Gingham Chicken fudge – review

Sometimes, people surprise you with their loveliness.

Hazel Parsons is someone who I don’t really know, but have met though my housemate as they both work in the wedding industry in Cornwall.

A little while ago, she posted some photos on Twitter of some Gingham Chicken fudge which was being used for wedding favours. I commented saying that I’d heard their stuff was good but had never tried it, then the next thing I knew I had a tasty parcel waiting for me at the delivery office!

There was absolutely no reason for Hazel to send me the fudge – she doesn’t work for the company, wasn’t trying to promote it – she just did it to be nice. How lovely is that?!

I figured the best way of justifying the eating of an entire box of fudge was if I then reviewed it for the blog – so here goes.

Gingham Chicken is a Cornish fudge company, based in Liskeard. I first heard about them through Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog, but hadn’t seen the fudge on sale anywhere so never got around to trying any.

The flavour I was sent was sea salt and pecan nuts – a flavour combination I haven’t seen in fudge before but sounded like it could work well.

Regular fudge can be too sweet, but the salt balances it nicely, and Gingham Chicken have got the balance just right. Add pecan nuts, which I love and snack on all the time, and it becomes delicious fudge heaven!

Texture wise, it was perfect for me. I think fudge lovers can be divided into two camps – crumbly or soft and buttery. I’m in the crumbly camp, and that’s exactly what this was – although the one downside to this is that it didn’t fare brilliantly in the post and there wee quite a lot of crumbs left at the bottom of the box.

I would 100% recommend this fudge, and I can’t wait to try more Gingham Chicken flavours soon. And should anyone be in a generous mood, leave a comment and I’ll send you my address…

 

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Chocolate pithiviers

This month, two of my favourite blogging challenges (hosted by two of my favourite bloggers) teamed up to create one behemoth of a challenge – We Should Cocoa meets Random Recipes.

Choclette at Chocolate Log Blog and Dom at Belleau Kitchen wanted us to randomly select a recipe to bake this month, but it had to be one involving chocolate. As I have three books dedicated solely to chocolate, I used a random number generator to pick one of them, and then asked my housemate to choose a page number to select my bake.

The book chosen was Green & Black’s Ultimate Chocolate Recipes, and the recipe was Simon Hopkinson’s Chocolate Pithiviers.

Initially I was a little daunted – it involved time consuming homemade puff pastry, and creme patissiere which I’ve never tried making before, but in the spirit of RR I embraced the challenge and dedicated my Sunday to baking.

I was super happy with how these turned out – the creme patissiere was easier than I expected, lump-free and lush tasting, and the pastry puffed properly, with actual discernible layers!

The only thing I felt that let it down was the filling, which could have just done with another depth of flavour, but overall they were definitely a success.

Thanks Choclette and Dom for making me try a recipe I would have never chosen otherwise!

Chocolate pithiviers (from Green & Black’s Ultimate Chocolate Recipes)

For the pastry:

  • 225g butter
  • 225g plain flour
  • pinch of salt
  • 250ml iced water
  • juice of half a lemon

For the filling:

  • 250ml milk
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
  • 75g sugar
  • 25g plain flour
  • 3 medium egg yolks
  • 110g butter
  • 110g caster sugar
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 50g cocoa powder
  • 100g ground almonds
  • 100g chopped dark chocolate
  • 1 egg beaten, to wash

To make the pastry, finely chop the butter and mix into the flour and salt, but don’t rub it in – leave the butter in lumps. Stir in the water and lemon juice and bring together into a dough. Turn it out onto a floured work surface and roll into a rectangle, roughly 18x10cm. Fold the top third down lengthways, then fold the bottom third over that. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 10 minutes, then take it out, turn it 90 degrees, and repeat the rolling and folding. Do this 5 more times – that’s an hour of chilling, rolling and folding!

For the creme patissiere, heat the milk and vanilla in a saucepan until it reaches boiling point. Whisk the sugar, flour and egg yolks until light and fluffy, then slowly pour in the milk, whisking as you go. Return to the saucepan and stir over a low heat, until it thickens to a consistency a bit thicker than custard. Leave to cool completely.

Beat the remaining 110g sugar with the butter until light and fluffy, then add the eggs one at a time. Beat in the cocoa powder and almonds, then finally fold in the cooled creme patissiere and the chopped chocolate, and chill again.

