Harrer Chocolat – Tasting review

As promised in my previous introductory post about Harrer Chocolat, this time I will show you three of their award-winning chocolate bars more in detail. Flavoured solid bars and enrobed ganache bars are the flagships of Harrer’s chocolate product line so I thought I will taste some of these. The range is very wide, from kid-friendly white and milk chocolates sprinkled with colourful beans or coloured with freeze dried strawberries, through all-time favourites like whole hazelnuts, fruit&nut, strawberry and raspberry, salted caramel, finishing with adventurous pairings like their popular white chocolate with mint, using trendy ingredients like matcha tea, tonka beans, ylang-ylang, smoked salt. And last but not least their wine or spirit flavoured ganache bars are the fruits of cooperation with some of Hungary’s most famous wine and spirit making companies.

Harrer bars
Modern and colourful design

Before tucking in, let me just briefly talk about the packaging. All the bars are 9x9cm square shape and come in a teal coloured box matching the brand colours and decorated with a shiny embossing of floral curves. All the important information regarding the bar is on a removable label that showcases the main ingredient of the bar on the front (plus the award labels) and ingredients in both Hungarian and German on the back. The bar can easily be pulled out on either side as it is sitting in a white pocket perfectly safe. I love how the whole packaging is completely resealable and that this little pocket is cushioning the bar so well. The removable flavour label makes it very easy for them to customise their packaging, so it is possible to buy some bars for occasions with cute labels like ‘I love you’, ‘Thank you’ or ‘Happy Birthday’, with the logo of a company (Harrer is sponsoring for example the VOLT Festival, one of Hungary’s biggest music festivals in Sopron) or a landmark (e.g their Sopron collection).

Tonka bean

Firstly, just take a moment to look at the bar itself. It’s a thin ganache square enrobed in a thin layer of milk chocolate. The top side of the bar has a slightly wavy surface which can be achieved by blowing air on the chocolate before it sets. You can try this technique when hand dipping chocolates, but it’s a built-in fan that does the job for you if you have an enrobing machine. And then you turn the bar to check the bottom. My jaw literally dropped. I know, it’s not such a big thing to use a structure sheet on the bottom of chocolates to create a relief, in this case the Harrer logo, but I just wasn’t expecting such an attention to detail. This is a minor detail and doesn’t really affect how the chocolate will taste. But really, do you think a chocolate will taste bad after taking so much care to create its look? I doubt it. But let’s see!

Harrer Tonka
I love the irresistible aroma and flavour of tonka beans

Honestly, do you know anyone who doesn’t like tonka beans? I don’t. (But hey, comment below if you do!) There’s just something so comforting when you smell this wonderful spice. Vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg all in one. It has a lovely warmth without being too spicy and it pairs really well with milk chocolate. Harrer knows this well too, as here you have a thin layer of velvety milk chocolate ganache infused with tonka beans covered in a 50% milk chocolate. I think it was a really good choice to use a stronger milk chocolate here as with a lower percentage this combination could end up tasting overly sweet. I hope you can see from the cross-section photo how perfectly balanced the filling-to-shell ratio is. The chocolate is soft and smooth, creamy. The smell and later the taste of tonka beans dominates throughout but is never excessive. I wonder if someone can restrain themselves from eating this bar in one sitting. I only managed because I have two other ones to try…

Apricot

This bar has the same look as the previous Tonka bean bar, but this time the milk chocolate ganache has an amazingly fresh fruitiness from the puréed dried apricots. The apricot aroma hits your nose as soon as you open the packaging. This is not because they added any flavourings. The trick here is to use a splash of apricot pálinka (a Hungarian speciality, basically a fruit brandy) and a bit of nutmeg to enhance the flavour of the fruit in the chocolate. It works brilliantly. Again, look at the cross-section photo, you can almost see the apricot fibre in the ganache. It’s like 1 of your 5-a-day! Yet the mouthfeel is still smooth and creamy. The ‘World Gold’ International Chocolate Award in 2015 is absolutely well deserved for this creation.

Harrer apricot
Delightfully fruity apricot ganache with a punch

Caramelised Rosemary

Among the many fruity, spicy or alcohol-filled bars this was one has the most intriguing flavour to me. So I obviously had to try it. Some herbs go really well with chocolate, think mint, lavender or even basil but this was the first time I saw rosemary in chocolate. And not only rosemary but caramelised rosemary. I couldn’t wait to finally try it.

Harrer rosemary
Beautiful balance of flavours created with an unusual ingredient

This time we are looking at a solid 50% milk chocolate bar, but the packaging and the size of the bar is the same. The mould design is simple and elegant showing the Harrer logo and replicating the floral curve motifs from the packaging. The bar is thin and easy to break, it gives a satisfying snap. The aroma reminds me of something from my childhood, I can’t exactly picture what. Is it a dessert, some other food, or just a memory? I can’t tell. But it’s a familiar and pleasant feeling. As the piece of chocolate starts to melt on my tongue and I slowly inhale, the rosemary’s true flavour kicks in with a punch. It is not overwhelming, but strong and fresh. I think you need to like rosemary to like this chocolate, but if you do, you will have a great tasting experience. To get the caramelised rosemary they used Muscovado sugar which, with its deeper, molasses-like flavour, compliments the earthy and floral notes of the rosemary. Pairing all these with a 50% milk chocolate turned out again as a good choice in my opinion. But I’d be curious to try this in a similarly earthy-floral single origin dark chocolate too.

 

Do you like flavoured milk chocolates? What’s your favourite? Comment below!

 

 

Disclaimer: My review is 100% my true personal opinion about the products (whether I bought them myself or received as a gift). This is not a paid advertisement for the company.

Harrer Chocolat – Where tradition and innovation go hand in hand

This wasn’t the first time for me to meet Beatrix Harrer-Abosi co-owner of Harrer Chocolat. In fact, she contacted me first in 2015 because she was reading my Hungarian chocolate blog and saw that I’ll be also attending the London Chocolate Show. So we met there, more precisely at the stand of HB Ingredients displaying their table-top melangeurs (this will be important later on). Bea and her husband Karl came to the Show because their delicious chocolates were awarded by the International Chocolate Awards. They kindly invited me to visit them in Sopron if I had the chance. Well this chance (or rather decision) came this June as I was planning my Chocolate Eurotrip. As my hometown is quite close to Sopron, it was obvious that I wanted to include them on my list of visits. Luckily, although Bea is a very busy businessperson, we managed to find a date that suited us both and we had a great morning at their factory-complex.

Harrer Factory-Complex
Harrer’s Chocolate Factory-Complex is a chocolate lover’s dream. You can take a 360° look here. (photo credit: Harrer Chocolat)

We arrived a bit late due to some roadworks leading to the city, so I was quite nervous as I didn’t want Bea to wait for me too long. I rushed up the stairs to the beautifully furnished café where she greeted me with a huge smile and made me feel at ease straight away. She was very laid-back and it felt like I was chatting to a very good friend about our favourite subject: chocolate!

Harrer in a nutshell

Harrer is a well-known name in this area on both sides of the border. Karl was born into a baker-confectioner family, as his parents were running a bakery in his hometown in Austria. He became pastry chef and so did his sons later on. The family tradition was passed on from generation to generation and the very first Harrer pastry shop and café is now run by one of Karl’s sons. Bea met Karl at this café and her roots brought them across the border to Hungary where they opened another café in 1995. Karl’s dream came true when in 2009 they finally built and opened their modern and minimalist style factory-complex: pastry and chocolate workshop, café, chocolate tasting venue, giftshop, ice cream parlour all in one place.

