Monday, June 30, 2014
Though most of the confectioners I was searching for in London were chocolate related, I knew I needed to pick up a package of Percy Pig Soft Gums from Marks & Spencer. It wasn’t hard to find them, as it was hard to walk more than three blocks in central London and not run across one of their food stops.
They’re described as Soft gums made with fruit juice. Made without artificial colors or flavorings. Though they call them gums, they’re actually gummis, as in, they’re made with gelatin. The texture is a hybrid between marshmallow and gummi.
Marks and Spencer came up with the idea for Percy Pig in conjunction with one of their contract manufacturers, Katjes, in Germany. Marks & Spencer wanted something fruity and foamy. The look of the candy was based off of the existing Tappsy panda-faced licorice line from Katjes.
The color is definitely close to what I’d call pig skin pink. It’s a light color that’s more like putty than actual artificial pink common in most candies here in the United States. The scent is rather berry-like, a little floral with a tangy sort of yogurt note.
The texture is soft and easy to bite, they’re not too tacky or stiff. The flavor is much more intense than the similar Haribo foamy gummis I’ve had over the years. They’re wonderfully well done, good tartness, good jammy berry flavors (strawberry and raspberry). The ears are a little more tart and less creamy (marshmallowy) than the face.
It’s a great product and I can see why Brits are so fond of them. There are plenty of similar products on the market now, but for a long time they really occupied a niche that was not well served by the existing candies available. I would love more flavor variations, but since I know that Katjes makes them, they have lots of other yogurt gums and other foamy gummi candies in their repertoire ... some also in amazingly cute shapes.
For some more history on Percy Pig, you can read up at this feature article on The Independent.
Monday, June 23, 2014
Target has a variety of house brands on their shelves right now, though not that many in the candy aisle any longer. I did spot this new variety of little fruity chocolate morsels and picked up Simply Balanced Mixed Berry Fruit Juice Pieces Covered in Dark Chocolate. I don’t actually know what these are supposed to be called, since that sounds more like a description than a name. The brand called Simply Balanced is also new to me, the package says that its goodness guarantee takes the guesswork out of eating well.
As far as I can tell, a Canadian confectioner called Brookside invented the concept of a little antioxidant-themed jelly morsel covered in dark chocolate back in late 2010. They grew quickly enough that Hershey’s decided to purchase the company and of course knock-off versions have emerged over the intervening years. This version from Target has some interesting elements to it.
They’re made with Rainforest Alliance certified cacao from Ecuador. Though it’s nice dark chocolate, it’s only 60%. The package also calls them fruit juice pieces, similar to the language used by Brookside for their jelly thingies. In reality they’re jellies. They’re made from glucose, water, fruit juice from concentrate, citric acid, pectin and corn starch. So, it’s less fruit juice and mostly sugar. Honestly, I would mind something called dark chocolate covered fruit jellies (those already exist, and they’re usually raspberry or orange flavored and usually sticks). But this new genre of candy is trying to paint itself with the fine qualities of antioxidant rich berries, when the reality is they’re made from not just blueberry, pomegranate and cranberry juice, but also apple and lemon.
As much as I may make fun of their marketing materials, it is a list of ingredients that I could put together in my kitchen (though the end product wouldn’t look as nice). The pieces are large, like Peanut M&Ms instead of the smaller pieces from Brookside. The coats are not quite as smooth, a little dinged up, I think, from getting jostled around. But still shiny.
They smell a little fruity, with some woodsy notes of chocolate. The bite is pretty soft, the jelly center is springy and dissolves quickly. Some had a small hint of grainy sugar to them, but most were smooth. The chocolate is creamy and has a good, quick melt and soft bite. The fruity centers were tangy with a strong blueberry and cranberry flavor to them. There’s a light bitter note towards the end that reminded me of cranberries.
The pieces are easy to eat and a nice change from nut and chocolate combinations. They’re not innovative, but nicely done. The ingredients are pretty clean and the use of Rainforest Alliance cacao and labeling it as being made with non-GMO ingredients is a nice touch.
