Yorkshire Life Reader Event - Betty's Cafe Tea Rooms, Harrogate
PUBLISHED: 11:13 22 November 2010 | UPDATED: 21:58 19 January 2016
Readers join us for a sweet treat at Bettys in Harrogate. Jo Haywood forces herself to indulge too <br/>Photographs by Andy Bulmer
There is something magical about chocolate. It starts life as an unpromising bitter, brown nugget somewhere in the nether regions of Venezuela and ends up as a lush, hand-crafted delicacy in an elegant North Yorkshire tea room.
A great deal happens in between of course and, if the truth be told, it has less to do with fairy dust and more to do with tireless toil and endless experimentation.
Claire Gallagher, Bettys’ in-house chocolate expert and executive confectioner, leads a small team of chocolatiers at the company’s craft bakery in Harrogate. She can usually be found with her nose to the marble tempering stone, but she took time out to host a private luncheon for 59 of our readers in the quietly luxurious surroundings of the Imperial Room in Parliament Street.
She told the enthusiastic gathering, who were hungry for facts as well as food, that while Bettys is now synonymous with baking, it actually started life as a chocolate salon.
Frederick Belmont, a Swiss chocolatier with an indelible passion for his craft, opened the very first Bettys in 1919 as ‘a first class café and confiserie’. He was soon able to boast that Bettys Café Tea Rooms – and with them his chocolate and confectionery – were ‘under royal and distinguished patronage’.
More than 90 years and three generations later, Bettys remains as committed as ever to hand-crafting the very finest chocolates.
Its small team of artisan chocolatiers use the rare, mainly Venezuelan criollo beans for their couverture (raw chocolate), entrusting the roasting and grinding of the cocoa beans to Felchin, a Swiss family-owned business.
The resulting Grand Cru Maracaibo couverture is carefully tempered by the Bettys chocolatiers before the moulds are hand-filled, gently cooled and hand-piped with freshly prepared praline, caramel, ganache and cream fillings. Once the fillings are set, each chocolate is then painstakingly hand-decorated.
It is an incredibly intricate, time-consuming process but, according to Claire, it is well worth the effort.
‘I love working with chocolate,’ she said. ‘It has endless possibilities and has an element of danger because it can so easily go horribly wrong. But when it goes right and you end up with something exquisite and delicious, it is incredibly satisfying.’
She has tempered and refined her talents around the world, working in top restaurants like Raymond Blanc’s Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons and for an elite list of individual clients that once counted the Queen Mother among its number (she had a regular delivery on her birthday). And, after more than 20 years in the industry, she’s showing no signs of flagging.
‘Bettys is always striving for perfection and so am I,’ Claire explained. ‘Our latest collection of chocolates is the result of 18 months of research. They were inspired by Frederick Belmont’s original ideas, but we have refined them for modern palettes. He was a very driven man, and that drive is still evident in my team today.’
She told our gathering of gourmets the story of Bettys’ chocolate, where it is sourced and how it is made, before inviting them to taste several different types of chocolate. Needless to say, they didn’t need asking twice.
They had to sing for their supper (or lunch) though by ranking four tablets of chocolate from bitter to sweet; completing a tasting sheet to mark off the numerous flavours they detected; and testing their sniffability with four mystery ‘smelling pots’.
‘There are no right or wrong answers when it comes to chocolate tasting,’ said Claire. ‘Everyone gets something different. Some people are better at picking up the individual elements than others – your readers were very impressive – but it’s not a competition.’
Tell that to our competitive guests, who were determined to sniff out all the aromas (although one lady mistook cinnamon for beeswax) and chew over every elemental ingredient from liquorice to lavender. They might not have been able to detect the whole catalogue of finely nuanced flavours, but by the end of the tasting everyone was getting far more than ‘milk’ and ‘cocoa’.
‘Chocolate is fast becoming as interesting and challenging as fine wine,’ said Claire. ‘There is so much to it, so much to savour and discover, it really is a fascinating area. I’m still learning new things all the time and I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years.’
So what is her one definitive piece of advice when it comes to chocolate?
‘Never rush it,’ she said. Savour it like you would a fine wine so you can really taste and appreciate the separate characteristics and components.
‘Chocolate really is good for the soul, so take your time and enjoy it.’
To find out more about Bettys and its delicious range of chocolates, phone 01423 814008 or visit www.bettys.co.uk.
Savoury pastry case filled with chestnut mushrooms in cream and white wine sauce
Grilled fillet of smoked salmon served on a beetroot, tomato and pepper salad
Tea, coffee and Bettys’ handmade chocolates
After months of research, dogged determination and tireless tastings (it’s a tough job but someone’s got to do it), Claire and her talented team have produced a small but perfectly formed new collection of handmade chocolates for the connoisseur and enthusiastic amateur alike.
Among them are pale pink champagne truffles made with Moet & Chandon; Piedmont hazelnut using Italian gianduja tempered the old fashioned way on a marble counter; vanilla caramel dusted with gold; unique rose and violet creams finished with delicate crystalised petals; intensely fruity blackcurrant ganache; salted caramels infusing dark chocolate with sea salt; and cru savage truffles made from rare wild cocoa beans from the Bolivian Amazon.