Chocolate Coconut Snowballs (gluten-free)

Somehow over this past week, the dull light and persisting rain in Paris has had me thinking warm thoughts around teatime: snowballs, my Scottish Granny and her splattered Black Book of favourite recipes.  With a school Christmas fête approaching fast, I thought I’d make these Chocolate Coconut Snowballs as they’re quick, easy to make and deliciously festive. Just as well, as mad woman here suggested 300.

chocolate coconut snowballs (gluten free) no bake treats

The snowball recipe was in The Black Book.  It contained not just recipes dictated from Granny and scribbled down by my aunts and Mum, but also frayed newspaper cuttings and hurried notes taken as dictation, listening to Jimmy Young’s radio show (no wonder my Mum ended up being the Edinburgh Queen of shorthand for journalists!).  But with the last few months of house renovations, I can’t find it.  You see, I put that Black Book somewhere safe.

So safe, I can’t remember for the life of me where I would have put it.  Does that ever happen to you?  I used to frown at Mum, when presents were discovered a couple of months after the event.  How could she have forgotten where she put things?  Now, doing the same myself, I can’t help rolling the eyes and shrugging the shoulders like the French.

Rolling little chocolate balls in shredded coconut, however, provokes the most warming memories I have of childhood Christmases in the 70s at Granny’s.

chocolate coconut snowballs gluten free treats

Christmas snowballs meant getting away with gooey, chocolatey, messy fingers.  Auntie Shirley (remember the artist behind these knitted cakes?) brought out the ingredients (I remember raisins, rolled oats,  cocoa powder and tons of coconut) as Granny was in charge of total quality control: as my younger brother and I rolled them in the palms of our hands, Alan would often bash them on the table and completely flatten them.  Och, Alan, how could they taste the same?

They were so easy to make, no-bake, quick and delicious.  In no time, we’d fight for the best position on the poofie, which was in the middle of Granny and Grandpa’s facing armchairs, and nibble at them served with satsuma oranges in front of the crackling fire.

We’d just stare into the hypnotic flames, imagining all sorts of characters dancing around in front of us as we threw the peelings in, fascinated by their singing and hissing, whilst smouldering and creating the most cosy aromas. The whole lot scoffed and stories exchanged, we’d reluctantly get up and laugh at our fire-tartaned faces.

chocolate coconut snowballs (gluten free)

Keep us several days in a tin in the fridge

Meanwhile as the fête is nearer and I wanted to test some recipes, I came across this one for chocolate coconut rollovers – rolling them instead in coconut, to create the snowball effect.  These snowballs are entirely gluten-free; but I still need to find that book.  In the meantime, they’re still delicious and modernised a bit with less sugar and more on the chocolate.

Chocolate coconut snowballs

Take a wee bite!

Chocolate Coconut Snowballs (Gluten Free Recipe)

Recipe adapted from the 12 October issue of the You Magazine, thanks to Mum and Dad for leaving some British newspapers from their last visit!  The recipe specifies rolling in cocoa, chocolate vermicelli or other sprinkles of your choice.  Here I’ve opted for a mixture of toasted and plain desiccated/shredded coconut.

Makes about 20

100g (3 1/2 oz) dark chocolate, about 70% cocoa
100g (3 1/2 oz) desiccated coconut
50g (2oz)  coconut oil
2 tbsp maple syrup
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

For rolling:

50g (2oz) desiccated coconut

1. Break up and gently melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan containing a little simmering water. Allow the melted chocolate to cool to room temperature.

2. Mix together the coconut, coconut oil and maple syrup and blend until smooth, then add the cooled melted chocolate and vanilla and blend again.  Pour this into a medium-size bowl, cover and chill for about 1 hour or until the mixture firms to the consistency of chilled butter.

3. Taking a heaped teaspoon of the mixture at a time, roll it into a ball the size of a cherry between your palms and set aside on a plate.  Roll the chocolates in coconut (or in cocoa or chocolate vermicelli if you prefer).  I spread half of the coconut on a baking tray and placed under a grill for a couple of minutes to toast it, then mixed it in with plain finely grated/shredded desiccated coconut.

