Tuesday, March 3, 2015
At the Fancy Food Show last month I ran across another small-batch caramel maker. This one is called Suss Sweets. They’re based in New Hampshire and have a line of caramels with an interesting package idea - the caramels are sold in long logs, not individual pieces. So a standard roll is 1/4 of a pound. You slice off however much you want.
I found them at an Italian deli at Americana at Brand mall in Glendale. I had to go through the entire basket of caramel logs to find the only Maple Pecan one, since it was the flavor that I sparked the most with at the show.
There’s a lot of packaging for what looks so simple. The outside is a piece of baking parchment, twisted at the ends with a little sleeve with the label on it. Inside is a box, embossed with the logo (kind of a waste, I didn’t notice this touch until I was throwing it out). Then inside the box, the caramel roll is wrapped in wax paper.
The long log was easy to slice into appropriate pieces. The nuts were not as numerous as I’d hoped, so some slices were nutless. However, the maple and pecan flavor was throughout the entire bar. The chew of the caramel was smooth with excellent toasted sugar and fresh butter notes. The salt touch was quite light, enough to balance the sweetness but not so much to make me grab a glass of water. The nuts were fresh and the pecan flavors went very well with the woodsy and vanilla maple notes.
The bar was expensive at $7.50, but of course it was a quarter of a pound. But the fact that they’re not ready to eat meant we couldn’t just try them with our coffee at the store, we had to wait until we got home and got out a knife.
I did get to try the full range of flavors, including Pumpkin Seed and the straight Vanilla with Sea Salt. It’s a good caramel, just like I make at home when I have the time and the weather cooperates. It’s a fun item if you’re putting together a gift basket, especially if it’s a themed with coffee, cheese or other sweets. The fact that you can control the size of the pieces will appeal to some consumers, but I think I just want mine individually wrapped.
Monday, February 23, 2015
The package says: smooth dark chocolate enrobes a robust coffee-flavored center.
This is the first I’ve seen a coffee flavored item from Russell Stover in their single serve line, though I think they do some coffee items in their boxed chocolates.
The dark chocolate coating is pretty thick and sticks to the filling well. The filling is what I’d call a cross between a ganache and a fudge. It’s thick and has a good melt. The base is made from sugar and cream, so it’s like a ganache, but doesn’t have that much chocolate in it. Instead it’s just loaded with coffee. The coffee flavor is woodsy, with a little bitter acidic note to it. It’s definitely strong, and not terribly sweet, considering the amount of sugar in there.
It’s nice. However, it’s big. I don’t want this much chocolate and ganache. I want about half as much, and maybe in more of a stick or plank format than a big patty. Or maybe a smaller patty, like a Peppermint Patty format, but with a coffee ganache center.
The package says: Rich coffee-flavored filling surrounded by creamy white chocolate & dusted with cocoa.
My photo didn’t turn out very well, partly because it’s actually a low contrast wrapper. It’s a light gold foil with other darker gold accents and a mix of brown and white text. Not easy to read on the front and even worse on the back.
It smells similarly coffee-ish to the House Blend Coffee, only there’s a more sweet note from the white coating. The combination wasn’t appealing to me on paper, as I was expecting it to be cloyingly sweet. However, the bitterness of the center can actually accept quite a bit of sweetness from the white chocolate coating, which is especially thick at the middle. It never quite mixes to create a good approximation of a cappuccino or latte, but does give me more of a coffee ice cream note to the whole thing.
On the whole, Russell Stover has done an excellent job with their coffee flavoring for the center. It has a lot of the right flavor elements without tasting too much like instant coffee or including actual coffee grounds in the center. I wouldn’t mind seeing these in the seasonal varieties, mostly because those are a bit smaller than the Big Bite line, but I think this is a good addition to their line. Since there aren’t many coffee flavored chocolates out on the market, it’s a nice option.
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
The description is: crunchy pecans & toasted quinoa with soft & buttery caramel enrobed in chocolate and topped with Himalaya pink sea salt. They’re Kosher and made with mostly organic dairy ingredients as well. Though they use quinoa for the crunchy bits, they’re not a gluten-free candy as they may contain wheat. Also, they’re made in a facility with other tree nuts, eggs and peanuts. Too bad, because a gluten free and peanut free notation would really set these apart.
The patties are about 1.5 inches across, so either one big bite or two small bites. The nutritional listing is a little odd, as it says that 3 pieces are 36 grams and come to 140 calories. That’s just ridiculous for something with so much chocolate and full dairy caramel ingredients. So, my calculations say that it’s 102 calories per ounce, I’m going to say that they’re at least 125.
They smell like a sweet milk chocolate with a hint of earthy cereal notes. The patties are very flat and turning them over reveals that the inclusions are small. So the pecans are really not crunchy pecans but actually crunched pecans along with the quinoa.
