Hotel Chocolat Excellence 2015

Here @ChocolateMission, we review everything: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Today it is time for the excellent, or rather, Hotel Chocolat’s Classic Excellence collection for 2015. This annual tasting box brings together the highest rated chocolates over the entire year. The fitting white box fitting contains a menu to re-rate what has already been voted best of the best.

1.     Cashew You

First on the cards is one I remember very well, and gave a well deserved five stars. It is no surprise that Cashew You gets full marks once again. By replacing traditional hazelnut praline with cashew nuts, the tones are mellowed from earthy to buttery. It has a very smooth and creamy texture, but with a few nibbly cashew pieces scattered on the top layer. The praline is encased in a sweet scented caramel milk chocolate shell, and is an utter delight. 10

2.     Peanut Praline Crunch

The next chocolate had a hard act to follow, but it failed to meet the mark. Instead of being voted for by members, the Peanut Praline Crunch was favoured by the chocolatiers. Again, hazelnut praline has been substituted, but this time with salted peanuts. There was not much scent emanating from this chocolate and that was mirrored in the taste. If you are looking for a powerful Reese’s Peanut Cup experience, this won’t be for you. The peanut comes as a bit of an after taste and the salt makes the praline quite a savoury affair. 5
3.     Cherry Deluxe

A chocolate that has appeared numerous times throughout the year also made it into the Excellence box. Cherry Deluxe has been constantly evolving since its conception, and I have never had the same version twice. On its first appearance I thought the chocolate was so-so, next time round I liked it, but there was still definite room for improvement. Now I think they have finally got it sussed.

The main appeal of the Cherry Deluxe is the whole cherry hidden in the centre. It provides the same satisfaction as when you tear open a cherry scone and find a big chunk inside. The cherry has been soaked in warming kirsch syrup and then surrounded by a white ganache infused with refreshing amaretto. The two liqueurs working together is what nailed the recipe. What finally seals the deal – quite literally – is the two-layered shell: first a coat of dark chocolate, followed by a coat of milk chocolate. It makes the shell extra thick and balances the sweet and bitter flavours. 8

4. Raspberry Smoothie

A pretty scattering of freeze-dried raspberries acts as a great lure for the Raspberry Smoothie. Sharp raspberry notes make for a refreshing filling, but the tempting description of a caramel milk chocolate shell is disappointing when what you receive is an almost medicinal sweetness. 7

5. Florentine Isabelle

Florentine Isabelle has been around for a long time, but now with Hotel Chocolat’s new ethos of ‘less sugar, more cocoa’, a new high cocoa milk chocolate shell brings the standard up another level. It is a perfect assemblage of different textures, starting with its chewy caramelised top right down to its smooth roasted hazelnut praline centre, which melts in the mouth. 10
6. Blackcurrant Bombe

This blonde bombshell is so popular that it made it through into Hotel Chocolat’s Selctor’s range. The Blackcurrant Bombe has a creamy thick vanilla white shell. The acidity from the zingy blackcurrant flavoured ganache cuts through the sweetness and makes a light delight. 8

7. Cocoa Gin Martini

For those who like a tipple, the Cocoa Gin Martini will provide you with a nice warm glowing feeling inside. Its dark 70% shell has an earthiness that takes on the flavour of the gin, which is infused into a rich macadamia nut filling. There are also citrus notes, reminiscent of mandarin, which comes from triple sec, a colourless orange-flavoured liqueur. 8

8. Cuba 73% Dark Baton & Butterscotch Baton

These batons appeal to both ends of the spectrum. The smoky, yet mellow Cuba 73% Dark Baton has a subtle fruitiness to it, while the Butterscotch Baton is made of 40% creamy milk, and has notes of honey. 8

9. Dark Caramelised Hazelnuts

I usually leave any caramelised nuts in a selection until last, most probably because they sound like the most boring. You would think I would have learnt by now, given I have always gone on to be most impressed. Today’s Dark Caramelised Hazelnuts are no different. Originally the recipe had a coating of milk chocolate, but this change is even better. The bitterness of the dark chocolate helps intensify the flavour of the caramel without it being too sweet. It is just the right combination of sweet and savoury. 9

10. Salted Pistachio Praline

Top rated by Hotel Chocolat’s founder, Angus Thirlwell, the Salted Pistachio Praline is sadly rather underwhelming. There is total absence of saltiness and the pistachio is very subtle. What it does have going for it, however, is its creamy texture. 7

11. Vanilla Feuilletine Shard

Each year Hotel Chocolat runs a Create a Chocolate Competition, in which members send their ideas and designs. A classic seaside staple – soft ice cream in a cone with a chocolate Flake - inspired the winning Vanilla Feuilletine Shard. The vanilla flavoured white ganache is meant to recreate the texture of ice cream, but to me it is much more reminiscent of mascarpone with the flavour of sour cream. Feuilletine praline represents the Flake, but a Flake is crumbly chocolate and feuilletine is caramelised chewy crispy pastry bits. It is a nice truffle, but it does not achieve what it sets out to do. 7

12. Apple Strudel

The next chocolate has been given the accolade of  ‘supreme champion’, and deservedly so. Hotel Chocolat has a knack for recreating our favourite puddings, and they aced it with their Apple Strudel. Its strong aroma of nutmeg follows through into the taste of the white chocolate ganache. The warmth of this seasoning makes it a winter comfort and feels a bit Christmassy. The nutmeg also pairs beautifully with the sharpness of the apple. This soft creamy ganache is encased in a milk chocolate shell and a white chocolate lid sprinkled with amoretti pieces that have the texture of buttery pastry. 10

13. Burnt Caramel Pecan Pie [Sic]

The last chocolate in the collection has been waiting so long that it has burnt, but don’t worry, that’s how it is meant to be. Not many things taste good burnt, but caramel is one of them. It is similar to salted caramel and as an extra depth of flavour, a bit like molasses. The thick caramel cream surrounds a whole hazelnut and lies on a bed of hazelnut praline. As you might have gathered by the title, Burnt Caramel Pecan Pie is in fact a typographical error on the menu, as it contains zero pecans. Customers who bought this box were emailed to make them aware of the fact, but I can’t actually remember the name of the proper chocolate. Whatever it is meant to be called, it is another competition winner, and rated ‘best caramel’ of the year. 10

Anyone who buys a box full of excellence is bound to be satisfied with the contents. While not every chocolate is going to appeal to individual tastes, it is clear that they all make fine representatives and is the box to get if you want to introduce someone to Hotel Chocolat.

Presentation: 10
Aroma: 7
Taste: 8
Sustenance: 8
Texture: 10
Overall: 8.6