Valentine’s Day Chocolates – 2015

One of the most important (and lucrative) times of the year for chocolatiers is Valentine’s day. So here is my round-up of the best British Valentine’s chocolate around, to please every chocolate aficionado.

Montezuma’s Valentine’s Chocolate Truffle Selection – £10.99 for 16 truffles

Beautiful packaging with diddy little truffles, with the following flavours:

  • White chocolate with Strawberry ganache
  • Milk chocolate with Maple Syrup ganache
  • Dark Chocolate and White chocolate with Vanilla ganache

Valentine's (x16) Truffle Collection

The Chocolate Society – The Valentine’s Collection 2015 – £24.50 for 18 handmade hearts

Artisan handmade chocolates, made with Valrhona couverture in small batches.

Flavours include:

  • Blonde sea salt caramel
  • Raspberry and Rose caramel
  • Madagascan truffle

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Demarquette – Chocolate Caramel Hearts – 6 hearts for £12

Melting caramels made with fresh fruit purées.

  • Devon Strawberry caramel
  • Passion Fruit caramel

Demarquette Luxury Chocolates: Chocolate Caramel Hearts

Lauden – Strawberries & Cream Chocolates – £10 for 10 hearts

Dark chocolate shells filled with a dreamy strawberries and cream filling.

10 x Strawberries and Cream Chocolates

Chococo – The Love Pod – £17.50

A Venezuelan chocolate cocoa pod, filled with fresh truffles and chocolates.

Flavours include:

  • Melting Milk Truffles
  • Raspberry Riot
  • Salt Sweet Smoke
  • Romantic Rose
  • Champagne and Kalamansi
  • Perfect Passion

Melt – Valentine’s Box – 10 fresh chocolates for £19

  • White chocolate bonbon with raspberry marshmallow filling
  • Dark chocolate hearts with salted caramel
  • Rose and Lychee pate de fruits
  • Dark chocolate crunchy square
  • Gianduja dome

And finally, my personal favourite…

The Chocolatier (Aneesh Popat)  – Love Heart – £25

A glorious chocolate heart, filled with Piedmont hazelnut praline, rice crisps, caramelised hazelnut crumble and popping candy. Deelish!

Now, although not strictly chocolate, I had to include this little beauty. The packaging, the contents and the description just made me salivate.

Anges de Sucre – Valentine’s Sweet Treat Box – £15

Each box includes two macarons, two marshmallows, one muffle (a marshmallow truffle) and two teacakes.

Valentine's Day Surprise Sweet Treat Box

Happy Valentine’s everyone!

Macaroon Making at L’Atelier Des Chefs

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This weekend, I treated myself to a Macaron (or Macaroon) making class at the formidable L’Atelier Des Chef in their Oxford Circus branch. I honestly didn’t know what to expect, and was pleasantly surprised upon arriving, to be welcomed into a warm and friendly atmosphere, with a view of one of their kitchens in the background and a wonderful array of kitchen implements and gadgets galore to the left of the entrance.

We were shown to a large wooden table where I met the rest of the group (10 of us in total) and given some fetching plastic aprons to put on. Then we were let loose in the kitchen, under expert guidance from the friendly (and very patient) chef. Between us, we made the shells and fillings for the following flavours:

  • Pink shells with a buttery salted caramel filling
  • Vanilla white shells with a creamy praline crème pâtissière filling
  • Orange shells with a zingy orange and lemon buttercream
  • Green shells with a lip-licking chocolate and mint ganache

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In groups of three or four, we blitzed, mixed and folded our way to near-perfect macaroons. Some were slightly flatter than others (due to over-mixing) some did not have the crunchy shell like some of the others (due to not drying out as much) but overall we had a fabulous batch of macaroons, to nibble on the train home. The best thing, was that we were able to learn from the chef, exactly what we were doing wrong and how to get it right next time. Just what I needed, as a complete Macaron novice!

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We had two fun-filled hours and we didn’t feel rushed or under pressure to fit in too much in the time available. The class was very well organised and I am already itching to do one of their other classes – maybe one of the Baking courses (home-made jam doughnuts anyone?).

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An Afternoon at La Pâtisserie des Rêves – South Kensington

This weekend, I went to a beautiful place that I have wanted to visit for a loooong time. La Pâtisserie des Rêves in South Kensington.

