I’m not going to lie, chocolate has been a bit of saviour during the lockdown. And I don’t just mean in the eating.
Spending time mixing up big batches of my Calm Cocoa hot chocolate blends, creating bespoke cookie orders and running chocolate meditations has all had a very calming effect during some rather tumultuous weeks.
The instant thought with chocolate (other than chomping it down of course) is generally more the sweet side of things. But one of the many, many reasons I love chocolate is that it’s an incredibly versatile ingredient in its many forms, from cocoa/cacao and cacao nibs right through to pieces of solid chocolate.
Tuesday July 7th is officially World Chocolate Day so I wanted to share some chocolatey suggestions ahead of this to get you read for the big day!
To attempt to pique your interested, I’ve included a selection of chocolate options – and not just sweet ones – for three alternative ways to enjoy chocolate. This includes an updated version of my Cacao Nib Pesto recipe and, shock horror, a beautiful chocolate and water combination. I hope you have fun exploring a slightly different side of chocolate…
1. Cacao Nib Pesto
The lightly bitter nuttiness of cacao nibs (the roasted broken up bits of cocoa beans that are ground up to make chocolate) adds an interesting depth to pesto. This recipe essentially takes out half the pine nuts and adds the nibs in their place.
This is a super easy recipe that can be whipped up in about 10 minutes.
It’s of course lovely mixed through freshly cooked pasta, but you can also create a salad dressing or sauce by stirring up a few tablespoons of pesto with 30ml of olive oil. You could also add a dollop over meaty fish, or mix with some tahini and drizzled over roasted veg. Or just slather some liberally over slices of sourdough or rye toast and top with a little extra rocket and slices of cheese.
I’ve used vegetarian ‘Parmesan’ in my recipe, but if you eat meat, the real stuff will do perfectly. And if you’re vegan, nutritional yeast flakes are a good substitute.
Cacao Nib Pesto (vegetarian)
Makes 2 small or 1 medium jar
50g pine nuts, lighted toasted
50g cacao nibs (you can buy these in Health Food stores, some supermarkets or online)
25g basil (stems & leaves)
2 cloves garlic, peeled & roughly chopped
Juice & zest of ½ medium lemon (or 1 small lemon)
½ tspn Himalayan pink salt or sea salt
100ml extra virgin olive oil – plus a good drizzle of olive oil to top in jar
50g vegetarian ‘parmesan’ cheese, roughly chopped
(to make the pesto vegan, add 1½ – 2 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes instead of cheese)
1. Put the pine nuts, cacao nibs, basil, rocket, garlic and lemon juice/zest in a food processor and blend till well combined, but still chunky. You may need to stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl a couple of times.
2. With the food processor running, drizzle in the olive oil until it is well combined. Add the cheese and blend again. Ideally it should still be a bit chunky rather than totally smooth.
3. Put your pesto in a clean jar and cover with a layer of olive oil. Store in the fridge in the sealed jar for up to a week.
2. Cacao Balsamic Vinegar Dressing
The thickness of a good balsamic vinegar with a touch of cocoa or cacao powder is an unusual, but very delicious partnership of flavours. This recipe also has a little dark chocolate for extra richness.
This is beautiful on a simple salad of salad leaves, cherry tomatoes and parmesan (vegetarian or regular) or over a slice of grilled goat’s cheese. But if you’re really brave you could try a little drizzle over a creamy vanilla icecream or grilled peaches.
If you have a chocolate lover in your life, it also makes a lovely gift stored in a beautiful bottle.
Cacao Balsamic Vinegar
Makes 2 x 250ml bottles
500ml good quality balsamic vinegar (ideally Aceto Modena)
50g coconut sugar (or golden caster sugar)
1/4 tspn sea salt
30g cacao powder
20g dark chocolate, chopped
Optional – add a bit of spice with ½ tspn freshly ground black pepper or chilli flakes!
1. Put the coconut sugar and salt in a medium saucepan and pour over the balsamic vinegar, stirring the two together. Place the saucepan over a medium heat and bring to a gentle simmer, leaving it to bubble for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. The sugar should be completely dissolved.
2. Sprinkle over the cacao powder bit by bit, stirring as you go so that it dissolves and is well combined with the vinegar mixture. It will thicken slightly.
3. Take the saucepan off the heat and add the chocolate, stirring until it melts and is blended with the vinegar. Let the vinegar cool (the quickest way to do this is to pour the vinegar into a bowl and then place this in a sink of chilled water, making sure the level of water only comes about 2/3 of the way up the bowl).
4. Using a jug and a funnel, divide the vinegar between two sterilised 250ml bottles and seal. The vinegar will keep for up to a month. You will need to give it a shake when you use it to mix everything back together.
3. Water Ganache
This combination of water and chocolate never ceases to amaze me. You’ve probably heard that melted chocolate and water are not good friends. It’s true that small amounts of water in melting chocolate will cause it to seize and go grainy. But in the right proportions it creates a beautifully thick and creamy ganache that, made with dark chocolate, is great for people who are vegans or dairy intolerant.
Ganache is normally a shiny thick mixture of chocolate and cream (and sometimes butter) used for the fillings of truffles, icing or for dipping. I find using water gives a much cleaner taste, especially if you’ve got hold of some really good chocolate.
To make the water version, I always use dark chocolate; I haven’t tried it with milk chocolate, but I suspect the dairy and water combination won’t work quite as well. I’ve also had issues with higher cocoa percentages (above 80% cocoa dark chocolate) so I personally tend to stick with the 70-75% range.
You can roll scoops of the set ganache to make simple truffles coated in a light dusting of cacao/cocoa powder, drizzle it while still runny over a cake to make a thick delicious icing or just stick a spoon in and eat it! Once you feel braver you can start adding a few other flavours, but start plain and to get the base right – then the chocolate world is your oyster…
Dark Chocolate Water Ganache
Makes enough to ice one small cake (or 12 cupcakes) or about 25 truffles
150g dark chocolate, chopped (I suggest 65%-75% cocoa dark chocolate)
75ml boiling water, left for half a minute
¼ tspn fine or small flakes of sea salt
1. Put the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl and cover with hot water, leaving it to sit for a couple of minutes.
2. Start gently mixing with a spoon from the middle of the bowl. As it starts to thicken (emulsify), incorporate the rest of the melted chocolate until the mixture is totally smooth.
Tip: if there are still lumps of chocolate, you can either pop the bowl in a microwave for one or two 10 second bursts (stirring between) or in the rim of a small saucepan over gently simmering water, stirring till there are no lumps.
3. Add the salt and stir until everything is completely combined.
4. If you’re using this for icing (or dipping) and you’d like it to be shiny, let it sit for a couple of minutes and then coat your cakes. If you cool it in cold water as per the next step, it will be more like butter cream, but a bit harder to spread (though still very yummy!). If it cools and gets too thick, you can always gently heat and stir a little to soften it.
5. If you’re making truffles, place the bowl in a sink of cool water for 10-15 minutes (the water should only come half way up the outside of the bowl – be careful not to splash!). Take it out of the water and stir again till smooth. Lightly cover the bowl with cling film and pop in the fridge for 1-2 hours. You want the ganache to be firm enough to easily roll into small balls. If it still feels a bit soft or gloopy, pop it back in the fridge till it’s more firm.
The ganache will last in fridge for up to 5 days.
Have a very happy World Chocolate Day!