chocolate in the gardens

 

It’s about time some more chocolate research was undertaken, don’t you think? On a crazy balmy winter day this week (25 degrees mid winter – what is going on, Sydney?!), we ventured forth to the Royal Botanic Gardens to explore the new building the Calyx, which is essentially a new glasshouse and marks the gardens’ second centenary in 2016.

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And the opening exhibition is called Sweet Addiction, the botanic story of chocolate, prominently sponsored by Lindt.

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The new building is quite attractive and a bit space age

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with the most striking element inside of the southern hemisphere’s largest vertical garden. It really is beautiful and breathes such a fresh, herby scent as you walk through the exhibit.

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They have the plants frequently sprayed by mist from within and above the wall

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which is bursting with herbs, colour and flowers

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and plants  here replicating a box of chocolates.

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The Sweet Addiction exhibition charts the history of chocolate with lots of fun facts dating back from the Mayan history

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and I thought my tea consumption was excessive!

More fun facts –

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I’m sure this practice continues today – compound chocolate anyone?

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Yes, of course chocolate is a superfood, whoever doubted that?

And there are some classic quotes

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including an homage to chocoholics.

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I love the phrase “I have reconciled myself to chocolate”

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As you leave there’s a very Mardi Gras rainbow flag wall.

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Look closer and you will see it’s a gazillion Lindt balls glued to a wall

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oh and did I mention Lindt? Here’s a replica of the conche apparently invented by Rodolphe Lindt in 1879 situated as you exit via the gift shop stacked with – you guessed it, Lindt chocolates!

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Being a veteran of previous chocolate exhibitions in Switzerland, I must say I was a little underwhelmed by this one and felt it was a tad overpriced at $15 although the setting in the Royal Botanic Gardens is unbeatable.

care package

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These days, most (snail) mail we receive is bills, reminders, financial statements or junk mail so as a rule, opening the mail is not such an exciting task, unless if, like me, you still write letters or send postcards or cards to friends and family, half the thrill is waiting to receive a reply. It may seem a bit Jane Austen in this modern day of instantaneous digital communication, but personally, I find there is nothing like opening a handwritten letter that you know your friend has taken the time to sit down and put pen to paper (or in this case, send chocolate treats across the globe).

Even better than this is when you receive a special care package.

Check. This. Out.

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Sent all the way from Belgium (via Switzerland) is this hand selected array of chocolate deliciousness posted by my dear friend Agata – many thanks, my friend. Miraculously, it arrived in excellent condition despite the consistent 29 degree heat we’ve been having for the past couple of weeks.

During our 2 year stay in Switzerland, we did various side trips around Europe and despite keenly wanting to visit Belgium to sample the chocolates as I did as a 19 year old backpacker (and a quick aside here – at the time, living on AUD$20 per day, after discovering Leonidas chocolate and hastily and blissfully deciding that spending my daily budget on chocolate was a worthwhile sacrifice in lieu of another day in Europe. This experience of tasting freshly made chocolate truffles packed with freshly churned butter cream convinced me there was a direct neural transfer occurring in my brain, since scientifically proven, see below

http://theconversation.com/why-chocolate-really-is-the-secret-to-happiness-24601

So, I am a tad excited to sample the Leonidas milk chocolate supplied in this package.

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(Indulge me one more aside about the name Leonidas – it imprinted upon me so strongly that when presented with a list of names of gynaecologists in Switzerland to book in for a regular check up, who did I pick out? The doctor whose first name was Leonidas, of course!) Keen readers of this blog may remember my visit to a Leonidas store in London’s SoHo. https://chisforchocolate.wordpress.com/2014/02/15/good-old-leonidas/

http://shop.leonidas.com/uk/

But I digress, on to the subject at hand. Belgian chocolate. Arguably the best chocolate in the world (just don’t tell the Swiss).

First we have Pierre Marcolini from Brussels, who has a truly layered website currently featuring a “wonderland” range for Easter and pitches his delights as a “gourmet sin”.

https://eu.marcolini.com/shop/collections/wonderland.html

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Next we have Neuhaus, claiming to be “the inventor of praline”.

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Woah! That’s a big call.

Sorry for the shaky photo, I think it’s because I was shaking with excitement. Also impressively, he started off as a pharmacist and covered his medications in chocolate. Talk about a spoonful of sugar! Now they’ve expanded into the US and have a number of boutiques in NY and New Jersey. One of their collections, according to their website features 9 exquisite flavours curated by 9 of the world’s best pastry chefs (ALL men I might point out). Looks pretty tasty, though.

Now here’s a brand I had never heard of but Agata assured me was a temple of chocolate. Mary.

