Did you spend last week melting faster than bar of Dairy Milk left in the sun? Me too, but I was simultaneously singing carols, mainlining mulled wine and talking turkey. You see, in the magical world of media, Christmas comes but twice a year – commencing with Christmas in July.
‘Christmas in July?’ I hear you cry incredulously. Yup – when you’re planning content, high summer says it’s high time you got your act together in order to deliver in December. Want readers to relish your festive food suggestions? Then proper press preview planning prevents piss-poor present possibilities.
The whole affair means you’re the first to feast your eyes (and stuff yourself silly) with festive fare. Word to the wise – week one suggests we’ll all be going back to black (forest gateaux) as the Queen reports on the state of her annus – horribilis or otherwise.
So what’s top of the chocs thus far? I’m a little partial to Lidl, and the team didn’t even make me wait much past the summer solstice to sample its Christmas collection. Big fat logs of dark-choc dunked pineapple marzipan are majestic – my note reads ‘Niedregger with a nicer price’. Melt-in-the-mouth, resplendently rose-y chocolate-coated Turkish Delight lives up to the confection’s name.
Lidl’s JD Gross brand could easily make me fat enough to be given the same hefty-sounding moniker. The enrobed chunks of candied papaya and melon in that righteous range are both unusual and unusually tasty; a nice alternative to those common chocolate-coated ginger chunks at Chrimbo. The crème brulee pralines could not taste more like what it says on the tin (okay, box, but whatever).
At Sainsbury’s, cocktails were crammed into centres of Taste The Difference truffles – Bellini, Mimosa and Kir Royale all royally, bloody ruddy good. I usually eschew choux pastry in all its cardboardy unpleasantness, but I was pleasantly surprised by the cocoa-enriched shells of the salted-caramel-n-cream-filled profiterole ring.
More salted caramel (no chocolate, but that’s probably a positive in this instance) featured in Sainsbury’s winter-edition Wensleydale; the cheese a decidedly decent example of the misunderstood and oft-underwhelming territorial, the creamy caramel working wonderfully well with the crumble of the cheese curd.
A Sainsbury’s Christmas pud paired ooey-gooey Belgian chocolate sauce with a mulled cassis-infused pudding –seriously stick-to-the-ribs stuff. To guarantee a food coma, have it ‘sleep with the enemy’; bedding it down with a blob of Tesco’s chocolate’n’cherry or white chocolate’n’raspberry creams.
Tesco is going a bit mental for Oriental, with Eastern-inspired canapés like edamame bean filo straws with wasabi dip. In the confectionary corner, there’s a big box of fulsome Finest* chocolates infused with edible gifts from the Orient. At Waitrose, Heston has crammed edible gifts and inspirations from all over the shop into a single show-stopper – his ‘ultimate chocolate bar’ dessert.
Although to my mind you’d have to go a long way to seek out something more showstopping that Montezuma’s marvellous chocolate stollen – a heavyweight chocolate-coated cylinder of marzipan rolled around a textured chocolate almond paste filling. Get an end piece – it’s more chocablock with chocolate.
Taking my cue from the name of Monty’s white chocolate ‘snowballs’, I reckon the salty peanut butter bites would be fab frozen. The Christmas choc box is all killer, no filler; a shuffle through the truffles reveals raspberry-pistachio, cappucino, banoffee crunch, vanilla, and stollen specimens.
At La Maison du Chocolat, the almond praline features the fudgy chew of chopped dates, whilst lemon bergamot marries with milk chocolate. I fleetingly wonder if anyone might like to pop the towering ‘Tree of Wonder’ centrepiece under my Norway Spruce this year – although I’d happily settle for a few of the evergreen honey and almond chocs instead.
Back at Monty’s, I also took a look at a chocolate cookbook by founders Helen and Simon, although (and not for wont of trying) I did not manage to successfully smuggle a copy home…
So that, my fellow cocoa nuts, was week one. Much more to come next week as I peek into a few more windows on my Christmas in July calendar….