Wednesday, December 5, 2007
I keep seeing this bar, but only in its jumbo form shown here. It clocks in at 4.5 ounces, no mere chocolate bar, this is a plank. Like the Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Filled with Creamy Peanut Butter that’s also found in this size, I was hoping I’d run across a King Size or perhaps single serve size at some point. It’s like it barely exists. It’s never shown up on the Hershey’s official Hershey’s Milk Chocolate page.
But it’s clear it exists, not only because I have photos, but also independent corroboration from Nicole at Baking Bites with her review. For a while I saw the bar at the Dollar Tree so I though there must be something wrong with it, maybe it was old, maybe it was an import. But when I saw it at Ralph’s and flipped over the package to see that it expired in September 2008, it was made in the United States and it was on sale for a dollar, I figured it was time to give it a try.
It’s a lovely looking bar. It looks like a Hershey bar, a light caramely brown with 16 segments each with the Hershey’s name on them. It smells like, well, a Hershey bar. A little sweet, a little tangy. That Hershey’s tang isn’t quite as noticeable when you eat it though. What’s noticeable is a mellow malty note from the actual corn flake bits in there. They’re pretty dense and solidly crunchy. The malty corn flake flavors develop more as the chocolate dissolves away. I could use more corn flakes.
It’s in no way as good as the Ritter Sport Knusperflakes bar, but I ate the whole thing ... all 4.5 ounces of it (I got it on Sunday) so it has to be pretty good.
It’s a nice combo. It’s a terrible name for a candy bar though. I think they should have just called it an extension of the Krackel line and called it Corn Krackel. Or maybe Mr. Cornbar.
Thanks to Patti for being the first to alert me to this possible domestic contender for Ritter Sport Knusperflake’s place in my heart.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
I’m still in a licorice mood and have been feeling more like “eating licorice” as it’s called. This means it’s soft and chewy and not too harsh.
I got a wonderful full sized sample of the Soft Licorice from Finnska at the All Candy Expo in September from the Gerrit J. Verburg Co. It’s just what I needed. I found the package charming, though every time I looked at it I wondered what an ostrich would be doing on a Viking ship.
The little twist are soft, perhaps a little sticky. They’re pure black and a bit glossy. They don’t smell like much, a little earthy, a little smoky.
They’re not super sweet, not very licorice-y either. In fact, there’s no molasses in there, which is one of the flavors I’m accustomed to in my wheat-based licorice chew. It’s also really low in calories.
It took me about a half a dozen of them before I figured out what they taste like. Beets. (Maybe beets baked in Ouzo.)
I know, it sounds horrible. But it’s great. It’s sweet and woodsy and a little bit like dirt or roots. It doesn’t feel cloying or sticky. It’s good munching candy. I’ve eaten the whole box. It’s rather different from Panda, which has a doughy texture to it sometimes and stronger anise and molasses tones.
This particular Finnska is also organic!
Monday, November 26, 2007
One of the regional candies that I haven’t reviewed here before is Sponge Candy. Sponge Candy is best known in the Buffalo, NY area. The history of Sponge Candy is kind of murky, but variations of it exist in in Australia (Violet Crumble or simply Honeycomb), Cinder Toffee (UK), Sea Foam (Pacific Northwest) and Molasses Puffs (St. Louis area).
Sponge Candy is basically a hard candy, just boiled sugar and corn syrup, but just as its taken off the heat some baking soda and vinegar is added to foam it up as it cools.
The resulting block of frothed sugar is mostly air. It’s a strange and very light hardened sugar that smells lightly of molasses or caramel (though there is is no butter or molasses in most versions). Think of it as the candy version of pumice.
The Sponge Candy I got is from Parkside Candy, which looks like a charming, classic ice cream shop in Buffalo. They a few versions of their Sponge Candy including milk chocolate covered and orange, but I chose the classic Dark Chocolate Covered Sponge Candy.
The pieces varied slightly in shape and size, but all were about two bites and 1.5” square. The chocolate enrobing was thin and in good proportion to the honeycombed sugar foam.