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What a charming website. Very hand crafted. Where she made “little gems” in her “magic laboratory”. crafting chocolate treats for the Royal family and devoted her life to chocolate, a chocolate nun if you will. Her website claims her holy dedication –

“Mary Delluc, artist and gourmet, never got married, and decided, for the love of her profession, to spend her life in her workshops and stores.”

As their packaging proudly states, they are a Belgian Royal Warrant holder, no less. Many stores in Brussels and across Belgium and one outpost in lucky Ohio.

http://www.mary.be/en/home

Super impressive selection I must say. And one that I will indulge in very happily over the next little while. Once again, thank you Agata!! Packages of chocolate are warmly welcomed in these parts.

Annecy chocolates

We had a recent couple of days in pretty Annecy, only an hour and a half drive from here. Very elegant place with canals, the pre-requisite lake and mountains (for this region) and a charming old town.

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On all my petite séjours, I can never walk past a chocolate shop. What’s a girl to do when this one is five paces from your hotel’s front door?

Jeff de Bruges – which I had never heard of & now through some online research discover it’s a chain of Belgian chocolate shops founded by a Frenchman with stores peppered all through Paris – how did I not know this?! Apparently there are stores in London, Ammam, Dubai and Canada and more.

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The store was beautifully presented

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Even the counter had a bite out of it!

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Another chocolatier in the heart of the tourist area is Meyer Artisan chocolatier.

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Look at the beautiful window display, especially the “Tongs” and the school stationery pencil cases stuffed with coloured pencils, all made of chocolate.

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Plus inside the handiwork of the shopkeeper’s husband, all impressive chocolate sculptures.

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and around the corner at yet another confiserie, look at this beautiful meringue display!

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Tristan chocolaterie

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On my grand quest for chocolate utopia, I believe I may have come close with Tristan Chocolaterie. Nestled among the vineyards in the humble town of Bougy-Villars, between Lausanne and Geneva (dangerously close to the Ikea store, I might add – so now there’s no excuse not to indulge next time you need a Swedish storage solution for locals here).

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This place is the REAL DEAL. So glad we made the pilgrimage. And a holy place it is (cue harmonising sopranos). Chocolate piled up on shelves and beautifully displayed.

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Dangerously, they have tasting bowls where you can sample the various flavours. Try before you buy. And try we did!

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Aside from the classic dark, milk and white variations with assorted nuts, caramel and cocoa nibs, there was a white chocolate with Tasmanian pepper. Yep.

Like the best chocolatiers here (Durig in Lausanne for example – which I have blogged about earlier), once you buy something, they offer you a taste of a chocolate of your choice. See below for the choices.

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The girls went for caramel (which was subtle but creamy and a bit dulce de leche in consistency – scrumptious!) and I opted for the classic Noire. Heart-stoppingly pure and melted smoothly like a cello solo in your mouth.

We came away with a lovely bag full of tasty treats. Must be eaten within 10 days. Hmmm, that won’t be hard!

Take a look at the website for many of his chocolate sculptures. Incredible.

http://www.chocolatier-tristan.ch/

 

 

Faverger chocolate workshop

I did a chocolate workshop at Favarger in Geneva last week.  Founded in 1826, it’s one of the oldest chocolatiers in Switzerland and perhaps my favourite in the store bought variety.

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Check out the title of this book which I had to buy of course – research and to practice my french. “CH comme Chocolat “. What kind of genius thought of such a witty title?!

So, on to the task at hand. Focus, people! First we started with 2 bowls of cocoa butter that had been coloured naturally and a bowl of praline (which we learn how to make soon).

The blue was intended to represent the lake as the ultimate aim is to create a huge sculpture of the Jet d’eau – the iconic jet in Lake Geneva – as part of a Gourmet festival in Geneva and the blue represents the lake of course.

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Starting with a paintbrush which we swirled on the bench surface first, then painted the mold blue, then white.

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If the chocolate hardened on the surface, you could blast it for a second or two with this tool.  Highly technical!

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A chocolatier beside me was swishing praline on the work surface to and fro, to and fro.  It was a chocolate meditation and quite hypnotizing.

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Then he scooped it off the edge and it drooled into a bowl.

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Next we had to press a pedal on this machine

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to stop the flow of chocolate being constantly stirred (tempered?) and put a piping bag underneath the flow

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to then pipe the chocolate into our (now set) blue & white molds.

Look at this concentration!  Taking it very seriously indeed.

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Next step was to upturn the mold over the bench and let the chocolate drip, helped by a couple of taps on the side with a wooden spoon.  Fear not, the fallen chocolate was not wasted but scooped up by scrapers and reused by first returning it to the vat of melted chocolate behind me.

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Now you have lovely little cups of chocolate, evenly coated with little points like a crown

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which you then scrape off to make it smoooooooth.

