Tuesday, November 11, 2008
While in Ohio popped into an Aldi’s market as my mother had scouted out their candy section for me. This international chain is kind of like Trader Joe’s or Fresh & Easy, offering low prices for standard and gourmet fare with most products under house brands and a rather warehouse-style shopping environment.
One of Aldi’s brands of confections is called Choceur and is priced so well that I was dubious that it could be any good at all. But they have a Double Quality Guarantee, which means if I don’t like it, they’ll give me another and my money back.
This box was called Choceur Luxury Mini Chocolate Bars and described on the front as Bittersweet chocolate bars with hazelnuts and rice crisps in a chocolate creme filling.
Inside the box are 11 little bars, which are more like sticks. They’re about 3.5 inches long and .75 inches wide and .5 inches tall. Each is nicely molded with a simple design on top and made the trip from Ohio, through Pennsylvania and back to California without incident. Each little bar has 100 calories (and unlike the 100 Calorie Chocolate Bars I wrote about yesterday, the packaging here has the appropriate balance of protecting the product, advertising the contents and not taking up more space than it needs to).
The little sticks have a sweet hazelnut and chocolate aroma.
The bite is soft, the center is a buttery light chocolate cream with little crisped rice bits and crushed hazelnuts. The hazelnut flavor isn’t overwhelming, not quite as intense as Baci or a true gianduia, but amazingly satisfying.
The chocolate is silky and smooth, but doesn’t have a lot of pop to it. It doesn’t detract from the bar much, it just supports the texture and gives a small bittersweet background to the sweet creme center.
Overall, for the price these are amazing. They’re the perfect little treat for coffee or tea, an afternoon snack or something to tuck into a lunch without breaking the bank. Or a hostess gift or perhaps dump them out of the box and put them in Christmas stockings. Are there better versions of this out there? Sure, but even Ferrero Rocher or Perugina Baci costs about $6 for the same amount but most of that is packaging and you’re not likely to see commercials for these.
I have another Choceur bar that I bought at the same time that I’m quite eager to try ... especially since this box is almost gone.
Monday, November 10, 2008
They come in two varieties: 100 Calorie Milk Chocolate Bars and 100 Calorie 70% Dark Chocolate Bars.
There are only five in the box, which I’m guessing means these are weekday treats. Priced at $1.99, on the surface it sounds like a decent deal for 3.17 ounces of chocolate that’s from Belgium. But you know what? Belgium is not a factory, it’s not a company, it’s not a brand. It’s just a country. Just because the country has a great history and a good reputation for producing good chocolate doesn’t mean that just because it’s Belgian that it’s better, or even good.
I have gripes with the packaging. First, the bars themselves are 4.75 inches long and 1 inch wide. But the wrapper is inexplicably 6.5 inches long though the box is just shy of 6 inches, so the little ends have to be tucked over in order to fit. The box is simply too big and useless. It could be half the size. Think of how much more shelf space they’d have.
After I got over the insane box and mylar wrappers, I had a small pile of chocolate bars (that traveled nicely intermingled in a zip lock bag with me).
The Milk Chocolate is made from 34% cocoa solids and 18% milk solids, leaving by my guess about 45% or more “sugar solids.” All my jests aside, the ingredients look impressive: real vanilla and for some reason they mention that they use beet sugar.
I liked the shape of the planks, easy to break into pieces for sharing or bite easily without melty crumbs.
The chocolate is silky and sweet. The chocolate flavor isn’t intense but pleasant. The dairy flavors were limited to an ordinary background complement of caramel notes ... no strong powdered milk element here.
It’s not like this is diet chocolate, it’s no less caloricly dense than any other normal chocolate, just molded into a piece that’s exactly 100 calories ... some sort of magic number for the calorie counters. (It does make the math easier, I’ll give them that.)
The 70% Dark is a true dark chocolate which also uses beet sugar and natural vanilla. So it’s extra safe for vegans (some avoid cane sugar which can be purified using bone char).
This bar looked dark and intense, like Italian roasted coffee beans. It smelled like freshly sawn wood. The melt on the tongue was rather slow and a little chalky (as high cocoa content bars can often be). The flavors were smoky and bitter with some coffee and charcoal notes.
Though it wasn’t as candy-like as the Milk Chocolate variety, the 70% was certainly satisfying in the sense that one was more than enough for me.
I like the portion control element and the flat stick shape. I don’t think I need more than 2/3 of an ounce (well, a bit less in this instance) as a little pick me up or treat with some coffee. The price compared to Trader Joe’s other house-branded chocolate offerings though is ridiculous. Even the little 3 Packs of Belgian Chocolate bars are half the price per ounce. And then the Pound Plus bar that goes for about $3.50 brings it down even more with far less packaging (but not an identical product as those are made in France).
