Category Archives: Taste

Flavours of Shropshire

This evening while working on a few bits for the shop I started to think about local food. This weekend I will be attending the Welsh Food Festival, which is a fantastic festival highlighting great producers from Wales and many from Shropshire and the surrounding borders. Next weekend the Ludlow Food Festival will also take place, so this is partly why I’ve got the subject of local food in my mind.

I’m really passionate about locally produced and sourced food; having worked within Food retail for nearly 10 years, and producing my own chocolates for the last 2 years it’s something in my blood which I automatically look out for. I love finding out the history behind locally produced food, and do personally believe you can tell the difference when sampling food and drink which has been carefully produced within the area you live. Firstly the quality is usually better as it’s been grown or made in small batches; secondly each area has its own individual flavours. I know the UK is pretty small compared to other countries, so some produce and recipes do spread across
the nation, but all regions have their own way of making and serving.

I decided to ask my followers on twitter what flavour they thought best represented Shropshire, and I had several fantastic responses. I have decided to produce a poll, so I can tweet about this further and hopefully get some votes and comments. I would really appreciate any comments especially as I found tonight that several items featured highly on peoples tweets; these included Honey, Beer and Shropshire Blue.

Interestingly and pointed out by @ShrpshirePrune, Shropshire Blue doesn’t actually originate from Shropshire. After doing a little bit of research I found out that Shropshire Blue originates from Castle Stuart Dairies in Inverness, please click here to find out more. It’s now made in Nottinghamshire, and produced by Ludlow Food Centre. After a little more research and help on Twitter I have found out that Shropshire Cheese Company also make Shropshire Blue and have won several awards from the Heart of Fine Foods. @ShrpshirePrune also noticed no one mentioned Fidget Pie; the pie has been around for over 400 years and really is one of the unique recipes to come out of Shropshire. I can only presume Fidget Pie wasn’t mentioned because it’s not that popular. It’s definitely not as widely available as it probably should be.

I personally associate fruity flavours with Shropshire, but since asking the question on twitter I have started to think about all the other flavours, including the varieties of game we have on offer.

So if you have any comments of what flavour you think best represents Shropshire please let me know and if your suggestion isn’t already on the poll please add to it. I will be revisiting this topic regularly 🙂

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My Royal Wedding Profiteroles

After watching the latest series of MasterChef I decided I wanted to have a go at making a Croquembouch. I decided as I didn’t have a
croquembouch cone that I would make profiteroles instead; basically the same recipe but filled with fresh cream and coated in chocolate.

As the Royal Wedding was about to happen I set the challenge of making the profiteroles for the small gathering I was going to hold. I found
a recipe by John Burton Race (see below) and set to work making my first ever batch of profiteroles.

Choux pastry has previously been a mystery to me, I can be a little hit and miss with my baking skills, so I was a little worried how the
end result would be. I’ve managed to crack my cupcake making, and I use quite a simple recipe but effective recipe. John Burton Race’s recipe has few ingredients, so I felt it would fit my skill level, I also didn’t want to waste lots of ingredients if said recipe failed.

As you will be able to see from the pictures below the recipe turned out perfectly and I would highly recommend the recipe for first
time Choux pastry attempts. I also managed to make a very small but cute Croquembouch (it really is small, but at least I know with the right equipment I could probably do it!).  

I filled my profiteroles with fresh cream whisked together with icing sugar and flavoured with Violet. Violet oil is one of my favourite
ingredients; I love the floral tones it brings to sweet recipes. As it’s not everyone’s cup of tea I kept the Violet flavour quite subtle. Luckily my
friends who aren’t massive fans of floral flavours liked the subtle flavour…phew! I piped the cream into each profiterole and layered them up into
a pyramid. Once I had quite a large yummy mound I made a dark chocolate ganache with cream and a 53.5% dark chocolate. I didn’t measure the cream, I’m terrible for doing things by eye, so sorry I can’t give exact measurements. I made the ganache quite thick so the chocolate wouldn’t run all over the profiteroles, if you wanted quite a runny consistency either add more cream or just pour melted chocolate over the profiteroles. If you decide just to use chocolate make sure it’s not too hot as the cream inside the profiteroles might melt.

To carry on my floral theme I added Crystallised Rose and Violet Petals for a touch of colour.

