Brixton Chocolate Museum

Brixton Chocolate Museum Isabelle of Melange Chocolate

Isabelle Alaya and I first met in 2005 at a Seventy Percent chocolate tasting where we had both come to learn about chocolate as we planned our businesses.  I never connected the dots between Melange Chocolaterie in Peckham and the lovely French woman who talked of starting her own chocolate company at the chocolate tasting that evening long ago.  It wasn’t until she re-introduced herself to me at the Academy of Chocolate conference in 2010 that it clicked.

It was so lovely then to hear she had got her business off the ground, and more wonderful last week to receive her invite for the grand opening of her mini-museum of chocolate in Brixton this Saturday.  From now on upstairs will be the café and workshop space for the Brixton branch of her business and downstairs is the exhibit, which will take care of any overflow in busy periods as well.

Brixton Chocolate Museum

It’s only a short walk from Brixton tube and overground and she plans to hold monthly events similar to what we experienced on Saturday, with pairings of wines, cheeses or other foods, with her chocolate.  The space is available for private functions as well.

Alongside her own flavoured chocolate bars (including lavender & lemon in milk chocolate, dark with bergamot & cinnamon and coconut & vanilla in white chocolate), Isabelle is also selling Duffy’s wonderful chocolate bars and Willie’s Cacao – two fantastic, English bean-to-bar chocolate makers.   In the café she will be starting to sell savoury chocolate options.  At the launch party were some of the tartines with a variety of cheese and chocolate combinations.  I’ve always been a fan of chocolate and cheese together so whatever preconceptions you might have, I urge you to have a try.   I really enjoyed the Brie with truffles and the drizzle of bergamot infused dark chocolate.

Brixton Chocolate Museum cups and chocolate boxes

The exhibit downstairs is only small but it is a fabulous collection of old posters and ad campaigns, chocolate jugs for serving hot chocolate and old chocolate tins and chocolate moulds that were found in an attic in France from the previous tenant of a friend of Isabelle’s sister.  What a wonderful coincidence.  There are also some chairs and a television to watch a chocolate making video.  It’s a great place for a chocolate education or just a cup of wonderful hot chocolate.  The Melange hot chocolate can also be enjoyed with water or coconut milk which should be refreshing news for any dairy-avoiders.

Britain has a wonderful history of chocolate, including the invention of the first chocolate bar as we know it today (by Fry’s of Bristol in 1847) and this is a fantastic place to get a little insight into that past, whilst enjoying a chocolate fix as well.

Brixton Chocolate Museum wall
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Making Marou Chocolate Truffles With Geert Vercruysse

During Chocolate Week 2011 I attending a chocolate tasting by Chocolate & Love and was delighted to be introduced to a man whose reputation had preceded him.  Geert Vercruysse (yes, it’s not easy to say or spell) is a Belgian chocolatier who trained with Wittamer in Brussels and then moved to Kortrijk  23 years ago with his wife to start his own chocolate shop and a family.  I learnt from him then about his patisserie and chocolaterie, how it was attached to his house and he experimented with different chocolate and different patisserie recipes all the time and opened six days a week except for a few weeks in the Summer.  I tasted some of his chocolate ganaches he had brought along and was thoroughly impressed.  I asked if I could visit some time and help him in his kitchen and he told me I would be welcome to come and stay as long as I liked with his family and he would love to show me what he makes.  This man’s enthusiasm for chocolate is unadulterated glee.  When talking about fine chocolate he wears the same expression you see when you tell a child they can have as many sweets as they like (though I don’t recommend you do that! That was not a fun aftermath…).

Last Summer I reached out to Geert to see if his offer was still open.  Dom and I had been invited to Pierre Marcolini‘s factory in Brussel’s so I thought I might go a day or two earlier as it was only an hour’s train ride from Brussels.  I was welcomed and so I arrived on Saturday evening and was picked up at the station by the younger of Geert’s two daughters who is studying at university nearby.  His other daughter was on holiday abroad so I was to have her bed for the next two nights.  Geert and his wife were incredibly hosts and it was such a treat to spend some of Saturday evening and all of Sunday with Geert in his kitchen, making truffles and a chocolate dessert and baking off the viennoiserie.  Even getting up at 5am to do so!

Geert Vercruysse in his chocolate storage

Geert in his chocolate-filled basement

I took a lot more pictures and if Geert will allow me to have the recipe I’ll do a post of the chocolate dessert we made too.  It was incredible.

Dom let me take his camera out with me and I had my tripod too so I shot some of the making of the Marou chocolate truffles (more on Marou chocolate in a post to come).  I handed the very long video back to Dom on Monday and he turned around this very fun edit.  What a talent.