By keeping the brand name Harrer they also kept the standards and traditions of Karl’s family, while also bringing innovation to this new venture by bringing chocolates in the front row. Karl learned his chocolate skills as a highly trained and awarded pastry chef so no wonder his chocolate creations are just as meticulously tested and planned as the different cakes and desserts. While their product line looks classic and traditional, every single dessert and chocolate has a little twist of innovation be it in its shape, presentation or an unusual ingredient added to the recipe.

Karl Harrer tempering
Karl Harrer hand tempering on a marble (photo credit: Harrer Chocolat)

The café lounge is airy and spacious with an L-shaped counter dominating one side—offering ice creams, cakes and desserts, hot and cold drinks on one end finishing off with the range of small chocolates on the other end. This area is serving as a gift shop where you can browse their whole range of ganache bars, flavoured bars, hot chocolate mixes and loose tea mixes, chocolate gifts, lollies, biscuits etc.

Every now and then school groups filled the place with excited chattering and loud wows as they discovered the delights behind the counters and in the exposition area where they took part in a chocolate tasting session. Here they show a short video about where chocolate comes from, how it’s made and at the end participants get to try some of the best-selling products as well.

The lovely terrace was also filling up with customers enjoying the shade and the stunning views all around. As we were sipping on our drinks, I asked Bea about the beginnings and especially her role and place in this family business.

Bea is working on the business side, dealing with all kinds of things from staffing, marketing, social media, business meetings with partners and the general running of their two cafés (the other one is in central Sopron and it’s a smaller, more traditional café – ice cream parlour). She says that it is really important for her to know the essence of all the different tasks so she can jump in any time if there is a rush of people to be served. This also helps her to maintain their quality standards as well as to create a lovely and friendly atmosphere among colleagues who all feel they are part of a big happy family. Being a chocolate-lover herself, Bea is also taking an important part in inventing new flavour combinations such as the caramelised rosemary that I will talk more about in my upcoming tasting review.

Where the magic happens

At one point, Karl came up to our table to say hello and quickly discussed something with Bea in German which led to a chance for me to take a look into their production area as Karl wanted to show us something. Pastry and chocolate making is all in one place to my surprise. I thought where cakes are being baked it is not really possible to make chocolate. But then I saw how the pros deal with this kind of issue. Clever engineering and space planning is all it takes to make this possible. Everything seemed to go like clockwork. On one table, two ladies were putting together a large cake, others were mixing and putting cakes in the ovens, and one of the chocolatiers was busy enrobing some chocolates.

Harrer chocolate
(photo credit: Harrer Chocolat)

The chocolate area is relatively small compared to the rest. It’s strategically located at the inner end of the room, only separated from the chocolate demo area (accessible from the café lounge) by a glass wall. So groups arriving for a chocolate tasting demo can have a peek inside the production area. Total transparency here which is amazing. Bea even placed a few large jars on top of the enrobing belt’s cooling tunnel filled with a fresh whole cocoa pod and vodka! She said that people usually don’t believe that cocoa pods are so big, so here you have the proof. First, it looked creepy, as if it was taken from a lab where they prepare animals and body parts in formaldehyde, but the more I looked at it, I felt like I want one like this as well. I mean, how cool is this? Mind-blown.

Karl Harrer chocolate
Karl creating their signature ganache bars (photo credit: Harrer Chocolat)

Bea was also proudly showing me their beautiful resealable packaging specifically designed for their new amazing bean-to-bar range that will be released later this year. Then Karl handed us a bunch of bars in cello bags for me to taste. We had a quick look around the chocolate making area which is usually run by Karl and two other chocolatiers. They have two Cocoatown grinders and one of them was busy mixing their strawberry white chocolate using freeze dried strawberry powder. This is also an area people can watch while having a tour and tasting session on the other side of the glass wall.

Impromptu tasting session

We went back to our table in the café with the chocolate stash, and Bea even offered me some of their small chocolates and ganache bars that they make here daily. Delightful combinations of flavours like ginger-kalamansi, forest fruits, salted caramel paired with a layer of crunchy praline, ganache bars with merlot wine, apricots, tonka beans. It was really hard to decide what to taste first. We started with the origin bars as they are not flavoured. Working with a cocoa importer in the Netherlands, Harrer choose origins like Madagascar, Bolivia, Belize, Vietnam and Venezuela to create their first bean-to-bar single origin range and even came up with their own house blend.

Harrer Chocolat Nuts
(photo credit: Harrer Chocolat)

Do you remember what I said about the table-top melangeurs at the London Chocolate Show? I first talked to Bea next to these small machines that allow more and more people to try bean-to-bar chocolate making in their kitchen. Bea was amazed by this and thought that they should buy one to try. Karl was more realistic about it and said that it would require long years of learning and trial and error as making chocolate from the bean is a totally different profession than creating chocolates using couverture. But if you ever have a chance of meeting Karl in person, you will understand in a second that he is not the type who just lets go. This whole thing got stuck in his mind and didn’t leave him until they finally took the first step by purchasing a melangeur and some beans to test.

Harrer cocoa beans
Karl gave in to the temptation of the challenge to create his own chocolate directly from the cacao beans. (photo credit: Harrer Chocolat)

And here we are two years later tasting their very first batches of bean-to-bar chocolates. Karl took these two years of learning and testing really seriously. He wouldn’t launch any product without being 100% happy with it himself. They have worked closely with a well-known sommelier to identify flavour notes of each origin and adjust their recipes according to their needs. I’m hoping to give you a more detailed description of this new range as soon as it is officially launched later this year.

Now for the small chocolates: fine layers of pate de fruit and soft ganache, soft caramel and crunchy praline, bright and fruity berry ganache, spices and alcohol are used to create their wide range of products. Behind the counter right next to mouth-watering cakes and desserts there are two trays filled with their small chocolate selection. Their design is minimal, following French and Belgian traditions of enrobed ganache squares or moulded half spheres with a tiny spot or stripe of colour, an embossed line, sprinkles or a whole almond. The flavours are fresh and natural as only high-quality ingredients are used, no colourings or artificial flavourings. The pate de fruit and ganache layers are in perfect harmony.

Harrer awards
Karl and Bea at the London Chocolate Show 2015 with their awards. (photo credit: Harrer Chocolat)

Their signature product line is their range of filled chocolate bars, that are essentially large ganache squares enrobed with only a fine layer of couverture. So instead of moulding a bar’s outer shell and filling it, they create a filling and enrobing that. This makes it possible to change the shell-filling ratio in favour of more filling. In my following article about Harrer I will review some of their award-winning creations, so stay tuned.

The Harrer Cacao Plantation… in Hungary!

Before you think Harrer is just another out of now hundreds of companies to jump on the bean-to-bar bandwagon, let me tell you something: they are so passionate about chocolate and cacao that they have a greenhouse and planted cacao seeds brought from their holiday years ago in Grenada. Now they have 8 fully-grown cacao trees that are regularly in bloom, with the latest addition of some seedlings from a cacao pod brought back also from Grenada by a friend. According to Bea, it was entirely Karl’s idea to try and grow cacao, she didn’t believe that the seeds would even germinate!

