Tuesday, December 30, 2008
I was converted to the “white side” by Green & Black’s White Chocolate several years ago and now I understand that the mix of milk, cocoa butter and vanilla can be a wonderful thing.
I was more than intrigued when Askinosie, a bean to bar, fair trade chocolate maker right here in the United States came out with their white chocolate, mostly because it’s made with goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk.
But the fascinating aspects don’t end there. It’s single origin, contains no soy lecithin or even any vanilla.
The Askinosie Soconusco White Chocolate Bar isn’t white. It’s the color of butterscotch pudding.
It smells a bit gamier than other white confections - kind of like erasers and marscapone.
I was expecting a texture of pure bliss, after all, this is un-deodorized cocoa butter, so it would have the texture of chocolate, the earthier hint of the cocoa solids that were once there and then the wonderful base of goat’s milk to boost it up and moderate the necessary sugar.
Instead it’s a bit grainy but it’s a sugary grain. It still has a wonderful mouthfeel and is rather cool on the tongue. But it wasn’t quite a buttery solid goat’s milk that I was hoping for.
While I say that intellectually, I ate about a third of the bar pondering these few paragraphs.
The other two bars are far more interesting:
White Chocolate Nibble Bar - I thoroughly enjoyed my first Askinosie Nibble bars which were based on the Jose del San Tambo beans. All of the white bars are Soconusco beans of the Trinitario variety from Mexico. (Not my favorite in the dark version either.)
Like the dark nibble bar, the cacao nibs aren’t mixed in with the chocolate. Instead they’re just tossed on the bottom as the bar is molded. Personally, I prefer integrated elements. This whole “topping” thing means that the nibs aren’t completely surrounded.
That said, the nibs are fun. They obviously carry a huge amount of chocolate flavor punch in them. In this case they have a bit of a smokey and woodsy flavor to them and it really balances out the sweetness of the white chocolate. The texture variation is also remarkable. The nibs are crunchy, the white chocolate cool and the graininess I complained about earlier is unnoticeable.
White Chocolate Pistachio Bar
This was the star, the perfect combination of the above texture and flavor profile.
The addition of some lightly toasted & sparingly salted pistachios provided some crunch but mostly a grassy brightness. It balanced out the twang of the goat’s milk without making it sweeter, instead it just made it more flavorful.
Askinosie has also just launched a dark milk chocolate which is 52% cacao of the same Soconusco single origin, fleur de sel and goat’s milk.
Many people who suffer from lactose intolerance can digest goat’s milk without difficulty, so this new line of goat’s milk products from Askinosie, as well as the fact that they don’t use soy may be just the ticket for those with food sensitivities.
My hesitation with them, besides the fact that I haven’t seen them in stores, is that they’re very expensive at $10.50 a bar. (The regular dark chocolate bars are $8.00 to $8.50.)
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
This year it was from Theobroma Chocolatier, a family run Albuquerque confectionery shop.
There were quite a few items in the bag but this has to be the best among them (and it was hard to chose which one to profile).
The package doesn’t list what they are, but a little note in the bag let me know that this is their Chocolate y Maiz.
For those who don’t know Spanish, that’s Chocolate and Corn.
These rustic looking disks are huge. At about 3.5 to 4 inches across, each weighs over an ounce (I didn’t weigh them, I’m just guessing).
They’re a lovely glossy dark chocolate with a caramel colored chocolate striping which really saves the appearance.
The chocolate is mellow, a semi-sweet it has some nice fruity tones, only a slight dry finish. The tempering and snap is great and the chocolate has a smooth, creamy melt. The star here is the inclusion of corn flakes. That’s it. Just a big plop of dark chocolate with corn flakes in it.
The corn flakes are crunchy and have a great malty flavor with a little salty and corny taste to it.
They’re wonderfully satisfying - so much so that just a half of a disk was plenty. I’ve had these for almost a month and they’re still not gone. (But it was a big bag!) But they also keep exceptionally well and pair with other items easily. They’re a bit of a change of pace from the Ritter Sport Knusperflakes (Corn Flakes) bar which is milk chocolate.
