this one ten out of ten. A 50g bag costs £7.50 and is available from the Canton Tea Co. online shop.
If you’re going to have a “proper” hot chocolate, you may as well go the whole hog and have one made with pieces of real chocolate. It wasn’t until I received two different brands of drinking chocolate to review at the same time, however, that I realised that different hot chocolates lend themselves to different ways of preparation and serving.
Hans Sloane Drinking Chocolate
As soon as CT saw the name Hans Sloane, he approved. Not only was he a fellow botanist, but CT spent some months mowing the lawns in the London square that bears Sloane’s name. In fact, Hans Sloane was a 17th century chocolate pioneer, discovering it when he lived in Jamaica where the locals drank it with water and eggs. It was he that tried mixing it with milk so that it became the drink we know and love so well today. I was sent two two 270g packets of chocolate beads and indeed the variably sized, shiny pieces had a bead like quality. I was really excited to read on the packets that either milk or water could be used. I’ve been meaning to try making hot chocolate with water for a very long time, but somehow never seem to get around to it. This gave me the prompt I needed.
Rich Dark (53%) – this was indeed rich and dark, also thick and unctuous with a creamy mouthfeel. Even made with only water it tastes like an indulgence. Mind you it is suggested that three tablespoons are used per 200ml of liquid. When I weighed this, it came to a whopping 60g – no wonder it was rich. I was truly wowed by this chocolate and reckon that water is the way to go.
Natural Honey (32%) – milk chocolate blended with honey, there was no doubting the flavour. Having had such success using the water with the Rich Dark beads, I decided to try it with the Natural Honey beads too. Again, this was rich, flavoursome and very sweet and it needed no other accompaniment. Yes it’s sweet, but then that’s what you expect of honey and it is, nevertheless delicious. As a beekeeper, CT’s approval just kept rising.
The chocolate comes in four other flavours which I’d be very willing to try: Smooth Milk, Grenada 60%, Madagascar 67% and Ecuador 70%. The packs are available in Waitrose and Tesco with a RRP of £4.99.
Brown Bear Original Hot Chocolate
These dark chocolate flakes were quite different and came in a 350g tub. The cocoa content was slightly higher than the Hans Sloane, being 55% and on opening a rich chocolate aroma rose up to fill my senses in a most delightful way. The directions here were for three heaped teaspoons per 200ml of milk, which was considerably less than the aforementioned brand and only weighed 25g. This of course means the chocolate goes a lot further, but won’t be as rich. This being the case, I thought it lent itself to being made the traditional way, with milk; indeed, this was the only direction given. It made for a very nice cup of milky hot chocolate.
The tub stated that you could have a magical hot chocolate experience by topping with whipped cream, marshmallows and a generous sprinkling of chocolate flakes. I tried that out too – it would have been churlish not to. I used some of the Brown Bear flakes to sprinkle over the top which saved a bit of time and a lot of mess not having to flake the chocolate myself. Unsurprisingly, this worked very well. It was completely over the top, but so worth it.
For comparison, we also tried making this with hot water. Although pleasant, we found it a bit thin. To be fair, the quantities given in the directions varied between the two brands. This one used a lot less chocolate so the comparison was not exactly fair.
Recently launched, just in time for Easter, this is available £6.99 from the Brown Bear online shop.
Nova Multi-Quell Whisk
As I had been sent a manual hand held whisk to review from G3 Direct, I thought it would be good to try it out with my hot chocolate drinks. The Nova whisk is a little unusual in that you push down on the handle repeatedly to turn the head. This requires less effort than a balloon whisk and is meant to be helpful for those with wrist mobility problems or carpal tunnel syndrome. If you’d like to see it in action, head to the video provided by G3 Direct. The handle comes in various shades, but sadly not red. I opted for a vibrant green instead, although I was also quite tempted by the orange.
I whisked the hot chocolates rather than stirring them and also used it to whip up the cream. I have to say, since I first used it, I’ve abandoned all other whisks when it comes to whipping up double cream. It’s a dream to use requiring little effort and making less mess than a balloon or electric whisk.
Funnily enough, I saw a demo at the Big Cake Show where the whisk was used to froth semi-skimmed milk – in a matter of seconds it seemed. I don’t drink semi-skimmed, so tried this on some whole milk. It did froth up, but collapsed almost immediately, so my dreams of adding an attractive frothy top to my drinks didn’t last very long.
With thanks to the Canton Tea Co, Story Pr, Brown Bear and G3 Direct for the above mentioned products. I was not required to write a positive review and as always all opinions are my own.
Breakfast is one of my favourite meals, but unless we’re away on holiday, I tend to stick to toast. This isn’t really a hardship as I make my own rye sourdough which is delicious and it’s also very convenient. But as I’m usually in a rush in the mornings, I rarely get to sit down, so when I can, it is a real treat and always seems worth indulging in something a little different to toast. Talking of sourdough, it’s #SourdoughSeptember, so it’s a good time to acquaint yourself with this ancient and delicious bread.
