Indulging in the art of chocolate-making at home is lavishly satisfying but the disturbing reality of cocoa production continues
If your only relationship with chocolate is to consume it, you may never have considered chocolate to be an art. For me, it is an art. At my first event selling chocolates, I joined a bunch of creative stallholders selling handmade goodies, from cards to jam. My little selection of flavoured chocolates was the nouveau arrive and I was delighted by the enthusiastic response of those who had never encountered homemade chocolate before. I was also quite amused by the tentative nibbles at my chilli-lime hearts and comments of “no thanks, I prefer Cadbury”. Of course, handmade chocolates aren’t for everyone.
In order to demystify handmade chocolates, here are some facts. Firstly, chocolate is only made from scratch by exquisite chocolate-makers, and believe me, you’ll know this by the price tag. Secondly, there is a difference between chocolate-makers and chocolatiers — chocolate-makers are generally bean-to-bar chocolate tailors, while chocolatiers tinker around with good quality coverture (chocolate with extra cocoa butter, perfect for melting and moulding). Thirdly, and so not to upset the connoisseurs among you, there is a distinctive difference between chocolatiers with names like of Amano and Valrhona — the crème de la crème of the chocolate world — and novices like me who begin start-up chocolate businesses at home. In this article, I’m talking about the latter.
My very small business grew out of a hobby. For me, the art of chocolate is in the melting, tempering and forming of the chocolate into individual little creations, filled or flavoured, moulded or hand-dipped, and each hand-decorated. Handmade chocolates are made in small batches, using fresh ingredients in unique combinations. Arguably, they have more personality and more originality than the sugary toothache-inducing masses you find on supermarket shelves (sorry Cadbury-lovers)! For these reasons, chocolatiers like to self-style as artisans. The word may be too liberally-applied, but it doesn’t stop me from regarding my steel bowl of melted chocolate as a vat of paint, uninspiring in its current state, but able to produce versatile, stunning effects.
Chocolate-making is not so tricky when you master the basics. All it really requires is patience, practice and consistency. If you’re working without professional equipment, the main toil is in the tempering. The crafting of chocolate all begins with a nice big bowl of coverture, which needs to be melted to about 45°C and then cooled back down to 30°C. It sounds easy but it’s not — tempering controls the crystallisation of cocoa butter which produces smaller-sized crystals. This gives the chocolate a shiny look and a nice clean snap. If you temper your chocolate incorrectly, you end up with uneven crystals, blotchy white patches, and a finished product that is better off concealed in your tummy than presented on a plate.
While tempering is the tedious foundation of chocolate work, the fun is in the flavouring. I am inspired by international favourites, like Indian chai-latte or French confiture de lait. I also like to balance delicate fruit and floral flavours like rose essence, lemon and orange zest with rich white or dark chocolate. Foraged ingredients make the most satisfying fillings and – dare I say – are much more exciting in chocolates than they are in pies or jams. I particularly like the combination of fresh fruit in chocolate: foraged blackberries and raspberries blitzed, de-seeded and formed into a ganache, or fresh mint whipped into cream and poured into dark chocolate.
The fiddly part of chocolate-making is the moulding and the shaping. To make moulded chocolate hearts for example, tempered chocolate needs to be painted into heart-shaped moulds to create cases, which are then cooled, filled with ganache and topped up with more tempered chocolate. After leaving it to set, the hearts will (hopefully) drop out of the moulds. Hand-dipped chocolates are a little easier but involve several steps, beginning with creating the chocolate ganache, cooling it, cutting it, cooling again, hand-dipping each piece into melted chocolate, and then finally decorating.
For those who have watched the film Chocolat (2000), chocolate-making invokes that toiling yet glamorous image of chocolatier, Vianne Rocher, crafting beautiful chocolates in her kitchen ready for selling in her little village shop. Yes, there is a huge amount of satisfaction in rolling balls of truffles between your palms and dipping piped ganache into velvety white chocolate. But behind the glamour of the chocolate world is a serious question of ethics. If you’ve never questioned where our cocoa comes from, there is another film about chocolate that you may want to watch.
In 2001, global chocolate companies like Nestle, Mars and Barry Callebaut signed the Harkin-Engel Protocol, setting out an action plan to eradicate the worst forms of child labour from cocoa supply chains by 2005. This deadline was not met. In 2010, Roberto Romano, an award-winning filmmaker who sadly passed away last year, decided to document cocoa farms in the Ivory Coast to see if anything had changed. His documentary, The Dark Side of Chocolate, highlighted that the disturbing connection between child slavery and cocoa production had not ceased despite a decade passing since the protocol. In West Africa, children as young as seven were being sold as slaves to cocoa farms by parents who couldn’t afford to care for them, or were being kidnapped directly off the streets by cocoa farm traffickers. The Ivory Coast is where approximately 42 per cent of the world’s cocoa comes from and is used in many of our well-loved brands. By making this documentary, Romano brought the issue directly to consumers’ attention, exerting pressure on major chocolate companies to again address the protocol.
When I began making chocolates, my exposure to the realities of cocoa-farming influenced me to buy ethical chocolate coverture. You may have noticed that some of our high street chocolate brands have switched to Fairtrade, including some products of Mars (Malteasers), Nestle (Kitkat) and Kraft (selected Cadbury bars). But what about coverture chocolate? Cocoa Barry, a company that had originally signed the protocol, are one of the few chocolate suppliers who now offer Fairtrade alternatives for chocolatiers. But there really are very few ethical alternatives out there. And indeed, as the consumer demand for ethical chocolate grows, suppliers of coverture have to start responding. I believe the demand for Fairtrade chocolate should be vocalised louder by those in the artisan industry, as well as its consumers. Chocolate-making is an art, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of ethics.
Image from: http://www.chocolateconnoisseurmag.com/august-issue-highlights-artisan-chocolatier/
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