A while back I had the pleasure of getting to spend the day with Stephanie van Vuuren from Jack Rabbit Chocolate Studio for a collaboration on a Sunday Times Neighbourhood article. Not only did I learn I know nothing about chocolate, I also learnt that Valrhona is not just a super fancy sounding word. This lady’s passion for what she does really is inspiring! Stephanie and her sister Christelle are the ladies behind Jack Rabbit Chocolate Studio, an artisanal chocolate studio in Pretoria. You may have seen some Jack Rabbit goodies at Carlton Café and Delicious.
Stephanie is a mom, she works full time and when she’s not doing all of that she makes the most beautiful chocolate creations. From making her own butter which she also bakes with, always making sure to have some delectable goods to treat guests, teaching her gorgeous girl where food comes from and making sure fresh flowers adorn the kitchen counter to chocolatier extraordinaire. Basically, she’s superwoman. Listening to her talk about this passion of her’s really was the best part of it all. Stephanie and Christelle have mentioned that they love only the best and let me tell you…they also only use the best ingredients. They take great care in importing only the best cocoa butter colourants, flavourants and chocolate such as Valrhona, Callebaut and on occasion Lindt. Most of Stephanie’s stories about travel involve shopping for the best ingredients and equipment to make sure their chocolate is not only unique but also the very best quality.
I learnt numerous things that has forever changed how I view chocolate and even after my day spent with Stephanie, I would very much love to go to her demonstrations and tastings. Some of what I’ll never forget is that chocolate, depending on what cocoa content it has must be correctly tempered to 26ºC, this gives it that beautiful glossy shine. I’ve learnt that you want the chocolate to snap in your mouth so that the filling takes over and as the chocolate melts in your mouth it compliments the filling. Most important of all, I gained so much respect for the process. It is tiresome and it takes time and patience with a buttload of knowledge.
I’ve shared a little Q&A we did, as well as Stephanie’s foolproof salted caramel recipe with three awesome ways to use it. Make sure to follow Jack Rabbit on social media to keep up with tastings, workshops and just to keep an eye on all of their colourful artworks. Jack Rabbit has you covered whether it is Mother’s day, Valentine’s day, Easter or Christmas, make sure to spoil your loved ones with only the best.
Tell us how your affair with chocolate started.
We are both currently dealing with our chocolate addiction (it’s a real problem) especially when the product you’re addicted to is what you want to sell to make money to buy more to satisfy your addiction. We found ourselves bored when buying chocolate. Nothing new and exciting that we literally couldn’t wait to rip the packet open for. We always loved chocolate, but Stephanie had a revolutionary experience whilst chocolate tasting in France. The initial crack of the perfectly tempered chocolate shell, the sensation of the taste and texture of the filled content spreading across your palate with a soft mouthfeel and a clean finish that doesn’t leave a residual fatty taste and layer in your mouth. On her return, Stephanie immediately began experimenting with flavours, textures and chocolate combinations. We held chocolate tasting sessions with friends to gain a better understanding of what people actually want from their chocolate, and also whether the fine chocolate experience was something that appealed to them. The result of the tastings was that they suddenly became a bunch of chocolate snobs. Christelle has always been a chocolate snob. And was eager to be the helping hand to Stephanie’s vision.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Making chocolate is such a creative design process; choosing all the different components and thinking about the interactions of the components, chemistry, aesthetics and the eating experience are all part of the process. We take such pleasure in conceptualisation of the products and there are so many international chocolatiers experimenting on the edge of all the dimensions of chocolate, some of whom we regularly stalk on social media (and physically when in the same country), that it’s exciting to be part of the creative forum working in the chocolate medium.
Can you share some quick and easy ways to incorporate chocolate into a meal?