Arrange the chocolate coconut snowballs in a pretty dish or box, loosely cover and chill for a couple of hours.  They should keep well for several days in the fridge, it says.  We found they tasted so much better when left at room temperature for half an hour to enjoy them at their best.

 Stay tuned – I’m on a snowball roll!

Paris Gourmet Chocolate Museum – Choco Story

The French school mid-term holidays just came and went.  So did the wonderfully sunny weather we had: it was a surprising bonus to be in T-shirts at the end of October so we jumped on the RER train into Paris to the Museum of Chocolate.  Are you ready for a quick virtual choco-story run around?

The Paris chocolate museum is well ‘spread out’ and presented on 3 floors.  When we arrived, we could sense it was the school holidays: groups of youngsters and really young ones were being taken around.  Whether they grasped the story of chocolate beats me, as the poor things seemed to be told off more than given the chance to listen.

history of chocolate beginnings from Mayans to Aztecs

Why the name Chocolate?

The museum’s ground floor covers the Mayans and the Aztecs,  starting out with questions where chocolate came from.  For example, “Why the name cacao or cocoa?”  Well different Mayan ceramic pots are decorated with glyphs which have been interpreted as ka-ka-wa.  Hence the word cacao or cocoa in English.

Then why the name “chocolate”?  In Nahuatl, a language which is still spoken today by ore than 1.5 million Indians in Central America, cacahuatl is the word for chocolate: kakawa = cocoa, atl = water.  In the second part of the 16th century, the Spanish however used the word chocolatl, taking the Mayan word chocol to mean hot and the Aztec word atl to mean water, which later became chocolate.

Drinking pots Aztec period - Paris Chocolate Museum

How Chocolate Comes to Spain

The Mayans traded with cacao beans and so when Christopher Columbus saw this, he brought back the beans to Spain then, thinking they were bitter almonds, chucked them over his shrugging shoulders, thinking there wasn’t much they could do with them.

In 1519 it was the Spanish explorer, Cortez, that discovered the Aztecs drinking this bitter drink, chocolatl, from ceremonial pots.  King Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin (I need a hot chocolate just to pronounce that one!) managed to produce 2000 large goblets of cocoa for his warriors.  It was a drink to fight fatigue and build resistance.  The drink wasn’t just bitter (vanilla and honey were added to sweeten slightly) but it was also spicy using mexican pepper, chili and allspice.  Thinking that Cortez was a feathered serpent god, the King offered him some of the royal potion and the story began…

Cortez finally brought cacao back to Spain in 1528.  Up until 1580, the Spaniards managed to keep this special drink pretty quiet by forbidding it to be exported and in 1580 opened the first cacao processing plant.  By this time they also added sugar and cinnamon to the spicy drink.

chemist chocolate bottles Paris Chocolate Museum

Chocolate – the best medicine!

Fast forward to 1753 and the the Swedish scientist Carolus Linnaeus names the cocoa tree Theobroma Cacao.

In Spain, cocoa products were originally sold in pharmacies. When it came to France, it was given the same treatment.  Cocoa butter was also sold as ointment.  I was just thinking about that as I was rubbing in my favourite cocoa butter moisturiser after my shower this morning – it’s just as good!

sugar cone pouring stand - Paris Chocolate Museum

Sugar

Sugar was obtained only from the sugar cane.  The sugar cane was pressed and the juice thickened into a very sweet liquid, which was poured into conical moulds.  After crystallisation, a cone of sugar was obtained.  This is how sugar was sold at the time, as it still is today in certain regions of Morocco.

Sugar cone cutters - Paris Chocolate Museum

The sugar cones – also known as sugarloaf – or pain de sucre, needed some rather sinister looking implements to cut them!  For Facebook friends who tried to guess what this was over Hallowe’en, here’s your answer!

It was only by the beginning of the 1800s that sugar beet came to be used in Europe.

The juicy bits of history – when the chocolate drink comes to France via the royal courts and is then consumed as chocolate today – is missing here as this would end up being a mammoth post!  My colleagues and I talk about this during our chocolate and pastry walking tours in Paris via Context Travel.

