Monday, August 4, 2014
While in London earlier this year, I made sure to visit some of the finer chocolate shops. One I wanted to go to in particular was one of the Hotel Chocolat locations known as Roast+Conch, where they actually make some bean to bar chocolate. The location in the Borough Market in the Bankside district of London and includes a full restaurant that features cacao as an ingredient in every dish.
After eating a wonderful lunch, my mother and I browsed the store on the ground level. The cacao of the day was Trinidad, with the beans being served before lunch and some pieces of freshly made chocolate served at the end of the meal. So I was sure to pick up a bar of that. Then I also wanted to try another bar from their Rabot 1745 line. Though Hotel Chocolate uses Callebaut chocolate in their other confections, their Rabot line is made in conjunction with Coppeneur in Germany (one of my favorite chocolate makers). I didn’t know that at the time, but now it doesn’t surprise me at all.
I picked out a Venezuela Chuao 70% bar. Chuao cacao has a strong reputation as some of the best beans in the world (here’s a sampling of some bars I tasted a few years ago).
Hotel Chocolat gives extensive information about the handling of the beans and making of the cacao. The bar itself is 70% cacao with just three ingredients: cacao mass, cane sugar and soy lecithin.
The description of this bar from Hotel Chocolat goes something like this: Prima Donna with talent. She’s good and she knows it – an interplay of cream and caramel with malt and raisins, roast nuts and plenty of elegant poise.
Roasting time: 35min @135 C.
Refining & Conching: 72hrs
The bar is wonderfully dark with an interesting texture from the mold. Though it’s rather thick, it’s quite easy to snap.
The scent is woodsy with some green notes like jasmine and olives. The melt is smooth, though it has a bitter note right away, a sort of dryness that gives it an acidic bite. But the buttery texture makes that all quite palatable. I caught a burnt note to it, a sort of smoke but nothing that’s unpleasant. It doesn’t have some of the other nutty notes I enjoy in other Venezuelan chocolate, mostly those from Ocumare. But I’d definitely eat this again, mostly because the texture is so nice, especially since it’s such a high cacao content.
The bar itself just came in the cellophane sleeve with a label, there was no box. The label also didn’t say anything about the conch time or the harvest, just the date the bar was best by. The Hotel Chocolat website says that they use Trinitario beans (which makes sense, since they’re from Trinidad where the varietal originated).
It’s a 75% bar, so it’s only a little bit darker than the Chuao. The texture is far and away different, it’s grittier and sort of rustic in its overall flavors. It’s woodsy with some coffee and black pepper notes, a little toffee and brown sugar as well. It’s kind of bitter, but not overly dry at the finish. The meal we had in the restaurant started with these beans and then later finished with little medallions of chocolate also from Trinidad beans. I like the idea of buying chocolate that’s made right before my eyes, but the reality is that I prefer to eat the chocolate that’s been carefully crafted ... and I don’t have to witness it to enjoy it.
I’ve found that I like a long conch on my chocolate, part of what I like about a good chocolate bar is the texture. In most cases a long conch gives the cacao not only the time it needs to become smooth, but also for the flavors to develop. I did a taste test a few years back with some Coppeneur Chuao that had been conched 70 hours and 100 hours. Much of the mass-market chocolate we consume is conched for less than a day, some for two days ... I found that a 3 day conch is fine for me, anything over that gets kind of muddy in the flavor department but does create an amazingly smooth texture.
The Rabot 1745 line from Hotel Chocolat is a worthwhile way to experience single origin chocolate along with a lot of information about the making of the bar itself, as few chocolate makers include the origin, harvest date, roasting and conch time.
Monday, July 28, 2014
Wonka, a Nestle company, has been trying get traction with some newer candies over the past decade. There have been many introductions, but none have the staying power of some of the classic candies under the Wonka label, like Runts, SweeTarts and Nerds.
The new Wonka Randoms are billed as an Endless Gummy Variety because there are dozens of different shapes and colors possible, each bag is likely to be a unique mix of possibilities.
There are five different colors/flavors and three different textures.
The easiest version to spot is the transparent molded shapes which come in yellow, orange, pink, purple and red. Some also have a foamy white bottom with a transparent fruity top layer. Then the third version is also a foamy bottom, but they’re usually dome shaped and have a dollop of goo in the center under the transparent layer.
