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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Special Offer: use VAL18 at checkout for a ‘buy one get one free’ offer to this specific event.*
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!
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.
Without even setting a goal for it, I just happened to follow a morning routine from the 1st of January: ramble through my stash of craft chocolate bars or hot chocolate flakes, choose one, decide whether I’ll use milk or water, grab my frother and after a few minutes I’d cozy up with my hot chocolate before starting the day.
Think about for a second, what comes into your mind when you think about hot chocolate? My earliest memory is from my childhood when my grandmother used to prepare a traditional hot cocoa drink using unsweetened cocoa powder, then there was the rise of the instant cocoa powder (‘blame the bunny’) that even I could mix up with cold or hot milk. For a long time, hot chocolate meant a cocoa powder based drink, although I sometimes sacrificed a leftover Easter bunny or chocolate Santa, only issue being that they never mixed well and were way too sweet.
An interesting language fact is that in Hungarian we have two separate words for hot cocoa drink and hot chocolate. The former is referring to the cocoa powder-based drink, the latter to the drink made with hot chocolate mix or real chocolate. So when travelling abroad, I had many disappointing experiences of ordering hot chocolate or chocolat chaud, and instead of a creamy, thick hot chocolate I ended up with a hot cocoa drink. The situation is further complicated by the use of ‘sipping chocolate’ and ‘drinking chocolate’ in English, these are both used to describe the chocolate-based drinks and not hot cocoa drink.
When you realise how endless are the possibilities with using real chocolate to make your hot chocolate instead of using cocoa powder it’s a real game changer. Of course, the craft chocolate bars that you collected during chocolate shows are more expensive than a tin of cocoa powder or hot cocoa mix, I was also quite reluctant at first to melt them down into a drink. Let me share with you a few tips and basic recipes that will certainly give you a delicious chocolate drink that you won’t regret.
‘Frankencocoa’ – recycled chocolates
The term “Frankencocoa” popped up on Instagram coined by Jess (@seattledessertgeek) referring to hot chocolate made with a mix of different pieces of chocolates, basically a “house blend” of your own. It’s a great way to use up odd ends and small bits of chocolates or bloomed pieces that just linger around in your cupboard or box and wouldn’t give you a great satisfaction if you’d decide to just eat them on their own. Bloomed chocolate especially has a very dry, chalky texture due to fat migration (cocoa butter separates and moves to the surface of the chocolate creating white spots). These pieces can get a second chance of revival in the form of a hot chocolate. You can also play around with different types, percentages and origins and see how the overall flavour changes from one recipe to the other. For example, instead of adding sugar, you can sweeten your drink by mixing in some white chocolate, that will also make it creamier.
Taking it one step further, my friend Patricia from Eating the Chocolate Alphabet started to create what she calls a Chocolate Solera. Basically she collects a piece of all the unflavoured chocolates she tries throughout the year, and on 1st January 2019 she’ll whip up a gigantic Frankencocoa. I can’t wait to see the final mix and the resulting drink!
Thick or thin?
It’s all a personal preference whether you like your drink to be light, like a hot cocoa drink or thicker and creamier, more like a pudding. I personally prefer the thicker versions, but if the flavour is right, I don’t mind a lighter version either. Thickness and creaminess are easier to achieve with a milk-based drink due to the higher fat content. For extra creaminess, try adding some double cream to your recipe. Playing around with chocolate to liquid ratios, you can even do a ganache-based hot chocolate using only double cream and chocolate, this creates a decadent version and less is probably more, so opt for a smaller mug or teacup when serving as it can be particularly filling.
I firmly recommend you to use a mini-whisk or even better a milk frother to mix your hot chocolate as you need to create a perfect emulsion for a delicious result. A simple spoon is unlikely to do the job (I know this from my failed attempts as a child to melt down my Santa-army) as you need friction. Just like making a mayonnaise or vinaigrette, you’re mixing water with fat, so the whisk helps to break down each element’s molecular structure and help them bind together into an emulsion. The result is a homogenous, creamy liquid instead of tiny chocolate particles floating in milk (which happened to me as a child). Also, the frother just makes it so much fun to prepare the hot chocolate. I love how it swirls the liquid and I could watch for hours the foam that forms on top. I also noticed that the fresher the milk, the thicker and more stable your milk froth will be. Once I frothed for so long, and incorporated so much air into the milk that the entire mug of hot chocolate (a more liquid version) became a chocolate milk foam and more than doubled in size. I also use this little gadget when making water-based hot chocolate. In fact, I think it is even more important in this case. Funny to compare the difference of foam bubbles on top:
Looking back to the traditional Mayan and Aztec versions of hot chocolate or recipes that are used up to now in Central and South America, the addition of cornflour/cornstarch is an easy way of thickening up your recipe without it becoming heavy. Depending on your recipe, you can end up with a very thick, pudding-like hot chocolate, that is even delicious as a treat when cold.
