Artisanal chocolate is having a moment

Artisanal chocolate is having a moment

Discover the most delectable bars (no golden ticket required)

By Divrina Dhingra  July 3rd, 2015

Passion, obsession and a near-encyclopaedic knowledge of their subject (and a need to share said knowledge) is the calling card of any artisan food-maker. Your average chocolate chef ventures further down the rabbit hole still, spending sleepless nights worrying about the cacao bean harvest and countless hours whipping the kitchen counter into a sticky mess to temper the chocolate just right. And their dedication is paying off: chocolate, like beer and cheese before it, is the new blip on the Indian gourmet radar.

So what is it about chocolate that is churned out in small batches and crafted in personal kitchens that renders the store-bought alternative quite unspecial? It’s a purer form, simply. Chocolate is, technically speaking, really only cacao beans and sugar; milk, cocoa butter (already found in the beans), emulsifiers, flavours and crunchy bits are all for added interest. Handcrafted chocolate goes back to the bare-bones processes — time, temperature, grinding and elbow grease are all that are used to turn the beans into bars. 

The big cities seem inundated with bakers and confectioners, but a maker of artisanal chocolate is still a hunt away. In New Delhi, Mandakini Gupta, 33, the force behind the you-only-know-it-if-you’re-in-the-know Smitten Bakery and Patisserie (Tel: +91 98100 10735), is one, and her chocolates belie the fact that she’s new to the craft, having begun selling only over Christmas last year. “I had been thinking about it for a while, but was previously obsessed with bread,” Gupta says. “These are unforgiving foods to make, and one of them in my life is enough at a time.” Working out of her modestly sized kitchen, using a minimal amount of equipment, she turns out petite bars that are studded with roasted hazelnuts, coffee beans and figs, orange peel or candied chilli, all precisely placed by hand to ensure that each bite is interesting. She uses dark — 65 per cent cocoa — Belgian chocolate, which she then tempers by hand, a process that is laborious but essential if chocolate is to have its characteristic shine and snap. For her “labour of love”, Gupta is rewarded with a steady stream of orders from people who’ve either tried them and are hooked, or want to give them away as presents. She ends up making 50 bars a week, all on order. Each bar is wrapped in colourful printed paper (Gupta has 12 prints that she uses in rotation), inspired by one of her artisanal chocolate heroes, New York’s Mast Brothers Chocolate Makers. Putting the art into artisanal is slow, careful work — Gupta taught herself to wrap using an instructional video on Vimeo, and a bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk for practice.

Further south, in a small corner of Auroville in Pondicherry, Mason & Co Chocolate (Masonchocolate.com), run by longtime Aurovillians Fabian Bontems, 30, and Jane Mason, 35, is crafting chocolate that is delicious and 100 per cent Indian, from bean to bar. “I moved to India from Bali, where I was working as a raw food chef, and I couldn’t eat the chocolate available here because I’m vegan. So for a year I just didn’t eat any,” confesses Mason. “Then I began making my own by ordering raw cocoa powder and cocoa butter online, and it became quite popular.”

That led her to explore a steadier source of raw materials close to home. Turns out, India is among the larger growers of cacao beans in the world, and Indian beans, Mason explains, have more acidic, fruity notes, which they try to highlight in their bars. At present, the company offers seven locally sourced, organic varieties (Mason’s favourite is the sea salt flavour; Bontems prefers the 75 per cent dark with cacao chips), which have won them a loyal following (and a mention on the design archive blog Packaging of the World for their wrapping) that is steadily growing. Their largest order till date, came last year at Diwali, from a woman in Chennai who ordered 450 bars, and they’re fairly certain that this year’s festival season will set new records. 

And they’re intent on giving back, too. So although currently cacao is grown primarily as a commercial cash crop (for the likes of chocolate giant Cadbury), they are hoping to change that. “We are working with the farmers to get them to grow and process the beans for taste. The goal is to eventually set up a cooperative,” Mason says. She and Bontems believe strongly in fair trade and an ethical business model. “There is a definite trend of people becoming aware of where their food comes from. There is empowerment in knowing that what you’re eating is good for you as well as for the supply chain.” 

