Boutique chocolate shops have sprung up all over the city in recent years. Easter is the busiest time of year for these chocolate maestros who have elevated the humble Easter egg into works of art.
So with the masses of eggs on offer, how do you choose? I took a team of dedicated chocolate lovers on an Easter egg odyssey through some of the Melbourne's best chocolate shops to find the ultimate egg.
The taste test sampled milk and dark chocolate eggs and bunnies from more than ten different brands, and our judging criteria included taste, originality, presentation and value. Here are the favourites:
Australian owned and made, Haigh's has become an Easter-time legend by replacing the Easter bunny with the much more geographically appropriate Easter bilby. Part of the proceeds from bilby sales go to help protect the bilbies' habitat, through the work of the Foundation for Rabbit Free Australia.
Koko Black is on the pricier side of the stores we visited, but if you happen to have the kids with you while you're doing your Easter shopping, the $2.50 milk chocolate Easter bunny pops are cute and good value. Otherwise, this store offers more treats for adults, with cute gift packs such as quail egg sized cartons with solid chocolate eggs inside, or collectable pencil tins holding both eggs and bunnies.
Large keepsake boxes of pralines and eggs ($24-$59) are a little eggstravagant (sorry), but will impress the grown-up chocoholic in the family.
The Chocolate Box has come up with the novel idea of combining chocolate with the Easter tradition of painting real eggs. Their eggs have hazelnut praline piped through hole in an empty eggshell, which is then sealed. Brightly coloured painted eggs are available, but to me the winners are the white eggshells that the kids can hand-paint at home.
Mmmm, gold bunnies. The gold foil and red ribbon is everywhere at Easter time, and its booming popularity has seen dark and white chocolate versions added, as well as gold bunny 'accessories' like chocolate carrots.
Lindt certainly knows how to market its wares, with large milk choc eggs that come with a set of plush Lindt-branded bunny ears, and various sizes of 'Easter egg hunt packs' of chocolate bunnies, chicks and eggs. They even have a website with tips on how to make your Easter egg hunt successful (but they left out two vital ones: remember where you hide all the eggs so you can retrieve them if the kids don't, and keep the dog out of the way until all the eggs are found).
A locally-owned success story, Chocolatier chocolates are widely available in supermarkets as well as their own stores in Hampton and Ivanhoe.
Their large (100gm) fair-trade milk and dark eggs are a delicious socially-responsible choice, while their six pack of velvety-smooth flavoured eggs (including choc orange, cookies and cream, toffee crunch and strawberry) are creative and good value at $9.95.
Cacao's Easter offerings include hollow or praline eggs in milk, dark and coloured chocolate ($9.95 for a four-pack) as well as some colourful bunnies and hens in a range of sizes (large bunnies and eggs are around $18 – $25). They use Belgian chocolate for creations that are creamy without being too sweet. For those who can't wait for their chocolate fix, the Cacao website offers a 3 hour delivery service in Melbourne metro.
In the presentation stakes, Ganache is a winner. Its store displays a mind-boggling variety of almost too cute to eat bunnies in all sorts of costumes like schoolboy, professor, gardener and motorcyclist. These are large bunnies with prices from $16 - $55, but they also stock mini bunny pops ($1.50) and praline eggs ($3.50). For adults, hollow half-eggs filled with luscious truffles ranging from $15 (4 truffles) to $130 (50 truffles) make an indulgent gift.
Max Brenner's 120gm Speck-tacular Egg ($16) is inspired by their best-selling product, 'Nuts' (with caramelised pecans in praline cream and cocoa powder). There are also beautifully painted 'Easter Treasure chest' gift boxes with filled with eggs $42).
The winner: After a passionate debate, our three-person tasting panel voted Koko Black as having the best milk choc egg, while Lindt had the best dark choc egg (or bunny in this case).