It is a scorching day. The kind that is perfect for spontaneous trips to the lido, water fights and actually enjoying gazpacho. Not for chocolate making. But no one who has ever tasted one of his salted caramel truffles woul reschedule a chocolate making session with Paul A Young.
The master chocolatier is one of a crop of names responsible for a resurgence in quality chocolate making in Britain. He is known for his entirely handmade products and experimental flavours, such as malt caramel with California prunes and bourbon or Four Pillars gin with coriander and grapefruit, and to be invited into his kitchen is like gaining access to the Bat Cave.
The only problem is the air conditioning that Paul intends to install hasn’t quite happened yet and we’re in the middle of a heatwave.
“I’ve been meaning to get around to it,” says Paul. This could be a problem. “Chocolate is so temperature sensitive,” he explains. “If it’s too cold it shocks the chocolate. Too hot, it takes too long to temper.”
The ideal room temperature for chocolate making is 18C and we’re at 25C and rising.
His three kitchens – one beneath each of his London stores – have lots of air conditioning. “My electricity bill is frighteningly expensive,” he reassures me. It’s one of his few concessions to technology. While other brands may use tempering machines and enrobing lines, Paul is a purist – not even using a thermometer.
“I would never knock someone who makes all their chocolate by machine. It’s a different product and a different business model. What I do is way more technical and harder to make money from. But I employ the most skilled chocolatiers in the country.”
Paul hopes to soon open a fourth artisan store, possibly in Manchester, and reckons he could stretch to a maximum of nine. But when you’re entirely handmade on site, rolling out production isn’t so simple.
For the first three years Paul worked entirely alone. Originally from Yorkshire, he worked his way through the ranks to become head pastry chef for Marco Pierre White. Getting into chocolate in a serious way “just sort of happened” says the 43 year-old.
“I wasn’t trained by anyone. I didn’t want any of those old-fashioned Belgian chocolate ideas,” he says. Instead he started experimenting, entering his salted caramel into the first Academy of Chocolate Awards – and winning gold.
“The phone started ringing with people asking, ‘where can we buy your salted caramel?’ The answer was nowhere. I rang my business partner and said: ‘We need to find a location’.”
In 2006 he opened his first shop on Camden Passage in Islington, living in the flat above and making in the basement. “Don’t open a week before Easter,” warns Paul. “I’d never worked in a shop before, I’d never manufactured, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing. It was insane.”
Working more than 100 hours a week, rising at 5am to make chocolates, open the shop at 10am, sell them, sell out and then make more, took him to the brink. “I had three days off in three years, Christmas Day each time,” he recalls.
I wasn’t trained by anyone. I didn’t want any of those old-fashioned Belgian chocolate ideas
Now Paul employs 30 staff and has taken a step back. His time devoted to product development, training, recipe writing, managing the business as well as teaching classes and workshops.
“It can be hard to let go,” he says. “Sometimes I find myself really missing the craft bit and just wanting to be a master chocolatier.”
At home he’ll find himself experimenting late at night and today Paul is showing me how to make chocolate-dipped rose creams, inspired by taking part in a new BBC Two series. In The Sweet Makers, Paul and three other industry experts explore how sugar was used throughout the centuries – from Georgian sugar confections and banquets to Victorian sweet shops.
Fondants were a popular Victorian treat but have fallen out of fashion. All we need is sugar, glucose syrup and water. Bringing it to the boil, Paul shows me how to test the consistency between my fingers. Just gooey enough, it is poured on to the marble where we cool it using wallpaper scrapers. Four drops of rose oil makes for a Victorian-style flavouring, and while Paul flattens elegant discs from the cooled fondant, I do a fairly inconsistent job of shaping my fondant blobs.
Now for the moment I’ve been waiting for. In Blue Peter style, Paul produces a pre-melted bowl of silky dark chocolate. It’s temper time; a joyous process of slapping chocolate around a marble slab to increase the surface area and reduce the temperature.
“If it was a cold day we’d be going super fast. Probably five times quicker than you’re going,” laughs Paul as I grapple with the palette knives, smoothing the liquid out, before scraping it back to the centre multiple times.
He explains that the chocolate’s structure has been destroyed by melting. As it cools it rebuilds into something shiny that we can mould. “It’s a bit like tempering steel,” says Paul.
Except today, of course. Undeterred, I follow Paul’s example and start dipping the fondants in the mostly cooled chocolate – or rather dunking thanks to my clumsy execution – finishing with a light indent from the dipping fork.
There’s certainly a lot of them, although not remotely approaching the hundreds of uniform chocolates Paul’s team produces fresh every day. And surveying my results, I’m not sure Paul is going to give me a job anytime soon.
But more chocolatiers are precisely what Paul would love to see. If he has been integral in the renaissance of our pre-industrialised chocolate craft, then he believes there’s plenty of space for more innovators like him. “There aren’t many chocolatiers around but when it’s done properly, it’s like learning to make furniture. You’re making something from separate ingredients and turning it into a finished product with your hands.
“In France and Germany you have chocolatiers working out back in shops on every high street, even in small villages. We just don’t have that here any more, but there’s no reason that can’t change.”
The Sweet Makers, BBC Two, July 19, 8pm
Fondant isn’t everyone’s favourite filling and it’s now viewed as a bit old-fashioned, but I truly believe it’s because you have not made it yourself. Home-made silky smooth sweet fondant is a joy to eat and fun to make and it’s easy. I’ve used rose oil to flavour my fondant as it was a favourite with Victorians but feel free to use other flavours and even add colour.MAKES
approx 50 fondant creamsEQUIPMENT NEEDED
- Medium saucepan
- Pastry brush
- Wooden spoon or palette knife and scraper
- Sugar or digital thermometer
- 470g granulated white sugar
- 120ml water
- 120g glucose syrup
- Rose oil (optional)
- 25ml vegetable oil