We spent Christmas and New Year in Barcelona and the days were heavily punctuated by some fantastic eating, as you can expect. Christmas was feasting with family out in the village. St Stephen’s Day (Boxing Day here in the UK) was more feasting at home. New Year’s Eve was snacking on canapes as we waited to shove grapes in our mouth with each strike of the clock at midnight. On New Year’s Day, even more feasting. Ah, that was the good life.

One thing that always strikes me about Barcelona is the way that chocolate is used with reckless abandon at all patisseries. Croissants, coques, palmiers,etc, come in both plain and chocolate-covered varieties. The chocolate coating is not a mere afterthought but a proper drenching – a thick coating! – that turns the pastry into a hefty, weighty treat. And these can be found at all patisseries! There were a couple of more unique chocolate treats that stood out during my visit though.

We went back to my beloved Forn Mistral to try a wide variety of their pastries. I particularly wanted to try their mini chocolate croissants and I wasn’t disappointed. They don’t look very promising from the outside but under that surprisingly thin layer of puff pastry is an equally surprising hefty lump of chocolate. There is a proper 50/50 ratio of pastry to chocolate in these little morsels. And if you pick some up for takeaway, there’s a chance you could get a scoop straight from the oven….mmm…. little chocolate lava morsels.

I'm a little obsessed with the mini chocolate croissants from @fornmistral ... Here's a cross section of one. Look at all that chocolate! And the portion we bought yesterday was hot out of the oven! 🍫

We also re-encountered a bakery that we’d visited years ago – Forn Jaume MontserratThe bakery is famous for their coques, Catalan flatbreads that are topped or filled with sweet or savoury ingredients. I noticed that there were many comments online about their coca de xocolata – pictured below – and we bought a large slice to take home. While the chocolate in the mini croissants above was pure dark chocolate, the one here was like a stiffer dark chocolate frosting, probably to hold up to a longer baking time. It was sweeter but I still liked it. I loved it. More please!

Slices of a coca de xocolata from Forn Jaume Montserrat ... Another example of the major chocolate representation at bakeries and patisseries here!

I guess it’s another way of mainlining chocolate that isn’t in liquid form!

We stopped for tea that first afternoon after our time in the Musée Picasso in the 3eme and as we were nearby, I dragged Blai to Jacques Genin’s shop. The one on rue de Turenne has a small salon de thé where you can taste his famous chocolates and caramels as well as pastries. His other shop on the other side of the river is just that – a shop.

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We settled into a sofa in the lovely air conditioned room. There’s a menu but the waitress also rattled off the various flavours and other pastries also available (and I believe they are made in the laboratory upstairs). We chose a chocolate millefeille that would be put together a la minute. This was one excellent millefeuille.

Millefeuille de Chocolat

Coffee for me and a citron pressé for Blai. The chocolates they provided with the drinks were utterly amazing. Seriously, just get them.

Chocolates

We bought a couple of his caramels to takeaway (look at the cute little bags they have for small numbers of sweets) and ate them about an hour later. By that time, they’d softened in the heat in my bag to possibly a perfect texture – they were utterly luscious.

Caramels

I only wish I could have brought back more but the very hot weather prevented all of that. Here’s a good tip: this salon de thé is open on Sundays.

Jacques Genin
133 rue de Turenne
Paris
France

I was invited to a chocolate tasting by Lindt being held at Pearl in Holborn. Jun Tanaka, head chef at Pearl, had recently developed recipes using latest range of Lindt Excellence flavours: chilli, wasabi and sea salt. I like Lindt chocolate and it’s a brand I buy often at home (usually the 85% bar) but I had looked sceptically at some of these new flavours on offer, particularly the wasabi.

The New Range

To my surprise, I loved the wasabi flavour – its characteristic flavour and burn coming through slowly when you bite into the dark bar. I didn’t think much of the chilli chocolate (not much heat and I couldn’t discern any chilli flavour) but I adored the sea salt bar that was quite easy to put away.

But we were there for the dishes too. No, not the two dishes below but the four dishes, two savoury and two sweet, created. Working alongside Chef Tanaka was Stefan Bruderer, one of Lindt’s Master Chocolatiers, and he was also on hand that night to answer our many questions about being a Lindt master chocolatier (apart from the creation of new flavours there’s a lot of admin).

