A decade ago, most of us would have taken the notion of salting chocolate with the metaphorical pinch of that very table condiment. But now, you’ll frequently find a literal version of that ‘pinch of salt’ actually added to all manner of chocolate creations.
In the tradition of a well-known retro chocolate biscuit advertisement, the #GBSCC could have recruited its contestants using the jingle ‘if you like a bit of salt in your chocolate, join our club’. But even without that earworm in its arsenal, last week’s ‘Great British Salted Chocolate Challenge‘ attracted interest from enough top-drawer chocolate creators to necessitate its finale moving to larger premises.
The premise behind said challenge was that salt, like sugar, is simply a seasoning; and as such, can be added to chocolates in order to tease pleasing nuances out of both established and unorthodox concoctions. And, as with chocolate, choosing and using a high-quality product in moderate amounts need not harm one’s health.
With 50 flavoured salts to savour and the potential to produce a pair of somehow-salted chocolates for the final, the ten contestants were limited only by their own imaginations. And the Great British Salted Chocolate Challenge‘s judges – an esteemed team headed up by food writer/oracle Glynn Christian – certainly expected imaginative creations.
In fact, Glynn’s opening gambit was the declaration that a key objective of #GBSCC was explore so much more than the classic salted caramel. At this announcement, I heard a sharp intake of breath to my left as ‘The Chocolatier’ Aneesh Popat hissed in my ear, crestfallen, ‘I’ve entered a salted caramel!’
But it was too late to debate his choice of chocolate. By this stage, plates of the products were in front of the judges, along with enough palate-cleansing apple slices to keep the doctor away for several days. The idea of eating 20 chocolates in a single sitting might sound like heaven, but it can become quite hellish. Luckily, most of these were devilishly delicious.
Even those that weren’t so warmly received were highly-commended in some regard; execution, appearance, originality. Perhaps it was partly down to all the endorphins whizzing around their bodies, but these judges were all about positive praise and constructive criticism; refreshing and rather lovely. Rather like many of the creative salted chocolates featured in the final, in fact.
Thankfully for the hungry hoards of lucky chocolate bloggers in attendance (well, me and Chocablog!) it wasn’t just the judges – Glynn Christian, Paul A Young, Andrew Baker, Joanna Simon and The Trussel Trust’s Mark Ward – who got to sample themselves silly. As the scores were collated, we wasted no time in meeting the treats and their makers – purely to see whether we concurred with the opinions we’d overheard from the panel, you understand.
The youngest amongst the maker’s masses was Zara Snell – an 18 year-old baking student. This lass’s mirror-like truffles were a shining example of textbook tempering technique; good news, because, as Glynn put it so eloquently and slightly bawdily, ‘there’s nothing more unpleasant than a badly-tempered bottom’. Her ‘Tequila Shot’ choc was pretty slammin’, but her smooth, rich winter-spiced number spiked with Merlot salt was knockout.
Self-professed ‘botanical chocolatier’ Fiona Sciolti naturally looked to nature for her ingredient inspiration; her milk chocolate ‘Mocha Buzz’ caraques a sweetly salty combination of bee pollen and coffee salt; her ‘Ocean Deep, Mountain High’ caraques incorporating seaweed and Highland salt. If you find seaweed surprising, brace yourself: Welsh wannabe-Willy Wonka Matthew Smith, owner of Smiths Patisseries, crammed one of his chocolates with chillies, roast beef, and wine; the other with tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, and basil.
The beefy bonbon was more ‘Bovril’ than ‘Marmite‘; but it was definitely as divisive as the so-named spread. But whether they loved it or hated it, all the judges applauded the chef’s boldness and innovation. Those qualities were shared by the rookie chefs behind ‘Flavour & Some’, whose name is a sort of mission statement about the pair’s dedication to delivering a little je ne sais quois with their treats to make the eating extra memorable.
For #GBSCC, Flavour & Some came up with a ‘town & country’ concept – a brick-shaped Candied Rosemary & Ginger truffle on a slate slab hinting at urban edginess; Hay-Smoked Salted Caramels on a bed of straw representing the rural. As I said here, the queer idea of chocolate beer often results in a delicious drink – but having it hot was a new one on me. To make it still more flavoursome, Flavour & Some topped the tipple with salted caramel foam.
After his ‘salted caramel slip-up’, Aneesh had an agonising wait as the judges ate their way through the entries. The results took a weight off his mind, and also earned him his own weight in chocolate as his other entry, ‘Popping Pretzel Nut’ shard took 2nd place. Paul A Young pronounced it ‘sexy’; all the judges felt that the only bar in the challenge raised the bar for the salted chocolate cause.
But before his victory, we raised a glass to the highly-commended entries – that wonderful winter-spiced, Merlot-salted chocolate by Zara Snell, and a roasted cobnut praline from Sally Cook of Sylvia & Terry; a Kentish company committed to championing local produce. Paul Wayne Gregory bagged 3rd place – and a bagful of Paul A Young products in so doing – although the judges were somewhat perplexed as to why the colourful character had chosen a cool blue hue for his warming Bonfire Caramel.
The top spot went to a man with a very tall hat and a very small ego. With his un-enrobed Salted Raspberry & Peppers Velvet truffle, featuring the prickle of Sichuan pepper salt, softly-spoken Iain Burnett simply let the flavours speak for themselves. That clever, complex chocolate won The Highland Chocolatier a trip to the Big Apple; his humble speech, championing every one of his fellow competitors, won him a big round of applause.
Glynn commenced the challenge with the words, ‘If the chocolates we sample tonight prove as interesting, diverse and committed as the chocolatiers who created them, then we judges are in for a treat’. Having sampled many of the #GBSCC treats first-hand, my own judgement affirms that was, indeed, very much the case.
The #GBSCC entries
The Highland Chocolatier: Lime & Chilli White Chocolate Velvet/ Salted Raspberry & Peppers Velvet (1st prize)
The Chocolatier: Hawaiian Lava Salted Caramel/ Popping Pretzel Nut (2nd prize)
Paul Wayne Gregory: Mango, Sea Salt, Lapsang Souchong & Spice/ Spiced Bonfire Salted Caramel (3rd Prize)
Zara Snell: Tequila Shot/ Winter Spices with Merlot Salt (Highly-commended)
Sylvia & Terry: Orange Confit & Smoked Salt/ Roasted Cobnut Praline & Espresso Salt (Highly-commended)
Flavour & Some: Candied Rosemary & Ginger/ Hay-Smoked Salted Caramel
Fiona Sciolti: Salted Mocha Buzz/ Ocean Deep, Mountain High
Heather Bennett: Hawaiian Black Salted Caramel/ Double Chocolate Crunch
Lauden Chocolate: Thai Ginger Salt & Passionfruit/ Christmas Spice, Sea Salt & Praline
Matthew Smith: Roast Beef, Ancho Chilli & Wine/ Tomato, Balsamic & Basil
Do you like salted chocolate? What are your favourite recipes or products? Do you think the quality and style of salt you use affects the outcome? Let me know below…
(Image credits: Glynn Christian & Paul A Young – Robert Stephenson/Sylvia & Terry macarons & Iain Burnett – Andrew Boschier)