Wednesday, January 30, 2013
I mentioned a while back that Mars was going to convert all of their Dove Chocolate over to Rainforest Alliance certified cocoa this year. I saw the first bars in the store sometime around New Years and picked up this Dove 71% Cacao Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate.
The bar was on sale for $2.49, so it’s a pretty good deal for a 71% bar that’s 3.3 ounces. The nutritional panel lists that half the bar is a single serving. The 42 gram portion is 20 grams of fat. Good fat, of course… it’s made with cocoa butter which is supposed to be pretty good for your heart or at least not bad for it.
The bar looks like all the other Dove items these days. It’s seductively smooth with easy to break off domed pieces. The snap isn’t quite stiff, but not soft either. It’s, well, I can’t describe it any other way except fatty. See the above fat content for confirmation.
The Dove flavor profile is always a bit thin for my tastes, it’s like the chocolate is parallel to the cocoa butter instead of integrated. That may have something to do with Mars’ proprietary Cocoapro flavanol enhancement. Perhaps there’s some sort of process that it goes through that sanitizes it in this manner. The good news is that in this bar, that’s less of an issue. The melt is wonderful, buoyant and soft without a hint of grit. The cocoa flavors are lightly bitter, woodsy with a floral note that I don’t get from their regular dark. The melt is like a pudding, soft and creamy but still quite thick.
I had a few Dove Promises in the regular dark to compare. The regular dark is quite sweet and again, a little thin on intensity though a well rounded brownie batter chocolate flavor. I much preferred the 71% and didn’t feel like the lack of sweetness was a compromise. The deepness of the flavors was much more concentrated. I’ll be curious to see if these show up in the foil-wrapped Dove Promises line.
I know that in many stores this will be one of the few certified sustainably sourced bars, so it’s nice to finally have a choice when you’re at the drug store or a big box retailer.
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Trader Joe’s has an incredible knack for curating candies from all over the world. One of the other habits of Trader Joe’s, though, is to make certain candies seasonal, available only for the winter holidays. This was the issue with their Trader Jacques Fleur de Sel Caramels. They were originally sold in a round wooden box. That’s nice for gifting, but unnecessary for regular purchases.
So it was a happy discovery last year when I saw that Trader Joe’s is now selling the caramels in the little tubs year round (well, they run out from time to time). The price isn’t necessarily better, but at least you won’t have an embarrassing stockpile of wooden boxes that you can’t seem to throw out and only provides evidence for your obsession.
Original review here. (7 out of 10)
Monday, January 28, 2013
I picked up this Darrell Lea Dark Chocolate Covered Ginger Fudge at Cost Plus World Market last year along with some other Darrell Lea items from Australia. The fudge is sweet, not terribly buttery but has numerous pieces of candied ginger in it. Overall, it was earthy and got a nice boost from the woodsy and smoky dark chocolate.
I don’t have a full review for the item, but after I bought this one, I didn’t see them in the store again until last week. I’m inclined to buy it again, partly because it’s a unique combination. (Full wrapper photo, if you’re on the prowl for it.)
Thursday, January 24, 2013
The candies, most from Sweden, are made without artificial colors. You can buy from Sockerbit’s website but their best selection is in their store.
The candies are fresh and well marked in their bins. I made three different bags for myself. One was wrapped candies (not pictured), an array of fudge & chocolate items and the third mix was for marshmallow and fruity candies. I purchased about a pound total and as you can see from this posting, sampled a huge variety of candy styles and flavors.
Romrussin Fudge - say it out loud and it’s obvious that this is rum raisin fudge. Even though the pieces seem a bit dry and hard, they’re not at all once I bit into one. The rum note is light, like a butterscotch sort of flavor. The raisins are tangy and sweet and pretty chewy.
Fudge Duo is a stack of vanilla fudge and chocolate fudge. It’s a bit drier than the romrussin. The chocolate is mild, the vanilla is quite sweet and has a light toffee note. The texture is smooth, without the heavy buttered grain of some styles of fudge (which I rather like). This was a bit sweet for me and I think I would have to either limit myself to one piece or eat it with something like dark chocolate, nuts or strong coffee.
