Chocolate for me is the culinary equivalent of a big fat hug. And I share my passion with millions of people, some more famous than others. Roald Dahl was a self-confessed ‘chocoholic’ who loved not only the hand-rolled and hand ‘blobbed’ centres from Fortnum & Mason on Piccadilly, but also the bars from what he refers to as “the golden decade”—the 1930s when all the great commercial classics such as Crunchie, Mars, Aero, Kit Kat, Rolo and so on were invented. These formed part of his early childhood memories and they certainly form part of mine. I too grew up, albeit much later, on Mint Aero and Rolo with a caramel centre (the “classics” were and are still around in the UK).
At university, I moved on to lovely, smooth Belgian chocolates. Not because I could afford them, but because my flatmate had a boyfriend from Brussels who pursued her tirelessly. He turned up regularly, armed with fat little boxes tied with ribbon, bulging with pralines. When she really didn’t want to see him, she would feign illness and confine herself to her room, but I was always asked to make sure that he left the chocolates behind.
Chocolate’s ancient history is clouded by pagan rituals and human sacrifices. Cacao trees, bearing the cocoa pods, from which chocolate is manufactured, were cultivated by Central and South American Indians. The harvest was used for a bitter drink said to have aphrodisiacal powers. For hundreds of years, chocolate was enjoyed solely as a beverage. Eating chocolate was not discovered until the 19th century. At the court of King Charles V of Spain, additions such as sugar and fruit and spice flavourings, coupled with the feverishly passionate Spanish imagination, only enhanced chocolate’s reputation as a seductive stimulant. The product and its tales spread along European trade routes. Chocolate flourished in the French courts of the 18th century. The arts of the time are rich in wickedly erotic imagery connected with chocolate, fuelled by the exploits of the Marquis de Sade, who even combined the erotic qualities of chocolate with its ability to mask poisons, and Madame de Pompadour’s recommendations of chocolate as an aphrodisiac. Even Casanova rated it above champagne for its seductive qualities.
Chocolate is the world’s favourite flavour. The smooth mouth-feel is actually cocoa butter, the fat in chocolate, melting at body temperature, creating that special moment when it is neither solid or liquid, sending an intense rush of flavour to your delirious nerve endings.
Fine dark chocolate is rich in nutrients such as calcium, potassium, iron, riboflavin, niacin and vitamin A. It also contains flavenoids and a high level of phenol, which help prevent heart disease. Other components such as serotonin and tyramine help to calm and balance moods. Besides this, dark chocolate is not considered fattening.
Couverture is the finest chocolate used commercially, and for hand-made chocolates and patisserie. The finest, richest, densely flavoured couverture can have 70% cocoa content: Anything above this percentage will taste too bitter. Milk chocolate is at least 31% total fats and contains a maximum of 55% sugar. White chocolate is at least 20% cocoa butter and maximum of 50% sugar.
In India, although our commercial bars do taste very different from those in Europe, we now have really good chocolate available. In Delhi, Chocolat, a chocolate shop, has recently opened and one of the best brands in the world, Valrohna, is available in select stores. Lindt is available throughout India. In Mumbai, we have the much understated retail chain, Fantasie, which makes its own fantastic combinations with chilli, caramel and so on. Truffles are the wildest chocolate indulgence, made with the finest chocolate you can find and cream or butter, sometimes flavoured with liqueur. Here’s a recipe you can try at home.
(Makes 40 chocolates)
110ml fresh cream
500gm dark chocolate for dipping
250gm icing sugar
300gm melted dark chocolate for centres
Boil fresh cream. Cool completely. Mix with the melted dark chocolate (you can melt chocolate in a bowl over hot water or in the microwave). Stir well. Add champagne. Refrigerate until hard enough to handle. Divide mixture into small portions and roll into balls. Arrange on a tray. Cool again for 10 minutes
Dip each ball in the melted and tempered dark chocolate, and then roll them in a pan of icing sugar until well covered. If you want to avoid the hard coating chocolate, you can also roll the balls in dark chocolate powder or finely ground nuts. Once all the truffles are ready, store in a cool and dry place.
What’s your favourite chocolate recipe? Write to Karen Anand at email@example.com