Saturday, December 3, 2011

UK Chocolate Traditions for Christmas 2011

The Chocolate Cult is proud to present our first feature review of a product from the UK, from Europe.  We hope this is the first of many more in the forthcoming years.  The company is Charbonnel et Walker, a company created in 1875 by two female chocolatiers (Mrs. Walker and Mme. Charbonnel from Paris) upon the encouragement of King Edward VII (when he was Prince of Wales).  When a recent round of outreach to Europe received two bites, both from the UK, I was thrilled when Charbonnel et Walker wanted to send us three samples for our Winter Holiday schedule this year.  From left to right, a box of their Milk Chocolate Selection, a round of their Marc de Champagne Truffle Collection, and a tin of Chocolat Charbonnel, "The Chocolate Drink," which would have been the principle way that chocolate was consumed still in 1875.  I had help from Acolytes at all of the stages of this featured review but I took their opinions and consolidated them into the essay below.

Our of our Mocha Acolytes told me that he loved champagne truffles so he was pulled in to help me review the Marc de Champagne Truffle Collection.  This is one of the sseveral packages and varieties of truffles Charbonnel et Walker make.  The box contained two matching layers of 1 inch diameter truffles for 4 Buck Fizz, 6 Pink, and 6 Milk Chocolate Truffles.  Each Truffle was covered by what we in the USA call confectioners sugar, some of it colored or allowing the color through, over a solid shell that encased the truffle.  They are made with milk chocolate that might taste a bit darker than most Americans are used to and in the case of one of them, white chocolate, too.  The ingredients are all natural and, of course, there is the champagne but also some run and some brandy in these.  We didn't get an alcoholic buzz though from the three we each consumed for this review.  For those of you with allergies, it does contain milk and soy both.  Now, Sisters and Brothers, let's look more closely at each of these three varieties.

The Buck Fizz may sound funny to us Americans but it was my favorite of the three.  The color of these is a bit like "sandblasted stone" according to our Acolyte and as I hope you can see in the photo to the right they have an orange tint to them; note that the degree of sugar and orange varies from truffle to truffle just as their shapes varied a bit as handmade chocolate normally do.  The coloring references the fact that they have an orange flavoring to the truffle. The powder got on to both our fingers; this was true for all three varieties so I won't repeat this information.  When we picked one up, we could smell the creamy chocolate but the main scent was a strong orange essence.  Biting into it made a soft sound and revealed a firm shell and then a softer inner layer with a stronger cocoa fragrance.  The shell is very sweet, very sugary as well as strongly orange.  The inside is creamy milk chocolate first then it fades into the champagne and back to the chocolate; the orange comes out if you let it melt in your mouth more.  This had the strongest cocoa flavor of the three varieties so none of you should be surprised that it was my favorite.

The Pink Truffles are the iconic truffles from Charbonnel et Walker.  Calling them pink may be a bit of an overstatement because as you can see they are more of a pale color though when we bit into them the pinkness was stronger on the inside of the white chocolate shell so perhaps the sugar covers some of the color.  This shell made another soft sound when we bit into it and a milk chocolate semi-soft center was revealed.  This had the least cocoa fragrance but that is the nature of white chocolate. Instead it had a very creamy, buttery scent with strong hints of the champagne and something fruity that might be the strawberry listed on the ingredients but it was too light to really determine.  The shell had the strongest champagne flavor while the inside was much creamier and almost no flavor beyond a light fruitiness.  Our Acolyte really liked this one a lot but as you all know, Sisters and Brothers, your Chocolate Priestess prefers the darker stuff.

The Milk Chocolate Truffles are more complex in the flavor experience than their name may suggest.  The amount of powdered sugared varied the most with these truffles as I hope the photo shows.  Some of the orange from the Buck Fizz also got onto a few of these.  When we took a bite of these, the shell's made the loudest sound but still it wasn't very loud and it shouldn't be; sharp, loud snaps are primarily the domain of darker chocolate with increased volume reflecting greater purity meaning fewer added ingredients.  These had a medium cocoa scent that trailed behind the strong champagne scent but overcome the creamy undertones.  The shell had a stronger champagne flavor as well while the center was very creamy, almost "buttery" our Acolyte pointed out, but also a hint of something floral in both parts.  Letting the center melt brought out more chocolate but it didn't seem as strong as the Buck Fizz had been.