Licorice Fudge is quite black and rather formidable. The flavor profile is well done. It’s not as sweet as the other fudges and according to the ingredients list I found online, it has 2.3% licorice powder in it. Like the other candies sold at Sockerbit, there are no artificial colorings, in this case the licorice is made black by the use of carbon black (E153 - which may have animal origins, my vegetarian friends). It’s unusual to find this licorice product here, because E153 is not approved in the US.
Overall, the fudge was dry. I’m not a huge fudge person in the first place, but the thing I like best about it is the buttery, grainy texture of fresh fudge.
Polly are little nougat nuggets covered in milk or dark chocolate. A little larger than a Milk Dud, they’re quite a tasty morsel, something I would want to buy again. They’re a little egg-noggy, maybe a rum flavoring to them. They’re chewy, like a stiff nougat but there’s no sugary grain to them (kind of like a tacky marshmallow). The dark chocolate version has a decent semi-sweet coating on it, it’s not that rich but passable for something that’s more of a family candy. The milk chocolate is actually a bit better, with strong dairy tastes and possibly this is the only one that has the rum notes to it.
Nougat with Almonds - it’s a bit dry, though not at all sticky. They’re airy pieces, kind of a cross between marshmallow and the Italian torrone. There’s no essence to it, no amaretto or orange notes. It’s a clean flavor and easy to eat. I wouldn’t mind them coated in chocolate as well. The nougat works better as a “dry” candy compared to the fudge and I’d be happy to eat more if I found it.
The center is a fudge-like sweet paste with a light rum and possibly raisin flavor. It’s covered in semi-sweet chocolate and some cute little nonpareils for garnish. I didn’t like them quite as much as the Polly, they’re not quite as poppable. They’re a bit sweeter and the rum more pronounced ... maybe it needed a bit more of a creamy butter component for me.
Starting small, there are a few jelly berries in there called Skogsbär. There were three different colors, each a little different. The Swedish berry flavor is mild but smooth. The classic raspberries were jammy but still not very intense. When I first bought them they were smooth but after sitting in the paper bag they got a little harder and grainier.
I always enjoy banana marshmallows. The frothy texture of marshmallow goes well with banana flavoring. In the case of the banana marshmallows from Sweden, don’t get these confused with the American Marbits known as Circus Peanuts. The texture is far smoother and the flavor, though probably artificial is not caustic. There’s even a little tartness to it.
The second banana is called Banana Bubs, they’re half yellow banana flavor and the other half a mild caramel flavor. They’re foamy and soft, chewy and less tart than the bananas.
The large pink disk says Franssons on it. It’s strawberry flavored, soft and has a great berry flavor to it. The smooth dissolve of the marshmallow gives it a creamy texture without any actual fat. It’s a few bites, so it ends up being a lot of candy in one piece. Refreshing.
Skumsvampar are the little hat shapes came in two different flavors. The pink ones are the lingonberry flavor, they’re more sweet without that round tart note that the disk had. The tan ones are cola, they’re very mild but have a good caramel and light spice note to them.
Elephant Feet Licorice is the only licorice I picked up while I was there, though they had quite a bit. These are a pleasant variety. The base is foamy and has a light caramel flavor to it. The black licorice layer is a gummi with a mild anise note to it. They’re easy to eat with an almost creamy flavor to it, like the crema on an espresso.
The Red Car is Swedish berry flavor, whatever the Swedish Fish flavor is, probably something like the lingonberry version of Jolly Rancher green apple. But it wasn’t exactly a flavor retread, it was different. It was much strong, much more floral, the the point where I noticed an overwhelming note of violet in my candy bag only to find it was this single red car that was causing it. It’s a good flavor, but very ultimately very different from the masculine berry I was expecting.
Cola Car is spicy and bold, with a sharp tartness to it. These got stale more quickly than some of the other pieces I picked out.
