The nights are drawing in and there is no escaping the autumnal nature of the weather. It’s also National Chocolate Week so time to get tucked up with a mug of cocoa and a huge selection of chocolate.
There’s something rather wonderful about the aroma that wafts out from a good box of chocolates when you lift the lid off. Hotel Chocolat never fails to disappoint in this regard. This beautiful gold box, embossed with coppery gold oak leaves and acorns, is the Autumn Sleekster. It’s just made its way onto the shelves in time to help us through the shortening days.
The Autumn Sleekster contains 27 chocolates with the comforting tastes of mellow fruitfulness. I found walnuts, crumble, pecan pie and banana bread. As always with Hotel Chocolat, there are new chocolates to get excited about amongst some familiar favourites. Salted caramel is my top chocolate and the one I will always hunt for first. Thankfully it’s not been forgotten here. No good chocolate selection box is complete without at least one, I reckon. This autumn sleekster not only has two salted caramel pecan pies, but also two salted caramel vodka chocolates. Oh joy!
The salted caramel vodka is warming and sumptuous and the flavours linger on for some time after eating. This makes for a particularly satisfying experience. I was delighted to find an autumnal apple crumble. You really can’t have a self-respecting autumn collection without one of those. It may be a little different from the blackberry and apple crumble I recently posted, but you definitely know what you’re getting. Tart apple alongside spiced caramel sits in a dark chocolate cup with a little crunchy crumble on the top.
I was a little surprised to find that the Banana Bread was one of my favourites. Banana bread is lovely of course, but you don’t expect it to feature in a box of chocolates. It has crunchy walnuts and hazelnuts with banana and just a hint of cinnamon in a milk chocolate shell. For CT, who is rather fond of coffee flavoured chocolates, there were a couple of Tiramisu which kept him happy for a while. With a choice of whipped mousse, chewy florentine, marzipan, pralines and dark chocolate, to mention but a few, there is something to suit every palette.
The colours of the chocolates are mostly dark oranges and tans to reflect the seasonal colour, as is the box, which is why I find it so appealing; I think I’ll have to keep it. The nuts, spices, alcohol and general warm coziness found in the chocolates make this a box to dip into after a bracing walk through the autumn leaves. Snuggle up and enjoy. Sorry Denmark, but who needs hygge?
Halloween Bites from Hotel Chocolat
Hotel Chocolat has risen through the ranks in recent years and is now a well known high street chocolate brand with an innovative range of high quality chocolates that are ethically sourced. Some of their chocolate is grown on their very own Rabot Estate on St Lucia. It is a particular favourite of mine as their house milk chocolate has a high cocoa content of 40% with some of their range going much higher still. With Halloween fast approaching (groan), Hotel Chocolat have produced a range of ghoulish goodies. I was sent a box of Halloween Bites to get stuck into, which I duly did.
There is something for everyone in this box: dark, milk, white, sweet, sophisticated, it’s all here. The menu card, cleverly tucked into the back of the box is suitably creepy. For those on the squeamish side and I count myself amongst that number, the eyeballs are really quite horrific. Luckily not all of the chocolates stare back at you. There are cute little pumpkins much more suited to delicate constitutions or even better, the straight salted caramel and dark caramels.
Salted Soft Caramel – I just couldn’t help myself, I reached for this one first. As regular readers will know, I am in love with salted caramel. I have tried the Hotel Chocolat ones, er, once or twice before, so I knew just how good they are. Liquid caramel with a touch of sea salt which I find to be very well balanced, melts through the milk chocolate giving a burst of exquisite flavour.Soft Caramel – Similar to the salted soft caramel, but made with Hotel Chocolat’s darker 50% milk chocolate. I am a big fan of a darker milk chocolate and find it quite hard to source, so was delighted with this.
Oozy Eyes – White – Filled with a sweet red gory caramel which seemed to have a slightly fruity flavour, these eyeballs were nothing if not grotesque. Kids will love them.
