It’s thought cacao trees were discovered around 450BCE in Mexico and cacao soon became revered and prized as a valuable gift from the gods. The beans were fermented and, with spices or maize added, made into a bitter-flavoured medicinal hot drink; an aphrodisiac and for inner strength. I loved the Mexican hot chocolate when I was travelling around the country; sugar, cinnamon and water were added to the ground, fermented, roasted beans to make a light, restorative drink that’s quite different to our version here.
hocolate is steeped in history and trade, and was long used as a currency. It was only in the last couple of centuries that it made its way to this side of the world as sugary bars.
When the cacao beans have been fermented, they are dried and roasted before being winnowed or hulled. This process removes the bean shells and leaves the cacao nibs. The nibs are ground and liquefied into a cocoa ‘liquor’ before being pressed to separate the pale-yellow cocoa butter from the cocoa solids — the nutritious part containing caffeine and antioxidants.
Different types of chocolate are made by adding varying amounts of cocoa butter back into the pure liquor. Other ingredients, such as sugar, milk solids, vanilla, additional fats (found in cheaper chocolates) and other flavours, are added during this step.
The next step is ‘conching’, a refining process that slowly mixes the ingredients together under heat while continuously grinding them to create the silky-smooth finish we expect from chocolate.
White chocolate doesn’t actually contain any cocoa solids (some people claim it isn’t chocolate at all), but it does contain cocoa butter, with the addition of milk solids, sugar and sometimes vanilla. In order to be called ‘chocolate’, it has to contain at least 20pc cocoa butter.
Milk chocolate falls somewhere between white and dark chocolate, and must contain at least 25pc cocoa solids. The remaining 75pc will be made up of cocoa butter, milk solids and sugar.
Dark chocolate varies in its minimum cocoa-solid percentage, and it also has small amounts of cocoa butter, if any. It can contain as little as 40pc cocoa solids but starts getting really deep and delicious in flavour from about 55pc. The remaining ingredient will be just sugar, so the higher the percentage of cocoa solids in your dark chocolate, the lower it is in sugar. You can buy unsweetened dark chocolate, which contains 100pc cocoa solids, for the intense chocolate hit without any sugar.
To the purists, white chocolate might not be chocolate, but I love it and use it in baking for its smooth, creamy sweetness like in these delicious blondies, featured below — brownies made with white instead of dark chocolate. The addition of peanut butter and vanilla make these gooey and utterly addictive.
I love this double chocolate mousse cake featured below. It’s luscious and rich, yet wonderfully light. It’s also gluten-free and will keep well (covered with an upturned bowl out of the fridge) for a few days.
I love the magic of coconut and chocolate and these macaroons, below, are simple and delicious. They go particularly well with some white chocolate drizzled over them. If you feel like experimenting, add a half-teaspoon of raspberry jam into the dip of the macaroons before baking, or some lemon curd.
I’ve also included a super-simple chocolate mousse recipe her that I make a lot. It really showcases the chocolate, so feel free to use a dark, complex 75pc or even 82pc cocoa-solids chocolate if that’s what you love; for a sweeter version, use 50pc or 55pc dark chocolate. Add a little brandy, whiskey or liqueur if you wish, or a half-teaspoon of finely grated orange zest — or, if you love that salted chocolate mix, as I do, then a pinch of sea salt flakes.
Peanut butter and white chocolate blondies
You will need:
125g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
100g butter, softened
150g crunchy peanut butter
175g soft light brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
75g white chocolate (chopped or in drops)
Icing sugar, for dusting (optional)
1 Preheat the oven to 170C (150 fan) 325F, Gas 3.
2 Line the base and sides of a 20cm square cake tin with parchment paper.
3 Sift the plain flour and the baking powder into a bowl and set aside.
4 In a separate bowl, cream the softened butter and the peanut butter together until very soft. Add the soft light brown sugar, the beaten egg and the vanilla extract and beat until combined.
5 Add the sifted flour and baking powder, and the white chocolate pieces and mix to form a dough.
6 Tip the dough into the prepared tin and use the back of a spoon to smooth out the top, then bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes or until golden brown and almost firm in the centre.
7 Allow to cool in the tin. Dust with icing sugar if you are using it, then cut into squares.
When making the peanut butter and white chocolate blondies, it’s a good idea to butter or oil the base of the tin before putting in the parchment paper as it stops it slipping when you’re putting in the blondie mixture.
Simple and very delicious chocolate mousse
You will need:
120g dark chocolate
1-2 tablespoons rum, whiskey, brandy, Grand Marnier or ½ teaspoon finely grated orange zest, or a pinch of sea salt flakes
2 eggs, separated
1 Finely chop the dark chocolate.
2 In a saucepan, bring the cream to the boil, turn off the heat, add the chocolate to the cream and stir it around until the chocolate melts. Add the alcohol, or the orange zest or the sea salt, whichever you’re using, and whisk in the egg yolks.
