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 .
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.
A wonderful surprise present from my wife this Christmas was this massive selection of bars (and some Balleros) from Zotter, the Austrian bean-to-bar chocolate maker whose wildly imaginative range of bars is matched only by the dazzlingly beautiful packaging, and by their commitment to organic, Fairtrade, and locally-sourced ingredients. Have a look at their website - www.zotterchocolate.co.uk (Twitter @ZotterChocolate) - and marvel at their array of products. And yes, they taste incredibly good, too! Now, excuse me, I have a serious stash to investigate…
Michael Goodchild has taken fudge to a gourmet level with his Fudge Fancies business. Rather than the usual huge slabs of fudge, Michael makes and sells exquisite little cylinders of fudge, often topped with chocolate and decorated with fruit or other toppings. All ingredients are top quality, with the dairy ingredients being both organic and locally sourced. Michael is continually dreaming up new ideas for his creations, so there’s always something new to try. In addition to selling through the website, Michael has stalls at several farmers’ markets in the North East, where he road-tests new flavours before adding them to those available online.
I’ve been meaning to place an order with Fudge Fancies for a long time, but my memory was jogged recently when Mostly About Chocolate reviewed their special Christmas Mince Pies. Mince pies made out of fudge - what could be nicer than that? So over I went to the Fudge Fancies webshop to order some - only to learn that the little beauties are only for sale at the farmers’ markets (so far!). However, I couldn’t resist placing an order for an assortment of eight Fancies - the only difficulty was deciding which ones not to include this time. Having placed the order I then tweeted, mentioning how disappointed I was, being unable to order some of the fudge mince pies. Quick as a flash, Michael tweeted back to say he’d throw in a couple of the mince pies with my order. Clearly Michael is a very nice man indeed!
True to his word, in addition to the box of Fancies, there was a little box containing two mini mince pies - made of fudge. Each was even decorated with a tiny white chocolate Christmas tree, a beautiful finishing touch. The “pastry” proved to be a very firm white chocolate fudge mixed with countless tiny fragments of crisp buttery pastry. It really did taste like the shortcrust pastry on a well-made mince pie, and was even quite brittle in a suitably pastry-like way. The dark fudge filling was appropriately soft in texture, chocolatey and slightly fruity - absolutely perfect. These were one of the nicest, and most ingenious pieces of Christmas-themed confectionery I’ve ever eaten, so I really hope that Michael soon makes them more generally available from the website. Delicious and gorgeous!
Now on to those eight little cylinders of delight. They were beautifully presented, nestling in the box along with leaflets giving a thorough description of each Fancy in the current range. Each Fancy comes wrapped in an open acetate tube, bearing its name, which is another neat touch.
The first thing that struck me was the creaminess of the fudge - both double cream and butter are used in the recipe, and this is immediately apparent in the rich, fresh creamy flavour. The second general impression was the well-balanced flavours - each Fancy tasted clearly as described, but not excessively so; this is no doubt due to Michael’s use of fresh natural ingredients, and of course good judgment on his part. Each Fancy was topped with a good thick layer of either dark, white or milk chocolate. The quality of the chocolate was clearly demonstrated by the way the chocolate melted at the same rate as the fudge, so that the chocolate and fudge flavours blended perfectly in the mouth. All too often, chocolate-coated fudge finds the fudge melting away well before the chocolate melts significantly, giving a two-stage experience, but I really liked the way the chocolate and fudge worked as a harmonious whole in these Fancies.
The toppings of each Fancy are equally well-chosen. I particularly liked the piece of date perched atop the Sticky Toffee Pudding (a gorgeous chocolatey creation complete with caramel flavours and pieces of raisin), and the chocolate mint stick which crowned the After Dinner Mint (another dark chocolate delight with the perfect degree of mintiness).
Of the next two, both of which were white chocolate-based, I really enjoyed the White Chocolate with Lemon and Lime; topped with lime zest, this was beautifully perfumed with citrus oils which perfectly complemented the creamy fudge / white chocolate flavours. Slightly less successful, for me, was the Mango and Coconut. Although topped with coconut, I didn’t feel the coconut flavour came through. There was a good mango flavour, which I liked, but the chewiness of the mango pieces, of which there were plenty, seemed a bit intrusive.
More successful, when it came to pieces of fruit suspended in the fudge, was the white chocolate-based Strawberries and Cream, which really lived up to its name: gorgeously creamy, full of strawberry flavour, and plenty of small soft pieces of strawberry dotted throughout. Also based on a white chocolate fudge, but flavoured and coloured with raspberry, the Eton Mess was particularly good; I understand it’s their best-seller, and it’s easy to see why. The fudge is also mixed and topped with pieces of meringue, so this really is an Eton Mess in fudge form. Glorious!
