Hot Chocolate weather is back… And the supermarkets are stocking Hans Sloane!

Hans Sloane Hot Chocolate hamperTypically this blog is about behind-the-scenes visits and one-off event reports, but today it’s just about good ol’ hot chocolate because it’s been grey all week and the thoughts of this delicious drink have been never far from the top of my mind.

Time’s passing so quickly I can’t even remember when I received the knock on the door delivering this beautiful hamper from the Hans Sloane company with samples of their “chocolate for drinking” and a mug and milk frother.  All I remember is that it was unseasonably warm so after taking a quick Instagram snap I popped the hamper on top of the cupboard waiting for a day when the weather would suit hot chocolate again – and I wasn’t already about to be indulging in one on a chocolate tour!

Cue this week.  So much for summer from mid-April until the end of June.  Tuesday was the first day following four consecutive days of guiding chocolate tours and I guess I was becoming especially accustomed to having the hot chocolate option…  Back down came the hamper.

Hans Sloane Hot Chocolate milk chocolateThere are three different types of Hans Sloane “chocolate for drinking”: dark, milk and honey.  The latter is also made using milk.  Supposing that there are only so many hot chocolates one can drink at once (or should…) I decided just to try and honey and the dark versions.  First with the honey.  I followed the instructions – 3 tablespoons of polished pearls of chocolate per 250ml of milk or water – using Kokos dairy-free milk.  I frothed the milk in the pan before and after adding the chocolate.  It was like drinking sweet, liquid gold: pale coloured, smooth, warm and so comforting.  I think if I’d finished it then I might have realised it was a little too sweet for my tastes but the addition of honey powder in the pearls makes it seem simultaneously that much more adult (honey’s healthy, right?) and comforting like being a child again.  I think I used to be given warm honey and milk when I was sick, cold or sad when I was small.  Perhaps that’s what aroused that feeling of comfort in me.  If you can relate, I highly recommend getting your hands on this particular hot chocolate.  Though even my sweet-toothed other half did find it even sweet for him (didn’t stop him drinking it!) so you may want to also buy the dark chocolate version and mix the two together in the same cup.

Hans Sloane Hot Chocolate Bodum frother

Then, the dark: this was much more what I would expect of a gourmet, at-home hot chocolate for adults.  My favourite bit about this product is how quickly it melts and how nicely it mixes with the milk.  Hans Sloane Dark Hot ChocolateI always make hot chocolate with real chocolate and often there is chocolate left at the bottom of the mug and bits floating at the top (neither, I admit, is a particular problem).  I don’t think it’s just down to the wonderful Bodum frother that was included in my gift hamper, because I have used one before, but something in the ratio of ingredients in the pearls, or even their rounded shape?  I had planned to drink this one, thinking my fiancé would be happy with the first.  Turns out he also liked this one so I left it with him and made another, this time with water and replaced half the last tablespoon with some of the milk honey pearls.  Highly recommended!

It almost makes me want the rainy weather to last. OK, I’m lying.  But it does make it slightly more tolerable.  I’m pretty sure these would be equally fabulous melted in a small amount of hot water and then frothed with cold milk when the summer does actually return.

Hans Sloane Honey Hot ChocolateHans Sloane Dark Hot Chocolate with Kokos Coconut Milk

 270g packets of the chocolate pearls are available in Tesco and Waitrose.  RRP is £4.99.  These are not single-origin hot chocolates but certainly nicer than any powder you can buy in the supermarket.

If you were wondering, Sir Hans Sloane was a man of many reasons to be memorable.  He was a great explorer and collector and his collections were pivotal in launching the British museum, he bought most of the land in Chelsea during the 17th and 18th Century before he died in his eighties (which became the Cadagon estate after his eldest daughter married Baron Cadagon) and, most importantly, encouraged the consumption of “hot chocolate” with milk rather than water to his patients for good health.  You can learn more about him if you come on a Chelsea Chocolate Tour! (*cough**plug**cough*).

DISCLOSURE: The hamper was a gift from the Hans Sloane company.

