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chocolate

    Masterclasses, Pop-up and Event reviews, Reviews

    Making chocolates at the Chocolate Quarter

    piping_caramel_chocolate

    I know, writing about chocolate in Birmingham, that’s never happened before…but this time it’s not the big purple monolith, but a cute little family-run boutique chocolatier in the Jewellery Quarter, also known as The Chocolate Quarter.

    Jay, Maninder and Kempes run the Chocolate Quarter and they have the sort of warmth and friendliness that is infectious.  I’m generally a sort of take it or leave it person when it comes to chocolate, but it’s hard not to get wrapped up in their eagerness.  You know that sort of giddy enthusiasm which helps you absorb information so much better because you know this is less transactional and more a genuine love of the product?  Yeah, that.  And there was lots to learn; the basics about cocoa mass and white chocolate not really being chocolate, but also about beta prime crystals and tempering chocolate, and how higher percentage of cocoa mass doesn’t necessarily make better chocolate, if cheap beans are used.  But you know, in a fun way, that didn’t make it feel like a year nine science class.

    pouring_hot_chocolate

    A few of us went down to hear about what they do, what they sell and check out one of their chocolate making masterclasses.  We started with hot chocolate, because it would be rude not to, then Jay took us through the process of chocolate making and explained that we’d be having a go at making our own caramel truffles; piping in caramel, sealing, then tempering some chocolate to ensure once we dunked the truffle, the chocolate wouldn’t go gritty.  We were given a few options on how to display the truffle, from a smooth look to something a bit more rustic, dusted with icing sugar, cocoa or coconut.

    jay_explaining

    Most hands on masterclasses I’ve been to have either been alcohol-filled or the sort of specific and detailed thing that I can’t see myself doing outside of the class.  I’ve made truffles at home before and the tips I picked up were useful, but mainly it was just a really lovely way to spend an evening.  There’s the option to BYOB if you like, somewhat dangerous I expect given how close they are to Hard to Find Whisky, or just enjoy hot chocolate, which gives it a nice option if you want to do something fun but the group are less about the drinking.  This could totally work as a birthday party of hen/stag do, or just a good excuse to get a group of friends together.

    filled_chocolates

    After we made our chocolates, Jay and Maninder used us as guinea pigs to check out some of their experiments for Father’s Day; whisky, bacon and stout chocolates.  I’ve had bacon cupcakes before and whilst it’s a bit weird, the chewy texture didn’t quite work for me, but the salt and chocolate flavours worked.  The whisky chocolate was great; I hate it when things are flavoured and it’s a bit shy but this had a great hit of whisky.  And then it was time to collect our chocolates, pick up a few more (it would be rude not to) and then head home, with a new found respect for chocolate. 

    gold_chocolate Disclosure: This was a free event for a small group of bloggers, but I totally bought chocolate too because it was gooooooood. And we got a free Darth Vader chocolate too.

    Afternoon tea, Reviews

    Review: Cadbury World Afternoon Tea

    cadbury_world_afternoon_tea

    Heads up, I bloody love Cadbury World.  I think I’ve been to every incarnation since I was small and they used to give you that horrible “what chocolate used to be” drink…and then there was the chocolate passport stamp, the weird futuristic game & light tricks bit at the end, the introduction of the slightly trippy cocoa beans ride and now the 4D experience.  I think I’ve tried to rope most of my Birmingham visiting guests into going at some point.  So when Cadbury World asked me to come down and check out their afternoon tea, I didn’t need asking twice.

    I invited my friend Til and, it turns out, despite living in Birmingham for years, she’s never been.  Til is just generally brilliant, but if you need someone to be stupidly excited with you, she’s the girl to have in your corner.  We figured best build up an appetite by wandering around the attraction and then stopping for a spot of tea, as you do.  Thankfully they got rid of that horrible drink thing at the beginning, so you start with a spot of history about chocolate and the Cadbury family, take in a bit of what the factory looks like, eat some melted chocolate, go on the trippy cocoa bean ride, see some of the old adverts and play with some slightly weird games machines.

    cadbury_world_sandwichesWe headed into the cafe, which is a bit canteen-like (although with that many school trips you can see why) and were sat in a sort of indoor bandstand.  I think it’s meant to be a bit special, but I sort of felt like Til and I had been put in the naughty corner – at least until some others joined us.  You’re asked if you want tea or coffee and your hot drinks are taken over to you, along with a cake stand of afternoon tea delights.

    I don’t know whose idea it was to do the sandwiches half-half white and brown bread, but it’s the sort of mind-trickery that I admire.  There are an assortment of sandwich fillings which are fairly typical; ham and mustard, cheese, and salmon.  And all the sandwiches come with no crusts, which I don’t mind but is probably pretty clever if you’re appealing to children.  With the crusts gone you might thing the bread could end up hardening, but it was soft and spongey and as far as sandwiches go, pretty good.
    cadbury_world_scones_macarons

    Next up were the scones.  These were pretty large and came accompanied by pots of clotted cream and jam, in the way that any scone should.  They were good scones; not too crumbly, nor too dense…just right.  And they were fruit scones, because I really don’t understand people who go for plain scones (or cheese scones, why is that a thing).