Ingredients

  • 260ml/9¼fl oz milk
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 100g/3½oz butter, diced
  • 120g/4¼oz plain flour
  • 4 free-range eggs

Preparation method

  1. Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7.
  2. For the choux buns, combine the milk,
    sugar, salt and diced butter in a heavy-based saucepan. Heat gently and stir
    until the butter has melted.
  3. Quickly sieve the flour into the
    saucepan and whisk together with the liquid ingredients.
  4. Keeping the heat low, beat the
    ingredients together vigorously for about five minutes.
  5. The paste is ready when it clumps
    together in a smooth ball and comes away cleanly from the sides of the pan.
    Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
  6. In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs
    together thoroughly until there are no strings of egg white. Slowly, in two or
    more batches, beat the eggs into the paste.
  7. Fit a piping bag with a nozzle and
    spoon the choux pastry mixture into the bag.
  8. Pipe balls the size of a 50p coin onto
    baking sheets lined with silicone paper, or greased baking trays.
  9. Bake in batches in the oven for 20-25
    minutes, or until golden brown and crisp (if the buns are just yellow, they
    will deflate upon cooling). When they are done, the inside should be hollow.
    Tip them on to a wire rack to cool.

For the filling I whisked double cream with icing sugar (sorry for the lack of measurements) and added a few drops of Violet Oil to taste.


Recipe Wednesday- Chocolate Torte

Today I decided to tweet a recipe while making a Chocolate Torte, I got quite a lot of good feedback, so time permitting I will try and do a recipe every so often. So here goes 🙂

 Ingredients:

  •  200 grams of dark chocolate- 50% min cocoa content
  • 200 grams of butter
  • 220 grams of sugar
  • 4 free range eggs separated

Firstly preheat your oven to 180 degrees and line a 23cm cake tin with greaseproof paper. If you use a fan assisted oven I would recommend you heat your oven to 160 degrees.

In a bowl over a pan of hot water melt the chocolate and butter, then leave to cool

In another bowl beat the egg yolks and half the sugar (110grams) together

Fold the cooled chocolate and butter mixture into the egg yolks

Whisk the egg whites until they are frothy and then slowly add the sugar, whisking until you have glossy stiff peaks

Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture and then pour into the cake tin.

Cook for approximately 40mins. Use a skewer to test if the torte is ready, prick the middle of the torte, if the skewer comes out clean the torte is ready.

Dust with cocoa or icing sugar and serve with a fruit couli, cream or a salted caramel sauce


Cocoa Facts

It’s nearly Easter so here are some delicious facts about Cocoa  🙂

Carl von Linne (Swedish Botanist) gave the Cocoa tree the name Theobroma Cacao, this transalates as “drink of the gods”. The Greek word theos (gods) and broma (drink) make up the name and reflect the Mayan belief that the cocoa tree belonged to the gods.

Cocoa tree grows in tropical rainforest in the shade of bigger trees and thrive in warm humid climates. The trees can grow up to 15 metres in height, but are usually kept shorter so the pods can be accessed easily. The pods change colour during the ripening process, they are oval shaped, pointed at both ends and about 20cm long. They contain between 20-40 beans.

Check out the other interesting facts below (taken from www.worldcocoafoundation.org) :

  • Number of cocoa farmers, worldwide: 5-6 million
  • Number of people who depend upon cocoa for their livelihood, worldwide: 40-50 million
  • Annual cocoa production, worldwide: 3 million tons
  • Annual increase in demand for cocoa: 3 percent per year, for the past 100 years
  • Current global market value of annual cocoa crop: $5.1 billion
  • Cocoa growing regions: Africa, Asia, Central America, South America (all within 20 degrees of the equator)
  • Percentage of cocoa that comes from West Africa: 70 percent
  • Length of time required for a cocoa tree to produce its first beans (pods): five years
  • Duration of “peak growing period” for the average cocoa tree: 10 years

How to taste Chocolate

You may have heard chefs or read reviews which use the following terms snap, aroma, mouth feel.

Unless you’ve taken the time to really research chocolate and how it should be tasted all these terms can be quite mind boggling, so here’s my tips on how to taste chocolate.