The Malaco Gummi Cola Bottles were tangy and sharp, but not quite as spicy or as vibrant as I would have liked. However, the texture was quite nice, a little tougher and less sticky than Swedish Fish. I would eat these ... I might even prefer them over Haribo Gummi Cola Bottles.
The flavor is not straight menthol or mint. It’s more like a berry flavor, maybe lingonberry with a menthol kick to it. There’s a light tartness to it as well. They’re odd. I was expecting them to be a straight sort of gummi mint cough drop (smaller gummi eucalyptus drops are popular in South America), but they’re simply different from that. I can’t decide if I like them. They’re soothing and invigorating ... but I wouldn’t call them tasty. It’s like mixing Sleepytime tea with Red Zinger.
Some other items not shown in the photos:
Dumle are individually wrapped chocolate covered toffee pieces. The toffee style is really a caramel. It’s quite soft, but not oozy like Cadbury’s. It has a light, cereal flavor that reminds me of graham crackers, maybe even with a hint of coconut and cinnamon. I also tried the purple wrapped liquorice variety. Instead of being a goofy over-colored black inside, it looked just the like other toffee version. The licorice flavor is mild and earthy.
Hem-kola are little squares of firm hazelnut caramel. They’re kind of like a rich Now & Later. The hazelnut is more of a flavor, there’s no crushed nuts in there. It’s sweet and becomes a little grainy towards the end. They reminded me a lot of the caramel style of Sugar Babies.
Rollo are like Sugar Daddy, a tough caramel. It’s creamy and has a strong dairy flavor, more than a hint of salt and a smooth texture.
Tom’s Guld Karamel are good, like a Storck Chocolate Riesen. The caramel (toffee) center is smooth, salty but not chocolate flavored on its own. The chocolate coating though is rather dark and bitter.
Whenever I’m in New York, I will definitely make this a stop. I know that the inventory changes as well, so not all of these candies may be available right now. (Here’s a review of my recent New York City candy shopping spree.)
I give the Polly an 8 out of 10, the Banana marshmallows, Cola candies and Elephant Feet a 7 out of 10 and everything else a 6 out of 10.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
The world of gourmet candy bars is not limited to North America. The United Kingdom has The Grown Up Chocolate Company which currently makes four upscale and unique candy bars. I was able to procure two of them on my trip to New York City late last year.
They’re packaged well in boldly graphic boxes with fun typography. Inside the box is a rather large candy bar, made with all natural ingredients. The bars are 65 grams, which is about 2.29 ounces. Inside the box the bars are held within clear trays and then sealed in cellophane. Each had expiry dates of late January 2013.
The bar that I found most intriguing was the Crunchy Praline Wonder Bar. The package said: Caramelised wafer enticingly slathered in sumptuous praline encased in real milk chocolate, a true wonder bar!
The package had two of these little bars, which is great for me, because a little over an ounce is a perfect portion especially for something that seemed so decadent.
The little bar has an interesting center. It’s a milk chocolate ganache filled with crunchy, flaky and malty bits of wafer. There’s a little hint of hazelnut paste in the filling, but there’s not much to it. It’s the kind of wafer that would make up an ice cream cone. The cereal taste to the bar and the milkiness of the chocolate makes the whole thing taste an awful lot like a chocolate ice cream cone.
One little bar is extremely filling. I liked this quite a bit and would likely buy it again if I ever saw it, even though it’s about $6.
The Glorious Coconut Hocus Pocus is a rather interesting bar. It’s not merely a retread of an Almond Joy, instead they’ve done quite a bit of work to create something a bit more uncommon. The description is: Creamy coconut ganache luxuriantly topped with an indulgent fruit and nut jumble enrobed in decadent milk chocolate.
The milk chocolate then has a little zig-zag drizzle of dark chocolate as well.
The first thing I noticed after biting into it, aside from the coconut flavors, was the lemon zest. It’s quite a different profile, it’s sophisticated and cuts the sweetness of everything else. The ganache center is dry, it’s not a chewy coconut but has a good balance of milky and coconut luxury. The jumble of nuts and fruits is truly that. I got a lot of almonds and a few pieces of zest as well as a piece of apricot at one point.