The variety of shapes is quite charming. Most are mundane and realistic, such as trains, crowns, ships, alligators, unicorns, pieces of candy (how meta), paintbrushes, footprints and bicycles.
The Pink are Strawberry, or something similar. It’s bright and tangy with a mellow jam quality instead of fresh fruit. They’re soft and with a balanced and dense flavor.
Orange are Orange. It was ordinary and a little disappointing, as it tasted more like an orange popsicle than a good, zesty orange gummy. The package says that the flavors and colors are all natural, and includes real orange and lemon juice.
Red is Cherry. This one was admirable. It had a light black currant note to it, a bit of tangy bite and less sweetness than the others.
Purple is Grape. I was rather surprised this was a flavor. I didn’t care much for it, as it was rather like eating generic purple jelly on toast at a diner. It was tangy and had a fruity note, but didn’t taste as good as some other grape gummis I’ve had from Japan.
Yellow is Lemon. It’s a very strong lemon flavor, with a blend of tartness, zest and sweetness. It had a concentrate note to it (which I always associate with aluminum, for some reason) but was very flavorful.
The Marshmallow Whip ones were very similar, but a bit bouncier from the aerated gummy base.It gives it a creamier note, but also dilutes the overall intensity of the flavor.
The Jam Filled were okay, the jam was mostly sweet, without much of its own flavor contribution. It definitely made the pieces a quicker chew, less dense.
Since Nestle is a global company, they have a much larger presence in Europe. Many of the Wonka products we know in the United States are under the Rowntree brand in the United Kingdom and parts of Europe. I first saw Rowntree Randoms in London when was there back in March and picked up a few little bags.
The Rowntree packaging doesn’t state where they’re made, but the Wonka Randoms are made in the Czech Republic, which is also where previous Wonka gummis (such as the Squishy Sploshberries and Sluggles) were also manufactured.
The molds and flavors were the same as far as I could tell.
Overall, the idea of so many different shapes in a single bag is delightful. The actual flavor variety doesn’t quite float my boat - I like pineapple and a wider range of citrus flavors in my gummis. These look great in a bowl and are fun to share. Many parents will appreciate that they use naturally derived flavors and colors. They’re not gluten free and there’s no statement about other allergens like peanuts and tree nuts.
Monday, July 7, 2014
I’ve often wondered why more confections weren’t made from roasting and conching. What would happen if you roasted and conched almonds or hazelnuts in the same way we make chocolate? What about coffee?
Since coffee doesn’t have its own natural oils like cocoa that are solid at room temperature, it only makes sense to add a dash of them to make a chocolate-like confection to create these Morning Rush Coffee Bites. These are from the Walgreen’s store-brand called deLISH, but I did see a review of a product called Coffee Thins on Candy Bar Review that sounds like it might be the maker.
They came in three varieties, I picked out the simplest version, the plain coffee bites (Elegant Hazelnut and Vanilla Delight were the others). There are 14 in the package, but the serving size is a little strange to decode. There’s 4.9 ounces in the package and it holds 3.5 servings. So a serving is 4 pieces. Though the package doesn’t say anything about caffeine, the Coffee Thins website does say that one piece equals a quarter of a cup of coffee. (I’m unclear if they mean an actual fourth of an 8 ounce cup and how much caffeine that cup had, as it does vary quite a bit but I’ll stick with the estimate that even eating the whole bag will probably not result it an overdose of caffeine. The front of the package is no help either, as it shows one piece equaling a cup of coffee ... though the cup is the same size as the chocolate piece.)
They’re packaged just like a Ghirardelli Square. The pieces are about 1.6 inches square. The molding is nice, it’s a generic mold but a good thickness for biting and getting a nice aroma off of it while eating.
The ingredients are a little vague:
The oils are a blend of cocoa butter, palm oil, illipe butter, shea butter, mango butter, sunflower oil and/or safflower oil. It’s also unclear if the coffee is the whole bean or brewed coffee. (I’m guessing whole bean.)
