Belgian Chocolate

One of the best things about being in this business (besides ice cream) is that many days you have treats such as coffee and chocolate arriving in the door, making for happy eating and drinking.

Today, one of our great customers, the mysterious Lady K from the greater Dublin area, dropped in a gift of some Pierre Marcolini chocolate she had picked up from their store in Belgium. It’s truly delicious. What a treat! For those interested, they also have a boutique in Kensington and New York.

Then a salesman arrived in from Nairobi coffee, and it was double espressos all around. I don’t think we’ll switch from our current supplier, but it certainly gave the afternoon a good buzz!

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Return to Chocolate and Sugar

JP Pulling Ice Crea Today in the factory, JP and Neil were busy making ice cream in preparation for the St. Patricks day crowds-to-be in the shops. Since they needed some help, and I’m happy for any excuse to procrastinate from paperwork and administration, I went making hot chocolate.

Going through the process yet again, I thought I’d add that if you want to make our hot chocolate, (or the chocolate sauce recipe), make sure you follow the instructions about heating the milk and adding it to the melted chocolate. It really is the only way to get a good emulsion, and your sauce or hot chocolate will be smooth, glossy and professional-looking.

Chocolate EmulsionFor anyone interested, I learned almost everything I know about chocolate by taking the chocolate course offered by Valrhona (courtesy of our distributor Odaios), and there are many worse ways to spend a few days!

Finally, with the news of the closing of the Mallow sugar plant, it occurs to me that it would be a great business opportunity for someone to buy the plant and make organic sugar. Keep the jobs, keep the farmers happy, and go some way to redressing the huge organic trade deficit in this country. It would be one less thing we would have to import!

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Sauce, Ice Cream and Decoration

After passing on the recipes for chocolate and caramel sauce, I thought perhaps it might time for a brief mention of dessert decoration.

Now I am not a dessert chef but an ice cream man, and I tend to think in terms of quality of product, not quality of presentation. It is inescapable, however, that good presentation not only impresses your customers or dinner guests, but it also actually makes the dessert taste that little bit better.

The cool thing about a bit of decoration is that you can take something as simple as a scoop of ice cream and get a certain “wow” factor from the lucky recipients with a tiny bit of effort.

Since not everyone has access to cream dispensers, chocolate cups, sugar sticks, and other tricks of the trade, here’s a dead simple tip. Go down to your local shop that sells basic kitchenware and invest in one or more little plastic ketchup/mustard bottles. Make sure they have a narrow tip.

Fill them up with your sauce(s) and you can decorate away to your hearts content, basically drawing patterns! I’m sure you can come up with cooler designs than me!

A bit of fresh fruit and cream would dress it up even further, and with two different sauces you really can go wild.

If you use a big plate as your palette, the dessert will look better. Also, a white plate probably shows off your artistry best.

By the way, our chocolate sauce recipe has so much chocolate that it will go hard when it gets cold. You will need to reheat it, and the easiest way is to stick the bottle in a cup of hot water…

Thanks to Dan for his hand and design in the top photo!

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Ode to Sugar and Caramel Sauce

Sugar JarAs we’ve been refining our caramel recipe, it occurs to me again that sugar is amazing. Especially as Irish sugar production is dwindling, it seems like a little paean of praise is in order.

You have this white, hard substance that dissolves into a clear liquid, sweetens everything it touches, turns into candy when cooked to a certain temperature, and it can be spun, pulled, and hardened. In all its various forms, it provides happiness to people every day. There might be health concerns and visits to the dentist, but we still have dessert at the end of a meal because it makes us feel good, and that’s not a bad thing at all.

The crusaders brought the first sugar back to Europe (and it got to the Mid-East from Polynesia via India, Persia, etc.) along with numerous enlightening discoveries learned from the Arabs. I am happy that they did, and surprised and grateful that they didn’t eat it all on the long trip back home. Otherwise, we’d be working with honey, and you can’t make caramel sauce with honey!

Here’s a recipe if you want to try it. Good luck. It’s not the easiest thing to make. Please take care, because melted sugar is dangerously hot!


