(CNN) — French fashion designers don’t hold a monopoly on haute.
Every April the country’s top pâtissiers and chocolatiers prove they can be just as outlandish as they unveil their annual collection of chocolate Easter eggs.
These edible delights take countless forms.
Master pâtissier Christophe Roussel looked East when creating “Sweet Japon,” a sushi plate made entirely of chocolate, chocolate paste, marzipan and nougat.
Chop sticks allow choc-o-holics to dip their sugary maki and sushi in salted butter caramel.
Guy Krenzer and his army of pastry chefs at Maison Lenôtre dreamed up a blue-and-white chocolate egg that resembles traditional Chinese porcelain.
At Le Bristol Hotel, head pastry chef Laurent Jeannin has sculpted an open-work chocolate egg that is inspired by the Piaget Rose jewelry collection.
Children staying at the hotel can participate in the Bristol’s annual Easter egg hunt in its French garden. The child who finds a pink egg will win the sculptured chocolate—and an 18-carat pink gold Piaget diamond ring that is hidden inside.
Pierre Mathieu, the head pastry chef at the Mandarin Oriental Paris, says that France’s obsession with the high-end egg stems from the country’s history of gastronomy and Catholicism.
Apparently a gorgeous egg honors both.
For his part, Mathieu and his team have crafted 50 limited edition eggs, each of which weighs 450g (the same as a 12 ounce can of soda), and costs 68 € ($95).
Inspired by the Chinese tangram puzzle, the egg has seven removable pieces that together form a shape at the egg’s base.
“I thought I could work on the idea of a chocolate egg that could be as delicious as it is playful, with an ‘Asian’ story and origin,” Mathieu says. “This was a good way to combine the French knowledge we use to make chocolate with the Mandarin Oriental Asian heritage.”
But this is no game.
“The most difficult part of the process is to fix the whole egg with the most accuracy and neatness as possible,” he says. “I want the egg to look like a jewel, or a collectible.”
French chefs are bringing their magic to the U.K., and helping to elevate Easter eggs beyond the cream-filled, grocery store variety.
At the Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane, French pastry chef Loic Carbonnet spent 25 days making 50 Easter eggs, which are actually three eggs in one.
A nine-inch egg, made from the finest Valrhona chocolate, houses a five-inch egg, made with the brand’s Ivoire White chocolate, which in turn contains a three-inch egg made from Madagascan dark chocolate.
The $125 price tag reflects the labor involved in this most delicate process: Loic and his team spent seven hours crafting the first egg.
They had to watch the temperature throughout.
To temper the chocolate Carbonnet first had heat it to around 50 or 55 degrees Celsius (122 to 131 degrees Fahrenheit), then cool it to around 28 degrees C (82 degrees F), and then mold and shape it at no more than 32 degrees C (90 degrees F).
“It’s a long process because you have to temper the chocolate, then mold it, then create the right thickness,” Carbonnet says. “If it’s too thick guests cannot break it. If it’s too thin it will be too fragile to travel.”
Four millimeters is a safe thickness.
Carbonnet points out two other perils of his work.
If water finds its way into the chocolate bowl, the chocolate will never harden and it will be impossible to use during molding.
The other issue is timing. A chef who leaves his chocolate on the stove for 15 minutes is signing his own pink slip.
“The chocolate dictates your work and when it’s ready,” he says. “It’s like cooking a piece of meat for a guest who wants it medium rare. If you wait and let the meat rest for too long it will be overcooked. It’s the same with chocolate. You cannot have a second chance.”
All dressed up
For luxury hotels, Easter eggs are more than just sweet treats for guests. They are also an opportunity to help connect their brand with the joys of Easter.
At Claridge’s, London’s iconic Art Deco hotel, limited edition Easter eggs have become one of the hotel’s most anticipated traditions.
Pastry Chef Ross Sneddon now has the process down pat.
“We use two molds which we then assemble to make one hollow egg,” he says. “Once they are gently warmed, we melt and temper the chocolate by flooding, pouring, lining each egg shell 3 times with thin layers of chocolate. These shells are left to crystallize properly in their molds overnight.”
They then de-mould the eggs, assemble the two halves, fill them with miniature chocolate eggs, and, to avoid a heavy and unsightly seam, use a warm metal tray “to melt the seam edge of the eggs which are then carefully joined together and left to set.”
But perhaps the most crucial step—and the one responsible for the first impression—is the packaging.
His team use special black-and-white foil meant to invoke the hotel’s lobby.
“We hope and hear that people love our Easter Eggs,” he says. “It’s a little bit of magic of Claridge’s that people can take away with them”.