Chocolate mint tea

I picked up this treasure on a trip to the Netherlands over the weekend to celebrate Koninginnedag, (Queen’s Day) with our Dutch friends. What a fantastic national holiday! Can’t really imagine something similar happening in the UK for our Lizzie…

On the much-anticipated trip to the supermarket to pick up goodies to bring home, we headed straight for the tea aisle. I love the variety of herbal teas and infusions in Holland. This one immediately caught my eye: Chocolate and mint. Confusingly, most of the box is in English, but the ingredients list isn’t. My very limited translation skills tell me that the ingredients are tea, green rooibos, peppermint, flavourings, liquorice, pieces of cacao bean (guessing this means cocoa nibs).

My companions are somewhat sceptical when I drop the box in the trolley. However, I really like it. It gives an intoxicating chocolatey aroma. The earthiness of the tea matches well with the earthiness of the cocoa nibs, and a subtle sweetness is provided by the liquorice. The mint adds a freshness that lightens the drink. It’s really refreshing actually. I might have to ask my lovely friends to send some more…

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Mango and cardamom chocolates

Here’s my take on a pate de fruit and ganache layered chocolate. Pâtes de fruit are fruit jellies, a sophisticated and delectable French confection made with real fruit. They have an intense fruit flavour and are a lot like a set jam, making them worlds away from the more commonplace fruit-flavoured jellies (which, let’s face it, are just sugar shapes with artificial flavours and colours). Happily pâtes de fruit are also vegetarian. The quince sweets I made are an example of such a treat.

I was craving a taste of the exotic when I came up with the flavours to go in this chocolate – I think it was during that very cold week recently after a short spell of warmer weather, and inspired by a mango lassi I enjoyed not long ago. So, here it is – mango pate de fruit, topped with cardamom ganache, enrobed in a dark milky chocolate and decorated with orange-gold flecks.

I was worried that the cardamom wouldn’t be able to stand up to the strong mango flavour, but it actually packed a punch. Yummy. I’ll definitely be making this again, though I might try each on its own next time for single flavours. Still, these two make perfect partners. The different textures work really well together; soft cardamom ganache atop slightly chewy mango. Mm-mmm – a taste of the tropics.

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Dark ginger cacao pod truffles

After receiving the chocolate moulds I’d ordered yesterday, I just couldn’t wait to try them out. I made dark chocolate ginger truffles in a cacao pod shell.

It turned out to be rather tricky, especially to get a thin and even coating for the shell. In some places it was too thin, in others too thick. A few chocolates had developed bloom, where the chocolate has cooled too slowly and cocoa butter crystals rise to the surface, giving a white, bubbly appearance. A couple of others refused to leave the mould at all and had to be prised out. These broken tidbits got eaten up immediately! Most of them came out good though, shiny and deadly dark cacao pods.

Overall, I was pleased with this first attempt. They are shiny and the crisp shell is satisfying to bite into. The ganache inside is soft and creamy, with a good ginger kick 🙂

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Chocolate adventures unfold

So, yesterday I tried my hand at the second method of tempering (crystallising the cocoa butter within chocolate). This one is called the seeding method, and involves stirring small pieces of already tempered chocolate into melted chocolate to cool it and to introduce the right kind of crystals. Again, temperature matters here. This method was much less messy than using the marble slab but not nearly as satisfying.

Happily, I got this method down pat too, and used the tempered chocolate to make rose and jasmine truffles.

They looked pretty for about half an hour, until the chocolate started cracking a little and the ganache filling began to ooze out in places. I did my reading and learned that this was because the ganache was too cold when I dipped it, meaning that the chocolate cooled and contracted too fast. Oops. A useful lesson!

I also made cumin and coriander discs (courtesy of Paul A Young’s recipe from Adventures with Chocolate). These are very robust and are not for the faint-hearted! Luckily I like strong flavours.

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I love gingerbread, especially when its a little chewy on the inside and has a small kick.

350 g plain flour
3 – 4 tsp ground ginger (depending on how much you like ginger!)
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
85 g butter, cut into small chunks
175 g brown sugar
1 egg
4 tbsp golden syrup

Preheat the oven to 190° C. Sift together the flour, ginger and bicarb of soda into a large mixing bowl. Add the small chunks of butter and rub it into the flour with your fingers, until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the sugar. In a small bowl, beat together the syrup and the egg, then stir this too into the “breadcrumbs”. Mix everything together really well until you have a dough.

Sprinkle a clean work surface with flour and put the dough onto it. Knead it a bit, stretching the dough by pushing it away from you. Fold the dough in half, turn it and push it away again. Continue this kneading until the dough is really smooth. Now use half of the dough at a time to make it easier to roll and cut. Sprinkle a little more flour on your work surface and roll out the dough until it is about ½ cm thick. Use a cookie cutter to cut out lots of shapes from the dough (I like animal shapes). Bake the gingerbread for about 10 minutes, until golden brown. Transfer to wire racks to cool, but make sure to eat at least one while they’re still warm and a bit gooey. Mmmm…

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Carrot houmous

This recipe is taken from Vegetarian by Alice Hart and adapted slightly. It’s got a subtle sweetness and certain delicacy to it. It feels light and it’s a great colour.

2 large carrots, sliced
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tin chickpeas, drained well
1 tbsp tahini
½ tsp ground cardamom
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 good-sized cloves of garlic
Smoked paprika

Roast the garlic cloves for around half an hour in their skins, and when done, pop them out of the skin. They should be golden, soft and sticky. Place the carrots in a saucepan with just enough water to cover them. Add the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Bring to the boil and simmer for around 10 minutes until the carrots are tender. Meanwhile, pinch the skins off all the chick peas and discard (this process takes a few minutes, but trust me, it’s worth it for a much smoother consistency). Pour the carrots and their water into a blender with all the other ingredients and whizz it up until smooth. Sprinkle a little smoked paprika over the top before serving.

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