- 1.5bn desserts were eaten out-of-home in 2017, according to figures from NPD, with cookies, brownies and doughnuts listed as the most popular sweet treats.
- Despite the huge health boom the UK has seen in 2018, analysts have also reported a polarisation of attitudes, so that while more people are attempting to improve their diets, when they do indulge they really pig out.
- The opening of a dessert bar at the Hotel Cafe Royal in 2016 put the spotlight on luxurious desserts. One of the most famous recipes of Sarah Barber, the executive pastry chef when it opened, is the Snickers cake: a chocolate, salted caramel and nut dessert.
Ingredients and products claiming to improve health have been topping the food trends charts of late, while decadent treats featuring sugar and fat have edged closer and closer to the bottom.
Though studies on cocoa, the key ingredient in chocolate, have suggested there may be some health benefits associated with consuming the brown stuff, these are far outweighed by the fact that most chocolate desserts are full of calories.
However, as chocolatier Paul A Young, who has worked with chef Adam Handling to create a five-course Chocolate Week Tasting Menu for Frog by Adam Handling, says, health factors are not the main reason chocolate desserts haven't been so readily seen on menus.
“Chocolate can be difficult to work with – especially in hot kitchens,” he says. “Fine chocolate is expensive and some kitchen budgets may not allow for the quality of chocolate needed to deliver a fantastic dessert.”
As the 14th Chocolate Week kicks off this week, we're reminded that it’s not all one-way traffic. There are always those who break the mould, and as our featured chefs show, decadent desserts with a chocolate theme are far from passé.
Paul A Young uses chocolate in his sea salted caramel tart: “To make the crust, I cream together butter and sugar, then mix in egg yolks and water before gradually adding flour and cocoa powder. The pastry is refrigerated before being rolled out into a tart tin and baked. The filling is made with Madagascan 64% dark chocolate, whipping or double cream, muscovado sugar and Maldon sea salt. All the ingredients are melted together in a mixing bowl over a pan of hot water until glossy and thick, then poured into the cold baked crust before being refrigerated for two hours. For the topping, I make a caramel from caster sugar, then add salt and pecan nuts. The mixture is quickly poured out onto a parchment sheet and allowed to cool before being chopped up into pieces to sprinkle over the ganache. Light muscovado sugar has a butterscotch character so the chocolate pairs well with these toffee flavours and adds a silky texture to the filling. Sweet pastry and chocolate is a marriage made in heaven – toasted buttery flavours with chocolate are such a delicious combination in my opinion. The chocolate also helps set the tart into a dense but silky smooth texture. Its creaminess also just adds extra luxe, making for a more indulgent dessert.”
Peter Gray, head chef at the Hind’s Head, makes mulled chocolate wine slush, which is served alongside millionaire's shortbread: “Chocolate wine first appeared in England back in the 1600s, just after the arrival of chocolate, which was known as 'Indian nectar' during the reign of Charles II. Back then, it was made by blending a strong wine such as claret or port with sugar and chocolate. In the 1700s, a London physician called William Salmon created a recipe that inspired what we serve at the Hind’s Head Today. To make the mulled chocolate wine slush, Maury wine is mixed with ruby port and reduced. While this process is taking place, milk is brought to a boil and allowed to cool slightly before adding chopped milk chocolate. Once the wine has been reduced and cooled down, the two liquids are mixed until fully incorporated, then completely cooled in the fridge. The mixture is passed through a fine mesh sieve before being placed in a ‘slush’ machine. The wine has very particular characteristic when it comes to flavour. We have tested different wines in the past but the balance of tannins, sweetness and overall flavours is great with Maury. Adding the millionaire's shortbread with a crumbly and buttery shortbread, savoury salted caramel and lightly bitter dark chocolate adds another dimension to the dish.
Roger Pizey, executive head of pastry and baking at Bluebird Chelsea, describes a chocolate mousse based dessert: “This dessert combines white and dark chocolate mousses on a layer of feuilletine, accompanied by white chocolate and praline. I make it in a rectangle frame. First, I layer the base, set it and add the layers one at a time to allow them to form properly before paletting it flat so it’s smooth. I place it in the fridge to set, then remove the frame and slice into portions before blast freezing it quickly. Finally, I glaze it with dark chocolate and cover with freeze-dried raspberries and a tempered chocolate crescent. Chocolate is an essential part of the dish – without it, the dish wouldn't work, but the feuilletine base and the dried raspberries add texture and a sweet acidic crunch against the richness of the chocolate, while the crushed hazelnut praline also adds crunch and sweetness.”