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  1. Vegan Milk Chocolate Recipe - Gluten & Dairy Free

    Dark chocolate is by far my favourite type of chocolate, but sometimes there is a time and place for a nice milk chocolate. That extra sugar and milk makes the chocolate beautifully sweet and melts in your mouth perfectly. I've kept this recipe suitable for vegans, so it only has plant based ingredients. It'also gluten and dairy free, which is perfect if you can't have gluten or dairy products. I know my vegan friends would be surprised, why me (a perfectly happy meat eater) would create a vegan chocolate recipe. The truth is that I've recently found that I have IBS and I'm better off staying clear of dairy. So this recipe is also low FODMAP as long as you don't eat the whole chocolate bar at once.

    The recipe is very simple to make, but you do need some fairly specialist ingredients, that you might not always have in your kitchen cupboard. So, here is your shopping list:

    115g Coconut Oil or Coconut Butter

    150g Icing Sugar or about 75g of Stevia or other plant based liquid sugar (use Maple syrup or Icing sugar for low FODMAP diet)

    85g Cocoa Powder

    60g Powdered Coconut Milk

    tiny pinch of salt (to your taste)


    To make your milk chocolate, start with melting the coconut oil or butter. Coconut oil is easier to buy, so I guess you'll probably be using it most of the time, but if you can get hold of coconut butter it's worth it as it gives you slightly stronger structure and the chocolate will have the perfect snap. This is because coconut butter melts at higher temperature than coconut oil.

    Once your coconut oil is melted, add your coconut powdered milk and gently stir. Don't be even tempted to replace the powdered coconut milk with fresh liquid milk. Chocolate doesn't like water and it would cause the chocolate to split. If you find anything else that's plant based powdered milk, you can swap it for that.

    Once the milk powder melts, add the sugar and carry on stirring. Depending on how healthy you want your chocolate to be, you can swap the icing sugar for stevia, maple syrup or other liquid plant based sugars. Just be careful to lower the amount of the sugar you are adding in. I found that adding about half of the original quantity is about right. This is because liquid sugar has different structure than powdered sugar and your chocolate would become too liquid and you might have problems with setting your chocolate.

    Once everything is melted, add cocoa powder. Like with any other chocolate recipe, the better quality of cocoa powder you get the better quality of chocolate you'll end up with. This especially applies to milk chocolate recipes where the cocoa powder is not as high quantity as dark chocolate recipes.

    Finally add a tiny pinch of salt. This might surprise you, but until now, we have been adding pretty much just sugary and fairly bland ingredients. And sugar is normally fairly bland to taste. To bring all the flavours together a tiny pinch of salt is the perfect way to finish this recipe. If you don't believe me, taste the chocolate before you add any salt and then afterwards. I bet you'll love the final taste!!!

    Once everything is mixed, carry on stirring the chocolate with a spatula (or a even a balloon whisk). This cools down the chocolate, make it slightly thicker and temper the chocolate (somewhat...). Then just pour your chocolate to a chocolate bar mould or even just on a flat tray lined with a parchment and let to set in a fridge for about 20 min. If you fancy it, you can also add freeze dried raspberries or other dried fruit, nuts of seeds to make your chocolate bar extra special.

    After that just enjoy and do let me know how you get on!

    Magdalena

     

  2. Chocolate Making Demonstration & Talk

    - THE CHOCOLATE EDIT -

    Our day at WI Food Festival Day

    I look straight ahead of me. Staring back are the expectant faces of at least seventy WI members of the massed ranks of various West Sussex associations. Why? Because in a few minutes we’ll be giving a Chocolate Truffle demonstration in a village hall in the beautiful and historic village of Buckden, near Eastbourne.

    Only, the previous speaker, Peter Bayless, the winner of Master Chef in 2006, served up the audience with entertaining tales of cooking for the camera. And that was just for starters. His main course consisted of a story about cooking for the captain’s table on the QE2, no less. And then for desert, he finished up with an anecdote about cooking with Heston Blumenthal, for a rich family in the Alps, where the dessert well and truly went up in flames.

    So, follow that! No pressure then! Not only that but free from the time constraints of TV, Peter’s practical demonstration overran by at least 10 minutes and has eaten into the ladies’ lunchtime. Literally, although they have already tasted some of his exquisite cooking during the demo. 

    Only, we’re watching, enthralled from the back of the hall, behind our stand, and slowly realise that no-body’s cleared away his cooking equipment and ingredients from the table and Peter’s gone to the kitchen to wash up.

    Only, there’s now less than 20 minutes until we’re due to start and we need all of that time to get set up ourselves.