The two remaining Fancies in the box were both based on (and topped with) dark chocolate. Michael’s chocolate fudge is wonderfully rich, even more so with the chocolate topping. The Orange Zest Fancy was indeed topped with grated orange zest, and flavoured richly with oranges. In fact it tasted exactly like my favourite way with hot chocolate, topped with a generous slug of Cointreau! Last but not least, the Dark Chocolate and Crystallised Ginger, which I’d feared might be a bit underpowered, delivered a lovely triple blast of ginger; the fudge was ginger-flavoured and was topped with a piece of crystallised ginger AND sprinkled with crumbled ginger biscuit for good measure!
I’m a great fan of fudge, and previously Roly’s Fudge had always been my go-to shop. However, Fudge Fancies are SO good, and the range of flavours ever-changing, that I think I can feel my allegiance shifting! If you love fudge, or even if you merely like it, try Fudge Fancies - I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!
Michael Goodchild also tweets as @fudgefancies
“So who’s this Cocoa Mistress you’ve been tweeting?”, asked my wife. As well she might. The Cocoa Mistress is the culmination of Kent-based, former Human Rights charity worker Claire Izzard’s long love affair with chocolate, and was launched at the beginning of 2012. Claire’s background led to an early decision to use only Fairtrade couvertures in making an impressive and inventive array of chocolate goodies, which she sells locally at independent food and farm shops and markets, and online at www.thecocoamistress.com. Claire also has a presence on Twitter as @CocoaMistress.
The ingredients list is impressive: the dark chocolate is 70% cocoa solids, with the milk chocolate weighing in at a very respectable 36%, and the white chocolate 27%. All the chocolate is fair-traded. Where possible, organic ingredients are used, and local ingredients, such as Kent cream, are used. The chocolates are hand-made in small batches, in Kent, from fresh ingredients.
The selection arrived in simple, elegant black-themed packaging - see photo - which I found very appealing, with an air of quiet sophistication. It included a mixture of truffles, pralines and caramels, adopting a wide variety of visual styles including, I was delighted to see, several in the “deep cup” format. All in all, I have to say I was very impressed with the visual impact of this, as a selection, and it was hard to resist sampling the contents before taking a photo - but as you can see, I just about succeeded! Claire also enclosed a useful key to the contents of the box:
Top row: Cappuccino / Salted Caramel / Peanut, Kent Honey & Sea Salt / White Rum & Lime / Hazelnut Praline / Orange & Cardamom
Middle row: Orange & Cardamom / Black Forest / Raspberry & Rose / Salted Caramel / Black Forest / Peanut, Kent Honey & Sea Salt
Bottom row: Hazelnut Praline / White Rum & Lime / Dark Pearl / Pear Pate de Fruit / Raspberry & Rose / Milk Pearl
Full marks for first impressions, then, but what about the chocolates themselves?
Cappuccino: I love the “deep cup” format, which I haven’t seen used much, since the days when one of Hotel Chocolat’s then-suppliers used to specialise in this style. This one looked very promising, with a dark chocolate-covered coffee bean atop a dark chocolate cup filled with layers of soft dark (coffee) and white (vanilla) ganaches, and sealed with white chocolate. This worked beautifully, mimicking the structure of a cappuccino. The coffee flavour was not intense but mild, as befitting a cappuccino, and the texture of the ganaches was just soft enough. A really good start!
Salted Caramel: A simple dome of milk chocolate, containing a semi-liquid caramel, this was superb. The caramel packed three distinct flavour notes: first a rich, dark “caramelised” taste, followed by a gorgeous butteriness, ending with exactly the right degree of salty aftertaste from the Cornish sea-salt. Most chocolatiers seem to select dark chocolate as the shell for their salted caramels, but I must say the milk chocolate here made the perfect companion to the caramel. Very nice indeed - one of the best salted caramels I’ve tasted.
Peanut, Kent Honey & Sea Salt: This had the appearance of a classic dark chocolate truffle sphere, which slightly wrong-footed me when it turned out to be filled with… peanut butter! However, I’m an enormous fan of peanuts in chocolates; they’re seldom used by chocolatiers, who generally favour the more traditional almonds and hazelnuts. Usually I have to depend on Snickers bars for my peanut/chocolate fixes! Here, though, we had a full-on, sweetened peanut butter, seeded with crunchy crystals of sea salt (another thing I love: the use of SALTED peanuts in chocolates!). Absolutely delicious, though I concede I may hold a minority taste, here. Alas, amidst the strong peanut flavour I couldn’t really discern that the sweetening was provided by honey rather than sugar - but that was inevitable, I suspect.
