Thursday, March 19, 2015
There are now dozens of small-batch chocolate makers scattered around North America. One that caught my eye a couple of years ago won the Good Food Award in 2013. Raaka Chocolate is based in Brooklyn, New York and was founded in 2010.
The team at Raaka says,”We make virgin chocolate from unroasted cacao beans. Our unique process preserves each region’s wild flavors, bringing you closer to the bean.”
The unique style of their bars means that they use organic beans that have been naturally fermented and dried but not roasted. The result is a bar that is like the chocolate that we all know, but with some differences ... not necessarily things that make it better or worse, just different. The cacao is direct sourced while the sugar is organic and fair trade certified. Most of their bars are just beans and evaporated cane juice (no vanilla, no emulsifiers) but the bar I picked out for review was the Raaka Virgin Chocolate Bourbon Cask Aged - Belize 82%. This bar also has some maple sugar in it.
As you can guess from the name, the notable thing about this cacao is that it is first aged in oak bourbon casks from Berkshire Mountain Distilling. I’ve had chocolate that’s been aged in barrels before, but never chocolate made from beans that have been aged in barrels. For roasted cacao that wouldn’t work, because the roasting would probably remove the flavors the casks introduce, but remember Raaka is working with unroasted beans, the way the beans are treated before grinding will definitely affect flavor.
The bar mold is dead simple, just a 1.8 ounce plank with no scoring, no design. There’s a great snap to it, and glossy sheen on the outside, but a little rough looking inside.
The bar smells, well, a little like bourbon. There’s a vanilla note and some light peat along with some other more yeasty bread notes. The melt of the chocolate is not quite as creamy as some bars I’ve had, but certainly not gritty. It’s smoother than Taza, which is also stone ground. The yeasty notes are very strong along with an acidic bite and a light coffee and maple note. It’s undeniably chocolate, but with a kick that is a little more unformed, a little less refined. The bar also changed, as I nibbled on it over several weeks. The bitterness dissipated (oxidation can do that) and I found a few more berry jam notes to it.
For an 82% bar, it’s not as dense as you might expect. I’ve certainly had 70% bars that are more intense. This may be because there’s some extra cocoa butter added in, which counts towards the cacao percentage, but does help mellow its severity.
I appreciate the bar, and enjoyed it quite a bit. I kept in my purse for several weeks, but never felt the need for more than a little half inch square at a time. The rustic melt was not as decadent as bars I usually prefer, so sometimes this felt like it demanded more attention to enjoy, like the different between classic sonnets and some free verse.
Their facility and bars are vegan, nut free, soy free, gluten free and made from all organic ingredients.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
In episode 10 of Candyology 101, Maria and I review our lists of the top Easter candies and talk about the iconic chocolate rabbit.
Monday, March 16, 2015
Like the other Russell Stover eggs, this one is one ounce. I found mine on sale for 39 cents, though they’re usually two for a dollar and sometimes as much as 59 or 69 cents each.
The Lemon Cake Egg wrapper is just a touch confusing. The picture on the front shows a nice yellow cake with white frosting. But this egg is lemon cake filling with a dark chocolate coating. Not a big deal, but it seems like it would be easy to make it a lemon cake with chocolate frosting in the picture ... or perhaps a white chocolate coating on this egg.
It’s very lemony. Even just opening the package, the zesty lemon scent is strong. Biting into the egg, the yellow center is quite bright, like a cream made from highlighters.
The chocolate shell is bittersweet, which is a nice complement to the lemon cake. Like the other dessert-themed eggs, this is a paste type filling made from actual cake mix. The consistency is thicker than batter and thinner than cookie dough. Though there’s wheat flour in there, it doesn’t taste raw like some cookie dough items do.
The lemon flavor is very well balanced, there are a lot of citrus peel notes, so much that there’s a light bitterness to it, which might also come from the chocolate. The whole thing is far less sweet than some of the other cake-themed eggs, like the Birthday Cake and Red Velvet. It’s rather refreshing, less cloying. I wish there was just a little more of a vanilla note, like a rich pound cake. But I do give them credit for trying something a bit out of the ordinary.
The eggs contain wheat (gluten), milk, soy and actual eggs as well. They may also contain traces of tree nuts and peanuts.
