Saturday, November 11, 2006
Yesterday I told you about the Night of a Thousand Chocolates. Today it’s all about the “World Geatest Box of Chocolates” and the Artisan Picks of 2006 from CocoBella.
The box is interesting. It has a heavy focus on nuts with half of the offerings featuring nuts in them (hazelnuts as the top favorite). Here’s the lowdown:
- Marquise de Sevigne Praline Noisette - France (Hazelnut paste enrobed in Chocolate) - mellow with a sweet and smooth paste center with a healthy dose of hazelnut but really not a sugary sweetness (or so it seemed). It balanced really well with the thin coat of rich chocolate. The nicely toasted nut on top gives this candy my pick as the candy I would most like to wear as a hat.
Marquise de Sivigne Orange Amer - Belgium (Orange ganache in Dark Chocolate) - This one was fascinating. It tasted like orange juice - more like a whole orange than a caramel or ganache. It was kind of like the custardy filling of a lemon meringue pie (only orange) because of the tart bite to it. The mellow dark chocolate with its bitter bite pulled it all together.
Knipschildt Chocolatier Hannah - US (Liquid Caramel with Pink Hawaiian Sea Salt) - this one doesn’t look like much. I’d never had a Knipschlidt chocolate before, so I thought this would be interesting. It truly was. Lately I’ve been eating a lot of salted caramels and this one was interesting. The center was a soft, custardy caramel with a good rounded sugar flavor, maybe with a hint of molasses. The salt was not too much and did actually have a little mineral hint to it.
Michel Cluizel Vesuve - France (Madagascar Dark Chocolate Ganache) - A simple single origin dark chocolate truffle. It was soft and had a good mix of bitterness, acidity, dry finish with smoke and woodsy notes. I realized that my less than stellar experience with the Cluizel nibby bar last year should not dissuade me from trying more of their truffles.
Corne Port Royal Rocher Noir - Belgium (Hazelnut Praline in Dark Chocolate) - another hazelnut chocolate, this one was more like a hazelnut halvah. It had an interesting crystallized texture. The nutty flavors combined really well with the shards of sugar, though I would have preferred a little more toasty caramel flavor to it. The chocolate was nice and mild and set off the sweetness really well. It was a good chocolate, but I don’t know if it’s among the best hazelnut chocolates I’ve ever had. (And I’m the girl who likes Perugina Baci.)
Charles Chocolates Almond Cluster - US (Lightly Salted Roasted Almonds in Milk Chocolate) - it’s not the most elegant looking piece of chocolate, in fact, there’s very little chocolate here at all. Everyone keeps going on about how nicely Chuck Siegel roasts his nuts, and though I agree, the milk chocolate just isn’t doing anything for me here. Too sweet. (Have no fear, I’ll say nice things about Chuck’s nuts in a few days when I get to that review!)
Cary’s Toffee - US (English Toffee topped with Almonds) - I was surprised to see toffee there. I was also pleased. This generous bar has a wonderful caramelized scent with an immediate hit of butter. The toffee itself had a wonderful gentle cleave, breaking into shards when bitten. The dark chocolate really helped to bring out the darker smoke notes of the sugars. The extra nuts on top could stay or go as far as I was concerned, in fact, they kept falling off.
Marcona ones I’ve had at tapas bars, and the different flavor of them and density of oils really set off the slightly salty zing of the cocoa outside.
Christopher Elbow Strawberry Balsamic - US (Strawberry Puree with Caramel and Balsamic Vinegar) - a lovely looking candy with an inventive design that really screams balsamic vinegar. But here goes ... I’m not fond of vinegar and chocolate. I’ve tried a few in the past year and maybe there’s one out there that will make me happy, but this one isn’t it. The center was a little too tart for me and the white chocolate a little too sweet. I think I would have preferred everyone compromising a bit in the middle. Perhaps a milk chocolate and a caramel with more butter to balance the acids.
Christopher Elbow Aztec Spice - US (5 Spice Blend with Ancho and Pasillo Chilis) - this one was lovely, one that I’ve actually had several of now. The spice is mellow and robust at the same time. I could make out the caramelized flavors of the roasted chilis and the cinnamon and allspice gave it a good woodsy boost.