Choose your base
Then, there’s the big question: what base to use dairy or water? Of course, again, it is a personal choice. The main difference here is that because water has no fat content compared to milk (or milk alternatives such as rice/almond/hazelnut/coconut milk), in order to get a creamier hot chocolate, you need to increase the amount of chocolate and decrease the amount of liquid. The advantage of water-based hot chocolates is that you don’t compromise on the flavour, so make sure that you choose a very good quality chocolate. The nuances and unique flavour profile come through beautifully, but so do the flaws. Consequently, if you want to hide off-flavours, bitterness or unpleasant notes, using milk will help you to achieve a nicer result.
If you’re using milk, the consistency and creaminess depends on the kind of milk you use. I always go for full-fat cow’s milk, because I prefer the flavour, but you can use semi-skimmed milk too. Fat-free milk would almost fall in the same category as water in this regard. Milk alternatives such as rice milk, nut milks, soy milk, coconut milk tend to give less creamy results than full-fat milk, but slightly creamier than water. Important reminder here is that these alternative milks have their own unique flavour (whether sweetened or unsweetened), so this will also influence the final flavour of your hot chocolate (same goes for goat’s or sheep’s milk, if you choose those).
Of course, the possibilities are truly endless already, but you can go even further by adding some extras to your hot chocolate. I’m no maths person, but I’m sure you could easily have a different kind of hot chocolate for a whole year by trying all the possible combinations (and maybe even more!). Challenge accepted?
Depending whether you use any extra sweetener, you can play around with different sugars, honey varieties, sugar syrups (those coffee-syrup things), maple syrup, agave, coconut sugar, or any other alternative you have on hand. Just bear in mind again, these will alter the final flavour of your drink.
Spices are another great way to customise your hot chocolate. Cinnamon, vanilla, gingerbread spice mix, nutmeg, chilli, cardamom, star anise, chai spices are some of the easiest options. You can also be a bit more adventurous and try a version of golden milk using turmeric and ginger or add matcha powder. If you can find freeze-dried fruit powders, you can make fruity hot chocolates. Strawberry and raspberry go well with dark, milk and white chocolate equally. Another option is using flavour drops (you can get them in the baking aisle of supermarkets or specialist shops like Lakeland) and make orange, lemon, mint or marzipan flavoured (if using almond extract) hot chocolates.
Although I’m personally not a big fan of marshmallows, it’s fun when they melt into your hot chocolate. I was converted by Pump Street Bakery who put a giant vanilla marshmallow on top of their single origin hot chocolate, and I was just blown away how creamy, frothy the drink was because of this. (I’m not sure I’d say the same about those pink and white mini mallows you can get in supermarkets and that smell like plastic bags… ouch.)
A splash of rum, Irish cream or Cointreau? Again, whatever your heart desires. Just make sure no kids go near your mug. And while we’re here, have you ever thought about mulled wine hot chocolate? Sounds crazy right? I saw this recipe in one of my favourite chocolate books, Adventures with Chocolate by Paul A. Young. Now, he is the one known for his truly adventurous and unique flavour combinations (think his Marmite truffle or the more recent Beef dripping caramel), so I knew this will be phenomenal. The recipe calls for a water-based hot chocolate with added cocoa powder, mulling spices, sugar, clementines and of course red wine. The result? Mind-blowingly delicious. I’ll share it with you in my next post along with other hot chocolate recipes that I love.
Hot chocolate is not just for kids, I hope this post made you realise that. With creativity and good ingredients, you can create delicious hot chocolates that will delight you and give you a boost of energy and happy feelings (chocolate triggers endorphin release in your brain, like when you’re in love). “It’s like a warm hug from the inside” we tend to say, and it’s true. Use the best ingredients you can find and you’ll be rewarded with not just a hot drink, but with all the benefits it will bring to your day and life.