Bonbon presentation boxes - Paris Chocolate Museum

The top floor also covers the first adverts, chocolate in France and collections of pretty chocolate and bonbon boxes, porcelain or ceramic.

chocolate presentation box French - Paris Chocolate Museum

And rather interesting looking chocolate pots.  I particularly like this modern version from Marseille, complete with a Molinillo-style chocolate beater, or moussoir.  Although the pourer does look like a rather long talking point!  Chocolate as an aphrodisiac is also covered – it even goes back to the Mayans and Aztecs.  The kids seemed to spend a long time trying to understand this section… ahem.

French designer chocolate pots Paris Chocolate Museum

The Paris Chocolate Museum finishes with a short documentary film (which is needed, as the actual making of chocolate needs more emphasis, I felt) and a 15-minute demonstration downstairs.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions: my group were either too timid or too busy eyeing the samples offered.  The girls and I were too polite and took only one and missed the others.  Is that a British, “After you”.. trait?

I also bought the tasting of hot chocolate at the end of the visit for the girls.  They had a choice of flavour, including a more Aztec style of drink, full of spices which was more intense in chocolate.  The tasting takes place in the museum shop.  As it was in the holidays, it was quite crowded but nevertheless it’s a visit I do recommend if you would love to learn more about the fascinating world of chocolate.

Le Musée Gourmand du Chocolat – Choco Story
28 Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle
75010 Paris

Métro: Bonne Nouvelle

Open every day 10am – 6pm

Chocolate and Chestnut Pudding for the Holiday Season

You can tell that chocolate has been quite prominent in our diets these last couple of weeks.  How could I talk about the 20th Salon du Chocolat in Paris without having some kind of a chocolate treat for you?  I also need to write up about the Paris Gourmet Chocolate Museum from the mid-term school holidays but right now, work on the new book is hotting up and I need to focus.  I’m off to pick up, Eleanor, the Editor at the airport and we have a busy few days ahead of us…

best quick holiday chocolate desserts presented with macarons

Blustery showers, soggy leaves and chilly fingers calls for warming chocolate, doesn’t it?  Let’s face it, dark chocolate is good for you, a mood enhancer and cooked together with egg yolks filled with iron, we need a good dose to stay healthy during the winter months.

And, with the simplest presentation in little cups, it’s the easiest of desserts to whip up at the last minute for the holiday season with friends and family.  It’s also perfect served with macarons.  Either made earlier and still in the fridge or from your freezer bank!

chocolate pudding egg yolk recipe with festive macarons

Chocolate and Chestnut Pudding

Recipe of Budino di Cioccolato adapted from Nigella Express Cookbook by Nigella Lawson.

350ml full-fat milk
50g caster sugar
1 tbsp cornflour/cornstarch
35g cocoa powder
2 tbsps boiling water
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g candied chestnut purée (Clément Faugier)
60g dark chocolate (min 70% cocoa solids), finely chopped

1. Put the kettle on, and warm the milk/cream together in a saucepan or in a bowl in the microwave.

2. Put the sugar and cornflour into another saucepan and sieve in the cocoa powder.  Add the 2 tbsps of boiling water and whisk to a paste.

3. Whisk in the egg yolks, one at a time, followed by the warmed milk and cream, then the vanilla extract.

4. Scrape down the sides of the pan and put it on lowish heat, cooking and whisking for about 3-4 minutes until the mixture thickens to a mayonnaise-like consistency.

5. Take off the heat and whisk in the finely chopped chocolate and candied chestnut purée, before pouring into 4 small cups or glasses, each with a capacity of about 150ml.

6. Cover the tops of the cups or glasses with cling film, letting the cling-film rest on the chocolate surface, to stop a skin forming, and refrigerate once they are cooler.

Serve at room temperature, adding a blob of cream or top.  I topped it with a marron glacé, a sprinkling of freshly grated nutmeg and cinnamon and served with chocolate macarons.

easy chocolate pudding dessert recipe for the holiday season with macarons

Don’t forget there are many more egg yolk recipes on le blog for all you macaron-making lovers.

Store your egg whites in a jam jar with a closed lid and keep in the fridge for 4-5 days – then you’re ready to make Parisian macarons!

Mastering the Art of Eating Cheese Fondue by Ann Mah

Have you ever read a book about travel, food and gastronomic history then been so curiously hungry to try it out for yourself that you’ve booked tickets the next day?

