Monday, December 29, 2014
barkTHINS won the Most Innovative New Product award at the Sweets & Snacks Expo for the Dark Chocolate Toasted Coconut variety. I can’t see quite what’s so innovative about that. I picked up a package of the barkTHINS Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Seed because it was on sale. The stand up package holds 4.7 ounces and was on sale for $3.99.
The top of the package says that it’s a serious twist on snacking. Which is a grandiose statement for a bunch of seeds in chocolate, which is one of the oldest forms of chocolate inclusions. Perhaps the twist they’re referring to is the fact that the chocolate and the sugar in the chocolate is Fair Trade certified. And the soy lecithin is non-GMO. There are no dairy ingredients, though it may contain traces of peanuts, tree nuts, milk, wheat or eggs. The FAQ on their website explains that their innovation is the fact that the bark is thin enough to snap into pieces.
All my grumbling aside, I like what I saw on the ingredients label and the concept of simple, ethically sourced dark chocolate with some fresh toasted seeds in it.
I’ve never quite understood the appeal of bark as a product. I understand why I make it, because I have leftover chocolate from a kitchen project and then just mix up some stuff I have sitting around and call it a tasty mess. I can’t imagine selling it. I want my pieces consistent and I want my seeds integrated.
The good news is that the pumpkin seeds (pepitas) are actually integrated into the chocolate. The pieces are pretty consistent in size and thickness and with a good amount of pepitas. The general size of the pieces is what I’d call, “too large.” They’re about 2.5” by 1.5”. This is a nice portion, however, I found them a bit large and wanted more small pieces. Luckily, I could make my own ... while providing lots of small pieces would mean that large piece lovers would have some assembly to do.
The chocolate is nice, a little on the fatty side which means that there’s a nice silky melt, but also that the calories per ounce on this were 164 ...quite high. (Pepitas have between 145 and 160 calories per ounce, depending on the variety.) The cocoa flavors have a lot of toasty toffee notes and a little hint of grassy olives (or maybe that’s the pepitas). There’s a hint of salt, which offsets the sweetness very well. The pumpkin seeds are crunchy and crisp with no really flavor of their own, just a clean chew with maybe a hint of pistachio.
I enjoyed it, though I do find snacking on bark to simply be difficult. The inconsistency of the sizes and the inclination for me to want to pick through and find the right size and density of seeds is problematic. I’m not sure why they can’t be little bars or puddles. The use of pumpkin seeds is different enough, though the price on these is a bit steep. I’ll finish the bag and probably consider the salted almond and coconut version in the future if I see them on sale again.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Theo Chocolate makes organic and fair trade chocolate from bean to bar in their factory in Seattle. They have a selection of seasonal bars in addition to their regular items, this year I picked out their Theo Chocolate Nutcracker Brittle because I liked their Salted Almond bar. It features almonds, hazelnuts and sugary brittle chunks in smooth, rich 70% dark chocolate
The most notable quality of this seasonal bar is that it’s vegan. That’s right, the brittle is not made with any dairy, so the bar is free from any animal-derived products. (Though it is made in a factory that also processes milk, eggs and wheat, so it may contain traces of gluten or dairy as well as peanuts or other tree nuts.)
The wrapping is nice, a simple paper over-wrap with the chocolate bar enclosed in foil underneath. The bar is made with 88% fair trade ingredients and all organic products (except for the baking soda and salt). The corn syrup is also non-GMO and they do not use soy lecithin (or lecithin of any kind).
The bar looked great and smells wonderful. It’s a woodsy cocoa blend, it smells like toffee and fresh brewed coffee and toast. For a 70%, it’s well balanced. The cocoa flavors are a little on the acidic side with some bright sour cherry notes along with the other woodsy components mentioned earlier. It’s sweet, at first, but the baked brownie flavors dominate towards the end. The nuts are kind of separate as a flavor and texture. The almonds and hazelnuts are crunchy and fresh (though hard to tell apart) and the little brittle pieces are crunchy without being tacky or chewy. I missed the little hint of salt from the Salted Almond bar, but that’s not what was promised here.
It’s a nice seasonal bar, but I have to wonder why it’s not a year round offering ... no reason not to have this for Valentine’s.
