Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Cocoa’ Category

This time last year there was an interesting piece in the Scottish news about the small village of Dull in Perthshire.

The story concerned the village of Dull forging a link with the equally uninspiringly named town of Boring in Oregon, USA.

Along with everyone else, I thought this a splendid idea. When I heard that signs had been erected outside Dull to highlight this pairing I was keen to see them.

It took me a while to get round to doing this, but a few days ago I bundled the delightful assistants into my car and we sped off towards Dull, which lies in a quiet and pretty part of rural Perthshire.

It was about an hour’s drive away, which would have been achieveable in a oner if it weren’t for the fact that it was late morning before we left. In need of sustenance, we stopped en route at one of my favourite tearooms, Legends of Grandtully:

I’ve written about this place before (here) and have already gone on about the exquisite hot chocolate available, but I can’t resist giving it another mention.

As you might have noticed from the sign, Legends is attached to a chocolate centre. If you are remotely interested in chocolate, this is a most appealing prospect.

When we visited the other day I ordered one of their chocolate beverages – the very potent espresso sized hot chocolate ganache, which came topped with a sprinkling of unsweetened cocoa that I found to be a highly satisfactory addition:

If you read my previous post about Mallorca you might recall that it featured another rather spectacular hot chocolate. This one at Legends was similar, and Legends is the only place I’ve found in Scotland that serves up this style of hot chocolate.

I know I mustn’t bang on about it too much because this post is supposed to be about Dull and Boring, but before I leave the subject here’s a close-up of the chocolate’s surface, wrinkled by a teaspoon to demonstrate how thick and glossy it was:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Delightful assistant no.1 had coffee, delightful assistant no.2 had peppermint tea (the first time he had ever ordered such a herbal beverage in a tearoom), and we all shared a large fruit scone. That might sound a bit feeble, sharing a fruit scone between three, but it was very substantial and to be honest I was rather preoccupied with my hot chocolate; I ate a bit just to be sociable.

From Legends, we drove on, feeling replete and excited about Dull.

When we reached the outer limits of the village, lo and behold, there was the promised sign:

The village of Dull is bypassed by the main road, but if you turn off at the next right after this sign, you can drive along the narrow crescent-shaped loop that takes you through the village itself.

Despite having driven along the main road plenty of times before, to our knowledge none of us had ever taken the little detour through the village, so it was a new experience.

It was very quiet and I thought it had a pleasant atmosphere.

There was an old stone church that I fancied having a closer look at, so we parked next to it and delightful assistant no.2 and myself took a wander through the graveyard. Delightful assistant no.1 has been having a bit of bother with her hip and so she stayed in the car, enjoying the warmth of the sun coming in through the windows.

As with most little churches I try to get into on weekdays, this one was locked, and I’ve since discovered that it hasn’t been used as a church since the 1970s.

It was built on the site of an early Christian monastery and slabs dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries were found in the graveyard during grave-digging in the 19th century. One particularly fine example displaying horsemen is now on display in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

I don’t know if this particular bit of stone (below) has any significance, but someone has gone to a bit of trouble to secure it to the bottom of an outside wall of the building:

There was also a large font sitting next to the front door, which I neglected to photograph, but it’s also thought to be a relic from Pictish times. If that’s the case, it could be 1200 (or more) years old and it’s just sitting there full of water in a disused churchyard, slowly being weathered away by the elements.

Not far from the churchyard, sitting unobtrusively next to a holly tree just outside someone’s garden, there was a big stone cross penned in by a metal fence.

Having read a bit about Dull since visiting it, I wonder if this is one of the Pictish relics that was found in the churchyard. Strangely, although it’s been deliberately protected by the fence, there’s no indication of what it is or why it’s sitting there. I can’t help thinking a sign should be put up to explain its presence.

Another curious sight in Dull was a brightly painted church building just up the hill a bit from the old stone church. I walked up to have a look at it and felt very much as if I were in Iceland or Norway.