3 Before using the egg whites, see point 6 if you’d prefer a more intense chocolate mousse. In a separate, clean, dry bowl, whisk the egg whites until just stiff, then stir ¼ of the whisked egg white into the chocolate cream.
4 Tip the mixture into the remainder of the egg whites and fold together gently, being careful not to knock the air out.
5 Spoon the chocolate mousse into little bowls, glasses or cups and leave for an hour or two in the fridge to set.
6 For a really intense chocolate mousse, leave out the two beaten egg whites and serve in tiny espresso cups.
Double chocolate mousse cake
You will need:
50g butter, plus extra for greasing the tins
200g dark chocolate (chopped or in drops)
150g caster sugar
Pinch of salt
For the chocolate mousse, you will need:
100g dark chocolate
2 eggs, separated
1 Preheat the oven to 180C (160 fan), 350F, Gas 4.
2 Line the base of two 18cm cake tins and rub the inside with butter.
3 Put the chocolate and the 50g of butter in a bowl sitting over a saucepan of water. Bring the water to the boil, then take it off the heat and allow the chocolate to melt slowly.
4 Separate the eggs. Put the egg whites in one bowl, and the egg yolks in another bowl with the caster sugar. Whisk the egg yolks and the sugar for a few minutes until pale and light — use an electric whisk if you wish.
5 Beat the chocolate mixture into the egg yolk and sugar mixture, then whisk the egg whites with the pinch of salt in another bowl (making sure the whisk is clean and dry) until they form stiff peaks. Fold into the chocolate mixture.
6 Divide the mixture between the two prepared cake tins and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. A skewer inserted into the centre should just come out clean — but remember, the mixture should remain moist, it’s not a sponge. Take the cakes out of the oven and allow them to sit for 30 minutes before taking out of the tins.
7 Next, make the chocolate mousse coating. Place the dark chocolate in a bowl sitting over a saucepan with water. Bring the water to the boil, then take off the heat and allow the chocolate to melt slowly. Separate the eggs and beat the yolks into the warm chocolate, then beat in the butter.
8 Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then fold one-quarter of them into the chocolate. Tip the chocolate mixture into the egg white bowl and gently fold together. Place in the fridge for 1-2 hours, gently folding the mixture in from the edges of the bowl every half an hour or so, until it’s stiff enough to ‘ice’ the cake without it falling off.
9 When ready to ice, put one cooled cake upside down on a plate or cake stand. Place a couple of heaped tablespoons of the mousse over the top (as though generously, buttering a slice of bread), then cover with the second cake, standing upright, then ice the top and sides of the cakes and transfer to a cake stand or plate.
10 Serve with ice cream or tea. If not devoured immediately, this cake will keep well in a sealed tin for a couple of days.
Chocolate coconut macaroons
You will need:
125g desiccated coconut
125g caster sugar
2 egg whites
For the topping, you will need:
100g dark, milk or white chocolate (in drops or chopped)
1 generous tablespoon desiccated coconut
1 Preheat the oven to 170C (150 fan), 325F, Gas 3. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
2 Put the desiccated coconut and the caster sugar in a bowl and mix together.
3 Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl for about 10 seconds, just long enough to break them up.
4 Pour most of the whisked egg white into the desiccated coconut and sugar mixture, and mix to bring together to a dough. You might not need all the whisked egg white, but it’s also possible you might even need a bit more.
5 Shape the mixture into balls a bit smaller than a golf ball and place them on the prepared tray. Flatten each ball slightly using the back of a spoon or the palm of your hand — the flattened ball should be about 1.5cm thick. Press your thumb in the centre of each one so that there is a slight dip in the centre.
6 Bake in the preheated oven for approximately 10-12 minutes until the macaroons are a light golden brown on top and underneath. Don’t place them too close to the bottom of the oven if you’re using a conventional oven as they can sometimes burn underneath if you’re not careful.
7 Cool the macaroons on a wire rack once they are baked.
8 Melt the dark, milk or white chocolate, whichever you’re using, in a bowl sitting over a saucepan with some water (as in the tip, below). Drizzle the melted chocolate very generously over the cooled macaroons, or dip them into the melted chocolate. Scatter with the desiccated coconut and set aside for the chocolate to set.
When melting chocolate, doing it really slowly is the key. Put the chocolate drops or chopped chocolate into a Pyrex bowl that’s sitting over a saucepan with cold water in it. The water should not touch the base of the bowl. Place the saucepan with the bowl on top on a medium heat until the water just starts to steam under the chocolate, then turn off the heat and let the chocolate melt slowly. Be particularly careful that the water doesn’t get too hot or the chocolate can ‘block’ or solidify.
https://www.independent.ie/life/food-drink/recipes/rachel-allens-recipes-for-peanut-butter-blondies-coconut-macaroons-and-moreish-mousse-are-chocolate-heaven-41986394.html Rachel Allen’s recipes for peanut butter blondies, coconut macaroons and moreish mousse are chocolate heaven