    Only, the WI organisers didn’t think to bring a charged up body mike, so several of the members complained that they couldn’t hear Peter properly at the start.

    Only, his table is directly in front of the first row and so people at the back can’t see his cooking properly.

    No matter. Magdalena and I charge up to the tables and experiment with putting them on the raised stage behind. Now, we tower over the audience. It feels like we’re in the Gods and the rows of seats are that much further away.

    We put the tables back and Magda quickly takes charge. ‘I’ll hold the organiser’s mike in my left hand and demonstrate with my right hand,’ she says, assessing the situation. ‘When I need both hands, you hold the mike for me to talk into.’ With Peter’s two hour presentation, he was forced to do a double act with the organiser talking into the mike and giving a running commentary on his cooking.

    We begin to plug in the microwave and set out our equipment, materials and chocolate. Meanwhile, the good ladies of the WI are streaming back into the hall from their own ploughman’s lunch and some are even congregating around our stall.  I race down the hall to ensure we make some sales while Magdalena finishes preparing for the demonstration.

    A few minutes later, I’m reaching for some change, and putting decorative chocolate buttons into a bag, when I hear the organiser clearing her throat into the mike. We’re on! I race back to the front of the hall and dutifully stand by my woman. The organiser says that she’s grateful she doesn’t have to keep holding the mike as her hand is starting to feel numb. Cue a nice little joke about last night’s final episode of The Bodyguard with a spoiler alert for those who haven’t yet watched it yet!

    I’m still politely chuckling when I realise that Magdalena’s already grabbed the mike and started talking. It’s the post lunch graveyard slot where audiences tend to nod off and she’s intent on grabbing and keeping their attention throughout.

    Wisely, Magdalena doesn’t try any anecdotes of her own, but gets straight down to demonstrating the fine art of fine chocolate truffle making. At first, I’m only required to help her open a couple of bottles of flavouring for the ganache. Magdalena holds the bottle out in her right hand, I unscrew it and all the while she keeps talking into the mike in her left hand. I find it impressive and from the appreciative tones out front, so does the audience.

    There are samples of white, milk and dark chocolate to hand out so I’m kept busy working the members or is it the only way round? They seem interested and we take several questions. At this stage, Magdalena’s expertly tempering the liquid chocolate on a marble slab. So she needs both hands to manipulate the cocoa mass.

    There’s no other option than for me to try and answer the questions. Fortunately, they’re mostly about the cocoa plant itself and the various stage of cocoa production – prompted by a box being passed around –with different compartments for cocoa beans, nibs and butter. I reel out a few facts about how many beans are in a pod, how many pods on a tree, how long trees produce pods and which part of the world produces cocoa beans. I hope I sound vaguely convincing and marvel at how effortless Magdalena seems with a pallet knife in one hand and a mike in the other. I’ll just filling in while she’s busy making the filling.

    There’s no time to wonder, though, because Magdalena’s finished tempering and I hold the mike close to her face as she talks into it, all the while mixing and preparing the chocolate.  

    Towards the end, I take the truffles now in their tray to the fridge to set. We finish on time, although I know Magdalena would have liked to have demonstrated a few more techniques. Later, the members come over to our stall to see the finished truffles complete with decorative painted colourful transfers on top. We hand round the tray for them to sample. Everyone leaves contented.

    I leave exhausted and that’s before we have to clear up. Grateful thanks are exchanged and the car is loaded. We say farewell to the other exhibitors – two young chaps with their cheese and charcutier stall, a man selling homemade honey and wish good luck for the future to the guy next to us with his selection of hot chilli relishes and pickles.

    ‘How did it go,? ‘ Magdalena asks as she pulls out. ‘You were hotter than his relish’ I reply. 

    Other chocolate news that caught my eye this week:

    Elsewhere, the chocolate industry events is busy gearing up for the UK’s annual chocolate week, which takes place between 15-21 October.

    The confectionery celebration is now in its 14th year, and kicks off with the Brighton Chocolate Festival, (13-14th October), held at the Hilton Brighton Metropole, which a wide range of producers and artisans within the sector will be offering live demonstrations and industry insight.

    This year’s chocolate week grand finale will be the Canopy Market takeover by Cocoa Runners (18-21 October) – in which over 20 bean-to-bar chocolate makers from around the world will gather at Kings Cross in London, including Friis-Holm from Denmark, Fu Wan from Taiwan, Krak from the Netherlands and Fruition from Woodstock, New York as well as some of the UK’s finest chocolate makers.

