Monday, January 2, 2006
I’ve reviewed a few single orgin chocolates before (and I really liked the Chocovic). I find the idea of it being like fine wine and elusive and all that intriguing, but it’s also kind of frustrating because you might find something really fantastic that can never be replicated. That’s why chocolate blends like we’re used to are so widely used. A Hershey bar always tastes like a Hershey bar. Godiva always tastes like Godiva.
Lake Champlain is also the maker of the highly esteemed and highly expensive Five Star Bars. And of course my friends Will & Susan are well aware of my affection for good chocolates and gave this to me for Christmas.
The packaging is very pretty, four different single origin/cocoa percentages in pretty little wrappers and six of each little square. They’re in a clear plastic box that lets you see the delectable stacks of squares. Not only did I review these in alphabetical order, but it also happens to be the order of increasing cocoa solids.
African Blend (54% cocoa solids) - This one was by far the sweetest, it has a good mild woodsy aroma with a slight smoky note. It’s not at all complex, but very pleasant.
Sao Thome (70% cocoa solids) - This one has more immediate bitter notes and though very smooth it was also rather dry. The buttery melt has a slightly tart bite towards the end, complex blend of woodsy notes and vanilla. By far my favorite, the most chocolatey in my feeling.
Tanzania (75% cocoa solids) - This one was exceptionally smooth and buttery, which surprised me given its high cocoa solids. It was also bitter and had a very dry finish. There was a bit of a sour bite on the front of the mouth and a slight cherry note to the whole flavor (a blend of both the sour cherry and the more robust wild cherry flavor).
I tasted all of these without looking at the website and was pleased to see that I was tasting the same things that they’re selling these squares on. These types of tasting squares are a great way to get a good cross section of all the flavors that chocolate can hold within it.
Sunday, January 1, 2006
Happy New Year’s Day! Here’s a special review of an item some of you may be eyeing as part of a resolution to eat healthier.
I’m one of those people who believes that you should eat what you want and try not to compromise on it. If you want chocolate and you’re on a diet, instead of obsessing over what you can or can’t have, have the chocolate, but in moderation. Maybe walk an extra mile or something to make up for the indulgence. But denying yourself just makes you want that thing all the more and of course less satisfied with what you end up with. A chocolate yogurt will never be the same as a chocolate mousse. This is the way I live my life. And you’d think from reading this blog that I weigh over 200 pounds, but I don’t. I actually have a fair bit of self control because I allow myself indulgences and savor them. (I’m also, probably, blessed genetically with a good metabolism and of course I do remain active.)
It’s nice to think that sweets can be nutritious and I’m grateful that good news is coming out about nuts and chocolate not being as evil as once thought. I have no illusions that Pixy Stix will ever be a healthy choice. They can make candy healthier by choosing good ingredients, like eliminating trans fats. What I question is fortifying regular candy with things in order to make them more healthy. Sometimes it works: the grapefruit pastilles I like have vitamin C in them and of course it’s nice to get a boost of fiber from my regular Mounds bar (well, it’s not fortified with it, that’s just the wonder that is coconut). When adding a vitamin or mineral to a treat though, it’s important not to spoil it what we liked in the first place.
Adora is calcium fortified chocolate. It comes in two flavors, Milk and Dark Chocolate. They’re like thick coins of chocolate. They smell nice and are certainly pretty. I bought a bag of the dark chocolate tabs and they gave me a sample with the milk chocolate tabs to try as well. At first it was rather nice, sweet chocolate ... but as it went along it tasted, um, dusty. If you chew it, you can definitely hear the grain on your teeth. This was a dry gritty grain like that stuff the dentist uses to polish your teeth. The weird thing is that I’ve eaten a few of them now and they’re not all like that. The milk chocolate one was very sweet, but no grain at all until the very end. Some are pleasant and the grain is barely noticeable, and other times I have to wash it down with water or a few crackers. If I were to buy these and use them regularly, I’d definitely go for the milk chocolate one, even though it probably has less of the antioxidant benefit, you’re going to be more likely to eat them.
It is generously fortified though:
They recommend at least one tab a day and no more than three as overconsumption of calcium provides no additional benefit.
I have to give Adora credit. They have a good website with lots of information and points to some good resources about bone health and the importance of Vitamin D. The thing is, I think I can eat these every day as a supplement, but I’m never going to feel like it’s a treat. So they would just become an addition to my regular candy consumption, not replace any portion of it. It doesn’t quite rise to the “Calcium the gourmet way,” but I could probably eat one of these every morning or evening. I will, however, finish the bag I have. If they come out with other varieties, I’ll be interested to try them. The good news is that Adora is reforumlating the dark chocolate ones to be less grainy, so if you purchase them now, you’re likely to get a more pleasant product. (I’ll update when I get a hold of the new ones.)