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Pairing Churchill’s Port with Paul A Young Fine Chocolates


My first encounter with port was tasting my mum’s port and lemonade at Christmas. I must have been about 13.  Looking back it seems like an abomination. At the time I thought it was a great way to mask the alcohol that I’d disliked in other drinks I’d tasted. But as I was never a big fan of fizzy drinks either I left port alone until many years later when an older boyfriend introduced it to me again at the end of an indulgent meal with his parents, served in the cutest miniature glass. I’ve tried many since, and enjoyed all of them, but my knowledge has remained thin. Until last week when Churchill’s Port teamed up with Paul A Young Fine Chocolates for an educational session where I finally got a bit of padding to the history and difference between the various descriptors I’d seen on bottles.

The tasting was an introduction to a pairing that’s now available with a flight of ports at the Churchill pop up, the Port House, on Greek Street in Soho.  They are split into the Classic flight and the Premium flight.  Both with three ports each and three chocolates with each (chocolates are optional if you visit, but why would you say no?).  We were fortunate to try not only the premium flight but to sample an extra special vintage range which will perhaps give you some ideas for what you might like to try at home.

Paul, Max & Johnny

So, firstly to enlighten the subject for those of you similarly hereto enjoying blindly. Apparently port began as a wine like any other, first exported from Portugal to England in the 1600s. Because it was made with grapes that grew on the hot, south-facing slopes in the Douro, the wine was sweeter and this caused it to start to ferment again in the bottle, making it unpalatable fairly quickly. To solve this problem they added brandy which killed the yeasts and made it remain stable – with the added feature of making it more alcoholic too. Unsurprisingly it became even more popular so they started adding this clear, flavourless brandy (actually aguardente – a neutral grape spirit) earlier, at the end of the original fermentation.

The Premium Flight

White ports seem to be turning up more often on menus.  According to Churchill’s founder, Johnny Graham, they are the port-maker’s secret.  They are made in the same way as ruby ports, just using only white grapes.  They are best served chilled and are great before dinner, bringing port away from the relegation of after-dinner only.   It’s typically served alongside salty roasted almonds.  As the perfect start to our evening, we sampled this delicious, biscuity, honey wine with Paul’s Roasted Almond & Honey Caramel. A 66% Caribbean chocolate encasing a whole roasted almond surrounded by caramel made with a touch of Richmond honey, giving it a gentle green note.

 

Our next wine was a 2005 Late Bottled Vintage (LBV).  Rich and blackcurranty with a hint of vanilla.  LBV’s used to be made from the excess of a vintage year.  These days they are a style to themselves, first matured in barrels for 18-24months and then transferred to bottles or tanks to mature for a minimum of four years before being sold.  These wines are never filtered which means that they will go on becoming ever more delicious over time.  It does mean that they should be decanted before drinking to allow the sediment to settle.  The pairing of this wine with Paul’s Peanut Butter & Jelly Truffle was wonderful.  The “Jelly” is a house-made raspberry conserve that complemented the blackcurrant notes in the port and the milk chocolate in the shell and ganache worked well with the vanilla element in the wine.  Interestingly the two together took on a slightly liquorice edge.  A definite case of the sum of the two being much more than the sum of its parts.

Apparently all ports should be served colder rather than warmer.  Whilst white ports are best properly chilled, the cold end of room temperature is best for ruby ports, perhaps even chillier for tawny ports.  A tawny port is so called because of the colour it gets from maturing in a barrel instead of a bottle or tank. The oxygen that reaches the wine through the wood causes it to lose some of its colour, and changes the flavour.  They will often tend to be more viscous too, as it will evaporate slightly.  It could be made with the same grapes as a vintage port.

The third wine in the classic flight was a 20 year old Tawny Port.  Rich and almost woody, it tasted of a heavy caramel laced with vanilla and something almost smoky or saffron-esque.  Thus making it an almost-obvious pairing to try with Paul’s unique cigar leaf caramel which has the same flavour notes – with the added effect of causing your mouth and throat to tingle.  Really!

Special Bonus Vintage Flight

For this set of pairings there were two mini bars of chocolate and one truffle.  Interestingly, what would be the traditional dessert wines, these ruby vintages, the chocolates they were paired with were all low on sugar and high on savoury.