Christopher Elbow Rosemary Caramel - US (Caramel infused with Rosemary) - The caramel in here is the slow flowing kind with a slight grain to it and a strong infusion of rosemary. However, the white chocolate added no vanilla balance but a pure sweetness that just drowned out the balsam qualities. This chocolate with its eighties style gemtone brushstrokes of color gets my pick as the one that I would least like to wear as a hat.
Valentino Framboize - Belgium (Whole Raspberry with Raspberry Buttercream) - I was really looking forward to this one. I have to say that it didn’t look very appealing to me, but the thought of a whole raspberry made me look past its bulging belly like a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. Aside from that, it was nice and floral with a really good raspberry flavor, but again too sweet for my tastes. I wanted more chocolate and less of the buttercream, I guess.
Marquise de Sevigne Creme Brulee - France (Caramelized Butter Ganache) - More like a praline than the custard I was expecting (like the Kee’s one I tried in NYC). Caramelized, a little grainy but rather light. Tastes a bit like coconut but not in a bad way. It kind of grew on my after I got past my expectations. It was more like the sugar crust of a creme brulee than the custard itself.
Amadei Supremo - Italy (Milk Chocolate Espresso Ganache) - simple and divine. I’d leave it at that, but the way I’ve laid out this page I kind of have to go on about each one the same amount. It’s not the prettiest one of the bunch, being from a rather common stock mold, but the milk and mellow ganache go well.
Maglio Stuffed Fig - Italy (Almond and Lemon with Fig) - when Michael Freeman was presenting the box and he got to this one I was just itching to bolt across the room to wolf one down. Billed as a dried fig stuffed with candied lemon and almonds, I was pretty much sold. Upon trying it was I in love with the figs and chocolate (as I’d already been downing the Trader Joe’s ones in my motel room earlier in the day) but didn’t get the lemon and almond notes I was promised. Don’t worry, I didn’t demand my money back. The dark chocolate was absolutely wonderful. I am surprised that I actually shared this with the neighbors (it’s pretty big and easy to cut into pieces) but I felt bad because someone pointed out that Amy spits out a lot of stuff I give her.
Michel Cluizel Champignon Caramel - France (Caramel Mushroom with Almond Praline Cap) - Were you wondering if I was saving the best for last? There actually aren’t in any particular order (I think the order I took the photos in). I didn’t know what it was, I think my mind was still on the fig thing when it was mentioned in the presentation. It looks like a mushroom. The stem is a wonderful firm caramel covered in mellow white chocolate. The cap is a little half-sphere cup of almond praline (like the florentine cookies) filled with a truffle ganache and then coated in chocolate. Genius. Cute and absoutely an incredible combination.
There was another walnut item in the box which I didn’t try.
On the whole, the box isn’t my favorite. However, after sampling the wares at CocoaBella, I know that Michael Freeman has good taste. I find boxed chocolates frustrating on the whole, because there’s usually such an assortment, as in this one, once you hit on a favorite you’ve eaten it and have to move on. The good thing is that it’s a great cross section of a lot of different chocolatiers that I probably never would have recognized before that are now on my “seek out” list.
So, my tip is, if you have the money, dive in and take a chance. If you don’t and you still want to explore, try the CocoaBella “Build a Box” feature on their website (or go into the store). The pre-selected boxes don’t actually tell you what’s in there but do have some good indicators (Dark Chocolate, Exotics, Milk Chocolate, Truffles and Wine Pairings). I think if I had to pick a box out for myself, I’d try either the exotics or the truffles.
Thursday, November 9, 2006
Altoids have been around for well over two hundred years. They’re simple little nuggets of sugar, mint flavor and a little acacia gum to hold it all together. I’m not sure if they count as candy, as they’re intended for breath freshening, not wholesale gobbling. (But just because that’s what they’re intended for doesn’t make it so.)
