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Amelie recipe: A love affair with French chocolate

Valentine’s Day and chocolate, the two go hand in hand and a perfect reason to enjoy chocolate today.

My intense love for chocolate goes back to my childhood growing up in a French family as my father spent some time in Paris and then London perfecting his skills as a chocolatier creating the most sublime chocolates that we were privileged to have the opportunity to eat. As my obsession continues though, it has to be curtailed somewhat and my fiancé hides it away!

Amelie recipe: chocolate tart. Picture: Alex Crepy.
Amelie recipe: chocolate tart. Picture: Alex Crepy.

The French are known for their love of food and wine, and chocolate is no exception. Whether it’s a rich hot chocolate on a cold winter’s day or decadent chocolate tart for dessert, they love to indulge.

Chocolate first came to France in 1615 as a gift to the 14 year old King Louis X111 from his 14 year old fiancé Anne of Austria; a gift of such great value that it was placed in a chest. Then it was only the nobility and the bourgeoisie who could afford this expensive, exotic commodity which was considered an aphrodisiac, almost a recreational drug thanks to its soothing nature and mild stimulatory kick.

Back in those early days it was taken as drink when the French confectioners would mix the cocoa bean with water or milk and add flavourings like chilli, all spice, cloves and vanilla. The popularity of chocolate drinks began to spread throughout Versailles and it was Louis XV who absolutely loved the drink, probably because one of his mistresses considered it to be as good as taking a lover and he would prepare it himself. His recipe has been cherished and is still available at the Palace.

This bond between the French and chocolate is deeply ingrained in their culinary and cultural traditions; it’s also about excellence. France’s reputation as the land of love matches its rich history of chocolate making. It has the highest number of the finest ‘bean to bar’ (cacaofevier) chocolate makers in the world. Known for their expertise and innovation, they handcraft their chocolate into beautiful works of art creating unique and exquisite chocolates.

Traditional French chocolate is dark and bitter, between 62-80% cocoa content. It’s also the least sweetened chocolate in the world and the least fattening.

Chocolate remains incredibly popular in France where the average person is said to eat 7.3kg each year. It appears everywhere even at breakfast when pain au chocolat is popped into the basket at the boulangerie along with the daily bread. Patisserie counters are laden with almost too many delicious choices from chocolate tarts, mousse, macarons, millefeuilles, eclairs. Nutella too, the modern twist on French chocolate which appears in cakes, on toast, in croissant, spread inside crepes or even spooned straight out of the jar.

There’s a particular chocolate tart recipe that’s very special to me and I’m pleased to share with you today. It reminds me of The Great House, a place where I always enjoyed this dessert. I even convinced the pastry chef to add it to the menu to impress a girl I was introducing to my parents, hoping it would make her fall for me – it did!

Bon Appetit!

Alex Crepy


Rich dark chocolate tartlets

Serves: 6 individual tartlets

135g caster sugar

115g butter, softened

35g flour

Zest of ½ orange, grated

135g good-quality dark chocolate, melted

3 tbsp Grand Marnier

3 small eggs

100g roasted hazelnuts, roughly crushed


125g plain flour

3g salt

60g butter, diced

1 small egg, beaten

1 tbsp water

Make the pastry: sift the flour into a bowl and add the salt. Rub in the butter with your fingertips to obtain small flakes or until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Make a well in the centre and add the egg and water. Mix well with your fingers until the dough forms a ball and leaves your hands clean. Wrap it in cling film and leave to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of a food mixer, beat the sugar and butter until white and creamy. Add the flour, a little at a time, and then mix in the orange zest, melted chocolate and Grand Marnier.

In a separate bowl, beat the eggs up to the stage at which, when you lift the whisk, there is a continuous ‘ribbon’ and add them, in 2 or 3 batches, to the chocolate mixture and fold them in. Finally, add the crushed hazelnuts.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to 3mm thickness and use to line six small 8cm tart tins. Cover the dough with waxed paper or baking parchment and fill with pie weights or baking beans right up to the top.

Bake ‘blind’ in a preheated oven at 150°C, gas mark 2 for about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Carefully remove the pie weights and waxed paper and then pop the tartlets back in the oven for 5–6 minutes to finish cooking evenly and colour. Let it cool down before using. Turn up the oven to 180°C, gas mark 4.

Fill the precooked tartlets with the chocolate mixture and cook for 5 minutes in the oven. Remove each tartlet from the tin and serve on a plate with a little whipped cream.

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