10 facts you didn’t know about chocolate
1) The Aztecs ate chocolate in a quite different way than we do. They used to grind raw cocoa beans into a paste, and eat the stuff without any complements or sweeteners. Adding sugar only became commonplace when the Spanish imported chocolate into Europe.
2) They called chocolate “the food of the gods”. It was no metaphor: they believed it was a divine gift, and only the privileged and powerful were allowed to eat it.
3) There’s a huge discrepancy between the smell and the taste of a cocoa bean. Raw beans have the characteristic smell of dark chocolate truffles, but once you bite into them, you’ll realise that their bitter, smokey flavour has little to do with chocolate bars as you know them.
4) The process that turns coarse ground beans into smooth chocolate is called conching. Conching time determines the texture of your chocolate: it can take up to 78 hours to make it as silky as can be. The first to introduce a conching machine was a certain Rodolphe Lindt. I bet you’re not surprised, are you?
5) One of the world’s finest chocolate makers, Duffy Sheardown, once was a motor racing manager. How about that for a career change!
6) The job of a chocolate maker is completely different from that of a chocolatier. Chocolate makers make chocolate from scratch, from raw cocoa beans; chocolatiers buy blocks of chocolate from the makers, and then craft the shapes and flavours we buy in shops.
7) On average, it takes 50 to 70 cocoa beans to make one chocolate bar.
8) The process that gives your chocolate a glossy shine and firm snap is called tempering. It involves breaking up and stirring cocoa butter crystals until they’re all evenly shaped, before leaving them aside to solidify into your final bar. It’s a rather challenging task, as you have to get the temperature exactly right: crystals will only start breaking up at around 28 – 32°.
9) Chocolate is best stored at room temperature, rather than in the fridge. May that be a prompt to eat up all your chocolate stock before the warm season?
10) If you keep chocolate in the fridge, and notice that it’s becoming white on the surface, don’t panic: it’s all due to a natural process called blooming. Abrupt changes of temperature may lead sugar crystals to rise to the surface and turn white, but your chocolate will still be perfectly edible.
My newfound knowledge about chocolate making is the result of the Chocolate Alchemy class I attended last week, organised by The Indytute as part of the Power of Summer festival at Battersea Power Station. Held by two members of the team behind Paul A. Young‘s award winning fine chocolates, it was a 30-minute session split in two parts: a talk about the history and art of chocolate, and a truffle tasting.
The chocolate tasting was what you’d call short and sweet: although we only tried two truffles, both of them were so addictive, I’d have gone for seconds and thirds. Shame on me for thinking that the scone, clotted cream and jam truffle we had was the latest groundbreaking development in the world of chocolate: British chocolatier Paul A. Young is known for experimenting with all sorts of ingredients, beyond traditional sweet flavours and on to the most daring combinations. During the class, I discovered the existence of a Marmite truffle, a beef truffle, and even a pizza truffle. I wonder what those taste like. But then, I’m a sweet tooth by nature; think I’ll keep stuffing my face with salted caramel truffles, and leave the chocolate and pizza pairing to you adventurers out there!
The Power of Summer at Battersea Power Station
The Power of Summer is your last opportunity to roam around one of London’s most iconic buildings, before it gets knocked down and turned into private (and most likely prohibitive) apartments. The city wanderer and photographer in me took the opportunity with both hands.I know no other city that can turn a derelict industrial site into a stylish setting for a hip event; and I know no other city where run-down buildings and posh neighbourhoods lie next to one another in perfect harmony, as the Battersea Power Station and Chelsea’s mansions for the wealthy have done for so long. I’d always thought of the Battersea Power Station as a vast, inaccessible land of mystery and abandonment, so you can imagine how relieved I felt when I found out that it’s only a ten-minute walk away from Sloane Square station. I wish I’d known it all along; the view is so striking, it’s well worth hundreds of pictures. If you’re curious, though, here are my twenty-odd shots from the day.
Now that the Battersea Power Station’s site is about to close for good, I wonder how long the demolition and reconstruction will take. I’ve read and heard lots about it ever since I moved to London, and so far, the building has outlived all speculations about its future. Is this really its last act, or will it be around for another four or five years? If in doubt, don’t miss the opportunity to spend the next warm summer day (or night) at The Power of Summer. Beware, it’s no cheap affair: the outdoor film screenings organised by Everyman Cinema are priced at around £15, and Street Feast‘s food traders are slightly more expensive than London’s average market stall. On the upside, though, The Indytute’s programme offers a selection of quirky courses, and most of Everyman Cinema’s films are absolute must-sees. Fancy a game of giant Jenga and a glass of prosecco before a screening of Reservoir Dogs or an open-air yoga class? Go on, then, treat yourself.
The Power of Summer
London, SW8 4PE
(nearest tube station: Sloane Square)
Open until 31 August 2014, every day from 12pm to 11.30pm (10pm on Sundays).
Free entry until 6pm on weekdays, then £4 in advance and £5 on the door. No free entry on weekends.
Food, drinks, workshops and cinema tickets priced on top of entry fee.
Note: I received a free pass to Chocolate Alchemy Class, courtesy of The Indytute and Sarah from The Prosecco Diaries. My ticket included free entry to the site, and excluded any food, drinks or cinema tickets. All opinions are my own.