Category Archives: chocolate

Easter goes creme-free, heathen and beany-filled

A gorgeous Easter in Melbourne came, lasted a little longer than usual (extra public holiday), and went, leaving us full of bready and chocolatey goodness. For me, this Easter brought memories of childhood joy and contemporary disappointment, alongside my special Hot Heathen Buns.

While supermarkets tout “fruitless” hot cross buns for Easter (indeed aptly named rubbish!) and food mags feel the need to bling up the buns – what was it in Epicure this year? Apricot and cardamom, for god’s sake – I prefer big puffy peely curranty joys of Hot Heathen Buns:

For reasons unknown, this year’s buns were free of marauding devil-chicks.

Now onwards to childhood memories… I have had a long-standing addiction to Cadbury Creme Eggs. Back in the days before they were available in Australia, I had the dubious advantage of spending part of my primary school years in the UK, where Creme Eggs were available all year round (if memory serves me correctly). Heaven. I’ve always liked food with (pleasant) surprises inside, so a chocolate egg with white and yellow fondant is quite the thing for me. In fact, this love of things with innards probably explains why I find Easter eggs so disappointing nowadays. The opportunity to crack open an egg to get at the yummies/yumminess inside is pretty limited nowadays, as this kind of product barely exists anymore except at the most stylish end of the market.

When Cadbury Creme Eggs appeared in Australia in the early 1980s it was like a gift from a higher being, albeit only once a year for a limited Easter season. This particular food-fanatic-to-be was more than a little choccy-joyful. Although I can’t remember the exact year of introduction, I clearly recall even more joy at discovering in my final year of high school that Target had discounted their Creme Eggs by more than 50% after Easter. I bought sixteen of them, consuming them in three days whilst huddled over a column heater (my parents’ house was an icebox) studying for mid-year exams.

In stark contrast, recent years have brought a waning of my enthusiasm for my treasured Creme Eggs. As my consumption of good chocolate has increased, I’ve found Cadbury Dairy Milk less and less pleasant. And so, it might be the case that 2011 marked my last Cadbury Creme Egg.

(As a side note, the southern hemisphere Cadbury Creme Eggs (they were made in New Zealand at first, not sure about now) are bit different from the Mother Egg. In the UK, the fondant in the eggs is smooth and somewhat runnier, but the chocolate is the foul British Cadbury Dairy Milk, even further removed from “chocolate” in my opinion.)

Perhaps as an attempt to find a surrogate comfort egg, this year I also returned to Red Tulip Humpty Dumpty. Never the best egg, it nonetheless always had the charm of containing chocolate beanies. I might be mistaken, but I think at one point that charm was spolit when the beanies were put in a plastic bag inside the egg… whether or not that’s a false memory, I can tell you they are now free-rattling beanies. The chocolate isn’t great, but it’s more pleasant than much other cheap Easter egg chocolate.

I wonder what I should turn to next year…

Fantastic chocolate ice cream, plus equipment failure

I can feel myself approaching an equipment crisis. My favourite food processor is no longer sold in Australia and spare parts are crazy expensive. My kitchen scales are on the way out. My new spatulas bend too much. And just recently I lost the paddle for my ice cream maker. All such things are discovered at the least convenient moments, and the last two had to happen just as I was reviewing a book on ice cream – Ice Creams, Sorbets & Gelati by Caroline and Robin Weir.

Some weeks after testing a few recipes, I noticed the book had a recipe that ostensibly reproduced the stunning cacao extra bitter ice cream at Berthillon in Paris (see pic here). As that was the most impressive chocolate ice cream I’ve ever eaten, I had to try it at home.

I made the custard. Chilled it for 24 hours. Made sure the ice cream maker’s bowl was in the freezer.

Took out the custard. Assembled the machine. Couldn’t find the paddle. Couldn’t find it. Anywhere.

I put the custard back in the fridge. The bowl back in the freezer. And searched.

I went online to see if I was misremembering the colour or shape of the paddle while rummaging through cupboards and drawers and down the back of shelves.

In the end, I had a pot of custard and a frozen bowl and no paddle, so it seemed the only options was to try to churn the mixture by hand with a rigid spatula (that’s when I discovered the new spatula isn’t strong enough). Despite only having made a half mixture of custard, this was hard work, especially as you don’t want the mixture freezing solid against the walls of the bowl (that’s why the paddles scrape down the walls and base constantly). Uff.