We really feel that South Africans need to be more liberal in their association with chocolate. It’s not just a supermarket chocolate bar or your standard baked goods. We want South Africans to expand their range of chocolate expectations and experiences; including savoury components of chocolate. Using a high cocoa content chocolate gratings in a coffee and chocolate meat rub for red meats like the a beef fillet. Chocolate, thyme, sea salt, crushed mustard seeds and dried berries (cranberries, goji berries etc) red meat rub. Using chocolate for a savoury gravy for duck using pan juices and scrapings, incorporate dark chocolate. Baked butternut with ricotta, walnuts, sage and dark chocolate stuffing served with a browned sage butter. (Could also be made into ravioli stuffing.) Making your own chocolate milk to accompany the meal with a continuation of the spice choices and flavour like cinnamon, ginger, mint cardamom, oatmeal. Just melt the chocolate into warmed milk. As an extension of your flavours in your dessert to compliment the meal. For instance, if you prepared a roast lamb with mint sauce /jelly for Sunday lunch, prepare mint chocolate brownies for dessert. Pair caramel note chocolates with beer.
Why is quality chocolate so important?
Discerning chocolate eaters are reasonably limited in their choices, even though there has been an expansion in local production and importation of international brands. Most of what you are faced with when buying chocolates from the supermarket is a variety (admittedly more expansive than before) of products are made for shelf life over taste, freshness and choice. Freshly made chocolate that has been properly tempered and the fillings considered for the impact on your palate are what you want. You don’t want fatty aftertaste or chocolate that’s been adulterated with milk solids and vegetable fats.
Tell us about your future plans, workshops and tastings?
We will be hosting a variety of tastings and chocolate workshops at Miele showrooms in Pretoria and Johannesburg, and at Carlton cafe and Delicious Menlo Park Pretoria throughout the year. Information about these will be posted on our Facebook and Instagram accounts as well as our website. We will continue to produce small batch high-quality chocolates exclusively for sale at Carlton Café and Delicious.
A delectable tried an tested recipe by Jack Rabbit Chocolate Studio.
- 1.5 cups of sugar
- 125g salted butter, cut up into smallish pieces
- 1 large can of coconut cream, alternatively 1.5 cans of ideal milk
- 2 teaspoons of Maldon salt (or more to taste)
- Heat granulated sugar in a medium nonstick saucepan over medium heat, stirring every now and then as soon as it begins to bubble and melt around the edges. For the first while it will seem as if nothing is happening, but I promise you need to keep watching it.
- The Sugar will form clumps and eventually begin to melt into a thick brown, liquid as you continue to stir. Be careful not to burn yourself.
- Once sugar is completely melted, immediately add the butter. Be careful in this step because the caramel will bubble when the butter is added. Continue to stir until it is completely melted and incorporated.
- Now working quickly and carefully, add the coconut cream/ideal milk while stirring. Allow the mixture to boil for 1 minute. It will rise in the pan as it boils.
- Remove from heat and stir in 1 teaspoon of salt. Allow to cool down before decanting into a sterilised glass jar.
Should your caramel be lumpy, use a stick blender on medium high to work the lumps out.
HONEY ALMOND ICE-CREAM WITH SALTED CARAMEL SAUCE
Store bought Madagascan vanilla ice cream slightly softened. Roast slivered almonds with some honey, allow to cool and chop up and mix in with ice cream. Top with salted caramel sauce.
SALTED CARAMEL AND CHOCOLATE TORT
Prepare sweet short crust pastry
Cover the pastry flan with tempered chocolate and place in the refrigerator, this will make sure the caramel doesn’t make the pastry soggy. Put a layer of salted caramel sauce in the bottom of the pastry flan. Refrigerate for an hour or so till the caramel has a layer of skin or is firmish to the touch. Prepare chocolate ganache with your favourite chocolate and cool slightly before pouring carefully over the salted caramel layer. Refrigerate for approximately an hour and decorate with either raspberries, cocoa powder, salt flakes or some Gold leaf.
HOMEMADE SALTED CARAMEL CHOCOLATE EGGS
Temper chocolate and line easter Egg moulds. Prepare salted caramel, let cool and fill a large pastry bag with the caramel. Snip the front of the pastry bag and fill the cavity with salted caramel sauce. Allow setting slightly. Be careful not to overfill the cavity as you still have to top it with chocolate. Close the cavity with chocolate and smooth out with a spatula. Decorated with lustre, or with coloured white chocolate.