I’m lucky – my husband hates chocolate. Unfortunately, my three children all have sweet teeth and I’ve been forced to watch my own share of all our chocolate bars dwindle over the years to become a paltry quarter of what it was in the days before weaning. The only upside to this state of affairs is that I now have an enthusiastic army of homegrown tasters on ever-ready standby from the instant I even begin to think about baking with chocolate.
My experiences with chocolate so far however have revolved mostly around the themes of brownies, chips in cookies and simple dipping projects. Despite spending an enjoyable morning with Zach Townsend at the top of the Tour Montparnasse, I was disappointed to find afterwards that none of his expert chocolatier skill had rubbed off on me when we shook hands. I still tremble at the thought of tempering and steadfastly avoid any form of moulding or modelling. It’s those temperamental sugar crystals that get me – the way they want to clump together at the slightest opportunity. My aversion to working with chocolate goes hand in hand with my fear of boiling sugary syrups. And as for seeding … well really, that’s something for gardeners, isn’t it?
And then I was invited to review William Curley’s new book, Couture Chocolate. I have to confess that I fell in love with this book from the moment I held it in my hands. Not only is it superbly illustrated with mouthwatering photography …. but it smells good too. Honestly, it does! Just bury your nose deep into the binding of the open pages and you’ll see what I mean. But best of all, this book does exactly what it says on the cover – more than just a coffee table book, this really is A Masterclass in Chocolate.
William Curley is uniquely placed to direct this masterclass. Four times winner of the Academy of Chocolate‘s Chocolatier of the Year Award, he trained in some of the world’s finest Michelin-starred kitchens and was the youngest appointed Chef Patissier at The Savoy. From the opening chapters on the history and production of chocolate, through clear instructions on techniques for tempering and decorating, and with exquisite recipes for truffles, couture chocolates, bars, bouchées, cakes, patisserie and ice cream, Curley’s expert guide provides insight into the ideas and inspirations behind his work.
The recipes aren’t quick and simple. Curley uses quality ingredients and an array of specialist equipment that will probably require a trip to Amazon for most home bakers like me. Far from appearing daunting however, the recipes are broken down into manageable chunks throughout and combine practical tips with step-by-step photography. Recipes are included for many of the flavours and chocolate creations on sale in his own William Curley shops in Richmond and Belgravia, such as the Florentine Sablés and Salted Butter and Muscovado Caramel Chocolates (the highest marked chocolate in the Academy of Chocolate Awards 2011).
Curley frequently draws on a Japanese palette of flavours to create new fusions in his work. There are recipes for Matcha and Dark Chocolate Entremet, Chocolate Financiers with Yuzu Ganache, Chestnut and Sesame Brownies, and Green Tea Couture Chocolates. He attributes the inspiration behind these creations to his partnership with Japanese patissier Suzue – they met while they were both working at The Savoy in London and later married and opened their first shop together.
Perhaps the thing that inspires me the most about this book however is the knowledge that the stunning chocolates and intricate patisserie displayed in William Curley’s London shops are created in much the same way as detailed in these recipes. Although Curley’s staff have the advantage of some time-saving bits of machinery, the emphasis is firmly on using craft skills. As Curley points out, “I don’t want to have big cooling tunnels or machines that pump the ganache into shells. I want my team to make the ganache and understand the quality of the ingredients, and for everything to have that hand-made finish.” So … the ultimate implication is that Curley-quality creations are within the reach of every home baker if they take the time and care to follow this masterclass in chocolate.
Well, everyone needs a dream, don’t they?
Chocolate Madeleines (reprinted from Couture Chocolate by William Curley with permission from the publishers)
When I worked for Marco we would bake these little French treats to order for petit fours as they are best eaten fresh as possible.
Makes about 20 cakes
15g (½oz) fine dark (bittersweet) chocolate (70% cocoa solids), roughly chopped
115g (4oz/ 1 stick plus 1 tbsp) unsalted butter, plus a little extra, softened, for greasing the mould
115g (4oz/¾ cup) plain (all-purpose) flour, plus a little extra for dusting the mould
20g (¾oz/1 tbsp) cocoa powder
3g (½ tsp) baking powder
135g (5oz/scant ⅔ cup) caster (superfine) sugar
175g (6oz) egg yolks (about 9 eggs), beaten
Note: You will need a 12-hole madeleine mould.
Grease with butter and lightly flour a 12-hole madeleine mould. Melt the chocolate over a bain-marie (water bath) until it reaches 45°C (113°F) and leave to cool. Melt the butter in a saucepan and also leave to cool. Sift the flour, cocoa powder and baking powder into a bowl and then mix in the sugar. Add the dry ingredients to the beaten egg yolks in a large bowl and mix with a wooden spoon until smooth. Gradually add the melted butter, being careful not to beat in air. Then mix in the melted chocolate. Cover the bowl with cling film (plastic wrap) and leave to rest for at least 30 minutes in a cool place.
When you are ready to cook the madeleines, preheat the oven to 220°C (400°F/Gas 6). Pipe or spoon the mixture into the prepared mould and bake in the preheated oven for about 12-15 minutes until risen and the cakes spring back when pressed.