Monday, March 5, 2007
Kokosowe is a dark chocolate covered coconut center. The center is not at all like a Mounds bar, but more like a coconutty York Peppermint Pattie ... it’s a stiff and slightly crumbly fondant that melts in your mouth and then later the chewy toasted coconut becomes chewy.
I’m a fan of coconut and I enjoyed the more toasted flavors, a refreshing change from the usual sticky chew of a Mounds bar.
Kasztanki is a large chestnut looking piece like the others. This one is a semisweet chocolate covering a center of cocoa cream and crushed wafers. It’s crunchy and has a light rum and perhaps coffee flavor to it. The crunch is really interesting because the bits are so small and the flavor is rather light. It reminded me a bit of some other Eastern European candies I’ve had before, except this is good quality.
Malaga was the one name that I kind of understood, though I’m not sure what the candy is. As far as I can tell it’s a flowing raisin caramel center in semi-sweet chocolate. Or perhaps the center is more like a cordial or marmalade. It’s a rather unusual combination but the flavor reminds me a little bit of the Rum Nougats that See’s makes (but not the texture, of course). There are little bits of raisins and the dark chocolate provides a good complement to the sweet but flavorful center.
Tiki Taki was definitely the most interesting of the bunch with an uncommon combination of flavors. The top layer is a nice mild peanut butter praline, and the bottom layer is a smooth but crumbly fondant of coconut like the Kokosowe. It seems to work pretty well, the roasted nut flavors of the peanut butter go really well with the coconut, which plays it pretty mild here.
Wawel may be popping up more in ethnic and upscale grocers. I wouldn’t be surprised if you see it at places like Cost Plus World Market. Part of what I find interesting is that these chocolates taste different than others. The flavor combinations on both the Tiki Taki and Malaga are unlike others that I’ve had. As long as the price points are consistent with other upscale consumer chocolates, I can see them making inroads here in the states. View their online catalogue. I could only find one online retailer (Canadian) that had Wawel products, but it at least gives the sense that as an imported chocolate brand they’re quite reasonably priced.
Friday, March 2, 2007
My next door neighbors went to Peru for three weeks and brought back a huge cache of Peruvian (and South American) consumer candies. (They also brought some cookies, but I’ll try to keep this focused.) I find it quite fun to sample the consumer candies of all countries and regions and Peru was no different. So here are nine candies from Peru:
These little guys probably look familiar. They’re chocolate lentils ala Nestle Smarties. Only they’re not quite Smartie-like ... they’re the same size as M&Ms (Smarties are just slightly flatter and larger than M&Ms). The shell on these is very thick and crunchy. The colors are unbelievably bright.
The chocolate itself is only so so - grainy, too sweet and completely lacking in chocolate taste.
Rating: 4 out of 10.
This bar had a lovely photo of the cloud-wrapped city of Machu Picchu on the box. Inside the box the large chocolate tablet was inside a plastic wrapper that looked exactly the same.
The bar was attractive: a dark looking milk chocolate.
The snap was not as sharp as some dark chocolates can be and it had a rather soft bite as many milk chocolates do. The flavor is rather milky, in a goat-cheese sort of way, with a little tangy note. The flavor of the chocolate was also strongly raisiny. It was very pleasant though completely different than most other milk chocolate bars I’ve had.
Rating: 7 out of 10.
This is one of those bars that looks huge. The package is about the size a set of Twix bars, yet it only weighs 18 grams. This featherweight bar is all wafers with some light mockolate coating. Between the wafers is a little cocoa cream.
The bar, called Cua Cua, I’m guessing is a play on the sound a duck makes.
The bar smells sweet and a bit of chocolate. It’s also a little smoky smelling, though I couldn’t quite figure that out from the ingredients.
The mockolate was of course waxy and unappealing. It often flaked off the bar when I bit into it. I’m a big fan of wafer with cream (I can’t imagine how many pounds of Nabisco Wafers I’ve eaten over the years) but this one just wasn’t quite as ducky as I’d hoped.
Rating: 3 out of 10.
This bar calls itself “barrita ba?ada rellena con crema de chocolate” which I’m guessing means chocolate filling with crisp wafers bathed in chocolate.
The crisp log of wafer was interesting, kind of like a sweet Cheeto. The chocolate filling was like a frosting, with a good chocolate taste and slightly grain. Like the Cua Cua, this was a light bar. Though it’s big it only weighs 26 grams (and is the size of a Snickers ... which are 58 grams). Unfortunately the coating on the outside isn’t chocolate and it’s rather waxy and uninteresting.
Rating: 4 out of 10.
