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Candy Review: Whitman’s Soho Artist Inspired Chocolates

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Whitman’s Soho Box

Today’s chocoholics are more demanding than ever before. There was a time, perhaps half a century ago, when “chocolate” meant “chocolate.” As our parents and/or grandparents skipped home from school, they contented themselves with plain Hershey or Snickers Bars. They didn’t give any thought to the quality of their chocolate, its regional origin, or its physical attractiveness. They didn’t care about cacao percentages or exotic flavorings. Unless they happened to be in the culinary field, neither did their parents. In that simpler era, all that most people considered was whether or not their chocolate tasted sweet, good, and at least slightly chocolaty.

It doesn’t take a cocoa connoisseur to see those days are far behind us. With dark chocolate now labeled a “health food,” it seems like new purveyors of handcrafted artisan chocolate materialize every day. In an effort to keep up with trends, retain old customers and attract new ones, old-standby chocolate makers such as Hershey have released lines of upmarket chocolates, often quite successfully.

On a recent trip to CVS, I noticed that old standby chocolatiers Whitman’s/Russell Stover, best known for their holiday chocolate collections, have gotten in on the act. While perusing the already center stage Valentine’s Day candies, I picked up Whitman’s “Soho” collection. I’d seen a similar collection the year before. I’d passed it by, less than eager to spend $5.00 on a 6-piece selection of drugstore chocolates, but my curiosity won out this time.

As its name might imply, the Soho is a selection of “Artist-inspired chocolates.” The packaging is chic and eye-catching. The overall impression of the decoration is sexy and upscale, quite a switch from the usual, old-fashioned look of Whitman’s boxes. By the time I arrived home, I was actually quite excited about sampling the chocolates!

The glamorous, appealing presentation continued as I opened the box. In the gilded interior, the six chocolates are arranged, artist’s-palette-style, around a “Soho” logo. Struck by the gleam and the layout, I was impressed until I took a closer look at the chocolates. The only thing vaguely “artistic” about these were random splotches, swirls, and lines of color atop some of the candies.

I reasoned that was all right. I was dealing with chocolate, after all. Although appearance can enhance the experience, any self-respecting Candy Addict knows that in the world of chocolate, it’s flavor that really counts. The flavors in this collection sounded unique and tempting. No sea salt or bacon were included in the assortment, but there were pistachio nougat and a honey caramel! I withdrew my first chocolate “masterpiece” and began my tasting.

Chocolate Mousse
My first chocolate, which turned out to be chocolate mousse, featured a white chocolate coating adorned with streaks of milk chocolate. Biting in gave me an overwhelmingly positive first impression. The white chocolate had a nice snap followed by the creamy, cocoa butter-enhanced flavor of great white chocolate. Reaching the center left me underwhelmed. This is not mousse, the light-yet-indulgent European dessert staple! This is actually a fairly stiff creme. There’s barely any chocolate taste, the flavor is 90% bland sweetness. A shame, given that the white chocolate coating was my favorite of the bunch.

Pistachio Nougat
The second chocolate I sampled featured a dark chocolate shell with red, gold, and purple splotches. Biting in, the intensity of the dark chocolate surprised me. It’s more bitter than sweet. I detected notes of coffee. The interior is tough nougat which, for me, softened after several seconds on the tongue. I’d hoped for a strong pistachio flavor, as I love the nut, but the pieces of nut are too small to impart much flavor. The taste of alcohol is actually stronger in this piece. Overall, I liked this piece. It reminds me of Italian torrone.

Raspberry Creme
It’s no secret that Dark Chocolate + Raspberry = Deliciousness. Although it’s an unadorned dark piece, and this creme’s texture is identical to the “Chocolate Mousse” piece, the flavor is much nicer and more accurately named. There’s a real fruit taste to this chocolate’s center! The creme centers in this collection feel slightly “grocery bin” to me, but this is my favorite creme.

Vanilla Brulee
Upon first biting into this dark chocolate streaked with milk, I was sure I’d found the honey caramel. The center didn’t really seem like a caramel, but I supposed if a creme could be passed off as a mousse, anything was possible with this collection. The piece smells and tastes strongly of honey, and I didn’t taste anything like vanilla in its ultra syrupy, sugary goodness. Although it may have been misnamed, this is my favorite of the bunch.

Double Chocolate Truffle
This chocolate, boasting a white shell and colorful swirls, is another oddly-named Soho chocolate. In addition to lacking an actual chocolate exoskeleton, it’s not a truffle. This is a dark chocolate creme, and the flavor is well-executed.

Honey Caramel
The red-streaked final piece is the Soho collection’s lone milk chocolate. The milk chocolate does not impress me as much as Soho’s white or dark coatings, but the hard caramel within is rich, sweet and buttery. Oddly, I detect no honey in this piece. It’s all right, but not my favorite caramel by a long shot.

I have an incurable lust for chocolate, and love chocolates across the cacao socioeconomic spectrum. That being said, I find when more humble chocolate companies decide to go “upscale,” the results are hit and miss. For every box of M&M’s Premiums, there’s a Choxie debacle. I’d place Whitman’s Soho experiment at the low end of the spectrum’s center. Their white and dark chocolate coatings and one very tasty filling save them from complete disaster. I must also applaud Whitman’s packaging and arrangement efforts. However, I think in this case customers would be more satisfied if they knew exactly what they were getting – decent drugstore chocolate – from the start.

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2 Responses to “Candy Review: Whitman’s Soho Artist Inspired Chocolates”

  1. 1
    Robby says:

    I don’t think I’d pick these up at full-price, but I would be very tempted to buy them on sale. Thanks for the head’s up (and welcome to the staff)!

  2. 2
    RachelR says:

    You’re welcome, Robby, and thank you! Yeah, this set definitely wasn’t worth full price.

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