Tuesday, December 9, 2014
During early December, Trader Joe’s becomes a hotspot for decadent hostess gifts. In the store I frequent, there is a table with just gift boxed confections and gift samplers by the dairy case. Many of the items featured are new and quirky treats, but some are tried and true classics.
Since I’m on a cherry cordial kick, I did pick up the Trader Joe’s Chocolate Liqueur Cherries which feature a real boost of alcohol (4.4%). They may not be available in all states, as some areas have stricter alcohol laws. I think you need to be over 21 to purchase these in most places. (Even though you’d need to eat the full 14 ounce box to get the same amount of alcohol as you’d find in a beer.)
The ingredients are quite decent: it’s 49% cacao dark chocolate (with no added dairy fillers) and a filling made of sugar, alcohol, a full cherry, corn syrup and cherry juice. There are no artificial flavors or colors ... and it appears to be vegan. They’re made in a factory that also processed milk, peanuts, almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts. There’s no statement about gluten and it does contain soy.
The box is serviceable, with some sort of faux wood grain design on the front that verges on old west instead of elegant Christmas gift. The tray inside is plastic, but because it’s metallic gold along with the gold foil wrapping, it’s a good presentation at that point.
Once the box is open, though, it’s hard to carry it with one hand without tipping the contents out ... but at least they’re wrapped in foil, so they’re easy to retrieve.
They’re small, at about 12 grams each and about 55 calories.
I found the easiest way to eat these is pretty common. I turn over the little hemisphere and pry the bottom off with my teeth eat the chocolate coin. Then sip the cherry syrup cordial and then eat the soaked cherry with the chocolate in one bite.
In this case the cherry cordial syrup is not quite sweet and has a light acidic note, probably from the cherry juice. The alcohol has no clear attributes of its own, except that it burns a little bit and gives the effect of cough syrup at times. The chocolate is passable - sweet and with some woodsy/brownie notes to it. The cherry at the center was usually small, but crunchy and chewy.
I enjoyed these since they were less sweet than others I’ve been sampling. I don’t know if I’d buy them again, I’d probably stick with the Brandy Beans if I have a hankering for alcohol filled chocolates. I applaud Trader Joe’s for making a reliable product, though, with good quality ingredients with no preservatives (well, sugar and alcohol are preservatives) or artificial colors. It’s certainly more expensive than the others I’ve profiled from Cella’s and Queen Anne, but you’re getting more real ingredients instead of preservatives and colorings ... and pretty gold foil.
I’ve purchased liqueur chocolates before, and I have to stress that you can’t freeze them (don’t leave them in the car overnight if you’re someplace cold) and they will eventually evaporate so they should be eaten within 1 month of purchase, especially if you’ve taken off the plastic overwrap.
Monday, December 8, 2014
Since I tried the an array of Queen Anne chocolate cherries, I though it would only be proper to try the best-known cordial cherries. Luckily they were on sale at Target yesterday for only $1.39 for a box of 10 cherries ... less than I paid for the lowest priced version of Queen Anne.
Cella’s Cherries come in a variety of packages, I’m most familiar with the boxes that feature individually foil wrapped versions. They come in both Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate versions. I chose dark.
This box of Cella’s was minimalist and efficient. The box was about half the size (flatter) than the Queen Anne and still held 10 pieces. (Though the total box only holds 5 ounces, not 6.6 ounces, so they’re smaller.) The tray plastic, but it’s easy to pull the chocolate’s out. They were all flawless, though I heard from a reader who also bought some over the weekend and half were cracked.
They’re well molded, shiny and fresh. Cella’s feature a 100% cordial center, which means no sugary fondant, it’ll all syrup and cherry in there. Cella’s are also made in a peanut free and gluten free facility, so these are appropriate for a wide range of sweet-lovers. Sadly, even though this is a dark chocolate product, there is some dairy in there (and soy). It would have been nice to find a vegan cherry candy. The cherries are treated with sulfur dioxide, sodium benzoate and calcium chloride and they add red dye #40.
They do smell like cherry. So much that it really overpowers the chocolate, but in general I consider the chocolate in a cordial cherry to be only a delivery vessel. The syrupy center is sweet, but certainly less so than the Queen Anne. The cherry is firm and crunchy and has just a slight tart note to it and a wholly maraschino flavor.
I was never really a cordial cherry fan, but I’ve been coming around. For the price, I really can’t complain about this product. The chocolate was creamy and had some toasted notes, though could certainly be darker. It was excellently tempered and these would be a lovely treat to serve with dessert to folks at the holidays. Because there’s a lot of water in the center, these are quite low in calories per ounce, so if you’re looking for a little treat without breaking your diet, this is also a nice change as the flavors are intense and linger. There are better looking packages, though, if you’re looking for a hostess gift.
