The Chocolate Gourmand

There's a lot of delicious, innovative and imaginative chocolate out there nowadays, created by dazzlingly talented chocolatiers, many of whom sell their wares online. I'll be reviewing all the chocolate that comes my way, whether purchased myself or given to me as gifts, and trying to sort out the spectacular from the merely delicious!
These mini Easter eggs from The Grown Up Chocolate Company look fantastic - I’ll be buying some to try (and review) as soon as they appear in their web shop!

These mini Easter eggs from The Grown Up Chocolate Company look fantastic - I’ll be buying some to try (and review) as soon as they appear in their web shop!

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The Chocolate Society’s Coconut Easter Egg

The Chocolate Society has been in existence under various ownerships since 1991, but in its present form only since 2010. It is owned by two brothers, Duncan and Alasdair Garnsworthy, and operates as a small-batch artisan chocolatier from their small factory in rural Somerset. There, using Valrhona couvertures, they make fresh truffles, bars, pralines, and now this fabulous and unusual Easter egg. Several weeks ago they posted an intriguing photograph on their Twitter feed (@chocsoc), and asked for volunteers to sample their 2014 coconut Easter egg. Well, it’s a tough assignment, but plucky as ever, I volunteered.

The egg really has to be seen “in the flesh” to fully appreciate its splendour. The exterior truly does have the look and apparent texture of the husk of a real coconut, with the top removed to reveal what looks like the creamy white coconut flesh within. The notes accompanying the egg reveal that it is made from Valrhona white chocolate, blended with coconut and then sprayed with a light layer of dark (70% cocoa) chocolate. This is then brushed to create the convincing coconut texture. Then they remove the top of the egg and line the inside of the shell with more dessicated coconut. I’d never tasted Valrhona’s white chocolate before, but can report it is beautifully creamy and smooth and, for white chocolate, not too sweet. I’m a bit of a white chocolate fan, and believe me, this is very good white chocolate indeed, with the natural vanilla extract balancing perfectly with the coconut added to the chocolate.

As a confirmed lover of the coconut-and-chocolate combination, I was delighted to find that the truffles accompanying the egg had centres of a melting, intensely cocunut-ey, white chocolate ganache. These perfectly rounded off the whole coconut/chocolate experience.

I know there are plenty of people who really don’t like coconut at all, but for anyone who, like me, loves coconut, especially when in the company of chocolate, this egg will be the ultimate Easter treat.

Order from The Chocolate Society’s website: http://www.chocolate.co.uk/

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House of Dorchester Luxury Dark Assortment

This selection from House of Dorchester comes in a very elegant box which announces itself as being something special - it would certainly make a good initial impression when given as a present. There are two each of eight different chocolates, with a good variety of shapes and fillings, all covered in 70% dark chocolate. This is a fairly “safe” selection, with nothing outlandish to frighten the horses. One puzzling aspect is that both the “fruity” fillings are strawberry-based. Using two different fruit flavours would have given the selection more variety, I felt. It’s much closer to, say, Thornton’s than to Hotel Chocolat, but as a mainstream traditional chocolate selection, I thought it came out quite well overall. Here are my comments on each chocolate:

Pistachio Marzipan: This one worked really well - a good quality marzipan, with clear pistachio flavour. Not too sweet, and topped with a whole pistachio nut.

Pecan Parfait: A bit of a problem here; this was described as “chunky pecan pieces folded into rich dark walnut flavoured caramel”. I was dubious about combining both pecan and walnut in the same chocolate, since they taste so similar I couldn’t really see the point. However the real problem was… this wasn’t caramel. It was very much a firm, fudgy truffle texture. Maybe there was caramelised sugar in there somewhere, but if so its flavour was lost in the mix. I, and I’m sure most other people, would expect either a runny or chewy caramel. Very nice, to be sure, but disappointingly nothing like its description promised.

Café Noix: Simply an old-fashioned coffee cream, with runny, well-flavoured coffee fondant, and topped with a pecan half, but very well executed, and 70% dark chocolate is exactly the right partner for the coffee.

