It’s week three of the Christmas In July previews, and I’m every inch the overwrought martini as I ascend to the really-rather-low reaches of The Shard’s 35th floor. You got it – both shaken and slightly stirred. I’ve no head for heights you see, and even this leaves me in need of a stiff drink.
Or a good hit of quality cocoa, which, luckily, is what I’m in the building for. I wibble-wobble my way down to Shanghri La’s Li Room, soft-kneed, where the sight of a dozen diverse buches de noel make those pesky joints even weaker.
The common denominator amongst these luscious logs? The use of Valrhona’s chocolate – be it the snow-white Opalys or the dark and brooding Guanaja. And that brand had briefed Britain’s premier pastry chefs to bring their A-game to this battle of the buches.
This dozen doesn’t demand the prefix ‘dirty’. Instead, each of the twelve logs is a cleanly precise creation – like the multi-coloured row of bijoux baubles plopped atop a caramel pear creation with a mirror finish so shiny one can choose to admire both the beauty of the buche and their own visage.
The taste calls to mind those wonderfully wobbly crème caramels you turn out from tubs – which Belle Epoque’s convivial chef Eric reveals he has a (no- not-so)secret soft spot for. It’s the spotted toadstools decorating the Delauney’s effort that catches my eye next.
And chef Regis’ quiet geniality captures my attention, as he opens his bouche to talk me through a buche inspired by the many-layered Hungarian pancake-cake, ‘dobos torte’. Here, he’s incorporated that quintessential essence of a British family Christmas – the flavour of a Terry’s chocolate orange.
Oranges may not be the only fruit, but Grand Marnier is also a flavour that’s found favour in a liqueur-laced modern Mont Blanc. Other fruity beauties are both many and majestic; like the Italianate lemon, tarragon and hazelnut buche by Chef Loiz from the Park Lane Hotel.
Luke from Coworth Park brings things back to Britain, using damsons and blackberries in his ‘Belvedere Forest’ log, inspired by the classic German BFG. Andaz’s Joe, meanwhile, has gone totally tropical with a smouldering combo of banana curd and smoked maple pecan praline.
That The Cocoa Nut likes coconut should not surprise, so the what-I-call ‘White Christmas’ from Louis at The Ritz goes down as well as the first flakes on Christmas morn. There’s a full-on fruit basket in the coconut creation by Nick at Shangri La, using yuzu, mango, and Buddha’s Hand citrus.
I could have stopped there. But then Mourad at the Berkeley got his wicked way with me, enticing me with a slice of something nothing short of splendiferous. Chocolate mousse concealed a peanut base, a still-crisp speculoos wafer, a pin-sharp blackcurrant layer and a core of softly-set pear puree.
My bouche bore a big smile, but my tummy told me ‘no more’ – certainly not until later this year when I may run to each establishment to purloin logs from limited runs of just 30 apiece. You might argue that Asda’s own ‘trifle log’ channels the theme, but the proof as they say, is in the pudding.
Christmas pudding in Italy is not big business, but the event itself is – as proved by the gorgeous and very edible geegaws laid out at Carluccio’s gargantuan festive feast. Top of the tree for me? All the choc-cloaked comestibles – whole baked figs stuffed with walnuts, Clementine segments, torrone…
I could go on and on. Carluccio’s goes crackers for cocoa at Christmastime, and that sits just fine with me. Bontorrone is quite possibly what angels eat when they’re feeling devilish – a chocolate-coated confection consisting of layers of liqueur-soaked sponge and torrone.
The Sous Chef chefs must have been feeling devilish when they offered me a tiny chocolate passionfruit tart topped with popping candy. Just a smatter, but it matters when the ingredient is one’s biggest nemesis.
Even a chocolate coating on the crackly crystals didn’t serve to make them less bitter pills for me to swallow – although swiftly swallowing a mushroom – yes, mushroom – macaron with a fudgy truffle oil filling and a dusting of Sous Chef’s cep powder certainly sweetened my demeanour.
That Father Christmas is a fun guy, but I wonder how he’d feel about fungi in the sweet treats left at the foot of the chimney?
- To read about Christmas chocolate from La Maison du Chocolat, Lidl, Montezuma’s, and more, click here.
- To read about Christmas chocolate from Lakeland, Hotel Chocolat, Bord Bia and more, click here.