You may or may not have appreciated from past posts that I’m Scottish (see here, here, here and here). Our cuisine is, in many ways, quite curious. On the one hand, you have fantastic products like wild salmon and fabulous fresh fruit (like these), but it’s also a nation famed for the deep-fried Mars bar. Contradictions. We love our sweet things (tablet and macaroon bars) but we also love our porridge.
In fact, I think this last comparison is one of the most contrary of all – tablet is about the sweetest things you can imagine, whereas porridge is just about one of the healthiest things you can eat – low GI, higher protein than other grains, low-fat and plenty of fibre. That, and it’s quick, easy and tasty.
I have always been a porridge fan, and it’s the perfect way to start the day when it’s nippy outside. This week we’ve been hit by a cold snap, so I’m grateful for a warming bowl of the stuff before I venture out onto the frozen pavements of Olde London Towne. But last week, I went along to a very intriguing evening, where the world of oats would be lovingly folded into the world of chocolate, thanks to Rude Heath and Demarquette Fine Chocolates.
The evening kicked off with a few wise words about all things oaty and porridgy from Nick Barnard from Rude Health. I would go so far as to say that what this man does not know about oats can be safely assumed to be not worth knowing. How serious is he? Well, he regaled us with tales of his participation in the World Porridge Championships in Carrbridge near Inverness, where he competed against a collection of “gnarly Scots” for the coveted Golden Spurtle. There were two parts to the competition – a “classic” round where participants made porridge from oats, water and salt, and a “creative” section where all manner of fantasy and whimsy could be deployed, provided that the results included porridge.
Now, first things first…if you’re wondering, a spurtle is a special implement (basically, a stick) used to stir porridge. Some people swear by it. I’m inclined to the view that it’s probably one of the silliest things that you could use to make porridge, and you’re far better off using a normal wooden spoon.
We started off with the “classic” version – porridge made from a mixture of course and medium oats, made with milk and water with a dash of salt. Having been identified as a Scot, I was asked what sort of oats I used. I told him I went for pinhead oatmeal, and I think that earned me some serious brownie points – for it seems this is the really hardcore stuff for, eh, gnarly Scots like me…
Now, I should confess that by this stage, having walked all the way from South Kensington tube station in the cold, we had been warmed up with a cup of hot chocolate made with oat milk, whipped cream and whisky (which was delicious, by the way). We’d also been able to nibble on a selection of chocolates and caramels. So by the time Nick had made his porridge, it’s fair to say that the version hearty, savoury porridge was actually rather welcome.
We were also offered some sugar, honey or cream to top it off. As a gnarly Scot, I stood there, skulking, and ate it unadorned…and I’ll let you muse on the idea of me standing in a shop, full of luscious chocolates, eating porridge…
Once we’d sampled the classic version (and I was shocked to see that not everyone devoured their bowl), it was time to see the “creative” section. Now, this was pure fantasy, combining decadence with Dalí: a dark chocolate cup, filled with warm porridge and salted caramel. The trick is that the filling is warm rather than hot, so that everything combines and melts slowly, such that the cup slowly collapses into sticky deliciousness. Think of those melting watches, but tastier.
As Nick made more porridge with an admirable focus of purpose, the resident master chocolatier Marc Demarquette got to work on the salted caramel sauce. In true Blue Peter fashion, everything was laid out ready for work!
I’ve made salted caramel before, but I have to admit that it tends to be a bit of a hit-or-miss affair, and it has, in the past, taken more than one attempt to yield the desired result. Helpfully, Marc shared some tricks of the trade with us, and mercifully for me, in clear and simple terms that I could understand!
Firstly, how to make the base caramel? It’s sugar with a dash of water, heated until lightly golden (too dark and it gets bitter) and you’re looking for “champagne bubbles” – that is to say, the small-ish bubbles you have once the initial larger bubbles subside. Next, adding the butter – the trick here to have it at room temperature, not straight from the fridge, and then drop it into the caramel and then let it sit without stirring. The butter melts, and then you are stirring hot melted butter into the caramelised sugar, which should help to stop things from seizing up. Then move onto adding the cream and salt (or, in this case Halen Môn vanilla salt) and you end up with a lovely, smooth, sticky salted caramel…
…then you fill the chocolate cups with a little porridge (or as the French probably call it to seem fancy – crème d’avoine) and top with a generous amount of salted caramel. As you can see, this causes the Dalí-like slow melting of the cup. Just lovely!
As the cup melts, you get to enjoy all three flavours together. All in all, a fun and very different little dessert. I’m pretty sure that chocolate and salted caramel have never been enjoyed in such a healthy way!
Now, a little damper on all this excitement – Nick told us a sorry tale. He’d fought the good fight last year to win the Golden Spurtle, but he was pipped at the post. Having just tasted this fantastic little dish, I was stunned. However, Nick assured us all that he’s going to have another go – and we all wish him good luck!
If you want to get some idea of the day, check out this film on Implausibleblog.com.
If you’re interested in getting hold of these chocolate cups, either for the porridge-caramel recipe, or for something of your own imagining, they’re available from Demarquette’s boutique in Chelsea, which I can highly recommend. I say this because below you can see some of the other chocolates that we sampled that evening. I know, after all that porridge and caramel (not forgetting the hot chocolate) I should have been full, but they were so tempting.
These little domed chocolates are a range of caramels with exciting flavours like winter berries, festive cinnamon and apple, Scottish raspberry and Cornish sea salt caramels. We also got to try the Medina chocolate, an award winner based on a whipped ganache filling. Given that this was the server’s first day in the boutique, we all think she did pretty well in guiding us through the display and served those chocolates with great aplomb!
Demarquette Fine Chocolates, 285 Fulham Road, London SW10 9PZ. Tel: 020 7351 5467. Tube: Gloucester Road or South Kensington.
LondonEats locations map here.