Older Posts – 2012

16 December 2012

I'm counting down to Christmas now, and can't quite believe it's only a week to go. I think this is the least prepared I've ever been for the festive period, and it's our turn to host!! Orders have been rolling in, and I've had a stall at a number of events - probably too many, but I didn't want to turn anything down, it being our first Christmas and not knowing what to expect.
Wivenhoe late night shopping was a very festive occasion and a lot of fun, but 24 hours later in Brightlingsea, with the rain lashing down and the wind forcing us to abandon the gazebo had me becoming a hot chocolate seller for the evening and making a quick exit as soon as that was sold out. We had a great time at Jimmy's Farm last weekend, but sadly I could only be there for the Saturday, as I'd already committed to be a part of the Colchester High Street Fair on the Sunday, which had its highs (lots of customers) and lows (badly organised). It was also extremely windy, so I had to catch the gazebo on more than one occasion to stop us taking off down the high street. The Colchester Castle open evening was a lovely event, although not as busy as we'd hoped it would be, and the Alresford Pointer Christmas Fair was quite disappointing. I've started gauging Christmas with 'events to go' and I'm now down to two. I think I can just about hold onto the last shreds of my sanity until then!   divider

2 December 2012

Whew, what a fortnight!! I've been festive-focussed for the last 15 days, and can't believe it's only just December!! We made it through our first chocolate party relatively unscathed; we were invited to have a stand as part of Hatfields Sale Promotion weekend; we've had our regular farmers markets, which have been much busier than usual and we were asked to take part in the Rotary Christmas Fair at Colchester Town Hall. Tonight, however, we were invited to provide the chocolates at the gorgeous Jardine Bistro in Wivenhoe, for their Chocolate and Cocktails evening. I love eating at Jardine, and felt very privileged to have been asked to take part in the event. It was a great opportunity to promote the Choctails brand and tell my story. I was rather ready for a cocktail of my own by the time I got home though!! divider

17 November 2012

It's been a busy couple of weeks for me. I was thrilled to receive 2 large orders for corporate give-aways for Christmas, which have now been made, quality checked and delivered. I've had a steady stream of web orders over the last few weeks as well. It's always exciting to receive an email notification of a new order, and I try to turn these around as fast as possible, as they've already paid up front. In addition, a few friends have been good enough to place their Christmas orders early, so as to take the pressure off me closer to Christmas. But the really exciting development was Poplar Nurseries in Marks Tey agreeing to stock our chocolates. This is my biggest order to date, and required some pre-planning and plenty of focus. The chocolates are due to be delivered on Tuesday next week, and I'm just short of the B-52s now. The three layers have been made and are set, but need a thin layer of chocolate on the top and bottom before I cut the slab into squares. I had several very focussed 12-hour days in the kitchen to make sure everything was completed on schedule and loved every minute of it. It certainly beats sitting in a cubicle for 8 hours. The farmers markets are picking up now that Christmas is getting closer. Wivenhoe was extremely busy this morning. It was good to see so many people through the door, supporting their local businesses. Yesterday evening was my first Festive Market, at Christmas Hall in Suffolk - a beautiful location for a Christmas fair. Our Mulled Wine truffle proved to be extremely popular at both events, so it looks as if my second job on Monday is to make a fresh batch, once the B-52s are done. Events-wise, I've got a fairly quiet week ahead. However, from next Friday I've got 11 events planned over the following 10 days, including my first chocolate party, so it's going to be another busy week in the kitchen with Radio 2 for company.  

