Banish the Monday blues with chocolate
For many of us, chocolate is the ultimate go-to comfort food for life’s downs (and ups and everything in between!), when an instant feel-good fix or energy boost is needed, or when we want to inject a little romance into date night. Whether chocolate is your guilty pleasure or you consider it to be one of the essential food groups, one thing’s for certain and that there is more to this exotic bean than initially meets the eye.
In recent years, scientific and medical research has linked chocolate to a number of positive health outcomes, ranging from its rich source of antioxidants to its ability to lower cholesterol and improve cognitive function. While not all chocolate is created equally, and moderation is key when consuming a product with a typically high sugar content, there is no doubt that chocolate’s raw ingredients have the potential to cure more than a broken heart.
Despite being globally acclaimed and acquired, cocoa trees grow exclusively in areas that meet very strict criteria, namely humid, tropical climates with regular rains, even temperatures, and a short dry season. Known as the cocoa belt, this narrow strip of land sits around 20 degrees latitude north and south of the equator. Amazingly, most cocoa grows within 10 degrees of the equator.
Oxfam estimates that over 70 per cent of the world’s cocoa is grown by indigenous communities, namely in West Africa – specifically Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana – who are poorly paid to the extent that many live in abject poverty. Buying Fairtrade chocolate helps foster sustainable practices for cocoa farmers by ensuring minimum prices and providing a premium to invest in local communities. This not only benefits the farmers who harvest the cocoa pods from the cocoa trees but also their families and local communities.
According to British television chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, author of River Cottage A-Z: Our Favourite Ingredients and How to Cook Them, dark chocolate is the best choice for culinary uses. He writes:
“… it packs rich flavour, without too much sweetness, and the higher cocoa solid content makes it more stable when heated. However, it’s not true to say that very high cocoa solids always equates to very high quality. That is determined by the beans themselves, the skill with which they are fermented and roasted, and the ingredients that go into the finished bar.”
Hugh says that chocolate with solids in the region of 70-80 per cent work well in most recipes – “higher than that and the chocolate can be very bitter.”
In this second and final recipe extract from River Cottage A-Z, Hugh shows HomeHub readers how to make a “grown-up ice cream” that would no doubt impress dinner party guests – or make for an indulgent mid-week treat.
Chocolate, brandy and star anise ice cream
A gorgeously grown-up ice cream, this mingles the fruity, bittersweet flavour of chocolate with warming star anise, a hint of orange and a sup of brandy.
3–5 star anise
200ml whole milk
300ml double cream
Finely grated zest of 1 large orange
1 vanilla pod, split lengthways
4 medium egg yolks
100g caster sugar
200g dark chocolate (70–75% cocoa solids), finely chopped
75ml cider brandy or calvados
Using a pestle and mortar, bash the star anise to reduce to chunky bits. Tip into a pan with the milk, cream and orange zest. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla pod into the pan; add the pod too. Bring almost to a simmer, then set aside to infuse for 15 minutes.
Beat the egg yolks and sugar together in a bowl until well combined. Strain the hot cream through a fine sieve on to the eggs and sugar, whisking all the time. Pour into a clean pan and cook gently, stirring, for a few minutes, until thickened. Don’t let it boil or it will split.
Remove from the heat, add the chocolate and stir gently until it has melted. Stir in the cider brandy, then strain through a sieve into a clean bowl. Lay a piece of cling film or baking parchment on the surface to stop a skin forming, then set aside to cool.
Churn the custard in an ice-cream maker until soft-set, then transfer to the freezer to freeze solid. (Alternatively, pour the mixture into a plastic container and freeze for about an hour, or until starting to solidify around the sides, then mash with a fork, mixing the frozen sides into the liquid centre. Put it back in the freezer for another hour, and repeat at hourly intervals until soft-set, then let the ice cream freeze solid.)
Transfer the ice cream to the fridge 30 minutes before serving, to soften a little.
Hungry for more? Try Hugh’s delicious chocolate and avocado cake.