VCT: Côte d’Ivoire

I think I might have said that I was only going to ‘travel’ to one chocolate-country per month. Well, scratch that. I shall ‘travel’ as I find the chocolate.

Today, I’m off to Africa. To the Ivory Coast. Currently, the world’s largest producer of chocolate, and a place riven with war, which is bad news for chocolate-lovers. Tends to push the price of cocoa beans up, particularly when the outside world imposes tariffs and what-not in sanctions.

As the name suggests, originally the major export in this part of West Africa was not chocolate, but teeth. Tusks. Ivory.

Colonised by the French, this is still the official language, and it trades mainly in chocolate and coffee. Two things which go so very nicely together (not that I’m a huge fan of drinking coffee).

My chocolate is a 74% plain bar from Tesco. In its bid for plain packaging (I presume), Tesco doesn’t bother with any advertorial blurb on the back, no flowery description of how it will taste. I’m going to hazard a guess that whoever produced the packaging doesn’t much care for chocolate. Or they think chocolate is chocolate is chocolate. Doesn’t matter where it comes from. How wrong they are…

This is darker than the Peruvian bar from last time, by 12%. It has an earthier taste; one which I could almost describe as “dirty”, in the sense that it’s a grainier chocolate with a dusty sort of taste.

I feel, really, like I need another bar of Côte d’Ivoire chocolate of the same strength to compare it against. I have suspicions given that it came from Tesco. My experience of Tesco basics chocolate (compared against, for example, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, even Aldi or Lidl) is that there is no comparison. I avoid Tesco basic chocolate at all costs. It made some of the worst truffles I have ever made, and it is difficult to screw up my truffle recipe. I feel that someone who can’t manage basics chocolate probably can’t manage more expensive chocolate.

On my running score-board, Peru is top. Unless I find a non-Tesco Côte d’Ivoire to be a better experience. Anyone know where I can find one easily?

Projects Almost Done: Spring-Cleaning the Craft Room

Every crafter has them. Not just projects abandoned half way through, but projects which are basically finished and just need framing or mounting or the outlines or something to actually complete it.

TakingFlight

For me, it’s normally the outlining which gets forgotten. But in my tidying and trying to find quicker crafting tasks, I’ve come across several projects which just need those final touches – a mount, a frame, in one case clock hands – to complete them. And since my flat came with picture hooks already on the walls, this seems an excellent motivator to finish off those projects. I’ve even, finally, got the clock mechanism for something I otherwise completed two years ago.

TimeToStitch

It might even be put together before the end of the year.

VCT: Peru

I begin my Chocolate Tour in Peru, home of Machu Pichu and the Inca people. OK, actually in Aldi with their Moser Roth 62% Peruvian chocolate.

My image of Peru is one of blue skies and sand underfoot, an image derived from my grandmother’s holidays photos over a decade ago. And silver.  Lots of silver, probably because she brought us girls back pieces of Peruvian silver jewellery.

My research tells me this image is perhaps not wholly incorrect, but Peru doesn’t have a single climate. It ranges from the sandy Pacific coast to the rainforests of the Amazon to the mountains of the Andes.

The chocolate – I’ve no idea what type; the packet doesn’t say – is a rich dark chocolate. In the way of wines, different regions produce different flavours in the cacao bean. The chocolate packet tells me that Peru’so climate, ideal for the cacao tree, produces a fruity cacao flavour.

Whether or not it’s because of the climate, I don’t know, but certainly,  beneath the pleasingly roasted tones, I detect the hint of red fruits. Of Autumn berries and bonfire smoke.

It actually put me in mind of a delicious red wine I had recently, of which, for once, I could actually smell and taste the fruits the label suggested I should – the Portuguese Lobo e Falcao, if you’re interested; very smooth, very delicious.

Back to the chocolate. Aldi sells it in packets of five individually wrapped bars of 25g. This is ideal if you’re the sort of person who can’t just eat four squares of an open bar and leave it at that.

The ingredients are limited – cacao mass and butter, sugar, emulsifier, and ground vanilla – and 99.5% certified fair trade. The bars snap cleanly and the texture is consistent. Across all five bars. Had to check to make sure.

All in all, the Moser Roth 62% Peruvian single origin chocolate is a wonderful chocolate experience. Highly recommended.

VCT: Types of Chocolate

There’s more to chocolate than Dark, Milk, White. In fact, some countries (naming no names, but a lot of mainland Europe) don’t even recognise White chocolate as chocolate. No cacao liquor (solids), you see. White chocolate is sweetened cacao butter.

But this isn’t what I’m talking about. Chocolate is made from the bean of the cacao tree, and there’s more than one variety of cacao tree.

The most common bean, which accounts for about 80-90% of cacao production, is the Forastero. Least common is the Criollo bean, which is considered a delicacy probably because of its scarcity. In between the two is a hybrid, the Trinitario, which was created when Trinidad’s criollo population was almost destroyed by storms.

