Friday, August 25, 2006
Equal Exchange has been at the forefront of the fair trade chocolate and coffee movement in the United States for twenty years. But I think they understand that it’s great to give people a living wage and all, but the important thing is to sell something of value to the customer to keep everything in motion.
At their launch, the Equal Exchange chocolate products were rather mundane. Don’t get me wrong, they were nice, but the selection wasn’t very exciting. They’ve remedied that with the introduction of three new bars: Mint Chocolate, Espresso Bean Chocolate and Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs.
The Organic Chocolate with Espresso Bean is made with a 55% cocoa solid chocolate (the lightest chocolate of the three new bars) with good reason. Coffee is a powerful flavor and needs a good balance in order for both flavors to shine though.
In general I’m not fond of coffee bars that have coffee grounds (or bits, whatever) in them. The chocolate itself is infused with the coffee flavors, which are dark and pungent, a little smoky and acidic. The beans are crunchy and crisp, which is better than some fibery ones that some companies put in their bars. But still, it’s just not my thing. The chocolate was wonderfully buttery but very sweet so that it can stand up to the espresso beans. Of the three bars, this is the one that I still have some left of. (7 out of 10)
Organic Mint Chocolate. This dark chocolate bar made with 67% cocoa solids was quite a surprise. I fully expected it to be dark, mint flavored chocolate. Instead, it’s a mint crunch bar. It’s not quite like a mint bark that has little pieces or starlight mints in it. Instead it has little sugary grains of mint in it. The grains aren’t large, like big sugar crystals. The chocolate itself is not as sweet as the espresso bar, and has a strong acidic quality to it with a complex chocolate profile. Then as you chew or allow the chocolate to dissolve on your tongue you come across these little crystals of mint. It made the bar much more fun than I expected.
The acidity of the bar still got in the way of the mint, it just wasn’t the ideal match for me. (8 out of 10)
Organic Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs. Now this is the bar for me! 68% cocoa solids make this a pretty dark bar. The acidity here doesn’t bother me a bit, because it goes right along with the blissfully crunchy and rich cocoa nibs. Every nib was great, no fibery ones, no bad ones. The crunch of the nibs isn’t quite like a nut, they’re not quite as fatty tasting, but crisp and of course flavorful, creating a new texture without interrupting the pure chocolate density of the bar.
If you’re a nib fan, you should really seek out this bar. I’ve tried the Endangered Species bar and the Scharffen Berger and this bar really wowed me. At about $3.50 per bar retail for a 3.5 ounce bar they’re a good value for high-end chocolate. Add in the social responsibility and you’re silly not to at least give this bar a try. (9 out of 10)
I’ve been spotting Equal Exchange at Whole Foods, so keep your eyes open. If you have a favorite store that you shop at that doesn’t carry them, ask. (They don’t know what you want unless you tell them!) You can order on the Equal Exchange website, but only in full boxes of 12 for the bars.
Equal Exchange bars are not only organic but Fair Trade certified ingredients are used whenever possible, including the sugar. I think the only part that isn’t fair trade is the organic vanilla bean.
William at Chocolate Obsession has a large review. Siel at GreenLAGirl had a tasting party, so you can see lots more opinions on the bars there. If you’re interested in anything that has to do with incorporating fair trade, social responsibility and environmentalism into your everyday life, she’s your girl.
Monday, August 21, 2006
I’ve had Dove chocolate a few times, but I’ve never bought it before. It’s usually on someone’s desk in an assortment and I’ll take a bite, but it was never something I was terribly blown away by. But then again, if the assortment has Reese’s Miniatures, I’m pretty much blind to everything else.
At Target over the weekend they had these bars, which said they were NEW!, but I’m not sure there’s much new about these except the shape. These bars are just like a bunch of linked Promises miniatures.
If there’s one thing that defines Dove chocolate, it’s their promotion of its silkiness. The bars aren’t large (1.3 ounces each), but they pack a lot of chocolateiness into each little segment. The dark bar has a lovely sweet aroma, but the vanilla notes aren’t as complex as I’d like.
The Rich Dark Chocolate melts quickly on the tongue, giving a thick taste of chocolate instantly. It’s very sweet, so the chocolate notes aren’t as prominent as they are in some of the upscale bars I’ve tried. The flavor is just middle of the road chocolaty, there aren’t hints of raisins, cherries or smoke. Just chocolate. But it’s dependable and wonderfully creamy.
The ingredients in the Rich Dark Chocolate bar start with sugar, which is apparent from the beginning. But this is another candy, like the Dark Raisinets that uses milk products in the “dark” chocolate, though not quite to the degree that the Nestle product did. Right after cocoa butter the ingredients list milkfat, which probably explains the cholesterol level (5 mg), which is the same as the Milk Chocolate bar.