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
I don’t consider myself a fudge connoisseur, though I certainly eat it when it’s presented to me but it rarely appears here on the blog.
Fudge is basically a combination of sugar, milk and butter and usually chocolate. It’s boiled to the soft ball state and then beaten as it cools in order to form a melt-in-your-mouth crystalline structure.
I’m rather fond of crumbly fudge, more like penuche, but it also has to have a fair amount of fat in it to. I’m not even sure if what I prefer falls into the “good fudge” category. Like toffee & pornography, I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.
Spoonfudge! solves that problem. Billed as creamy, dream fudge, each little jar holds five ounces and includes a little plastic spoon for immediate indulgence.
While the package seems small at first, I remember that I often order fudge in quarter pound increments. Each order is two jars, as well, which can be mixed & matched by flavor. It’s great for keeping it fresh and of course resealing it when you can’t finish it all.
Yes, it’s much like eating frosting out of the tub. (But much better, have you ever read the ingredients in those?)
I got an assortment of four flavors, which change often, so you’ll just have to keep an eye on their website.
Just Chocolate for Me! is plain chocolate. The glossy look of it in the jar was quickly broken by my spoon. It scoops easily with the little plastic one, though I prefer a metal one that I keep in my candy tasting kit for just such occasions.
It smells like butter, chocolate and sugar. Kind of like Disneyland.
The soft bite also dissolves nicely on the tongue, not too fatty, but very sweet. The chocolate flavor is definitely not just “cocoa” but full bodied chocolate. The texture was microfine. I like a crumbly fudge, so this suited me very well.
My next flavor selection was Mexican Cocoa Zing!. I can’t refer to the website description since this isn’t in the current rotation of flavors.
What I was hoping for was chocolate with a hint of spices like cinnamon, nutmeg and perhaps chili or black pepper.
Instead it’s just chocolate with a zap of cinnamon. When I say cinnamon I don’t mean that powdery stuff you sprinkle on sticky buns. I mean cinnamon kapow that’s in Jolly Ranchers.
It’s an interesting combo because the cinnamon flavor is so clear and precise but it lacks all that fun woodsy, complicated stuff that the little curls of bark do for me. But then thinking about it, this definitely felt unique. How many other products have I had that delivered that other cinnamon & chocolate combo? Plenty. This was the first that really had that cinnamon fire plus chocolate.
I must have liked it, because it was the second jar I finished. Yeah, it tastes like Williams-Sonoma smells this time of year, but hey, I dig that.
I was also curious about fruity flavored fudges. Usually I stick with traditional chocolate and sometimes chocolate/peanut butter combinations, so this was a new experience for me. The Orange Loves the Chocolate is a wonderfully marbled concoction. The clear jar was just so pretty to look at, it was like a slab of alabaster or perhaps watching hot coffee and cold milk mingle in a glass.
It has a pleasant orange scent, not overly zesty.
This one was less chocolatey that the rest and much creamier and a bit fluffy. It was a lot like frosting and so sweet, I just couldn’t eat much of it.
The flavor, beyond the sweetness had a good rounded citrus flavor. The chocolate just wasn’t cutting through the throat burning sugar though.
The last flavor is Dreams of Raspberries which appeared much darker though has a large pink swirl through it that I didn’t find until a few spoonfuls later.
It was wonderfully soft and scoopable, a good mouthfeel. The raspberry flavor is more scent than flavor. There’s not berry tang in here, certainly no seeds. It’s all floral and flavor and somewhere in the back of it all was a little bitter aftertaste that I think was from the food coloring.
Spoonfudge! comes in a huge array of flavors. Earlier this year it was a bunch of other candy mix-ins like Butterfingers. Right now everything is holiday themed (and rum sounds like a good combo).
I think I’m probably a fudge purist. I probably only like chocolate fudge and pecan pralines. I didn’t care for the fruity ones, but liked the more chocolatey ones. Your experiences will probably vary.