Now to make the caramel for the praline.  Melt super fine sugar on high heat, stirring constantly, slowly adding more sugar as it browns

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then add your nuts and strong arm them into crunchy caramel submission

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until you have a sweet hard chunky blob like this

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which you put in (a serious industrial strength) blender where it turns first into a powder,

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then a delicious sweet nutty paste

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and once you’ve blended it with some chocolate, you can pipe it into your molds, almost to the top

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because you need to leave a tiny bit for the final layer of chocolate which you drizzle in a cross hatch design then scrape evenly across.

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Once the molds have been in the fridge to set, you can turn your mold upside down and

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TAP! TAP! TAP! out they pop like beautifully formed little blue domes of deliciousness comme ça!!

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Voila!

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Magnifique et délicieux!!

Here are my fellow workshop attendees and the two Faverger chocolate experts who guided us through the process.

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Finally, here are some of the chocolates Faverger is famous for, most of them still made by hand, in the artisanal way as demonstrated above by the apprentice chocolatier model, yours truly.

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I felt very proud of my beautiful chocolates and they were enjoyed by family and friends. A couple of them will remain at Favarger as part of the Jet d’eau sculpture which they will finish this week. I must track down an image of the completed masterpiece.

Looking forward to the next workshop…

 

 

time for a chocolate festival

OK, friends, I know the whole his and hers theme has side tracked my focus a little away from the most important subject at hand – CHOCOLATE!

Today, we made a pilgrimage along the lake towards Geneva to Versoix for a chocolate festival called Festichoc.  http://www.versoix.ch/

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Roll up!  Roll up!  Greeted by a massive chocolate bunny, I knew we were in the right place.

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Chocolate on tap

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and chocolate fountains were flowing free!

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Local Swiss chocolatiers gathered to show their wares.

Naturally, at this time of year, there were loads of Easter themed creations

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A local college was displaying their 1st year apprentice’s work in chocolate sculpture

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2nd year apprentice’s work:

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and 3rd year apprentice’s work

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and we could vote on our favourites.  Almost too beautiful to eat.

Which one would you choose?

This contraption below is called a girolle.  Made for a very particular type of cheese, la tête de moine, (Monk’s head), you wind the handle & it carves cheese off in fronds.  In this case, as you can see below, they have replaced the cheese with another Swiss staple – CHOCOLATE!

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Brilliant choc hack.

There was such a variety of chocolate here today – from chunky nutty slabs

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to hamburgers, costing what you pay for a hamburger here (CHF19), but hello! made by chocolate, so that’s my kind of burger!

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to shiny colourful gems.

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Finally, this woman is a local 22 year old champion swimmer, apparently she is the world’s leading open water swimmer.  She proudly eats 200g of chocolate per day (what a role model!) and when she races, consumes 7kg of chocolate to fuel her efforts.

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Chocolate legend.

Carouge chocolate heaven

Discovered a bit of gold today, hidden in the sweet neighbourhood of Carouge in Geneva.  Originally housing artisans with little shopfronts and workshops set up by the Sardinian community, it now houses little boulangeries, boutiques and chocolate shops.  Thanks to the lovely Rachel for guiding me to this glory!

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Top of the list is Philippe Pascoët, Maitre Chocolatier Suisse.

http://www.philippe-pascoet.ch/site/fr/

Look at the beautiful shopfront.

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Chocolate is taken very seriously within these walls.  There was a display of chocolate blocks with cocoa beans sourced from all across the globe.

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Most chocolate shops at this time of year are displaying pots of chocolates in the windows.  This is to commemorate an historical event that happened on December 11-12 in 1602 when the troops of the Duke of Savoy tried to invade the city of Geneva while the town was sleeping.  Legend has it that a local cook and mother of 14 children, Mère Royaume tipped a boiling cauldron of hot soup over the invading troops, thus defeating them.

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As part of the tradition, the local Genevois buy these wonderful “Marmites” (french for pots) and the eldest and youngest people in the room must smash the chocolate pot and declare “Thus perish the enemies of the Republic!” before enjoying the marzipan vegetable sweet treats contained therein and the chocolate itself.  Love a good tradition, don’t you?!

And by far the biggest chocolate pot was to be found here at the esteemed Philippe Pascoët boutique.

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along with a tabletop full of marzipan vegetable pieces

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Looking back, I think I was overwhelmed as I didn’t take any photos of the individual chocolates on offer.  I chose coriander, pear, spice, cinnamon, vanilla and let me tell you, what has passed my lips so far is UN.BELIEVABLE.  So creamy and subtle and completely delicious.

There were a handful of quirky shops in the backstreets of Carouge and this hat shop stood out.  Mad hatter perhaps?  Or it could be the expression on my face as I was transfixed in the chocolate shop and unable to choose which truffle.  Passionfruit (which I hear is AMAZING!) or hazelnut.  What’s a girl to do?  Go into a chocolate trance, obviously…

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