“A day without chocolate is like a day without sunshine.”
2-5 October 2014
A day without chocolate is like a day without sunshine.
This is the conclusion I have reached after years of failed attempts at abstinence from this irresistible elixir of the gods.
It is my new credo, especially now when the evenings are beginning to draw in, the days to grow mellow and misty, and the sun to turn his favours to the south. The trees are ablaze with vivid autumnal flame, and candles are lit to brighten the winter’s looming darkness.
Now is the time of year to indulge in the delirious richness of chocolate, and the promise of warmth and comfort conjured by its aroma – not to mention the mood-enhancing lift it imparts. This was a secret too potent for the Maya and the Aztecs to keep to themselves for long. (History of chocolate: Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chocolate .)
It was with this promise in mind that I set out in the autumnal chill, the streets a-scatter with leafy confetti, for the cavernous Stockholmsmässan (indoor fair) at Älvsjö just south of the city. Here, for four full days, a marvelous programme of chocolate-making, competitions and baking was taking place. With tempting banners such as Vem bakar godaste Kladdkaken? (Who bakes the tastiest sticky chocolate cake?) International Celebrities, The North’s Meeting Place for Sweet Temptations, who could resist?
Kladdkaka is one of Sweden’s signature and best-loved cakes, “with infinite variations” – according to the brochure. It is a sweet, gooey, dark chocolatey delight, best served warm with whipped cream. (Recipe below.)
Ballerinakakor (Ballerina biscuits) have also become an indispensable tradition; “No-one goes sailing in the archipelago without their Ballerina biscuits!”, Zoë informed me this past summer. These biscuits are sold in every supermarket in Sweden, in the customary roll packaging.
Swedish Kladdkaka Ballerina biscuits
Once I arrived at Älvsjö Station, I followed the crowds – and my nose – to the main entrance of the Mässa.
Here I met up with friends Jessica and Lucy, and we headed first to the chocolate fountains, where, I had learned on previous occasions, one can buy six dipping items such as marshmallows for Kr.20, and submerge them in a choice of six different flavours: dark chocolate, milk, white, orange, lime and liquorice. (Sadly no strawberries this year.)
The widest variety of flavours was offered by Hyr en Choklanfontän.se – “Sweden’s biggest range, Sweden’s best prices!” Their only competition this year was Gottes Fun Food (www.gottes.se ), who, apart from a few chocolate fountains for dipping
marshmallows, also offered popcorn, slush, donuts, cupcakes, ice-cream, crêpes, waffles, and snow cones. (“Like us on Facebook”.)
GOTTES FUN FOOD HYR EN CHOKLADFONTÄN.SE
The baking section was abuzz with eager aspirant bakers, offering demonstrations titled “Confectioner’s Tricks”, “Become a better home baker”, “Lunch baking”, “Fika bread without gluten”, “Bubbling sour dough” and “Children’s chocolate cake”. Prizes were awarded to winners in a competition, with the dénouement a chocolate cake-baking race!
Low tables and stools were strategically placed by Odense Marsipan, so the children could try their hands at modeling pastel-coloured marzipan into shapes and animals, with an illustrated leaflet and friendly young girls to guide them. It was delightful to watch the children enjoying this simple pastime, small blond heads seriously bent to the task. Their website offers tantalizingly gorgeous cakes and recipes: www.odense-marcipan.se.
An illustrated brochure listed the “Festival Favourites”: marzipan strawberries, “Liquorice School with flingsalt” (flake salt), honey nougat from Maxim’s in Paris, Icelandic godis
(candies), Delicatobollar (chocolate balls made by Delicato), handmade truffles, the aforementioned chocolate fountains, and vanilla pods from Tahiti.
Sweden’s flagship dairy company, Arla, also had a stall, Arla Köket (The Arla Kitchen), offering booklets with recipes for frosted chocolate-carrot muffins, chocolate cake with Polly (Polly candies), cashews and cream cheese swirl, lemon cake with almonds and lemon icing, and cheesecake – using their dairy products, of course. And another booklet with a variety of kladdkaka recipes using pecans, cranberries, mini marshmallows, blueberries, liquorice and raspberries. To convince prospective customers they offered little paper plates of kladdkaka for us to taste; they were preaching to the helplessly converted.
