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Flavour files: Chocolatiers using floral flavours to say it with flowers

One of chocolate’s great assets from a culinary point of view is the wide range of flavours which go well with it. Scented flowers have long had a tradition of being used to flavour confectionary and a number of today’s chocolatiers are continuing to explore the possibilities floral flavours offer.

One traditional way of using flowers in British confectionary is in rose or violet fondant creams, available to this day from a number of well-established companies including Charbonnel et Walker, House of Dorchester and Bettys & Taylors of Harrogate.  “Rose and violet creams are love them or hate them, a Marmite thing,” observes Chantal Coady of Rococo chocolate company. “We do have them and they are immensely popular; there’d be a riot of we stopped selling them. Rose and violet creams are one of the things we can’t even run out of because people just go completely apoplectic!”

Rococo's floral creams in dark chocolate

Floral flavours are also used more innovatively at Rococo. Floral flavouring crop up, for example, in their ganache collection, as in Lemon and Violet Tarte, “like a tarte au citron ganache with violet in it, which I think is sublime. We use milk chocolate which gives it that pastry-ish, biscuit note.”  There is also a Blackcurrant and Violet ganache. “They’re both based on milk chocolate which allows the violet flavour to shine through. The acidity of the fruit balances it.”

Rococo pioneered flavoured chocolate bars in the UK long before their current widespread popularity; "We’ve been doing floral bars since the early 90s.” Flowers in Rococo’s chocolate bar collection include rose (used with both milk and dark chocolate, since, Chantal observes “they taste quite different”), violet, jasmine and geranium. For flavourings, Rococo uses carefully sourced, high quality essential oils, something Chantal feels is very important. “The violet flavourings is an organic,  pure violet essential oil, made especially for us by an fragrance house. I hunted for a violet flavouring of that quality for a long time, so it was a great moment when I finally was able to source  it.” Rococo’s rose  flavouring is an organic, steam-distilled rose essential oil. “It’s about the same price as gold,” laughs Chantal, “immensely expensive. It’s very strong though, so you don’t need to use much. For me, there isn’t a cheaper option. In that range, which is an organic, artisan range, if we say organic then every single ingredient is organic.”

Fiona Sciolti, of Sciolti Botanical Chocolates in Lincolnshire, specialises in floral-flavoured chocolates.  An interest in the countryside and a love of flowers is something which has been part of her life since childhood. “My father’s Italian and I’ve got lots of great aunts and uncles who were country people. We lived by the seasons growing up. It wasn’t about following some trend. This is how I grew up; it’s from the heart.”

When it comes to using flowers in her chocolate, Fiona, in her own words is “a real purist. Synthetic flavours just don’t cut it for me. I use natural ingredients; for me it’s all about capturing them in the chocolates I create. So I won’t use essences or flavouring. I use flowers, which I pick locally, infused into local cream and honey. For me gathering, picking flowers, that’s what it’s about.”

Fiona picks flowers locally to use in her chocolates

As such, many of her chocolates are seasonal, such as her elderflower truffles. For Fiona, expressing the seasons is part of the excitement of working with flowers in this way. “Elderflower is so quintessentially summer and when it’s gone you wait; I don’t want elderflower out of season.” The lavender truffle, for which she is especially well known, though  is something she makes round the year. “The nice thing about lavender is that you can dry it successfully and keep the flavour.” Another flower she enjoys using is linden flower (lime tree flowers), which “goes really with honey. You can hear the bees buzzing round the trees in front of our house through the summer.”

Her favourite flower to work with is the rose. “I pick roses from my mum’s old-fashioned scented rose bush which have a heavenly fragrance and make chocolate using them. You have to wait until the rose is going to be dropping the next day. The more they open up, the more heady and scented they are. You pick the petals off and when you pour the cream and honey onto them the colours are just fantastic.”

Based in Scotland, by the southern side of the beautiful Loch Tay, is Charlotte Flower, a chocolate-maker who, true to her name, uses wild flowers and plants she has gathered in her own, hand-made chocolates.  Having trained as an ecologist forester,  Charlotte has long been someone fascinated by plants. Her inspiration for her own, seasonally-changing collections came about via chocolatier Pierre Marcolini. Having enjoyed his “lovely”, fresh cream ganaches and read that he was always searching the world for new flavours,  Charlotte explained “I thought why travel the world? Why not use what’s on our doorstep?  I’ve long been a wild food gatherer and so I started off making chocolates with wild flavours from plants I’ve picked myself.”

Charlotte sources the flowers she uses from the Scottish landscape around here, with summer a particularly busy time on the foraging front. “We’ve got forest, rivers, moorlands, mountains. It’s great for wild flowers. When I go for a walk, I’m always looking out for what I might gather.” A blossom she loves working with is sloe blossom “the earliest flower I use. Slightly bitter and almondy, which is gorgeous.  Sloe blossom is hard to collect as you have to pick it when the sunlight is on it as that brings out the fragrance and the flowers must be dry.” Charlotte’s way of working with the blossoms she gathers is to infuse them in a ganache. “Elderflower works well. I use that for a seasonal ganache and also infuse it into cocoa butter and use that to flavour chocolate bars and extremely thin discs which I make from a Colombian white chocolate.  I tend to use flowers in white chocolate because the flavours are so delicate.”

Photo by Jasna Furlan

Charlotte’s knowledge of wild flowers means that her chocolates are characterised by intriguing and unusual flavours. Her favourite flower is a wild flower called meadowsweet. “It grows in damp places and you find it everywhere here.  Historically, apparently, it was used to flavour mead. It’s really complex and a bit of a chameleon in terms of flavour:  sometimes bitter almonds, sometimes much more floral. Most people don’t know what it is, but customers who do know the flower are thrilled when they see that I’m using it.” Charlotte is continually experimenting with different flowers and plants. Many flowers don’t work, she explains, as their flavours are simply too delicate. “Another flower I’m really pleased with, though, is ladies smock, which has a mustardy heat and a slight bitter edge. Took me a while to crack it. What gave me confidence to go ahead was having tasted wasabi chocolate; it’s a combination that does work. When people taste it, they want to buy a whole box!”

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