    And then it was onto the cake.  Cadbury World had gone for a more traditional style afternoon tea than I’ve been eating as of late, but it was nice to see a macaron each and miniature cakes which were all a bit different.  Despite being really good and not eating any of the chocolate I was given on my way round Cadbury World, I found myself pretty full after the sandwiches and scones, but found enough room for a macaron (lovely) and some rocky road…because this was a chocolate factory’s afternoon tea, after all.

    cadbury_world_cakes

    Defeated by the afternoon tea, we asked for a take away box and Til took some of the cakes with her as she was seeing a relative later that day.  I’m not actually a big eater of chocolate, so the Cadbury World afternoon tea was about the right level for me, but I sort of expected a bit more chocolate, and certainly more well-known Cadbury stuff.  Like those little sponges with flakes on the top you get in the supermarket, or cream-egg brownies as everyone seems to lose their mind over those. Just seems like a bit of a lost branding opportunity to me, but hey ho.

    Oh and then we went on the 4D experience.  You know those weird simulators where you get to pretend like you’re driving a plane or a really fast car or something?  It’s a bit like that, only you’re in an auditorium and on some sort of magical chocolate rollercoaster.  I know that sounds lame, but I bloody loved it. I’d have gone twice, if I could’ve. Bravo Cadbury World!

    The Cadbury World afternoon tea is £19.95 per person, available Monday to Friday, outside of school term time, and is only valid on attraction entry between 12.40pm and 1.30pm (otherwise it would sort of stop being afternoon tea).  Oh and if you’ve never been (heathen!) Cadbury World is located in Bournville, south Birmingham and is a short walk from Bournville train station or on the 11 bus route.

    https://www.cadburyworld.co.uk/

    Disclosure: I was invited down to Cadbury World to try their afternoon tea by their PR team, but wasn’t obliged to write a positive review. They didn’t pay for previous trips to Cadbury World (my mum wishes). Oh and I love Cadbury World so much I moved down the road from it.

    Product reviews, Reviews

    Review: Hotel Chocolat Mojito chocolates*

    I imagine the planning session for these chocolates went something like this: “everyone likes after dinner mint chocolates right?  And rum truffles go down a blinder.  What if…what if we combined them?!  But we can’t just call them minty rum truffles, how about adding some citrus and calling them Mojito chocolates?!”

    Sorry if that sounded glib, but it’s the only way I can think the idea of Hotel Chocolat Mojito chocolates would come into existence.  Because Mojtos are a quintessential summer drink; cooling mint, refreshing lime, soda and white rum clear as the summer skies, with a hint of sugar for celebration.  But chocolate, chocolate to me is more a comforting indulgence good with hot coffee and cold winter nights.

    To give Hotel Chocolat their credit, these chocolates do look lovely, I’ll give them that.  But taste wise, this is where things go a bit off course.  The initial flavour is that of a sort of lime cordial taste which is quickly overpowered by rum.  There’s a lot of rum in these chocolates, 9% is a good glug by anyone’s standards, and if you like really boozy chocolate then you’ll like these.  If not, once the heat from the rum burns away there’s a rather pleasant taste to them, you just have to really stick with it.

    Hotel Chocolat’s Mojito chocolates are for sale at their website, but from the looks of the reviews over there, others found the overpowering rum an issue too.  To me, these are more of a novelty item than anything else, which is a little disappointing.  I’ve had some lovely Hotel Chocolat chocolates before, but sadly these just aren’t for me.

    mojitochocolate

    Disclosure: These were given to me at a bloggers event, although they’re probably wishing they hadn’t now, sorry.

    Cake, Recipes

    Recipe: Blondies / White Chocolate Brownies

    I love this recipe, although I’m never really sure what to call them; white chocolate brownies sounds a bit silly, but blondies seem to require explanation.  Either way if you’re a fan of white chocolate these are delicious.  Below is the basic recipe for the blondies, but feel free to experiment; I’ve made this recipe adding 100g of cranberries or with a delicious Spanish liqueur, Licor 43.

    blondiesBlondies

    300g quality white chocolate, chopped

    200g butter

    3 medium eggs

    150g caster sugar

    ½ tsp pure vanilla extract

    200g plain flour, sifted

     

    Method
    1. Heat the oven to 180°C or equivalent.  Line a baking tin (18x28cm size is recommended) with greaseproof paper – trust me, this is a lot less messy than greasing a tin and trying to get the baked goods out later.
    2. Boil some water and then allow it to simmer.  In a bowl over the pan of simmering water, melt butter with 150g of the chocolate.  Once it’s all melted leave it to cool (trust me) and then give it a good, quick stir to combine it.
    3. In a bowl, beat the eggs, sugar and vanilla until combined and the mixture looks pale.
    4. Beat in the melted white chocolate mixture, making sure everything comes together.
    5. Chop the remaining 150g into chunks (I tend to attack mine with a rolling pin) and sprinkle the chunks into the mixture.  If you’re adding fruit (cranberries work well), add this now.
    6. Bake for about 20 minutes, or  until the top is firm but the insiders are still a bit soft.
    7. Leave to cool and cut into squares.

