Win a year’s supply of Kinder Bueno!

The lovely people at Kinder Bueno emailed me yesterday to ask if Gastronomy Domine could host another competition. This is just perfect for Christmas – by answering one easy question, you can win a whole year’s supply of chocolate.

This is the question:

The Kinder Bueno site (where you can also pick up some handy party tips) asks visitors to choose what the best thing about Christmas is. What options does the site give you?

A – The parties and family

B – The parties and prezzies

C – Family and prezzies

Simply email your answer to gastronomydomine@gmail.com with the title “Kinder Bueno Competition” by 31st December 2007. A winner will be selected at random from the correct answers. One lucky reader will receive a Kinder Bueno bar for each week of 2008!

Terms and conditions

The competition is open to UK residents only. The winner will be the first entry drawn at random after the closing date of 31st December and will win 52 Kinder Buenos.

Christmas chocolate competition!

Hotel Chocolat have come up trumps again and are offering one lucky Gastronomy Domine reader a Christmas chocolate selection box and a copy of the Hotel Chocolat 101 Best Loved Chocolate Recipes book. I get to sit back for this one – it’s your turn to do the cooking.

Hotel Chocolat is looking for your very best Christmas-themed chocolate recipes. Think Christmas choc-chip cookies, chocolate yule log, or chocolate Christmas puddings. All you have to do is to submit your recipe (the more original the better), and you could win lots of lovely chocolate. The winner of the Gastronomy Domine competition will also be automatically entered into the Hotel Chocolat Grand Prize recipe competition, and could win even more seasonal chocolate goodies! And believe me, they are good – I’ve just been to a chocolate tasting with them and was blown away by some of the Christmas selections.

So, are you the best chocolate cook in the country? Only one way to find out – click here to submit your entry. The competition page will recognise that you’ve come from Gastronomy Domine, so get your weighing scales out and start cooking! The competition closes at 11.59pm on December 10 2007.

Truffle wars

TrufflesOne of Gastronomy Domine’s friends over at Hotel Chocolat sent me a link to a news story yesterday. It appears the head chocolatier from Thornton’s (another UK chocolate shop – I like their chocolates much less than Hotel Chocolat’s, but Thornton’s does carry a very good diabetic range which has the added bonus of using sweeteners which induce explosive diarrhoea in the greedy) walked into a Hotel Chocolat shop and used a vindictive thumb to crush the creamy life out of £63.50-worth of truffles. His motives are, thus far, unknown. Perhaps, like me, he didn’t like the Marc de Champagne ones.

He’s since left his job. A shame; I’ve seldom heard a phrase so delightful as Hotel Chocolat’s “This was a extraordinary act of truffle-squishing”.

Chocolate brownies

I’ve had a couple of emails asking for a brownies recipe to accompany the blondies I posted here a few weeks ago. Your wish, dear reader, is my command.

These brownies are very easy to make. They’re squodgy, squishy, chocolatey and have that lovely caramel-nut flavour that only toasted pecans can give. It’s very easy to adapt this recipe – if you want to try toasted hazelnuts instead of the pecans, or to add some chocolate chips, you have my blessing.

For families who fight over the slices of brownie which have come from the edge of the tin (the pieces with a crisp, chewy edge and a wonderful gradation of softness into the middle), there’s a solution to your problems: the Edge Brownie Pan. This baking tin is designed like paths in a maze, and ensures that every slice of brownie you bake has at least two edges. (The cook deserves the pieces with three.) I really must buy one of these.

Use a chocolate which has as high a percentage of cocoa solids as you can find. To make a large tray (mine measures 10 x 14 inches, just right for making enough brownies for a party), you’ll need:

1 pat salted butter (8 oz, or 110 g)
4 oz (100g) plain dark chocolate, high in cocoa solids
4 eggs
1 lb (450g) caster sugar
4 oz (100g) plain flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
Pinch of salt
6 oz (150g) toasted pecan nuts

You can toast the nuts yourself in a dry frying pan over a medium flame. Watch carefully to make sure the nuts do not burn – they can turn from nicely toasted to bitter and burned in moments.

Preheat the oven to 180° C (350°F).

Melt the butter and chocolate together. You can use the microwave or a bowl suspended over some boiling water (a bain marie).

While the butter and chocolate are melting, beat the eggs, salt and sugar together with the vanilla essence, and line a baking tin with greaseproof paper. Stir the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture and sieve the flour into the bowl. Stir until everything is well blended.

Turn out the brownie mix into the lined tin, and sprinkle the pecans over the raw batter. (I prefer to add the pecans to the mix when it’s in the tray rather than adding them in the bowl, as it means you’ll get a more even distribution.) Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes, until the mixture starts to come away from the sides and the top has a dry, crackling look to it. It will still be soft in the centre.