The candies contain soy and are made in a facility that also processes milk, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and eggs. (Too bad, it would be nice if these were at least free of some of the major allergens.) They’re kind of expensive at $3.59 for only 7 ounces, but comparable to the Trader Joe’s, Brookside and Brach’s versions price wise, but I actually prefer them.
Monday, June 2, 2014
Back in January Target introduced Dove Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Promises for Valentine’s Day. Instead of an actual gianduia product,which would combine hazelnut paste with chocolate, these were just dark chocolate with a hazelnut flavoring.
Dove hasn’t abandoned the idea to Valentine’s Day, instead they’ve released the new Target-Exclusive flavor: Dove Hazelnut Crisp Dark Chocolate Promises. The curious difference here is not actual hazelnut pieces, but little crispy bits.
The bits are made from tapioca starch and rice flour, so for those who avoid wheat, these might seem like a good option (sadly the full allergen disclosure says that they’re made on shared equipment with wheat, so those with extreme sensitivities should be aware).
The flavor of the Promises doesn’t disappoint. The chocolate is soft to bite, quick to melt and has a very dense, brownie batter flavor to it. There are a lot of toasted and woodsy notes to the chocolate and a light sort of chalky dryness towards the end, even though it’s exceptionally fatty.
The cookie bits are interesting, they remind me of the sort of Oreo-like bits found in the Cookies & Cream type chocolate confections. It’s a little sandy, very crunchy but less cereal-like than a corn flake bit or crisped rice.
The addition of the texture is successful. It’s just the sort of boost these needed to make me eat them one after another. It would be ideal if they actually were gluten free, since celiacs have been denied the wonders of cookies and cream for far too long.
A previous Target-exclusive flavor was Sea Salt Caramel, which is now widely available.
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
This innovative new product innovatively reduced the size of a regular York Peppermint Pattie to the diameter of a penny. Hershey’s previously used this innovative innovation to shrink the size of their Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, KitKat and Rolo. It’s a stunning development in the world of confections ... duplicated only by the recent innovations by Mars (with their Bites format of Snickers, Milky Way, Simply Caramel, 3 Musketeers and Twix) and Wrigley’s (Starburst Minis). The morselization world is actually quite busy and crowded.
It’s not Hershey’s fault that they were declared innovative (well, they probably entered the product in that category). The point is that there is an new, unwrapped version of York Peppermint Patties.
The package is simple, though it’s King Size bag holding 2.5 ounces, it was still listed as 1 portion on the nutrition panel and had no front of package tally of the calories and serving. Even though it’s a massive amount of candy, because it’s almost all sugar, it’s pretty low in calories: 260.
The pieces are really just tiny peppermint patties, a fraction of the size of the small snack sized versions, which are the preferred size for me. In the case of these, the ratios are particularly nice, as there’s just slightly more consistent distribution of chocolate in each bite ... because each piece is a bite. The chocolate is quite bitter, and though it’s not particularly creamy, it sets off the sweet and soft fondant well.
It’s not innovative, but it is successful. The texture difference from Junior Mints is notable. Junior Mints have a runnier center, a thicker chocolate shell and a light waxy glaze that keeps it from melting right away.
Like the other sizes of York Peppermint Patties, the Minis are made in Mexico. There is no notation on the traceability of the cacao for the coating. York Peppermint Patties contain egg whites, soy and milk. There’s nothing on the package about gluten or nuts/peanuts, but the AskHershey.com website specifically says that York Minis are not gluten free.
Thursday, April 17, 2014
One of the most popular luxury chocolate brands is Valrhona, which is made in France. Though you may not know the name or the label, chances are you’ve had their chocolate because they’re used so widely in the pastry and confectionery trade. Though I rarely buy their bars, I am fond of their feves, which are little oblong chocolate disks which are great for baking or simply eating.
