Chocolate isn’t just about large manufacturers any more, there are now hundreds of craft makers who are not only selecting the finest cocoa beans and crafting them into delicious and distinctive tasting chocolate but who also care about the quality of the raw ingredients and how they are produced. I went along to meet Angela Cockerton, the creative force behind East Lothian’s The Chocolate Stag at Garleton Lodge, to learn the secrets of making delicious artisan chocolates.
Shortly after the millennium’s turn, a new generation of small-scale chocolate makers began to emerge. Spurning the industrial processes which create mass-produced chocolate, artisan producers began to make small quantities with scrupulously sourced cacao beans and often antique or makeshift equipment. Now, there are dozens of small chocolate producers, doubtless inspired, in part, by their pre-industrial forebears and by similar movements involving other food and drink. East Lothian’s David and Angela Cockerton have joined this renaissance, taking an artisanal approach to chocolate with their handmade chocolate business – The Chocolate Stag.
Arriving at Garleton Lodge – home of The Chocolate Stag – I was met by Angela and the delicious aroma of melting chocolate. Over a quick cup of coffee, Angela talked me through the chocolate making process – firstly, the chemistry of chocolate: how it is fermented, its structure and the individual molecules. Science lesson over, then began the wonderfully mucky yet creative process of chocolate making. Angela explains the journey from cocoa tree to chocolate bar is not complex, but it requires several steps, each of which require careful treatment to get the best from the finished product. It’s this care, skill and attention to detail which makes handmade chocolate different to the mass-produced product.
The first step to ensuring a quality finished product is to temper the chocolate. Tempering is the controlled process of raising, lowering and raising the temperature of the chocolate to form exactly the right kind of crystals. Angela explains that dark, milk and white chocolate can all react differently to this process. But, if you want your chocolate to be shiny “snappable” and without a white bloom, then temper you must. Angela does this one of two ways – she hand tempers chocolate on marble for smaller batches. But for larger batches she uses a tempering machine which keeps the melted chocolate circulating at exactly the right temperature, making the final step easier.
Chocolate tempered, the next stage was to create our chocolates. Angela’s skill not only lies in creating a range of truly beautiful chocolates but in her unique and creative flavour pairings. First up was a gin and tonic truffle made with local gin, Fidra Gin. Angela had prepared the delicious fresh cream and white chocolate ganache with Fidra Gin and lemon tonic water, so my job was to pipe the filling into the individual white chocolate shells. Feeling a bit like a contestant on The Great British Bake Off, I started piping. Angela, piping with just one hand, filled her chocolate shells quickly and professionally. Mine, on the other hand, took considerably longer and looked a great deal messier. Angela assured me this was not a problem, as once they were set, we would hand dip them. Once set, our truffles were then dipped in the tempered white chocolate, using a scoop (Angela’s own invention). Again, my truffles didn’t quite make the grade for Angela to sell, but they were equally delicious!
Next up, were moulded salted caramel shells. We filled moulds with the tempered milk chocolate, the mould is then held at an angle and the excess chocolate scraped off. Then comes the noisy part, the mould is banged vigorously on the worktop to remove any air bubbles. Once set, the shells were filled with caramel and sprinkled with sea-salt. And then finished with a final layer of tempered chocolate.
Lastly, with a nod to Christmas, we created a selection of milk and dark chocolate Florentines. The morning, had flown past, and it was time to hang up my apron and box up my chocolate creations to take home. Working with chocolate is a mixture between science and art, and never ceases to be challenging, and my morning spent with Angela was brilliant fun. It not only taught me the skills to make handmade chocolate but gave me a fantastic insight into just how much skill, patience, passion and creativity it takes to be an artisan chocolatier.