 When tasting chocolate I find it’s best to choose plain bars rather than truffles, bonbons or bars which have been flavoured with anything. You don’t want anything to get in the way of the actual flavour of the chocolate. Chocolate like wine and coffee has its own distinct flavour, especially when trying Single Origin or Bean to bar chocolate.

Here’s our step by step guide to tasting chocolate:

Before you start make sure all your bars are at room temperature as chocolate which is very cold or even refrigerated will hide certain flavours. Also don’t be afraid to take a large piece of chocolate to try, you’re not going to be able to pick up all the different notes within the chocolate flavour with a tiny piece of chocolate.  Eat a piece of apple before you move on to the next sample of chocolate to clear your palette.

 Appearance:

We taste with our eyes as much as our mouths. The chocolate should have a good texture, not too soft or brittle, a shiny gloss with no bloom. Blooming is an indication of poor quality storage conditions (temperature) causing the sugar or fat to separate or poor quality tempering.

The colour of the chocolate is not an indication of quality of Cacao content. The environment the Cacao beans have been grown in as well as how they have been roasted will also have an effect on the overall colour. Cacao content doesn’t always symbolise good quality you may find a bar of high percentage cacao will have been produced with a poor quality cacao.

 Snap:

The “snap” should be a clear crisp sound which is produced when breaking a piece of chocolate. The crack or snap can be felt and heard when biting into the chocolate. A clean snapping sound demonstrates how well tempered the chocolate is, also the higher the cacao content the harder the chocolate will be to break and the louder the snap. Milk and White chocolate has lower cacao content so the snapping sound will be less pronounced and softer compared to dark chocolate.

Aroma:

As I have said previously chocolate takes on different flavours because of its environment, so just like Wine and Coffee chocolate from one country or plantation will have a totally different flavour and smell to another countries chocolate.

Single Origin Chocolate will have a more developed aroma compared to standard chocolate which has been made using various beans.

An experienced taster over time will also be able to learn the different aromas produced from different roasting techniques.

Here are some general descriptions to look out for when smelling the chocolate:

  • Fruity/ Citrus
  • Grassy/Green/Herbal
  • Floral
  • Nutty
  • Spicy
  • Woody
  • Caramel
  • Chemical
  • Sweet/Sugary

 

There are lots of different ways of describing aromas which is part of the fun of tasting!

Mouthful:

This is literally how the chocolate feels in your mouth, the texture and any other sensations you might feel. A high quality chocolate will melt in your mouth without you having to chew.

Texture- is it smooth, grainy, gritty, velvety, creamy, waxy or greasy?

N.B.  A waxy texture is usually a tell- tell sign that vegetable fat has been used instead of Cocoa Butter.

Taste- the best bit:

Hopefully if you’ve followed the above instructions when you actually get to taste the chocolate you will appreciate how much more you notice about the overall flavour.

Firstly beware that what you smell doesn’t always mean you will taste the same flavour, and what you taste may not feature in the aroma.

A good quality chocolate will have a series of flavours so take time to let the chocolate melt and taste the different stages of flavour. The after taste will certainly be different to the initial taste, also like wine tasting the after taste maybe short or long and linger.

As with all tastings the more varieties you try the better as over time you will pick up differences and recognise aromas, tastes and appearances more easily…..so the more homework the better! Make sure you have a clean palette before you try new chocolates. Everyone’s palettes are different, so tasting in groups will make the experience more enjoyable and interesting.

Start with the lowest Cacao content and slowly work your way up to the higher percentages. Starting with the lowest will allow you to pick up the difference in tastes/percentages of cacao in the each sample of chocolate.

Like all expert tastings you won’t suddenly pick everything up, but with practice and experience you will. The most important thing is to have fun.

 In the coming months we will be launching a special range of Single Origin bars perfect for tasting.


Chocolate

Chocolate is a hugely important part of my life, obviously because of what I do, but it’s also attached to a lot of memories. I was brought up to appreciate food; its origins, flavour and that quantity doesn’t always mean quality.

One of my earliest Easter memories is sitting on my parents bed unwrapping a cello wrapped chocolate hen, the hen was pretty huge and there was no way I was going to manage to eat the whole thing in one go (although I’m sure I would have loved to have tried). I loved how all the features of the hen appeared in the chocolate J

Chocolate really awakes all the senses, aesthetically it’s enticing, and the smell is sweet, rich and immediately awakens the taste buds before you’ve even tasted it. Chocolate like a fine wine or coffee can have many layers in its flavour. Sometimes very fruity, sometimes with nutty tones or a creamy sweet flavour.