Pancakes really are a treat, so when I was sent some Orgran gluten free buckwheat pancake mix to try, I hurried into the kitchen and greased the pan. Basically it consists of stonemilled buckwheat, rice flour, tapioca starch, maize starch and raising agents. It contains no added sweeteners, artificial colours, flavours or preservatives. As directed, I added eggs and water to make ranch style pancakes. Directions for vegan or egg free pancakes were also given. I also added some blueberries gathered from my mother’s garden – this year being the first decent crop she’s had.
I learnt that like quinoa, buckwheat is not in fact a grain; it is a member of the rhubarb family which I found intriguing. When relating this to CT, he tried not to be too condescending, but I could detect a certain air of “you ignoramus” in his demeanour.
I knocked up some chocolate sauce to drizzle over the top by combining dark chocolate, double cream and a little honey. I warmed the ingredients up together in a pan over low heat until the chocolate had melted. I then stirred it well until it was properly combined and smooth.
Although these pancakes were delicious, I have to say I don’t really see the point of pancake mixes. Measuring out some flour and raising agent and throwing it into a bowl is really not that difficult. The main part of the process which is mixing in eggs and milk or water has to be done anyway. Because this mix was gluten free, it contained extra ingredients which you might not have to hand, so I’m prepared to give it the benefit of the doubt.
Tea is the best drink of the day and what better accompaniment to breakfast pancakes than this Lemon Green Tea from Pukka – an organic and fairtrade whole leaf sencha tea with lemon verbena and Sicilian lemon which comes in a pack of 20 tea sachets. It was light and refreshing with just a touch of lemon which gave it a nice lift. The scent of lemon rising from the cup helped give CT the fortitude to tackle his stack of pancakes. One sachet made an initial pot for two which we then refilled with water and got another cup each. I can see this becoming a bit of a favourite with us.
Reminiscent of the Kellogg’s variety packs I used to be given as a special treat when I was a young’un, these newly launched Yoosli are a more grown up and health conscious version. This cleverly named muesli selection from Yoosli provides a Monday to Friday breakfast experience delivered to your door via the postal service. Inveterate muesli munchers know it’s nice to have a bit of variety. Designed to fit through your letterbox, this is the ultimate in convenience breakfasts. Letterbox friendly cows have yet to be developed, CT quipped. All ingredients are organic which meant it got bonus points from me and the portion sizes are reasonable. Although I prefer not to have any sugar at breakfast as I generally manage to get plenty during the rest of the day, these were not too sweet. The flavours are really good and a variety of unusual ingredients are used for added interest. I was pleased to see that many of them contained chocolate – what a treat. This is a bit of fun and removes any agonising over what to eat for breakfast, which is fine as long as you are prepared to pay for the privilege in cost and packaging disposal. A weekly subscription costs £3.49.
Neville’s Cranberry Poppy Spelt – This was a crunchy granola which was not too sweet and had a nice flavour with plenty of fruit and nuts, including cranberries and pine nuts. The addition of poppy seeds gave a welcome savoury note which I found very pleasant.
Cassie’s Physalis Choc – The rich aroma of chocolate combined with a fruity scent, made this packet particularly enticing. These are sophisticated cocoa pops with interesting additions which convert an old familiar into something far more appealing. It was lovely and crunchy and the sour bits of physalis and morsels of dark chocolate gave an added piquancy. Again this was not too sweet, thankfully. In fact it was quite delicious and felt like a real holiday indulgence.
I have yet to try the other three varieties, but they sound equally good and going by the first two, they are definitely something to look forward to: Casey’s Milk Choc Chocolatey with dark chocolate, cranberries and macadamia nuts; Neville’s Honey Choc Apple with chocolate and apple-cinnamon clusters; Louis’ Nutty Fruit Porridge with apricot, blueberries and puffed amaranth.
Hot chocolate is an indulgence I very rarely have at breakfast, but it does give a holiday air to proceedings. I’ve often heard about the slabs of Mexican chocolate flavoured with cinnamon used for making drinking chocolate and have been intrigued. So I was really quite excited to get some from the Mex Grocer. There is something about a large disc of solid chocolate that is so much more appealing than a jar of powder.
Chocolate Ibarra came in a heavy pack weighing in at 540g. As the principal ingredient is sugar, this isn’t quite as exciting as it might otherwise be. It consists of six rather attractive hexagonal shaped discs which each make 4 cups of drinking chocolate, 24 cups in total. The smell of chocolate and cinnamon emanating from the opened packet was irresistible. The texture of the solid chocolate is gritty and nothing like a normal bar of chocolate, but although you’re not meant to eat it as such, I found nibbling on it to be quite a pleasant experience.
The directions were to use two triangles per cup, but I wasn’t quite sure how big a cup should be. By using a mug, I suspect I made a weaker version than was intended. Lacking a suitable molinillo, I frothed it up, as suggested, using a hand held blender – it worked very well. The hot chocolate was very sweet and not as rich as I was expecting, but the flavour of cinnamon was delicious. The recommendation was to stir this with a stick of cinnamon and leave it to infuse a while. Next time I cook up a Mexican meal, I’ll be sure to serve a few cups of this and use the cinnamon sticks too.
I was sent these items for review purposes and as always, all opinions are my own.