Artisan du Chocolat - ‘Almost’ too pretty to eat

How gorgeous is the box for these morsels? They arrived by courier the day before my birthday. I was expecting parts for the bathroom – but this was a much more exciting parcel to unravel.

A gift from my chef brother, who knows my perennial answer to “what do you want for your birthday?” will always, always, be chocolate.

I am a self-professed chocolate snob and the only time you’re likely to find me nibbling on the corner of a bar of Dairy Milk or the like is on a camping trip, at a kids’ birthday party or, in the insane pre-aura phase of a migraine when sugar calls to me like a drug.

I may or may not (I definitely did) have run about the ground floor in giddy excitement as I peeled away the wrapping, to find the most ginormous purple orb, stuffed to the rafters with Artisan du Chocolat delights. In fact, once it was empty my husband had a job getting rid of it – practically having to peel my claws away from the edges. “But it’s so pretty...” I claimed, trying to think of reasons I’d need to hold onto it – the kitchenalia hoarder that I am.

Really though it’s not what’s on the outside that counts – it what lies within. In this case, a festival of flavours, textures and sizes of chocolate. And oh the smell!

Trying to regain my pre-Covid physique (if you can call it that), I was remarkably restrained with these beauties, limiting myself to one, maybe two a day. That was until, while flicking through the menu that accompanied them, I read they needed eating in two to three weeks. Well, it’d already been a week-and-a-half and that meant only one thing. Sharing. I don’t do sharing when it comes to chocolate. I wanted to cry inside as my hubby and kids helped me make light work of the rest of the box.

Well, I won’t be so shy about getting stuck in next time, let me tell you!

Why a two-week shelf life? The answer is simple. It denotes quality. Any filled chocolate destined to sit in a supermarket idly for a year or so is markedly inferior to the ‘real thing’. Those keeping qualities mean your chocs have been pumped with additives, have used veg oil instead of real butter and cream, or (if they do contain cream) have been packed out with glucose to preserve them.

Not the case with Artisan du Chocolat, whose ingredients list contains nothing sinister or out-of-the-ordinary. Simply cocoa solids, cocoa butter, cream, real booze, real fruit, nuts, coconut. All the good stuff. And you absolutely can taste the difference. Try it. Go out and buy a box of a brand we shall not mention from your local shop, and put an order in for some artisan, freshly-made truffles or pralines and try them side by side.

A little bit about Artisan du Chocolat. They’ve been on the scene since 1999, opening a shop in Chelsea in 2001, followed by outlets in Kensington, West Hampstead, a concession in Selfridges – and even in Qatar. In 2006, as the business outgrew its premises, the team relocated to the Garden of England, with a factory set up in Ashford.

Here, using beans sourced directly from growers (largely in South America), the chocolatiers roast, grind, blend and mould the raw source product into something rather special.

And the range is glorious.

A signature speciality is the liquid salted caramels, first created for Gordon Ramsey in the early noughties for his restaurant at Claridges. The originals see a runny caramel, infused with grey salt from France’s Noirmoutier Island, coated in dark chocolate and cocoa. Sublime.

The Couture Chocolates are rectangles of pure ingenuity. A posse of flavours topped with cocoa nibs, dried fruit, flecks of coconut, or laid over with artwork designed in collaboration with British artists. In this case, Jordan Lyden-Swift, an illustrator whose whimsical etchings for this collection include golden penny farthings, Parisian umbrellas, seed heads and bird cages.

There are nipple-shaped truffles.

Metallic chocolate pearls harbouring lusciously lickable pralines.

And O’s. A kind of fancy, disc-shaped After Eight thin with fillings.

Every single one divine. The quality of the couverture shines through. Crisp, clean, rich cocoa that lingers while allowing the essence of the fillings to shine.

The box included:

Couture Chocolates: Almonds and Space Dust Praline, Basil and Lime, Coconut Praline, Colombian Dark Ganache made with beans from Huila, Tumaco, and Santander (not the bank), Crème Brulee, Hazelnut Praline, Chilli and Coriander Praline, Feuilletine, Lemon and Thyme, Madagascar Dark, Marzipan, Neroli, Orange, Chewy Salted Caramel, Tonka, Yuzu

Truffles: Squares of No Added Sugar Milk, Milk and Dark

Pearls: Copper (milk chocolate with hazelnut praline), Silver (milk chocolate with pecan caramel praline), South Sea Gold (white chocolate with milk chocolate ganache), Gold (milk chocolate with smoked salt Marcona almond praline), Emerald (milk chocolate and salt pistachio praline), Tahiti (dark chocolate with hazelnut praline), South Sea Silver (white chocolate with dark chocolate ganache)

Classic dark caramels: Other flavours include black and pink peppercorns, Malpighi aged balsamic, smoked salt, passion fruit caramel, spiced fig, maple syrup, burnt sugar and Welsh sea salt with Celtic seaweed and Snowdonia shitake mushroom

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