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I have had the La Pâtisserie des Rêves cookbook for a while, and have drooled over the mouth-watering pictures of delicate pastries, tarts and biscuits, elaborately covered by glass domes. So you can imagine my excitement when I gazed upon  perfectly manicured platters of patisserie set inside a pastel coloured sweet shop for adults.

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The displays were eye-catching and glamorous.

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I felt that I had to try one of the signature dishes, and so plumped for the decadent Paris Brest – a light and airy choux pastry ring, filled with a praline cream and pure praline paste. The dish was very rich and sumptuous, and I am already contemplating a return visit to sample the Millefeuille.

The teaware provided was so stunning. I almost wished they would sell the teapots in store – but no such luck.

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Others in my group selected the Saint Honoré, Vanilla Gran Cru, Baba au Rhum and the Chocolate Eclair.

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All of the dishes looked gorgeous and a few more trips are required until I can be certain of my favourite. The staff were helpful and attentive, and the prices were surprisingly good for such high quality of produce. The portions are very generous and so too are the fillings.

I purchased some goodies to take home and share with The Husband. Firstly, a d’Enfants box, filled with miniature versions of full-sized patisserie. Also I bought home a packet of Coconut Marshmallows and three small tins of biscuits (I wanted the pretty tins, more than anything else!)

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Enfant Selection

PB Bite Choc Bite Crop

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World’s Best Cakes – Chocolate Gianduja Torte

It’s not often that I crave cake. Usually I crave salt or chocolate, and indulge in a manic burst of crisp-scoffing or jump head-first into a box of Ferrero Rocher (my guilty pleasure). This weekend, I was determined to bake a cake. Of course, I needed to incorporate chocolate in there somewhere, seeing as I have literally piles and piles of bars lying around my house.

My husband often reminds me of this.

‘Honey, did you know you have five bars of ‘Madécasse’ on the dressing table?’…’Yes dear’.

‘Honey, did you mean to leave that bar of Duffy’s on top of the fish tank?’…’Yes dear’.

Having spent several hours pouring through my cake books, I came across a delectable recipe for Paul A Young’s Torta Gianduja in The World’s Best Cakes, by Roger Pizey . If you are wondering, Gianduja is a paste consisting of chocolate, hazelnuts and sugar and is pronounced ‘Gi-an-doo-ya’.

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Roger Pizey is a renowned Chef and has worked alongside Marco Pierre White, who wrote the forward for his fabulous book. Marco describes him as ‘One of the finest pastry chefs Britain has ever known’, and going by his recipes, I couldn’t agree more.

So, on to the business of cake-making. This is a large and very rich cake, which will comfortably feed twelve peckish people or eight piggy ones!

Paul A Young’s Torte Gianduja

Ingredients:

160g butter at room temperature

180g dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids, Paul A Young uses Valrhona Guanaja, but I used Pacari Raw Organic 70%)

65ml hot water

60g cocoa powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

1 tbsp Frangelico or Amaretto (Frangelico is a hazelnut liquor, whilst Amaretto is an almond based liquor)

260g light muscovado sugar

4 eggs separated

150g ground hazelnuts

A pinch of well-crushed Maldon sea salt

Method:

Preheat the oven to Gas mark 2 ½/160oC/310oF and line an 8 inch (21cm) round cake tin.

Melt the butter with the chocolate in a bowl, over a pan of simmering water, on a low heat, stirring constantly.

Pour the hot water into a bowl and whisk in the cocoa powder until there are no lumps. I found that the cocoa powder and water mixture became a sticky ball, instead of a paste, so I added a little more water to make it ‘whiskable’. Then add the vanilla and the liquor.

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Add the cocoa mixture to the chocolate and butter. Mix well to make a smooth batter.

In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar, until thick and light in colour. Now, as the recipe does not give you the size of egg required, I used medium eggs, and found the yolk/sugar mixture was slightly too thick to whisk. So I added a splash of water to the egg yolk mixture, to enable me to mix it properly.

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Then pour in the chocolate mixture and add the ground hazelnuts. Fold well until fully incorporated.

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Cakey Swirl

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In a clean, dry bowl, whisk the egg whites with the pinch of salt, until you have soft peaks.