Our first wine was Churchill’s 2011 Vintage, paired with a mini bar of Duffy’s Ecuadorian 83% chocolate.  Almost too early to drink, according to Johnny and Max, the founder and son of the company.  There are usually only two to three declared vintages a decade, unlike in wine where each year is referred to as a vintage.  In port it is only a vintage if it’s good, and this is approved by outsiders are the port house (companies that make port) sends samples off for certification).  2011 is looking to become a vintage of which there only appear a few a century, the last of which was seen in 1994 but this is set to be even better.  You could see they were almost reluctant to serve it, knowing that it will improve so much more as it remains in the bottle.  It was exceptional.

The next wine was from a single vineyard called Quinta da Grincha that manages to declare a vintage every year.  Clearly doing well.  This was a 2005 Vintage and the pairing with Paul’s Marmite truffle was one of my favourites of the night.  The rich savoury notes of the truffle provided an interesting contrast to stand up to the sweeter, plummy wine.

The final pairing was Churchill’s 1997 Vintage which was paired with a Madagascan 100%.  This was a little too much for some people but surprised others with its lack of bitterness.  For me this chocolate is higher on acidity than bitterness.  It’s definitely an acquired taste but one I personally love for its intensity in pure cocoa flavours .  This particular batch tasted a little earthier than most, but this and the acidity was fabulously tempered by the sweet wine.

I could go on about crusted ports and reserve ports but I strongly suggest you pop down yourself and speak to the super knowledgeable staff!

The Classic Flight (white port, reserve, 10yo tawny) is available to be enjoyed at The Port House for £10 (£16 with chocolates) and the Premium Flight (white port, LVB, 20yo tawny) is £15 (£21 with chocolates).  The Port House is at 26 Greek Street.  Fabulous Spanish tapas are also available to enjoy alongside.  Typical of a Mediterranean tapas bar, it is quite cosy, so go early or late to enjoy!

 Paul A Young Fine Chocolates are available in nearby Wardour Street or one of his three other locations in London.  Paul recently received Gold again at the European Semi Finals on the International Chocolate Awards for his Sea Salted Caramel, Peanut Butter & Jelly and Passionfruit chocolates and Silver for his classic milk truffle.

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White Chocolate Lime Mousse with Pomegranate Chia Jelly recipe for the Godiva Challenge

Final Godiva Dessert Lime White Chocolate Mousse and Pomegranate Chia Jelly
You may have seen this picture of the dessert I created last month as part of a Godiva Challenge on Instagram or Facebook.  Well, the final challenge happened whilst I was in Australia, with some very impressive looking desserts which you can read more about here: www.greatbritishchefs.com/community/godiva-chocolate-challenge-final.

A few people asked for my recipe so I thought I would post it here.  Godiva kindly sent me a bag of white chocolate callets (mini buttons) and one of dark chocolate ones too.  When I heard the winning dessert for the Godiva chocolate challenge would feature on Mark Hix’s menu for a week I knew that the creation would need to be visually appealing. From the few things I’ve eaten from his restaurants I suspected the successful entry would be quite unusual too.

When I came to thinking about what to create I’d just bought some pomegranates from one of the fruit and veg guys on Berwick St at the end of a chocolate tour and decided I wanted to incorporate them somehow.  I’d never (intentionally) made a chia jelly before but I had some in the cupboard and discovered it was ridiculously simple and the perfect accompaniment for a lime white chocolate mousse.  The sharpness of the lime and pomegranate balances the sweetness of the white chocolate and the shards of dark chocolate and pomegranate seeds on top provide great bitter contrast and texture.

This dessert is very easy, though it does require a little patience and create some mess and washing up!  It’s best for a dessert you want to be able to prepare in advance and forget about for a few hours or days.