Name: Gomas Eucalypto
These are crazy! Crazy, I tell you.
They’re little gummis covered with granulated sugar. About the size and shape of an incense cone. Nice and soft but with a good gelatin bounce. They look like they could be green apple or lime or maybe even spearmint. But they’re not. They’re mentholated eucaplytus flavored. Just like Hall’s Cough Drops.
It’s rather refreshing to get a cough drop that’s not all crunchy and hard, instead it’s soothing and invigorating all at once.
Definitely a winner in my book.
Rating: 7 out of 10.
The packaging here is pretty, it’s a white thick plastic wrap with a bold brown logo for the name of the bar and pretty little pictures of the nuts in the bar.
The label says, “tableta con sabor a chocolate rellena con mani almendra y cereal crocante” which means “peanut, almond and crispy cereal filled chocolatey bar.”
The nuts were fresh and crunchy and gave the bar a promising aroma, but the mockolate in this bar was waxy, chalky and just so bad. Look at it in the photo ... does that look like something you’re supposed to eat or something I molded out of dung?
Rating: 2 out of 10.
If it weren’t for the Arcor brand on this, I’d be looking forward to this bar. The label says “Oblea rellena cubierta con caramelo y cereal crocante, con cobertura sabor chocolate” ... which translates to (courtesy of the wrapper, thankyouverymuch) “Filled wafer, toffee, crispies, all covered with chocolate flavor.”
Oh Arcor, again with the chocolate flavor? Is that why your company motto is “Le damos sabor al mundo” (translation: We flavor the world)?
The bar looks promising as well, with it’s crunchy studded mockolate. Inside are wafers with creme filling and then a scant covering of glistening caramel (I’m guessing that’s the toffee). The wafers are nice, and the toffee adds some nice flavor to the whole thing, but the bar had a rather chemical taste, like licking fresh dry cleaning. I don’t know if that’s the taste of Carbox/Methylcellulose (the last ingredient on the list), but it made my tongue buzz.
After this series of Arcor products they are now on my list as the Worst Candymakers in the World. (Granted, I haven’t tried everything made by everyone yet.)
This candy bar was made in Chile.
Rating: 2 out of 10.
This is a cute little bar. The wrapper says, “Chocolate Blanco de leche con Mani” which is “white milk chocolate with peanuts.” Doesn’t sound too bad.
And it is pretty cute to look at.
The chocolate is rather sweet, but also has a salty bite to it, which helped the peanut flavors stand out. I’m wondering if this was not de-odorized cocoa butter (most white chocolate is deodorized, so it has no chocolate flavor to it). It just may have been that the milk flavors with the peanuts were strong.
It was actually pretty good white chocolate bar. A little grainy but not the least bit waxy.
This bar was made in Bolivia.
Rating: 5 out of 10.
This is a cute little bar and of course has a upscale appeal of a regal name like Princesa. The ingredients are promising too, real chocolate in there.
The bar says that it’s “chocolate relleno con crema de mani” which means “chocolate stuffed with peanut butter.” Yum!
The chocolate here is dark (though there’s some milk listed in the ingredients, it’s way down the list). It’s a creamy though sweet bar. The peanut butter is very smooth and creamy as well and is completely overshadowed by the chocolate.
There’s a little spicy taste in the background, kind of like cinnamon.
This is a nice bar, not as peanutty as I expected, but as sedate and reserved as you’d expect from royalty.
Rating: 6 out of 10.
Friday, February 23, 2007
They’re premium lollipops in Jelly Belly flavors. I tried a good assortment of their current line, courtesy of many visits to their booth at the Fancy Food Show and rummaging around in the samples bin.
Sizzling Cinnamon - a pretty sassy flavor. Not too hot, but a little too “flavory” for me without the burn that I was hoping for. I mean, they put “sizzling” in the name.
Cotton Candy - sweet and plain and delicious.
Tangerine - softly orange with a subtle zesty hit. No tart ring to make it juicy.
Bubble Gum - this one is the most alarming looking, it’s a bright, opaque pink. A slight tutti frutti element to it, but not really that unlike Cotton Candy.
Lemon - I’d call this light lemon. It’s sweet and fruity but has no tangy element to it.
Root Beer - I was really looking forward to this one. It smelled sweet and earthy. It’s smooth, like a really dense Root Beer Barrel (but no sharp voids to cut your mouth). I was not disappointed, this is a real winner.