Making chocolate truffles with Geert Vercruysse…

The only place you can get Geert’s fresh chocolates outside of his shop is in a single chocolate shop in Amsterdam.  I highly recommend a detour to the town if you are in Brussels.  What makes his chocolates so special is he uses couveture that no other chocolatier would consider using as they are sold in bars that retail at around £6 for a 50g bar.  More than 2.5 times the price of Valrhona which is more expensive than Barry Callebaut that many chocolate shops use to make their confections.  This is the blessing of having been in business for more than 20 years in the same place that you now own outright.  Low overheads and a loyal following.  If you are visiting, Friday through Sunday is when you can taste the viennoiserie that Geert makes from scratch as well.  Mondays are closed.  Every other day you can see into his kitchen from the shop and watch him at work. It’s amazing that most of his equipment is over 20 years old.  As the only one using it (Geert has no staff in the kitchen though his family help out from time to time) it shows how well things last if they are treated with care.  There’s definitely a lot of care taken here.  This is absolutely a man who loves his work.  Or, as Geert puts it, “I haven’t worked a day in the last 23 years”.

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Making chocolate brownies

Here we have our first attempt at a filming a recipe. It’s an insight into my baking, where I tend to make up the recipe as I go. Apologies in advance for the confusion this causes – you can use the written recipe below for clarification!

The benefit of an entire life with baking as my major pastime is that making up the recipe usually works out pretty well.   I shared this particular brownie at two events and people kept coming back for more and raving about it, so I think it’s not just me that likes it!

But please give it a go for yourself! They are fudgy but also a little bit cakey, exactly the way I think brownies should be.  I am aware the debate rages on this!

The recipe is obviously for an enormous quantity, but you can divide it to make it to go into a tin smaller than my giant roasting tin. If you’re using good, readily available chocolate, like Green & Blacks, the chocolate alone for this quantity (1.1kg) could cost £22. Keep an eye out for multibuy deals on the chocolate bars to help (right now Waitrose has 2 for £3 on Green & Blacks and Sainsbury’s has 1/3 off), but remember this quantity makes enough for more than 20 decent sized pieces of brownie that would cost more than £2 each from most London bakeries and coffee shops. If you’re cutting them up it would make a sizeable little package of brownies for between 4 and 6 people which works out around £5 each for a homemade gift that should take you more than an hour to make and clean up after.


  • 800g dark chocolate (buttons or chopped) – approx. 70% cocoa content
  • 600g unsalted butter (sorry about the confusion in the video!)
  • 10 medium eggs
  • 300g white granulated or caster sugar
  • 300g brown sugar (I used dark brown sugar)
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 100g plain flour
  • 30g cocoa powder
  • 300g White chocolate chunks or buttons

A few notes on the ingredients:

  • Only use dark chocolate that has no more ingredients than: cocoa mass, cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla and soy/sunflower lecithin. If it has fewer, that’s fine.
  • Rock salt will be ok, but table salt will taint the flavour of the brownie
  • The same goes for vanilla essence, if that’s what you have in the cupboard, I recommend next time you’re at the shops replacing it with vanilla extract.
  • The white chocolate should only have cocoa butter, sugar, vanilla and milk (powder or crumb).

Chocolate Brownie by Jennifer Earle of Chocolate Ecstasy Tours


Melt the butter and chocolate in a bowl over (but not touching) simmering water in a saucepan. Put the butter in first to avoid risk of burning the chocolate. It will take a little while (at least five minutes) to melt, don’t try and rush it because you don’t want it to burn! Remove from the heat before all the lumps are gone.

Separate the eggs (I do it one at a time) and mix with the sugars.  If you don’t have a stand alone mixer you can use a hand mixer. If you’re feeling like burning some calories, just a handbeater or spoon.  It’s best if they are really well mixed.

Whilst the eggs are beating and the chocolate is melting, grease the tin and line it with baking paper (cutting slits in the four corners helps to avoid folds that the brownie can get caught in).

Add the salt and vanilla extract.

Add the melted chocolate and butter to the egg and sugar mixture and beat for a further minute. It’s best to do half at a time if you’re making a large quantity.

Add the flour and cocoa powder and stir gently by hand to combine.

Tip in the white chocolate (or substitute for milk or dark chunks or raisins or cranberries if preffered) and stir by hand just enough to mix through.

Pour the whole mixture into the lined tin.

This quantity took 35 minutes to bake at 160C in a fan oven (not the 25 minutes I guessed!), half the mixture would take between 18 and 25 minutes and even less of the mixture will take less again. It will always take at least 15 minutes to bake.  It’s done when it starts cracking around the edges and it isn’t wobbling if you gently nudge the tin. If you’re not watching the whole video, just fast forward to the very end to see the tin coming out of the oven.

The longer you can leave it in the tin after it’s cooked, the better. Overnight is best.

Once cooled, cut into pieces and serve, or wrap to give as gifts.  The brownies get better with time, for at least 7 days, provided they are kept in an airtight container.

