You can tell a chocolate cake by its quality: bite into that soft, yielding sponge and you don’t want to be disappointed by the flavour of cheap, oversweet chocolate or grainy cocoa.
So I asked a couple of London’s best bakers what chocolate they use – and why.
My first port of call had to be Chiswick’s finest American import – Outsider Tart, known for their huge range of equally huge brownies, as well as cheesecakes, cookies, whoopie pies and now a diner next door, called Blue Plate.
I asked David Muniz about his choice of chocolate.” We use Valrhona chocolate in all our baked goods”, he said, explaining that when they first opened their bakery, they sought out a chocolate that would deliver on flavour. “Valrhona’s production quality is of a standard that you taste the different types of chocolate as opposed to some of these products (most American chocolate) that have the taste engineered right out. Like wine, chocolate taste is the result of origin, soil, climate, production, and so-on. Depending on the source plantation, chocolate will have a wide variety of nuance and character. Valrhona offers the widest, best quality range we can find to compliment whatever recipe we are baking.”
He was full of praise for the French company’s cocoa powder, too, calling it second to none – “It’s full, robust and it holds up in the oven. There’s nothing worse than adding cocoa and not getting it back out once the product is finished.”
The only other brand they’ll use is Callebaut, for their range of chocolate chips. The most important thing for all their baking needs, says David, is quality – and consistency of supply.
Another feted American baker in London is Bea Vo, who runs the successful chain of Beas of Bloomsbury cafes around London – and has just brought out the celebrated brownie/tart mash-up called the Townie. I tried one last week, and I can recommend them.
Bea used to be head pastry chef at the Michelin starred Nobu, where she used Valrhona in all the chocolate creations, and still uses it now.
“I was really impressed with the consistency of the chocolate when I worked with it with it professionally, and also the flavours are so well composed — my favourite of course is the Caraibe which we use in our brownies – they have these lovely cherry tones to them, and the chocolate tastes bright but not sour. In terms of the quality the conching is always consistent, it really does give you a great ganache as well which we have in our cakes, and it’s chocolate that works really well in desserts.”
Not every chocolate, she says, will work in baking. ” Some chocolate companies make chocolate that would taste great by the bar but for reasons of cocoa percentages or manufacturing when you try to use them in recipes you lose the flavour of what makes that chocolate special eating it alone. I’ve never had that problem with Valrhona.”
As a commercial business, though, she has to keep one eye on costs, so Bea also uses Callebaut in her fudge icings when it’s mixed with golden syrup, saving the more expensive Valrhona for when “the chocolate really takes centre stage”.
Andrew Gravett, who’s Valrhona’s head patissier for northern Europe (great job title) is pretty pleased with all the accolades. “The Valrhona range is vast and still growing but the difference is that the quality is consistently high”, he said.
So there you have it. If you want a brownie, a cupcake or a cookie which won’t let you down on taste – check the origin of the chocolate inside. After all, you only get out what you put in.