I’m also going to get some to try the new formulation and will report back.
UPDATED UPDATE: I got the new samples! (Thanks Ed, that was fast!). I have to commend them for smoothing out the chocolate, especially on the dark ones. There’s still a trace of grainyness, but the overt gritty feeling is gone completely. I’m still not going to mistake these for a piece of candy, but the aroma is really pleasing and of course the boost of calcium for my aging bones (yes, my birthday is in a week). They are MUCH better tasting than the Viactiv chews I’ve tried (both the calcium ones in chocolate and the vitamin ones in fruit), so if taste is something that will help you keep up with taking a supplement, this might be the way to go. I’ve upgraded the rating from 6 out of 10 to 8 out of 10.
Friday, December 30, 2005
The Man picked up some new stuff for the stockings this year. Besides the typical hard candies (Brach’s) and Hershey’s Kisses (in red and green foils) we got two new items:
Butterfinger Jingles (Nestle) - you know what’s great about these? They’re made with real milk chocolate. Instead of that waxy “chocolate coating” on the Butterfinger bar, Jingles start with real milk chocolate and then put little crunches of Butterfinger centers. They’re a bit bigger than a Hershey’s Kiss, which is a little too big in my opinion, but I’ll survive with a larger bite.
The other thing is, these made me realize is how clever Milton Hershey was when he decided how to wrap the Kisses with the foil wrapping “up” the Kiss, instead of putting the edges of the foil on the bottom. This is evident with the Jingles because all the foil edges are folded to the bottom of the Jingle so that it doesn’t have a flat bottom ... they wouldn’t sit straight for my photo.
The other new candy for us was the Hershey’s Mint Mix Miniatures. There are three different bars, Milk Chocolate with Mint, Semisweet Chocolate with Mint and White Chocolate with Mint and Candy Bits.
The Milk Chocolate with Mint is positively blasted with mint. Seriously minty. Not Altoid-level, but for a chocolate product, I’m surprised it was brown it was so minty. I had to sequester these bars from the rest of the stocking mix because they were contaminating the Jingles. No one wants minted Butterfinger Jingles. The dark one was nice, nothing to write home about and maybe a little sweet but I did actually enjoy the White Chocolate one. I know, white chocolate, most people go, “ew.” But I do have a fondness for misty mints and let’s face it, that’s all this is. The good news is that Hershey’s uses actual cocoa butter in their white chocolate, so at least it’s not jam-packed with trans fats. They are actually the best thing in this mix, smooth, not too sweet and not too artificially vanilla tasting.
If you see any of these on sale after Christmas, they’re well worth picking up to keep around for snacking. I really don’t care what my candy is dressed in, as long as it’s good.
Rating - 7 out of 10 (but if you can find them for 75% off, then it’s a 10 all the way)
I had no idea Ferrara Pan came out with a new candy. They’re best known for Lemonheads, which are the best lemon hard candies ever. I figured these would be like Skittles.
They’re about the same size, maybe a little larger but a bit harder feeling. There’s a candy shell with a bit of flavor to it and then a chewy center. The center doesn’t taste like anything at all, just sweet and the shell is tart and sweet and crunchy. The cool thing about the shell is if you bite it right, you can get just the shell to come off, which is where the flavor is. The center isn’t quite a gummy, not quite a jelly bean. It’s hard to describe and not really that good. If they really wanted to make everyone sit up and notice their first new candy line in 40 years, a combination between a Skittle type chew and the Lemonhead’s flavored shell would have been awesome.
Sadly, they did not consult me.
The flavor variety is nice: orange, lemon, grape, green apple and cherry but the colors are a little off. The grape is not purple as shown on the package but more like a navy blue. The colors were also not consistent or even, which is too bad because I’ve always liked the way Lemonheads looked. The name is cool, like marbles but with an N, only I don’t know what the N stands for. It also feels like the candy is trying to hard to be cool, calling them “slammers” and positioning them as “awesome” and “get narbleized”. But their website is a little odd when you click on “where to buy” it says you can’t find them in stores for your state ... but I did!
