Sweet and savoury flavour combinations are nothing new, but some bakers are pushing the boat out in an attempt to offer something new and exciting.
It was only intended as a novelty to be sold for a few days in Chocolate Week 2014. But the dark chocolate bar infused with curry powder was such a hit that Manchester bakery and confectioners Slattery continued selling it for weeks after.
Of course, pairing savoury flavours with chocolate isn’t unusual – the heat of chilli or a hint of salt are now mainstream pairings with chocolate. But some chocolatiers push the boat out a lot further.
“Strong stilton cut into small cubes then dipped into dark chocolate gives a tremendous flavour,” says Slattery boss John Slattery, whose team makes this particular delicacy to order, usually for parties. “I’ve seen other people use goat’s cheese too, and mascarpone also works well.”
Chocolate-dipped salted crisps is another combination Slattery experimented with after trying them on holiday in Portugal. “We tried making them in the shop as an experiment, but didn’t sell them commercially in the end,” he explains.
When it comes to bakery and desserts, chocolate and umami (one of the five basic tastes alongside sweetness, sourness, bitterness, and saltiness) has been cited as a combination set to be big this year.
Chef Cherish Finden, a judge on Bake Off: The Professionals, has worked on umami flavour combinations in her role as creative development chef at luxury chocolatier Godiva. These have included a sesame umami petit gateau, which uses soy sauce and sesame oil as flavourings.
Finden also cites miso and seaweed as ingredients that give a good umami hit when paired with chocolate. “The savoury taste of umami paired with the sweet chocolate makes for a beautiful flavour combination – but you have to do it right,” she adds.
Meanwhile, fruit and chocolate offers a number of different options. “On the one hand there are tropical flavours of coconut, mango, guava, banana, fig and pomegranate and, on the other, the hedgerow flavours of this country – blackberry, raspberry, elderberry and rosehip amongst them,” says Jon Turonnet, foodservice sales manager at Brioche Pasquier.
Continuing to be popular is the pairing of chocolate with floral flavours in bakery. Orange blossom, geranium and lavender have become fashionable partners for dark chocolate, according to Turonnet, who says the trend is spreading beyond flowers to herbs, with rosemary, basil and bergamot all being good matches.
The Earl Grey tea flavours of bergamot herald another trend – with tea flavours such as chai, jasmine and Darjeeling increasingly being paired with chocolate.
Slattery notes that some traditional confectionery – violet creams and Turkish Delight – use floral ingredients to provide flavour and scent to chocolate, but says floral and herbal ingredients work best as a filling.
“Two of the oldest flavours you can get to go with chocolate are violet and rose and it’s a traditionally English combination,” he says. “They work best in something like a violet cream where you get the contrast between the chocolate shell on the outside and the floral flavour on the inside.”
And, despite the proliferation of social media posts showcasing unusual combinations, most bakery customers want classic flavours and recipes, suggests Beverley Dunkley, technical advisor to Barry Callebaut’s UK Chocolate Academy, where she teaches bakers and chocolatiers.
While novelty flavour pairings have their place, old favourites such as millionaire’s shortbread is always likely to outsell the unusual. As Slattery admits, despite performing better than he imagined, his 2014 curry chocolate bar was “an acquired taste”.
Finishing touches to tempt the eye
There is huge potential for customisation and impressive flourishes when finishing chocolate confectionery and bakery – mirror glazes and drip finishes are particularly in demand at the moment.
In the case of a high-gloss finish, this can be achieved by applying the glaze to a frozen cake, otherwise it simply runs off, advises Beverley Dunkley, technical adviser to Barry Callebaut’s UK Chocolate Academy. “They’re very fluid glazes,” she says. “It’s a stock syrup with glucose and condensed milk and clear nappage glaze, blended together. You’re glazing on frozen, which means it sets immediately to stop the dripping.”
In the case of chocolate drip cakes, the finish is often most dramatic with contrasting colours – for example a pale buttercream icing covering the sides of the cake, with a dark chocolate top neatly dripping down the sides.
“This can be achieved with ganache, made from half chocolate and half cream melted together,” says Dunkley. “You would wait for it to set until it coats the sides of a bowl then just pipe it on – very simple. It does have a very short shelf life, though.”
Sometimes, simple finishes can produce the most tempting visual results.
In chocolate confectionery, bars can be topped with chopped nuts and dried fruits to give a simple, rustic look.
John Slattery of Manchester bakery and confectioners Slattery has recently developed a Christmas milk chocolate bar filled with traditional mincemeat and marzipan softened with brandy, then topped with cranberries, cherries and nuts.
As well as looking tempting, it tells the shopper at a glance what it will taste like.
Another popular trend at the moment is to finish off truffles by rolling them in a coating of powdered freeze-dried fruit.
“Freeze-dried strawberries and raspberries give a big flavour hit,” says Slattery. “They provide a very intense fruit flavour.”
Handmade chocolate decorations and intricate designs, such as edible flowers, remain popular because of demand
for products with plenty of aesthetic appeal.
“Not only do edible flowers look beautiful and add colour to the end result, but the light floral flavours have become increasingly popular,” says Fabien Levet, national account manager, foodservice at Pidy UK.