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Gently fold in the egg whites with a large metal spoon.

Pour into the cake tin, and bake for 40-45 minutes. I found that the centre of my cake was very soft (which I didn’t mind as I like my cakes squidgy, but if you like yours cooked through, you can leave in the oven for an extra 5-10 minutes.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely in the tin.

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Serve on its own, with a cup of strong coffee or as suggested in the book, with a dollop of sweet mascarpone (mascarpone cheese mixed with icing sugar).

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Et Voila! My cake and sugar fix is fulfilled, and not a Ferrero Rocher wrapper in sight.

Waitrose Seriously Intense 49% Milk Chocolate

 

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I stumbled across Waitrose’s 49% Seriously Intense bar, as I went looking for a lunchtime chocolate fix last week, Usually my hand automatically reaches for the Grenada Chocolate Company bars, but I thought I would give Waitrose’s offering a try, as being only 5 bars away on the shelf, I assumed it would be a similar type of product (oh, how wrong I was).

The shiny blue wrapping is appealing to the eye, and gives an air of simplistic elegance. On the back, there is some blurb explaining that Waitrose have worked with an “Italian Chocolatier” to create a unique “blend of chocolate”. It is a shame that there is no mention of the providence of the beans used to make the chocolate. I always enjoy matching the flavour to the producing country, but I suppose that the majority of consumers will not know about the flavour complexities of the varieties of bean available, so maybe it made sense for Waitrose to withhold this information.

I wonder how soon this will change, now that the UK fine chocolate industry is experiencing meteoric growth. Hopefully, not too long until we are told which country our cocoa beans are from on the packet?

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Upon opening, there was a very chocolatey smell, no other distinct aromas came through. I expected some other indication of the origin of the bean, so I was baffled to begin with. I was confident that it wasn’t Ecuador, Peru or Madagascar, all of which have very powerful aromas, so I was inclined to think that it may be an African country, maybe Ghana – which tends to have pronounced ‘Cocoa’ notes.

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The surface of the chocolate was very waxy – as you would expect from the high cocoa butter content. The texture although smooth, was a little grainy, but not so much that it is noticeable to the average palate and it melted quickly in the mouth. The flavour was one-dimensional (Chocolatey) with no other discerning flavours leaving very little after-taste. A slight hint of cocoa remained, but nothing lasting.

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Which brings me to my conclusion; although marketed as ‘Seriously Intense’, I’m sorry to say that I was left disappointed with the lacklustre flavour of this bar. It claims to be “unique” and “bursting with flavour” both of which statements I am afraid, I do not agree with. From this offering, I think there is a long way to go, before supermarkets can begin to compete with the best artisan bean-to-bar manufacturers out there.

 

 

Chocolate Olive Oil Cake

Nigella Lawson has always been an inspiration to me. Through her simple recipes she conveys a message, that simple yet tasty food is attainable after a hard day at work.

When I came across her recipe for Chocolate Olive Oil Cake, I was interested to see how this very easy recipe would turn out if I made a chocolatey tweak. This recipe is gluten-free and dairy free too, so is kind to sensitive tummies.

The basic recipe calls for a mixture of cocoa powder and boiling water to be added to the cake batter. Well, being the chocolate-fiend that I am, I decided to try replacing this with melted dark chocolate. I had a bag of Barry Callebaut Ocoa 70% dark chocolate at hand, and so used this by melting it down in the microwave in thirty-second bursts to make a glossy paste. You can buy Ocoa chocolate here.

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Now, I didn’t have any ground almonds at home, but I improvised by grinding up some flaked almonds in a small grinder until it resembled ground almonds. It turned out that the almond mixture was not as fine as shop brought stuff, but it definitely added texture!

Firstly, I started by heating my chocolate in the microwave. I estimated that around 150g would be similar to the cocoa powder and water mixture. I added the vanilla extract, then set aside while I blitzed the flaked almonds.

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In a bowl, I placed the ground almonds in with the baking soda and pinch of salt.

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Then I started working on the cake batter by putting the sugar, olive oil and eggs into the bowl of my mixer and beating hard for about 3 minutes. The mixture became pale, but didn’t really thicken up as much as I expected. I wonder if I needed to beat for a few more minutes.