Unfortunately, although Karl and Bea take very good care of their precious plants (most of the cacao trees I’ve seen in botanical gardens are in a rather poor state compared to theirs), they have yet to find a way to pollinate their trees so that they bear fruits. At origin, this is usually done by tiny midges or if these are missing, sometimes the pollination is done manually with a small brush. Believe me, they have tried that too. I can only wish them good luck to finally find the way, because that would be the ultimate success if one day they could create a chocolate bar made with cacao harvested from their own greenhouse in Hungary! Wouldn’t that be amazing?

Harrer cocoa plants
Fingers crossed for the first Hungarian tree-to-bar chocolate by Harrer! (photo credit: Harrer Chocolat)

Let me finish by thanking Bea for her friendly welcome and chat at the heart of their business in Sopron. I hope that this article made you discover this great family chocolate business. If you are curious about how some of their products taste, don’t forget to read my upcoming tasting review!

Fabric Chocolates – Tasting Review

After introducing the Hungarian chocolatier Fabric Chocolates, it’s time for me to dive in and taste some of their products and give you a more detailed insight. The intricate design doesn’t end with their packaging. In fact, seeing their chocolate bar for the first time left me speechless. If you’ve ever found yourself silently staring at a chocolate bar for what seems forever then you know what I’m talking about. A smooth, glossy finish is already pleasing the eye but to see such a detailed and intricate chocolate artwork is mesmerising.

Fabric Chocolates
Collection of award-winning handmade chocolates from Fabric

I couldn’t get over the fact that despite this high level of detail there were almost no surface errors, bubbles or any other disturbing elements on either side of the chocolate bars. Knowing that Fabric bars are made in custom-designed silicone moulds, it is almost unbelievable. But then Viki explained to me during my visit that although the designs are detailed, the indentations are relatively fine, not deep, so air bubbles don’t cause her that much trouble.

But let’s start with the viewing and tasting of the bars!

Mexican Dark 66% with Smoked Salt Caramelised Almonds

As I am an amateur crocheter, Fabric’s main mould design really appeals to me. It looks like a beautiful crochet tablecloth with a mirrored motif. Fine details, curves and patterns that look like tiny flowers, waves or a fishing net. On the back side of the bar, you can see how generous they are with her toppings. Whole almonds pop out on the surface of the bar nearly on every square centimetre and salt crystals are also visible throughout.

Fabric Mexico Smoked Salt Almonds

There is a slight smokiness in the aroma with some nutty background, so that’s a good sign. The thin bar breaks with a sharp snap and melts relatively easily alternating between salty, sometimes reminiscent of crispy bacon, and bittersweet flavours. To get the most out of the toppings, I chomped on this bar, as this releases even more smoked, salty, nutty flavours. The balance of flavour notes is perfect as nothing is overpowering, not even the chocolate. This makes it all the more difficult not to eat it all in one go. The Academy of Chocolate gave Bronze for this bar in 2016.

Ecuador 80% with Candied Kumquats and Coffee Beans

Same crochet pattern as previously, but the back side of the bar has a smoother look due to the smaller pieces of toppings used. The thin bar makes it possible for the toppings to be completely covered in chocolate while still standing out visibly on the back side too. If you’ve read my post about Fabric you’ll know that this bar won a Gold at the Academy of Chocolate Awards this year, so I tried it with high expectations.

As soon as I opened the packaging, I could smell the fresh and sweet orangey aroma of the kumquat peel (tiny orange-like fruits the size of an olive) that is candied by Viki herself as this is an ingredient that is not widely available on the market. Again, the chocolate melts easily partly because it’s thin, and also this Ecuador 80% (Hoja Verde couverture) is nice and creamy. If you let the chocolate melt completely, first you’ll get the rich and earthy notes of the chocolate and a slight coffee flavour. Then you’re left with tiny kumquat pieces and some coffee grains which then dominate the aftertaste. If you decide to chomp the bar, the three main components will balance out each other, and the kumquat will really shine through (especially when you actually chew on a piece) and complete the earthy and roasted notes with a light sweetness.

Viento – Madagascan Milk 44% with Almond Oil and Caramelised Cocoa Nibs

Firstly, I stop for a moment to take a look at the packaging. Different from the crochet design, this bar seems smaller, although only by 10 grams. Keeping the beige and black colour combination, this packaging has a lovely watercolour effect in grey-blue to create a sky-like background for the flying birds that cover the front surrounding the title “Viento” (means wind or breeze in Spanish), that looks like a baroque sign. The golden ribbon is tied just on the left side so as not to disturb the picture and creates an elegant finish to the packaging. No wonder that Fabric won a Gold at the Academy of Chocolate Awards for this packaging design in 2016.

Fabric Viento Almond Nibs

When you flip the bar to open it at the back, the two side flaps look like angel wings or a triptych with the bar as the middle image. The thin rectangle has a flying bird and fluffy clouds engraved into its surface, matching the beautiful outer packaging’s theme. And even beneath the engraved motifs the surface of the bar is not smooth but it has a fine floral pattern on it, like a silk tablecloth.

As I opened the packaging, I could already smell strong marzipan notes coming from the almond oil. The thin milk chocolate breaks with a soft snap revealing caramelised cocoa nibs throughout the bar. I decided to chomp the first piece to see how the chocolate and nibs act together. At the start, sweet vanilla and marzipan chocolate dominate the scene, but as I start to chew on a few pieces of roasted, caramelised nibs, the flavour becomes contrasted by roasted, nutty, sometimes even a tiny bit over-roasted (bacon-like) notes. The aftertaste is predominantly roasted, especially if you finish with munching on the nibs. This chocolate won a Bronze at the 2016 Academy of Chocolate Awards.

Cuban Dark 75% with Tonka Beans and Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar

The packaging stands out from the usual range as this is the result of a cooperation with a Hungarian wine maker (Egri Borvár Tóth Ferenc Wine Cellar), thus the name and drawing on the front showing grapes and grape leaves as a wreath. The Fabric-style comes with the ribbon and gemstone that decorates the front and of course the bar itself. This depicts the picture from the packaging engraved into chocolate. It’s so hard to break it up (not literally!) destroying this artwork.

Fabric Tonka Balsamic

The smell of this bar is astonishing. Sweet fruity and spicy aromas hit my nose straight away. I love tonka beans and their warmth resembling a perfect cinnamon-nutmeg-vanilla mix, but there’s more here. I wouldn’t be able to tell just from the smell that it’s raspberry balsamic vinegar (perhaps because I haven’t tried it on its own yet), but it’s a pleasant sweet fruity smell.

No visible toppings here obviously, so I just let the chocolate melt on my tongue. The tonka bean’s taste comes first and stays central throughout, here and there the flavour becomes sweeter or a bit more acidic, but never unpleasant, creating a beautiful pairing of spice and fruit vinegar with the chocolate from Cuba (Pralus couverture).

As an interesting comparison, Viki also gave me a few tasting squares of the same chocolate paired with tonka beans and date vinegar. This combination won a bronze at the Academy of Chocolate Awards this year as well. Same spicy notes in the aroma, but this one is less sweet, the chocolate is rich, earthy with coffee notes that get stronger in the aftertaste. The tonka is less dominant. The acidity of the vinegar is more noticeable at the back sides of the tongue but it’s still pleasant. Amazing, how different the end result becomes by only changing one ingredient.

