In March of this year, Heavenly Chocolates‘ chief chocovangelist Benjie Pedro invited me to do something that pretty much caught me off guard: to actually handle the shop’s monthly Chocolate Appreciation 101 workshops.
On one side, I was flattered. On the other, I was seriously scared to death! But, as the old saw says, fortune favors the bold. The best thing to do was go through the material, mess in the kitchen, and put on a show.
Since then, I’ve pretty much pulled myself together to teach people how to appreciate chocolates as opposed to just telling them the old spiel of “Chocolate is good to eat. It is sweet. End of story.” Because, indeed, there is so much more to it than that.
- Good for you as dark chocolate has more anti-oxidants per 100 grams (the size of a standard chocolate bar) than a glass of wine or a cup of green tea. It also helps lower blood pressure and bad cholesterol levels. Plus, it’s a natural anti-depressant;
- A lot older than either coffee or tea. Humanity has been consuming chocolate for over four thousand years. The earliest use of coffee has been traced to the 15th Century AD; tea, on the other hand, is slightly older as the Chinese began drinking it during the 10th Century, BC;
- A cash crop. The Japanese and Koreans pay premium prices for Ghanaian cacao beans and the world’s top chocolatiers actually scramble to get the best possible beans for their confections;
- The end result of a rather complicated process. From picking the ripe pods off the tree to one’s local chocolaterie (or supermarket confections shelf), it takes a great deal of work to produce a single chocolate bar.
Of course, it hasn’t been all chocolate and roses. It’s rather disheartening to see a crowd of folks signing up for the workshop via Facebook only to see only a fraction of that crowd actually in attendance on the day itself. There have also been instances where sullen teenagers (dragged in, presumably, by their chocoholic parents or friends) attend and shun every single bite or sip of chocolate offered during the course of the workshop. And there are those hipster wannabes who play everything up for laughs and I don’t know if they’re really interested or they’re making fun of me and the material. During such times, I actually doubt myself and think that I’m doing a really bad job of it. Times like these, I feel that not even all the chocolate in the world could lift me out of my blue funk.
And yet, there have been times when people come up to me at the end of the workshop to tell me that they enjoyed themselves and promised to come the following month for the next workshop. It’s a promise that many have kept, thank goodness. Plus, it makes me feel good when a non-chocoholic approaches me at the end of the lecture to tell me that I’ve pretty much converted them to the cause. It’s also very uplifting to see people go absolutely crazy over chocolate confections they’ve never tasted before.
Which brings us, of course, to all the chocolate recipes I’ve worked on for the past nine months. It all began with a batch of lavender-infused truffles. My repertoire has since expanded to include truffles infused with spices, rum, and even a peppermint and rose infusion; mendiant-inspired clusters stuffed to the gills with fruit and nuts; and a selection of Oriental and Occidental niceties made with chocolate. (The raspberry ganache-filled mochi was, in fact, a highly successful endeavor.)
I hope that, come next year, my knack for experimenting with chocolate won’t flag and that I’d be able to sustain all this interest in chocolate and a little QC shop called Heavenly Chocolates.
In the meantime, in preparation for the Christmas Season, here’s the recipe for the truffles served at the last workshop for the year held last November 20th. These treats were inspired by Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol and the flavors of a traditional English Christmas.
Christmas Carol Truffles
- 300 grams dark chocolate (minimum 60% cocoa solids), broken up
- 2 tablespoons dried blueberries
- 3 tablespoons brandy
- 250mL carton all-purpose cream
- a pinch each of black pepper, cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom
- cocoa powder for rolling
In a small bowl, soak the blueberries in the brandy for 30 minutes to an hour.
In a saucepan over low-medium heat, place the chocolate pieces, cream, spices, the berries, and brandy. Cook whilst stirring constantly so as to prevent scorching until the chocolate has melted completely and the mixture is smooth.
Cool for about a minute and pour into a freezer container with a lid. Freeze overnight.
To serve, roll out a teaspoon of the ganache in cocoa powder. If desired, chill the resulting truffles for about an hour before serving for a firmer texture.
Makes approximately 50 truffles.