|Åkesson's Cocoa Beans|
A few days on the Suffolk coast set me thinking. Not of oysters and smokehouses, though there are good things to be had from the black-painted shacks dotted around the quays and beaches of this lovely East-coast county. My thoughts turned to, of all things, chocolate. Here the climate could not be further from the humid, tropical environments of the equatorial belt best-suited to the growing of cacao but the connection is Pump Street Bakery. In the short time the Bakery has been in existence, it has carved out a name for itself in turning out excellent bread and pastries. Its Eccles Cakes, in particular, are so delicious that customers now order them on-line. Buttery puff pastry, the very best Greek currants, sugar and spices make an irresistible combination. Their foray into chocolate-making is proving equally successful.
Back in London, I've been enjoying Pump Street Bakery Single Origin 'Bean to Bar' chocolate for a while now. Not all of the 'flavours' appeal to me but they produce a Venezuelan Patenemo 75% that tastes of gingerbread, molasses and dark fruits and a Madagascar Criolla 74% using beans from the Åkesson organic estate producing natural flavours of raspberry and membrillo. Both bars are ones I'll walk the extra mile for. Pump Street Bakery has quite a long list of stockists now so you shouldn't have too much trouble tracking some down. If you're in London this week, they have a 6-day Pop-Up starting tomorrow (28 Apr-3 May) at In House, 67 Redchurch Street E2 7DJ.
|Pump Street bakery|
Venezuela 75% Patenemo chocolate
Coincidentally (or is it?), already on Redchurch Street (at Nos 19-29) is Mast Brothers. Arriving from Brooklyn in February, the bearded brothers have not only opened a shop on this red-hot Shoreditch street but a 'factory' to produce their chocolate on site. There's also a state-of-the-art brew-bar serving up hot and cold chocolate drinks, chocolate beer and sourdough bread with chocolate spread. I confess I've not always found Mast Brothers chocolate easy to like. Generally it's the flavoured chocolate like 'Vanilla & Smoke' that are just too strong for my taste. There's a deliberate graininess about the production that I don't always appreciate but their Single Origin chocolate is more palatable to me and a bar of Single Origin Peru 75% doesn't go amiss now and then.
|Mast Brothers London|
The Chocolate Connection between these two makers is Bertil Åkesson, who recently opened a tiny Notting Hill shop at 15b Blenheim Crescent W11 2EE. Both Pump Street Bakery and Mast Brothers source some of their Single Origin estate beans from Åkesson's. With their own plantations in Madagascar, Brazil and Indonesia, Åkesson's are able to not only make their own Single Origin chocolate bars but also sell to other small bean-to-bar makers. Åkesson's Bali Sukrama 75% Trinitarian and their Brazil Fazenda Sempre firme 75% Forester bars are both finding their way into my shopping bag whenever I'm in Notting Hill.
The British taste for chocolate developed in the 17th Century when cacao (cocoa) cultivation began on Jamaican plantations. Given the times, inevitably, fortunes were made on the backs of slave labour. Linnaeus named the plant Theobroma cacoa, or Food of the Gods. Originating in Central-South America, the plant has spread naturally and by man. The Mayans saw cacao as a symbol of commerce, wealth and prosperity. When Cortez took the knowledge of how to use cacao back to Spain it remained a secret for 100 years and was a drink reserved for the Spanish elite. Today, around 70% of production comes from Ghana, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and the Republic of Cameroon, though most of the Africans working on today's plantations have never tasted cacao in its processed form of chocolate.
Raw cacao is high in cocoa butter, a fat which is removed during chocolate refining then added back in varying amounts during processing along with other fats, sugars and milk. This results in a wildly different product all coming under the name of 'chocolate'. There is no getting away from the fact that 'bulk' beans cacao production is mired in allegations of corrupt trading practices, at best, and child labour and slavery, at worst. Personally, I'd rather eat a couple of squares of good chocolate several times a week than have a daily quick fix of the cheap stuff. Better for my health and my conscience.
So, this week I'll be trying to make time to get down to Pump Street Bakery's Redchurch Street Pop-Up. They may not be able to recreate the clean Suffolk air I appreciated so much last week, but a bar of chocolate and, maybe, an Eccles Cake will certainly bring back memories.