Say it with chocolate this Easter or Mother’s Day with an exotic twist of ginger and passion fruit and top with macarons!
Lush, fudgy gluten-free brownies inspired by Chambelland in Paris.
Rain in some Kirsch in these dark chocolate and cherry macarons!
How many times have you seen chocolate lava cakes on dessert menus? In Paris …
How many chocolate storefronts do you know resemble dark chocolate? Every time I walk past the Chapon boutique in Paris’s growing sweet-lined rue du Bac, I could almost lick off the writing imagining it’s made of cocoa butter and gold leaf.
You may remember my visit to the first ever Bac Sucré Event in June this year, where I already wrote a bit about Chocolaterie Chapon. During the event, my daughter Lucie and I signed up for a short talk by Patrice Chapon, explaining how he has been making his chocolate since 1985 from “bean-to-bar” from his workshop in Chelles (a suburb 20km north-east of Paris).
Originally a restaurant chef then pastry chef in Deauville, I love how Monsieur Chapon then popped over the Channel for a short stint as official ice-cream maker to the Royal Family at Buckingham Palace – how cool is it to have had the Queen Mother surprise you one day with rose petals from the royal gardens, asking you to make a sorbet with them? After inspiration from Harrod’s food hall, he realised his real vocation was back in France making chocolate and by 2005, he opened this second shop in Paris.
It takes 10 days to make the chocolate as we see it in the store. Even the cacao growers in the tropics (10° North or South of the Equator) are amazed at what final result can be achieved from these simple looking beans.
He procures the beans after they’ve been fermented and dried, then does the rest himself. He grills them – 20 kilos at a time – for about 30 minutes at 105°C until they start to smell and taste like chocolate, even if still bitter at this stage. After grinding to obtain cocoa nibs then 8 hours maturing, he adds sugar (and powdered milk for milk chocolate), he continues to grind then liquify the cacao by a method called conching. Any acids or bitterness disappear after at least 48 hours and as if by magic, the end result after tempering and mixing, we’re left to discover the end result.
Tasting our way through the characteristic tropical-patterned packaged chocolate bars, each variety has its own subtle but particular flavours: Cuba has notes of spice and exotic fruits, Lucie agreed that Ghana has banana notes, and Madagascar has real after-notes of red fruits.
With wide-eyed children looking on at the generous samples laid out in front of us, Chapon surprised them with his witty Willy Wonka remark in French, “With this ticket, adults have a tasting of a chocolate mousse cone; children have their tasting of salsify” (which is a popular root that’s served as vegetable here, especially I hear at the school canteen). Their confused expressions were quickly transformed as their eyes feasted on chocolate lollipops.
My eyes were for the salted praline Dômes au Sel, winners of the Mairie de Paris Chocolate Grand Prix in 2003.
True to the chocolate bars, the mousses were so dense in chocolate, yet light and airy. Chapon states that he uses about 20-30% less chocolate in his mousses due to the high cocoa content than more standard chocolate mousses that our grandmothers made.
As I left the boutique, realising again that I’d bought way too much chocolate (confessions of a chocoholic), I noticed that the recipe for the legendary chocolate mousse was printed on the brown paper bag.
With so many chocolate varieties to choose from, I thought I’d be adventurous and go for the 100% pure cacao Rio Caribe of Venezuela. On the tablet’s back label, it even specifies “100% minimum”, which would excite any cocoa connoisseur!
If I have to make one remark, the recipe’s chocolate quantity of 185g isn’t that ideal for us shoppers, since most of the tablets are 75g and so with two bars I was 35g short of pure Venezuela. As it’s 100%, also note that it’s drier than most classic mousses. The aftertaste is intense – a little goes a long way to appreciate the flavours. Just as in wine-tasting, I’d even go as far as to say that this chocolate mousse is earthy or as we say in wine terms, “sous bois” or undergrowth (for more on tasting, see my post about different notes on the nose). It was almost leafy or, dare I say, mossy. In French, moss is mousse – so I’ll leave you to groan at your own pun!
Chapon Chocolate Mousse Recipe
Patrice Chapon states the best chocolate to use for his mousse is either Equagha, équateur, Mexique or 100% Rio Caribe. His new tablet, Brésil, would also be good.
185g Pure Origin Chocolate Chapon (I used 100% Venezuela Rio Caribe)
100g semi-skimmed fresh milk
1 egg yolk
6 egg whites
37g cane sugar
1. Heat the milk until it boils. Grate the chocolate in a large bowl.
2. Pour the hot milk over the grated chocolate and stir gently until well mixed using a wooden spoon. Add the yolk and continue to stir until the mixture is brilliant.