Altoids were made by Callard & Bowser for many years. Then there were a series of buyouts, Callard & Bowser was bought by Suchard. That company was owned by Beatrice. The whole shebang of Callard & Bowser-Suchard was then sold to Kraft which sold it in 2004 to the Wm. Wrigley, Jr. Company. As a Wrigley brand they make more sense than belonging to a company that makes Velveeta, however, I’m still cross with Wrigley for discontinuing Reed’s.
What was once just a humble piece of peppermint chalk is now a veritable empire of its own. There are the mints, a line of gum, sour hard candies and even some freako weird breath strips.
So that brings us to the newest brand extension. The Dark Chocolate Dipped Mints. Called “Curiously Chocolate” on the tin, I have to admit I find it curious myself. I got a hold of two of the new flavors - Peppermint and Cinnamon.
Out of the package they’re not remarkable looking at all. They look kind of like buttons or maybe slightly smaller Junior Mints. They smell only vaguely chocolatey but that’s probably because the peppermint or cinnamon scent is so strong.
On the tongue the chocolate melts rather readily and is much thicker than I would have expected. It’s dark and with a slight grain to it (but hey, Altoids are pretty grainy too) but a rich taste permeated with the mint or cinnamon in question.
I really didn’t think these were going to be any good at all, but I enjoyed the little creamy hit of chocolate. I preferred it when I immediately cleaved the mint so that I got mint and chocolate at the same time, but letting the chocolate melt off and then getting to the mint has nice too.
My biggest concern is the durability of these. What I like about Altoids in general is that I can leave a tin in the car or at the bottom of a bag and not worry how long its been there. I know for a fact that I’ve eaten five year old Altoids. But I wouldn’t want to eat old chocolate.
These are preview packages of the new Altoids, they’ll be available in January 2007 on CandyWarehouse.com, though there is word that they’re popping up in places.
Note from the package: Altoids are made with gelatin, therefore not suitable for vegetarians.
Other strange notes: I went to the Altoids “Shoppe” on their website and they’re out of stock on about half of the products. Come on! You’re the factory, make some more! (And here’s a link to a recent story in the Chicago Sun Times I read.)
Wednesday, November 8, 2006
I knew that Hershey’s was really pushing into the Hispanic foods arena more than any other large candy company. But more than just calling things Dulce de Leche, they’ve now created some Americanized versions of some popular candies in Mexico. There are a few assortments of Jolly Ranchers, but I picked up the Paletas sabor a Frutas Enchiladas. They’re hot and spicy fruit flavored lollipops.
They come in three flavors, Tamarindo (tamarind), Limon (lime) and Mango. Each pop is flat hard candy square, a little over a half an ounce each. They’re branded under the name La Dulceria Thalia. (I reviewed the Cajeta Elegancita earlier this year.)
Tamarind and chili flavors dominate all three of the pops. Tamarind, if you’re not already familiar with it, comes from the Tamarind tree, which looks kind of like the Locust tree and bears large pods that look like beans. The fruit pulp is popular not only in Caribean and Mexican cuisine, but also Southeast Asia and Indian (since that’s where the trees originated). The flavor of tamarind may be familiar to folks who like Worcestershire sauce and is most notable for it’s tangy, woodsy flavor.
The pop is actually quite pretty. I think I used to have coat buttons that looked like this, deep raspberry red with flecks in them. It’s glossy looking and smells like a cross between fresh sour cherries and cedar shavings you put in hamster cage.
The flavor is pleasant, though not really candy like. It’s more savory. There are deep notes of berries and of course the slow burn of the chilis. A little coffee and tea and maybe sun dried tomatoes. The more you eat it, the less appealing it looks, as the chili is not that finely ground and makes it look like your rolled your pop in red sawdust after a while.
This one really surprised me when I put it in my mouth. Seriously. Authentically. Lime. It was zesty and tangy and even fragrant. After a while the chili kicks in for a little burn, but the woodsy notes take a back seat here.
The texture after a while ends up being kind of like a tongue pumice. Great if you have a calloused tongue or maybe it’s just itchy and you want tasty way to scratch it.
