Friday, June 8, 2007
Father’s Day is Sunday, June 17th so I thought I’d throw something out there for the chocolate lovin’ fathers of America.
I had the opportunity this week to try two different personalized chocolate message services. They’re both great, if a little expensive for shipping because of the heat in summer months. But the originality can’t be beat. It’s like an edible greeting card.
First up is Chocotelegram. Based in Toronto, Chocotelegram was actually founded in Europe. You can order from their pre-fab messages or have them typeset your message using their letter picker. You can even decorate the blank spaces with icons (stars, smileys, trees, hearts & clovers).
The chocolate is made by Barry Calebaut. Each little square is about a third of an ounce, making a whole tray of 21 squares about 7 ounces. I only tried the milk and found it very creamy, if a little sweet, but super-smooth and satisfying. The package sent, as shown, is only $17 plus shipping. There are lots of options on their website, including an upgraded box and larger letter arrays. I really liked the molding on the letters, it was crisp, attractive and legible.
The second company that contacted me last week was ABChocolates that makes the Chocolate Dispatch. The Dispatch has a wonderful design flair, from the exterior packaging (wrapped in some corrugated paper with a seal) down to the sassy wooden box with the message printed right on the front in true telegram style. Even when the chocolate is gone, the message lives on.
Under the sliding top the chocolates are held firmly in place with foam underneath and some waxed paper filler on top. Pull that off and you get a personalized chocolate message. Each letter weighs a little less than a third of an ounce giving the box of 32 a net weight of 9.5-10 ounces . The letters are a little more homespun feeling than Chocotelegram’s. They’re a combination of white chocolate letters on a dark or milk chocolate square. The white is, you know, white chocolate. The milk is nice, creamy and not too sweet with a strong milky component. The dark is good, if a little grainy sometimes (but only as a counterpoint to the silkier/stickier milk chocolate).
While Chocolate Dispatch only comes in two sizes, they offer a lot of customized options with different labels on the front (Birthday Dispatch, Get Well Dispatch, Valentine Dispatch, etc.) which would mean that you could send out several of these over the course of the year and the boxes would all be keepsakes.
There’s a breakdown listed below. I liked both of the products a lot, though I don’t know that many people that I’d send something like this to. (Here’s a hint though, if you’re doing a wedding, see if you can do initials. “C & M” in little three character boxes, that’d be so cute!) Chocotelegram had the best tasting chocolate, but I really liked the box and whole top-to-bottom design aesthetic of Chocolate Dispatch. If you’re a mom helping your kid pick out their gift to dad, the letter-picking interface is a fun experience all on its own. (Chocotelegram has one too, but it’s just not quite as enjoyable.)
I give both services a solid 7 out of 10.
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
After the reminder of how great Storck Chocolate Riesen are last week, I was happily educated that Storck makes a vanilla caramel.
And I was delightedly happy to find that the Dollar Tree carries Werther’s Original Chewy Caramels. So I left with a sassy little bag of them. I’d never had them before, but knowing the Riesen and the Werther’s Original Hard Candies, I thought they had to be good. Of course after I bought them and took the picture I started seeing them everywhere ... either Storck made a huge delivery to Southern California or I’ve been comfortably numb in my chocolate caramel bliss for a long time.
Taking them out of the wrapper they don’t look much different from Brach’s caramels or even Kraft’s. The little flat-sided rods are kind of uneven. At first they’re pretty hard, and a firm chew can be exhausting. But a few moments in a warm mouth (especially after coffee) and they softened up beautifully.
The chew is smooth and buttery with a good caramel taste and creamy consistency. It stays smooth all the way to the end, which is the mark of a caramel over a taffy or chew that will become grainy or just up and dissolve.
I wasn’t as keen on these as the Chocolate Riesen, part of it may be that the chocolate caramels are one of the few candies that seems to match up to the pictures on the wrapper, and the Werther’s Original Chewy Caramels just looked a little more weathered and worn than the images on the wrapper. I ate them all, but it took me a week instead of two days with chocolate version. They’re probably a better hot weather candy to keep on hand ... not that it’s been hot in Los Angeles in the past month or so.
Thursday, May 24, 2007
These Lotte chews were given to me by a co-worker of my husband’s who just returned from South Korea. She brought me lots of goodies (some which I’ll get to in the coming weeks). These were fascinating because they were pomegranate but also because they appear to be knock-offs of Morinaga’s HiCHEW (or maybe progenitors ... I’m not sure of the history of these things).
