My first brush with Bernachon chocolates came several years ago in Melbourne, when the chocolate bug bit, and a copy of Bernachon’s ‘Passion for Chocolate’ arrived at the apartment. Names like Amandine Princess, L’Aveline and Le President stoked the fantasies of a nascent passion for chocolates.
It was only this year, when I got to taste Bernachon chocolates for the first time at the Salon du Chocolat in Tokyo, where their seemingly ‘plain Jane’ Palet d’Or was the most mind blowing chocolate I ate.
Fast forward a few months and I found myself in Paris, with L’Etoile d’Or being the only shop in the world that can retail Bernachon chocolates, I made it the first destination to explore what Denise Acabo’s chocolate world was like. Let the Maison Bernachon taste experience begin!
Rum and chocolates are a match made in heaven, and this Bernachon offering is no different.
It is a dark chocolate and rum ganache with a meltingly smooth texture just soft enough to gently hold its shape at room temperature. The rum flavour was not intense like a mule kick of cheap moonshine, but a gentle hint which did not overpower the chocolate. The chocolate coating had an aftertaste of almonds and hazelnuts, making this a most interesting procession of flavours.
This tasted like a ‘house praline’, that is, a nut past made in house, instead of purchased in tubs from the usual suspects like Cacao Barry, Valrhona, etc.
Probably flirting around the 60/40 or 70/30 ratio (Ratio of nuts to sugar), this praline was not in your face roast nuts flavour, but rather a gentler nutty aroma with a hint of pistachio, of which pieces where studded throughout the confection. A balanced and subtle confection which I enjoyed.
Imagine my panic when peering into the box, I discovered no Palet d’Or inside, with its characteristic flecks of gold. Did I or did I NOT get it???? Then, I flipped this chocolate over and to my relief…….here it was.
One thing dawned on me as I looked at the chocolates in front of me, it was very obvious that specially selected ‘perfect’ specimens were sent to Japan for the Salon du Chocolat. In front of me were misshapen creations but in Tokyo, flawless gems were displayed to an adoring public. Nevertheless, would this Palet d’Or eaten here in Paris equal the one I had just a few months back in Tokyo?
The dark chocolate ganache had toffee, caramel and vanilla overtones that gave way to nuts and a slightly minerally taste reminiscent of sel gris de Guerande, the coarse grey salt of Britanny. This tinge of salt soon gave way to an endnote of peanuts.
In Tokyo, the taste was red berries followed by nuts + peanuts and ending with black sesame. Isn’t it interesting that the same chocolate, tasted in different countries in different states of mind taste different, yet share some similarities?
Perhaps these were of a different batch of cocoa beans? Hopefully one day, I can visit their production in Lyon to find these answers for myself, but this chocolate drove home an important point. We can dazzle with elaborate flavour combinations in an attempt at subterfuge to wow audiences and put a chef on a culinary high horse. However, perhaps simplicity is much more difficult to attain, as this Palet d’Or is but a simple confection of chocolate+cream=ganache. And what a flavour packed ganache it is.
One of the Bernachon signature chocolates whose production puzzled my mind then and still does now. How the heck did they do this???
Looks simple on the outside right? Just an oval shaped enrobed centre.
Inside, you will discover a melting praline centre studded with almond chunks wrapped in a praline nougatine. Once again, the praline flavour was not in your face, but balanced, but the highlight of this piece is the super crunchy nougatine that gives an amazing textural contrast.
HOW??? HOW??? HOW???? How did they wrap a nougatine around such a soft centre? It would not make production sense to hand wrap each individual chocolate right? Nougatine is pliable straight from the oven, and can be cut for mise en place, then reheated and used to wrap a very cold centre. No way they would do that in a production setting…..would they?
Or, did they just pipe large tubes of praline, chilled them hard and wrapped them with nougatine before cutting them to size? Makes more sense, but still, why are they oval instead of horizontal cylinder shaped? I want to know, I NEED to know. If anyone knows….please email me!
Le Rond Moka
Chocolate and coffee seems like such a cliched pairing bothering on boring. But this being Bernachon’s rendition, its gotta be a perfected classic right?
Beneath the sloppy looking finish lies a hard set praline centre made of coffee beans, walnuts and almonds. The praline once again is so subtle that their flavours peek through as supporting casts to the coffee bean’s lead role. The coffee bean shines through, displaying a fine and delicate coffee aroma characteristic of Arabica beans.
Studded with the famed Grenoble nuts (Walnuts) of the region, their complimentary flavour and contrasting textures once again challenged my misconception of ‘cliched pairings’. When done so superbly, who gives a toss if its a combination done to death? It tastes great and at the end of the day, thats all that matters.