The deep olive green color is a little disconcerting, but of the three flavors, I liked this one the best. The mix of lime and chili is a natural fit.
I love mangos. I’ve been known to go to the grocery store and buy them a half a dozen at a time and eat two or three a day. They’re a great fruit because they’re usually not too sweet, have a mix of textures in them and the flavor notes are a cross between concord grapes, rosemary, honeydew, bananas, loquats and apricots.
However, I’ve never been terribly fond of mango flavored things. (The same goes for apricot and peach flavored things, there’s just something that they can’t quite get in the flavor that just makes it feel fake and unpleasant.) However, I was encouraged by the lime and was looking forward to giving this one a go.
The taste was immediately tangy and got that balsamy quality that most mango flavors seem to miss. It had that fresh scent of pine and apricot and some serious burn behind it (or maybe my mouth was still tingly from the previous two) and it seemed a bit salty. Mango always goes nicely with some spice (we make a Mango Salsa at home with chopped onions and cumin). But this was just lacking a level, I think.
Overall, I was pleased with the flavor combos, but bothered by the texture of the chili powder. I know it’s traditional and I’m sure I would have complained if the candies were too uniform.
After trying things like Rockaleta and Gudu Pops, the uniformity of these was a treat. In fact, I have to say that the appearance of most Mexican candies is what turns me off. These were rustic looking but still appetizing. The La Dulceria Thalia outer wrapper was kind of a turn off for me (it reminds me of romance novels) but once you pop the pops out of there, there’s not mention of Thalia again.
Interesting note: these candies were made in Canada. Go figure.
Tuesday, November 7, 2006
It seems kind of weird to want to find milk chocolate without milk in it, but I know that there are some folks that are dairy free and are looking for that creamy consistency of a milk chocolate without the milk in it. If you’re a vegan it’s not like you can’t have chocolate, after all, the cacao bean is just another seed. But in this day and age, you’d be amazed at how often dairy products are put into even what should be plain old dark chocolate.
Enter Terra Nostra which offers a non-dairy line made with Rice Milk which is also organic to boot!
Ricemilk Choco - 57% cacao solids. The plain Ricemilk Choco has a pleasant sweet smell with a light chocolate aroma. The look of the bar is also pretty becoming, light and glossy with a good snap. On the tongue it has a good buttery melt, but it’s extremely sweet. There’s also a nutty taste to it, and upon looking at the ingredients I understand why, there are ground hazelnuts in there! It’s kind of like a super-mild guandujia.
The thick sweetness wasn’t quite to my liking, but I had high hopes for the rest of the line.
Ricemilk Choco with Almonds - 57% cacao solids. The almonds make a huge difference in the flavor of this bar for me. The mellow nuts balance out the sweetness. There’s a more noticeable hit of salt in this bar too, even though I know it’s the same chocolate, the sweetness of the almonds gives it a great balance.
The almonds are just slivers and pieces, not full nuts, but I kind of prefer mine that way. They were rather light in color, not a toasty brown, so they added more texture than flavor.
Ricemilk Choco Dark Truffle Center - 56% cacao solids. This bar has a ricemilk chocolate outside and a dark truffle inside. The truffle center is rather solid, though slightly softer than the chocolate itself. The light bar here is sweet and the filling is a little less so, but still very buttery. Most truffles are made with the addition of dairy fats (cream or butter) to chocolate to create that hyperfatty tongue-feel. Instead this truffle uses unknown vegetable fats, which I don’t usually care for, since they have a different melting point than dairy fats and of course cocoa butter (yes, cocoa butter is a vegetable fat, but it’s a very special vegetable fat).
Of the three bars, my first favorite was the Almond one, second is the Truffle. I really didn’t like the plain one at all, it was just too sweet without any interesting texture or other notes to it.
Overall, I have to say that I’m impressed and pleased with this vegan line. I usually approach dietary substitutions with trepidation - I’m the type of person who would rather drink their coffee black than use non-dairy creamer. When it comes to choosing between a mock product or nothing at all, I usually go for nothing and wait until I get get a hold of the real thing. But Terra Nostra has done a good job here of bringing the creaminess to their already great organic dark chocolate that emulates the milk chocolate experience pretty well. I’m guess the fact that rice milk is already pretty sweet is what makes the plain bar a little over the top for me.
