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.

 

VCT: A Brief History of Chocolate

The pinnacle of chocolate-ness, that which history and tradition has declared The Best, is that which is made in Belgium or Switzerland.

And yet, and yet…The cacao tree isn’t native to Europe; indeed, it doesn’t even grow here save for in tropical biomes. It isn’t even native to Africa. Growing within 20 degrees of latitude of the Equator, it comes from Central America – from Peru and Ecuador and Mexico.

Chocolate began life as a drink, the beans roasted and ground into a paste with water, and flavoured with chili. Introduced to Europe by the Conquistadors, it was only when the Spanish began sweetening it with honey or sugar that this new drink found favour with the court.

And later, experiments were made, to make it better, more consistent, tastier, cheaper. It wasn’t until 1847, though, that John Fry worked out how to make solid chocolate. Then the greats of chocolate began – Daniel Peter used Henri Nestlé’s powdered milk, Rodolphe Lindt invented the conching machine, John and Benjamin Cadbury received a royal warrant from Queen Victoria. And in 1893, Milton S. Hershey established his chocolate factory in Chicago.

Nowadays, the majority of cacao comes from the Ivory Coast, cacao beans having made their way to Africa, and further afield, during European colonisation.

And makers are going the other way – more expensive, artisan, chocolate. Single-origin. Cheap, mass-produced bars are still on the shelves, but there’s growing demand for higher quality. For chocolate which tastes like chocolate, and not sugar or non-cacao vegetable fats. Or is that just me?

Breakfast Flapjack

There’s nothing quite like being asked “And what do you do?” to make you think about what you do, if you’re like me and could be doing better. You know, moderately intelligent and not living up to that because you’re still working out your life’s path. (How to sound pretentious: use flowery phrases to avoid repetition…)

I was asked this the other day, following a discussion about hobbies. And since then, I’ve been thinking about What I Do. Which isn’t really all that much.

I go to work. I come home and read and try to write and bake and watch things. I have loads of plans for things I want to do, and then say I don’t have the time. Which is a lie, really. Unless I were to try to do everything I want to do. It’s more that I don’t really have the money. Which is sad. For me, anyway.

That, and I’m really a lazy person at heart. I’m much better at dreaming and planning than I am at actually doing. Which is why I have at least half a dozen notebooks with a couple of pages of planning for a story. I have lots of ideas. I’m working on spinning them into actual stories.

And to fuel that, this week, I’ve been baking flapjack.

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Now, I know I’m not much of a breakfast person, but in the winter, I don’t think you can really beat a nice bowl of porridge with a dollop of jam.

So here’s the summery version: flapjack. It’s quick and simple and I like to think it’s relatively healthy.

I switched the honey with a spoon or two of home-made blackberry and apple jam, chucked in a handful of berries and cacao chips, and it’s been making a very nice way to start my days. At brunch-ish time. To be honest, it could probably have done with a bit more butter or jam, to stick it all together better, but never mind.

So. Melt you some butter and jam together and stir it into a bowl of oats, adding berries and cacao chips. Or chocolate chips, if that’s what you prefer. To be honest, aside from the basic butter, jam, and oats, it’s really all up to you. Flapjack is wonderfully adaptable.

Spread on a tray and bake for about ten minutes at a normal sort of temperature. 180C sounds about right.

Like I said, I’m quite lazy, really.

Chocolate and Berry Flapjack

This week has been quite a lazy one (and I’ve been a little distracted by visitors) so this recipe is wonderfully lazy. A nice, quick, throw-together.

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I chucked a slab of butter and about three spoons of honey into a pan to melt together, and then stirred it into a bowl of oats, a handful of cacao chips and some defrosted mixed berries. Then I popped it into the oven for about ten minutes at about 200C.

It’s not the most useful of recipes, I agree, having no real measurements. But I trust you to use your own judgement in working out if you have enough oats.