To make the pithiviers, roll out the pastry and cit into four 10x10cm squares and four 15x15cm squares. Place the smaller squares on a baking sheet and dollop a good amount of the filling in the middle (you will have way too much filling though so don’t try to use it all).

Brush the beaten egg around the edges of pastries, then place the larger squares on top and press down to seal. Cut into circles, leaving about 1cm around the filling. Remove the trimmings, then press down all around the edges with a fork. Re-roll the trimmings into another 10cm square and another 15cm square and repeat the process, so you have 5 altogether.

Brush the pithiviers with more egg wash, then score them lightly to get the sort of spirally pattern you can see on mine. Dust with icing sugar, then bake at 200 degrees – the recipe says for 15-20 minutes but mine took nearly an hour to crisp up underneath, no idea why! Serve hot with a dollop of cream – delicious 🙂

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As this month’s Tea Time Treats challenge, hosted by Karen at Lavender and Lovage, is all about chocolate I’m going to enter these for that as well – three challenges in one, brilliant!

tea time treats

Choccie Bar – handmade chocolates from Devon

choccie bar

Don’t you just love when fate smiles upon you and everything seems to fall right into place?

This happened to me a few weeks ago, when I read an article in Food magazine about a chocolate company based in Broadclyst, near Exeter.

The article referred to a tasting club, where the chocolatier would take on board the suggestions of the tasters and actually create the chocolates they came up with.

I thought it sounded interesting, so I looked up the company online and fired off a quick email to find out more. I received the most lovely response from the chocolate maker herself, Katie, saying that it was a bit short notice, and she had no idea where in the country I lived, but she was holding a launch event for her new online store in Exeter the following and would I like to go.

Would I? Of course! And I’m so glad I did, because the launch event was fabulous. To give it a bit of a twist, Katie teamed up with several local clothing stores to put on a chocolate fashion show, with models wearing outfits that reflected her range of chocolates.

There were of course plenty of chocolate samples being handed out, which gave me my first taste of how good Choccie Bar products are.

The stand out chocolates sampled on the night were definitely the chilli chocolate collection – three after dinner chocolates, to be eaten in a specific order.

First up, a chilli-infused strawberry ganache, coated in dark chocolate. As far as I’m concerned there’s nothing worse than being offered chilli and getting nothing more than a slight tingle on your tongue, so I was delighted that this chocolate had a proper kick to it.

Next, ginger flavoured chocolate, which was milder in heat but still full of flavour and with a pleasant sweetness that takes the edge off the chilli eaten previously.

The third chocolate is a coconut filled heart, which cools and soothes your taste buds and leaves a lovely tropical aftertaste. Seriously, after trying these you will never want to go back to after dinner mints, they are seriously that good!

Katie, second from the left, with Emma Ravensfield of Exeter Alternative Theatre and fashion show host Celia Delaney

Katie, second from the left, with Emma Ravensfield of Exeter Alternative Theatre and fashion show host Celia Delaney

I was lucky enough to have a chance to chat with Katie after the fashion show, and she very kindly gave me a goodie bag to take away, with a box of 18 more delicious handmade chocolates, and a solid chocolate masquerade mask.

When I opened the mask, I only intended to nibble a corner, but it was such good quality milk chocolate that I ended up scoffing it all there and then.

I was a little more restrained with the box of chocolates and made them last a couple of weeks, tasting just a few at a time. There was a good mixture of fruit, nut and caramel flavours – my personal favourites were the strawberry creme (despite normally hating those!) and the lemongrass, both of which were very different to any I’ve tried before and absolutely delicious.

Now the online boutique is up and running, you can order boxes of chocolates and choose which you’d like in them – so you’ll never have the problem of those one or two flavours that no one likes sitting around unloved!

With Christmas on the way, these would make a fab present, but if I’m completely honest I’m far more likely to buy them for myself as they’re a bit too good to share!

I love getting to meet local food producers down here in the South West, and I’m so glad that I stumbled across Choccie Bar at just the right time, and had the chance to meet Katie and taste some seriously good chocolates.

Go check out Choccie Bar for yourself – I promise you won’t be disappointed!

