18 Mar 2015

Vietnamese Chocolate

I have been busy last year with my job and nothing has been posted for quite a while. I have been to the usual stuff in London. The Chocolate Show and Chocolate Festival, but a visit to the Salon du Chocolat in Paris was the preparation of my Christmas holiday. I had in mind to visit Madagascar which I always wanted to visit. Back in 2005 I bought a book about this island, but after checking the weather like during Christmas I decided to abandon this idea and head to South East Asia.

Paris was the second time I met Vincent and Samuel from Marou Chocolate and when I told them about my plan they invited me to visit their factory in Ho Chi Minh City. I also met Arnaud from Erithaj Chocolat.

For most nationalities you need to obtain the Vietnamese visa in advance. It's quite easy to get it online, but if you want a multi entry one you have to use the services of the embassy. I needed to get few extra vaccinations and I bought the Malaria tablets as advised by my surgery which wasn't necessary where I travelled in that season.

The north of Vietnam doesn't have the right climate to grow cacao as I learnt and indeed it was too cold in December what would kill the trees if they were planted in this area. It's only from the centre of Vietnam heading south that you can find the cacao trees.

Just before heading back to London I visited first in Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon) Marou Chocolate. The factory is located outside the tourists area where I stayed. Saigon is split into several districts and it was about half hour drive to reach the factory in a small industrial estate in a middle of residential area. The entrance is where the beans are stored in bags and that area where the roasting machine is located isn't temperature controlled. The next rooms where the conching & refining, tempering, packing and storing the chocolate is done in air conditioned area.
Marou sources their beans in Vietnam from different regions. The climate and the soil change from region to region what gives the end product (our chocolate bar) different flavour.

Arnaud & myself visit the farmer
In the afternoon I visited in the downtown Puratos Grand-Place. They export Vietnamese cacao beans. It was interesting to listen to their presentation and to learn more about the cacao in Vietnam. i learnt they are part of an European enterprise and although the cacao is collected and fermented in Vietnam. It's transformed to the end product in Malaysia if I remember correctly. The cacao world in Vietnam is still in a virgin stage. I tried to organise with to visit the fermentation factory, but as I had to leave in a couple of days back home they didn't manage to arrange someone to go with me, but they gave me sample of beans and chocolate of a high quality.
Fermentation boxes - Erithaj

The following day was my last day in Vietnam and I took the bus to Bến Tre which is located on the Mekong Delta just over 2 hours on the bus away. I met Arnaud from Erithaj and we went to visit his fermentation place. It's located in the yard of an old school and what is interesting that probably most people who pass by don't even imagine what happens behind the fence. The process starts by opening the cacao pods and pouring the content into the fermentation boxes that are kept in what used to be a classroom. After about a week the beans are moved to the yard to be dried. If it's rainy there are a few local guys that help Arnaud and cover it with plastic sheets.
After a lunch in a local restaurant we went to visit the farmer. In Vietnam you can find forastero cacao trees. There are different varieties of trinitario and it's still experimented by people from the university to find which variety would yield the best results. I was told there is a professor from the local university that supervise that process.
Arnaud makes the fermentation process in Vietnam and then export the beans to France. In France Erithaj makes chocolate bars from their Vietnamese cacao beans.

21 Apr 2014

Chocolate Guinness cake recipe by our friend Maya Bakery

I discovered Maya Bakery in a local market in the Horniman Horniman Farmers' Market in South London. Maya comes from a Lebanese family and that influence the flavours in her cakes. Her cakes are infused with Lebanese ingrediants like tahini, dates and rose. Maya shared with me this recipe of a Chocolate Guinness cake.


125g unsalted butter
250g light muscovado (or brown) sugar
175g plain flour
80g cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
200ml Guinness

White chocolate buttercream:

600g icing sugar
250g unsalted butter
2 tsp vanilla extract
100g melted white chocolate
Few tbsp milk if required to loosen the buttercream

The cake

Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy and pale. And the eggs, one by one until fully incorporated. In a separate bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt and add to the wet mixture. Whisk until fully incorporated then add the cocoa powder.  Add the Guinness at the end and mix in well. Pour the mixture into two 8 inch tins and bake at 180° for approx 25 mins - or until sponge is fairly firm to the touch. Leave to cool slightly before releasing from the tins and leaving to cool fully on a wire rack.

