Friday, March 16, 2007
Charles Chocolates not only makes one of the few marzipans I like, they also have their own line of chocolate bars. They come in sweet looking retro boxes with little line drawings on them. The boxes protect the thick bars very well and allow them to be rewrapped in their foil if you don’t finish them all at once (and at 3.4 ounces, you probably won’t unless you’re sharing).
(for those of you reading via feed, I’m using a flash slideshow for the photos today)
Mocha Java Pieces in 65% Bittersweet Chocolate (blue label) - this is a powerful bar. I’ve been keeping my chocolate bars in a little igloo cooler in my studio (because it protects it from temperature changes, and the dog can’t get to it) and every time I open it up I could smell the coffee in this bar. The 65% cacao dark chocolate is rich but still wonderfully buttery. The bar has plenty of whole espresso beans in it too which dotted the bottom of the bar (and explain why it’s a little titled in the picture). As a personal choice, I don’t like to eat coffee beans, but in this case they worked well in the bar and are paired with the right kind of chocolate.
Caramelized Crisped Rice in 41% Milk Chocolate (red label on caramel) - this bar smells like caramel but tastes like Sugar Pops and chocolate. The milk chocolate is smooth and super creamy and the crisped rice has a deep caramelized flavor with some malty tones to it. The only thing that I had a problem with was the integration of the crisped rice ... it wasn’t in the bottom of the bar, just the top. Sometimes I wanted more crisped rice with my chocolate. But then sometimes I liked finding a spot where it was naked of chocolate and could see it glistening in its coat of caramelized sugar and flick my tongue on it to get just those flavors and textures ... then I’d come across the chocolate, which would melt around it all over again.
Caramelized Crisped Rice in 65% Bittersweet Chocolate (red label on brown) - this bar is quite the opposite of its dairy infused sibling. Instead of being chatty and available, this one was rather standoffish and even elusive. The chocolate is creamy but with a strong astringency that seemed to give it some more vegetable flavors than fruit. This in turn made the crisped rice more reminiscent of pilaf than breakfast. Still, the textures were so wonderful, the chocolate melted easily and the caramelized sugar shatters on crunching, revealing that wonderful malted rice taste.
Crystallized Ginger Pieces in 65% Bittersweet Chocolate (yellow label) - again, a really creamy 65% dark chocolate, it just descends into a delicious fatty chocolate syrup in the mouth. The ginger’s earthy/rooty flavors come forward immediately. They bring a bit of a citrus tang and make the chocolate itself seem a little acidic, but the grainy sugar of the crystallized ginger also dissolves and mitigates that just in time.
Hazelnut and Candied Orange Peel in 65% Bittersweet Chocolate (green label) - this was the first bar I tried and the first bar I finished. Fab-u-lous. The chocolate is creamy and quick to melt. It’s not too sweet and sets off the candied orange rind ... the flavor of the orange zest permeates parts of the bar and then the crushed hazelnuts give a crunch and nutty texture to the whole thing. It’s not a common combination of flavors, which is one of the reasons you might want to seek this bar out.
Charles Chocolates just opened their new retail store in the same building as their kitchen/factory. They offer free samples (see the schedule). For those who can’t find them in store they also have a webstore. Retail vendors are also listed on the site (basically high-end chocolate shops & Whole Foods). See DessertFirst’s visit to Charles Chocolates. Here’s my previous review of some other products in his line.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
I felt like a little fruity break this morning and picked out these Mentos Plus in Berry Mix to review. They have added vitamin C (4 mg per piece!). I’ve seen these in the States, but only in the sugarless variety. Santos gave me two boxes of these in the last delivery of candies from the Pacific. I gobbled up the first box shortly after taking this photo.
They come wrapped in a clear plastic outer wrapper and the box is about the size of a deck of cards. The flip top makes it easy to share, and with a flavor mix like this, easy to pick out just the flavor you want at the moment.
The lightest pink is Cherry. It’s not bad, tart and with some nice cherry notes that reminded me a bit of the Apple Mentos. As a cherry candy goes, this is quite pleasant and has no bitter aftertaste ... but since I find it palatable, true cherry fans may find it an abomination.