Lenka Milk 35%

As you could see from the tonka flavoured bar already, Fabric is open for creative projects with other companies. While the tonka bar was specially created to suit the wines of the maker, in the case of this bar, the visual representation was seemingly more important.

Fabric Lenka Milk

Lenka is a little girl who gets bullied in school for being a bit crummy and has no friends, so starts playing on her own drawing on the pavement until a little boy notices her… The short story is all about empathy, friendship and diversity. Viki really liked the story and was happy to create a Lenka bar for the book. It’s a plain milk chocolate couverture, so there’s not much to talk about the flavour itself, but the design is amazing on its own. Using the book’s own illustration about the crummy red haired, big round-eyed girl, Viki made Lenka’s portrait in chocolate so well that I actually prefer it to the drawing.

Lemon and Cinnamon Pecans

This beautiful round tin is the previous packaging for Viki’s award-winning dragée, pecans enrobed in lemon and cinnamon white chocolate. She was working on her new design when I visited her, and by now, it’s available in a square box, mimicking the packaging of her crochet-style bars to fit more into the whole collection.

Fabric Pecan Dragee

The content is the same though. It’s like opening a jewellery box. Brown tissue paper discreetly covers the nuts, you have to open these delicate layers to discover this highly addictive delicacy. We all know, nuts and chocolate are a match made in heaven. You can’t really go wrong with this combination. But to create something that is unique, both pleasing the eyes and the taste buds, is all the more challenging. Viki decided to use her lemon-cinnamon white chocolate, a flavour inspired by the Spanish dessert, crema catalana, and pair it with whole pecan nuts. It smells divine.

Orange and cinnamon are frequently used together to create a warm, cosy feeling bringing back memories of winter and Christmas time. Here, lemon is used as a twist, and it creates a fresher flavour, more like a summer dessert or ice cream flavour. Biting a pecan in half reveals that the spicy chocolate layer is infinitely thin around the nut, which makes it possible to create a perfect balance between the ingredients. The warmth of the cinnamon works really well with the soft nuttiness of the pecans rounded out by the zingy lemon. Can I just have one more? Oh wait, it’s all gone… This should come with a warning 😊

Conclusion

Fabric really is a tiny chocolate manufacture full of creativity and brave innovation when it comes to flavour combinations. Art, design and textures have a very important role from the first step until the last so the customer gets a product that is both pleasant to look at and also memorable when tasted. Perfect gift idea, or something to treat yourself to. Although the flavour combinations are unique and maybe sound weird sometimes, I think that they are so balanced and well-thought that they can easily become crowd-pleasers. I want to thank Viki for making time for me to visit her and talk about her company and her chocolates and I can’t wait to try her bean-to-bar chocolates in the future too.

Which Fabric bar would YOU like to try?

 

 


Disclaimer: I received these chocolates from Viki (Fabric) as a gift during my visit to her atelier but not as an exchange for a good review. My review is 100% my true personal opinion about the products (whether I bought them myself or received as a gift). This is not a paid advertisement for the company. 

Fabric Chocolates – Where haute couture meets fine flavours

The first time I saw Fabric bars I was meeting a friend in a small coffee shop and wine bar in Budapest where they were also selling some handmade chocolates. Straight away I was mesmerised by the intricate packaging and couldn’t resist to buy one to try: it was their now multiple award-winning Mexican 66% dark with cocoa nib tuile. I know. It is as delicious as it sounds. More on this later. Then in 2015, I briefly met Viki, the chocolatier and founder of Fabric, at the London Chocolate Show, where she was awarded for her chocolate creations. No wonder I wanted to visit her as I was planning my Chocolate Eurotrip this year! I was really happy when we arranged the visit, and Viki was so friendly and welcoming. Her workshop is in one of Budapest’s suburban areas. Located in the underground of a block of flats, her place is kept cool throughout the year; this is quite useful in the hot summer days like the one when I visited her.

Fabric collection
Everything handmade from start to finish, including the little black gem glued one-by-one onto the packaging (photo credit: Fabric Csokoládé)

Her workshop is separated into two main areas: chocolate production and packaging/storage. After a quick look around, we sat down at a big round table in the latter area where she was packaging her bars and putting on the chocolate award labels on the front. Behind her, I could see all her awards nicely displayed on the wall. As we were chatting about her career, her chocolates and her plans, I could taste the chocolates she generously prepared for my visit.

How it all came to be

Behind Fabric you can find a lively and very approachable lady, Viki, who invents and creates all the products and packaging for her award-winning chocolate business. She has an artistic background, studying packaging design and later working for a TV channel on kids’ programmes. How is this all ending up in a chocolate making business? She was filming at a chocolate workshop and became seduced by the world of chocolate. Suddenly, all what she was studying and working for became useful tools for starting her own business. Even though this all happened at a time when “artisan and handmade chocolates” were popping up everywhere in Hungary, she still carried on learning about her new profession, and took two entire years to finalise her first product line and packaging. By that time, many of those trendy handmade chocolate businesses were already long forgotten. Her hard work then paid off, as two years after launching her chocolates in September 2012, she already received awards at both the International Chocolate Awards and at the Academy of Chocolate Awards in 2015.

awards
Viki with some of her awards in 2015 (photo credit: Fabric Csokoládé)

Haute Couture Chocolates

At the very beginning Viki and her husband (also working in television, and helping her with the business-related tasks and R&D of course!) wanted to create a unique product that stands out from the crowd not just in its flavour but also in its design. Their idea about using different textured fabrics to create their chocolate moulds gave birth to their company, Fabric. The name reflects the connection between textures, art, and chocolate flavours. Even though this name seemed an unlucky choice for distribution in Germany for example (Fabrik means factory in German), the quality of their products proved this wrong and now the largest part of their international trade goes to Germany.

German display
(photo credit: Fabric Csokoládé)

Unlike many other chocolatiers in Hungary, praising and working with the “finest Belgian chocolate” (mostly Callebaut), Fabric is constantly looking for unique flavours to use in their bars, so they turned early on to single origin chocolates made by smaller chocolate makers such as Menakao, Pralus, Michel Cluizel and more recently Hoja Verde (exclusively in Hungary). This can be very challenging in the planning process, as if one of the bars proves to be more popular than they thought, and sells out, sometimes they have to wait months before receiving the next shipment of couverture and need to think of an alternative. Or, as a very recent example of bad luck, the delivery of their Ecuadorian couverture was confiscated at customs because of illegal drug trafficking of unknown source. So now, even though they have just received a prestigious Gold award from the Academy of Chocolates a few weeks ago, they might have to wait months until they can make a new batch of the winner bar flavoured with candied kumquats and roasted coffee beans.