Salon du Chocolat

As I’m sure most people who like food enough to read this blog will know, the past week has been National Chocolate Week.

While there is a very strong argument for celebrating chocolate every week of the year, I think it’s kind of ok to embrace NCW and go over the top in cocoa indulgence – and by far the best place to do so has to be Salon du Chocolat.

The three day show, which travels all over the world, came to London for the first time this year, bringing some of the finest chocolatiers from the UK and Europe together for the most fabulous showcase of chocolate you can imagine.

As a fairly MASSIVE fan of chocolate, it would have been crazy for me to pass us the opportunity to go along and see what all the fuss was about. Before arriving I was a little worried that it might not live up to it’s promise as a chocolate lover’s heaven, but thankfully I was wrong – if anything it was better.

My friend and host for the weekend prepared for the show in the best possible way – lots of cocktails the night before, coffee in the morning and skipping breakfast, meaning we had built up a pretty substantial appetite for chocolate by the time we arrived.

Waiting for us in the press room was a tray of Edd Kimber’s cocoa nib choux buns fresh from his demonstration – they were seriously delicious and something I will have to try and recreate at home. We also got a goody bag with the freebies in the picture below, also a good way to start the day!

Starting to make our way around the exhibitors was actually rather daunting, there were so many fabulous looking stands it was almost impossible to know where to start.

Literally every single company there was freely giving away samples of their products, which was great because not only did we get to eat our weight in chocolate, but without being able to try I would never have known which of the beautifully crafted and packaged chocolates were actually the best to buy, as they all looked incredible.

After going about half way around we hit the wall of chocolate fatigue, but a half hour tea break was enough to refresh, and I think we managed to make it to see pretty much everyone there.

As well as the exhibition, chocolate theatre demonstrations and chocolate tasting room, there was a display of chocolate couture – dresses made either partly or entirely of chocolate – and also a chocolate spa, complete with a bath full of chocolate ganache. I haven’t quite decided if that would be amazing or slightly disgusting, but impressive nonetheless!

Deciding what to buy was a nightmare, but in the end I settled on a fairly restrained selection including the Benoit Nihant and Lauden chocolates below, along with a few other bits and pieces.

The Benoit Nihant coffee flavour is probably the best coffee flavoured chocolate I’ve tasted, which is apparently down to the fact the coffee beans are ground with the cocoa beans, rather than being a flavour added later on. I’d never even heard of tonka beans before, but the flavour is sort of similar to vanilla, and absolutely delicious.

Lauden chocolates are generally amazing, and I’m sure the box of 12 will all be good – while at the stand we tried the lime, passionfruit and champagne flavours, all of which we loved, so I’m going to save these for when I feel like I’ve earned a special treat!

Thanks again to the lovely Sarah at Nudge PR for arranging my tickets for the show – although having now been, I’d be more than happy to pay the usual £15 a ticket to go again! I’d also be up for going to the show when it visits Brazil next year, although how much of an actual possibility that is I’m not too sure…

Cake and Bake Show, London 2013

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When I was approached by the lovely PR team behind the Cake and Bake Show to ask if I would like a pair of press passes, it took me all of a second to fire back an email saying ‘yes!’

I’d never been before, but from what I’d heard it would be a baker’s heaven – all the sweet and savoury treats you could wish for, baking supplies and equipment to set you up for life, tonnes of expert demos, and a great opportunity for spotting the rockstars of the baking world.

Ok, so I had to get up at 4.30 in the morning, drive an hour and a quarter to get a coach to London, then get the coach back at 11.30 at night, and not arrive home until 7 in the morning, but it was SO worth it.

My brilliant friend Becky was willing to go along with my insane travel plans, so we turned up at Earls Court and were pretty pleased to see that despite the show being sold out on the Saturday there weren’t any big queues to get in.

While trying to track down the press room, we caught a glimpse of all the amazing goodies on offer – it was pretty overwhelming!

We were kind of hungry when we arrived, so took advantage of the bread, cheese and cakes in the press room. After scoffing down some food, I turned around to see none other than baking GOD Dan Lepard sat at a table. Internally, I was ridiculously excited about this, but for some reason too embarrassed to just go over and say hi – massive wasted opportunity!

The celeb spotting continued throughout the day – pretty much everyone from the current series of Great British Bake Off was there, along with previous winners John Waite and Edd Kimber, and loads of top professional chefs.