Eco-con chocolate has another fervent propounder in Mysore. Earth Loaf Artisan & Raw Soul Food’s (Earthloaf.co.in) product is ethical and delicious, not to mention that being raw chocolate, it falls into that hard-to-resist category of Superfood. David Belo, 28 and Angelika Anognostou, 39, were bartenders who mixed drinks in some of London’s hippest watering holes, before deciding to move to India and craft pretty bars of good-for-you sin.

Belo’s additional training as an artisanal bread-and-chocolate-maker came in handy when figuring out things like matching the cacao bean to the right sweetener, and deciding which flavours to use. Their signature 72 per cent dark chocolate bars use beans sourced from Karnataka and Kerala, and have interesting additions like organic almonds, sea salt that has been smoked over cacao bean husks, and palm sugar, which is lower on the glycaemic index than white sugar. This being raw chocolate, the beans are not roasted, and when ground, the temperatures are kept relatively low so that none of the health-giving enzymes are lost. “Chocolate is pretty much a perfect food, healthy and full of antioxidants; you don’t want to roast away all that goodness. In a way, a chocolate bar can be like a perfume; it’s easy to forget that it comes from nature,” he says.

Though raw chocolate is healthy and natural, its bitter kick and gritty texture can take some getting used to (“It has the Marmite effect,” says Belo, explaining how people either love it or hate it). The brand created their raw chocolate bonbons — chocolate shells filled with creamy centres in Tiramisu and Chai Masala flavours — as the antidote. To maintain vegan rules, the cream in question is stone-ground organic cashew, flavoured with spices or coffee (organic and specially roasted, of course) and sweetened with the signature low-glycaemic sugar — and it’s one of their most popular products.

Going by the numbers they’re churning, the healthy chocolate is popular with more than just the scores of yoga students who flock to Mysore each year. “Last year at this time we were producing six bars a week; now we make over 800.” The best bit is that this is chocolate that you will want to display on your shelves, not hide among the other health foods that carry with them the unmistakable air of hemp and clumpy footwear. Earth Loaf Artisan bars come wrapped in handmade paper with block-printed motifs. “Presentation is so important to us,” says Belo. “We want people to see and taste India in every bar.”

So there you have it. Lovingly made chocolate that looks good, has a conscience and won’t necessarily give you a choked artery. Can we get French fries that stop global warming next?

 

 

Passion, obsession and a near-encyclopaedic knowledge of their subject (and a need to share said knowledge) is the calling card of any artisan food-maker. Your average chocolate chef ventures further down the rabbit hole still, spending sleepless nights worrying about the cacao bean harvest and countless hours whipping the kitchen counter into a sticky mess to temper the chocolate just right. And their dedication is paying off: chocolate, like beer and cheese before it, is the new blip on the Indian gourmet radar.

So what is it about chocolate that is churned out in small batches and crafted in personal kitchens that renders the store-bought alternative quite unspecial? It’s a purer form, simply. Chocolate is, technically speaking, really only cacao beans and sugar; milk, cocoa butter (already found in the beans), emulsifiers, flavours and crunchy bits are all for added interest. Handcrafted chocolate goes back to the bare-bones processes — time, temperature, grinding and elbow grease are all that are used to turn the beans into bars. 

The big cities seem inundated with bakers and confectioners, but a maker of artisanal chocolate is still a hunt away. In New Delhi, Mandakini Gupta, 33, the force behind the you-only-know-it-if-you’re-in-the-know Smitten Bakery and Patisserie (Tel: +91 98100 10735), is one, and her chocolates belie the fact that she’s new to the craft, having begun selling only over Christmas last year. “I had been thinking about it for a while, but was previously obsessed with bread,” Gupta says. “These are unforgiving foods to make, and one of them in my life is enough at a time.” Working out of her modestly sized kitchen, using a minimal amount of equipment, she turns out petite bars that are studded with roasted hazelnuts, coffee beans and figs, orange peel or candied chilli, all precisely placed by hand to ensure that each bite is interesting. She uses dark — 65 per cent cocoa — Belgian chocolate, which she then tempers by hand, a process that is laborious but essential if chocolate is to have its characteristic shine and snap. For her “labour of love”, Gupta is rewarded with a steady stream of orders from people who’ve either tried them and are hooked, or want to give them away as presents. She ends up making 50 bars a week, all on order. Each bar is wrapped in colourful printed paper (Gupta has 12 prints that she uses in rotation), inspired by one of her artisanal chocolate heroes, New York’s Mast Brothers Chocolate Makers. Putting the art into artisanal is slow, careful work — Gupta taught herself to wrap using an instructional video on Vimeo, and a bar of Cadbury’s Dairy Milk for practice.

