It’s most certainly coming up to the time of year when our thoughts are turned towards chocolate. The shops are stocking up for Christmas! And I don’t care what men say about not eating it as I know this to be an untruth! Amongst many I know anyway! The nights are turning cold and dark now and a good piece of chocolate suits the mood. But for me, I need a bar of chocolate that does actually taste of more than sweetness. The cheap brands like Cadbury just taste of sugar with not a hint of cocoa. It’s interesting to do a little taste test. A bar with around 26% cocoa solids compared to a bar with 34% solids. The difference is immense. A good bar of dark chocolate should really contain at least 60% cocoa solids. So it’s quite a funny thing when you look at Bournville - which used to be the only dark chocolate available - as it only contains 39%, so hardly more than a quality bar of milk. Use high cocoa solids for cooking and the flavour of your chocolate creation will be astounding. And along the same tracks, a good cocoa makes somewhat of a difference too. These sorts of chocolates are often on offer. Why not spread your wings and go for change! Fairtrade too, if you can. But interestingly, my favourite chocolate, Green and Blacks, is now owned by chocolate giants, Cadbury. This upset me immensely. And I had said I would not buy it, but my taste buds got the better of me. Green and Blacks selling out…….. shame. But the cocoa's flavour overcomes me. the rich intricate flavour of the south american cocoa bean is so different to one grown in Africa, say. compare Divine against G and B's. A real difference.
Try this, melt 200g dark chocolate with 125g butter and 175g sugar. Whisk in 3 large eggs and 2tbsp ground almonds then pour into a 18cm tin that is greased and dusted with almonds. Bake at 180°C/gas mark 4 for 25 minutes. Cool then serve on its own or with cream. serves about 8. Make sure you have a good coffee to offset the sweetness or a well chilled glass of Muscat. Enjoy!
Getting busy in the kitchen with your children can earn them more than just some delicious biscuits. To many though, it is only a rainy day past-time to keep curious fingers out of mischief with edible delights to show for it. But the art of cooking forms the very heart of our fundamental understanding of food. And the many facets of it weave off in all sorts of directions.
So, to begin with, a simple cake or biscuit holds four or five everyday ingredients, all with different tastes and textures, too. Flour from the wheat fields, butter from a cow, eggs from a chicken. No tigers or zebras in sight! And when a child is able to experience a key skill like rubbing in, all manor of emotions are let out. It’s soft, squidgy, silky, sticky. Warm, cold, oh no! it’s yuk. They don’t want to put their hands in, some love it, others are plain scared. But we all need to start somewhere! Sadly mud pies seem to have had their day, hence the consternation when some children are asked to touch the ingredients. They are often taught it is dirty. But the feeling of kneading a batch of warm bread dough is brilliant and one of the most enjoyable workshops with a group of excited children. It doesn’t really matter if it is not kneaded to 8 minutes. It’s the experience that counts.
The alchemy of the recipe starts to become apparent as soon as the first ingredients are introduced to the bowl. Rub the butter in and achieve golden flour with the rich smell of butter. Add the egg and find the mixture may curdle and look like porridge. The addition of self-raising flour will almost instantly produce air bubbles giving the children a chance to see it all happening.
A child’s senses are being bombarded and made to work hard! Not only senses, but they are on a huge learning curve. Following a recipe – with some help maybe! - which will help improve reading and maths and fractions play an enormous part too. Weighing out and measuring are hugely important and used in plenty of activities aside from cooking. Food provenance and sustainability - real buzz words of our time – along with seasonal produce and eating locally are all topical too. And quite apart from all of that, the children will develop motor neurone skills and be disciplined to listen and concentrate. Social skills, too, are an integral part of cooking and eating. Sitting around a table with some great food and your family brings on a sense of interest and develops conversation! Many cultures do business at the table and the heart of many home is the kitchen with smells of baking bringing on feelings of nostalgia, security and comfort. How many times have you heard to bake a loaf of bread if you have someone coming to view your for sale house.
So teaching your children to bake a biscuit could be more far-reaching than you think. We need cooks for the next generation. Ones with old-fashioned, essential skills with a modern take. These skills which can then be applied to baking, making and concocting.
But with all of these things comes an acceptance from us as adults. The ones who have to clear up the mess! Children need to be guided sometimes but need to do it themselves. How can they possibly learn if you take over. It doesn’t matter what shape the biscuit it or how the cake is iced. They will love it and love you for it! The sense of achievement for ones so small is obvious on their little faces. And then the realization that food tastes better when you make it yourself!
Freedom is the kitchen is ace!