Strawberry Cheesecake: I’m not sure the delicacy of strawberry lends itself to a dark chocolate enrobing, but this had a fresh strawberry taste, and the crumbs of biscuit in the firm white ganache filling added some interesting texture.

Praline Rosette: Some pralines leave me cold, but this was very good indeed. The filling is a very soft, very smooth milky praline with a mild yet very clear hazelnut flavour. I liked this one a lot.

Strawberry Fouree: Despite being described as being “wrapped twice in thick dark chocolate”, this had perhaps the thinnest chocolate shell in the box; yet this was no bad thing, as it allowed the very gooey soft strawberry fondant filling to take centre stage. This had a rather “jammy” taste to me, but not unpleasant.

Caramel Heart: A red-foil-wrapped chocolate heart, containing a large amount of rather nice, runny, buttery caramel. I love soft caramels, so I enjoyed this.

Stem Ginger: Exactly the same as those in the box I reviewed earlier - and therefore extremely good!

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House of Dorchester Stem Ginger Connoisseur Collection

OK, let’s take as read my objection to the use of the word “collection” to describe a box of 12 identical chocolates. Semantics aside, these are simply some of the best chocolate-coated gingers I’ve encountered. Each piece is thickly covered in House of Dorchester’s standard house 70% dark chocolate, and the crystallised stem ginger pieces themselves are just about perfect. Not too moist, which can result in the chocolate not adhering properly, and not too dry, which can result in a hard, overly chewy centre. No, these gingers scored well on every count: the chocolate remained stuck to the ginger until the last of it had melted away, and the ginger itself had an almost fudge-like texture - not too fibrous, either. The ginger had a pleasant degree of heat, too. All in all I really enjoyed these, and they got a resounding thumbs up from my wife, too, who declared them some of the nicest chocolate gingers she’s ever eaten. I’m inclined to agree!

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House of Dorchester Collections

The “Collections” range from House of Dorchester are boxes of six chocolates, each box being on a particular theme: Mint, Violet Creme, Dessert, Caramel, and Coffee. All the chocolates are covered with their white, 30% milk, or 70% dark chocolate. These are the perfect size for a small gift, being priced at around £5 for 6 good-quality chocolates. The hamper contained two of these Collection boxes, so I gave them a try…
Violet Creme Collection:  Now I must confess I’m quite ambivalent about violet cremes, rose cremes and their ilk. Floral scents are generally something I want to smell rather than taste. Having said that, my wife’s a fan of violet cremes, and she described these, approvingly, as “generously flavoured”. Of course the fondant filling - of the lovely, gooey, soft flowing variety - is very sweet, but that’s as should be, and the sweetness is perfectly offset by the thick shell of 70% dark chocolate. Each chocolate is topped with a natural, crystallised violet flower, and the flavouring is all-natural violet. Very nicely done. The only thing I took exception to was the name. In what sense is six identical chocolates a “collection”? To me, the word implies some variety. I can’t think of a context where I’d describe a set of several totally identical objects as a collection, so the use of the word here struck me as inappropriate. Pedantic? Maybe, but words matter. See also the Stem Ginger Connoisseur Collection (12 identical pieces)…
Caramel Collection: No arguing with the use of the word “Collection” here; this box contained two each of three very different caramels: a white chocolate covered “fudgy caramel”, a milk chocolate covered “chewy caramel”, and a dark chocolate covered “hard caramel”. The fudgy caramel was exactly that: a creamy, buttery fudge with a mildly caramelised flavour, perfectly matching the white chocolate. The chewy caramel was topped with a sprinkling of soft candy pieces, and contained a dark caramel of a softly chewy texture. This had a very pronounced caramel flavour, and was my favourite of the three. The hard caramel had the texture of a good chewy toffee, with the buttery, strong caramel flavour matching the dark chocolate coating very well indeed. This was a perfectly balanced, interesting box of chocolates that I would certainly enjoy eating again and would be delighted to receive as a gift. Top marks!
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House of Dorchester new range