Then I turned the mixer down and slowly added the melted chocolate, and when that had been incorporated, I scraped down the bowl and slowly poured in the almond mixture. The batter was very liquid, which worried me a little, but the recipe states this, so I carried on regardless!

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After baking for for 45 minutes, the top was crispy and after turning out from the tin, this was the final result. Delicious!

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The inside…2014-05-17 22.03.10 2014-05-17 22.03.29 2014-05-17 22.03.39The texture was light and airy, the cake itself was not too sweet, and I think on reflection, I may use a darker chocolate – maybe an 80-85% for a more indulgent chocolatey taste. A great summer pudding, served with some Greek yoghurt and raspberries. Yum!

If looking for a fruity twist, try Nigella’s Lemon Polenta Cake, which is super moist and tangy and equally as light and of course, wheat and dairy free!

 

REVIEW – TCHO SeriousMilk “Cacao” Bar

For those of us with a semi-sweet tooth, may I present to you the TCHO SeriousMilk “Cacao” bar with a whopping 53% cocoa. Beautifully packaged, inside a sleek, almost architectural, cardboard outer, this bar looks and smells really enticing.

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This bar is packed full of organic, fairly traded and kosher ingredients and at 58g is a perfect size to share with a friend (or, like me, scoff the lot in one big swoop!)

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This milky concoction fills even the steadfast dark chocolate lovers in awe, with a melting embrace of fudgy goodness, which leaves you wide-eyed and wanting more. The aroma is similar to a steaming, hot bowl of cocoa, ready and waiting for a crusty croissant to be dipped in, head-first.

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Initially a pleasant sweetness tantalises your taste-buds, but this is swiftly followed by a punchy chocolate flavour which envelopes your mouth with its creamy texture. This is the lasting impression, leaving you feeling balanced and truly content.

TCHO chocolate can be found in the UK at Cocoa Runners.

Devnaa – Coffee Masala Caramels (Limited Edition)

On this dreary January afternoon, I need a pick-me-up. Something to lift my mood and to awake my senses. After a 45 minute workout, and a strong cup of Chai Tea, I still cannot muster the enthusiasm to tackle the weekly kitchen deep-clean.

Out of the corner of my eye…what do I see? Yay!, I have a brand-new box of Devnaa’s Coffee Masala Caramels waiting for me! From the bright pink and purple, tiffin-box inspired packaging to the heady chocolate aroma, this is just what the doctor ordered.

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From looking at their lovely website, I learn that Devnaa is a British company, run by brother and sister duo Jay and Roopa Rawal. Roopa is a former student of the Slattery School of Excellence in Manchester, where she gained knowledge of Artisan chocolate making. Together they founded the company and have been inspired by Roopa’s natural talents at making Indian desserts.

Although Indian food is hugely popular in the UK, Indian puddings are often said to be too sweet or too rich. I spent many childhood holidays visiting relatives in Kolkata (or Calcutta as it was known back then), where I was spoilt rotten by every female relative, by being given huge plates of Indian sweets (and often scolded for not being able to eat it all!). I admit, I also found many of the sweetmeats sickly and soon became tired of them. So I am intrigued by one of Devnaa’s creations; their Indian Sweets Tiffin Box, which is a selection of hand-made flavoured barfi enrobed in Belgian chocolate. I am interested to see how they have managed to balance the delicate flavours of fine chocolate with the powerful punch of exotic flavours in the barfi. This may have to be my next purchase from Devnaa.

Roopa and Jay have also written a cookbook, entitled “Devnaa Indian-Inspired Desserts“, which includes some traditional Indian sweets, alongside some recipes with a western influence. This has already been added to my wish-list (Husband…take note).

However…I digress.

Created as a limited edition run for Autumn/Winter 2012, I snapped up a box of the Coffee Masala Caramels just after Christmas. The caramel is infused with a signature blend of spices (cinnamon, cardamom, clove and ginger) and roasted coffee; an intoxicating combination, and just what I need to bring a smile back on my face.

The chocolates are packaged in a beautiful purple box, with a bright pink tiffin-box style packaging reminiscent of the metal Indian lunch boxes that my cousins would take to school each day, stacked full of parathas, dahl and vegetable curry (and of course, some obligatory sweetmeats)!

