Monday, August 22, 2005
I actually had three bars but ate one before I could take its picture (milk chocolate in a saffron yellow wrapper), so pretend there’s a third one in there.
I was excited that Trader Joe’s was carrying these because I was hoping that it meant that they’d be a little less expensive (which they are). Still, I’m not sure I’m on board with this high end chocolate bar movement. Perhaps I’m just looking for a different thing in my chocolate than some other folks.
I think cocoa is great, it’s obviously one of those things that makes chocolate unique, that blend of earthy roasted flavors with those fruity notes that many people compare to wine or coffee. But what makes chocolate so great, for me, is cocoa butter. It’s one of those rare fats that is solid at room temperature and melts at body temperature. It makes it smooth and creamy and portable. Sharffen Berger chocolate bars lack that smooth and lustrous feeling on the tongue.
Scharffen Berger, I think, can be described as sour. There’s a pervasive acidic note in all their chocolates that I’ve tried and I don’t find it pleasant. It does provide a good base (except for the fact that acids are not bases as in alkaline) for the other flavors. In the pure dark chocolate I tasted some fruit notes: grape, apricot and some apple. I also tasted some oaky/woodsy notes and something which reminded me of lichens or wood ear mushrooms.
I know Sharffen Berger has its aficionados, but I don’t count myself among them. The product was definitely consistent and for a high-end chocolate, Trader Joe’s has certainly made it more accessible. I can definitely see this as good cooking chocolate - I wouldn’t hesitate to add some of their cocoa to my chili (yes, I put cocoa in my chili), but for eating it just leaves me, well, unaffected.
Rating - 6 out of 10.
Friday, August 19, 2005
Does this candy bar look familiar to anyone? I picked this up because it looked like a KitKat bar on the package and found that it looked just like it inside too. However, instead of four little bars, there were three. Unfortunately this is no match for KitKat - the first ingredient is sugar, and after opening the package and that sweet smell, it was obvious. The second ingredient is not milk chocolate or even cocoa butter but hydrogenated oil. That means this isn’t real chocolate on the outside? Nope, it’s not. It even gives you a hint to that in the description - “wafer fingers in milk compound chocolate.” Think “cheese food.”
However, the wafers were wonderfully crisp and the chocolate compound ratio to the wafers was nice. There was also a nice hint of hazelnut to it. If I found myself in Turkey and really wanted a candy bar, I might actually seek this one out, if only for its familiarity.
So, as far as DiDo goes, I’ll keep buying her albums, but she can keep her candy bar.
Interesting note - Dido is the Queen (and founder) of Carthage.
Rating - 6 out of 10 (but if they were made with real chocolate it’d be an 8)
Monday, August 08, 2005
Name: Exotic Candy Bars (Red Fire, Black Pearl & Naga)
A kind reader, flickerfly, emailed me a few weeks ago to point me to Vosges, specifically their Red Fire Bar. Their website is sure sassy but the prices are pretty darn, well, pricey. If you have a moment, browse their website. It’s an odd combination of haute, indulgence, health and yoga. I’m not going to be in Chicago or New York for a while, so I figured I’d see what they had at Neiman Marcus in Beverly Hills (I’d actually never been to the Neiman Marcus there before).
The woman behind the counter was on the phone pretty much the whole time I was there and all I saw of interest were three of the bars that they offered, and even though they were $6.50 each, I picked up all three. The back of each tells me how to eat an exotic candy bar (which is apparently different than eating other bars). You can read that here.
The first is called Naga Bar and is milk chocolate with Sweet Indian curry powder and coconut flakes. Upon opening the mylar package inside the box, the curry is quite pronounced along with a sugary smell and a slight aroma of chocolate. The chocolate itself is very milky and sweet. After sitting on the tongue for a moment, if bursts with the curry. The milk and the muskyness of the curry is a good blend and the choice of milk chocolate over dark is the right impulse. The curry leaves a little burning feeling on the tongue and throat. The coconut added a nice little texture to it, but I never got the flavor of it.
Next was the bar that I was most looking forward to, Red Fire Bar. It’s Mexican ancho and chipotle chili and cinnamon in dark chocolate (55%). The cinnamon is the top note on this bar. I’ve always enjoyed the combination of cinnamon and chocolate and usually use it in my hot chocolate. The next thing I taste is that it’s a very sweet bar, though buttery smooth to melt there’s a slight grain to it, which I must assume are the spices. Then the chili hits. It’s not so much a flavor as a feeling. A burning on the insides of my lips and my throat. There’s a bit of a smoky note to the bar as well. It’s a really nice combination, though not one I could eat a lot of in one sitting because of the fire element. Of the three bars, this is the one I finished first.