The sugar center had a nice smoky note to it with a little salty hit (even though there was no salt listed on the ingredients it might have come from the sodium bicarbonate). It melted nicely on the tongue or could be quickly chewed (though it gives off a strange sound like crunching styrofoam).
There were a few pieces at the bottom of the box where either there was a gap in the coating or it broke. This allowed moisture to get into the sponge, which deflated it. It creates a tacky, sticky texture and while I’d eat it, just out of curiosity, it’s not a selling point. I’ve also had Sponge Candy from a local shop in Los Angeles called Littlejohn’s. It’s a very different texture (and might actually be called Honeycomb), but similar burnt sugar flavor with a thicker chocolate coating.
Overall, I like the stuff. The one pound box is substantial. I felt satisfied after two or three pieces and I know that weight-wise that was a pretty small portion. I liked the texture and strong flavor much better than the Violet Crumble, and it doesn’t hurt that this was nice semi-sweet chocolate on the outside.
I paid quite a bit for my one pound box at The Candy Store, $25 actually. It’s only $16 on Parkside Candy’s website ... but I also didn’t have to pay for shipping. A smaller sized box would have also suited me better, but luckily I’ve had guests over the Thanksgiving Holiday Weekend to help me out with the box.
See G’s review of Fowler’s of Buffalo Sponge Candy.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
On my recent trip to San Francisco I was excited to check out the licorice assortments at both Miette Patissiere and The Candy Store, as both were known for their large variety for sale. I wasn’t disappointed at all! (The only sad part was that they were $12 a pound.)
Fruit Filled Rockies - these are gorgeous little nibbles. The dark licorice tube is filled with a firm fondant-style fruit creme. Not quite sweet, they do have a salty bite through and through. There are two different pinks there, one raspberry and the lighter one is, as far as I can tell, orange. The brown one is more smoky, with a strong salty component. 6 out of 10
Schoolkrijt by Venco (Netherlands) is a very common licorice in Europe, kind of like our Good & Plenty but much milder. It’s much like the Rockies, in that it’s a tube of licorice filled with a creme. Then the whole thing is panned with a crunchy mint shell.
The flavor combo is kind of medicinal, like a cough drop, but I rather like that. Peppermint, licorice and some molasses. I’ve had these a couple of times before, but this particular sampling was very fresh. The outside was crisp and the inside was soft and chewy.
UPDATE: Seems I couldn’t get these out of my mind and have bought at least two pounds (not at once) since this review for personal consumption. So the rating gets updated to a 9 out of 10
Griotten by Venco (Netherlands) were completely new to me. If I’ve seen these before I’ve completely blocked them out. They look like little raw sugar cubes, but pick one up and it’s too light for that. Why, it’s a little spongy too!
It’s like a cross between a marshmallow and a gummi. Soft and chewy, but not too dense or tacky.
The flavor is mild, with only a delicate hit of licorice and anise and not terribly sweet either with a mix of the grainy sugar coating and a little salt. 7 out of 10
The smoky molasses is a good background for the light licorice flavor. No salt here, just a light coating of sugar to pull it all together. Very soft, very chewy. Kind of chocolatey. 7 out of 10
The cute little buttons are nice and soft. While I like a hard glycerine-style licorice sometimes (Katjes), I really enjoy the chew of licorice as a feature. As a lightly salted licorice, it was very mild, but I was disappointed that it didn’t have a huge licorice kick.
There was a slight metallic tinge for me and a fleeting glimpse of damp cat-inhabited basements. 5 out of 10
Honey Tops (Netherlands) were the one piece that I thought was one that I’d had before, it didn’t look quite the same, not quite as amber and there is no bee on this hive. The flavor is a round with only the slightest honey tint, some mild licorice (no anise). They’re pretty firm. These and the Kokindjes were the last ones I finished. 5 out of 10
(I was guessing at the brands here based on who sells what. There could be other companies that make these same varieties.)
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
For at least a year I’ve been reading about Hotel Chocolat on Chocablog. The products seemed inventive, if a little over the top. But the company story, the fact that they’re bean to bar and pride themselves on sourcing their chocolate ethically is pretty compelling. While I love many of the fair trade chocolates that I try, I really want some chocolate candy sometimes.
