Easter Chocolate Festivals

Easter is here again, which can only mean one thing… chocolate!

Last weekend, two separate chocolate festivals took place, one up in Ramsbottom, and another here in London. From what I hear, both festivals had record numbers of visitors, which is great for the industry and all of us who love real chocolate.

We visited Yael Rose’s festival in London, and shot some video to give you a flavour of what goes on.

Yael managed to get six of the country’s top chocolatiers and a myriad of smaller producers in the same place at the same time, which I don’t think anyone has managed before.

Stalls were packed with a good mix of familiar faces and people we hadn’t hear of before. The baked bean chocolates (below) by Aneesh “The Chocolatier” Popat proved to be particularly controversial!

They weren’t my cup of tea, but I love the fact that people are willing to experiment with weird and wacky flavours.

On Saturday, I attended Paul A. Young’s demonstration, where experimentation was the theme. Paul demonstrated making two of his more unusual chocolates, a roquefort ganache, and a cigar leaf caramel. Every chocolate demonstration should start with frying tobacco leaves!

The main message of Paul’s talk was that everyone should have a go at making chocolates, and never to be afraid of experimenting with flavours. “Use whatever you have in the cupboard”, as Paul says. And if it doesn’t work, just give it to your friends and try something new!

Of course Easter was the main theme for most of the chocolatiers exhibiting at The Chocolate Festival, but this year Jubilee-themed chocolate was in evidence as well. Bill McCarrick of Sir Hans Sloane told us about his patriotic line-up when we caught up with him.

I love Yael’s Chocolate Festivals, and she’s growing them every year, expanding to more and more cities and spreading the word about real chocolate. If you’re in Bristol area over the Easter weekend, the festival continues there, spreading the word – and the chocolate.

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Sweet, chocolate dreams at the Cavendish

On Monday evening, with the master help from Westminster Kingsway College, the Cavendish Hotel converted Room 1212 into a chocolate lover’s dream boudior.

 

We were invited in for a sneak peek before the lucky winner – chosen that day! – got to enter and spend the night in this chocolate wonderland.  It was all I could do not to be dragged out. The candles were made of chocolate, the tea cups, the toothbrushes…. And it was all overseen by a rather scary looking chocolate bunny lording over the room atop a giant Easter Egg.

There is an ingredient in chocolate that can actually help prevent tooth decay.  I’m not sure this is quite what they had in mind: 

I would just like to confirm that I didn’t touch anything apart from the chocolate items in the bathroom, the tea set and, er, that one chocolate heart that I ate from the bed. It was very difficult to restrain myself! Then I ran back downstairs (ok, I took the lift, it was 12 floors up!) to enjoy my chocolate cocktail in the bar. If I had been allowed to eat everything then I would have needed to run up and down those stairs MANY times – at least the view is spectacular, across the London Eye, Westminster Abbey, the Shard and the Gherkin.

I left taunted with envy for someone spending the night here, yet knowing my addiction and capacity for chocolate, it was probably a good thing. I’m pretty sure I can’t eat 100kg of chocolate in one night, but it’s probably best for everyone that I wasn’t given the opportunity to try.

I’m just sorry we didn’t get invited back for an “after” shot as well.

Photo Gallery

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The Roast + Conch of cocoa into chocolate – here in London!

Cocoa beans roasting - Roast + ConchEarlier this year Hotel Chocolat opened a new kind of chocolate store in Covent Garden. Angus hinted at it in his interview with us last October and now it’s finally here for all the world to see and enjoy.

I stopped in the day it opened and posted a few pictures to Facebook. Now here’s a little video I took on the same day:

Upstairs, in the “shop” part, the beans get roasted in a clear tube (not normally how it happens but much more interesting to watch), then they travel downstairs to the cafe, where they are winnowed, ground and conched.  Winnowing is the process of separating the pieces of cocoa beans (nibs) from their shell. On a grand scale this is usually done by oscillating the nibs on a wire mesh conveyer belt above a set-strength vacuum. The shell is lighter than the nibs, meaning they go in different directions. Simples.

Cocoa to Chocolate - Roast + ConchGrinding and then conching is all part of making the chocolate silky smooth and also removing some of the acidity. Conching is continuous beating of the molten chocolate inside a metal drum. This process causes the particles to refine as well as most of the acidic notes (leftover from the fermentation) to evaporate, leaving a delicious, rounded, chocolatey flavour.

