The chocolate world is both delicious and diminutive, so it was only a matter of time before I made Hazel Lee‘s acquaintance. As a Product Developer at Leatherhead Food Research, this lady has what many might regard as a dream job; one with ample opportunity to seek out and share interesting, esoteric eats and engineer one’s own inventions.
In cocoa-loco Hazel’s world, this often translates to chocolate creations, and she’s a budding bean-to-bar star in her own right just like Chocablog’s founding father Dom Ramsay. But she’s just as keen a bean when it comes to championing other emerging talent in the industry, and it was her email introduction which put me in touch with young chocolatier Jamie Kemp – founder of JK Fine Chocolates.
When she sung about ‘feeling 22‘, I’m not sure Taylor Swift included a line about standing proudly at the prow of a nascent chocolate brand, but that’s precisely what that age had in store for young Jamie. Having undergone a 10-week training scheme for self-starters run by Radian, he has a solid business head on his shoulders and a mentor at hand to help him progress.
But no discerning chocolate-lover bases a taste judgement on brilliant business sense alone. Indeed, Jamie’s own inspiration was encountering lacklustre offerings from chocolate companies who were more mouth than trousers (or, to put it bluntly, their wares were pants). From the off, Jamie’s aim was to use good-quality, fresh raw materials and create something that would live up to the term ‘luxury’.
The budding kitchen sink entrepreneur travelled far further afield as his experiments continued apace. In Costa Rica, Jamie found his mentor whilst volunteering at La Iguana’a remote family-run cocoa farm, in the shape of the company’s chocolatier, Jorge. He might have left part of his heart in Costa Rica, but he brought the beans back, using crushed La Iguana cocoa beans in his gorgeously gooey ganaches.
First things first – these chocs look good, prettily-patterned and oft brightly-coloured; their square shares like little canvases. They’re slightly lacking in shine but the flavours and aromas are anything but dull. Their bottoms are slightly lumpy but as someone affected with the same affliction I am willing to forgive – not just out of empathy but because they all taste exceptional.
The Cocoa Journey
The snakeskin-patterned, lustre-dusted dark milk shell melts well and has a rounded, rich flavour smoothed by a well-judged amount of sugar – a great big hug for the mouth; the 60% chocolate Jamie made with Jorge in Costa Rica devoid of the cloy so common to most milk chocolate. The ganache is deliciously fudgy, punctuated with crushed cocoa nibs. To completely thieve an advertising slogan; one nibble and I was nobbled.
Vanilla pod and cocoa butter
Vanilla-infused chocolate atop and rich, bittersweet dark stuff below; the latter qualifying the former’s ice cream-like sweet flavour. The texture of the centre is entirely beguiling; flecked with vanilla and formed from a mixture of pure cocoa butter and cream. This one is a diamond in the rough – the filling first feeling dry and crumbly then turning a little too slick as the fats melt in the mouth, but there’s plentiful potential.
I might as well write nothing at all here, because words actually fail me where this chocolate is concerned. A highly-aromatic, 70% cocoa shell with a nutty flavour and a pleasant bitterness yields crisply to a thick, smooth white chocolate with a strong and sharp rhubarb ganache with a hint of booze. It will be far too tart for some, so they can jolly well just give it to me.
Popping salted caramel
Disclaimer – I hate popping candy, but at least here I was forewarned. The rich sweetness of the intense dark milk is a well-paired partner for the thick, beautifully buttery caramel that’s peppered with sufficient southern French sea salt to enhance and add interest before oral explosions commence. Aside from the irritating presence of prickly popping candy (which I appreciate is my personal problem), it’s a winner.
Passion fruit and raspberry
The 70% Belgian bittersweet chocolate shell – whose top bears a a decadent decoration – is perfect paired with the punchy passionfruit filling that’s sufficiently sharp yet mellowed with white chocolate and cream. The raspberry is restricted to just a few pieces of freeze-dried fruit beneath the lickable, slick, shiny ganache, but the raspberry-passion partnering proves a very happy flavour marriage indeed.
Smooth hazelnut caramel
The aroma of the 70% dark chocolate is just intensely cocoa-y. No other words for it. A squiggle of orange piping identifies the flavour of the truffle whose roughly-finished shell has captured plenty of lustre dust. The coating is thin and cracking crisp, yielding first to fudgy ganache then to a puddle of thick, slightly chewy golden caramel nubbled with tiny pieces of coarsely-crushed hazelnuts. I’d like to taste it made with nuts roasted just a little longer.
Rum & raisin caramel
The dried fruit notes of dark rum almost always works well with dark chocolate, and this is no exception. It’s a complex beastie; the shell shattering into the thick cocoa bean ganache layer, then into a boozed-up caramel enclosing a big, fat, sozzled raisin – a superb surprise which I hope is a deliberate feature and not just a happy accident that happened to benefit only the truffle I tried.
Jaggery panela caramel
You couldn’t eat many, although you might well try. Very sweet, very rich with a molasses’n’honey flavour to the filling that’s made fudgelike in texture from that special sugar. The stuff in question is unrefined panela, the Central and South American equivalent of India’s jaggery. One suspects this truffle has been given a green pattern because it would inspire envy from lesser specimens.
It might be the use of high-moisture fresh fruit, but this caramel’s a little more liquid than its counterparts. Tart raspberry tames the super-sweetness of the caramel, whilst the cocoa bean ganache brings in a bit of bitterness. If you enjoy sweet-sharp interplay and fine flavours, you’ll definitely declare this truffle as a fruit beauty and no mistake.
Intense sea salted hazelnut caramel in a jar
This caramel is very thick – stiffer still than the kind inside those chocolates the manufacturers always asked if you’d share your last one of – and could be slightly saltier, but by golly it’s good. Especially warmed up, when it goes runny. Buttery, nutty, smooth… and so sinful it’s a good job the jar is so small.
- To read more about JK Fine Chocolates and order online, click here
- To read more about innovative East-West chocolate flavours from The Chocolatier, click here
- To read more about salt in chocolate, click here
- To read more about whole bean chocolate, click here