While most chocolatiers are currently focussed on Valentine’s Day, chocolatier Marc Demarquette is also offering a special collection – his Imperial Collection - for Chinese New Year, celebrated on February 10th with this year being Year of the Snake.
Marc’s interest in marking Chinese New Year goes back to his own heritage, as his mother was Chinese and he has fond recollections of celebrating Chinese New Year. “It’s a celebration – a family occasion, fun and dynamic. My memories of Chinese New Year are fantastic,” he says warmly. “My brother and I would get little red envelopes of money from relations and family friends. Occasionally my family in Hong Kong would come to the UK to celebrate Chinese New Year with us and we’d feast with family and friends. Sometimes we’d go to Chinatown to watch the dragon dance, watch it go and bless every shop in Chinatown to bring them good fortune and prosperity. These ancient values are engrained in my own personal culture and I cherish them enormously. In the UK, it used to be just the Chinese community celebrating it, but now it’s been embraced by the wider community.”
When it came to creating his Imperial Collection, Marc was looking for an ingredient “which was fresh, which would reflect purity and romance.” He chose the jasmine flower as it is “quintessentially Oriental”. For his first step, he looked to a classic Chinese beverage. !First, we needed to find an extraordinary tea, as in China – whether Imperial, Communist or modern-day -conversation is always around a cup of tea, so my quest was to find the right tea. We went for a White Monkey Jasmine tea, very fragrant, which is made by infusing the green tea with jasmine flowers.”
Marc, however, wanted something more than the tea was delivering. “We had the fragrance, but we missed that edge of freshness - that extraordinary scent you get when you walk past a jasmine bush in the evening. We tried everything; we tried absolute oils, but they weren’t right.”
In the end, through working with a perfumer, Marc came across the ancient perfume industry technique of enfleurage, where flowers were dipped into paraffin wax to extract their essential oils. “I thought I’m going to use the same technique,” he explains. “We pick the jasmine flowers between 4am and 5am in the morning, when they’re most fragrant and dip them into ambient temperature butter. As the butter contracts and hardens, it pulls the essential oil out from the flowers into the butter. The next day, we take the flowers out, re-melt the butter and repeat the process.”
The logistics of creating the jasmine butter are considerable, requiring both hours and hours of patient work and a huge number of jasmine plants. “For one kilo of this butter, we needed over 30,000 flowers; I raided the nursery for its jasmine plants!” he laughs. “It’s so worth it though. When the butter is blended into the ganache, everyone says it tastes of pure jasmine. Within a minute, your mouth is clean. If I used essential oil, you’d be tasting jasmine for hours afterwards. Yes, it’s a lot of work, but that reflects Chinese cooking where the preparation for a feast begins days in advance. We’ve been busy making the butter, but we’ll only make a finite quantity of the Imperial Collection, so it’ll be something of a rare commodity. I’m absolutely delighted with the collection.”
The Imperial Collection is on sale exclusively from www.demarquette.co.uk/