Will chocolate become the new caviar?
That was the question asked on NPR’s news blog last week.
With farmers in Africa abandoning cocoa for crops that are easier to grow and monetise, the piece painted a futurescape of ever scarcer cocoa beans and ever more expensive bars of chocolate (I mean really, as if our economic woes weren’t bad enough…).
Whether this grim prediction regarding our most beloved of confections holds up, I am not qualified to say. Whether it is worth paying a premium for any chocolate, on that, at least I have an opinion, which is that the very good stuff is often worth the extra (though, in the Irish case, we may have to go to the European Central Bank or the International Monetary Fund to get the necessary spondulicks).
If indeed it is the good stuff you’re after (and you’re feeling suitably solvent) you may want to consider the chocolate of Claudio Corallo, described (by people I can only presume to be more knowledgeable than I) as the best chocolate in the world. No pressure there, then.
From São Tomé e Príncipe off the coast of Cameroon, the product is unique for the fact that the cocoa is grown and the chocolate made in Africa. It is being brought to Ireland through the good offices of Value Added In Africa and being sold, among others, by Sheridan’s Cheesemongers.
At a tasting this week, where Italian-born Claudio was in attendance, I got that warm feeling I often get when I listen to people who are utterly passionate about what they do. The best chocolate in the world started out as a search for the best cocoa beans, lacking the bitterness often associated with their brethern. With great attention to detail and dedication to quality, the rest followed.
And the chocolate? My favourite was a bar with 73.5% cocoa solids and shot through with cocoa nibs. It seemed lighter and cleaner than other 70%+ chocolate of my acquaintance. Claudio also produces, among others, a 100% chocolate bar and it’s a testament to the quality of the beans that the chocolate can be savoured without added sugar, even if 100% chocolate is somewhat of an acquired taste.
Also worth savouring is the return of the Temple Bar Chocolate Festival, this year with a December date and Christmas theme. There will be plenty of diversions for the chocolate-minded over the course of the festival, which runs from the 3rd to the 5th of December, with everything from tasting workshops to truffle-making, plus the requisite Chocolate Fair in Meeting House Square on Sunday December 5th. In sharp contrast to the projected direction of chocolate prices, many of the festival events are free (but do require booking – consult the festival program for more information). If it’s anything like last year’s event, it’s sure to be well worth a look.
With all this talk of chocolate, I just had to obey the urge to make some brownies.
The fact is that I’ve had brownies on my mind more or less since Foodcamp. They were brought in great numbers to the event, but I was particularly taken with the cocoa brownies made by Caroline from Bibliocook. Then just last week, my favourite baker-blogger Jenni posted about some swish-sounding cocoa brownies based on an Alton Brown formula.
Thing is, when I looked at both recipes, they were strikingly similar in composition. What I present below is really a mish-mash of the two, with added hazelnuts, because I rather like hazelnuts, especially where chocolate is concerned.
- 100g hazelnuts
- 1.5 tsp vanilla extract
- 175g butter, melted and cooled
- 275g soft brown sugar (I used light muscovado)
- 1.5 tsp very finely ground coffee
- 3 large eggs
- 75g cocoa powder (I used Green & Black’s, which is a Dutch processed cocoa powder)
- 75g plain flour
- 0.25 tsp baking powder
- 0.25 tsp salt
You’ll also need:
- A baking tin for the brownies – mine was 27cm x 18cm x 5cm deep – plus a second tin for roasting the hazelnuts. You’ll also need a spice or coffee grinder for grinding the hazelnuts.
- Preheat your oven to 160C and either line your brownie tin with parchment paper or grease it very well.
- Using another baking tin, lightly toast the hazelnuts in the oven for about 10 minutes or so. Allow them to cool a little, then enclose them in a tea towel or other dry cloth and rub the cloth over and back to remove as much of the hazelnut skins as will come off easily. Finely grind about half of the nuts using a spice or coffee grinder and chop the remaining nuts roughly.
- Stir the vanilla extract into the melted butter. Add the sugar and ground coffee to a large mixing bowl and pour in the melted butter. Mix well, making sure no lumps remain in the sugar.
- Beat in the eggs one at a time.
- Sieve together the cocoa, flour, baking powder and salt. Fold this into the sugar/butter/egg mixture. You’ll have a thick, dark, addictive batter.
- Stir in both the ground and chopped hazelnuts.
- Scrape the batter into the prepared tin, trying not to eat too much of it on the way. Bake until just set in the middle. This took around 30 minutes for me, but ovens do vary, so it may take a bit longer for yours to get there.
- Leave to cool in the tin for a few minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to finish cooling, after which you may slice and eat at will.
- You can, of course, omit the toasted hazelnuts and add walnuts to the batter instead, as Caroline does in her version, or leave the nuts out altogether if you prefer.
- One tray of brownies, the numbers will depend on your preferred brownie size.