James Chocolates Tasting Boxes

James Chocolate Tasting Boxes

These brightly coloured ‘tasting boxes’ from James Chocolates arrived unexpectedly recently, so I thought I’d take a break from my current diet of single origin bars to look at something a little sweeter. In the seven years I’ve been writing about chocolate, my tastes have changed significantly, but I do still like the occasional sweet treat.

As you might expect, each box contains a selection of chocolates around the themes of ‘salted caramel’ and ‘chilli’.

James Chocolate Tasting Boxes

The boxes carry the distinctive James Chocolates pink and purple colour scheme. They’re not quite dayglow, but you’re not going to misplace them easily either. Inside the boxes, the pink theme continues.

James Chocolate Tasting Boxes

I was a little disappointed by the internal packaging. Each of the four ‘tasters’ is simply sealed in a plastic bag, wrapped in pink tissue paper and thrown into the box. It does the job of protecting the chocolates, but it looks a little thrown together to me. I guess that internal packaging is one of the challenges if shipping irregularly shaped chocolates.

James Chocolate Caramel Tasting Box

Starting with the salted caramel box, and the first bag I took out is something I’ve already reviewed. It turns out that I found the salted caramel honeycomb quite addictive if a little sweet when I tried that recently, and you can go and read that review if you want to find out more.

Also included are Salted Caramel Truffles, Salted Caramel & Vanilla Beans and Cherry Salted Caramel Discs.

Of these, the truffles were my favourite. Despite not being close to a fresh, handmade salted caramel from an artisan chocolatier, the buttery caramel was pleasant and melted nicely. The solid caramel milk chocolate beans are also quite addictive and made more interesting by occasional crunchy salt crystals that reveal themselves as the chocolate melts. The dark chocolate discs with dried cherries didn’t quite do it for me.

James Chocolate Tasting Boxes

In the Chilli Chocolate Tasting Box, we have a similar selection: Chilli Honeycomb, Raspberry & Chilli Beans, Firecracker Discs and Chipotle Chocolate Chillies. There’s quiet a chilli kick to some of the chocolates in this box, but I wasn’t as much of a fan of it as the salted caramel. I found that where the caramel added a little depth to the otherwise quite plain chocolate, in this box I just got plain chocolate with heat. This might be the kind of chocolate you would take to a party to show off some chocolates with a bit of heat to them, but I’m not convinced they’re the kind of chocolates anyone would buy for themselves.

I could certainly see people buying the salted caramel box as a little personal indulgence though. As to whether it’s worth £10 for 180g of chocolate, that’s a different question. If I had £10 to spend on a tasting box, I’d probably visit my local artisan chocolate shop and have them put a small selection together just for me.

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Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé Matcha Tea

Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé Matcha Tea

It’s just my luck that one of my favourite chocolate companies has a name that I just can’t pronounce. Thankfully, Katalin from Hungarian bean-to-bar chocolate maker Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé, tells me they’re quite happy to be called simply Roz.

I think it would be a little disrespectful of me not to at least try though, so in the interests of learning how to say the name properly, I’ve been acquiring more and more of their wonderful looking chocolate.

Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé Matcha Tea

Lucky for me then that Selfridges in London have recently started stocking it, so it’s now much easier for me to get hold of. Visiting the store for a tasting with Katalin last week, I was delighted to find their range extended well beyond the single origin bars I’ve tasted before. The one thing all the products have in common is that they look fantastic. These are easily some of the best looking chocolate bars you can buy.

Rather than going for another single origin dark bar, I decided to go for something a bit different this time. This amazingly coloured bar is actually a white chocolate with green matcha tea.

Rózsavölgyi Csokoládé Matcha Tea

The photos don’t really do this bar justice. It’s a deep olive green with such a beautiful, unique moulding design that it looks more like a piece of artwork than a bar of chocolate. The shade of green might look a bit strange for a chocolate bar, but for me that’s just part of the wow factor.

This is a bar that’s all about personal taste. I’m sure there will be some people that can’t get past the colour, and I think the flavour will produce a similar reaction. This is, after all, a white chocolate, so it’s inherently sweet. But at 29% cocoa butter, it actually has nearly 50% more cocoa solids than a bar of Dairy Milk, so it’s actually not too sweet. The real story here though is more about the interaction of the matcha tea and the milk solids.

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For me, eating a small piece of this chocolate is like taking a sip of a sweet green tea with added cream. Unlike many tea chocolates, the flavour is strong and comes right to the front, but the creaminess brings the flavour back a little – a bit like adding milk to your every day cup of tea at home.

That matcha flavour stays with you long after the chocolate has melted away, and that’s something I really enjoyed. If you don’t like that distinctive flavour, then this isn’t the bar for you – but I would argue that it’s such a beautiful object, you should just go out and buy it anyway. You can always send it to me.

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Top Of The Chocs: What Chocolate Do The Professionals Use?

