Tag Archives: Chocolate

Chocolate 101!

Looking back over my previous posts, since the very beginning of this blog, I feel I have been admirably restrained. While alluding to my fondness – ahem, passion – for chocolate I have resisted the urge to include a mention of this fine foodstuff in every post. There are no rambling paragraphs about the sensual texture and seductive mouth-feel of great chocolate, the soothing psychological effects it has, the medical benefits of the anti-oxidants in good dark chocolate or the many and varied ways in which chocolate can be prepared and presented.

As I said – admirably restrained!

Chocolate is a product of the cacao bean, which originated in South America. The earliest indications of it being included in human diets go back as far as 1100 B.C. Cacao beans were used as currency throughout Meso-america and the consumption of chocolate was limited to the elite in Mayan and then Aztec culture. The Spanish discovered it during their aggressive romp through South America and took it home to Europe in the 16th century, where it became the fashionable drink of those upper classes. Cacao was laborious and time consuming to process into chocolate, thus it remained the almost exclusive pleasure of the wealthy until the industrial revolution brought about the development of mechanical grinders and processors. As a consequence of this, chocolate production became economically viable and soon it was available to just about anyone who wanted it!

Cacao production is now one of the world’s most important cash crops, with beans currently selling for well over $3,000 (USD) per tonne. Of course, cacao beans vary in quality and the exclusive chocolatiers of Europe and America guard their sources of prime beans jealously, using only the very best to produce chocolate of complex flavour and exquisite texture. Makers of mass-produced chocolate merchandise source cheaper beans grown largely on the Ivory Coast of Africa, but these beans come with a hidden cost. In order to keep their production costs down and maintain their position in a very competitive market, these growers will frequently use child labour on their farms. These, sometimes very young, children are often stolen from their families or sold into what is basically a form of slavery by extended family members. They are expected to work for long hours performing dangerous tasks and are given no access to education. Organisations have been set up to try to prevent the use of children in this way, but unscrupulous growers and buyers frequently find ways to circumvent the rules set in place.

So, the next time you are out shopping and decide to buy chocolate, I would suggest that you think about these hidden costs before you make a purchase based solely on the cost of the item. Higher quality chocolate has virtually no additives to make it more “chocolatey”, contains more anti-oxidants so is better for you, is more satisfying meaning that you are likely to eat less of it and tastes infinitely better. Worth paying a little more for, surely!!

The following recipe is one that has become a great favourite in our house. Watching the television one evening, I saw Nigella make these. They were so seductively lovely and easy to make that I scribbled down the recipe and raced into the kitchen. Brilliant for a dinner party, they can be prepared in five minutes and put aside until you are ready to pop them into the oven – equally, the kids can knock them up for a quick, indulgent dessert. The original recipe made four puddings, but I often eke it out to make five with no-one feeling short changed. I use Lindt 70% chocolate to make these and serve with a dollop of very thick cream.

MOLTEN CHOCOLATE PUDDINGS
125 gm butter
125 gm dark chocolate
3/4 cup caster sugar
3 eggs
3 tbsp plain flour

Grease 4 or 5 ramekins. Preheat oven to 210C.

Melt chocolate and butter carefully together in microwave. I usually put it in at about 80% for 1 minute which melts the butter, then stir until all the chocolate is melted.
Beat eggs and sugar together well, add the flour and whisk it in.
Add chocolate and butter and stir to blend well.
Pour into prepared ramekins, put in oven and cook for 10-11 minutes.

Money can’t buy love …. but chocolate might!!

According to Wikipedia, Theobroma is a genus of small, understory trees native to South America. The name,Theobroma, translates to “food of the gods” and one of the 20 species is Theobroma Cacao – do you see where I’m going with this?
I always knew it – chocolate is truly heavenly!

In some ancient South American cultures chocolate was so highly valued that it was used as currency and was ritually used in ceremonies. It was a valuable trade commodity and the Aztecs required citizens to pay their tributes in cacao seeds. After the conquistadors had finished their overwhelming romp through the South Americas and took some home, it was firmly established as a status symbol, only afforded by the elite of Spanish society. In those days it was taken as a beverage and jealously guarded – in fact the Spanish kept it to themselves for decades, adding spices and sugar to sweeten the bitter brew. Eventually the secret got out and it became a symbol of wealth and power throughout Europe until developments in the processing of the beans during the Industrial Revolution made it affordably available to general society.

Chocolate plays an important role in our household. Ever watchful of my young children’s diet, I limited their access to this deliciousness, meaning that when I presented them with a chocolate flavoured treat their love for me overflowed! Of course, now that they are older, it is impossible to really have much control over what they eat out of the home, but a batch of freshly made chocolate brownies is still a pretty sure-fire way to encourage affection from affectedly ‘cool’ teenagers.

There are almost as many recipes for brownies as there are stars in the sky, but to end up with a great product, top quality ingredients are the only way to go and I always add a little salt as it seems to accentuate the chocolate flavour. Brownies can be plain and simple for school lunch boxes or, with the addition of a berry coulis or a rich ganache topping, adult and sophisticated. Imported cocoa is much richer and darker than the run-of-the-mill supermarket shelf product and is worth the extra expense if you want to tart up the brownies to use them for a special dessert. The most important thing to remember with brownies is not to overcook – they really should be just a little moist or squidgy.

I have two recipes here – the first is one that I have used for many years as a lunch box filler. It can be made with or without nuts or added choc chips and makes a large – 13″x9″ – pan. I have given the simple preparation method and, alternatively, the method for Thermomix users.

BROWNIES

1 cup plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup cocoa
1 tsp vanilla paste
1 cup oil (I use canola or grapeseed as it has no strong taste)
4 eggs
1/4 cup cold water

Preheat oven to 160C. Grease a 13″x9″ baking pan and line with baking paper.
Beat all ingredients together on low speed, scraping down sides of bowl, until smooth.
For Thermomix – mix all ingredients at speed 6 for 30 seconds.
Pour into pan and bake for 30 minutes – no longer. When cool cut into squares.

This second recipe results in a much darker, richer brownie and would make a gorgeous dessert, served with whipped cream. The following method is for use with a Thermomix, but should be easily adapted if you don’t own one.

150 gm butter
250 gms caster sugar
80 gms cocoa
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla paste
2 eggs
60 gms plain flour
3/4 cup roughly chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 160C and grease and line a 20cmx20cm baking pan.
Place butter in Thermomix, melt 50C/speed 1 for 3-4 minutes.
Add sugar, cocoa, salt, vanilla, blend 30 seconds/ speed 4.
Running at speed 4, add eggs, one at a time, through hole in lid and mix 30 seconds.
Add nuts, reverse 15 seconds/ speed 2.
Pour into pan and smooth top. Mixture will be very thick.
Bake 25 minutes – or until a toothpick comes out almost clean.