We all love chocolate

Chocolate, chocolate everywhere – Easter wouldn’t be quite the same without chocolate eggs and bunnies, hyper children and guilt ridden parents. Only the sweet-toothed Danes munch their way through more chocolate than the Irish who spent a cool €20 million on chocolate eggs last Easter, and manufacturers are optimistic that the figure will rise by 10% this year.
What is it about chocolate that makes us feel so guilty about every nibble.
Chocolate is perceived to be fattening. Cheap poor quality chocolate unquestionably is – sweet, cloying, packed with hydrogenated vegetable fats, nut oils and a host of artificial flavourings – all the disadvantages and none of the advantages in one chunky bar. This kind of product often contains as little as 5% cocoa and not a scrap of cocoa butter in sight.
What’s so special about cocoa butter? Cocoa butter occurs naturally in cocoa beans and has many desirable qualities, you can feel the difference as it melts in your mouth, but more importantly, some hydrogenated fats have been linked with serious health problems, whereas cocoa butter can actually lower blood cholesterol levels.
However, there’s absolutely no need for doom and gloom. The fact is, real chocolate is one of the most easily digested and nutritious foods. It contains a multitude of vitamins – Vitamins A, B, C, D & E, minerals – Calcium, Potassium, Sodium, Magnesium, Iron, Copper, Zinc, Chromium and Phosphorus, as well as complex alkaloids, all of which contribute to our well-being.
Good quality real chocolate is low in sugar and has a low glycaemic index – in other words one feels satisfied for longer.
Research has also clearly shown that there is a naturally occurring anti-depressant in chocolate – called Phenylethylamine (PEA) which increases the serotonin levels in the brain. Low levels of PEA are found in people who are depressed, chocolate affects the hormones in the brain in a similar way to morphine and so can help to relieve pain, even the smell has a calming effect on the brain.
Some homeopathic doctors use chocolate to temper feelings of hostility – especially when mothers feel frustration and anger toward their children. Real chocolate apparently has the effect of restoring the nurturing instinct and promotes a general feeling of wellbeing.
Another surprising piece of research found that cocoa possesses anti-bacterial properties which help to prevent tooth decay! Dentists agree that pure chocolate is significantly less harmful to the teeth than lollipops and boiled sweets.
So where can we find really good quality pure chocolate – what should we look out for?
Start by reading the label – look out for a high cocoa content 50-70% cocoa solids is good. Pure vanilla rather than vanillin (an artificial flavouring derived from pine trees), is also an indication of higher quality, but the variety of the cocoa bean is also crucial, Forastero is the bulk cocoa bean which is not considered to be particularly fine, Criollo is the original, best, and almost endangered cocoa bean. However, we’re now becoming a bit technical for those of us who just want gorgeous chocolate without hassle. Green & Black’s produce superb organic Fair Trade chocolate and chocolate ice-cream to die for. Also seek out Valrhona, L’Esme Callebaut, Menier, Lindt, Suchard, Leonidas, Lily O’Briens. Really good chocolate is now widely available so one can have a little of what we fancy without any of the guilt pangs.

Chocolate Ganache Sponge

Serves 8-9

3 free range eggs
8ozs/225g/1 cup castor sugar
3flozs/75ml water
4ozs/110g/ ½ cup white flour
1oz/25g cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder

2 x 8 inch sandwich tins.
Preheat the oven to 190ºC/375ºF/Gas 5
Line the base of each of the tins with a round of greaseproof paper, then grease with melted butter and flour. Separate the eggs. Whisk the yolks and castor sugar for 2 minutes. Blend in water. Whisk until the mousse will hold a figure of 8, 10 minutes approx. Fold in sifted flour, cocoa and baking powder. Wisk the egg whites until they hold a stiff peak. Fold them in very gently. Divide the mixture between the greased sandwich tins. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes approx.
Cool on a wire rack. Meanwhile make the ganache.

Chocolate ganache

½ lb/225g dark chocolate
½ pint/300ml/ 1 ¼ cups cream

Put the cream in a heavy bottomed, preferably stainless steel saucepan and bring it almost to the boil. Remove from the heat and add the chopped chocolate. With a wooden spoon, stir the chocolate into the cream until it is completely melted. Transfer the chocolate cream to the bowl of a food mixer and allow it to cool to room temperature. Whisk until it is just stiff together with whipped cream or ganache. Spread ganache all over the top and sides of the cake. Pipe 8 or 9 rosettes on top of the cake and decorate with curls of chocolate.

