The Lady of the house and I recently passed a significant milestone: We’ve been married 25 years. It feels like about 5. On the actual anniversary there were far too many other commitments, so we needed to defer a celebration for a few weeks. Finally, though, we managed a 4-day weekend in one of my favourite places in South Australia, McLaren Vale.
This region is less than an hour’s drive south of Adelaide. Not only is it very close to the southern coastal beaches, but it is also an award-winning winemaking region and to cap it off, there is plenty of excellent food around. A 4-day weekend, therefore, includes visits to far too many wineries, the farmers market in nearby Willunga, and of course Bracegirdles House of Fine Chocolate.
Willunga Farmers Market – Lavender Chocolate Brownie
The Willunga Farmers Market (Saturday mornings, about 8:00 am – 12:30 pm) is, mercifully, not full of tat. A farmers market means fruit, vegetables, bread, wine, olive oil, lamb, beef, and some venison. Not to mention plants, and the occasional farm / plant products. There is a huge emphasis on fresh, and organic produce seems to be the biggest thing in town. My biggest surprise though, was the chap from the Fleurieu Lavender selling chocolate brownies and chocolate fudge – with lavender in. What’s with that?
The brownies are not cheap, at about $2 for one of those squares you see, and he must have thought I was very strange to buy one, as well as photograph his platter. But the taste and texture? Good, in fact: sublime.
These brownies are crunchy on top, and sticky / slightly soft / gooey on the bottom. The texture was so varied that I asked if they had nuts in – the answer is no, there are no nuts. The secret is in how they are cooked to get the crunch on top. He would not reveal the secret either. (I’m going to take a guess at using a water bath in the oven, but it’s only a wild guess.)
And the $64 question: Can we tell there is lavender in the brownies? Answer: No. But there is a slightly unusual rich fruitiness. Maybe this is the lavender, maybe not. It is, however, very very good – one of the best chocolate brownies ever.
Bracegirdles House of Fine Chocolate
I’ve been meaning to visit Bracegirdles for about the last 2 years. The McLaren Vale outlet has recently moved to share with Market 190 – so not only can you buy delicious chocolates but you can get breakfast, full meals, and such like.
We dropped in at about 11 am on a sunny Saturday morning – there were families eating outside, kids playing and running around, people lazing over plates of bacon and eggs, with dogs sleeping at their feet.
The Lady of the House selected a milk hot chocolate and from the large selection of hand-made chocolates, we eventually chose four to try. Our selections took so long that we must have annoyed many others coming in and queuing behind us. Eventually we pushed to the back of the throng while we futzed about.
As you can see from the picture, the hot chocolate looks excellent. This is everything a hot chocolate should be: hot, milky, very rich and luscious. I thought I could pick a tiny hint of mint in there as well – maybe deliberate, maybe just from the chocolate used. Either way, good.
Our final chocolate selections were a Jaffa (dark with orange lines), a Dark Swiss Rock (knobbly dark with nuts peeking out), an Opal Finger Lime (green with blue speckles), and a Raspberry Dreamer (orange / red).
We also requested a knife, so that sharing could be done in a vaguely civilised manner. This, and again taking photographs must have meant the staff wondered about the weirdos who had come in to photograph and dissect their chocolates. Let them wonder! We were not going to let on.
Tasting notes from the chocolate selection:
Jaffa: The chocolate is dark and very pleasant. Inside is a vibrant orange flavoured ganache which jumps out and sings, and then just melts gracefully away. The chocolate and the ganache are not excessively sweet. This is a delightful modern take on the classic Australian Jaffa confectionery.
Dark Swiss Rock: The label in the shop gave the game away, but we didn’t go back and read it until after. This is a mix of caramelised slivered almonds mixed with dark Belgian chocolate. Of course, we had to figure this out because of not reading the label beforehand. This has a fantastic texture: the almonds cry out with flavour, and have a wonderful crunch. We’d guessed roasting or coating the almonds in toffee, and were pretty much right. Great flavour, the best chocolate with almond I’ve ever tried.
Opal finger Lime: The hard shell, looking like a speckled bird egg, is mainly for appearance. The dark chocolate of the shell does grow and enhance the flavour, but the ganache inside is where the magic lies. This starts with a rich chocolaty aroma. To taste, it begins soft and richly chocolaty, then melts with a huge burst of rich intense lime flavour which goes on and on. As wine writers would say, it has great length. These contain a Finger Lime jelly. Suddenly I can see why the fuss is made of this Australian fruit. Brilliant flavour.
Raspberry Dreamer: The shell, again, looks like it is mainly for appearance. I don’t actually think this is the case, though, because the shell is a milk chocolate which melts reasonably quickly and helps change the flavour of the ganache. The ganache has an intense flavour which leaps out and grabs hold of you – then shakes you as it builds over time. It’s intense, and almost like orange in some respects. Whilst not kicking quite as hard as the finger lime, this is most impressive – many raspberry flavours have either no discernible taste, or are horrible. The label in the shop says it is a natural Raspberry puree, and the flavour proves this to be true. Just plain delicious.
My pick of the bunch: The Dark Swiss Rock.
Will I be back? You bet. In fact, been back already to buy some other chocolates which will be reviewed here soon.