Friday, January 27, 2006
I got this fantastic single origin tasting kit from E. Guittard. The photos are deceptive, these are tiny little bars, each is 10 grams (a little over a third of an ounce) and measured a mere 2.5” x 1.25”. There were four different varieties that came in a box of 16 wee bars. What was most stunning about these bars is the packaging. The little labels are lively and elegant with their gold leaf and description of the flavor of the particular varietal. Inside, the foil wrappers were beautiful too, with a delicate pattern featuring an impressive bas relief style scene of heaven knows what with three figures probably worshipping the cocoa bean or something. (The comprehensive press kit and tasting kit brochure made no mention of the scene.)
Each of the bars looks slightly different as well (except for the Sur del Lago and Quevedo) from different molds. All bars were 65% cacao, which is a good midrange for dark chocolate, allowing for lots of room for cocoa butter to give a nice fatty background to support the complex flavors.
Ambanja - notes from package: You’re in for a rich chocolate experience! Made primarily from rare Criollo beans from the fertile Sambriano Valley in Madagascar, Ambanja mingles sour essences with deep rich, chocolate flavor.
Dark with a slight amber/red tint, this bar was buttery and smooth. There were overwhelming raisin and cherry notes in this bar. It definitely has an acidic tone to it, but not in an unpleasant, bitter or acrid way. It’s really very nice.
Sur del Lago - notes from package: Complex chocolate flavors underlie subtle hints of red berry fruit. Cacao beans used to make this chocolate were harvested from trees of Criollo and Trinitario heritage in Venezuela’s Sur del Lago region.
This one started out rather woodsy and sour. It reminded me of the zesty smell of piles of fresh sawdust from a fruit tree. Then the other notes started coming out, including the light berries and maybe some grape. It’s pretty mellow and pleasant, but the high sour note is a little odd.
Chucuri - notes from package: Long, deep, slow chocolate flavors are accented by pleasant hints of spice. The Trinitario cacao beans used to make this chocolate were grown in the San Vicente de Chucuri Valley of Santader in Colombia.
Deep flavors dominate this little bar. It starts out woodsy with some balsam notes of juniper or rosemary. Then it’s got some very strong cherry notes that linger for the rest of the melt on the tongue. It’s got a high little topnote of lavender or maybe it’s bergamot. It gives this bar the best balance of the four.
Quevedo notes from package: Quevedo’s extremely dark color forshadows its powerful but flowery chocolate taste. The intensity of this rarefied Forestero varietal produces rich green forest, tea and slight nut flavors with a lingering banana and pound cake finish.
Smooth but with a notable bitter dryness at first. Rich and woodsy with an exceptionally buttery texture that makes it feel almost fluffy and buoyant on the tongue. I’m getting the tea notes, but I’m totally missing the pound cake the wrapper promises.
If you’re looking for single origin chocolate that doesn’t skimp on the cocoa butter and is so dry that it leaves you gasping for water, this might be the stuff. At only 65% cocoa solids, there’s an excellent mix of flavor and texture that’s not too sweet. All of the bars are exceptionally smooth without a hint of grain. Here’s a tip: this would make an excellent Valentine’s Day gift for someone. It’s sensual, educational and you can share it.
You might think you’ve never had Guittard chocolate, when you probably have. Guittard is one of the top chocolate makers in the country, but most of the business is making chocolate for other companies. Guittard makes the excellent chocolate that you find on See’s candies. It’s hard to know who they supply chocolate to, but they’re a huge operation and that chocolate is going somewhere tasty. I don’t see Guittard in the stores very often, except for their baking chips. They’re definitely worth going out of your way for. Most of the varietals from other brands that I’m seeing lately are higher cocoa percentages, so you’re missing out on the cocoa butter, which I think is an equal part of the chocolate experience.
They’re a little pricey directly from E. Guittard’s store, you can also find them at Chocosphere (throw some Dolfin and Dagoba in your cart while you’re there).
Thursday, January 26, 2006
I got the Cookie Joys from Crate and Barrel through their excellent post-Christmas sale. The Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Mint were acquired at Sav-On at a lackluster post-Holiday sale (basically the nuggets were on the sale table heralding they were 50% off, but they didn’t ring up that way and were put there “by mistake”).
Harry London makes the Cookie Joys, but sells them under a few different names, including Botticelli Bites. They also make it in a few different formats, including the Harry London Mint Cookie Bar. A Cookie Joy is minted milk chocolate with chocolate cookie bits. The shape is a little dollop of candy, not really the most attractive or appealing candy shapes, but it gets the job done. I find they’re usually two bites. The bonus in the Crate & Barrel tin is that they were individually wrapped. When I get them in a little tub at Trader Joe’s (it looks like a pint of ice cream) they’re loose and can go stale if not eaten quickly.