In a follow-up post, I’ll share with you my experience of having a hot chocolate each day as well as my favourite recipes. Until then, please share your hot chocolate thoughts in the comments below.
Disclaimer: This post reflects my true and honest opinion and I wasn’t paid or recompensed in any way to write it or to include the above-mentioned brands or products.
If you’ve been waiting for this review for a while, I apologise for taking this long. I hope that you’ll enjoy reading it and you’ll be able to try these (or others) bars from Rózsavölgyi (remember how to pronounce? 🙂 listen here). Let me know in the comments below if you’ve tasted already.
Small gorilla chocolate
Starting the tasting with this small dark chocolate bar of 75% Tanzania I received from Kati during my visit to their factory in Budapest last year. If you haven’t read it, here‘s my detailed post about that visit.
As opposed to most of their packaging that is designed by Kati herself, the wrappers for this small bar and its pair, the full-size Mababu bar were designed by illustrator Jake Blanchard. The vibrant colours depicting the colourful jungle with gorillas and cacao pods still fit quite well within Rózsavölgyi’s standard range. The bar pays tribute to the mountain gorillas of Kongo, Rwanda and Uganda by supporting the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International.
From the wrapper: “Mababu is a tiny village on the slopes of the Livingstone mountain with lush vegetation by the Malawi lake in Tanzania. This trinitario cocoa is bought directly from a group of only 60 families pioneering quality organic cocoa farming.” The 30g square bar is made with their simpler mould design showing part of their logo. Inside the box-type packaging the bar is wrapped with the same precision as all the other Rózsavölgyi bars.
Upon removing the little red logo sticker and opening the inner wrapper, the aromas of this Tanzanian chocolate are predominantly woody and somewhat spicy. The thin bar breaks with a sharp snap releasing more aroma at the breaking line. It melts quickly and easily and it has a very creamy mouthfeel. No strong or harsh tasting notes, just rich and deep chocolate with a faint acidity peaking at the roof of the mouth and finishing off in sweet and warm spicy notes like nutmeg.
This Venezuelan origin is very special to me as it was the very first single origin craft chocolate that marked me back in 2013. I was amazed by its mellow taste, that made me think I was eating a milk chocolate albeit the 74% cocoa content and no dairy present. This was a bar made by Benoit Nihant, Belgian chocolate maker who will be soon featured in a post as well.
So you can understand that I had high expectations when choosing to try Rózsavölgyi’s version. Even more so that this specific bar won the award for the best Venezuelan Grand Cru dark chocolate in 2016 in Paris. Championing over well-known makers such as Alain Ducasse, Pralus, Bonnat, A. Morin, Willie’s Cacao, Domori among others.
The packaging is in line with Rózsavölgyi’s other origin bars: the light blue craft paper with colourful motifs of flowers and birds is meticulously folded around the square bar. All the information about the bar is found on the additional sleeve closing the packaging, everything is written in Hungarian and in English. From the front we can learn more about Chuao itself, this tiny coastal village in Northern Venezuela only accessible by boat. The back of the wrapper lists the ingredients and we can also see the certificate of traceability issued by La Empresa Campesina de Chuao, local cooperative that has sole authority to farm, harvest and sell Chuao cacao.
Under the blue paper, there’s the usual white paper wrapper with the red logo sticker. Opening that you are faced with a beautifully designed chocolate bar. Hungarian folkloric and floral motifs make this look like an antique fireplace tile rather than a bar of chocolate. I need to take some strength to even break it up to taste. The aroma isn’t very strong, but at the breaking point there’s a slight roasted smell. Due to the mould design there are no set breaking lines making it harder to break a specific amount off. The snap is sharp and loud. Easy and creamy, smooth melt. The overall taste of this 73% dark chocolate is mellow, mild with no peaks or accents. It has a slight acidity, but mostly it is characterised by a rich chocolate taste with a roasted nutty background and hints of liquorice.
Over the course of the year I tasted this bar several times to see whether I can get a better description, but I still can’t come up with anything more specific. It is a beautiful chocolate that really shines through with its finesse, gentle tasting notes and you can definitely taste the amount of care that was put in to making it.
