One of the surprises of this year was the Sunshine and Butterflies Limited Edition Selection box as its always great to see companies that don’t get much exposure create some wonderfully original bon bons produce such fine work. But it was definitely more enjoyable to have these Christmas-inspired truffles and ganaches come through my letterbox the other day.
Only last week I was going on about how difficult it is for chocolatiers to be original so it was with great joy that I saw the Sunshine & Butterflies ‘menu’ contain some very interesting sounding treats such as the Gingerbread Truffle, Christmas Jam Ganache, Berry Christmas Truffle, Cranberry Truffle, Sweet Chestnut & Orange Ganache and a Christmas Cake Truffle. Far too often I get the ‘tin of roses’ syndrome where I have to have a degree in hieroglyphics to determine which truffles are which – here there’s absolutely no recourse to tax my brain – the bon bons have a clear photo with each and a verbose and very interesting description. From the information given you can see just how much thought has gone into each, and for me I’m massively appreciative of the effort put in.
Recently I have also been trying to work out why gingerbread is so popular at Christmas on the continent – reading the text given I can see that it’s a ‘hangover’ (if that’s the right word) form pre-Christian Europeans who made gingerbread cakes to celebrate the Winter Solstice. The desire to think about seasons, festivals and chocolate is something I’d normally associate with the clever people at Artisan du Chocolat but it is absolutely great to see from a chocolatier who has much less press attention.
The flavour of this truffle was absolutely spot on, it was just like those the German gingerbreads that I’ve tasted in the past and it was amazing how the bready flavour was achieved. This ginger taste starts off very slowly and builds up – just like a cold winter’s day where the sun slowly rises, shines brilliantly and then wanes leaving a bright red sunset – these spicy flavours linger for what seems like an age on the tongue. But it’s the mouth-feel I also enjoyed. If you’re lucky enough to have one you’ll notice that mouth is occupied by the truffle – it seems to expand like water-reacting foam. A box of just these for Christmas would make me a very happy boy indeed.
The Christmas Jam Ganache was less elegant as the previous but offered a more intense experience – purely because there some sharp fructose fruits included in the form of plums, damsons and sultanas. Added to the mixture were some Christmas-related, but unnamed, spices. These fruity flavours lingered for a good while, but just like bringing your car to “the bite”, the sweetness subsided and the classic flavour of the 53% dark chocolate shell took over – and then proceeded to diminish again – allowing the jam to regain dominance. I was in too minds on this one, but looking at the selection box as a whole it’ll probably act as a pallet cleanser.
Next was the Berry Christmas truffle which mixed the archetypal Christmas flavours of orange, cloves, cranberries and cinnamon with the more summary tastes of strawberries and fudge. It was like walking down a typical residential street at this time of year: there were lights, flashes, nodding Father Christmas’s and the occasional grunting reindeer. I couldn’t work out what was going on – flavours and textures were coming at me from all directions. I definitely feel the orange and cinnamon do work together well, and the fudge does offer a good underlying ‘carrier’ flavour as well as an interesting texture; but I felt it was so a touch too disjointed from the consistent flavours of the others in the box.
The Cranberry Truffle got us firmly back on track. The crunch through the 53% dark chocolate truffle was very enjoyable and the cranberry flavour clear, clean and precise. The sweetness of the truffle centre juxtaposed against the less sweet 53% dark chocolate shell was perfectly balanced. There were odd, surprising ‘shots’ of cranberry which gave it some good variety, but overall very enjoyable indeed.
I just love nuts and chocolate, and this sweet chestnut and orange ganache was utterly delightful. At first I thought it was a touch too sweet, but that was because I didn’t have enough of the chestnut to balance out the intensity of the sweet centre. The second bite had more of the nut and the orange and the combined flavours were far more harmonious. There was also a good cream edge that is far more prominent here than the others.
And lastly there was the Christmas Cake Truffle which was an absolute delight. Being inspired by a combination pottage (a plum porridge eaten on Christmas Eve) and Twelfth Night Cake there were just so many flavours going on – but was successful. The lasting flavour, I’m sure is of almond – which is sure to be a winner with me. But it’s the preceding flavours of the dried fruit, spices and butter made it incredibly indulgent, but supremely enjoyable.
I wish I’d started this review before I wrote my list of the best chocolates of 2011, as these should certainly be included (they are now). I also wish I’d taking more interesting photos – but I was just too keen to taste them. Hopefully, however, my words here do this wonderful Christmas-themed selection box justice. It’d be difficult for any text to do so, the only way you can understand how fantastic they are is to try some yourself.