I picked this box up at the London Chocolate Festival, and although I quickly lost track of how much I was spending, Damian Allsop’s web site tells me they’re £13.50 for this box of 12 chocolates. Or roughly £1.13 per chocolate, for the hardcore maths addicts out there.
But before I get into the review proper, I want to talk to you about ganache. A ganache is simply a mixture of chocolate and cream, and forms the filling for most ‘truffle’ chocolates. It’s used because melted chocolate and cream mix easily and form a soft, chocolatey base to which other flavours and textures can easily be added.
Damian Allsop, however, likes to do things differently. He’s famous for using water instead of cream in his ganaches. He believes that cream can hide the true flavours of the chocolate, and that using water can produce a better, lighter texture.
Why doesn’t everyone do this? Well aside from the fact that cream ganaches can be really rather nice, the main problem is that chocolate and water just don’t like to mix. In order to form a ganache, you need to find a way to get the chocolate and water to emulsify.
So how does Damian make his chocolates and what else goes into the water ganache to make it a ganache? Unfortunately, that’s a bit of a mystery – and one compounded by the fact that there’s no ingredients list anywhere on this box, or on his web site.
As you might have guessed, I’m a little skeptical, but there’s only one way to find out what they’re really like…
First off, the packaging is rather nice. A modern looking long, thin box with two of each chocolate. Perfect for sharing – and getting a second opinion – so I went to see our friend Jennifer Earle and we tasted them together.
The flavours are listed on a handy insert – Raspberry, Olive Oil, Peanut Crunch, Salty Liquorice, Pear Aniseed, Basil Leaf. Hmmm!
The first thing I noticed about this is that the chocolate shell is quite thin, and it’s milk chocolate, so these clearly aren’t designed to be dairy free chocolates. The filling is, well, odd. It’s glossy and smooth, but nice and soft. A little like a raspberry jelly sweet. The raspberry and chocolate flavours come through nicely, but there is a slight hint of greasiness to the finish.
A dark chocolate, with an equally thin shell and a filling of a similar texture. But… Olive oil! Olive oil!?!? This is quite simply horrible. Why would I want to eat an Olive Oil chocolate, Mr Allsop? Because it shows your awesome l33t water ganache skillz? No!
Although there’s a hint of sweetness to take the edge of the flavour, it can’t disguise the slightly disturbing, greasy, oily texture. Definitely not my thing.
This one’s much more like it. The filling in this milk chocolate is in two layers – a thin ‘peanut butter’ layer on the bottom and a darker ganache layer on top. But it’s not particularly crunchy or particularly peanuty. The flavours that do come through are quite pleasant though, and the texture here isn’t is off-putting as the olive oil chocolate.
A dark chocolate with a glossy finish, decorated with white speckles. Once again, we have the same soft, smooth, slightly greasy texture. The flavour takes me back the the liquorice sticks and the Bassetts Sherbet Fountains of my childhood. The salt is noticeable, but subtle. I like this one.
A milk chocolate, and other one with the filling divided into two layers – a thin layer of ganache on the bottom and a thicker layer of pear jelly on top. I enjoyed this one – a nice, subtle, fruity flavour. Again, the texture is slightly weird though. In this case that’s mainly down the pear jelly, which retains that soft, grainy texture you get in pears.
I didn’t pick up much in the way of aniseed at all though – and that’s fine by me.
Another weird one. A dark chocolate with that oily dark ganache and flavoured with basil. Gah.
Clearly this is meant to complement the Olive Oil chocolate above, and it does in so much as they’re both quite horrible. If you’d like to recreate the experience of eating this chocolate at home, take a handful of basil, add a knob of butter and sprinkle on a teaspoon of cocoa powder, then stuff it into your mouth. It’s not pleasant.
Overall, a very mixed bag. There are a couple of nice combinations in there, and there’s no doubt that avoiding the use of cream can help some of the other flavours come through. It’s just unfortunate that a couple of those flavours appear to have been picked out of a hat at a drunken party.
But it’s the textures that I’m really not keen on. Rather than the light, fluffy fillings you can achieve with cream ganaches, you’re left with soft, glossy and slightly oily finishes. I’m not sure exactly how Damian Allsop achieves that, but it feels like there’s butter in there. The lack of any hint of ingredients means I’ll probably ever know.
An interesting curiosity, but not something I can see myself wanting to try again.