I don’t think I’d buy these again simply because there are better values at Trader Joe’s. The Milk Chocolate was the nicer of the two, if I was going simply by which one I ended up finishing first.
Friday, November 07, 2008
Mitchell’s Candies was founded in 1939 by Chris Mitchell as a classic sweet shop, with a soda fountain right next to a movie theater. Patrons would buy sweets to take into the films and then come by afterwards to share a treat. But as the times changed their core business remained their handmade chocolate dipped candies. The store is now run by the second generation, Bill Mitchell.
Mr. Mitchell was working behind the counter when we came in and was able to answer any questions I had, and more. He also gave me several samples, which is always a plus in my sweet world.
The Gaecia Collection is a departure from the other more traditional offerings at Mitchell’s Candies. The flavor combinations are alluring, some of them are pairings that I’ve never had before. They sound unique and well thought out. The pieces themselves are rather small, about a half an ounce each.
What follows is mostly gratuitous close-ups of the individual pieces.
Pistachio & almond butter white chocolate gianduia. Sweet, grassy, a little nutty and quite buttery.
The little pistachio on top (yes, it was really that green) gives it extra crunch and the bittersweet enrobing keeps it from becoming too sweet. The cocoa butter was a real plus here, the richness of the fat gave the otherwise delicate flavors an opportunity to emerge.
Fresh raspberry pate de fruit with a touch of Chambord. Topped with a rustic styled hazelnut ganache with little crunchies.
This was the only all-milk chocolate piece on the assortment and it was definitely the sweetest. It reminded me (in the best way possible) of a berry laced coffee cake. The mix of the tart and jammy berries, the nutty flavor and the little crunchies was a really comforting mix and completely unique. (I would love this as a bar with a shortbread cookie base.)
A pistachio frappe creme (kind of like a dulce de leche with pistachios) covered with a dark chocolate ganache with notes of roses and cherries.
It sounds kind of freaky and it is a bit of a riot of flavors and textures, but the lilting rose melds so well with the darker musky notes of the cherry, chocolate and almonds.
Perhaps it’s that so many of the fine chocolates I’ve been eating are West Coast and inspired by Asian and Central/South American flavors (chili, green tea, exotic citrus, sea salts, curry, etc.), these combinations struck me as both classic and innovative at the same time.
Milk chocolate ganache with Earl Grey tea and dark chocolate ganache with a whisper of lemon.
This was the smoothest, satiny-est ganache I’ve had in a long time. Not too sweet and super-fatty. The black tea notes here were as noticeable as the bergamot of the Earl Grey.
The chocolate played its role well, too. The woodsy notes mixed with with the slightly acidic citrus zest.
One of my favorite pieces in the mix.
Two different marzipans with pistachios and ginger, dipped in dark chocolate and topped with an orange peel candied with Cointreau.
The top and larger layer is a traditional amaretto marzipan, a very small grain to it which gave it a smooth consistency and strong almond flavor but good buttery notes. The bottom layer is pistachio which is more like a peanut butter, with stark floral notes. Towards the end there was a little spicy warmth of the ginger.
Milk chocolate gianduia with a liberal splash of Ouzo and dark chocolate gianduia with espresso.
This was the piece that sold me on the assortment in the first place. Sweet simplicity. Perhaps a little too sweet but it’s so pungent as well (kind of contaminated the rest of the box with the anise flavors). It doesn’t look impressive, like some sort of block of fudge, but it’s far from bland and chalky. If I have one suggestion for this piece though it’s that it should be wrapped in foil to keep the intense anise from getting into the other chocolates.
While at the shop I also picked up quite a few other chocolates, sold by the pound, to eat during my travels.
First, what impressed me most was that the majority of the offerings were dark chocolate. It was just so enticing to see the intense dark assortments in the case. All of the dark chocolates are covered in a 52% cacao blend, it’s rich and fatty with a good smooth consistency. The enrobing and dipping was also well-tempered. Nothing is more enticing than rows and rows of shiny chocolate.
The chocolates are $45 to $50 a pound and are prepackaged in boxes for easy gifting or you can pick your own mix (take away in a bag or gift box).
I picked up some chocolate covered glace ginger medallions, chocolate covered orange peel, chocolate dipped Australian figs, Italian style nougat. The standouts were the ginger medallions (smooth, woodsy and fresh) and the Rum Toffee, which had a more complex oak, tobacco & molasses flavor than the straight toffee (which was also good). The caramels were buttery and all the pieces with nuts or preserved fruits were really fresh and vibrant. The fig was very sweet and I think needed a much darker chocolate to offset it.
