Ooh La La Chocolaterie's sweet sensation shares her passion
Time Out Bahrain staff
How did you get into chocolate-making? I’m not really sure – it just evolved! I have always cooked, and baking and desserts in particular have always been my forte. Someone showed me a competition in a glossy mag for the best chocolate recipe and I thought I’d give it a go… and after several rounds and cook-offs I won. So officially I was Green & Black’s Chocolate Cook of the Year 2006. Doing the research for the competition, on chocolate recipes, flavour combinations and so on, I learned about chocolate and it ignited my desire to find out more. I trained in Manchester, UK, at a pâtisserie school, learning all about the techniques for working with chocolate, the science behind it, how it works and what can go wrong! Since then, having been through the basics, it’s all about experimentation – developing your own style, trying different flavours and different types of chocolate, and creating your own products.
Can you tell us a little bit about the different types of chocolate and production methods? Making chocolate is a lengthy process and requires a lot of expensive machinery, so it’s not something to enter into lightly! The process begins with the cacao plant itself, which grows in hot, humid conditions, mainly around the tropics and the equator (roughly 10 degrees north and south). The plant, whose Latin name is theobrama cacao (which translates as ‘food of the gods’), is quite sensitive, so growing conditions have to be perfect and crops can often fail. There are three types of cocoa bean: trinitario, forestero and criollo. Criollo and trinitario are the finest quality beans, coming from original, species plants, and chocolate made from these beans is considered to be the crème de la crème. Forestero beans are a hybrid and are used for at least 90 per cent of the world’s commercially produced chocolate.
Cocoa pods are about the size of a rugby ball and, unusually for seed pods, grow directly on the trunk of the tree. They vary in colour from rich reds, yellows and greens to the more recognisable dark brown. Once picked they are split open, revealing the beans inside, which are protected by a layer of soft, white fluffy pulp. The smell is very aromatic, rich and fruity and if you ever get the chance to try cocoa pulp you should – it’s delicious, with hints of lychee and passion fruit. Each pod contains between 30 and 45 beans, which are dried in the sun and eventually roasted. The husk of the bean is removed, roasted and crushed into a product known as cocoa nibs – great added to chocolate chip cookies or muesli for texture, and containing a lot of vitamins and minerals, so it’s actually quite good for you.
The rest of the bean is ground and ground, and the cocoa butter extracted, leaving the cocoa solids. These can either be dried and made into cocoa powder, or the cocoa butter is blended back in, with a little sugar, and made into dark chocolate. For milk chocolate, milk powder is added, while white chocolate is made solely from cocoa butter, milk powder and sugar.
What should I look for in a good chocolate? As mentioned above, the ingredients for chocolate are very few, so always check the label and make sure you have cocoa butter and not vegetable fat in your chocolate. Cocoa butter is a prized commodity and is widely used in the beauty and cosmetics industry, so many farmers understandably sell their beans to this industry for a higher price. This often results in vegetable oil being substituted for the cocoa butter in the chocolate. It is usually hydrogenated vegetable oil, which is not good for you (whereas cocoa butter is a ‘good’ fat), and additional sugar is often added to mask the poorer taste. The best rule for buying chocolate is similar to that for wine: ‘buy the best you can afford’.
You can get very expensive chocolate, costing as much as BD4 for 100g, and this is best savoured slowly and eaten as a treat! If you’re baking or cooking with your chocolate, look for a blend that contains cocoa butter, as it will melt more smoothly. If you’re adding other flavours to it, you don’t need to use the most expensive chocolate – try several until you find one you really like. Also, read the labels – most good quality chocolate bars will have tasting notes on the wrapper, indicating whether they are more fruity, woody or have notes of citrus in them. As with wines, there are many distinctive aromas and elements in chocolate, and as many as 1,000 different flavour notes have been identified, so there’s your excuse to keep trying different ones until you find one you really love!
What about storing chocolate? Chocolate is very sensitive, so keep it somewhere cool and dark, and buy in small quantities to keep it fresh. Keep it away from extremes of temperature and avoid humidity and damp. If you have an opened bar of chocolate, keep it in the wrapper or greaseproof paper, and store it in sealed Tupperware or similar.