There are some superb selling points with Spoonfudge. They’re gluten free but also nut free. (It’s hard to find fudge makers that don’t use other nuts.) The packaging is pretty light and spare (reuseable & recycleable #1 PETE jar) and makes it easy to reseal and share. Shipping is completely affordable and other products at the webstore include a whole line of gluten free cooking & baking mixes. (And even some dairy free ones, too.)
Monday, December 22, 2008
Menu for Hope is back for its fifth year and is as big as ever. The multi-blog effort is headed by Chez Pim and raises money for the United Nations World Food Programme.
It’s a raffle where various bloggers, individuals and companies have donated food-related items.
Here’s my annual roundup of confectionery goodies up for grabs this year. (You can see the complete list of goodies here.)
Each raffle ticket is $10. Please be sure to read the complete listings about any geographical or timing limitations before you buy your tickets.
Item Number: EU04
Description: 2 boxes of Parisan style macarons from Petites Bouches
A pair of sligtly crisp nut-flecked cookies sandwich the most luxurious buttercreams and the creamiest ganache made from premium Valrhona Chocolate. Made from raw organic almonds and organic brown eggs. (US only.)
Item Number: EU02
Description: A stack of hand-chosen, just for you, real Swiss chocolate bars. This was one of the prizes I really wanted last year.
You get to pick your preference for nuts or not, milk or dark ... an awesome opportunity to get a different taste every week.
Item Number: UE05
Description: Small Box of LA Burdick Chocolate Mice
I tried these earlier this year, they’re simply too cute - little truffle mice with almond slice ears ... everything is edible except for the tails.
Item Number: UE11
Description: La Maison du Chocolat’s Shimmering Snowflake Coffret
Over a half a pound (about 29 pieces) of delicate chocolate creations. Includes the holiday flavors: chestnut, orange confit stick, dark ganache with banana, milk ganache with ros? Champagne, milk pralin? feuillet? with hazelnuts and almonds, almond paste with citrus zest, and dark plain ganache. (U.S. only)
Item Number: UE12
Description: Five boxes of Garrison Confectioners handcrafted chocolates inspired by PAMA Liqueur
The PAMA Tart is a heavenly layered chocolate ganache and graham cracker crust treat laced with pomegranate flavor. The PAMA Cosmo, a great twist on the classic drink, delivers a flavor explosion by coupling premium vodka with fresh, invigorating lime juice. But the true test of a cordial is its ability to stand to toasted nuts, and PAMA passed with flying colors with Garrison"s Nutty PAMA creation. It combines a perfected blend of roasted nut and pomegranate for a truly indulgent experience.
Item Number: UE17
Description: The ‘Studio Collection’ Box by Chocolatier Oliver Kita
A retail value of $40, this box 16 deliciously creative sweets.
Item Number: UW23
Description: BonBonBar Tower of handmade candy bars, caramels, and marshmallows.
3 Caramel Nut Candy Bars, 3 Malt Candy Bars, 3 Orange Candy Bars, 3 Single Malt Scotch Candy Bars, 12 Vanilla Marshmallows, 12 Passionfruit Marshmallows 1 Container of Hot Chocolate Mix
Item Number: UW24
Description: Scharffen Berger Chocolate Gift Package
5 pounds of petit baking squares, The Essence of Chocolate cookbook plus an (extra) bitter t-shirt.
Item Number: EU03
Description: US$50 gift certificate from bento supplier J-List.com PLUS 3 bento books
JList is an awesome place to find all sorts of Japanse treats like Mentos, limited edition KitKat and HiCHEW.
Item Number: EU06
Description: Damian Allsopp chocolates
Christmas chocolates from Fortnum & Mason . Damian is unique in his use of water-based ganaches. This creates fabulously intense flavours such as pear and anise, salty liquorice and “Christmas.”
Item Number: CA08
Description: Gift box from Kerstin’s Chocolates
12 high quality, Edmonton-made chocolate bars from Kerstin’s Chocolates. (Canada only.)
Raffle ends on December 24th. Winners will be announced in January.
See this page for the complete list and directions for how to purchase the tickets from Firstgiving.
Friday, December 19, 2008
I’m buried in mints! So here’s a huge roundup of all the mint items in my queue that I wanted to get through before Christmas.
