I was recently invited by Ooh.com to review one of the many food and drink classes they list on their excellent ‘things to do’ website. I chose a class called The Chocolate Connoisseur (listed on ooh.com as Chocolate Making Class) by Cocoa Box, priced at £45 and held at one of a number of London venues.
The class content is described as learning the health benefits of chocolate, discovering how chocolate is made, tasting chocolate and then learning how to make your own chocolates before packaging them up in ribbons and bags to take home.
Our class was held by Lisa, the founder of Cocoa Box and an enthusiastic and welcoming class leader.
Held in a conference room in the Thistle Hotel Clerkenwell (half way between Angel and Old Street tube stations) the class started at 10 am.
Welcomed inside, we donned disposable aprons and took a seat at one of the two large tables. In the middle were plates of toppings, a few fluffy marshmallows and a selection of small-sized cookie cutters.
Once everyone had washed hands (a bit of a challenge since the main toilet facilities on the floor were locked and only a single disabled toilet was available) and stragglers had arrived, we got started.
Lisa introduced herself and ran through a brief history of chocolate and how it’s made. Whilst I’ll happily admit that I’m probably more of a chocoholic than most, I did notice a number of errors during the talk. Most of those attending may have been more interested in the chocolate making than the lessons, but I’d like to see this polished up a little both in terms of accuracy and presentation. It doesn’t need to be any more in depth, but what is said should be correct.
We then had what was described as a chocolate tasting – this was pretty basic, comparing a single dark chocolate couverture, one milk chocolate one and some cheap and nasty chocolate to highlight the difference in quality issue.
When some of the group asked about where they could buy similar high quality couverture chocolate, the answer that it was only available to trade chocolatiers was a little dismissive and not very helpful. Guidance on what to buy and a list of recommended suppliers (there are plenty of online sources that sell in small enough quantities for amateurs) would give attendees the confidence to take lessons learned during the class back home.
We were then ready for the main event – making chocolates.
Each student (there were between 15 and 20 in total) was given a small slab of gooey chocolate fudge and one of chocolate tiffin. Lisa gave a brief demonstration: using the cookie cutters to cut shapes from the fudge and breaking the tiffin into pieces by hand, she then dipped individual pieces into the bowls of melted chocolate using a fork, shook off the excess and then decorated with the various toppings such as cocoa, sugar sprinkles, nuts and chocolate flakes.
As we arrived and during the introductory talk, one of Lisa’s assistants had been busy melting and tempering the chocolate. Although Lisa had briefly mentioned tempering when talking us through the process of making chocolate, quite a few of the class expressed interest in seeing how this was done and learning a few more specifics – what temperature needs to be reached? how slowly should the chocolate be cooled down? how much does it need to be stirred?
I followed some class mates over to the tempering corner where we learned a little more, on asking. Again, in order to repeat at home what we learn during the class, a little more concrete information on this process would be useful, either provided verbally, or in a leaflet to take home.
What next? We got stuck in!
It was a case of reverting to childhood; cutting shapes out of dark, rich fudge with the texture of plasticine and then dipping into thick, melted chocolate, dripping everywhere!
It was messy, engrossing and fun!
My fellow class mates – an aunt and niece enjoying some together time, a group of friends celebrating a birthday, a couple wanting to experience some different activities during a trip to London, a student with a love of chocolate – all seemed to be have a great time too.
Our end results definitely took me back to the days when I proudly presented my clumsy, wonky, home-made creations to my mum and she insisted they were beautiful, even though I knew they really weren’t. But still I’d beam with pride and delight, anyway.
Bagged up and tied with ribbons, they did look a little prettier and husband Pete made appropriately appreciative noises when I got home.
So, what did I think?
- As I’ve said above, I was a little disappointed that the introductory talk on the history and process of making chocolate wasn’t up to scratch. I think a little research would go a long way to improving this.
- Whilst I knew we wouldn’t have time to make anything very complex from scratch I had thought, from the description, that we’d be making chocolates rather than simply decorating them. I do realise that time is quite limited but I wonder if students could make simple chocolate truffles (if ingredients are already prepared) which they could then dip and decorate as above? Alternatively, I would consider renaming the class to describe it as chocolate decorating rather than chocolate making.
- Whilst this may not be the class for a really serious foodie, it was clear that all of us present had a great time, dipping and sprinkling and dribbling chocolate all over the place! It’s a lot of fun and would be a lovely thing to do with a group of friends or to buy as a gift for someone who isn’t too confident in the kitchen but has a sweet tooth and loves to have a go!
Would I recommend it?
Actually, yes! It’s just the kind of stress-relieving fun I know some of my friends would enjoy. I’d say it’s best for groups of friends attending together and those not afraid to find their inner kid.