Akesson’s wins the Academy of Chocolate 2015 Golden Bean Award

Last week saw chocolate maker Akesson’s take home the coveted Academy of Chocolate Awards 2015 Golden Bean Award for the best bean-to-bar chocolate.

Akesson receiving Academy of Chocolate Award

Bertil Akesson and his team member, Maria, accepting Gold Academy of Chocolate Awards from host Nigel Barden.

The very first cocoa plantation I went specifically to visit belonged to Bertil Akesson Senior, at one time a Swedish diplomat who had come to base himself in Madagascar. The plantation was on the very Northern tip of the main island of Madagascar.

Along with two fellow cocoa-fiends from Sweden, I flew from the capital, Antanarivo (Tana), in a very small and disturbingly worn-looking plane to Nosy Be, the island just off the tip of the mainland. We checked into a hostel and wandered into the village, stumbling across an-almost empty bar built into the cliffs with views across the sea.  We ordered a drink and, as we chatted, the locals arrived, then the DJ, then the disco lights.  An entertaining evening.  Sore heads were comforted by hearty breakfasts and terrible coffee in the morning; we headed to the port to haggle a ride on a motorboat back to the main island to our accommodation closer to the cocoa plantations.

Several uncomfortable hours later, the boat pulled up at some stone steps falling into the water that led up a slope into trees where we could just see glimpses of the roof of an old, colonial style farmhouse.  We unloaded our packs and our selves, hiked up to the house and settled into the furniture on the wide verandah that encircled the house.  We drank very welcome cold juice. Quickly followed by cold beers and a swim at the private jetty.

Our beds for the night were in individual cabins away from the main house.  After seeing the guards patrolling with guns and being warned to stay alert for snakes and spiders, the Swedish girl and I decided to camp in together.  There was no electricity after 9pm and I still remember how suffocating the heat felt as I lay under the patchy mosquito net of my hard, single bed. Not quite the island paradise I’d imagined.

Daylight came slowly after a fitful sleep that had me jolting at every snap of a twig as the guards made their rounds and each time an insect buzzed too close to my ear.  A cold shower brought my wakefulness to “almost” and we went for breakfast in the main house.

We were picked up by the farm manager in his 4X4 to traverse the local roads to reach the plantations.  Even holding tightly to the inside of the car our heads kept hitting the ceiling with each pothole – and there were many.  We were dressed in long trousers and long-sleeved shirts to discourage the mosquitoes.  The trade off was sweltering in the heavy, thick heat of the forest.  Our guide was South African and knew the plantations inside out.  He shared with us their strategies for getting higher yields from the crop and how a single tree could produce pods of more than one variety.  We saw seedlings being pruned and learnt how it was only at this size that the trees needed shade from the canopy, once the trees were able to produce fruit (from 2-3 years) direct sunlight wasn’t a concern.

Jennifer Earle and a cocoa pod in Madagascar

Checking out fresh cocoa pods for the first time, in Madagascar, 2010.

The potholed roads, the haggling, the guns, some harassment, the pervasive poverty - especially in the dirt roads that made up most of the capital city – plus the limited electricity all surprised me.  All I’d known of Madagascar previously was stories of beautiful flora and fauna and bright blue skies.  We saw this too, but the state of the country in 2010 made it one of the more unsettling locations I’ve visited.  It was worth it for my first sight of cocoa growing. To taste the sweet sourness of the pulp that clings to the seeds. To spot the vanilla plants wrapped around the trees, their flowers mixing with the cocoa flowers into an intoxicating, heady scent. To meet many smiling locals and watch kids kick a football in the dust and on the grass, the adults gathered around a TV to watch the game played in another country. To see whole communities getting involved in a harvest.  I’d still love to return one day.

 

The plantations I visited now belong to Bertil Akesson Junior who harvests the cocoa, pepper and vanilla and, with the help of a French chocolate maker, transforms them into award-winning bars.  Last October he opened a small store in Notting Hill, on Blenheim Crescent.  More than 20 varieties of pepper, his full range of bars plus bars made by others from his cocoa beans and a selection of sugars and other cocoa products line the drawers and shelves of beautiful wooden furniture, and sacks of beans lean artfully against the window.  It features on the Notting Hill Coffee & Chocolate Tour and wins over more people to 100% chocolate than any other sugarless bar is capable of doing.  What really impresses guests is the 75% Madagascan bar though.  Proving that the Academy really are recognising and awarding chocolate that most chocolate lovers will appreciate.