30 October 2012

I've spent the last month doing a lot of networking to try and generate some new business and as a result I've got a number of exciting events lined up over the Christmas period. I'm particularly excited to have been asked to produce the chocolates for a Cocktails and Chocolate evening at Jardine Bistro in Wivenhoe on 2 December. I'll also be needing to dig out the thermals for several outdoor Christmas shopping events during December. I've also been developing some Christmas flavours and have come up with four chocolates that I'm really pleased with. Last year I came up with a Port & Stilton truffle, inspired by a chocolate and stilton tart I'd had at a friend's dinner party but I hadn't got the balance quite right and the stilton was a little overpowering, so I've revisited the quantities and come up with something a little more subtle on the stilton. Stilton works really well with dark chocolate, so that's encased in a dark chocolate shell. Inspired by another friend's suggestion I came up with a Christmas Pudding truffle. This one contains dark malt extract to give it the treacly molasses character, so not one for the coeliacs unfortunately but on special request I can whip up a batch without the malt. I've used hollow truffle shells and topped them with a white chocolate blob and a holly leaf transfer so they look like tiny Christmas puds! I then came up with a Mulled Wine truffle, which was quite tricky to balance as there are a lot of flavours in there. I was expecting the syrup to work better with dark chocolate, but surprisingly it was the milk chocolate which produced the best results. Finally I created a Sloe Gin truffle in white chocolate. I wanted to use a star-shaped mould, but the shape meant that there was too much chocolate and not enough filling meaning we lost the subtle Sloe Gin flavours, so instead we've gone for a simple rectangle.  

25 September 2012

Dan's come up with a great idea for generating more sponsorship money for his racing. He's been promoting sponsorship packages through GoFundMe, but has refreshed the packages available. Now, everyone gets a box of Choctails and everyone who supports Dan to a minimum of £50 will be entitled to send their picture or logo to dan@danwellsracing.co.uk to be used on Dan's front wing at the Championship deciding round in Sepang on December 8th, supporting Wings for Life UK. There are also simulator sessions available. Check it out at www.gofundme.com/wellsfrontwings.  

24 September 2012

Well, what a weekend that was!! Last Thursday we flew to Singapore just for the weekend, as you do. We arrived early Friday morning, Singapore time, midnight UK time. As all the race action falls into line with Europe, we decided to try and keep as close to UK time as possible, so we got a few hours sleep before we set out to the circuit. Major panic of the day was that my chocolates were still showing as being in transit, so I had to wait until 8am UK time to start chasing the boxes. I was told that they were in Singapore and with the local delivery company, due to be delivered today. That was a relief to hear. Today we weren't focussing on promoting chocolates. We'd been given 2 Paddock Club tickets so we were going to enjoy some top-class hospitality. The food was good and the champagne flowed freely. However we were a little upset when, with 30 minutes of FP1 left, we were ushered to our table for dinner. The pitlane walk was fun. We got to wave to the Williams engineers, who looked as if they were in for a long night. We also got to meet Pastor Maldonado and Bruno Senna and a little further down the pitlane was a photo opportunity with Sir Jackie Stewart. On Saturday we were up early and went for a swim before going to the circuit. We were spending today and tomorrow at Wooloomooloo Steak House, overlooking turn 9 of the circuit and promoting our Singapore Slings. We made a minor detour to the Long Bar at the Raffles Hotel to sample their Singapore Slings first. Raffles Slings The 2 days were spent with our tame racing driver, Dan Wells and his gorgeous girlfriend Kerrie Stack. We consumed more red meat and wine than was healthy for us, and enjoyed some great racing. The chocolates proved very popular, and opinion swung from white to dark throughout the weekend. The dark chocolate slings just nudged ahead in the end, but we'll continue to make the white ones available on special request. Sadly the hospitality venue wasn't a sell-out as we were promised, so we ended up with a box of chocolates spare, which we didn't really want to transport home ... No problem. We stood by the circuit gate and handed them out to people as they left, getting Dan to sign the accompanying flyer. A crazy half hour, which we'll all remember for many years to come. Race done, we grabbed a few hours sleep and then headed home.