We were offered the chance to take part in one of the ‘Classrooms’ – private demonstrations for groups of around 50 people on a wide range of different topics.

Burlesque Baking with Charlotte White

‘Burlesque Baking’ immediately caught my eye, so we went to the session hosted by Charlotte White of Restoration Cake, who was absolutely fabulous – I’ve never seen anyone look quite so glamorous or wear such skyscraper heels to bake in but she totally pulls it off!

She showed us how to ice and decorate a cake in her signature vintage style, which takes inspiration from burlesque artists. Her tips were brilliant, everything from the best way to pick up the sugarpaste and lay it over the cake to piping perfect strings of pearls around the sides – I was inspired, and am going to be attempting to recreate her cake here very soon!

Charlotte White dessert table

Charlotte was also one of the bakers to create a dessert table for the show – basically a showcase of each bakers signature style. Along with the cake catwalk and the ‘wedding cake of the future’ area, this was the place for professional bakers to really show what they can do, and Becky and I were both stunned by just how creative, intricate and fabulous they all were.

Here are a few of my faves…

A lot of the food stalls at the show were giving away free samples, which combined with the food we found in the press room meant we didn’t actually have that much room for buying and eating anything on the day.

Paul A Young brownies

One of the things we just had to try though was Paul A Young’s now infamous marmite brownie, just to see what all the fuss was about.

Becky was definitely not convinced, and to be honest I still haven’t quite made up my mind – on first taste I thought the marmite was way too overpowering, but it was also strangely addictive – put half in the fridge but couldn’t resist going back for sneaky extra bites…

On Cafe macaron

I also bought some macarons from On Cafe – passionfruit and mango, cassis and my favourite, champagne pink peach, as well as a couple of water ganache truffles from The Chocolatier.

We left the Cake and Bake show feeling absolutely stuffed, but also inspired to bake – for anyone with even a slight interest in baking, I would highly recommend you go! Whether you want to stock up on equipment, gape at stunning sugarcraft, learn from the experts or just gobble up some freebies, it’s well worth a visit – I’ll certainly be going back next year!

Alive and eating…

I know, it’s kinda been a while since my last post – sorry! Things have been pretty hectic recently, and while I have still been baking a bit, time for blogging has been pretty much non-existent.

So, what have I been so busy with? Well among other things, I’ve been back in Romania!

First Dance

I was invited back for a wedding, and wow, what a wedding it was. Romanians clearly don’t do understated, and I think British brides and grooms could take a few tips from their traditions!

The evening reception had more than 300 guests, started at 9pm and continued until 5.30am. The amount of food served was staggering – along with canapes, starter, main and cake for dessert, there was a fruit buffet (below – doesn’t it look amazing!), a cookie buffet, a traditional Romanian buffet with hog roast and sarmale (filled cabbage rolls), and free flowing champagne, wine, whisky and a whole host of other drinks.

Fruit Buffet

The food is served throughout the night (main course was around 3am…) with LOTS of dancing and music the whole time. They have a tradition where the bride is ‘kidnapped’ and the groom has to pay a ransom – in this case a bottle of champagne, bottle of whisky, and a very romantic declaration of love.

There was also a very emotional ritual of removing the bride’s veil and tying her hair with a scarf, which I believe signifies leaving her family to start a new family with her husband – there were lots of tears all round!

Wedding Cake

The cake was then cut, and it was without a doubt the best wedding cake I’ve tasted – layers of chocolate sponge, chocolate mousse, cherries and cream, spiked with some sort of liquor and covered with fondant icing. I forgot to take a picture of the cut cake, but it was seriously delicious!

You’d think that would be enough food to last a week, but I managed to squeeze in one or two other treats…

Mini Macarons

At Paul’s I had mini macarons as a pre-wedding ‘light snack’ – too cute to resist!

At my friend’s hotel in the mountains I ate delicious apple pies, chocolate and almond cake and papanasi – oh how I miss you papanasi!

Mini patisserie

Back in Bucharest, I continued the mini patisserie theme with these – mini apricot and cherry tarts, and a traditional Romanian cake, armandine – chocolate sponge layers soaked in what I think was amaretto, sandwiched with chocolate mousse and coated in chocolate icing. All very, very tasty!

