Imagine this dipped in chocolate. Go on. (Photo: Adam Gasson)
One of the best things about blogging about chocolate is the chance to share enthusiasm and exchange views and discoveries with people from all over the world (see below, I hope). So it was exciting to meet a bunch of chocolate fans from a particular online grouping last week at a highly sociable demonstration/party/pig-out in a central London kitchen organised by the social media phenomenon Pinterest and Great British Chefs.
The star of the evening was the chocolatier Paul A Young, who has won umpteen national and international awards and recently opened a fourth London shop in Heal’s on Tottenham Court Road.
Young occupies a unique position in the UK chocolate scene because he and his team (now 36 strong) make everything that they sell completely by hand and he doesn’t use any artificial additives or preservatives. He is particularly celebrated for his truffles and caramels – a reflection of the six years he spent as a chef/patissier with Marco Pierre White in MPW’s heyday – but Young also has an encyclopaedic knowledge of chocolate itself, and a passionate concern for the people that grow it.
He is utterly plugged in to the chocolate world, not least because he uses chocolate from suppliers who are enthusiasts themselves: Duffy’s, Menakao, Dandelion, Mast Brothers — people who make chocolate that is a joy in itself, even before Young gets to work on it. The Valrhona 70 per cent that he used as a base for the evening’s recipe was more straightforwardly delicious than many a smart £5 bar.
I loved talking to Young about the excitements and challenges of growing his business and raising awareness of the excellence of British chocolate. He recalled a conversation a few years ago with Paul Hollywood in which the two agreed on the potential of their cookery niches, baking and chocolate. We all know what has happen to baking, and surely it can’t be long before chocolate, with all its enticements, challenges and rewards, follows a similar path…
Young is a terrific demonstrator, and soon had the Pinteresters and me up to our elbows in blood-warm molten Valrhona and blue cheese — yes, blue cheese. The recipe we were tasked with was a Stilton and Port Truffle, and while the early stages were a little gruesome (and green, to be honest) and the latter stages were epically messy, the finished product — even those made by me — were frankly gorgeous.
If you want to have a go the recipe is here and if you want a short-cut the truffles (made by Paul, not me) are often to be found in his shops. The important thing to emphasise though is that although he is justly famous for his salted caramels, and for their compellingly evil cousin the Marmite truffle, Paul A does not mess around for the sake of it, and would not dream of putting out a flavour combination for shock value alone.
But the evening did put me in mind to experiment at home, and I wonder if others out there may be similarly inspired to mess around with unusual combinations… any suggestions?
On a visit to the Prestat factory recently the co-boss Nick Crean shared a prototype of a new truffle and I adored it. The Red Velvet, now released, is not one for purists, comprising “classic icing enrobed in milk chocolate, dusted in crushed raspberries” but for me it is an intensely moreish combination… £11 for 175g, Prestat.co.uk.
I have been meaning to write about Carpo for a while. Technically this is really a preserved fruit and nut emporium, but they enrobe, encase and otherwise imprison their goodies in vast quantities of decent chocolate, and giant slabs of the stuff reside beneath the spotless glass surfaces in the Piccadilly HQ. You can order online but the shop is a terrific snack stop-off if you are down that way (and if you are, pop into Maison du Chocolat a few doors west for chic French delights). carpolondon.co.uk.
As well as pretty and delicate ganaches, the untypically switched-on Belgian Pierre Marcolini makes single origin bars from around the world in smart limited editions. The presentation errs on the side of the plutocratic, but there is good stuff in those slender silver boxes if you can find an oligarch to indulge you. I thought the Finca la Joya, a 78 per cent Criollo Porcelana from Mexico, was a thing of great beauty. It’s £9.50 for 80g in Selfridges.
Also recently enjoyed, and due for further attention soon, Cocomaya’s New York Sea Salt Pretzel dark bar, Hasslacher’s Colombian Drinking Chocolate — and Duffy’s incredible Corazon del Ecuador Camino Verde bar, good grief…