Chocolate romance

Bart Beek | VOLUME 28, ISSUE 4

A sensual celebration of chocolate to truly tantalise the senses …

During my 41-year professional cooking career, I’ve always looked for opportunities to fine-tune my chocolate-making skills. It’s a small part of the professional kitchen that I love and it requires classical techniques, precision and dedicated confectionary skills. To produce a perfectly tempered hand-dipped chocolate is very rewarding, but one needs to know some basics of chocolate production.

Chocolate is produced by fermenting the seeds of cocoa beans (of which there are many types), then drying and roasting them. The dried beans are cracked open and the kernels, or ‘nibs’, are gathered before being heated and ground. This process releases the cocoa liquor, which produces the base for all chocolate: cocoa butter and cocoa powder. From there the cocoa butter and liquor are combined with sugars, milk products and flavourings that are then processed to produce chocolate. It’s quite a complex process, but it results in such an amazing product.

The two main types of chocolate are couverture and compound. Couverture is the premium quality chocolate that contains high amounts of cocoa butter. It has the best mouth feel, superb flavour and smoothness, but it requires considerable skill to temper it before use. It’s the only type I have in my kitchen and my favourite is dark ‘bittersweet’.

Compound chocolate is inferior to couverture and contains no cocoa butter, but various oils instead. However, it’s easier to use because it requires no tempering before use. Like couverture, it’s available in white, milk, dark and various other colours and flavours.

White couverture chocolate does not contain any chocolate liquor or cocoa solids and the best ones are ivory or pale yellow in colour. Milk couverture is a high-quality chocolate containing a high amount of cocoa butter, is semi-sweet and has added milk products. Dark couverture reigns supreme because of its richness, cocoa butter content and superior flavour.

Tempering chocolate is the technique of preparing melted couverture chocolate so it will set with a glossy, hard coat. Untempered chocolate will set with its various cocoa butter crystals rising to the surface, causing streaks and ‘bloom’. It won’t set hard and it won’t have any gloss.

In the recipes I have produced for this issue, there is no need to temper any of the chocolate as it’s being cooked through. Just remember, the better the quality of the chocolate, the better the final flavour. And store them correctly: wrap in an air-lock bag and place in a cool, dark, dry cupboard – not the fridge. The ideal storage temperature is 12-16°C. And because chocolate easily absorbs odours, keep it away from pungent foodstuffs.

The six recipes I’ve created are simple, yet will look and taste majestic at any dinner party. The chocolate crêpe moneybag will create a bit of theatre at dessert time and you can play around with your own presentation style. And the brûlée banana that goes with the crêpe is a winner on its own.

There’s a moist caramelised pear and chocolate cake that can be served with coffee, slipped into the kids’ lunch box, or enjoyed as a dessert after dinner. And the kids will be screaming for more when you make the orange-scented churros with hot chocolate sauce. Follow my simple recipe and you’ll be serving the crunchiest ‘Spanish doughnuts’ you’ve ever made.

Two chocolate recipes that look the same, but are miles apart are panna cotta and crème brûlée. The panna cotta is served cold and has a serious coffee glaze and a shard of the world’s thinnest ginger biscuit. The brûlée is served warm with its delicate top coating of burnt sugar just waiting to be cracked.

I’ve left the best to last: an amazing warm dark chocolate fondant with muscat-poached fruits and mandarin cream. There are many versions of fondant, but I have fine-tuned this one and it’s my favourite. As the first spoon breaks it open, a seductive flow of warm dark chocolate oozes out, followed by absolute silence from your diners because they will be in another world.

Follow the recipe, time it well, and you’ll be showered with compliments.

These Spanish-style doughnuts are an enduring favourite in Spain and are consumed at any time of the day. They are mostly served with a small cup of hot chocolate sauce to dip them in. The perfect churros should be super crisp on the outside and soft like fresh bread in the centre. Mine have a wonderful orange flavour, which goes so well with the hot chocolate sauce.

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 5 minutes

Serves: 6

1 cup water

2 tbsp caster sugar

½ tsp salt

2 tbsp vegetable oil

½ orange, zest only

1 cup plain flour

4lt vegetable oil (for deep frying)

½ cup caster sugar

1 tsp ground cinnamon

Hot chocolate sauce

250g dark couverture chocolate, chopped

200ml full cream milk

200ml thickened cream

50ml Cointreau

To make the churros, combine together in a saucepan the water, caster sugar, salt, vegetable oil and orange zest. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and add in all the flour.

Stir well until the paste leaves the bottom of the saucepan and forms a ball on the spoon. Place into a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle and set aside until required.

To make the hot chocolate sauce, place the chopped chocolate into a heat-proof bowl. Place the milk, cream and Cointreau into a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn down and simmer for several minutes, then pour over the chopped chocolate. Stir until smooth and keep warm.

Heat the vegetable oil in a deep fryer until it reaches 180°C. Pipe the churros mix carefully into the hot oil, using scissors to cut the mix into 10cm lengths. Fry until golden and crisp, then remove from the oil and place onto a plate lined with absorbent kitchen paper.