The chew of the caramel is good, with some excellent buttery notes and toasted sugar flavors. The quinoa is crunchy, but not overly so. The pecans were barely evident, to the point that some pieces seemed to be lacking pecans entirely. But when I did get them, they had a wonderful woodsy, maple note. I would have preferred much more in the pecan front, even if they were just small pieces, or even just the quinoa and leave out the pecans entirely.
I don’t know if I would pick these up again, but I enjoyed the package I had. If I saw that they had a dark version or mucked around with the proportions, I’d give them another go. But there are other Trader Joe’s items that I much prefer over this, including the Butterscotch Sea Salt Caramels. The price point seemed a bit high, but is far better than DeMet’s Pecan Turtles which are usually about twice the price per pound and use inferior ingredients.
Monday, February 16, 2015
One of their new introductions is the Ritter Sport Fine Extra Dark Chocolate 73% Cocoa (also called Amargo Extrafino).
The bar is much darker than their regular bars at 73% and is made from West Africa and Ecuadorian-sourced cocoa beans. Though the format of this bar is new I’m not sure if the concept really is, I’ve had a very dark bar from Ritter Sport before, though my tasting notes reveal it’s a bit different.
Generally, I love Ritter Sport’s milk chocolate. They make a very creamy product, and actually work with several different recipes for use in different bars. Their dark bars, for the most part, are one of the better at the price point, but I don’t eat the plain dark bars, I go for the bars that have nuts or marzipan. So, the idea of picking up a Ritter Sport over the many other very dark bars out there means that it’s going to need something special to turn my head.
The format for this bar is different from their usual 16 squares. Instead, it’s 36 pieces (a 6 x 6 instead of a 4 x 4 array).
The deep scoring makes the pieces easy to snap off. They’re nearly pyramidic, so a little awkward in shape in the mouth. There’s a fair amount of cocoa butter, so it has an easy and quick melt. For the most part the particle size is small, so it’s smooth ... but there were the odd gritty bits from time to time.
The cocoa flavors are overwhelmingly earthy. There are not fruit notes, except for perhaps a little green banana. The rest was like coffee, brownies and toasted coconut. It’s woodsy and deep. It’s satisfying and not at all bitter, though there’s a dry bite to it, but the cocoa butter covers up at the very end.
When I ran the numbers for the calories per ounce, I was a little shocked that it came out so high, though cacao content also includes cocoa butter for that percentage. So this bar has a lot of cocoa butter, far more than most dark bars.
This feels very much like the texture that Dove lovers might gravitate towards. I might buy it again, but I really want some nuts in it, maybe even a little salt hint somewhere. But if Ritter Sport starts using this chocolate base for other bars, I’d be very interested in going down that road with them.
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
It’s hard to resist a pretty bit of packaging, especially when, as I mentioned in last week’s review of the Theo’s Love Crunch, a chocolate bar is far better than a greeting card. The bubbly design in reds and pinks is a bit feminine, but the flavors should suit anyone who likes their milk chocolate on the deeper side of the pool.
This Theo bar delivers on the promise of the package, for me. The wrapper for the Theo Chocolate My Cherry Baby bar says, Fall in love with cherries in dreamy 45% milk chocolate - tangy, sweet and yummy.
The bars are made in Seattle with ethically sourced, non GMO, no soy, gluten free, Kosher and in this case, at a darn affordable price. For some reason they weren’t $4 a bar, which Theo is usually priced, but I got mine for $1.50 each.
The bar is a dark milk, which is a nice place to start for a high end bar. The flavor is quite deep with rich coffee notes, but also quite a bit of malt and even a hint of yeast in there. The cherry pieces are tiny and a bit on the leathery side. They’re tangy and chewy, but not freeze dried crispy bits either. The flavor combines well, though both seem to bring out bitter notes in each other - I got the cherry skin bitterness on one hand and the roasted acrid notes from the chocolate.
It’s a tasty bar, easy to eat, but I felt no need to eat more than a large square at a time, even though a half of a bar is the recommended dose.
I do enjoy Theo Chocolate’s seasonal bars quite a bit, much more than their standard just-chocolate. The gold standard for them will probably always be the Dark Chocolate Salted Almond ... but toss in a few cherries for a holiday version, and I might be inclined to revise my opinion.
Monday, February 9, 2015
Torie & Howard makes organic hard candies in a variety of fruit flavors.
I got this sample from the Fancy Food Show last month in their newest variety: Meyer Lemon & Raspberry Organic Hard Candy
They come in lovely tins, or can be purchased in bulk to refill the tin as well. There are some elegant touches, such as the inside of the tin is turquoise blue, instead of the default tin color.
As hard candies, the ingredients are pretty simple, so they’re organic, contain no corn syrup or gluten and are also free from GMO, soy and dairy products.
The little wrappers take up a substantial amount of space in the tin, but they do hold 2 ounces of actual candy (more than the discontinued Altoids Sours).
