I have had this box sitting at the top of my bookshelf, awaiting attention, for much too long, though ironically since it is quite an appealing box for one like myself who gets much too excited over boxes.
It is something like a small hatbox of faux leather, with brown sides and a pink top; there is just enough femininity without being frilly or overwrought. For this endeavor maybe could have become too easily too girly as it is a Lady Chefs collection given me by Neuhaus, showcasing nine pralines by nine, well, lady chefs. There are two of each, marked by their initials, which are carefully embedded into lacy designs. There are as follows:
Léa Linster, Luxemburg – Almond praline and candied orange peel on almond nougatine enrobed with milk chocolate. This is a soft chocolate, right from the prevalence of the orange to the combined textures. Pleasant, but not evoking a “wow” reaction.
Annie Féolde, Italy & Japan – Praline with walnuts and ganache with orange, cinnamon and coriander, coated in milk chocolate. These particular spices make this chocolate like a rich bread. The milk chocolate keeps it sweet, while the dark ganache/praline gives richness. It’s quite nice, with strong flavors that don’t overpower.
Arabelle Meirlaen, Belgium – Sancho pepper ganache and crispy gianduja coated in milk chocolate. The milk chocolate and hazelnut flavors are most prominent, but with a slight tang from the pepper. Subtle, yet innovative.
Trish Deseine, Ireland – Gianduja with shortbread and ganache with caramel with “fleur de sel,” coated in dark chocolate. All the layers here remind me of s’mores. Teeny, knobbly bits of biscuit are there to munch on and the caramel perhaps makes it milkier, but really, the focus is on the whole, not its parts–it comes together well.
Sofie Dumont, Belgium – Ganache with marizpan, a bit of olive oil, and cocoa nibs enrobed in dark chocolate. Lucky Ms. Dumont’s chocolate has center stage in the box, perhaps because it packs in a lot of richness. The marizpan is better than whatever other small sampling I’ve had before. A dark ganache layer is also there, with some nibs for texture; the olive oil’s presence comes on you like a wave. A most interesting specimen.
Fina Puigdevall, Spain – Ganache with walnuts and aromatic herbs coated in dark chocolate. Sorry, but I can’t identify the individual flavors at work, though I can say Fina was successful in creating a chocolate “inspired by nature,” as she puts it. All the same, it’s perhaps not as exciting as some of the rest of these.
Hélène Darroze, France & United Kingdom – Intense ganache with a hint of “piment d’Esplette” and refreshing raspberries, enrobed in dark chocolate. This ganache has a great texture, and while I’m not a fan of raspberries, I will say that their flavor is balanced so as to bring out the chocolate, as well, instead of just letting it sit in the sidelines.
Patricia Desmedt, Belgium – Ganache with Jalapeno chili and gianduja with nougatine coated in dark chocolate. There is a gentle warmth to the ganache, with the spice coming, still rather gently, after it melts. The nuttiness serves to complement and unite all. I like the use of the jalapeno: it’s unique to other chili combinations.
Thomasina Miers, United Kingdom – Praline with nougat and a hint of orange and dark chocolate ganache with chili, coated in dark chocolate. A stronger chili feels strange in conjunction with the orange; the unexpected taste and texture of nougat add to the weirdness. While not bad, this one still isn’t a winner for me.
Overall, though, I’m pleased. There is enough experimentation and variation to keep me interested, but nothing too far out. There are softer flavors alongside bolder ones. The concept, as well, of the collection in general I enjoyed. It allows a quick look at how much a chocolate-maker’s individual style will mean for a product’s final outcome.