Baking my way round the United Kingdom, trying out regional specialities, traditional ingredients etc., and generally making (and sampling) nice things to eat in the cake, biscuit and bun line. Now with the assistance of my junior chef, Ellis.
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
For my first posting after my young man’s arrival, I am going to keep things fairly simple. I am also writing under a tut-tutting of disapproval from my husband, not due to neglection of the little ‘un, but because I have accepted a commercial freebie in the form of a chocolate Easter egg from Hotel Chocolat. Now I was quite flattered to have a company contact me and offer to send me a luxurious Easter egg gratis, in return for my reviewing said item on my blog. Mainly because it suggested that somebody believed the readership of my site extends beyond me, and my mum and dad. I couldn’t see too large a dilemma, or too fatal a blow to my integrity (do let me know if you disagree!), after all I might try the egg and promptly demand it be scrambled. Hotel Chocolat presumably banked on my taste buds coinciding with their own taste values, but a review can go either way, and an Easter egg is a sweet of two halves…
I knew of Hotel Chocolat, but had never before eaten any of their goodies. Their leaflets fall from the Sunday papers from time to time, and I have previously got as far as going for a drool on their website. I once idly thought about buying myself a subscription to their Chocolate Tasting Club – such a fabulous idea, to receive regular supplies of top-notch chocs by post. Just as one polishes off one box, there goes the doorbell with the postman bearing a new box. Fab. There were two reasons why I didn’t sign up. 1. The idea of buying oneself a chocolate subscription just seemed a little too self-indulgent, even for me. It would be a fabulous gift. 2. I would have had to share the chocolates with my husband, unless I could come up with a subterfuge that would result in the chocolates being delivered to a neutral third party (work would have been too risky). Not that I don’t like to share with my husband, but when it comes to chocolate sometimes a firm line needs to be drawn.
So, to the egg. I should say at this point that I have made chocolate eggs in the past, so perhaps I do have some ‘expert’ knowledge that I can call upon for this important egg assessment. One year I made small solid chocolate eggs, by emptying the contents of a hen’s egg, and using the shell as a mould. Nice and simple. Then last Spring I went on a chocolate workshop at Leiths School of Food and Wine in London. During this day I learnt how to: 1. make a terrible sticky mess using chocolate and as many utensils as I could lay my hands on; 2. make some delicious truffles which resembled other brown objects not generally perceived as delicacies; 3. how to temper chocolate and create an Easter egg using a mould of two halves, and using a brush and melted chocolate to build up the shell. I recreated the moulded egg at home for my husband (you see, I can be generous sometimes), and ended up with an egg that needed a JCB to crack it open. The Hotel Chocolat egg claimed to have an extra thick shell, so I looked forward to seeing if it could compete with the bad boy I made.
I had been sent a British Classics egg. A 72% dark chocolate shell embedded with small fragments of cinder toffee, and filled with a selection of chocolate sweets chosen to be nostalgic but in a sophisticated way (a chocolate fondant mouse was included rather than a sugar one). The egg was carefully packaged in a very grown-up, although rather understated (I prefer a bit more campness) looking, black box, and this box travelled within another to arrive safely unbroken at my home. Each half of the egg is wrapped separately in foil and the chocolate goodies are in small bags within each half. A visit to the Hotel Chocolat website reassures me that the plastic element of their packaging will soon be replaced by a biodegradable alternative. However, the part that disappeared first in my home was the edible mouse. Cheeky devil - one minute on the table, the next nowhere to be seen. Chomp chomp.
I sampled first the sweets. Large discs of stem ginger encased in chocolate. Chocolate covered cinder toffee (think v.posh Crunchie bars, but don't tell that to Hotel Chocolat). Dipped brazil nuts (brazil nuts are so GOOD for one, aren't they?). Marzipan with orange in a chocolate overcoat - very nice, but I could have readily munched the marzipan naked as I love the stuff (take that how you will). Sorry, don't know what happened to the mouse, but it was milk chocolate and filled with smooth creamy praline. As to the the egg. Well, I was impressed to discover that this egg did exactly what it said on the box. It did indeed have a extra thick shell, almost immodestly so. If the egg had been served up whole instead of in two pieces, I think it would have taken some serious heavy tools to force entry. Instead I gave my hands and teeth a good work-out.
So if I wasn't enjoying a free treat, would I be prepared to pay £18 for the egg? Do you know, I believe I would. It is definitely an egg to eat slowly and enjoy, rather than one that you end up bolting down in the time it takes to boil a you-know-what (don't tell me I'm the only one capable of such naughty gluttony?). For me dark chocolate is more of an after-dinner taste, perhaps with a chilled glass of something sweet (and we're not talking chocolate milk). This egg should last me at least a week of after-dinners, and that may also allow for sharing!