Jun Tanaka and Stefan Bruderer

We first sampled a Cured Salmon with Pickled Chilli and Wasabi Mayonnaise. No chocolate here but it featured all the flavours in the new bars.

Cured Salmon with Pickled Chilli and Wasabi Mayonnaise

We closely guarded our Braised Chilli Chocolate Beef Cheek with Celeriac Mash and Glazed Beetroot after our first tastes and eyed up the portions of those around us. “Are you gonna finish that?”, we hissed at those who ate slowly. The beef cheek had been braised to tenderness and the glossy sauce was a reduction of the braising liquid and plenty of Lindt’s chilli chocolate. I didn’t even mind the glazed beetroot and thought the wilted wild garlic was a nice addition too.

Braised Chilli Chocolate Beef Cheek with Celeriac Mash and Glazed Beetroot

Unsurprisingly, the wasabi chocolate proved to be the most difficult to use in a recipe. Jun Tanaka did well then to turn to the cuisine where wasabi features most – Japanese – and created a Wasabi Chocolate Maki Roll. This sweet rice roll was wrapped around pineapple and a chocolate ganache and served with pickled ginger and melted wasabi chocolate. We were instructed to eat it in one go, piling the ginger on top of the maki and dipping the whole thing in the melted chocolate. With cheeks bulging, we savoured the combination of creamy chocolate, sweet pineapple and hot wasabi and ginger.

Wasabi Chocolate Maki Roll

We ended with – surprise, surprise – more chocolate. The Dark Sea Salt Chocolate Moelleux with Cherry and Yogurt Sorbet was absolutely gorgeous with the moelleux’s melting centre and the fresh (and out of season and overpriced) cherries and sorbet. I’m not sure it even needed the extra chocolate sauce on top.

Dark Sea Salt Chocolate Moelleux with Cherry and Yogurt Sorbet

It is possible to recreate the recipes developed by Jun Tanaka as they all can be found on the Lindt website – I definitely hope to recreate the beef cheeks and in the meantime, I found myself putting in more dark chocolate than usual into my chili con carne over the weekend. I’m a bit chocolated out now though!

Thank you very much to Lindt and Burson-Marsteller for the invitation.

Another visit to Barcelona, another new place for hot chocolate! Blai discovered the hot chocolate at Cacao Sampaka over Christmas and was excited to have it again when I went along at Easter. The shop was co-founded by Albert Adrià and when it first opened in Barcelona, I remember popping along to try their products; I hadn’t been back in a while though. It looks like they’re no longer just in Barcelona though: there are now franchises around the world. We went to the branch in Eixample off Rambla de Catalunya and the cafe was situated at the back of the shop. While the menu was full of lovely sounding things, we were there for their hot chocolate, not the ice creams, nor the sandwiches, nor the milkshakes. I’d love to try those next time.

Our favourite order at any granja is always a suís (hot chocolate with whipped cream on top). Their Suís was made with their traditional xocolata, made with 70% dark chocolate and cinnamon. It was very good – the high quality dark chocolate really did make a difference when compared to the versions at other granges.

Suís (xocolata amb nata)

We also split an Asteca, a very dark hot chocolate made with 80% dark chocolate and spices. It was intensely dark and rich and very delicious but between the two of us, we just couldn’t finish the very large cup – it defeated us.

Asteca (80 % cacau i espècies)

We weren’t having the hot chocolates by themselves, of course. As it was the end of the day (the cafe closes at 20:30), their xurros had run out so we made do with their melindros. These Catalan sponge fingers were fabulous, so far the best I’ve had in the city (I really want to try all the city has to offer!). They were sweet but this balanced the bitterness of the dark chocolates.

Melindros

While their hot chocolates are excellent, I’ve never been taken with their chocolates. I tried some more on this visit but again, disappointment. I’ll stick to their cafe rather than their shop.

Cacao Sampaka
C/ Consell de Cent, 292
08007 Barcelona
Spain

I used to bake a lot as a teenager. Brownies came out of our home oven quite often but with the exception of a batch used to woo my now husband, I’ve not baked brownies since I left home. Actually, I rarely bake sweet things – not contributing further to our already expanding waistlines is a major factor in this and I think a general lack of kitchen space is another. I do enjoy it though.