Olives & Bread, 77% dark chocolate
Have no fear. This is one of my absolute favourite chocolate bars, so it’s not listed here because it sounds weird and it will raise some eyebrows. It probably will, but only until you actually have a chance to try it. An unusual pairing idea at first, but if you understand that chocolate on its own has several hundreds of flavour components, theoretically it can be paired with almost any other food. Of course, after careful experimenting to bring out the best from each ingredient.
The packaging is box-style, like the Small gorilla bar, but full-size (70g bar) and the design is monochrome with black drawings on white background. The imagery is very busy with birds and indigenous figures peeking out from among a lush rainforest’s different leaves, cacao pods and berries. The bar itself is again wrapped in white paper sealed with the red logo sticker. The mould design is different, this time it’s a segmented bar. Still using the folkloric motifs and ceramic tile-like look, but thanks to the various symmetrical segments it’s easier to break up the bar.
The aroma of the bar is dominated by deep earthy and roasted notes. Looking at the back of the bar some of the inclusions are visible but they are all covered in chocolate. When I break off a segment it gives a good snap, but the presence of the breadcrumbs creates a more crumbly breaking line. First, letting the chocolate melt slowly on my tongue I taste salt and the crunchy breadcrumbs feel harsh against the creamy chocolate creating a fantastic contrast. This sensation is brought further as I start chewing on a tiny piece of dried olive that brings a satisfying salty-fruity addition to the whole picture. Savoury, salty peaks are accompanied by roasted nutty flavour notes characteristic of Venezuelan chocolates that is used for this bar with no bitterness or acidity. Perfect balance of very contrasting flavours and textures characterise this bar, there’s no more questioning about how this idea came into Rózsavölgyi’s mind to put olives and bread into chocolate.
Almond & Pistachio gianduja
Although I put these together, the two bars represent two entirely different worlds. Gianduja is an Italian delicacy originally made with Piemont hazelnuts and chocolate mixed together into a silky smooth paste. Substituting hazelnuts with other types of nuts creates a wide array of flavour possibilities. Here Rózsavölgyi decided to do their own gianduja versions using roasted almonds in one case and roasted pistachios in the other.
The two bars have matching wrappers, the almond is cream coloured while the pistachio is bright green, both with the exact same drawings of birds with long feathers and floral motifs in vivid colours. Both bars have the same recipe, their Venezuelan bean-to-bar chocolate is mixed with 20% almond praline paste and pure pistachio paste respectively. With no added dairy, these bars are perfect for vegans too who would like to indulge with a creamy chocolate. If you like chocolate-hazelnut spreads, these two bars will be a total game changer for you with their superior quality chocolate, pure nut pastes and low sugar content.
White matcha and herbs
Last but not least, a bar that is definitely pushing some boundaries. White chocolate that is green. I mean, naturally green. The trick is to add fine matcha tea powder to the white chocolate that blends in perfectly giving the chocolate a bright green colour and contrasting the sweetness with its own green tea taste. In this case, the recipe is even more complex by the addition of citrus oils and green herbs, creating a refreshingly balanced sweet yet light and bright white (green) chocolate. Using matcha in white chocolate is getting more and more popular among chocolatiers, on one hand because of its natural ability to create stunning green coloured chocolates and on the other hand because of matcha tea’s own growing popularity (ever had a matcha latte?). This bar is a very good example that white chocolate is not boring especially if it’s paired with the right ingredients.
Better later than never, here’s my personal recap of the UK’s biggest chocolate event of the year, the London Chocolate Show. This is part of the Salon du Chocolat world series, and this year was the fifth occasion that the British capital welcomed chocoholics, chocolate makers, chocolatiers and cacao producers from around the world.
I hardly exaggerate if I say that I was waiting for the 15th October more than Christmas. There’s of course plenty of other chocolate events that I’d love to go to, like the NorthWest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, but since I live in the UK, London is not to be missed. Even more so that I won not one but two (!) pairs of tickets to the show on Instagram! Huge thanks again to Zara’s Chocolates and Solkiki Chocolatemaker for giving away some of their free tickets. How incredibly lucky I was, don’t you think? This made it possible for me to bring along not just my husband and son (spoilt child, I know! – although too young for chocolate still, so I had to eat his share too…;)) but my mum and my best chocolate friend too! How cool is that?!
