However, I’m not planning to go on any 10-steps programme to cure me any time soon and my recent lesson with Paul A Young has only my heightened my love of the sweet stuff.
To say I’ve been excited about Grace and I having a private class with Paul is a bit of an understatement. We’ve been fans of his chocolate for a while, both bought each other a box of his delights for Christmas and even our recent engagement had a chocolate theme (that’s a story for another time though).
We won the lesson at the Blagger’s Banquet back in October and it’s taken a few months to get a date for the lesson and so we turned up on a cold, wet February night ready to throw ourselves into the experience.
Now I’m sure Paul does a lot of similar classes, tastings etc and you’d think that after a full day’s work the last thing he wanted was to spend four hours giving two amateurs a lesson, but you’d never know it. From the moment we arrived he was fully engaged, enthusiastic and charming, which made the evening even more memorable.
To begin with we were led to the back of the shop and downstairs to his kitchen. The sweet smell of melted chocolate was wafting in the air as we went down the stairs and we were confronted with a mountain of Easter Bunnies, six pans of melting chocolate (more of these later) a mound of moulds and the essential raw ingredients to create the goods.
We were given a welcome drink (glass of bubbly for me and a hot chocolate for G), an amazing slice of his new sea salted caramel chocolate brownies and were told to help ourselves to more. We didn’t need to be asked twice…
We found out that the evening was to be split in two.
The first bit was all about the process of making chocolate, learning about the business and the raw ingredients used.
The second part was putting into practice what we’d just learnt and making Easter eggs and chocolate bunnies.
Chocolate Tasting Guide
There are three main varieties of cocoa bean:
Cirollo – the Rolls Royce of beans. Premium, expensive and widely sought after.
Trinitario – widely used, aromatic with robust flavour.
Forestero – the beans used by the big manufacturers. Blended with premium cocoa beans by smaller producers.
Within each variety there are subtleties of flavour, depending on the origin of the bean (a Madagascan bean will taste very different from a South American one) and how it has been roasted.
The Valrohna couverture chocolate, the different varieties, the melted couverture and cocoa butterThe beans are made in to ‘couverture’, which is a combination of beans, cocoa butter and sugar. Paul’s kitchen is full of bags of this (you can even buy this in the shop if you want), which he uses to make his chocolates.
He then took us on a journey starting at 34% caramel milk chocolate up to 100%. The difference in taste between two similar percentage beans is remarkable. Apparently it’s the quality and origin of the bean and not the % that makes the difference.
Paul treated us to some new chocolate that he’d just imported from Mast Brothers in New York (check out their cool packaging), which was like no chocolate I’ve ever tasted. It was smooth, fruity and utterly delectable. Paul is about to become the UK’s first and only stockist and I’d urge any chocolate connoisseur to try some.
Nine Paul A Young Chocolate Facts
- The majority of the couverture chocolate Paul uses is from Valrhona.
- Paul is 100% artisan (the only one in London) and doesn’t use any machinery in producing his chocolates.
- Paul is an honorary member of the Academy of Chocolate.
- He only uses Billington’s sugar.
- Cocoa butter is the most expensive ingredient.
- He can sell over 20 litres of hot chocolate on a busy Saturday!
- He only buys ingredients from ethically sound producers.
- He enjoys the occasional non-premium chocolate, but made us promise not to tell anyone…
- We’re both from the North East and even went to the same dodgy nightclub when we were younger!
Now on to the fun part as we got to ‘temper’ our choice of chocolate and make and decorate an Easter Egg and chocolate bunnies.
Tempering is the process of cooling the melted chocolate to the right temperature for it to set properly in the mould. If it is too hot or cold then it won’t set properly and will need re-doing.
Paul uses a big slab of marble to temper on. The chocolate is poured on to the slab and then manoeuvred and manipulated around to cool it. It is then added back into the pot and mixed around until it is almost body temperature and just starting to set.Tools of job. Paul showed us how to do it with great speed and dexterity and then it was our turn.
Grace went first and did a surprisingly good job and kept it all on the table without too much trouble. I was another story all together and Paul had to rescue me a couple of times to stop rivers of viscous chocolate splodging on the floor.
However it was good fun (though surprisingly hard work) and I managed to do it without too much chocolate going missing in action.
Once the tempered chocolate was poured into the moulds we had to scrape the table top down and were able to munch on the still warm chocolate. Delicious.
Next up was decorating and sealing our eggs. We created piping bags and filled them with melted chocolate and I created a variety of unusual patterns on my egg.
The final part in the kitchen was looking at the flavours store, which Paul uses to create and develop his fabulously chocolate creations.
It was then getting close to leave and we made our way back upstairs into the main shop to wrap what we had made.
Paul gave us a signed copy of his award winning chocolate book, took a photo of us with our bounty and gave us an extra box of chocolates (with a large helping of our favourite sea salted caramels) just in case we hadn’t quite had enough!
All in all, we had an amazing four hours experience, which will stay with us for a long time. It was even better than we expected. It was a real privilege to spend time with one of the best chocolate makers in the world and even better to know that it also helped to raise money for a great cause.