Subtle nut pastes seem to be a trademark flavour at Maison Bernachon, as this famous choco piece had a gentle hazelnut flavour paired with milk chocolate.
This is not an intensely rich and complex hazelnut flavour that robustly waves the ‘terroir’ flag like Guido Gobino’s Cremini al Sale (Piedmontese Hazelnuts), or La Cabotte aux Chocolat’s tribute to the Gevrey Chambertin Noisette.
The L’Aveline was like a less sweet, less chocolatey-hazelnutty nutella with a gentle crunch of nuts beneath the teeth. Its not to say its not good, but its a personal preference for stronger hazelnut flavours, and the bar is no doubt set very high, by the likes of the 2 aforementioned chocolatiers and their hazelnut marvels.
Encased in a coffee bean mold was a coffee infused milk and dark chocolate ganache with an assertive, yet subtle and refined Arabica flavour just like La Rond Moka. There MUST be some ground coffee beans inside somewhere, but the ganache had no traces of ground coffee. The taste was just like putting your face in a sack of freshly roasted coffee beans. Brewed or infused coffee would have a different aroma of whole beans, but then again, fresh ground coffee is a luxury I cannot afford, so perhaps I have yet to taste it.
La Couronne Noisette
You can see a picture of this confection being piped into their gold cups at David Lebovitz’ awesome blog.
A medium soft textured ganache of hazelnut praline and milk chocolate, it was meltingly smooth with little crunches of fine chopped hazelnuts. It is medium in sweetness, but once again, to a tongue pampered by the best hazelnuts, this one came up short.
An oval of firm, sweet almond praline studded with almond pieces and enrobed in dark chocolate. Chocolate fatigue was setting in at this point, but the notes read that this was a very good classic chocolate. The mental assault by chocolate begins to take its toll. Did I mention this tasting took place at 6am at the hostel’s dining area? I bought so much chocolate and pastries that I had to eat them ASAP to make space for more. I hardly ate anything savoury for those 2 days in Paris……..not a life that any of you should envy. I’m serious!
La Couronne Cafe
Haven’t I eaten you twice already? Why are flavours being rehashed in different packages? This 3rd incarnation of coffee+chocolates boasts a very dark and dense ground coffee bean and nut praline. Set with dark chocolate, this is very indulgent with a beautiful fresh ground Arabica flavour as per before.
The coffee flavour lingers on and blends very well with the chocolate and praline, which gives a wonderful almond, walnut and caramel flavour. This is similar to Le Rond Moka above, but in Dark Chocolate. Was surprised that I liked it even though its the 3rd time I ate something similar!
Rum + Raisins + Chocolate, the benchmark of taste and quality held in my mind by La Maison du Chocolat’s Bacchus. The Bernachon version employs a very fine textured marzipan with rum and raisin. Usually, I dislike marzipan’s grainy texture but this time, I adore this one.
Its smooth and melts in the mouth, releasing a rum flavour reminiscent of fresh cut grass and vanilla, without a hint of alcohol. It was just the beautiful flavour of a fine rum, complemented by the gentle flavour of raisins. Extremely balanced flavours, if not a little too sweet, but I really loved this one.
Le Rond Pistache
Pistachio marzipan, something I have never heard of before, a marzipan made of pistachio, that is.
It seems like it is a mixture of marzipan and pistachio paste, and once again, the marzipan texture is really fine and awesome. However, the unique taste of pistachios surprised me with its defined flavour. It was definitely not pistachio aroma, but there was something about the pistachio that it seemed like it was waving a ‘terroir’ flag. Was this flag Sicilian or Iranian? Regardless, the flavour was beautiful and lingered in the mouth without being too strong.
Crunchy, almondy with a taste of caramel and hint of coffee. This chocolate coated nougatine was a textural sensation and was wonderful in that it was not at all oily. One cannot ask for much more from this, pray perhaps for a touch of spice?
Maison Bernachon indeed has all the classics nailed. Eating their chocolates was an education in how classic flavours should taste like for it is too often that in the hands of lesser chocolatiers, these classics become dreary, uninspired rehashes of their namesakes.
At Bernachon, they have character, oomph and best of all, taste like how they should taste like. Bernachon chocolates are not fancy, innovative (pray for how they made L’Amandes Princesse) or flashy at all, but they are flavourful, sophisticated in taste, texture and just damn satisfying. Its been worth the wait, and I would jump at the chance to have another go at them.