The buttercream 

Mix the butter and icing sugar together for approx 8 mins. Add the vanilla extract and mix for another few minutes. Then add the melted white chocolate - and milk if necessary. Spread all over the cake and devour!


27 Mar 2014

Duffy's the Bean to Bar Chocolate maker

Roasting the cacao beans
This trend is being talked among the chocolate community lately. The most recent to announce to join that trend is Paul a Young, which unfortunately I've been absent from his announcement of his bean to bar chocolate. My story takes me north to a town by the name of Cleethorpes. Visiting the chocolate festivals in London I met Duffy Sheardown and asked in the past as I was curious to see how you make the chocolate from the bean if I can visit. Finally a couple of weeks ago Duffy said I could come and see the magic.
My first memory of a quality chocolate is Swiss chocolate in the Alps with snow peaks and water falls, but dream aside Duffy's workplace is industrial estate. In relatively small unit he manages to do everything. Duffy told me there isn't air condition so in the summer it can't get quite hot, but I assume solid chocolate in comparison to truffles aren't so sensitive to the British sun.

Chocolate conching machine
Duffy and the visitors Duffy explained us the process he follows to produce the chocolate. He receives bags of cocoa beans from Central America. The beans before packed and shipped are fermented. The beans when arrived are roasters first in the oven. Duffy experiments with different temperatures and time to obtain different flavours. The next stage the shell is being removed and disposed and what is inside the bean is transferred to the conching machine. After so many hours the beans are transformed to a smooth paste, which is our chocolate. The next stage to increase the shelf life and to have the snappy sounds when breaking the bar. The chocolate is tempered. The tempering is a process of warming up the chocolate and then cooling it down (you can read more about tempering chocolate here). Duffy uses a tempering machine and after the chocolate is tempered it's transferred to a mould to cool down.

Check the video to find out more about the process:


19 Mar 2014

Welsh Chocolate?

That was the reaction of most people I spoke before I travelled to Wales a month ago and for me it was also a self discovery tour of what Wales offers in the food arena. It all started about a year ago. I met in one of the food fairs in London the lovely couple Nick and Kitty and talking about chocolate they told me about the Taste Trail, which I decided to try.

Untitled I packed a small bag on a mild mid week morning and together with a friend headed north west. The drive in England is on motorways, but when we reached Shrewsbury (still in England) which was our first stop, the roads become narrower and quite often we were stuck behind a slow truck. Shrewsbury is very pleasent and walking on the high street toward the castle we discovered the first chocolate shop of this journey The Chocolate Gourmet. They stock some good quality chocolate bars, but the truffles are all imported from Belgium as I expected to find some local chocolate. The best option if you want to try local chocolate is to head to the market where Julia from Toot Sweets Chocolate sell her stuff. I tried her awesome chocolate in Ludlow Food Festival a few months earlier.