While the brownies are still hot from the oven, divide into squares. After about ten minutes they will have firmed up enough to transfer to racks to cool.

Hotel Chocolat Easter Egg

Hotel Chocolat sent me their Signature Egg to review a couple of weeks ago. This was excellent news – I am a big fan of Hotel Chocolat, who are my favourite high-street chocolatiers. They currently have 21 shops in the UK, a mail-order chocolate tasting service and some really interesting products – my very favourite thing in the whole shop is the cocoa nibs, which are simply little shards of cocoa bean with no sugar.

The Signature Egg, cleverly, uses milk chocolate for one half of the shell and dark for the other. This was one of the best chocolate shells I’ve tasted – it’s extra-thick, and the dark chocolate in particular is very good; not too sweet, and extremely smooth with a lovely creamy texture. Hotel Chocolat have their own cocoa plantation in the West Indies, which guarantees the quality of the chocolate. I had some Cadbury’s chocolate in the kitchen to taste as a sort of control chocolate,which was granular and tooth-hurtingly sweet by comparison.

You can see the very pretty mini-eggs that fill the shell in the photograph. They are all liqueur creams…and this is where the Signature Egg, with its gorgeous, thick shell, falls down. On paper, the flavours looked great; pink Marc de Champagne, Tiramisu, Kirsch, Amaretto and so on. Unfortunately, the lecithin-slippery centres all tasted rather synthetic (the pink Marc being a dead ringer for Angel Delight). Advocaat, a flavour I usually dislike, was by far the best (and appropriately Easterish, being made from egg yolks), but the Kir cream managed to mimic cough mixture. Still – these were sweet, and sufficiently grown-up tasting that you won’t find them being stolen by the kids. Unless the kids happen to like Kirsch.

Hotel Chocolat is currently running an Easter-Egg Hunt competition to win a rather lovely-looking Easter Hamper full of chocolatey goodness. You can enter until April 2. Happy hunting!

Blondies

UK readers might not be familiar with blondies, one of my favourite American baking recipes. Imagine a giant, tray-baked, chocolate-chip cookie, or a squashy brownie made from a sweet cookie dough instead of the regular chocolate dough. This is an easy, quick recipe, and it’ll make you a heap of blondies big enough to feed everyone in the house several times over.

I don’t buy chocolate chips or chunks for baking; instead, I use a really good bar of chocolate (Green and Black’s is excellent for cooking) and chop it up with a large knife. It only takes a couple of minutes, and doing it this way means you’ll be able to use a much higher quality chocolate in your baking than you can usually find in ready-chipped chunks.

To make 30 squares, you’ll need:

2 cups plain flour
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
1 cup melted butter
2 cups soft light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 eggs
1 cup pecan nuts
A 150g bar of good dark chocolate, chopped into chunks with a large knife

Preheat the oven to 180° C (350° F).

Melt the butter and use a fork to mix it well with the sugar and almond and vanilla extracts, then beat in the eggs with the fork. Add the sieved flour and baking powder, blend well with the fork, then stir in the nuts and chocolate. Spread the mixture evenly into a non-stick baking dish to a depth of about a centimetre, and bake for 30 minutes, until the blondies are coming away from the sides of the dish. They will be crisp at the edges and soft in the middle.

Feel free to experiment a bit with these – use milk chocolate, a different kind of nut, more chocolate, dried fruits and whatever you feel like.

Slice into thirty pieces and serve as soon as the blondies are cool. These keep well in an airtight box, although my guess is that you’ll have eaten them all before you get a chance to test how well they keep.

Flavoured chocolates

I’ve recently started fixating on good, high-cocoa chocolates with unusual flavourings. Forget Terry’s Chocolate Orange – I want a bar full of exotic fruits, flower flavours and exciting spices. They’re increasingly popular at the moment; branches of Hotel du Chocolat are springing up all over the place, and Rococo Chocolates, NewTree and good old Green and Black’s are now supplying supermarkets. (Those after the ultimate posh chocolate experience should put in an order at l’Artisan du Chocolat, where flavours include banana and thyme, tonka bean and tobacco. The chocolates are expensive, but those I’ve had have been absolutely excellent – sadly, though, I have eaten the grand total of two of the things in my entire life. If I can get my hands on a box for Christmas, you’ll see them reviewed here.)

At the supermarket this week, I found myself scooping bars of chocolate into the basket like a woman possessed. Made to put most of them back by Dr Weasel, I held onto an organic bar of dark chocolate and cardamom from Rococo, and a bar of lavender and lime blossom milk chocolate from NewTree.

