5 February 2024 · Discover ckbk
We asked chocolate expert Cat Black for some sweet recommendations with a Valentine theme. Whether your partner is spicy, fruity, or even a little bit nutty, ckbk offers endless ways to demonstrate your love for them with chocolate.
By Cat Black
“If music be the food of love…”
Well, Shakespeare got that wrong, didn’t he! Chocolate is the food of love and no mistake. From its origins many thousands of years ago in the Upper Amazon, to widespread adulation in the modern world, Theobroma Cacao has compelled us. Originally consumed as a drink – drinks using the pulp were almost certainly fermented and alcoholic – when chocolate finally made its way to the Spanish court in the 1500s, and thence to the rest of Europe, it was the subject of passionate debate. Initially linked with pharmacists and religious practices, there was heated disagreement as to whether it was positively good for you, or positively bad for you. In more recent history the bad-for-you brigade seems to have won, with industrial chocolate reduced to a pale imitation of itself, and mostly made up of milk, sugar and added fats. But the cocoa bean is a glorious thing, enlivening of body and mind. And in the last decade or so a revolution has been taking place, putting chocolate back in its rightful place as a source of stimulation and joy.
Cacao butter has the rare property of melting at body temperature, which gives chocolate its uniquely sensual melt-in-the-mouth quality. Caffeine and theobromine both enhance the mood. And although chocolate is widely available, cacao is grown twenty degrees from the equator, and a sense of the precious and exotic has never faded from our image of fine chocolate. What better thing to give your beloved that than which is refined, decadent, inherently sensual, and makes you feel a million dollars!
The classic chocolate gift is a box of bonbons, in a heart shaped box, if you please. Go one better and create them yourself. The Encyclopedia of Chocolate from Frédéric Bau and the École du Grand Chocolat Valrhona has a thing or two to say about showstopping bonbons and truffles – such as these Sesame-Topped Choco-Cinnamon Ganaches. Take a look also at master pâtissier Peter Greweling’s Chocolates and Confections – for a textural treat try his Chocolate Fudge with Frappe.
One of the joys of chocolate is the complexity of it, the seemingly endless flavor notes to be found – from brightest citrus to its toasted depths, via any number of potential flavor journeys. Cacao is a richly varied thing, and there is a chocolate for everyone. Which means there are any number of flavors to pair with it. So what to choose? Given it is Valentines, and you are offering the chocolate up to your love, let’s be generous and make the chocolate that will be most to their liking. Is your beloved spicy, fruity or just plain nutty? Do they like their booze, or are they altogether a more savory proposition. There is chocolate for all! And you won’t mind will you, as long as they share.
Shall we start with savory, because we usually do. And then we can sweeten things up a bit after. Excavations of the Marañón canyon temple in Peru have found animal bones along with cacao in ancient pottery shards. It is possible, probable even, that cacao was first eaten in savory food. Take your cue from Latin America and cook up a Chicken Mole. Or go to France, where they know a thing or two about cooking, chocolate, and romance, and make a Venison Bourguignon with Dark Chocolate & Star Anise. If you just want to dip your toe in the chocolate and savory thing, metaphorically (or literally given the occasion), try Chantal Coady’s Olive Chocolate Tapenade – surprising, and surprisingly good, it is legendary for a reason.
For those who love spice, you are in good company. It is likely that the early maize-thickened drinking chocolate beloved by the Mayans and Aztecs was spiced with chili, such as this Spiced Hot Chocolate. For a fully romantic spice hit, serve up these Chili Chocolate Cream Hearts – ideal for a warm-blooded Valentine.
If you, or they, are feeling fruity, you have a wealth of options to choose from. Not all fruit is a match made in heaven with chocolate. It depends on the fruit, and the chocolate to create harmony. For citrus I’d go with white chocolate, such as in this White Chocolate & Lime Tart. The white chocolate mellows out the sharper notes of the fruit, the citrus lifts the white chocolate away from being too sickly sweet. Milk chocolate can be very sweet too, fine for a nibble – try these Milk Chocolate Truffles – but a bit much for a whole dessert. With darker chocolate, the kitchen has no limits, the intense flavors lend themselves to all you could wish. You can go classic – make a decadent Black Forest Cherry Cake. Or amp up the fruitiness with these Fresh Fruit Chocolate Bars.
The trick with pairing chocolate and other flavors is a game of two halves. You can pair like with like. If you have a chocolate with a fruity flavor profile it can work well with other fruits, enhancing the brighter notes. Bright fruity chocolate is also your best bet for a very chocolatey recipe, a Chocolate Tart or Brownies, making it altogether lighter in flavor, and therefore easier to eat a whole one, or two.
Or you can pair against type, making a chocolate raspberry dish – such as this Moist Chocolate Raspberry Génoise – with a smokier, deeper-flavored chocolate, in which the flavors are complementary, rather than similar. Opposites do attract, after all. When choosing chocolate to cook with, taste your way around the dark chocolate you can find, see which you like, and go from there.
Now we are getting the hang of this cooking with chocolate, let’s go nuts. Chocolate and nuts are divine together, we know that. So, I’ll just make some suggestions. If cake will woo them bake them a Chocolate Caramel Pecan Bundt Cake, or for fine skilled patisserie perfection how about this Chocolate, Miso, Hazelnut dessert. Who could resist the promise of a Total Heaven Chocolate Almond Cake, or go all the way with a many-nut-studded Chocolate Salami.
It's late in the evening, and booze suits the mood. Although who needs it if we have chocolate? But still, chocolate does love rum, and brandy, and whisky, and champagne… For a hint of the strong stuff, float away with your love on a Chocolate Cloud Cake. Get fancy with a Vanishing Soufflé with Chocolate Brandy Custard, or perhaps, Valentines will be a good one for you and you’ll have reason to celebrate with these Champagne Truffles.
Happy Valentines all, have a delicious one. Make any and all of the above for your Valentine, your Galentine, or frankly make it all just for yourself. You deserve it!
Cat Black is a member of The Guild of Food Writers and Grand Jury member of The International Chocolate Awards. Cat has an all-consuming passion for all that is finest in the world of chocolate. She also co-wrote Sex & Drugs & Sausage Rolls with chef Graham Garrett, and is also the author of The Great British Bake Off, Bake It Better: Chocolate.