The toppings used to create their bars are also far away from the casual fruit and nut. Viki is always eager to find new, rare and unique ingredients to pair up with her chocolate when she’s visiting farmer’s markets or travelling abroad. And many times, this also means a good bit of DIY from her part, such as dehydrating cherry tomatoes, candying kumquats or caramelising almonds with smoked salt.

mexican66
Beautiful and unique mould design and delicious chocolate (photo credit: Fabric Csokoládé)
cocoanibtuile
Mexican 66% dark chocolate with cocoa nib tuile (photo credit: Fabric Csokoládé)

Speaking of DIY, her atelier also has some equipment that were developed by her father working as an aeronautic engineer (sorry, the details will remain company secret). Viki is a real artisan chocolatier, who is actually doing everything by hand from start to finish. As said above, Viki is a packaging designer, so no wonder that all her packaging and even her chocolate moulds are designed and created by herself. She revealed to me, that she always has a little pot of playdough in her bag. In case she finds an interesting texture or design, she just pushes it onto her playdough and then recreates it at home, casting in plaster, then silicone. This way, she can recreate any design (company logo, intricate textures, images or text, etc.) and keep her products very unique and customisable, opening a way for her to collaborate with others, such as a wine maker, a hotel chain or a children’s book illustrator to just name a few of her projects.

plaster moulds
Before becoming chocolate, her designs are first cast into plaster, then silicone (photo credit: Fabric Csokoládé)

In a following article, I will show you a few products more in detail, but for now I’ll just give you a general idea about how these delicious chocolates are created. Would you believe that Viki is one of those people who doesn’t really like sweets? She prefers more characteristic and less sweet flavours so this is what she recreates in her chocolate bars, using mainly dark chocolate as a base. She doesn’t make any chocolate that she wouldn’t like to eat herself and this is one of the reasons she doesn’t work with marzipan for example. Cocoa nibs, nuts, dried fruits and spices are her main ingredients with a few more peculiar toppings such as brown rice, millet, date vinegar, dried tomatoes previously soaked in raspberry vinegar, among others. Picking up inspiration for future flavours everywhere, her famous lemon-cinnamon combination was born thanks to one of her favourite desserts: ‘crema catalana’.

Future plans

As staying unique is one of Fabric’s main priority, no wonder that the bean-to-bar production is also on their mind. This would allow them to really create flavours and flavour combinations that no one else does on the market. But of course, even though small-batch production is now possible with a smaller investment by using table-top melangeurs, there is still the question of buying the right cocoa beans. It is a steep learning curve, and you can be sure that Viki won’t release anything before being 100% satisfied with the product herself. Don’t worry, I’ll give you an update as soon as it is available.

tasting squares
Viki is interested in creating her own chocolates from the bean to make her products even more unique (photo credit: Fabric Csokoládé)

It’s no secret, that getting awards for their chocolates is a key to international recognition and possible distribution. Viki says, that instead of trying to reach out to chocolate retailers with samples, as they did when they started, now it’s the opposite, they get more and more national and international trade possibilities thanks to these awards. Now their chocolates available in Germany, France and even in the USA, they would like to distribute them to other countries as well.

More importantly, their aim is to stay true to their original work ethics which means they will stay small, as doing everything by hand, they have physical limits of how many bars they can actually make in a day. So far, anything that has been made under their name, be it a bar of chocolate or a piece of packaging, has always gone through Viki’s hands and needs to meet her strict quality standards.

matcha ginger
White chocolate with matcha tea and ginger (photo credit: Fabric Csokoládé)

Coming up…

As a follow-up for this post, I’ll continue with a more detailed tasting review of some of Fabric’s products, including award-winning bars and a dangerously addictive pecan dragee. Stay tuned!

Did you already know Fabric chocolates, and if yes, which of their bars is your favourite? If not, which one would you like to try? Share in the comments below!

12+ ways to use cocoa nibs in the kitchen

A few days ago, as I was nibbling on some chocolate covered roasted cocoa beans, I realised that this is one of my favourite snacks. The wonderful roasted cocoa aroma, the crunchiness and the fresh, unadulterated cocoa flavour are so addictive! Good news: eating a handful of cocoa beans is healthy (compared to a handful of (over)salted peanuts or crisps, or even chocolate). In fact, it is 100% cocoa, no added sugar, no other ingredients. Pure bliss! With being less processed than chocolate, more of the good stuff remains inside too. More antioxidants, more flavonoids, etc.

cocoa nib
Cocoa bean cracked open to reveal the crunchy nibs inside

Luckily, you don’t have to be a bean-to-bar chocolate maker in order to enjoy this treat. Nowadays, most health food shops carry a few cocoa-based items such as cocoa nibs or chocolate covered cocoa beans, and you can always check your local chocolate shops, some of them might sell nibs or beans too. The quality of these products might not be always equal. If they don’t specify on the packaging, then the nibs/beans in the bag are most likely cheaper, less flavourful varieties from West Africa (still marketed with the same message, so beware!), so try to look for single origin beans/nibs from South American origin for example.

Okay, so you grabbed a bag of cocoa nibs. Now what? Here are my 12+ tips on where and how you can use them in the kitchen. Believe me, you’ll be hooked!

  1. On their own as a snack
    As I said, they work just like nuts and seeds, great to nibble on at any time of the day. They even give you a little energy kick due to cocoa’s theobromine content that is similar to caffeine.
  2. In granola
    Whether you eat ready-made granola or you make your own at home, you can always mix in a good handful of cocoa nibs to add some extra crunch and guilt-free chocolate flavour.
  3. Sprinkle on porridge
    Similarly to granola, you can sprinkle cocoa nibs on top of your morning porridge. I find it works really well with fresh fruits too (strawberry, banana, pear, apple, apricot).

    Chocolate porridge with fresh strawberries and cocoa nibs – perfect start for the day!
  4. Sprinkle on yoghurt
    Again, just a variation of the above, plain Greek yoghurt with a teaspoon of runny honey  (or any of your favourite yoghurts) and some cocoa nibs create a lovely and quick dessert.
  5. Swap choc chips in cookies
    Are you worried about too much sugar in your favourite chocolate chip cookies? Next time, swap some or all of  the chocolate chips to cocoa nibs, and you’ll have a wonderful crunchy, chocolatey cookie with much less added sugar.
  6. Add to brownies, muffins, banana bread
    Cocoa nibs can be a great addition to any homemade cakes and bakes, especially the chocolatey and nutty ones.
  7. Add to homemade energy balls/flapjacks
    As cocoa nibs don’t need further cooking/baking, you can easily use them in no-bake recipes such as energy balls or flapjacks to get a chocolate flavour and some added crunch.
  8. Put in a trail mix
    Cocoa nibs go really well with other crunchy nuts and dried fruits, and they cut back on the sweetness too.
  9. Try them in brittles
    If you swap peanuts or other nuts for cocoa nibs, you’ll end up with an amazing brittle! The caramel creates a fine sweet and crunchy layer on the nibs that makes it impossible to stop eating it. It also looks really pro if you use the brittle shards as cake decoration.
  10. Blend them in a smoothie
    Would you like to create a chocolate flavoured smoothie without adding chocolate or bitter cocoa powder to your drink? Add cocoa nibs! Don’t expect a sweet chocolate flavour, but you’ll get a nice mellow cocoa taste without any added sugar, and it still won’t be bitter. Adding fresh vanilla seeds will get you even closer to a real chocolate flavour. Especially great with bananas and coconut.
  11. Add to herbal tea mix
    I’m sure you’ve already seen cocoa shell tea. This is the shell of the cocoa bean that is removed before grinding the nibs. Brewing the shell gives a very light cocoa flavoured drink, so adding in nibs will only enhance this more. You can probably find other chocolate flavoured tea mixes, but why not create your own? Nibs go really well with rooibos or black tea, but feel free to experiment. I once brewed together fresh mint leaves and cocoa nibs and it was very tasty and refreshing. And again, cocoa taste without added sugar!

    choco rooibos
    Rooibos tea mix with spices and cocoa nibs
  12. Soak them in alcohol
    If you like DIY liquors and cocktails, why not experiment with cocoa nibs. You know you can create vanilla extract by soaking vanilla pods in vodka, so let’s swap that for cocoa nibs. Chocolate vodka, boom! Use any kind of strong spirit, leave it macerate for a few weeks and then enjoy your new drink on its own, or create some wonderful cocktails. (Chocolate martini, cocoa gin, etc.)