Like the Trader Joe’s Espresso Pillows I picked up a few months ago, Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Mints come in a cute round tin and hold 2.45 ounces. Unlike the Espresso Pillows, these are not a very original product.
Inside the tin is a fluted liner that holds a large handful of soft, white candy-shelled mints. Each is about the size of a kidney bean. The tin says that there are no artificial flavors or preservatives. I think they shy from the “all natural” part because the white shell is created with titanium dioxide.
They reminded me of the classic Dutch Mints and luckily I had some of those around for comparison.
Jelly Belly makes a large variety of Dutch Mints. They come in different colors, these are all hot pink and individually wrapped, though you can also get them in the stark white, pastel mint colors or right now in the Christmas assortment of red, green and white. (And they’re Kosher.)
The Dutch Mint is the size of a garbanzo bean but my guess is the same mass as the TJ’s.
They’re both the same construction, a soft mint fondant with a thin layer or dark chocolate then a crispy candy shell.
Both are lovely and addictive. The Trader Joe’s retails for $1.22 an ounce. The Jelly Belly can go for anywhere from $.70 an ounce for the small 2.9 ounce bag to $.56 for a one pound tub (check out Cost Plus World Market).
Jelly Belly Dutch Mints get a rating of: 8 out of 10
These also closely resemble the York Mints that also come in a tin.
The previous are great for toting around and especially nice if a restaurant gives you a few with the check. But if you’re entertaining, you might want to provide some other more chocolatey mint morsels.
I’ve always loved After Eight Mints, which are a flowing mint fondant in an ultra thin square. I used to love how they came in individual glassine envelopes, like a little file box of deliciousness.
Of course After Eights are made by Nestle now and not nearly as good as I remember them on top of the controversies that they’re made from questionably sourced chocolate. The Fair Trade movement has been working to bring families and communities out of poverty through fair payment for goods & services.
Divine Chocolate has been doing this since 1998 in the United Kingdom and recently expanded into the United States. Not only do they have tasty bars they also have addition treats like these Divine After Dinner Mints.
The mints are nicely sized for two bites at about 1.5” square. The mild semi-sweet chocolate is crisp and cracks well. The mint fondant center is creamy and minted only slightly so as not to overpower the chocolate. The dark chocolate has some berry and fruity tones that combine well with the cool peppermint flavors.
I’ve seen these at Whole Foods (at an endcap display for hostess giving), so they should be pretty widely available this season.
Divine After Dinner Mints get a rating of 7 out of 10.
Creme de Menthe Altoids have been out for a few months, though it took me a while to find the variety that isn’t covered in chocolate. I realized that I might have seen them before, the green of the package is only slightly lighter than the Spearmint boxes. These were on sale for $1.50 to boot!
Basically the flavor of these is like a Peppermint TicTac. It has a powdery vanilla scent, softer than a harsh peppermint and perhaps just a hint of licorice.
But these are Altoids. Though they might start out mild, they do pack a much stronger kick later on. I like the flavor a bit better than the straight Peppermint if only because of the mix of aromas.
Creme de Menthe Altoids get a rating of 8 out of 10.
Quite a few folks have been lamenting that Trader Joe’s discontinued their English Soft Peppermints. I’m pretty keen on the generic & mild butter mints I find at the drug store, but those were some pretty good mints.
Around this time of year, however, I see a lot of these See’s Peppermint Twists in candy dishes around the office. It took me a while, but I think I found out who makes them. There were two contenders: King Leo Soft Peppermint Candy or Bob’s Sweet Stripes.
I saw this box of King Leo Soft Peppermint Candy at the 99 Cent Only Store and thought I’d give them a whirl. They were a dollar for 3.5 ounces.
I thought they were “butter mints” and read through this to see how I came to that conclusion:
So I was expecting a soft mint. Either crumbly soft or mushy soft.
These were neither. They’re soft as in rounded and smooth, but after that they were not butter mints until I sucked on them for a while. Which is kind of the opposite of “soft from the moment you open the box”. Annoyance aside, they’re peppermint candies. They are airy and dissolve nicely and of course none of those hard candy sharp edges. They’re sweet and a bit less intense than a starlight mint and really pretty to look at. Like those English Soft Peppermints that were really made in the Netherlands, King Leo are made in Mexico. Kosher.
