I shunned restaurants this week, devoting myself instead to chocolate. I tasted cookies, mousse (is the plural mousses? It's clearly not mice), tarts, hot drinks and sauce. And then I judged a new chocolate competition before judging I'd eaten enough chocolate and should lay off the stuff for a while.
There is often debate about whether cookies or brownies are the better chocolate vehicle (well you might be debating Ukraine, Russia, sanctions or pension annuities but where I operate we get our priorities right) and having drawn swords and fought tirelessly among ourselves (that is the team of Waitrose Kitchen) we feared that there would be no resolution. But then step forward one Myles Williamson, the able assistant of our food editor Eleanor Maidment.
While we bickered on the subject - cookies offer crunch which means they are superior versus brownies offering softness which makes them preferable - he gently rose up and urged us to hush. The ACAS in him then offered the following solution. 'If you like brownies,' he said addressing the brownie-loving contingent,' and you,' he added turning to the others, 'love cookies, and you,' he said addressing myself, 'love both', then you should be united. You shall have both. I shall create a thing that is both brownie and cookie.'
Well you can imagine how that went down. With some serious scoffs, I can tell you. It would be like a janitor (apologies to Myles) offering a solution to a Putin/Obama Ukraine crisis summit as the two men went for a pee between failing talks.
But then a couple of hours later and Myles invited us into the test kitchen. And there they were, freshly warm from the oven; chocolate brownie cookies which were crisp and crackled on the outside and soft and fluffy in the middle.
We were aghast with admiration. As we were when later he turned out a hot chocolate which he had pimped with a vanilla pod, a spoonful of Horlicks and the vaguest whisper of cinnamon. And he threw in some cocoa-flecked marshmallows for added kudos. Actually it was almost too much. It was like Churchill delivering his 'fight-them-on-the-beaches' speech and then doing a vertical wongbanger down a half-pipe snowboarding course.
But then, just as I was running out of metaphors Myles then went further, delivering in quick succession a flourless praline cake - dense, rich, dolloped with whipped cream, utterly amazing, if charmingly saggy in the middle (which is where you then put the cream) - and then the finest chocolate mousse I've had for a very long time. He used unsalted butter, which added some extra smoothness, and he claimed it only took him a few minutes to rustle it up before chilling (the mousse, not him).
I was about to criticise the mousse so he'd have to make it again, but he now knows that trick and brought out some extras he had made to both embarrass and keep me happy. (Try all these recipes yourself, they'll be in the April issue of Waitrose Kitchen magazine - or on the ipad App)
I didn't think I'd be able to taste more chocolate but professional duties called as I cycled to the Boffi showroom in South Kensington - an old disco/car park I gather - where dozens had gathered for the inaugural Godiva Chocolate Challenge.
There were four of us judges, including Mark Hix, who has a fine palate and a generous nature as he had agreed to put the winning recipe on the menu at his restaurant in Selfridge's.
The competition had called for members of the public to submit their recipes where chocolate was the hero ingredient. A shortlist was drawn up and four amateur cooks then had to cook up those dishes on the night.
First a girl called Natasha Cohen produced a heart-shaped moussey type cake, that was not moussey enough and too cakey (my professional view). Then Danny Kingston - a chirpy blogger (FoodUrchin) who turns up everywhere, including on telly in adverts for dishwasher tablets - created a tart filled with delicious chocolate. Amid the chocolate were small chopped up bits of bacon, which actually almost worked, had they been a little crisp. And had his pastry been better cooked, he might have won. As might Victoria Glass if she had browned the chopped up nuts that clung to her praline mousse cake. The latter being just right this time in its balance of mousse and cake.
But Heather Bennett's conference of chocolate stole the show. It was a spoon's tasty amble through a garden of sorbet, pear, crumble and dark, high cocoa-content mousse (or was it ganache?). Clever and accomplished and as good a dish as a respected pastry chef would deliver she took the top prize. And soon you'll be able to eat her dish at Hix Restaurant in Selfridge's. If enough people like it Mark might keep it on the menu for good.Suggest a correction