We get in the mood for Easter and learn a thing or two at Zara’s Chocolates
Walking past Zara’s Chocolates is something we do on the way to work every single day, and it’s a rare day when we can muster the self-control not to stop for a chocspresso (enlivening shot of richest, single origin Haitian hot chocolate – just try it, okay?)
Something we’ve been promising ourselves for a while, though, is a morning at one of their workshops, so with Easter imminent, we popped in to try a spot of truffle making.
Tearing our eyes away from the pretty confectionery displays and inhaling deeply to take in the different aromas, complemented by those from Ivory Flowers – the florist that shares the space and serves to double its beauty factor – we’re told about this leading city chocolatier’s beginnings by the incredibly affable Zara herself. A lifelong chocoholic, she started out exhibiting her delicious home experiments at the likes of the Tobacco Factory Sunday market before finding a permanent home on North Street in 2013 and growing into an award-winning business while keeping production on a small scale and continuing to make everything by hand.
As well as a figure moulding and decoration class, there’s a tempering masterclass where students are taught the process of heating and cooling chocolate under controlled temperatures on the shop’s cool marble worktops, in order to achieve the correct crystal alignment; avoid any pesky powdery white residue on the finished product; and give the glossy shine, crisp snap and smooth mouth feel coveted by and required of all the best in the business. (Zara has found the plasterers of Bristol to be naturally very good at this technique – apparently they use similar tools!)
But we’re here to learn the art of hand-rolled truffles, so first we set about making a ganache filling by heating up a measure of double cream and mixing it into some Fairtrade Belgian chocolate chips until melted. Then, over at the flavour counter, we umm and ahh over combinations for far too long – with everything from gingerbread to grapefruit, Kirsch and champagne to rosemary and thyme, can you blame us? – before eventually opting for one of our favourite types of Caribbean rum, Mount Gay, and tangerine. After mixing a few teaspoons of rum and several droplets of the orange, and taste testing (very necessary) until both notes are shining through, we spoon it all into a piping bag and fill a tray of truffle shells with the mixture, being careful not to leave any air pockets in any of the shells.
With the back of a spoon, Zara demonstrates how to gently seal the truffles with some plain melted chocolate, and we finish off the rest of the tray in our much less neat manner. Then, once they’re set after a few minutes, we drop them into another bowl of liquid chocolate to give them a final coating and make sure they have a nice spherical shape. All that’s then left to do is shake off the excess chocolate and either roll the truffles in our first chosen decoration – coconut flakes – or drop them, still plain, onto the sheet of cellophane Zara sets out on the worktop. For the latter, we pick out some dried raspberry pieces and powder and gently scatter over the top of the truffles.
While our decorating skills leave something to be desired – the raspberry powder, in particular, could have been dusted over a tad more delicately – we’ve not done too badly for first-timers. Nor in the flavour stakes, with the rum really discernible and packing a nice little punch, permeated by the fruity citrus cutting through.
Another thing we love about Zara’s is how fresh the chocolates are always guaranteed to be because they’re all preservative free. And while that means they have a shorter shelf life than some chocolates, that’s never going to be a problem for us…