The smoothness of the bar, I’m guessing, can be attributed to a process called conching. This process is what the liquid chocolate is continually ground up using rollers or metal beads, this works all of the larger particles of the cocoa bean into ultrafine pieces that cannot be detected individually by the tongue. Less expensive chocolate is usually conched for a much shorter period of time, which means that it might have some noticeable grain to it. Conching is an expensive process because it takes so much time, so some companies skimp on this step. Lesser chocolate can be conched as little as 6 hours and the finest chocolate may be conched for 72 hours. (Unusual graininess may also be caused by bad tempering, which results in an inconsistent cocoa butter crystaline matrix.) This conching process is one of the reasons that you can’t make chocolate at home - the particles in standard cocoa are not fine enough.
The other thing that accounts for the silkiness of the bar is the fat. These bars are pretty high in fat, which is definitely not a bad thing, but rather uncommon in the standard consumer chocolate bars like Nestle’s and Hershey’s.
I’d never tried Dove Smooth Milk Chocolate before, so I was kind of curious if it was like European milk with its powdered milk taste or if it was like American chocolate which can be a little smokier/tangy tasting.
It’s smelled rather like the European version - sweet and with lots of dairy tones to it. This bar is also very sweet, sweeter than the Dark by a longshot, which is easy to see on the nutrition label, the dark as 17 grams of sugars, the milk has 20 grams (the only other difference seems to be the dark has 3 grams of fiber and the milk only 1 gram).
I actually found this to be a very pleasant bar. It went well with my strong coffee and I ate some of it with some salted pretzels. It’s a little on the sweet side and lacks some chocolate notes, but those are replaced by the complex dairy flavors. There is some tangyness to it, which I rather liked.
My biggest fear about the bars was that they’d be waxy, which is something I’ve noticed with the chocolate on the Dove ice cream bars (but the chemistry associated with frozen chocolate is vastly different than room-temp chocolate). But still, there’s something that feels very plastic about the bars, I’m not quite sure what it is, and it’s not a feeling that I get with Hershey’s Kisses or M&Ms. It might be that I don’t like ultra-smoothness. And that’s purely a personal preference.
(Update: Because it has become an issue, no comments will be allowed here promoting any sales of Dove at Home or any other chocolate. Please limit your comments to the products reviewed here.)
Friday, August 18, 2006
My recent shopping spree at Mel & Rose’s has a little story attached to it. A commercial was recently shooting on our street and the production crew paid us $300 for the inconvenience of having other people park in our driveway and the fact that they were going to wake us up 90 minutes earlier than they told us. I vowed to spend $100 of that on import/upscale candies (I consider it an investment in Candy Blog!). So off to Mel & Rose’s while the crew was making a ruckus and fouling the air with their diesel generators.
I was very tempted to get the Nougat de Montelimar again, but they had quite a few other import varieties, so I thought since someone else was footing my experimentation bill, I’d branch out to other continents.
Massam’s Deluxe Nougat is about as far flung as I could find, made in South Africa. It’s a lovely chunk of nougat, about the size of half of a Snickers bar. The white inside wrapper on it is actually a potato starch paper that’s edible. The nougat itself is not quite hard and not quite soft. The almond distribution is a little uneven. I had two bars, the first one had a great balance of them, but the second one had a complete void of almonds on one half and then a nice amount in the other half.
The taste of the nougat is sweet and smooth and the starch of the potato wrapper gives it a rather cereal quality. It’s odd, as I get to the end of the chew it reminds me of Cheerios. The honey notes weren’t as rich as I’d hoped, but these bars are pretty good in their own right. I had a little trouble biting them, so for the second bar I started cutting it with a knife and it worked a bit better.
At a dollar twenty-five a piece for an imported nougat (they’re a little over an ounce each when I weighed them, but there’s nothing on the label) they’re pretty good. I might pick them up again, especially for the novelty of the potato paper.
For the record, I only spent $50 on candy that day, including a tasting kit of Michel Cluizel that I’ll have a review of soon. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I guess you should never go to a candy store AFTER lunch. I bought a new bike with the rest of the money.
This nougat is both Kosher (Parev) and Hallal.
Wednesday, August 16, 2006
Jolly Rancher Double Blasts are billed as “flavor-infused powder filled candy.” Each little bag contains a mix of two flavor combos, Chorange (Cherry outside and Orange inside) and Raspilime (Blue Raspberry outside and Lime inside).
