dessert in 10 seconds? try a chocolate tasting

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:

Appearance
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.

Sound
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.

Mouthfeel
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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Related articles:
We have the technology – for decadent chocolate icecream without an icecream machine
chocolate cake, a classic updated
alchemy in a biscuit for chocolate biscuit (cookie) cake

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Expand your knowledge of food and wine matching – check out Wine Wisdom from Wednesday 2nd September.

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{ 9 comments }

Johanna September 1, 2009 at 10:05 am

great idea – any excuse to buy and eat lots of chocolate is welcome – and this sounds like a great conversation piece

Mr. Taste September 1, 2009 at 10:56 am

As soon as someone told me to let the chocolate melt in my mouth, my mind was blown. A square of Lindt after lunch is now a daily ritual of mine

jules September 1, 2009 at 11:39 am

hey johanna
I know – any excuse – I do love my job.

You’re right – it’s really fun and gets the conversation going. The first time I tried it I was amazed how everyone got right into it.

mr taste
a square of lindt a day sounds like my kind of ritual. love it

Daniel September 2, 2009 at 4:42 am

Like a wine-tasting, except better. And I’m sure a lot less expensive. I’m planning this for my next dinner party!

And Mr. Taste–I admire your restraint if you can stop at just one square…

Dan
Casual Kitchen

jules September 2, 2009 at 8:14 am

hey dan,
that’s exactly right. although if you start getting into the single origin valhrona it can seem a bit expensive – but still cheaper than a good bottle of red.

I agree with you on me taste’s restraint. I always struggle to stop at one as well.

Trisha September 3, 2009 at 8:06 am

Jules, I dreamt about you and your book! There was a food show, you had a massive stand, you were giving out your caramel slices and promoting And the Love is Free but it’s hardcover!! I have no idea why I dreamt of Stonesoup hahaha yes I’m weird.

jules September 3, 2009 at 7:45 pm

oh trisha,

that’s so funny…I’m wondering if you are a prophet and I should be planning to make a heap of caramel slice??

thanks for letting me know that there’s at least one other person in the world who dreams of stonesoup.

Marysol September 12, 2009 at 2:55 am

That is simply decandent.
I love chocolate. Bittersweet, semisweet and milk chocolate are my personal favorites. But that’s where I draw the line…
I’m going to have a chocolate party and invite no one, but me.

Kath Lockett May 25, 2010 at 8:58 am

What a brilliant idea….and so well written, photographed and described!

I’ve been known to do something similiar when I’m pushed for time or energy. Three different blocks (all very good quality) snapped into chunks, placed on a platter and surrounded by whatever nice fruit is in season. It’s fun ‘finger food’ that goes down well with a good red wine or after-dinner coffees.

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