I decided to visit the show on Sunday, which is the third and last day of the event. There’s usually less of a crowd than on Saturday, although many products sell out by then. That’s how I totally missed out on Paul A. Young’s beef dripping caramels among others. But, you’ll see, there’s many benefits to go at the end as well.
Highlights of my LCS-2017 experience
Fresh cacao Hands-down the most exciting thing at the show for me was to try a fresh cacao bean! I’ve seen fresh cacao pods before, in fact I got two fresh pods two years ago at the same event, but when I opened one of them, the pulp was already starting to dry onto the beans and it was tasting weird. This time however, at the exhibition area of the Dominican Republic, a lady was offering the fresh beans directly from an opened pod. It was wet and sticky, with a slightly acidic smell. I was so excited to try it! I thought that the white flesh will separate from the bean easily, but this wasn’t the case. So all I could do was just to suck on the pulp and discover that it tastes like a bit underripe banana. It was a green, tropical taste, so familiar. I bit the bean in half to see the inside. Beautiful deep purple colour was revealed under the white pulp.
The texture of the bean was similar to a soaked walnut, it was bitter, but not like bitter dark chocolate. The taste had absolutely nothing to do with chocolate. Mind-blowing! How on Earth did someone find out how delicious this little bean can be?! Wish we could time-travel to see.
The show welcomed many origin countries and cacao producing farms this year, so tasting fresh beans was possible at a few other stands as well. I think this is a wonderful idea, as this really brings chocolate closer to people.
Last but not least, many of these exhibitors brought along fresh and dried cacao pods, or even real cacao tree plants (!). Do you think they travelled home with those? Of course not. They were throwing away all those beauties used as props in their decorations (it’s not possible to make chocolate from them, you see). Thankfully, I knew this, and about half an hour before the end of the event I asked one of the stands whether I could take a cacao pod with me. They said yes, and even seemed happy that there’s one less thing for them to think about. In about ten minutes, their stand was all emptied as others jumped on the offer too. It’s a win:win situation. I mean look at these beauties (my mum wanted one as well of course!). .
Taste Tripper Tour
A mini version of Jennifer Earle’s Chocolate Ecstasy Tours was a perfect opportunity for me to do a quick round of some of the highlights of the show based around the title “Weird & Wonderful”. The other mini-tours included origins or chocolate pairings (such as “Gin & Chocolate”), but I love adventurous flavour combinations, so went on the W&W tour. We followed Jennifer and her umbrella (just like a real tour guide!) zig-zagging around the stalls and other visitors to find the most exciting flavours available at the show. As it was Sunday, some of the truly weird stuff had gone already (such as “Curry Shrimp White Chocolate” by FuWan Chocolates or Paul A. Young’s “Beef Dripping Caramel”), but we still had a great time trying other flavours.
6 tasting stops included: FuWan Chocolates (Dark Chocolate with Red Quinoa and Puffed Rice), Zara Snell from Winchester Fine Chocolates (Seven Seed Praline bar and her famous Moroccan Rose filled chocolate), Villakuyaya from Ecuador (Dark Chocolate with Masala Chai and Coconut & Vanilla), Aneesh Popat – The Chocolatier (Dark chocolate with chilli, popping candy and passion fruit, Dark chocolate with cardamom), 5Dimension Chocolates (filled chocolates: whole grain mustard, brie), Paul A. Young Fine Chocolates (Marmite truffle, Guittard’s single origin ganache).
We tasted a lot in about half an hour and had the chance to talk to many of the actual chocolate makers or chocolatiers and received a tote bag with some soft drinks and snacks and a few discount coupons to use at the show. All this for £5 was a good investment I think. .
Tree-to-bar chocolates Tree-to-bar means that the chocolate is actually made by the same people who own the cacao plantation, so it’s basically made at the source. Until recently, cacao producing countries and even farmers were selling all their crops to chocolate makers living in the US, Canada, Europe, etc. and they didn’t really get to taste their own chocolate. Luckily more and more farmers and cocoa producers had the opportunity to start producing their own chocolate and now looking to sell it worldwide and not just on their local market. The new kids on the block like FuWan Chocolates represent places like Taiwan (I seriously had no idea that Taiwan is a cacao producing country, but hey welcome!), SVG Cocoa – Vincentian Chocolate from St Vincent and the Grenadines (hint: it’s in the Caribbean above the island of Grenada).