If Ferrara Pan wants these to be a big hit, I really think they need to add that Lemonhead layer, you know, the one under the candy shell that’s a little grainy and bursting with sour goodness. That fills a hole in the fruit chew market and would put these up on the list of candies that I’d buy. It’d not only make the candy tastier, it’d set it apart from other sours and chews because of the interactive element of waiting for the sour layer or trying to peel it with your teeth. I know it’s probably more expensive to pack that much flavor into them, but at over two ounces per package, I’d be willing to settle for 1.5 ounces of really tasty candy. For now, I’ll just keep picking up Skittles.
Rating - 5 out of 10
Thursday, December 29, 2005
It took me a long time to figure out what a chocolate donut has to do with Wonka (the books or movies), but after mulling it a bit it came to me that there’s a line in Veruca Salt’s song “I Want It Now” in the 1972 version of the movie:
Yeah, that’s a stretch, but there you have it, the donut Veruca was insisting on.
It’s okay, the Wonka Donutz has as little to do with the bakery donuts as they do the movie. They’re donut shaped. There’s no bready, fried dough in there at all. It’s chocolate, through and through except for the fun little colored nonpareils. But whew, these are chocolatey.
The Donutz is a plump, milk chocolate hoop with a firm, creamy chocolate truffle-like center. The outside chocolate is mild and sweet, like that found in a Nestle Crunch bar. A little on the grainy side, but pleasant. The inside of the candy is a sweet and melty filling of chocolate with a slight rum aroma to it. The sprinkles (half of which are guaranteed to not make it into your mouth) provide a fun little crunch.
I wasn’t really that interseted in this candy until Alexander, a reader, sent me his own review. Overall I was expecting something fudgier and sweeter (which would have been a bad thing). Instead it was just very mildly chocolatey and mildly sweet with some textures to mix it up a bit. I would probably eat it if you put it in front of me, but I don’t see myself buying them unless I’m going for a Wonka theme thing. This candy bar was made in Brazil.
Rating - 6 out of 10
Wednesday, December 28, 2005
My site designers/programmers Susie & Travis (from Hop Studios) sent me a bag o’ treats a few months ago from their trip to Singapore. I don’t really have any specs on the candies since it was a mix, so here’s a sample of what they looked like:
It took me a while too steel myself for trying so many mysterious things, but I’ve finally plowed through most of the treats. Some were just variations on the candies we have available here, different kinds of mints (chewy, hard, soft), coffee hard toffees, ginger chews (made in Indonesia) and of course fruit hard candies. Some were rather normal, based on the ubiquitous citrus fruits but a good number were curious.
Durian and Tamarind top the list of scary candies. I’ve heard horror stories of Durian, which is rather common throughout Southeast Asia. It’s a sizeable and formidable looking fruit and I’m told an acquired taste for outsiders (and some who’ve grown up there have never been fond of it). It’s a divisive fruit, actually, as so many people can’t stand it because of its rather pungent odor, it’s not allowed on public transportation in many large cities.
The durian hard candy is probably just as much an acquired taste and not one I’m likely to accomplish. This hard candy tastes okay at first, a little sweet, a little tart and then rather like boiled shallots. Yes, onions or garlic or perhaps a little like Slim Jims.
The Tamarind, which I’ve never had and is surprising as I live in Los Angeles and it’s all over the place, was actually nice. It’s a little toasty, rather ordinary after all being so worked up about trying that.
The most curious one was the Creamy Corn. It tasted just like it sounds. Like creamed corn. Only in a hard toffee instead of running on my plate into my fried chicken. I have to say that it was very faithful to the name, and I ate the whole thing and was fascinated by it, but I can’t say I enjoyed it. It’s rather like eating the Buttered Popcorn Jelly Bellies. It’s a novelty, not a pleasure. At least not for me.
Mango was actually really nice, better than any other mango candy I’ve had, probably because they did more than make it taste like peaches. There were a few mango flavored ones, but the best overall were the ones branded Lot100 (the Blackcurrant was good, too). It had a nice pine essence to it, which is one of the things that I find so interesting about real mangoes, they have a woodsy flavor to them.
The best one was called Great Monster and I think was simply an orange hard candy. Simple, tart and zesty.
I had high hopes for those labeled barley sugar candies, but they didn’t really taste like the barley sugar I know of here in the states. They were nice, especially the lime torrone one (which was not at all like an Italian Torrone).
There are still a few I haven’t tried, but give me a few more days to get my courage back.
