Staffordshires Food and Drink Scene.

Category: Sweet Tooth

All because the lady loves… vegan chocolate

With more people than ever committing to a vegan diet, it can be hard to find indulgent treats that truly cut the mustard and are also free of animal products….

With more people than ever committing to a vegan diet, it can be hard to find indulgent treats that truly cut the mustard and are also free of animal products. Dairy free chocolate has been increasing its shelf space recently, but has often left chocolate lovers’ sweet cravings unsatiated.  

Sauce came across Chilled Angel’s dairy free chocolate truffles in Apple a Day Juice Bar in Stone, and although we’re not vegan ourselves we had to try them. The man behind this relatively new brand is Carl Hill, who has been nicknamed Chill ever since he was a child. His partner’s name is Angela, hence Chilled Angel.

Until early 2019 Carl worked in IT, although he wore many hats as a programmer, web designer and video editor for the company that employed him. He had already made his steps into the world of dairy free confectionery on Angela’s behalf.

“Angela has been vegan for years, but I couldn’t get vegan birthday cakes or things like that,” Carl explains. “If there’s a need to do something I will just make it.” 

“Vegan chocolate is generally really bad,” adds Angela. “It tends to be tasteless. Sometimes the ingredients are good – it’s healthy – but it’s awful and you’d rather not bother. Carl’s chocolate is just amazing. The only problem is, now he’s started to build the business up I don’t get any!”

Carl’s current range includes truffle style chocolates with classics like the peanut butter cup, chocolate ganache, coconut cup and cinder crunch alongside rum truffles. He also makes filled bars – strawberry creme topped with dried strawberries, peanut butter, peppermint – as well as crystallised ginger and fruit and nut bars, all using the same dark chocolate as the starting point. An enquiry about an Easter egg inspired versions filled with chocolate buttons and cinder crunch pieces. Everything he makes is gluten free as well as vegan friendly.

“It basically started with things she liked,” Carl says. “I wondered if I could put the cinder crunch flavour in a bar, and I tried the peanut butter cup in a bar too. Then I started experimenting and came up with the peppermint, the fruit and nut, and the crystallised ginger. The fruit and nut came about because they were things that were in the cupboard.”

It has taken a lot of trial and error to get to this stage, and Carl’s still working towards perfection. Some initial attempts had too low a melting point, and the moulds for the bars have to be kept bone dry to prevent any bloom – a white discoloration – on the finished product. New products are generally inspired by requests from customers and friends, and Angela of course.

“I’ll try it, then Angela tries it, and I’ll perfect it until it tastes good. I’m planning to try a version with no refined sugar, but that’s still in development. But I think at the end of the day people have chocolate because it tastes nice.”

At the moment, Carl sells his creations through the Chilled Angel website, through Etsy and on Amazon. He’s always looking for new stockists who are interested in carrying all or part of the range, and they’ll soon be available in Newcastle too. Angela has been a yogi for 15 years as well as offering holistic therapies including reiki, and is set to open Home Holistics yoga studio on Garden Street this April. 

“At the moment, Apple a Day Juice Bar and Mo’s Deli and Cider Store in Stone stock our chocolates,” adds Carl. “And Lady Rouge Tattoo Parlour on Wolstanton High Street. She tried them and said, ‘They’re amazing, I want to stock them’. And they’re flying out. It’s hard to keep up with demand. We’re also doing some vegan fairs, which is a good way to meet new people.”  

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The perfect hot chocolate

Comfort food doesn’t come in many more comforting forms than hot chocolate. For best results you should always use good quality dark chocolate with 70% cocoa solids – or more,…

Comfort food doesn’t come in many more comforting forms than hot chocolate.

For best results you should always use good quality dark chocolate with 70% cocoa solids – or more, depending on your personal taste. Treating yourself to the perfect hot chocolate is no time to be overly health conscious, and the use of a mixture of milk and cream as in this version gives the finished drink a delightfully silky mouthfeel. You can easily replace the milk and cream with coconut, almond, soy or rice milk for a vegan alternative. 