The Crystal Skull – A large piece of milk chocolate full of cherry flavoured crystals which I found quite delicious, both in texture and flavour – that is, as long as I kept my mind well away from the thought of crunching on skull bones. This was very cleverly done.
Artisan du Chocolat No 1 – Sea Salted Caramels
I had the joy of sampling these sea salted caramels from Artisan du Chocolat at a food bloggers conference in Birmingham a couple of years ago and they have lived on in my memory ever since. When I was offered a 130g box from The Handpicked Foodstore to review, I nearly bit their hand off. These caramels are darkly sophisticated and utterly delicious. They are quite small in size and come in a substantial reusable tub presented in a simple, elegent box – maybe their stylist is Cocoa Chanel. A dark chocolate shell, coated in cocoa powder contains a liquid caramel that is slightly salted and full on in flavour. The salt used is a grey sea salt harvested by hand from clay marshes in the Vendée, just south of Brittany and is reputed to be full of beneficial micro nutrients. I was fascinated to learn about the Island of Noirmoutier, where the salt is harvested. I am now keen to visit and walk the three mile causeway to the island which can only be done at low tide. Invented by Gerard Coleman for Gordon Ramsay at Claridges in 2003, these artisan chocolate caramels set the scene for the many sea salted caramels that followed them.
The Handpicked Foodstore is an online delicatessen delivering fine foods sourced from small artisan producers, mostly from the UK. If the chocolate section is anything to go by, I can vouch that this statement is true; a range of chocolates from Rococo, Montezuma and Artisan du Chocolat are on offer. A 130g tub containing approximately 24 sea salted caramels costs £13.50. These are not an every day chocolate, but one of these caramels goes a long way and they are well worth considering for gifts and special occasions. Are you listening CT?
Chocolate and Love
There is a new bar in the Chocolate and Love range – a single origin dark chocolate bar. I was sent one of these, together with a Crushed Diamonds to try, another intriguing offering. I have reviewed a couple of Chocolate and Love bars before and been impressed with their quality. The ingredients are both fairly traded and organic, which already puts them ahead of the pack. Interestingly, neither bar contains lecithin, soya or otherwise, so I wonder why this is such a common ingredient in so many other chocolate bars. I am particularly taken by the design used for their chocolate wrappers, which are inspired by the jungle in which the cocoa beans are grown. Further information about the bar and the cocoa growers can be found on the reverse side along with pictures of some of the growers and producers. As before, I was rather disappointed to find the inner wrapper was still plastic; for me, this does not represent the high quality of what is found inside and I feel, does it a disservice.
Panama (80%) – cocoa mass, raw cane sugar, cocoa butter, ground vanilla
It always surprises me just how different chocolate can taste. As a single origin chocolate, the terroir as well as the type of bean and production techniques plays a part in the unique flavour profile. The beans used for this chocolate are the finer varieties of Trinitario and Criollo. For an 80% bar, I was surprised at how little bitterness there was. In fact it was quite moreish, which is unusual for very dark chocolate. It had a very smooth mouthfeel with notes of coffee and a hint of citrus.
Crushed Diamonds (55%) – cocoa mass, raw cane sugar, cocoa butter, whole cane sugar, milk fat, roasted cocoa nibs, ground vanilla
What a fabulous name for a chocolate bar, for surely chocolate is the diamond of the food industry. Not surprisingly, this tasted quite sweet after sampling the Panama. CT noted a subtle and very pleasant pear drop flavour to it. The cocoa nibs, however, provide a note of contrasting bitterness as well as texture; this is less of a chocolate to melt slowly and voluptuously in the mouth and more one to crunch with gusto.
Baileys Chocolat Luxe
Oh boy, there is not much I can say about this other than one sip and I was hooked. In fact one sniff of the heady aroma of chocolate and alcohol and all restraint was abandoned. Warming, soothing and velvety, this is the ideal antidote to those autumn blues. The flavour of chocolate and whiskey slowly inveigles itself from the tip of the tongue to the back of the throat and everywhere in between in a most delightful way. I started with a small glass and very quickly progressed to a second. CT, who has always been a secret Baileys tippler was equally enamoured of this chocolate version. “They say Guinness is good for you but Baileys Chocolat is better”, quipped CT. As it turned out, he found it to be excellent medicine for the autumnal cold he picked up.