 

The Golden Bean for bean to bar maker is the Academy of Chocolate’s highest honour.  Actually a golden painted wooden cocoa pod, the trophy represents the best in class for artisan chocolate produced anywhere in the world. Akesson’s 75% Criollo Madagascan Chocolate scored more highly than any other dark bean to bar chocolate.  It is sensational.  This year for the first time the Academy required that all chocolate samples were sent in identical 5g moulded bars to ensure true blind sampling with no identifying marks.  No matter how subjective we like to think of ourselves as judges it is impossible to not let our unconscious associations interfere so this is an excellent progression for the awards (though, of course, might limit the entrants willing or able to enter).

Academy of Chocolate Awards

There were also two further “Golden Beans” given out: to Chika Watanabe for Best Newcomer and to World Chocolate Guide’s very own Dom Ramsey, who has moved from writing about chocolate to creating it.  He was awarded “One to Watch” after his first two bars won Bronze awards in their category.

Other Gold Award winners included:

Rococo - who took a swathe of awards for their plain dark ganaches and caramels

Ben Le Prevost – Best Filled Chocolate – Fruit category for Raspberry, Lime & Chilli

Berries Luxury Pudding Makers & Confectioners - Raspberry & Rose Jelly Heart; and Blackcurrant Caramel Dome

Demarquette Fine Chocolates - Imperial China chocolate

Chococo - Totally Twisted Nose (gin and watercress)

Hotel Chocolat – Single Malt Cardhu Whisky filled chocolate; Salted Caramel hot chocolate

Benjamin Chocolatier - Palm Blossom Caramel

Chika Watanabe - Tajine Apricot filled chocolate; Yuzu Mint Caramel

Coworth Park Hotel - Muscavodo & Ginger Caramel

Selfridges - Hebridean Honey and Sea Salted Caramel

Winchester Cocoa Company - Ginger and Muscovado Caramel

Yauatcha - Raspberry Rose chocolate

Kokoa Collection – Best Unflavoured Drinking Chocolate – Dark Haiti 75% Hot Chocolate.

Past winners who didn’t submit this year included Amedei, Paul a Young and William Curley, in case you noticed their absence.  Some of them participated in the judging, instead.  There were also other great chocolatiers and chocolate makers who were not judged as part of this competition because submission is via companies who choose to (and pay to) enter.  For further information on the awards go to www.academyofchocolate.org.uk/awards.

Finally, more photos from Madagascar in 2010. It truly is a beautiful country with charming residents.

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

Pump Street Bakery pops up for one week only

Pump Street Bakery Pop Up ShoreditchThe wonderful Pump Street Bakery, based in Orford, Suffolk, have brought a selection of their pastries and bread and – importantly – their chocolate to London for one week only.

The bakery was founded in 2010 by father and daughter team Chris and Jo Brennan.  Jo’s just days away from having her own child so hopefully the legacy will get a chance to be carried on!  When they first opened they used Valrhona for their baked goods, but a few years ago Chris decided to buy a grinder and have a go at making his own chocolate. With help from Green & Black’s Head of Taste, Micah Carr-Hill, they quickly became one of the most respected UK chocolate makers, following in the footsteps of Willie Harcourt-Cooze and Duffy Sheardown, with some serious packaging that’s both functional and very cool.

Pump Street Bakery pop up chocolate bars

The chocolate, made from the beans sourced directly from Madagascar, Venzuela, Ecuador and Grenada, has already won a host of awards, collecting a few more at the Academy of Chocolate Awards night on Thursday last week. They also have a full time chocolate maker on staff too, who’s manning the pop up this week so can answer any questions you have!  (That’s Rob in the picture below.) If you pop in you’ll be able to try their newest bar, Rye Crumb, Milk and Sea Salt.  It is a unity of deliciousness that is insanely moreish. You’ve been warned.

Pump Street Bakery pop up

The temporary shop is at 67 Redchurch St (near to Shoreditch High St and past Mast Brothers).  It is small but a stylist’s dream. White walls, exposed brick, fresh flowers and the bars hung in frames… As well as their full range of bars, each day they’ll be selling the rye and the sourdough loaves that both appear in the chocolate bars and their infamous Eccles Cakes (so full of curranty goodness!), croissants and pains aux chocolat with their own Ecuadorian milk chocolate, plus a rotating pastry. Today it’s raspberry doughnuts. Check out their Instagram feed for daily updates; if you can cope with drooling on your phone.

