This Easter: The Non Choc Shop

So I don’t want to stir anyone into a panic and/or food and gift buying frenzy, but it is officially ONE SLEEP until Easter! Last year I wrote a little wrap up of some of the nicest Easter chocolate gifts available in Melbourne at places like Koko Black and Haigh’s (check it out here: http://northmelbournelife.com/2014/04/07/eatster-i-mean-easter/

 But I have a dark and terrible secret in my family, which plagues us each Easter, and it is this: a certain unnamed member of my family (ahem little sister), who normally has impeccable foodie taste, does not like chocolate! Yes, you heard right, someone closely related to me eschews all things gloriously cocoa. I have checked, she’s not adopted. 

 The list below is for you, baby sis, and all the people out there who are not as addicted to the brown stuff as me. It’s a list of my top 10 non-chocolate gifts in Melbourne this Easter.

 1. Marshmallows: Yes they are great in hot chocolates, but they can also be a gourmet treat on their own and a fun addition to baking. Mork (Errol Street, North Melbourne) makes packs of 12 perfectly cubed vanilla bean infused ‘mallows for $10 a pack. 

2. Honey: For the chocolate-hating hipster or conservationist in your life, Rooftop Honey brings bees back into cities and produces small batch honey from different suburbs, so it’s possible to buy a jar of South Yarra honey or a jar of Degraves Street (CBD) honey. The Melbourne chapter sells online or at a whole bunch of fine food outlets across the city. 

 3. Macarons: Aparently these are ‘so over’ and have ‘reached saturation point’ in Melbourne, but I obviously didn’t get that memo. They’re brightly coloured, light and delicious, perfect for Easter. I’d recommend a box from La Belle Miette who are doing special gold, yellow and cream Easter pacakging and, wait for it, a limited edition hot cross bun flavour macaron! Boxes of 6 start at $15.90. 

4. Oxfam Unwrapped: Give someone who really needs it a chicken ($10) or a bunch of carrots ($52 for a whole veggie garden) this Easter. Cards can be purchased and downloaded online as e-cards, or you can buy them in store (Carlton, Chadstone and the CBD). 

 5. Hot cross buns: A total classic. They don’t really last more than a day or two fresh, but then, you’ll probably eat them all by then anyway! Vegans will appreciate the buns at Crumbs Organic Bakeouse in North Melbourne and Ascot Vale and gluten intolerant peeps might like the gluten free (also vegan) ones at Fatto a Mano (Fitzroy). 

 6. Jelly beans: Not the most sophisticated treat, but super fun, colourful and nostalgic. I still love Jelly Belly beans, available at David Jones and candy stores like The Original Lolly Store. Just avoid those cherry flavoured ones…gross! 

7. Caramelized coconut truffle: Koko Black does a super delicious white chocolate truffle filled with a caramelised coconut cream. They are about $2.10 each. Since it’s white chocolate and not technically ‘chocolate’ I think it qualifies for this list. My prediction is there will be zero elbow room in any Koko Black store this afternoon, but it might be worth the crowds for this delicious treat!

 8. Salted caramel spread: Pure decadence…possibly to be eaten with a spoon from the jar. Really good options for this are Lux Bite’s salted caramel spread ($10 for 190g jar), Burch & Purchese’s Famous Salted Caramel Spread ($14 for 300g jar) and Bonne Maman’s caramel spread, available at various supermarkets (approx. $8 for 380g jar). And don’t ask me why I know so much about jars of salted caramel…you know why (*hides empty jar behind back*). 

 9. Caramel kisses: More caramel, in biscuit form this time. These crazy good little biscuits are basically two small shortbread biscuits sandwiched together with caramel and cream icing. Available at David Jones’ Food Hall’s cookie counter. Yes, they have a cookie counter. Yes, I do go there a lot. 

 10. Baklava: Bring a little Greek Easter to your gift giving – head to a local Greek or Turkish bakery for a container of this gorgeous little slice of honey-nut-pastry heaven. And then attempt to refrain from eating it all before you manage to give it to your loved ones.

Have a happy and safe Easter everyone! Whatever you’re doing or however you’re celebrating, I hope it’s with great people and delicious food. 

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Eatster…I mean Easter.

Koko Black's bunny range

Koko Black’s bunny range

So this month is chocolate month, also known by some as ‘Easter’. Those who read my blog regularly will know that if I could physically manage to eat my own weight in chocolate each day, I probably would. My occasional swearing off chocolate following a depressing bathroom scales reading tends to last hours rather than days, I just can’t go past the stuff. Food wise, therefore, Easter is a much beloved holiday for me, despite my lack of religion.