The package is partially in English on one side and in Korean on the other. There’s 2% of something in here, according to the English side ... I’m going to guess 2% real fruit juice.
The chews differ from HiCHEW in a couple of ways. First, the little rods are square, not rectangular.
Second, they’re colored on the outside and white on the inside. HiCHEWS are colored on the inside and white on the outside.
There was no way to do a complete head to head since these were pomegranate flavored. The chews were a pleasant pink color. Soft and though chewy and yielding, not quite as latexy as the HiCHEW.
They were tangy and fragrant and reminded me of raspberry more than pomegranate. Pomegranates are naturally a rather dry flavor, but share a lot of similarities with raspberry. I still think I prefer the Citrus HiCHEW, but I’ll keep my eyes open for other varieties of Chew-Lets at the Korean/Japanese grocers.
It’s not at all big news when Jelly Belly brings out a new flavor. They’re in the business of flavor and it would only be news if they weren’t.
So why should I report on a single new flavor coming out? Especially when I blogged about it back in ‘05? Mostly because of some trends: Pomegranates are big. Functional (fortified) foods are big. Antioxidants are big.
The Pomegranate Jelly Belly contain additional vitamin C (an antioxidant) and they’re made with real pomegranate extract. Besides, they’re pretty, too.
I first tried the new pomegranate flavor when I visited the Jelly Belly factory in December 2005. This was just after the release of Jelly Belly Sport Beans, they were still tinkering with the flavor then, and as far as I know, there wasn’t any fortification in them.
After trying the Sport Beans I was pretty sure Jelly Belly could make a go of antioxidant beans - a sassy combo of citrus flavors, I think, would work well to give folks a little boost of vitamin C and some beta carotene. Pink Grapefruit, Lemon, Tangerine, Orange, Lime and maybe some more exotic citrus like Key Lime, Yuzu, Pomelo, Dalandan or Ponkan.
The shell has a nice deep tartness to it, with some strong berry flavors like raspberry. The jelly center has good floral tones with a mellow and dark note. Kind of like black cherry, kind of like cranberry and perhaps like pomegranate. There’s no zappy dryness to it, like pomegranate often has.
It’s pleasant. It’s certainly easy to eat them one after the other. They combine well with both citrus and other berry flavors.
They’re the same price as the regular beans and are also sold in 9 ounce bags and 5 lb bulk boxes on their website. I don’t expect them to show up everywhere you see Jelly Belly, but keep an eye out. They might be a good little boost for yourself during cold & flu season (anything to help you rationalize eating jelly beans).
Jelly Belly are Kosher, vegetarian and use beet sugar instead of cane, however some vegans may not wish to eat them because they use beeswax as part of the sealant/shiny coating.
Monday, May 21, 2007
Hershey’s is offereing a new product line/service on their Hershey’s Gifts site: Fresh from the Factory.
You can now order selected products to be delivered fresh from the factory. If you live within a certain zone (see the map) you’ll actually have it within 96 hours of when it rolls off the production line.
Which leads me to wonder, does fresh candy taste better?
They’re offering Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Twizzlers (red & black), Good & Plenty and Payday Bars.
Hershey’s contacted me a couple of weeks ago asking if I’d like a taste ... I figured what the heck. It’s been a long time since I’ve tried fresh stuff from Hershey’s. I’m guessing that the candy that I’ve bought at Chocolate World is particularly fresh (especially the special trial items that they give out at the end of the Chocolate World ride), but other than that, I can only say that most of the stuff I eat is only fresh ... not factory fresh.
I’m already known to be a huge fan of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. So instead of just reviewing them, I thought I would pick up a package from the local grocery store to compare. The grocery store freshness code said 40HLV2 8C which means that the cups were good until March 2008. Sounds pretty fresh, too.
First, the look. The cups from the grocery store are .75 ounces each. The cups in the Fresh from the Factory jug were .55 ounces (not quite a miniature, not quite a full grown ... maybe I’ll call them juniors). The ingredients lists were exactly the same.
Grocery Store RPBC
The store-bought cup was good. The chocolate was cool on the tongue and sweet with a slight coconutty flavor. The peanut butter center was salty and nutty and though it’s not chunky and not creamy peanut butter, it’s slightly crumbly. If I could compare it to anything, it would be peanut butter cookie dough. Definitely a good associaiton.
