I’m starting and ending the week with chocolate.
Chocolates ruled my childhood but among the scores of brown bars and silver wrappers scattered in my memory, one gold tin sticks out.
From an overhead view, the tin’s top was the shape of a cocoa bean, its body extending down and straightening into a slim line before distending into an oval shape once again to round out its base. Gilded in gold, I always had to ask for help to pop the top, effectively negating the possibility of private pig-out sessions.
It’s a tin of Van Houten chocolates, an assortment of chocolate-covered almonds, hazelnuts, and raisins. As a kid, I didn’t care for nuts so I always rooted around for the smallest chocolates, those were the ones with raisins. When those ran out, I’d nibble around the edges of the other chocolates and then thrown them back into the tin once I’d eaten through to the nutty center, something my parents weren’t at all amused by.
I forgot about Van Houten chocolates as I grew up and my food and chocolate universe expanded too. Then, not too long ago, I’m scouting around the supermarket – doing a reconnaissance, if you will, for new food to feed on. I see some unfamiliar brown packaging in the chocolate aisle and let out an involuntary whoop when I see the label: Van Houten.
This isn’t the tin but bars and packs of promised pleasures: Milk chocolate and semisweet chocolate in their unadorned essence or enrobing nuts, familiar friends from that tin of long ago: hazelnuts, roasted almonds, and raisins too. I’m goggle-eyed at what I see before me, and because I have no restraint when it comes to all things sweet, I buy two of every Van Houten variant available.
In the checkout line, I marvel at the packaging, sleek and smooth with the brand’s characteristic gold-gilded lining. Unconsciously, I bring a bar up to my nose and inhale deeply, willing a fragrance to reveal itself to me. I catch sight of a young girl across another counter shooting me a queer look. Conscious now, I put the bar down and turn away, chuckling.
At home, I lay my prizes down, willing myself to calm down, slow down. Impossible.
Almonds in chocolate: texturally rocky, totally dreamy.
I rip into each packaging. Visually, the almonds are a striking contrast to the chocolate, their tear-dropped shells are boats bobbing about in a bay of brown. The hazelnuts on the other hand, are enmeshed in an enthusiastic embrace with milk chocolate, their shelled, ivory exteriors illuminating a darkened interior. The bar’s sheen is so brilliant that it catches my every fingerprint.
Because Van Houten is of European heritage, its milk chocolate is creamier and I daresay, stickier than an American chocolate. Pleasingly but not overly sweet, the chocolate coats my mouth before I bite down: the crunch of nuts is a bewitching contrast.
The semi sweet chocolate is deeper in color and flavor. Its increased cocoa mass makes it firmer and thus, it melts more slowly in the mouth. But its inherent smokiness is substantial and expansive, the perfect foil in a naked (no nuts) bar or of that awash in almonds.
The chocolate covered nuts and raisins of my childhood are now called dragées (drah-ZHAYS). I have yet to find the tin but this package suffices. Oh, what memories unfurl as I gaze at this unopened pack! Soon, the dragées are glinting, winking up at me: Hey girl, remember me? Long time no see.
I eat one variety of each nut (and one fruit) one at a time – size determines contents, and raisins are the smallest. The meaty grit of a whole almond, the butteriness of an entire hazelnut, the sweet ping of a raisin, all echoing in a contrast that mesmerizes, and a flavor that fuels memories of long ago.
Van Houten Chocolate
Available at all leading supermarkets and some convenience stores.
Van Houten Bar
Available in 38g, 72g, and 150g
Milk Chocolate with Whole Roasted Almonds
Milk Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts
Milk Chocolate with Whole Fruit and Nuts
Semi-sweet Chocolate with Whole Roasted Almonds
Van Houten coated nuts (dragées)
Available in 40g, 80g, 180g, 300g and 380g
Milk Chocolate with Almonds
Semi-sweet with Almonds
Available in 80g and 300g
Assortment (almonds, hazelnuts, raisins – my favorite!)
More info at: www.facebook.com/pages/cocoaphilia-philippines