The dusty pink is Strawberry. It’s a very deep flavor, going for the darker musky strawberry notes instead of the light florals that you usually get. A good tart bite and some musk melon in there.
The hot pink is Raspberry. This one is the most “fake” tasting of the bunch, with some pretty intense “flavor” of raspberries going on. Again, it doesn’t go for the light floral elements that you usually find in raspberry flavored things, instead it’s got a razzle-dazzle in there that reminded me of some intense raspberry jam or fruit leather.
This box makes me wish they’d do a Citrus Mix - orange, lemon and pink grapefruit. That’d be awesome.
But back to the product in hand ... I’d buy these, especially if I were traveling. I find chewy candies like these to be great for airplanes, a little something to get your salivary glands activated in the dry cabin and perhaps unstop your ears. Easy to share, maybe a good way to bond with your seat-mates. And perhaps the little dose of Vitamin C will help keep those airplane diseases at bay.
These were purchased in Guam, but made in China. They are certified Halal (which means the gelatin is not of porcine origin).
For those of you who don’t have any Mentos nearby but wanted some Mentos fun, check out the Indian website for Mentos, called the Mentos Helpline ... some of the humor doesn’t translate in all cultures, but it really is rather an interesting and non-traditional promotional site. Kudos to Mentos for thinking outside the box once again and embracing their fans. More about the Mentos Helpline in this article.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
The final item that I hadn’t reviewed from my Oriental Trading Company order is the set of Candy Shot Glasses.
It wasn’t an impulse purchase, it was just one of those things that I’ve been looking at on their website for well over six months (along with the later disappointing gummi bracelets). The idea fascinated me, but I had trouble grasping the concept that you would put liquids in an effectively dissolvable container.
The little shot glasses are exactly the same size as a regular shot glass. They come in three flavors (two of each in the box of six). They were packaged nicely to prevent breakage. They were in a sealed plastic bag, then wrapped in some bubble wrap, then inside a box that had little cubbies for each of the candy glasses.
Mine arrived in one piece, however, as you can tell from this photo the candy itself wasn’t as “candy-like” as I expected. The yellow one was the only transparent one, the rest were rather opaque and a bit chewy. I’ve seen this happen with ordinary hard candies. They get exposed to a little moisture which eventually penetrates and softens the outer layer of the candy. It doesn’t usually change the flavor, just the texture. Instead of shattering like glass, it bends a bit.
They also appear to have “melted” a bit. I ordered them in January, so it’s not as though I exposed them to any heat. Again, I figured this was because of the age of the product and/or the exposure to moisture. (Check the photo on the OTC site to understand what I was expecting.)
The shot glasses come in three flavors:
Lemon (Yellow) - not quite lemon drop flavored, it was a mild citrus flavor without much tartness.
Apple (Green) - fragrant and floral with a small burst of tartness when you chew it up.
Cherry (Red) - sharply medicinal with mild sour bite.
I invited over Amy (the neighbor who spits things out) and we tried a variety of liquors in the cups. I had Ouzo (an anise liquor from Greece) in a lemon cup, my husband had Limoncello in a cherry cup and Amy had vodka in the apple cup.
My first advice is to use it for drinks that are not chilled. Tequila shots are probably most appropriate. We keep our Ouzo, Limoncello and Vodka in the freezer, so the candy glass gets a layer of condensation on the outside, which then means that it gets sticky.
The flavor of the glasses does not seem to pass to the liquor easily, so the only way to combine flavors is to chew on the glass. I nibbled on the rim of mine and took little sips of Ouzo. I think lemon and licorice go well together, so it was rather nice. Ouzo isn’t a syrupy-sweet liquor like Limoncello, so the addition of the little sugar crunch was kind of nice. It’s a little much with Limoncello.
I left one of the glasses with some liquor in it on the counter (on a plate) overnight. It did not dissolve the glass as I thought, which is a plus. It did make the vodka rather syrupy.
