Friday, 21 February 2014

Chocolate Heaven...

...since (about) half past seven.

A little bit of a bastardisation of a certain Very Famous Chocolate Manufacturer's catchphrase there, which doesn't do these particular chocolates justice, because their quality far surpasses the clunky, mediocre fayre peddled by the masters of mass production. Not that I don't eat them sometimes, but they're infinitely disappointing compared to the 'real thing'.

By 'real thing', I mean artisan chocolates crafted with love - hand-made using carefully selected high quality chocolate and ingredients, where the balance of flavours has been perfected. I wish I had the words to describe what the perfect chocolate to me is, but I struggle to vocalise it without descending into rapturous eulogising, which may sound somewhat overly sensual (not least because I'm drooling at the thought of it). Besides which, it would be impossible to describe the perfect chocolate, because I haven't tasted them all...

I used to be a member of a certain chocolate tasting club, where you'd get sent a box each month, of a carefully chosen collection of brand new, experimental chocolates by various different master chocolatiers from across the globe. You never knew what you were going to get, just that it was going to be good and have things in it that you'd never tasted before. Some of them would blow your mind, and others would, well, mess with it. Not always in a good way, but it would always be exciting trying new flavours that were exclusive to the tasting club.

It's been a while since I've eaten chocolates like that - the occasional food festival/show there might be a few stands of people selling handmade chocolates, some of which are really good, but that happens only a few times a year.

So, I expect those of you for whom chocolate is akin to a religion are dying to know just what transported me to chocolate heaven for an evening - which chocolates? Who made them? Where can you get some too? Read on, and I will divulge all...

Troffel is the name you seek - the name of an artisan chocolatier based in Manchester (in the UK). I came across them quite by accident last week, when moaning on a social networking site about playing chocolate roulette, because a box of chocolates from  Very Famous Cholate Manufacturer had come without a 'menu' inside it. A little (virtual) voice piped up 'Should have gone to Troffel', so naturally I had to have a nosey, and seeing what flavours of chocolate truffles were on offer, it would have been rude not to try a box...

So, here is what was in my box (a
 menu, as promised so no chocolate roulette!). Now, although I don't like cheap milk chocolate, or vegelate, or the nasty white stuff (excluding Green and Black's, of course), I can be a bit of a baby about dark chocolate, if it's in large quantities or really hardcore, high cocoa content bitter stuff. I also leave the coffee creams to everyone else. And the plain dark chocolate truffles. And I probably wouldn't choose to eat something involving peanut butter and jam either - well no, that's not quite true, I would give it a try as I haven't had it before, but I wouldn't be anticipating great things happening in my mouth. So you could say that although I was looking forward to trying them, I wasn't overly excited by half of the box (especially as everything was coated in dark chocolate, and I'd seen a lemon curd and goats cheese truffle, and a passionfruit and creamed coconut ganache mentioned, which I'd have liked to try).

Anyway, all I can say, is that I was extraordinarily and more-than-pleasantly surprised!

I went for the Peanut Butter Caramel and Blueberry Jam chocolate first, thinking that a) it would get it out of the way if I wasn't too keen on it, and b) it sounded quite interesting, so I was curious to see how it had been executed. As you can see from the photo, there is a deliciously soft-looking caramel - not so soft it runs out of the chocolate (I'm not a fan of runny, almost liquid caramel - also quite fortunate for me, as I hadn't considered this before cutting the chocolate in half!) - and a generous topping of blueberry jam, encased in a crisp, thin, dark chocolate shell, with a nice snap to it. Well, this was looking good! Not only did it look good, it also tasted really good too. Before looking inside, I was anticipating something which might be a bit gritty from the peanut butter, maybe stick to the roof of your mouth a bit, like peanut butter does, leaving little grains of peanut butter behind in your mouth. No such thing. The peanut caramel was utterly nailed - the perfect amount of peanut taste, without being overpowering, and a really smooth caramel, which was not too sweet. The dark chocolate shell complimented the flavours, and the little chopped nuts scattered on the top gave textural interest with a nice crunch to it.

Mike approved highly of it too - and it's fair to say we were both very impressed. If you pushed me for criticism, the only thing I'd say was that for my personal tastes, I'd like a little more acidity in the blueberry jam part, but then I do like tart fruit flavours, and the point of jam is that it's sweet.

Moving on, the next chocolate to hit the deck was the Dark Classic Truffle. Cutting through this, it had a rich, dense texture, with plenty of body, and a delicate covering of dark chocolate, dusted with cocoa powder. I was expecting it too be possibly a little strong and rich for me, but I think the useage of a very smooth-tasting 66% chocolate (rather than going for something in the 70s or 80s) blended with butter and cream gives you a really good hit of cocoa, without being too bitter. Another delightful hit, which exceeded my expectations. Mike adored this one.

Sea Salted Caramel next. I was looking forwards to this one, after enjoying the Peanut Caramel, and I was not disappointed. Unctuous caramel with another  crisp, thin, dark chocolate shell which complemented the contents perfectly (why was I ever worried about them all being coated in dark chocolate?). For me, the salting of the caramel was absolutely perfect. It's something which can be, and frequently is over done, by those with heavy hands and tired palates, but this was lovely and the salt was not at all intrusive, but perfectly balanced with the sweetness of the caramel - the tiniest of occasional crunches from sea salt within it. Amazing. Mike found it just ever-so-slightly on the salty side for him, but that's fine, I'd already ear-marked the other one for me to eat later anyway!

Time to treat myself to a fruity and alcoholic chocolate, the Cherry Beer was next. Really nice natural-tasting cherry flavours in this which were balanced perfectly with the fruity dark chocolate - and also vegan (for the vegans amongst you, Troffel will be bringing out more vegan chocolates, so one to bookmark), although you'd never know to taste it. A really smooth melt-in-the mouth texture and another one that exceeded my expectations with the flavours.

Coffee Cream was the penultimate selection - because I wanted to save the Raspberry one until last. As you may have noted, this is the kind of chocolate I normally reserve for other people. All too often they just taste of bad coffee and buttercream or sugary paste, or other less savoury fillers and emulsifiers. Troffel has blended expresso with blonde chocolate and by God they've done it well. Creamy, chocolatey, with a luxurious, smooth mouthfeel and the taste of freshly roasted coffee carried on the top and left subtly lingering afterwards, these were sublime. I wouldn't be reserving these for other people, I'd be hiding them somewhere to enjoy alone...

Finally, I'd saved what I thought would be the best one until last. The Black Raspberry Liqueur. At this point, I'm feeling like I need a new phrase for 'exceeded my expectations', or 'was not disappointed', but I think I want to go and finish off those chocolates, so they will have to do. The fresh raspberries sang through, and I was amazed at how smooth the texture was - I had been expecting some kind of texture from seeds, or fibrosity from blended fruit, but somehow they had been smoothly incorporated into the chocolate, with just the right amount of black raspberry liqueur. I couldn't have asked for more - I thought it was going to be my favourite, and it was. A very happy ending!

So, if you worship at the alter of chocolate, and want to treat yourself to some really good, handmade artisan chocolates, then you could do an awful lot worse than order some chocolates from Troffel. I highly recommend them, and I'll certainly be indulging again the next time I want a special treat. Because they're handmade in small batches, it's worth signing up to the mailing list on their website, and 'liking' their Facebook page or following them on Twitter as the chocolate selections change frequently. There will be an online shop to purchase from, and you can see details of chocolates they have on the website and Facebook. And if you'll excuse me now, I have some urgent business to attend to...

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