Cooking with chocolate can be more fun - and therapeutic - than simply eating it, writes Tom Norrington -Davies .
Easter and chocolate were made for each other. If you have been observing Lent, what better way to fall off the wagon than into the warm embrace of the ultimate symbol of indulgence? Add butter, eggs and sugar for an Easter treat
When the Vatican banned the eating of eggs during Lent, way back in the Middle Ages, it inadvertently set off a chain of events that led us to today's confectionery version. The egg had long symbolised spring and rebirth. Now it became a luxury item - hence the feast of pancakes before Ash Wednesday and the decorative eggs of Easter Sunday.
Give me a big, bitter ingot of dark couverture rather than an Easter egg any day. I find cooking with chocolate more fun (and more therapeutic) than simply eating it.
Chocolate is also the perfect dessert for the long, late lunches that Easter weekend lends itself to. If you treat it simply - and do not sweeten it too much - it can perk everyone up like coffee. And it can also have the reverse effect. There is something wonderful about the way chocolate can stimulate yet soothe. Try my meringue recipe and you will know what I mean.
Most of the world's great chocolate recipes are short on ingredients. That usually means they are short on cooking times, which makes them very appealing. As long as you have good chocolate, butter, eggs and sugar to hand, you are halfway to producing any of this week's recipes.
All recipes serve 6-8.
Chocolate semi fredo
Semi fredo, meaning "half frozen", is a close relative of ice cream. The alcohol and meringue slow down the freezing process, which makes it soft and airy. Better still, it means you don't need to churn the mix as it cools, so this is perfect for people who'd like to try making ice cream without a machine.
You can look on this very simple but effective recipe as a base from which to explore other options. The liqueur you choose will influence the flavour and with chocolate you have almost limitless choices. Obvious ones are chocolate or coffee liqueur, but what about Cointreau if you're a fan of chocolate and orange? Or amaretto for chocolate and almond?
Ginger wine is also interesting, and something as daft as kirsch would give you a sort of Black Forest gateau semi fredo, if you want to be deliberately recherché.
One of my favourite chocolates for serious cooking (and eating) is the Tuscan brand Amedei. It's expensive at about £5 a bar, but worth it. Another chocolate I recommend is the equitably traded Malagasy. The farming co-ops involved don't just sell the cocoa, they help produce the chocolate (think fair trade with bells on). It also happens to be seriously good. Both brands are available from the Chocolate Trading Company (01625 592808).
* 3 egg yolks
* 24oz/60g caster sugar
* Half pt/300ml double cream
* 5oz/150g bitter chocolate, broken into small pieces
* 2pt/150ml liqueur of your choice
* 6 egg whites
* 4oz/100g icing sugar
Whisk the egg yolks and caster sugar until pale and fluffy.
Heat the cream to scalding point (it will fizz against the side of the pan; don't let it boil), then remove it from the heat and whisk in the egg yolks and sugar.
Fold in the chocolate and allow it to melt; don't stir it too much as it can curdle.
Allow this chocolate custard to cool thoroughly before folding in the liqueur.
Whisk the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Add the icing sugar. Beat until you have a stiff and glossy meringue, looking a bit like shaving foam.
Carefully fold the chocolate custard into the meringue, keeping it as airy as possible.
Freeze for at least four hours before serving. If you make this ahead, you might want to remove it from the freezer a short time before serving.
Chocolate and raspberry tart
Chocolate and raspberries are partners in the perfect crime. If you don't agree, this recipe can be served without the topping: simply multiply the amounts for the filling by one and a half.
Readers will know I have been experimenting with spelt flour. I can report that it makes excellent sweet pastry - nutty and crunchy. Swap it for the plain flour or use half and half. These amounts might make a bit more than one tart shell. Freeze the left-over pastry.
For the pastry
* 3oz/100g cold butter
* 6oz/200g plain flour
* 2oz/50g caster sugar
* 1 egg yolk
For the filling
* 6oz/200g bitter chocolate
* 1oz/25g butter
* 3 large eggs, separated
* 4 tbsp Marsala or Madeira wine
* 6oz/200g raspberries
* Icing sugar (optional)
Rub the butter and flour into fine crumbs. Stir in the sugar and egg yolk. Work as briefly as possible, just enough to bind it as a pastry. Wrap it in clingfilm and chill for at least half an hour. When the pastry is very cold, either roll or grate it into an 84in (20cm) tart shell, then press it in and chill it for at least half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Bake the tart shell blind for 15 to 20 minutes, or until it is fully cooked and just beginning to colour at the rim. Remove it and allow it to cool completely.
To make the filling, break up the chocolate and melt it with the butter in a microwave or double boiler. While the chocolate is still warm, fold in the egg yolks and the Marsala or Madeira. Set aside.
Beat the egg whites until they form soft peaks. Beat two tablespoons of the egg white into the chocolate mix swiftly, to loosen it, then fold in the rest of the egg white very carefully, keeping the mix as airy as possible. Fill the tart with this mix.
Return the tart to the oven for just 10 minutes - no more. It should only just be set as it comes out. Allow it to cool again, then dot the top with the raspberries. Sprinkle with icing sugar before serving if you wish.
Hazelnut and chocolate meringue cake
So rich that, if you serve it at Easter lunch, everyone will soon be snoozing in front of the Bond movie.
For the meringue
* 8oz/225g shelled hazelnuts, plus extra to decorate
* 4 egg whites
* 2tsp salt
* 4tsp cream of tartar
* 2oz/50g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
For the filling
* 10fl oz/300ml double cream
* 8oz/250g crème fraîche
* 6oz/200g dark chocolate
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4 and roast the hazelnuts for about 20 minutes. While they are still warm shake them in a colander to help their bitter skins fall off. Then set them aside and allow to cool fully. Lower the oven to 130C/250F/gas mark 1.
To make the meringue, beat the egg whites with the salt and cream of tartar until they form soft peaks. Add the caster sugar and beat until you have a stiff, glossy mix not unlike shaving foam.
Grind the hazelnuts with the icing sugar. If you use a food processor, be sure to pulse or you can end up with a nutty paste. Fold the ground nut and icing sugar mixture into the meringue as gently as possible, so that you don't lose the airiness.
Cut three circles of baking parchment, using the base of an 8.5in (20cm) cake tin. Divide the meringue mix into three and pipe or spread it over each one. Bake the meringue for an hour or until it is crispy on top and browned ever so slightly. It will set further as it cools but retain a slight gooeyness in the centre.
You could prepare the meringue a day or two before you complete the cake.
To fill the cake, beat the cream until it leaves a very gentle wake in the trail of the whisk, then fold in the crème fraîche. Melt 5oz/150g of the chocolate over a double boiler or in the microwave, and fold it carefully into the crème fraîche and cream mixture.
Divide the filling between the layers of meringue and chop the remaining chocolate roughly with some extra hazelnuts to decorate.
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