The criollo trees have the disadvantage of lower yields and being more susceptible to disease, which makes it an impractical sort of tree from a business point-of-view. I’m hoping to come across some criollo chocolate in my travels. Having said that, I appear to have Peruvian criollo cacao liquor on my eBay watch-list. Perhaps I’ll make my own.

The Trinitario tree has higher yields than the criollo, and is more resistant to disease, and is considered to be a better quality bean than the Forastero. It has, however, a limited reach, being grown in few cacao-producing countries – Trinidad, Venezuala and Columbia. This I do not have on my eBay watch-list, so I might have to try harder to find some on my Tour.

And then we come to the Forastero. Which is pretty much every chocolate bar out there. I’m guessing differences in flavour will come about from other influences on the tree as it grows, from its environment. Like honey tasting of the flowers the bees took nectar from.

And since white chocolate doesn’t contain cacao solids, I shan’t, often, be tasting it on my Tour. My aim is to taste the darker chocolates, but I know I have a Ghanian milk chocolate lined up. I hope to find a range of each single-origin, but this may not always be possible. At least, not all at the same time for comparison.

 

Simple Stitches

It’s easier, I find, to discover simple,  good, recipes than simple, pretty, cross stitch patterns.

This, I consider a crying shame in my current time-poor life. Same goes for the crochet, although that’s more because my tired brain can’t quite cope with the concentration required for my monster projects. I’m hoping this will change shortly.

However, and for which I will be very grateful because my April is full of birthdays, a recent edition of CrossStitcher held within its pages simple, but effective, birthday card designs.

SimpleBirthday1

There was another design similar to this, but a smidgeon smaller with the words ‘With Love’ picked out. I have a strong suspicion that these designs will be my go-to birthday card patterns. Especially since they only took an hour or two each.

Have you any favourite simple cross-stitch designs? Where did you find them?

The Simple Things

With my life being so busy at the moment – I feel I hardly have any time to myself – I’m taking great pleasure in the little things. In the things which take little energy or effort. The Simple Things In Life.

My favourite recipes are quick and easy; the sort which can be committed to memory after one or two attempts and can be adapted without trouble.

As an example, chocolate truffles. The basic recipe I use can be adapted for all sorts of flavours and types of chocolate, and these days, can be made in about 5 minutes. 20 if you include the rolling out. And I suppose there’s the 3 hours or so waiting for the mixture to set.

RaspberryTruffles.jpg

I prefer to use dark chocolate – it seems to handle the melting and mixing process more happily than milk or white. In fact, unless absolutely necessary, I don’t use milk chocolate at all.

White chocolate is so-so. The fat tends to come out more with white chocolate which gives the mix an odd appearance, but doesn’t affect the taste. Might just be the cheap chocolate, of course. On the other hand, it’s better for more delicate flavours than dark, which can overpower.

The above truffles are raspberry and coconut. With a splash of mango vodka.

 

(Almost) According to ScandiKitchen: Kladdkaka

There is a café just off of Oxford Street. (There’s probably a lot of cafés off of Oxford Street.) I can’t remember exactly where, but you can get there in almost a straight line from Goodge Street, from the street opposite Paperchase, with the Tesco Metro on it. Walk along there for about ten minutes or so.

Actually, that might be a lie. You might have to turn off it somewhere. It’s been a while.

Anyway, this café, ScandiKitchen, is a home away from home for Scandinavian expats. It provides Scandinavian food and a small grocery section for imports. Like reindeer meat. And Scandinavian licorice. But I go for the cakes.

One of the things I miss the most about my time in Sweden is the baked goods. Sweden has some wonderful cake recipes. Especially kladdkaka. I normally describe this as a sort of brownie-cake, and my ScandiKitchen recipe book say it literally means sticky cake.

Kkaddkaka.jpg

This isn’t the one I made, but a picture of the picture in the book. Mine was eaten too quickly for photographs.

It’s a reasonably quick and simple recipe too:

2 eggs

200g sugar

100 butter, melted and cooled slightly

150g flour

3 tablespoons of cocoa powder

Pinch of salt

Teaspoon of vanilla

  1. Whisk together eggs and sugar until light and fluffy.
  2. Stir in dry ingredients and vanilla
  3. Add melted butter and mix well.
  4. Bake for 10-15 minutes at 180C/350F/gas mark 4 in a 20 cm cake tin

The crust should need a little pressure to crack but the cake shouldn’t be completely cooked. The middle should still be a bit runny – it’ll set once cooled.

Best served with a dollop of cream.

Mine, I think, was slightly overdone. Still tasty, but I feel it probably should not have broken neatly in half when I picked it up…

P.S. – Apologies for the delay – one of those weeks!