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Fabric Chocolates – Where haute couture meets fine flavours

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

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

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

How it all came to be

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

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

Haute Couture Chocolates

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

German display
(photo credit: Fabric Csokoládé)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Future plans

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

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

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

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

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

Coming up…

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

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

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12+ ways to use cocoa nibs in the kitchen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cocoanibs
I love cocoa nibs, and you?

 

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

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

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

choc bars

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

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

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