I actually get a bit spiritual/religious about chocolate, coveting it in shop windows, setting up miniature chocolate ‘shrines’ in my pantry at home or desk drawers at work, referring to it as ‘my precious’ and, well, you get the picture, I’m very into chocolate. This year I thought I’d use my blog as an excuse to do an early scouting trip of all the best chocolate shops in Melbourne, checking out what their Easter offerings are like. So with less than two weeks to go until Easter, for your gift-giving ease and eating pleasure, below is a summary of what is and is not going to make my Easter wish list this year.

Koko Black
I think Koko Black now counts as a Melbourne institution. It’s still my favourite place to go to get boxes of chocolate as gifts (including gifts for myself…) I visited the Royal Arcade store, whose display/offering is almost entirely dedicated to Easter at the moment. To be honest I’m not loving the very bright art deco inspired gift boxes they have gone with this year, but I did get excited about the gorgeous mini ‘quail’ eggs (sugar coated chocolate eggs replete with authentic speckles) and the Surprise Golden Easter egg made from milk and dark chocolate with a salted caramel ‘surprise’ inside. No idea what that surprise is, but I want to find out. It’s like a giant fancy Kinder Surprise! But for $65 I’d want a damn good surprise – it’s definitely not the most post-GFC friendly option for the Easter Bunny’s basket this year.

Koko Black quail eggs - check out the egg cartons!

Koko Black quail eggs – check out the egg cartons!

Koko Black's packaging

Koko Black’s packaging

Haigh’s
I visited Haigh’s in yet another arcade – the Block Arcade. Haigh’s gets the prize for best theming and colour scheme. The entire store was buzzing with shoppers and absolutely jammed with a huge range of Easter stock. The colour palette this year has gone a little retro/hipster – lots of calico, dark brown and blue with polka dots. Gift options include everything from single hollow eggs for under $10 to pre-made Easter hampers for well over $100. Extra points to Haigh’s for promoting the Aussie ‘Bilby’ over the bunny. Apparently a percentage of sales from bilby shaped chocolates goes to the bilby breeding program at Adelaide Zoo too! If you prefer dark chocolate there were a lot of good options, with all their top selling items available in a choice of milk or dark. I also liked the look of their chocolates in the shape of hot cross buns, but my ultimate pick would be the milk chocolate half egg filled with old fashioned freckles for $15.95. Super colourful and what I would want the Big Bunny to bring me at age six or twenty six.

Haigh's display

Haigh’s display

Spot the bilby!

Spot the bilby!

Haigh's freckle eggs

Haigh’s freckle eggs

Lindt
I love Lindt’s store windows year round and Easter is no exception. Their window on Collins Street features a giant gold bunny and big baskets of chocolate perched on top of bright red wooden crates (see – even Lindt has gone a little hipster this year…). To be honest, inside the store most of the Lindt range is a little boring. It’s predominately just gold foil wrapped bunnies of various sizes. There was a large ‘Heavenly Hazelnut’ egg that looked pretty damn good, though I wasn’t so keen on the crazy-bright yellow packaging. Kids get the best deal at Lindt – there’s a fun looking ‘Easter Hunt’ gift pack for $16.50 filled with chocolates in the shape of chickens, bunnies, bugs and bees plus your own basket and set of bunny ears to wear!

Lindt has also introduced a new coconut flavour small filled egg which is awesome. It’s like a posh Bounty Bar, but entirely creamy rather than having any rough coconut texture. I thought the flavour was going to be either sickly sweet or taste really fake, like those biscuits you get filled with coconut essence, but it was neither, it was delicious. I wouldn’t buy a whole box of them as the flavour could get a bit much, but the addition of this flavour to their small egg repertoire is a good one I think.

Lindt's coconut eggs

Lindt’s coconut eggs

Ganache
I popped into Ganache, which is almost next to Lindt on Collins Street. To be honest their large moulded bunnies looked kind of weird and I didn’t like their packaging much. Having said that, they do absolutely beautiful chocolate half eggs filled with their mixed chocolate truffles and filled chocolates. They have a range of sizes from a small egg with just 4 chocolates in it up to eggs the size of your head with 20+ chocolates in them. I know both egg and chocolates are superb because my partner got me one for Easter 2012 and it was a-maz-ing. I think I only shared like one chocolate out of it with him, and it was a coffee flavoured one (’cause I don’t like coffee flavoured anything). Prices are similar to Koko Black, with a half egg filled with six chocolates costing $19.

