May the fourth be with you
If you thought chocolate only came in white, milk and dark, think again. The boffins at Europe’s biggest suppliers have been going at it like Oompa-Loompas on blue Smarties to come up with new chocolate varieties. The most recent is Ruby Chocolate from Barry Callebaut, which it described as the ‘fourth type of chocolate’. Details are limited, but its pink colour and berry-like flavour is said to be all natural – no colourings or flavourings are added.
Instead, the company uses a new processing technique and a specific type of bean to create “a tension between berry-fruitiness and luscious smoothness”. It’s already been used in a pink KitKat in Japan, and is expected to launch here later this year.
In 2012, French company Valrhona also claimed to have invented a fourth chocolate with the launch of Dulcey – a 32% blond chocolate made by caramelising white chocolate to achieve toasty, biscuity notes. The company added another blond chocolate called Orelys last year, which contains Mauritian dark muscovado sugar, giving it a natural golden colour and liquorice notes.
It might not be the first vegan ingredient that springs to mind (surely that’s lentils), but good dark chocolate has never contained dairy ingredients. Not that most of the public know this.
“There is a lot of confusion and misunderstanding,” says chocolatier Claire Burnet, owner of Dorset-based Chococo. “Some of our customers don’t realise that dark chocolate is vegan. When you tell them it’s dairy-free there is a light-bulb moment.”
Restaurants have been having light-bulb moments of their own with increasingly decadent vegan desserts on menus, such as chocolate and praline torte at Zizzi and blood orange and chocolate tart at Ask Italian – both use bases made from dates and nuts.
World Nutella Day (there is such a thing) celebrated its 11th anniversary last month, proving the enduring popularity of chocolate and hazelnuts, with people in French supermarkets fighting over the stuff. Except that Ferrero’s flagship spread actually contains just 7.4% cocoa and 13% hazelnuts. The main ingredients are sugar and palm oil.
For the real experience, chefs are going back to gianduja – the classic chocolate and hazelnut paste invented in Turin that was the inspiration for Nutella. Made by mixing chocolate with a high percentage of Piedmontese hazelnut paste (typically above 30%), the ingredient can be used in a similar way to praliné (traditionally made with caramelised almonds).
Margot in Covent Garden serves a gianduja mousse with cassis-poached mixed berries, while The Goring serves a disc of gianduja topped with Williams pear, caramelised hazelnut and sweet cream cheese. It’s even popping up in the chains – Costa developed a chocolate and hazelnut cake at Christmas with caramel and gianduja frosting.
Hit the herb garden
“Mint has been used with chocolate for ages, so why not other herbs?” asks chocolatier Paul A Young, and not unreasonably. He supplies restaurants including Marcus, Angler and The Five Fields, and regularly hits the herb garden for inspiration. Previous creations have included 66% Caribbean dark chocolate flavoured with goats’ cheese, lemon and thyme; and pear, white port and rosemary chocolate with 64% Valrhona. “Woody herbs like rosemary, thyme and lavender have an intense botanical flavour that really carries through in chocolate,” he says.
Thyme is the herb of the moment with Adam Handling at The Frog, who has created a dessert with Guittard chocolate that includes lemon and thyme caramel and a thyme leaf garnish. At his recently closed pop-up The Test Kitchen, Adam Simmonds topped IPA-infused chocolate ice cream with a thyme-flecked sable.
Young has pushed the boundaries of savoury ingredients in chocolate much further with recent products including sake and fennel seed truffles and dark chocolate flavoured with dehydrated sourdough. His beef dripping and goose fat caramel truffles were also a hit at Christmas. “They have a great sweet and salty flavour, but also umami notes,” he says.
Hot chocolate: ditch the dust
Restaurant magazine has long argued that cocoa powder has no place on a cappuccino, but it turns out you don’t even need it for hot chocolate. Inspired by the thick, glossy drinking chocolates of Mexico and Spain, restaurants are ditching the dusty tubs in favour of real chocolate. Lyle’s in Shoreditch uses an 85% Ecuadorian chocolate from bean-to bar producer Pump Street Bakery in Suffolk, which it turns into a ganache by adding double cream, sugar and salt. It’s mixed with steamed milk to create a rich, luscious beverage.
Workshop Coffee Co does something similar, making a water-based ganache with Pump Street’s 75% Jamaican chocolate. “It has really complex notes of spice, rum and honey, and we go for a darker roast, which kicks out the acidity,” explains Andrew Lowkes, business development manager at Pump Street.
Pimped-up hot chocolate topped with whipped cream and everything from nuts to confectionery are also on the rise. Chin-Chin Labs serves 80% Valrhona hot chocolate topped with blow-torched marshmallow on the top at its ice cream and dessert bars.
It’s not just main courses that have been shrinking. The rise of small plates in restaurants means portion sizes for desserts are also changing as people look to share their food and cut down on sugar and calories.
“Thirty four per cent of consumers say they would be more likely to order dessert if a smaller portion option was available,” says Anna Sentance, gourmet marketing manager at Callebaut UK and Ireland.
They can also be good for the bottom line. New dessert ideas, developed by Callebaut, include dough balls with chocolate dipping sauce, which have a suggested menu price of £4.50, but cost just 77p to make. Giraffe already sells churros with orange chocolate dipping sauce at £4.95 with larger portions also available.
They are not technically chocolates because they don’t contain cocoa, but Valrhona’s new Inspiration fruit couvertures have a similar texture and can be used in the same way as chocolate.
Available in three varieties – almond, passion fruit and strawberry – the couvertures are made in a similar way to white chocolate, combining cocoa butter, sugar, soya lecithin and natural dried fruit powders, which give an intense flavour and colour.
They can be used in exactly the same way as chocolate couverture with Valrhona developing recipes, including filled shells, pastries and mousses.
This article that first appeared in the March issue of Restaurant magazine, the leading title for the UK's restaurant industry. For more features, comment, interviews and in-depth analysis of the restaurant sector subscribe to Restaurant magazine here.