Chocolate: everything a caterer needs to know
Britain is a nation of chocoholics. The UK’s chocolate industry is worth almost £4 billion and the average Brit eats their way through about 10.2kg of chocolate a year.
So what are the biggest trends to be aware of? And have you mastered one of the trickiest chocolate-making techniques, tempering? Read on to find out more…
Most chocolatiers in Britain, even small-scale artisan shops, don’t actually make their own chocolate. Most buy a bar of ready-made chocolate from a big supplier before making their chocolate creations by tempering chocolate or blending it with flavours to create truffles and other treats.
While you could source the beans yourself and conch them with specialist equipment, most chocolatiers get very good results with a good quality chocolate from the likes of Callebaut or Valrhona.
Chocolate makers and chefs are becoming fussier about quality, though. Many of them are now using 100% cocoa bars and are getting a nose for the huge variety of flavours that different types of beans can have.
Chocolate trends you need to know about
Consumers are increasingly looking for more complex flavours and unusual flavour combinations in their chocolate. Alex Beckett, a senior food analyst at Mintel shares his view:
“Using more unusual flavour combinations in bars may appeal to the 28% of users who like trying chocolate with exciting flavours. Chilli flavours are now fairly commonplace in premium block and boxed chocolates and could add an exciting twist to bars, as could a hint of sea salt in a caramel centre.”
Chefs are really pushing the boundaries both in how they present their chocolate creations, and in the ingredients they’re including. The Palm Court at The Langham, London is a case in point: they recently teamed up with chocolate maker Valrhona to create a stunning chocolate afternoon tea featuring a white chocolate and cauliflower mousse with Scottish smoked salmon and chocolate brownies with sea salt caramel.
Packing in the flavour
Food bloggers can be some of the most creative people when it comes to experimenting with new flavour combinations. We’re intrigued by The Cupcake Project’s smoky chocolate cupcakes made with liquid smoke — an ingredient that’s been getting a lot of attention recently.
Elsewhere, award-winning baker Dan Lepard has another way to pack the flavour into a chocolate dish: baking the cocoa powder in the oven before using it. He promises that including this extra step will bring a delicious richness and another flavour dimension to your finished dish.
It’s a process that can make even seasoned pastry chefs break out in a sweat, but it’s really very straightforward with the right catering equipment and a bit of practice.
Why bother? If you want to cover a cake in an appealingly shiny layer of chocolate or you’re trying to create a decoration which makes a satisfyingly loud ‘snap’ noise when it’s broken, tempering is a must.
Chocolate is very sensitive to heat. If it’s melted at the wrong temperature, the cocoa butter will crystallize unevenly. You’ll be left with matte chocolate that crumbles pathetically rather than snaps. The margin for error is miniscule.
Here’s how to temper chocolate in five easy steps:
Step 1: Create a bain-marie (water bath) by pouring hot water into a pan until it’s about two inches high and placing it over the stove or using a professional bain-marie.
Step 2: Break about two thirds of the total amount of chocolate you need into small pieces and place in a heatproof bowl.
Step 3: With the heat on the stove on low (the water should never be allowed to boil), place the heatproof bowl over the bain-marie, making sure the bowl never touches the hot water. Be careful: the smallest drop of water splashing into your bowl could cause the chocolate to seize and become unusable.
Step 4: Once the chocolate has melted and reached a temperature of at least 43°C, remove it quickly and wrap a warm towel around the bottom of the bowl. Some manufacturers may recommend a different temperature, so always check the label.
Step 5: Stir in the remaining chocolate, place a thermometer into the bowl and stir vigorously while keeping an eye on the temperature as the mixture cools down.
Stop stirring when your chocolate reaches the correct temperature (31–32ºC for dark chocolate, 30–31ºC for milk chocolate and 27–28ºC for white chocolate).
You can now start getting creative with your tempered chocolate.
Do you have a chocolate dish on your menu? Why not share your chocolate photos with us by tweeting us @BunzlLockhart?