White Rum & Lime: Another dome, this time of white chocolate, painted with green cocoa butter - cleverly, this seemed to be where the lime oil was located: holding the dome in the mouth carried an immediate waft of lime oil. Slightly disappointingly, the white chocolate ganache inside the dome turned out to have only the very slightest flavour of white rum. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m firmly of the view that booze-flavoured chocolates should be boozy; it should be immediately apparent that the filling contains alcohol. That was not the case here, I couldn’t discern any booziness whatsoever. A very pleasant choc, though, and I loved that front-loading of the lime flavour.
Hazelnut Praline: A moulded chocolate in the form of a geodesic dome, this was certainly visually attractive, with it’s marbled shell of white and milk chocolate. The filling was a very firm, crumbly, smooth praline, and it was… well, OK. Nothing at all wrong with it, as pralines go, and a good-quality chocolate, but nothing particularly memorable or complex about the flavour. I personally prefer a more assertive, earthy type of praline.
Orange & Cardamom: I do have a weakness for white chocolate-shelled truffles with creamy white ganache fillings, and this was an excellent example! The mild citrus flavour of oranges mingled perfectly with the perfumed taste of cardamom. Dreamy and lovely.
Black Forest: This is obviously seen as Claire’s signature chocolate, being a square white chocolate shell bearing the legend “The Cocoa Mistress”. The name led me to expect an interpretation of the classic Black Forest Gateau, and so it proved to be! Inside the beautifully creamy shell was a rich dark chocolate ganache, and inside that was a kirsch-soaked half-cherry. Elegant and moreish - I liked this a lot!
Raspberry & Rose: Another deep cup, this time a cup of dark chocolate, sealed with more dark chocolate. On top was a small piece of freeze-dried raspberry to set the scene. Inside, a generous layer of gooey and delicious raspberry jam lay on top of a thick dark chocolate ganache. Initially this was all about the explosion of raspberry flavour from the jam, but as that faded, there came the taste of Turkish Delight - the dark ganache was flavoured with roses, contrasting superbly with the departing raspberry flavours. Finally the rich chocolatey ganache flavour lingered in the mouth. A very indulgent treat!
Dark Pearl: Oooh! A dark chocolate truffle shell dusted with edible gold! Inside was a simple dark chocolate ganache, thick and beautifully fresh tasting. A standard, perfectly executed “house truffle”, with the gold dust a neat visual twist.
Pear Pate de Fruit: This was a very pretty chocolate: a square of pear pate de fruit, enrobed in milk chocolate and topped with a white chocolate heart. The pate de fruit had a wonderfully grainy texture, as a pate made from fresh puree should, and I really enjoyed this one. A slight quibble: I felt maybe a more strongly-flavoured pear variety should have been used, since it was quite a mild flavour. But delicious nonetheless!
Milk Pearl: The milk chocolate counterpart to the Dark Pearl, this was dusted with edible silver, and was if anything even nicer than the dark version, with a pronounced fresh cream flavour to the perfectly-textured milk ganache filling.
To sum up, a really excellent selection, with some adventurous choices. I particularly enjoyed the full-on use of peanut butter combined with coarse sea salt. My order number was 16, so the web shop is obviously a very new venture, but with chocolates of this quality, and the perfect elegant simplicity of the packaging, I think Claire deserves every success as The Cocoa Mistress. Still not absolutely sure about that name, though!
(Apologies for the lack of photos or links with this blog post - I’m posting this from my iPad and haven’t quite got the interface working with me!)
What better way to begin a holiday than to check out the local chocolatier? Bridport’s Chocolate Cafe has only recently opened, but is already becoming locally established, offering handmade chocolates and hot and cold drinks (with proper hot chocolate a speciality, of course!). The cafe’s run by Gareth Morris and his partner Alex. Gareth trained with chocolatier Simon Dunn in Stockport, and now runs the Cafe as the local branch of Simon Dunn, where he makes all the chocolates in the shop. This is a great way to operate a franchise, since those running each Simon Dunn shop have learned the craft direct from Simon, so it’s more like an apprenticeship, or a handed-down tradition, rather than the usual type of franchise. It also means the chocolates are freshly made on-site, rather than being bought in from a central distribution point.
One immediate eye-catcher is the trio of tempering machines (one each for dark, milk and white chocolate) running in full view directly behind the counter. Instant drooling on my part! Gareth uses Callebaut couvertures to make the chocolates, and the results are delicious. It’s a friendly atmosphere, with locals dropping in for a hot chocolate fix, and Gareth is happy to chat about the shop, about Bridport, and about his love of chocolate from an early age. After sampling a delicious freshly-made rum truffle, my wife kindly offered to treat me to a box of Gareth’s assorted truffles. I didn’t need asking twice.
