I understand now how complicated it is to make chocolate. There are those who make CHOCOCOLATE and there are those who make CHOCOLATES and there are those who make both.
There are a handful of big chocolate makers, one of which is Valhrona. They take cacao beans and turn them into chocolate that we can eat. Solid pieces of chocolate that you just pop in your mouth. To judge our chocolate entries in the Small Food Awards, the head chef at SAF and anexpert pastry chef and chocolatier tasted every bit. For those of us who are not experts, we started with pieces of Valhrona, using them as the "standard" agains which we would compare. Some of our entries were making chocolate (turning raw cacao into bars) and some of our entries were making chocolates (melting down a base chocolate that someone else made, such as Valhrona, and adding flavours and fillings to turn them into chocolates.) The skills are different. To make chocolates, for example, you need to understand how to cook: how to combine flavours, when enough is enough, and too much is too much. You also need to be able to temper and get the air out of the chocolate. The main flaw we found with the chocolates submitted was that they were too complicated: too many flavours, poorly combined so that there was no balance. There was a LOT of cardomom on display and this is a very tricky spice. Too much (and it's easy to overdo it) means whatever you are making, whether it's bread, cake, or chocolates, tastes just like soap. The same is true with rose, orange, lavender, and a host of other flavours. The main lesson in our chocolate judging session is that less is more. The main flaw we found with a lot of the chocolate submitted (the "bean to bar" submissions) was that they were to sweet. FAR too sweet. Sickly, in fact. The overwhelming flavour was sugar, not cacao.
In addition to flavour, chocolate (and chocolates) should be shiny (this proves they are well tempered) and, when you break them, there should be no air bubbles (this proves they were well "settled" in their moulds. Many of the submissions were shiny but some were not. A lot of them had holes in them when they were broken and some were stained or dyed rather disturbing colours (blue, for example - what is there that is blue in the food world other than certain fruits?).
After much testing and trying, breaking and looking, comparing to Valhrona (was it better, was it the same, did the submission just melt down Valhrona and mould it up again), and yes, even smelling, we had our winners.
In third place, Anber from Little Black Cat Gourmet, won for her wonderful coffee bean shaped chocolates. They were gorgeous. Great flavour, shine, and melty texture. Sadly, she could not be at the award ceremony. In second place, Natasha, from Aubel Chocolates, impressed us with a selection of chocolates in a wonderful mixed box. Sadly, she could not be at the award ceremony.
In first place, Pablo from Forever Cacao won for his "bean to bar" submissions which were just excellent - not a hint of bitterness, not overly sweet, just wonderful chocolate flavour throughout.
In addition to a goody bag of things from SAF and Russums, Pablo has won brand coaching from Camilla Barnard at Rude Health as well as business strategy coaching from Jane Mason of Virtuous Bread. Thank you to all our sponsors!