Being usually focussed on the many small artisan British chocolatiers who have sprung up during the last decade or two, it’s all too easy for me to overlook those chocolatiers who occupy that middle ground between the gourmet independents and the high-street mass market brands. One such middle-ground chocolatier, which you’re most likely to encounter in the boxed-chocolates aisle of your local supermarket or department store, is House of Dorchester. This Dorset-based chocolatier started out as a small shop, The Dorset Maid, on Dorchester’s high street, over 50 years ago, and now has a factory in Poundbury where mechanised production sits side-by-side with the hand-made selections at the premium end of their range.

After 50 years, House of Dorchester set about redesigning their packaging to produce a clearer and more consistent brand identity, and to refresh their range, reflecting more recent trends such as salted caramel flavours. Natalie from HoD very kindly sent me a hamper containing a good cross-section of the new range:

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As you can see, the new packaging is attractive and uncluttered, with different flavours in the same line being clearly distinguished by different colours, but all featuring the same theme of “doodle”-esque two colour line art. I’ll be reviewing everything in the hamper over the next week or two. One thing I’ll say up front is that much of the chocolate is rather sweeter than I’d prefer, but the percentage cocoa solids is a fairly healthy 30% for the milk chocolate and 70% for the dark, and there’s no sign of the dreaded “vegetable fat” anywhere - House of Dorchester use cocoa butter throughout. But the sweeter chocolate is probably in keeping with popular tastes, and these products would definitely be welcomed by any relatives or loved ones with a sweet tooth who appreciate a bit of luxury! On the scale of low- to high-end chocolates, I’d probably put House of Dorchester somewhere in between Thorntons and Hotel Chocolat. Anyway - on with the first couple of specific reviews:

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Champagne Truffles Mini Selection: This is a simple but great idea; three chocolates on a specific theme, packed in a small, elegant box making them ideal as party favours for wedding receptions and such, or indeed as corporate giveaways. This was the Champagne Selection but others (“Dessert” and “Mint”) are available. The three chocolates were all minor variants on the champagne truffle theme. Although it’s billed as a selection of milk and white truffles, and at first glance one of them did appear to have a milk chocolate shell, this turned out to be a thin coating of milk chocolate over a white chocolate shell (and a white ganache centre), which was slightly disappointing. Still, I do love white chocolate, the flavours were good, and the ingredients are impeccable - no vegetable fat here, just cocoa butter, milk powder, and cream. The dark ganache-centred truffle was particularly nice, and the strawberries & cream champagne truffle was studded with pieces of freeze-dried strawberry - a nice touch. Though rather sweeter than I prefer, this a very enjoyable mini selection.

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British Salted Caramel Milk Chocolate Bar:  The blue wrapper, crammed with quirky drawings of sealife and seaweed, neatly picks up on the fact that this bar contains 0.5% Anglesey sea salt. I’d expected it to contain liquid caramel but, rather, the 30% milk chocolate is made with caramelised sugar, so the whole solid bar has a rich and pleasing caramel flavour. The second thing you notice as a piece melts in your mouth is the generous distribution of salt crystals; the salt is very noticeable both as texture and as flavour, giving the whole bar a rather savoury tone, despite also being very sweet. I can see that some will find this too salty, but I found it refreshing that this chocolate bears its saltiness proudly.

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New look range from House of Dorchester: HoD have done a terrific job of redesigning their packaging to give the brand a consistent look, adding salted caramel flavours to their range and a variety of “Mini Selections”. They very kindly sent me this beautiful hamper of samples to try, and I’ll be posting some reviews later. I must admit it all looks delicious, and the smell when I opened the hamper was very tempting!

New look range from House of Dorchester: HoD have done a terrific job of redesigning their packaging to give the brand a consistent look, adding salted caramel flavours to their range and a variety of “Mini Selections”. They very kindly sent me this beautiful hamper of samples to try, and I’ll be posting some reviews later. I must admit it all looks delicious, and the smell when I opened the hamper was very tempting!

