Mark Hix recipes: Forget mega-tins of Quality Street - there are far more interesting ways to get your chocolate fix this Christmas

Our chef likes to use chocolate not just in sweets, but to give a luxurious twist to drinks and savoury dishes...

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Deck the halls with boughs of holly – 'tis the season to eat chocolate. My childhood memories of Christmas at home always feature big tins of Quality Street and bars of Bournville; the latter was a bit more grown-up in respect of taste and bitterness, but we never did anything with either, other than munch them as they were.

Chocolate was certainly never used in creative cooking at my grandparents' house, except for the odd Rice Krispies cake. Any mention of percentage of cocoa solids would have been quite alien. But times have changed, and I like to use chocolate not just in sweets, but to give a luxurious twist to drinks and savoury dishes.

Almond chocolates

Makes about 20-25

Months ago I found some lovely old chocolate moulds in one of my favourite antique shops, Les Couilles du Chien in London's Golborne Road. I often make good culinary finds in Jerome's shop; last time it was a silver caviar toast rack. But I wasn't quite sure what to do with these things once I got them home as I'm not exactly a chocolatier, so they just sat in the cupboard.

You probably don't have moulds anything like this, but you can buy small paper chocolate moulds which will work just as well.

400g good-quality 70 per cent minimum dark chocolate
150g whole almonds, lightly toasted

Put the chocolate in a clean, dry, heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water, and stir every so often until the chocolate has melted, then remove from the heat. Meanwhile, put the almonds in a bag and crush them with a rolling pin, then stir them into the melted chocolate. If you wish, you can save some whole or half almonds to stick on top of the chocolates.

Spoon the mixture into chocolate moulds or paper cupcake cases on a tray and leave to set. If you want to use whole or half almonds as a garnish, place them on top just before the chocolate completely sets. If using moulds, remove from the moulds and store in a cool dry place in an airtight container.

Chocolate black cow martini

Serves 2-4

This is quite a rich concoction that you could almost serve as a dessert. Or just as a decadent drink at a cocktail party. You can make the bulk of the chocolate base in advance and just keep it at room temperature, then use it as and when required. You can garnish this with virtually whatever you want, from some orange peel, to a cinnamon stick, or a chocolate cigarillo.

100g good-quality dark chocolate, broken into pieces
120-150ml Black Cow vodka
50-60ml Creme de Cacao

To serve

Grated 100 per cent chocolate

 

 

Put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir until it's melted; then remove from the heat and whisk in the vodka and Creme de Cacao.

 

To serve, half-fill a cocktail shaker with ice, add the chocolate mixture and shake for 20 seconds or so, then pour into martini glasses or similar. Sprinkle the grated chocolate over and garnish as you wish.

Cornish salty white chocolate chilli thins

Makes enough for about 10-15

I've had a tub of Cornish sea salt with chilli in my cupboard for about a year now – it was from a food festival and I kind of forgot about it. But if sea salt can successfully go with caramel, then there's no reason why salt and chilli can't go with white chocolate.

If you haven't got a tub of Cornish sea salt with chilli, then just mix 10 per cent (more if you wish) of dried chilli flakes with Cornish sea salt.

400g good-quality white chocolate, chopped
50g Cornish sea salt flakes mixed with 5g or more of dried chilli flakes

 

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Cornish salty white chocolate chilli thins (Jason Lowe)

Place the chocolate in a bowl over a pan of simmering water and stir until melted. Meanwhile, line a large flat tray or baking tray with silicone or greaseproof paper. Leave the chocolate to cool a little then stir in the salt mixture and pour on to the silicone, scraping the bowl with a spatula, and spreading the chocolate to about 1/5cm-thick.

Don't worry about having neat edges. You can place it in the freezer if you wish. To serve, break the chocolate into large, rough shards.

Red deer shank with chocolate and juniper

Serves 4

You can make this with the equivalent of a lamb shank from a deer if your butcher or game dealer can get you this cut. Or use a single muscle piece from say the haunch or the neck. I always find if you buy pre-cut braising meat it never quite cooks properly, as the different muscles that are mixed up in the bag have different cooking times and one piece can be tender and the next dry, so it's well worth putting pressure on your butcher for a few large cuts from the same piece.

You can serve this with mashed potato or parsnip or swede, or a selection of seasonal greens or sprout tops.

4 x deer shanks weighing about 350-400g each, or single muscle steaks of 200g each
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable or corn oil for frying
12 juniper berries, finely chopped
300ml red wine
60g butter
2 medium red onions, peeled, halved and finely chopped
50g plain flour, plus a little extra for dusting
1tsp tomato purée
1 bay leaf
1.5-2litres hot beef stock
100g good-quality 100 per cent dark chocolate, grated

Put the pieces of deer in a non-reactive bowl or container with the juniper and red wine, cover and marinate in the fridge for 2-3 days.

Drain off and reserve the marinade and pat the pieces of deer dry with some kitchen paper.

Season and lightly flour the pieces of deer. Heat a little oil in a heavy frying pan and brown them all over, then put to one side.

 

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Red deer shank with chocolate and juniper (Jason Lowe)

Meanwhile, in a large heavy-based saucepan, melt the butter and gently cook the onions and juniper for 2-3 minutes, stirring every so often.

Stir in the flour and tomato purée then gradually add the wine marinade and beef stock, season, add the bay leaf and pieces of deer, cover with a lid and simmer very gently for 1.5-2 hours or until tender.

If you like, you can do this in a pressure cooker, which will take half the time, or you can slow cook it in the oven in a dish with a tight-fitting lid at about 160-180C.

Once the meat is tender, remove it from the sauce on to a plate or tray.

Continue simmering the sauce until it thickens, then whisk in the chocolate.

Return the pieces of deer to the sauce and simmer for a few minutes to reheat and serve.

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