     

    Product reviews, Reviews

    Review: Selfridges salted almond and crunchy toffee Bombe

    photo 1a

    Who doesn’t love a bit of sales shopping, particularly when sweet treats are involved.  Whilst buying cards in the Bullring Selfridges I stumbled across a half price salted almond and crunchy toffee Bombe and thought I’d treat myself.

    Produced in the UK for Selfridges and, according to the package, are ‘crafted by Marasu’s – one of London’s most exclusive petit fours companies’.  Although oddly when I had a look on Selfridge’s website I could find two other Bombes but not the salted almond and crunchy toffee Bombe.

    The packaging itself is lovely and geometric which makes it feel all that more special.  Once you work out where to peel the labels from and get inside, you’re presented with a spherical chocolate bombe, or rather two semispheres of chocolate because, lets face it, trying to eat a sphere of chocolate isn’t going to be easy.

    chocolatebombeEach semisphere has the centre edge cracked to reveal the salted almond and crunchy toffee.  Once you bite inside there are flakes of flavour inside, which give it a familiar sort of Swiss Toblerone taste, although this is produced in the UK.  The chocolate is milk and not too bitter with the salted almond and crunchy toffee breaking it up to give it a more interesting experience.  The saltiness is actually quite pleasant and compliments the creaminess of the chocolate and providing a quirky aftertaste, rather than overpowering it.

    At about 5cm in height, the Bombe should be enough to satisfy most chocoholics and if you’re looking for a small but tasty which feels like a real treat, you could do a lot worse than pick up one of these.  And given that I got my first Christmas email last week, I feel reminded that it would also work well in a posh Christmas stocking.

    Cake, Recipes

    Recipe: Gluten-free Chocolate and Cointreau Cake Recipe

    I recently(ish) managed to wander along to a Ladies Who Code event and being a woman who doesn’t really code but wants to learn I didn’t want to turn up empty handed.  So I made cake.  Jessica, the organiser, was on the lookout for gluten-free cakes for the event so I thought I’d have a go at making a flourless chocolate cake, mainly because I understand how much of a nightmare it is to have a food intolerance.

    I checked out a couple of recipes and in the end did what I always do, make up my own.  I find some chocolate cake a little cloying, particularly when very dark chocolate is used so I wanted to add another flavour.  I’m a big fan of adding alcohol to cake, and chocolate-orange is such a classic flavour that gluten-free Cointreau seemed like a perfect choice!

    glutenfree_chocolatecake

    Chocolate and Cointreau Cake

    150g dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids are ideal)

    150g butter or margarine

    6 eggs, separated

    250g caster sugar

    50ml Cointreau

    120g ground almonds

    4tsp cocoa powder

    Method

    1. Using a bowl of water which sits over a saucepan of boiling water, melt the butter and chocolate together.
    2. Whilst the butter and chocolate are melting, separate the eggs yolks from the whites – you’ll need both, but keep them apart.
    3. To the egg yolks add the Cointreau and sugar, and mix.  It’ll look a little lumpy at this point but it’ll be fine.  Add the ground almonds and cocoa together and then add in with the rest of the dry ingredients and mix together.
    4. Once the butter and chocolate have melted and combined together, add them to the yolk/sugar/almond mixture and beat well so everything is nice and combined.
    5. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until they triple in volume and are nice and aerated – use an electric whisk.  This will prevent your cakes from getting too dense, and your arms from hurting too much.
    6. Carefully fold in the egg whites to the rest of the mixture, careful not to lose too much of the air you’ve just introduced.
    7. Add to your individual cake or muffins tray.  I made muffins with mine as they were for an event.  Fill up to about 3/4 of the tray which is more than usual, but they’ll puff up and then sink a little, so this ends up making a good size. The recipes roughly suggested this would make 12 but they made way more, so be prepared for that.
    8. Cook until you can poke them with a toothpick and it comes out clean.  About 40-45mins for a big cake or 15-20mins for muffins (although to be honest I use the toothpick test more than time).
    9. Once cooked either serve warm with berries and ice cream or leave to cool and enjoy at room temperature.

    Considering how little a fan of chocolate cake I am, these were really nice – and the people at the event seemed to think so too!  As with the perks of being a cook, I tried them when they were still warm and I think this recipe would be just as good as an warm dessert with fresh berries and cream, although they were still delicious as muffins.

    Definitely a recipe to go in the folder for a repeat!