It’s not often you get to visit a REAL chocolate factory, so when Choco’a invited us to their workshop in Al Quoz to learn to make some Christmassy treats, we naturally jumped at the chance. Along with our seven year old helpers, Sadie and Rudy, we washed our hands and donned hairnets for the grand tour of the facilities followed by the chance to get stuck into some Christmas baking under the watchful eye of Choco’a’s experts.
Now, you might think that kids plus copious amounts of sugar would end in disaster, but Chef Frederic Legras regularly invites Dubai’s schools for class field trips around Choco’a’s kitchens. Friendly and ultra patient, he’s a big hit with the kids, who watch rapt as he shows us vast slabs of chocolate and ganache in the store room. ‘We love having the kids here,’ he explains. ‘Technically, we’re not a factory, but a giant kitchen where we can create everything to order, from cakes and bespoke boxes of chocolates, to themed treats such as chocolate racing cars to tie up with the Grand Prix.’
Everywhere we look, fantastic creations are being made, from metres of perfectly curled chocolate swirls, vast slabs of fluffy sponge and hundreds of candies being deftly handwrapped in metallic foil. Through the centre of the kitchen, a vast conveyor belt slowly takes the filings covered in melted chocolate, cooling them as they go along until they pop out the other end 15 minutes later, perfectly formed and ready to eat!
It’s then time to make our own creations (check out the recipes, right). Our madeira-style Christmas cake (kids much prefer lighter cakes to the traditional heavy fruit ones, Frederic tells us) is smothered in icing before Rudy and Sadie show off their artistic skills with chocolate lattice, fresh fruit and sprinkles galore. Gingerbread men and ladies are then treated to a fashionable makeover, courtesy of some green and pink icing.
At the end of the session, laden down with our festive creations, it was clear a good time was had by all (even if we didn’t see any Oompa Loompas – this time anyway). Now we just have to attempt to recreate them at home...
Chef Frederic runs creative chocolate art courses at Choco’a for adults. Starting again in February 2012, a month-long course of four lessons costs Dhs400, visit www.chocoa.ae/en/choco-academy/chocoa-creative-art-course for details. For schools that want to find out more about children’s field trips, call 04 340 9013.
Christmas gingerbread cookies (makes 72)
6 cups all-purpose flour
1tbsp baking powder
1tbsp ground ginger
1tsp ground nutmeg
1tsp ground cloves
1tsp ground cinnamon
1 cup shortening, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup molasses
1 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• Sift together flour, baking powder, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and cinnamon. Set aside.
• In a bowl, mix together the shortening, molasses, brown sugar, water, egg, and vanilla until smooth. Gradually stir in the dry ingredients, until completely absorbed. Divide the dough into 3 pieces and pat down until the dough is 4 cm thick.
• Wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.
• Preheat oven to 175 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out until ½ a centimeter thick. Cut the dough into desired shapes with cookie cutters. Place cookies onto an ungreased cookie sheet.
• Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the oven. When the cookies are done, they will look dry, but will be soft to the touch. Remove from the baking sheet to cool on wire racks. When cool, the cookies can be frosted with the icing of your choice.
ChoCo’a’s Christmas Cake (serves 10)
500g granulated sugar
100g dried apricots
100g chocolate chips
1tsp cinnamon powder
2tsp baking powder
125g sour cream
Fun and edible decorations for the cake
Ingredients for the syrup
90g granulated sugar
1 scraped vanilla pod
2 star anis
½ ginger root – peeled and sliced
½ tsp crushed black pepper
Ingredients for the icing
300g Icing sugar
3 egg whites
½ lemon juice
Dash of salt
• Preheat the oven to 180 degrees
• Flour and butter a cake mould
• Soften the butter, and cream it with the sugar, until light and fluffy
• Add the eggs one by one and mix well
• Fold in the flour and baking powder and add the sour cream. Mix until all ingredients are well incorporated.
• Dice the dried fruits and add to the mixture along with the chocolate chips and cinnamon powder. Mix well and pour the mixture into the cake mould
• Bake the cake in the oven for 35 minutes
• When out of the oven, un-mould the cake, cover it and let it cool at room temperature.
• To make the syrup, combine all ingredients in a pot, and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and allow for the flavours to infuse for about one hour
• When the cake is cool, brush the cake generously with the syrup until well moist on the outside.
• To prepare the syrup, sift the icing sugar in a bowl and add 3 egg whites and a pinch of salt. Beat the mixture until white peaks form.
• Add the lemon juice. Stir well.
• Pipe the icing on the cake the way you wish with fun and edible decorations! The cake can be conserved at room temperature up to 5 days.