The mouthfeel is pretty good. It’s not quite the silky melt of a good dark chocolate, but it’s passable. The coffee flavors are very strong and well rounded, more on the woodsy and cocoa end of the flavors than the nutty, toffee or berry notes that some beans have. The sugar is quite prominent, which is too bad, because I don’t mind a strong coffee. If it were less sweet, I’d be a lot happier, but when you remove sugar, it has to be replaced by something else. There’s a buttery, cream note to the whole thing too that I thought was a little strong for something that I didn’t think was in the milk drink zone. It’s a balancing act, if you take out sugar, do you put in more milk solids or more coffee? More coffee would make it much stronger, but that might not make it better because the bitterness or perhaps even the caffeine would be too high.
The end result is that I’m satisfied with these as a curiosity. I don’t see myself buying them again ... unless they were actually blended in with dark chocolate. However, if your a sweet coffee fan, these might be the ticket.
Monday, June 16, 2014
Just Born has introduced a new year-round version of marshmallow Peeps. The new Peeps Minis are different in a few ways. First, they’re not packaged a tray, they’re tossed together into a stand up, reasealable bag. Second, they’re mini versions of individual Peeps, each Peeps is not a single bite.
They’re available in several different flavors, but the only one I can find here in Los Angeles right now is the Vanilla Creme Peeps Minis. The package holds on 3.4 ounces and cost $2.79 at Target. They’re part of this whole hand-to-mouth snacking trend, as they analysts call it, that I refer to as morselization.
The surprising thing about Peeps Minis is that they do fulfill a big hole in the candy aisle. There are no sugar crusted marshmallows. If you meander over to the ingredient aisle in grocery stores you’ll find starch coated Jet-Puffed and Campfire marshmallows, but they’re only rarely found in the candy aisle (usually in special displays for S’mores along with graham crackers and chocolate bars).
They do smell a lot like cake. A sort of butter flavored cake, maybe pound cake and strongly of vanilla extract.
Each Peep is pretty small. They’re about half the weight of a regular Peep (which is usually about 8.5 grams) at about 4 grams each. There are only 14 calories per Peep, mostly because they don’t weight much and are made from sugar and a little protein.
I like white Peeps because they have no artificial colors to get in the way of the flavors. They do taste rather cakey, like an Angel Food Cake in both flavor profile and actual texture. I liked them much more than I thought, though I still doubt I’d pick these up as a go-to candy, even in the summer. My biggest issue is the eyes, I can’t stand the little wax eyes on Peeps, I have to pull them off, which means that I can’t just eat them. They are an ideal version of Peeps to take to the movies, as the package is very quiet and of course they’re easy to share ... and would probably pair very well with popcorn.
It seemed like there was less sugar sanding on the, and because the package does a better job of containing the leftover sugar than the trays, they were far less messy. I don’t know how good of a job the zipper-top package does at keeping them fresh, I only had them for a few days, did not seal them and they’re still fresh. (But it’s a bit more humid in Southern California as were in our June Gloom weather pattern of low clouds in the morning.)
They’re gluten free and fat free (as if people have allergies to fat). They’re made in the USA, and may contain milk but have no other notations about allergens such as nuts. Since they’re marshmallows, they’re also made with gelatin and are not for vegetarians. There’s no specification as to the source of the gelatin, so I would guess it’s porcine.
Monday, June 9, 2014
Though Mentos are a little less boring in the United States than they used to be, some of the most interesting flavors come from overseas.
I ordered a package of Mentos Tropical Rainbow from Japan (through Napa Japan, my new alternative to JBox.com).
The flavor array is interesting, you get just two of each flavor, they’re all lined up with the flavors listed on the package. Of note:
Passion Fruit - it’s a little bit on the metallic side. It’s quite tangy and has a sort of black currant note mixed with pineapple, but still a bit of authentic passion fruit flavor.
Mango - less peachy than some others I’ve had, but still not convincing. It lacks that pine flavor that many mangos have, it’s more like a very sweet peach crossed with pineapple.
Kiwi - a cross between green apple and strawberry. Kiwi is usually more about the texture than the flavor anyway, so a fruity candy that’s supposed to be a kiwi is at a disadvantage.
Other flavors included were also:
Strawberry - fresh and sweet, but less tangy than a Skittle.
Green Apple - tart without too much of the artificial note in the American green apple candies.
Grape - wonderfully round, tastes like a concord grape.
Pineapple - an incredible mix of tart and floral.
I can’t see myself ordering these again, but I do like some variety in my package from time to time ... still, I think the classic Rainbow Mentos suit my flavor preferences better.
