Every so often, life has a way of throwing lovely little surprises at you, completely out of the blue that make your day utterly magical. I’d say a trip to a chocolate factory definitely comes under that category…
Despite my invitation coming via email and not a golden ticket as is customary in fairy tales, I was just as excited to visit Davenports‘ chocolate factory later that day.
My reason for visiting? I was invited to one of their must-not-miss chocolate masterclasses. With my camera in hand, I jumped in the car and drove to Davenports’ HQ in Gateshead where I was greeted by the very lovely Charlie and invited into her chocolate factory for the evening.
As we crossed the threshold into the wonderful world of Davenports chocolates, we were greeted by the unmistakable sweet scent of chocolate…
…But not before being fitted with a rather fetching blue hairnet and plastic apron. Our hostess for the evening was Charlie, one of the chocolatiers at Davenports who gave us the grand tour and passed round a box of peanut butter and salted caramel chocolates to tempt our taste buds. Despite Charlie’s clear talent (and convenient name for a chocolatier), Davenports is the brainchild of Jane Williams (nee Davenport) who trained with Master Chocolatiers Bernard and Philippe Burger at their Swiss Patisserie in Marlow.
Charlie wasted no time in telling us eager students how to temper chocolate, the result being far more scientific than I had ever imagined. As Charlie explained, tempering chocolate is a process of adding stable, crystallised chocolate to an already melted mixture to make the chocolate more workable. She also explained that this method is often used as a replacement for a marble work surface (far too complicated Charlie added), or a cold-water bath also known as a bain-marie.
For any budding bakers looking to get creative with chocolate in the kitchen (especially thanks to the new series of TGBBO which has just started), Charlie has a few tips for you regarding temperature. Milk chocolate should be melted to around 31 degrees, dark a little higher at around 33 degrees and white, much cooler at around 29 degrees. As Charlie explained, those temperatures aren’t always exact for giving you a good base to temper your chocolate, but are useful guides the team at Davenports swear by.
After whipping up a silky chocolate ganache for us to pipe into our chocolate shells, we got our first taste of what it’s like to work in a chocolate factory. The result? Hard work. It wasn’t long before my arms started to shake after holding the piping bag for so long, my back began to ache as I bent over to survey my piping-skills and our resolve weakened as some of our delicate shells crushed under our mighty weight and not so delicate technique.
Nevertheless, we had enormous fun!
After a few more tasters, the second part of our session was dedicated to sculpting. I’ll admit, I felt pretty out of my depth when Charlie passed round a few examples which Jane had made earlier for us. Armed with a slab of chocolate paste (chocolate mixed with glucose), Charlie patiently took each of us through the steps to make our very own rose. After the initial panic, it seems we were A* students as we all handcrafted some incredible chocolate roses.
Check out my first attempt in the middle! Not too bad for a beginner, eh?
After packaging our creations, we were left to wander around the chocolate factory before heading back into the real world. My eyes darted around shelves piled high with boxes of delicious creations labelled ‘strawberry and champagne’, ‘orange cream’ and ‘mulled wine’. Their praline chocolates were by far my favourite, and I can’t wait to stock up over Christmas to give as gifts to family and friends and support this fantastic local business.
I’d like to say a big thank you to Charlie – whose patience, knowledge and friendliness made the event exceed my expectations, and of course to Davenports too for inviting me. If you’re feeling withdrawal symptoms from all the lovely food you ate during Restaurant Week then I suggest sauntering over to Davenports’ website where you can indulge yourself a little more…