With Easter approaching and chocolate tempting us at every turn, we thought we’d take a look at the history of this irresistible treat. At Classic British Hotels, we want to share with you the story of chocolate and invite you to join us on a chocaholic’s tour of some of the best chocolate desserts being freshly prepared in our award-winning restaurants.
The story of chocolate…
The cocoa bean was originally used in a drink by the Mayas, who roasted the beans, ground them into a paste, and then diluted the paste with water, often adding chilli to spice up the mix. It was quite a bitter beverage and stayed that way for centuries until it reached Europe, where it was solidified and sweetened. The process started in the early 19th Century with the addition of cocoa butter and more recently cocoa powder. The recipes were progressively improved until reaching the wonderful array of chocolate products we find in stores today.
Historically, the English considered chocolate valuable for its medicinal properties and some of the well known chocolate manufacturers that exist today started out as apothecaries. Interestingly, chocolate makes the brain produce serotonin, which promotes a feeling of well-being; in fact, just the smell of chocolate increases our brainwaves and triggers relaxation. Eating dark chocolate regularly can potentially reduce the risk of heart disease, so there may well be some truth to the rumour that chocolate is good for us after all.
The first cocoa trees grew in the Amazon basin hundreds of years before being introduced to Europe in the early 19th Century. Nowadays, over 60 % of the production is in West Africa, the rest coming from South America, Asia and the Far East. When the trees are around 3 years old they bear fruit and the harvests last from 3-5 months, depending on the climate. The beans are then taken from their pods, fermented and dried to use as a raw material for chocolate. Though difficult to believe, it takes over 450 cocoa beans for 500 grams of chocolate, or 3 months crop from 5 trees.
In the past, cocoa beans have been used as currency and offering them as a gift was considered of great value, which is where the tradition of giving a box of chocolates began. Once a rare and precious commodity only sampled by the elite, thankfully it is now readily available in every conceivable variation and form. Chocolate is technically judged in quality according to the percentage of cocoa used – the higher the cocoa content, the better the flavour. That said, much depends on the skill of the manufacturer and the other ingredients used. Here are some of the wickedly indulgent desserts that make up our favourite chocaholic choices at Classic British Hotels.
Five classic chocolate desserts…
Deans Place Hotel, South Downs – Awarded Two AA Rosettes
Who said white chocolate is for lightweights? They couldn’t be more wrong. White chocolate creates a visually stunning and rich contrast to milk and dark chocolate alike. So at Deans Place we couldn’t resist their warm malted chocolate tart, white chocolate pecan and mead ice cream.
Inver Lodge Hotel, Scottish Highlands
At Inver Lodge, Albert Roux innovatively combines baked rich dark chocolate fondant with lavender ice cream and warm chocolate sauce. Lavender has well-known healing properties, so what more reason do you need to choose this deviant and delicately balanced dessert?
Seckford Hall Hotel, Suffolk – Awarded Two AA Rosettes
The green of pistachios contrasts beautifully with the rich dark brownie served at Seckford Hall. But this is no ordinary brownie, it comes with milk chocolate cream, pistachio praline, clotted cream and griottines, which are morello cherries marinated in liquer – delicious!
Stoke by Nayland Hotel, Golf & Spa, Suffolk – Awarded Two AA Rosettes
If you’re looking for a symphony of flavours that will dance on your palate, visit the Lakes Restaurant at Stoke by Nayland, where you can find a triple chocolate and malt mousse, with blackcurrant, expresso gel, beurre noisette, malted barley cream and sesame malted sugar.
The Woburn Hotel, Bedfordshire – Awarded Two AA Rosettes
At The Woburn Hotel we couldn’t resist the hazelnut and chocolate cheesecake with salted caramel ice cream. The combination of flavours is sublime: the slightly savoury caramel complements and balances the hazelnut and chocolate perfectly. This really takes cheesecake to a whole new level!