Like most foods I find people will have completely different outlooks and it can be really had to say what is right from wrong. Chocolate once a treat has become a huge commodity with people just picking up a bar and not caring where the cocoa is sourced, how the chocolate is made and what it contains. Your bog standard bar is a mixture of vegetable fat, vanilla, sugars and quite frankly only a little bit of chocolate. All my customers complain that they never feel satisfied when they eat a standard bar of chocolate they just crave more, however when they eat a chocolate with a high cocoa content and not jam packed with fats and vanilla they instantly feel satisfied, they love the complexity of the flavour and how they don’t crave chocolate. They simple don’t crave the chocolate in the same way because of the higher quantity of cocoa in the chocolates.

A fresh handmade chocolate has a depth of flavour and a far superior texture compared to a mass produced chocolate.


The best Easter Egg?

Today the Daily Mail has published an article naming the Top 10 Easter Eggs as voted for my Good House Keepings experts and testers, this is an annual review. Tesco’s “Taste the Difference” Egg has come out on top with the likes of Rococo and Betty’s only reaching 5 and 10 respectively.

Obviously the article doesn’t give all the facts, but I would like to know how the eggs were assessed. The Easter egg from Tesco’s rated highly because of the Sweets Creamy Chocolate, Elegant Packaging and the Value Compared to the luxury brands; the egg also features in the stores special 2 for £10 promotion. Caroline Bloor (Good House Keeping’s Consumer Editor) said “The choice of Easter Eggs on the shelves seems to get bigger every year, and you can spend a fortune on them too. But paying more doesn’t necessarily guarantee good value or chocolate that everyone will love”.

I agree that sometimes you can purchase a chocolate which turns out not to be of your liking and maybe overpriced. The commercialisation of Easter as well as Christmas has really grown into quite a monster over the last decade. However the comparison of an egg from Tesco’s which will have been mass produced and a handmade egg, made with the finest quality chocolates is always going to open up to a lot of criticism.

I’m an advocate of quality of quantity, so previously when buying Easter Eggs, before I made them I would treat myself to a luxury brand made with a good quality chocolate and containing what I would deem as luxury chocolates. I could buy a Mars bar whenever I wanted, so why would I want to buy a Mars Egg? Especially as the actually Easter egg chocolate would be very sweets, fatty and rather unsatisfying. That’s why when I first started making Easter Eggs I made sure the chocolate I used was good quality, and my customers picked up on this commenting on how delicious the chocolate was and how it didn’t have that horrible “Easter egg flavour”.

I know not everyone will maybe appreciate the flavour of a luxury chocolates Easter egg or an Egg made from Single Origin chocolate, I know maybe people who just want the chocolate fix rather than sitting down and contemplating the complexity of the chocolates, but I’d like to think that people would be able to appreciate the craftsmanship that has gone into a handmade Easter egg. As well as the craftsmanship I’d like people to understand the costs. The reason an Easter egg maybe priced a lot higher than other eggs is because of the quality of the chocolate and the fact that they aren’t mass produced. The chocolatier may not have the buying power like the giant that is Tesco, and in many cases the chocolate will have been purchased on ethical grounds as well as flavour.  Tesco may have sourced a high quality chocolate for the egg, but other chocolatiers really aren’t on even ground with Tesco.

I have also seen tweets this week from fellow chocolatiers and reviews saying how Easter Eggs can be purchased in supermarkets for less than the price of a Red Nose. Considering a Red Nose is meant to make a difference to people in the UK and places in Africa I think it’s quite ridiculous that an egg which will have been made from Chocolate grown in countries such as Africa can be sold for less than a disposable Red Nose. It really tells you how much the Cocoa Farmers are getting.

We’re currently living in one of the worst recessions we’ve ever had and I know every penny counts, so that’s why I think it’s really time to take a step back and look at where our money goes. Is it going to the producers of cocoa or the large companies pumping out cheap chocolate dressed up in expensive packaging and branded as fine, luxury chocolate?


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