It’s odd and inconsistent. I wanted more of the fruit and for the nuts to be chopped up just a little more. Biting into a big almond just made a mess. The milk chocolate is sweet, but doesn’t have enough counterpoint for all the other sweet things. I would have preferred a little dark chocolate contrast and actual chocolate flavor. Still ... it’s a really promising bar. I had to pick the right time to eat it, late in the day the sweetness was overwhelming and made me sleepy. Mid morning seemed to work better for the second half of it.
According to their website they have mini bars, which are probably more my speed. I don’t know much about the sourcing of their cocoa or other ingredients, as they don’t say on their website or the packaging. The bars contain wheat, soy, dairy and nuts and may contain traces of peanuts.
Friday, January 18, 2013
It’s easy to dismiss this bar as one of the flash-in-the pan intersections of hipsterism. Mast Brothers are bearded bean-to-bar chocolate makers based in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn and part of the trend of micro-producers of formerly mass-marketed products. This bar mixes their carefully sourced (but unnamed) beans with coffee beans from the famed Portland, OR coffee roasters, Stumptown (they also have a Manhattan location).
I admit that I do love very good coffee, though I also drink the mediocre stuff rather happily. (Lately I’ve been indulging in a weekly cappuccino made with Verve beans served up by the excellent baristas at Short Cake at the Farmers Market in Los Angeles.)
I want a chocolate bar that evokes all the pleasures of a well made espresso shot in a portable solid - mix the coffee with chocolate instead of hot frothed milk. Both contain strong akaloids and bitter tannins but the cocoa butter might give a slower release to those flavors than hot water.
One of the distinguishing features of Mast Brothers bars is the packaging. They’re wrapped in distinctive papers, this one with an appropriately evocative deep red with black line art of a vintage motorcycle. Inside the thick paper wrapper, which is sealed on the back with a large label, it’s also wrapped in a good quality gold foil.
The bar was nicely tempered. I know that working with other inclusions that also have oils in them can be problematic (sometimes I note a hint of bloom around nuts in dark bars). The look of the bar is interesting, it’s not completely smooth and this is accurate to the actual texture of the chocolate itself. It looks a little lumpy (though that could just be the artisan style of the bar molds), but I found it gritty.
The bar is exceptionally dark looking, and the flavor matches. The coffee notes are bold: smoky with aspects of toffee, molasses and oak. I can’t really tell where the coffee stops and the chocolate starts, but the flavors I thought were from the cacao were a little more green. Some olive and dried cherries (with the accompanying tartness) with another little note of lemon zest. The melt is not quite smooth, I’ve mentioned the grittiness already, I found this in other Mast Brothers bars (I’ve never reviewed them before). The finish is a bit dry, but not chalky.
Overall, it’s not my ideal cup of coffee. I will say that the coffee is bold and stands out from the chocolate without being too sweet nor too bitter. I’ll probably finish the bar (though I can’t eat it late in the day because it is actually caffeinated), but I don’t think I’m going to buy another. I’d say as far as bean to batch bars married with single origin roasters go, I’m still the most fond of the Askinosie and Intelligentsia marriage.
The ingredient list is simple and short: cacao, cane sugar and coffee beans. No emulsifiers and no vanilla. There’s no statement about nuts, gluten or dairy on the wrapper.
Note: Eagranie of The Well Tempered Chocolatier also reviewed this bar last year, but hers was a different iteration, which contained more whole beans. For more about Mast Brothers, check out this 2009 NY Times article about Brooklyn food producers.
Wednesday, January 16, 2013
Mars often teases new products months in advance, they announced the Milky Way Limited Edition French Vanilla back in August 2012. It’s supposed to hit store shelves in February, but last summer there were quite a few readers who reported it on shelves already (which could have been test marketing in select cities).