Last was a bar I wasn’t quite sure of. Called Black Pearl Bar, it’s Japanese ginger, wasabi and black sesame seeds in dark chocolate (55%). There was little scent to this bar, a slight woodsy note which I figured was the ginger and of course the chocolate. Upon melting in the mouth, this bar had none of the grain that the fire bar had, just a few sesame seeds (which I could have done without, thank you). The ginger is nice and earthy with a slight burn to it - or was it the wasabi. The horseradish notes didn’t really stick out, but the combination of wasabi and ginger is spicy without a painful throat burn.
As with many of these gourmet bars, I found the price to be a bit prohibitive. As a treat, I certainly plan on going to one of their shops in Las Vegas, Chicago or New York (whichever city I get to first). The Aztec truffle collection would be the first thing I’d try. Of course this riot of flavors has inspired me to try some different things in my own candy next time I whip up a batch of truffles.
Ratings - Naga - 6 out of 10
Friday, August 05, 2005
Name: White Chocolate Take 5
I own a lot of clothes with chocolate stains on them. However, I don’t think that’s enough of a reason to drive me to convert to white chocolate. In another revamp of a current candy bar with white chocolate, here is the Take 5 White Chocolate (limited edition).
What I noticed most about this bar was the peanut butter taste to it. Let’s face it, white chocolate is not a flavor. Chocolate is a flavor, but white chocolate is like deodorized chocolate ... and deflavored while we’re at it. All the fat and sugar and none of the tasty/healthy cocoa solids.
The good news is that Hershey is using real white chocolate - you’re wondering what that means? Well, in order for chocolate to be chocolate it needs to contain cocoa solids (basically cocoa) and cocoa butter (that fat that is solid at room temp and melts at body temp). White chocolate really has no definition, but purists prefer white chocolate that’s actually made with cocoa butter because it’s such a neat fat. Hershey is using real cocoa butter for their white chocolate and it shows in this bar (if they’d only use real vanilla, we might really have a winner).
The bar has an overwhelming sweet peanut smell and taste. I’m guessing that the milk chocolate Take 5 has more of a balance between flavors, but because there is no chocolate flavor here, only texture, the peanut butter and peanuts dominate (that’s not a bad thing, if you like peanuts). The pretzels really stood out as a flavor (they’re a bit lost in the regular Take 5) and the crisp and salt was a great contrast to the sweet, sticky caramel and white chocolate.
I was surprised at how good this bar was. It’s still not my thing but if you’re a nut lover and want something satisfying like chocolate without the actual cocoa, then this might be for you. Again, if Hershey’s really wants to win me over (okay, it’s not like I’m boycotting them or anything after the Twosomes Whoppers) they should make a dark chocolate pecan version of this.
Rating - 6 out of 10
Friday, July 29, 2005
I’m old enough to remember Pop Rocks when they were first introduced (then made by General Foods which later dropped them). And I liked them then. I also liked to experiment with them. You know, what happens if you put them in soda? In milk? Will the dog eat them? What if you dry your tongue out by holding it in front of a fan for twenty minutes and then put the pop rocks on it? The variety as a child was endless. (I guess my mother never stressed that whole, “don’t play with your food thing.”)
This new iteration of Pop Rocks solves one of the issues of dispensing Pop Rocks for consumption. Before you’d either have to pour it into your mouth or out onto you hand and it’d invariably get sticky there. This packet of Pop Rocks includes a little rocket shaped lollipop (of the same flavor) for wetting in your mouth and dipping into the foil pack. The lolly itself is pretty good, not terribly sour or flavorful, but a good delivery device.
Pop Rocks themselves are interesting, probably a candy to be enjoyed in a group. Tart and crunchy with a good fizz. When I was a kid, I think the only flavors they came in were orange and grape. I liked the orange best. The rocks themselves are more like flakes (I’m not sure, but I thought they looked like little crisped rice kernels when I was a kid, but who knows).
If I have one tip for the packaging is to put the lolly in a separate package and make the Pop Rocks envelope a little smaller. It’s damn hard to get the little lolly into that big bag where the Pop Rocks only cover the bottom of it. Also, it’s been damn humid here lately, so if you open the package and don’t eat it right away, be sure to close it tightly, mine ended up being one big pop rock.
Good fun. Additional Info - How Do Pop Rocks Work?, Mikey from the Life Cereal Commercials and Pop Rocks, Super 70s Website and the unofficial Pop Rocks website.
Rating - 6 out of 10 (I might buy it again if they made orange)
Thursday, July 28, 2005
Name: Junior Caramels
What took the Junior line so long to expand? Apparently they’ve been around for a while, but not everywhere (I guess they’re sold in Canada?).
Junior is currently owned by Tootsie Roll. Junior Mints have long been a favorite of mine. For the record, I like them equally as well as peppermint patties - their fillings are rather different with the only similarities being they’re both white and mint flavored.
Junior Caramels are just soft caramel balls about the size of a garbanzo bean in chocolate. What’s good about them is that the caramel is actually soft and chewy, unlike Milk Duds, which I think must be subsidized by the dental care industry because they’re probably designed for pulling out fillings. (Don’t get me wrong, I love Milk Duds ... especially since they started using real milk chocolate on them, but Milk Duds don’t love me.)