Each of the truffles was delightful if you take them for what they were -- milk chocolate and white chocolate with champagne as the main flavoring.  While we didn't get any alcohol buzz, if you have an intolerance for such things, one of our Acolytes actually does, then you may want to steer clear of these. However this is only the first of the three possible Christmas gifts you could give to your loved ones from Charbonnel et Walker.


The Chocolat Charbonnel is a drinking chocolate which you mix according to the instructions on the tin.  First you make a chocolate paste using equal measurements of the chocolate shavings or pieces and hot water until it is smooth but thick.  The directions further say to "add milk to flavor" so I experimented with different amounts of skim milk added to the listed amount of chocolate and water paste each time.  To the left you can see the chocolate in the tin inside a plastic bag.



Let's look at it outside the bag in this measuring cup.  I made each batch for more than one person and I tried different methods of frothing it as well.  Froth on chocolate drinks was a desirous thing for the Mesoamericans as well as most Europeans.  Even today, many people will add cream or whipped topping or marshmallows but the chocolate froth if you can get it to form is even better.  Here and in the above photo you can see that this is really flakes or small pieces of chocolate, 100% chocolate, dark, no milk added though it does have sugar so not as dark as other chocolate for drinks we've tried here on The Chocolate Cult over the past three winters.

Attempt #1


Our first attempt was with the normal 6oz skim milk we always use for hot cocoa in my house and we mixed it by hand with a whisk.  As you can see, not frothing really.  The final result was tasty but a bit too much milk over all.





Attempt #2
Our second attempt was different on two levels. First I used only 4oz of skim milk per serving and second I used an electric mixer to try and get it to froth up more.  You can see it was a bit more frothy but the Aztecs still would have been disappointed in my work; I bet a whole milk would have frothed more but no one in our house likes that.  You have to figure out what works best for your taste buds at your house.  We liked this one a lot more so this will be our way of using the Chocolat Charbonnel around here.

Finally, Sisters and Brothers, we have the Fine Milk Chocolate Selection from Charbonnel et Walker to share with you all.  If you need to take a bit of a break, I know we are covering so much chocolate in today's Sacrament, just stand up and stretch for a moment, get some water, stretch some more, but then come back. These are lovely and I hope our photos can do them justice. Let's start off with the entire box to look at.  If you get some it should come with a little pamphlet that will identify the pieces you see by their form; two (the crowns) are pretty much identical though listed for two different varieties so we'll see what these are when we get to each.  We'll be looking at these two at a time in each photo in order from upper left hand to the lower right hand.  While you see 16 chocolate in our photo there turned out to be 12 different varieties so I won't repeat the information for the second piece of the same flavor.  I have shared these with various Acolytes to get their help.  Moderation and Purposefulness after all, yes?

Our first pair from this Selection are a Fudge Vanille and a Marzipan Amande.  The Fudge Vanille is a 1 X 1 X 0.75 inches and has four raised stripes of chocolate on the top.  The description says that this is a "traditional English fudge" so let's see what that is like.  It has a strong vanilla fragrance with a creamy cocoa under scent.  The chocolate is cool and smooth in my fingers.  Taking a bite creates no sound but reveals a very light colored, mostly solid center with a strong vanilla flavor.  The chocolate here is really only in the shell around the center.  Our Milk Chocolate Acolyte felt the vanilla was a bit too intense but I think it made sense given the description of this particular piece.

The Marzipan Amande is a diamond with 1 inch sides and a depth of 0.75 inches.  You can see the wave pattern of chocolate on the top as well in our photo above.  Through the cocoa there is a strong marzipan scent which I think of as a sweet almond fragrance.  The bite makes a sound soft and inside is the uniquely marzipan texture I'm used to feeling which is a little like very fine coconut but very different tasting.  This is much less sweet and more earthy almond that most marzipan's I've had in the past and frankly I'm thrilled because this allows the chocolate to come out more especially on the narrower ends.

The next pair consists of an Orange and one of the Crown chocolates that I'll need to determine when I sample it.  The crown shape in the only repeated shape in the listing I was sent and which you can find online as well though the click to enlarge feature wasn't working several times I tried them for this feature review.  The Orange appears to be the smallest piece in the box but measures 1 inch across on the base and is still 0.75 inches deep so it isn't smaller at all in general comparison.  The scent is primarily creamy chocolate with an undercurrent of orange if I take a strong whiff of it before taking a bite.  Inside is a light orange colored cream center with a slightly tart but very sweet orange flavor. Again the chocolate is really in the shell and in this case the orange does over whelm the cocoa taste as well as the scent one you take a bite.  Our Milk Chocolate Acolyte really liked this Orange chocolate.