Most chocolatiers will buy bulk quantities of ‘couverture’, which is a specially refined chocolate that usually contains more cocoa butter than regular chocolate, helping it to melt more easily. They use this as the basis for their products, whether moulded chocolates, handmade truffles or for baking with. Some larger supermarkets will stock couverture and you can also get it from some internet stockists. Be very careful not to confuse it with so-called cooking chocolate, which is usually very poor quality, so best avoided.
Can you produce chocolate from scratch at home? Well, the short answer is no! As I mentioned, a lot of high-tech equipment is needed to actually ‘produce’ chocolate – but you can easily make your own handmade sweets and chocolates at home, and I’ll show you an easy recipe.
Which chocolate companies do you recommend? ...well, there’s a little one called Ooh La La chocolaterie that’s fab! But my main advice would be to start by looking locally – there are lots of small artisanal chocolate companies that need your support. Good chocolates are those that are made fresh – most of the smaller or artisanal companies will make products in small quantities and use fresh produce. Increasing the shelf life of chocolates can only be done by adding sugar, alcohol or artificial preservatives. You won’t get these in fresh chocolates, and you’ll notice the difference in taste and texture. Do you really want to buy a special gift for someone that’s been sitting in a warehouse for six months and then been part of a large glitzty display in a shop for another six months? Contact Antonia via her website, www.oohlalachocolaterie.com
Bahrain’s best chocolateries
Godiva One of the best regarded chocolatiers in Seef Mall, great for presents. Seef Mall, 17 580 699
Hotel Chocolat Bahrain City Centre’s temple to the food of the gods. This place is not cheap, but you’ll struggle to find better. Bahrain City Centre, 17 179 779
La Papillon Thanks to the number of chocoholics in Manama, this place does a roaring trade. Located in front of Dairy Queen, 17 255 542
Lovely Memories The Mahooz magnet for chocolate lovers. Mahooz, 17 722 533
Maya One of Manama’s top chocolate shops in the heart of Bahrain City Centre. Be sure not to miss the great selection of chocolate drinks, and superb strawberry and chocolate fondue. Bahrain City Centre, 17 179 610; Seef Mall, 17 583 368
Patchi This Manama institution is one of the most popular chocolate shops in the city with numerous branches. Located in front of Dairy Queen, 17 250 501
Dutch Delight Retailer of fine chocolates which is hugely popular with Bahrain’s residents Visit www.chocolatdutch.com or call 17 467 565
Creolate This funky chocolate shop has loads of great cocoa-licious gift ideas. Zinj, 77 777 447
Chocolate Caramel Tarts
Ingredients For the pastry: 125g plain flour 15g cocoa powder ½ tsp salt 60g caster sugar 60g butter 30g plain chocolate, melted and cooled 1 egg yolk
For the caramel filling: 80g butter (salted) 110g dark brown muscovado sugar 2 tbsp cream sea salt
For the ganache: 200g dark choc 200g milk choc 200g whipping cream
Method 1 Make the pastry Sift the flour, cocoa powder and salt into a bowl. Next beat the butter and sugar together until pale and creamy, then beat in the cooled chocolate. Now add the flour mixture and egg yolk. Mix until it becomes a dough, then add a tablespoon of milk or extra flour if needed. Chill in the fridge for 30 mins.
2 Make caramelised almonds for decoration Melt sugar in a shallow pan, then dip almonds on cocktail sticks and pierce them into stale bread, so they can stand up and drip to get ‘tails’. This gives a dramatic look to the dish and will persuade people that you’ve been slaving away for hours.
3 Roll out the pastry blind Line a greased tart tin with the pastry, cover with greaseproof paper and weigh it down with baking beans. Bake at gas mark 6 (200°C) for 20-25 mins, uncovering for the last 10 mins to brown slightly.
4 Make the caramel filling Melt butter and sugar in a small saucepan; add cream. Add salt at last minute so the crystals stay whole. Then pour the caramel filling into the cooled tart case.
5 Make the ganache Ganache is an emulsion of chocolate and cream, and forms the basis for most traditional truffles. Chop the chocolate into small pieces, then melt slowly and leave to cool for five-10 mins. Add the whipping cream, which should be at room temperature. Blend gently together until thick and glossy. Spoon this over the caramel filling in the tart, and leave to set for 10-15 mins before serving. The tart will keep for several days.
6 Decorate with the caramelised almonds. Serve with crème fraîche.