A Hershey’s Mint ‘n’ Cookies is also minted milk chocolate with chocolate cookie bits. The chocolate is rather milkier, as you can see in the color difference bewteen these two. The cookie bits are also slightly more regular, like little dots of cookies instead of rather irregular crushed cookie bits.
Now that I have them side by side, I’m able to really compare the two. The Cookie Joy is smooth and not terribly milky, which I like. There are already quite a few flavors going on here, I don’t need some sort of dairy taste intruding. As long as the milk is providing a creamy backdrop I’m happy. The cookie bits give it some crunch and they’re a good dark, toasty flavor (they’re pretty much the cookie part of an Oreo).
The Hershey’s has that familiar Hershey’s milk chocolate tang to it. Think yogurt. It’s not unpleasant, but doesn’t go as well with the mint and cookies. There’s a noticeable grain to the chocolate, but again, it works with the crunchy cookies. The cookie bits seem to be distributed rather unevenly, just on the top of the nugget, but since you’re going to bite it the other way, it probably doesn’t matter much. A Nugget could be eaten whole as well.
In this Head to Head, I’m going to have to go with the Cookie Joys. The chocolate is just better and the even though they look like glossy cow pies, the name Cookie Joys is dead on perfect. They’re joyful little mixes of cookies and minted chocolate. If you like the Girl Scout’s Thin Mints, you may like this chocolatier version, too. There’s no benefit to either in availability either. The Hershey’s are Limited Edition (though they seem to return rather faithfully) and the Harry London’s are only sometimes available at Trader Joe’s and a seasonal item for Crate & Barrel. (Sadly, it seems they are sold out on the C&B website.) The Hershey’s are usually cheaper, but the Crate and Barrel sale puts this one over the edge for me. At 28 cents per ounce for the Cookie Joys versus the 24 cents per ounce on the Nuggets, I’m willing to pay the premium (and I have a tin, too!).
Wednesday, January 25, 2006
These are a classic East Coast candy. Made for years by the Goldenberg candy company, they were purchased by Just Born in 2003, which has been gobbling up other Eastern small-maker candies. Just Born is best known for the Easter favorite, Marshmallow Peeps.
I’ve always referred to these as Goldenbergs ... the one part of the old name that is not retained (I think the company is pushing the name “Chew-Ets”) so now I have to call them just Peanut Chews. But the notable thing about them is that they break one of my rules of good candy. They’re fake. There’s no chocolate there. But what they lack in chocolate they make up for in flavor.
The original Chew-Et is a molasses-based chew embedded with peanuts and then covered in a wax that resembles dark chocolate. (Okay, it’s not wax, it’s just not real chocolate.) The interesting part of the chew is that it’s not a caramel. There’s no milk in the original bar at all, so it can’t be a caramel. It’s just a sugary syrup that’s been boiled down to soft-ball state. Maybe you could call it a “soft brittle”. They’re formed into fingers of candy that are placed in a tray and usually sold in a package of six or so, though I usually bought the King Sized ones. For a while I’ve been able to find them here in California at Rite Aid (probably because Rite Aid is based in Pennsylvania). The molasses and peanuts make a good combination of roasted, musky flavors. The dark chocolate stays out of the way and doesn’t really add anything to the party (except trans fats).
Having just said that the chocolate coating doesn’t much matter, it seems to make more of a difference in the milk version. Molasses is a dark flavor and seems to benefit from the dark, slightly bitter mockolate. While the milk chocolate coating is more successful at replicating the feel of real chocolate, it’s a little sweet, a little sticky feeling in the combo.
I’m glad to see that the Chew-Ets will continue to exist, as they are rather unique. They’re small and easy to share and have a flavor combination not found in any other candy bar on the market in the states. Since it’s not real chocolate, they also seem to weather being in my bag better than chocolate candies, so they’re a better bet as a summer candy. I wish they were made with real chocolate, but I suppose I shouldn’t advocate messing around with such a good bar.
Additional Reading: Check out Steve Almond’s Candy Freak which has a whole chapter devoted to his visit to the Goldenberg factory (while it was still Goldenberg’s) in Philadelphia. You can even read a couple of pages on Amazon if you like. Here’s something interesting I learned from the book, Goldenbergs were first developed as ration bar for the Army in WWI and after the war the GIs kept buying them.
Edit: I found this in Mike’s Candy Wrappers, the original wrapper.