Note: I’m guessing at names here, since no menu card was provided - perhaps I should have paid more attention in the shop before just asking for “a couple of everything”! Here are my tasting notes on some of the chocolates:
Rum Truffle: The crisp shell of a fruity 70% Callebaut gave way to a firm dark ganache fortified with enough rum to pack a substantial kick. A rich, dark treat, this was almost like a pudding in itself.
Lemon Cheesecake: With both the shell and ganache centre being made from white chocolate, this was a very sweet truffle indeed. However, I’m quite a fan of white chocolate, and this was excellent. The ganache was full of the fresh flavours of lemon zest and lemon oil, and the shell had a good crisp snap, which is unusual in a white truffle. Lovely.
White Truffle: Another white chocolate firm truffle, beautifully smooth and creamy. Although I was sure this was flavoured only with vanilla, towards the end I noticed it was quite mouth-warming, although I couldn’t detect any “kick” or boozy flavour. It left me wondering if perhaps this contained a small amount of vodka?
Lemon Fondant: Rather Old-Skool, this one, but delivered as a thin-shelled milk chocolate “cup”, containing a very liquid, lemon-flavoured fondant. Not really my cup of tea, but nicely executed.
Caramel / Creme Brulee: A wonderful soft white chocolate truffle centre, in a rich milk chocolate shell. The white ganache is, I think, made with caramelised sugar, giving the whole thing a terrific “creme brulee” flavour.
Chocolate-covered fudge: Simply a cube of really excellent crumbly fudge (tasted as though made with clotted cream, too), covered in milk chocolate. Delicious.
Cointreau Truffle: Another boozy truffle packing a powerful punch! This time the ganache was soft and milk-chocolate based, inside a crisp dark shell. The contrast between the strong dark shell, and the alcoholic chocolate-orange centre worked superbly well. A real highlight.
Coffee Creme: When I was a kid, the coffee creme chocolates in any box at Christmas were always the last to go, which meant I got them all to myself! This doubtless contributed to my love of coffee-flavoured ganaches, mousses, cremes… Anything coffee-flavoured, really. This is a soft-fondant coffee creme in the traditional British style, with the added twist of being topped with a substantial layer of ground coffee, which really adds to the flavour and ensures a long-lasting aftertaste. An excellent coffee-fix!
Milk Truffle: A simple milk chocolate ganache in a milk chocolate shell. Creamy and chocolatey, and once again, a really crisp shell of perfectly-tempered milk chocolate.
All in all, I really enjoyed this box of mostly truffles. It was a pretty traditional selection, in the Belgian style, and I guess that reflects local tastes. The shop certainly fits right into the Bridport “Slow Food” vibe, and I look forward to trying one of their hot chocolates, sometime. I don’t know to what extent the selection made at the shop is specified by the parent company, Simon Dunn Chocolatier, but if individual initiative is allowed and encouraged I’d love to see what Gareth could produce if he experimented a bit more outside the tried-and-trusted. He certainly produces chocolates of a very high quality, and I’ll be back for more.
With the Grown Up Chocolate Club’s excellent penchant for themed tasting boxes, I’d already predicted that the late-May selection might be related in some way to a certain Jubilee that was happening hereabouts, and this proved to be the case. The May selection (selections always arrive around the end of the month) was themed around traditional English flavours, along with a smattering of patriotic Union Jacks, as you can see in this photo:
Along with a 70% chocolate tablet wrapped in a Union Jack, one of the chocolate varieties came topped with a transfer of the flag. More subtly, a lavender ganache was topped with blue sugar crystals, a strawberry chocolate with red sugar crystals, and there was a white chocolate truffle completing the tricolour scheme. I can’t say I’m much of a royalist, but this was a neatly understated way of marking the occasion. Of more interest to me was the promise of traditional English flavours, of which there seemed to be plenty, so I dug in…
English Rose - Like many of the GUCC chocolates, this was a shallow rectangle, thinly coated with dark chocolate. This is a style I’d previously noticed to be commonly used by French chocolatiers, and it really does give prominence to the filling, presenting as it does a maximum surface area. Here, it allowed the heady rose perfume of the dark ganache centre to flood out. I’m not a great fan of rose as a flavouring, finding it often rather cloying, but in this case it was perfectly balanced by the earthy notes of the dark chocolate. Very good indeed.