Tuesday, December 23, 2014
I picked up this box of Villars Mini Tasting Chocolates made in Switzerland. It was a bit expensive at $12. The box says it’s “at least” 45 pieces, but I counted 50 in mine. There are four different kinds of chocolate: Milk Chocolate (20 pieces), Milk Chocolate with Caramel 10 pieces), Milk Chocolate with Hazelnuts (9 pieces) and 72% Dark Chocolate (11 pieces).
I used to pick up Villars milk chocolate with hazelnut bars at Trader Joe’s many years ago. I suspect that Villars is still making products for Trader Joe’s under the house label, but I can’t be certain. This is the first time I found them at the local grocery store, though it seems like the kind of package you might see at an airport duty free shop.
Villars is a small chocolate company, according to Wikipedia they’re bean to bar, based in Fribourg, Switzerland and employ about 140 people. They’ve been around over a hundred years.
In my assortment, it was pretty well balanced, with slightly more of the Milk variety than the other three. The little bars are, well, tiny. They’re about 5 grams each, but that also means there’s only about 30 calories in each one.
The pieces are 1.3 inches high and .8 inches wide. The wrappers are made of some sort of mylar type plastic. They’re shiny on the inside but devilishly hard to tear. Each piece is glued shut with a teensy little dot of well-stuck glue.
Just smelling this little Lait bar I was reminded why I liked Villars: they add barley malt to their chocolate. It’s just a little hint of malt that keeps it from being too sweet. It’s a little roasted and the quality of the milk gives it a light yogurt bite. I can’t eat a lot of it, which is why these little bites are just right for me.
The Lait Caramel smelled quite milky. It’s not actual caramel though, it’s more like toffee chips, which is great. I enjoy a little toffee mixed into my milk chocolate and this is a good version. Like the milk chocolate, it’s sweet but wonderfully creamy and rich. The little toffee bits break up the stickiness with a little crunch and hit of caramelized sugar. The thinness of the little bars means that the bits are also small, but Barbie dolls and Star Wars action figures may find them just right.
The little Lait Noisettes bars come in a purple accented wrapper.
The sweetness of this bar is quite strong, but the chips of nicely roasted hazelnuts mellow that out. It’s a little chewy, almost like coconut. It could use a touch of salt, but otherwise, I liked the Noisettes best.
I was looking forward to the Noir 72% quite a bit. It’s hard to find little tasting squares in very dark chocolate. I also noticed that Gelson’s, where I bought these, also has Villars in bulk tubs, so I could buy little callets and disks of their dark chocolate for about $12 a pound. Well, that’s not going to happen, now that I’ve tried this. The chocolate smells good, a little toasty and like coffee. The melt is quite nice ... but the feeling on the tongue is dry and chalky. The finish is far too dry for me, far too acidic and yet it’s quite sweet for a 72%.
I think for baking or maybe as a base for chocolate mousse, this would be excellent. But it’s not my style for straight eating.
For the price, these aren’t phenomenal, I want a lot better dark chocolate for $24 a pound. But the miniature size and variations are just what I needed this week. Now that I’ve had my samples for the review, the rest will be distributed by Santa Claus into the Christmas stockings. I’m hoping for lots of the Noisettes in mine. I also wonder if Villars has also made repackaged items for Aldi, as these were rather similar (though the chocolate moulds were different, the tasting notes are very similar).
Villars is owned by a French company called Bongrain, which bills itself as one of the top transformers of milk in Europe and worldwide. Maybe it sounds better in French. They make cheese and yogurt in dozens of different countries in Europe, North America and Africa ... and chocolate in Switzerland.
Monday, December 22, 2014
Think of them like a hearty petit fours. The base is a gingerbread cake, topped with a layer of fruit jelly then a layer or marzipan. For this particular brand of Schulte Dominos, the fruit jelly is apple and the marzipan is actually persipan, which is made from apricot kernels instead of almonds. Although they seem like an ancient sort of confection, according to this page they were invented by Herbert Wendler in Dresden in 1936.
