As with many good things in life (puff pastry, tarte tatin),the chocolate workshops offered by Beschle, Basel’s celebrated confiserie, were the result of a happy accident. “The local television station did a piece on our new production facility,” explains Dominic Beschle, part of the fourth generation of his family to run the business. “Before the programme, I’d mentioned an idea to do hands-on workshops and suddenly I heard the presenter announce on air that these were set to start any day.”
The idea was catapulted into reality, with workshops taking place in the afternoon after production had finished, using the same kitchen space. Beschle makes all manner of high-end truffles, pralines and filled chocolates, but it’s most well-known for its chocolate bars. Bestsellers come from the mix-and-match range: milk chocolate with Japanese matcha and yoghurt; dark chocolate with pistachios and fleur de sel; or white chocolate with lemon, cardamom and yoghurt, inspired by the Indian lassi. And it’s bars that are the focus of the workshops (SFr85 per person, about £60), with attendees having the chance to dream up their own personalised versions.
So one Saturday afternoon in downtown Basel, I donned gown and hairnet before going straight into a tasting. “A morsel of fine chocolate is like a sip of champagne – it gets the tastebuds working,” explains Dominic, who conducts many of the workshops himself. First, he instructs, you hold a small piece in your fingers until it softens; then you sniff, nibble, tuck the chocolate under your tongue and allow it slowly to open up and reveal its true colours. Thus, with palates freshly honed and the finest chocolate flavours benchmarked, we launch into a little fancy work of our own.
Jugs of molten dark, milk and white chocolate, sourced variously in Venezuela, Ecuador, Madagascar and Indonesia, are produced and we each receive three clear-plastic trays in which to mould our 100g bars. Spice jars filled with assorted nuts, nibs, herbs, spices, salts and fruit zest are on hand for flavourings. My (modest) creations, I decide, will involve smooth white chocolate enlivened with lemon verbena, milk chocolate with sweet gingerbread spices counterbalanced by a pinch of crunchy fleur de sel,and dark chocolate with a herb-garden hint of rosemary and thyme.
Bars cooled and set, we raid the stocks of paper, foil, Cellophane and ribbons to wrap our creations with varying degrees of artistry. They might not pass muster with the Swiss confectioners’ examining board, but they wear an insouciant air of real, handmade chocolate bars. And they’re deliciously ours.