Alan’s Chocolate Cake

This so-easy cake given to me by my nephew Alan has proven so popular we make it again and again here at the school.
Maybe the teenagers in the house would like to try it for Easter, decorated with fluffy yellow chicks and little speckled chocolate eggs.

6 oz (175g) flour
6 oz (175g) castor sugar
6 oz (175g) butter
3 eggs
1 ½ level teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ ozs (35g) cocoa
2 ½ tablespoons natural yoghurt

2 x 7 inch (18cm) sandwich tins, greased and floured.

Mix all ingredients together in Magimix till just blended together. Divide between the two tins.
Bake at 180ºC/350ºF/regulo 4 for 20 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Icing and Filling

2 bars Bourneville chocolate
1 bar Dairy milk chocolate
2 small or 1 large egg

Melt chocolate in a bowl over hot water and whisk in eggs. Fill and ice cake with this mixture. Decorate as desired.
Eat and tuck in.

Ballymaloe Chocolate Almond Gateau

Serves 8-10

One of several incredibly rich chocolate cakes, use the best chocolate you can buy, Valrhona, Menier, Suchard or Callebaut. This cake keeps incredibly well if you can resist. Enjoy a small slice with a cup of expresso.

4 ozs (110g) best quality dark chocolate
2 tablespoons Red Jamaica Rum
4 ozs (110g) butter, preferably unsalted
4 ozs (110g) castor sugar
3 free-range eggs
1 tablespoon castor sugar
2 ozs (55g) plain white flour
2 ozs (55g) whole almonds or best quality ground almonds

toasted flaked almonds and crystallized violets

Chocolate Icing
4 ozs (110g) best quality dark chocolate
2 tablespoons Red Jamaica Rum
4 ozs (110g) unsalted butter

2 x 18cm (7inch) sandwich tins

Preheat the oven to 180ºC/350ºF/regulo 4. Grease the tins and line the base of each with greaseproof paper. Melt the chocolate with the rum on a very gentle heat.
Bring a small saucepan of water to the boil and add the almonds. Bring back to the boil for 2-3 minutes. Test one to see if the skin is loose. Drain and peel and discard the skins. Grind in a food processor, they should still be slightly gritty.
Cream the butter, and then add the castor sugar, beat until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks. Whisk the egg whites with a tablespoon of sugar and a pinch of salt until stiff. Add 1 tablespoon of castor sugar and continue to whisk until they reach the stiff peak stage. Add the melted chocolate to the butter and sugar mixture and then add the almonds. Stir in ¼ of the egg white mixture followed by ¼ of the sieved flour. Fold in the remaining eggs and flour alternatively until they have all been added.
Divide between the two prepared tins and make a hollow in the centre of each cake.

IMPORTANT: Cake should be slightly underdone in the centre. Sides should be cooked but the centre a little unset. Depending on oven it can take between 19 and 23 minutes. (We usually cook for 19 minutes).

Chocolate Butter Icing
Melt 4 ozs best quality chocolate with two tablespoons rum. Beat in 4 ozs unsalted butter by the tablespoon. Beat occasionally until cool. If the icing liquifies, put into the fridge to firm up, whisk until stiff.
When the cake is completely cold, fill and ice with the mixture. Pipe the remaining icing around the top and decorate with toasted flaked almonds and crystallized violets.

Easter Chocolate Mousse Cake

This cake is more of a challenge and time consuming to make, but the end result which is luscious and delicious is well worth the effort.
Serves 6 - 8

For the genoise
3½ ozs (100g) flour, 1 oz (30g) cocoa powder
½ level teasp. baking powder, pinch of salt
2 ozs (55g) unsalted butter
4 eggs, preferably free range
5 ozs (140g) sugar
½ teasp. pure vanilla essence

For the chocolate mousse:
10 ozs (285g) dark dessert chocolate, chopped
6 eggs, separated
6 ozs (170g) unsalted butter
1 teasp. pure vanilla extract or 2 tablesp. Grand Marnier liqueur

8 ozs (225g) dark dessert chocolate (for chocolate curls and decoration)
Chantilly cream made with ¾ pint (450ml) double cream, 2 tablesp. sugar and 1 teasp. vanilla essence
A little icing sugar and cocoa powder for dredging.
For decoration: Easter chicks and mini Easter eggs
9-10 inch (23-25cm) diameter round cake tin or genoise tin, 1¾ inch (4.5cm) deep.

