I had just started secondary school when Thorntons hit the big time.
Apparently, they’ve been around for nearly a hundred years, but I think it’s fair to claim that the eighties was their decade. Suddenly, soft-centred contintental chocolates were readily available and at affordable prices too! At a time when top quality chocolate wasn’t easy to find in the UK, let alone the mindbogglingly wide range of choices we take for granted today, their Belgian-style chocolates quickly became a top choice when looking for a sophisticated gift. Or so it seemed to my pre-teen eyes, at any rate… My friends and I delighted in having personalised messages iced onto their shaped chocolate moulds and a box of Thorntons was so much more elegant than the ubiquitous Milk Tray or Black Magic.
But, as so often happens to chains that experience such rapid growth and become part of the mainstream, they seemed to get stuck in a rut and were left behind as palates changed and the nation demanded more innovation and higher quality from our chocolate.
Certainly, my chocolate tastes moved on, and Thorntons simply no longer delivered the quality I was looking for. I wanted something better, and I wasn’t alone.
Hotel Chocolat were, to the noughties, what Thorntons had been to the eighties, building upon their successful chocolate tasting club by launching a great many high street stores. It must have been hard for Thornton’s to watch market share slipping so fast to this new contender!
But now Thorntons are fighting back as the launch of their new range of chocolate blocks attests. Ranging from plain white, milk and dark chocolate options to exciting combinations such as milk chocolate with tonka bean, dark chocolate with macadamia and balsamic in dark chocolate each square bar weighs between 70 and 90 grams and is priced between £1.79 and £1.99.
The first block I tried – the milk chocolate with strawberry – didn’t impress. The 32% cocoa madagascan chocolate tasted overly sweet. My husband described it as “cheap easter egg chocolate” and I agreed, which wassurprising given the sticker on the front telling me it won a gold in the great taste awards 2009. And whilst there was a generous amount of strawberries, virtually no fruit flavour came through at all!
Second under the tonguescope* was the milk chocolate pistachio block. The same madagascan 32% cocoa was, this time, combined with a generous portion of salted pistachios! Better: in this block the excessive sweetness of that chocolate was balanced out by the lip-licking saltiness of the nuts. A decent bar and this time, I could see why it might garner a great taste 2009 gold award, though the chocolate was still too sweet for me.
*Tonguescope is a perfectly cromulent word! 😉
Third to be tested was the dark chocolate with macadamia. Combining dominican republic 60% cocoa with lightly salted macadamia nuts, I hoped this block might cater to those looking for less sugar in their chocolate. Unfortunately, this was not the case: I found the chocolate both too bitter and too sweet at the same time – a curious incongruity! I liked the macadamia nuts but could not eat more than two squares of this before pushing it away. This bar won a bronze at the Academy of Chocolate awards.
Last on the block was the milk chocolate with tonka bean. This one was made from venezuela 38% cocoa infused with tonka beans which gave “delicate flavours reminiscent of almond and vanilla”. The description on the back of the box was spot on, those flavours came through subtly but clearly. The chocolate itself was silky smooth. And not too sweet! This block was the runaway winner of the selection, for me and the only one I could recommend to others, based on my own chocolate preferences. Of course, if you like your chocolate sweet, you may absolutely love the previous three! Apparently it only won a silver in the at the Academy of Chocolate awards, but it’s my pick of the four blocks.
I’m keeping an open mind about the other blocks – certainly after the tonka bean one I’m up for giving them a try. I’ll keep you posted if I do!