White Chocolate Lime Mousse with Pomegranate Chia Jelly
Serves 2

Pomegranate Jelly

15g chia seeds (3tsp)
15tsp pomegranate juice (1-2 pomegranates)

  1. Cut a pomegranate in half and squeeze the juice out over a bowl. Make sure to keep some of the pomegranate seeds intact for decoration.
  2. Measure the chia seeds into two glass serving dishes. Pour the pomegranate juice over the top and stir gently until seeds are fully submerged.
Pomegranate chia jelly

Pomegranate Chia Jelly


 

 

 

 

 

 

White Chocolate Lime Mousse

2 egg whites
100g white chocolate
Zest and juice of one lime (reserve some zest)

  1. Gently melt the white chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water or in the microwave for short bursts on medium (20 seconds then 5-10 second periods). Take it away from the heat (/out of the microwave) before it’s completely melted and stir off the heat until it’s fully melted.
  2. Stir the lime zest through the chocolate.
  3. Whilst the chocolate cools beat the egg white.
  4. When soft peaks are reached add the lime juice and continue beating until it reaches stiff peaks.
  5. Stir a big tablespoon of egg whites through the white chocolate until completely incorporated.
  6. Gently stir through the rest of the egg white mixture.
  7. When fully mixed, spoon the mixture into the glasses on top of the set pomegranate jelly.
  8. Refrigerate for at least two hours.
  9. Decorate with dark chocolate shards, pomegranate seeds (jewels) and lime zest.
Melting white chocolate

Melting white chocolate

Grating lime zest

Grating lime zest

Pomegranate jelly and white chocolate mousse decoration

First stage of the decoration - the dark chocolate shards (or curls!)

Decoration

50g dark chocolate

  1. Melt 30g chocolate in a bowl over simmering water. Take off the water and add the remaining 20g dark chocolate and stir until completely melted.
  2. Pull a piece of cling film tightly over a plate.
  3. Spread the chocolate over the cling film in a thin layer.
  4. When the chocolate sets take the cling film off the plate, turn over and peel the cling film off the chocolate and break the chocolate into shards.
  5. Pierce the shards of chocolate into the mousse.
  6. Drop a few jewels of pomegranate and some of the grated lime zest on top to serve too.

Bon appetit!

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Chocoa Chocolate Festival in Amsterdam

Last October I travelled to Amsterdam for the Origins Chocolate event, partly as an excuse to visit a dear, equally chocolate-obsessed friend who lives in The Hague. I was so impressed with the day that I made plans to come back this March for the festival organised by the same people (the lovely Caroline Lubbers and Jack Steijn, amongst others). The Origins event was a day packed with talks and tastings with a few stands in the central area (including some fantastic savoury chocolate food). This festival was targeting a broader audience with more stands and fewer tastings. I joined just one: a wine and chocolate pairing with a selection of South African wines and ports and chocolate mostly from Original Beans range of ethically and environmentally-supportive bean to bar chocolate.

I found a fascinating new bean to bar producer: Tres Hombres, as well as some of my favourites and a selection of fabulous “confisseurs” (those who make chocolates from chocolate – or “couverture” – produced by others).  It was a gorgeously sunny day in Amsterdam so I also had the chance to check my bags and coat and pound the pavement to find other chocolate delights. If you were planning a visit to Amsterdam anyway (and it’s a beautiful city, why wouldn’t you?) I recommend arranging it for a weekend coinciding with one of these excellent chocolate events.  Keep an eye on http://www.chocoa.nl/en/ for full details and future dates.
And now, the pictures:
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Chocolate Kitchens at Hampton Court Palace

Hampton Court PalaceI first met Marc Meltonville, the food historian for the Historic Royal Palaces at the Oxford Symposium of Food and Cookery in 2009 (a fascinating event if you are interested in the very geeky end of food, most of the presentations are by people who have studied food as part of a phd so are very science or research-based).  At the time he told me of how Hampton Court Palace once had a dedicated “chocolate kitchen” and invited me to visit the Tudor kitchens to see some of the old chocolate-related equipment.  I’m ashamed to say it took me four and a half years – and a follow up press invitation for the official launch of the original chocolate kitchen – to finally make good on my acceptance of the invitation and take myself to the palace today.