UPDATE 8/1/2012: The original name of Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews has been restored on the packages, and an updated but still classic looking package is back on store shelves.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 10:53 am
Tuesday, January 24, 2006
Chocolate oranges are a holiday favorite. We used to get them in our Christmas stocking when I was a kid, though not this brand. The chocolate orange is simply chocolate pieces shaped like orange segments assembled into a sphere. The Terry’s Chocolate Orange has a chocolate stem in the center and all the pieces are joined to it. They tell you to “whack and unwrap” to separate the pieces. (The ones I got as a kid had a plastic stem, so there was no need for whacking.)
The sphere is between the size of a handball and a tennis ball. The slices are textured to look like citrus fruit on one side, the other is smooth.
I’ve reviewed the Terry’s Chocolate Orange bar, and I find this chocolate to be similar. It’s not great quality, a little grainy and very sweet. The mint is quite overpowering in this version of Terry’s chocolate (just as I found Hershey’s Mint Mix).
It’s damn cute though and since it was half off, I don’t feel at all bad for plunking down $2 for it. $4 would be another matter.
Notes: This peppermint chocolate orange was made in Poland. Terry’s is credited with creating the first “Chocolate Orange” in 1932.
Monday, January 23, 2006
Pesek Zman means “Time Out”, kind of like the tagline for KitKat bars is “Give me a Break”. They are, in fact, a nice little respite from a busy day and like the KitKat, easy to break off a piece and share (if you must). The shape of the bars and packaging is really cool, too.
The Black bar is dark chocolate with crispy wafers with a chocolate nut paste filling (hazelnuts and cashews). This is a pretty sassy bar. It has the light crisp, the nutty flavor of the nuts and the smooth creamy combination of the cream and the smooth dark chocolate. It’s lot of flavors and textures all at once, but very successful. It’s very sweet, but the hazelnut has a strange cooling sensation on the tongue that keeps it from being cloying and sticky.
The Peanut Butter bar is pretty much the same as the Black bar, only it has milk chocolate instead of dark and instead of hazelnut cream, it has peanut butter. It’s a good thing I’m typing this review, because I wouldn’t be able to talk while eating this bar. The peanut butter is very sticky, as in “sticks to the roof of your mouth.” My solution to this was to turn each piece upside down before I ate it, meaning that the peanut butter layer was on my tongue instead of the top of my mouth. It was much more successful that way, but the peanut butter in this bar is quite overwhelming in its texture and flavor dominance.
I have to say that this is a unique bar. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. It reminded me of the Kliks, in that it’s a toasty cookie rolled up, but this one was far more delicate and had some more complex flavors going for it. The center of the bar is a loose, flattened roll of crisp waffle cookie (like a ice cream sugar cone). Then it’s covered with chocolate that can be sectioned off. When you break the sections, you can see right through the middle of the bar, just like the photo shows. The caramelized wafers are crispy and flavorful and there’s a good hint of hazelnut in the chocolate itself. It’s a very tasty bar with no real equal in any other brand I’ve seen. Of the three bars, it’s the one I finished first. The bar is slightly smaller than the others at only 42 grams instead of 45, but I wasn’t missing a thing.
If I were at an airport or international market and saw these, I’d definitely grab a few of the Reds. Even though the center was delicate, the bar traveled extremely well, making it all the way from Israel and then I carried it around in my “tasting bag” for weeks and it still looked factory fresh when I unwrapped it.
Friday, January 20, 2006
At my visit to Scharffen Berger last month I gave their full line another try. It confirmed for me that the bars I’ve tasted are fresh and true to the Scharffen Berger style. They’re complex and dark, with a lot of woodsy notes and a pretty overwhelming acidity that I don’t care for. There are exceptions in their line of course. The Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs are one. And one of their newer bars, the Gianduja is another.
I haven’t a clue how to pronounce it. I had the tour guide say it twice for me when she did the tasting and it still didn’t stick in my brain. (Perhaps JHEE-an-du-JHAH.) I want to pronounce it JHWAN-doo-jha ... hmm, how about I call it the Nutella bar? That’s what this is, a creamy combination of dark chocolate and hazelnuts. Only without the hydrogenated oils. It’s like a gourmet version of Ice Cubes.
This is a ridiculously fantastic bar. Really. It’s insanely smooth and nutty and melts so well on the tongue with a cooling effect that’s just stunning.
The price is also similarly ridiculous, but I’m guessing there’s a whole tree’s worth of hazelnuts packed into each bar, so that’s likely what you’re paying for. There’s 4 grams of protein in the bar alone. The bar is more soft and pliable than the others that I’ve had, again owing to the nut oils in there that have a lower melting temperature than the cocoa butter. It’s not too sweet and happily doesn’t have nary a trace of that acidic/dry bite that the other Sharffen Berger bars have. There’s still plenty of flavor, this is not just a Nutella bar. It’s woodsy and nutty with some smoky notes and a slight dryness.