The quality of the candy is great. It’s very dense, ultra smooth and lasted a long time. However, the size and shape of the pop is a challenge. The bean is perpendicular to the stick, so it’s pretty wide (1.75”) for placing comfortably in the mouth. Sucking on them, because of the shape, also tends to be a little noisy, it took me a few pops before I got my consumption tactics honed to the point of silence. Another small pet peeve of mine with premium pops like this is that the stick is paper and you can suck air through when you dissolve far enough down on the stem, for reasons I don’t quite understand, this results in more slobber.
If you’ve ever had Linda’s Lollies, these are very similar. I think I still prefer the fruit flavors in Linda’s because they’re a little more rounded and of course there’s a much larger variety ... but she also has a 20 or so year head start.
The other flavors I didn’t try were Watermelon, Grape, Strawberry Cheesecake & Very Cherry.
These should be hitting stores soon, though there’s still nothing about them on the Jelly Belly website. You can order them on the web, but you have to get full cases of single flavors. Retail they’re supposed to go for 79 cents to 99 cents.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
Everybody has a different name for caramel nut clusters covered with chocolate. Sanders Candy, the Detroit-based candy and fudge sauce company, calls theirs Cashew Titans. Pretty good name, if you ask me.
These are compact candies with a nice layer of cashews on the bottom, a dollop of caramel and milk chocolate enrobing the whole thing.
The cashews are fresh and crunchy, though I could use a hit of salt on them and perhaps a few more. The chocolate was okay, very sweet but nice and creamy. The caramel has a good chew, soft and not too sticky but lacking a dark caramelized flavor that would match so well with the buttery crunch of the cashews.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Sanders also sent me some of their Caramels to try as well (and some other goodies that I’ll cover in a few weeks). This box of milk chocolate covered caramels were absolutely lovely. Yes, the plastic tray that anchors them in the box isn’t as classy looking as pretty little fluted cups, but I have admit that they looked glossy and flawless when I opened it.
It’s only your imagination that these look darker than the Cashew Titans, I think it’s the dark chocolate striping that makes it look darker. It certainly tastes like the same chocolate.
The caramel is smooth and without the cashews does hold up well on its own. The chocolate is sweet and I find it just a little too much for the caramel, but some careful nibbling around the edges creates a more ideal ratio (I do this with a lot of candies, as far as I’m concerned the coating on a Heath bar is disposable).
I can’t eat many of these at once, so far two has been my limit. But with a few pretzels as a crunchy and salty complement make for a tasty dessert. The price on these, for handcrafted candies is pretty good though and I’d certainly want to try one of their dessert shops if I were in the area.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Friday, February 9, 2007
SweeTarts are made in special shapes for just about all the holidays. You can get them for Halloween, Christmas and Easter (maybe they even do all green packages for St. Patrick’s Day) and of course they have a version for Valentines Day: SweeTarts Hearts.
The packaging and candy is pretty much a rip off of the Necco Conversation Hearts. It’s a little box that’s ready to be addressed to your Valentine with little heart shaped candies inside with sayings on them.
The mottos aren’t earthshatteringly cool, just classic little lovey-doveyness. “Hug Me” “Love Ya” “Yes” “I’m Yours” and “Kiss Me”. Unlike the other conversation hearts out there, these are not printed, the lettering is engraved (or pressed) right into the compressed dextrose tablets. The candies meet the highest quality standards too, they’re always heart shaped and perfectly formed with readable lettering (I know I’ve gotten some pretty mangled hearts before from Necco).
Besides the shape, these are just plain old SweeTarts. They are an abbreviated flavor set: Orange, Cherry and Grape. As I don’t care for the Cherry, about one third of this box was “for sharing.” Now, I’m not sure if this is the way it’s supposed to be, the package shows green and blue hearts in the design (but no yellow).
I paid $.79 cents for this box, which is a bit high. I didn’t see any larger packages of them where you could get a ten pack and have your kid give them out as Valentines or anything. But if I saw these in the 75% off bin after Valentines I might pick them up. But I miss my yellow SweeTarts.
Thursday, February 8, 2007
Leonidas is a classic Belgian chocolatier with a Greek name. They make a huge variety of chocolates (their website says 100) and sell at 1,400 shops around the world (many in airports). Their website also has photos and descriptions of all of their chocolates. I wish I’d known that when I got this huge box, I had no clue what was inside here.
No matter, it’s all good!
The Pralines Leonidas assortment has a narrow focus on all things hazelnut with a good balance of dark, milk and white chocolate. There were pralin?s, pastes, truffles, croquants, gianduja and even a marzipan or two. It wasn’t all noisettes, there was also a cherry paste and what I believe is a chocolate covered cherry (that red foil one which is the only thing in the box right now). Some had a nice tickle of rum or coffee tipped into them. There were different textures for the hazelnuts - from a thick paste to a near solid chocolate assembly.