I collected cards from various stalls that appealed, including Idérika, which offers “chocolate experiences with praline-making for private persons and company events”, and Délices de France Stockholm (Konsumentvägen 8A) – French delicacies, wine and “good presents” online (www.delicesdefrance.se ).
En liten Smula (literally “A Little Crumb, or Piece”), an attractively-decorated stall run by two charming ladies, was where we at last found large plump strawberries (Kr 10 a piece) to dip into their chocolate fountain. Sundsta Säteri also offered us a bowl of fläderchoklad (flavoured with the refreshing tang of elderberries) with which she fills her crusted chocolate balls. “Let it melt in your mouth”, she advised, “So that you can savour the flavour”. Unable to resist this innovation, I bought a packet to take home to share with Peter. She also sells decadently rich kladdkakor, topped with plump pink roses.
En Liten Smula
The Ecuador counter was there again, with beautiful displays of cocoa pods, chocolate beans, nibs for tasting, and brochures about this country, well-known as the principal supplier of the world’s finest chocolate. Well-illustrated maps, locating Ecuador on the north-west coast of South America, indicate the principal cocoa-growing areas of the country (capital: Quito.)
Cocoa tree Inside a cocoa pod
Ecuador’s “black gold” – not oil (the country’s other chief export) – but cocoa, is grown in the north near the border with Colombia. This is a hot and humid area in the Amazonian rain forest, flanking the Equator. Like most agricultural crops, the flavour of the paste extracted from the beans, named “Nacional” and “Arriba”, reflects the areas where the beans are grown. Archeological research has revealed that cocoa has been grown in this country for thousands of years. The Conquistadors discovered it here during the 16th century and introduced it to Europe. Fine chocolatiers such as Lindt, Nestlé and Kallari have been availing themselves of this desirable export ever since.
And this interesting information comes from a BBC News website: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-22733002 :
* It takes six months for cocoa beans to ripen. Harvests take place twice a year.
*The beans, which are covered in a white pulp, are removed from the pods.
* The beans are put into large heaps and covered up to ferment. This takes about a week, and is when the cocoa flavour starts to develop.
* The beans are then dried for a week, then taken to the chocolate factory.
* They are then roasted, and separated from their shells in hulling machines.
* The insides of the bean, called nibs, are turned into a liquid, or chocolate liquor.
* The chocolate liquor is blended with cocoa butter, and other ingredients, and stirred for several hours.
* The resulting thick mixture emerges, and is poured into bar-shaped containers.
* The bars are now ready to be packaged and eaten, about four days after the cocoa beans reached the factory.
There is a chocolate-themed tour of Ecuador, information here supplied by Insight Guides: http://www.insightguides.com/inspire-me/blog/chocolate-tour-of-ecuador.
There was an enormous range of chocolate craft on display – and for tasting – at the Festival, from truffles to cones of chocolates in various flavours, and small cakes.
I savoured what is indisputably the most delicious fruit of the tropics that afternoon – and will do so again next year when the Stockholmsmässan once more hosts this popular autumn event.
Swedish Kladdkaka (Sticky Chocolate Cake)
PREP: 10 mins, COOK: 35 mins, READY IN: 1 hr 45 mins
½ cup flour
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder 2 eggs
1 1/3 cups white sugar
½ cup melted butter A pinch of salt
Preheat oven to 300 degrees F (150 degrees C). Lightly grease an 8-inch pie dish.
Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, and salt; set aside. Stir the eggs into the sugar until the mixture is smooth. Add the dry ingredients, and stir just until combined.
Pour in the vanilla extract and butter; stir until well combined. Pour into prepared pie dish.
Bake on the lower rack of the preheated oven for 35 minutes, or until the center has slightly set.
Allow cake to cool for 1 hour in the pie dish.
Serve warm, or refrigerate overnight and serve cold.