Of course there are a lot of calories in it and a lot of it comes from fat. It’s candy, I know, but I think maybe they ought to suggest that the portion is not 1.5 ounces, but simply a single ounce instead. I responsibly took about a month to eat it, sampling a few pieces and then wolfing the rest of it today. It’s also pretty expensive and I haven’t seen it at Trader Joe’s. If not for that, I think it would have been a straight 10.
Thursday, January 19, 2006
I’ve seen these bars in Cost Plus World Market and other stores that sell UK sweets and it looked like a very complicated bar. Michal, my generous reader who sent me a huge package of candy that I’ve been slowly posting here, was good enough to include this one.
A Lion bar is creme filled wafers, caramel and crisped rice covered in milk chocolate. I don’t know if the photo does it justice (you can click on it for a larger version). It’s a very sweet bar with quite a bit of texture to it. The package exalts that it’s “Dangerously Better” but doesn’t say what’s better about it or what else it might be better than. It reminds me a great deal of the other Nestle bar, the 100 Grand, which doesn’t have the wafers in the center but the same sort of caramel and crisped rice.
It’s quite a tasty bar and because of the variations in textures, the different crisps, the saltiness of the caramel, it’s a really satisfying bar.
I’m glad I’ve had a chance to try it because I figure now it’s an easily identified bar no matter where I may be in Europe when I’m on the metro and need a little candy boost. It’s a solid, middle of the road choice for snacking.
I haven’t the foggiest why it’s called a Lion bar, but there are a lot of incongruously named bars out there and I shouldn’t start picking at them now. The official website for the bar is German, but the bar says that it’s manufactured in France.
Wednesday, January 18, 2006
There are a lot of good things about chocolate. It tastes good and in moderation it could actually be a good addition to a normal diet. But one of the suprising things is that chocolate may actually be good for tropical economies and ecosystems as well. See more here.
There are quite a few free trade/organic chocolate companies now, but one that’s making the best inroads with consumers, including kids, is Endangered Species Chocolate Company. (I have no data to back this up, just my awareness of people’s affection for it and that I see it in far more stores than other bars of the same type.) They have a huge selection of bars and chocolate formats, good packaging and a pretty good distribution network. Oh, and they taste good, too!
Because Endangered Species has such a large selection of bars, I thought I’d start small. I saw these little impulsive tasting squares called Bug Bites that came in both dark and milk chocolate. They’re obviously a little bit of chocolate for the kids, but I’m a kid at heart and I love bugs.
The little .35 ounce squares are Fair Trade certified, organic and Kosher. The little nibble has a butterfly on it and though the package says something about a bug trading card, I didn’t get any in either of my packages. The milk chocolate is very sweet and in the style of the European dairy milk chocolate bars. It has a good milky, woodsy smell, but is probably too sweet for me. It’s exceptionally smooth and I’m sure will please children quite readily.
The dark square was exceptional. Very fruity, with some apricot and cherry notes it also had some woodsy balsam qualities. It was buttery and had a slightly bitter finish that wasn’t too dry.
Though not all the bars are completely Fair Trade or completely organic Endangered Species Chocolate Company donates 10% of profits to protect wildlife (including those animals featured on the bars). Inside the wrapper is a profile of the animal on the package, in this case it is the bat and notes that of the 45 species in the United States alone, 7 of them are endangered.
I was specifically looking for this “Bat Bar” which is 75% cocoa content and cocoa nibs. I hadn’t seen it at Whole Foods, where I’ve been picking up my other organic bars. Whereas the other nibby products I’ve tried like the Michel Cluizel Noir au Grue de Cacao and Max Brenner Dark Chicao have large nib pieces in them, this bar had kind of crushed bits in it. This has its advantages, but it also creates a different sort of bar.
First, this is a very dark bar. At 75% cocoa, it’s already pretty dense. Because the nibs are crushed smaller they impart a bit of a grain to the chocolate that I didn’t detect at all in the Bug Bites, so I’ll credit that to the nibs. The nibs add a wonderful variation in texture though, with a good fruity burst in spots and sometimes and unpleasant astringency. Nibs are pretty high in fiber too, so eating a serving gives you 3 grams of fiber! I wish the entire bar wasn’t quite so sweet though.
I think if I’m going for a nibby fix I’m going to stick with the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs ... but the wide availability and decent price of the Engangered Species bar would make it a close second.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.