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‘My expert guide to chocolate’, by Tony Naylor

As supermarket shelves groan heavy with Easter eggs, O’s expert gives his verdict on the annual binge on our favourite sweet stuff, chocolate

According to the latest scientific research, chocolate isn’t medically addictive. It doesn’t alter your brain chemistry. No one has ever mugged a pensioner to get their Twix fix.

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I may look sad and pathetic on Easter Sunday (groaning, half-collapsed under a mountain of foil, Flake crumbs and crushed Smarties, only rousing myself from this stupor to defend my stash from any passing small children), but people don’t end-up in the gutter due to an out-of-control Yorkie habit.

But, at the same time, for we true chocaholics, there’s something distinctly drug-like about our dependency. In a harsh world, chocolate offers us succour like no other food, and consequently we find it impossible to resist in even its poorest forms (peanut M&Ms).

Chocolate makes us feel incredible, but, like any drug, in the way it betrays our utter lack of willpower (those peanut M&Ms again), it can also makes you feel despicably guilty. Until your next hit that is, after which
blissful euphoria descends. Such is this bittersweet enslavement.

If that sounds familiar, you’ll appreciate what follows. After a lifetime lost in chocolate, allow me to share what I’ve learned.


There’s no such thing as bad chocolate

Like ice cream or cheese, there may be huge variations in chocolate’s quality and complexity, but from cheap novelty choc to the darkest 90% cocoa solids, single-estate Ecuadorian bar, all of it is, at some level, enjoyable. All chocolate gets the endorphins flowing*.

*All except American chocolate. That sugary, dusty muck dies in the mouth, as does white chocolate which technically (no cocoa solids) is not even chocolate.


The pleasure of leisure

To non-believers, those Dairy Milk dilettantes who treat chocolate as an inconsequential snack, the idea of nibbling all the chocolate off a KitKat Chunky before eating each layer of biscuit individually, is seen as finicky and eccentric. But we servants of Ek Chuah, the Mayan god of chocolate, know that prolonging this exquisite pleasure – a process I like to call ‘tantric chocolate’ – is the only way to respect this precious entity.

Philistines chomp chocolate. We connoisseurs suck Minstrels until they disintegrate or dunk chunks of chocolate in hot tea to par-melt them (two chocolate sensations in one!). Cadbury’s Egg ‘n’ Spoon may be new to some, but I’ve eaten Creme Eggs with a teaspoon for years. And there’s nothing weird about that. Okay?


Mint has no place in my chocolate canon

Mint Matchmakers, mint Aero, After Eights: all universally horrible. Would I eat them? Of course I would. In fact, coat tripe in chocolate and I’d eat that, too. I’m an animal. But that isn’t the issue.


In fact, can we just stop putting stuff in chocolate?

From marshmallow and biscuit pieces to supposedly gourmet flavourings such as lime, lavender, chilli or cardamom, we’re witnessing an explosion in the range of bizarre adjuncts to chocolate, often detrimental. Ultimately, in chocolate, nothing is ever as good as, well, chocolate. Everything else just gets in the way.


…except salted caramel

Which is the best thing to happen to chocolate in 30 years. Incredibly, in 2006, M&S introduced a salted caramel chocolate range, which bombed. Mea culpa M&S! We were wrong.


A bar to satisfaction

Curiously, every chocolate bar (Bounty, Mars etc.), is far nicer if picked apart so you can eat its component sections individually, rather than how it was designed to be eaten. Take the Twix, each element – caramel, biscuit, chocolate – is lovely on its own, but their flavours become muffled when mingled in one bite.

This strengthens my case that the ultimate chocolate is always 100% chocolate, be it Galaxy or Green & Blacks, Milka or Montezuma.


Be cool, keep warm

Unless it’s 37°C outside, chocolate should never be stored in the fridge. For smooth meltability, it must be served at room temperature. See also; adding a smashed-up chocolate bar to a bowl of ice-cream. It doesn’t work. The cold ice cream stops the chocolate melting in your mouth and, instead, it has all the allure of grit.


I kneel before Lindt’s master chocolatiers

Not only did the Swiss invent milk chocolate but Rodolphe Lindt accidentally discovered conching, the process of gently mixing and heating cocoa solids and cocoa butter that produces luxuriously smooth, easy-melting chocolate. Today, Lindt’s Lindor balls continue this tradition in cashmere-like confectionery.

Apparently, it’s palm kernel oil that enables the truffled centres of said balls (sumptuously rich but, somehow, not sickly), to melt effortlessly. Since 2015, all of Lindt’s palm oil has been certified sustainable by the WWF (World Wide Fund for Nature). That’s a weight off my conscience. I’d sooner abandon members of my immediate family than forgo my Lindt balls.


Clunking thuds of chocolate puds

Fact: no chocolate dessert is ever as nice as actual chocolate. Melting chocolate puddings? Too sweet and too spongy, not chocolaty enough. A chocolate parfait, mousse or ganache? Indigestibly rich.  Chocolate cheesecake? An abomination! Restaurants, concede defeat, drop over-elaborate desserts and serve blocks of Valrhona instead.


Beware the Easter bunny

At Easter, you can spend a lot on flashy tat: bunnies and hens moulded from cheap chocolate; polished, sweetly milky Belgian eggs with an odd waxy consistency; bling egg-travaganzas tastelessly finished in edible gold and bejewelled with dried fruit.

Stick to brands you know and like or, if you must splash-out on a super-luxe egg, trust glitzy Prestat or the chic Chocolate Society. Their creations taste as good as they look – which is rare.


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