P.S. I had high hopes to make an Easter egg offering of my own to conclude this post with. I had decided to make some marzipan, form an egg, and then present it beautifully coloured and gilded. Unfortunately the result looked more like an Easter potato, and not half as appetising as a painted golden spud. It is better therefore that I sign off with an image of one of my little solid chocolate eggs (prepared earlier), so that I can continue to hold my head up high and wish you (a belated) Happy Easter.
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Lovely to read your review. We've subscribed to the Tasting Club for years and don't regret it. I can't say each box lasts us very long - though not gluttonous, we do usually have more than a modest couple of chocs per night. It's not cheap but it is good!
Great to see you are back posting. I think that for all the hard work you all put into your blogs, a free treat is the least you should get every once in a while.
Great review. It all sounds immensely tasty.
I've nominated the Baking for Britain blog for Best Food Blog. All those who support this blog, please go here and vote!
You are tempting me Karen! Such a nice nightly treat...
Thanks Aaron - I did think that in view of the few hours sleep I am getting at the moment, that I could do with a treat to keep me going (chocolate equals energy after all).
Christine, I'm flattered. Thank you for the nomination.
So glad to hear of the safe arrival of your wee son - my youngest shares his middle name, after my father. My middle son is the baker in the family though, and enjoyed making the honey tea bread - so much so we made it for his class birthday, and several times since. We really enjoy the history behind your work - thanks for doing all that research.
Hotel Chocolat eggs are wonderful, and although seemingly expensive do contain a lot of good quality chocolate. My wife and I do get the Tasting Club box, but only every 2 or 3 months (you can vary it as much as you like) - we feel guilty otherwise and spend far too long at the gym!
Oh and congratulations on your new arrival!
Glad to see you getting back into the writing grove - even though it's about an Easter Egg ! I am not a chocolate lover you see, but I am of cakes, especially English ones so I wait with anticipation for you to don your piny and get baking again:)
In the last 6 months or so I have become an avid collector of old cookery books, especially cake recipes so it's great to discover a fellow enthusiast :)
Willowcaroline, I'm pleaed to hear that the honey teabread went down well. I look forward to the day that my little boy might like to help me in the kitchen. With a little early training he will hopefully be a confident cook/chef later on.
Boolbar, you are tempting me further down the chocolate path, soon I shall be seeing membership of the Tasting Club as a necessity...
Gigibird, I promise I will be back in my pinny shortly. I like the sound of your old recipe book collection - maybe I can come to you for a recipe or two at some point?
It would be an honour to share any recipe with you:)
I like to find the same recipe, say for seed cake and look at all the variations from book to book - (I don't have children so I have the time)
I have had the joy of receiving a couple of the tasting club boxes over the past few years and I go weak at the knees for this stuff. Unfortunately I live in Canada so I rely on my mother-in-law's "care packages" for this decadent treat.
Gigibird, I like your recipe comparison idea. Seed cake would be a good choice as the differences would be fairly subtle (I imagine), but it would be great to establish 'the ultimate' recipe. Drop me an email if you would like to pursue - firstname.lastname@example.org
S, as it is my birthday next week I thik I shall leave a hint here for any friends or husband who might like to treat me to membership of the Tasting Club.... Toby, I will share them, honestly.
you know, i ordered a tasting box last christmas which was to be the first of a subscription of boxes... but i immediately cancelled after receiving it. i wasn't impressed with the quality of chocolate at all, too much milk chocolate for one, and too much sugar, no flavour dimension... very disappointing. maybe it was a bad example of what they have on a monthly basis, but i'd rather spend time in a good quality chocolate shop and select my own. or get other bloggers to send me some (EBBP#7 is coming up!) ;-)
hope you and little one are doing well, we must make a plan to meet up some time!
Mmmmm mmmmm - looks wonderful.
T'would be nice to see an update pick of scrumptious baby too - although with 4 of my own I appreciate time is a little lacking.
Hi Anna, love your blog as I'm interested in British cooking too. Bought a book recently, in the Pound shop of all places. It's called 'The land that thyme forgot' and it's by William Black [ex-husband of Sophie Grigson] and he's in search of British food all round the UK. It's a fascinating read. It has some recipes in it, such as Bere bannocks, clapshot, fat rascals,sussex pond pudding etc.
It's worth looking our for.There's a good list of books on British food.
Easter Treat!! Looks amazing and that DIY is super nice. How FUN the entire event was! Our little twins would love having this theme for their upcoming birthday bash that we are going to host at one of the LA venues. Thanks for posting the photos and all of the party planning details here.
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