18 September 2012

In between making Singapore Slings, assembling boxes and packing chocolates, I've also been keeping up an appearance at local farmers markets. There's a new market in Thorrington on the second Saturday of each month and Saturday 8th was our first one. There was a steady stream of curiosity and we all had a good morning's business. The venue is in the car park of the Red Lion pub, so there were hot breakfasts available as well. We'll be moving into the Village Hall during the winter months, but we'll be back at the Red Lion on 13 October. I'm planning on having hot chocolate on the stall by then to combat the autumnal chill though! Saturday 15th was Wivenhoe Farmers Market. A few people braved the outdoors option, but most of us elected to be back inside this month. Much as it was a wonderfully sunny day, there's a bit of a chill in the air in the mornings now, and the wind was a bit ferocious, which could have meant a major gazebo disaster. We had a good morning and a few new flavours on taste, including Gin o'clock and Brandywine snifters. I've recently purchased a 5litre vacuum jug so that I can have hot chocolate on the stall during the winter, and particularly for late-night shopping events in December. So on Sunday we were testing it out at home. I made up a batch of hot chocolate in the morning and we discovered it was still hot several hours later - not that I'm planning on still having any left after that long, but it does mean I won't have to make it right at the last minute. Hot Choctails will available soon! Next week I've got 3 events to prepare for; Brightlingsea farmers market on Thursday 27th, Frinton farmers market on Friday 28th and the Colne School Fun Day and Car Show on Saturday 29th, so I've got a busy few days of chocolate making ahead.  

11 September 2012

And the Slings are done... It's been a lot of fun over the last 10 days and I'm going to miss the intensity, but there's a large amount of relief in the knowledge that I can relax the pace a little. My typical days have gone something like this: Singapore Slings Dark Chocolate TankI set up the melting tank the night before and set the timer switch to come on around 3am in order to bring the chocolate to a temperature of 45°C for 8am. Once the breakfast routines are all done I clean down the kitchen and get all my equipment ready so that as soon as everyone's left the house for their respective work, college and school I can begin to temper the chocolate.   At 45oC the chocolate is in an unstable condition and won't set to give the lovely snap of tempered chocolate, so I need to temper it to get it to the state where it gives the required snap, shine and retraction. The tempering process takes me around 30 minutes; sometimes longer if the kitchen is too warm or too humid. Singapore Sling ShellsOnce I'm happy with my chocolate I can fill the moulds. The moulds are filled completely and agitated to bring any air bubbles to the surface, then tipped upside down to let the chocolate drain out. This leaves a coating of chocolate in the moulds, which I now need to leave to set.   Singapore Sling White FillWhilst I'm doing that I use my table-top tempering machine to prepare the chocolate for the fillings.   Using tempered chocolate in the filling gives the chocolate a longer shelf life and a much smoother filling. The table top is only good for small quantities of chocolate, but it does all the hard work for me and simply beeps at each critical stage to tell me I need to either add chocolate or remove any un-melted chocolate. Once the filling chocolate is tempered I add the syrup for the filling, which I've pre-mixed and it's all ready to be piped into the chocolate-covered moulds. The filled Singapore Sling cases Once the filling is firm enough I can then close the chocolate with another layer of chocolate over the top and place a patterned transfer sheet over the chocolate, which gives the underside of the chocolate a patterned finish. For these chocolates I've gone with a chequered flag pattern on the dark chocolates and the white chocolates have Dan's helmet colours.
Singapore Sling Chocolates boxed and ready for export to Singapore Whilst I wait for the final layer of chocolate to set I can clear up ready to make my next batch of chocolates. And then it's the moment of truth, tipping the chocolates out of the mould. I get occasional days when the chocolate isn't properly tempered meaning the chocolates are quite stubborn to de-mould, but it's a wonderful feeling to tip out a tray of fresh, shiny chocolates. Singapore Slings Dark Boxed Singapore Slings ready for ExportAnd now we're ready to box up the chocolates.   I was extremely pleased with our branded lids. I had an 'oh wow' moment when I opened the box. They arrive flat-packed, so we've had a number of evenings in front of the telly assembling our boxes. Chcotails Singpore Slings Boxed Choctails Singapore Slings boxed and packaged before shipment to SingaporeBut finally we're all packed and ready to ship to Singapore.  

4 September 2012

Ruth Hinks Showpiece Sculpture I spent yesterday at Olympia, at the Speciality Fine Food Fair. The main reason for my going was that they were holding the UK heats of the World Chocolate Masters, which was fascinating to watch. On Sunday the 4 contestants had created their showpiece (Ruth Hinks showpiece is pictured above and Alastair Birt's showpiece is pictured below).For the remaining two days they had a number of tasks to complete, including truffle-making and producing a layered cake to some quite tough specifications. The results looked stunning. The eventual winner was Ruth Hinks, owner of CocoaBlack, who now goes on to represent the UK at the world finals in Paris. Alistair Birt Showpiece Sculpture This evening I was back in London for an evening at the Paralympic Games, which was a fantastic and very humbling experience. The evening culminated in David Weir taking gold in the 1500m which, had there been a roof to raise, we would have raised it with our cheers. Tomorrow, it's back to the Singapore Slings.  