Leonidas runs on the sweet side, but the nut flavors are awesome. The chocolate is smooth and mellow, don’t expect anything strong or vibrant here, just some old fashioned hazelnut goodness. Oh, and the box is pretty cool. It’s a long faux leather box with two lids, the outermost lid locks the box tight with a magnetic strip but when you open it you can still gaze at the chocolate inside through the plastic window on the inner lid.
I haven’t visited a Leonidas store in person (which is odd because there’s one within walking distance of my office), but I imagine they can fix you right up for Valentine’s Day. Personally, now that I’ve tried a wide variety of their product line, I’m going to stick with the dark chocolate items and perhaps try more of the fruit jellies (I actually liked the cherry paste quite a bit and think they’ll do a good job on the others).
I got this fabulous box of from CocoaVino as a Christmas gift. Cocovino is one of those companies that sells the story & the experience as much as the product. The pride themselves on their Eco-Forward ideals (organic ingredients, fair trade, wind powered kitchen and environmentally sensitive packaging).
The collection is simply called BonBons. The array features six different flavors arranged in pairs, each with a different chocolate and spirit/wine combination.
Bacchanal - Malbec and dark chocolate - dark and complex, it has a lot of the fruity raisin and plum flavors you’d expect from a wine grape.
Roman Holiday - espresso and Sambuca - a mild chocolate and coffee mix, nice and smooth without bitterness.
Tango Nostalgico - dulce de leche and Spanish Mintilla Moriles wine - interesting, but I don’t think the tang of the wine mixed well with the caramelized milk.
Raspberry Beret - raspberry, as you’d expect. Fragrant and fruity, a classic combo with chocolate. Not much of a tangy bite, but that’s no problem for me.
Baci al Limone - limoncello in white chocolate. I’m a big fan of limoncello (though I find it a bit too sweet and like to add some extra lemon zest to it) and of course the smoothness of a white chocolate is a great base, especially with the balance of the dark shell.
Queen of the Harvest - Sherry and dark chocolate - even darker than the other chocolates. I wasn’t able to get many of the sherry notes as they blend so well with the normal chocolate flavors. Tasty.
The other item on their site that intrigues me is their Fig Caramel. (Please chime in if you’ve tried them.)
As a Valentine’s gift, these are an excellent idea for a foodie or as a sensual gift to share with someone special. The BonBon box comes with each of the flavors in pairs, so it’s a natural idea that you could both have one and discuss the different textures and notes that you sense. They’re a bit on the expensive side (this box retails for $31) but then again everyone is getting paid a living wage and someone had to build those windmills.
Today I’m going to do all boxed chocolates all day long. Perhaps a half a dozen of them. However, there are a few chocolatiers that have entered my radar (mostly from the Fancy Food Show) that I can offer little bites on (to supplement the Chocolate Gift Guide):
Bissinger’s - it appears that this 80-year-old St. Louis, MO, chocolate company has reinvented itself, with a more modern look and updated flavors. The catalog they sent me after the Fancy Food Show was certainly tempting. I tried some of their marshmallows, and Spa Chocolates as well as their tasty Green Tea Gummi Bears. Order online of locate one of their retail stores. Moderate prices and elegant/fun packaging.
Lillie Belle Farms - based in Jacksonville, OR, this chocolatier uses organic (and fair trade when possible) ingredients, many of which are grown on the farm. Innovative flavor combinations, tasty caramels, smooth truffles ... I really liked the black pepper truffle I tasted at the Fancy Food Show. Order online or find in stores in Oregon. Moderate to expensive.
Valerie’s Confections - Los Angeles based toffee-maker and confectioner, they have a great sense of elegance paired with comfort-candies. They have a special Valentine’s confection assortment (free local delivery if you use the code VAL when ordering $40 or more). Order online or pick up at a local store. Expensive. (Full review of other items here.)
B.T. McElrath - a Minneapolis-based chocolatier. I tried a few of their assortment at the Fancy Food Show and was pleased with them. The truffles and seasonal offerings are lovely to look at. They’re sold via their website and I saw many of their smaller mixed chocolate boxes at Whole Foods last weekend. Expensive.
If you’re looking for some other opinions on fine chocolates, check out these stories:
Consumer Reports tries out fine chocolates (from 2006), and a second write up based on the NY Chocolatiers mentioned.
UPDATE: February 12, 2007: Consumer Reports has done another taste test. Though you have to be a full subscriber to see all the results, here’s a brief report of how everyone did.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.