As promised, it is now time for a review of on of Chocolate Mission’s readers’ favourite brands: Hotel Chocolat. Jim has reviewed many products from the Hotel Chocolat range, including boxed selections, but today I thought I would share something a bit different. Hotel Chocolat has a: Tasting Club, in which it sends its members monthly (or every two or three months if you choose) boxes through the post.
Up until recently only members of the Tasting Club could gain access to these boxes, but this year Hotel Chocolat decided to make them available to everyone. They are now available in store for non-members, but at a slightly higher price. That is why it makes such good timing to do a review now.
Hotel Chocolat’s chocolatiers are constantly inventing new recipes and putting a twist on their old ones. They do this by gauging customer opinions, as members are encouraged to score each chocolate out of five. Once upon a time, the scoring used to be out of ten, which I preferred, as it meant you could more easily separate ‘close calls’. Where I would not hesitate to give a truffle 6 out of 10 instead of 7, giving 2 out of 5 instead of 3 feels overly harsh.
But scoring systems are not really what we are interested in, is it? What’s important is the chocolate. As I said, the contents changes each month, but the review of my latest box gives an impression of the overall flavours, textures, and quality you should expect to get.
Hacienda is the name of the Ecuadorian estate where the cacao for this 70% praline was grown. Now, when I say 70%, you might be thinking dark chocolate, but in fact, it is 70% milk. This is what Hotel Chocolat call their Supermilk: more milk, less sugar.
This crispy praline has a deceptively mild scent, for once you take a bite, you are greeted by strong coffee notes – so much so that I found it hard to believe that there actually was no coffee in it – which is complimented by earthy tones and crunchy feuilletine pieces. 9/10
There is nothing deceptive about the boozy smell of this truffle. The Walnut Liqueur was a winner from the 2014 Create a Chocolate Competition, and consists of a layer of walnut and coffee praline mixed with Nocino liqueur. Strong, but not overpowering, it also has the flavour of dark fruits. 9/10
You know this one is going to be sweet right from the offset, when that sweet aroma from the white chocolate shell hits you full force. Mix that with one of the sweetest fruits around and a healthy dose caramel, it comes as no surprise that the Banana Caramel Praline is quite sickly. It does taste nice, but it is just too much. 7/10
When it comes to drinking, I am not a great fan of alcohol, but for some reason, if you put it into food, my opinion changes entirely. Perhaps it is because the other flavours take the edge off. As is the case with the Chase Oak Smoked Vodka, which is surprisingly mellow once you bite through its bitter shell and into the creamy ganache filling. 7/10
Ever since Terry added orange to his chocolate, I have been a fan of the combination, but the Citrus Crunch ended up being a disappointment. I may be biased as I detest puffed rice, which has been incorporated into this truffle to give it crunch. There is also plenty of chewy candied peel, making the whole texture a bit too laborious to munch through. It is very sweet, but not very zesty, and would have fared better had it been coated in a dark chocolate shell rather than milk. 4/10
The Caramel Raspberry Smoothie is a returning truffle, which means that it is a members’ favourite. Unlike the Citrus Crunch, it provides on ‘zing fulfilment’ with its sharp raspberry flavour. I for one question whether the caramel actually contributes anything, as I think it would be all the better without. 7/10
Sometimes you just can’t beat a pure solid piece of chocolate, which is probably why the 35% Milky Milk Baton is my superstar for this selection. A combination of 40% Belgian milk and white chocolate results in ultra creaminess with both caramel and vanilla notes. 10/10
Another baton and another supermilk, the Buena Vista 74% Milk Baton is made from Dominican Reupublic beans. It has a slightly woody smell with a bitter, smoky taste and a thick smooth texture. Great for those who love their dark chocolate. 7/10
Apparently it is becoming a ‘thing’ nowadays to try whole coco beans. In their naked state, they would taste too bitter for most people, but when dusted in supermilk it becomes a mellow creamy sensation. Then to finish it off, you get a satisfying crunch at the end. 9/10
Hotel Chocolat has brought me round to the Classic Champagne Truffle; I never used to be keen on them, but now they are one of my favourites. They seem to be a favourite all around as they are available as part of HC’s Selector range as well. Dusted with icing sugar, the strong champagne flavoured ganache has an almost bubbly sensation. 10/10
Whoever came up with the insane notion of adding salt to caramel should be given a medal; it is one of the greatest combinations ever discovered. Unfortunately, the Caramel & Sea Salt Truffle does not quite do it the justice deserved. It has a gorgeously soft smooth texture, but becomes a little sickly from the sweetness. Maybe a darker shell would have done the trick. 6/10
Here’s another chocolate that sounds promising, but suffers from being too sickly sweet. The Honey crunch contains honeyed pistachios, but the combination creates both a sweet and salty flavour that reminds me of popcorn. I like salted popcorn, but sweet and salty popcorn combined is a sin that deserves punishment. 2/10
After all that saccharininity (yes, I know that’s not a word), it is a relief to get to something more bitter. The Hazelnut & Vietnamese Cocoa Nibs has a dark shell with a contrasting milky ganache, but the addition of cocoa nibs brings out the intense dark cocoa flavours. 7/10
Rhubarb & Ginger was originally the flavour for one of Hotel Chocolat’s cheesecake chocolates, but now they have tried the flavours on their own. It has a thick dark shell with smoky notes, while inside is a gorgeously tart ganache. 9/10
These baby-sized Lime Truffles are far better than their sister Lemon Truffles, which has appeared previously. It has a mild zest, and is just the right size for popping in the mouth all in one go. 7/10