William Curley vs your local sweet shop – Bounty bar smackdown
William Curley has come over all Curley Wurley – and he’s on a mission to recreate the contents of your childhood sweet shop memories. Following his recently introduced ‘jaffa cake’, now comes his own version of a British high street candy standard, a Bounty bar – a coconut cream fondant coated in chocolate. Plus a last minute ‘stop press’ addition, William’s own upmarket millionaire’s shortbread.
If you grew up or live in the UK, then you are more than likely familiar with Mars’ Bounty bar – a candy bar with a coconut cream filling, coated in milk or dark chocolate. (In the US, Hershey make the very similar Mounds bar). Now William Curley has dug into his childhood memories and come up with his own posh bounty bar, made with fresh ingredients and coated in Amedei chocolate. So here’s a side by side review, pitting top chocolatier right up against your all night corner shops finest. (In this case, my old local store in Gospel Oak).
On a visual comparison the Curley version is a little larger and not curved at the ends (a shape that was the subject of a failed trademark attempt, according to Wikipedia). Both feature ‘chevrons’ on the top, Curley’s being somewhat more delicate, and the chocolate on his version is a few shades lighter than the commercial version, as we’d expect. (Cheaper cocoa tends to get roasted more to hide defects, hence the chocolate is usually darker).
Opening the real Bounty, there’s an immediate, artificial smell of plastic or rubber. This could be down to the packaging and newsagent storage though, to give the benefit of the doubt. The aroma when cut is dominated by a leather from chocoltate, reminiscent of something from Sao Tome. There is only a faint hint of coconut.
The taste is also dominated by the strong leather note of the chocolate, which fades into sweetness at the end. This is probably fortunate as it hides any bitterness from the chocolate. Apart from the first few seconds, where there is a brief flirtation with coconut, the filling provides only texture (something like wet All Bran) and sweetness, rather than flavour.
Luckily the chocolate has some flavour, or we’d only be working with sugar here and a texture that I imagine is something like how eating dried garden worms must feel. The after effect on the tongue is a fizz from too much sugar.
I actually feel rather down and depressed after eating just a couple of slices of this. There was some promise at the beginning, at least some flavour spark from the chocolate. The longer it’s left on the tongue though, the more alkali is the effect. Feels like I’ve just drunk bicarbonate of soda in water.
Maybe I could have closed my eyes, thought of England and munched my way through it – stopping to consider the finer flavour notes is definitely not a good idea.
No taste of paradise here. Not even of coconut. If you asked me to take it or leave it, I think you can guess my choice. (You can read an alternate and somewhat more enthusiastic review of a shop bought Bounty bar over at Chocablog.)
Cutting the Curley version takes you into another world. The aroma is strong fresh, deep coconut, the chocolate a mere delicate second fiddle. It’s a full deep smell that suggests fresh coconut and butter in the mix. The colour is off-white, a rich butter cream.
On the tongue, William’s version is crunchy and buttery, solid enough, but melting away into munchy coconut with a long rich taste that comes together with the chocolate very well at the end.
The coconut dances around and dominates the chocolate, which somehow manages to linger on without being overwhelmed.
The after taste goes on, and on. Just a few bites are satisfying, with a balanced richness lingering on for many minutes.
This is like a painting of a Campbell’s soup can. An imitation that remakes an original into a whole richer and more meaningful experience on every level. It’s chocolate candy as you remember it, rather than as it actually tastes.
The William Curley version weighs in at about 40g and costs £3.00, fresh from the Belgravia store (and they seem to sell out pretty fast, so check before you go if you’re on a special mission).
Mars’ offering was just under 60g and cost me £0.60p. So William’s version is about 7.5 times the price, but then what price do you put on paradise …?
I was never much of a fan of Jaffa Cakes – another British lunch box institution. Disappointingly jelly like blobs of vaguely orangey jam sit atop a bath like sponge, coated on the top with cheap cake chocolate. (Chocolatiers take note – never send me bonbons with jelly in them, they won’t go down well here.) A product ripe, then, for another of Curley’s cheeky reimaginings of standard high street fare.
The Curley jaffa is fully covered with (Amedei) chocolate, twice the height of the official version and topped with a fleck of gold, just so you know you’re travelling first class now. Cutting into the piece lets out the most outrageously strong and fresh orange aroma, which comes from the soft, runny marmalade topping centre inside. It’s almost worth buying just to experience that smell.
After that the cake practically just falls onto the tongue. The sponge/biscuit (ask the UK tax man for a definition) is very light, almost not present and quickly combines with the chocolate, ganache layer and orange centre in a very pleasant mêlée.
The star here though is the orange, the rest of the ingredients are merely supporting cast.
Also hot off the Curley chocolate ‘press’, almost as I write, is his new millionaire’s shortbread, a well known shortbread, caramel combination, topped off with chocolate (and with a surprisingly short Wikipedia entry, so go Google it yourself!)
Though a promising concoction, the examples you can find in many a British store (and particularly in tube station ‘delicatessens’) are rarely much to write home about.
Usually a very fatty shortbread cake is topped by sweet artificially flavoured caramel and a fatty cooking type brown stuff on the top. This is the kind of substance that used to be called ‘cooking chocolate’ when I grew up, but you can now find on a bottom shelf somewhere at the back of a supermarket labelled ‘chocolate flavoured cake covering’ – it can’t legally be called chocolate any more, not even by the UKs low standards.
The principle is a good one though, and William Curley has always carried an accomplished, yet perhaps overlooked, range of handmade biscuits. The Curley version is fully coated in chocolate, which is the first departure from the standard mass baked fare. Plus there’s a fleck of gold on the top, which you really don’t get from your local chain baker.
Next comes the aroma on cutting – dark, rich, intense. Tones almost of a single malt coming from the caramel, plus of course rich sweetness. It’s really worth stopping to enjoy the smell of this, which you might not always think to do when eating what is essentially a cake.
In the mouth the layers blend together well and are not at all sticky or fatty, the after-taste rich and clean with strong muscovado hints. If I had one criticism, it would be that the caramel could be softer. It’s a little chewy at first, though melts well enough once you get going. As ever, proof of quality ingredients is in the length, and you’re left with great flavour in the mouth many minutes later.
So, we have to wonder exactly which High Street candy classic Mr Curley will be tackling next? A Mars bar? Snickers? Wagon Wheel? Answers on a postcard … (or comments below of course).
William Curley ‘Bounty bar’ and ‘Jaffa cake’: £3.00, Millionaire’s Shortbread: £3.50
198 Ebury Street
Tel. 020 7730 5522