It’s Easter weekend, which makes this post eggs-pecially well timed, even if it is six months in the making. Today I’m going to be sharing a few photos and insights from a very special day back in November when I visited Hotel Chocolat in Leeds to take part in one of their bean to bar experience days. Like a good blogger, I wrote up most of the post shortly after my visit and uploaded all of my photos but then a ghastly glitch meant everything disappeared and I couldn’t quite face doing everything again, until now, while surrounded in chocolate I need to avoid eating!
I should start by saying the day was one of my standout food experiences of 2014. I was lucky enough to be invited to review the bean to bar experience while I was in Leeds on my birthday trip and have been recommending them as alternative gifts ever since. if you’ve not yet managed to buy someone an Easter egg or want to give something a little different, I’d say this is a memorable present that gives people the gift of new skills and knowledge as well as oodles of chocolate!
Upon arriving at the Roast & Conch on Boar Street, we were invited to take a seat at the bar and choose a drink to ease us into our chocolate experience. I’m a lady that’s fuelled by caffeine 80% of the time so I had to choose a flat white rather than hot chocolate and it was a pretty good coffee too, just what I needed after a night on the tiles in lovely Leeds!
After a little tour of the Chocolat Lab we took our seats. It was a small group of just four people, so we got lots of attention, had the opportunity to ask lots of questions and all got to take part in the various stages of making. It’s always a pleasure to meet someone who is passionate about food and our guide was incredibly knowledgeable about chocolate. We first learnt about tasting chocolate, identifying different flavours and textures and then talked about the processes behind growing, drying and roasting. We tasted lots of chocolate (yes!) with the most bitter hitting the right notes for me, though I wasn’t a fan of the cocoa in it’s purest form.
I won’t give away too many of the facts and figures we learnt on the day but it was very interesting to learn about the different types of cocoa beans their flowers and yields and what they tend to be used for. I was also surprised to learn that 70 per cent of cocoa’s flavour is locked in by drying with more added at the roasting point. Up until my visit, I knew little about Hotel Chocolat as a company, though it’s usually my first point of call for buying things like Christmas gifts for clients because I like the quality and attention to detail shown in their products. Some of what we learnt during the Bean to Bar talk is covered in this recent interview by the Guardian – namely that Hotel Chocolat has its own growing fields and chocolate Hotel. I’ve always quite fancied visiting the hotel but it’s a bit of a pricy affair, should we win the lottery however I’ll most certainly be making a booking.
The chocolate making itself was surprisingly hard work. Grinding the beans into a paste and then mixing smoothly with sugar was as torturous as making a really good thai curry paste but took far far longer. Naturally, I decided to cheat by swapping my pestle and mortar with my boyfriend’s half way through and felt very smug indeed when my chocolate turned out to be the smoothest.
As you can see from the final photo, chocolate making proved to be a rather messy affair. The tempering of the chocolate also took a lot more skill than I imagined. Ever the show off, Steve rolled up his sleeves and smoothed the chocolate out on the bench to cool it, moving it around like a pro. It’s a shame he doesn’t leave the kitchen bench as clean when he cooks in there!
The final step was to put our chocolate in moulds, which I did with messy grace. Thankfully, in chocolate making messiness doesn’t appear to impair flavour. Once cooled my chocolate was beautifully smooth. Alongside the chocolates we made ourselves we also received a goodie bag of chocolates to take home and a discount for purchases made in store on the day or online after the event. I’ve been to quite a few cookery classes both in the UK and abroad and £65 for an activity that lasts a couple of hours and includes goodies to take home is quite reasonable and something I wouldn’t resent paying at all given the amount of knowledge displayed by our tutors. Until April 6th Hotel Chocolat are offering attendance for two at the course I attended for the discount price of £100, so if you’re tempted to try tempering, now’s the time to do it!