I can definitely say that if my mother moves to Cleveland, this is a spot I’ll be visiting again. (Though the website is pretty tempting as they offer free shipping.)
Thursday, November 06, 2008
Hillside Candy has been making sweets for nearly thirty years and are best known for their line of sugar-free candies called GoLightly. GoNaturally is their new line of hard candies made with all organic ingredients. It’s also Kosher, dairy-free, gluten-free and corn-free.
Their initial offerings come in six different flavors:
Quite mellow, there’s no strong pop of either the honey or the lemon flavors.
It’s not really that sweet either, which makes it a rather nice change of pace and more soothing to the throat.
The pieces are rather small, about as big around as a penny. I loved the small size of the pieces and found with this flavor especially, the mild and true honey flavor kept me coming back over and over again until I finished the bag one afternoon. (Though each bag only holds 3.5 ounces, there are a lot of pieces because they’re so small - so I had a large pile of wrappers.)
The funny thing, if you haven’t noticed already, is that none of these candies use any colorings. So while they vary slightly, they’re all a basic light amber color. Since the wrappers are opaque, there’s really no need for them to contain added colors to tell them apart.
Tangy and not terribly strong, it’s the typical cherry flavor. Not too much on the side of cough syrup, it reminded me of cherry popsicles instead.
This was my least favorite flavor, but mostly because I think that the malty dark flavors that the rice syrup gives the candy doesn’t go as well with the bright cherry flavors.
I wasn’t sure which way this flavor was going to go. Was it going to be Jolly Rancher Green Apple or the Japanese Mentos Fuji Apple? Well, it was a little of both. It had a definite acidic pop of the fake variety but also a good sprinkling of the apple peel flavors of real cider. I’ve always found the best thing about apples to be the wonderful crisp texture and crunch, so any candy that misses that aspect really misses with me.
I think kids may appreciate it this though, but it may not convert them from Jolly Ranchers.
The curiously bright pink here belies the subtle flavor of the candy. It’s tangy and fruity like berries. It does a decent job of capturing pomegranate, which isn’t easy because most of the pom candies I’ve tried could have been named black raspberry or cranberry and I wouldn’t argue.
There’s a deep woodsy flavor to this, kind of like some red grapes have or, well, eating pomegranates. The dark molasses hint from the pomegranate or rice syrup does make this different from other pomegranate candies.
This is one of the candies that looked exactly like I’d expect a hard honey candy to look like. A little golden droplet.
The ingredients list has only three items on it: evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup & honey. It tastes mellow, a little more mellow than a spoonful of honey but still a sweet little treat. Along with the Honey Lemon, this was my favorite.
I’m always looking for good ginger candies because of my tummy upset issues and love of all things ginger.
These have an immediate woodsy taste, a little bit of a burn but mostly a taste of grassy sticks and spice.
I don’t know how well they’ll work with my sea-sickness and I doubt I’ll have them until whale watching season starts in January, I can see myself finishing this bag by next week.
My strangest issue with these was that they got soft and sticky. Los Angeles isn’t that humid, so I don’t think it was some sort of atypically moist condition that caused this. They’re not bad when they get softer around the edges, but they certainly don’t look as good and don’t have that crunch.
With that in mind, I don’t think they’d do well in an open bowl of candy, like a dish on your desk. Maybe a sealed jar or a zip lock bag.
I’m wild about the honey ones but didn’t have much of a feeling about the other flavors one way or the other.
This is an especially good product for those seeking a hard candy made without corn syrup or just something without artificial colors. It’s also made in the USA. The price is a bit steep for hard candy at about $2.50 per 3.5 ounce bag (though it’s certainly cheaper in bulk) but they do have some unique attributes, so there are definitely folks out there who will be thrilled to find the product and pay for it.
Tuesday, November 04, 2008
Last time I was a Trader Joe’s, I was on the prowl for new candies. Usually October is a great time to find new things on the shelves. I completely missed this Trader Joe’s Lumpy Bumpy Bar. Not because there weren’t a lot of them on display, but simply because I thought it was house brand pain reliever.
I can’t quite put my finger on why it doesn’t look like a candy bar, perhaps it’s a bit more long cube shaped than bar shaped. Perhaps it’s the red background with yellow text and blue accents which remind me of those visual disturbances that accompany migraines.
But now that I’ve found it (thanks to a phone call from my husband at the store asking me if I wanted to try it), I have to set aside all that and look at what’s on the inside.
The box does seem like a bit of overpackaging, inside is a mylar wrapper around the bar as well. The wrapper itself is stupidly huge, about one and half times the length of the bar, so it’s folded over inside the box. Perhaps that keeps the bar from moving around.