Use cinnamon, vanilla, chilli, cardamom or virtually any other flavour you can imagine to change things up, or keep it simple by adding just a pinch of salt. This will tone down any bitterness from the dark chocolate and enhance the sweetness of your drink. 

You could top your hot chocolate with marshmallows if you’re feeling extra decadent. Alternatively, add a dash of a dark spirit or cream liqueur as a grown up treat. Chocao, a cacao gin liqueur made in Staffordshire, would be the perfect partner. 

Serves 2

450ml whole milk
70g dark chocolate, finely chopped or grated
30g milk chocolate, finely chopped or grated
75ml single cream
Pinch of salt

  1. Warm a third of the milk in a saucepan over a medium heat and stir the chocolate through.
  2. Stir until the chocolate has melted into the milk, then whisk in the rest of the milk and the single cream.
  3. Continue to heat until the mixture is hot (but not boiling)  before adding the salt.
  4. Add any additional flavouring, then serve in your favourite mug.

Share photos of your chocolatey creations with us over on Instagram by tagging @staffordshiresauce or #staffordshiresauce!

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Bean-to-bar chocolate

Bean-to-bar craft chocolate is a relatively new phenomenon in the UK, and an even more recent addition to the Staffordshire food scene. The chocolate most of us are used to…

Bean-to-bar craft chocolate is a relatively new phenomenon in the UK, and an even more recent addition to the Staffordshire food scene.

The chocolate most of us are used to is mass produced and overly sweetened. But James Walter, the face behind Seed Chocolate, is here to tell you that there is a better way – for your tastebuds, for your waistline, for cacao farmers, and for the environment.

A chef for 20 years, James worked in fine dining restaurants across Europe and the UK before a back injury changed the course of his career. It was his partner that came up with the idea of making chocolate when he was told he would never work in a commercial kitchen again, and once he started investigating James became hooked.

“I thought it would be a part-time job to pay the mortgage, but it’s taken over my life,” he says. “The first year I was in rehabilitation and couldn’t walk, so to make use of my time I studied the chemistry of chocolate making, right down to the crystal structures in cocoa butter.

“I thought about chefs buying in these chocolate buttons and never questioning where they come from. We just use them. So I started sourcing my own cacao beans and making chocolate from scratch.”

The year that followed was one of trials and tribulations, negotiating a sharp learning curve and some extreme temperatures. Working from home, James had to make certain adaptations such as fitting an air conditioning unit to allow him to temper the chocolate reliably.

In an ideal world, chocolate would be ‘tree-to-bar’, the term for when chocolate is made on the plantation where the cacao beans are harvested from the tree. Of course in the UK we don’t have the tropical climate needed to grow cacao, so ‘bean-to-bar’ is the journey our chocolate makers embark on.

The cacao tree – Theobroma cacao – is native to the Americas, but can now be found in the same tropical equatorial band as the coffee plant. Sourcing the right beans is perhaps the most important part of the process for a craft chocolate maker. Just as grapes have a different terroir based on their origin, the flavour profiles of cacao beans vary from region to region. Some of the first James got his hands on were very acidic Madagascan beans, which he says made the house smell “like a balsamic chocolate brownie”.

“Then we met Luis, my main supplier, from Peru,” James told Sauce. “His bean is a native blanca, a white bean. It was thought to be lost but was rediscovered in the wild by backpackers in 2007. They now cultivate it and only supply micro-batch beanto- bar chocolate makers like ourselves.

“The bean is quite fruity with hints of apricot and passionfruit. It depends on the percentage as well. Everything starts out at 75% dark, but I’ve added another 10% recently because a few customers have asked for over 80%. It’s made my chocolate, strangely, more malty and less fruity.”

Fermenting is the first stage in developing the flavour of the chocolate, which is partly why the farmer can directly impact the quality of the finished product. The number of times the beans are turned during this part of the process can change the taste of the resulting chocolate dramatically. The beans are then dried before being packed, imported by ship from the farm, and arriving at James’ kitchen in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent. That’s where he takes over.

