Sentenced to life without chocolate, Fergus Henderson savours the memories and foresees his undoing.
Chocolate is a subject close to my heart - possibly too close. Of late I've had a stern finger wagged at me by my doctor to give it up, but abstinence truly does make the heart grow fonder.
It's not just the taste I miss; it's the chocolate euphoria: that lifting of the spirits, the way it coats your mouth with a sense of well-being.
The form of chocolate I'm missing most especially is the one we took many years to perfect at St John: dark, bitter chocolate ice-cream. It's my last-supper pudding. Chocolate ice-cream, you scoff? Is that really worth the many years of honing? But the balance of sweetness, bitter and cocoa is crucial. I'm sure you have noticed in chocolate at times a schismatic moment when the sweetness and the chocolate flavour go in separate directions. This is a sad moment and a sign of out-of-control, poor chocolate. So what do you do? Getting good chocolate is essential. We found a single-estate Venezuelan 73.5 per cent number that worked well, and this is where things got more involved. We need sugar in the ice-cream to prevent that chalky texture, but how do you avoid it becoming too sweet? By making a dark, bitter caramel. Aha! Perfect. Another interesting fact about this ice-cream is that, like good wine, it improves with age. Five or six days in the freezer really gives it time to find itself.
But enough on ice-cream. Let's discuss Easter. This is traditionally a time when children go mad eating masses of bad chocolate, hyperventilate from the sugar rush, then, when the sugar hangover hits, start fighting over who's stashed an egg away for later consumption to taunt their siblings. Actually, on reflection, let's not talk of manic sugar-crazed children.
Did you ever suffer the chocolate peanut and raisin predicament? It mainly rears its head when you're going to the cinema. Before the film you buy a bag of chocolate peanuts to sustain you through the feature, but halfway through the bag, chocolate-peanut fatigue sets in. The obvious solution is to buy a bag of chocolate raisins and mix the two together - but all is lost at this moment because the crunch-to-chew ratio is out of kilter. I'd suggest trying one bag of peanuts to half a bag of raisins, but then you have the problem of what to do with the remaining raisins. (I will tell you from experience that the answer isn't to put them in your pocket).
The mighty chocolate pudding is a thing of textural and flavoursome wonderment. A chocolate sponge containing molten chocolate - now, I ask you, what's not to like about this pudding? A true crowd-pleaser, with a blob of crème fraîche ice-cream this pud writes itself. Which neatly leads us into chocolate sauce; when poured over vanilla ice-cream and topped with toasted flaked almonds it's sex in a jug. Excuse me for being so base as to describe chocolate sauce this way, but when we took the picture of this particular favourite for the last St John cookbook, with some of our past pastry chefs pouring the sauce over each other, there were eyes glinting all round and you could feel the temperature rise.
I must say it has been painful, sharing my meandering thoughts on chocolate, but it's good for me to build fortitude for the coming of my chocolate-free years. The rub is that it's not so much these delicious, more complex creations that might be my downfall but, being a chap of simple needs, it will be the humble fruit and nut bar that will break my resolve. We refer to it affectionately at home as "Fnerr". Et tu, my old friend "Fnerr"?