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.
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
I’ve always loved Junior Mints. They’re a lotta mint and not much chocolate, but then again their caloric density isn’t particularly high either.
Instead of just mixing it up for the holiday and making the mints heart shaped, they went one further and filled a random number of them (I’m going to go with half of them) with a red fondant. (I’m not sure if this is because they think that half of us are bleeding heart types or what.)
The candies themselves are quite a bit larger than the regular Junior Mint and are relatively pleasing, if kind of rustic looking. They’re not as polished and glossy looking as their non-holiday counterparts, but the heart shape is nicely executed. About half of mine had the red filling. There was no way of telling what filling I was going to get until I bit into it.
If I popped the whole thing in my mouth, I knew if it was a red one because there’s a bitter aftertaste. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a red food dye (or perhaps more than one) that tastes bitter to me (in this case it’s FD&C Red 40). Because it was a big box I amused myself guessing by taste whether or not the filling was red. (With the help of a mirror ... I didn’t dare have my friends or husband engage in this little experiment). About 70% of the time I was able to “taste” that a candy was red ... I didn’t have any cases where I guessed a plain filling was red.
So there you have it, bleeding hearts leave a bad taste in my mouth. (Yes, it was a long way to go for that joke.)
There’s another Valentines version of Junior Mints floating around called Inside Out which have colored coatings. Based on my opinion of the original limited edition version I’m not going to buy those.
Sunday, February 4, 2007
The companion product to the Ferrero Rocher is the Mon Cheri. For a long time I though these had something to do with cherries, so I avoided them. But it turns out that only the European versions are cherry ... the American ones are simply a milk chocolate shell over a whole hazelnut surrounded by hazelnut paste and crushed hazelnuts.
These little morsels are the same size and shape as Ferrero’s devious little Pocket Coffee (well, the little lines on the top of the chocolate are diagonal on the Pocket Coffee).
During Valentine’s Mon Cheri are sold in all sorts of different heart shaped boxes but still not as prevalent as the Ferrero Rocher. But come on, the name alone means it doesn’t need special packaging! I did see a few assortments at the drug store that included Mon Cheri, Raphaello (an almond paste with crushed almonds in a cookie sphere covered with coconut and white chocolate) and, of course, Rochers.
I’m not quite as keen on these as I am on the Rochers, probably because it’s milk chocolate. If anything, they’re a milk chocolate version of Perugina’s Baci.
However, create a heart shaped box with a mix of these, Pocket Coffee and Rochers ... now we’re talking!
Note: though these are very high in calories and fat (44% of your RDA of saturated fat in every serving!) they also have 9% of your RDA of calcium and 5% of your RDA of iron.
UPDATE 2/15/2011: For those of you who miss the discontinued Ferrero Mon Cheri in the United States.
In Europe there is a candy made by Ferrero called Kusschen that is basically the same thing. They’re available in both milk and dark chocolate versions. See my update on this here with the review of a selection of Ferrero dark chocolate items, including the cherry version of the Mon Cheri.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
There were quite a few caramels at the Fancy Food Show. Here are two vastly different caramel products.
Hammond Candies makes a product unlike all their other wonderful twisty/swirly hard candies, it’s a caramel covered marshmallow block called Mitchell Sweets. I have no idea why they’re called Mitchell, but hey, I guess if I had a great caramel and marshmallow product, maybe I’d just start calling it Mitch, too.
The Mitchell Sweet comes in two varieties - plain and chocolate. They’re pretty big, about 2 1/2” long, 1 1/4 inch square and weigh 3/4 of an ounce. They’re a bit messy, but not as messy as you might guess.
The caramel is soft and chewy without being too stiff. The marshmallow, on the other hand, is rather stiff and solid. It still maintains a lightness and bouncy texture which helps it stand up to the caramel.
The chocolate one didn’t smell any different but I have to say I was really pleased with how fudgy it was. The chocolate caramel was even a little salty and set off the otherwise sweet marshmallow really well. This is a real standout candy. I could use a little honey or extra vanilla hit in the marshmallow itself, but Hammond’s has been making these treats for a long time, so who am I to say they need an adjustment?
Notes: you can buy them direct on the Hammond’s Candies website for $17.00 a pound. These are very similar to the Littlejohn Caramel Marshmallows.
I give them a 7 out of 10
If I was looking for a candy that advertised its honey flavor, then Caramoos to the rescue. Caramoos aren’t quite the chewy caramel that we’re used to though they are indeed caramelized sugar. It’s more like a light fudge. They come in two flavors in the Caramel Crumble: Original & Honey and a bunch of others in their Creme Fudge line: Dark Chocolate, Mocha & Vanilla
They’re cute little square rods, perfect to pop in your mouth whole or do it in two bites.
