Cioccolato (Venice 62)

Think of great chocolate and you tend to consider Belgium, or Switzerland.  Italy isn’t a nation of chocolatiers in most minds, and yet one of the worlds most successful confections is Italian.  Little balls of chocolate and hazelnut wrapped in gold foil are apparently an extravagance even for ambassadors to offer!

Ferrero make a range of products of course, but mention of the company name elicits Rocher as a natural successor.

One chocolate product that hasn’t taken the world by storm in quite the same way is chocolate pasta, but given the preponderance of chocolate in breakfast cereals where once there was none, it might be only a matter of time.

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“You can’t compete with Cadbury in the first ten years”

So said Bangladeshi cricketer Tamim Iqbal, responding to Geoffrey Boycott‘s suggestion that his country didn’t deserve Test Cricket status, meaning that any newcomer struggles to establish itself against established players.  Cadbury is a brand synonymous with chocolate not only in the UK, but in many countries of the world where Britain once held sway.

Of course there is another meaning that may have escaped Iqbal, but when I was a child (many years ago, I concede) Cadbury was not only ubiquitous, but it was unbeatable.  Yes there was an alternative in the somewhat creamier form of Galaxy, but for most kids nothing beats the taste of the “glass and half of full cream milk” found in every bar.  Bit of a strange promo line that one.  How big were the glasses?  Did they have different sized ones for every size of bar?  Why didn’t they just buy bigger ones instead of having to resort to an extra half?

Nowadays I find the purple wrapped bars are no longer to my taste, and though the transition came long after my first ten years I can’t put my finger on when this happened.  I suspect that a gradual exposure to alternatives has incrementally educated my palate.

The skiing holiday was probably a major culprit; especially those taken in Saas Fee, Wengen, and other Swiss resorts provided lots of opportunity to sample the wares of Lindt & Sprüngli, Nestlé and Jacobs Suchard (before their absorption into the Kraft empire that ultimately swallowed Cadbury too).

Then a small British manufacturer introduced organic chocolate and in no time Green & Blacks became a brand to be reckoned with… until Cadbury bought them in their 5th year of trading.untitled-20-Edit

untitled-9-2Nowadays the chocolate aficionado in the UK tends to stray towards Hotel Chocolat, a brand available only through their own stores and concessions and they seem to be doing rather well, though they are now into their 12th year.  Expansion has seen them open a couple of restaurants in the UK, and in St Lucia, where much of their cocoa is sourced, a hotel which builds on one of their brand values; luxury.

Whilst as a confection it is one of the world’s most popular foodstuffs inspiring many cultural references (Joanne Harris and Roald Dahl most notably) we forget that as a drink it has been around for almost 4000 years, though the heavily sweetened beverage we now consume (with marshmallows if you want it even sweeter) would be unrecognisable to the Olmecs of Mexico and their forebears.

Still it was a simple cup of chocolate that inspired this post, and the writing on the mug in which it was served.  Who would not wish to plumb the chocolate abyss?

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You Only Bake Twice

Britain has taken baking to its heart again, a fact due in no small part to the phenomenal success of The Great British Bake Off presented by Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood.  Mary Berry has been synonymous  with baking for decades but Hollywood has come from seemingly from nowhere to become a TV “personality”; granted his own series on bread making here, and fronting the US version of Bake Off in the states.  Dubbed the George Clooney of TV chefs he and Mary have inspired many to reach for the flour again.  Including me.

I’m not a bad cook.  At times I can be very good, but bread in particular has always been my Achilles heel.  The few loaves I have produced over the years (including one baked in a plant pot!) have been heavy, stodgy, and completed unrelated to bread as we know it.  With time and space at my disposal now it was inevitable that I should give it another go to see if Mr Hollywood knew what he was talking about.  (As former Head Baker at Cliveden and The Dorchester, he should)

My first attempt was pretty decent.  The trouble was I started it one evening, and so didn’t have enough time for the proving and rushed it a little.  Colour and taste were good, excellent crust, but the crumb was just a little reminiscent of cake.  No matter, I enjoyed every slice.

With my second attempt, I went out during the second proving, and mistakenly had slashed the loaf too soon.  I returned to find a much larger loaf, though one that had grown laterally rather than vertically.  It just about stayed on the baking tray so I slipped it into the oven before it made its escape.  Half an hour later and we have a first; a crusty Stottie!  Still delicious though.

Think it’s going to be third time lucky?

Food photography is a very specialised art and one in some demand.  Books, magazines and websites call out for food that makes us salivate the moment our eyes fall upon it.  The trouble is that the food in those pictures is likely to be completely inedible.  Read any book on the techniques used and you will learn that the food is often skewered together to aid composition and garnished with oils, paints and detergents to give it shine and colour.  It’s not just inedible, it may even be toxic!

For any visitors I may want to impress this week, I baked something safer yesterday; chocolate and almond biscotti.  Biscotti is the source of our word biscuit, and means twice (bis) cooked (cotti).  Twice as many opportunities for error?  Not a chance and no additives for the photographs?  My younger daughter Holly is coming to stay this week which is why I made a chocolate version.  Eat anything with a chocolate flavour?  Holly would.  (See what I did there 😉 )

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