International chocolates

My dear friend Porchy has a weekly feature on his blog: beer Fridays. While I read it each week because of his excellent writing, I do have a bit of a hard time relating because, well, I don’t like beer. That’s not to say I don’t ever drink it. I do. In fact, on a recent trip to a conference, our hotel had a free happy hour from 5-7 where they served wine and beer. Now, I’m also not a huge fan of wine (unless it is really sweet–I like my mixed drinks), but that’s what I was drinking. However, I was already three glasses in and a friend poured an extra beer by mistake, so I did the noble thing and polished it off for her. I drank it fast in order to make it palatable, because beer will never be my first, second or even third choice for an alcoholic beverage.

I actually have several friends with themed blogs. Mine tends to ramble all over the place. It varies with my mood and my latest pet peeve. Every now and then I go ga-ga about something new. As I was reading Porchy’s latest beer blog, I started to wonder what, if I had to theme my blog about, I’d choose. I think it would be a toss up for me: education and chocolate. Both are things I love and spend a lot of time with.

So, in honor of the themed blog (and my deep, deep love), I think I’m going to start chocolate Mondays. This, for me is a great idea for three reasons: 1) it gives me something to write about every week, therefore helping me avoid mere pointless rambling (in theory at least). 2) If I know I have a weekly commitment, I’m far more likely to keep my writing up, even when the school year starts back up and I get really busy. 3) And this is really the most important reason, it allows me to indulge in chocolate. Lots and lots of chocolates.

So, to kick things off (and since I’m not quite out of my London frame o’mind), I thought I’d start with my musings on my recent international chocolate experience.

While I was in London, I visited two chocolate shops. The first one, Thornton’s I checked out the last two times I was in London, but until this trip, I’d only grabbed some ice cream and moved on. This time though, I was on a mission. Not for myself, but for my dear friend Eee who wanted special London souveniers. Since she is also a chocolate fan (not as dedicated as I am), I stopped in to see what they had. Since I was already in the store, I figured I might as well look for myself.

On my first visit I left with only some treacle toffee. I know, I know, not technically chocolate, but as it came from a chocolate shop, it at least partially counts. I’d had treacle pudding on my first visit to London. Believe it or not, it was on my to do list. Between Alice in Wonderland and the Harry Potter series, I thought it would be the most literate dessert I could nibble. Plus, I had to find the allure since treacle sounds far too much like fecal and I was initially disgusted by the thought. It was, however, delicious. The toffee was very chewy. I’m not usually a fan of soft toffees. I prefer the harder ones (think Heath), but once I managed to bite the huge pieces into small chunks and just sucked on them for a few moments, it was worth it. It was buttery with a nice molasses hint. It impressed me so much that two days later I stopped back in to Thornton’s for ice cream.

My third trip to the store was a bit pricier. Thornton’s had their summer truffle line out and I am a sucker for truffles. thornton's_candyThey had several sizes, including cute little bags of the truffles, but the bags didn’t have the flavor I was really after: Blackcurrant Miroir. Ever since I first had a blackcurrant ice cream at Thornton’s back in 2002, I have been more than a bit obsessed with the flavor. I opted for the 16 piece collection, which was about $13.50. At only .80 per truffle, it’s a pretty good deal.

The truffles themselves are all fruit inspired, which makes sense considering they are part of a summer collection. My favorite is probably strawberry crush, which is encased in white chocolate and trufflesdecorated with bits of dried strawberries. A close second is the lemon meringue. I’m not usually a fan of anything meringue related. I find it dull and rather tasteless, but this truffles was far more lemon than anything else. The blackcurrant was tart, which is usually a good match for dark chocolate. It just left me a little disappointed. It tasted a more manufactured than fruity. As did the vanilla one. I don’t think vanilla should be paired with white chocolate, as they’ve done, it sort of makes one big ball of bland. Vanilla gets a bad rap sometimes for being bland, but when tempered correclty, with real vanilla bean, it can be amazingly tasty.

Quality wise, I’d have to rate this collection a 6/10. The flavors were mild, not exactly bursting with fruit. Their consistancy also left a little to be desired. They are airy and whipped, which no doubt helps their calorie count (65 per truffle), but lack the hardiness of a truffle. I want to feel decadent when I eat a truffle. It would probably take three to make me feel this way, and I just don’t like the taste enough to eat that many at once.

My second chocolate stop was a place I’d never heard of and found quite by accident, called Hotel Chocolat. My husband and I were attempting to find a cinema to see the newest Terminator flick and I nearly walked right past this store. Luckily I have a nose for chocolate and the display caught my eye. Since we had lots of time to kill, we stopped in. I spent quite a bit of time debating my purchase. To be honest, I could have spent quite a lot more. They collection was unique and vast. They had amazing solid bars fused with everything from ginger and lemon to rocky road fixings to pistachios. For every solid bar they had, they also had a small package of 6 truffles with the same flavor pairing. Since I’d never tried it, I didn’t want to drop too much money there. Each bar was about $8.50. Since I have a love for toffee, I went with the Caramellow bar for myself, a pistachio one for my husband and some ginger combo for Eee.

My first bite didn’t wow me. I think it was a bit overwhelming. Just look at the thing. But when I got to the third and fourth bite, I really started to dig it. The chocolate was very creamy. The caramel infused into the bar was rich and velvety. I wasn’t sure what cinder toffee was, but it was delicious. I wasn’t as big of a fan of the florentine chunks, but I think it was because they were large and a little too crunchy to mix well with the smoothness of the chocolate. The added chocolate buttons gave it a double chocolate tate that I loved. I found myself sad when the bar was gone and wanting more.

Unfortunately, their American website only seems to sell the really big bars and although I’ve been known to drop way more than $35 on a single order of chocolate, what I really loved about the store was the variety. I found myself torn and wanting to try all of the flavors. Take a glance at their UK cite if you want to see a bit more of what I saw in the store. Any true chocolate fan will find themselves salivating and their wallet opening.

Now I only got to try one piece of their chocolate, but I’d give it an 8.5/10 for quality and taste and a 10/10 for looks.

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