Pear Jelly - One of my favourite things about GUCC is that they don’t feel obliged for EVERY piece to involve chocolate. Which is good, since their chef obviously has additional confectionery talents, as evidenced by this beautiful pate de fruit. Containing little more than a well-reduced pear puree, sugar, and I’d guess pectin as a setting agent, this was pure concentrated pear flavour - William pears, at a guess. Wonderfully fresh and intense, this was a delight.
Spiced Apple - A lovely mellow milk ganache, made with apple and mixed spices, and covered in dark chocolate. I think I detected a slight lemony flavour, which might suggest the presence of coriander. A nice touch, if so!
Strawberries & Cream - Inside the thin dark shell was a creamy white chocolate ganache, in which flecks of strawberry were clearly visible. Yet oddly, apart from the decorative piece of freeze-dried strawberry which adorned the top of the chocolate, I could discern no strawberry flavour in the ganache itsel, which was disappointing. Knowing my own penchant for more pronounced flavours, I concentrated hard and tried to detect strawberry in the flavours, but to no avail. Perhaps the addition of some strawberry juice to the ganache might have helped?
Mint Truffle - Presented as a traditional rolled truffle, as soon as I bit into the centre of this, my brain immediately lit up a sign saying “Mint Sauce!”. The very dark ganache had an almost savoury lack of sweetness, which really amplified the flavours of fresh garden mint. GUCC have experimented before with garden mint, but this is their best yet - really excellent.
Clotted Cream Fudge - Pretty self explanatory, this one! Presented au naturel, without any chocolate coating, this is a fudge of the crumbly persuasion, which is my favourite fudge style. The freshness of the clotted cream shines through - this is very, very good fudge.
I Am Not A Jaffa Cake - Mysteriously, the menu description of this square, dark chocolate read merely “????”. GUCC have an occasionally Pythonesque sense of humour, which came into play here. The choc was topped with a tasty sliver of candied orange peel, hinting at the contents, which proved to be something of a tour de force - not two, but three layers! First came a dense, cakey layer of chocolate brownie; on top of this lay a thin layer of intensely tangy orange jelly, topped in turn by a dark chocolate ganache. The whole thing was only an inch square, and less than half an inch thick. Talk about packing a lot into a small space! Yet it worked as a perfectly integrated whole An absolutely sensational chocolate! And definitely not a Jaffa cake. Oh, no.
Lavender - I approached this with caution, since I usually use lavender oil as something to put on cuts and scrapes to help them heal as a disinfectant. The smell can be overpowering, even putting aside its old-lady associations. This was a chunky piece of dark ganache, thinly coated in dark chocolate, and proved to be excellent. Very smooth ganache, with deep chocolate flavours, and just the merest hint of lavendar adding a subtle note on the palate. Far nicer than I expected!
Spiced Ginger Biscuit - Another chocolate with a lot going on, but all working in perfect harmony. This was a large milk chocolate-coated square containing a good earthy hazelnut praline, to which had been added crushed ginger biscuits and allspice. The crunchy fragments of ginger biscuit added great texture, while the ginger and allspice brought a hint of home-made cakes to the flavour spectrum. A very warm and reassuring sort of chocolate!
Custard - Biting through the dark chocolate shell of this small, neat chocolate revealed a soft white-chocolate ganache centre, which tasted just like a really perfect, indulgent dollop of… Yes, custard! Vanilla custard, that is. Anyone growing up on custard as a comfort food will love this instantly. I certainly did!
Raspberry - The immediately noticeable thing about this was that it was emblazoned with a Union Jack transfer! Though most of the chocolates in this selection were traditional English flavours, this was the one GUCC had selected to fly the flag in connection with the imminent Jubilee celebrations. As for the chocolate itself, this was a simple classic pairing of intense raspberry with a dark chocolate ganache, which they pulled off with suitable panache! Another winner, amongst many in this box.
Orange Marmalade Truffle - The combination of good bitter Seville orange marmalade mixed into a deep dark chocolate ganache is one GUCC have tried with great success in previous boxes. Here the format is a spherical dusted truffle, allowing the ganache to be softer and gooier, and this makes the combination even better! These would be easy to get addicted to.
English Honey - Here the dark ganache filling has been encased in moderately thick milk chocolate, which gets things off to a creamy start before the more intense cocoa flavours of the centre emerge. As these die away, a lingering floral honey flavour shines through clearly. A very well balanced ganache, and good to see honey used to such good effect.