Each little candy rod is about the same diameter as a pencil. The color and shape makes them look more like little pegs that you’d use with Tinkertoys than candy, but that didn’t keep me from putting them in my mouth (or from them marking them as a choking hazard for young children). The hard candy outside is nice, it’s tangy and flavorful but not at all like the traditional Jolly Rancher hard candies that have a pliable stickiness to them. Pretty soon, as the candy dissolves, especially around the seams, you start getting a little jolt of the powdered center. The center is the second flavor and is not that strong, but the texture and effect is pretty stunning.
They’re pretty addictive in the sense that each time I ate one, I was trying to either crack them open with my teeth to get to the super-cooled center or suck on the candy so that as much of it as possible had dissolved by the time I got to the powder. In the sense that the flavor combos are tasty, well, I could take them or leave them. I was surprised at how much I liked the Chorange, seeing how the bulk of it is Cherry and the Raspilime was just kind of boring (and my assortment had twice as many Choranges).
I’m hoping they’ll do some other flavor combos, but I’m most interested in the other version of these called Sour Bolt Blasts, which might be more like Zotz and have one flavor through and through.
Of course they still make Zotz, so I could just go find some of those.
These candies were made in Canada.
Thursday, August 10, 2006
There are many wonderful people who write into Candy Blog (either via email or comments) to keep me abreast of what’s going on out there in the sweet real world. As I’m mostly a hermit, these tips are invaluable and here are my follow-ups on the most recent tips:
Assorted Fruit Headline
I rushed off to the 99 Cent Only Store to find it’s true! I haven’t opened the bag yet, but I thought I’d share my delight with everyone else. I have no idea when Ferrara Pan decided to make this mixed bag or even if it’s because of that review. Yes, you can buy them separately in little boxes, but this is a much better deal.
Also, the bag is plastic, which means that the Fruit Heads are protected from the enemy of sugar candies ... humidity. (Many of you know the disappointment of a box of Lemonheads where the poor spheres are welded to the box and each other.) I should really follow up on my request for Grapefruitheads.
I give these a 9 out of 10! (Yummy)
Pop’ables Chocolate Crisps
Sandy wrote to me earlier this week to tell me that there was a malted milk ball at the Dollar Tree. Well, I don’t have a Dollar Tree nearby, but as I was already at the 99 Cent Only Store searching for the Fruit Headline, I caught a huge display of these in the peg bag section: Limited Edition Pop’ables Chocolate Crisps.
I’m not sure why they call them “chocolate crisps” because they’re malted milk balls and they’re a pretty well known segment of the American candy pantheon. These were ridiculously good and again upset me to an insane degree because they’re limited edition. The chocolate is sweet and smooth with a slight coconutty note to it. The crisp center is light and malty with only a hint of sweetness. The packaging is completely uninspired, but I suppose it doesn’t matter as it is not only a limited edition item, but Mars has hinted that they’re discontinuing the Pop’ables line anyway. These were made in Australia. Super-addictive ... I ate the whole bag at work yesterday.
I give these a 9 out of 10! (Yummy)
Lindt Baking 70% Cocoa Bitter-Sweet Chocolate
While I was poking around in the candy aisle at the 99 Cent Only Store, I also found this little gem: Lindt Baking 70% Cocoa Bitter-Sweet Chocolate.
I’ve become a recent convert to Lindt via their impulsive truffles and couldn’t resist giving this “baking” bar a try to see if it rivaled their regular Lindt Excellence 70% bar that I see for three times the price at Cost Plus. At 3.5 ounces for 99 cents, it’s a fabulous deal for high-quality chocolate. They also had a semi-sweet bar that didn’t list the cocoa content (but sugar was the first ingredient on the list instead of chocolate).
I was worried that the bar would be past its prime, but it’s glossy and dark and with a good snap. Perfectly fresh. Lindt still isn’t my favorite chocolate, but at this price, it’s hard to buy a Hershey bar. This bar was made in France.
I give this a 7 out of 10! (Worth It)
Wednesday, August 2, 2006
Part of the reason for the stop in San Francisco on my recent vacation was to experience the Ferry Terminal Marketplace. It’s home to a bunch of artisan food companies, restaurants and other people associated with the food crafts. Plus, on Saturdays there’s a farmers market.
There are a couple of sweets locations in the Ferry Terminal including a Scharffen Berger store and Recchiuti Confections but for this trip (I’ll be going back again in September) I thought I’d look at Miette Patisserie.
The store is drop dead cute and reminds me of a forties/fifties-era cookbook. They had a huge selection of cakes and hand-held pastries. But I was interested in candies, of course. There was a large display of handmade lollipops which looked gorgeous and came in sassy flavors like cotton candy, grape and pink lemonade. None of the flavors were marked and the colors weren’t enough for me to discern the code so I passed them by for now.