Overall I don’t think I throw the right kind of parties for these to be a welcome addition to my hostessing (I’m just not a “shot” person). However, if you’re the type who does shots (especially tequila) and can get an assurance from OTC that they can send you some fresh unclouded ones, they might be fun. And hey, no dishes to do afterwards!
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Caffarel makes more than the traditional milk chocolate Giandiuia morsels. At the Fancy Food Show I found out they make a Dark (Gianduiotto Fondente), a Cinnamon (Cannella) and even a mini Chili (al peperocino) one. I was excited to find out more about Caffarel at the show from one of the vendors that imports them for the American market, hopefully they’ll be getting wider exposure. At the moment they’re still found in Italian markets in large cities and shops that carry international chocolates.
For those of you who haven’t been around Candy Blog long, Caffarel makes the excellent Gianduia 1865, little hat-shaped hazelnut chocolate morsels.
Gianduiotto Fondente - this dark version made with Arriba cocoa is just as “stick to the roof of your mouth” rich as the traditional milk and hazelnut version. This one seemed to taste more of the deeper hazelnut flavors than the milk, with dark smoky notes and of course that slick and thick melt on the tongue.
Cannella wasn’t just cinnamon dusted, it was spiced with the stuff with no hint of ground-spice-grain. It covered up a lot of the hazelnut flavors, but the texture was still thick and fudgy. Not too sweet, this was also the dark version of the giandiuia.
Giandiuia al Pepeprocino (chili) - had lots of peppery notes, not just the burn ... though there was definitely some burn. I was catching some more acidity in the chocolate on this one and some of the notes of fresh green peppers. If I had it to do all over again, I’d taste them in the opposite order ... this really gets to me! (I should have learned my lesson when I picked these up as samples at the Fancy Food Show ... I tasted it there and had the exact same reaction.) They’re smart to make this one a smaller morsel than the others (they call it a Gianduiottini).
Of course I can’t find any online sources for these. But I did see that Candy Warehouse has those little mushrooms for sale and Williams-Sonoma has little hazelnut praline eggs for Easter.
Monday, March 12, 2007
I’m a mochi fan. When I’m down in Little Tokyo here in Los Angeles I like to pop into Fugetsu-Do and buy some wagashi with red bean paste (they do a lemon one with white bean that’s pretty good too). It’s not a mainstream taste for the American market though.
I was pretty excited to hear about the KitKat Azuki, though I had my doubts about how well it’d go with chocolate.
As KitKats out of the package go, this has to be the most unappealing. It has a base of white chocolate but the little sticks are a light pink with some dusty mauve tones, just kind of mousey looking. It smells milky with a little touch of an earthy quality to it.
The first bite is crisp and sweet and it isn’t until later as it’s all mashed up in the mouth that the red bean notes come out. It’s not a loud and obvious flavor, just a light earthy quality, a little like beets or kidney beans. It’s not as unnerving as the Pumpkin ones from last year, but not something I’m terribly interested in again. This experience does not diminish my desire for mochi.
I have to admit that I liked this one. I saw other people chatting about it on the internet and I thought it sounded horrible. The Fruit Parfait KitKat seems to be a mix of banana, melon, orange, blueberry and strawberry flavors if the photo is accurate.
I can’t say I have a lot experience with fruit parfaits ... are they like a fruit tiramisu? (On a vaguely related note, in my youthful ignorance I thought that tiramisu was a Japanese dessert before I’d actually had it.)
It’s another one of those white chocolate KitKats.
The bars really aren’t that attractive with their rippled colors of white chocolate. They smell like a cross between bananas and yogurt. The taste is rather similar. The white coating isn’t too sickly sweet and has some nice berry flavors with an overall banana background. I even got some melon and blueberry flavors in there sometimes. The wafers are crisp and feature a cream filling that’s a little pink and has more of the berry flavors to it.
I liked it. I ate it. I hope I don’t run across any others, it’s one of those candies that doesn’t make me feel good about myself for liking it. (Is it the polka dots on the package? The smell? The word Parfait? Should I run a poll?)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.