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Chococo Christmas 2013

This review is rather belated, since Christmas is now a fondly fading memory, but let’s look at it as being early, since Chococo will doubtless (I hope!) be offering these items again for Christmas 2014. Chococo have been one of my favourite chocolatiers for several years now, ever since I first met proprietor Claire Burnet at their stall at a Dorset food festival, and sampled… well, as many of their fabulous products as I could comfortably carry away.

Chococo's reputation has grown steadily over the last few years, featuring consistently in annual “Best Of” guides in the Sunday magazines, and receiving their goodies as gifts is always a highlight of any birthday or Christmas. This year was no exception, as my wife treated me to both Chococo's Advent Selection (which she gave me on 1st December, of course!), and on Christmas Day, one of Chococo's gift hampers.

Chococo Advent Calendar: Now this is clever. What initially appears to be one of Chococo’s standard large boxed selections turns out to include features which transform it into a delightful edible advent calendar. Instead of the usual paper covering the layer of chocolates, a translucent, heavy paper flap bears the numbers 1 to 25, arranged in a 5x5 spiral grid which perfectly matches the 5x5 array of chocolates beneath. In addition, a reference card (with matching numbering) gives full details of each chocolate. Starting in the top left corner on December 1st, you spiral clockwise, eating one chocolate per day, until reaching the centre on Christmas Day, which features a special creation, the Fizzy Christmas Pudding. This is a beautiful spherical praline, decorated with white chocolate and sugar-paste holly leaves, spiced with Christmas spices, and as an added surprise, containing a substantial amount of popping candy, which ensures that as the last of the chocolate melts away, your mouth is treated to its own fizzing firework display! All the chocolates are of Chococo’s usual impeccably high standard, and the variety of styles and flavours guarantees every day’s chocolate will be eagerly anticipated. A clever touch is that the first few days include some fresh cream ganaches, whilst as the days roll by, the fillings move much more towards fruit, nuts and pralines. This way, the longest-shelf-life chocolates are exactly those you encounter later in the month. Neat! I’ve always enjoyed advent calendars, but most mass-produced chocolate ones are massively disappointing. This festive treat from Chococo, however, is (nearly) a month of pure delight!

The gift hamper was beautifully presented in simple, colourful packaging; Chococo’s cheerfully colourful, unfussy, unpretentious packaging is one of the many things I love about them, and this hamper was no exception. It was brimming with goodies, all equally tempting, and I had to ration myself so that it lasted until New Year. So tempting to dive in and try everything at once, but I restrained myself. In the basket were:

Chocolate Rose and Lemon Turkish Delight: These were spectacularly good - probably my favourite item in the hamper. Several generously proportioned cubes of authentic Turkish Delight (Chococo import it from Turkey), dipped in a thick enrobing of Grenada dark chocolate. I’d wondered if the dark chocolate would drown out the subtle flavours of the Turkish Delight, but in fact the flavours married very well, with the dark chocolate perfectly moderating and harmonising with the sweetness of the Turkish Delight. An absolute, er, delight (sorry!) to eat, and gone all too quickly, alas.
Fizzy Christmas Puddings: As mentioned above, the inclusion of one of these on Day 25 of the advent selection was a highlight, so to discover the hamper contained a whole bag of them was an unexpected bonus!

Heavenly Honeycombe Chocolate Clusters: A Great Taste gold award winner in 2012, and rightly so. Unlike most chocolate-coated honeycombe I’ve tried, Chococo present this as clusters of honeycombe pieces, mixed into 43% Venezuelan milk chocolate. The honeycombe is made by Chococo using fairtrade sugar and local Dorset honey (Chococo are admirably big on using local ingredients wherever possible), and the honey flavour combines beautifully with the richness of the high-cocoa milk chocolate. These are one of Chococo’s biggest sellers, and it’s easy to see why. Fabulous.