Instead I was attracted to their Parisian Macaroons (which are not the coconut ones we’re most accustomed to in the States). These macaroons are a hazelnut or almond and egg white based cookie with a filling of some sort. Like a super decadent sandwich cookie. They were $1.50 each ... a little on the pricey side so I didn’t taste one of each flavor (I think there were six varieties).
I picked out:
Hazelnut: a vanilla cookie with a rich nutella-style filling. Sweet and rich but still light and flaky.
Rose Geranium: a delicately floral flavored cookie with a buttery light cream filling in the sandwich. My favorite.
Vanilla: a little sweeter because there was no strong flavor to balance it, but quite nice after a long walk and pleasant lunch.
By the register they also had three large jars of handmade caramels wrapped in wax paper. They were two for $1 so I had two of each.
Vanilla & Lemon - the wrappers were identical and I’m sorry to say that they all tasted the same. The caramels were nicely soft and sweet and of course had a wonderful slightly burnt sugar taste.
Fleur de Sel - a little darker tasting and with a nice warming sensation of instant salt. Instead of a regular caramel with a little series of grains of salt on the surface as I’ve had at other places, here the salt is completely integrated. The salt really brings out the caramelized notes, but it’s also a bit strong and made my throat sting.
UPDATE: A kind reader, Dan, has informed me that these are made by the Little Flower Candy Company, which makes sense based on the flavor array.
I’m sure their cakes are great and there’s the added bonus that they use organic ingredients whenever possible. Not that something like that makes a pastry more wholesome or anything! The macaroons can be ordered on their website, but not the caramels or lollies. The items are pricey, as is usually the case with labor intensive items. Overall I think I prefer the caramels and macaroons from Boule but since San Francisco doesn’t have a Boule, I can see myself stopping in here on my next trip for a little something to eat. I’m especially interested in trying their Lavender Shortbread (I know, I’ve totally diverged from candy all of a sudden ... I was on vacation!).
Tuesday, August 1, 2006
One of the problems with getting “preview” candy from a trade show like All Candy Expo is that I never know what it’s actually going to look like in stores. One of the new products that I thought was pretty cool in concept was a new flavor assortment from Jelly Belly called Soda Pop Shoppe.
The flavor assortment includes: 7 Up, Dr. Pepper, A&W Root Beer, Orange Crush, and Grape Crush. What I find a little odd about this soda pop assortment is that there’s no cola in it. But it seems that the variety is determined by some sort of flavor licensing from the Cadbury Schweppes people.
I got this little 3/4 of an ounce packet as a sample, but the fun part about these is that they’re going to be packaged in soda bottles (1.5 ounces in a bottle). Sounds like a good way to share and to reseal them.
7 Up: a nice lemon lime with a good zesty hit at the front that gives it a slight bitter bite. There’s no tangy component though.
Dr. Pepper: I’ve never been a fan of Dr. Pepper (or Mr. Pibb) but these seem to taste pretty faithful.
A&W Root Beer: these look almost like the Dr. Pepper, so be careful. Nice root beer flavor with a little creamy finish to it, like a foamy head.
Orange Crush: This one’s a real winner. Tangy with a slight effervescent quality and a nice fake orange flavor.
Grape Crush: a little too sweet and not tart enough for my tastes, but then again I outgrew my appreciation of grape soda when I was twelve.
I’m a little confused if the A&W Cream Soda flavor is supposed to be in this mix or not, but it would sure fit well, but I wouldn’t miss it if it doesn’t make it.
These should be available in stores next month and might make nice stocking stuffers for Christmas. I like all of the flavors in here except for the Dr. Pepper, which could easily be plucked out and set aside for someone else. I think the real surprise flavor here is the 7 UP which was far more complex than I’d figured it would be.
Tuesday, July 25, 2006
If you’ve ever been in a Trader Joe’s, you’ve probably found the candy overwhelming. You may also have found that they have a lot of house-branded products. Luckily they’re inexpensive enough for you to shrug and throw it in the cart and give it a whirl. I’ve had a few bad experiences, but most are pretty darn good.
I’ve resisted these lilac foiled bars for a long time. They looked a little dowdy to me, and I’m all about the hot new candies. They come in a three pack - each bar is a single portion, so it’s easy to stockpile them, but also to have an immediate fix.
The Dark Chocolate bar is smooth and shiny and smells a little smoky and sweet. It has a nice melt, but a smidge of grain/chalkiness. It’s not too sweet and has a slight dry bite to it.
Overall, it’s a good deal and the size of the bars (1.75 ounces) makes it easier to tuck them in your bag for later indulgence instead of a larger 3.5 ounce ones that you often see. Still, if I were looking for fully satisfying indulgence I’d still go for a Chocovic and I also enjoy the Trader Joe’s Organic Dark Chocolate with Pecans and Raisins.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.