Hotel Chocolat contacted me a couple of months ago with the news that they were opening a webstore in the US. So I could get my own taste of their product line. At first they offered to send me a sample package with their Peepsters, which were little slabs of chocolate with items mixed in. For some reason that wasn’t possible and they up and sent me the Crostini Fruit & Nut Slab and a bag of Macadamia Turtles. (Neither of these items are available on their website.)
The American website focuses on images of folks with great skin using chocolate as seduction (probably successfully since by the time you get to the Christmas chocolate there’s one image that shows the “couple” with a small child). Their products seem designed to entice with sensuality and abundance. Instead of teensy pieces with cute little images molded into them or imprinted on the top, Hotel Chocolat goes whole hog with clear plastic packages that show off vast real estate of chocolate. Images on the website reinforce this with couples sharing bites of bars of chocolate larger than their head.
While the marketing of their products doesn’t quite mesh with my demographic, I am certainly interested in quality and flavor/texture combinations. I also enjoy innovative styling and packaging.
The Slab of Chocolate comes in a black paper package with a clear plastic front and a carrying handle (though be aware that the package opens on the bottom ... so reseal it completely before swinging it around). A little longer than a size of A4 paper, this is a substantial piece of chocolate. Clocking in at 500 grams (17.5 ounces) the abundance is a selling point.
This beefy slab had some uneven distribution of the mix-ins. It includes: cranberries, sultanas, crunchy crostini, almonds and hazelnuts. (You can see in the photo that the corners are sadly lacking in inclusions. While this gives it an artisan quality, it also meant that sometimes I had to break off more pieces in order to get to the ones with the “stuff.”
At first I was disappointed that they sent me milk chocolate products, but this is pretty dark milk. According to the package it’s 50% cocoa solids and 20% milk. It has an authentic milkiness to it (none of that powdered dairy tastes). It’s middle of the road as chocolate flavors go, not terribly complex, just good chocolatey-chocolate. My candy dream! A nice melt, not too sweet and a good complement to the tangy sultanas & cranberries. The hazelnuts were great, the almond slivers were few and far between but the crostini were fun when I encountered them.
The retail on this product is $25 plus shipping. Not too bad for an upscale chocolate bar.
But wait a second ... these aren’t American-style turtles. There’s no caramel in there. Just a macadamia nut at the center and some crisps in the milk chocolate. The whole thing does look rather like a turtle though.
After I got over my resistance to them because of the name, they were fun. The same high cacao milk chocolate, a good bit of crunch and then the fresh macadamias. (I would probably opt for another nut in the future though.)
I’m certainly curious to give some of the other Hotel Chocolat items a try, their gift packages look especially interesting. (They’ve timed their launch for the winter Holidays.) I don’t know if I’d buy the slab though, it’s an awful lot of one thing and I gravitate more towards variety when trying a new brand. It’s certainly an impressive looking gift though! The shipping box was great, nicely packaged for the warmish weather, I have to mention that because some companies just don’t “get” how to ship chocolate products to Los Angeles.
The package says that the product is suitable for vegetarians and is alcohol free.
More on the Hotel Chocolat expansion into the US market here.
Friday, November 2, 2007
In the Autumn a candy lover’s fancy turns to Licorice. (Well, if you like licorice.) The cooler air and shorter days seem to beg for the earthy flavors of a good molasses-based licorice. I get that not everyone likes licorice. It’s like mincemeat and cloves ... not everyone gets it.
There are lots of different versions of licorice, but one of my favorites are pastels, which are little nibbles covered in a candy shell. (Just like candy covered chocolate like M&Ms are a great way to eat chocolate!) I’ve had at least a dozen different varieties, from Good & Plenty to Koppers to Jelly Belly. They’re all good ... but after Good & Plenty, they get kind of expensive. (I’m not sure why.)
I was pretty happy to find Kenny’s Licorice Pastels at the All Candy Expo. They do great things with licorice, including using real licorice extract and making their products affordable (you’ve probably seen them repackage and sold under house brands or in bulk bins before).
