is an English chocolate company with a fairly new presence in the American chocolate market, having made the leap across the pond after building their brand in the UK for the past 15 years. The offerings range from standards like molded holiday candies, chocolate bars, and truffles, to more exotic fare like dipping kits and even cocoa pasta. All of their products can be ordered online, and as of this writing (March 2010) there are two Hotel Chocolat boutiques in the US, both in Boston.
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Hotel Chocolat Easter Candies
I had the opportunity to sample some of Hotel Chocolat's Easter selections. One thing that the company does very well is product beautifully molded and painted chocolates. A "Choc Chick LICK-Milk"
(good luck parsing that, or saying it 3 times fast) consisted of a large molded milk chocolate chick on a stick, with pretty white chocolate swirls in pink and yellow drizzled on top. The milk chocolate was good but not extraordinary, but the presentation went a long way toward making this chocolate lollipop seem special.
My favorite Easter offering by far was the Caramel Eggs. These small candies were a beautifully glossy, deep brown color with a bright yellow tip. Each was about the size of a quarter and were 2-3 bite candies, which I thought was a very manageable size. The chocolate eggs were filled with a smooth, liquid caramel that had a lovely, deep-bodied flavor with a good hit of salt. I'm extremely picky about my caramel and hate it when it's too sweet or at all grainy, and this was a great example of a well-made caramel. The eggs are sold in packages of six, and my package unfortunately had 2 smashed eggs in it. It's a testament to how good they were that I found myself scraping the caramel and chocolate from the packaging and trying to salvage every scrap of the candy.
Pink Champagne Truffles(c) 2010 Elizabeth LaBau, licensed to About.com, Inc.
A more unique entry into the Easter candy arena was the Milk Chocolate Scrambled Egg. From the name, I expected some sort of smashed Cadbury Egg-esque extravaganza, but it was actually a fairly tame candy bar made of milk chocolate and crunchy cookies, with a molded milk chocolate egg "pressed" on top. The bar is 100 grams, which is quite a substantial candy bar, so I found myself nibbling it over the better part of a two-week period. The milk chocolate has a sweet, malty flavor that melts nicely in the mouth but lacks a rich body that I prefer in my chocolate. The cookie pieces are small and round, like BBs. On their own they are not very sweet, and are similar in taste and texture to some shortbread-type cookies. They add crunch but not much flavor, which is a shame--I think a strong butter cookie would be a great addition to this bar.
Pink Champagne Truffles
Outside of the Easter line, I sampled the Pink Champagne Truffles. These are packaged in a lovely pink box with the tagline "A Taste of the Hedonistic" on top. Unfortunately five of the sixteen truffles were smashed in the package, even though they were nestled in truffle trays and packaged with layers of bubble wrap in between, so it's possible it was a result of rough handling during the delivery process. The truffles are different from your standard molded truffles or the cocoa-powder covered varieties. They're very light brown in color, with a powdery whitish-pink coating on top that is described as a mix of powdered sugar and strawberry powder. Upon biting into the truffle, I found that the light brown color was simply the milk chocolate coating, and the ganache inside is a rich brown. It has a lovely texture: soft and silky, but substantial enough to not lose its body when you bite into it. The truffle filling had a mild champagne taste with a little kick from the alcohol and lots of fruity tones, which was nice, since I didn't taste much flavor from the strawberry powder. The sticking point for me with these truffles was the milk chocolate coating on the outside. It didn't have the expected snap of tempered chocolate, but instead was soft, yielding, and almost crumbly, and was also fairly substantial, around 1/8" thick in most places. This meant that each bite of truffle had a good amount of this coating, which I found distracting. I tried peeling it off and just enjoying the ganache in the center, but it was too soft for that.
Pink Peppercorn Chocolate Bar
Hacienda Iara Organic 72% Dark with Chili & Pink Peppercorns(c) 2010 Elizabeth LaBau, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Finally, I tried a chocolate bar: the Hacienda Iara Organic 72% Dark with Chili & Pink Peppercorns. I wasn't sure what to expect from this bar: I'm a huge dark chocolate fan, but while I enjoy spicy foods, pepper in particular is not a flavor I usually enjoy (so keep that in mind while reading the rest of this review.) The chocolate had an impeccable pedigree: it's described as an organic, single estate dark chocolate made with Ecuadorian nacional arriba cocoa, infused with chili and dotted with pink peppercorns. The bar itself is gorgeous. It's a distinctive wavy shape without any scoring or delineations, just "Hotel Chocolat" pressed on one side and smashed whole pink peppercorns pressed into the back. Upon opening the foil wrapper, I was met with a strong peppery fragrance, but oddly did not smell much chocolate. It was beautifully tempered, with a nice gloss and a strong snap when broken. I decided to ease into tasting the bar by breaking off a piece without any peppercorns on the back. Even without the peppercorns themselves, the chocolate had a very strong pepper flavor and soon produced a powerful burn in the back of my throat. This, combined with the fairly bitter chocolate, gave the bar quite a savory flavor. Unfortunately it was far too peppery for me, and I couldn't even bring myself to actually eat any of the peppercorns. This is a very sophisticated, "adult"-tasting bar, and it might be a good gift for an adventurous chocolate enthusiast-- the presentation, packaging, and cost ($10) definitely lend itself to seeming like a special occasion gift.