But once out of all of that it’s obvious why they call it the Lumpy Bumpy Bar.
It’s pretty beefy looking and feeling. It clocks in at two ounces even, so about the same as a Snickers. And the description of it is also similar: creamy caramel and peanut nougat drenched in dark chocolate.
The first bar (pictured) had a rather liberal lump of peanuts on top. The second bar (the one I’m actually basing this tasting on) had only four.
The bar smells smoky and rich, like toasted sugar, peanuts and chocolate.
The textures are extreme. There are the deep crunches of the nuts - both on top and inside the nougat. The strip of caramel on the top of the nougat but under the chocolate is firm and stringy. The nougat is mostly soft and grainy, until I got to the bottom where it was more like a tough caramel.
When chewed up together the peanuts have a definite dark and burnt taste that pushes over everything else in its way. The thin chocolate coating doesn’t contribute much besides holding the rest of it together in its cloak. The nougat is mostly disappointing. I was hoping when I heard the $2 price tag, that the nougat would be Italian, Spanish or French style. Instead it’s more like a Milky Way Midnight with peanuts.
The only part I liked was the part that I think was a mistake - the chewy nougat at the very bottom was stringy and smooth and had a light touch of toasted marshmallow flavor to it. But since only one of my bars did this, I can’t even be sure that it was on purpose. The caramel on the top barely registers as a flavor or texture.
The good news for candy fans though is that this is a certified gluten free product and the ingredients are all natural. There are milk, soy and egg products in it though.
This bar is coming in all over the map from other reviewers (and from the photos, it appears that the bars are actually different in the amount of each element): Futile Sniff loves it (but had no peanuts on top and far more caramel), Gigi Reviews had a similar experience to mine except I found both of mine rather salty, Diana Takes a Bite found it too chewy and big while Patti at Candy Yum Yum wrote it a love letter. (Yes, it appears that all reviewers are women, I’m guessing the package looks too much like Midol for men to have taken notice yet. I must note that I’ve never purchased Midol, so if this is the kind of analgesic that comes inside that box, please let me know what I’ve been missing!)
So after all that, I’m still stuck on the See’s Awesome Nut & Chew Bar, it’s half the price (though not quite as large) and more responsibly packaged though it does have almonds instead of peanuts.
Monday, November 03, 2008
The exception is the Wilbur Chocolate Factory with its little museum and factory store in Lititz, Pennsylvania. First, Wilbur chocolate products are not easy to find, especially since I live on the other coast. Yes, I can order online, but shipping costs and the possibility of melting always makes it a nail biting adventure for me. Second, the prices there on all the products in the store are fabulous. The website & catalogue offerings are spare, but in their little store they don’t just sell their own chocolate products, they also have pre-packed bags of candy favorites such as gummi bears, mint creams, Swedish fish, and various hard candies.
They also feature products like their own fudge and chocolate-covered site-made goodies (my sister got some chocolate covered marshmallows). I also found barley sugar candies and a local brand of a coffee crunch bar. The store is neat and clean, the service great and the candy is always fresh. So even though my sister lives an hour away, while there everyone (my sister, sister-in-law & mother) indulged me on the little diversion on a crisp fall afternoon. (We also went to Hershey’s Chocolate World and up to the Hotel Hershey for drinks.)
This big bar is 2.25 ounces and packaged simply and classically in a paper-foil wrap and a creamy yellow sleeve.
As part of my search for the best crisped rice bar, this was one that I was looking forward to. I was a little worried though. I’ve tasted, literally, thousands of different candies since the last time I had a Wilbur’s Milk Chocolate Crisp bar. Would it still hold up?
The first plus right away is that it’s a thick bar. I like a bar with depth to hold the crisped rice - I like my rice to get completely enveloped in the chocolate.
Next, the sections were easy to break for sharing or portioning.
The chocolate smelled a bit like milk and mostly like malt. Another great sign.
The chocolate is sweet, melts quickly and is much more silky than most other bars I’ve had lately, including the upscale ones. Yes, there’s a lot of fat in there, but I consider that a selling point as well.
The rice crunchies are a little small but plentiful enough. They have a little bit of salt and a good bit of malt as well.
The flavor combination is excellent, the textures meld well. It’s simple, it’s nicely done. I can’t resist. The Ghirardelli uses all-natural ingredients, this has some vanillin in it instead of vanilla plus some mono-diglycerides in the crisped rice.
I bought two of these bars and am regretting that I didn’t get more as they are both gone now. They were $1.59 at the Wilbur store and I would happily pay $2 for them at my local drug store chain.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.