One sniff of a taster session to Nicky Grant’s (and husband Tom’s) new chocolate making courses, and I was right on it. I was prepared to ditch my no sugar, no fat, no carbohydrate diet for it. Chocolate is too distracting and there’s not much chance I can be good.
While the rest of the group was paying close attention to mastering chocolate tempering, I was keeping close eye in any bowls or spoons that might become available to lick…
Nicky Grant is some kind of seductress and I am absolutely smitten by her talent as a brilliant chocolatier.
It started with my first bite of her ‘Great Taste’ gold award-winning Cornish seasalt caramel truffles…
It might have been the quick snap sensation of the dark chocolate shell breaking apart under my teeth, followed by the oozing creamy-rich, sweet caramel centre on my tongue? Chocolate this good transports a feeling of rapture straight from my head to my toes. Or possibly it’s the guilty memento of sin touched with smudges of cocoa powder left on my fingertips to lick? However, what sets these caramels apart, and my taste buds spiralling into bliss, was the barely discernible flavour of sea salt. Don’t ask me why or how, but salt appears to add something quite remarkable. It turns a nod of approval into the tenderest proposal: ‘my heart is putty. I adore you’
I met Nicky first at the Cornwall Food & Drink festival two or three years ago. Temptation brought me to her stand. She proffered a bowl of mouth-watering caramels in my general direction and I was irresistibly drawn in like a proverbial ‘carrot to the donkey’. Since then, like a ‘chocoholic’ possessed, I’ve not been able to get them out of my mind. In her home kitchen a few months later, Tom Grant had me tasting some of the most divine chocolates I have ever eaten. With coffee and conversation (meanwhile salivating over, sampling, ruminating and cogitating on half a dozen exquisite samples of Nicky’s beautiful chocolates) it took me literally hours to learn what it is to be a Chocolatier… and, believe me, to rush these things is to do them a terrible injustice!
It would be difficult to pick my favourite from the ones I tried. So many of them were like having a Heston Blumenthal experience. ‘Chilli and Lime’, for example, is pure culinary alchemy. First you get the taste of deep, rich, velvety dark chocolate and as that melts in the mouth it is followed by the sweetness of fresh lime. Then just when you think the pleasantness is over along comes a gentle warming sensation from the chilli as a postscript. It’s exciting in the way a lover’s kiss to the throat is thrilling rather than a pleasure-pain kick sensation delivered from some other chilli chocolate. But if you had to push me, I’d still linger indecisively over ‘Fennel and Ginger’ – it sounds wrong but is so right; ‘Earl Grey Tea’ – with an intoxicating aroma of bergamot; or ‘Raspberry Liqueur’ which is so unmistakably ‘raspberry’ I could have been picking them straight from their canes.
However key main ingredient in all this inspired alchemy is the highest quality chocolate. “Tom and I are sent many different chocolates to sample from around the world so we are spoilt for choice,” Nicky explains, “Courveture chocolate, which we use for wedding cakes, is a very high quality chocolate that contains extra cocoa butter. This combined with proper tempering gives the chocolate more sheen, firmer ‘snap’ when broken and a creamy mellow flavour. The chocolate that we use in 90% of our chocolate products is grown in small-secluded coastal valley plantations in Venezuela. The chocolate we use is rare, prized and coveted. Like a fine wine made from carefully selected grapes or a gourmet olive oil made from the finest olives, the chocolates are produced using the world’s most flavourful and aromatic regional types of cacao beans.”
Chocolate making is a world away from Nicky’s previous life. Until 2001 she was a Corporate Identity Manager for BAA, a blue chip company in London, where her most of her life was spent in airports designing public spaces. Moving from corporate life to a farmhouse in west Cornwall might seem like a far cry from the sublime to the ordinary. Her husband Tom admitted, “I was a little nervous how she might react on meeting my large and almost overwhelming Cornish family.” However, for Nicky, it gave her the perfect opportunity to fine-tune a passion for another artistic design form completely.
Her design background and a Master’s degree as an artist gave her an instinctive appreciation of the need for originality, superior craftsmanship and attention to detail. Combining all of this with a life-long love of baking, she possessed all of the right skill ingredients to enable her to follow her true desire. Creating a business as a patissiere, chocolatier and superior wedding cake designer.
Of course she has self-invested in her art. She’s attended chocolate and patisserie training courses to perfect her natural skill as a consummate cake baker, gifted in sugar craft, and a mistress of chocolate and all things beautiful and sweet. She also, in the midst of this creativity, bore two children to add to the tricky tempering process of blending business and family life together.
Since 2003 Nicky Grant has been tirelessly creating spectacular wedding cakes and fresh chocolates and truffles, made without preservatives and additives, in small batches in a kitchen converted from a garage. It’s a elegant combination of skill with some of the best local ingredients including local butter and eggs, Rodda’s Cornish cream, wildflower honey from the Lizard Peninsula, and fresh fruit. The astounding results turn out as some of the most sought after cakes and chocolates in the country.
In summer time, she turns an expert hand and a deft eye to the creation of up to five or more truly beautiful and completely unique iced or chocolate sculptured wedding cakes a week that are hand delivered from Lands End to London. As a spin-off she also makes chocolate wedding favours such as handmade chocolate place settings, chocolate flower lollies or individual truffles in their own box. “We work long hours,” they both say. Frequently baking wedding cakes (she has also taught Tom to bake to her standard) starting at four or five in the morning. “We don’t have much of a social life as a result.”
Nicky’s wedding cakes have an enormous wow factor. They can be coated in fine couverture white, milk or dark chocolate in ruffles, as roses or in panels to hold fresh fruit and flowers. “Paste or baking chocolate has no comparison to the taste, finish and smell of the chocolate I use,” says Nicky. “Or I do marzipan and sugar paste for a more traditional finish. I can then add individually designed hand-made decorations, fresh flowers, intricate lace piping or hand-painting to the cake.” The outside of the cake is certainly stunning and it would be easy to overlook the quality of the cake inside but Nicky puts as much into that as well. Her most requested cake is a rich and moist chocolate cake layered with a fresh Cornish cream and chocolate ganache and unsurprisingly is delicious.
Alas, I am no longer in marriage market, so I’ll have to be content with her fresh hand-made chocolate range. The effect of her subtle flavour blends, textures and the ‘mouth feel’ of her chocolates, delight and surprise for sure. With the consummate skill and time taken to create these masterpieces they don’t come cheap, but as an ultimate lover’s gift – with all the ardour that chocolate implied – they’re worth every penny.
For Further information:
Higher Drym House, Leedstown, Hayle, Cornwall TR27 6BW
Tel: 01736 850145
- Discovering the dark arts of chocolate making with Nicky Grant (hungryhinny.wordpress.com)
- Paul A. Young Chocolates: the brain behind the “Best Sea Salted Caramel in the World” (winebeing.com)