2 September 2012

I'm finally home and able to catch up with the Grand Prix and enjoy a glass of wine. We've had a mixed week. Thursday's market was very quiet. We had a reasonable morning, but nothing spectacular. Saturday morning in Rowhedge was similar. The Great Bentley town show is probably not something I'd go back to. The village green is the largest in the country and there were scores of stalls there, but mostly cheap and cheerful. We did get a few people come to find us who'd seen us before, which cheered me up, but I was fed up before I even started. Someone had pitched themselves in the spot I was supposed to be in and so I was allocated their spot instead. Normally, I wouldn't grumble about things like that, but instead of having my back to the sun and able to put up the screen to keep it out, I had the sun streaming straight in so spent the afternoon trying to move things around and keep the chocolates from getting scorched and ruined. Luckily there was some cloud cover, so it wasn't as bad as it could have been. The afternoon's takings were okay, but I was more than ready to pack up at the end. Today's car show was good fun. We seem to have a good following in Brightlingsea and our space dust squares go down a storm. These were created purely by accident. I'd bought some popping candy to add to the champagne based Choctails - Bucks Fizz, Kir Royale and Mixed Doubles - to try and give them a bit of a "fizz" but the results weren't great; the fillings were too wet for the candy when soft enough to be piped so the candy popped to leave a grittiness to the chocolate instead of the desired fizz. So instead I mix the candy in to our various different types of chocolate in little square moulds and they go down a treat; so much so that today we sold out. And as a bonus we got to see some wonderful classic cars.  

27 August 2012

Brightlingsea Town Show today. After a quiet start we were busy all day. Although the show didn't officially open until 12:15, we were encouraged to set up early to catch people heading to the beach. So instead of having a nice lie-in on a bank holiday Monday, I was pegging out my gazebo. We had some repeat customers who'd seen us at Brightlingsea Regatta and had come back for more, as well as meeting a lot of new faces, a number of them with some really useful advice and ideas. We've got several events towards the end of this week. Thursday is my first Brightlingsea farmers market. Saturday is my first Rowhedge farmers market in the morning and Great Bentley town show in the afternoon, and Sunday is the Brightlingsea Classic Car show. I hope it's worth missing the Grand Prix for!!  

20 August 2012

We've done the R&D on the Singapore Sling. It's quite a complex balancing act as there are a number of distinctive flavours in the cocktail, but it definitely didn't work with milk chocolate. It worked beautifully with both white and dark chocolate, and worked really well with mixing both types of chocolate, so we now have a problem; do we have a dark filling in a white shell or a white filling in a dark shell? I made up a test batch of each, and we still couldn't work out which was the best. As soon as I tried the dark chocolate I thought that was the one, but then I tried the white chocolate and that was just as good. So we have a plan. We're going to make both, and take them to Singapore and let the people decide.  

18 August 2012

Wivenhoe farmers market moved outdoors today, on account of the fantastic weather. The only downside was that I didn't have the gazebo with me, but I managed to find a nice shady spot under a tree and kept the chocolates out of the sunshine. We had a couple of repeat customers today, which was a wonderful ego boost and we had our best day at Wivenhoe yet. Our next event is not until Bank Holiday Monday, but after that we've got a busy couple of weeks, so next week I'll be trying to get ahead with the chocolate novelties and lollipops.  