Ice Cream Fondue

I also experienced my first ever ice cream fondue – I’m not sure how this works, but it does, and it’s good. Next time I am in London I’m definitely going to have to visit their parlour in Leicester Square to have it again!

So while I may not have been baking and blogging too much, clearly I have been eating – a bit too much you could say…

I do have a few recipes lined up to post, and a fab cookbook to review, so normal service will hopefully resume shortly!

Although, I do have another wedding this weekend, and a mini-holiday in Wales the weekend after, so bear with me if it takes a little while…

The rest of Romania

Sorry for the lack of updates the past couple of weeks – Romania was hectic but amazing and I hardly had time to think, let alone blog!

I’m back home now, and looking through my photographs from the trip is just about the only thing making me smile – I always get so down after an amazing time away, coming back to reality isn’t easy!

Since my last update, I have eaten LOTS more delicious Romanian food, including cakes, patisserie, and some of the most delicious fresh produce you can imagine. Here is the rest of my food journey in pictures…

This is Orannia, my honourary little sister for week three – together we baked a 12″ chocolate cake which everybody loved!

Tiramisu AND ice cream – they must have known I was coming…

Cozonac – a traditional bread made at Christmas and Easter with swirls of chocolate and nuts

Freshly picked cucumber

Cherry trees are abundant in Romania, but these rose ones were unlike any I’ve tried before

Possibly the sweetest strawberries I’ve ever tasted

There was a fair bit of wine tasting to go with all the food…

Not sure how traditional these cakes are, but they look delicious!

Right, normal blog service will resume shortly – I have plenty lined up including chocolate, vegetables and a cheesecake to die for – it should be a busy month of blogging and baking!

Patisserie Romanian style

While in Targoviste, our host Valentin took us to his favourite patisserie in town so we could sample some traditional Romanian baked goods.

I was lucky enough to visit twice, so I got to sample lots of different things, including a savoury cheese pastry, apple strudel, a sweet cream cheese filled bread and my personal favourite, a panettone rippled with a delicious pecan mixture which I would love to find a recipe for.

We were also treated so some of Valentin’s grandmother’s home baking, two different types of layered cakes, one with chocolate and vanilla and the other with apricot, chocolate and a meringue layer on top. Both were delicious, but I especially enjoyed the meringue and is another recipe which I will definitely have to try and recreate at home.

There is so much good food here to try that my team members will probably have to roll me off the plane when we get back as I’ll be too fat to walk, but in the name of research I will keep eating and posting about everything I try!

A day of food heaven in Romania

Our hosts here in Romania are showing us the most incredible hopsitality, and really spoiling us when it comes to food – something which I’m sure my waistline is going to start to reflect very soon!

Yesterday was basically an amazing food day – our host Emilian cooked us a delicious herby tomato and spinach omelette for breakfast and we were treated to a delicious buffet lunch by our guide Jonny’s parents’ catering business – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a buffet look so pretty…

Lunch dessert was an apple and cinnamon cake, pictured above, which I’ve asked Jonny to track down the recipe for – I will definitely try to recreate it at home if I can as it was really, really good.

After mentioning we liked ice cream a couple of days ago, in the afternoon we were surprised with basically an ice cream buffet with I think 6 or 7 different flavours – I tried a little wild fruits, rum and raisin and pecan praline, all of which were good but I think the wild fruits was probably the best.

For dinner, I chose a mushroom omelette (Omeleta Ciuperci) partly because I wanted something light and partly because I just love them. It was a good choice, as for dessert the Rotary president here, Uri, suggested we try Papanasi, which he explained to me as ‘the food that policemen eat in cars – I love how certain images work in every culture!

These were basically like doughnuts on steroids, absolutely huge with sour cream and jam – I chose blackcurrant and it really was delicious, although I could only manage one. Anyone who can polish off two gets my ultimate respect!

Today has also been a good food day, after visiting our host’s favourite patisserie and sampling the Romanian version of cheese pasties, apple strudel and a fantastic pecan cake – pictures to come soon!

Discovering the dark arts of chocolate making with Nicky Grant

Have you ever wanted to find out how to make the perfect truffle, or temper chocolate like a pro?