Lightly dust with the mixed sugar and cinnamon and present with a bowl of the hot chocolate.

The combination of chocolate and fresh pear flavours is always beautiful and the pears will add a high level of moisture to the finished cake. It’s an upside-down cake, so lay out the pears neatly so you end up with a professional-looking result.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 45 minutes

Serves: 12 portions

60g unsalted butter

½ cup brown sugar

20ml water

3 small corella pears, washed, halved and core removed

1 cup pecans, roughly chopped

Lightly rub a 23cm round baking tin with a little butter and line with baking paper.

Place a frypan onto the heat and melt together the 60g of butter, brown sugar and the water. Add in the pears (cut side down) and cook for several minutes.

Place the pears (cut side down, tops facing in) into the prepared baking pan and pour the pan juices over the pear halves. Scatter the pecans between the pears and set aside.

Cake mix

160g unsalted butter, slightly softened

160g brown sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

160g self-raising flour

⅓ cup Dutch cocoa powder

1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ cup hazelnut meal

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C. To make the cake batter, place 160g of butter and brown sugar into a bowl and mix until light and well combined. Add in the eggs, one at a time, beating well.

Sift together the flour, cocoa and cinnamon, add to the cake mix along with the hazelnut meal and stir through. Scoop the mix over the pears and smooth out the top. Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes or until fully cooked.

Allow to cool in the baking tin, then gently invert onto a serving plate.

Crêpes

2 cups full cream milk

1 tblsp caster sugar

1 tblsp Dutch cocoa, sifted

180g plain flour

2 tblsp unsalted butter, melted

2 eggs

1 pinch of salt

Place the milk into a mixing bowl. Add in the sugar, cocoa and plain flour and beat together well. Then add the melted butter, eggs and the salt. Combine well, strain and pour into a squeeze bottle.

Accompaniments

4 scoops chocolate ice cream

4 bananas, peeled

4 tblsp organic caster sugar

1 vanilla bean, cut into long and thin strips

2 tblsp flaked almonds, toasted

4 strawberries, washed and halved

Chocolate sauce

200g dark chocolate, chopped

60g unsalted butter

120ml heavy cream

To make the chocolate sauce, place the chopped chocolate and butter in a bowl, gently bring the cream to a boil and pour over the chocolate and butter. Stir until smooth.

Heat a non-stick pan and using a wad of kitchen paper, wipe the inside with a little melted butter. Squeeze or ladle some of the crêpe batter into the pan and tilt to coat the pan thinly and evenly with the batter.

Allow to cook for 30 seconds then carefully turn it over and cook for a further 30 seconds. Remove to a plate. Continue until you have made enough crêpes.

Slice the bananas lengthways, place onto a metal oven tray and sprinkle with the caster sugar. Using a blow torch, caramelise the sugar until golden brown.

Brush a smear of the chocolate sauce onto a serving plate and place two portions of the caramelised bananas into the centre.

Place a scoop of chocolate ice cream into the centre of a crêpe. Gather up the sides to form a moneybag shape, then tie to secure with a strip of vanilla bean. Place the crêpe onto the banana slices and finish with some toasted almonds and strawberries.

Chocolate crêpe moneybag with glazed banana and chocolate sauce

The chocolate crêpes will keep for a week in the refrigerator or three months in the freezer. I love the shape of the crêpe moneybags and the theatre they bring to the table, although you could simply roll or fold the crêpes and serve the ice cream over the top if you prefer. The bananas look amazing and taste spectacular with the caramelised sugar over the top. This recipe will make 20 crêpes.

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Serves: 4

Place the cream, sugar, grated ginger and split vanilla bean and seeds into a heavy saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer gently for four minutes then turn off the heat and strain into a clean pan.

Add the chocolate and stir through until smooth and fully melted. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water until soft, squeeze out the excess water and add to the chocolate cream mix. Stir through until dissolved and well combined.

Cool the cream mix by placing the bowl into a sink of ice water and stir gently. When cooled down and just starting to thicken, pour into moulds and refrigerate until set.

Ginger glass biscuits

100g unsalted butter

90g glucose

90g plain flour

180g caster sugar

15g candied ginger, very finely chopped

Melt the butter and glucose in a double saucepan. Remove from the stove and mix in the flour, sugar and ginger with a wooden spoon. Refrigerate until firm.

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

Roll the mixture into walnut-size balls. Press between two sheets of baking paper and flatten with a rolling pin, keeping the shape round.

Carefully peel off the top sheet, place the bottom sheet with the biscuits on a baking tray and bake in the preheated oven for five to six minutes until golden. Remove from the oven, place a new sheet of baking paper on top and press gently using a rolling pin.

Let the ginger glass cool, snap into desired shapes and store in an airtight container.

Coffee syrup

150ml espresso

80g caster sugar

Combine the coffee and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil until the sugar dissolves, then set aside to cool.

