Wednesday, January 2, 2008
Somewhere between the candy bar and the fine boxed chocolates is a strange no-man’s land known as the gourmet candy bar. Austria’s Zotter is one of those companies occupying that niche. They not only make innovative flavor combinations, but their products are also organic and Fair Trade certified.
I love the idea of Fair Trade. Everyone should get a living wage (or more!) for making candy. No one needs candy, so if we’re going to spend money on it, we certainly shouldn’t be contributing to sweat shops or slavery. That said, these are very expensive at $8 a bar, so it’s nice to know that the wealth I’m imparting to Zotter is being spread around.
The packaging is simple. The bars are wrapped in foil and have a nicely designed sleeve. Each bar has its own distinctive artwork. On top of that there are a lot of different bars. At any given moment there could be 60 listed on their website. I found these at Fog City News in San Francisco, but have also seen them in the Bay Area at The Candy Store, Miette Confisiere and Bittersweet Cafe in Oakland. (Each store had a slightly different selection.)
The bars are absolutely gorgeous. I was afraid mine would be dented or nicked from the trip, but right out of the package they were pristine and fresh.
They’re rather flat and the chocolate enrobing is very thin (but glossy). The proportions of the filling and the chocolate is ideal ... these bars are about the filling not the chocolate.
I was worried that the center would be stiff and grainy, instead it has a creamy snap to it with a slight semolina grain to it. The citrus is tangy and not very zesty. The chocolate coating is 70% and provides a good bittersweet counterpoint to the center.
The second bar I picked out was Banana Curry. The banana notes were strong and tasted like a fresh mash of super-ripe bananas. It was sweet and rich and almost like a pudding or creme brulee, but a little thicker with a slight chew. I never did get much of a curry note from the whole thing but I honestly didn’t miss it. Yes, I was promised curry, but what I got was pretty yummy in its own right.
If you’re looking for adventurous and inventive flavor combinations with your politically correct candy, well Zotter might be for you. At $8 for a 2.5 ounce bar (over $50 a pound), it’s like buying a couple of fine upscale chocolates from Recchiuti, Vosges, Charles Chocolates, CocoaVino, Chuao or Kee’s. They’re not easy to find in person but they do have a huge variety of flavors. I’m glad I gave them a try, but perhaps I’m more cheap than socially responsible, I just can’t spend that much on a candy bar without rationalizing it as being “for the blog.”
Tuesday, January 1, 2008
I’ve been cleaning up my studio space and going through all my unreviewed items. Let me say that there are a lot of them so I’m going to devote the rest of the week to clearing them out of the queue.
I don’t know where they came from. My neighbor Robin gave them to me from one of her friends at work who travels a lot. The back of the package has a translation on it, unfortunately into another Asian language. The only thing in English on the package besides the calorie info is the words “Half Cut Chocolate.”
These lovely little hemispheres look just like itty bitty cantaloupes. They each come individually wrapped in cellophane. Even though they’re wrapped, the bag smells of a light melon flavor. Once opened, they do smell a lot like cantaloupe. The white confection base is sweet and a good complement for the flavor. They’re a little bland, but so incredibly cute and of course so unusual.
I was rather unsure of how melon would go with chocolate, but it’s a perfectly natural combo for white chocolate.
Rating: 5 out of 10
I’m not a big fan of sesame flavored things. I enjoy sesame snaps (basically, sesame brittle) and the odd seed on a bun ... well, I also like halvah. Okay, I might just love sesame!
I was kind of on the fence about these. They tasted a lot like toasted sesame oil used in Japanese cooking, which always tastes a little burnt to me. But they were very smooth and creamy and after chewing for a minute or so they become very rich. But the smell put me off each and every time.
I ordered this box from JList.
(I realize now that I carelessly photographed this package upside down. Even though I don’t read Japanese, it’s not like I couldn’t have figured out that the little angel went at the top.)
Rating: 6 out of 10
I had high hopes for the red bean flavored caramels. They package was easy to spot, pretty much kidney bean red.
The Morinaga caramels have always had a slight grain (kind of a short caramel or dry caramel). This worked particularly well with the red bean flavor, which of course I always expect a little bean mealiness. It’s so smooth though and has such a consistent texture, it really works. It reminded me a lot of adzuki ice cream in that it got that creamy texture, but it’s much less sweet and more flavorful.
I really liked this and was looking forward to buying more, but I haven’t seen them again. I got this box in Little Tokyo after lunch one day when I was on jury duty.
Rating: 7 out of 10
This was one of the products I was looking forward to at the All Candy Expo. I didn’t make it over to their booth until the last day and all they had left was their original flavor. Their Creamy Pralines also come in Bananas Foster, Chocolate and Cafe au Lait but all they had left was the original.