Murphys Caramel Sauce Recipe

200 g Sugar
50 ml Water
150 ml of Milk
50 ml of Cream

1. Put the sugar in a large saucepan and evenly pour water over it.
2. Place over medium heat without stirring, until the sugar solution turns a deep amber colour, and most of water has evaporated.
3. Take off the heat and add the milk.
4. Immediately add the cream and stir vigorously. (If you don’t add it immediately, the sauce will go lumpy).
5. It may be necessary to reheat in order to fully dissolve the ingredients.

Caramel Sauce

Note: If you have problems cooking the sugar evenly and it starts to brown only at the edges, you can use a whisk to stir it, but you might have to pass the finished sauce through a sieve as it tends to make the sugar clump…

By the way, I know that not everyone can eat sugar, and regarding diabetics, I’m still on the frustrating search for a natural way to make diabetic ice cream. If anybody has any ideas…

Finally, thanks to Conor O’Neill for providing this link regarding chocolate and health. It helps with my chocolate is not a sin argument!

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Coffee Rant Number Two

OK, I know I might be getting a little repetitive and negative here as I’ve already ranted about coffee on this blog, and I promise to sweeten things up with the next post.

However, after going in for a couple of coffees in an un-named cafe in Kerry, ordering a cappuccino and latte, and being served watery, scalded drinks that were identical except the cups, I have to ask again, how can so few people care about their coffees, especially when the Irish coffee-drinking culture is exploding?

At the very least, baristas could be trained in basic definitions of the drinks and know that a cappuccino and a latte are not the same. It’s not a guarded secret! The information’s out there. Lavazza Training Centre and Espresso Planet are two of about 1,900,000 sites that came up when I typed “Espresso terminology” in Google.

The crazy thing is that I do not at all consider myself a coffee expert. It’s just that I can’t understand how people can’t inject a greater level of care in what they do…

By the way, in the other coffee post, I wrote a tip for making a good espresso. One way to tell if it’s a decent one is that an espresso should look like a mini Guinness, and an espresso without crema is like a pint without a head. You wouldn’t serve it.

If you’re in the business or have an espresso machine at home, pull an espresso (above) and/or an americano (right) into a glass, and if it’s a good one you will see that it even settles like a freshly-pulled pint, turning from a bubbly brown into black!

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Information Overload and the Kerry Cow

Even before my recent introduction to blogging, I was suffering from information overload. I have at least five books half-read, from “Leonardo da Vinci” to the interesting and disturbing “Shopped.” I just managed to finish Tim Richardson’s excellent book Sweets, (see right) so at least I can put that aside, but the stack of books either being read or waiting to be read is alarming.

Then there’s the Irish Times, which we get every day in the shop, the food magazines such as Food and Wine that I could read all day, and my chronic addiction to the New Yorker.

I won’t even get into to trying to descripe the alarming stack of papers, leaflets and booklets on everything food and ice cream that is balancing in a huge pile in my inbox.

Add to this the wealth of available blogs, not to mention excellent Irish blogs, and I think my brain will crack! You could spend a lifetime trying to get through it. I think I need to get away from it all and just make some ice cream!

By the way, with the weather warming up and the cattle back on the grass, we should be able to get back to working with a local farmer here who has some Kerry cows.

The milk from this indiginous breed is fabulously smooth and creamy, and the preliminary tests we did last year with our ice cream were extremely positive.

We’ll be going out to the farm in the next couple of days…

Also, Clodagh McKenna just told me she has a cookbook coming out in November and has included one of our recipes. There’s a heap of Christmas gifts sorted, and it’s only March!

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Chocolate and Lent

Valrhona Organic Chocolate We are into Lent, which is a sad time for us. Customers come in looking a little mournful, and you try to cheer them up talking about the exciting new organic chocolate from Valrhona that’s just arrived and is truly excellent. They look even more desolate and say, “I’ve given chocolate up for Lent.” Yes, chocolate and Lent are anathema in Ireland.

As you know, chocolate is very dear to my heart, and the point of this certainly is not to undermine Lent. You might also think I’m just being greedy in a holy time, which is not the case at all. In fact, we more than make up for any loss of chocolate sales with lots of coffee (or even more tea, if customers have also given up coffee), chocolate-free cakes and ice cream. I guess people have to make up for that empty chocolate part of their soul.