The pieces are small, but fit well in the mouth. There are very few voids and the dissolve yields and intense flavor burst. I can’t quite tell that it’s a Meyer Lemon and not Eureka lemon flavors, but I can say that it’s lemony. The raspberry gives it a little more floral note, kissed with a bit of jam. The zest comes out later, and has a lasting bitter bite to it, so much that I kind of felt burned after eating five in succession (that is the serving size).
These are very refreshing, and I find them most useful in situations where I might want to stay alert, like driving or a long meeting. Since they’re small, they’re quite discreet. I think they’re a lovely gift or special occasion item, something to put in a gift basket for a baby shower or housewarming present. I don’t see buying these for myself except for extraordinary circumstances.
I would be curious to try spice flavors, though. I don’t know if I’ve seen a chai, or cinnamon in organic before.
Friday, January 16, 2015
I was traveling earlier this week. I went to San Francisco to the Fancy Food Show. Though I drove, I still carried some gums with me, as driving over a few of the passes make my ears pop and the drive can be monotonous.
Glee Gum is made with natural chicle and natural colorings, quite rare on the market these days.
The chew is soft, the candy shell has a crispness that doesn’t last long. It’s not a thick shell that makes little crunchies in the gum, it dissolves quickly. The flavor is sweet with a mild but indistinct citrus note to it. It’s kind of like a lemon chamomile tea. The sweetness fades quickly, though it is rather cool on the tongue for a while, as most xylitol candies and gums are. The zest continues, and gets a little more intense after about 4 or 5 minutes ... then I think the gum is done as far as the flavor goes. The chew is still good, in fact, I prefer the chew of the sugarless Glee to the sugared kind ... it’s slightly stiffer and doesn’t stick as much.
After chewing the gum, about a half an hour later, I thought my mouth was still rather fresh feeling. Not a lingering mint, but just a sort of jasmine tea freshness. The citrus doesn’t go well with coffee, but for getting rid of coffee breath, it’s pretty good. Xylitol, as a sweetener, is actually good for dental health, so I’m trying to get into the habit of chewing in the afternoon to freshen up my mouth.
Spearmint is a largely underutilized flavor in the confectionery world. Peppermint is the default, though as herbs go, spearmint is far more ubiquitous and easier to grow. The dark green pieces are naturally colored and quite appealing. They don’t smell like much, it’s not like sticking your nose in a half-emptied packet of Wrigley’s Spearmint gum, which always smelled so fresh.
The shell on the sugary variety is a little crunchier, though not by much. The flavor of the spearmint is mild and pleasant, but not overt like an Altoid. The chew is soft, though it stiffens up and gets a little bit sticky at times as the minutes pass. I was able to manage some moderate bubbles at time, though I was much better at cracking my gum with this version.
The sugar faded away within minutes, though the herbal and grassy spearmint notes hung around for quite a while after. After discarding the gum, the minty freshness dissipated within about 5 minutes.
When I first tried Glee Gum years ago, I didn’t care much for it. It’s certainly grown on me and it’s become my go-to gum for traveling. Partly because of the natural ingredients and partly because I like the chiclet style and simplicity of the boxes.
Thursday, January 8, 2015
Combining spirits with chocolate is pretty common. There’s a new genre, though, the combination of brewed drinks added to chocolate. I picked up the Guinness Luxury Milk Chocolate Caramel Bar at an after Christmas sale, when it was only $1.49 for the Ireland-made bar.
I’m not a beer drinker, as I don’t care for very bitter things, so Guinness has long been on my list of things that I don’t drink. Guinness is a dry stout introduced in Ireland in 1759. It’s quite dark and has a very distinctive look and long history.
Flowing caramel skilfully handcrafted in small batches, flavoured with GUINNESS and set in a creamy milk chocolate shell to create a unique bitter sweet chocolate experience.
So, as is the case with most alcohol-infused chocolates, the stout is mixed with the caramel, not the chocolate itself.
The bar is nicely crafted. It’s a long bar, with domed segments. The indentations between the segments are pretty thin, so my bar was broken in several places, but along those margins. The good news is that the caramel does not enter those segment breaks, so it didn’t become an oozy mess.
It smells distinctly of beer and milk, which really isn’t a pleasant smell in itself, only by association with pleasant experience with actual beer products. The yeasty notes reminded me more of bread, which is a nice combination with chocolate. The milk chocolate is quite sweet, though smooth and a bit on the fudgy side. The caramel filling dominated the flavors, though.
There’s not a lot of caramel in there, but certainly flavorful stuff. It’s the flowing kind, with bready, malty flavors and a definite bitter hop note that wasn’t too distracting. There’s a smidge of salt, but not a lot of toffee or toasted sugar.
I’m curious to try their Guinness Fudge, if it’s done with a lot of butter, because I think the yeasty flavors might go well. I’ll pass on the beer, caramel and chocolate here, though. It’s just too sweet, which is exactly what I wouldn’t want with beer.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.