Chocolatiers and pastry chefs are toiling relentlessly, allowing brilliant blends of spices, nostalgia, chocolate bars and imagination in sinful pursuits and sincere tributes.
By Leena Ghosh
Chocolate — for love or loathing. It is a cure, and at times, the solution, a lover’s plea and a sinner’s salvation. Chocolate — the food that gives the ordinary brown a sinful connotation. An evil so tempting that Charlie’s factory could be built on it. Chocolate — spiced, hot — chilli-hot, mangoed, rolled into laddoos, spread in halwa, wrapped in the scent of paan, powdered, crunched, crushed, swirled — into crazy and subtle Indian flavours.
In India, decades after the cultivation of the cocoa crop was introduced by none other than the chocolate giant, Cadbury, the chocolate industry, today, is poised for exponential growth. Vimal Sharma, Director of Bliss Chocolates Pvt Ltd says, “Still in its infancy, couverture chocolate market is estimated to be valued at about Rs 400 crore, with a rapid growth of 30-40 per cent annually. The market is estimated to be valued at Rs 1500 crore in the next five years. When it comes to finely-crafted food experiences, there aren’t many homegrown brands that have been successful in matching global product quality and delivering an authentic experience. And definitely, none in the couverture chocolates space. At Smoor Chocolates (by Bliss), we intended to change that with our multiple retail formats.”
Chocolatiers and pastry chefs, who toil relentlessly to satiate our cravings, are whipping up new stories. Some indulgences served in chunks of bitter and sweet, arise from nostalgia of the regular chocolate bars. Others — brilliant blends of flavours and influences. Chockriti, a premium artisan chocolate brand, has introduced some interesting twists like Kaffir Lime, Paan, Cardamon Coffee, Masala Chai, Mango Chat, Saffron Pista, Lemongrass, Cashewnut Halwa, Soan Papadi and Moti Choor Laddoo. There are more. Arabic flavours — Zaatar Spice, Hibiscus Rose, Date Rose, Kashmiri Kahwa tea with roasted almonds, Morroccon Mint and Orange Blossom truffle. Oodles of poetry.
Chocolate, first. Chef Kalyan’s (Pastry Chef, The Fatty Bao and Toast and Tonic, Mumbai) chocolate story is familiar. It started with a bar of Dairy Milk. However, now, he prefers bitter chocolate to sweetened, and his favourite chocolate bar is Snickers. So, he has crafted Cocoa Caramel, a dessert inspired by the bar. He says, “It’s the flavour of the food that brings a guest back to a restaurant and not the way it looked.”
Cocoa Caramel is one of the signature desserts from The Fatty Bao. It is made with milk, chocolate, cream, hazelnut praline crisp, flourless chocolate cake, toasted meringue, salted caramel gel and salted caramel ice cream. He adds, “Though it is inspired by my love for Snickers, it is not entirely like it. In this, I use hazelnuts.” Chef Kalyan’s favourite chocolate dessert is the one he tasted in Bali. “The dessert used seven to eight different textures of chocolate. It was impressive,” he says. Currently, Chef Kalyan is experimenting with creating his version of the Black Forest cake. “It has been one of my all time favourite desserts and I wanted to do something new with it.”
Chocolate memories take Sharad Shanthamurthy, City Chef, Smoke House Deli, Bangalore, back to Spain. “My favourite chocolate-based dessert is churros with hot chocolate at the Churrerias in Salamanca, Spain. Fresh crispy churros dipped in thick hot chocolate make a perfect evening time snack,” he says.
Chocolatier Pragati Sawhney’s ambition is to make India fall in love with original and healthy chocolates. Owner of Chockriti, she focuses on producing artisan chocolates without using white sugar or vegetable oil. Her chocolates, made in small batches, have unique flavours. She uses organic flowers, teas, spices, herbs and nuts sourced from all over the world. Her favourite is lavender chocolate. “I always love the simple flavour of lavender. My goat cheese ganache recipe is an interesting mix of sweet and savoury. Chocolates in India taste very different from what is available abroad. I have introduced some very unique flavours,” she says.
According to Vimal, more and more connoisseurs are moving towards chocolate with high cocoa content and less sugar. “The art of chocolate-making is not just milk chocolate moulded into candy bars. Today’s chocolatiers use high cocoa content and mould chocolate into highly decorated pieces of art that are as good to see as they are to taste.”