Rococo are based in Chelsea’s King’s Road, and have been producing organic chocolates of remarkably high quality for nearly 20 years. Luckily for you, they’ve discovered e-commerce and now ship worldwide, and some of their artisan bars and gift collections now appear in Waitrose. Their flower fondants are my very favourites, and have solidly replaced Charbonnel & Walker’s rose and violet creams in my affections. Always a sucker for good packaging design, I’m absolutely enchanted by Rococo’s wrappers, which use images from an 1850s French catalogue of chocolate moulds.

This cardamom artisan bar is, for me, about as good as dark chocolate gets. Cardamom has that same affinity with a bitter chocolate as it does with good, bitter coffee, and the 65% cocoa solids and high percentage of cocoa butter give the bar a beautifully clean snap when broken. The crisp, granular shards of cardamom seeds are glorious against the silky texture of the chocolate. It is unfortunate that these are so darn good; I can quite happily eat one in a single sitting.

NewTree (beware – very busy Flash site with music) a Belgian chocolate makers, are a brand I’d not come across before, but once I saw the label on their Tranquility milk chocolate, boasting lime blossom extract and lavender, I was sold. A single bar is said to have the same relaxing properties as three cups of lime blossom tisane. The milk chocolate was slightly granular, but delicately fragranced and delicious. If in quibblesome mood, I might complain that the chocolate was a little sweeter than the ideal, but this seems almost churlish given how well blended the unusual flower flavours were. I don’t really feel qualified to comment on whether or not I was left tranquil; any calming effect may have come from the glass of violet liqueur I was drinking on the side.

NewTree’s schtick is an appealing one; they flavour their chocolate bars with spices and herbs used not only for their flavour, but also for their health applications. With names like Pleasure, Eternity, Young, Digest, Vivacity, Sexy, Tranquility, Serenity and Cocoon, NewTree seem to have hit on something the rest of us have suspected for years – chocolate really is a universal panacea. Grab a bar if you see one, and please report back in the comments section and let me know whether you really did feel serene and cocooned.

Beer or pudding?

Meantime Chocolate Beer, from the Greenwich brewery, is, they say, specifically aimed at women, who, according to those marketing it, drink alcopops in preference to beer. Nonsense. Some of the best nights (and worst mornings) of my life have been courtesy of the Cambridge Beer Festival, where both Mr Weasel and I have ‘worked’ (I use the term advisedly) as staff in previous years. One of the things that swung the choosing of our present house for me was its handy location next to a real-ale freehouse with a fantastic restaurant (nothing like having your Fenland ale within staggering distance – those who email me and appear reasonably sane will be told where it is, but I’m not publishing its name here for fear of people breaking into the house to steal my cake). Beer and I have a glorious, long and ultimately pretty intimate relationship. Girlie beers are not for me.

Or are they? A while ago, when Sainsbury’s started stocking Meantime Chocolate Beer, I thought I would try an experimental bottle of the stuff. Damn me if they haven’t come up with something grown-up, silky and both beery and chocolatey at the same time. I may be a real-ale bore, but this stuff, marketed to death and not out of a pump (it is, however, bottle-conditioned, which means that new beer and yeast is added to the finished beer in the bottle, making it finish its fermentation and develop fizz after the lid has been put on) is just magnificent. There’s not a hint of sweetness to it; any chocolate flavour is the smooth, dark, dry taste you get from a very high cocoa-mass chocolate and not overpowering, and it combines beautifully with this extremely malty, quietly hoppy beer to make something quite disturbingly drinkable. A note of vanilla ties the malt and chocolate together. This is definitely not a novelty beer. If you’re in Sainsbury’s, pick up a bottle; I think you’ll like it.

Now, clearly, buying only one bottle of beer would be the action of someone who wasn’t thinking awfully hard. I was thinking hard. So I bought another. My second bottle was one of Liefmans‘ utterly gorgeous Kriek, or cherry beer, which comes wrapped in a pretty twizzle of printed paper.

Perhaps I do like girlie beers.

Liefmans Kriek is considered one of the very best cherry beers. (Kriek, by the way, is pronounced ‘Creek’, if ever you are in Belgium and struck with a terrible craving.) It’s an unexpectedly sour drink which almost makes your mouth pucker; tart and fruity, but rounded and terribly, terribly delicious.

The beer is a deep, wine-red, with a pretty pink head. (No photograph in the glass, I’m afraid; I forgot to take one before I started drinking, and the glass has lipstick and fingerprints on it. Disaster.) It’s unfiltered and unsweetened (important, this; lots of cherry beer is sweetened, and it’s not anything like as good), and so full of cherries they almost dance in front of your eyes as you sip it. There’s a hint of almond, possibly from the cherry stones. It’s like a wonderful fruit juice. A wonderful fruit juice that makes you fall down and giggle.

Yeast. This week it’s my number one microbe.