Monthly Archives: October 2013

Chocolate – A Matter of Taste

It is said that pirates captured a ship bringing the first chocolate back from America and threw it overboard saying it was disgusting! In my time, over the past 11 years working with children and as a mother of 22 years, I have only ever met two children that thought chocolate was disgusting and one of those happens to be my eldest son.

Chocolate can be traced back to the Aztecs (and even further!) but that is far enough for my muddled old brain. The Aztecs used cocoa beans to make a spicy, frothy drink called chocolati. It was a right royal affair for the Emperor Montezuma (funny how things come back into fashion isn’t it?) who served this to his Spanish guests in golden goblets. But the Spanish thought it tasted bitter and added insult to injury by stealing all their gold and adding sugar to their Chocolati.

Look what we can do with the stuff these days. From a bog standard bar of brown stuff to elegant chocolatiers who produce amazing masterpieces from it. How do they do it? “Who knows and who cares”, I hear you shout. “Just give me a chunk now to go with my nice cup of tea”.  We must start with the word “tempering”, what does this word mean? In layman’s terms it involves heating up the chocolate to a certain temperature then cooling. This process stabilises the cocoa butter crystals so they then link together like best friends arm in arm. This in turn gives chocolate its shine and sharp snap – Beautiful!

Here are a few extra tempering tips for you guys to try at home with your children – only on special occasions mind you, as it is good to remember that chocolate is not a food to be taken lightly or often. I think perhaps it should come with a warning tag, “may cause headaches, sore tummies if consumed in large quantities and never to be used as a substitute for breakfast, lunch or dinner”. Oh and just in case you don’t know it is not considered one of your ‘five a day’.

Making chocolate lollies or using moulds with children can be great fun. There are four main methods of melting chocolate but number 4 is the safest option for children.

  1. Microwave it (on defrost mode). Problem is it can melt unevenly and burn
  2. Over a bain-marie. Good method for adults as it melts the chocolate slowly – not so good for children as they could easily get scalded.
  3. Tempering machine. Excellent, if you can afford one. They can be expensive and unless you have intentions of turning into a professional chocolatier a waste of money.
  4. Cookies favourite for children is electric melting pots. They are not very expensive and are far more child friendly then any of the above. Look online – dare I say Amazon?

Tips for understanding chocolate:

  1. Chocolate does not like getting wet (bit like my son who hates washing)
  2. Always use good quality chocolate. Couverture is easy to buy online or in a supermarket
  3. Do not over heat chocolate, it burns very quickly
  4. Do not stir chocolate while tempering
  5. If you stuff up and get a white bloom on the chocolate it’s ok still to eat or re-temper
  6. Heat gently until the chocolate, although still keeping its original shape, has melted. This is a big indication that it has reached the correct temp.
  7. Once ready you will need to work with the chocolate quickly before it sets
  8. For more information look on www.homechocolatefactory.com
  9. But most of all have fun, it still tastes the same tempered or not                

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    Aztec Chocolate God Quetzalcoatl (ket sal koh AH tul)

Less is More

Have you ever examined the ingredients of a shop-bought cake? For starters most of the basic Birthday cakes from well-known stores (which start around £25) contain over fifty different ingredients, mainly for prolonging shelf life. They also contain unnecessary amounts of sugar and are flavourless. These cakes are often unsuitable for nut allergy sufferers and those that are unable to have gluten or have other dietary requirements are not a consideration. I have often witnessed these cakes being uneaten or left at the bottom of a party bag turning into a pile of mush and then being thrown away – what is the point of this exercise? Adding so much sugar numbs our children’s tastebuds so that they cannot taste real food or notice subtle flavours. Their tastebuds have been stunned as with people who have too much salt in their food.

Supermum extraordinaire and amazing cake maker for Cookies Miranda is one of those mums who appear to be able to juggle three children (not literally) of varying ages while producing fresh homemade produce  - no processed mumbo jumbo here. Miranda has plenty of hands on experience when it comes to home baking and we welcome her talents to our team. I for one have experienced Miranda’s baking skills on several occasions. In fact I deliberately invite her over as often as possible just so she will bring one of her delicious home baked creations with her. She is always home baking all sorts of goodies and yet still manages to involve her children, teaching them how to bake in the process, which is lovely to see. As a Supermum she always makes her children’s birthday cakes – some of which have been a challenge. However she always comes up with the goods…from a formula one Ferrari to Cinderella carriages and cats, it appears Supermum can put her hand to most things. Not only do these cakes look fantastic they also taste great. Miranda’s cakes start from £20 for a basic girl or boy cake and if you are interested you can order these cakes through Cookies by calling or emailing. Here’s just a couple of examples:

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Thame Food Festival

If you love food this is the place to go – Thame Food Festival

www.thamefoodfestival.co.uk

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An early start – the view from the Town Hall while we were setting up.

A fantastic event that attracted about 25,000 visitors this year, loads of amazing artisan food and drink producers and many celebrity chefs – the star being Raymond Blanc who added comedy to his list of amazing talents and was what you’d call an all round good egg.
There were dozens and dozens of stalls set up by unique artisan food businesses each one brimming with some truly beautiful and delicious produce. I could see what Alison Isherwood, the festival organiser, meant when she told me that they seek out those who combine the highest quality with a real passion for food. It was great to chat to some of the stall-holders and pick up tips and ideas and experience their enthusiasm for their produce.

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Getting busy now

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I wonder who’s stall this is?

Cookies was in the Town Hall having ‘Party Pasta Fun’ with children of all ages – I believe the youngest was 2 years old – and it was great seeing so many children getting involved. The whole atmosphere was fantastic and certainly kept my energy levels up from dawn to dusk. I love my job.

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One of several sessions during the day

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Thanks for all your help – Miranda, Emma and my amazing Angel!