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.