Some people prefer the fondant style center to the syrup cordial, so it’s good to know what kind of person you are going in. SugarPressure did a comparison of Brach’s, Cella’s and Queen Anne and preferred the Queen Anne.
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Godiva was founded in Belgium as a premium chocolatier. The company is now owned by a Turkish holding coming (Yıldız Holding) but is headquartered in New York and named after an Old English noblewoman.
The chocolate is reliably of good quality, though the prices are on the high side compared to other brands now available. I love their packaging, but I’m usually disappointed by the products as they tend to be bland.
Still, I was tempted enough by a press release about a new collaboration collection that I stopped by the local Godiva shop and picked up a box of the Chef Inspirations Flavors of the World Collection. It was $18 for a box of eight chocolates in six different flavors.
So, six flavors and eight pieces means that I got two duplicates. The box is nice, a rounded rectangle with a plastic formed tray inside. The whole thing was shrink-wrapped and definitely fresh and flawless when I opened it. It included a little brochure that described both the chef and chocolates themselves. Here’s a little bit from the website:
Banana & Caramelized Coconut: Milk and white chocolate enhanced with caramelized coconut flakes, coconut milk and banana essence topped with the crunch of West African cocoa nibs. The banana flavors are sweet and have a bit of a creamy note. The coconut has a little tropical flavor, the whole thing is soft and chewy. The milk chocolate is smooth, but extremely sweet.
Black Tea Mousse & Sichuan Pepper: Chinese Sichuan pepper flavored ganache blended with an aromatic black tea mousse and wrapped in pure Belgian dark chocolate. The mousse has a very light chocolate note but strong tannins from the black tea. I didn’t catch much of the pepper, which is too bad. But I did enjoy the tea and this one was less sweet than the others.
Sirop de Liege with Speculoos: Classic Belgian Sirop de Liege, a pear and apple syrup, and a Speculoos cookie mousse wrapped in pure Belgian dark chocolate. This is a beautiful piece and an interesting combination. It is by far the most innovative and successful in the assortment. The speculoos is soft and creamy with a hint of gingerbread spices. The syrup is more like a fruit jelly, tart and smooth and bright, it’s really a great pairing with the dark chocolate and cookie butter. They should make this in a bar format.
Japanese Dark Sugar Ganache: Dark chocolate layered with Kuromitsu molasses and Valencia almond praliné mixed with diced hazelnuts and Guerande sea salt. Since I started Candy Blog, I’ve been obsessed with Japanese black sugar, so this was the piece was thinking would be a home run. It’s nice, don’t get me wrong, but lacks any sort of black sugar note at all. The almond and hazelnut notes are great and the touch of sea salt does really balance the piece which gets a bit sweet, but the molasses is just so slight, I missed it. And I had three of these ... the two that came in the box and I bought one on the spot and ate it at the mall.
Brazilian Coffee Nut Praliné: Brazilian coffee and Costa Rican chocolate blended with hazelnut praliné enrobed in white chocolate and decorated with crispy chocolate confetti. As you would expect, this one was sweet with the white chocolate coating. The coffee notes a fresh and bright and the hazelnut flavors really mixed well. The little crisps on top gave it the texture it needed as a finish. Dark chocolate enrobing would have made me a bit more satisfied.
Honey Roasted Caramel: Caramel infused with hints of honey, almonds, brown sugar and condensed milk covered in milk chocolate and crunchy almonds. This sounds rather pedestrian and it really is, but that’s no reason not to appreciate it. It was chewy, but not too sticky. The honey and darker toffee notes were good and the milk chocolate brought it together well with some other dairy notes. The almonds were kind of lost, but at least fresh and crunchy.
Overall ... well, it was too sweet and not intense enough. I liked the attempts and part of the fun was just imagining what the combinations would be like. But I think I’ll stick with my local chocolatiers like Compartes or Valerie if I want to get into that price range, or just stop at See’s and be happy with their caramels.
Friday, November 21, 2014
Pecan Pie is actually just candy in a flaky pastry dough, as far as I’m concerned. The pecan pie filling is a cross between a custard and a fudge, a mix of fats and sugar ... all topped with caramelized pecans. Most pecan pie lacks enough pecans as far as I’m concerned, and I usually want mine in the filling, not just on top.
Even though this traveled about a thousand miles, it did well. The graham cracker base was just a little rounded off and about half of the pecans fell off the top. (But were very easy to just pour into my mouth from the package.) This version of pecan pie has milk chocolate ... which isn’t a bad thing, I often enjoy a chocolate pecan pie, or at least a pecan pie with a hot fudge sauce on it.
