I was never big on chocolate as a kid, but getting older, there are days when I crave a good piece of dark or salted caramel or mint… yes, I LOVE chocolate all year round! It helps me get through a long day (thanks to the caffeine in it), helps me get through a tough day (adding a touch of sweetness), is a perfect way to celebrate (who does not love a chocolate birthday cake?) and is a great “pick me up” (full of good things for us!).
I know that Valentine’s Day and chocolate may be a bit of a cliché this time a year, but, in reality, it’s the time of year that chocolate is given a spotlight. Suddenly, everywhere we look, there is chocolate for sale in all shapes, forms and flavours.
As the third most-valued commodity in the world, quality cocoa is something worth enjoying. After all, its Latin translation is “food of the gods.”
Derived from the cacao tree and grown in pods, what we enjoy as cocoa comes from a process of drying and fermenting the beans inside these pods. The pods are usually the size of a rugby ball and come in various colours, from red, green, orange to purple. The ideal growing area for cacao trees is in the rainforest, where it is humid, full of shade and rich soil.
In other words, we will not find these trees in our neck of the woods!
Like coffee, fair trade is a big part of this industry, as is organic. Farmers work hard to maintain the quality of their product, demanding a fair price so they can focus on a stable economic future. It’s something you may not think about as you bite into your favourite bar, but it is important to support suppliers that look after the farmers.
There is a ton of information on the Internet, much of which may make you change the bars you buy in the future once you know where they come from and how they are made.
Everyone’s palate is different, so I suggest you buy different percentages of chocolate bars to see what type of chocolate you love. My preference changes with my mood, but when it comes to cooking, I work with mainly dark chocolate and unsweetened cocoa for best flavours in my baking. There are thousands of recipes out there for chocolate, but this one is my favourite, all-time chocolate go-to recipe!
Chocolate and Salted Caramel Tart
For the pastry:
350 g plain flour
75 g icing sugar
125 unsalted butter, cold
For the caramel:
45 g glucose syrup (I use golden syrup)
275 g sugar
150 ml double cream
1 level teaspoon rock salt
25 g unsalted butter, diced
For the ganache:
400 ml double cream
45 ml honey
350 g dark chocolate (minimum 60 per cent cocoa solids), chopped
175 g unsalted butter, diced
Start off by making the pastry. In a food processor bowl, mix sifted flour and icing sugar, rubbing in the butter until the mixture resembled fine breadcrumbs. Add the eggs last and knead until a dough forms.
Roll out the pastry and line your tin. If there is any hanging off the sides, leave it for now as the sweet pastry shrinks quite a lot once baked. Pop it into the fridge to chill for about 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 F.
Blind bake the pastry by covering it with greaseproof paper and putting baking beans over it. Bake for 15 minutes. Then take off the beans and paper, and cook uncovered for another 10 minutes or so, until it is golden yellow. Remove and leave to cool whilst you make the filling.
To make the syrup, pour the golden syrup into a deep saucepan and turn up the heat until it starts to boil. Slowly pour in the sugar and stir with a wooden spoon until it starts to caramelize and the colour resembles Werther’s originals (a.k.a. golden brown).
In another saucepan, put the cream and salt in and bring to the boil. Remove the caramel from the heat and add in the cream mixture. WARNING: the mixture WILL rise rapidly, and hot caramel BURNS! I had to learn this the hard way.
Use a hand blender to mix over a low heat until smooth. Take off the heat and stir in the butter with aforementioned wooden spoon before adding to the cooled pastry case.
To make the ganache, put the cream and honey in another saucepan and bring to the boil. Pour over the chopped chocolate (make sure you have a bowl big enough; I always underestimate just how much volume 400 ml actually is). Once ever so slightly (and really, ever so slightly) cooled, add the butter.
Don’t forget to let the caramel cool a bit before adding the ganache, otherwise the ganache will force the caramel to the sides and there will be an uneven distribution.
Leave to set for 4-6 hours and serve with cream or whipped cream.
So this Valentine’s Day, take the time to figure out what chocolate you really love and share it with those you love!
Recipe from Green & Black’s Chocolate Recipes Cookbook ISBN 18562687008
Lara McCormack is one of the owners of From Scratch – A Mountain Kitchen in Fairmont Hot Springs where one can savor great seasonal food, sip from a selection of beverages including BC wines and enjoy the views of our gorgeous valley landscape.