A little bit of chocolate history, a chocolate festival, the first new chocolate type in 80 years and the world’s best chocolate brownie recipe – all for National Chocolate Week
In honour of it being national Chocolate Week (did you notice? It seemed very quiet to me) I thought I would celebrate this with a chocolate inspired post. I was at a chocolate festival earlier in the year, and tried Ruby Chocolate, the 4th variety behind Dark, Milk and White and the first to be launched in 80 years. So I thought this would be a good time to write that up and I can also come good on my promise to divulge my chocolate brownie recipe while I’m at it.
However first things first; Close you eyes for a moment and think of a country that you associate with chocolate. Got one?
Where did your imagination take you? At a guess I’d say Switzerland probably features with quite a few of you, as well it should. Switzerland is as famous for its chocolate as it is for its mountains, watches and army knives.
Anyone think of Belgium? I can’t think of Belgium without thinking of its exquisite chocolate boutiques and also of putting the fear of God into the Lacemakers of Ghent as (aged 11) I explored their shop with a chocolate ice cream in my hand.
Who thought of Northern Ireland?
Oi! What do you mean WTF? I’ll have you know good old Northern Ireland is right up there in the history of chocolate and even today has one of the world’s top ten chocolatiers. Surprised? We are full of surprises but let me explain.
A bite sized chunk of chocolate history
When chocolate was first brought to Europe via Spain, long before the pesky Swiss got their oven mitts on the stuff, it was consumed as a bitter drink made with coco, water and spices. The Natural History Museum (important) in London credits Sir Hans Sloane with the honours of adding milk and sugar, and turning it into something we would recognise as hot chocolate today.
Who was this genius? Sir Hans Sloane was the royal doctor to 3 Monarchs and the glitterati of 18th Century high society, He was President of both the Royal Society of Physicians (1719) and The Royal Society (1727) to this day he remains the only person to have held both positions.
Prior to all of this, while he was still making a name for himself, he went on a four year expedition to the Caribbean where its thought he first encountered cacao. Apparently at first he found chocolate nauseating, but found it improved when made with milk. An avid collector all his life, on his death he willed his 71,000 strong collection of curios to the British people and they became the foundation collections of the British Museum, The British Library and… yup, The Natural History Museum.
In all likelihood, there were probably a few recipes for hot chocolate floating around London in the 1700’s, but importantly Sir Hans wrote his down, and since any others have long since disappeared, it probably comes as no surprise that the Natural History Museum credits their founder as the inventor of milk chocolate. It didn’t hurt that when Cadbury made their first milk chocolate bar, they used Sir Hans Sloane’s recipe, and actually printed this on the label.
Brilliant, I hear you cry, but what has this to do with Northern Ireland?
Im so glad you asked – because good old Hans wasn’t an Englishman. No, the inventor of milk chocolate, bless his soul, was an Ulsterman, he was born in Killyleagh, a sleepy little town in Co. Down overlooking Strangford Lough.
It’s for this reason that Killyleagh Castle hosts the Sir Hans Sloane Chocolate Festival in it’s grounds.
The Finnabrogue, Sir Hans Sloane, Chocolate Festival
As mentioned the chocolate festival takes place in Killyleagh Castle, which overlooks Strangford Lough, and it’s organised by Finnabrogue Artisan Foods.
This year there were a number of exhibitors including chocolatiers, confectioners, Copland Island Gin and a variety of fine food producers. There were also a number of excellent demonstrations, I caught the end of a cocktail session which looked magnificent.
Of the exhibitors, one of my favourites has to be Co Couture a boutique chocolatier based in Belfast. They have featured heavily in the World top ten chocolate awards over the past number of years, and it’s no wonder, their truffles and the flavour combinations in their mini bars are amazing. They run masterclasses, and someday I will get to go to one.
One of the other exhibitors, think it was Chocolate Manor, were showcasing Ruby Chocolate, which was something I hadn’t come across before.
Trialling this was quite exciting. Ruby chocolate was only launched in January 2018 and it’s the first new chocolate to be launched in 80 years behind dark, milk and white chocolate.
There was a lot of speculation behind it to begin with, as the developer Barry Callebaut (a Belgian-Swiss Chocolatier) was quite scant on details, but insisted that the RB1 coco pod used was not genetically modified, nor had any colourings or flavourings been used.
Ruby chocolate gets its name from it’s deep pink colour. It has a creamy texture akin to white chocolate, but with obvious fruity, acidic notes. I did notice a chocolate flavour but it has been criticised for the lack of this, so it is perhaps still developing.
As it turns out, the natural colour comes from using chocolate beans that have been fermented for no more than three days, and this also explains why the chocolate flavour is not strong. The best way I could describe it is like you mixed white chocolates with raspberries and a tiny amount of dark chocolate. It’s not unpleasant, but it’s not what I would be reaching for if I needed a chocolate hit.