Aunt Sally’s makes two different kinds of Pralines (pronounced PRAH-leens), this Creamy kind and a Creole kind.
The Creamy Pralines are a nice size, 3/4 of an ounce, like a small chocolate chip cookie. The nuts are abundant and smell fresh and kind of like maple. The sugary praline base is soft and kind of chewy like a fudge, but not quite caramel. It’s very smooth with only a slight grain to it.
I’m much more fond of either the straight chewy pralines or the sandier version (I think that’s Creole), but these were still very nice. I’m still curious to try the Bananas Foster version. At $2 each on the website, they’re a little pricey. I get one that’s almost triple the size at Littlejohn’s Toffee at the Farmers Market for $2.50 (it’s the sandy style).
I still haven’t been able to find them in person anywhere, SugarHog.net found them at the Albanese Candy Factory store.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Monday, December 31, 2007
I’ve seen these at the Walgreen’s since this summer but didn’t really feel like paying $3.50 for a bag of something that I can’t quite get my head around. I was hoping to try them at the All Candy Expo, but the Necco booth doesn’t really “do” samples of anything other than their most common products.
Instead I found them last week on sale along with the Christmas items for 50% off. So at $1.75 for 10 ounces, I felt like a fool not buying them.
I believe the product is called Cafe Select Chocolate Coffee Trios but there’s so much going on with the package. Things like “Made with Real Coffee!” and “Espresso - Cappuccino - Latte” and then the disclaimer, “Naturally & Artificially Flavored Crunchy Coffee Centers in Rich Chocolate.”
This is one of those occasions where I think my photos look better than the one on the package.
Basically, they’re malted milk balls, only with a coffee flavored center instead of malt. The center is amber colored with an even aerated crisp. There were perhaps two or three “duds” in the whole package (ones that had deflated or weren’t ideally sized, which is really good quality control in my opinion.
Espresso - a dark chocolate shell and a coffee crunch center. The chocolate shell isn’t very dark or rich, but beyond the “shellac” on the outside, it’s creamy and not grainy or chalky. The crunchy center is a little salty and less like a malted milk “cereal puff” and more like a sponge candy or center of a Cadbury Crunchie. The coffee flavor is mild, but since it’s not very sweet the coffee flavors come through.
Cappuccino - the milk chocolate makes this a little sweeter than the espresso one, but I can’t detect any difference with the crunchy center. I prefer the dark ones.
Latte - these are kind of freaky looking. The color is less “creamy” than I think they intend, it looks more like a rock than some foamed milk. However, they tasted richer than the cappuccino ones. These were my second favorite, but also the rarest in this mix.
Overall, I was really pleased with these. I know there are better upscale versions from Koppers & Marich, but for something I found at the drug store (and at half off), I found them really tasty and a great change of pace. I’ve been hungering for a coffee candy lately, and this just might be it.
Necco makes another variety called Cafe Select Chai Tea Trios, which also sound kind of interesting (but strangely named) but I haven’t run across them yet.
In other news, Necco was purchased by a consortium of investors and it sounds like the company will continue to make candy (I can see where folks might think their assets are more valuable than their products). Here’s a press release with more financials in it and an easier to understand article.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
If I bought a product that was simply named Snickers Nutcracker and given no other information, I would assume that it was a Snickers bar in the shape of a nutcracker. And what would I think a Snickers bar is? Nougat covered with a stripe of caramel with embedded whole peanuts and then covered in milk chocolate.
Of course I did buy a product name Snickers Nutcracker and I did not get a Snickers bar in the shape of a nutcracker.
Instead I got a nutcracker chocolate shell filled with caramel creme with crushed peanuts.
This is in stark contrast to the Snickers Egg I had back in March 2006, which was pretty much a Snickers bar in elongated hemispherical form.
But expectations and disappointments aside, this product is a little one ounce bar shaped like a squat nutcracker soldier. Inside is a caramel creme with crushed peanuts in it.
The center caramel is salty and tastes strongly of peanuts, not like peanut butter, but actual roasted peanuts. It’s not quite chewy, instead it’s a bit more flowing but still pretty smooth. The milk chocolate is sweet and contains the caramel well (no broken oozes in any of the nutcrackers I’ve had so far) and in good proportion.
It doesn’t have that “satisfaction” element to it that the heavy nut-ratio a Snickers bar has. I thought it was kind of fun, after all, how many gooey peanut caramel products are there? But I was really hoping for a Snickers.
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
This is one of those times where I missed the boat when photographing a selection of chocolates. This eentsy-weentsy box holds 1.76 ounces of chocolate. The box itself is about 3 1/2 inches square. There are nine pieces of molded Belgian chocolates.
So for the same calorie count that you’re used to with a candy bar, you can indulge in these cute little bon bons. They’re a perfect little stocking stuffer, especially when you see that the price is $1.99.