Like many pecan pies, the center here has no pecans in it, it’s just a penuche-type fudge center with excellent butter and brown sugar notes. The milk chocolate is actually less sweet than the center, which is nice, and the graham cracker moderates it all even more. The pecans are not integrated into this at all, which is disappointing, because they shouldn’t be the afterthought, they should be the center.
Still, as a confection, it’s quite nice, very sweet but a lot of textural interest. As a candy version of pecan pie, it fails. Don’t worry, I’m willing to eat Russell Stover’s mistakes.
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Ritter Sport has been releasing seasonal variations on their popular square bars for the past few years. Only in the past few years have they appeared reliably on US shelves, and usually for the Winter Editions.
The new Ritter Sport Coffee & Hazelnuts is a new bar, though it combines elements from other existing bars. I found my bar at Cost Plus World Market with the Christmas candies, they had all three varieties for this season, including the return of the Caramelized Almond and the also new Vanilla Crescents. It’s nice to see new bars in the mix, but disappointing that they’re all milk chocolate. This bar was $2.99, a smidge higher than the regulars, which sell for $2.49.
The bar looks like all the other Ritter Sport bars ... a 4x4 grid of sections, each with the Ritter Sport logo on top. This is a filled bar, a coffee cream studded with crushed hazelnuts. It’s a simple concept and rather baffling that no one has been doing this all along.
The ingredients, however, were not promising when it comes to cocoa content:
I’m not against fat, I love the stuff. All that fat made this bar pretty high on the calorie count, 172 calories per ounce ... that’s 600 for the whole bar (for reference the whole hazelnut dark bar has 550 calories for the whole bar). Ritter Sport has been pretty good about the sourcing of its cacao, but they’re not forthcoming about their palm oil. For that reason and others mostly of taste preferences, when buying their bars for just eating, I usually stick to the solid chocolate varieties (or marzipan).
It looks great, smells mildly like coffee and cocoa but mostly sweet. The bite is soft, as most of the milk chocolate Ritter Sports are. The cream center has a cool melt and a vague coffee note to it, but it’s not as strong as the Espresso Bar, which is disappointing. The cream center is a little slick and thin, ultimately. The bar is extremely sweet for something that’s supposed to be coffee and hazelnuts. There are some hazelnuts, enough for a crunch and a touch of gianduia in the center. I really wanted a deep roasted experience ... the mix of the hazelnuts and coffee were promising, but ultimately not as deep as I’d hoped. But if you like Ice Cubes, you’ll appreciate the decadence of this bar. Dark chocolate would improve this bar immensely.
It’s not a bad bar, but like many of the bars that Ritter Sport has been making, especially the filled ones, they’re sweet and too oily without enough flavor. I want more dark chocolate options.
Thursday, October 30, 2014
The Brach’s Milk Maid Royals candies were always quite special looking. I remember seeing them in the pick-a-mix assortments at the dime store as a kid. I was attracted to the bold foil wrappers that each little flavored caramel rod sported. The looked expensive and sophisticated. The are a lot more caramel choices in the stores now and it seems harder to find the Brach’s individually wrapped candies since the bins of the candy disappeared from many grocery store candy aisles.
Royals Caramels are a layered candy, a flavored center chew is surrounded by caramel. It’s a simple construction that’s helped by the fact that caramel goes with just about everything.
I’ve noticed that Brach’s has recently started repackaging their standard line of candy and sprucing up the flavor assortments to match current tastes. The new Brach’s Apple Caramel Royals come in a stand-up gusset bag and are positioned right next to M&Ms and the new morsel sized candies like York Minis and Snickers Bites.
The package is a lovely apple red but the candies inside are wrapped in neon green waxed paper. It’s kind of an odd, especially because I had two flavors sitting around at one time and I kept grabbing the wrong package. However, Brach’s did use red for their Caramel Apple Candy Corn, so the flavor colors do match on the outside at least.
Unlike the foil-wrapped ancestors, these candies don’t look like much in the wrapper. They’re the kind of candy that would probably sit around with the Tootsie Rolls at the end of Trick-or-Treat until I was desperate.
The look of the candies unwrapped is odd, the caramel looks good - an opaque medium brown color. But the green center is on the blue side, which makes it look a little more like a caramel filled with toothpaste than a green apple candy. Luckily the smell aligns everything again. It’s sweet and with a light apple peel and milk scent. The chew is soft, the caramel and sort of taffy center mix well. It could use a little bit of salt to bring it together. It’s never quite a smooth and creamy caramel, but much more satisfying than the Brach’s Candy Corn Nougats I tried last week.
The ingredients list actual apples plus buttermilk as an ingredient in these, which really makes them one of the closest candies on drug store shelves to actual caramel apples.
While caramel apple candies are quite trendy right now for fall, the general salted caramel rage is a year round thing and still going strong. It only makes sense that Brach’s, now owned by the Ferrara Candy Company, would expand into some of these mainstream trends.