This crown piece above turns out to be the Milk Crown which has coffee, walnuts, and hazelnuts -- reads like a complicated taste experience, doesn't it?  At the widest point, this measures 1.25 inches across, 1 inch from the top to the bottom of the crown, and then 0.75 inches deep.  The scent is strongly coffee so this is what gives the identity of the chocolate.  However our Mocha Acolyte reports: There is not much coffee flavor, the hazelnut and walnut flavors are more dominant and mix nicely with the chocolate.  I like it.

The 3rd pair of chocolates includes a Noisette Cream and a Heart shaped piece that is not in the listing of flavors.  Let's begin with what we know: the hazelnut cream that is called Noisette.  Does the word Noisette refer to anything?  I went and did a bit of quick research and found that it might refer to several things but I think it simply means "flavored with hazelnuts."  This is a big piece measuring 1.5 X 0.9 X 0.9 inches in dimensions.  It has a cross-hatch pattern on the top that you can see in the photo to the right.  Oddly it has a very light cocoa scent but no hazelnut essence when I bring it to my nose before taking a bite.  Inside is a fairly solid chocolate center that starts off very smooth, creamy chocolate, turns more hazelnut with each chew, than then returns to the chocolate flavor.  It is so easy for hazelnut to dominate chocolate and this is such a common combination that I am often disappointed but this has an excellent balance especially if you make it only two bites so you get an equal amount of the milk chocolate shell each time.

So what can this heart shaped piece be?  It has a simple creamy chocolate scent and measures 1.3 inches at the width point with a depth of 0.6 inches making this smaller than most of the other pieces in this box.  This makes a soft snap when I take a bite because it is a solid piece of milk chocolate.  It melts in my mouth, hints of vanilla but primarily the cocoa and some creaminess coming out.  Our Milk Chocolate Acolyte agrees with my assessment.  I'm not surprised that it is a solid chocolate but I think another shape in this box is also that so we'll just have to see when we get to in four more pieces of this journey.  You still with me, Sisters and Brothers?

The next two chocolates have very intriguing shapes with lovely designs on the top.  The first is a Barrel which looks like barrel but also has a treble chef on it; inside should be raisins and rum thus the barrel shape makes perfect sense.  The outside gives a very clear hint to the inside -- the barrel is up on a block and inside there are layers with this block as a simple thick piece of milk chocolate.  The bottom measures 1.25 X 1.1 inches while it is 1 inch tall so this is the largest piece in the collection.  There is a cocoa and raisin scent before I take a bite.  The thick bottom section makes a soft sound but the top caves in to reveal a big raisin, an entire big and juicy raisin on top of a rum chocolate cream that seems darker than the milk chocolate shell. Normally I'm not a big fan of raisins in chocolate but the combination of the chocolate, the rum, and the raisin is very nice and I was very pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. Our Milk Chocolate Acolyte felt the rum could have been a bit stronger.

The other is more round with scalloped edges on about 70% of the sides with a wild rose on the top which identifies it as the Butter Fourré which is a butter and chocolate ganche under the chocolate shell. It has a butter essence in the scent under the milk chocolate.  This makes no noise when I take a bite and the inside seems darker than the shell in both color and taste.  There is butter here but the chocolate is happily the primary flavor.  If you let it set in your mouth the cocoa essence increases but it is very buttery and creamy at the same time.  I loved it!  This is probably my favorite the Selection so far, Sisters and Brothers.

Another Fudge Vanille is first in our 5th pair from the box but next to it is Romano which should also be a solid milk chocolate like the heart was.  The Romano I identified because it is slanted and has the ridges unlike the square Fudge Vanille.  Go back up if you can't remember the previous Fudge Vanille because we are going to focus on the Romano.  Like the Heart this has only a milk chocolate scent.  For some reason this has a slightly darker flavor, less vanilla taste than the Heart but otherwise it is basically the same.  It melts very quickly in my mouth and makes the loudest sound of any of these chocolates in the box indicating it is the most "pure" -- remember purity in chocolate will, in part, be heard when you eat it because it will make a sharper and louder sound.