Set the oven at moderate 180C/350F/regulo 4 and prepare the cake tin. Brush the inside of the tin with melted butter. Line the base with a circle of greaseproof paper that exactly fits and butter it also. Leave it for a few minutes and then sprinkle the tin with flour, discarding the excess.
Sieve the flour with the cocoa, baking powder and salt. Clarify the butter. Put the eggs in a large bowl, gradually whisk in the sugar. Put the bowl over a pan of hot but not boiling water, whisk for 8-10 minutes, or until the mixture is light and thick enough to make a distinct figure of 8 when the whisk is lifted. Take the bowl from the heat, add the vanilla essence and continue beating until cool. If you use a big electric mixer to beat genoise, the mixture needn't be whisked over hot water, this step cannot be eliminated however when using a small or hand-held mixer.
Sieve the flour over the mixture in three batches, folding in each batch as lightly as possible with a wooden spatula or metal spoon. Just after the last batch, pour the cool butter around the side of the bowl and fold in gently and quickly because the whisked mixture quickly loses volume after the butter is added. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the preheated oven for 35-40 minutes or until the mixture springs back when lightly pressed with a fingertip. Cool on a wire rack. The cake can be baked ahead and kept in an airtight container for 2-3 days or it can be frozen.
For the chocolate mousse:
Melt the chocolate in a pan over hot water or in a very cool oven and stir until smooth. Beat the egg yolks one by one into the hot mixture so it thickens slightly. Beat in the butter and vanilla essence or liqueur. Allow to cool slightly. Whip the egg whites until stiff, add the tepid chocolate mixture to them and fold the two together as lightly as possible, the warm mixture will lightly cook and stiffen the whites. Leave to cool at room temperature, not in the fridge, otherwise the mousse will harden and become difficult to spread.
Chocolate decorations:
Melt the 8ozs (225g) of chocolate in a pan over hot water and stir until smooth. Pour the chocolate onto a very cold surface or marble slab. Spread into a very thin sheet with a palette knife. Allow to cool until almost set. Shave off curls with a knife (chocolate caraque). Store the curls in the fridge until needed.
To assemble the Easter cake
Split the genoise in 3 layers. Spread the chocolate mousse on the bottom layer. Place the second layer of genoise on top and spread it with the Chantilly cream. Top with the third layer and spread the remaining mousse on the top and sides of the cake. Decorate the sides with some of the chocolate curls, arrange the remainder of the curls around the edge of the cake as though it were a nest. Dredge with a little icing sugar and cocoa powder. Fill the centre with mini eggs and decorate with Easter chicks.

Foolproof Food

Brownies

A great American favourite - the relatively large amount of sugar gives brownies their delicious and characteristic crust.

32 ozs (100g) butter
7 ozs (200g) castor sugar
2 eggs
2 teasp. vanilla essence
2 ozs (55g) best quality dark chocolate
3 ozs (85g ) white flour
2 teasp. baking powder
3 teasp. salt
4 ozs (110g) chopped walnuts

1 x 8 inch (20.5cm) tin lined with silicone paper

Melt the chocolate in a bowl in a low oven.
Cream the butter and sugar and beat in the lightly whisked eggs, the vanilla essence and melted chocolate. Lastly stir in the flour, baking powder and chopped nuts. Spread the mixture in the square tin and bake in a moderate oven 180C/350F/regulo 4, for approx. 30-35 minutes.

Cut into 2 inch (5cm) squares for serving. 

Hot Tips

Valrhona is considered by chefs and hedonists to be the aristocrat of chocolate. For your nearest supplier contact Freda Wolfe on 086-3871285 or Chris on 01-4691400 or check out the Valrhona website at www.valrhona.com 

Green & Black’s Chocolate – available in good food shops and Fair Trade outlets nationwide.

Eve – Cork’s prize winning chocolatier at Flair Confectionery – 8 College Commercial Park, Magazine Road, Cork. Tel 021 4347781

O’Conaill Chocolatiers, The Rock, Church Rd, Carrigaline, Co Cork
Tel 021-4373407 info@irishchocolate.net  www.oconaillchocolate.com
Handmade chocolates and specialities, including diabetic chocolate and couverture chocolate for retail and wholesale catering market.

Lily O’Briens and other Irish made favourites include Butlers, Celtic, , Lir, Skellig …..

Leonidas Chocolates – available nationally –
www.leonidas-chocolate.com