Custard Truffle - GUCC really love their custard, which is fine by me as I love both custard, and their approach to it (surely ALL custard should be made with white chocolate?). The white chocolate shell of this spherical truffle collapses quickly to release a downright liquid custard centre, in which the dark specks of vanilla seeds are clearly visible. This was an absolute dream of a truffle,
Rhubarb & Custard - This was a much-loved childhood pudding, so I was eager to see how GUCC had interpreted it. It was presented in the shallow rectangular format, and managed to squeeze two very thin but distinct layers into this elegant form. A layer of excellent rhubarb jelly provided sharpness, while a firm custard ganache balanced the fruit with mellow creaminess. The dark shell provided contrast and lingering cocoa flavours. A very sophisticated take on a childhood pudding!
I Wish I Was British Bar - Though you’d never guess from the name, this big, chunky, milk chocolate-covered bar was filled with a wonderfully gooey, intensely fruity passion fruit ganache. Since this kind of passion fruit centre is usually reserved for small, individual chocolates, this bar (easily four good bites in size) felt incredibly indulgent and luxurious. It’s also worth noting the smooth, highly glossy milk chocolate that thickly covered the bar. High in cocoa solids, this left a creamy, chocolatey aftertaste. Yet another triumphant big bar from GUCC.
A Very British Plain Chocolate Bar - Wrapped in a Union Jack, this dark chocolate slab uses Papua New Guinea chocolate to make a 65% cocoa solids bar. Possessing a good clean snap, this proved to be an extremely smooth chocolate with a slight tang and clean, dark, earthy cocoa flavours. It was strangely creamy somehow, despite the absence of any dairy content. Not the most complex chocolate I’ve tasted, but there’s nothing wrong with simplicity delivered this well.
Overall, I think the “English” theme worked very well, with all the traditional English chocolate flavours present and correct, but executed with a modern sophistication which was a far cry from the sickly fondants of childhood memory!
Once again, I can’t wait to see what delights next month’s themed box will reveal!
Daniel Jones Cherry Jubilee bar: 55% dark milk chocolate bar with cherries, vanilla & Kirsch. Studded with whole crystallised cherries, this was a wonderful Jubilee treat. I found the chocolate a lot sweeter than I’d expected, and not particularly complex, but taken as a whole this was a delicious and indulgent treat.
Daniel Jones is a chocolatier and patissier based in the slow-food mecca of Ludlow in Shropshire. He uses high-quality ingredients such as couvertures from Cluizel, and wholefoods and organic ingredients from local suppliers, to make intriguing filled chocolates and a variety of chocolate bars.
Tempted by a generous Jubilee offer, I bought a box of his House Collection, together with an assortment of chocolate bars (reviewed separately). As you can see, the House Collection comes in simple, elegant packaging which turns out to reflect the sophistication of the contents. Every chocolate has the same size and square shape, which continues the theme of elegant simplicity in design, but each has a distinctive appearance, making identification against the enclosed menu card a simple matter. One small grumble: the visual menu card shows twelve different flavours, and tantalisingly lists on its reverse four more “speciality flavours”, such as Orchard Pig Apple. However, my box of 16 chocolates only included five of the listed flavours, which was rather disappointing. In fairness to Daniel, the menu card does state that “each box contains a freshly handmade selection of chocolates so you may not get every single flavour in each box”. That’s fair enough, but implies each box should at least, usually, contain MOST of the flavours, so only five out of twelve flavours, across sixteen chocolates, leaves me feeling somewhat gastronomically short-changed. A bit like going for a restaurant tasting menu, then finding that half the courses are repeated.
Logistical grumbles notwithstanding, though, what of the chocolates themselves?
Rapeseed & Dukka: This is an interesting one. Dukka is an Egyptian spice mixture made from sesame, cumin, coriander, hazelnuts and salt. Given that the traditional way to use it at breakfast is to dip flatbread first into olive oil, and then into the dukka, it’s appropriate that here the already heady, earthy flavours are combined with the grassy flavours of rapeseed oil (Hindwell Gold) and a rich, dark chocolate. The result is strangely savoury, the earthy dukka blending surpringly well with the new-mown grassiness of the rapeseed. The (correctly) coarse-ground nature of the dukka also adds an interesting texture, so this is a chocolate with a lot going on, yet somehow it all hangs together as a pleasingly harmonious whole.
Blueberry Souffle: Inside a shell of dark, fruity chocolate is a thick, sticky, souffle made with blueberry puree and egg whites. The most interesting thing here is the grainy texture of the souffle, which plays very well against the crispness of the chocolate shell. My only reservation is that blueberries have a sweet, mild flavour which is rather buried under the sweetness and fruity assertiveness of the chocolate shell.
