It is no secret that I am partial to the seductive flair of fine chocolate. I am unable to recall where it stemmed from but somewhere in between the regal golden-wrappers of Ferrero Rocher and the crisp, delineated simplicity of the Kit Kat, a taste for chocolate bloomed.
Of course, back then I knew nothing of cocoa percentages, fairtrade, fake versus real chocolate and dark versus white. I had never heard of cocoa butter and would have laughed if you had tried to explain to that childhood version of myself that the confectionery I enjoyed so much was in fact derived from a bean.
Nowadays, things are a little different. I am neither an expert nor a chocolate snob but the pralines and giandujas of the world have left a favourable imprint on my palate and there are few destinations better at capitalising on that than Belgium.
A Chocoholic in trouble in Bruges
But in a nation so consumed with cocoa, how do you distinguish the Euro-sucking tourist traps from the artisan chocolatiers? Last year, I compiled a guide to my favourite chocolate shops in Brussels and after doing the rounds online and snooping into countless chocolate shops during this visit, I thought I would do the same during our recent Christmas Market break in Bruges.
Perhaps the most important key way to help you distinguish the finer chocolatiers is to step inside and see if you can spot a kitchen or working space at the back of the shop. Many produce handmade chocolates on the premises. If there is no indication of this, then they may be coming in by the truckload from factories and if in doubt, just ask. We found that most staff in the Bruges’ chocolate shops we visited were passionate about their products and enjoyed conversing about them.
Secondly, rather differently to England, where I flock to the free samples like someone who has never seen food (because it really does not happen very often), the chocolate shops in Bruges nearly all offer samples proactively. On our last day, we had devoured so many samples that even Pumpkin was adamantly refusing them, this from the man who, in his younger years, would sneak downstairs on Christmas Eve to steal the hanging chocolate decorations from his Mother’s Christmas tree!
But anecdotes aside, the benefit of the free sample offerings being so commonplace in Bruges is that you are able to compare and contrast the quality and taste of the chocolates between shops without any pressure to buy.
The following chocolatiers, which all produce handmade chocolates on site, are the ones that I would most highly recommend if you are visiting Bruges and I suggest making a bee line to these if you have even a remote interest in chocolate.
What I liked about Pralinette was its crisp, spotless interior, where the chocolates were all displayed in a bright, airy light in contrast to the more dim and dark interiors of The Chocolate Line and yet with equally intriguing flavours.
My best friend is not actually much of a chocolate fan (true friendships survive even the greatest of differences) but she is partial to the occasional white chocolate and is drawn to unique flavours so her box was easily chosen from this shop with picks including olive oil, basil, tea and Mojito (not all in one chocolate of course!)
We actually visited two branches of Dumon in Bruges, each which had an entirely distinguishable feel compared to the other. One sits on an unassuming corner just behind the MarkPlatz with an interior so tiny that it actually felt quite cramped given the crowds that were gathered inside. But that gives you an insight into just how popular it is. In this smaller branch, decorated with wooden panels, several members of the same family boast passionately about how their chocolates are made and helpfully talk you through the boxes and choices on offer.
They don’t label their chocolates and rumour has it that this is because they feel it over-simplifies the intricacy and depth of the flavours and processes involved. Regardless, it leaves consumers in a bit of a pickle as to how to choose so when I ordered my box, I expressed my broad preferences (whites and milks trump darks, nutty trumps fruity, a few quirky chocolates thrown in for good measure) and from thereon, it was a question of trust. After recently finishing the last of the souvenir chocolate boxes we brought back from Bruges, I am pleased to report my leap of faith in the Dumon staff paid off.
The second branch, located at Simon Silveplein is larger and more modern aesthetically. It has a more clinical feel to it but has the added benefit of a cafe set up on one side, where I ordered a warm chocolate milk drink, otherwise known as a decadent and weighty chocolate cube attached to a stick, submerged in hot milk and the rest is pure, unadulterated, winter-drink bliss.
The Chocolate Line
Jut a few steps away from that branch of Dumon, you will find the renowned Chocolate Line by Dominique Personnes, which has acquired almost cult status and if you peer closely at the selections on offer, you will see why. But first, even a look at the window display will give you an inkling about the talent of these chocolatiers with sculptures like this tempting shoppers at the entrance.
Making our selections was anything but instant however, whilst we found ourselves dithering between the classics and our favourites and debating whether to allow ourselves to be teased by the boundary-pushers.
And so we went for a bit of a mix, including the Asian confetti (with hints of soy and sesame), Bollywood (with subtle saffron and curry undertones) and the Amy Winehouse (white chocolate with pumpkin seeds, named so for reasons I still can’ quite decipher?!) As far as the wasabi and cannabis flavours went, there were some boundaries I wasn’t willing to push.
I rarely get sucked in by something I see in a window, particularly in a touristy part of a town, where my guards are raised even further. However, when Pumpkin and I spotted these edible chocolate logs at Chocoladehuisje being used efficiently as chocolate boxes to store a selection of chocolates in, we simply could not resist popping in to see it up close and purchasing some as gifts.
Handle them using the same tender affection with which they were created though, as one of our logs became a little cracked on the journey home but we were more than happy to
clean eat up the mess. 🙂 After all, in a day and age of increasing emphasis on recycling, reduced waste and carbon footprints, it just makes sense to eat your packaging!
Are you a fellow chocolate lover too and what are your favourite picks?