Catherine Devaney discusses her love affair with chocolate and provides three recipes that are perfect for those with a sweet tooth.
My love affair with chocolate began early, before memories were fully formed. There’s a fresh chocolate croissant in Brittany, aged four, in a small dark café after Sunday mass, so close I can smell it but so blurred by time it moves out of focus when I reach for it.
There are squares of Swiss milk chocolate with roasted hazelnut, broken off and produced from a pocket in time to save an exhausted seven-year-old’s legs.
There is dark chocolate mousse on Christmas days, rich with egg yolks, double cream, bitter dark chocolate and rum, poured into cut glass dessert bowls, little hands carrying them by their stems to the table. There are unctuous chocolate brownies fresh from the oven, cooled just enough to cut.
There are hot sugared churros dipped in a mug of silky chocolate in a back street café in Seville, eaten early in the morning before the heat became oppressive and it was time to catch another train.
There is real hot chocolate, drunk under a grey January sky in St Mark’s Square in Venice, worth every penny of its eye-popping price tag. There are fresh crepes oozing with melted chocolate, cooked streetside and eaten late at night at a shaky pavement table in Capri.
There is hot chocolate fondant, silky smooth and divinely decadent, with a few slices of orange soaked in syrup, the very essence of everything a chocolate dessert should be.
‘I adore chocolate in all its guises’
What better way to while away winter nights, lost in memories made of chocolate? It is love, friendship, warmth, comfort and joy.
I adore chocolate in all its guises. I’m even partial to a small piece of 100% (and if I’m making venison stew or beef chilli I always add a couple of squares of dark chocolate towards the end of cooking).
On winter’s cusp, when nights are comfortingly dark and the days are crisp, before the madness of next month is upon us, if there’s ever a time of year to indulge the inner chocolate lover it’s November.
Real hot chocolate is the order of the day. Velvet in texture and incredibly rich, it’s most definitely a grown-up indulgence.
A world away from the powdered, synthetic versions that children cannot seem to walk a mile without the promise of, all the better for the addition of a stiff shot of rum, brandy or Bailey’s Irish Cream.
Marshmallows I can live without, I prefer to leave their cloying sweetness to the kids, although granted they do look pretty on top of a dollop of freshly whipped cream.
Simple hot chocolate recipe
My favourite way to make hot chocolate is incredibly simple.
Roughly chop 250g of dark chocolate and place in a saucepan with two tablespoons of milk (70% will produce the richest result with the deepest chocolate flavour, and don’t worry about it tasting bitter because you can add a little brown sugar to sweeten).
Gently melt the chocolate and milk on a low heat, stirring as the chocolate melts. Once the mixture is smooth and glossy, gradually add one litre of warm milk, little by little, whisking with each addition and heat to drinking temperature.
Add a teaspoon of light brown sugar, or more depending on how sweet you like your hot chocolate (although if you prefer a purer chocolate taste hold off on the sugar and add just a couple of drops of pure vanilla extract).
A generous pinch of cinnamon is a gorgeous seasonal addition, as is a little orange zest, or a couple of drops of almond essence.
You could always prepare in advance by chopping up a few bars of dark chocolate. Pop them in a jar, ready to whip up some quick hot chocolate for an instant fix at the end of a cold and rainy walk.
Chocolate fondant recipe
Dark chocolate fondant is a dessert with some mystique about it and has been the downfall of more than a few MasterChef contestants over the years.
It has earned a reputation for being a bit tricksy, although it’s a cinch to prepare. The real variables affecting the end result are oven temperature and baking time.
They can take a little practice to perfect, getting to know your own oven and the exact time needed for the melting centre to be just right.
But like many things in life, it’s well worth the effort.
And, like everything chocolatey, the richness and texture of the end result depends on the quality of the chocolate that you use.
The higher the percentage of cocoa butter the better the quality of the finished fondant.
Can there be anything more satisfying in life than gingerly cutting into a perfectly formed fondant with a spoon, to reveal the molten centre, decadent and devilishly dark?
Begin by prepping the moulds.
Take four 150ml dariole moulds (the ones that look like little pudding bowls). Brush the insides with very soft butter (brush up the way, towards the open end of the mould) and dust the insides with cocoa powder.
Preheat the oven to 170C Fan/190C/ 375F/Gas Mark 5.
Melt 130g diced unsalted butter and 130g chopped 70% dark chocolate in a Pyrex bowl set over a pan of just simmering water.
Stir the chocolate and butter to combine as they melt together, becoming glossy and silky smooth, then set aside.
Whisk two eggs, two egg yolks and 75g caster sugar until the mixture is very white, light, aerated and leaves a ribbon trail.
Then gently fold through the melted chocolate and butter mixture.
Next, sieve 55g plain flour, half a teaspoon of baking powder and 35g cocoa powder.
Fold the dry ingredients into the mixture with a pinch of sea salt.
Pipe or spoon the mixture into the moulds, filling them about three-quarters full and bake for eight minutes (ovens do vary so if they still look quite wobbly on the top after seven minutes, leave them in the oven for a further two minutes or else they may be too soft to hold up when you put them on the plate).
Ever so gently – be warned, they are delicate – run a small knife round the edge of the puddings, turn the moulds upside down and ease on to a plate.
Serve them at once (the melted centre doesn’t wait!) with a few slices of segmented orange and a spoonful of coffee ice cream.
Chocolate brownies recipe
Chocolate brownies are another dish delivered straight from the devil’s canteen.
In fact, if the devil did Deliveroo, it would be as the purveyor of chocolate brownies.
Fresh out of the oven, they never linger long in this house, although they can actually be made days in advance and will last well in an airtight tin or wrapped in cling film in the fridge (just let them come to room temperature before you eat them).
I’m very much in the “gooey in the middle” brownie camp (there’s nothing so irritating as the disappointment brought on by a brownie that belongs in the cake camp).
To make a batch, begin by pre-heating the oven to 170C Fan/190C/375F/Gas Mark 5.
Grease and line a 9 x 13 inch tin with baking paper.
Melt diced 330g unsalted butter with 330g diced 70% dark chocolate, over a pan of just simmering water.
Stir as it melts to become smooth and glossy, taking care not to over-heat the chocolate, then set aside.
Whisk 6 eggs, a drop of vanilla extract and 450g caster sugar until very light and volumised.
Fold the melted chocolate and butter into the mixture, then fold in 150g sieved plain flour and 50g good quality cocoa powder.
If you want to stir through some chopped nuts, cranberries, cherries or extra chocolate chunks, this is the time to do it.
Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, smooth with a palette knife, then bake for 30 minutes.
When you take it out of the oven the mixture should wobble when you shake the tin slightly… don’t worry… when it has cooled this will ensure the gooey centre that is the mark of a fantastic brownie.
Please note: The recipes for chocolate fondant and chocolate brownies have been adapted from the best book on patisserie for professional chefs that I have come across: ‘Professional Patisserie’ (2013) by C. Barker, M. Burke & N. Rippington.
There is a chocolate themed dessert out there for anyone with a sweet tooth.