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Inside Hotel Chocolat’s British factory

I hope you all had a good Summer?  The second half of mine was  filled with my nieces and nephew who staying with me for a few weeks in August, mostly along with their parents, but when my brother took his wife away to Barcelona for an early birthday celebration, they left me with the kids for six days. I wasn’t completely on my own, but I was slightly daunted as to how to entertain a 12, 9 and 3.5 year old for so long. So, I contacted the lovely, lovely people of Hotel Chocolat and asked if they could help me occupy them for one day and allow us to visit inside their Cambridgeshire factory.  What kind of cool aunt would I be to let them see inside a chocolate factory that isn’t open to the public? A pretty awesome one, was the verdict. :-)

Hotel Chocolat mission

Hotel Chocolate’s Mission Statement is at each entrance

The morning of our big adventure, the littlest one, upon being woken up to go, bounced out of bed shouting “Chocolate Factory!”. Sadly it didn’t take long into our visit for the early morning wake up to take effect.  “Chocolate factories are tiring” was the verdict as she hung from my neck whilst we were guided between machines, about an hour into our tour.  Then we came across another flow of chocolate items and she perked up again.  I think her lasting memory will undoubtedly be of the gorgeous pink-ribboned goody bag that she received (we each got one – thank you, Hotel Chocolat!). Her little face lit up as she examined the contents and showed off her chocolate fairy and declared how she was going to share her treats with mum and dad and EVERYONE. Bless.

My gorgeous nieces at Hotel Chocolat's factory

My gorgeous nieces in their factory kit – whoever knew anyone could look cute in a green hairnet?

I’ve been inside quite a few factories in my life and Hotel Chocolat is one of the cleanest and most attractive I’ve ever been in.  It is spacious and well-decorated and looks very efficient, yet has real people doing specialist tasks and I’ve honestly never seen factory workers who seemed as happy in their job. I’m sure the product they are working with makes a difference, but I think there’s something in the way that Hotel Chocolat care for their people, something I see in their shops as well.  I’m a big believer that the culture of a business is driven by the leader and knowing Angus, it is no surprise that the workers are considerate and passionate people.

Hotel Chocolat factory team

Some of the Hotel Chocolate factory team

We got to see chocolates being made and packed and I had to be dragged away from the pipes of flowing chocolate.  The coolest room is absolutely the development kitchen, which overlooks the factory and has gorgeous big kitchen tables and a product display and ingredients to tinker with. As well as a variety of equipment and some computers too, which contrary to popular belief (and probably the wishes of my fellow developers as well) are equally important tools in developing products that will launch successfully and sell well.

Hotel Chocolat development kitchen

The Hotel Chocolat development kitchen in the middle of a meeting

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Godiva’s first European chocolate cafe

Last week the first Godiva cafe in Europe “officially” opened in Harrods. It’s been operating since the end of last year, but I guess this was the first date that the Belgian ambassador, the CEO of Godiva and the Managing Director of Harrods could coordinate their diaries to put on a proper celebration.

This is the 4th Godiva cafe in the world and, according to the Godiva representative, the best. It is actually quite gorgeous inside. Expensive materials that are high quality rather than flashy; comfortable suede-cushioned benches, dark wood panelling, flowers in vases, plus a funky neon silhouette of a lady on a horse against a chocolate brown-painted brick wall, as you enter. It would be easy to sit here for hours. Apparently people do. I have been warned the queue from late afternoon is long and it stays full until closing.

Last December they poached the talented and ever-smiling Raquel Lowery (pictured above, of the amazing Melt Chocolates mud pie) to head up the kitchen. All of the pastries are made downstairs in the kitchens shared with other Harrods restaurants. The pastries are most definitely unique to Godiva. I had a long chat with “Global Chef Chocolatier”, David Funaro, who has been with Godiva for five years, creating the range of pastries and travelling the world ensuring all the cafés open well. Before Godiva he served his time with one of the best US chocolatiers and a great US bakery too. He also had his own business for a time, too. When I asked him about the Godiva range and he told me how, for him, the perfect pastry is a marriage of smooth, crunchy, soft and chewy, as well as a perfect balance of contrasting flavours, I almost started to swoon. That is exactly what a good pastry is to me, too.

The cafe was full of “it” people and I wasn’t in uber-keen to hang around, conscious that’d come far on a train, from work in the heat and my hair really needed washing. Greed overcame pride and I decided to linger long enough to taste the bite size morsels of two of the desserts that I could see being prepared behind the counter.  It was worth it. The Hazelnut Delice is, truly, delice. The marriage of flavours and textures just as David described: smooth milk chocolate ganache, crunchy, whole caramelised hazelnuts and a thin, chewy sponge base, topped with a thin square of crisp dark chocolate. It was like a dessert version of a Ferrero Rocher, only delicious and not greasy.  I did wonder if it was an intentional nod to the presence of the ambassador. I may have eaten four (they were small!) before deciding I would leave Mischa Barton and co. to the cafe and come back another day to see Raquel again and check out whether any of the other pastries also lived up to David’s promise (or maybe just get the Delice again…).

You can also buy the full range of Godiva truffles in the cafe and there are vats of hot chocolate in milk, dark and white, plus taps of running chocolate (how do I get one of these in my flat?). I do quite enjoy their frozen Chocolixir drink but I would definitely make the dessert my priority if you make it there.  If you do, let me know what you think!

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