    British names such as Duffy’s, Dormouse, Solkiki, Chocolarder, Chocolate Tree, Islands Chocolate and Forever Cacao will all be attending in London to offer a slice of confectionery tastes from across the world. The event will feature a series of tastings and pairings that visitors can take part in.

    Watch out for chocolate celebrations near you or just treat yourself to some delicious chocolate to celebrate the chocolate week. Magdalena is convinced that celebrating chocolate week means eating chocolate pretty much all the time during that week!

    Until next time

    Nick

  3. Cocoa & Heart Chocolate Truffles - Gin and Tonic

    - THE CHOCOLATE EDIT -

    This week at Cocoa & Heart...

    I was looking through Magdalena’s booking calendar recently and noticed that we’ve been invited to give a chocolate truffle making demonstration to a WI in Essex next week.

    We all probably have our own idea of the WI. It’s one of those rare organisations known universally by its abbreviation. Like the BBC. WI - does anyone ever call it the Women’s Institute? Most people’s image of the WI is of well-meaning middle class do-gooders, upholding public morals and flying the flag for royal occasions.

    Hang on, isn’t that the BBC? Anyway, chances are we still associate the WI with activities such as baking cakes, holding coffee mornings and organising flower arranging. For every picture of Jam and Jerusalem there’s also a Calendar Girls moment to conjure with. Remember Helen Mirren and the girls, throwing off more than their inhibitions and daring to bare all to raise money in the fight against cancer?

    Men’s image of the WI is probably even more skewed since we don’t go to their meetings. We’ve been luckily enough to have given several chocolate making demonstrations to WIs across London, Kent, Sussex and Essex.

    So, if the good ladies of the WI have learnt more about the art of making ganache and how to transfer colours and patterns onto their truffles, what did I learn?

    Well, that the WI’s are a lot more representative of 50% of the population than I had imagined. And in many cases, a lot younger than I had anticipated, as well. It goes without saying that members of the WI are more active than most of us. Certainly, if they attend only half of the events booked every month. All tastes seem to be catered for whether culinary or otherwise.

    On one occasion, the members started respectfully seated at their tables. Half way through the demonstration, we invited someone to come up to help with dipping and by the end, all of the group had left their seats and were gathered around our table in curiosity as Magdalena took them through chocolate making techniques in detail. With more than a little help from the eager onlookers.

    It was a good example of how even a demonstration can be active and hands on. Ask for a volunteer and WI members will never let you down!

    Of course, handing round samples of good quality milk and dark single origin chocolate from around the world is another sure proof way of making sure the members are fully engaged and kept occupied. It’s also a great talking point. Taking and making notes of the intense and richly vibrant flavours and aromas of chocolate from a single plantation in parts of the globe as diverse as Latin and Central America, West Africa and South Asia can be an all-consuming business.

    Taste testing is always fun. Which flavours and notes stand out most for members? And in what combinations? Will they like the dark chocolate drops with the highest cocoa percentage in them – or does there come a point when the taste becomes too bitter? And there’s a serious point, too. The chocolate we use has no added sugar. So there’s a different starting point from anything members have ever tasted on the High Street.

    Which is a cue for more questions from interested WI members. But not with their mouth full. They are still respectful and well brought up in some ways!

    So, I’m looking forward to our next WI demonstration and carefully selecting more chocolate samples for members to taste. But not before I’ve sampled a few, first. All in the aid of research, you understand? I like to be properly prepared.

    This week in the rest of the chocolate world...

    Another part of being prepared is to check what’s happening in the wonderful world of chocolate – whether buying, selling, manufacturing or exhibiting. With over 2 billions pounds of chocolate consumed worldwide every year, its big business from the smallest drop to the largest bar.

    While Cocoa & Heart is piping hand made chocolate to order, big business is busy preparing contingency plans for dealing with a Brexit no-deal scenario. And it seems that involves pilling up the stock and stacking up the warehouses with ingredients.

    Cadbury owner Mondelez International has reportedly revealed it is stockpiling ingredients, chocolates and biscuits in case of a no-deal Brexit.

    Hubert Weber, the European boss of Mondelez, said the UK was "not self-sufficient in terms of food ingredients" and confirmed the stockpiling as part of contingency plans for a hard Brexit, according to The Times.

    ‘‘We are also preparing for a hard Brexit and, from a buffering perspective for Mondelez, we are stocking higher levels of ingredients and finished products, although you can only do so much because of the shelf life of our products," he said.

    All of which will leave many chocoholics frantically googling how long chocolate lasts for – a subject most of them have rarely had to consider before.

     I'm off to taste some more chocolate, so until next time!