All the bars are certified organic an stamped with the Equi-Trade fair trade symbol.
Monday, November 6, 2006
When I went to San Francisco earlier this summer I was eager to try out Recchiuti chocolates. They have a lovely little shop in the Ferry Building where all the most expensive and exclusive fresh foods are sold in the city but it was packed so I just looked and figured I’d buy another day (instead I bought some stuff at Miette Patisserie).
This time I went there at lunchtime on a weekday and found things a lot easier to handle. I had a lovely chat with both the women behind the counter (one was wearing devil horns, I’m thinking because I made my purchase on Halloween).
Recchiuti is the concoction of Michael Recchiuti with the tagline on their website of “Indulgence on the verge of Obsession”. That sounds just like me! He’s been making chocolates since 1997 with special emphasis on flavor combinations and herbal/fruit infusions.
The chocolates are positively lovely. In the store they’re laid out on little plates in beds of crushed cocoa beans. The staff was knowledgeable about all the chocolates and helped to guide me towards the ones I knew I’d like.
They sell in two different ways. You can get a gift box with a set number of chocolate pieces in it or you can buy by the pound ($55 a pound). As it was just for me, I didn’t need the spiffy box and seeing how the candies varied so much in size, I wanted to be free to choose without worrying about whether one flavor was a better value than another. I ended up with a quarter of a pound, which ended up as a large selection (I got quite a few doubles, so only about 2/3 of my booty is shown here - 22 pieces plus one free taste there on the spot with my purchase).
Cardamom Nougat - a rich chocolate ganache infused with cardamom and studded with honeycomb bits (a hard nougat) and cocoa nibs. One of the nibs was just terrible in the two pieces of this flavor that I ate (it was bitter and acrid) but the rest of it was phenomenal and left a fresh feeling in my mouth.
Star Anise & Pink Peppercorn - the anise zings to the front of the flavors here, then the chocolate comes in then that woodsy note of pink peppercorns without any of the burn. The flavors blend nicely and ended up feeling much lighter than I expected.
Rose Caramel - this is the little foil wrapped one there. The caramel was positively liquid and had a pleasant burnt flavor to it with a slight bitter note and a strong rose geranium scent. The rose and bitterness didn’t please me much.
Fleur de Sel Caramel - a great soft and chewy caramel with grains of salt in it. The caramel has a strong bitter and burnt quality to it the salt, of course, is quite strong. I really liked the texture of the soft caramel, but it was just too salty for me.
Honeycomb Malt - the filling is rather like butter with a bit of a grain to it like crystallized honey. The malt flavor is rather mild but the whole thing feels a little greasy and overly sweet.
Bergamot Tea - mellow and zesty with very strong notes of both tea and bergamot. A real favorite of all of them.
Candied Orange Peel - wonderful moist and chewy pieces of orange peel, candied without being sickly sweet.
Cinnamon Malt - very sweet and with a mild cinnamon flavor. Really too sweet for me, a little grainy and not much in the malt arena to compel me.
Mandarin - the smallest of the truffles. I wasn’t against buying it because I was paying by the pound instead of the piece. Sweet and dry with a nice zesty taste of fresh orange.
Force Noir - a simple dark truffle. They have another line that’s all single origins, but I wanted to try a simple dark truffle. The vanilla notes are very strong, the ganache is light and slightly acidic and super smooth.
Burnt Caramel - oddly, I didn’t get much of a difference between this one and the Force Noir.
Lavender Vanilla - mellow and round chocolate flavors with a strong balsam quality with a very noticeable lavender flavor and a honey finish.
Overall the ganache on most of the truffles is a little greasy for my tastes, it’s more on the butter side than the chocolate side. It keeps them super smooth and provides a good background for the flavor infusions, but the oiliness of them makes me feel fuller faster.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 5:55 am
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.