Tuesday, September 8, 2009
It’s odd how I look back into the Candy Blog archives when I pick up a new candy and see how seasonal some of my finds are. Over the weekend I went out to India Sweets & Spices for a tasty & dirt cheap vegetarian Indian lunch. The restaurant (which serves cafeteria-style) is also a grocery store. In their refrigerated section, right next to the yogurt & kefir is where they store their candy. I was pretty pleased to see a large selection of Walkers’ Nonsuch Toffee which I really enjoyed two years ago this week.
They carried the nutted varieties, both Roasted Hazelnut and Brazil Nut plus the Fruit & Nut (raisins in caramel?). I opted for the Roasted Hazelnut Toffee.
The package looked pristine. The last packs I got, and everything I’ve seen on other candy review sites show the bars mushed. This one still had its sections intact - I’m guessing since it was stored in the cooled boxes.
The bar is a big slab weighing 3.5 ounces but only about 4 inches long and 2 inches wide - so it’s a dense mass of boiled sugar and milk. It’s scored into 10 pieces and whacking it on the side of the table seems to split it along those marks ... for the most part. (I hit it one time on one of the nuts and got, well, nutmeal for my troubles.)
The hazelnuts are pressed into each piece - one per piece ... there aren’t more hiding within.
While it’s called toffee in England, here in the United States I consider this caramel. It’s firm but softens easily in the mouth or warmth of your hand and makes a satisfying stiff chew. It stays completely smooth until it’s gone - no graininess at all.
The hazelnuts were roasted to perfection - crunchy, buttery and nutty. The combination of the texture and the burnt sugar notes & butter of the caramel was amazing. I wanted to gobble the bar up, but of course it has a limiting factor on it ... the caramel must be chewed and it takes time.
I wish there were twice as many hazelnuts. But still, pieces without nuts were awesome. No hint of rancid butter or nuts (which I do get sometimes with caramel products). Even better - I got this bar for $1.09 (I paid $1.77 for the last ones I bought). It’s a great deal for a quality product.
If I can’t get this again soon, I might just make my own hazelnut caramels.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Lindt is an iconic name in the world of chocolate. Its founder Rodolphe Lindt invented the chocolate conching machine in 1879 and set the standard for “eating chocolate”. Today Lindt & Sprungli chocolate is a behemoth company which makes both solid chocolate bars, their consumer truffle line of Lindor products & their iconic chocolate rabbits but also owns the American chocolate company, Ghirardelli.
They have a multitude of lines of chocolate bars, each with different profiles. The Excellence line is often found at drug stores, grocery chains & even at airport shops. It’s a nice size & excellently designed package. The paperboard sleeve holds a 3.5 ounce chocolate bar - it’s thin but nicely scored into easy to break & eat portions. (Other lines include Classic Recipe, Les Grandes, Creation, Petits Desserts - at least 50 bars.)
Before I started writing Candy Blog I was a pretty died hard Lindt fan. Their darker bars were one of the first on the market that I was exposed to that gave the cacao content. I was pretty happy at 70%.
My experience with Lindt milk chocolate is rather limited, so before vacation I picked up this bar: Lindt Excellence Toffee Crunch.
It is rather thin and I have to preface this review with the fact that I prefer my bars that have inclusions to be a little thicker.
It smells sweet & buttery.
The chocolate has a nice snap, even in the heat we were experiencing in Southern California. Inside each piece it was easy to spot the little toffee bits.
The chocolate is smooth and milky and though the texture isn’t quite as fine as I would have wanted, I’m not sure it would matter because of all the toffee bits.
The toffee was firm & gave a good little bite of salty burnt sugar and butter.
The effect was great, it was filling & satisfying without being too cloyingly sweet. Still, for my personal preference I might want bigger toffee pieces and a darker milk chocolate. But I can see that this would have lasting appeal for some folks and if I ate it with something to offset the sweetness it’d probably be gone by now. Also, I was a bit irritated that there were artificial flavors in there for a product at this price point - good toffee is not that hard to create and it doesn’t need artificial caramel flavor.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
In my current attempt, I’ve been looking for very lightly salted stuff and hoping to find non-ammonium versions.
The latest item I found was this cute little can from Van Slooten called Lakrids Figurer which features both sweet and salty liquorice in one package. It’s Dutch, so it does feature ammonium chloride as the salt of choice.
But the package was just so cute and so were the little licorice pieces inside. I had their Autodrop Total Loss mix before and was enchanted with the imaginative shapes they make.
Think of them like animal crackers! Or perhaps some sort of licorice roulette if you don’t know the key.
The salty licorice shapes were Zebra, Elephant, Lion and Kangaroo. Each was about an inch or inch and a quarter at the longest.
They’re soft and pliable, though not quite chewy like Dots. The immediate taste on the tongue is not quite salt but more like a savory sizzle, a little smoky. Once I chewed it a little I got some notes of ground pepper and woodsy licorice. But later the salt turned a little odd, as it usually does. When I exhaled it was a bit like ammonia and also a bit rusty tasting.
I have to say that I did very well with these overall. If I managed to grab one by mistake when hunting for the sweet ones, it wasn’t the end of the world.
Rating: 6 out of 10
The sweet figures were Koala, Crocodile and Turtle.