Cranberry and Walnut Brownie

Throwing caution to the wind, I whipped up a batch of brownies over the weekend and came up with these (and then promptly bought a new pair of trainers – no joke). The brownie is based on Katharine Hepburn’s famous recipe and they are rightly famous, having a great balance between cakey and fudgey. They are excellent brownies though I felt the need to tinker with amount of sugar in the recipe since I was using 85% dark chocolate and not unsweetened chocolate as in the original recipe. Walnuts and dried cranberries cut through the richness and gave these brownies some semblance of healthiness. Yeah, right.

Cranberry and Walnut Brownies

Cranberry and Walnut Brownies
makes 16.

60g dark chocolate (I used Lindt’s 85%)
112g unsalted butter
180g granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
45g flour
large pinch of sea salt
70g chopped walnuts
60g dried cranberries

Preheat your oven to 165 Celsius. Butter and flour a 20cm (8inch) square baking pan.

Place a large heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water and in the bowl, melt the chocolate and butter together. When melted, take off the heat and mix in the sugar. Break in the eggs and stir thoroughly to combine. Stir in the vanilla. Add the flour and sea salt and again, stir to combine. Finally, add the walnuts and dried cranberries and stir to combine and distribute them evenly.

Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for 30 minutes, until a toothpick stuck in comes out clean. Cool the pan on a cooling rack and then turn out the slab and cut into 16 brownies. When fully cool, store in an airtight container. These brownies are best at room temperature.

I still have Sweden on the mind! I was thinking the other day of Delicato balls, those rather moreish oaty chocolate balls rolled in dessicated coconut that one can purchase in Ikea (are they still available there?). Turns out they’re very easy to make and go by the name of chokladbollar; if you read about them on Wikipedia, you’ll see that they used to go by a more politically-incorrect moniker. The current word though feels right on the tongue – chok-lad-bol-lar. (I bet I’m saying it incorrectly.)

They’re quite popular in Sweden and especially at children’s parties though I see no reason why adults wouldn’t like them. In addition to the chocolatey sweetness, oatmeal gives these balls a pleasant chew and it’s hard to stop at just one. They’re perfect too with a cup of hot coffee or tea and there’s certainly nothing kiddy about that.

Chokladbollar

Chokladbollar
adapted from this recipe.
makes 15-20.

100g unsalted butter, softened
100g sugar
2 tbsps cocoa powder
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsps cold strong coffee
just a little under 1.5 cups of rolled oats
unsweetened, dessicated coconut

In a food processor or mini chopper (that’s what I have), pulse the rolled oats a few times until you end up with a coarse grind but not so fine that you have powder.

Mix together the butter and sugar until well combined. Add the cocoa powder, vanilla and coffee and again mix to incorporate. Add the ground oats and mix thoroughly. Take lumps of the mixture and form into 1 inch diameter balls. Roll in the coconut to coat and place them in a covered container. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving.

Another quick granja post while I boo hoo hoo about the weather in London – these grey skies are really starting to get me down. The day of blue skies cheered me up yesterday but there’s nothing like a grey Monday morning to get one down. Ah well, I will think of xocolata to cheer me up.

The very simply named La Granja hadn’t been on our radar at all but I passed it one evening and saw from the Time Out cuttings in the window that it was quite highly rated. And then Blai’s mother brought him one afternoon to that granja and the next thing we knew, my brother and I were brought there too, before a tapas dinner. The granja is quite small but is less known that those on c/Petritxol and so the queues are quite short and manageable. We were seated right at the back, right by their exposed Roman wall, which was quite the highlight of the visit for me. You can just see it in the background of the first photo in this post.

Our Order

I think my brother isn’t as much into hot chocolate as we are and so opted for a cafe amb llet (coffee with milk/cafe con leche). He liked it.

Cafe amb Llet

We with the sweet teeth order Suïssos again, of course. Mini Suïssos, as we had a dinner ahead of us. And no pastries to fill us up either; La Granja does not sell xurros and only has the very Catalan melindros. I think other pastries were also available such as croissants and ensaimadas and there was a list of savoury sandwiches on their menu too. They’ve even got quite the extensive drinks list, from flavoured hot chocolates to cold milkshakes.

A Mini Suis

Look at that mountain of freshly whipped cream!

But how was the xocolata? Well, it was thinner than I’ve ever had before but that didn’t mean it was bad. It was very deeply cocoa-y and by default there was a sprinkling of cinnamon on top of the cream. It was good; I can’t say it was my favourite xocolata in Barcelona but Blai believes it might be his.

La Granja
C/Banys Nous, 4
Barcelona, Spain