It would be very boring to drone on about how chocolate is made, where cocoa beans grow, how they are processed, how many local Mexicans might be employed to pick the cocoa pods and how rich it is in calcium. No, what you are really interested in is how delicious it is, how sumptuous, how wickedly seductive and how - at the time - you don't give a fig how you are going to feel after having eaten too much of it.

I find a good choccy dessert - a souffle, a simple mousse or a squidgy cake - irresistible. Truffles too, having been dipped in melted chocolate and rolled in cocoa powder to produce a wonderful crusted coating. Without this, the melting centre is like a chocolate bar left out in the sun. And if a chocolate confection is to be eaten cold, then make sure it is properly cold.

As in all things, buy the best quality you can find and all will be well. Good bitter chocolate is not cheap. Check the packet for at least 65-75 per cent cocoa solids - imitation stuff such as Kakebrand, is actually nothing to do with chocolate at all. Incidentally, I don't much like white chocolate, I find it over-rich and clarty, without subtlety, and childishly sweet.

Many recipes require melted chocolate. Over-heating, together with a fierce flame, can cause the chocolate to go grainy and separate into an oily mess. So it is best to melt the chocolate in a bowl suspended above simmering water, gently stirring it with a wooden spoon. If you have a microwave, soften the chocolate using the defrost button. This is a first- class method (and very good for melting butter too - the only two operations I use the microwave oven for).

I first ate Chocolate Pithiviers (which look like round Cornish pasties) some years ago at Michel Guerard's restaurant, at Eugenie-les-Bains in southwest France. Mr Guerard was conveniently lost for words when it came to giving me the recipe. I tried for years before getting it right, but I think it came out OK in the end.

Chocolate Pithiviers

for the creme patissiere

250mls/9fl oz milk

1 vanilla pod, split lengthways

3 egg yolks

85g/3oz caster sugar

28g/l oz plain flour

for the chocolate mixture

110g/4oz unsalted butter softened

110g/4oz caster sugar

2 small eggs

110g/4oz ground almonds

55g/2oz cocoa powder

12 tbsp dark rum

110g/4oz plain bitter chocolate, chopped into tiny pieces, or good quality chocolate chips

1 pkt puff pastry

beaten egg, to glaze

icing sugar for dusting

First make the creme patissiere. Put the milk in a saucepan with the vanilla pod and heat gently to boiling point. Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar and flour. Pour the hot milk on to the egg mixture and beat together lightly. Return mixture to the saucepan and cook gently until thickened. Pour through a sieve, remove the vanilla pod and reserve for another time, then chill.

For the chocolate mixture, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat again. Add the ground almonds and cocoa powder. Beat again. Add the rum, the creme patissiere and finally fold in the chopped chocolate. Chill.

Preheat the oven to 400F/200C/gas mark 6. Roll out the pastry very thinly and cut into 4 x 10cm/4" and 4 x 15cm/6" squares. Place the four smaller squares on a floured surface. Using a large ice-cream scoop, place a scoop of the chilled mixture in the centre of each of the small squares of pastry. Brush the edges with beaten egg, put the larger squares of pastry on top and press down and around firmly, making sure there are no air bubbles trapped inside.

Using a 10cm/4" round pastry cutter, cut the filled pastry squares into rounds. Discard the trimmings or use in another dish. Press and seal the edges with a fork, to form a decorative pattern. Brush with the remaining beaten egg and dust lightly with icing sugar.

Place on a greased baking sheet and cook in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is puffed and golden, shiny and crisp. Remove, dust lightly with more icing sugar and serve hot, with thick cream.

Rich Chocolate Cake, serves 6

I came across this recipe in a cookery book and wasn't entirely pleased with the result, but knew that it should be devastatingly good. I experimented with it for a while and think I have cracked it.

350g/12oz dark, bitter-sweet chocolate, broken into chunks

175g/6oz unsalted butter

6 eggs

200g/7oz caster sugar

a little softened butter


Pre-heat the oven to 300F/150C/gas mark 2.

Melt the chocolate and the butter in a bowl over barely simmering water, or melt in the microwave. Beat together thoroughly with a whisk until well mixed and completely smooth. Keep warm. In a heavy pan, dissolve the sugar and 100mls/4fl oz water. Mix well, bring to the boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Using an electric mixer, beat the eggs until thick and fluffy - the mixture needs to be stiff and an electric mixer does do the job more efficiently than a hand-held one. Then, with the motor still running, pour in the hot sugar syrup in a continuous thin stream. This can take anything up to 5-10 minutes, and the thicker the better. Switch off for a moment, and scrape the chocolate and butter mixture into the egg and sugar mixture. Allow the motor to turn the whisk slowly through the two mixtures so that they mix totally. There should be no streaks. To make sure of this, a final folding action with a spatula will reach right to the bottom of the bowl and bring everything together.

Take a shallow round tin, a minimum of 23cm/9" wide by 5cm/2" deep (not with a loose bottom), lightly grease with butter, dust with flour. Line the base with a circle of greaseproof or silicone paper. Pour in the cake mixture and place in a baking tin, filling the tin with hot water so that it comes at least three-quarters of the way up the side of the cake tin. Cook for 40-45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the tin, still in the water. Carefully run a knife around the edge, being sure not to ruck up the greaseproof underneath, and turn on to a plate. Cut into wedges and serve with thick cream.

Steamed chocolate pudding, serves 6

400mls/15fI oz milk

1 vanilla pod, split lengthways

150g/5oz dark, bitter-sweet chocolate, broken into pieces

55g/2oz butter

85g/3oz caster sugar

3 eggs

112 tbsp brandy or rum

200g/7oz fresh white breadcrumbs

85g/3oz dark, bitter-sweet chocolate cut into tiny pieces, or good quality chocolate chips

Lightly butter a 1.1 litre/2 pint pudding basin with butter and then dust with a little caster sugar. Heat the milk with the vanilla pod and leave to infuse for 20 minutes until cool. Meanwhile, melt the chocolate and butter over hot water or in the microwave, as above. Separate the eggs, reserve the whites and beat the yolks with 55g/2oz of the caster sugar until light in colour and thick. Add the chocolate and butter mixture to the egg yolks, mix together and then, after removing the vanilla pod, stir in the milk. Whisk together lightly. In an electric mixer, beat the egg whites to a soft peak and then add the final 30g/l oz sugar. Continue beating for a minute or so. Tip in the chocolate/milk/egg mixture, the brandy, breadcrumbs and the chocolate chips. With a large spoon, thoroughly but carefully fold everything together. Pour into the pudding basin, cover with a round of pleated greaseproof paper and steam for two hours. Turn out, rest for five minutes and serve hot, with:

Chocolate sauce

150mls/5fl oz water

150g/5oz caster sugar

5 rounded tbsp cocoa powder

55g/2oz bitter-sweet chocolate broken into pieces

1 tbsp Kalhua, chocolate liqueur or Tia Maria

2 tbsp double cream

Boil together the water and sugar until dissolved into a syrup. Whisk in the cocoa, chocolate and liqueur. Gently bring to a simmer for a minute or two on a very low heat and stir in the cream. Serve warm poured over the pudding. You could also serve some very cold, very thick cream or vanilla ice-cream