by Alice Medrich
Don't let the simple packaging deceive you. Open the lid and smell the chocolate--fresh and completely unsullied by smells of paper, plastic or cardboard.
The molded shapes are petite and elegantly simple and the chocolate has been tempered to a beautiful shine. The chocolate is molded with traditional European finesse, which means that the shells are not so thick that the filling flavors and textures are overwhelmed by chocolate.
Pralines is the general term used for assorted fine chocolates in Europe. In specific, however, the word praline (with accent over the 'e') refers to the myriad of carmelized hazelnut paste fillings for which Belgian chocolates are renowned. These true praline fillings are among my favorites. After tasting some other Belgian and Belgian style chocolates, these stood out like diamonds. The fillings are full-flavored and never too sweet: the essence of fresh hazelnuts, perfectly roasted and caramelized. From piece to piece, the chocolatier chef plays with flavor intensity, creaminess, crunchiness, sweetness and texture by varying the quantity of hazelnut paste in relation to milk, cream or butter, or chocolate. Some centers are smooth and creamy others are drier and firm--but all are excellent. In each variation the flavor of the hazelnuts reigns supreme, like a fine actor able to play different roles.
Although I have a strong general preference for dark chocolate, the milk chocolate pieces are spectacular! Hazelnut fillings are perfectly complemented by Callebaut milk chocolate with its ultra creamy intense milk flavor and delicate caramelization. The result is long lingering nut flavor with an even longer milk chocolate finish.
Dark chocolate pieces were also excellent, a tribute to the virtuosity of the chocolatier. The rich nut fillings were accentuated in contrast to clean, lively, bittersweet chocolate.
Particularly luscious are the dark and milk chocolate Papillons (butterflies)-the centers are creamy soft with a crunchy layer of nuts. The milk chocolate walnut piece is also grand...even the walnut half on top is fresh and crunchy!
It is rare to find white chocolate pieces as good as these because white chocolate is so inherently sweet, it stales quickly, and tends to pick up the flavor and aroma of paper packaging. Here they are fresh, rich and flavorful. The outer chocolate melts perfectly on the palate, smooth and creamy without a hint of grit or powder. The cocoa butter flavor is clean and delicately with a hint of vanilla and rich dairy notes. It is thick and rich on the palate, without being cloying. The Manons, white pieces filled with gently flavored fresh whipped cream, are a delicate and sensuous treat for white chocolate lovers. I liked the subdued sweetness of the coffee filling and the cocoa filling best. The white chocolate "Grappe" was a revelation. The hazelnut filling accentuated the rich cream flavor rather that the sweetness of the Callebaut white chocolate and also stood up well enough to provide a long satisfying nutty finish. I was impressed.
Chocolate ganache fillings are flavored with restraint. A few fondant (referred to as sugar cream) pieces add a pleasant variety to the assortment. Although I wish they contained more liqueurs! The pear (poire) is a favorite. The fruity flavored soft marzipans are good quality, the wild berry is the nicest to my palate.
Chocolates (September 1998)
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