3. In a separate bowl, whip up the egg whites using an electric whisk, adding half of the sugar at first and then at the end when they are whipped and fluffy (but not firm).
4. Gradually incorporate the egg whites, folding it in delicately until all mixed together and smooth.
5. Either keep it in the bowl or transfer to individual serving bowls (I would suggest little ones here, as this mousse is so intense!)
6. Refrigerate overnight (I suggest covering with cling film) and enjoy next day.
Serving suggestion: scoop the mousse …
or spoon into Almond Tuiles from my new book, Teatime in Paris!
If you’re in Paris, either drop in and taste the mousse for yourself at Chapon’s boutiques.
They will also be taking part again this year in the Salon du Chocolat, 28th October to 1st November, Porte de Versailles.
69, rue du Bac, 75007 Paris
Tel. 01-42 22 95 98
For more chocolate and pastry treats, join me and my friend, Ann Mah, for a tasting down rue du Bac in Paris.
That did it – it had to be a chocolate pear cake since the pears just sat there showing off their perfect hippy contours in the fruit bowl, pride of place on the breakfast table.
Really. No takers? It was the same for lunch, goûter, and dinner. Were they just too pretty to look at? I decided it was “conference” time with the family last weekend; would they also like their pears hugged in chocolate, the unanimous response was
“Oh, we love pears!”
Chocolate Pear Cake Inspiration
I hit on the idea of this chocolate pear cake while trying out a delicious recipe for a Drunken Damson Dessert by Angela Reid from Green & Black’s Chocolate Recipe Book. As I poured the chocolate mix on top of my damson-replaced nectarines soaked in the gin, I was thinking that next time I should try a non-alcoholic version and flip it upside-down so that the pears would be caramelised and glistening on top – rather like a Tarte Tatin style chocolate cake.
This is nearly a flourless cake since I added just a couple of tablespoons, just to cake it up a bit but for gluten-free diets you can skip the flour. I also love adding coffee to pear (see this coffee and poached pear recipe); the coffee also brings out the dark chocolate’s intensity.
The photos really don’t do this cake justice. The family didn’t give me much time to photograph it and, as it was at the end of the day, the sun was playing up and I was juggling the rest of dinner. There wasn’t even time to do a photo set-up. Plonk! Snap! But enough of my excuses. I suggest you make this and show me your better shots! What counts is that it tastes fabulous and I’ll have to make it again soon.
Upside-Down Chocolate Coffee & Pear Cake
Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 50 minutes
2 tbsp water
3 pears (Guyot or Conference)
250g dark chocolate (at least 64% cocoa solids)
175g butter (unsalted)
1 tpsp coffee powder
2 tbsp plain flour (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F (gas 6). Butter a 25cm cake pan (no need to if using a silicone round cake mould, or moule à manqué that’s non-stick).
2. Make a caramel by stirring the sugar into the water in a heavy-based saucepan. Leave to simmer (don’t stir at this stage) until a golden caramel forms then stir in the butter. Immediately pour the caramel into the cake pan.
3. Peel the pears and cut them in half. Remove the cores with a sharp knife then cut each half into three slices. Arrange them as packed together as you can on top of the caramel (they’ll shrink as they cook) and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove to cool slightly.
4. Using a hand whisk, beat the eggs with the sugar in a large bowl until pale and creamy. Break up the chocolate into pieces and melt it together with the butter and coffee powder in a heat-proof bowl on top of a pan of simmering water (bain-marie), ensuring that the water doesn’t touch the chocolate bowl. When smooth and melted, whisk together the chocolate into the egg, then add the flour (if using), mix then pour the chocolate batter on top of the pears. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
5. Leave to cool slightly for about 10 minutes. Using a sharp blade of a knife, go around the sides to ensure nothing is sticking. Place a large serving plate over the pan and, holding on to both plate and pan, flip the plate upside down to demould the cake.
Serve either cold or slightly warm with cream but it’s just as good entirely on its own.
Next time I’m adding some candied ginger and perhaps a teaspoon of ground ginger to replace the coffee. What do you think? Are you more for classic plain or spicy with pear and chocolate?
Update: An intense caramel photo shot with the chocolate and pear cake. Ah, is that better? I made this again and have updated the recipe to suggest you caramelise the pears just a little longer in the oven and have adjusted step 3 accordingly. But if you prefer the previous more natural poached look, then leave in the oven for just 10 minutes in step 3.