Pump Street Bakery pop up Redchurch StPump Street Bakery pop up Vermont sourdough bread
Pump Street Bakery pop up Eccles cakes
Pump Street Bakery pop up chocolatePump Street Bakery pop up chocolate

Posted in Blog | Leave a comment

Mast Brothers arrive in London

Mast Brothers ShoreditchThe bearded brothers who rocked the chocolate world with their Brooklyn factory have crossed the ocean to set up in London. It’s their first shop outside of New York and they’ve chosen to take on London’s already thriving chocolate scene. But just like in New York they’ve centred on the hipsters young, affluent market.

Mast Brothers Shoreditch bean to bar chocolateSetting up in Shoreditch alongside other edgy brands they’ve filled the window with brimming hessian bags of cocoa beans and a neon strip light sign. Inside the walls are white or exposed brick (very East London) and white cubes run around two edges with more in the middle displaying the chocolate and a small sit-up bar along another edge.  The main serving counter fills up the far side of the shop and coffee machines and chemexes sit behind a glass cabinet of ganaches.  The back wall is glass, behind which you can see the cocoa grinders turning, bearded chocolate makers in their whites and industrial shelves piled high with huge slabs of plastic-wrapped chocolate.

Mast Brothers Shoreditch

On the opening day they were giving out cocktails and sampling bars and their spread.  The spread is probably the best I’ve ever tasted.  The hot chocolate is rich but served in small takeaway cups for £5 a piece not the cheapest in town.  It is, of course, made with their chocolate which sells at £8 bar.  More alarming was the single chocolates that were priced at £3 each.  No significant discount applied by buying a full box.  I’m hoping they’ll bring across some of the baked goods I tried on my last visit to their Brooklyn HQ in 2012.

Mast Brothers Shoreditch chocolates Mast Brothers Shoreditch milk chocolate

It’s brilliant for the chocolate world to have a maker in town.  Most people still are so detached from the process of making chocolate; hopefully Mast Brothers will help to open people’s eyes to why good chocolate shouldn’t be cheap and make chocolate lovers more conscious of the subtlety of flavours between origins.  Good chocolate does not just taste of chocolate.


Mast Brothers Shoreditch cocktail

Mast Brothers Shoreditch bars Mast Brothers Shoreditch bar

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Impending chocolate shortage? How to avoid the “crisis”.

Global Cocoa Shortage - Cocoa PodThere have been murmurings of an impending chocolate crisis for some months now but the major press seemed to pick it up this week. As I stood in the airport ready to fly to Milan on Monday I was called by the BBC to see if I could come on BBC Worldwide that evening to discuss the chocolate shortage. Sadly there were no suitable studios in Milan so I had to pass but my brain kept ticking. It’s a topic I’m extremely passionate (read: opinionated) about.

I’m still in Milan but given that I’m here on behalf of the tourism board promoting Milan Expo 2015 (www.wonderfulexpo2015.info) it seems fitting alongside the Expo’s theme of Food and specifically “Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life” to start this sustainability conversation with chocolate.

Cocoa prices are rising again. In real terms (i.e. accounting for inflation) they’re not the highest they’ve ever been, but they are high. Economics 101 should tell us that prices rise when demand increases or supply decreases. In the case of chocolate (or cocoa, its main, crucial component) we’re seeing both simultaneously.

Countries that have always been big consumers of chocolate are eating more than ever. In the UK we’re now responsible for the largest consumption in Europe. And now the nations that were previously only mildly interested in chocolate are taking to it with the same gusto as the rest of us. Undoubtedly this was instigated by the major confectionery manufacturers and their masterful marketing attempt to extend their reach and boost their revenue. Their success is now our concern.

A lesser contributor to this looming dearth is the “fine chocolate industry” which is gently nudging consumers towards higher percentage cocoa chocolate bars. The more cocoa in the bar the greater the demand amongst the manufacturers for the ingredient, ergo the price goes up. The fine chocolate industry, however, pays cocoa growers between three and ten times the price that they would make by selling their cocoa – via convoluted channels – through the commodities exchange. Not to mention paying them as directly as possible avoids middlemen taking an unnecessary cut.


Most of the world’s cocoa (close to 70%) comes from two main producing countries: Ivory Coast and Ghana. Both have suffered from drought this year and the proximity of Ebola to these and other cocoa producing countries has also caused panic in the markets which always base their price on future expectations of demand and supply rather than the current conditions. Right now there are warehouses of cocoa beans that will last the world a few years still, even at our current rate of consumption. Unfortunately the trend is to a dwindling production which will, quite literally, eat into those reserves.

