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CHOCOLATE

Choc news: Sweden in public display of confection

Cocoa fan Robert La Bua spills the beans on Chokladfabriken's Martin Isaksson, Sweden's master chocolatier.

Choc news: Sweden in public display of confection

Chocolate as a career path? Don’t wake up; the dream can be a reality, and Martin Isaksson is living proof.

Martin speaks with the satisfaction of a person completely fulfilled in his work. He began his career in the pastry department at Nordiska Kompaniet, where he met his future wife, Ellinor; it was love at first sight of a cocoa bean.

The two teamed up personally and professionally and ventured into the big, scary world of small businessdom—not in the land of pastry, but in the world of chocolate.

Many tons of ganache later, the Isaakson phenomenon is redefining the perception of chocolate in Sweden.

Chokladfabriken’s first location was in Södermalm, in leased premises that the Isakssons were eventually obliged to give up as a result of the sort of travails familiar to many a Stockholm resident.

Determined not to be forced out of their next location, Martin and Ellinor purchased a handy corner retail space on Renstiernas gata and set up both shop and production in this location right by the Tjärhovsplan stop of the Number 2 bus.

Sweden’s sophisticated palate as applied to other mouth-entering items, like beer and herring, are being stimulated at a whole new level by Chokladfabriken’s continual efforts to introduce previously unimagined chocosensations to the public. If this is a systematic reeducation project, please sign me up.

And the products themselves? Now we’re talking. From worldwide favourites like hazelnut gijanduja and vanilla marzipan to specifically Swedish pleasures such as licorice, cloudberry, and lingonberry chocolates, Chokladfabriken’s line of bonbons is alone enough to bring in the customers—which it does with unsurprising ease.

People start streaming in as soon as the doors open and the constant flow of the young and hip, mothers with children, and connoisseurs of the finer things in life is ample proof that Chokladfabriken’s business model—offer excellent products and they will come—has been an unqualified success.

Martin, remember, is a satisfied man; he is not planning to make Chokladfabriken the Starbucks of chocolate shops. On the contrary, he seems almost reticent to expand his business for fear of diluting the personalized service that is another trademark of the company.

Many customers are regulars and like the small-town friendliness prevalent among the sales staff and even other customers in the store. The flagship store has a café area complete with chillout pyramid and books to peruse while you linger over a white hot chocolate (as opposed to a white-hot chocolate).

Not forgetting its pastry beginnings, Chokladfabriken also offers a delectable range of desserts and cakes if the desire to pursue a deeper satisfaction in the privacy of your own home becomes too strong to ignore—though, of course, public displays of confection are certainly not frowned upon in this open-minded emporium of theobroma cacao, the Latin name for the cocoa plant, which literally means ‘food of the gods’.

Wedding cakes are also a specialty of Chokladfabriken and are wildly popular as symbols of a good start to a long relationship—with chocolate as well as new spouses.

While other sweet shops in Stockholm shy away from wedding cakes, considering them too labour-intensive and time-consuming to make, Chokladfabriken is a happy purveyor of beautifully decorated cakes not only for weddings but for other special occasions.

In the meantime, the bonbons will do just fine.

Chocolate tasting

Of course, any day that is a Chokladfabriken day is a special occasion in itself. The most special of these may very well be the days of Chokladfabriken’s chokladprovning events, which take place several nights each month.

Learn all about the nuances of fine chocolate in the company of likeminded connoisseurs such as yourself.

The tasting events are presented in Swedish, but English presentations can be arranged for private bookings of five or more participants.

Can you think of anything more fun than you and your friends enjoying a private chocolate party? I can’t, but I don’t try very hard.

Make reservations early; these popular nights are often sold out in advance.

Tel: 08 640 0568

Chokladfabriken’s locations in Stockholm:

Renstiernas gata 12

Regeringsgatan 58

Grevgatan 37

If you live far from the capital, don’t be shy about asking for the chocolate to come to you by way of postal delivery.

For members

DISCOVER SWEDEN

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.

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