They’re made from a very thin piece of licorice, think laces chopped into little segments. Nothing wrong with that. But the coatings are irregular. Some are chipped, which may have been me treating the package like a bean bag in my travels. Still, the coating wasn’t complete on some, with little bits of licorice sticking out or appearing just below the thin veneer of sugar shell.
The color choice is interesting. White, Green, Mustard Yellow, Black, Purple and Hot Pink.
They were soft and fresh. The sugar shell didn’t have a sharp and crisp crunch like the ones I get in the little bulk tubs at Cost Plus World Market. I like that kind of shell, but this was okay ... more like the Good & Plenty side of things. The licorice inside is nice and chewy and has a good note of roasted molasses and real licorice and anise extracts. (The anise is detectable in the shell.)
The thing that spoiled it for me (and this is just me) was that there was Red #40 in them. It was absolutely detectable in the pink and purple candies. (I even did several blind tests to see if I was just being dramatic.) It made them bitter. I had to separate them out from the rest of the bag ... and not eating a third of them doesn’t really make them cheaper. (4 out of 10)
I love root beer barrel hard candies and the root beer Bottle Caps, which are pretty much the only candies that incorporate root beer well into their pantheon of flavors.
Kenny’s also makes a huge line of flavored Juicy Twists (I’m loathe to use the term “red licorice” which is like saying “unsweetened sugar”.) They come in watermelon, green apple, chocolate and of course, Root Beer.
The twists aren’t really that twisted (only a half twist per length), but have pleasant ridges. They’re shiny and rather firm (but not stale). They don’t have the firmly pinched ends that other brands like Red Vines have. But they are hollow (if you’re a straw person).
The root beer flavor is sweet and has a nice balsam quality, not as intense as some other more spicy candies, but still a good match for the flour-based twist. I’d love it if they were more intense, but this is often my problem with root beer in general. I want lots of flavor. But, as I mentioned before, I take my root beer enjoyment where I can. These are a fun change from hard candies. (7 out of 10)
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Terra Nostra is a favorite chocolate brand of mine. I know, I’ve never written about their bars before. I’ve been buying the Organic Dark Chocolate with Pecans and Raisins since I first saw it at Trader Joe’s ... I’m guessing at least six years ago. I was never a fan of chocolate and raisins until I met Trader Joe and he changed my mind with his wonderful dark chocolate covered raisins in a tub. With that in mind, I gave that bar a try, drawn by the pecans and dark chocolate and pretty well sold on the addition of the tangy, chewy raisins.
It’s not the most complex bar in the world, but it’s a good all around contender when it comes to satisfaction. My biggest problem with it? It’s too big. Yes, I know that the 3.5 ounce size is pretty popular when it comes to premium bars, but it’s just too big for me to finish in one sitting and I want a lot of variety in my life.
Imagine my pleasure at seeing that Terra Nostra is bring out a new line of “Pocket Bars”. At only 1.5 ounces, which means a nice sized portion of chocolate, and they even come with a little zazz to make them more like candy bars.
Each bar is four sections, slightly domed, for most of them to accommodate a filling of some sort.
