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Top 7 Valentine’s Chocolate Picks – UK

Even before the big Christmas rush is over, chocolate makers and chocolatiers are already busy designing new products and exciting flavours for the next big event in the chocolate calendar, Valentine’s Day. Still, this is one of those days that always seems to be quite far ahead, and suddenly you look at your calendar, and it’s: tomorrow!? So in this post I will try to remind you just a little bit ahead of the last minute and show you the products that I found the most interesting among the UK Valentine’s chocolate offer. Forget the boring dessert boxes and give your loved one something better to indulge on. (And yes, your loved one could be yourself too ;))

Dormouse Chocolates – anatomical chocolate heart

Healthcare professionals, biology addicts will surely appreciate this anatomical heart made out of single-origin bean-to-bar chocolate. Available in Peruvian dark and milk, and caramelised Madagascan white chocolate.

dormouse heart
photo credit: Dormouse Chocolates

Zara’s Chocolates:  filled hearts & Valentine’s collection

These pretty half hearts are filled with either hazelnut praline or salted caramel and available in dark and milk chocolate. Perfect size to share (if you do). The Valentine’s filled chocolate collection also includes some interesting new flavours such as a caramel with cep mushroom, a rose and lemon turkish delight truffle, honey and whole almond, espresso martini and they come in a beautiful red velvet heart box.

zarasheart
photo credit: Zara’s Chocolates
zarasbox
photo credit: Zara’s Chocolates

J. Cocoa: Hearts in a heart

Lovely Nicaraguan cacao is used to make these hollow hearts, Nicalizo for the milk and Rugoso for the dark version. Both decorated with edible gold leaf and holding two smaller hearts, one filled with caramelised milk chocolate ganache and the other with fresh raspberry jelly.

jcocoa
photo credit: J. Cocoa

Solkiki: vegan white (pink) chocolate bundle

No more trouble if you’re loved one is vegan and you struggle to find non-dairy chocolate delights for them other than dark chocolate. Solkiki specialises in vegan, ethically and directly traded bean-to-bar chocolates and they have some amazing milk and white versions. Their Valentine’s offer includes two special edition vegan white chocolate bars: Strawberry Meringue Cream and Raspberry.

solkiki bars
photo credit: Solkiki

Dulcedo: Valentine’s filled chocolate collection

A local pick is my new favourite dessert kitchen in Cambridge, Dulcedo. They have amazing pastries and cakes on display every day along with a wide selection of fresh macarons, filled chocolates, nougats, honeycomb and a variety of dragees (my favourite is the chocolate covered coffee bean with cinnamon). Their Valentine’s filled collection includes hearts, lips, lipsticks with flavours such as blueberry, salted caramel, gin&lemon, strawberry crunch and orange.

dulcedo

B is for Brownie: fudge heart brownies

More into cakes? Up your beloved’s usual brownie experience with this single origin chocolate brownie topped with generous scoops of muscovado fudge, now heart-shaped, and always freshly baked to order.

bisforbrownie
photo credit: B is for Brownie

Gift Voucher from Little Beetle Chocolates

If you still can’t make up your mind or you’re truly late (it’s already the 14 Feb and you’ve got nothing), you could get a gift voucher (I can send you an e-voucher too), so your beloved can choose some chocolates for themselves from my webshop. Or even better, why not book both of you on my upcoming Craft Chocolate Club tasting event on Saturday, 17th February 2018!

LBC Gift Voucher

Special Offer: use VAL18 at checkout for a ‘buy one get one free’ offer to this specific event.*

choc bars

I hope I gave you some good gift ideas. And of course Valentine’s Day doesn’t mean that it’s the only day we ought to show our love for each other (including partners, family and friends), so let’s keep sharing the chocolate love! I’ll make sure you Taste. Better. Chocolate. if you follow my journey. There are some very exiting things ahead. Stay tuned!

cocoanibs
Sharing the chocolate love

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored post. I didn’t receive any money or products in exchange for featuring these brands. The products listed might be subject to availability.

*offer valid until there are available places left, valid only for Craft Chocolate Club on Saturday, 17th February 2018.

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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!

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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.