International award-winning truffles Picture: Instagram
What do you get when you transform milk tart into a chocolate and introduce it to chocoholics from around the world?

In Stephanie van Vuuren’s case, a silver award at the International Chocolate Awards in London.

The independent competition recognises excellence in fine chocolate making and in the products made with the chocolate. The annual event is held in a number of countries around the world including Italy, the UK, US, Germany and Belgium among others.

Van Vuuren, who recently quit her job as director of an engineering company to become a full-time chocolatier, is the first African to enter and win an award in the competition for her milk tart ganaché chocolate.

However, her sweet victory didn’t come without a few challenges - including nearly missing the competition deadline due to a delay at the airport in Budapest.

After nearly two years of “begging” the organisers to allow her to enter the competition, Van Vuuren’s persistence paid off.

“I needed to find a way for me to compete in an international arena for my chocolates, but there is no national chocolate competition in South Africa.

“Two years ago I found the International Chocolate Awards online and basically stalked them.

“I wrote an email telling them they have nothing on South Africa (and) if they are an international competition they need to include us. I then asked them to allow me to enter,” Van Vuuren says.

Early this year her prayers - and emails - were answered and she sent 40 samples of her milk-tart-inspired chocolate bon bon to compete in the first round of the competition in Budapest.

“When the results were announced on the website my name was not there. I thought, ‘Well okay, at least we tried our best’,” she says.

“Then I got an email saying I can’t be listed as a European winner because I am not from Eastern Europe, but they awarded me a European gold, which is still awesome.

“That allowed me to qualify for the World Finals London two weeks later.”

VALIDATION: Stephanie van Vuuren Pictures: Instagram and Facebook

Van Vuuren’s moulded bon bons were sampled by a range of tasters: pastry chefs, food journalists, bloggers, sommeliers, chefs and a Grand Jury from around the world.

“I wanted to do something South African. So I made a cinnamon ganaché white chocolate and then I candied naartjie peels and added a sweet pastry biscuit at the top.

“That is all of the elements in the milk tart and the naartjie is to add texture and a citrus flavour.”

The criteria includes checking the consistency of the ganaché, the thickness of the shell, the type of chocolate used, flavour combinations and presentation.

The chocolates are also lab tested to ensure the accuracy of the type and amount of chocolate used. The samples are blind tested with an entry number attached.

“Winning the award was good not just for my personal validation, but also for my business. South Africans want to buy something that is internationally recognised, so from a business perspective it was important that I had been recognised internationally and there is a high standard.

“With the exception of sugar and cream, all my ingredients are imported. My chocolates are all handmade and individually painted. They are all like my babies,” Van Vuuren says.

Van Vuuren’s award-winning chocolates can be ordered online at jackrabbitchocolate.co.za.