By Blair Pfander, The Vivant
London's Top Chocolatier Not only does he make some of the tastiest sweet treats in the UK-indeed, he's been given 'Britain's Best Chocolatier' award four times-but London-based pâtissière and chocolatier William Curley has the rare bagging rights that come with having made the world's most expensive chocolate Easter egg.
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Last spring, Curley and his team created a massive, 1.5 meter chocolate egg for Fabergé's "Big Egg Hunt." The egg fetched a cool $10,000 at auction, with the proceeds going to benefit Action for Children and Elephant Family.
But don't think that chocolate fame has gone to Curley's head. Here, the master egg-maker discusses the classic Easter treats his granny used to make, the "special" egg he'll present to his daughter this weekend, and his favorite new flavor: apricot and Scottish heather honey.
The Vivant: What is the most seductive thing about working with chocolate?
William Curley: I've been cooking since 1989, that's when I started as an apprentice. And at that time, the chocolate market wasn't what it is today. The market was just going through a revolution and companies were starting to understand what we know as fine chocolate now. And in a way, my career has followed that trajectory too. I worked for a number of hotels and restaurants that didn't compromise their ingredients-they used the best chocolate available. I don't know if it happened consciously, but I would say without thinking about it that I was lucky enough to be working with the best ingredients including the best chocolate. So at a very young age I got used to working with very high quality chocolate. I decided quite some time ago now-my wife and I run our own business, which includes chocolate of course-to buy the best ingredients and the best chocolate that I could. I've watched over the years how the consumers' understanding, how the chefs' understanding has evolved massively. It's very exciting. I'm a pâtissière by trade and chocolates are part of that, and through my career I took extra interest in working with and enjoying chocolate. So it seemed second nature to have a large part of the business incorporate chocolate.
What is your first food-related memory of Easter?
My grandmother was a big baker, and she'd done a lot of traditional baking like millionaire's shortbread, Dundee cakes, that kind of thing. And from a relatively young age I was lucky enough to enjoy those sorts of cakes, so I guess that would have been my big Easter treat when I was a kid-enjoying my granny's afternoon tea treats.
Your company does gorgeous chocolate Easter eggs every spring. What new flavors are you doing this year?
The most popular one by far is our muscovado caramel egg, which is a take on a sea salt caramel, but we use muscovado sugar. It was named Britain's best chocolate in 2011, so the minute you put it inside an Easter egg, it's going to be everybody's favorite. So that's the best one, if you like. But the one I'm most proud of at the moment is the apricot and Scottish heather honey egg, which is interesting. It's a truffle and 70 percent dark chocolate. That's my favorite one.
Delicious. You're also responsible for making the world's most expensive Easter egg.
Yes, for charity. And that was good fun. We must have made the egg about six times for Fortnum & Mason's window, and we had to take it 'round to various press events. But every time we took it somewhere it got damaged and we had to keep making this crazy egg. But it raised about 10,000 dollars, or 7,000 pounds at auction. It was great.
Walk us through the steps involved in making a single chocolate Easter egg.
If you're going to make an egg you have to have some grasp of how to temper chocolate. I have a method called the heating method where you melt the chocolate, you add about a third of tempered chocolate into that, and it tends to give a good finish. But you have to temper the chocolate to make the egg or it won't commit to the mold. That's the first thing. And then lets say we're going to make the heather honey and apricot chocolate. Quite simply, you put fresh apricot puree that was pulverized into pulp, then you add some of the Scottish heather honey, you add some cream, and then mix it with the chocolate to make a ganache. It's simple in a way but there are technical steps in there you have to understand or you won't be able to get there on your own.
How will you celebrate the holiday this year?
Sleeping! Last night I worked until two o'clock in the morning and I expect I'll do the same tonight. I think I'm going to do a television program on Saturday, and that will be my finale for this year's Easter. I've got a young daughter, so I'll make her a special egg Saturday afternoon and we'll celebrate together.
What's her favorite egg?
She's two and a half, and loving chocolate must be genetic, because she really loves chocolate. It's great, because she's at a stage where whatever we give her she enjoys. So hopefully we can keep that going.
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By Blair Pfander, The Vivant