Why is it such a big deal? Because more people can realise how wonderfully diverse cacao can be and also getting a closer contact with farmers can help to raise awareness about cacao farming conditions, issues and challenges all along the supply chain. .
Talking to makers and chocolatiers
Wandering around the chocolate show’s stalls, being attracted by colourful creations and the sweet smell of chocolate samples is of course a lovely feeling. But talking to the makers, getting inspired by their passion, determination, creativity, understanding a bit more what they are doing, what are their objectives, challenges, future plans, and sometimes even getting a warm, friendly hug from them is an invaluable thing for me. This isn’t just networking, this is sharing a passion for chocolate in this amazing chocolate community. I just love to be part of this. And I would like to take the occasion here to thank each and every person for their time to chat to me in the middle of this buzzing chocolate fair.
Tasting Session with ICA
The reason it would be great to attend all the days of the show is to be able to listen to more demos, talks and take part in tastings. This year, instead of watching live demos on stage in the chocolate theatre, I decided to attend one of the tasting sessions organised by the International Chocolate Awards. They set up a booth where we could sit down around a table and taste some award-winning chocolates while talking about different aspects of the chocolate industry. It’s always a bit of a hit-and-miss because one never knows who will turn up to these tastings. There were some people like me, fine chocolate aficionados, and also some people who just generally like chocolate, but might still be unaware of the difference between mass-produced and fine flavour chocolates. The presenter has to accomodate everyone, which went reasonably well in this particular case.
In the first part, we tasted several award-winning micro-batch chocolates by Hummingbird, Duffy’s, Solkiki, and FriisHolm and compared flavour notes, terroir, different chocolate making styles. Micro-batch is defined by the size and type of equipment the makers use, not necessarily by the amount of chocolate they make in a single batch.
In the second part, Sophie Jewett from York Cocoa House was talking about their new project of building a totally transparent chocolate factory and learning space for chocolate lovers and chocolate professionals alike : the York Cocoa Works. They are building on York’s chocolate heritage but bringing to the table the modern challenges of cacao farming, supply chain, chocolate manufacturing, customer education. Part of this is their new bean-to-bar chocolate line, from which we tasted a few origins. Added bonus of these sample was that they were made there and then at the show from cocoa beans coming from Casa Luker‘s (Colombia) and Akesson’s (Madagascar) stand among others. They had ovens to roast the beans and they also brought several small grinders and let the visitors crack and shell the beans, add them to the grinder, and add further ingredients like sugar to the mix. Their master chocolatier was doing a demo on hand tempering on a marble slab, moulding the bars that were later used as samples on the stand and at our tasting session as well.
Chocolate Art exhibition Overwhelmed by the number of stands to visit, chocolates to taste, talks and tastings to attend, I always find it hard to set aside some time to look at the additional exhibitional areas of the show. This time was no different, but I tried to have a quick look and I really liked what I saw. Making chocolate is an art in itself, but this was brought to a whole new level at the show. Chocolate was used here as paint, and we could see the chocolate smile of Mona Lisa, and the works of Munch, Mondrian, Van Gogh, Gustav Klimt, Michelangelo or even Banksy recreated in chocolate. Wouldn’t it be fun to have chocolate paintings at home? If you get bored of them, you can just eat them or melt them down in a hot chocolate or brownie 🙂 (haha, just kidding!)
+ and of course my amazing chocolate haul from the show including some of the newest makers
Did you attend the London Chocolate Show 2017? What were your highlights? Tell me in the comments below.
Pretty packaging, a square of chocolate that looks too beautiful to break and eat. It looks like an old ceramic tile with floral and folkloric motifs. You recognise this brand at first sight. Everyone raves about it on blogs, in reviews and on Instagram. Maybe you even know that it is made in Hungary. You know that all your fine chocolate loving friends know and like it, yet it’s hard to talk about it, because you’re never sure how to pronounce its name. As a fellow Hungarian I find it particularly sweet when people with other native languages try to pronounce the brand that literally means “From Rose Valley”, referring to a quarter in Budapest where the business was launched by its founders Katalin Csiszár and her husband Zsolt Szabad. I made a short video for my Instagram page where you can hear me pronounce it, so maybe next time you’ll be more confident talking about this truly wonderful chocolate.
