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.