I just love selection boxes. However, I’ve been tainted by those horrible tins of Cadbury roses and I never liked the coffee barrels or the strawberry ones or … well most of them. And I must stay that having a menu of the chocolates inside was, and still is, essential for enjoying chocolates. In my time reviewing chocolates I’ve come across many selection boxes where it’s an absolute nightmare trying to work out which is which. For those that are a touch fussy, getting one you don’t like can spoil the whole experience. But, you don’t have that problem with these new Thorntons Continentals. Not only are the included chocolates hinted to on the underside of the packaging to help selecting them if you were in store, but they also give a luxurious and comprehensive menu on the inside.
To my mind Thorntons has one of the biggest problems in chocolate. Everybody knows what Cadbury’s is about, the others in this particular niche are fairly new so are fortunate not to have so many preconceptions about them. And the others are fortunate to focus on a relatively small set of chocolate lovers, be they able to afford more exclusive chocolates or focus on a very small type of chocolate buyer. Thorntons, on the other hand, has to try and please virtually everyone. They need to offer their classics to “crumblies” who don’t like change, whilst still producing new ranges to try and broaden their customer base – they are a business and not a charity after all. From my review of the new Continentals they hope to achieve that, I think they’ve done a great job!
With the smallest of the new Continentals range you get 175g of milk, dark and white chocolates – 14 in total for just £5.99. That works out to be about 43p each and it less than half the £1 per ganache or truffle I normally take as the standard. Paul A. Young’s are £2 each or £28 for the same amount and Melt would set you back around £23 for the same amount. Of course there’s a world of difference between fresh chocolates and these which would last until Easter next year, but we’re talking about a quarter of the price. But are they a quarter as nice? And does convenience play a part? We’ll see.
The first that I tried was the Catalana which is a combination of honeycomb and caramel and aims to mimic the Crema Catalana – from Spain of course. The first thing I noticed about the aroma was that it reminded me of the sweet chocolate you get at Easter, but it’s the flavour I found very enjoyable. The honeycomb does stand out but is complimented by a blancmange type texture which I found strange at first – but only because I’m just not used to it. There wasn’t a massive depth of flavour; I did find it very enjoyable but partly because of the novelty factor. And that’s what selection boxes are about if you ask me.
Next up we have the Mousse au Chocolat which, as the name would suggest, is of French inspiration and reminded me of a pink Champagne truffle, but most probably contained something resembling Cointreau. The alcoholic texture did come through along-side a powerful sweetness and a similar, bosom feel in the mouth (you know what I mean). For me this was a touch too sweet, but it will be popular with others.
And now I’ll give the Chocolat Riche a go. Apparently this was given by the hosts of Alpine lodges – and I’m booking the next flight over as it really hit the mark for me. I know it’s sugary and made with butter, but I loved the stiff texture and the soft flavours. There may be a touch of saltiness at the very end, but you’d probably already started the next one to notice.
The Sicilian Lemon Mousse was up next. For me I just adore lemon flavoured chocolate confectionary and this had the requisite sharpness which I’m sure a good few of you would love too. It tails off a touch at the end into a creamy texture, but is still very pleasant. The white chocolate is a side-note in the experience, but that’s no bad thing. The bitterness is a wonderful interregnum from the sweetness of the previous truffles and ganaches.
And then I’m ‘forced’ to try the Ganache Au Marc de Champagne and had one of the most direct Champagne flavours of any Champagne creation I’ve ever tried. Admittedly there were truffles, but this could not be mistaken for anything else other than a Champagne ganache. With this one the Champagne flavour lasts for an eternity and seems to warm up one’s mouth like a hot water bottle – perhaps it’s just me however.
The Cappuccino was my next to be tested. The aroma reminded me of a more muted version of the coffee barrel from roses, but that’s understandable. These are incredibly sweet but with a pleasant texture. I’d say they were too sweet for my pallet, but would be incredibly popular with others.
And then onto the Alpini which was an intense hazelnut and almond praline. For me this was, again, a touch too sweet – although I am starting to think my sugar receptors are bit too sensitive today. After taking a break I still do think it’s a touch too much on the sweet side, but it’s still within the scope that most people would enjoy.