When I was planning my Chocolate Eurotrip back in April, the thought of visiting Rózsavölgyi was like a dream. I emailed them and I felt like I just wrote a letter to Santa Claus. Their reply was my golden ticket to Hungary’s most famous bean-to-bar chocolate factory! I did a thorough research about the company before my visit and then arrived all excited to their new factory location in the outskirts of southern Budapest. This is their third location which will hopefully serve them well for another few years.
BIRTH OF AN ICONIC BRAND
When asked about the birth of their family business, Katalin Csiszár is struggling to find an answer for why she decided to work with chocolate. She learned to make chocolate while she was at home with her sons taking a break from her job as a graphic designer. They then launched their business in 2004 from their garage-kitchen in a quarter of Budapest called Rózsavölgy (Rose Valley), that became their hard-to-pronounce brand name as well. They had two options to invest some money: renovate their house or build their chocolate kitchen. I think I can say for all of us that thankfully they decided to do the latter. When I asked her now, she just laughed. The house has been partially renovated over the years, but they always seem to need a new machine or more beans and the business comes first. Well, we could say: this is their second home now.
Kati was very kind, approachable and answered all my questions patiently as she was guiding me through the different areas in their factory. The entrance was already heavy with the smell of freshly roasted cocoa beans. Our first stop was in their roasting and winnowing room. Zsolt, Kati’s husband is the man behind the first processing steps of chocolate making once the jute sacks of cocoa beans arrive. When I asked who decides about a specific bean’s roasting profile Kati added that everything is decided jointly. Being a growing but still quite small family-owned business, all team members have a say and they all work in each and every step of the process. At the time of my visit they were testing a new winnowing machine. At first this sounded like a great opportunity but of course, sometimes they feel like a guinea pig for the industry as all the trial and error happens here too. Still, at least they can give honest feedback so the machinery can be adapted to the chocolate maker’s true needs.
A few steps away from the noisy machine and the hot oven where some beans were being roasted we chatted in a small room full of cacao bean sacks from different origins. Madagascar, Venezuela, Tanzania, Peru and their most recent addition from Sao Tomé. It was such an interesting experience to talk about the realities of direct trade, life and living conditions of farmers at origin as Kati had the opportunity to visit many of the farms they are sourcing cacao from. Sadly, I learned some rather troubling information about how some large cocoa processing companies pretend to help farmers with different nicely sounding programmes yet still pay the lowest possible price for the cacao beans. More shocking still is that some companies buy unfermented beans (again, cheaper!) because the flavour development during fermentation is completely unimportant for them. They systematically over roast (burn) the beans killing basically the whole flavour profile and creating a uniform baked chocolate flavour (or as a most recent finding, these beans might also be used to create the new invention “Ruby chocolate”). This happens predominantly in Ghana and Ivory Coast, the two largest cocoa producing countries in the world.
FROM CHOCOLATIER TO CHOCOLATE MAKER
For the first three years, they made bars and filled chocolates from couverture. Upon realising that the couvertures available didn’t have the taste they were looking for in a chocolate, they decided to make their own. This was a difficult switch involving lots of investment and hard work. Thankfully, luck was on their side. Having heard about the Franceschi family in Venezuela, Katalin gave them a call to enquire about getting some cocoa beans. Guess what? The family was in Budapest! What an amazing coincidence. They met and Zsolt travelled to Venezuela, visited some farms and brought back bean samples to try. Today, they are still making chocolate from many Venezuelan regions: Chuao, Rio Caribe, Carenero, Sur del Lago, Trincheras, Canoabo, Puerto Cabello. Their other important source is Akesson’s plantation in Madagascar. Other origins in their repertoire include Sao Tomé, Peru, Tanzania and Nicaragua. They still carry a wide selection of filled chocolates and ganache squares and other delicacies as well.
The following room was where all the magic happens. Several different machines are used in a row to get from roasted, winnowed cocoa nibs to the final chocolate. Kati explained in a few minutes the importance of the different machines (roll refiner, ball mill, conche etc). From creating the desired particle size (smaller particle size equals smoother chocolate) to reducing bitterness and astringency, they all have their special role in the process. Of course, knowing that many small makers only use a small table-top grinder to make their chocolate, I had to ask what she thinks is the difference between those chocolates and hers. She said that funnily she can always tell by tasting whether the chocolate was made in a ball mill or the above-mentioned grinder, but she doesn’t exactly know how or why. As a main difference she said that the traditional machines allow the maker to have more influence on the outcome as more elements can be tweaked along the way than with a single machine.