UntitledLeaving England behind and entering the unknown territory of Wales. Even if you miss the sign Welcome to Wales you noticed straight away on the narrow roads the Slow writing on the road is replaced by the Welsh equivalent of Araf. It took us another couple of hours to get to our first chocolate stop in Wales. Visiting Nick and Kitty from Chocolate Fusion. The weeks before our visit brought a lot of rainfall to Britain, which caused to the roads to be flooded. I set my SatNav App to the given postcode and had the instruction was given by Kitty, but due to the storms the sign fell off and only passing by the house the second time we realised we are in the right place, but be aware the mobile signal in this area is quite poor, not talking about 3G, but I'm talking about 2G.
Untitled Nick and Kitty bought a farm house in a small village and on the same plot got their workshop. They confer the barn into the existing chocolate factory and told us they work on building a visitor centre. We were welcome into the factory kitchen and been served with the latest truffles they were working on. There were few versions of each truffle experimenting with the flavours. We tasted the Blackcurrent marshmallow coated Ecuadorian chocolate, Chili cinnamon and cardamon and Banana spices rum and caramel.
Sarah Bunton chocolate
The next chocolate place in our list was Sarah Bunton Chocolate. Situated in Y Caban, Devils Bridge. The home of the Devils Bridge Falls is a couple of minutes by foot and the last stop for the steam train from Aberystwyth.
Teifi farmhouse cheese
Consuming so much sugar made me crave for some savoury food, so the next 2 stops we visited cheese farms. The first one was Caws Teifi Cheese  that also produce spirits by Dà Mhìle Distillery in the same farm. The second is Caws Cenarth Cheese. Both farms produce tasty cheese. Small selection can be purchased in top delis and department stores in London.

We spent the nights in a lovely B&B by the name Ffynnon Cadno and run by the couple John and Jill. The house is on the A44 road just outside Aberystwyth. This place is highly recommended. Jill works at Y Caban making chocolate she can tell you some secrets about making chocolate.

Fredericks Chocolatire Heading back to London we passed by No 14 Chocolate House in Fishguard, but due to renovation the shop was closed and the last stop was at Fredericks Chocolaterie in Narberth with their delicious truffles. A short drive east of Narberth will bring you back to the motorway.

Another gem I visited another time is the Black Mountain Gold Chocolate in the pretty town of Crickhowell. I haven't been here for over a year, but the town and the chocolate shop worth a detour of the M4.

Now watch the video of the chocolate visit:

and a slide show of the photos from the trip

18 Feb 2014

Chocolate infused food

Five years ago Willie Harcourt-Cooze came to my awareness when he appeared on his Channel 4 documentary Willie's Wonky Chocolate Factory. Until that moment chocolate for me was confectionery. Willie in his kitchen demonstrated how to use the pure chocolate in savoury dishes.  For example the recipe on Channel 4 cooking website of Pheasant or duck and cacao casserole recipe.

Lamb marinated in cacao nibs at Rabot 1745
Visiting London you wonder where can you find a cacao infused food? First I had savoury chocolate food was in the London Chocolate Festival.
Anne Mae's had a stall where they sold Mexican style food infused with Cacao and come · con · ella  reported about it in her blog

But that was just on a special occasions, especially as Anne Mae's is a street food business which doesn't have a permanent location and you can find them in markets and events.
Tasting dinner at the Chocolate Museum
In late 2013 the people of Hotel Chocolat opened in London their restaurant Rabot 1745 in the same spot where they used to have the chocolate shop in Borough market Rabot estate. In the beginning of February I had the chance to dine together with a few fellow chocolate enthusiast. We had the set menu and we all enjoyed the food. What you shouldn't expect is to get a shank of lamb in a sweet chocolate sauce, but the cacao and cacao nibs are used to enhanced the flavours. In the example of the lamb, they marinated it in cacao nibs. I tried the mashed potatoes with cacao butter and here they used the cacao butter instead of dairy butter.
Another place to dine is the Chocolate Museum in Brixton, but here the chocolate dinner functions on a pop up basis. I had a 5 course tasting
dinner made by Chisom. You need to check on the Chocolate museum website for future events.
Hotel Chocolat got another restaurant up in Leeds, but I haven't been to Leeds yet.

22 Oct 2013

The Chocolate Capital

It was a time to pack and travel north tracing the chocolate smell. 
On a nice mild autumn day we jumped on the train and headed north to York. It is just over a couple of hours from London to the chocolate capital of England.
The history of the chocolate here started by the Quakers who in days had the Rowntree and Terry's chocolate factories.
You can read more about the history of Rowntree http://c.hocol.at/historyOfYork and Terry's http://c.hocol.at/historyYork

Besides following the York's Chocolate Trail as was recommended to me by Sophie from York Cocoa House. I traveled to watch the play Blood and Chocolate. This play tells the story of the soldiers from York who fought during the I World War and received one Christmas a chocolate tin from the Lord Mayor of York. The story took us through the streets of York and the buildings and monuments of the city acted as the setting.

