I recently went to chocolate heaven. More precisely to the Riverside Arts Centre studio where I spend an afternoon learning about chocolate before sampling rather a lot of it, and making my own bars to take home. Wonderful!

Ben Hook moved to Sunbury a couple of years ago and decided last year to take a sabbatical from his role in Research and Development in the chocolate industry, to look after his two little girls and to follow his dream of becoming a chocolatier himself. He has set up CocoaCraft which offers classes in the art of chocolate making to individuals, parties, corporate groups and even schools. (Lucky pupils at Hawkedale declared their chocolate workshop with Ben the “best day ever”).

Ben starts his workshop with an overview of where chocolate comes from. The answer is…it really does grow on trees! Ben is seen here holding a cocoa pod. Once harvested it is opened and the beans extracted from their pulp, then left to ferment and finally sun dried.
Cocoa cultivation is still mainly undertaken by small farming operations, many of them in pretty inaccessible places in the tropics of Africa, Asia and South America. Getting fertiliser in, and the finished product out can be quite a challenge!

Ben demonstrated how the nibs are ground in a pestle and mortar to create a paste which is the basis for chocolate. This would have been what the original Mayans first made into a cocoa drink. Chocolate arrived in Europe with the Conquistadors in the 16th C. It remained a drink into the 18th/19th century when Chocolate Houses were popular and trendy for the elite in Paris and London. It was not until manufacturing methods were refined about 100 years ago that chocolate was made into slabs and changed consumption.

But enough history, how about making chocolate! The ingredients really are very simple; cocoa, sugar and cocoa butter all melted to the right temperature. If you want milk chocolate (or less dark) then add milk powder and add flavourings or inclusions as you wish. Simple! Ben demonstrated, then it was our turn. The silver utensil in the photo below is a conch which I had not come across. It is like a mechanised pestle and mortar and it ensures all the ingredients become a smooth mass.

While we left our conches churning Ben prepared some chocolate cocktails, both alcoholic and non alcoholic. I tasted one of each and the group agreed that they were all equally delicious although Ben’s White Chocolate and Raspberry milk was a unanimous hit.

Once the chocolate had conched enough we had to temper the mix to bring it to the right temperature and ensure it was smooth. Therein started the mess! Mr C and I were covered in chocolate during this process which was rather delicious indeed! We then got even more messy when putting the chocolate into forms to make our blocks.

Mr C had it on his arms, hands and face which was highly entertaining. We ended up with about 500grams of chocolate per person, beautifully wrapped in CocoaCraft packaging, with our own blend of chocolate written on the packages. It was an excellent afternoon and we hope to see a lot more of CocoaCraft as the business develops.

If you are interested in a class Ben can be contacted by email: info@cocoacraft.co.uk or call 07984 422925