King Leo Soft Peppermint Candy gets a 6 out of 10.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
If I had to rank my all time ever favorite desserts, right there at the top would be a Pecan Pie I used to get at Larrupin’ Cafe in Trinidad, CA. It was a traditional styled pecan goo, more pecan than caramel but also had a healthy dose of chocolate in there. Then the whole thing was drizzled with a hot rum sauce. (Looks like I’ve mentioned this before!)
I knew going in that these Dove Pecan Pie Caramel Promises in Silky Smooth Chocolate weren’t going to measure up to that, seeing how there was no hot buttered rum sauce and no pecans.
The Promises are wrapped in foil. Because this was a Christmas-themed box, I think some of the missives inside were holiday related, such as Joy toy ... you, Warmth on the inside can melt cold on the outside or Togetherness in itself is a holiday treat.
They have a pleasant pecan aroma that smells a bit like Russian teacakes or shortbread. The milk chocolate shell is smooth and creamy and sweet. The caramel inside is thick and rich, with a strong woodsy pecan flavor ... a little over the top but effective at selling the whole “pecan pie” thing.
I would have loved to have real pecans in here, but as a nutless Dove bite, it’s pretty tasty. Sweet, but with some strong coffee they’re going really quickly.
Since they’re in Christmas packaging, look for these on the after Christmas sale, at 50% off they’ll be a great bargain.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
When I was in Pennsylvania visiting my brother he took me to the Lancaster County Farmers Market as one of the stops on a candy adventure. There I found Nancy’s Candy Corner (not really a corner as it was in a center aisle). This vendor has everything covered in chocolate. Their specialty seemed to be pretzels. Pretzels dipped in chocolate. Pretzels dipped in chocolate and then rolled in things (toffee chips, chocolate chips, Oreo bits, sprinkles). Lots and lots of pretzel options. There were more traditional options like peanut butter straws. I bought a variety including some Milk and Dark chocolate covered German Spice Cookies.
They were fabulous. The cookies were dense and crunchy, the chocolate was sweet and creamy and then they were gone.
This is why I was so pleased to see these at Trader Joe’s, something I could buy locally, even if only temporarily. At 5.99 for the 10 ounce tin, it was one of the pricier confectionery items I’ve bought at Trader Joe’s lately.
The decription on the bottom of the tin makes my mouth water.
Molasses, ginger, cloves and vanilla ... these aromatic ingredients are the hallmark of gingersnap cookies. We’ve taken it one step further by gliding tiny gingersnap cookies with dark chocolate. For a sophisticated treat that mixes the creamy richness of chocolate with crunchy, spicy cookies.
Inside was a cellophane bag of shiny chocolate nuggets:
They smell of cloves, cinnamon and chocolate.
The pieces are irregular, ranging in size from a garbanzo bean to a hazelnut in the shell. The chocolate coating is glossy.
The chocolate is creamy and sweet, really has a silky mouthfeel. The spices of the cookie are overpowering, so the chocolate flavors aren’t as forward, but the texture makes a huge contribution here.
The cookies are fabulous. The woodsy molasses sets the stage for the immediate clove flavor and then the warming spices really kick in. I found they warmed my throat after two or three with both a gingery kick as well as a black pepper burn.
Trader Joe’s doesn’t have clearance sales after the holidays, so there’s no way to get these cheap or regularly. I can only hope they’ll sell them in the little tubs all year round and I don’t have to create a collection of these tins.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
A few months ago I saw Creme Drops at the 99 Cent Store, but since it was hot out, I didn’t pick them. Then I saw Robby’s review on Candy Addict of the Necco variety and I thought maybe I’d made the right decision.
But then I saw these on the website for the Vermont Country Store and made a mental note. Well, that mental note didn’t sit there too long because a couple of weeks later VCS wanted me to try some of their candy and I specifically requested their Assorted Cream Drops.