Creamy Caramel in Satin Milk Chocolate - this was an excellent bar, far superior to most other single-serve caramel bars I’ve had. The milk chocolate is rich, creamy and has a lot of the complex dairy flavors to it. The caramel, though rather syrupy is salty and smooth with a pretty good hit of butter to it. (7 out of 10)
Creamy Caramel in 60% Dark Robust Chocolate - this was a nice bar! The dark chocolate is robust, just like they say, with some coffee notes that set off the salty, sweet and gooey caramel center. I’d prefer a caramel that wasn’t quite so gooey (think Caramello) and it does have a little bit of a grain to it. The whole thing comes together nicely. (7 out of 10)
Goji Berries and Pink Himalayan Mineral Sea Salt in 73% Dark Chocolate - this one took away all the fun of being a candy bar and injected a bunch of trendy items. Goji berries are also known as wolfberries; they’re little red berries (related to tomatoes and deadly nightshade) about the size of a peanut, they’re always sold dried. Goji berries tangy, kind of dry and leathery; though they do have some distinctive flavors, but they’re also really fibery. I’m often left with some piece that feels like a wad of chewed paper - really, I shouldn’t have to spit bits of my chocolate bar out. The chocolate itself doesn’t taste salty, just less sweet (but it’s hard to do a one for one comparison with the others since this is the only 73% dark bar in the range). Honestly, this bar just clicked with a bunch of my pet peeves about trendy foods ... if you want to read something really fun, try this piece from the Sydney Morning Herald about the goji berry. (5 out of 10)
Pomegranate Truffle - a base of 60% cacao dark chocolate has a rich chocolate truffle filling flavored with pomegranate. The dark chocolate is creamy, but not too dark or dry. The truffle center is a light and creamy truffle, not greasy but smooth and of course with a tangy & berry bite of pomegranate. The pomegranate kind of overwhelms most of the chocolate flavors, but blends so well with the texture. (8 out of 10)
All the bars are certified organic ... not that it makes them healthy or anything. The Pomegranate Truffle and Goji Berry dark bars are suitable for vegans, however they are made on machinery that also processes dairy (and peanuts, soy and tree nuts). Terra Nostra also participates in Equi-Trade programs, though their bars are not specifically certified Fair Trade. They’re fun little bars and if presented with an array of commercial mass-produced bars and these, if price is not the deciding factor, you might want to give them a try.
(Top photo of Robust Dark with Raisins & Pecans courtesy of Terra Nostra)
Friday, October 12, 2007
A couple of months ago I got an invitation from Valerie Confections to preview their Mori Ex Cacao gift set. It’s a set of three skull-shaped chocolates. Rather than a little flat piece of candy, these are large and three dimensional with crisp and freaky details on the skulls, which are then filled with a premium truffle ganache or caramel.
The fissures in the skull can be made out easily, as can the individual teeth and with the three-dimensions of the skull, even the back of the head continues these details down to the base and roof of the mouth.
The Skulls were designed by Modern Alchemist Douglas Little and are about the size of a hefty plum. The design is based on DL&Co’s Memento Mori Collection, which features a similar looking skull candle and other small statuary pieces. A little bit more upscale than the traditional pumpkins and witches, this rather macabre take also features some incredible attention to detail.
First, the confections are hand “cast” with premium Felchlin Chocolate. Then each is filled with one of three centers. The chocolates are created in a three dimensional silicone mold, based on an original design by Douglas Little. After unmolding the chocolates are then airbrushed by hand with a cocoa-butter based “paint” which results in three different confections - one charcoal-black, one cocoa-brown and one bleached-bone white.
I didn’t get to eat the “real thing”, instead they created some tasting portions, which looked an awful lot like regular old chocolates (probably better for me that way). This means that my tasting notes are not based on the actual proportions of chocolate-to-filling you may get with the ultimate product, but all the other elements were the same.
I had my doubts, mostly because the caramel was so dark, I was afraid it’d be bitter and though it did have some burnt tones to it, it was complex and not too sweet. It went wonderfully with the chocolate.
Bitter Brandied Cherry
I say I don’t like cherry flavor, but these were real sour cherries, not some crazy artificial extract. The deep fruit flavors went really well in the ganache, a slight bitter note which I think tied into the macabre tone of the confections quite well.
Oh, this really lived up to its hype. The chocolate flavors were not overpowered by the spice. There was definitely a bit of throat burning going on, but again, it fit very well with the design and presentation as a whole.
Would I buy these? Certainly not for $100 a set ($40 for an individual skull of any flavor). I understand that the ingredients are premium and they’re really labor intensive. So it’s not that I don’t think they’re worth it, but the whole skull thing just isn’t really that big of a draw to me. I like my candy pretty and I never quite got how skulls and bones celebrate life. But if you are a fan of this type of design, and if you’re looking for something purely decadent to arouse all of the senses (this would be great to share as a couple) then this would be an excellent gift.
They can be purchased directly from Valerie Confections or from Dean & Deluca (they only carry the full set but also have some companion products that might complete the effect). They come in a lovely black silk box.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.