Curiosity might well have killed the cat, but it also nabs a chocolate blogger some rather interesting items. Or this chocolate blogger, at least. Don’t get me wrong, I love good-quality chocolate. But let’s be frank: for something so closely concerned with the pursuit of pleasure, it can’t ‘arf take itself seriously.
It should surely be possible to appease an appetite for the new and the novel whilst feeding a need for fine chocolate , but that particular balanced diet is not necessarily easy to adopt. All too often, the arresting ‘wack factor’ of a product shoves speculation over the crudeness of the cocoa contained within into the shadows.
Posh choc, meanwhile, can on occasion come off as the scowling high school poet of the chocolate world; pretentious; arrogant; holier than thou. Po-faced presentation is offputting to the inexpert eater, and, ultimately, damaging to the fine chocolate cause.
As I hope the plethora of promotions and events during the coming Chocolate Week will definitively demonstrate, enjoyment is as important as excellent ethics and carefully-won credentials. The on-message Marc Demarquette calls it ‘chocolate democracy’. Learning should be fun – and that should not stop when it comes to choc.
I do not believe ‘fun’ and ‘fine’ are mutually exclusive. That’s why I seek treats like these.
Uncle Roy’s chocolate mustards
Uncle Roy’s a good old boy, and his brimming cupboard of ‘comestible concoctions’ is something quite spectacular to behold. His marvellous mustard oil is a must if you’re making my Bombay Bad Boy chocolate cheesecake, and I told the man as much at the Speciality Food Fair. In kind, he told me to try his own choc-mustard combo: a duo of cocoa-laced table condiments, one with chilli, one with chips.
In much the same manner as Hotel Chocolat’s ‘Cocoa Cuisine’ range, the chocolate enhances the eating experience rather than making it arduous: ‘gourmet’, not ‘gimmicky’. The cocoa content in the chocolate chip mustard is a percentage point higher than its chilli-ed counterpart; including cocoa in addition to the choc chips which punctuate both pungent concoctions. The former is a mellow, more rounded mustard, the latter more piquant with a pleasant prickle from the chilli. In both condiments, the chocolate is a complement, not a clash.
Hotel Chocolat’s #supermilk
Is it a milk? Is it a plain? No, it’s #supermilk! Yes, I realise that doesn’t quite clarify the issue, but this should: ‘Supermilk’ is Hotel Chocolat‘s latest, and, so the company claims, greatest ‘dark milk’ – a creamy bar that’s both higher in cocoa and lower in sugar than one would typically expect from something marked as ‘milk’ .
I spent my childhood lapping up Mini Milks and Tip Top tinned milk puddings and, as an adult, harbour an acute penchant for milky Indian sweetmeats. Yet the low cocoa content and shocking sweetness of those bars sold with the strapline ‘a glass and a half” leaves me looking at my own glass as half empty; feeling pessimistic at the prospect of ever encountering a chocolate with my dream cream-and-cocoa balance.
Then Supermilk swooped in to my life; clad not in a cape but a clear plastic wrapper. The fruity, rounded cocoa flavour is fulsome; mellowed by a long, intense milkiness that kicks in as it melts in the mouth to a puddle of sheer creamy comfort. With vital statistics of 65% cocoa and 20% sugar, Supermilk is simultaneously more intense and less sweet than many bars deemed ‘dark’. It also supposedly satisfies in smaller quantities than most milk chocolate.
My empty wrapper, however, reveals that I am unavailable for comment on that factor.
Fran’s salted caramels
Ahhh, the salted caramel – a traditional treat in Brittany and the flavour du jour in Britain for bleedin’ ages now. And why not? It tastes pretty damn good, even when it’s bad; and when it’s good, it’s double damn good. The Obamas apparently agree, as it has emerged that their preferred caramels are created by Seattle-based Fran’s.
And now you can pppick up a pack of the salted caramel confections with the presidential stamp of approval from London’s Divertimenti. One point one must note – these are not the sort of soft salted caramels that are so craved in this country. The centres do not goo or gush; instead, a chew or two is required to break down the initial resistance of these more solid specimens.
The salt – Halen Môn, since you ask – sits solely on the surface of the thin chocolate shells; meaning it’s strong salinity that hits you hard before anything else – a sharply minerallic gray salt on the dark chocolate caramel, and a slightly softer smoked one on the milk. When that taste subsides and the chocolate melts away, what remains is a toothsome butter caramel with a strong, slightly smoky vanilla note. It’s a nice bite in its own right, but sadly saltless.
Fran’s caramels might well be the confections of choice of the Obamas, but if I ever meet the leader of the free world and his missus, I think I might diplomatically pass them a parcel of of Paul A Young’s own efforts and let them cast their own vote.
More quirky treats to try during Chocolate Week:
- Read about quality chocolate re-interpretations of childhood treats here
- Read about The Chocolatier’s Indian-inspired water ganache truffles here
- Read about some award-winning innovations here
- Read about Paul A Young’s whole bean chocolate here