While they say sea salt on the front of the package, the ingredients list only salt. The nutrition panel shows that there are 180 mgs of salt per serving of 6 pieces. As a point of reference, the Apple Caramel Royals have only 75 mgs.
The Sea Salt Caramel Royals are, well, quite nice! The chew is soft with a little difference between the caramel outside and the sort of pasty chew inside. They’re definitely salty, but it does highlight the brown sugar notes of the caramel. I wouldn’t be likely to buy these again, especially at the price when I can get some really good sea salt caramels from Trader Joe’s or just some Sugar Babies ... but I will finish this bag.
These candies are made in Mexico. The contain milk, soy and egg ingredients. There’s no notation about nuts or gluten, though.
Brach’s Milk Maid Royals have been made since the late 1920s (though I’m sure the wrappers have changed over the years). The flavors are probably also cyclical with changing tastes. The last time I had them I enjoyed the extra-sweet Maple and Butter Rum, but didn’t care for the sherbet flavored Orange. The Chocolate is softer than a Tootsie Roll but didn’t have the reliably long chew.
Monday, October 20, 2014
This is a pumpkin shaped candy that’s flavored like Apple Pie. This is really nothing new, as Russell Stover has more than half a dozen holiday shaped treats that are flavored like baked treats: Carrot Cake, Birthday Cake, Wedding Cake, Pumpkin Pie, Gingerbread, Cookie Dough and Red Velvet. The packaging looks pretty much like the other Russell Stover one ounce pumpkin shaped candies, so I had to look carefully on the shelves to find it.
The Russell Stover Apple Pie Pumpkin is an apple pie flavored fudgy center covered in milk chocolate. At only one ounce, it’s a small little treat.
Since there are two versions of the Apple Pie on shelves, I thought I’d compare them.
The milk chocolate pumpkin is compact and has a nice enrobed milk chocolate coating. It’s not overly sweet but is milky and creamy. It’s a nice balance to the fudgy, grainy filling. It’s like a spice fudge center. It’s mostly a spice blend of cinnamon and nutmeg maybe with a hint of lemon zest but there’s also an apple flavor that kind of floats above it all. There’s just enough salt to keep it interesting. Some of the other cake flavored pumpkins have actual cake mix in them (uncooked flour) but this is just a sugary, buttery center.
I enjoy these sorts of confections in small quantities and the chocolate kept it all together well, even if it kind of kept it from tasting like actual apple pie.
Russell Stover has started making year-round versions of some of their usual holiday items. The Big Bite line includes the Big Bite S’mores (which aren’t sold in any other format to date) and some Big Bite Caramel Apples. The Big Bite Apple Pie actually accomplishes an Apple Pie experience a bit better than the Pumpkin.
Like the Big Bite S’mores, this confection features a graham cracker base.
The Big Bite Apple Pie is twice the weight of the regular Pumpkin but features a large graham cracker base. The milk chocolate coating seems a little thinner, but the spiced penuche fudge filling is about the same. The addition of the graham cracker really brought home the pie notes, but the lack of actual apples and the anomalous existence of milk chocolate in an otherwise chocolateless pie kept this from being the best emulation ... but taking it for what it is, it’s a fun little candy. It’s different, it works.
In some other news, Russell Stover was purchased this year by Lindt & Sprungli, the same company that already owns Ghirardelli Chocolate. This makes Lindt the third largest chocolate company in the United States (behind Hershey’s and Mars, bumping Nestle out of third). It will be interesting to see what sort of changes Lindt will make, and I’m hoping they’re only improvements but they don’t lose this quirky little seasonal line.
Friday, October 17, 2014
The box is quite cute. Both the front and back feature Minion characters. (The back is formatted to stand on its end instead of the long side, and has a Minion holding up a banana.)
The mix is not very mixy, it’s just two flavors: Banana and Blueberry. The yellow and blue colors go thematically with the colors of the Minion worker overalls and their skin (?) color.
The blue Blueberry Mike and Ikes are blue. Very blue. The blueberry flavor is, well, a flavor. It doesn’t taste like blueberries, but it’s pleasant enough. It’s tangy and sweet.
The yellow Banana Mike and Ike are great. I don’t know if they’ve done a straight banana before (plenty of banana blends), so this was a pleasure since it’s such an uncommon flavor. It’s sweet with no weird acetone burn to it. It’s just, well sweet banana with a little toffee note like it’s very ripe.
This particular mix hit 100% for me, as I liked both flavors and didn’t need to do any picking. They combined nicely, but were good on their own. I can’t think of anything to improve it. It’s a quality movie tie in, instead of just throwing some movie logos on an existing product, they made something that had a fun little flair that goes with the show. (Kind of like the Jelly Belly mixes that have been coming out lately.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.