You can pop more than one in your mouth at a time. But they’re kind of fun to bite in half, too.
The caramel in the Junior Caramel doesn’t have that good burnt sugar/toffee taste that Milk Duds do, but they’re still a good chew. They’re sweet and need a little something to counter that. I’ve been eating this huge box with some raw almonds and pretzels, I’ve found it’s a good combo. I haven’t tried them yet at the movies, but I’d think that they’re the perfect movie candy because each one takes a while to chew and actually goes well with popcorn.
Rating - 6 out of 10
Other resources - find a rerun of this episode of Unwrapped to see them made!
Wednesday, July 27, 2005
One of the best things about this blog is finding out about completely new varieties of candies I’d never heard of. One of these is Japanese Black Sugar Candy. Known as kuro sato, black sugar is basically brown sugar/molasses.
True brown sugar is basically sugar made from the whole boiled cane instead of just the cane juice that keeps the molasses. Molasses and black sugar is high in potassium as well as traces of iron, calcium and even a little salt. The taste of black sugar is similar to muscovado and has a salty, smokey taste to it. In the States, most brown sugar that you buy in the grocery store is just white sugar that has a bit of molasses added back into it.
Some Japanese just eat nuggets of black sugar as a treat (similar to maple sugar candies or Mexican panela). In fact, I used to eat brown sugar right out of the box as a kid. I loved the flavor of it. Many doctors and pharmacists have for years used muscovado-type sugars for medicinal use, either as a base for cough remedies or added to make medicinal syrups.
The Japanese use the bold taste of kuro sato to full effect in a lot of candies. Most are hard candies which are either for eating or for use as cough drops (often with the addition of honey or menthol).
Here are a few I found:
Name: Kuro Ame
from JBox - “A wonderful traditional Japanese hard candy, this is “Kuro-Ame” (Black Candy), a famous Japanese treat loved by everyone since the 1860’s. With a long history and a unique brown-sugar taste, this is a classical Japanese treat. One bag includes 22+ individual wrapped candies.”
Name: Pocket Black Sugar Throat Treatment Candy
In the tradition of a cough drop (similar to Ludens), this black sugar candy is packaged to carry easily in your pocket. Each piece is individually wrapped and has the distinctive taste of black sugar mellowed with a tinge of honey and menthol.
Name: Kasugai Honey & Black Sugar Candy
Shaped like little gems, these black sugar hard candies are individually sealed and packed with a little silica gel pack to keep them dry. They have a very smooth, sweet taste because of the honey. Not as smokey tasting as the Kuro Ame made by the same company, these are probably a great one to carry as a little pick me up and throat soother. Of the three products I bought, this is the one that is already gone.
Ratings - Kuro Ame - 6 out of 10
Also - see previous review of Asahi Drops (I didn’t know what Japanese black sugar was when I reviewed them)
Wednesday, July 20, 2005
Name: Chocolates made with Icewine
Name: Maple Chocolate Truffles
My husband recently went to Vancouver and picked up these Canadian themed candies. The truffles are maple flavored and the Icewine chocolates are in the shape of maple leaves.
First, as far as I’m concerned a chocolate truffle is defined as the following: a soft chocolate made by combining good quality chocolate with cream and butter. It melts at a lower temperature than chocolate and is therefore extremely fatty and tasty. Chocolate truffles are usually covered in chocolate, so as to contain the melty insides (some places will just roll them in cocoa, but then they’re prone to melting and sticking together).
It’s hot right now in Los Angeles and at eighty degrees inside the house, the innards of these truffles should have been more yielding. As it was, they were more the solid consistency of say, a frango. Basically just another flavored and rather solid chocolate inside a chocolate shell.
That said, I think maple is a great flavor. It’s woodsy and sweet and reminds me of, well, maple. There’s not much else like maple. These were very mapley and extremely sweet. I think if I were inventing these I’d keep the center throat-searingly sweet but coat them in dark chocolate as a little respite. The chocolate was good quality but not excellent. As a gift from Canada, I think they were great, but it’s not something I’ll seek out next time I go up north.
Next up was a long box of chocolates with a tray of little maple leaf-shaped molded chocoaltes with a filling flavored with Icewine. I didn’t know what icewine was so out to the internet I go (and by the way, the website listed on the box is um, bad). Turns out icewine is made from grapes left on the vine through the winter (so maybe it’s really raisin wine?).
The idea of a cream center flavored with this sweet white wine is great. The chocolate shell was nice, a crisp milky chocolate. The center was not too large (sometimes a large center that’s really sweet kind of ruins the ratio of chocolate to filling) and smelled vaguely of fruit. However, there was something a little off. I tasted the fruity wine notes distinctly, but I also tasted plastic. I’m not sure if it was the tray that they were packaged in or what, but they were a little off. I ate them anyway, but didn’t find it a good combo.
Ratings - Chocolates made with Icewine - 5 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.