Here's to an Easter full of chocolate
What with Valentine's Day, then an early Easter, chocoholics are doing really well for themselves this spring. The tradition of enjoying chocolate at Easter may sound like another one of those recent commercially inspired ideas, but it goes back about 200 years, in fact, since the first chocolate eggs made their appearance in France and Germany.
Although the main ingredients are of course imported, it's nice to know that we can support local businesses by buying Irish-made chocolate. Quality chocolate production is one of the most successful areas of artisan production here and, what's more, seems to be recession-proof; we all need our little treats, apparently.
Google 'Irish chocolates' and you will be amazed at the number of speciality brands that come up -- alongside the best-known names such as Butlers (Dublin) and Lily O'Briens (Kildare), you'll find plenty of others dedicated to quality, including ChocOneill (Longford), Eve (Cork) and Skelligs (renowned for their beautiful hand-painted wooden boxes). So there's every reason to buy Irish when looking for that chocolate treat.
When buying cooking chocolate, remember that the amount of cocoa butter in chocolate products is a guide to quality -- the higher the percentage, the better the chocolate is likely to be. Valrhona, keenly sought by patissiers for its purity, is known as 'the Ferrari of chocolates' and available up to 85pc cocoa butter; other good ones include Green & Black's (72pc) and Skelligs (71pc).
Sugar is added to cocoa solids to make 'plain chocolate', milk is added to produce 'milk chocolate', and white chocolate is made from cocoa butter (no cocoa solids). So stock up and have a go at one or two of these dark beauties from the Gourmand Best Chocolate Book in the World, Green & Black's Unwrapped Chocolate Recipes book (Kyle Cathie paperback, £14/€15.60).