The serving suggestion is to pour over ice, but we prefer it neat. It would of course be delicious over ice-cream and if I can hide it from CT and his spurious “for medicinal purposes” claims, I have some interesting ideas for using it in Christmas baking.
Just out, this chocolate in a bottle has taken three years in the making. After 839 attempts at getting a perfect blend of whiskey and Belgian chocolate, Anthony Wilson, the son of the original Baileys Irish Cream creator, finally cracked it. Baileys Chocolat Luxe (15.7%) is now available at £16.99 for a 50cl bottle. Try not to drink it all at once.
Divine Chocolate Bars
An ethical chocolate producer I rate highly is Divine, which released the first Fairtrade chocolate available in the UK. The cocoa farmers in Ghana own nearly half of the company, so we can be assured that Divine is truly offering a fair price to the growers. I have written about them before in my post Divine Intervention where you can find out a bit more about the company.
Some time ago now, I was sent a couple of bars of each of their newest creations. I really don’t understand where time goes anymore, but one thing I do know, there is always plenty of things to write about. As before, the chocolate arrived well packaged, but I was keen to open the box and have a look at the new bars.
Divine chocolate bars are distinctively adorned with striking west African Adrinka motifs that draw my eye every time I see them. On the inside of each wrapper, you will find a story from some of the cocoa farmers belonging to the co-operative. This is a particularly inspiring feature which brings to life the journey of bean to bar and shows Divine really does care about the people involved in the whole chocolate making process. I have yet to be disappointed with any of the Divine bars I’ve tried, so let’s see how these two bars fare.
Milk Chocolate with Toffee and Sea Salt (38% cocoa – sugar, cocoa butter, skimmed milk powder, cocoa mass, butterscotch, butterfat, sea salt, soya lecithin, vanilla).
With my predilection for the sweet and salt combination, I was looking forward to trying this one. The chocolate itself is smooth but with interesting textural editions of toffee shards and salt crystals. The flavour of toffee is the first to impact the palate but then the salt comes through, which is probably the right way around. Interestingly the toffee lingers on the palate after the saltiness has dispersed – a pleasant sensation. It is not as sweet as you might expect and isn’t overly salty. Both CT and I detected notes of coconut in the chocolate, which we both really liked.
Dark Chocolate with Chilli & Orange (70% cocoa) – chilli chocolate is a particular favourite of mine, so I was looking forward to trying this one. Citrussy orange notes are the first to be detected, but are not overwhelming or synthetic in quality as is sometimes the case with other brands of orange chocolate. The chilli then begins to make its presence felt in a gentle but increasingly firm manner which leads to a pleasant afterglow in the mouth. Again, the chocolate is very smooth and melts delightfully on the tongue. We both found this to be surprisingly moreish for a dark chocolate.
These 100g bars are available at Waitrose and on the Divine online shop retailing at £2 a bar.
Just in time for Chocolate Week, which starts this Monday, 14 October, Fudge Kitchen have launched a gourmet fudge collection of nine chocolate miniatures – Chocolate Indulgence. The company have been making their specialist whipping cream fudge for the last 30 years using an old American recipe from the 1830s. Handmade on traditional marble slabs, the fudge is also hand decorated for individual effect. I generally find fudge too sweet these days, but I wasn’t going to turn down the offer of trying some when I got the chance.