Where I think it will come into its own is in decoration, or in combinations with other chocolate types, but I guess time will tell.
The world’s best brownie recipe*
*According to my sons
Now I know what you are thinking “Thats just what Pinterest needs, a brownie recipe” but this isn’t any old muck, this is the recipe that my eldest son describes as “Godly and Exotic” (I am 100% confident that he has no clue what either of these words mean – but thats his top complement) meanwhile the youngest want’s me to give up my job to make and sell these full time.
There is a staggering amount of sugar, so I cut them quite small, and limit them to one a day, but the chocolate junkies demand that we don’t run out, so when the brownie tin gets to two remaining – thats my cue to get the oven on again and make another batch.
I found this recipe on BBC Good Food, and it was developed by Orlando Murrin
I should say that as long as the chocolate is over 70% coco solids it won’t matter what brand you use, but the same can’t be said for coco powder. Dr Oeker contains 100% coco and this vastly improves the taste and texture of the Brownies; Green & Black use potassium carbonate in theirs (with no loss of quality); Cadbury’s Bournville use Sodium Carbonate and there was a very definite loss of quality in the brownie, it became much drier – you pays your money and takes your choice.
You will need:
- 185g unsalted butter
- 185g best dark chocolate
- 85g plain flour
- 40g cocoa powder
- 50g white chocolate
- 50g milk chocolate
- 3 large eggs
- 275g golden caster sugar
- Cut 185g unsalted butter into small cubes and tip into a medium bowl. Break 185g dark chocolate into small pieces and drop into the bowl.
- Fill a small saucepan about a quarter full with hot water, then sit the bowl on top so it rests on the rim of the pan, not touching the water. Put over a low heat until the butter and chocolate have melted, stirring occasionally to mix them.
- Remove the bowl from the pan. Alternatively, cover the bowl loosely with cling film and put in the microwave for 2 minutes on High. Leave the melted mixture to cool to room temperature. It will initially look like this, but mix it with a fork till it looks smooth and glossy
- While you wait for the chocolate to cool, position a shelf in the middle of your oven and turn the oven on to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4.
- Using a shallow 20cm square tin, cut out a square of non-stick baking parchment to line the base. Tip 85g plain flour and 40g cocoa powder into a sieve held over a medium bowl. Tap and shake the sieve so they run through together and you get rid of any lumps.
- Chop 50g white chocolate and 50g milk chocolate into chunks on a board.
- Break 3 large eggs into a large bowl and tip in 275g golden caster sugar. With an electric mixer on maximum speed, whisk the eggs and sugar. They will look thick and creamy, like a milk shake. This can take 3-8 minutes, depending on how powerful your mixer is. You’ll know it’s ready when the mixture becomes really pale and about double its original volume. Another check is to turn off the mixer, lift out the beaters and wiggle them from side to side. If the mixture that runs off the beaters leaves a trail on the surface of the mixture in the bowl for a second or two, you’re there.
- Pour the cooled chocolate mixture over the eggy mousse, then gently fold together with a rubber spatula. Plunge the spatula in at one side, take it underneath and bring it up the opposite side and in again at the middle. Continue going under and over in a figure of eight, moving the bowl round after each folding so you can get at it from all sides, until the two mixtures are one and the colour is a mottled dark brown. The idea is to marry them without knocking out the air, so be as gentle and slow as you like.
- Hold the sieve over the bowl of eggy chocolate mixture and resift the cocoa and flour mixture, shaking the sieve from side to side, to cover the top evenly.
- Gently fold in this powder using the same figure of eight action as before. The mixture will look dry and dusty at first, and a bit unpromising, but if you keep going very gently and patiently, it will end up looking gungy and fudgy. Stop just before you feel you should, as you don’t want to overdo this mixing.
- Finally, stir in the white and milk chocolate chunks until they’re dotted throughout.
- Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, scraping every bit out of the bowl with the spatula. Gently ease the mixture into the corners of the tin and paddle the spatula from side to side across the top to level it.
- Put in the oven and set your timer for 25 mins. When the buzzer goes, open the oven, pull the shelf out a bit and gently shake the tin. If the brownie wobbles in the middle, it’s not quite done, so slide it back in and bake for another 5 minutes until the top has a shiny, papery crust and the sides are just beginning to come away from the tin. Take out of the oven.
- Leave the whole thing in the tin until completely cold, then, if you’re using the brownie tin, lift up the protruding rim slightly and slide the uncut brownie out on its base. If you’re using a normal tin, lift out the brownie with the foil. Cut into quarters, then cut each quarter into four squares and finally into triangles.
- They’ll keep in an airtight container for a good two weeks and in the freezer for up to a month. (No they won’t! Not with chocolate junkies looking for their fix living in the same house!)