Making perfectly crafted chocolates is a lot harder than it looks, and the tempering process in particular can be especially tricky – getting the chocolate to the right state so that it will set with a beautiful sheen and a crisp snap is something which all amateur chocolate makers aspire to, but all too often fail to achieve.

I’ve certainly had my fair share of problems when attempting to make chocolates, so when I was offered the chance to have a lesson from Cornwall’s top chocolatier, Nicky Grant, I literally jumped at the chance.

Nicky is a phenomenally talented lady, based near Redruth in Cornwall, who as well as making gorgeous handcrafted truffles and chocolates creates amazingly intricate wedding cakes – who on earth would choose a fruitcake with marzipan and sugarpaste when you could have a pure chocolate delight like this?!

On a cold, wet and windy day earlier in the month, I joined five other lovely chocolate loving ladies  – Choclette from Chocolate Log Blog, Rachel from Saffron Bunny, Sadie from Cornwall Food and Crash Bang Dollop, blogger and Cornwall Today writer Jessica and local journalist (and my part time colleague) Ellie – at Nicky and her partner Tom’s house for a morning of chocolate education.

It was a good job I’d scoffed down a banana for breakfast on the way, otherwise I might just have dived head first into the huge vat of melted Venezuelan 44% milk chocolate which was sitting on the kitchen table – so tempting!

Tom started by explaining the three things any good quality chocolate must have – a crisp snap, a smooth feel when rubbed on your upper lip, and a satiny sheen finish.

All five senses are involved when tasting chocolate – the sound, feel and look come first, then the aroma and finally the taste, which is what makes eating it such a pleasurable experience. We also learnt that 11am is the optimum time for tasting chocolate, when your taste buds are most active (which is coincidentally around the time most people start to flag while waiting for lunch – perfect!)

Tom then went on to explain the tempering process starting with the science. Chocolate is, using Tom’s favourite word, polymorphic, meaning it can exist in different states, and by its nature it is always trying to reach the next state. Perfectly tempered chocolate must be in Beta 5 state, which is chocolate’s only stable form.

To get it there, first you have to heat the chocolate to it’s melting temperature, which is around 45 degrees for dark but lower for milk and white. You then have to cool it to it’s working temperature, which for the milk chocolate Tom was demonstrating with was 30 degrees. The easiest way to do this is by seeding it with finely chopped, already tempered chocolate, stirring continually to encourage the chocolate crystals to lock together.

To test the temper of the chocolate, Tom showed us a simple method involving dipping a piece of greaseproof paper into the chocolate and laying it out on the work surface to set. If it’s tempered, it will set quickly, in about 3 minutes, and have a nice shine. Untempered, it will take a long time to set, and you will need to reheat the chocolate and start again.

Tom made the whole process look simple, but I will wait until I’ve had a chance to try it for myself before declaring myself a chocolate tempering expert – I will blog the results of my experiments soon!

After going through the tempering process, we moved into Nicky’s working kitchen to learning about making ganache for truffles. I’ve never had too much of a problem making ganache, but it was interesting to find out more about the technical aspects of it – for example I never realised that ganache also needed to be tempered, or that any add-ins such as spirits or liqueurs must be warmed to the same temperature as the ganache.

We had a not entirely planned demonstration of what to do if your ganache splits – either adding more cream or even milk or even just whisking with a balloon whisk can bring it back to a lovely, glossy, chocolatey bowl of heaven. You can see the difference between the smooth milk ganache on the left and the split dark ganache on the right in the photo below, luckily Tom rescued the dark one so it didn’t have to go to waste!

Nicky showed us how to make two different types of truffle – a dark ganache rolled in cocoa powder, and a milk ganache dipped in tempered chocolate and rolled in chocolate flakes. As much as I love dark chocolate, the milk was actually my favourite, and I’m looking forward to recreating it at home.

I thoroughly enjoyed my morning with Nicky and Tom, and left armed with plenty of top tips which I hope will help my chocolate making in the future. We were given recipe sheets for dark truffles and cardamom infused milk truffles, so I can’t wait to give them a go and put everything I learnt into practice.

Huge thanks go to Nicky and Tom for hosting our special bloggers’ lesson – please do take a look at their website, www.nickygrant.com, and if you like fine chocolate I promise you won’t be disappointed with any of their offerings!