Even tempered

08 Mar 2017

With Easter just around the corner, we took five with Chocolatier Sue Lewis to get the low-down on artisan chocolate making.

WORDS: Jessica Zoiti

Plopping herself into a chair opposite me, Sue Lewis drops a truffle beside my coffee. “It’s lemon myrtle,” she explains with a smile.

I’d been hopeful of sampling one of these little beauties as I made my way to Sue’s chocolate store. Located in the basement of the State Treasury Building, the shop has an industrial feel with its exposed brick walls, polished concrete floors and gleaming glass cabinet where rows of hand-made truffles sit shoulder to shoulder.

My lemon myrtle treat has a thick, velvety dark coating that oozes with an herbaceous, tangy, white-chocolate centre. It’s magnificent.

“I’ve always approached my trade as a chef, so I don’t use a lot of colours, I like to use really fresh seasonal ingredients, I don’t use any preservatives at all so there’s no glucose and the sugar content is really low, and I source the very best chocolate I possibly can,” says Sue, who spent almost 20 years fine-tuning her cheffing skills in kitchens across London.

Before making her Australian sea change, Sue spent three years training with celebrated chocolatier, Paul A Young, whose tutelage helped her develop the artisan techniques she now so skilfully masters.

According to Sue, tempering is the secret to luscious, silky chocolate. “Every scrap of chocolate has to be tempered and I temper all my chocolate by hand,” she says. “When you melt chocolate over 34 degrees it loses its structure – when the cocoa butter melts away and then re-sets you get that white bloom on the surface.

“Untempered chocolate is kinda like hollandaise sauce. When hollandaise splits, the first thing you get on your palette is butter. When chocolate isn’t tempered, the first thing you get on your palette is the cocoa butter, which is the fat.”

The other hallmark of a truly high quality chocolate is the percentage of cocoa butter it contains. “The most expensive part of a chocolate is the cocoa butter, so the less cocoa butter that goes into the chocolate, the higher the profit margins. Too much coco powder (which large confectionery companies use to blend with cocoa butter) tends to make a chocolate very dry,” Sue explains.

“Most of the chocolate I use here is bean-to-bar, which means the chocolate is made directly from the bean. The quality of the chocolate I buy is the best, and often from Valrhona, which is one of the best (chocolate making) companies in the world.

“The other great thing about Valrhona is they invest in their communities and make sure they’re using good farming practices, that their crops are sustainable. They’re very ethical.”

When it comes to Sue’s personal chocolate preferences, she says the darker the better. “I have a real love for dark chocolate. You find chocolates from different countries have different qualities – Madagascan chocolate is really fruity, Venezuelan chocolate is floral and delicate. They’re all different depending on the terroir where the beans are grown,” she explains, adding that at the end of the day, chocolatiers needn’t take themselves too seriously.

“The lovely thing about the chocolate world is you can be a little bit silly – it has some of that Willy Wonker magic about it so I like playing around and doing things that are simply fun,” Sue laughs.

Easter is just weeks away and over her shoulder in the showroom there’s a warren of chocolate bunnies being stretched out on the counter, pellets of edible ‘rabbit poo’ trailing behind them. I guess this is what she means.