Chocolate & Kidney Bean Cake

You can tell a chocolate cake by its quality: bite into that soft, yielding sponge and you don’t want to be disappointed by the flavour of cheap, oversweet chocolate or grainy cocoa.

So I asked a couple of London’s best bakers what chocolate they use – and why.

My first port of call had to be Chiswick’s finest American import – Outsider Tart, known for their huge range of equally huge brownies, as well as cheesecakes, cookies, whoopie pies and now a diner next door, called Blue Plate.

I asked David Muniz about his choice of chocolate.” We use Valrhona chocolate in all our baked goods”, he said, explaining that when they first opened their bakery, they sought out a chocolate that would deliver on flavour. “Valrhona’s production quality is of a standard that you taste the different types of chocolate as opposed to some of these products (most American chocolate) that have the taste engineered right out. Like wine, chocolate taste is the result of origin, soil, climate, production, and so-on. Depending on the source plantation, chocolate will have a wide variety of nuance and character. Valrhona offers the widest, best quality range we can find to compliment whatever recipe we are baking.”

He was full of praise for the French company’s cocoa powder, too, calling it second to none – “It’s full, robust and it holds up in the oven. There’s nothing worse than adding cocoa and not getting it back out once the product is finished.”
The only other brand they’ll use is Callebaut, for their range of chocolate chips. The most important thing for all their baking needs, says David, is quality – and consistency of supply.

Another feted American baker in London is Bea Vo, who runs the successful chain of Beas of Bloomsbury cafes around London – and has just brought out the celebrated brownie/tart mash-up called the Townie. I tried one last week, and I can recommend them.

Beas Of Bloomsbury Townie

Bea used to be head pastry chef at the Michelin starred Nobu, where she used Valrhona in all the chocolate creations, and still uses it now.

“I was really impressed with the consistency of the chocolate when I worked with it with it professionally, and also the flavours are so well composed — my favourite of course is the Caraibe which we use in our brownies – they have these lovely cherry tones to them, and the chocolate tastes bright but not sour. In terms of the quality the conching is always consistent, it really does give you a great ganache as well which we have in our cakes, and it’s chocolate that works really well in desserts.”

Not every chocolate, she says, will work in baking. ” Some chocolate companies make chocolate that would taste great by the bar but for reasons of cocoa percentages or manufacturing when you try to use them in recipes you lose the flavour of what makes that chocolate special eating it alone. I’ve never had that problem with Valrhona.”

Valrhona Les Grands Crus

As a commercial business, though, she has to keep one eye on costs, so Bea also uses Callebaut in her fudge icings when it’s mixed with golden syrup, saving the more expensive Valrhona for when “the chocolate really takes centre stage”.

Andrew Gravett, who’s Valrhona’s head patissier for northern Europe (great job title) is pretty pleased with all the accolades. “The Valrhona range is vast and still growing but the difference is that the quality is consistently high”, he said.

So there you have it. If you want a brownie, a cupcake or a cookie which won’t let you down on taste – check the origin of the chocolate inside. After all, you only get out what you put in.

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Demarquette Great British Orchard

Demarquette Great British Orchard

We’ve not heard a lot from Demarquette since they closed their London shop last year, but they’re still going strong, creating exciting new chocolates and selling online. They’re currently in the process of redesigning their packaging, and sent me these as a sneak preview. The orchard fruit caramels inside aren’t new, but I thought I’d review them anyway!

Currently, if you buy these chocolates, you’ll get them in a nice red box, but this sleek black and silver number will be making an appearance later this year. With a big map of the British Isles on the front, there’s clearly an emphasis on the Britishness of the flavours inside. Indeed, all the fruits in the box are sourced from small producers across the UK.

Demarquette Great British Orchard

There are six flavours in the box; Devon Strawberry, Oxfordshire Plum, Yorkshire Rhubard, Somerset Apricot, Scottish Raspberry and Cornish Sea Salt. Each is a small, glossy dome of milk or dark chocolate, hand painted with coloured cocoa butter. The effect looks great, especially seeing all the chocolates together in the box.

After trying a few different chocolates, one of the most most noticeable aspects turned out to be the subtle differences in texture between the fruits. I would imagine that each of the fruits requires a slightly different method to get the best flavour out, and the result is some of the caramels are thick and have texture, while others are more runny and perfectly smooth.

Demarquette Great British Orchard

The smoothest of them all is the Cornish Sea Salt, which arguably is a bit of a strange selection for a ‘fruit caramels’ box, but this base salted caramel is so nice that it makes a perfect addition. It’s quite sweet, but the small size of the chocolates means it’s never too sweet.

Demarquette Great British Orchard

I spent some time trying to pin down a favourite in this box, and found it next to impossible. The raspberry and strawberry flavours are deliciously jammy, while the apricot is more subtle and the rhubarb is delightfully tangy. I think the only way I’m going to be able to pick one is to get another box. This one seems to be empty for some reason…

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