As we walked past the machines through to the production area, I saw a shelf full of clear plastic boxes with shards, blocks of chocolate and immediately thought about the ageing process that many chocolate makers use to enhance the flavour of their chocolate. Kati explained that they don’t age their chocolate. In her opinion if the chocolate is processed well – it is refined and conched for the right amount of time with the right machines – the flavour is good whether you let it sit on a shelf or not. According to her, ageing is only needed if there is a missing step in the processing (or not the right machinery is used) so certain undesired off-flavours, some astringency remains in the chocolate that, with time, mellows out and becomes less strong in the overall flavour profile.
The production and packing area is probably the largest room in the facility and it is now filled not just with the sweet smell of chocolate flowing from the continuous tempering machines, but also with laughter as the team sits around a big table packaging the iconic Rózsavölgyi bars. It looks more like a fun hobby-session rather than work, although if you’ve ever unpacked one of these bars you know well how painstakingly precisely the paper is folded around the chocolate bar. Naturally, we start talking a little bit about her team and how they organise and plan workflow.
EAT WITH YOUR EYES
As a graphic designer Kati created all of their visuals from logo through bar mould to packaging. She thinks this is very important to get right as the customers see the packaging first. Birds, flowers and leaves, cocoa pods are used mainly either in a monochrome (black and white, white and gold) setting or in full-on colours against a coloured background (e.g green for their pistachio gianduia, light blue for the Chuao). Just as the flavour of the chocolates, the packaging and design also mirror their vision and their taste. The recycled craft paper used as packaging is carefully folded around the bars that look like a fireplace tile with folkloric and floral motifs. It is almost counter-productive as they look so beautiful that you feel bad breaking and eating them. In my opinion, this is one of the reasons they don’t spend a penny on marketing their products: as artistic and delicious as they all are, they sell themselves.
The Rózsavölgyi team is composed of people coming from really various backgrounds, bringing into the business many valuable assets from their previous jobs and experiences. Zsolt is an engineer, Kati’s brother is a cartoon director, and the rest of the team include a maths teacher, a yoga teacher, a painter and a tourism manager. Kati explained to me that passion, determination and high-quality standards are much more important for her to find in a potential new team member than being trained as a pastry chef or chocolatier. She likes clean and tidy work, and it is hard to teach someone your style if they have already learned it in a different way. So she prefers to start from square one and also acknowledges skills not related to chocolate. Should you be employed by them, you’d first start at the packing station, slowly working your way up and learning all the other steps including pouring bars, dipping truffles or creating moulded chocolates and selling in their shop. Yet, no one is alone in what they are doing, as at the moment everyone was packing bars not just the most recently employed trainee. They share all the tasks so nobody gets bored and unmotivated from doing the same thing over and over again. Similarly, they all take turns working in the shop, meeting and talking to customers.
When asked about their relationship with customers, Kati said that luckily most of their customers who come into their little shop in the centre of Budapest know their products and generally like dark chocolate and interesting flavour combinations. But of course, she is well aware that the mass demand is still on the sweeter side. She doesn’t mind. Even her two teenage sons have access to mass market and cheap chocolates and she thinks they have to climb the quality ladder too. In order to know what is better quality they have to taste the lower quality products as well. Yet, growing up in a fine chocolate factory definitely has a mark on their developing taste. They now know what additives, colourants and artificial flavourings are, and they started to avoid products that contain these.
Before the end of my visit, I asked Kati about her newest venture. Last year she initiated and together with nine other Hungarian chocolate makers and chocolatiers, founded a group called the Hungarian Society of Chocolate Manufactures. Their goal is to create a reference standard in the Hungarian chocolate scene by educating customers about quality chocolate, shaping people’s taste rather than serving the present demand for cheap and low-quality products. I can only applaud this initiative and I will report on their activities in another post.
I would like to thank again Kati for allowing me to visit them in their new factory. Are you hungry for more? Stay tuned for the second part where I will review some Rózsavölgyi bars.
Have YOU already tried Rózsavölgyi chocolates? Share your thoughts on this brand in the comments below!
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.
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).
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!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 😊
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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)
Zsuzsanna Ötvös (Hungary)
Zotter Schokolade (Austria)
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.
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.
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