Mentos Lemon Cola (also from Japan) are just a little more tangy than the Fresh Cola Mentos that are already widely available. I like the hint of zest and more intense flavor. It would be nice to see these in a mix, perhaps Cola and Cherry, Cola and Lemon and Cola and Lime all in one cola rainbow package.
Mentos Mintensity are available in Europe and are kind of like a Mint Rainbow, except that there aren’t just 2 of each flavor. Instead it’s like a sliding scale of intensity. None of the flavors are new, I’ve had them all in other packaging forms in the past. There are 2 Air Action, 2 Strong Mint, 4 Spearmint, 6 Mint chewy candies.
Overall, the Air Action delivers a potent mix of menthol and mint. It’s not so different though, from the Strong Mint, which is also sold as Xtreme Mint in Southeast Asia. Strong is, well, a chewy Altoid. It’s refreshing but doesn’t exactly burn. The Spearmint were very good, and just the right amount. The Mint are, well, the standard Freshmaker. If you start with them, it’s a nice progression, if you end with them, they taste kind of like sugar.
If you dump the package out, it’s hard to tell the pieces apart, they’re all white, grey or slightly tinted blue or green, but in low light situations, you’re not going to be able to tell.
My final item is that Spearmint Mentos are now available widely in the United States. The flavor has been popular in other parts of the world for years, including Australia and Europe, but not here. So it was great to see them at 7-11 recently. I’ve picked them up on Europe before, and tried the Xtreme Spearmint version before as well.
It reminds me of toothpaste but also has a good, fresh green tea note to it. They’re light green, so they do have some coloring to them, unlike peppermint Mentos. I’d definitely pick these up regularly.
As much as I like Mentos, their freshness varies. Unlike most candies sold today, they’re not sealed in plastic, but instead just wrapped up in foil. So, I do get about a third of my packages where the candies are quite hard, often brittle instead of chewy. They’re still edible, but not quite as good as the fresh and chewy ones.
Thursday, May 22, 2014
Twix Unwrapped Bites are exactly what they sound like, a bag of tiny little Twix bars (more like nuggets) all jumbled up, out of the wrapper and ready to eat.
Mars already makes bites which include the primary elements for the classic bar version, but have different ratios because of the miniaturization process. It’s an uneven transfer to the new format, in some case I prefer the new ratios, in others I think that one or more elements is lacking. So far I’ve tried: Milky Way, Milky Way Simply Caramel, 3 Musketeers, and Snickers.
The little lumps aren’t really that pretty, but they’re chocolatey, so that’s appealing. Like the other bites, they get scuffed up tumbling around in the package, so they don’t have the elegant, shiny ripples of the long fingers. They smell sugary and sweet, just like regular Twix bars.
They’re not as messy as I find regular Twix, as I pop the whole thing in my mouth at once. The crunch of the cookie is good, there’s a bit higher ratio of chocolate in this version, and a good caramel chew to bring the elements together. Sweet, milky, a mild sandy crunch ... a good blend of textures. Like the other bites, it’s easy to mix them in with other items to create a custom mix. I think this might be good with a Chex Mix if you’re a sweet & savory person.
I thought it was interesting to note that in the United Kingdom, Mars also introduced a morsel version of Twix last year. It’s a little different though. Since I knew that the Twix Unwrapped Bites were coming to the United States, I made sure to find the Twix Mix while I was in London back in March so I could compare them.
The format of Twix Mix is actually a mix of little nuggets of biscuit (cookie) and caramel. They’re slightly different shapes, so if you’d prefer to eat one or the other, or make sure you’re mixing them, you can pick them out. The caramel pieces are just little spheres of a firm caramel covered in a very milky, thin chocolate shell. The biscuit pieces are a little flatter.
The effect is actually quite nice. The ratios don’t match the classic Twix bar at all, and the milk chocolate is much milkier and the whole experience is a bit more on the malt side than the usual emphasis on the toffee/caramel notes. As a confectionery snack, they’re good and different enough from a bridge mix or something as traditional as Milk Duds.
The American Twix Unwrapped Bites have no notation on the packaging regarding the cocoa sourcing yet, though Mars promises that is coming in the next few years. They contain dairy, soy and gluten and may contain traces of peanuts.
