At Christmas, there’s always room to give yourself or your guests a treat in the form of an indulgent decadent dessert. That’s one of the guiding principles of Couverture Desserts, creators of the award-winning SuperValu Signature Tastes yule log. Handmade with a delicious chocolate sponge, decorated with Belgian chocolate icing, and finished with shimmering chocolate gold flakes, the yule log is a delectable, festive tradition that will add drama to any table.
The custom of burning a yule log during the festive season is thought to pre-date Christmas itself, but in more recent times the timber custom has been replaced with an edible alternative, delicious chocolate dessert that needs no further decoration to wow guests.
Couverture Desserts has its roots in tradition too. Some of its recipes come from a cookery book which dates to the 1930s, as Couverture sales director and co-founder Celine Hayes explains.
“I set-up the business with Margaret Lynch back in 1998,” she says. While she has now retired the inspiration for the yule log came from a recipe in her grand Aunt’s cherished cookbook from the 1930s. Even now each yule log is still made by hand, same as it would have been made 90 years ago.”
The two women had worked for Lir Chocolates before deciding to set up their own business. “Margaret was Lir Chocolates first employee. She was product developer for the company. I joined in 1990 as their sales manager. I learned a lot and gained a lot of knowledge and expertise while working there.”
A gap in the market created by a shortage of pastry chefs in the hospitality sector saw the pair make the move to branch out on their own. “We had worked in Lir Chocolates for quite a long time and were getting itchy feet. We saw that gap in the market and set up Couverture in 1998 principally as a food service business. The Gresham Hotel was our first client.”
In those early days the company had a van delivering desserts to hotels, restaurants, and cafes around the Dublin area. “We built that business up to more than 100 customers, but the logistics became very challenging, so we switched to using distributors,” says Celine. “They weren’t able to carry our full range, but it opened other doors for us as well.”
Couverture quickly outgrew its first premises in Dublin’s East Wall, D3, and moved to a larger facility in Davitt Road, D12. It now operates from a purpose-built premises in Naas, Co Kildare.
“We have 56 staff operating in two shifts, five days a week, at the moment,” she points out. “We principally make cakes like our yule logs, chocolate orange cake, banoffee pie, Bailey’s cheesecake, and puddings. We also make a range of cookies, tray bakes and cupcakes.
We hand roll 25,000 yule logs individually. Once rolled, they are hand-piped with ganache to look like tree bark
The business model has evolved over the years. “One third of the business is in food service with clients in hotels, restaurants, and cafés including the Centra’s Frank & Honest chain,” she explains.
“The airline side is also quite significant. We supply transatlantic desserts to Aer Lingus. The remainder of the business is supplying the consumer market with our desserts and cakes, some under the Signature Taste brand and some under our own brand. All sell really well, as at the end of the day it’s the taste and quality that brings the shopper back time and time again.”
The relationship with SuperValu dates back to 2005. “Musgrave has supported us in many ways over the years, helping us to grow our business to what it is today. They are the bedrock for many Irish producers to get their product into the market, and they provide a platform for them to grow at their pace. We supply SuperValu’s 222 stores, and we also supply Musgrave Marketplace, which supplies food service businesses around the country.
"We have very successful relationships with both, and we work very closely with them. Consumers are always looking for new products, and we work with Musgrave to respond to that. For example, during Covid people were dining in, and they wanted to trade-up their desserts, so we worked with SuperValu to ensure we were producing what the shopper wanted – tasty luxurious desserts at good value prices.”
While tastes have evolved, they haven’t changed that much. “Sticky toffee pudding, chocolate fudge cake, Bailey’s cheesecake, banoffee pie, all the staples are still there,” she points out. “While we continue to be innovative and creative in our range, our key point of difference is that all our products are hand made using the best quality ingredients at our premises here in Naas.
The Christmas season sees the business operating at full tilt. “We start making the yule logs in the first half of November. We hand roll 25,000 yule logs individually. Once they are rolled, they are hand-piped with ganache to look like tree bark. They are then finished off with shards of Belgian chocolate encrusted with gold-coated chocolate. Each yule log is like a work of art. Sales have gone from strength to strength since the SuperValu Signature Tastes yule log was introduced in 2020.”
The confection has also picked up several awards including the Gold at the Blas na hEireann Awards in 2021 as well as top honours year’s Great Taste Awards and the Irish Quality Food Awards.
“Christmas is a really busy period for us with the number of cakes that have to be on shelves to meet demand pre-Christmas. It’s mayhem, but it’s exciting particularly when you walk into SuperValu and see that display of your cakes with shoppers milling around – checking out how it’s made and the ingredients it contains to make it extra special.”
One of its new additions is its chocolate orange cake. “This is layered with Seville orange marmalade and orange flavoured buttercream and hand-finished with Belgian milk chocolate flakes. It just bursts with flavour and is a real addition to any Christmas table,” she explains.
“It’s all about the people,” she concludes. “Everything is handmade, hand piped, and hand decorated – all made to the highest of quality standards. We have a dedicated team who work hard and are proud of what we produce. Between 50 and 60 per cent of our staff have been with us since the very start. That’s very important.
At the end of the day, it’s all about supporting each other, both within the business and outside. It’s important to recognise the contribution small businesses like ours make to the communities in which we operate but also to the wider Irish community. Christmas is an important time for every business so it’s imperative that shoppers recognise the value of their support.”
For a full selection of quality Irish Christmas fare visit your local SuperValu or shop online at supervalu