Everyone loves Easter but not every chocolate egg is created equal, with many coming loaded with preservatives and hydrogenated fats, and made with conventionally-grown ingredients. What’s more, cocoa beans – a tropical crop – come with some serious ethical concerns. It is estimated that nearly 15,000 children work on cocoa farms in West Africa and Latin America for very little money, while hundreds of thousands of acres of rainforest have been destroyed to make way for cocoa plantations. But despite the ethical qualms, the British appetite for cocoa shows no signs of abating. UK consumers spend a whopping £57 on chocolate per head per year, trumped only by the sweet-toothed Swiss, but with 40 per cent of chocolate estimated to have been grown by child labourers, Britain’s favourite treat can leave a bitter taste.
Chocolate is never more popular than at Easter. According to chocolate giant, Cadbury, Brits splash out more £220 million on Easter treats every year, which buys them a staggering 80 million chocolate eggs. Lots of chocolate equals lots of packaging, with 4,370 tonnes of cardboard and 160 tonnes of foil waste sent to landfill in the wake of the Easter celebrations. Thanks to waste and concerns about the provenance of cocoa beans, Easter is neither ethical or green. But you don’t have to miss out on the celebrations altogether: what’s required is a savvier, more sensible approach. Cutting down on the number of eggs you buy and recycling the packaging is a start but there’s more you can do. Switching to Fairtrade and organic chocolate is an obvious solution but still causes problems with packaging, although many Fairtrade companies – Divine included – have switched to recycled card and plastics. But the cheapest, easiest and greenest of the lot is to make your own.
‘I’ve been an artisan chocolatier for six years,’ says Saffire Chocolates’ Angela Ruthven. ‘An artisan is someone who makes things with their heart, head and hands. The thing that makes handmade chocolate so special is that no chemicals or machines are used. You can use very high quality Fairtrade chocolate and it just tastes different to mass-produced products. Making Easter eggs isn’t rocket science. The chocolate won’t necessarily get a good temper [sheen], but I think people would much rather a hand-made Easter egg. There is something very satisfying about hand-made chocolate.’
First, you need around 400 to 500g of quality Fairtrade chocolate. Marks & Spencer. the Co-op and Sainsbury’s all have a good Fairtrade selection including Divine, Grenada and Rococo Chocolate. Using a mixture of dark, milk and white chocolate will give a nice marbled effect. Break the chocolate into small even pieces and place it in a bowl over a pan of hot water – this eliminates the chance of it burning in the pan. Make sure you properly temper the chocolate: warm it to 47º and then allow it to cool to body temperature by taking it off the heat and continuing to stir it thoroughly. Next, you need to buy an Easter egg mould. Some home stores will sell them otherwise you can purchase them online at De Cuisine, £4.95, or the Cake Craft Shop, £1.79.
‘The most important thing for anyone attempting to make an Easter egg to remember is to polish the mould really well with a soft cloth,’ says Ruthven. ‘It helps the chocolate release after it’s set.’ Once you’ve prepared the mould, it’s time to get creative. ‘In the bottom of the mould you can put mini marshmallows or nuts, so that when the chocolate sets and you take it out of the mould, they will be on display on the outside of the egg,’ adds Ruthven. ‘You could also mix into the chocolate a small amount of peppermint oil - or even korma powder if you want a kick. Just remember not to add anything water-based. For example, if you want to colour it, use powder. You could do different coloured stripes, or even make a Jubilee-themed egg. Remember though, if you colour chocolate, you can’t call it chocolate anymore – it’s a coloured cocoa-based product.’
Once the chocolate has melted, pour enough into each mould to fill it a quarter-full and swirl it around to cover the interior. Be careful to make sure that the excess does not gather in the centre otherwise you will get an uneven thickness. Leave the two halves in the fridge to set. Repeat this as many times as you like - the more layers you create, the thicker the egg will be. Lorna Robbin, a chocolatier at Nutcombe Chocolates in Somerset, has one caveat: ‘You could make a solid egg but be aware that you might not be able to eat it.’ Once the shell has hardened - Ruthven suggests leaving it overnight so that it will crystalise properly and shrink back from the mould - take it out of the fridge, warm it with your hands and pop the shell out.
The fun really begins here. You can put small gifts inside and then seal the halves together by sealing the edges together with melted chocolate. Make sure to return the egg to the fridge to firm up again. ‘An alternative way of joining the two egg halves is to tie a bow around them – you could fill it with truffles and then the egg acts as wrapping paper,’ says Ruthven. Images such as flowers and chicks are festive and simple to create using royal icing and a piping set. Alternatively, you can buy organic edible decorations and glue them on with melted chocolate. Steenbergs Organic has a good selection, including rainbow sugar and edible silver balls. Once your egg has set, add a recycled ribbon and it’s ready to go.
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