Which makes me digress and think of my grandmother Kitty, who had a pub in Cork. She dreaded Lent because all the fellows gave up the drink. Mind you, they didn’t give up her pub, which did a flying trade. They gave up the porter, and for the whole period before Easter, got more sloppy drinking sherry, port, etc. than they ever would have done if they stuck with their usual pints.

Chocolate biteNo, what I question with this giving up of chocolate, and you might find this a bit literal, but as far as I know the concept of fasting had to do with meat. Look at the pre-Lenten festivals – “Carnival” means “Farewell to meat” in Latin. I’ve never heard of “Chocolate-val.” People who took a more stringent line on the fasting would also give up wine, and the real penitents would shun all animal products and basically become vegan. However, being vegan means you can eat natural bittersweet chocolate, which shouldn’t have milk in it.

In fact, I found this snippet in the Catholic Encyclopedia in reference to fasting during Lent: “…the custom has been tolerated of taking a cup of liquid (e.g., tea or coffee, or even chocolate) with a fragment of bread or toast in the early morning…”

“Hold on!” you might say. “What about chocolate eggs at Easter? Shouldn’t we undertake a penance for all the chocolate we will devour?” That’s good thinking, but perhaps such a fast is better suited to children.

If you study the history of Easter, the chocolate egg is a recent phenomenon, and the whole “eggs as renewal” metaphor was pagan anyway, as was the Eostre holiday. The druids certainly didn’t have any chocolate with which to cheer themselves up (or give up).

“But it’s an unhealthy sin! You should give up fags, drink and chocolate!” Is it unhealthy? The other two have serious health consequences, but there have been numerous studies to the contrary about chocolate. Check out CNN, Newsday, BBC, and the Irish Examiner to name just a few sources.

Now I couldn’t really say, “Eat chocolate, and do away with meat!” as I don’t eat meat anyway, and so Lent is a breeze. Besides, I feel in my heart for local butchers, who have a terrible time with the multiples squeezing them out of business, and forty days of lost sales would be more than any retailer could handle.

Still, I feel chocolate really is getting rough and perhaps mis-guided treatment… Might I suggest some sort of middle ground? The following list mixes penitence with a complementary feel-good factor:

List of Things to Give Up for Lent:

1. Chocolate with zero cocoa content
2. Pre-packaged meats from supermarkets
3. Tinned prawns
4. Wine in gallon jugs
5. UHT milk and cream
6. Processed cheeses
7. Non-free-range eggs
8. Anything with food colouring
9. Instant coffee
10. Fast food

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Hot Chocolate for a Cold Day

Baile na BuaileI shouldn’t be in the office on a Saturday, but it’s snowing outside, and besides the plumber and refrigeration guy have come to try to fix our water chiller, showing such diligence on a Saturday, that here I am.

A couple of days ago, I found a blog called The Big Drought that made a mention of this site, and he talked about the hot chocolate he drank in our shop. Bittersweet chocolateGiven the weather, and given the fact the fellow’s off drink for the year, I thought I’d give up the recipe for our bittersweet hot chocolate.

It’s thick, rich, and not for the faint-hearted!

The ingredients are simple, but the process is important if you want a smooth result.

Murphys Bittersweet Hot Chocolate

125 g chocolate (good quality 70%)
500 ml milk
45 gm sugar (2 tablespoons + 1.5 teaspoons)

Chocolate1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler or microwave.
2. Heat the milk and sugar together to about 45C and make sure the sugar is dissolved.
3. Add the warmed milk to the melted chocolate in small parts, mixing all the time, to create a smooth emulsion.
4. Warm to drinking temperature (55C).
5. Garnish with grated chocolate and/or whipped cream and enjoy!

Four servings.


Hot Chocolate1. The quality will really depend on the quality of chocolate that you use. I suggest Valrhona, Callebaut, or Lindt dark chocolate.

2. The amount of sugar will vary depending on the chocolate. Obviously you can add more if you want it sweeter. Adding less won’t necessarily make it more “chocolate-y” as the taste buds need some sweetness to bring out the flavour of the chocolate.

3. See also Chocolate and Chocolate Sauce

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