They smell very buttery and have a very grainy texture. The sweetness is mitigated by a little hit of salt and of course the darker flavors of the caramelized sugars. The Honey one smelled like a sweet hand cream instead of a caramel. The fragrant candy grew on me so much that in the end I preferred it to the Original flavor.
The Creme Fudges are a little different. They don’t have the distinct crystallized structure to them. The Dark Chocolate one reminded me of a very good Tootsie roll. Soft, smoky tasting and a little salty. Mocha was rich and milky tasting with a wonderful flavor of rich espresso. The Vanilla one was also chewy and soft and had a nice milky taste to it but not the buttery flavors so apparent in the Caramel Crumble.
They’re an interesting new look at caramelized sugars.
Notes: Caramoos are made in Poland. There’s no ordering info on their website (I emailed but haven’t heard back) but you can get them on Amazon for $14 for 2.5 pounds ($5.60 a pound). Nicole from Slashfood was equally smitten with Caramoos. Quite a few folks also got samples of them from Amazon last year.
I give them a 7 out of 10
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Another Limited Edition item from Reese’s and again playing around with similar ingredients. This time they’ve taken the Big Cup with Nuts (which was also a limited edition item - review here) and added some caramel to the bottom of the cup.
I don’t have a cross section of the actual cup because I kind of trashed it taking it out of the package and though it was certainly edible, it was not photogenic. So have a look at the Big Cup with Peanuts (click to get a pop up photo) and imagine a smidge of caramel at the bottom there.
The cup itself is nice and meaty, with lots of room to explore the nuts and peanut butter and a good balance of chocolate. The center is a bit salty which is good because the milk chocolate is a bit sweet and kind of greasy (I know that’s the hazard with chocolate and peanut butter). The caramel blends in well, it has its own salty kick but it doesn’t detract from the crunchy nuts or add too much sweetness. I’d prefer a chewier caramel like you find in a Snickers, but that’s not Hershey’s way.
I actually liked this one a bit better than the Reese’s with Caramel, the caramel was distinctive and the roominess of the peanut butter/peanut stack let it all breathe.
Just to give you a sense, here are the previous Reese’s reviews: Reese’s Bites (soon to be discontinued), Reese’s Cookies, FastBreak, Reese’s Sticks, Nutrageous, Reese’s Snack Barz, Reese’s Pieces Peanut, Reese’s Easter Eggs (two versions), Reese’s Bars for those who don’t like their candy in cups or shaped like trees, and of course the less-than-comprehensive Reese’s Full Line, another Big Cup (with mixed nuts) and their new favorite child, the Reese’s Crispy Crunchy Bar.
Friday, December 29, 2006
Here’s another trend among cooks that’s filtered into the candy world: artisan salt. The most common place to find this in confections is in caramels. Sometimes it’s grains of sea salt sprinkled on top, sometimes it’s just a saltier caramel. It’s not like caramels didn’t always have salt in them. When I make my own caramels I usually use both salted butter and a pinch of salt because I think it brings out the caramelized flavors better.
But of course the gourmets weren’t satisfied with plain old table salt or the more upscale Kosher flake salt, now they insist on curiously-colored and super-expensive sea salt crystals from Hawaii, France or New Zealand. They like to remind us of the grand history of salt and how our word for salary comes from the same root and why that means we should pay oodles of money for dried sea water. Frankly, it all looks like the stuff that we used to throw on the sidewalk when it got icy.
All that said, I welcome the new attention to salt as a way to bring out natural flavors. And I welcome Trader Joe’s foray into the salted caramel market because it’s actually affordable. The Shaker-style box that they come in is cute. Inside the box are two plastic bags with 7 ounces of caramels each. Not really as pretty on the inside as I might have hoped for $6.99 a box (maybe a little wood shavings or excelsior?).
The caramels are beautiful. Luminous and even looking, they’re smell like butter and burnt sugar. They’re individually wrapped in neatly folded clear cellophane. They’re sizeable morsels as well, each is two bites in my estimation. They’re firm to the touch but easy to bite apart.
While some salted caramels have grains of salt sprinkled on top, these are completely incorporated (like the Charles Chocolates and unlike the Fran’s) The salt is very apparent on the tongue but the smooth chew and the buttery mouthfeel come through loud and clear.
I liked them. I’m not sure I really want to eat all 14 ounces of them (that’s what’s good about the two packets in there instead of a large single one), so I might come up with some interesting things to do with them, like making a hard sauce for bread pudding.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.