As much as I complain, it was educational. Doable. And the result was damn good.

At first, the coffee in the mixture was too noticeable and I wasn’t excited. But 24 hours later this had mellowed and probably wouldn’t have been noticeable to new tasters. The final ice cream was dense and rich, beautifully chocolatey and melted superbly. A textural delight.

I won’t reproduce the exact recipe here, but the key characteristics were a basic rich vanilla ice cream custard with quite a lot of cocoa and chocolate dispersed through it, along with some sugar syrup and a small amount of instant coffee. (The cocoa is boiled for some minutes to get rid of the raw taste, and the chocolate is then melted into the milk for the custard.)

Was it the same as Berthillon’s? The potential was there. I used a 55% cocoa solids dark couverture. If I were to make it again, I’d try 70% or so as I think that would get it closer to the mark.

Meanwhile, I’m off to borrow my mum’s ice cream maker from 1985. She still has her paddle.

Michel Cluizel’s Chocolatrium


I’ve never been to a chocolate factory. In the role of the prizewinners in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, I’ve long dreamt of bathing in couverture, taking illicit bites of bonbons on the production line, throwing annoying Oompaloompas into a vat of boiling sugar syrup, and more. Even in a chocolate loving place like France, access to chocolate factories is limited. Valrhona only opens its doors to the elite. Meanwhile, Michel Cluizel lets you onto their property, but limits visitors to a museum, the “Chocolatrium”.

The Michel Cluizel factory is located in Damville, about an hour’s drive west of Paris. The town is virtually inaccessible by public transport (plans to visit two years ago were scuppered). And is a mysterious Chocolatrium worth visiting anyway?

View Larger Map

Knowing that there was some risk involved, my trusty Parisian correspondent, Harry de Paris, and I set off in our own vehicle and incorporated the attractive nearby towns of Evreux and Dreux in our sightseeing plans.

In typical French fashion, the Chocolatrium’s shop is closed for lunch. This we knew in advance. We didn’t know, however, that the open chocolate workshop would take lunch at a later time, about 45 minutes after the shop had reopened. This can make an early-afternoon visit rather disappointing. Luckily we arrived about 20 minutes before workshop lunchtime and were advised by the friendly lady at the desk to rush through to the workshop’s viewing room before viewing the first two parts of the place.

Entry to the Chocolatrium costs EUR 5 and the museum (for want of a better word) consists of at least three areas (I have no memory of a fourth area, described on their website as “an old-time workshop”).

The first area is a display room with storyboards and cartoons explaining the history of chocolate (in French and perhaps some English), and a number of display cases with various chocolate paraphernalia (partially labelled in English). The storyboards aren’t bad and cater reasonably for kids and adults alike. It was interesting to read a potted history of chocolate not long after wading through the enormous book Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage for a review over at The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf… and kind of a relief to see it in short form.

After the display room was a small film theatre where a somewhat interesting video about Cluizel, the family, business and chocolate manufacture was shown. In French, even the completely monolingual non-French speaker would (a) appreciate some of the info conveyed by the images, and (b) realise that the film was groan-inducingly self-promotional at times. Nonetheless, it was interesting seeing different types of pods and the drying process. Some images of the manufacturing process were also enlightening.


Finally, visitors walk into a glassed-in raised area overlooking a small workshop where three staff were making or processing chocolates. One guy was lining cocoa-pod shaped moulds, another was coating balls of ganache in white couverture and giving them a spiky pattern, while a woman at the back was doing the thrilling job of packaging foil-wrapped chocolate fish into tins. Not scintillating, but still, it’s not everyday you get to see pots of molten chocolate or, as one young visitor exclaimed, “Maman! Une piscine du chocolat!” (Mummy! A chocolate swimming pool!) as she watched the conching machine. I was inclined to agree with the sentiment, as the delicious aromas lured me into thoughts of a chocolate hot spring.


And then it’s consumer time. A large, sparsely adorned shop stocked most of Michel Cluizel’s packaged products, from blocks to boxes of pralines to cute sampling boxes (including a nugget of cocoa butter) and more. Prices were good — at or lower than the lowest prices in Paris. This was a surprise, as Michel Cluizel’s own shop in Paris was selling the blocks at considerably above typical retail price last time I visited. Every visitor gets to choose a free gift and one of the options, a small box of pralines made in the workshop, is probably compensation enough for the entry price (though unfortunately they all tasted largely the same, despite different appearances).

