Surrey Life's resident celeb chef Tony Tobin on the joys of cooking with cocoa
PUBLISHED: 13:30 10 January 2011 | UPDATED: 17:08 20 February 2013
Plus: a recipe for warm chocolate sponge, chocolate sauce and very cold chantilly
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine April 2010
KITCHEN DIARIES: Our celeb chef Tony Tobin on the joys of cooking with cocoa!
Now that Easter is here, it seems an opportune moment to talk about chocolate for many people, the very best food of all!
So where did all the magic begin? Well, thousands of years ago in the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilisations of Central America, the seeds of cacao trees were used to make a spicy, rather bitter drink. Centuries later, cocoa beans, as they came to be called, were brought across the ocean to Europe and the rest, as they say, is history!
Moving forward to today, one thing you can say about chocolate: theres an enormous number of jokes about it. In fact, probably only fish and cheese beat it in the foodstuff humour category. Ive heard them all when walking around my restaurants during the coffee and chocolates phase.
One I heard the other day was this: My favourite square meal is a box of chocolates. Ho, ho, ho! Another lady customer quipped recently: Its just so handy to get my whole daily calorie requirement in one easy place. Ive also heard someone order a portion of the classic dessert Death by Chocolate asking if he could have just enough to put him in a critical condition.
In short, its happy food. You get fat, sugar and caffeine everything our cavemen ancestors craved plus a touch of stimulant, too. Whats more, it has a few health benefits as well and not just the psychological ones.
Do you remember the great Woody Allen film Sleeper? The keeper of a health food store wakes up in the distant future and, when asked what he would like for breakfast, lists a string of health foods. The doctors scratch their heads and one says: What? No cream pies or hot fudge? He is informed by a colleague in the know that those foods were considered unhealthy in the 20th century: Precisely the opposite of what we now know to be true. It seems theres a hint of this when it comes to chocolate, too.
I should cocoa!
For instance, a good friend of mine went for a health check and was found to have very low levels of good cholesterol. This result frustrated him after two years devoted to making himself more healthy. He had taken up daily exercise, had shed two stone, reformed his diet, given up excessive alcohol and all chocolate. When he asked the learned doc what he could do to improve this, two suggestions were offered: a glass of red wine each night and a few squares of dark chocolate!
You see, chocolate may be nearly all fat, but at least some of it is good fat. Good fat! A phrase that always strikes me as a contradiction in terms, but as we reach April and Easter comes and goes once again, at least we can console ourselves that the magical cocoa bean is doing us some good, too.
Okay, so enough about the benefits of chocolate lets get down to the serious business of putting some black gold into our Easter cooking. My first advice is that chocolate need not be restricted to your desserts. Im going to offer you a dessert recipe on the facing page but it can also be a wonderful addition to some main courses.
For example, it can be used in dishes such as chilli and chocolate ribs or in the famous Mexican sauce, mole (pronounced moh-lay), which is poured over pork and poultry dishes.
According to the Oxford Companion to Food, the Italians were the first Europeans to explore putting hints of chocolate into meat pasties and kindred dishes. In fact, some Italian cooks still put chocolate into salsa agrodolce, a sweet and sour sauce that accompanies boar and hare dishes.
Whichever way you decide to integrate it into your Easter, a quick tip: in any dessert or dish where you use chocolate and sugar together, use fruit sugar rather than cane. It brings out the flavour even more strongly.
Fructose can now be purchased from most supermarkets in boxes or tubs, and some manufacturers even produce it like honey reduced down from pure fruit.
On Easter Sunday, get my legendary chocolate sponge underway during the time when the kids are busying themselves with your Easter egg hunt. Its a lot of effort and it gives the nippers access to a huge amount of chocolate early in the day, but its an experience that each will remember for ever. My youngest is not particularly young any more but all three of my kids still join the Tobin Egg Hunt each year. Like chocolate, it gives each of us a chance to feel six years old again for a few precious minutes. A Happy Easter to you all!