Chocolate queen tells us how to get the most out of the decadent ingredient

Australian chocolatier extraordinaire Kirsten Tibballs explains how she got into the baking business, and why she loves working with this most decadent of ingredients

26 May 2024 - 00:00
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Chocolate goddess Kirsten Tibballs in her element.
Chocolate goddess Kirsten Tibballs in her element.
Image: Supplied

Kirsten Tibballs was on her first trip to South Africa when I met her recently at The Chocolate Studio at the Design Quarter in Fourways. She may be small in stature, but Tibballs is a chocolate powerhouse, and on her visit she held demonstrations and launched her latest cookbook, Chocolate All Day.

We went to the studio to hear her speak and enjoy the fruits of her chocolate labours — chocolate masterpieces spread over every counter.

I asked Tibballs about her passion for chocolate, her first visit to South Africa, MasterChef Australia, and the chocolate fantasies she whips up for family and friends ...

Eating chocolate replicates the feeling of being in love, which is why it can make us go weak at the knees. It releases endorphins, and dark chocolate contains antioxidants. But let’s be honest, the flavour of chocolate is the main reason we love it.

My chocolate journey started when I was sick as an adolescent and missed a lot of school. As I was home a lot, baking was something fun I could do. At 15, I started an apprenticeship, with 20-hour days. It was exhausting, but I loved it.

I remember the first thing I ever baked was from a recipe in Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Cookbook. It was a chocolate cake I made with my best friend in her mum’s new oven. 

'Chocolate All Day' by Kirsten Tibballs.
'Chocolate All Day' by Kirsten Tibballs.
Image: Supplied

I started gaining recognition as the best in the world for my handmade chocolates after I won a gold medal at the Pastry Olympics in Germany and represented Australia at the World Pastry Championships in Las Vegas. This eventually led to my guest appearances on MasterChef.

South Africans have come to know me through the MasterChef Australia series. My journey into the MasterChef realm began in 2012, when I first appeared on Junior MasterChef. The following year, I appeared in two episodes of MasterChef Australia.

When creating a new concept, the first thing I like to do is draw it. Then I focus on flavour combinations, textures and design.

Watching contestants recreate my creations under pressure can be challenging. What you don’t see on camera is me trying to sneak in and discreetly assist the contestants from the sidelines. That has got me sent to the front room on more than one occasion!

I got to present the finale challenge of MasterChef Australia in 2017, which involved three fruits — an apple, a pear and a mandarin. The fruits were arranged among a lavish display of roses, fruits and candles. The contestants were completely stumped. Little did they know that the platter of fruit they were admiring was actually cake — and their challenge for the finale!

My TV show, The Chocolate Queen, is my way of inspiring home bakers. It’s full of tricks and simple tips to show just how easy it is to create brilliant chocolate creations in your own kitchen.

When I started the Savour Chocolate & Patisserie School in Melbourne more than 20 years ago, I gave purely hands-on classes. As the school’s reputation grew and each class was reaching capacity, I was looking for ways to expand. That’s when Savour Online Classes was born. It was my way of sharing my knowledge and expertise worldwide. 

I discovered so much visiting South Africa — your love of rusks, caramel, Amarula liqueur and nougat is undeniable. I was particularly intrigued by the infusion of rooibos tea into chocolates and your indulgent chocolate malva pudding.

Working with chocolate every day for years has only deepened my love for this delicious ingredient. My all-time favourite dessert — whether it’s in the form of a cake, individual chocolates or a tart — is anything that combines chocolate, caramel and nuts with a splash of fruitiness, like passion fruit. 

Chocolate is truly one of the most exceptional (and delicious) ingredients to work with. Quality is crucial, so always select chocolate that contains cocoa butter instead of vegetable fats. 

When it comes to impressing family and friends with a foolproof dessert, I can’t fail to mention my Sticky Date Chocolate Puddings with Chocolate Caramel Drizzle from my latest cookbook, Chocolate All Day. They are so easy to make, are irresistible to eat, and impress every time.

Hot chocolate churros with choc-marshmallow dipping sauce.
Hot chocolate churros with choc-marshmallow dipping sauce.
Image: Supplied

Here’s a recipe from Chocolate All Day by Kirsten Tibballs (Murdoch Books, distributed locally by Jonathan Ball).


Makes 25

Skill Level: Easy

Churros, but make them chocolate. It’s one thing to dip these moreish Spanish doughnuts in chocolate, but another entirely to work the chocolate into the dough itself. The dipping sauce is sheer thick, fudgy, marshmallowy goodness. This wickedly decadent experience is one you’ll want to repeat again and again.

Choc-marshmallow sauce:

125g good quality dark chocolate

120ml (1/2 cup) thickened (whipping) cream

150g marshmallows

15g unsalted butter

Chocolate churros:

240ml (almost one cup) tap water

300g caster sugar, plus 2 teaspoons

50g salted butter

115g cake wheat flour

10g Dutch-processed cocoa powder

2 large eggs

1l canola, for deep frying

2.5ml (1/2 tsp) ground cinnamon

1. To make the choc-marshmallow sauce, place the chocolate in a microwave-safe plastic bowl and heat in the microwave on high in 30-second increments, stirring after each burst of heat, until the chocolate is completely melted.

2. Heat the cream in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and add the marshmallows and butter, stirring until completely melted and combined.

3. Remove from the heat and combine with the melted chocolate. To avoid burning the chocolate, the sauce can be reheated when you are ready to serve it, or it can be kept warm over a very low heat.

4. For the chocolate churros, combine the water, the 2 teaspoons of caster sugar and the butter in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to the boil. Add the flour and cocoa powder and stir vigorously to form a smooth dough. Transfer the dough to the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment. In a separate bowl, lightly break up the eggs with a fork. 

5. Gradually add the eggs to the dough while mixing on medium speed until completely incorporated and the dough is smooth and shiny. Transfer the dough to a piping bag fitted with a 1.2cm star piping nozzle. 

6. In a large, heavy-based saucepan, heat the oil to 180°C. 

7. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, combine the remaining sugar and the cinnamon, and then set aside. Pipe lengths of the dough over the hot oil and carefully snip them with kitchen scissors, allowing the dough to fall gently into the oil.

8. While hot, toss the churros in the cinnamon sugar. Serve immediately with the sauce.

The dough can be made and placed in a piping bag up to a day before frying. Once fried, the churros are best served immediately with freshly made chocolate sauce.

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