The Chocolatrium is a strange affair. It’s kind of fun, but definitely not worth a trek out to Damville if you have no other activities/destinations in mind. It’s nice, at least, that Michel Cluizel has created something for the public, even if a bit gimicky. We chocolate lovers do, after all, like to have chocolate dreams.

Spring harvest in Paris

All sorts of things grow when the weather is going crazy. In Paris this week, the temperature fluctuated between 14C and rainy and 35C and excruciatingly humid. I got home from a day of walking around the rive gauche (Left Bank = mix of university, studenty, somewhat wealthy, public service, cultural and dawdling tourist population). Look what had grown in my bag from the curious cultures floating through the air…

There was a strange box containing delicious cakes and a small cellophane bag of macarons. (Pierre Hermé’s coffee and vanilla tarts, plus macarons: grapefruit, pistachio+cherry, olive oil+vanilla, passionfruit+choc.)


Then there was a bag of chocolates from Patrick Roger.


And much to my surprise, a bunch of caramels from the rather eccentric Denise Acabo.


Plus some bags of handmade lollies from Fouquet, and read what David Lebovitz has to say. (EUR 14… who knew sugar could cost so much?!)


Not to mention the compensatory box of chocolates from Artisan du Chocolat in the letterbox. (Read why here. Oh look, no touching!)


And I mustn’t forget a passing mention of confit de canard, the best crème brûlée I’ve ever had, two macarons from Ladurée (bergamote and fleur d’oranger) and (gasp!) an ice-cream from Berthillon (cacao extra bitter — like cold liquid chocolate, thym-citron (thyme-lemon) — beautifully tangy with some bitterness). Okay, none of those were in my bag.


On days like this, you just wish apples or a light salad were easier to find 😉

Artisan du Chocolat: less spin, more flexibility please

I had intended to review some of the chocolates from the British chocolatier Artisan du Chocolat, as I was in London recently and had previously enjoyed (and written about) them after a visit in 2007. Some businesses in high-end food succeed in respecting customers, others choose to be rigid and deliberately unhelpful. Artisan du Chocolat seems on the face of it to fall into a more positive category, but on this visit I was disappointed.

Unable to make it to their Chelsea shop, I visited the outlet in Selfridges department store. Artisan du Chocolat staff are refreshingly generous with samples when a customer is exploring what to purchase (the range is large and the flavours are at times very interesting). My first sample was, I believe, a jasmine tea chocolate. Alas I found the flavour to be on the barely-present side of fleeting and I mentioned that the flavour was too mild for me. I was disappointed to receive in reply a vacuous “We only use natural ingredients, so the flavours are often very subtle.” I really loathe this sort of rubbish. Don’t take customers for idiots. I work with natural ingredients too and my palate is pretty good. While some aromas can be difficult to capture and preserve, a customer has good reason to expect a flavour label to correspond to an olfactory experience upon tasting a product.

I was polite in my disagreement and the assistant was helpful enough to tip me off (without prompting) about which flavours I should best avoid for their “subtlety”. Good.

And so it became time to make a selection for purchase. The chocolates are sold by weight, but can be packaged in fixed-weight boxes or in cellophane bags. I wanted a 200gm box to house my chosen chocolates (especially as I was travelling) and suddenly there was a problem. One product group in the company’s range is dusted in cocoa. I wasn’t allowed to have the cocoa-coated chocolates in the same box as the other products. Wasn’t allowed. They all cost the same by weight. They all fit in the box.

I asked why this wasn’t allowed. “The cocoa would get on the other items.” I explained that this didn’t concern me, but no, they couldn’t be combined. I suggested putting in a paper divider. No. My irritation began to show and the manager was consulted for a second opinion about whether I could have my box of chocolates. No. The other chocolates might get dirty. Gotta love this sort of ignore-the-customer’s-desire approach. Why couldn’t they just insert a piece of paper or wrap the cocoa coated chocolates in some way? “It’s company policy.” So the company doesn’t want me to risk dirtying the chocolates I wish to consume? “It’s company policy.” You’re afraid I’ll complain to someone about the cocoa on the non-dusted chocolates if they happen to rub together? Afraid I’ll come back and complain? “Sorry, sir.”