I was trying to figure out if there was a reason for the different animals being salty or sweet. I tried breaking it down by species type, by habitat and even used the Wallace Line. There is no logic for the consumer as far as I can tell.
They aren’t easily sweet - putting it on the tongue to dissolve is rather subtle - not quite salty but definitely deep and smoky with molasses, anise and burnt toffee notes.
Rating: 7 out of 10
They texture is a cross between a gumdrop and something a little denser but not as hard as some other licorice cakes or coins. There’s no wheat in it, like most American and Aussie style products. I also found them very soothing to my throat - even the salty ones.
Even though I found the salty ones edible, they’re still not quite my style ... though I would definitely recommend them as a “starter” salty licorice for those looking to broaden their candy experiences. They do get a little stuck in my teeth.
So far I like the Van Slooten stuff I’ve had though I don’t think I’ve found their item that’s precisely suited to me yet. I’ll keep looking.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
I was at the drug store a few weeks ago and wasn’t really thrilled with the selection of candy. Well, it was a nice selection but I’ve tried all of that stuff before. Then I spotted the new display of Russell Stover & Whitman’s Samplers (they’re owned by the same company now) and was debating whether to review a full box of candy from them.
Instead I wussed out, blaming the heat that it was impractical to bring a large amount of chocolate into my 90+ degree home. So I got one of each of their little 1 ounce boxes - just as a teaser. I thought, here’s an opportunity for Russell Stover & Whitman’s to wow me ... they have two pieces to do it. For the opportunity to snare me, I gave them $1.25 for each sample sized box.
Russell Stover Private Reserve features two pieces of their premium assorted chocolates. The red foiled box is elegant and simple.
I have no idea what they are, the box tells me nothing specifically about them, well, it specifically tells me the combined ingredients and that’s about it. I only have the shapes go on. Inside is a little tray with spaces shaped like the candies.
The nut looking one was in fact a nut flavored paste inside ... perhaps a gianduia since far down on the list of ingredients were hazelnuts.
This was terrible. It looked great, I’ll grant you but had an odd waxy & greasy feel to it. The hazelnut paste as more of an amaretto flavor, which is fine with me ... though confusing because the nut shape was kind of like a walnut and kind of like a hazelnut but definitely not an almond.
The second one was a lovely milk chocolate covered caramel. The caramel was stiff & had an excellent pull. It had a good combination of toasted sugar flavors and a touch of butter. A little bit of vanilla. It was sweet, the milk chocolate was decent but didn’t really contribute much of a chocolate punch.
The Whitman’s Reserve was the same price, but honestly didn’t look as appealing on the box. It bills itself as a Premium mini collection as if a pair is a collection. Like the Russell Stover, it makes no mention on the box as to what’s actually in the box besides the ingredients. As far as the actual ingredients go - they both use vanillin (fake vanilla) but otherwise rather decent source materials.
The large and puzzling piece here was the white chocolate item with the stripes. It does look just like the one on the box - both pieces are pristine - so I’m satisfied right away with the appearance.
Sniffing it brought me no closer to discerning what it was (no nuts, that was certain, though). It smells simply sweet & milky.
The bite is soft and I decided it was either a poor excuse for a truffle or simply a chocolate cream. It’s a milk chocolate center - sweet and greasy but at least not as sweet as the white chocolate coating. It doesn’t do a thing for me.
Happily the second piece was identical to the second piece in the Russell Stover - a simple milk chocolate covered caramel. I couldn’t tell it apart at all and that’s not a bad thing.
For the $1.25 I spent, I got two pieces of candy. One I liked and one I didn’t. So for the future I’ll probably stick to the Russell Stover Pecan Delights, which are usually a better value and of course a good variety of textures & flavors. (They can now be found in a “candy bar” format for about the same price in stores.)
Am I missing something about the appeal of Russell Stover & Whitman’s boxed chocolates?
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
A week ago I went to one of those warehouse gourmet sales. Maybe you’ve seen them mentioned on sites like Chow - a wholesaler opens their doors for just one day so that normal folks can buy hard to find foods at near wholesale prices. I went to Gourmet Imports in Alhambra with the full intention of stocking up on nougat, honey and Valrhona.
This is what I came away with: just this little 8.8 ounce jar of Mas des Abeilles Boules de Miel which are candy drops made from French lavender honey. (It was a madhouse with far too many people and much of the chocolate/candy they had was hopelessly past its expiration.)
I didn’t even know how much it was until after we’d checked out. This little not-even-glass jar was nine dollars.
They’d better be good.
They’re rather large artisan styled spheres about 3/4 of an inch around. They felt a little light for their size.
It turns out that they’re pretty good - good enough that I’ve eaten them all.
They’re a firm honey center with a rough hard candy shell. I could easily crunch through the shell to get to the center - which was thick & chewy but completely smooth like honey. The flavor was a deep honey, buttery and malty. I didn’t catch any lavender essence to it, but it was still a good floral honey.
It has a throat coating & soothing feeling to it. There’s no weird aftertaste ... no real flavor. Just some honey in a less sticky format.
They’re the perfect thing to eat when your throat is aching from the burning of 125,000 acres of brush within 15 miles of your house.
(For the record, the other things I purchased there included French lentils, tomato paste in tubes, a gallon of really good olive oil and my prize was a big frozen tub of pureed Yuzu.)
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