Lemongrass & Malibu: The first milk chocolate shell in the box, and beautifully fresh, creamy flavours were to the fore here, but with plenty of cacao richness in the mix, too. As for the filling, this was a very firm milk chocolate truffle, with pronounced coconut flavour, with the coconut milk adding further creaminess. The lemongrass was only present as a faint, fresh aftertaste which worked well as a palate-cleanser. But where was the Malibu? The three elements of that liqueur’s flavours are coconut, sugar, and alcohol; here we already had coconut in the form of coconut milk, and sugar from the milk chocolate. So the only thing the Malibu could bring to the party was booziness. Yet I couldn’t detect even the faintest alcohol content here. So assuming it really was present, I’d say the Malibu was a superfluous ingredient, in that it made no noticeable contribution to either flavour or texture. A very good chocolate, which I enjoyed, but one which puzzled me.
Strawberry & Pink Peppercorn: Ah, white chocolate and strawberry: a classic combination, and one which worked to perfection here, using fresh strawberry puree in a white chocolate ganache, encased in a wonderful white chocolate shell, with pieces of strawberry and pink peppercorn peeping through the upper surface of the shell, giving a gorgeous appearance. On first impression, the pink peppercorn wasn’t very apparent on the palate, but on nibbling one of the tiny pieces of peppercorm scattered throughout the ganache, the familiar perfumed flavour came flooding out, perfectly complementing the predominant creamy, fruity flavour notes. A wonderful chocolate!
Passion Fruit: Another instant favourite, beautifully decorated with multi-coloured stripes, this thick chocolate shell contained a gooey, almost liquid centre of concentrated passion fruit, which exploded onto the tastebuds. As the fruitiness faded away, the earthy spiciness of the chocolate left a lingering finish. A great finale to the selection.
On the basis of this selection, I fully intend to try the rest of Daniel’s range. He’s really trying some adventurous combinations here, especially the spectacular Rapesees & Dukka, and pulling them off with aplomb, so the prospect of seeing what he does with Sea-Salted Caramel, Gooseberry & Elderflower, and Smoked Sesame Seed (to name but a few) is tantalising!
Lauden Chocolate was set up in 2007, in Leeds, initially selling their wares at the local farmers’ markets. They don’t appear to have a physical shop, but one glance at the beautifully decorated chocolates in their cleanly laid out webshop made me want to sample the results of owners Sun and Stephen’s very evident enthusiasm for fine chocolate! I was particularly struck by their penchant for fruity fillings, these being a great favourite of mine. As luck would have it, on my birthday my wife gave me a box of their mixed chocolates, plus a single-flavour box of their salted caramels, one of several Great Taste Gold winners in their range.
Visually, a box of Lauden chocolates is spectacular and distinctive. The chocolates themselves are a uniform smooth-topped rectangular shape, but each is decorated with a vividly-patterned edible transfer. With each chocolate being a miniature work of art, Lauden brilliantly box them in clear perspex trays with sliding lids, so that the decoration on the chocs becomes the decor of the box. It’s a simple but terrifically effective idea. The key showing the different types is printed on a single base insert readable by turning the box upside-down. The boxes are physically rigid and resilient, and the uniform size and shape of the chocs keeps them firmly in place, so that they easily survive posting, which is essential for a primarily mail-order company.
But what of the chocs themselves?
Salted Caramel - I’m an absolute fiend for salted caramels, so there was an air of expectation as I bit into one of these, and one which was instantly rewarded by the dark, oozing centre! Lauden use organic sugar, and clearly the caramel uses sugar with a high molasses content, judging by the rich, treacly flavour which instantly flooded my tastebuds. Hot on the heels comes a rich butteriness, with a perfectly-judged dose of fleur de sel providing the salty back-taste. The 55% dark chocolate of the shell is of the earthy/spicy persuasion, rather than fruity, which is exactly the right decision, perfectly complementing the filling. These are so perfectly indulgent that they’ve instantly toppled my previous favourites, those made by Artisan de Chocolat, from their number 1 spot. I’ve not yet tasted Paul A Young’s much-lauded salted caramels, but if they’re better than these beauties…
Single Origin - One of the acid tests for any chocolatier is their plain unadorned ganache. This one’s quite subtle, with hints of fruitiness peeping through, so maybe the single origin is Madagascar or Ecuador in this case? Or possibly Trinidad? My tasting skills being notoriously shaky, it would be nice if they’d identified exactly which single origin we’re talking about here! Or maybe this varies from batch to batch, so they’ve gone for a more generic name that covers all eventualities? Nonetheless, a lovely smooth, soft ganache.