+1: Grind your cocoa nibs
Use a food processor or coffee grinder to grind cocoa nibs into a fine powder, (aka cocoa bean flour). This can be used instead of  e.g. almond flour in many recipes such as macaron shells, cakes, muffins, brownies, etc. Just get creative!

Hungry for some more detailed recipes? I will share with you some of my favourites in the upcoming posts.

cocoanibs
I love cocoa nibs, and you?

 

How do you like cocoa nibs? Let me know your favourite recipe in the comments below!

My Chocolate Eurotrip

If you have followed my recent Instagram posts (if you haven’t, you can find me here), you know that in the last five weeks I travelled across Europe by car. The main reason behind this trip was to introduce our 5-month-old son to the rest of the family living in Hungary. But of course, one cannot ignore the added benefits of a trip like this, so I obviously planned to visit chocolate shops, chocolate makers and chocolatiers on the way. The convenience of going by car is that it’s flexible (but long, oh yes!), not to mention the ample space in the back to put all the goodies I buy (+gifts for the baby of course). In this post, I’m going to briefly share with you the main highlights of this holiday, but only as an appetizer. More detailed posts are on the way about each of the chocolate makers and chocolatiers I visited to give you as much insight as possible.

eurotrip

ITINERARY
Our itinerary was quite straightforward, as we have done this route many times over the last 5 years. We always stop in Brussels, as we have some friends to visit here, and adding a few chocolate shops won’t do any harm either. This time though, because of precautionary reasons regarding our baby, we planned another stop on the way in Germany. This way, we weren’t bound to the car all day on the motorway, but could stretch our legs and even do a bit of sightseeing. On the way out we had a quick stroll in Heidelberg, a university city and found an amazing fine food and fine chocolate shop, L’Épicerie.

After Heidelberg, we traversed Austria and entered Hungary at the northwest border just after Vienna to say hello to my Mum in Győr (my beloved hometown). For the next two weeks we had our “base camp” in the capital Budapest, where I visited many chocolate professionals. We spent our last week in Hungary in Győr, which proved to be a perfect base camp for day-out trips to chocolate factories such as Harrer in Sopron or Zotter in Austria.

The last week of our trip started with going through Austria and Germany once again, this time stopping in Trier, a city full of ancient Roman architecture, a huge cathedral and the birthplace of Karl Marx. Unfortunately it was Whit Monday so most of the shops were closed, but still managed to buy some chocolates in a little café near the cathedral. Finally, we arrived to Brussels again, and we spent 4 days here before returning home to Cambridge.

eurotripcollage

HIGHLIGHTS
Not surprisingly the highlights of this journey were the meetings with chocolate makers and chocolatiers and the factory visits. I crammed in as many as possible, and I am fairly happy with the outcome, as I only missed one visit out of the 8 that I planned.

  • Fabric Csokoládé (Hungary)
  • Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé (Hungary)
  • Harrer Chocolat (Hungary)
  • ChocoFacture (Hungary)
  • Zsuzsanna Ötvös (Hungary)
  • Zotter Schokolade (Austria)
  • Mike&Becky (Belgium)

In Hungary, I visited Fabric Csokoládé, Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé, Harrer Chocolat, ChocoFacture and Zsuzsi, a chocolate friend (now working as a pastry chef) who used to work with the late Szántó Tibor. In Austria, I had a fabulous day at the Zotter Factory and Edible Zoo, a wonderful place full of chocolate and fun. In Brussels, I visited the atelier where I had my training and also many different little shops in the city centre. The best part here was my visit to Mike&Becky, a couple who opened a fine chocolate shop and make their own bean-to-bar chocolates as well. And the missed visit was that of Benoit Nihant’s factory. But fear not, I’m already planning for my next trip in September!

TIPS FOR CHOCOLATE TOURS

Whenever I go somewhere new, my first thing to do is to check chocolate shops on Google Maps and on the Find Chocolate! app by Ecole Chocolat. I also just simply google the “city name + chocolate” to see what comes up, and I like to read reviews on TripAdvisor too. The beauty of this is that I still find places that were nowhere on the Internet, so there’s always an element of surprise! But, this minor preparation is important for a successful chocolate hunt. In my upcoming posts, I will share with you maps of the places I visited so that all you have to do is download, and you’re ready to go.

Buying chocolate while sightseeing can be tricky especially during warmer season. May was particularly hot this year throughout Europe, so it gave me a little headache to keep my chocolate stash cool in the car and while out and about. Investing in small insulated bags (zippered ones are best) can be a chocolate lifesaver. I must admit, that I haven’t thought of it, but luckily we got a free bag at Zotter factory for buying a lot of chocolates 😉 The good thing is, these insulated bags are reusable and can come handy for any other outdoor activities or picnics too.

eurotrip2

WHAT’S NEXT?

In the upcoming weeks, I will post in detail about the visited chocolate professionals to give you an insight into their work, their products and philosophy. I didn’t conduct any formal interviews, because I wanted to concentrate on the person behind the chocolates. I’m hoping to show you a few brands that you may not know so well yet, and I will try to give you some help on where to find these chocolates on the international market (if available). Please, don’t hesitate to ask questions about the brands/makers or to give your opinion on these posts in the comment section below.

Let’s get started!

UK Easter Egg Hunt – Forget the creme egg!

It’s only ten days until Easter, a peak time in chocolate trading, when every shop is flooded with chocolate eggs, bunnies, hens and chicks, lambs and hot cross buns. And no matter how early or late Easter is, those (in)famous creme eggs hit the shelves bang on Boxing Day (yes, last December!). I always think it’s waaay too early and you will see from this blog anyway, that I am not a huge fan of anything by Cadbury, especially these chocolate eggs filled with a painfully sweet fondant (sugar paste).

So, in today’s post I would like to show you some alternatives. Living in the UK makes it so easy to swap boring creme eggs to something much better. There is an ever-growing offer of beautifully handmade, delicious chocolate treats, that are created with higher quality chocolate, less sugar, and with lots of creativity and passion. My list is almost entirely based on what I found on Instagram, my favourite platform to see what other chocolate makers and chocolatiers are up to. Also, this list is a very subjective collection, and probably missing many creations that exist on the market. But hopefully, I can give you some ideas in time to fill your Easter baskets.

If you have kids, and you are thinking that these are too expensive yet not enough for them, please think twice. Choose quality over quantity, and you will see that kids are genuinely open to new things. And if we stop saying: “Honey, you won’t like this, it’s dark chocolate”, we get one step closer to a generation growing up on good quality chocolates (consumed in moderation). If I haven’t convinced you, just take a look at this recent survey and see how much sugar your kids will consume if they receive the average amount of traditional Easter treats. I honestly hope that you will change your mind.

No kids? At least, you don’t have to share your chocolates with them (or trying to eat them hidden behind a cupboard door). There is no excuse for not treating yourself to some really good chocolates!