I’ve had dominos quite a few times, Aldi sells a few varieties in both milk and dark chocolate and of course I’ve had them in while traveling in Germany. This particular version has a nice coating of dark chocolate, which keeps the confection from becoming too sweet. They’re pretty shy on calories, only 50 each, probably because part of it is a little bit of cake.
This package has 10 pieces in it, which fared quite well - only one was cracked on the top. The package holds 4.4 ounces, so each piece is just shy of a half an ounce each. The package says that this is an Authentic Traditional European Recipe. I don’t know if there are a lot of modernized versions or departures from the traditional ... or if other non-Europeans have adopted the confection and have created a competing version.
Each piece is not quite a cute. They’re 7/8 of an inch square and about 3/4 of an inch high.
I’ll start from the top down. The persipan is much like a marzipan. It’s soft and has a good texture that’s not too pasty or sweet. The flavor is much more amaretto infused that many marzipans I’ve had, which makes me wonder if it’s a natural flavor profile for persipan. There is a distinct bitter note to it.
The next layer is a jelly, which is pretty bland. I had to read the ingredients to find out that it must be apple at all. It’s a little tart and has a slight mealy quality that real apple pulp can bring to a jam.
They smell rich, a little like cocoa and molasses and maybe a hint of ginger.
The base layer is called gingerbread. It’s made from a mix of wheat flour and rye flour along with brown sugar and molasses. It’s quite dry, which I think is okay because the jelly and persipan provide a bit of moisture and texture to the whole thing as long as you don’t eat the layers separately. However, there’s not real spice note to it, or ginger flavor at all.
They’re hearty and satisfying. It’s a great mix of textures with the cool tartness of the jelly mixing with the dry cake and slightly chewy persipan. I had no trouble finishing the tray of them over two days.
I have to wonder what a premium version of these would be like. Perhaps with some actually flavored jelly like a good grape, a spiced apple or something more in the citrus marmalade family. I did see that Niederegger makes a version, though I probably can’t find those in the United States. The cake part might be better if it was an actual Lebkuchen with ground nuts in it.
Friday, December 19, 2014
As a little stocking stuffer item, I’ve noticed these boxes of Russell Stover Cake Truffles at drug store chains and places like Target this year.
I picked up a pair of boxes since they were only $1.00 on sale, though often the regular price is about $1.79 for 2 ounces. There are four pieces of candy in the box, one of each of the cake flavors: Red Velvet, Chocolate, Carrot and Wedding Cake.
All of these flavors have been presented in the seasonal shapes, so they’re not new candies, just a different assorted presentation. The ratios do differ slightly from the Egg or Santa versions, though.
Red Velvet - (Dark Chocolate) this first debuted as a Santa piece in 2012, though is also available at Easter and Valentine’s. It’s a dark chocolate shell with a red “creamy” center that has some cake mix in it. Oddly, this could benefit from a white chocolate coating to simulate the cream cheese frosting often found on Red Velvet cake, though this box already has two white coated pieces. The center is less sweet, so that’s a plus, but the batter-like consistency simply tastes like paste to me. (Santa review.)
Carrot Cake - (White Chocolate) this first debuted as an Easter piece in 2014. Like the other cake flavors, this features actual cake mix in the center, which gives it an uncooked flour note ... it’s a little pasty, unlike the experience I had with the Egg version which wasn’t as dense. The flavor profile is actually nice, a good spice mix that fits well with Christmas with a hint of allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon. (Egg review.)
Wedding Cake - (White Chocolate) - this first debuted as an Easter piece in 2014. If you don’t like spice flavors found in Carrot Cake, then maybe Wedding Cake is more your speed ... all fake vanilla, sweetness and PlayDoh. I thought (Egg review.)
Chocolate Cake (Milk Chocolate - might actually be new. I can only find records for Brownie pieces before this. The center here was less sticky and pasty, so that was a plus but the raw flour notes were very distracting as it tasted more like wallpaper paste (yes, I’ve eaten that before, thankyouverymuch). There’s a grainy note, as well, since the sugar isn’t completely combined. So, think of it more like a chocolate cookie dough and you might be pleased.
If you’re frustrated that the seasonal shape items are too big, then these are probably a good idea for you. I’ll stick to the more traditional coconut and pecan delight versions though.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.