Back to basic. What is artisan chocolate? “This term refers to chocolates produced by artisans, artists, who understand their craft intimately. Artisan chocolates must be made under the care and supervision of a knowledgeable chocolate maker, who could be defined as an artisan,” he explains. Bliss Chocolates has some unique flavours. “Our chilli chocolates fascinate our customers. The beauty in sweet and spice come together — unbelievable,” adds Vimal.
His personal favourite is a dessert crafted by Chef Elaine Young of Smoor Chococolate Lounge. “Chocolate Namelaka created exclusively for Smoor by Chef Elaine Young is by far my best dessert. It is a combination of chocolate, raspberry and rose petals, and is as gorgeous to look at as it is to eat. It looks like art on a plate. It won the Best Dessert 2017 award in the World on a Plate contest judged by Chef Janice Wong, Adriano Zumbo, Elene Duggan, Gary Mehigan and Chef Ranveer Brar, recently,” he adds.
Chef Bhuvan’s earliest chocolate memories consist of Nestle Bars. Bhuvan, Pastry Chef, The Oberoi, Bangalore, says, “My father would get us those Nestle bars of various toppings, dark chocolate covered over marzipan and pistachio center. I used to love them.” Having a preference for semi sweet chocolates as a grown up, Chef Bhuvan’s fondness for chocolate comes through in his creations. For his kitchens, he sources chocolates from abroad with varied cocoa percentages ranging from 53 per cent to 75 per cent. He says, “We use all three varieties of dark, milk and white couverture chocolates in our kitchen. They are from a Belgian company which is excellent for petite gateaux, verrines, entremets and also pralines/petite fours. We also use a high-end chocolate from Switzerland, which gives top notch results, mainly used for high-end events or special requests from our guests.”
Chef Bhuvan experienced his favourite dessert in Villa Shanti, Pondicherry. “It was a dark chocolate verrine with lemon curd. I really loved it because of its simplicity. It was good quality Belgian chocolate and had the perfect texture and feel. It was simply divine,” he adds.
Such was the impact of this experience, that the idea for chef’s soon-to-be-launched chocolate-based invention comes from Auroville, Pondicherry. “We are about to launch a new dessert, shortly at Le Jardin, The Oberoi, Bangalore. One of the highlights is a baked Alaska. The ice cream is made out of a single-origin peppermint chocolate from Pondicherry. The dessert is finished with meringue and resembles the Matrimandir dome at Auroville,” Chef Bhuvan explains.
His signature — Hicory wood-smoked, 70 percent cocoa hazelnut chocolate cake with fresh berries and vanilla cremeaux, served with homemade vanilla ice cream. Dream.
Cocoa Caramel by Chef Kalyan
This recipe is a simplified version of his signature dish and can be easily attempted by home cooks.
110 g milk chocolate
258 g peanut butter
50 g rice Krispies
Coat an 8x8x2″ metal baking pan with vegetable oil. Line with plastic wrap, pressing to smooth out wrinkles. Place chocolate in glass or microwave safe bowl. Microwave it in short burst of 30 seconds and stir until chocolate is smooth. Remove bowl from the microwave. Stir in peanut butter, then rice Krispies. Transfer to prepared pan; press over bottom in an even layer. Cover and chill for an hour.
Salted Caramel Sauce
25 g cream
100 g sugar
20 g butter
2 g salt
Bring the cream to a simmer over low heat. Place a large pot over a medium flame to caramelise the sugar. Sprinkle some sugar to form a thin coat on the bottom of the pot. As the sugar melts, sprinkle more in areas it is melting. Avoid stirring the pan; shake and swirl it during the process. Continue adding sugar to the areas where it is melting until all the sugar is added.
Cook until it reaches golden brown. If you see clumps of sugar, shake the pan. Do not stir. A splash of the cream as soon as the sugar reaches the proper colour. Stir. It will bubble, but as long as you use a large pot, you should be fine. Continue adding the cream gradually and stir. Then, stir in the butter and salt.
Milk Chocolate Crémeux
400 g cream
70 g sugar
75 g water
1 agar agar
5 g gelatin
250 g milk chocolate
Combine cream, sugar together and bring to a scald. Bring water and agar to a rolling boil for 40 seconds while whisking. Combine both liquids together and bring to a scald. Dissolve the bloomed gelatin into the cream. Strain cream mixture into the chocolate through a chinois, allow it to sit for 30 seconds and stir to combine.Without adding aeration, emulsify the mixture using an immersion blender. Portion cremeux into the prepared mould and refrigerate it. Once set, cut into desired portions. Drizzle it with caramel sauce.