Raspberry Pavlova tree bauble: To be honest I can’t recall if this was described as a tree bauble or a snowball! Either way, this was beautifully presented, wrapped in purple foil, cellophane and a ribbon. Inside was a tennis ball-sized globe of Venezuelan dark chocolate. Breaking this open (with effort - this was THICK chocolate!), the interior was studded with pieces of crunchy meringue, whilst mixed into the chocolate were freeze-dried raspberry pieces. The already-fruity chocolate was incredibly tangy thanks to the raspberries, with bursts of sweetness from the meringue pieces. Delicious and, of course, gone too soon!

Chocolate Lollipop: Whimsically simple, this was a disc of decorated milk chocolate, on a stick. Yum!

Purbeck Marble Cake Mini Yule Log: One of Chococo’s signature creations is the Purbeck Marble Cake. This is in the great tradition of “fridge cakes”, but Chococo’s use of quality ingredients takes the style to a higher, indulgent level. It’s a mixture of dark Grenada chocolate, golden syrup, butter, biscuits, raisins and cherries, all enrobed in 43% milk chocolate, and the result is absolutely divine, especially with the festive addition of white chocolate “snow” to top the Yule Log. A little goes a long way, as it’s so incredibly dense and rich, but it’s an experience to savour!

Grenada Chocolate Company bar: Chococo have a long standing relationship with The Grenada Chocolate Company, who produce their chocolate from TREE to bar. It’s an excellent 71% bar, made even better by the inclusion of a generous quantity of cocoa nibs to nibble on. An excellent choice of bar for the hamper.

Chocolate Selection box: Rounding off the box was a selection of nine of Chococo’s individual chocolates, all beautifully boxed. Sensibly, to improve shelf life since the hamper is clearly a gift item, Chococo avoided their fresh cream centres here, concentrating on fruit, nut, and praline centres. All were excellent, and old friends (I’ve had many boxes of Chococo’s assortment, over the years). As ever, the standouts for me included the white-chocolate-based, cardamom infused “Green Spice”, and the fantastically intense “Blackcurrant Beauty” with its dark chocolate blackcurrant liqueur ganache and its blackcurrant pate de fruit layers.

So there you are: two perfect Christmas treats created by possibly my favourite British chocolatiers. Next Christmas I strongly suggest you treat someone (not forgetting yourself!) to some of Chococo’s festive delights.

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Fabulous selection of goodies by @t_chocolatetree , a birthday present from my lovely wife. I absolutely love their beautiful handmade origami boxes for their delicious chocolate selection, which includes a sublime salted caramel amongst many other delights. They use organic, ethically-sourced ingredients, and are bean-to-bar chocolatiers. Discover their wonderful range at http://www.the-chocolate-tree.co.uk .

Fabulous selection of goodies by @t_chocolatetree , a birthday present from my lovely wife. I absolutely love their beautiful handmade origami boxes for their delicious chocolate selection, which includes a sublime salted caramel amongst many other delights. They use organic, ethically-sourced ingredients, and are bean-to-bar chocolatiers. Discover their wonderful range at http://www.the-chocolate-tree.co.uk .

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New bars from the Grown Up Chocolate Company

I dunno, you wait ages for a new chocolate bar from the Grown Up Chocolate Company, then four come along at once! For some time now, I’ve been a great fan of these Enfield-based chocolatiers and their incredibly more-ish handmade bars - indeed I seem to have developed a full-scale addiction to their wonderful Salted Peanut Caramel Cracker, which is rather like a Sn*ck*rs Bar on steroids, but much, much nicer than that makes it sound. Yes, really.

If you’ve not come across their bars before, the Grown Up Chocolate company specialise in taking those beloved mass-market chocolate bars on which we all got hooked in our childhood, then re-imagining them through the more sophisticated style of a high-end chocolatier. The recurring theme on the eye-catching packaging is of little kids trying to dress as adults, with a disembodied speech balloon saying “Nice try kid, but it’s not for you!”, which neatly communicates the point that these are kids’ chocolate bar favourites - but for adults! Part of the fun here is trying to decide exactly which mass-market bar is being given the upgrade in each case.