Last year Meltonville and his team, including curator Polly Putnam, finally uncovered a document that could tell them the precise location of the chocolate kitchen in the Hampton Court Palace.  It turned out to be a small room that was being used to hold equipment for the Hampton Court Flower Show.  They expected that once they removed the storage shelves they would have to rebuild the kitchen but were surprised to discover that key pieces, including a unique folding table and the coal stoves, were still present.

You might, like me, express some surprise that this information could only just be uncovered.  Meltonville informed us that the trouble with history of the royal palaces is less that there is not enough information but rather that there is too much.  Almost everything was written down and so there are thousands of books and papers available in the national archives on public record.  The difficulty is sifting through to find what is relevant.  This isn’t helped that the English of some periods is akin to a completely different language.  The English of the Georgian times is apparently readable without a translator, though we were informed that the odd French and German word slips in.

cocoa beans roasting in the Hampton Court chocolate kitchenThe particular piece of paper that revealed the location of the chocolate kitchen was an inventory of rooms going clockwise from the Queen’s staircase – conveniently known and still intact.  The room that is now the ladies’ bathroom was a spice storage room.  Behind door number eight: the chocolate kitchen.  Further around the building was the room where the chocolate cook to George I and George II, a Mr Thomas Tosier, would undertake the final preparations of the morning chocolate beverage before taking it personally to the King.  It was extremely unusual for a cook to personally deliver food to the royal family members and thus a position of considerable power as he would have been able to speak directly with the King.  The historians assume that Mr Tosier did little of the hard (literal!) grind of the cocoa but supervised a team.  This small room where he resided and completed the final mixing has also been renovated.  Replicas of glassware, chocolate cups, saucers and jugs line the shelves.  All were made based on pieces found in archaeological digs in the grounds, by master English craftsman using ancient methods.  The jugs and candle sticks are made of cast pewter, once one of the three noble metals and much heavier than its modern, spun version, now often sold in tacky souvenir shops.  Particularly interesting were the pewter saucers that rose up to nestle the cup so if someone knocked you the chocolate cup wouldn’t spill a precious drop.  I could probably do with one of these saucers.

The cocoa beverage that Mr Tosier made (or had made!) for the King would have been a mixture of ground, shelled cocoa beans with water, or very often milk, and then some combination of spices of which sugar was also considered a spice.  The palace has copies of ingredient order lists but the specific blend was closely guarded, quite likely because Mr Tosier also had his own shop, run by his wife in Greenwich.  Much like a celebrity chef in today’s times, Tosier and his wife capitalised on his connection with the King and Mrs Tosier had her image in newspapers, accompanied by a commentary on the clothes she was wearing.  I doubt the paparazzi were quite so intrusive then.

Spices in the cocoa drink could have included, amongst others:

  • Vanilla
  • Aniseed
  • Allspice
  • Cardamom
  • Chilli
  • Guinea Pepper (also known as “Grains of Paradise”)

spices for Georgian hot chocolateThese would have been distilled into oils before including.  As well as sugar it’s possible the “chocolate cooks” also mixed the cocoa “cakes” (the set paste of ground cocoa beans) with fortified wine and with flower and fruit essences.

Eventually it became so easy to get chocolate around town that chocolate kitchens were less common in palaces.

Hot chocolate flight at Hampton Court PalaceA neat little projected presentation accompanies the equipment and décor in the rooms and you can sample a flight of hot chocolates in the nearby café for £3.95.  This includes a version closely representing what would have been made when cocoa first arrived in England around 1665 – made just with water and including a touch of warming chilli, another water-based drink, this time featuring anise, a milky, sweeter hot chocolate that more directly mirrors modern hot chocolate and finally a sweet hot “chocolate” made just with cocoa butter, milk, vanilla, rose and orange.  They were all pleasant and definitely all interesting.  My personal preference is towards the two without milk, but I am particularly interested in picking up some Port to make my own 18th century hot chocolate at home now…

The kitchens open to the public this Friday 14th February.  Throughout the year on weekends, public holidays and school holidays there will be live chocolate making in the kitchen, though the video presentations available on other days will still be worthwhile to visit.  Tickets into Hampton Court Palace are £17.60 per adult and £8.80 per child.  It is a short walk from Hampton Court station in Zone 6, just 36 minutes from Waterloo.

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