Devilishly different, according to Fudge Kitchen, I was keen to see how it compared to some of our own Cornish fudge. The fudge squares were attractively presented in their own box with a key to which one of the nine flavours was which. All made with whipping cream, butter, golden syrup and chocolate of course, Fudge Kitchen, use no artificial additives in their products and indeed there was nothing on the list of ingredients to cause me to frown. The pieces were large, so I shared them with CT, although the sharing fairy may not have approved of my somewhat irregular divisiion of the spoils. The fudge was of the fudgy variety rather than crumbly and was very dense. I enjoyed all of them, but as predicted, I found them to be a little too sweet, although some more so than others. I think the flavours would have come through better if less sugar was involved as too much sugar tends to overwhelm my palate. They were all very rich, so are probably best enjoyed a little bit at a time, which is how it should be really.
Dark Chocolate and Pistachio – rich and sweet with overtones of molasses, this was very nice, but I couldn’t detect any pistachio flavour. CT thought the flavour more akin to liquorice.
Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt – one of my favourite combinations, so I was particularly looking forward to this one. It smelt wonderful, sweet and richly chocolatey at the same time. There was a definite taste of the salty sea which I liked, although when it comes to salt, less is more. It was less sweet than the pistachio and CT noticed a slightly drying effect on the palate, which you often get with dark chocolate.
White Chocolate and Raspberry – this is a classic combination and worked very well in the fudge, I thought. The raspberry flavour was refreshing and maybe because of this it wasn’t as sweet as I was expecting it to be. In fact it was quite delicious and turned out to be my favourite.
Belgian Chocolate Swirl – tasted more like vanilla fudge than chocolate to me. Nice, but lacking in any particular distinctive characteristics.
Chocolate Fruit & Nuts – rich and nutty with raisins and walnuts creating a chewy texture giving it additional interest. CT likened it to Christmas cake.
Hazelnut Heaven – a fudgy praline with a nice flavour and smooth texture, but rather too sweet for me. CT enjoyed the way the flavour persisted on his palate.
Double Trouble Chocolate – tasted like milk chocolate and reminded me a little of a chocolate version of the Indian sweet barfi.
Chilli Chocolate – the chilli worked really well with the chocolate fudge allowing the flavour as well as the heat to slowly develop. This was my favourite after the raspberry. It was really quite hot, but this helped to punch through its sweetness.
Rich Chocolate Classic – as its title suggested, this one was very rich and tasted the most chocolatey of all; because of this it was a little less sweet.
Choccy Munchy Seeds
Now here is an intriguing idea – chocolate covered seeds. If you need an excuse to eat chocolate, this might just be it. Pumpkin and sunflower seeds all enrobed with our favourite ingredient. I was sent the new chilli and ginger Munchy Seeds to try as well as a packet of an apricot mix. Well, chilli and ginger combined with chocolate was not something I was going to say no to.
These Choccy Munchy Seeds come in packets of 50g so are just about right for a moorland walk. They cost between £1.50 and £2.00 and are available at Harvey Nichols or directly from Munchy Seeds online. The seeds have a decent amount of chew to them and this slows down consumption and increases the enjoyment.
Tasty treats these are indeed, but I’m not sure they are quite as healthy for you as the manufacturer would have you believe – sugar is, after all, quite high up in the list of ingredients and these did taste rather sweet. That said, if you’re looking for a chocolate snack, these are likely to be better for you than a standard confectionary bar.
All in all, these were a fun and interesting way to increase our intake of some useful vitamins and minerals. They were, actually, good enough to inspire me to have a go at making my own. I’ll let you know how I get on.
Belgian Dark Chocolate with Chilli & Ginger
Unlike my chocotos, these are not going to cause a major melt down in your mouth, but they do leave a pleasant, if subtle warmth behind. Covered in Belgian Plain Chocolate (65%), the seeds were more palatable than they might otherwise have been. Although I enjoy raw pumpkin seeds, I’m not so keen on sunflowers in their raw state. The best bits were the ginger chunks, the chilli contributing to their overall heat and deliciousness – shame there were so few of them.
Belgian Chocolate Mix with Apricots
The pumpkin seeds and apricot pieces were covered in the same 65% dark chocolate whereas the sunflower seeds were covered in 30% milk. This made for an interesting combination. Again the sunflowers benefited from their chocolate covering and the dark chocolate offset the sweetness of the apricots.