Far from being used for public worship, it appeared to be a private residence with a locked gate at the end of its driveway:

The rain was coming on by the time I took the above photo, and our third-of-a-scone each had worn off, so we hot-footed it to nearby eatery, the House of Menzies, which is housed in a refurbished mid-19th century farm building:

I’m worried that this post is going to become ferociously long, because I still have some other places to add to our day out, so I’ll call a brief halt here and take up the tale in my next post.

Tune in next time for a tasty luncheon!

Read Full Post »

In my last post I mentioned that I had recently received some cupcake cases and Easter picks in a gift, from the Baking Mad website. Yesterday I decided it was time to press them into use:

I pinched an excellent recipe from Karen Burns Booth (of the beautiful Lavender and Lovage website), courtesy of a cookbook I got at Christmas. Karen’s cakes feature on the front cover of the book:

Her recipe is for Karen’s Little Chocolate and Violet Fancies which end up looking like the above, quite exquisite. This is her recipe:

Mine weren’t quite up to Karen’s high standard, and as I wanted to use my new cake cases and Easter picks, they ended up looking like this:

I didn’t have any violets or violet sugar, and I fancied using Earl Grey tea, so I tweaked the recipe and ended up with Earl Grey Chocolate Buns.

From my youth I remember that my mum always called this sort of individual cake a ‘bun’, as opposed to a ‘fairy cake’ or a ‘cupcake’ (I don’t think that word was known in Scotland until fairly recently) or indeed a ‘muffin’ (which, to Brits, is something quite different from the large cakey delight known across the pond).

A few days ago, before I had decided to borrow Karen’s recipe, I was thinking about what sort of cakes to put into my new cake cases and liked the idea of making them chocolate flavoured, but with a little surprise inside.

When I saw these creme filled chocolate eggs in my local supermarket, I thought they’d do for the surprise:

It seemed a pity to remove the pretty foil wrappings, but I don’t think they’d have improved the taste of the cakes:

After putting cake mix into a batch of cake cases I squidged an egg into each one:

Then I stuck another blob of cake mix on top of each egg:

I put too much cake mix in each cake case and so the buns overflowed a bit:

To my mind there’s nothing wrong with a cake that’s a bit on the large side, so I acceped their burgeoning girths, slapped on the icing and threw on a scattering of decorations while whistling a merry tune:

Once the icing was on I planted plant Easter flags and declared the cakes ready for consumption:

I was interested to see how the creme filled eggs inside might have been affected by baking, and was pleased to find that they had remained intact:

The creme was still very much as it had been in its pre-baked condition, and the thin chocolate outer layer had begun to melt nicely:

I made a total of 16 cakes using the recipe above. Most of them have gone into the freezer, where I hope they will survive all right with their ganache icing, but if they come out looking a bit the worse for wear I could perhaps bung them into an ovenproof dish and make them into a hot chocolate pudding.

Read Full Post »

How dark to you think dark chocolate should be?

This is not necessarily the definitive answer, but according to the European Union (click to see Wikipedia article), in order for chocolate to be ‘dark’ it must contain at least 35% cocoa solids (the same article states that the US has no official definition for dark chocolate). By contrast, something like the Cadbury’s Twirl (milk chocolate) contains ‘a minumum of 25% cocoa solids’.  When I think of dark chocolate, I expect it to contain at least 60% cocoa solids, and in today’s little investigation I’ve decided to compare two bars containing 70% cocoa solids.

There are many different makes of dark chocolate, and if I were doing this thing properly I would have a wider sample range, but since this is really just an excuse for me to try out different chocolate, I’m comparing Green and Black’s with Divine (I should have taken a photograph of them nicely wrapped up together but unfortunately I had already started eating them before it occurred to me):

Part of my non-scientific approach to this was to purchase bars of different sizes. The Green & Black’s bar shown is the 100g size, whereas the Divine one is 45g. The reason for this is that I happened to see the small size of Divine the other day when I fancied some chocolate and then yesterday in Tesco I noticed that Green & Black’s chocolate was on special offer in the 100g size. It’s all down to practicalities.