I don’t actually know why I proceeded to spend my money there. I guess the desire to try some new product briefly blinded me to just how bloody idiotic “company policy” and half-truths are. Unsurprisingly, the chocolates, in separate cellophane packages, didn’t survive travel well. Money ill spent. Thank you so much, Artisan du Chocolat. I now look forward to two weeks with Paris chocolatiers before flying home. At least in Paris I know which shops are relaxed and helpful and which are rigid or haughty, rather than having to navigate this British middle-road of spin answers and “company policy”.

Danish frisky creamy balls

All over Denmark you see signs for frisky creamy balls. At first it seems very odd and rather tasteless, until you realise you’re mistranslating. You see, friske flødeboller actually means fresh cream balls. A world of difference in the world of smutty word games.


I’m in Denmark as I write this, sitting in a lovely IC3 train (the quiet section, stillezone) on my way from Copenhagen to Odense. A few weeks before leaving Australia for rather chilly (but delightfully sunny and springy) Scandinavia, I was inspired to make the aforementioned smut objects by the talented baker and cake decorator Sif of Earlier this year she published a recipe for flødeboller and I knew that these creations just had to happen in my kitchen too.

As a child I had a perverse affection for the Rowntree’s (now Nestlé) Walnut Whip, largely restricted to the British Isles. Cheap and nasty milk chocolate encased a fluffy interior of a sort of artificial cream. Atop the Walnut Whip sat a walnut, slightly rancid and squeaky. Little has changed other than the price.

In my late teens I was exposed to the German Dickmann’s (Schokoküsse): domes of neutral fluff on a wafer base altogether covered in a thin layer of chocolate. These things can be found in various forms around the world, often having the rather unfortunate name of n-gger kisses, moor heads and the like. (Sorry for the self-censorship, but I can do without white supremacists finding this site!) They continue to exist with, thankfully, rather less old-fashioned names. Wikipedia’s English language article on these is pretty fun.


Flødeboller are fun or hell to make, depending on your perspective on meringue and chocolate coating. This is not a recipe for a humid or warm day. Here comes my account.


SIf’s original recipe uses dried marzipan discs (a marcipanbund) as the base, Swiss meringue for the filling and milk chocolate for the coating. I was giving my flødeboller as gifts over about 10 days so decided to use an effective method for pasteurising the egg whites at home: heated Italian meringue. During production I found that I had undercooked the marzipan bases a bit and that they soften too much over time (some manufacturers coat the marzipan completely in chocolate). I’m not sure if a shortcake or biscuit base might be a better option, especially for longer storage. Many recipes use a wafer base, but it’s not my preference. I feel you’d need a base which is fairly firm but not too crisp/crumbly.


With 200gm of marzipan, make discs 4-5mm thick and whatever diameter you prefer (I tried 5cm) or prepare biscuits/wafers of similar dimensions. If using marzipan, you’ll need to dry the discs in a 200C oven, being very careful not to burn them (Sif says less than 5mins). The discs are very soft until they have cooled.


Sif uses commercial pasteurised eggs for safety (a very common concern in parts of Europe and North America). As pasteurised eggs aren’t always easy to obtain, I’ve used a special Italian meringue.

I used approx 100gm egg white (about three egg whites) and 150gm sugar. In order to ensure home pasteurisation of the egg whites, I warmed the egg whites gently in a bowl over hot (approx 50C) water, then added hot sugar syrup.

First, prepare a sugar syrup by adding about 20ml water to the sugar in a small saucepan and then simmering it until it reaches a target temperature of 110-120C (you don’t need to be particularly precise). Very shortly before the syrup reaches its target temperature, place the egg whites in the bowl over the hot water and start beating slowly. The goal is to raise the temperature of the egg whites so that the combined temperature of syrup and egg whites will stay above the threshold for pasteurisation for long enough to be effective.

When the egg whites form soft peaks, place the bowl on a flat surface and add the syrup while whisking at high speed until the meringue is very stiff. Allow to cool.

When the meringue is cool to the touch you can pipe it onto the discs, using whatever pattern/nozzle you prefer. You could flavour the entire batch of meringue, divide it into different bowls for different flavours, or add certain flavours after piping. The piped meringue should stand at room temperature for at least an hour or two so that the surface is fairly dry to the touch.



Gently melt about 200-250gm dark chocolate (I wouldn’t go over 60% cocoa). I suggest having a large pointed spoon and a small teaspoon to hand for coating the meringues. The discs with meringue should be placed on a thin wire drying rack. Place freezer plastic or baking paper underneath the rack (you’ll want to catch the chocolate that runs off so that it can be recycled). Let the chocolate cool to slightly warmer than skin temperature before coating the meringues (otherwise the meringue may soften a lot).