Since it’s finally gotten cool in Los Angeles, chocolate shipping produces less anxiety than the other 8 months of the year. (They’re packaging for shipping was great, too, by the way. Everything arrived in great shape.)
The rest of the description is rather vague. The name they use is Chocolate-Covered Cream Drop Assortment with 6 Luscious Flavors but the box never actually list the flavors by name (but digging around on the description page does yield the list).
And the drops all look exactly the same.
So I set about picking them out of the box and cutting them in half, like it was some sort of logic puzzle like mine sweeper.
After eight of them (three were Lemon and not in a row), I determined that they are randomly loaded into the box. The dividers in the box do a great job of protecting the candies without any fussy papers. (Eventually I found that sniffing them carefully did allow me to pick out orange or maple, but then again, who wants one that I’ve held up to my nose? I think I’m better off poking holes in the bottom.)
Yellow = Lemon: sweet and creamy but a little like a scented candle. The bittersweet chocolate shell set the mellow center off quite nicely. It’s not very zesty, just a light aromatic lemon. All of the pieces had sugar grains in it though, unlike the other flavors. I’m guessing this was just a manufacturing glitch.
Beige = Maple: I could often sniff this one out, the maple flavor was quite pungent. It combined well with the sweet and slightly stringy fondant center.
Orange = Orange: reminded me of a creamsicle. Sweet and with a good mouthfeel and a nice chocolate note that cut that almost-too-sweetness of it.
Pink = Raspberry: this interior was very bright pink, which alerted me that this was probably the one with the Red Dye #40. It was all about the floral and perfumey flavors, not much of the rich tangy berry in there.
Brown = Chocolate: this is the mellowest of the bunch. It’s not so much chocolatey as just less sweet and slightly creamier. The filling is not quite silky, but the gooeyness is more than pleasant.
White = Vanilla: tastes exactly like a Junior Mint without the mint. The fondant center is wonderfully smooth, the chocolate becomes the star. It melts easily though admittedly the whole thing is very sweet. I would recommend eating these with strong black coffee or black tea.
These are a quality product. The consistency of the fondant center was fresh and glossy, the chocolate was good. They’re not really something that I would eat on a regular basis, when I have a box of mixed chocolates, I usually leave the creams for last so actually buying a box of creams isn’t something I’m likely to do. I prefer the slightly fattier creams that Fannie Mae (we had a box of those at the office recently) or See’s make. But if you’ve always wished that Junior Mints came in other flavors or perhaps want a less chocolatey or dark chocolate version of a Cadbury Creme Egg, then this might be for you.
Rating: 6 out of 10
The description on the package says: Creme Filled Center with Smooth Chocolate Flavored Coating!. So yeah, it’s mockolate. (But at least their snowflakes have six points.)
I had hopes though, since it’s also a full 12 ounces ... for only a dollar? That’s quite a value there. A one pound box of sugar is about $1.19 at my local grocery store.
Because they’re bagged and not in a box with little partitions, they are a little more scuffed than the Vermont Country Store variety. (But again, the price difference is absurd - VCS are $1.25 an ounce and Zachary’s are 8.3 cents an ounce.)
They also only come in one flavor, plain. (Or perhaps I should call it vanilla, but there is no vanilla or vanilla flavor listed on the ingredients.)
The shell is mockolate but has a dark, toasted scent.
The bite of the Zachary candy (left) is vastly different from the soft and glossy VCS variety (right). This is a solid fondant, similar to the center of a York Peppermint Pattie.
The texture is smooth, but crumbly, kind of like an albino fudge.
I rather liked the center but the mockolate coating ruined it for me. It was sweet and had that stale Easter essence. It’s rather sad, I’d gladly take 1/3 of the quantity at twice the price if they were real chocolate because the centers are pretty good.
I can recommend these for people who already love them (and I shouldn’t quibble with folks who like what they like). I can recommend these for placing as a decoration on a tray of cookies or perhaps adding to a dessert plate when you’re really in a crunch and don’t like your guests (or know that they all have colds and would simply appreciate the fondant texture).
Rating: 3 out of 10
I kind of wish both varieties came in mint.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.