November 23rd: Hotel Chocolat Sparkling Stars Caramels
Over the past few weeks I have munching my way through Hotel Chocolat's finest Christmas offerings this year (with the help of my family!) and today bring you my review of their Sparkling Stars Caramels selection box. Described as 'a collection of caramel filled stars sure to bring a sparkle into the festive season' the selection was formed of 14 different chocolates - with one portioned twice constituting the full box of 15.
Looking at the packaging I have to admit I felt like I wasn't quite filled with the same festive spirit as was with some the Christmas Slabs that will be appearing on the site soon. Don't get me wrong the golden coloured box and the inner chocolates looked well presented and neat, but in comparison I felt it wasn't quite there with its Christmas credentials.
Another thing that bothered me ever so slightly about this box was that the menu that was included was a little inaccurate with not all the pictures matching up with the chocolates themselves. Although in a way this does sort of prove they aren't rolling off a factory conveyor belt in their thousands identically it took a little more effort than it should have done matching them up.
In the interest of keeping this review a reasonable I will keep my comments on each pretty brief - below I will be working from left to right in each picture:
Salted Caramel - I always like to start off a positive note and this one was one of the best in the box. The outer milk chocolate was of the usual superb quality and the sweetness of the chocolate nicely transcended into a soft butterscotch caramel centre which melted with ultimate ease. The salt note was prevalent in aftertaste and left a delicious set of flavours in the mouth. Superb.
Coffee Caramel - This was one of the harder ones to identify as it looked nothing like the picture in the menu. The outer chocolate was thick melting and creamy, however it dominated the inner coffee caramel which was a little weak for my taste buds. This was more your mocha flavoured caramel than your espresso. A nice tasting chocolate but I was a little disappointed. Good.
Caramel & Golden Rum - My sister tried this one as she is a big fan of boozy chocolates. Like many liqueur filled Hotel Chocolat truffles that have gone before she thought that the rum innards over powered the chocolate making it a little redundant and a little too booze focused in taste.... and this comes from a girl that likes her alcohol! Standard.
Caramel Praline - The keen eyed of you may have noticed in the picture that this was the piece that was portioned twice. Simply put it was absolutely delicious. The combination of the white and milk chocolate made for a creamy, vanilla noted outer coating and held a delicious tasting praline truffle filling inside. The praline was too die for its hazelnut paste taste enhanced with a note of toffee caramel to make it all the desirable. I could have eaten a box full of these. Superb.
Apricot Brandy & Caramel - This was another impossible piece to identify but it was eventually consumed by my mother who is a big fan of apricot. Unfortunately for her she felt that that the fruit flavours of the apricot didn't quite come through in taste enough with the dark chocolate dominating the main stay of the taste and the brandy the latter stages. She did say the dark chocolate was rather good but that is perhaps missing the point just a little bit. Good.
Toffee Apple - This was another bagged by my mother who was a little intrigued by the garish green colour on the top of the piece - I thought it looked a little fake/artificial myself. She was surprised to find that this was another boozy chocolate though this one was little more expressive with its added flavours in comparison to some of the others. My mother described it as creamy milk chocolate with a sweet apple schnapps and caramel flavoured centre and was one of the pieces she enjoyed more out of the lot. Very Good.
Blood Orange Caramel - This piece was consumed by my sister who is a big fan of orange flavoured chocolates. I was expecting the combination of the sweet orange fruit and caramel to possibly be a little on the sugar overkill side however she really enjoyed this one and described the transition of the melt into soft fruity caramel centre as absolutely sensational. This was of the surprises in the selection - maybe I should get around to trying some of Hotel Chocolat's orange flavoured slabs. Very Good.
Caramel & Whiskey - The more I write this review the more I realise how little of these I got myself :) ... this one was eaten by my father who is rather partial to whiskey truffles to say the least. He described the milk chocolate was very high quality and loved the inner whiskey centre which is said provided a fiery malt flavoured toffee like taste. I was kinda expecting him to like this one and he did. Very Good.
Balsamic Caramel - Wahey one I ate :) Just like the majority of the selection box this was coated in milk chocolate which wonderfully clean in taste and sensually creamy. What lay below in this was piece was certainly a little different in comparison to the other pieces from the selection and provided a sweet chocolaty tasting caramel that had a unique acidic edge. It was a tasting experience though I can't say I would go for a box full of them. Good.
Caramel & Salted Almond - This was yet another piece that looked a little different than it did on the menu but it was instantly recognisable as soon as I tasted it. The almonds nuts in their chopped state were not the most forthcoming in flavour but were accentuated nicely by the hint of salt that was present in each bite. Just as with the salted caramel piece the hint of rock salt nicely played into the hands of the sweetness of the caramel and livened up the nutty undertones. Very Good.
Orange Liqueur & Toffee - Surprise surprise this was bagged by my sister who again really enjoyed this one. In addition to the citrus and orange and caramel flavours in the blood orange piece she felt the added element of the booze brought a nice warming element to the the textures in the mouth. She said that she would happily of had a box full of these and handpicked this as her favourite from the selection that she tried. She demanded I give this a Superb.
Caramel Crunch - This was one of the first pieces I had from the box and it turned out to be one of my favourites. The milk chocolate was creamy and delicious, the inner caramel was sweet and salty and small cookie pieces placed on top were crunchy with hints of butter and brown sugar. Imagine what everyone wants the Nestle Munchies to taste like and this was it. Superb.
Banana Caramel - The rest of family were told by my mother "eat this and die" :) this was strictly off limits given her love for banana flavoured chocolates and I am glad to report it was every bit as good as she hoped. She said like the cream flavours of the milk chocolate were hinted nicely with banana with the fruit flavours becoming further accentuated when the sweet caramel was hit below. She said the velvety soft feel of the caramel was luxurious and melted with ultimate ease. Superb.
Caramel Cherry - I was surprised to see that this was not one of the liqueur based chocolates in the selection though it was a rarity in that it was one of the few coated in dark chocolate. I think this swap was a positive thing as the unsweetened taste of the dark chocolate subsided the tartness of the red fruit flavours somewhat which made for a more natural taste. It was my favourite from the selection but it was a nice variation on the recipe nonetheless. Good.
Overall these were a good selection of caramel truffles with a five out of the fourteen obtaining a Superb rating. The standouts from the box for me personally had to be the Crunch and Praline pieces, though particular members of my family really loved the Banana, Orange Liqueur and Whiskey Caramels. Unfortunately though this wasn't a selection box that got me excited as other Hotel Chocolat chocolate boxes have gone before, as it seemed to just not quite have the same prestigious aire about it. Firstly I have to say the Christmas theme wasn't quite there in the packaging or the selection of flavours in the box - why were there not any Christmassy flavoured caramels e.g. Cinnamon Caramel? Also as I have referred to above the menu that was included wasn't always that helpful which made for a marginally frustrating and confusing experience at times. This will no doubt be seen as nit picking but from a brand that prides itself of the highest qualities I think that these were minor oversights. The long story cut short is that these are a high quality box of chocolates, but just not the best Hotel Chocolat have ever offered.
8.1 out of 10