Drizzle the chocolate over the meringues, taking care to patch any holes you might miss at first. The chocolate should form a seal around the entire meringue, but it isn’t necessary to coat the bottom of the discs. Apply any decoration before the chocolate stiffens. Place the finished flødeboller on baking paper or waxed paper before the chocolate stiffens (it’s not fun when the chocolate hardens while the flødeboller are still on the wire rack, because they then break when you try to remove them).

The chocolate will take a long time to harden. It is best to leave the flødeboller in a cool place for a number of hours. Then eat them all.


If you forget to eat some, make you sure you keep them in a sealed container in the fridge.

The cruelties of good nutrition – or the day the broccoli came home to roost

The internet is full of conspiracies. The food world is full of oft-misguided fears. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s my turn to contribute to the imaginative world of food conspiracies. I’m not talking about corn chips causing rubella or tofu causing homosexuality or crappy shiraz infused chocolate being unusually popular amongst bloggers… No! The military-industrial-vegetable complex is attempting a green coup.

I am disturbed, disturbed! An article in The Guardian late last year drew my attention to the existence of a list. A subversive, deeply disturbing list. A list with earth-shattering implications for my hitherto guilt-free diet of pastry and chocolate. As if we needed more proof that things haven’t been right in the United States in recent years, Yale University has developed an Overall Nutritional Quality Index. Suspiciously, it has been given a brand name… more evidence of commercial conspiracy!

The NuVal™ Nutritional Scoring System summarizes the overall nutritional value of food. It uses the Institute of Medicine’s Dietary Reference Intakes (quantitative reference values for recommended intakes of nutrients) and the Dietary Guidelines For Americans (advice from the Department of Health and Human Services, HHS, and the Department of Agriculture, USDA, about how good dietary habits can promote health and reduce risk for major chronic diseases) to quantify the presence of more than 30 nutrients – including vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants; sugar, salt, trans fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol. The system also incorporates measures for the quality of protein, fat, and carbohydrates, as well as calories and omega-3 fats. The NuVal™ System also takes into account how these nutrients influence health based on broadly accepted, published scientific literature. (Link)

Now, just look at their top items (top nutritional score is 100), as shown in The Guardian:

Broccoli 100
Blueberries 100
Okra 100
Orange 100
Green Beans 100

BROCCOLI?! Say what?! This is like a conspiracy with the parents of the world, forcing fuzzy green stuff down the throats of the innocents. My parents did it. My parents’ parents did it. Broccoli is an instrument of torture, not nutrition! I’m surprised cauliflower isn’t equal first. Oh look, it is… below is the more comprehensive list direct from NuVal. Brussels sprouts don’t get a mention, but I’ll bet they’re lurking in the background, ready to pounce.

Apricots 100
Asparagus 100
Beans (yellow and green) 100
Blueberries 100
Broccoli 100
Cabbage 100
Cauliflower 100
Kiwi 100
Lettuce (Green Leaf, Red Leaf & Romaine) 100
Mustard Greens 100
Okra 100
Orange 100
Spinach 100
Strawberries 100
Turnip 100

Just lucky I’m growing strawberries (100) to eat with my Rice Bubbles (23) and oats (88) with full fat milk (52) every morning!

Meanwhile, I thought asparagus was just a phallic joke of a higher being, causing smelly pee and crap supermarket produce disappointments in the process. But no! We should all be munching our way through green sticks, green leaves, green sticky things, green fruit, and TURNIPS. Sheesh.

Now a selection of the bottom-scorers (from The Guardian):

Dark chocolate 10
White bread 9
Salami 7
Hot dog 5
Cheese puffs 4
Milk chocolate 3
Apple pie 2
Crackers 2
Fizzy drinks 1
Popsicle 1

I am so offended. How dare these pseudo-scientists place chocolate, clearly the most important fully-rounded foodstuff (ok, it lacks a little in fibre), so thoroughly low down their list. Any nutritionist worth their salt (or miso) knows that chocolate has nothing in common with hot dogs or cheese puffs! Bah. Well, I’ve had enough of these sell-out scientists and their faddish enthusiasms for unspeakables. No doubt there’s some murky industry organisation in the background, funding their “research”. If I were a salami farmer or a chocolate breeder, I’d be talking to my lawyers (or funding better research).