Both companies are fully Fairtrade certified, so thumbs up to that in the first instance. They’re also both attractively packaged, in my opinion, and immediately recognisable due to their design.

First up: Green & Black’s. Here’s what greets you when you peel off the outer paper layer:

The foil inside continues the Green & Black’s font from outside the packet, and reinforces the fact that what you’re about to nibble on is organic. Very reassuring. As nice as the foil is, you need to remove it to get at the chocolate, and this is what faces you when you’ve done so:

Close up each individual rectangle carries the Green & Black’s leaf motif, apart from the rectangle at the bottom right, which is unique and special and wants to grab your attention with its distinctiveness:

The rows and columns of little chunks are segregated by channels that lead you to believe it would be easy to break them up into single blocks. In my experience this is not the case. They’re almost tolerant of you trying to break them into columns, but when it comes to rows they like to give you the run around. How often I have tried to break them into rows I don’t know, but I have no recollection of it ever having been successful. I tried for this investigation and all I got were bits like this, defiant in their refusal to break as I wished them to:

On the up side, the way they break makes the chocolate look inviting (whether this demonstrates conchoidal fracture or two directional cleavage I wouldn’t like to say, but either way it looks rather nice to me).

Most importantly, what does Green & Black’s 70% chocolate taste like? Well, here are my thoughts, and you may well disagree with me. The words that came to mind when I munched on a piece were: dark, bitter, sweet, tangy, lively and complex. Of these, the tanginess was what probably impressed itself on me most.

Very good, and now to the Divine:

The foil inside a bar of Divine is uniformly gold, certainly less interesting than the Green & Black’s. However, before you even get to the foil it has a few little tricks up its sleeve. End on, with this small bar at least, it demonstrates just how much thought has been put into the wrapper design:

When you open the wrapper, a pleasing symmetry of design is evident:

The imprints on the bar itself are very different from those on the Green & Black’s, but I’m not sure what they’re like on the 100g bar; obviously I will need to buy one and have a look.

To my mind, there is nothing linking the design on the outside of the packaging with that on the chocolate bar. Where there is a satisfying balance on the Green & Black’s bar and its packaging, no such balance exists with the Divine bar. You may consider it to be a good thing, this self-effacing gesture on the part of the Divine bar. Perhaps, it’s telling us, the taste will speak for itself. I endeavoured to find out. The individual blocks seemed to be too big for one mouthful and so I tried to bite into one. This was not an easy task, due to the thickness of the chocolate.

However, what I was hit with was a very welcome taste. One word entered my mind when I tasted this chocolate: smooth. Not for Divine, the tangy liveliness of the Green & Black’s. This chocolate had a laid-back, relaxed attitude and a smoothness I didn’t detect in the Green & Black’s. Also, unlike the Green & Black’s, it left no bitter after-taste. The sensation I had after eating this chocolate was that I had drifted off for a minute or two into a land of peaceful meadows, where all my cares and worries had been lifted and I felt happy and at one with the world.

And so, the verdict. Which did I like best?

What I would say is this. If you’re about to enter a martial arts competition – you’ve got your pjyamas on and your belt tied neatly round your waist – you need a chocolate bar that will stir the sinews, make you feel alert and vibrant and ready for action. In this case, I would recommend opting for Green & Black’s. The complexity will stimulate different areas of your brain, allowing your feet and arms to move in unison and enabling you to fly through your movements with ease and fluidity.

On the other hand, if you’re having a relaxing day off from the Ju-jitsu, you would be much better off with the Divine bar. Sink into your favourite chair with a nice cup of tea, or lie on the soft grass staring up at the blue sky and the fluffy white clouds, and let the smooth dark chocolate of Divine relax body and soul, refreshing and repairing your tired limbs and bringing peace and clarity to your mind.

There is, in my opinion, a time and a place for each of these wonderful chocolate bars and I would recommend keeping a small stock of each in your medicine cabinet.

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,770 other followers

%d bloggers like this: