Friday, February 29, 2008
Though the standard big item in an Easter basket is a chocolate bunny, there’s nothing in the books that says that is must be a bunny. In fact, many companies make things like eggs (often filled with other chocolate or confectionery items), chicks, ducks, filled baskets, geese and some folks even do crosses.
This week I looked at four different options that could be purchased at just about any drug store or discount retailer: R.M. Palmer, Wonka, Russell Stover & Lindt, though this isn’t the first time I’ve reviewed hollow chocolate items.
Two years ago I visited Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven, and if you were ever looking for a Tiffany-style experience for Easter baskets, that’d be the place. You can get a hollow chocolate bunny the size of a toddler. (Well, toddlers aren’t hollow.)
Oddly enough at this writing there’s nothing on the Jacques Torres website that mentions anything about the impending holiday (I always figured Lent was the classic time to display Easter goodies).
So I thought I’d wrap up the week with two other devilish hollow chocolate items, though they’re not exactly for Easter, they give a good sense of some more pricey items that are out there.
Milk Chocolate Gnome by Michel Cluizel with a white chocolate beard - I was sent this as a sample a few days before Christmas along with some other items that I’d already tried (the single origin tasting kit, being one of them).
Cluizel is known as one of the few bean to bar to bonbon companies in the world, so they have exclusive control over everything from the quality of the beans to the molding and packaging of the product. This fellow came in a flat bottomed clear bag and in perfect condition. He’s made with a dark milk chocolate that is tempered to perfection. It has a nice milky scent and perfect snap when I bit the top of his hat off.
The chocolate itself isn’t very thick at the top but moreso as I got down to his little feet. The chocolate is sweet, perhaps a little too much for me, but extremely creamy with a well balanced chocolate flavor.
I also had a white chocolate flat snowman with a candied orange peel scarf and a nose and buttons made from chocolate pearls. The white chocolate was indeed buttery and sweet with wonderful vanilla notes.
I don’t know what you can get from Cluizel in the States via the web, but a visit to their NYC shop or any of their French locations would probably be divine. The closest item I can find online right now is in the Chocosphere “Bargain Basement”.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Chocolate Penguin from Hotel Chocolat - again, just before Christmas I got a package of some items from Hotel Chocolate which included some things that I couldn’t eat because of walnuts (okay, I actually ate one of them and besides being very uncomfortable from a swollen throat I was mostly cross).
The mostly milk hollow figure is a bit thicker than the Cluizel. It’s nicely formed and decorated in the shape of a penguin with both dark and white chocolate accents.
The Hotel Chocolat dark chocolate is 40%, which is really high in cacao for a milk. It’s very creamy with a strong dairy component, good malty tones and a mellow chocolatey base.
Hotel Chocolat is new to the States, but has a strong following in the UK (see the coverage at Chocablog for more reviews). They source their chocolate ethically and use natural ingredients. They don’t actually have any chocolate bunnies here in the States, but a really attractive “engraved egg” that’s either hollow or filled with an assortment of their chocolates. Their UK assortment is much wider (and has a great mix of elegance and casual kookiness.)
Rating: 7 out of 10
My hollow chocolate adventures are not over, I’m still planning on getting some from See’s (which uses Guittard milk and dark chocolate), Vosges, L.A. Burdick, Lake Champlain among others.
Thursday, February 28, 2008
It’s the Wonka Chocolate Golden Egg. It’s Wonka because it’s made by Nestle. It’s chocolate because that’s what it’s made from. It’s golden because that’s what color the foil wrapper is and finally, it’s egg shaped.
It’s sold in a rather large box, which I suppose protects it well, but seems a bit of overkill for the amount of actual candy you get.
The whole confection clocks in at 4.5 ounces (the largest of my candy reviews in Hollow Chocolate Rabbit Week). What’s also different about this one is that it has something inside, a handful of SweeTarts Chicks, Ducks & Bunnies. The egg itself is 4.5” tall. The box that holds it is 7” tall.
The chocolate shell is woodgrained. Or maybe it’s supposed to look like a nut. I have no idea why it would be either. Eggs are smooth.
The chocolate itself is, well at least real. It’s very sweet, sticky and milky. It’s definitely not the wonderful Swiss milk chocolate that Nestle makes, but as novelty fare goes, it does pretty well.
Some pieces taste a little “fruitier” because of the SweeTarts.
My egg had eight SweeTarts Chicks, Ducks & Bunnies. Three red and five purple. I was spared the recent atrocity of the blue/tropical punch. I kind of hoped for more candy inside, but the amount matched the image on the box. Also, the candies rattle around inside and ding up the chocolate with little nicks and leave a SweeTart dust.
It’s fun, it’s well made (in Canada), but it’s a bit pricey at $7 to $8 retail (I haven’t found a store with them in stock, I got mine as a sample from CandyWarehouse.com). That ends up about $1.67 per ounce.
The Wonka Golden Egg is one of the few Wonka products that relates back to the 1971 movie adaptation. (And the best candy-themed musical rant ever.)
So if you have your own Veruca Salt at home, this might be the perfect featured item for an Easter basket.
Easter is in full swing as the Valentine’s candies are gone from the shelves and replaced by a profusion of pastels. It comes a bit earlier this year, March 23rd.
I did my regular seasonal circuit of the major retailers to see what was returning, absent and new:
There’s a hoarde of new eggs this year. Notably from Russell Stover (who has always done the larger enrobed eggs). I’ll have a roundup of those later next week and even a new one from Princess for UK readers.
Wonka has again mucked up the classicly wonderful SweeTarts Chicks, Ducks & Bunnies. The first year I reviewed them they contained Grape, Apple, Lemon & Cherry. Last year the lemon were dropped. This year they replaced the Apple with Blue Tropical Punch. Yuck. I am official on the wagon and refuse to buy these any longer as the only ones I’m interested in now are the Grape.
I’ve seen some “bunny corn” but still no sightings of the spring mix MelloCremes from Brach’s. You can get a quasi-substitute from Jelly Belly though.
Hershey’s has plenty of Kisses to chose from, including the return of the Coconut Creme Kiss, Vanilla Creme, Orange Creme & Lemon Creme, Pastel foil versions of regular, caramel, almond and dark chocolate and Pastel Kissables.
Wednesday, February 27, 2008
It looks good, but it’s always bad.
Why do I keep buying it?
For you, dear readers. It’s a public service that I’m obligated to perform.
The thing about Palmer is that they have so many other things going for them. They have cute designs, usually their packaging is nice, they’re Kosher and of course they’re made in the USA (Pennsylvania for locavores). But it’s like they go out of their way to disappoint once the stuff hits my mouth.
“Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Palm Kernel Oil and/or Palm Oil), Whey, Cocoa, Lactose, Skim Milk, Soy Lecithin, Vanillin, Artificial Colors (Blue #1, Blue #2, Red #40, Yellow #5, Yellow #6 & Red #3). May contain Peanuts/Nuts.”
Look how far the cocoa is down on that list, #4 ... I think it’s only in there for coloring!
The rabbit is admirably attractive. It has a nice dark sheen, it’s shiny and has little details like the winsome eyeroll and it’s holding a flower. It took me a while to figure out that the white blob at his belly is a little fluffy white chick ... maybe. It’s also pretty thick. It’s just a little shorter than the Russell Stover one and weighs and extra quarter of an ounce. The walls of the shell are a bit thicker.
But you know, the taste is not that good. It has a cool feeling on the tongue, it’s very sweet and has a fudgy grain to it. It tastes nothing like chocolate, more like milk powder and peanut shells. (Oddly, that’s not really a bad taste, just not chocolate and not as sweet as I’d have thought based on the ingredients.)
The serving size is the whole rabbit, which clocks in at 260 calories, with only 50% of that from fat. Yes, the rest comes from carbs (usually chocolate is a 60/30/10 mix of fat/carbs/protein ... with some room for movement depending on dark or milk varieties - some extreme darks I’ve had are 85% fat).
Sometimes I wonder if Palmer is doing the cocoa industry a service by buying beans that would otherwise be turned into compost or rot in the co-op storehouses. I don’t think I’d mind their products if they were sold as “biodegradable decorations” ... but sadly the appearance of a nutrition label seems to indicate they really do think people want to eat it.
Considering the fact that there are actually good real chocolate bunnies around at similar prices if you keep your eyes open (Russell Stover isn’t quite as cute, but there’s also a Hershey’s version, too), there’s no reason to buy these except for off-label uses: Easter dioramas, photo shoots or just buy them all as a public service to remove them from the shelves so that others may not be faced with similar disappointment.
R. M. Palmer Hollow Milk Chocolate Flavored Bunny ... the Easter equivalent of a lump of coal.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
Russell Stover has often had a rather stale image as one of the drug store chocolate brands. They’re trying to push themselves a bit lately and I think it shows, at least it’s caused me to give them a second look and for the most part I’ve been pleased.
They’ll never replace upscale chocolatiers, but they’re dependable and consistent, especially for holiday specialties.
Their Hollow Milk Chocolate Bunny’s appearance is a rather ghastly caricature. The yellow foil wrapper with its green bow, blue eyes and huge eyelashes are trying too hard. (But I really like the touch of the pink inner ear.)
If the outside is akin to a drag queen, the inside is a fresh and athletic 22-year-old with clear skin and shiny hair. No need for any pasted on eyelashes here or colored contacts. The smooth sheen of the medium color of the milk chocolate is lovely, with its little curls of fur every once in a while for a bit of verisimilitude.
The shell is rather thin, as I expected when I picked it up. The thing is very light at 1.5 ounces (and rather similar is volume to the Lindt bunnies). The easy-to-break shell doesn’t detract from the appeal though, it just makes it easier to pick off a piece of your own chosing. Honestly, I don’t mind hollow bunnies. I was always rather stymied by solid bunnies as a kid, as they required whacking them on a hard surface or going to the kitchen and taking a meat fork to them. Hollow bunnies are easy to crack and munch.
I think this is the first time I’ve simply eaten Russell Stover’s milk chocolate. According to an article in Candy Industry magazine, they age their milk chocolate for 90 days (and dark for 150 days). I’m not sure who makes Russell Stover’s chocolate, an article mentioned that they’re using Callebaut for their Private Reserve line. No PGPR or milk solids in here, just real milk chocolate and fake vanilla.
The chocolate smells rather, well, sweet. More like fake vanilla and a little malty.
It has a nice quick and silky melt. It’s a little sticky and very sweet but has a lot of flavor packed into that.
The foil wrapping could be updated a bit without losing the appeal to children, but the product is rather good and an admirable value at 66 cents an ounce (probably less if you find them on sale).
They also come in 3 ounce and 6 ounce versions (and the website shows dark chocolate as well, but I had no luck in the stores).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.