The FFTF Reese’s smelled overwhelmingly like peanut butter. There was not a trace of chocolate to the smell. The junior sized cups were even looking, and of the half a dozen or so I’ve eaten so far, not one had a physical flaw to it. The cups were completely unmarred by shipping damage.
The bite and snap are good. The chocolate is sweet and fresh, but the real difference here is in the peanut butter center. It feels fluffier. It tastes a little saltier and has a more intense and fresh peanut taste.
Are they that different ... if you put both in front of me and blindfolded me, could I tell the difference? Probaby. Do I prefer one over the other? Not really.
The price here is steep. $20 for 1 lbs 7 ounces. (I could buy the same amount of Reese’s for $6 at the grocery store.) The jar is nice, but made of clear plastic and not terribly special. It does a good job of storing the candies for easy access and opening it does deliver an incredibly mouth-watering aroma.
As a novelty or special occasion treat, I might indulge in this once a year if that’s when the roll around. May is a pretty dicey month to be shipping chocolate to Southern California though ... it was only through their good packaging (with a chill pack) and a respite from otherwise warm weather that kept these safe and tasty.
Of the list of other products on the list, I think the one that interests me most would be the Good & Plenty. I love Good & Plenty and suffer through the leathery chew quite often. I found last year that they now offer Good & Plenty in peg bags (I got mine on the Penna Turnpike on my way to my sister’s wedding). They were so fresh and chewy it was like I was eating a completely different candy.
If you’re a die hard fan of one of these candies, I think it’s definitely worth it for the experience. It also makes a great, inexpensive but special gift for the candy fan in your life. Graduation and Father’s Day are around the corner. Or perhaps a wedding couple you know have registered for it ... or should?
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
The dark trend continues. If it can be made dark, it will be made dark. So it is written in the marketing analysis ... so it is done.
Hershey’s brought out the Kissables with a huge marketing blitz in 2005. They’re tasty little hybrids of Hershey’s Kisses and M&Ms. There’s no way they’re ever going to shove a peanut in the center there, but they can easily make them with Hershey’s Special Dark chocolate so they have. For a while they were showing off Hershey’s Special Dark Kissables in large bags, they’ve finally made it to the single serve bags, so I thought it was time to give them a try.
The wrapper is a pleasing brick-maroon color that evokes the feel of rich chocolate. The little candies come in four colors: lavender, maroon, dark purple and brown. Not quite as sassy feeling as the Kissables ... not even as many colors. They feel morose, a little depressed.
They have the nice light crunch of the Kissables and a good creamy dark chocolate center. They’re a little chalky tasting, only a slight bitter hint towards the end, but generally very sweet.
I decided I was obligated to compare them to the Dark Chocolate M&Ms.
M&Ms come in more colors but the dark chocolate inside is just as sweet, but a little mellower overall. The Special Dark Kissables seem a bit crunchier, a bit more chocolatey. Neither wows me with their complex chocolate taste. They remind me of Sno-Caps, but with less mess and more color (not that it would matter in a dark theater).
Both dark chocolates contain milkfat and lactose, so are not appropriate for those who shun dairy. The M&Ms give you 1.69 ounces per package, Kissables only 1.5. The Kissables bag is plasticized, the M&Ms are only a glossy paper.
After sitting here with both in front of me, I found myself reaching for the Kissables more often. They just felt creamier, less chalky and a little richer, so they get one point higher than the Dark Chocolate M&Ms did.
Monday, May 14, 2007
It’s summer movie season. I’m not much of a movie-goer, mostly because I don’t like to go out (I have this same problem with vacations), but I do enjoy movie cuisine of the sweets variety. (Nachos and hot dogs do not belong at the movies ... those are ballpark foods.) Today I have three classics.
Sno-Caps were introduced in the twenties by the Blumenthal Chocolate Company. These are just tiny chocolate chips with a coating of white nonpareils. The combination of the mellow semi-sweet chocolate with the sweet crunchy white dots makes them ideal for munching for two hours. The box encourages me to “Mix it Up! with Popcorn” but I’m kind of a sweets purist at the movies ... just candy, thanks!
