It might be New Year – but I’m not giving up fine chocolate

Frances Bissell tells you how to make chocolate mousse- a sweet January pick-me-up

�January needs treats and chocolate is the perfect treat for this flat, cold, gloomy month.

That London is home to some of the best chocolatiers in the world may surprise some. But visit William Curley in Richmond, Ebury Street and Harrods, Paul A Young in Soho, Islington and the Royal Exchange, Gerard Coleman, aka L’Artisan du Chocolat in Selfridges, Notting Hill and Lower Sloane Street and Claire Clark wherever she “pops up” (in February, for example, at the Help for Heroes charity dinner at the Guildhall organised by the Academy of Culinary Arts) – award winners all and you will need no more convincing that this is where the talent is.

Before we could buy “real” chocolate in England, I used to bring kilo slabs of Valrhona Guanaja Grand Cru chocolate from France. Made, as it name might suggest, in the Rhone Valley, it was a revelation: fine crisp snap, a good gloss, even texture slow melting in the mouth and extraordinary length of complex flavours.

The first taste of a grand cru chocolate is indeed comparable to that of a grand cru wine against a lesser wine. It is made with the same care, blending the criollo bean with its fine, fruity perfumed characteristic and the robust forastero, which adds weight and strength.

Good chocolate can be recognised by its uniform, dark, glossy surface, silky smooth to the touch, making a clean break in your fingers.

In your mouth, it will break with a crisp snap. As you eat the chocolate, it will melt in your mouth and you will be aware of its silky, uncloying texture, smooth, but not fatty, and its intense, deep, rich flavour, with a pleasant bitterness and a lingering, fruity finish, which I can only describe as winey. It contains small amounts of caffeine and theobromine which induce a feeling of wellbeing, comforting at the same time as being stimulating.

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The search for the ultimate chocolate has reached extremes in recent years, with chocolate bars of 99 per cent and even 100 per cent, deep, dark and as austere and elegant as the little black dress. But these are, in effect, pure cocoa – not chocolate. A small amount of fat and sugar is needed to “season” chocolate to enhance its aroma, flavour and texture.

Too high a concentration of cocoa solids in chocolate is like putting too much chilli in a curry – so many nuances of flavour are lost. A 70 to 75 per cent cocoa solids content is about right for dark chocolate although I still like a “fix” of 85 per cent occasionally.

Valrhona’s original chocolate mousse recipe is still one of the best. Today’s recipe is based on it and is a perfect pud to serve for a January treat.

Incidentally, products labelled “cooking chocolate” deserve to be examined with as much caution as bottles labelled “red wine for cooking” or ‘“cooking sherry”. If you would not eat or drink it, do not use it in your cooking.

Chocolate Mousse

(Serves 6)

250 g Guanaja or other high-class plain chocolate

80 ml double cream

3 egg yolks

4 egg whites

35 g caster sugar

Break up the chocolate and put in a bowl. Bring the cream to the boil and pour it over the chocolate. Add the eggs yolks, lightly beaten. Whisk the egg whites with the caster sugar and gently fold into the chocolate mixture. Spoon the mousse into glasses or a large bowl, chill for 3 to 4 hours before serving. Flavourings can be added such as coffee essence, rum, orange liqueur, rose water, lavender essence or mint.

(c) Frances Bissell 2012