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Inside, are sixteen devilishly handsome dark chocolates, shaped into little balls, nestled in royal purple finery. These are kings indeed! Biting into the thick dark shell, brings an almighty snap and a crunch from the crystallised sugar on top. The caramel is thick and gooey, smooth, not too sweet and strong with the masala flavours. I find tiny traces of cinnamon and ginger within the caramel which pleasantly linger on my tongue and mingle with the chocolate.

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The chocolate shell is thick, which means that the coffee and masala flavour is muted at the end of the tasting, once the chocolate starts to melt.However, the darkness of the chocolate compliments the strong coffee and fragrant masala very well, and I feel that without the thick coating, the caramel would be far too sweet and the chocolate would be overpowered.

After devouring just three delicious morsels my happy mood is again restored and I am once again ready to face the world (and the kitchen)!

Artisan Du Chocolat – 20 Piece Couture Box

British company Artisan Du Chocolat, create chocolates which are beautiful to look at and a pleasure to eat. I’m not a chocolate snob and I enjoy a wagon wheel, as much as I do a Single Origin truffle, but if I could give a prize for the “Best in Show” for chocolate packaging, presentation and the whole eating experience, then it would surely be a Gold Medal to Artisan Du Chocolat’s 20 Piece Couture Box.

The box itself is a white textured square, with a tiny brown toggle as the fastening. A really lovely and decadent touch. Almost as luxurious as the chocolate inside!

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Inside is a short (but inspiring) blurb, printed on an orange woven material which states:

“This box tells the story of our passion for chocolate

For the lush exotic lands that nourish it and give it it’s distinctive taste

For the farmers who nurture it

For it’s magical refinement in our conch and our mill

For it’s whimsical union with herbs and spices, nuts, fruits or flowers

For the pleasure it gives”

The chocolates are very fresh and there is another note stating that they are best devoured within two weeks of purchase. Although, for such sumptuous chocolate to last this long in my house is unthinkable!

There are twenty chocolates and twenty different flavours inside the box. A small booklet is  also provided which describes all of Artisan Du Chocolate’s flavours, and it is by consulting this that I can discover which flavours I have in my box. It is almost like a chocolate lottery, as there are 38 couture chocolate flavours on the list!

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The couverture chocolate coating is ultra-thin and has a satisfying “snap” when you bite into the chocolate. Although these chocolates are not hand-made, they have had the finishing touches added by hand, which gives them a lovely appearance, unlike the uniform mass-produced chocolates that you find in supermarkets.

In my selection, I have the following flavours (from left to right; top to bottom):

Pure Origin: Madagascar Dark – A smooth, rich ganache with a melt-in-the-mouth consistency. The dark chocolate has a well rounded fruity flavour, which leaves a pleasant after-taste.

Marzipan – This ganache has a slightly grainy texture, which reminds me of the blocks of marzipan used to make cakes. The flavour is somewhat muted, but does not have the same chemical after-taste of the mass-produced marzipan. The almond flavour lingers for quite some time afterwards.

Violet – The flowery flavour is not overpowering and leaves a lovely floral after-taste. The ganache is one of the more softer fillings, and disappears in my mouth almost instantly.

Coconut – A gorgeous, crunch to the ganache is a nice surprise, with slivers of toasted coconut mixed in with the creamy mixture, leaving me with a big smile on my face. This is definitely one of my favourites!

Passion Fruit – I have to admit, that I wasn’t looking forward to this flavour, as I am not a fan of passion fruit. However, I am completely blown away by the strong initial “hit” of the tart, fruity jelly, which sits atop the smooth, dark chocolate ganache. My eyes are literally wide open as the flavours mingle in my mouth to form a very pleasant flavour, which leaves no after-taste, and cleans the palate in preparation for the next chocolate. Absolutely divine!

Ginger – A subtle, almost candied-ginger flavoured ganache, which melts instantly in the mouth. There is an overwhelming feeling of warmth and contentment after devouring this chocolate.

Lumi – The main flavour in this ganache is from Iranian sun-dried limes, and is my favourite chocolate in this box. A very unusual taste, zingy and fresh, which leaves a taste of fragrant lime zest on my tongue and is complemented perfectly by the dark chocolate couverture. The flavour reminds me a little of Indian Lime Pickle!