Rating - 6 out of 10 overall (some higher some lower ... it’s an average)
Name: Snickers Almond
Why didn’t someone mention that the Mars bar was quietly replaced with the Snickers Almond bar five years ago? I didn’t notice. Mostly because I was never a Mars bar fan. A Mars bar in the States used to be a nougat bar with almonds and a strip of caramel and covered in milk chocolate. A Mars bar in other parts of the world is like a Milky Way is here in the States: a nougat bar with a stripe of caramel covered in milk chocolate. In the rest of the world a Milky Way is like the American 3 Musketeers. I can go on and on, but suffice to say that Mars has a big old confusing name problem on their hands and all I can do is try to make a grid to display it. (Please correct me if I’ve got them wrong.)
USA….............. contents ..................UK/Canada
You know, there are a bazillion names for these candy folks to choose from, why do they have to confuse the globe-trotting candy lovers so? For some other attempts at disambiguation, have a look at this page comparing the old Mars and the Canadian Milky Way (with cross sections).
But I digress. I’m supposed to be reviewing the Snickers Almond bar.
But I don’t wanna review this bar because I didn’t like it much and it reminded me why I forgot about the bar entirely. It smells good, which is just a ruse. First, the nougat is nothing more than a flavorless grainy sweet blob. Good nougat has a flavor of some sort, an essence of honey or malt or, well, something. This is just sweet. The caramel is also sweet, but has a touch of salt to it which I fully support. The almonds are nice, but scant. The chocolate is sweet and passable as a chocolate cloak. As a whole combination it just didn’t wow me and didn’t satisfy me. I didn’t finish it.
There are other bars out there that do this better. The See’s Awesome Nut & Nougat Bar is one (but probably not a viable alternative as it’s not that easy to get a hold of). Frankly I prefer the plain old Snickers bar to this. There was a Mars Midnight for a while there in the nineties that I was rather fond of but gone now.
Rating - 5 out of 10
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Name: Max Brenner Chocolates: Dark Chicao, Waffle & Milk Chocolate Cubes
Here’s a little Hanukkah treat for everyone, some Israeli chocolates! The Max Brenner package says “Creating a New Chocolate Culture” and I’m inclined to hop on board this philosophy. Michal, a candyblog.net reader, sent me these wonderful treats and I’m very impressed by the combination of flavors, textures, the simplicity of ingredients and most of all, the playfulness of the packages and formats.
Dark Chicao: Dark chocolate thins with Ecuadorian cocoa bits. These are rather similar to the Scharffen Berger Cacao Nibs I tried and loved recently. I was a little scared when I took them out of the tin because they looked a little chalky, but we can chalk that up to their trip half way around the planet to get to me. They were a little bruised but tasted phenomenal. Dark, dark chocolate with crunchy nibs. The chocolate is buttery with a strong woodsy essence and a slight dry finish. Because there’s so much cacao in there and not much sugar they don’t get me hyped up the same way a chocolate bar does. At 75% cacao though, they’re probably giving me some sort of theobromine high.
Waffle: Crispy Belgian waffle in milk chocolate praline. I’ve had many bars like this and they’ve usually ended up being too much cookie and not enough chocolate or too waxy or greasy. Here’s a wonderful balance of chocolate, soft flavors and crispy waffle with a hint of hazelnut. The box is fun (the size of a pencil box with a tray/sleeve to pull out and reveal the candies) and the size of the little drops is just right, two bites for me. The Max Brenner milk chocolate is very rich, with 52% cacao, it’s darker than many consumer dark chocolates.
Milk Chocolate Cubes: Michal was good enough to translate the boxes for these. They’re minitruffles I’m guessing, one set is “Milk Chocolate Cubes filled with Hazelnut Praline and Caramelized Pecan Bits” and the other is Milk Chocolate Cubes filled with “Caramel Hazelnut Praline and Roasted coconut” (well, those are not really cubes, more like spheroids). The hazelnut/pecan one is sweet and toasty, like a hit of toffee only in a milk chocolate with just a few flakes of crispy to it. They’re very rich and sticky and should probably be consumed with some strong coffee. (Or the Dark Chicaos!). The coconuts were amazing fun. Instead of soft coconut like you’d find in a Mounds of Bounty bar, this is crispy coconut that adds a bit of crunch and chew to the sweet milk chocolate. The boxes are cool because they’re designed to be a greeting card or favor of sorts. You can write a little message on the back like those Valentines boxes of candy that we used to exchange in junior high.
I’m digging Mr. Brenner’s new chocolate culture. Their packaging is interesting and not overdone. The little mylar packs kept everything fresh and the design on them is really inventive, slightly self-deprecating and sets it apart from a lot of other candy that I’ve seen that positions itself in this part of the upscale market.
Rating - 9 out of 10 (now I just need to find a source in the States)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.