15 August 2012

Yesterday evening we met with David Madgwick of BAM Motorsport Promotions. An opportunity came up to be a one-off sponsor to Dan Wells at the Singapore GP, where he's hoping to race Formula BMW as part of the support races. We met Dan last December when he and Simon raced in the same team at the Dan Wheldon Memorial Kart Race in Milton Keynes, organised by Johnny Mowlem. Dan impressed us with his enthusiasm for racing and his professional approach, and we've kept in touch with him ever since, trying to help him further his motor racing career. This year Dan is racing in the Formula Pilota China Series for KCMG and has a good shot at the championship. The FBMW race is only a possibility, so instead, we're going to sponsor Dan for the remainder of the season, but with the opportunity to go to Singapore and promote our chocolates in one of the hospitality venues. As our range doesn't currently include a Singapore Sling, we thought this would be a great opportunity to launch a new flavour.  

13 August 2012

Having had 2 weeks away from chocolate-making I was itching to get back into the kitchen today. Working from home is more of a challenge during school holidays, so I've had to adapt my routine a little to make sure the kitchen is available at mealtimes. Our next event is Wivenhoe farmers market on Saturday morning, so I need to make a few chocolate novelties as well as a range of Choctails. Tomorrow we have a business meeting, which, if it goes well, will mean some very exciting times ahead.  

26 July 2012

This week I've mostly been investigating farmers markets. On Tuesday I went over to Witham, which has a market every other Tuesday, and discovered three stalls looking rather forlorn just outside the pound shop. As Witham is at least a 20-minute drive for me, I decided it's too far out of my way for what looks like very little return. I had my suspicions confirmed later in the week when I chatted to someone who'd had a stall there just once and told me that if she'd been to see it beforehand she wouldn't have bothered. Thursday was much more productive. Brightlingsea have a market on the last Thursday of every month in the local Community Centre with a reasonable footfall, so I'll be there from August onwards to try and build up sales in time for Christmas. Whilst there I heard of a new market being set up in Thorrington from September, so we're also going to have a stall there to see how that one pans out. With a new market there's often a good influx of curiosity for the first few months, so it will be good to get in at the beginning. I also heard of a number of additional events coming up in the local area where I could potentially have a stall. All I need to do is work out which events would be most beneficial and then book my spot. But first, I'm going on holiday for a few days. We've planned a 10-day road trip around Europe, taking in Venice and Monaco as our main destinations. I'm looking forward to discovering Venice for the first time and seeing Monaco without any Grand Prix paraphernalia.  

21 July 2012

We had another reasonable day at Wivenhoe Farmers Market this morning. Simon deputised for me whilst I spent the weekend in Yorkshire with some of my old classmates at our 25 year reunion. As the market coincided with Wivenhoe's annual regatta, we had pirate lollipops and sea salt caramels on promotion. The market was quieter than usual and we put that down to the great weather drawing everyone down to the waterfront early. Simon did a great job of standing in for me whilst I was working on Sunday's hangover. It wasn't all frivolity for me, though, as one of my old classmates is a wedding planner based in Spain, so I was promoting my 2-box chocolates with a view to getting on their preferred supplier list for wedding favours.  

11 July 2012

I discovered I'd made the centre pages of yesterday's edition of our local evening Gazette as part of their coverage of the Brightlingsea Regatta round-up... Despite them spelling my name wrong, I was rather excited to see myself in print for the first time.  

9 July 2012

Whew, what a weekend!! On Friday evening I had a stall at Broomgrove School's annual Summer Fair. It rained most of the day, and I'd loaded the car up nice and early. The sun came out about an hour before I was due to go and set up, so when I unpacked I realised I'd made a slight error in getting the chocolate into the car early. Luckily I'd only lost the centrepiece to my Wimbledon display, which I wasn't planning on selling, and two of the chocolates in my display box had stuck themselves to the protective clingfilm, so only a minor setback as opposed to a complete disaster. We were reasonably busy throughout the evening. The strawberries and cream tennis lollipops were a winner, and the orange and lemon chocolates were a real talking point. We had a few chocolates melt in the late evening sunshine, but I wasn't going to complain that the rain had finally stopped. Saturday and Sunday I had a stall at Brightlingsea Regatta. I had a spot in the car park of the Coach House Coffee shop, and Alex kept us supplied with very welcome mugs of tea at regular intervals. Saturday was a wonderfully sunny day, bringing the crowds out. The squares of chocolate mixed with popping candy proved an instant hit with everyone and the moulded chocolate lollipops were very popular. We're getting more comfortable with thrusting flyers into the hands of unsuspecting passers-by and encouraging complete strangers to taste the various samples of Choctails we've brought with us. Sunday brought the rain back. I was in two minds as to whether I should go or not, but I wasn't going to sell anything sitting at home, and if I was there, there's always a chance someone might want to buy chocolate. Setting up the stall whilst the rain lashed down, I had Thin Lizzy's 'Dedication' running through my head. We debated for the first couple of hours as to whether anyone was going to turn up at all, but the rain eased off a little and a few people braved the weather. By 2 o'clock, however, we gave up. Most people were at home on a warm, dry sofa with a glass of something cheeky, and either the tennis or the British Grand Prix for company, and I had a strong desire to be one of them. We'd made a few sales, so it hadn't been a complete waste of time, but thank heavens for Jane Barker who needed a last minute birthday present and made my morning worthwhile and my weekend sales exceed the target I'd set myself.  