Cocoa Bean storage and cocoa shortage

The main problem is that actually the price of cocoa is NOT high enough. How can we expect farmers to keep growing cocoa when they can replace it with a crop that is easier to grow, more resistant to disease and pays more than double per hectare than they’re making from cocoa. At the recent Academy of Chocolate Conference the topic was “What price cocoa?”. Corn and rubber can yield a farmer a more financially rewarding life, even if in some cases this is short-termist. Farmers who remove their cocoa trees cannot easily change their minds. It takes 3-5 years from planting a seedling to yield fruit to harvest beans to sell. This is why we might see cocoa become as rare and expensive as caviar. We see each year that at least one of the popular chocolate confectionery lines has shrunk or maybe nudged the price up and the online community goes into uproar. How dare inflation touch our precious treat? Most people can’t comprehend the idea of paying £5 for 100g chocolate bar. Which astounds me when I see the same people buying the house wine – which is invariably quite ordinary – for the same price and finishing it in thirty minutes. Never mind the cost of cigarettes or a daily Starbucks habit. A 100g bar of 70% fine quality chocolate is hard to consume in one evening unless you’re chomping it mindlessly, and even then I’d be surprised.

Cocoa Bean in Grenada - worldwide cocoa shortage

If we’re making an effort to move consumption away from cheap fashion then we should be doing the same for cheap chocolate. The “us and them” mentality needs to stop. Yes, it’s cheaper to live in most cocoa-growing countries, but $1/day per family (and this is what some cocoa farmers earn) is well below the poverty line. We must start paying all cocoa farmers more.

If you want to ensure that there will be cocoa in the future then we all need to accept that it must cost more, but at least choose something that you will get more pleasure from each bite. If you think you don’t like dark chocolate I can almost guarantee you’ve just not tried one of the good ones. I’ve shown thousands of people on chocolate tours in the past ten years and at least a third of them have told me at the beginning they don’t like dark chocolate. By their first taste 99 of every 100 show surprise and have changed their mind. But if you’re the “one” then try some dark milk chocolates, look for percentages between 40 (not strictly dark milk) and 60%. Less sugar and more flavour. The more cocoa in a bar the less your body craves to eat more. And start asking about whether the chocolate manufacturer buys their cocoa direct and what price they pay.

Chocolate Bars Chocolate ShortageTo start you off, here are a list of some brands that I would recommend:
Grenada Chocolate Company (made in country and £1.35 – about 20-30% – of every bar goes to the growers, versus around 2p – about 2-3% – for every bar of Dairy Milk)
Willie’s Cacao (made in Devon and available in Waitrose)
Duffy’s (made in North Lincolnshire)
In fact, any of the bars sold on www.CocoaRunners.com and if you use the code ecstasy1 for a box or ecstasy2 for a subscription you will get a £3 or £5 discount.

May we all continue eating chocolate for many years to come.

 

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Chocolate Yule Log Recipe from Hakkasan’s Executive Pastry Chef

Yauatcha LogThere is a draft post hovering in the background about 12 incredible yule logs created by some of London’s top pastry chefs, that I had a preview of during the summer and some of which are now on sale. That will have to wait until the weekend. For now, if you’re quick, you still have the chance to learn how to make your own in London at the Spirit of Christmas Fair at Kensington Olympia. Or, you can have a go at making it for yourself from the recipe below. The plus in heading to Olympia is you’ll get to take one away per table! And, importantly, a piece to try while you’re there. UPDATE: There are no more buche demonstrations during the show but there are still demonstrations being lead by chefs from the Savoy (not in the Hakkasan Group) and you can always make the recipe yourself below!

For the remaining days of the Spirit of Christmas (until this Sunday) there will be chef sessions each day, though sadly no more from Graham or his team.  The workshops on Wednesday were surprisingly quiet and unworthily so.  Unlike food shows where the demonstrations and the workshops are the draw, at the Spirit of Christmas it is all for filling your stockings with artisan gifts that are not common on the high street. It definitely makes unique shopping easier, but the workshops offering such a high calibre of hosts are definitely worth attending too. More so if you get to take home a gift from it!

 

Hakkasan was founded by Alan Yau who started his career in restaurants with Wagamama in 1992. Long ahead of its time in casual dining it was a catalyst for change in a then-staid restaurant scene and one of the reasons behind Yau receiving an OBE in 2006 for services to the restaurant industry.  Five of the Hakkasan Group’s restaurants have been awarded Michelin-stars: Hakkasan Hanway, Mayfair and New York, HKK and Yauatcha (London). These are all high-end Chinese restaurants, with the latter also offering a beautiful-looking, ever-changing and boundary-pushing selection of patisserie to eat in or take away, as well as their own range of chocolates made in-house.  For the past three and a half years Graham Hornigold has headed the sweet stuff for the group as Executive Pastry Chef.