A while ago, they very kindly sent me samples of three experimental bars - they’d been trying out a huge array of potential recipes to add to their existing range of four bars, and if the three I was sent were anything to go by, there were good things ahead! And now, here they are, four new bars added, thereby effectively doubling the company’s product range; and they’re very good indeed. Once again, they generously sent me  samples of the new bars. With great anticipation, I dived in…

Dark Chocolate Smoothy
This was one of the bars I was fortunate enough to sample at an early research stage. The first impression is of elegance; a dark chocolate covered bar, topped with a line of sprinkled finely-chopped cocoa nibs, promising an intensely chocolatey experience, which it duly delivers. Cutting the bar in two revealed two layers - a dark chocolate caramel and a firm dark chocolate ganache. The caramel was beautifully warm, buttery and rich, blending perfectly with the generously-thick ganache layer. As the components melted away, there was wave after wave of chocolate flavours, with dark and mellow flavours perfectly balanced. At the end, the cocoa nibs remain in the mouth, and nibbling these released one final explosion of chocolate flavours. A real firework display of a bar, which made me feel like bursting into applause. This one’s a real winner! So what did it remind me of? Well, it was the dark version of… oh, let’s just say that this bar would fit in at any time, at work, rest or play.

Lovely Fruity Nutty Crunchy
This bar has a big, chunky appearance thanks to the generous portion of peanuts and raisins in the top layer, all covered in creamy 38.4% cocoa solids milk chocolate. Inside the bar there’s a crispy base layer of rice crispy pearls mixed with hazelnut praline and milk chocolate, all topped with chewy, buttery caramel. On top of all this sits a delicious muddle of raisins, peanuts and milk chocolate, the whole thing being encased in more milk chocolate. I found this a very tasty, extremely moreish combination, and so full of fruit and nuts that I could easily eat one as a breakfast bar - what a way to get set up for the day! You could say this would be an excellent bar to take on a, er, picnic… Absolutely delicious.

Very Naughty Nutty Nougat
This was definitely my favourite of the bunch - the leader of a very strong field. It’s a large, chunky-looking bar, again enrobed in GUCC’s excellent milk chocolate. On top of the bar, under the chocolate, sits a tightly-packed row of roasted hazelnuts, perched on a thick layer of dense, buttery caramel. Beneath that is an even thicker layer of a gorgeously creamy white chocolate ganache, which contains even MORE whole roasted hazelnuts. The textures of crunchiness, smoothness and stickiness blend and contrast superbly, as do the flavours of nuts, cream and butter. A magnificent bar, which really does have a hazelnut in every bite, to coin a phrase. This one certainly gives their Salted Peanut Caramel Cracker a run for its money, but that’s another topic…

Crunchy Crispy Toffee Trilogy
I think I was able to guess the “homage” here, from the name! Sure enough, inside GUCC’s characteristic enrobing of excellent, thick milk chocolate lay a base of puffed rice, hazelnut praline and more milk chocolate (similar to the base of the Lovely Fruity Nutty Crunchy), covered with a beautiful THICK layer of soft yet chewy, buttery caramel. On top of the caramel (but inside the outer enrobing) was a generous sprinkling of tiny white chocolate pearls, each with a crunchy biscuit centre. The pearls provided a beautiful visual surprise - somehow the last thing you expect to find inside a milk chocolate bar is lots of little ivory-white spheres! Between these and the puffed-rice base, there’s bags of crispiness in this bar, which the rich gooeyness of that thick caramel layer complements perfectly. Yet another bar which I could eat lots of. And, it’s crisp, it’s filled with toffee… you can fill in the rest!

There you go - four more bars of delight from the company that turns childhood chocolate bars into gourmet treats. I think they’ve raised their own bar (!) even higher with this lot - I could probably develop serious addictions to all four, especially the Very Naughty Nutty Nougat - and they now have an extensive range of bars to be truly proud of.

Find out more at their website, or follow them on Twitter at @grownupchocs.

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