Friday, May 2, 2014
The trend of making little poppable versions of popular candies extends to Europe, so when I saw these new Cadbury Dairy Milk Pebbles in London, I picked them up. Cadbury already makes several morsel versions of their popular Dairy Milk chocolate. They make Buttons, which are little disks and of course the Easter version, the Cadbury Mini Eggs which have a shell.
Now Cadbury has a shell candy for all year round consumption, completing their entry into the world of morselization. I’ve also seen that Cadbury’s parent company, Mondelez (once part of Kraft) has created bagged mixes that include the Pebbles, mini Oreos, and Maynard’s gummi candies. Kind of like the M&Ms Sweet & Salty Snack Mix that came out from Mars.
Like most Cadbury chocolate products in the United Kingdom, this is not real milk chocolate. It’s what’s commonly called “family chocolate” which is a nice way of saying, “We don’t need to waste expensive cocoa butter on children, we’ll substitute some oil in there.” So it’s a quasi-mockolate product that uses some cocoa butter and some vegetable oil. Still, it’s not like it’s R. M. Palmer mockolate, it’s made from 23% milk content and 20% cocoa content ... then, you know, some sugar and a few oils, natural colors and shellac.
Instead of going with the typical lentil shape, the pieces are like flattened Cadbury Mini Eggs. They’re kind of like guitar picks. The colors are plain, for the most part when I dumped them out of the bag they were a little chalky looking but polished up pretty easily with a paper towel. (I figured they deserved a little spa treatment after being carted partway around the world.)
The yellow ones are a bit strange though, because of the all natural colorings, the ingredients on this particular one is a little odd. It’s kind of like curry ...a little grassy. The chocolate center is smooth, a little malty but with a thin punch of chocolate flavor. The shell is wonderfully crunchy, outside of the odd yellow one. The whole combination is really a great candy, I enjoyed eating them, though it certainly didn’t satisfy my desire for chocolate. I would be interested in trying these in some sort of mixed bag with mini Oreos and perhaps a few nuts.
I doubt that Cadbury will attempt to license this to Hershey’s for production under their deal. So American’s will have to content themselves with imports or just stocking up in the Easter version.
They contain milk, corn and soy. There’s no statement about nuts or gluten. Though Cadbury has started certifying some candies with sourcing information, the Dairy Milk Pebbles did not have a the Fair Trade or Rainforest Alliance stamp.
Monday, April 21, 2014
While the classic Hot Tamales get their warm heat from the active ingredient in cinnamon, cinnamaldehyde, the twist with this new version features hot peppers. The active hotness in chili peppers is caused by capsaicin.
Hot Tamales Tropical Heat come in a mix of three flavors in the bag: Limon Fever, Mango Tango, and Pineapple Picante.
I bought this half pound peg at Cost Plus World Market for $2.99 ... I found that a bit steep for what are basically jelly beans, but I was very interested in Just Born’s entry into this segment. I’m quite fond of the original and keep them on hand in my candy jars in my office.
The pieces are beautiful and easy to differentiate from the regular Hot Tamales or Milk and Ike, if you happened to mix them together.
The Limon Fever is light green with a few green speckles on it. Though limón is lemon in Spanish, this has a distinct lime note to it. There’s a bitterness at the front, a nice zesty note of citrus peel, then a tart juicy flavor (which could be lemon) and a note of jalapeno. Though I get the spicy burst and the warmth, it’s not too much, not throat searing, just warm. Then after a while it’s just sweet and a little grainy.
Mango Tango is medium orange with red speckles. This seemed to be the dominant flavor in my package, which is too bad. As much as I love mangos, they’re rarely good in candy format. The flavor starts out with a mild tangy bite and the heat from the chili, then it gets sweet and taste like peaches. That’s pretty much it. It’s not terrible, but it’s not quite mango.
Pineapple Picante begins with a good mix of floral and lightly tart. The chili warmth comes in just as the whole thing descends into sweetness though the floral pineapple remains. It’s the freshest tasting of the three, though I liked the enduing zest of the Limon as well.
Though I found these a little strange, I actually liked them, and I don’t actually like chili peppers. They’re warm but not painfully hot. But if you’re someone who likes their spicy spices to burn, these will not do it for you.
Hot Tamales are gluten free, contain no gelatin but do have confectioners glaze so wouldn’t be appropriate for vegans.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.