“I roast, then we winnow, which is a glorified word for removing the husk with a hoover! Then we stone-grind for at least three days nonstop. If it’s 100% dark there are only beans in there. If it’s 75%, 25% sugar is added to the mix. That makes a dull noise that keeps me awake at night.”

Although it’s not universal practice, James ages his chocolate before it is tempered and finished. It’s poured out of the grinder into blocks and placed in airtight containers, where it stays for around a month. Then it goes into the tempering machine before being moulded into the final shape, packaged and sold, mostly at local food markets but also online soon.

At the moment, the range consists of three different bars: white, toasted white, and 75% dark. Both the toasted white and 75% dark received Great Taste Awards from the Guild of Fine Foods in 2018. There are just two international awards in the chocolate world – the International Chocolate Awards, and the Academy of Chocolate Awards. James’ trio were among entrants from more than 1,200 chocolate makers in 45 countries for the 2018 Academy of Chocolate Awards.

“I was scrolling through the Academy’s website – you’re not contacted directly – and I saw Seed Chocolate: Bronze, Seed Chocolate: Bronze, Seed Chocolate: Bronze,” he relates. “All three won. I couldn’t believe it.”

For now, Seed Chocolate is expanding slowly and organically. James is planning a larger range of vegan chocolate made with rice and coconut milk powders, as well as a no-added-sugar bar made with 30% milk powder – the so-called ‘supermilk’. Ideally, he wants to retain the freedom to make a variety of products in small batches and be more experimental.

“There’s a lovely group of ladies on the Solomon Islands who’re sending me some of their cacao,” James goes on. “The climate there is quite wet so they’re not able to sun-dry the beans as is typical elsewhere. Traditionally, they are dried over the embers of a wood fire so you get a naturally smoked chocolate.”

There’s a collaboration with Cheshire Brewhouse in the pipeline on a chocolate stout, and James is also in talks with a top sommelier about blending a range teas to complement the chocolate.

“I’m learning from talking to our chocolate family,” he says. “We’re always helping each other out, whether it’s importing beans or going for a beer and talking chocolate.”

Help, advice and support from pioneers of the craft chocolate movement in the UK – such as Solkiki in Dorset – has been invaluable.

“There’s no snobbery or keeping secrets,” James adds. “Everyone’s just trying to push craft chocolate. We want people to be proud that Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire have got award-winning chocolate makers.”


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A chocolate lover’s paradise

Tucked away in Getliffe’s Yard, Leek, is Misco’s. Megan Walmsley-Pitts and Francisco Davies set up their business, specialising in handmade chocolates and truffles, after wowing family and friends with their…

Tucked away in Getliffe’s Yard, Leek, is Misco’s. Megan Walmsley-Pitts and Francisco Davies set up their business, specialising in handmade chocolates and truffles, after wowing family and friends with their homemade treats.

From the very start the pair have insisted on keeping their products free from artificial preservatives, despite the pressure to extend shelf-life. Because the chocolates only keep for between 2-3 weeks, Francisco and Megan have to make fresh stock every day.

“The taste and vibrancy come from the freshness,” explains Francisco. “It’s made it harder for us, so we have to work that much harder.”

Their chocolate is sourced from all over the world – Colombia, Venezuela, Tanzania – and is available to buy if you would like to use it in your own cooking, as well as going into ganaches.

“Depending on where it’s been grown you get different subtleties of flavour,” Megan says. “You can get really peaty, smoky, earthy or tropical fruit flavours.”

So what’s popular with the good people of the Staffordshire Moorlands?

“We probably sell double the number of salted caramel chocolates compared to anything else,”reveals Francisco. “But people definitely have their favourites; they’ll come in and wipe us out of a particular flavour.”

Among their more unusual creations is a new rosemary, olive oil and Himalayan pink salt chocolate. Cherry vodka was added to the range on customer request, but port and stilton is one combination that hasn’t made it.

“It’s about more than just food, having a shop,” says Megan. “You’re in the community. We’ve accidentally ended up being a luxury brand because we’re using the best ingredients, but we’re real with it and that’s important.”

Misco’s Chocolates
19 Getliffe’s Yard
Leek, ST13 6HU

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