That happened last November. Some of you may recall I packed my bags and jumped on the train to Lyon for a gastronomic weekend after reading Chapter Four of Ann Mah’s book, Mastering the Art of French Eating Then the other day, as Ann and I were exchanging the latest Parisian bathroom leak stories and French insurance companies, she let drop that her book has just been released in paperback.

To celebrate its release, Ann has given us a few ‘Fondue’s and don’ts’, an extra bonus taken from her chapter on Savoie and Haute-Savoie where she learns from the locals about mastering the art of eating the most delicious of cheese fondues.  Like all ten chapters in her book, while she tours deliciously around France,  a recipe is given at the end.

Are you sitting comfortably? Have you brought out the fondue set?  Cheese (she’ll help you choose that too) all cut up and ready? Then let’s start the lesson:

How to eat Cheese Fondue like the French

Fondue Etiquette

I’ve always thought of fondue as a casual dish, a winter warmer enjoyed with a round of backgammon. But when I set out to research the classic Alpine dish, I discovered an intricate web of politesse surrounding the pot of molten cheese. Fondue hails from Switzerland and/or France, and—like most things Swiss and/or French—it involves a host of rules. Here are some of the fondues and don’ts I’ve discovered:

* Don’t stir counterclockwise: Traditionalists say you must stir clockwise or in a figure-eight pattern to keep the cheese homogenised until you reach the very bottom.

* Do twirl your fork: Keep things tidy by twirling those flyaway strands of melted cheese around your cube of bread. Please, no tapping, scraping, or double-dipping, unless you want to give your Swiss host a heart attack.

* Don’t drink any water: Sip only white wine, kirsch, or an herbal tisane with your fondue meal. According to Swiss lore, any other drink—be it water, juice, or beer—will cause the melted cheese to coagulate and form a giant ball in your stomach, leaving you with debilitating indigestion. Yes, it sounds silly, but do you really want to risk it?

* Don’t lose your bread in the pot: If your cube of cheese-soaked bread goes missing in the pot of molten cheese, you’ll have to drain your glass of wine, or kiss your neighbor.

* Do make some noise: Feel free to scrape, clang, clank, and use whatever means necessary to dislodge the crust of browned cheese at the bottom of your empty fondue pot. Called “la religieuse,” the shards of crisped cheese have a toasty crunch and are considered a delicacy.

* Don’t follow cheese fondue with chocolate fondue: A meal of Switzerland’s two most famous food exports seems like an obvious progression, but the two together might send you directly into a cholesterol coma. Instead, end your meal with fresh pineapple: The fruit’s acidity is a bright counterpoint to the creamy cheese, while its enzymes help you digest more quickly.

Ann Mah is a journalist and the author of the novel, Kitchen Chinese. Ann was awarded a James Beard Foundation culinary scholarship in 2005 and her articles about food, travel, fashion, style, and the arts have appeared in The New York Times, Condé Nast Traveler, The Huffington Post, the International Herald Tribune, Washingtonian magazine, and the South China Morning Post, among other publications. The wife of a U.S. diplomat, Mah currently splits her time between New York City and Paris.

Ann Mah Author of Mastering the Art of French Eating

Thanks to Ann for enlightening us on our French fondue etiquette.  My personal favourites are “Don’t drink water” (this always riles my Mother-in-Law up silly as she doesn’t drink wine and always talks at the table about her digestive system – I must tell her to drink a herbal tea, though!) and the “Make noise…”.  I don’t think we’ve ever had a fondue – or cheesy gratin for that matter – when my family doesn’t fight over who gets the delicious toasted scrapings at the end!

cover of paperback book of Ann Mah's Mastering the Art of French Eating

I’m thrilled to say that the lovely people at Penguin have kindly offered a Giveaway copy to readers of le blog!

To enter the #Giveaway, just comment below telling us about your favourite cheese fondue stories – or just tell us if there’s a fondue set in the family – and, even better, share news of the Giveaway via Facebook or Twitter.  The Giveaway ends Sunday 9th November 2014, midnight in Paris.

Giveaway now closed.

Congratulations to Tonessa West Crowe who wins a copy of Ann Mah’s paperback!

 Good luck!