We first came across Pixie Hall one afternoon while searching Folksy and immediately felt our mouths watering with lustful urges. The chocolates, fudge and confectionery looked so good we couldn’t resist making Pixie Hall our featured shop. First stop, the Folksy front page, second stop our mouths, as the saying goes. We asked Linds Hall, the woman behind the treats, to talk chocolate with us, and tell us which truffle she would most like to be abandonned with on a desert island…
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
I’m Linds, I’m 27 and I live with my fiancé in Fakenham, a small market town in North Norfolk. I’m a baker, chocolatier and confectioner by trade and love everything about food. I spend my spare time reading cookery books, pinning recipes on Pinterest and watching food shows. I just can’t help it.
When and how did you start making chocolates and confectionery?
I remember making sweets with my dad at Christmas when I was a kid. My mum had a tatty cookbook that we used every year to make truffles, chocolate-dipped fruit and marzipan shapes. I loved it and it was always lots of fun (and very messy!).
Traditional vanilla fudge, £3.50 for 150g
I spend a lot of time making cakes (half of Pixie Hall is cake-making) and when I was looking into setting up a food business it seemed there were lots of local cake bakers but not so many chocolate makers. I wanted to do something different. I started off making chocolate truffles because it’s relatively simple and the flavour combinations are limitless. I also make fudge and other traditional treats like peanut brittle to enhance my range. Things have got more involved since then and I now make chocolate bars, marshmallows and have a new range of filled chocolates coming out this year.
What or who inspires you to make?
My dad is my first inspiration because I used to make sweets with him when I was little. I’m also inspired by the great range of produce available locally to me in north Norfolk. We have a rich culinary heritage including gorgeous honey, lavender, lots of breweries brewing great beer, orchards full of apples and amazing strawberries and raspberries in the summer. I’m really lucky to live in an area that supports small food businesses so well with regular farmers’ markets and a huge, month-long, food and drink festival in September.
How do you create your recipes?
Creating new recipes is my favourite thing to do. I like to introduce seasonal flavours and new products whenever possible. A lot of the time with new recipes you just have to try things out – sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. If they don’t work, then you have to tweak the balance or try a different chocolate and see what happens. In the end you get to eat chocolates and sweets, so it can’t be that bad!
What’s the most interesting flavour combination that you’ve made or seen?
I love working with spices as they offer such complex flavours and using different chocolates really impacts the flavour. My white chocolate and cardamom truffle is a favourite of mine because the white chocolate works well with the citrus notes of the cardamom and the flavours really complement the sweetness of the chocolate. I make a dark chocolate truffle with chipotle which is a smoked chilli. Something about the smokey flavour, spicy chilli and the dark chocolate just makes sense. It’s great because the longer the truffle is kept, the spicier it gets!
Elevenses Truffles, tea and coffee inspired truffles, including Chai and Earl Grey truffles, £9.95 for 12
I love trying odd flavour combinations and seeing what works. My current favourite is the cinnamon and sea salt fudge I made in the run up to Christmas. People always look at me like I’m mad but once I offer them a taste, they love it. You can see on their face this little “a-ha!” moment when the dark chocolate and spicy cinnamon flavours come together and then the salty notes kick in. It just works. I’ve seen a chocolate bar with Marmite in it which seems interesting. I haven’t tried it but I think it would work. I could go on forever about flavours, I find it all so exciting. I’m a bit of a flavour nerd I think.
Are you a white, milk or dark chocolate lover?
This is actually a really difficult question for me. The quick answer is that I love them all, but really it depends how they’re used. Dark chocolate is great for combining with rich or savoury flavours like chilli, salt or coffee for an intense flavour hit. Milk chocolate is great with things like tea (Earl Grey is amazing with milk chocolate), lavender or rounding out coffee for a softer mocha flavour. White chocolate is great with bright fruit flavours like lemon, cranberry or orange as they cut through that really sweet creaminess of the chocolate. Chocolate it so complex that there is a place for every kind in my kitchen.
Selection of three handmade chocolate bars: Chocolate Pistachio, Rocky Road and Fruit & Nut, £8 for three bars
Can you describe where and how you work?
I work from my parents’ kitchen and I’m lucky that it’s only a 15 minute walk from mine. It’s actually really nice to be able to finish work for the day and leave it behind to go home. I have been known to stay over at Mum and Dad’s if I’ve been really busy so I can finish late at night and start early the next morning though!
The way I work is pretty varied, which is nice. I might be baking cakes one week ready for a farmers’ market and then making chocolate and fudge for a different market the next week. I also have orders from my website and Folksy shop and those are made to order. I might have a new product range that I’m working on too, so I might be making those for a photo shoot. Sometimes a week consists of a combination of all of those things! There’s quite a lot of paperwork involved too, so I try to make time for that when I need to. Working with chocolate can be quite seasonal so there are busy times and quiet times. January is a pretty quiet month as everyone is on a New Year diet. It picks up again for Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and Easter and then things get really busy for Christmas!
What’s the best thing about being a confectioner?
You might think that the best thing is getting to eat lots of chocolate, but actually I like making other people happy with my work. That sounds pretty lame but it’s true. I have customers at markets who will buy something and eat it right there in front of my stall and I never tire of hearing people say “Mmmm!” and “Yum!” and “Oh my goodness, this is delicious!”. That’s kind of an amazing thing because I made that – I created this little ball of chocolatey tastiness and other people think it’s great.
Do you ever get tired of sampling your work? (We can offer our services if you do.)
Although it might be difficult to believe, I do! When I’m making loads of bags of fudge, confectionery, boxes of truffles and trays of chocolate bars, the things I crave are savoury. A bacon sarnie, chips with salt and vinegar or one of my dad’s curries are heavenly to me when I’m in the midst of a candy-making frenzy. I guess it’s all about balance. Obviously I will happily scoff a truffle here and there and I wouldn’t turn down a left-over bag of vanilla fudge, and of course if there are new flavours being made I have to try them out. Luckily I always have people willing to sample things for me. My dad is chief taster of anything going, while my mum is a bit more fussy about what she likes (though if there’s peanut brittle going spare she’ll have it in a heartbeat).
Crunchy Peanut Brittle with Sea Salt, £2.50 for 100g
Finally, if you were stranded on a desert island with just one flavour of truffle for company, which would you choose?
Oh, that’s a really difficult question! I think I would choose the Earl Grey truffle because I’m not sure there would be a decent cup of tea available! Or maybe I should go with with something fruity and pretend I’m making a healthier choice? Most of the fruity truffles I do also have alcohol in them, so it could be a Pina Colada!
Tipsy Treats Truffles, including chocolate stout, pina colada, rum & raisin, and Irish Cream, £9.95 for a box of 12