16 June 2012

I was reasonably pleased with my first market. It's a long time since I've been involved in any kind of selling, so I was a little nervous at the outset, but Simon had come along to help me set up and settle my nerves at the beginning. I exceeded the sales target I'd set myself, so all in all, a good morning. I've now got a better idea as to how to set out my stall. Putting everything out at once meant people had too much choice, and other than having a Full Monty out for display purposes, I'm not sure it's worth having the boxes on show. I also need to have more varieties available to sample to cater for a wider range of tastes. The market itself is quite small and well established, which means that most of the people who come along are wanting to purchase from one or two specific stalls, and don't take the time to browse the rest. I was also a new face, and whilst that gave me the curiosity factor, people generally want to buy from the familiar stall holders. I picked up a number of suggestions and tips from the other stall holders on which other markets to exhibit at and I've agreed to have a stall at the Brightlingsea Regatta in July as this is planned to be a large event over a weekend. And now that's done, I can settle in and relax with the 24 hours of Le Mans and a beer or two.   divider

15 June 2012

Tomorrow is my first Wivenhoe Farmer's Market. I thought long and hard about what to take with me and decided to take one of each size of the boxed varieties, plus three of The Full Monty, one of which I've covered in cling-film to use as a display box to give people an idea of what my chocolates look like. With the bagged chocolates I've decided to showcase 4 chocolates - Raspberry Beret, B-52 and Strawberry Daiquiri as 3 of our most popular chocolates, and also Whisky Galore, with it being Fathers' Day weekend. I've got samples of all of these for people to taste and 5 bags of each of the 10 and 15 sizes for each chocolate. For all my other varieties I've prepared one 10-bag and one 15-bag. In making all of that, I've got enough for 10 bags of each size of misfits as I still have the odd day where things just don't go right. Everything is packed up and ready to go, so all I need to do is sell some chocolate. divider

3 June 2012

Queen's Diamond Jubilee - The Big Lunch So in-between the commercial chocolate making I found a use for some of those truffle shells I'd bought: This was the centrepiece to our "Big Lunch" barbecue for our friends and neighbours. Firstly I mapped out a grid template and overlaid that on a picture of the flag, then highlighted each square with the appropriate colour to work out how many of each colour I'd need. I'd filled the shells with caramel fill and caramel truffles and then airbrushed them with coloured cocoa butter. It took our minds off the rain for a while.  

19 May 2012

Today was Wivenhoe Farmers' Market, so I went along to have a look, with a view to having a stall there in future months. It's quite a small market, but there are a few locals trickling in throughout the morning, and I've got to start somewhere, so I booked my spot for next month. It's the day before Father's Day, so I might manage to sell a few last-minute gifts for dads. It's difficult to know what will sell, if anything, so I need to think carefully about what to take with me. This means I've got four weeks to make as much chocolate as I can. I think my tweeting may have to take a back seat for a few days.  

4 May 2012

We are now registered at Companies House. Choctails Ltd is official.  