To try a Pistachio Marzipan is like heaven to me as I just love both flavours. The recipe for this version came from the Ticino region of Switzerland (a part of the world I just love). When I tested the aroma it reminded me of some of the Pralus bars – although I have no idea why. The flavour was a great deal muted than I thought it would be – especially given the last sweet one. But I think it’s to its benefit that it’s a more relaxed offering as it offers a respite from the sugariness of the others. I’d gladly just have a(nother) box of just these. The texture isn’t as smooth as the others, but that’s what true marzipan is about if you ask me. After finishing the other half I noticed that the sweetness and flavour kicked in a few notches higher. I think this is one of my favourites so far.
The Vanille Truffle was next and is another inspired by the Swiss and was a strange affair. The sweetness looks absent until after a few seconds after the melt has begun and then sneaks up to you and hits you on the back of the head. Although it’s not as sweet as some of the others, it still does have that edge that people will be looking for. What’s more, there seems to be a fudge edge to it that’s very pleasant.
The Diplomat was a foil coated one and was obviously supposed to be similar to the Ferrero Rocher as they’re both inspired by the tradition that diplomats gave gold leaf wrapped gifts to each other.
From one truffle and on to another, this time it’s the Viennese Truffle. Not being the biggest fan of Vienna I was hoping that this would give me a reason to go back. Unfortunately this one was too sweet for me and offered too little substance. Again, it’ll have its fans, but I’m not one of them.
The Hazelnut Slice looked very appealing and I actually liked it. I don’t normally like pralines, but this had an edge that drew me into it, but I can’t explain why. It was soft and the praline centre fell apart easily and was balanced by the milk chocolate coating. On reflection it actually reminded me of breakfast cereal – one of the decent one’s my wife buys. I could eat a few more of these easily.
The Cherry Truffle made with Italian cherry puree was a fantastically sweet truffle that reminded me of Bakewell tarts and those kirsch chocolates that my parents used to bring back from the northern continent every time the ventured over there. As that’s the case this flavour has a place reserved in my chocolate heart. And they’re another one that I could eat in handfuls.
And we ended the selection box with the Valencia, which obviously is a Spanish inspired ganache with a liquid orange centre and it tasted like a more biscuity version of a Jaffa Cake – and one I actually liked. There’s a great balance between sweet and sour with a great crunchy texture and a great way to finish off the selection box if you’re an obsessive compulsive chocolate person like me and worked from left to right along the box.
I know Paul A. Young and William Curley wonder about the place that long life truffles and ganaches have in the market and I know they’re right in that fresh chocolates by their very nature are better than those that will last a few months. But not everyone has the ability to spend £20+ on a small selection box – however wonderful they are. And they’re bloody awesome. Some people like to spread the cost of Christmas or other events over a couple of months or more and £5.99 for a selection box will allow them to do that. Other people like to buy chocolates and send them abroad and these Thorntons Continentals are perfect for that. Also if you’re buying for “oldies” they might not prefer fresh chocolates, they may prefer to have one a day over a couple of weeks and savour each. They may also not like “new” things – for whatever daft reason. If you’re buying for someone that often writes letters to complain to the council rather than firing off a quick email then the Thorntons Continentals are just perfect.
At the end of the day you can’t argue with the price. At £5.99 they’re outstanding value. About 10-15% of them I didn’t like a great deal, but I’m fussy and have tried a good number of fresh ganaches and truffles and have a good basis to compare. But I think the Thorntons chief chocolatier – Keith Hurdman has done a great job with a tight brief. I expect he was asked to create a new range of Continentals that were different from the last, that gave the brand a freshness that it needed, and he’s done that. I loved, ok adored, the information that came with the chocolates. The chocolate tour around Europe was a great one. Just like certain parts of the continent you don’t find appealing, so with this selection box, but you’re never going to please everyone are you?
The selection box achieves what it’s there to do. 99% of people that buy them will love them. And the other 1% are competitors.