The absolute top brand, however, is Corné. This ‘chocolatier’ only uses the best ingredients and the handmade chocolates often have a smooth filling of flavoured butter or whipped cream. You should stock them in a cool place and eat them within 10 days after buying them. Otherwise the fresh and delicate filling will turn bad. For most people, however, this time limit doesn’t seem to be a problem, as the chocolates are so delicious.
I remember offering a ‘ballotin’ (the special box in which the chocolates are packed) of 1 kilogram to my second ‘mum’ R., who lives in Deal, Kent and at whose house I spent several summer holidays when I was a teenager. It was in July 1981, and the whole nation was ‘scotched’ to its television screen watching the wedding of the Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer. R. had her neighbour and friend S. in to watch the event with us. By the time Diana had become Princess of Wales, the contents of the ‘ballotin’ had shrunk by half.
When buying a ‘ballotin’ of Belgian chocolates, avoid the pre-packed boxes, as there is no way of telling how long they have been sitting on the store shelves. Ask the saleslady to compose your own assortment, choosing from the bulk chocolates on the trays behind the glass counter. That way you can pick the flavours you like best and have the guarantee that your chocolates are nice and fresh. Avoid chocolates that have a whitish shine to them. This means that they have been exposed to the air too long and that the sugars in the chocolate have started to crystallize. They won’t make you sick nor will they kill you, but they have lost their typical and original chocolate flavour. No sense wasting money on them.
The famous 'Manon', although this photo doesn't do it justice!
I’ve noticed that a lot of people have an outspoken preference for the so-called ‘Manon’. The classic Manon has a filling of grilled hazelnut and butter cream with a mild coffee flavour. It is coated in white chocolate. Unless you make yourself a selection from the vast assortment most shops have to offer, a ballotin only contains one or two Manons. If you like ‘Manons’ and you’re the first one to chose a chocolate from a newly opened ‘ballotin’ it’s extremely bad manners to pick the one and only Manon without enquiring first if someone else is interested. In most cases people will gallantly reply: “Of course not. Go ahead.” But in their minds they will be cursing you for ‘stealing’ THEIR ‘Manon’ … unless that other person is me … because I don’t especially like them. Give me a good, slightly bitter-sweet dark chocolate anytime!