We’ve all been there.
You’ve invited some mates over for a mid week dinner. The plan was to slip away from work early. Home by five. Plenty of time to knock up three courses. Right?
If only. I can’t remember the number of times my best laid plans have gone astray – a last minute meeting, an urgent request from the boss, random bad traffic, an unreliable car. A sensible person would decide to cut out entertaining on ‘school nights’ all together.
But I love having people over during the week. It’s more relaxed and casual. There are far less expectations than a weekend dinner party. And mostly everyone has to work the next day, so you know that it won’t be a crazy late night (although this has been known to backfire).
Rather than give up, I’ve decided to be more realistic with my planning. These days I try organise it so as long as I get home before the guests arrive, dinner is under control.
One of the secret weapons I’ve developed is to host a chocolate tasting for dessert. I sample chocolate and biscuits (cookies) on a regular basis for a living. And had the inspiration that tastings could be fun to do with your friends. Not to mention easy to prepare. I wasn’t joking about the 10 seconds.
Three steps to the worlds easiest dessert
i. Choose three different chocolates.
It’s up to you what type of chocolate you offer for tasting. I’d advise steering away from filled centers. For chocolate purists they just can’t compete with the pleasure of real chocolate on its own.
You could choose three different brands of say 70% cocoa solids chocolate and have a bit of a comparison. You’ll be surprised just how different they will be.
Another option is to go for a white, milk and dark from the same producer so you can get everyone to explore which is their favourite type. Or you could try three different dark chocolates with different levels of cocoa solids. Or a cheap cooking chocolate, a mid range and a more expensive… the possibilities are endless really.
ii. Plonk them in the middle of the table.
For an added level of complexity, you could serve them unlabelled or ‘blind’ as we professional tasters like to say. But this can make it a little intimidating for some people. Maybe save this for a follow up session.
iii. Explore, discuss and enjoy.
You can make it as in depth or as casual as you like. I like to keep it very conversational and fun. Just let everyone taste and talk about what they are experiencing – their likes and dislikes.
If your guests want to get a bit more serious about their chocolate appreciation, you could give them a few pointers as to what the professionals look for. I’ve pulled together a bit of a guide below.
A beginner’s guide to chocolate appreciation:
The first thing you must know is not to eat your chocolate straight out of the fridge.
I was talking to a chocolateir mate who was at a conference recently. Everyone was asked to eat two samples of chocolate. They all loved the first sample and thought the second was pretty average. You can imagine their surprise when they were told that they were the same chocolate – the first sample was at room temperature and the other cold from the refrigerator.
Unless it’s the height of Summer or you live in the tropics, chocolate is best kept ready and waiting at room temp. Or allowed to warm up a little before you indulge, like a good cheese.
Things to look out for:
Good quality chocolate will be glossy and free from scratches or blemishes. The smoother it looks, the more likely it will be silky and lovey in your mouth. The colour should be appealing and appropriate for the type of chocolate.
If there is a white powdery dust on the surface of your chocolate it has what is called ‘bloom’. Nothing harmful, just cocoa butter that had been squeezed onto the surface. But not the nicest of textures.
How well the chocolate snaps when you break it is an indication of quality. A good sharp loud snap means that the cocoa fats have been handled in just the right way to give you the best texture.
One of the most special things about chocolate is how it melts in the mouth. That seductive feeling of oozy chocolate is hard to beat. The other thing to watch out for is how smooth the chocolate is. A grainy, coarse mouthfeel is a dead giveaway for poor quality chocolate.
Aroma & Flavour
You could separate these out but they are linked so closely, I prefer to think of them as one aspect. First, is it sweet, salty, bitter or even sour? Then try and identify the types of aromas and flavours. Is it fruity, caramelised, or spicy?
If you really want to turn into a chocolate ‘wanker’, you could use a chocolate flavour wheel like the one HERE to further describe your chocolate.
Remember, chocolate appreciation is meant to be fun. So if it starts to feel too hard, relax, forget everything I’ve just told you and focus on the pleasure.
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