Cinnamon – The cinnamon ganache is very strong and very sweet, however I believe it needs the sweetness to balance the strong flavour. Interestingly, this leaves no after-taste in my mouth.

Unknown chocolate with pink hearts – This is a flavour which is not listed on the booklet, so I was very excited to see if I could guess what it was correctly. On biting into the dark chocolate, I find a trembling jelly which tastes of either blackberry or raspberry, or a mixture! The flavour is strong and acidic, and is complemented beautifully by the creamy chocolate.

Rose – A rich, smooth ganache, which tastes like a gooey Turkish delight. This leaves a fragrant after-taste for a short while.

Orange – The ganache is thick, slightly bitter from the dark chocolate, but has a lovely, subtle orange flavour. The orange tastes freshly squeezed, and sun-drenched.

Tonka – This is a spice that is said to resemble vanilla and bitter almonds. Unfortunately, the flavour is just too subtle to be distinguishable, and tastes rather bland. Maybe to prepare us for the next tantalising treat?

Fresh Mint – Another zingy flavour, with a great hit of stimulating mint from the first bite. It is almost like eating a chocolate-coated mint leaf and, I imagine, will taste fabulous alongside a Mojito.

Sea Salted Caramel – A sticky, chewy ganache, which is heavier than the other chocolates. This leaves a caramel after-taste, and is not too sweet, unlike some of the other Salted Caramels on the market.

Pure Origin: Java Dark – This is a smooth, melting ganache, which disappeared in a second. The initial flavour is an earthy one, which is hard to describe, but the final hint was of smoke.

Honey – A highly honey-perfumed chocolate which is not too sweet and well balanced by the dark chocolate couverture.

House Tea – We can only guess at which tea was used to create this smokey, aromatic ganache, Earl Grey or Lady Grey is my best estimate, but I am not tea connoisseurs so your guess is as good as mine. A delicious and intriguing blend of flavours.

Vanilla – This smooth, sweet ganache has a very subtle vanilla flavour, but has no real “punch”. However, it does well to cleanse the palate in readiness for the next wonderful concoction.

Coffee and Star Anise – Biting into this decadent chocolate brings a crisp, sugary crunch. A strong, bitter coffee hit is followed by a subtle, fragrant hint of anise. There is something very comforting about this combination of flavours, almost like the smell of baking bread and coffee brewing in the morning. It leaves me feeling warm and content.

Sechuan Pepper – A very bold flavour, bringing a warmth from the pepper, which is not harsh or overpowering at all. It has an aromatic chilli kick, that leaves a faint, tingling sensation in the mouth, and lingers for several minutes afterwards.

There is something in this box of treasures to suit everyone, from the fussiest chocolate lover to the most unadventurous of people. The unusual flavours were my highlight, with the Lumi, Passion Fruit and Coffee and Star Anise, being my absolute favourites. If I could bathe in the stuff, I would.

Paul A Young – Lapsang Souchong Tea and Rosemary Chocolates

Today I sampled a limited edition flavour of chocolate, bought from my latest trip to Paul A Young Fine Chocolates, located on Wardour Street in Soho.

I am very partial to a nice, strong cup of Lapsang Souchong tea when I am at home, relishing it’s earthy smokiness. I have been told that it is an acquired taste, but I was hooked from the first sip.

So you can imagine my excitement, when I was drawn to a tiny, shiny ballotin box of Lapsang Souchong Tea and Rosemary chocolates. I was initially unsure of the Rosemary element, as although it pairs wonderfully with Lamb, it is quite unusual to see it matched with Tea.

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The small cubes of chocolate snapped cleanly, exposing a dark, water ganache. Immediately, my mouth filled with an intense smoky flavour, and a subtle hint of rosemary. This faded quickly, but the smoke remains even now, and is rather pleasant! The chocolate is a dark 72% cocoa, which leaves an oh-so slight bitterness at the back of my tongue and has a nutty, roasted after-taste, similar to the aftermath of drinking an espresso coffee.

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I really loved trying a new flavour, and was surprised by the unusual combination, which works together beautifully. I look forward to trying some of Paul’s other wonderful creations!