There’s even a little guide to each of the pieces (I’ll go kinda clockwise starting at the top with the biggest piece):
Though you could just pop each piece into your mouth whole, I bit each in half while eating them, so there are 18 bites total ... a nice way to slow down and enjoy such a small portion.
The selection is a little sweet and hazelnut-focused for an assortment for me. I wanted a bit more dark chocolate (and the dark ones were good). As a change from the normal Toblerone or tube of Droste as a stocking stuffer, party favor or office gift, these are pretty spectacular. As something I’d grab to satisfy me, they don’t quite make it.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
As I tried to document back in October, there are about 100 different varieties of Hershey’s Kisses, all issued this year in celebration of the 100th anniversary of the Kiss. Some are inventive new flavor combinations, some are rather poor executions of good ideas and still others are just different wrappers.
While it appears that Hershey’s has not reintroduced their seasonal favorite, the Mint Kisses, they did do a wide release of the Mint Truffle Kisses. They’re obviously a winter or holiday item with the snowflakes on the package. While I’ve been looking around for the vexingly hard to find Malt Crunch, I’ve had no trouble finding the Mint Truffle, so I waited to buy them at the best price.
The Kisses come in either a silver foil with green writing or green foil with silver writing. Inside there’s a minted dark chocolate shell with a light green minted truffle filling.
As with many of the other filled Kisses, these are a little greasy on the outside. (The Coconut Creme were huge offenders on this front.) They feel a bit cool on the tongue, that could be the huge dose of peppermint going on there but they also melt pretty easily as well. The truffle center isn’t super smooth, it’s more like a really soft and creamy mint frosting. It has a bit of a salty note to it, much more noticeable than the chocolate shell, this cuts through what would probably be a super-sweet Kiss. I like the little pop it gives it.
There are no partially hydrogenated oils in here but 40% of your RDA of saturated fats in just 9 Kisses. This bag also seems to be more generous than some. It has 11 ounces in it, most recent bags of limited edition Kisses are 8.5 ounces (of course that could just be the size that the other stores I frequent choose to carry).
Monday, December 17, 2007
The winter holidays seem to be a time of mint. Peppermint candy canes, mint marshmallows and of course all manner of minted chocolate. That’s why I wasn’t surprised to see these Nestle Toll House Mint Holiday Gems at KMart last week.
They’re pretty much self-explanatory, but for the record the package says, “Mint Semi Sweet Morsels with Red and Green Nonpariels.”
The only quibble I have is that the nonpariels don’t look particularly red to me. They look kinda pink. Hot pink, or fuschia or something.
Other than that, they’re little chocolate chips with colored nonpariels pressed into them. The semi-sweet chocolate is heavily minted, enough to create that cooling sensation in the mouth. There is a little bit of room for the chocolate flavor and the texture is pretty much that of a chocolate chip (a little more grainy than a chocolate bar). They’re strangely addictive, I chomped down most of them with my morning coffee. (The nonpariels do have a light bitter taste to me because of the red dye #40, your mileage may vary.)
It’s a nice change up from eating chocolate chips but the thing that puzzled me about them is that Nestle went with the Toll House brand for these and not the SnoCaps. As far as similarity to the SnoCaps line, these only differ by the fact they have the mint in them. As far as Toll House morsels go these have the addition of mint, the addition of nonpariels and they’re sold in a box instead of a 12 ounce bag.
They are Kosher but the chocolate contains milkfat and means they’re not vegan.
Friday, December 14, 2007
I’m not sure what the precise name of this item is, as there are lotsa different things on the package, different sizes, different fonts. I’m going to go with Trader Joe’s Peppermint Bark White Chocolate Bar. The description clears this up, “White chocolate covers a bar of dark chocolate & peppermint bits.”
Though the bar looks kind of like some sort of yogurt-covered meal replacement bar, it’s actually high-density candy. It’s pretty hefty at 2.25 ounces. It’s all-natural, with the pink coloring coming from beet juice. The white chocolate is real, with the first ingredients being sugar and cocoa butter. So be prepared, this is a fatty, fatty bar. The recommended dosage for some reason is 2/3 of the bar which clocks in with 36% of your daily RDA of saturated fats (though none of them trans).
But it’s the holidays!
The core of the bar is a solid plank of semi-sweet chocolate with a light peppermint essence in it. Then it’s coated in a generous layer of white chocolate studded with crushed peppermint candies.
If you’re a fan of peppermint bark, this is a good, portable option. High quality ingredients. Nice packaging (the bar is sealed in plastic/foil wrapper inside) and a decent price at $1.49 (this works out to about $10.50 a pound). I wanted more texture difference, more crunch, maybe not quite such a thick chunk.
It’s a good stocking stuffer or just a little treat for yourself when you don’t want to buy a huge tin of peppermint bark.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.