Let’s see what are my favourite picks* from this year’s Easter season:

Pump Street Bakery

It all started with the chicken (or the egg?!). In time, I will write more about this British chocolate maker, launched at a place that first became famous for their freshly baked breads and pastries, hence the name. Then they decided to make chocolate directly from the cocoa beans (bean-to-bar), and they’ve had a triumphant success. If you have already tried their chocolate bars, then you know, that these two bean-to-chickens will be a bliss (if you haven’t, just believe me!). The milk chocolate chicken is made from their 58% Madagascan chocolate, high cocoa content (= less sugar), creamy and fruity. The dark chocolate chicken is made with their Jamaican 75% dark, a rich chocolate with sweet fruity notes. They weigh 35g each. Both chickens are available from their web shop for £5.95 each, and come in a cute, specially designed cardboard tube, sitting on a nest.

pumpstbakeryMilk and dark bean-to-chicken (photo: PumpStBakery)

Dormouse Chocolates

Manchester-based chocolate makers teasing us this Easter with three bean-to-egg creations. Two darks, a rich and fruity Guatemalan 72% and their award-winning Madagascan 75.6% with a deep oaky flavour note. The third is a high cocoa milk chocolate egg, Guatemalan 51.5% cocoa giving you a satisfyingly creamy caramel flavour. They are £10.00 each available from their website.

Bean-to-egg (photo: Dormouse)

JK Fine Chocolates

Ever heard of the Triple Truffle? Jamie Kemp, chocolatier of JK Fine Chocolates is the inventor of these triple-layered delights (a creamy caramel centre surrounded by a single-origin ganache layer and enrobed in single-origin chocolate), and this year he created these rustic mini eggs filled with some of the best single-origin chocolate ganaches from Vietnam (70% Tien Gang by Marou), Ecuador (70% by Montecristi) and Venezuela (43% milk), and of course his award-winning salted caramel. Available in a box of 8 (2 of each flavour) for £12.50 or a box of 16 (4 of each) for 22.50 from his web shop.

Single origin eggs filled with delicious ganache
and award-winning salted caramel (photo: JKFineChocolates)

Zara’s Chocolates

Moving to Bristol now to show you these funky cactus eggs by Zara’s Chocolates. All three milk chocolate eggs are made and decorated by hand and hide a golden egg inside. For a more futuristic design, you can choose one of their marbled eggs: a 67% Madagascan dark with a crunchy almond brittle lining on the inside, a 36% Javanese milk with a honeycomb pecan crunchy inner layer, or the all-time favourite salted caramel egg available in both milk and dark (39% or 76% Ecuador) with 6 salted caramel chocolates on the inside. The three cacti eggs are £10.00, the crunchy eggs are £13.00 and the salted caramel eggs are £18.00 from their web shop.

Fun cactus eggs and crunchy marbled eggs (photo: Zara’s Chocolates)

Fifth Dimension Chocolates

Russel and Albert are well-known for their amazing (and multiple award-winning!) filled chocolates inspired by their travels, but come Christmas or Easter, they also offer seasonal products, that are just as great! I mean, look at these beautiful galaxy eggs, they are handmade from high quality Colombian chocolate. Choose either 65% dark or 50% milk for £13 each. Another fun product they have is their Disc’O Egg, which is layers of 34% white, 50% milk and 65% dark Colombian chocolate discs, weighing a total of 400g, perfect for sharing (if you do :)). Unfortunately, the Disc’O egg is not available online, but you can grab one if you happen to be at Taste Chocolate Festival in Bristol at Easter weekend for example. (See more Easter chocolate events at the end of the article.)

Galaxy and Disc’O Eggs (photo: 5DChocolates)

Hill St.

New kids on the block, Hill St. was founded in 2016 by two brothers, a chocolatier and a designer. Website still in progress, but if you happen to be near Saffron Walden, check out their chocolate shop. Their Easter range of shapes come in different sizes and are filled with caramel eggs, praline characters, moulded chocolates and wafer crisp chocolate pearls.

The egg-cowboy, the sheep and the pink chicken (photo: Hill St. Instagram)

Chocolate Events this Easter

What better way to enjoy chocolates at Easter than to visit a chocolate fair or festival. This year, there are several locations to choose from, so don’t miss out if you are in the area. Click on the links for more info about the venues and event programmes.

8 April / Oxted – Chocolate Fair (FREE entry)

9 April / Dorking – Denbies Chocolate Fair (FREE entry)

8-9 April / Ramsbottom – Chocolate Festival (Free entry)

15-16 April / Bristol – Taste Chocolate Festival (£4/entry)

14-17 April / York – Chocolate Festival (FREE entry)

*Disclaimer: This list is my subjective selection. This is not a paid advertisement of the chocolatiers or events that are mentioned. I didn’t receive any money or favour for writing the article.

 

7 things that can ruin your chocolate tasting experience & how to avoid them

Before even saying anything about chocolate or giving you a tasting review of some chocolates, let me show you a list of things that can make it difficult for you to get the most out of your chocolate tasting experience. You might be completely new to craft chocolates or someone who has already started to explore them, either way, you want to make sure that you get what you pay for. But neglecting some (or all) of these points can literally leave you with a bad mouthfeel.

choc bars

I listed the main factors that can influence either the flavour of the chocolate itself or your ability to unlock and discover these flavours through your senses. After each point, you will find some tips that can help you prevent these and fully enjoy the chocolate you are tasting.

  1. Strong odours: If you wonder why your favourite chocolate smells and tastes like garlic, curry, smoke or like an old cupboard, then probably you have left it in a wrong place. Bad storage solutions can cause your chocolate to take on other smells and flavours due to its cocoa butter content that carries the original flavours of chocolate but can also act as a magnet to other surrounding odours.
    Solution: Reseal the packaging as much as possible, as it acts as a barrier, or repackage the chocolate in foil and keep it in an airtight box or zip-locked bag.
    .
  2. Too cold: Chocolate sitting in the fridge can lose the strength of its original flavours and runs the risk of taking on other flavours (see above). In addition, cocoa butter will melt very slowly, so it can take a while to unlock the flavour of the chocolate as you taste it.
    Solution: A plain chocolate bar has a long shelf-life and doesn’t have to be refrigerated. Find a dark, dry and cool place (16-18°C) to store your chocolates. Use plastic boxes or resealable bags to ensure your bars are well protected. Let the chocolates come to room temperature before tasting.
    .
  3. Too warm: If your chocolate has white spots on its surface, it was probably somewhere too warm (above 25°C). Chocolate melts at a relatively low temperature that causes cocoa butter to rise to the surface (hence the white spots) when it becomes solid again after cooling. This doesn’t alter the flavour, but the texture may become grainy, gritty leaving you with an unpleasant mouthfeel. It is not mould though, so don’t throw it out. If you can’t bear to look at it, just use it up to make a delicious hot chocolate or brownie.
    Solution: If you live in a hot climate, a wine cooler is a good option to store chocolates, as it is not so cold as a fridge and there is less condensation. Otherwise stick to solution #2.chocolate bloom .
  4. Blocked nose: When having a cold or suffering from hay fever, our nose has trouble picking up smells. This leads to a difficulty in tasting flavours as smell is closely linked to taste.
    Solution: Free up your airways to ensure a good cooperation between your smell and taste receptors in your nose and mouth. Also, you can give your nose a break by smelling something different like ground coffee, and then get back to smelling chocolate.
    .
  5. Numb taste buds: If you are struggling to taste different flavours, maybe your taste buds are numb from what you previously ate or drank. Coffee, tea, spicy dishes, smoking, drinking alcohol can all have a strong and long aftertaste and not letting you taste your chocolate in all its glory.
    Solution: Avoid drinking coffee, tea, alcohol, eating very spicy dishes or smoking before a chocolate tasting to ensure you have a clean palate and maximise your taste buds’ ability to pick up different flavours. Eating tart apple slices, bread cubes or plain polenta, drinking (sparkling) water (at room temperature) all act as a great palate cleansers both before and during chocolate tasting.
    .
  6. Too much distraction: if the TV or radio is on, or you are doing something else at the same time, it will be harder for you to concentrate on your sensory experience, so you might not be able to detect all the flavour nuances in the chocolate.
    Solution: Cut out any audio-visual or other distraction and concentrate on the chocolate you are tasting using your senses.
    .
  7. Lack of confidence in your tasting skills: this feeling can stop you from thoroughly enjoy your experience, especially if you are desperately trying to find flavour notes listed on the packaging or mentioned by another taster at the table.
    Solution: Don’t be afraid to express any feelings, thoughts, associations that come up as you taste your chocolate, even if it’s hard to find the words. Tasting chocolate is very subjective and can be influenced by so many factors, that there is no right or wrong opinion. The more chocolate you taste, the easier it will be for you to compare different flavours and to describe them.

