I was really pleased when this book arrived as I had been searching for a chocolate cake recipe that my husband could use to bake my birthday cake. Nan’s Chocolate Fudge Cake looked ideal until... I spotted the Triple Chocolate Brownie cake in M&S. Don’t get me wrong it felt pretty treacherous buying a cake rather than having a homemade one, but my husband likes baking bread not cakes and if he’s honest, I think he was relieved to be let off the hook, so that recipe has been put on the back-burner for a while.
The book is divided into six main parts, the first two covering an introduction to Will (the author), chocolate and techniques. The remaining chapters are split into a range of recipes: Chocolate and Truffles, Cookies, Biscuits and Bakes, Desserts and Puddings, and Drinks and Ice Creams. The book begins with Will sharing a little about his background and explaining how he has a passion for removing the fear from chocolate (don’t be silly he doesn’t mean fear of eating it, he means working with it), and this is reinforced throughout the book. We look at the history of chocolate, where it has come from and how it has been developed, as well as looking at techniques used when working with it, all explained in a really approachable way.
I like that we are given three different techniques for tempering chocolate, the way that Will prefers, (and the way we most often see on television), is using a marble slab, but I Will clearly realises that we don’t all have marble worktops or slabs handy, so includes the Seeding Technique, and Tempering in the Microwave, (in fact the microwave is used in all techniques to a degree). Including these variations is what makes this book so approachable, if I wanted to, I could go into my kitchen right now and temper some chocolate (if I hadn’t eaten all of the chocolate already). We are also shown techniques for using moulds, the old tradition of dipping fillings into tempered chocolate to coat them, and how to make a ganache.
My favourite chapter is probably Cookies, Biscuits and Bakes, I want to make everything, I mean who in their right minds would say no to Chocolate Brioche Doughnuts? In the other chapters I’m also drawn to White Chocolate and Coconut Rice Pudding with Caramelised Mango, and then maybe for when it’s a bit chilly outside, Chocolate Mulled Wine. The photography (by Jonathan Gregson) throughout is stunning (I think the cover has a bit too much text on it, but maybe that is just me). As well as easy to follow instructions, ingredients and a list of specific equipment, each recipe features a full colour image of the finished item, and the images are so good they will fill you with sugary desire. There are also some smaller practical images to aid the recipes that have any specific or unusual steps. I also love how the chapters are separated by a heading on a double page spread which shows a big image of some kind of chocolate, it’s so bold, indulgent ... and chocolatey.
I still plan to make Nan’s Chocolate Fudge Cake, but it was a bit too soon to have more cake purely for the purpose of a review, however I really wanted to include a practical element as part of this review. I by-passed the chocolates as some require moulds (by no means all, but I was just using it as a filter), the only moulds I have are in novelty christmas shapes, and as I’m writing this in October, I’m not quite ready to go there yet. I decided some kind of baked goods would be the simplest option, and although the biscuits (Cherry and Almond Bourbons and White Chocolate and Passion Fruit Custard Creams) looked delicious, I opted for Maple and Pecan Brownies because, well, brownies.
On the day, I hadn’t actually planned ahead to make sure I had all the ingredients in, I just thought I’d check my cupboards and seems as I had some chocolate, pecans, maple syrup and soft brown sugar, I thought I’d just go for it. However, I didn’t check to see if I actually had the required amounts, so part way through I realised I was 50g short of pecans and 95g short of maple syrup. I had no choice but to improvise by throwing in walnuts and agave syrup (it’s a similar consistency) to make up the deficit. I also failed to read the part that said not to over-beat the mixture until after I’d given it a good hiding. Due to such minor discrepancies, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but the brownies turned out to be delicious. I suspect they may have tasted more strongly of maple syrup if I had used the right quantity, but I found them to be luxurious without being too sickly (which is amazing when you consider the amount of sugary goodness that goes into them). I’m usually a big fan of solid and stodgy brownies, but these were light and moist, and were absolutely no effort to eat. They coat the whole of the inside of your mouth in a rather moreish way, and just as you are thinking - “right how do I swallow this?” - they disappear. The book notes tht you can keep them in an airtight container for a week, but not wanting to be too greedy, I decided to try popping them into the freezer. I'm pleased to say they turned out just fine, slightly more solid and stodgy, but just as delicious.
The idea of toasting maple nuts in syrup is brilliant, it adds an extra dimension to each bite, with a slight crack of caramelised sugar and subtle hit of maple flavour as you bite into nut and soft baked goodness.
Of course I think most things that involve sugar are delicious, but even my husband like them. Usually a crisps and crackers man, he walked through the door and walked to the kitchen telling me he could smell them (even though I had started cooking dinner), he then ate two in a row and took another to work. I conclude that the brownies were a major success.
(My homemade Brownie)
With one recipe successfully completed without even having all of the correct ingredients, I’m eager to try more. I’ll definitely try Nan’s Chocolate Fudge Cake at some point, but I also want to make Cranberry and White Chocolate Blondies and Milk Chocolate, Prune and Armagnac Stollen. We are also hoping to visit the flagship Lakeland store soon, so if I pick up some moulds I might also take the Cognac, Caramel and Pear Domes recipe for a spin.
I love books that include chocolate, cakes and puddings, but this one truly makes you feel that it wants to be used regularly. I previously reviewed Adventures with Chocolate by Paul A. Young, and that too is an amazing book, I loved the quirky flavour combinations, but it was so adventurous, I was not only fascinated by it but also a little intimidated. By comparison, this book has interesting flavour combinations which although not as adventurous, are still different enough to stand out from most other baking books, and still approachable enough for you to pick out and make, not just for special occasions, but every day. I love my Mary Berry book and I love my Hummingbird Bakery books, and this book can sit right up there with them.
Chocolate at Home
Photography by Jonathan Gregson
Ryland Peters & Small
Chocolate at Home can be purchased from Amazon and Wordery or any other good bookshops.