The 6th pair from the Milk Chocolate Selection has a Plain Crown and Rum Fourré chocolates.  The Plain Crown is even more complex than the previous crown with hazelnuts, butter, marzipan, and whisky whose scent is what helped me identify it.  The size of this crown is the same as the previous crown.  This is definitely a hazelnut based solid and rather dry center andI can even see little pieces of nuts in it.  The texture is a bit like marzipan but the sweetness and almond is covered by the hazelnut and butter essence.  The only chocolate is really in the shell but that is among the thicker shells in the box, second to the Barrel.

The Rum Fourré has scalloped sides and is oval in shape as you can see above.  This has a strong rum scent under the milk chocolate when I take a whiff.  This is over 1.25 inches long and an inch across at it's width but 0.8 inches thick making this the second largest piece in the box I believe, Sisters and Brothers.  The bottom is thicker than the top and sides and makes a soft snap when I take a bite.  Inside is a very smooth, darker, and certainly rum infused truffle quality center.  The center melts and releases more and more of the sweet rum flavor but it also blends well with this darker center and the milk chocolate shell to make this my third flavor chocolate from the Milk Chocolate Selection.



The next pair is a repeat of two flavors we've all ready looked at: Heart which is a creamy milk chocolate and the Barrel which is layered and has a full raisin inside of it.  Please look above if you want a description.







The final pair which brings us to 16 pieces in this box, also contains a repeated variety but a new one that one of our Mocha Acolytes will need to reveal to you all when I update this post.  The repeat is the Noisette Cream of hazelnut but the new one is a Truffle Café that looks like a hazelnut or maybe a cross between a hazelnut and a cacao bean.  It may be the third largest piece in this box and it is just more lovely than my photo can do it justice.  Our Mocha Acolyte says of the Truffle Café: This is very much like Vietnamese coffee -- strong coffee and a sweetened condensed milk. The chocolate comes in after this flavor.

If you are one of our readers in the UK, we know there are a fair number of you out there, you can order from Charbonnel et Walker easily or find them at three London shops plus one shop in Leeds.  In the USA they are sold at SAKS along with a lot of other wonderful looking desserts I've love to try.  For a full listing of all their locations and the retailers that sell them, you can check HERE.  For their long history and current holding of a "Royal Warrant" as "Manufacturers of Chocolate to Her Majesty The Queen," for their all natural ingredients, very reasonable prices for the quality and beauty, and their simple elegance in chocolate shape and packaging, Charbonnel et Walker meets our criteria for worth Sacraments.  We'd welcomed sharing some of their darker chocolate with you in the future to see if they do that type of chocolate as well as the milk version.

9 comments:

Curry and Comfort said...

I love European chocolates and those truffles look amazing. :)

TheChocolatePriestess said...

The great thing about these, Curry and Comfort, is that they have a center in NYC so you can order them easily in the USA. Visiting their shops in NYC is on my list now of what to visit if I ever return there.

briarrose said...

Yum! I covet the truffles. ;)

TheChocolatePriestess said...

I hope you order some to try then, briarrose, then come back and let us know what you thought of them.

Pauline said...

I have a large box of these for Christmas :-) but I am surprised they did not include violet and rose creams for which they are famous for. They are the best. The bigger boxes give you an insight to the large range they have but it looks like you got a good sample. The chocolate mouldings are so pretty too. Buy the biggest box you can! Or for a taste of olde England a mini box of Rose and violet creams.
I agree with you on the hot chocolate mix, if we get it as a present we add it to other brands to make them more chocolatier.
I used to buy their truffles but I found somewhere else with more of a zing. Agree with you, great review. Sorry I went on a bit :-) love the subject!

TheChocolatePriestess said...

Pauline, it is great to get a comment from someone who has tried these as well. May I ask if you bought these for yourself or were they a gift?

Pauline said...

Yes I buy them for me but I have to share! I live in the uk so it's easy to order online. Sometimes I get them as presents especially the small boxes fo rose and violet creams. They are an expensive treat for us so it's only special occassions but the quality of the chocolate and the range of fillings have always been excellent. Those are the main qualities I am looking for in an expensive range and the design is excellent too. It's great to see people study the guide, struggle to know which one to choose first and finally choose with lots of smiles.
PS currently enjoying the book Chocolate Wars rec via your blog, fascinating stuff!

TheChocolatePriestess said...

Your comments brought a huge smile to my face this morning, Pauline. I'm glad you are enjoying the book. I felt like I learned a lot from it.

Pauline said...

:-)