Friday, March 13, 2015
Just Born is best known for their Peeps line of marshmallow candies. Easter is high season for Peeps, which now come in all known colors visible to the human eye. So all that’s left is the extension of the brand into other areas. Target had a nice display of the Peeps brand line, including some Peeps lollipops in various colors and two different shapes. (They came in a Peep shape, which was a little less attractive than the bunny one.) The candies were on sale, your choice of two for $3. I thought $1.50 was a bit steep for a lollipop, but the Just Born website lists them for $2.50 each.
They also had matching tubes of the Just Born Teenee Beanee Jelly Beans to go with the pops. The packaging was spare but appealing and the flavor for this set: Indian River Orange sounded very appealing.
The Lollipop was interesting in that it was not only shaped like a Peeps Bunny, but it also had a sugar crust on one side. The texture of the candy was fantastic, it’s more of a barley sugar candy, which usually has few voids and a milder sweetness. Think of it like a less intense Jolly Rancher, the texture is a very light dissolve that becomes pliable when the piece is small.
The orange flavor was delicate, no tart bite, just the orange zest note. I loved the dissolve, but I admit I didn’t care for the grainy textured side of the pop, which meant that the pieces were rough when I bit them off. The size was good at 1.2 ounces, quite a bit of candy, but not so much that I could finish it in an afternoon at my desk. There was a fresh, citrus aftertaste that lasted quite a while.
Though it’s tempting to think that these were just cheaper Jelly Belly, but they’re not. Teenee Beanee are pectin beans, which means that they use both starch and fruit pectin to get the jelly center just right. They’re just a little bigger than Jelly Belly but not nearly as large as traditional jelly beans. The color is a little inconsistent, as some were more translucent than others, but I found this variation very attractive.
The orange flavor is vibrant and mostly zest-based. There was only a light hint of juicy tartness around the margin of the shell, but not at all like a Jelly Belly.
The tube holds 5 ounces and for $1.50 I thought that was a pretty good deal for a more premium bean. I liked them quite a bit, but part of it was that I just like orange jelly beans and the fact that I didn’t have to pick them out of a mix was good. The tube is easy to open and stays closed, and is pretty minimal overall. It also featured a real cloth ribbon bow, which is a nice touch if you’re going to put these into an Easter basket or make it part of a hostess gift.
The jelly beans were made in a facility that also processes peanuts, tree nuts, milk, wheat and soy. They use a confectioners glaze so are not considered vegan. Teenee Beanee tubes also come in La Jolla Lemon, Napa Grape, Chesapeake Cherry, Savannah Strawberry and Laredo Lime tubes with matching lollipops.
Thursday, March 12, 2015
Easter is the best candy season. The qualities that make a good holiday candy are hard to pin down, but most of us know it when we see it. One quality that’s unique to Easter is the morselization of treats. Part of Easter is the presentation of candy within a basket. Sure, you can put packaged candy in there, but it sure is appealing when the Easter grass sports read-to-eat morsels. The jelly bean is a perfect example of this, since they started as spice drops but eventually someone gave them a more durable shell so that you can put them out in a candy dish.
I bring this up because today’s candy is a great version of a year-round candy getting a unique holiday treatment. Koppers Chocolate Easter Spring Milk Chocolate Marshmallow Eggs come in a box, but you can easily dump them out into a bowl or nestle them in a basket.
The candy construction is simple, though actually rather unique. It’s a small marshmallow at the center, a thick milk chocolate shell and a thin pastel glaze on top.
These have been around for a few years, I first had them in 2011 and posted a photo. That version was a robin’s egg version with a little thicker shell, but otherwise the same.
The box was on the expensive side at $7.99 for 6.5 ounces. It’s a flat, clear box that holds a single layer of the candies. They come in a variety of pastel colors with speckles: green, white, pink and yellow.
They’re ridiculously sweet, which is not ordinarily an appealing element. But at Easter, all bets are off. I go for white chocolate, I eat the super sweet things and I always give the marshmallow items a try.
The sugar shell is extremely light, so much that it doesn’t really give any crunch to the confection. The marshmallow core is soft and foamy and every once in a while I catch a little bit of vanilla from it. For the most part the morsels are just a lot of milk chocolate. The milk chocolate has a good dairy component to it and a very sweet, cool to the tongue effect. It melts readily but doesn’t have a very strong cocoa note, more like a hot cocoa morsel (with the marshmallow) than an intense milk chocolate.
This kind of candy, of course, could be done for other holiday and year-round treating occasions. It seems that there are other opportunities to mix them up as well with, perhaps, a flavored marshmallow (mint, perhaps) and different colored shells, dark chocolate ... even change the shape a bit.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.