Ganache half egg with filled chocolates

Ganache half egg with filled chocolates

Big W
Ok, sometimes I have tacky chocolate tastes, let’s be honest here. Yes, when it is Easter I normally go for quality chocolate gifts over quantity, but sometimes it’s fun to get a novelty life sized chocolate chicken nestled in 70 bright pink chocolate eggs, even if you don’t eat it. Who doesn’t want the official One Direction Easter egg and novelty mug set? Or the official Barbie Easter egg with bonus lip gloss? Both only $8! Seriously though, Big W does have a big selection of fun Easter stuff, plus, classic gold wrapped 100g Lindt bunnies are on sale for $4, which is cheaper than at Lindt itself.

Max Brenner
Max Brenner’s Easter offering was predominately 40g wrapped Easter eggs of several varieties – milk and dark, plus one with praline pieces, one with nuts and one with ‘marbles’ inside, whatever that means. At between $2.50 and $3 each they were very reasonably priced and I did like the kinda-girly bright patterned foil wrapping. However, the rest of their gift options were just pairings of these eggs with their normal stock, like chocolate drinking powder and hug mugs. I am so over hug mugs. And, by the looks of the store that I visited (Melbourne Central), the rest of Melbourne is possibly over hug mugs too? It’s hard to make a call on Max Brenner, good value and still very yummy chocolate, but I felt a definite lack of imagination and energy here.

So that’s my wrap up for Easter. If you haven’t started shopping, you better hop to it! Sorry, I know it’s a terrible pun but I could not resist, much as I can’t resist a good Easter egg…

Eggs at Max Brenner

Eggs at Max Brenner

So many bunnies at Lindt! I think they were breeding...

So many bunnies at Lindt! I think they were breeding…

Choco-ma-holic

I love Melbourne (quite obviously). I love lists. I also LOVE chocolate. So it was quite clear to me that today’s post was long overdue for my blog. Below are my top ten chocolate experiences in Melbourne, in no particular order. And yes, I am eating chocolate while I write this, it’s the only way.

1. Chocolate soufflé at Bistro Vue (see pic below). They bring this baby out on its own little purpose made dish. The waiter picks up a pot of melted dark chocolate, cuts a cross in the top of your soufflé and pours the molten chocolate into your soufflé. It’s just so light in texture, yet that sauce is so deeply dark.

2. Iced chocolate donut at Crumbs Bakery. This one is dangerously close to me, on Errol Street. The donut is super crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, with tonnes of sweet sticky chocolate icing on top. And, as an added bonus, it’s vegan and organic. Nice!

3. Pear and chocolate tart at Dolcetti. I could eat everything at Dolcetti. The baked caramel cheesecake is crazy-good. But this chocolate pear tart is something really special, a great combination made with love by beautiful Italian women.

4. Handmade chocolates at Koko Black. I’m sorry, I can’t choose just one flavour as my favourite (and neither should you).

5. Giant chocolate chip marshmallow cookie at Patricia. The coffee is a bit too cool for school (though apparently very good), but this giant cookie is chewy, gooey goodness with very large milk chocolate chips.

6. Chocolate passionfruit brownie at Le Petit Gateau. There’s brownie, there’s some sort of hazelnut crispy layer, there’s passionfruit mousse, there’s chocolate mousse, there’s dark chocolate ganache and there’s passionfruit gel. Not for the faint hearted. Definitely for me.

7. Cherry ripe bar at Haigh’s. Not very sophisticated, but so delicious and nostalgic.

8. Death by TimTam cocktail at The Carlton Yacht Club. I don’t even know if they make these any more. But they were amazing. Think of an alcoholic chocolate milkshake with a whole TimTam floating on the top, all served in a martini glass to make it feel a little bit classy. I was certainty not very classy after a couple of these!

9. Chocolate coated almonds at the Lindt Café. Personally I don’t like the ambience or the service much at the Lindt Café, but you can eat these delicious little morsels on the go.

10. Ferrero Rocher ice-cream at Seven Apples. Sweltering 40 degree days are totally worth it for this St Kilda gem. The ice-cream is thick and creamy and full of crunchy Ferrero pieces. I’d also recommend their Turkish Delight flavoured ice-cream, which won a silver medal at the 2011 Sydney Royal Cheese & Dairy Show. Wouldn’t you just love to be a judge at that show…

Bistro Vue's chocolate souffle

Bistro Vue’s chocolate souffle