    Nick

  4. Children's Chocolate Parties by Cocoa & Heart

    - THE CHOCOLATE EDIT -

    I always enjoy when we are booked for chocolate children’s parties. It gives me a chance to be front of house and engage with the youngsters while Magdalena concentrates on the all important task of melting the chocolates from large bowls into piping bags and setting up the chocolate challenges on offer. I also like seeing the sheer joy on the children’s faces when they first see the bowls of liquid chocolate in front of them, as well as piping the chocolate into moulds and deciding on what type of edible decoration to use. The children are so innovative in their choice of colours, shapes and patterns that no two designs are ever the same.

    So, when Magdalana said we were booked to give a chocolate party for a group of Girl Guides in nearby New Eltham, I was looking forward to it. Fast forward nearly six months to the week before the actual event and I realised that the group of Girl Guides was actually three packs coming together and amounted to no less than 42 Girl Guides in total. We had been booked as a Chocolate Adventure challenge so the Guides could be awarded their Chocolate Brownie badges.

    We gave three chocolate workshops to Girl Guides between the ages of 10-14. Each session lasted about 2 hrs with about half an hour to tidy and clean up and set up again ready for the next group. As the Guides were there as an adventure activity we decided to start by telling them a little bit about the cocoa plant and where chocolate comes from and how it is made. A replica cocoa pod served as a suitable prop together with a box containing compartments of cocoa beans and nibs, which set out the various stages of the chocolate making production process.

    From there, the Guides made their very own chocolate bars and demonstrated their piping skills by writing their names on the bars they’d just made. Unicorns are very popular amongst the young, especially when they are full of Chocolate and can be eaten as lollipops. We hold chocolate truffle courses for adults and decided to adapt this for the Guides so they could experience the thrill of a little bit of dipping and dunking as well as rolling and dusting the ganache in cocoa powder.

    All the groups were very enthusiastic and totally engaged as one of the organisers commented afterwards. It was a bit of a challenge for us as well, to make sure we were one step ahead and ready with all the equipment for the next exercise as the previous one came to an end.

    As ever, there was also some friendly completion between the individual groups to see which team got the most right answers in the chocolate quiz. Some of the adults were on hand to help, although whether the Guides actually needed much assistance is another matter!

    I hope the Guides came away with a little bit of knowledge about different types of chocolate itself and the fact that chocolate melts at body temperature which helps to make it such a sensual experience. What they definitely did come away with was a whole bag of handmade chocolate goodies and a fun time with their friends making, designing and decorating their very own chocolate creations.

    Oh, and of course, their own Chocolate Brownie Badge. Awarded First Class with Honours.

    Elswhere in the chocolate world...

    I’m sure some of the knowledgeable Girl Guides are Harry Potter fans. And JKK Rowling’s fantastic creations, beasts or otherwise, continue to make the news. Actors Jude Law and Eddie Redmayne paid a surprise visit to a Back to Hogwarts promotion day recently and Law declared that he’d love to visit to buy chocolate frogs.

    Now there are even more chocolates and confectionery coming off the Honeydukes production line to satisfy even Jude Law’s sweet tooth.

    Jelly Belly Candy has introduced an expanded and redesigned Harry Potter inspired collection, through a partnership with Warner Bros. Consumer Products.

    Designed with Harry Potter enthusiasts in mind, seven new series-inspired chocolate and gummi sweets join the popular line.  The new additions include – Chocolate Wands (42g), replicas of those of the main characters; Chocolate House Crests (4x28g), chocolates with crisped rice, moulded in the shape of each Hogwarts House Crest; Chocolate Creatures package, containing one of six exclusive collectible stickers and a 15g chocolate with crisped rice, moulded in the shape of one of six creatures or pets inspired by the Wizarding World; Gummi Creatures (42g) in one of four flavour combinations, in the form of five magical creatures or pets.

    The line also includes the new Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavour Beans Gift Box (125g), which offers only unusual jelly bean flavours such as Black Pepper and Earwax. It also includes a 35g Flip Top Box and 54g Grab & Go Bag.

    As a new generation gets to grips with the magical world of wizards, there’s plenty to feed both the stomach and the imagination.

    I like to think that the 42 Girl Guides who attended the Chocolate Challenge went through their own finishing school and many of the chocolate creations had a touch of magic to them with a sprinkle of stardust added for good measure.

    Until the next blog, good luck in finding your own piece of chocolate heaven.

    Nick

     

  5. Cocoa & Heart at Hever Castle

    - THE CHOCOLATE EDIT -

    This week at Cocoa & Heart HQ

    Stall-holders are a peculiar breed all unto themselves. I’d forgotten this saying before our three day festival in the grounds of Hever Castle.  Every hopeful ‘there’s always tomorrow’, ever pessimistic ‘wrong space, wrong place, wrong type of customers’, ever ready ‘I was up at six to make a few more items’. So, as a small scale, small business barometer to the nation’s business fortunes what’s the verdict?