To serve, place the panna cotta moulds into a warm water bath for 30 seconds. Carefully turn out onto a flat plate and present with the coffee syrup and a piece of ginger glass biscuit.

Chocolate and ginger panna cotta with coffee syrup and ginger glass

Panna cotta, which in Italian means ‘cooked cream’, is often described as the ultimate cold pudding. It should be softly set with a rich creamy texture and have a melt-in-the-mouth character. The coffee syrup lifts it to a whole new level and the ginger glass biscuit (the world’s thinnest biscuit) adds a nice contrasting crunch.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 4 minutes

Serves: 8

Panna cotta

900ml cream

100g caster sugar

1 walnut-size piece of fresh ginger, grated

1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped out

200g dark couverture chocolate, grated or chopped into small pieces

4 x 2g gelatine sheets

Chocolate and orange crème brûlée

Crème brûlée (also known as ‘burnt cream’) is very popular in our home and I often make tiny ones that I serve at cocktail parties. Remove from the refrigerator an hour before serving, sprinkle with a thin layer of sugar and finish with a blow torch.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 30 minutes

Serves: 10 (in small ramekin dishes)

675ml cream

75ml full cream milk

1 orange, zest only

1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped out

150g bittersweet dark couverture chocolate

9 egg yolks

100g caster sugar

10 tblsp caster sugar, extra

Pre-heat the oven to 140°C. Combine together in a saucepan the cream, milk, orange zest and split vanilla bean and seeds.

Turn on the heat and bring to just below boiling point. Take away from the heat then allow to sit and infuse for five minutes.

Place the chopped chocolate into a bowl, pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate, then stir until well combined.

Using a spoon, combine together in a bowl the egg yolks and 100g of caster sugar. Pour in the chocolate cream mixture, combine well and strain.

Place the ramekins into a deep baking tray lined with a clean tea towel. Carefully fill each ramekin two-thirds full, and then place the baking tray onto the oven rack. Half fill the tray with boiling water and cook for 30 minutes. When cooked, the sides should pull away when tilted and the centres should still be wobbly.

Remove from the water bath and allow the custards to cool at room temperature for one hour, then cover and transfer to the fridge.

When ready to serve, sprinkle one tablespoon of caster sugar evenly over the top. Using a blowtorch, caramelise the sugar by starting on the edge and keep moving slowly around, finishing in the middle.

This hot chocolate dessert is simply irresistible. When it’s made perfectly it should come out with no collapsed sides and have a delicious runny centre. It’s one of those desserts that can be made ahead of time (several days, in fact) and cooked at the last moment. The cooking time depends on the portion size of your moulds.

Preparation time: 15 minutes

Cooking time: 90 minutes

Serves: 10

Fondant

200g unsalted butter

200g dark coverture chocolate

3 eggs

3 egg yolks

½ cup caster sugar

½ cup plain flour

Set the oven on fan forced at 190°C. Place the butter and chocolate into a double boiler and gently melt together.

Whisk together the eggs, egg yolks and caster sugar until thickened and light.

Fold in the chocolate mixture. Sieve the flour over the top and combine in gently, keeping the mixture nicely aerated.

Brush non-stick moulds with melted butter and place in the refrigerator to set. Remove and butter them once more, then lightly dust with cocoa powder.

Divide the mixture into the buttered moulds, filling them no more than two-thirds full. Bake for 11 minutes then remove from the oven and allow them to rest for one minute. They should pop up at the tops, be cooked on the outside and be luscious and creamy in the middle.

Mandarin cream

200ml thickened cream

½ tsp vanilla extract

2 tblsp caster sugar

1 mandarin, zest only

Beat together the cream, vanilla extract, caster sugar and mandarin zest until thick and slightly firm. Set aside and refrigerate until required.

Spicy Muscat poached fruits

1 tsp black peppercorns

3 whole star anise

6 whole cloves

400ml liqueur muscat

400ml water

500g caster sugar 1 cinnamon quill

1 vanilla bean, split lengthways

100g dried peaches

100g dried pears

75g dried apricots

100g dried apple

100g dried pineapple

100g dried muscatel raisins

50g sun-dried figs

With the use of a mortar and pestle, grind the black peppercorns finely and place into a saucepan.

Dry fry or roast the pepper with the whole star anise and the cloves for several minutes or until fragrant. Add the liqueur muscat, water, sugar, cinnamon and split vanilla bean. Bring to a boil, turn down and simmer for 20 minutes.

Chop all the dried fruits to a uniform 5mm dice. Add to the muscat liquid and bring to a boil. Set to a gentle simmer, cover with a circle of greaseproof paper and a small saucer to keep all the ingredients submerged.

Poach very gently for 90 minutes and then turn off the heat, leaving the contents in the saucepan to cool. Transfer to a clean glass jar and refrigerate.

Place a spoonful of the poached fruits onto a plate and drag to form a circle. Place a fondant into the centre and present with a portion of the mandarin cream.


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