chocolate masterclass with damian allsop
last week i spent four fascinating hours participating in a chocolate masterclass. organised and hosted by l’atelier des chefs and taught by chocolatier damian allsop it felt like i was stepping into the future of dessert-making. as a result, i learnt a lot which i can apply to both sweet and savoury cooking. i also feel inspired to make a bit more of an effort with my puddings.
damian was determined to get us excited about chocolate, understand it’s subtleties and to treat its nuances with respect when cooking with it. he also wanted to showcase the modern techniques which he and other top pastry chefs are using these days.
we made foams, we made gels and we learnt how to cook with chocolate using water, rather than the more traditional cream. the dishes we made were the sort of things which get served up in posh restaurants but were all entirely accessible to the home cook, with one whizzy gadget (for making the foam) and a couple of more unusual ingredients (such as xantham gum, which is made from a type of cabbage).
the recipes we made were:
dark chocolate mousse with mandarin compote
dark chocolate and cherry cremosa
cacao nib financiers
raspberry foam and milk chocolate gel
damian started by telling us about when he realised how easy it is to destroy the amazing complexity of flavour that a good chocolate has – it was this experience which led him away from making ganaches with cream and towards using water instead. we tasted different types of 70% chocolate to understand the layers of flavours that chocolate can contain. most amazing was the amano chocolate – it smelt of apricots, it tasted of oranges, then raisins, then apricots. all these flavours were the direct result of the way the cocoa beans were processed and the chocolate made, rather than any flavour additives. you can find out more about tasting different chocolates at seventypercent.com.
we started by making the cocoa nib financiers. i will definitely make these little cakes again and look forward to experimenting with different flavours. the mixture is incredibly forgiving and can be made 24 hours in advance and used any time in between. the financiers have a lovely light texture and reminded me of madeleines which are made using a much more temperamental mix – even 15 minutes delay in cooking the batter will give you heavy madeleines. financiers are definitely the way forward!
the cremosa (the dark quenelle in the middle of the pictures above and beow) was my favourite dish. this is a mix of cherry puree, thickened with the tiniest amount of flavourless xantham gum, mixed with a melted dark chocolate and then left to chill. it has the texture of crème brulee and the intensity of the fruit flavour is incredible - a perfect example of why the decision to use water instead of cream makes so much sense (try damian’s water-based ganaches, which i have raved about before, to see what the result is like).
the dark chocolate mousse (at the front of the picture above and which looks as though it has been made with milk chocolate) is incredibly light due to it just being a mix of chocolate water and egg whites. one of the most interesting dishes, because of its jelly texture, was the milk chocolate gel (pictured with the raspberry foam). this was made using agar agar (a vegetarian gelatine substitute) and more xantham gum. it would be great fun to use these thickeners to make jellies out of other ingredients and experiment with interesting shapes and molds.
learning all the different techniques, and about the science behind each of them, was really interesting but surprisingly intense – normally when i cook i can just relax into it but this masterclass required a bit more effort. i do think it was worth it though and it is the most challenging class that i have done, despite none of the individual components being difficult. if you think you might enjoy it get in touch with l’atelier des chefs and find out when damian’s next masterclass will be.
update: damian will be launching a new collection, including easter eggs, in march at harvey nichols.