So what there is to do?

Betty's Yorkshire Fat Rascals
Many people told me I have to try Betty's. Betty's is a cafe still run by ancestors of the founders who migrated here from Switzerland. The place is the way a real English Teahouse should look like, but in the taste of the cakes and looking carefully in the menu you can see the Swiss influence. We visited here on a Monday afternoon and the place was packed, I wonder how the place look like on the weekend. They have 2 cafes in York plus a few more in others towns in the North West. The famous cake here is the Yorkshire Fat Rascals. It doesn't look very appetising to a non English eye at the first eye. So I decided to keep it for my return train journey. I was amazed how moist and lovely that cake is.

Chocolate business

There are 2 chocolatiers, 1 cafe that sells huge choice of English chocolate bars (besides Betty's that stock their own brand), 1 chocolate experience (new style museum) and several confectionary stores spread all around the city.

York Cocoa House
York Cocoa House
  1. York Cocoa House was open by Sophie a couple of years ago. They have a good size seating area and they service drinks and food. Sophie mentioned to me that they a monthly chocolate supper club so check with them if you fancy to taste food infused with chocolate.
  2. Hairy fig is a little cafe (there's also a deli next door with the same name) that is a good place for lunch. The cafe is at the back of the shop and at the front they sell chocolate and coffee.
  3. Licc suppose to be the best ice cream in York. Not that there are many ice creams hops around. I didn't have the chance to try their ice cream.
  4. Monk Bar Chocolatiers proud to sell only their own produce. They got 2 shops I visited the little shop in the Shambles (one of the main attractions of York).
  5. York's Chocolate Story is a guided tour through the history of York's chocolate and by interactive means and big screens show how chocolate is made. It's advised to book the tickets in advance as it's a guided tour you'll have to join a specific time slot and could be busy especially on school holidays.

A list of chocolate related shops in York

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If you travel all the way here. There are few others things not related to chocolate you could do. Including walking the wall and visiting the interesting National Railway Museum. Also several people offer ghost tours and those tours seem very popular. We had over 50 people on our tour. The tours start between 7:30pm to 8:30pm. If you plan to visit many attractions you might want to buy the York Pass. York Tourist Information website consist a lot of vital information about the city.

18 Oct 2013

A crowdfunded chocolate experience

Calling all chocoholics! The Tower Hotel’s Brasserie Restaurant recently crowdsourced a chocolate dessert menu suggestion for a competition aimed at chocolate lovers across the UK.
Now the winner, author of the Lucie Loves blog gets the chance to see her creation come to life. 

We were intrigued by a recent competition organised by The Tower Hotel’s Brasserie Restaurant. Instead of their chef picking the next dish on their dessert menu like normal, they asked the chocolate-loving public to tell them what chocolate dessert they'd love to be able to order instead. 

The winner (Lucie, who writes the Lucie Loves blog) got to see the dish she dreamed up (a scrummy chocolate and chilli fondant with clotted cream ice cream and salted caramel sauce) featured on the restaurant’s menu. 

She was also given the chance to pop into the hotel to see senior sous chef Patrick Graf show her how he translated her idea into a restaurant dish. When we were invited (along with Jennifer Earle from Chocolate Ecstasy Tours) to join Lucie, we couldn’t turn down the chance to see the inside of a professional kitchen and sample the winning chocolate dessert. 

We were all given chef whites and got stuck into helping Patrick prepare the dish. He talked us through all the techniques needed to pull it off, including making the hard-to-master salted caramel sauce. 

All our hard work in the kitchen was rewarded when we got to taste the finished dish ourselves, which was delicious. 

If you want to try Lucie and Patrick’s chocolate dessert for yourself, you can do so at The Brasserie at The Tower Hotel throughout October. Enjoy!