25 April 2012

Today was my visit from Environmental Health to check if my kitchen was fit for purpose. I have to admit to thinking it was going to be rather scary and I'd end up having to refit the kitchen at huge expense. However, everything went smoothly. The kitchen is fine as chocolate-making is low-risk. I've been advised to contact Trading Standards for advice on labelling my chocolates, and I was recommended to get my Level 2 Food Hygiene certificate, which I duly did online this afternoon. The certificate is winging its way to me right now. All in all, a very productive day.   divider

17 April 2012

My birthday. I even made a cake. No candles, just 43 caramel cups on top of a chocolate-covered sponge. divider

30 March 2012

Well, they say if life hands you lemons, then you should make lemonade (actually, I think we'd be more likely to make Limoncello), and if work offers you voluntary redundancy you should take it as a sign to get your business up and running. That's what happened to me a week ago as part of a departmental restructure. I was given a few days to make my decision, but I'd almost decided by the end of the meeting that I was going to invest my redundancy package in Choctails and try to get the business off the ground. Firstly, however, we've got a few days planned in the Lake District, one of our favourite parts of the country. I'm looking forward to blowing some cobwebs away and shaking the dust of the daily London commute out of my hair. Here's to pastures new :-)

27 February 2012

I've had a busy few weeks since the chocolate course. I purchased a chocolate holding tank and a set of polycarbonate moulds. I've been using silicone moulds up until now, but I discovered the polycarbonate ones give a much better sheen to the chocolate and they are much easier to work with, saving a lot of time when making quantities of a chocolate. I've also developed a few new flavours. Having worked with fruit purees on the chocolate course I developed a truffle based on the Hurricane cocktail, which is passion fruit and rum. I also played around with a Long Island Iced Tea filling. The cocktail is Simon's favourite and contains five different spirits as well as lemon juice and cola, so balancing the flavours proved to be too tricky. We had a fun tasting session though. When I develop a new flavour we first mix the cocktail and then taste it with milk, white and then dark chocolate to see which works best. That gives me the basis for the filling. Then it's a case of balancing that flavour with the chocolate shell. Sometimes the flavours just lend themselves to a particular type of chocolate; sometimes it's a case of tasting, and tasting again, and again ... I tried using some pre-made chocolate shells but I wasn't entirely keen on the chocolate they'd used in the majority of them; the flavour wasn't quite right due to the grade of chocolate they are made with. Unfortunately they have to be purchased in large quantities, so I'll need to find innovative ways of using these up over the next few months. I did find that the dark chocolate teacups I bought work really well with a mocha filling, however.  

10 February 2012

Just over a year ago, I'd begun to toy with the idea of turning my hobby of making chocolates into a business. My stepson Charlie had taken a selection of my truffles with him to his work experience placement and came back with some wonderful compliments, which led me to purchase my first table-top tempering machine. Since then I've worked on expanding my range of chocolates and improving my techniques and I've received some good feedback from friends and family. I had my birthday present 2 months early this year. Simon, my husband, booked me onto a chocolate course with the Callebaut Chocolate Academy in Banbury and it's been a fantastic couple of days. I was taken right back to basics. Much as I'd taught myself how to temper chocolate through books, online videos and troubleshooting sites, I still haven't been able to get great results every time. Pouring chocolate into cold moulds doesn't help the chocolate set quicker, as I'd previously thought; it shocks the chocolate and doesn't give it the proper retraction allowing it to un-mould easily, if at all ("ahhhhh," I said, enlightened). Pre-brushing the mould helps get the chocolate into the nooks and crannies which means less chance of air bubbles and a more attractive finished product (Note to self: buy some new paint brushes when I get home). Over the last two days we've made moulded chocolates, dipped pralines, hollow figures and chocolate lollipops and my techniques have improved dramatically. My biggest problem was transporting everything home on the train ... Actually, that was my second biggest problem; my biggest problem was having to go back to my day job on Thursday when all I wanted to do was gaze into a tank of chocolate ...

Hilary Delamare

Choctails® was founded by husband and wife team Simon and Hilary Delamare. Simon's suggestion of putting cocktail flavours into chocolate took Hilary's chocolate-making hobby to new heights, until in May 2012, the decision was made to turn the hobby into a full time business. The domestic kitchen became a production factory by day, and the dining room was given up to become a place where hand-made chocolate is crafted

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