February 11, 2014
Here is my pick of delicious things worthy of your loved one.
‘If music be the food of love……’
Yes, I know how it goes, but much as I love music, from Albinoni to Zimmerman, surely the food of love is chocolate! So, at this romantic time of year, whether you are loved up or feeling unloved, there is chocolate aplenty to give him indoors, her not yet won over, or just cut out the middle man and give yourself some love.
Here is a little round up of some seasonal treats worthy of your devotion.
Dorset based Chococo, under the expert guidance of Claire Burnet, can always be relied upon to create utterly desirable and quirky seasonal shapes and treats. Their Cupid Chocolate Heart is a gorgeous thing, half milk chocolate, half dark, and adorned with tasty kitsch white chocolate putti and a love-heart with a Valentine appropriate message. Chococo always use truly fine chocolate so the taste and quality never disappoint. Everything they do is made to order, and can be found online, or in branches of John Lewis, and if you are lucky enough to live in Winchester you could visit their brand new boutique, the first away from their home turf shop and café in Purbeck.
Another chocolatier that always delivers beauty along with taste is Rococo. Chantal Coady’s four shops and online store are packed with Valentine treats that are simply stunning to look at. Her background in art and design mean that their visuals are always led by a really fine eye and hand. I am always blown away by their hand painted shapes, and the hearts this year are particularly special. They have something to suit every level of purchase, as these come large and small and are all equally enchanting. They also have a charming new personal service, if you go in store you can write your own love message on a heart shaped notelet, which is then folded and enclosed in a painted chocolate heart before it is boxed up for you.
While their hand painted things come into their own at present-giving time, Rococo’s filled chocolates are exemplary, so you may also be tempted to buy those. If so they have stunning heart shaped boxes, in their trademark blue and white print, which would make an equally romantic gift. I have recently sampled a few of their winter collection, which include lovely warming flavours, like a gingerbread ganache, perfect for curling up with someone in front of a fire. Their new Mandarin and Tonka Bean Caramel is a stand out treasure. The mandarin once again displays Principal Chocolatier Barry Johnson’s genius with citrus flavours, this time it is given depth and a subtle sexiness with the gentle addition of this intriguing spice.
Their new ganaches for Valentines are equally accomplished and have a more obviously romantic vibe. Lemon and violet is a zingy affair, a white chocolate ganache in a heart shaped milk chocolate. ‘Mara des Bois’ Strawberry and Rhubarb is a gourmet version of rhubarb and custard flavour, with white chocolate for sweetness and the particularly aromatic variety of strawberry ensuring the maximum amount of flavour. Lychee, Rose and Raspberry, a dark chocolate ganache in a dark chocolate heart, is a masterclass in balancing flavours while remaining bold. The rose and lychee are in utter harmony, while the raspberry ensures the fruity flavour notes of the chocolate are amplified and play their part. A wonderful chocolate. My favourite of all their Valentines offering is the simplest, Blackberry and Star Anise. I like the flattened square of this ganache, Rococo do these pavés very well, it is a shape that allows the chocolate enrobing the ganache more impact on the overall taste than a deeper filled chocolate. This is a beautifully refined ganache of a dark chocolate rich in red fruit notes, enhanced by the dark berry fruit, and rounded off by a hint of spice. It is very clean, and quite unutterably delicious.
If you want to go the classical route, you cannot go wrong with the elegant and refined offerings from La Maison du Chocolat. The archetypal red heart-shaped box says it all, and the chocolates inside will not disappoint. They are a very well crafted selection of traditional ganaches created by Principal Chocolatier Nicolas Cloiseau. A jasmin infused dark ganache hits a delicate floral note, while a violet ganache surprised me with the gentle and delicious acidity of red fruits in the dark chocolate. It was a perfect match for the floral notes of the violet, bringing more flavour and complexity to the chocolate.
Patricia Hodgkinson of I Wanna Cocoa has produced a crowd-pleasing selection containing three different flavours, which feels designed for sharing. The Marc de Champagne Milk Chocolate Truffle is a well-balanced creation combining a toffee-rich chocolate with warming booze. A Dark Sea Salt Caramel is a smooth, buttery, delicately salted caramel, well married with its dark shell full of cocoa flavour and deep spicy notes. The caramel is a nice contrasting partner to the truffle, a few each would definitely leave a warm glow inside. The final chocolate in the box is a meltingly smooth white ganache with the slightest warmth of booze and a hint of raspberry. As there is only one of these you will have to engineer some more intimate sharing, use a knife, or get up close and personal with it.
Demarquette have lots of very tempting things to buy online, whether you go for their truffles, bars, or something Valentines themed. Their Salted Caramel Hearts come in a box prettily adorned with the Demarquette logo reworked into a shiny splash of pink hearts. Beautifully marbled with light blue, these dark chocolate hearts are filled with a really deep buttery caramel, very well matched with a dark fruity chocolate that has a hint of smoke rounding off the caramel notes.
Paul A Young approaches each new seasonal offering with an exciting and inventive array of things I cannot wait to try. His Valentines chocolates this year are a delightful playground of new ideas and nostalgic tastes reworked. The Battenberg Truffle is a white chocolate shell, its exterior slightly crisp, as though it has been dusted in toasted cake crumbs. Inside is the essence of an almond and vanilla sponge cake, remade as a meltingly fluid ganache.
Full blown romantic flavours abound in the Rose, Geranium Martini. This is a firm ganache, inside a crisp dark chocolate shell, decorated with a single rose petal. The floral notes are full flavoured, but never veer over into perfume territory, partly because they are so elegantly balanced with the gentle booze, and because they are superbly well matched with a deep and fruity chocolate. My personal favourite of Paul’s new things is his Rhubarb and Pink Pepper Caramel. Prettily encased in a dark chocolate heart with a lovely long cocoa finish, this is quite delectable. The rhubarb acts as a great foil to the rich dark buttery caramel, with its acidity and distinct bright flavour, and the slight spicy warmth of the pepper appears later extending all the other flavours.
Lastly, if you are looking for something a little out of the ordinary, you might want to look at some of the events that these chocolatiers are running. Paul A Young regularly gives chocolate making classes in the kitchens of his London boutiques. And Rococo run a whole range of tastings and classes. On the 13th of February they have a chocolate and champagne evening at their Moxon Street boutique. And between the 13th and 16th of February they are helping to turn a disused railway arch into the Vauxhall Tunnel of Love. There will be events and screenings, all made deliciously cosy by Rococo’s stunningly good hot chocolate.