Lychee & Rose - Another soft ganache, the first of several fruity ones, and I could instantly see why this was a Great Taste Gold winner. The sharp yet peachy flavour of the lychee was unmistakable, but the heady floral rose flavour was equally clear, and the two combined in a flavour which was intense without being overwhelming. Fabulous.
Blackcurrant & Redcurrant - Wow! I wondered what the approach would be here, with two extremely sharp and assertive fruit flavours. The answer was: full-on. An intensely deep reddish-purple thick puree, probably mixed with some white chocolate ganache, this had an almost eye-watering intensity which I absolutely loved. Lauden clearly aren’t afraid of vivid flavours, and for me this is a good thing.
Lemon - …and speaking of vivid flavours, this was sublime. A white chocolate ganache, with an intense lemony zing, rounded out by a rich butteriness. Some very finely chopped lemon peel added freshness to the mix. The whole thing was reminiscent of a very high quality lemon curd, perfectly complemented by the dark chocolate shell.
Lime - From the sublime to… well, the even more sublime. Like biting through a chocolate shell into a fresh lime, this simply exploded onto my tastebuds. Undiluted citrus sharpness poured out of the fruit puree filling, like all my childhood memories of chocolate limes rolled into one updated, adult package. This is a chocolate that takes no prisoners, and my tongue’s still happily tingling as I write this. Perfection.
Raspberry & Rose - OK, I surrender! Quite simply, Lauden are very clearly the absolute masters of the intensely-flavoured fruit-puree chocolate. This one was reminiscent of eating a mouthfull of fresh, juicy raspberries whilst simultaneously munching a piece of top-quality chocolate-coated Turkish Delight. I’m usually ambivalent about rose flavours, but the way Lauden have combined roses with lychees and raspberries in this selection is completely convincing, and delicious.
Sour Cherry - Dark chocolate and sour cherries are natural companions, as anyone who grew up in the era of the ersatz Black Forest Gateau can testify. Zotter make a black cherry bar which until a couple of minutes ago was my favourite marriage of chocolate and cherry, but I think this one just about pips it. The centre is a firm dark chocolate ganache blended with sour cherry puree, which includes just enough tiny fragments of cherry skin to provide an interesting texture. Packed with cherry and chocolate flavour, and with plenty of sourness to justify the name. Yet another fruity winner from Lauden!
Fresh Mint - Interestingly, this contains both “pure mint” and “organic mint oil”, and both play their part in the flavour. Unlike many mint chocolates, the dark ganache at the centre of this was not excessively sweet. In fact I described it as “almost savoury”, which worked very much in its favour. As the chocolate melts, the mint oil predominates, with a clear taste of peppermint. But after the chocolate has gone, what remains in the mouth is the more subtle, and very refreshing, flavour of fresh garden mint. A perfect after-dinner mint, though I remain loyal to the Bendick’s Bittermint!
Mediterranean Orange - After the explosive exuberance of the lime and lemon chocolates, this changed the citrus theme, choosing to emphasise the perfumed aroma of oranges rather than their citrus tang. Like a very upscale chocolate orange, the scent of orange oil wafted delicately from the ganache filling, reminding me of the smell of tangerines. Cleverly, the tiny pieces of orange peel mixed into the ganache left a subtly tangy aftertaste which contrasted perfectly with the earlier aromatic flavour. Very lovely.
Marc de Champagne - Every chocolatier must essay their own interpretation of the classic Champagne Truffle - it’s an ancient bye-law, or something. Very often these are dusted with icing sugar, so rather wittily, Lauden’s decorative transfer for these chocolates has a pure white background, evoking the dusted look of the classic truffle. Once the shell melts away, there’s an immediate boozy flavour from the ganache, with a rich grapey taste coming through close behind. No cheap marc de champagne “flavourings” here, Lauden use the real thing. This results in a lingering warmth in the mouth, long after the chocolate has disappeared. My very favourite champagne truffles are rather more gooey, but this is a fine interpretation, indeed.
Passion Fruit - There’s no denying it: passion fruit is a very intensely flavoured fruit, and the only way to approach this flavour, in a chocolate filling, is full-on. And that’s exactly what Lauden have done here, blending fresh passion fruit with a white chocolate ganache to make a smooth, sharp, richly-flavoured centre. Another fruit triumph, and a great way to finish the box!
My personal taste in chocolates is for thin crisp chocolate shells, encasing intensely flavoured fillings. Whilst I can appreciate the subtleties of infusions and more delicate flavouring techniques, my heart will always belong to those chocolates which seem like there’s a whole party going on in my mouth. Lauden are very much my kind of chocolatier, with their exuberant approach to flavours, and the physical beauty of their chocolates and packaging. If I taste anything better this year, it’ll have to be something truly astonishing.