    Well, it’s hardly a CBI survey but virtually every stall holder we talked to said that takings were down up to 30% on this time last year. And that wasn’t just for Hever – but right across the board.

    ‘People just aren’t spending like they used to’ was the familiar refrain. Uncertainty over Brexit was mentioned by several stall-holders. Whatever the reasons, business was as slow for many as the proverbial boat to China.

    Clearly people are still eating but what they buy and how much of it is changing. I guess selling handmade chocolates we are at a mid-point in the mind of customers. Our product is a consumable – therefore they might come back for more when they’re finished it. Equally, it could also be bought as a gift for a friend or relative or saved for a special occasion. In which case it’s a one-off special purchase.

     Cocoa & Heart Chocolate Bars

    Most of our business is now concentrated on providing courses and workshops as well as catering for parties and special events. Of course, we also sell on line as well as private commissions.

    Interestingly, people were keen to know that they could learn how to make chocolates as well as just buy them.  Providing activities and experiences is something we, the public, are generally happy and willing to pay for, as a good use of precious leisure well spent with friends. Agonising over a £4 box of handmade and gift wrapped chocolate buttons, less so!

    If takings at Hever weren’t all we’d all hoped for – then at least there were some non-monetary compensations. Like enjoying the magical early morning views across the lake towards the castle. And strolling in the Italianate gardens before the public arrived. Free hot drinks for the duration also helped – strong coffee and plenty of it – fortified the mind and body alike.

    Hever Castle

    Elsewhere in the chocolate world...

    And so onto other news. And guess what – yet another study into the health benefits of otherwise of chocolate made the headlines this week. ‘Eating three bars of chocolate a month avoids heart attacks’ screamed the sub titles.

    The study presented at the European Society of Cardiology assessed more than half a million adults to look at how consumption of chocolate impacts cardiovascular health.

    After various forms of testing, they concluded that eating up to three chocolate bars per month can reduce the risk of heart failure by 23%. This was compared to people who didn’t eat any chocolate.

    However, they also found that eating a lot of chocolate can raise risk of heart failure by 17%.

    So, what did the research really tell us? Excessive saturated fats – present in higher levels in milk chocolates – are not good for us. Hardly new and not newsworthy but any story about ‘the nectar of the gods’ is a heaven sent opportunity to splash a giant photo headline after we’ve consumed all we can of the small print. Not to mention the milk, dark and white caveats.

    What was more revealing and buried deeper than a hazelnut in a Topic bar was the quote from the report’s leading researcher that moderate dark chocolate consumption is good for your health. Will this send the big chocolate manufactures into making more of the dark stuff? I doubt it. So, reward yourself instead, by searching out some good quality dark chocolate and let your senses take in its rich and all enveloping aroma. And then you can always taste it! One of the joys of my day is simply to dip my nose into a giant bag of Casa Luker dark chocolate and then enjoy the flavours that come from the bag. It’s invigorating – like a pinch of snuff – without having to pinch any of the stuff to eat, whatsoever. Like walking in the dawn dew at Hever or admiring the setting sun over the ramparts there’s a magical quality about dark chocolate. Go on, take a walk on the dark side of life!

    Nick

    nm author

  6. Chocolate He Party Photo

    - THE CHOCOLATE EDIT -

    Preparation is everything. That’s the oft quoted mantra. And it’s never truer than when it comes to preparing for one of Cocoa & Heart’s chocolate parties. It takes the same time to prepare for a shorter party as it does for a longer one. The most important thing to do is first print out the checklist. It’s in table form and divided into sections, such as equipment, ingredients, sundries and the like.

    I usually start with the tablecloths which need wiping and cleaning. Trays need to be sorted out and aprons ironed. Again, I take the clean in that area. I find that there’s something comforting about ironing aprons; although when you’re ironed up to twenty aprons, all with the same Cocoa & Heart logo, yes it can get a big repetitive.

    Oh yes, that assumes that they’re all clean in the first place. If not, the washing machine gets a spin. Washing – whether by hand or using the machine is a big part of preparing for a chocolate party. It goes without saying that everything needs to be spic and span. Not everything can go in the dishwasher so plastic bowls and spatulas and dipping forks and prongs are often washed by hand. My hand! And rinsed several times as chocolate and cocoa butter can leave tell tale smears and fat deposits if not carefully cleaned first. As Magdalena has reminded me more than once!