The wrapper is lighter in color, even lighter than the Milky Way Caramel bar, so it should be easy to spot on shelves. The bar is a little smaller, too, at 1.72 ounces instead of 1.84.
It does smell a lot like vanilla. Some of the vanilla notes are authentic, fragrant and round with a little alcoholic rum note to it. But part of it has a fake sweet note as well, which could be an artificial flavor in there.
The construction of the bar is the same as all the American Milky Ways, a nougat base with a stripe of caramel on the top and then a swirly coating of milk chocolate. I found the ratio of caramel and nougat a little off, I seem to recall more caramel than these had.
The vanilla flavor is potent but also seems to heighten the sweetness of the nougat, the caramel and the very milky milk chocolate. The whole thing is sticky and though I found it to be passable, it’s not a bar I might eat again. Cover it in dark chocolate and throw some almonds in there, and I think we’d actually have something great. I might be more satisfied with the ratios if these were the minis. Otherwise, with some strong tea, I thought it was a nice treat.
I’m still unclear if these are out in stores at the moment or if they’ll show up. Mars also said that they were introducing Twix Sugar Cookie minis over the 2012 Christmas holiday, but I can’t find anyone who actually found them in stores. This flavor is more distinctive than the French Vanilla 3 Musketeers that came out back in 2007.
Mars is working on ethical cacao sourcing, starting with their Dove line in the United States. The bar contains soy, eggs and dairy and may contain traces of peanuts. There was no gluten statement on the wrapper. The samples I got were made in Canada, I have no idea if the final version will also be made there.
(I apologize for not getting better shots of the bars. I got two as samples in October but both were smashed in transit. I did my best to find a good angle on the best looking bar. I didn’t want to wait for them to show up in stores, as Los Angeles seems to get limited edition Mars items much later than the rest of the country.)
Monday, January 14, 2013
Ritter Sport, the German chocolate company, has really stepped up its game in North America. Not only do we get a large array of their inventive and good quality bars, they’re also delivering some of the fun limited editions that were once just for their European consumers.
For winter this year they presented the Limited Edition Ritter Sport Amarena Cherry. The bar features Milk chocolate filled with cherry flavored cream and wafer pieces. The wrapper shows a vanilla and cherry ripple ice cream cone and a couple of ripe cherries next to it.
I’ve recently become more familiar with preserved cherries, as I’ve been introduced to Luxardo Maraschino Cherries. They’re quite good and don’t resemble those strange, translucent pink things that come on top of cheap ice cream Sundaes in the United States. These are tiny little nearly black balls of syrup saturated cherries. They taste like fruit, they taste like sugar and there’s a little alcoholic bite to them (well, that could be because I usually find them at the bottom of a Mahnattan). They’ve changed my mind about preserved cherries and even the origin of the fake cherry flavor.
While that’s all delightful fun, the reality was a bit less than enticing. The first ingredient is sugar (not chocolate) which is okay when there’s a lot of filling. But the second ingredient is palm oil. Somewhere down near the bottom of the list is real morello cherry puree and morello cherry juice concentrate, which is comforting.
The actual construction of the bar is rather like the ice cream on the wrapper - it’s a firm cream center that has a light cherry flavor to it and then some little freeze dried cherry bits (that are a bit tangy) and the wafer bits which are like a crumbled up wafer cone.
The bar smells an awful lot like cherry flavor. Good cherry flavor, but still ... not very chocolatey. The milk chocolate shell is smooth and creamy but very sweet. The cream center is less sweet, less smooth but much more cherry. The high point are the little crunchies, which might be the freeze dried fruit or the wafer. Either one is good.
The entire thing is just not for me. Too sweet, too much fat without feeling like it was creamy. Instead it was too cherry. If you’re looking for a very cherry bar, well, this might be yours. I’ll go back to my Espresso bar, which I also bought on the same trip.
Ritter Sport sources their cacao almost exclusively from Central and South America and has several initiatives regarding sustainability for their ingredients and energy usage in manufacturing. The bar itself may contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts and contains soy, wheat and dairy.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.