The Chocolate Making Equipment at Roast + Conch

At Roast + Conch you can taste the difference between bars conched for 60 hours, 90 hours and 120 hours. And you can taste the difference.  I think it helps to highlight how much every stage of the cocoa (& chocolate) production process can affect the final product.  To me it helps justify why the best tasting chocolate also costs more.

Instead of a shot of espresso you can get your energy drink fix with lattes and “cappuccinos”  made with a shot of freshly conched chocolate instead.  Have it alongside one of the freshly baked chocolate treats or a savoury crepe made with, of course, chocolate.

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We’ve got an App – get your chocolate fix anywhere!

Seeing as it was Dom who did all the clever app work I think it’s ok if I brag about our exciting new mobile app! It’s available for iPhones and Android (for details on how to get it go here: http://worldchocolateguide.com/app/  )

We are still working to add more shops to this site and, therefore, the app and welcome any suggestions you might have!

Now you will always know how close (or far away…) you are from chocolate.  Isn’t that exciting?! It’s much easier than using the website on your phone (which, I discovered on Sunday,  inconveniently won’t reveal the shops behind the little markers on the map).

Happy Chocolate hunting!

Thanks :-)

Jen x

P.S. If you do get the app please do take a second to rate it and if you have any suggestions for how we can improve it or any shops we’re missing, let us know!

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Tasting La Gelatiera


WCG La Gelatiera

This week I’ve spent time talking to several men who are incredibly passionate about food and so inspiring to speak with, Marc & Kim from Demarquette, Nick of Rude Health and Willie Harcourt-Cooze.

Today I met more passionate foodie men (and a woman). Antonio, Stephane and Simona are friends who met through the randomness of house shares several years ago and four months ago opened La Gelatiera in New Row, Covent Garden.  It is a gorgeous little shop. They kindly invited me and Dom to visit for a tasting.  I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but who says no to free ice cream? What I found was owners incredibly passionate about making the best food they can with the best possible ingredients.

Most of their sourcing is through the Slow Food Association. Antonio is the chief ice cream maker and Simona, who came in just before we left, comes most evenings after she finishes her day job, to bake the brioche and biscotti and other fine non-frozen treats. They are mostly recipes of her grandmother. Antonio’s grandfather used to have an ice cream parlour in Italy and he’s devoured books on chemistry written by other ice cream makers to get a scientific approach to the best ice cream.

The milk comes from Jersey cows and isn’t pastuerised or homogenised before it arrives so it keeps the good proteins as well as making a better flavour.  They don’t actually buy any chocolate for any of their wide range of chocolate offerings, preferring to purchase the cocoa mass, cocoa butter and cocoa powder separately so they can control the sugar and not have any soy lecitihin that most chocolate manufacturers use. They refuse to sell water because it “is free from the tap and shouldn’t be sold” and also because, so I learned today, the “dry residue” that is mentioned by law on all water bottles is higher than it is in tap water and apparently bad for your kidneys.  I’ve never heard this before and am yet to research it further but I love that Antonio cares so much to ensure that what they serve at La Gelatiera is good for you in as many ways as possible.  The coffee beans currently come from a social project in Italy, they are roasted within a prison.

WCG La Gelatiera chocolate bread cake

None of these ethics override the importance of taste. Which I know because they were generous with their samples and we tasted everything with chocolate and a few other things besides. Antonio asked me “so, no more desserts for you this week after this?”. Ha. He obviously doesn’t know me well yet! We did leave completely satiated of sweet things (for the afternoon…).  The levels of sweetness in the ice cream and desserts varies and most are not sickly sweet.  For those who are giving into a sugar craving, the chocolate salami or the salty caramel ice cream would definitely satisfy.

The chocolate gelato, one of the first things we tasted, was rich and almost pudding like with just the right balance of sweetness. Delicious. The version with chilli had just the perfect amount of (fresh) chilli to warm your mouth without burning it. I have two favourite, must-try things from the afternoon. The tartufo which they are just about to launch (you will be able to book one hour sessions to enjoy one with your lover for Valentine’s) and the Dolce Amore, an indulgent chocolate mousse made with an Italian liqueur, butter, eggs and cocoa mass and topped with flaked almonds.

WCG La Gelatiera chocolate dolce amore

Dolce Amore

WCG La Gelatiera chocolate tartufo

The Tartufo
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