Have you ever experienced any of the above issues when tasting chocolate? Do you have any personal tips to add to this list? Let me know in the comments below.

What a ladybird has to do with chocolate

Welcome to my blog. I’m Lilla, a passionate chocolatier currently living in the UK. My goal with this blog is to share with you my passion for chocolate through my tasting experiences, chocolate shop visits, chocolate book reviews, chocolate recipes and some interesting facts about cacao and chocolate.

littlebeetle-cacao


Have you ever thought any of the following?

  • Dark chocolate is the devil’s confectionery, it always tastes bitter.
  • I’m not a “connoisseur” of chocolate. Why should I buy expensive craft chocolates if I can’t taste the difference anyway?
  • Craft chocolates are just a hype. These fancy companies just want to earn a lot of money.
  • Chocolate makes you fat, the rest is just good marketing.
  • I can easily eat a bar of chocolate when I’m in a bad mood. These “trendy” craft chocolates are just too expensive for this.
  • I’m afraid to spend a lot of money on craft chocolates and later find out that I don’t like them.
  • I only buy Fairtrade chocolates. Many of these craft bars aren’t even certified and still cost more.
  • I have a food-intolerance to gluten/dairy/nuts/egg/soya etc. or I am vegetarian/vegan. I don’t know whether I can eat these chocolates or not.

If you have answered yes to any of the above statements, then you are in the right place. In this blog, my aim is to help you find answers to your questions related to the chocolate industry.

In this blog, I will help you:

Discover a wide range of craft chocolates from around the world

It’s normal that you feel overwhelmed when you first look at the wide offer of craft chocolates available on the market. This is a booming industry at the moment, and it can seem difficult to find the right chocolates for your own taste. Through my detailed tasting notes and descriptions, I will show you everything that I can about the chocolate in question, from packaging to aftertaste and even things like interviews with the makers, information about stockists, price range and other tasters’ opinions. So, you’ll be able to make an informed choice, and have a higher chance to really like what you will taste.

finechocs

Appreciate the different flavours in chocolate and learn how to describe them

When this whole craft chocolate movement started, and I read tasting notes on the packaging of some chocolate bars, I thought the same as you. Seriously? Dark cherries, malt, caramel, red berries, citrus, hazelnut, even things like mushrooms or leather?! No way! This is only a bar of chocolate. Isn’t this just a hype like wine tastings? They just want to make big money by putting fancy words on their packaging.

And then, I compared some widely available chocolates with craft chocolates. And I thought: “Wait a second. There is lemon in this. It tastes like a hazelnut spread. It’s like a handful of sour cherries.” Or simply: “This tastes different than the chocolates I know.” Even if the ingredient list ended after two items (cocoa mass and sugar).

tastingkit

I will show you how to use your senses to get the most out of your chocolate tasting experience, how to take notes and use visual aids like flavour wheels or tasting cards. You will see how complex the flavour development of chocolate is, what are the defining factors. I will guide you through different tasting exercises like comparisons and blind tastings. And let me tell you some good news: the more chocolate you taste, the better your tasting experience will become over time.

Understand what is “bean to bar”

Until about 6 years ago, I didn’t even know where chocolate comes from. It’s not something we normally learn in school. Maybe because the kinds of chocolates I used to eat on a day-to-day basis were far from what they could be when treated properly so that their amazing values can shine through. This blog will give you information about the origins of chocolate, short history episodes (believe me, nothing boring!), a bit of science, and insights into the different stages of cacao processing from the cacao tree to the packaged bar you are about to open up.

beantobar

See behind the scenes of the chocolate industry

You are puzzled by the price difference you see between a supermarket’s own branded bar of chocolate and the so-called artisan creations. You’ve heard that child labour, unfair wages and environmental challenges, growing Asian markets are some of the reasons behind higher chocolate prices. Some people even predict a chocolate shortage as soon as 2020.

I will give you insights into the chocolate industry’s mechanisms so that you can better understand how things work. And more importantly, you’ll be able to make informed decisions about which chocolate to buy if you care for the environmental and socio-economic aspects of cacao farming, and you want to make sure that even your great-grand-children will be able to taste chocolate as you know it.

raisethebar

Understand health-related information about chocolate, including allergens

Almost every week there is an article popping up on the Internet saying that “Chocolate is good for you” or “Eating chocolate can save you from a heart attack”. Let me do the research for you, and present you with the latest results about chocolate. I explain everything you need to know about ingredients in chocolate, cheaper substitutes or special-diet alternatives.

healthychocolate

.

.

.

About Lilla

cacaotree

I’m a passionate chocolatier currently living in Cambridge (United Kingdom) with my husband and our son (born in 2016). Even though I’ve always loved chocolate, it was only 6 years ago, when I first saw a chocolatier in action. I was at a chocolate festival and a lady was tempering chocolate on a tiny marble slab, and she made small white chocolate hearts with a lemon-strawberry filling. I was hooked and asked her how she became chocolatier. A few months later I was in her chocolate kitchen learning how to temper chocolate and make different kinds of small chocolates and pralines. But I still haven’t had much of a clue about chocolate, until I started working in a small chocolate shop as a sales assistant. From then on, I dedicated most of my time to read and learn about this incredible world that surrounds cacao and chocolate. Then I was promoted to full-time chocolatier and chocolate course presenter. I even had the opportunity to get training in the atelier of a chocolate shop in Brussels and I took several courses run by École Chocolat simultaneously.

I love eating chocolate, I love talking about chocolate and I love meeting chocolatiers and chocolate makers. And I would like to share this CHOCOLATE LOVE with you through my blog and encourage you to immerse yourself into this wonderful CHOCOLATE WORLD.

P.S.: Why “Little Beetle”? That’s the nickname my mother gave me as a child and because ladybirds are cute. Totally nothing to do with chocolate, but hey! 🙂