Graham Hornigold, Hakkasan Group

Hornigold earned his stripes at a variety of Michelin restaurants, most notably within the Mandarin Oriental, Hyde Park, Knightsbridge and then at The Lanesborough Hotel where he won a host of awards. At Hakkasan he works with the restaurants in the UK and abroad on a variety of styles of desserts. For Christmas at Yauatcha they’re offering slices of the delicious chestnut yule log that we finished off in the Home & Garden Workshop at Spirit of Christmas. I loved this buche, testament to this was the fact I polished off several more slices last night despite judging several rounds of the International Chocolate Awards in the afternoon. If I was going to make it myself I’d sub the milk for more alcohol, but if you’re making it for the first time following the recipe below will deliver you a wonderful Christmas dessert and one you can make in advance and freeze leaving just the final decoration for Christmas morning. Finished Yauatcha Buche at Spirit of Christmas Chocolate and Chesnut Buche de noel

Graham Hornigold, Executive pastry Chef, Hakkasan Group

Makes one, 5 portions

Chocolate genoise – Makes 1 30cm x 40cm tray

88g egg whites

88g caster sugar

70g egg yolks

70g plain flour

18g cocoa powder

42g vegetable oil

Method

  1. Pre heat the oven to 180C
  2. Place the egg whites into a machine bowl and whisk on a medium speed adding the caster sugar gradually until a stiff meringue is formed.
  3. Fold in the egg yolks and then the vegetable oil.
  4. Lastly fold in the flour and the spread out onto a silicon mat.
  5. Place into the pre heated oven and cook for 8-9 minutes

Raisin and Chestnut compote

100g raisins

50g dark rum

50g confit chestnut (marron glace)

Method

  1. Wash the raisins in warm water at least 3 times or until the water runs clear. Place the water into a pan and bring to the boil. Add in the washed raisins and allow to soak for 20 minutes
  2. Strain the excess water and allow the raisins to cool, once cooled add the dark rum and allow to marinate over night
  3. Roughly chop the marinated rasins and mix with the chopped confit chestnut

Chestnut and Vanilla cream

90g chestnut paste (sweetened)

90g chestnut puree (unsweetened)

10g rum

15g milk

½ vanilla pod seeds

Method

  1. Place the chestnut puree, vanilla seeds and chestnut paste into a mixing bowl and beat until smooth.
  2. Gradually mix in the milk and the rum until smooth

Chocolate buttercream

110g egg whites

200g sugar

70g water

220g butter, soft

150g Dark chocolate 80%cocoa solids

Make an Italian meringue with the whites, sugar and water. Whip until cool, mix in the melted chocolate and then slowly add in the softened butter mix well .

Dark chocolate decorations

200g tempered dark chocolate made into 6 x 6 cm squares 1 set chocolate curls

Additional decoration

20g Confit chestnuts Gold leaf

To prepare and assemble

Rolling the Buche Naked Chestnut Yule Log Frosting the Buche

  1. Prepare the raisin and chestnut compote,Store in the fridge until required.
  2. Temper the chocolate and prepare the chocolate decorations, place into a cool dry area and allow to set for at least 4 hours.
  3. Prepare the chocolate genoise, remove from the oven and place onto a wire rack to cool
  4. Once the sponge has cooled, cut into a 30 x 20cm rectangle and place onto a sheet of silicone paper, ensuring that the paper is larger than the cut sponge.
  5. Finish the raisin and chestnut compote
  6. Spread the chestnut and vanilla cream onto the sponge leaving a gap of 2cm at the bottom closest to yourself.
  7. Spread the raisin and chestnut compote over the top of the chestnut and vanilla cream.
  8. Gently fold over the bottom of the sponge and begin to roll up, finish rolling with the edge underneath the roll.
  9. Pipe lines of the chocolate buttercream over the top of the rolled buche, spread evenly with a palette knife or spoon. Make lines in the buttercream with a comb scraper or fork to look like a log.
  10. Place into the fridge to set the buttercream, lightly dust with cocoa powder.
  11. Place the chocolate squares on each end and then decorate the top with the chocolate curls, gold leaf and confit chestnuts.

Yauatcha A piece of the yule log

A slice of the Yauatcha Chestnut Yule Log

Recipe provided by Graham Hornigold of the Hakkasan Group

DISCLOSURE: I was invited to the Spirit of Christmas by Great British Chefs and Graham Hornigold. I was under no obligation to write about this and retained full editorial control.

Posted in Blog | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment