4 Apr 2011

C is for Chocolate.

I am a huge chocolate fan. I have some every day. To me, good quality chocolate is one of the few sweets that fits into a healthy lifestyle.

As a chocolade aficionado, I am lucky to live in Belgium, the tiny country in Western Europe that is the grand home of Belgian chocolate.

Today, I want to tell you a bit more about my favourite brand of Belgian 'pralines', Neuhaus.

Neuhaus is a Belgian manufacturer of luxury chocolates. The company was founded in Brussels over 150 years ago, and to this day, all of its chocolates are still made here, in Belgium.

The founder's grandson, Jean Neuhaus jr. created the first 'praline' - a bite-size, filled chocolate - in 1912. A few years later, he and his wife Louise also invented the 'ballotin', the typical box in which Belgian pralines are still sold today and which prevents them from being damaged.

What I like about Neuhaus - apart from their scrumptious chocolate - is that the company respects its roots and traditions, yet continues to innovate and come up with new chocolates and flavours.

An example is the charming collection of 'Lady Chefs' chocolates, each of them designed by a world-renowned female chef.

Neuhaus contends their chocolates are top quality, and I can vouch for that. With every bite, you taste the impeccable quality of their ingredients and the care they spend on matching the most exquisite flavours.

As an illustration, I recently noticed their 'Sommelier Collection' includes one of my favourite dessert wines, the 'Elysium' - Black Muscat I discovered in my favourite restaurant in the Cotswolds.

Now, quality of course comes at a price. These are luxury chocolates, with carefully selected ingredients, and that's reflected in what you will pay.

These pralines are more than just nibbles. They're small treasures, the kind you savour slowly, enjoying each of the different flavours and textures when they work their magic on your palate.

Before I tempt you with an extraordinary Easter egg, I want to share a few tips on how to recognise good quality chocolates and on how to get the most out of your (Belgian) chocolate experience.

How to recognise good quality chocolates:

Good chocolates:
  • have a pleasant, sweet smell; deep and complex but not overpowering.
    (Avoid chocolates that don't smell, or smell overroasted, chemical or stale.)
  • have a shiny, smooth, flawless and evenly-coloured surface.
  • begin to melt straightaway when you hold them in your hand. This indicates a high cocoa butter content, which is a sign of quality.
  • 'snap' when you bite through the outer chocolate layer.
  • have a complex, bittersweet, refined flavour, with sufficient acidity and a variety of textures that melt and blend into a smooth cream in your mouth.
  • have a taste that lingers.

How to get the most out of your Belgian chocolates:
  • Store them between 15 and 18°C (59 - 65°F), away from moisture, heat and strong smells. Don't keep them in the fridge.
  • Depending on the type of filling, after opening the box, pralines will last for about a week.
  • Ideal tasting temperature: 20°C (68°F)
  • Give them your full attention when you devour them. Enjoy them with all your senses.
  • Share them with people you love, especially if your loved ones appreciate great chocolate.

For gorgeous pictures, more information about chocolates and how they're made, and the places where you can buy them, go to the Neuhaus website or their extensive B2B catalogue.

If you'd have trouble deciding between all that scrumptiousness, my personal favourites are 'Les Irrésistibles', a collection of 5 triangular chocolates called Caprice, Tentation, Séduction, Désir and Plaisir.

Each of these pralines contains a layer of nougatine and is filled with either vanilla cream, coffee ganache, raspberry cream, dark chocolate ganache or hazelnut ganache.

And now for the Easter egg ...

If you happen to be near the Neuhaus store in Ghent, Belgium (Koestraat 50) - or any of the bigger Neuhaus shops - with a spare 250€ in your pocket, you might want to get this giant handmade, limited-edition Easter egg. Six kilos of fabulous chocolate and gianduja indulgence. Wouldn't that make a perfect gift for ... hey, me!

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  1. OMFG.
    Not a good time to be on a diet and reading blogs. *drooling*
    I love Belgian chocolate, but by the time it gets to Hawaii temperature fluctuations have often made it stiff and bloomy. They don't discount for that either.

  2. So, I'm expecting a parcel from Belgium any day now. :)

    No one should live without chocolate. If I lived in Belgium I would bathe in it. Gah. And I'll have you know this post was both scrumptious and excruciating at the same time. I feel like poor little Oliver Twist with an empty bowl.

  3. Hi Toby :-)

    Actually, good chocolate and diets work well together. Because the flavour is so intense, you're less likely to overeat on it. A little bit tends to scratch the itch, so to say.

    I've always allowed myself 1 piece of dark, bitter chocolate a day, even when I was losing weight. It made it more bearable, which is great in the long run!

    Just in case: by means of balance, I'm going for healthy recipes tomorrow. Hope to see you around! :-)

  4. @L.G. You had me laughing out loud at the Oliver Twist image, even though it's more sad than funny ;-)

    I'm just trying to draw international attention away from the fact that we've broken the longest-time-without-a-government record. ;-)

  5. Thanks for sharing!

    Myself, I do love chocolate treats, but not just any chocolates, or the fanciest ones. More than anything, I love my chocolates filled with something even sweeter - caramilk bars are good, but my biggest chocolate tooth is for a seasonal treat: Cadbury creme eggs!

  6. LOL...so nice to meet a fellow chocolate lover, and thanks for the tips. My husband stuffs all chocs into fridge, now I can tell him not to! Great choice for C! Mine is cookies...but as usual it is a flash piece.

  7. Mmmm, chocolate!

    I love Lindt chocolate, although any Swiss or Belgium chocolate will do. Heck, I'll take any chocolate! :-)

  8. *sighs* You had me at "chocolate"!!!

    What gorgeous pikkies. What beautiful descriptions. What helpful tips. Aah, I can taste it right now *sighs*

    My favorite A-Z post so far ;)



  9. I knew "C" would be chocolate... ;-)
    Bad choice though, because today, I've decided to start eating more healthy things again and less cookies and chocolate. Problem for me is that - as soon as I start eating chocolate (or other sweet things) - I can't stop anymore. So it's all or nothing. But anyway, I'll give it another try!

  10. Oh my...that's all I can say right now. It's 8:47am here in the USA, and I want some chocolate now! Great C post!

  11. Chocolate addiction......this is why when I go to make choc chip cookies I have to go back to the store...someone has eaten the chips. I wonder who?

  12. Chocolate = happy. :) So glad I have my secret stash.

  13. OMG, my mouth is WATERING!!!! can't wait for easter


  14. Hi KC .. delicious looking chocolates .. cannot resist .. so don't have in the house usually. Cheers .. Hilary

  15. Very cool. I'll enjoy learning more about the things you're a hedonist about. ;) I think you might be an enneagram 7--one of my favorite types on the enneagram, and the type that I "integrate" into when I am especially mentally/spiritually healthy.

  16. Nice post about chocolate! I had some earlier today. It's a good topic for the A-Z Challenge.

  17. Wow, how great it is to come home after a long day and find all these wonderful comments!

    @kelworthfiles I love lots of different kinds of chocolate as well, but with the whole health plan, I've taught myself to focus on good quality chocolate, to avoid going for quantity :-)

    @damyantiwrites oooh, cookies! And reading about them is safe, at least physically. I'll pop over to your blog in a minute!

    @C R Ward oh yes, Lindt chocolate is great. I remember they used to have a dark, bitter chocolate with tiny cocoa bits inside. Great textures!

    @Rachael Thanks a lot! :-)

    @Lieve I've never given up chocolate during the health plan. I just picked good, dark chocolate, with an intense flavour. That way, a small piece lasted so much longer :-)

    @Kris Yankee Thanks, and great to meet you! There's nothing wrong with having chocolate for breakfast, I'm sure :-)

    @mybabyjohn: Actually, one of my favourite 'healthy' breakfasts is cottage cheese, sweetened with stevia, and then I add chopped nuts and chocolate chips for flavour ;-)

    @Shelli secret stashes are a must! :-)

    @baygirl32 We don't need Easter as an excuse, do we? =)

    @Hilary Melton-Butcher: Hello, and nice to meet you :-) Most of the time, I only have pure, dark chocolate in the house. No cookies or other sweets. When I feel like having a piece, I just take one, and usually I manage to have just one and enjoy it to the full. I couldn't do it with other sweets, though!

    @Catherine I think you're right about the 7. It's my main type I think, even though I tend to take life too seriously at the same time. I'm curious to learn more about the enneagram!

    @Sherri: Thanks! I hope you enjoyed your chocolate. I've still got some left from my visit to the store to take the pictures :-)

  18. Wow, I want me some of that chocolate! The photos are wonderful.

  19. Hi Suzanne, thanks :-)

    Yesterday, we did a chocolate tour through the city, and at the Neuhaus store, a chocolatier was making my favourite praline, the 'Caprice' on the spot. It was even more gorgeous fresh!


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