The semi-sweet chocolate isn’t terribly smooth, but it has a good chocolate flavor to it and a little dry and bitter hit towards the end. Of course the sweet little sugar spheres mellow that out pretty quick. The crunchies encourage me to chew these instead of letting them melt. But sometimes I like to let them all melt in my mouth so I’m left with a mess-o-nonpareils for some real crunching.
At the very end things can get a little messy with the orphaned nonpareils at the bottom of the box ... or the bottom of my purse if the box isn’t sealed completely. A quick tip of the box and I have some good crunching. If I miss my mouth, well, luckily they’re rather inert.
(Note: Sno-Caps semi-sweet chocolate now contains milkfat, so is not suitable for vegans.)
Rating: 7 out of 10
Goobers came along in 1925, though the idea of chocolate covered nuts had already been around for centuries (though not very affordable until the turn of the century). To me Goober was a character on The Andy Griffith Show. It wasn’t until years later I found out that goober is actually slang for peanuts. (That was about the time that I started seeing Goober from Smuckers on the store shelves (peanut butter and jelly in the same jar).
Goobers are one of those easy to eat candies that don’t get you all hopped up. There’s a lot of protein in there from the nuts, so they don’t get my blood sugar all in a tizzy. The chocolate is very sweet and not terribly smooth, but with the crunch of the nuts in there I rarely suck the chocolate off, so it’s not very noticeable. My only complaint with Goobers is that sometimes the peanuts aren’t very good. It could be that I’m getting an old box or the peanuts quality control isn’t that good. A bad peanut is, well, bad.
There was a jingle for Goobers & Raisinets which has always stuck in my head (probably from around the same time as the Mounds & Almond Joy song).
Rating: 7 out of 10
Raisinets were the third part of the movie candy puzzle, they were introduced in 1927. The idea of Raisinets had been around for years, often sold as part of a mix of panned nuts and dried fruits known as “Bridge Mix”.
These are nicely sized raisins, soft and chewy, sweet and tangy. The chocolate, on the other hand, is super sweet, slightly grain and rather bland. As a kid I pretty much detested Raisinets. I eat them far more often now, but unless the chocolate is really good, I’d rather eat raisins.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Nestle has a strange website to promote these candies, called Nestle Classics which emphasizes them as good movie candy. It’s kind of odd, since the only candy in their “Classic” lineup that they originated is the Nestle bar. All the other bars and candies in the array were acquired from other companies (Chunky & Oh Henry).
So, what are you eating at the movies this summer?
Wednesday, May 9, 2007
I tried the Theo Chocolate BonBons earlier this year and have had the bars sitting around for a while. I’m feeling quite pressured to eat them all (though they need to be savored) before Los Angeles gets so hot it bursts into flames (oops, we’re already on fire).
Theo makes chocolate from bean to bar (actually roasting their own beans on site) using fair trade and organic ingredients. Don’t let all that squishy-hippy stuff fool you, this is quality stuff without compromise.
Even the wrappers are sassy and fun (designed by KittenChops) instead of making you feel like you did a good deed. Come on! Half the fun is feeling that your chocolate bar is an indulgence ... a wrapper that tells you how many lives you may have saved, how many species will continue to exist because of your support ... all the wonderful skin-clarifying, artery-blasting ingredients that are contained within might be nice (and might get you to buy it) but they aren’t going to get your salivary glands going.
The dark bars contain 65% cocoa solids, so these are dark, but not too intense.
The Theo Chocolate bars are actually called 3400 Phinney Bars, named after the address of the Theo Chocolate Factory in Seattle. Not only are they not afraid of you knowing where they are, they actually welcome visitors and offer tours with tastings, of course, as well as a factory store. I’m hoping to get up there next fall to really dive into their complete chocolate experience.
The Milk Chocolate bars boast 40% cacao content, so they’re pretty rich.
All the bars a welcome change from the ordinary candy bar. The two I would find myself munching on regularly would be the Nib Brittle and Chai Milk Chocolate. They are expensive though, so only for special occasions. I could see tucking these into a special picnic at Pt. Dume or going to the Hollywood Bowl for a concert, but I just can’t buy them every day ... but knowing that the cocoa is grown responsibly (socially & environmentally) would help me pony up the dough.
You can find the bars online at Theo, Chocosphere and at stores like Whole Foods. The bars are
now Kosher (as of March 2008).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.