Further south, in a small corner of Auroville in Pondicherry, Mason & Co Chocolate (Masonchocolate.com), run by longtime Aurovillians Fabian Bontems, 30, and Jane Mason, 35, is crafting chocolate that is delicious and 100 per cent Indian, from bean to bar. “I moved to India from Bali, where I was working as a raw food chef, and I couldn’t eat the chocolate available here because I’m vegan. So for a year I just didn’t eat any,” confesses Mason. “Then I began making my own by ordering raw cocoa powder and cocoa butter online, and it became quite popular.”

That led her to explore a steadier source of raw materials close to home. Turns out, India is among the larger growers of cacao beans in the world, and Indian beans, Mason explains, have more acidic, fruity notes, which they try to highlight in their bars. At present, the company offers seven locally sourced, organic varieties (Mason’s favourite is the sea salt flavour; Bontems prefers the 75 per cent dark with cacao chips), which have won them a loyal following (and a mention on the design archive blog Packaging of the World for their wrapping) that is steadily growing. Their largest order till date, came last year at Diwali, from a woman in Chennai who ordered 450 bars, and they’re fairly certain that this year’s festival season will set new records. 

And they’re intent on giving back, too. So although currently cacao is grown primarily as a commercial cash crop (for the likes of chocolate giant Cadbury), they are hoping to change that. “We are working with the farmers to get them to grow and process the beans for taste. The goal is to eventually set up a cooperative,” Mason says. She and Bontems believe strongly in fair trade and an ethical business model. “There is a definite trend of people becoming aware of where their food comes from. There is empowerment in knowing that what you’re eating is good for you as well as for the supply chain.” 

Eco-con chocolate has another fervent propounder in Mysore. Earth Loaf Artisan & Raw Soul Food’s (Earthloaf.co.in) product is ethical and delicious, not to mention that being raw chocolate, it falls into that hard-to-resist category of Superfood. David Belo, 28 and Angelika Anognostou, 39, were bartenders who mixed drinks in some of London’s hippest watering holes, before deciding to move to India and craft pretty bars of good-for-you sin.

Belo’s additional training as an artisanal bread-and-chocolate-maker came in handy when figuring out things like matching the cacao bean to the right sweetener, and deciding which flavours to use. Their signature 72 per cent dark chocolate bars use beans sourced from Karnataka and Kerala, and have interesting additions like organic almonds, sea salt that has been smoked over cacao bean husks, and palm sugar, which is lower on the glycaemic index than white sugar. This being raw chocolate, the beans are not roasted, and when ground, the temperatures are kept relatively low so that none of the health-giving enzymes are lost. “Chocolate is pretty much a perfect food, healthy and full of antioxidants; you don’t want to roast away all that goodness. In a way, a chocolate bar can be like a perfume; it’s easy to forget that it comes from nature,” he says.

Though raw chocolate is healthy and natural, its bitter kick and gritty texture can take some getting used to (“It has the Marmite effect,” says Belo, explaining how people either love it or hate it). The brand created their raw chocolate bonbons — chocolate shells filled with creamy centres in Tiramisu and Chai Masala flavours — as the antidote. To maintain vegan rules, the cream in question is stone-ground organic cashew, flavoured with spices or coffee (organic and specially roasted, of course) and sweetened with the signature low-glycaemic sugar — and it’s one of their most popular products.

Going by the numbers they’re churning, the healthy chocolate is popular with more than just the scores of yoga students who flock to Mysore each year. “Last year at this time we were producing six bars a week; now we make over 800.” The best bit is that this is chocolate that you will want to display on your shelves, not hide among the other health foods that carry with them the unmistakable air of hemp and clumpy footwear. Earth Loaf Artisan bars come wrapped in handmade paper with block-printed motifs. “Presentation is so important to us,” says Belo. “We want people to see and taste India in every bar.”

So there you have it. Lovingly made chocolate that looks good, has a conscience and won’t necessarily give you a choked artery. Can we get French fries that stop global warming next?