Since it’s Easter, I thought I’d review one of the iconic confections of the season: White Chocolate. Valrhona introduced a new white chocolate bar last year called Valrhona Blond Dulcey 32%. It’s like a dark white chocolate, if such a thing could exist. It’s 32% cocoa butter, which is more cocoa butter than some chocolates have for all of their combined cacao content. The next ingredient by percentage (32%) is then whole milk (in the form of whole milk powder, skim milk powder, butter and whey), then there’s sugar and some vanilla, soy lecithin and salt.
If you think that sounds rich, it is. That’s 50% of your saturated fat in half a bar. When I calculated the calories per ounce, it came out to 195 (that can’t possibly be right). But it’s also 3 grams of protein and a full 15% of your daily RDA of calcium.
The bar is thick, which is nice considering that it’s only 2.46 ounces, smaller than the usual 3.5 or 3 ounce tablet that I’ve become accustomed to as a premium bar. The diagonals score the bar well enough that it can easily be broken into these irregular but perfect bite-sized pieces.
The color is just what you see here, a butterscotch color instead of the creamy yellow-white or most cocoa butter confections. The literature about the Blond Dulcey makes note of the biscuit flavors along with a touch of apricot. They’re not wrong, it does have a rich cereal note to it, along with some toffee and maybe a light hint of lemon.
The bar has a good melt, though I admit that it’s a little fudgy at the start. I’d say that’s more from the milk solids than any sugar-grain. It’s lightly salty at first, there’s over 100 mg of salt. It is like a digestive biscuit flavor, just lightly toasted, sweet but not so much that it hurt my throat. There was no slick or greasy coating in my mouth afterwards as many white confections made with tropical oils can leave.The vanilla note is overpowered by the sort of toffee and burnt sugar flavors, though I would have enjoyed some bourbon or tobacco in there.
I found my bar when I was in London, though they do sell them in the United States. It was about $8, which it’s pretty steep for a smallish bar like this. I’ll probably stick with the Green & Blacks or the Ritter Sport if I can find it.
This may be one of those white chocolate bars that converts people who don’t like white chocolate. Or just something for those who do like white chocolate to munch on. It’s a lot more satisfying than many other white bars that I eat, I didn’t feel the need to eat the whole thing. That may be a function of the high protein content as well.
Monday, April 7, 2014
They’re 3.5 ounces and priced competitively with other premium chocolate bars. Equal Exchange (I reviewed some Easter items on Friday) is a cooperative using fair trade standards to create a whole store filled with chocolate, coffee, tea and other goods.
This bar features organic freeze dried raspberries in organic and fair trade dark chocolate. The cacao is sourced from fair trade cooperatives in The Dominican Republic, Panama, Ecuador and Peru with sugar from Paraguay and vanilla from Madagascar. There’s no soy lecithin and it’s considered gluten free though it may contain traces of milk, hazelnuts, cashews and coconut. Equal Exchange makes their chocolate in Switzerland.
The bar is wrapped simply, in thin foil and then a thicker paper overwrap (the inside had all the sourcing details about the bar).
The bar is glossy and attractive, with some bumps on the bottom from the raspberry bits. The molding is good as is the temper, it’s very consistent and I noticed no voids or swirling in any of the bars (which can happen with inclusions). It smells rich, though barely sweet. Like cherries, coffee and honey. Once snapped in half though, the raspberry scent, with its floral notes becomes much more noticeable. The chocolate is sweet on the tongue and has a good, cool melt with a creamy texture. The raspberry bits are crunchy and tangy, though the seeds in the center can be a bit tougher.
It’s a very easy to eat bar, with a lot more acidic tang than most other 60% bars. I don’t care much for the grassy, woody note of the seeds, but that’s berries for you.
The Equal Exchange Organic Lemon Ginger Chocolate with Black Pepper is 55% cacao, so it’s the lightest chocolate intensity of the bunch. The package gives the identical sourcing info for the major ingredients but doesn’t say where the lemon, ginger and black pepper is from, though they’re all organic.
It’s nice to see lemon used with chocolate, it’s not as common as orange, but can still combine well, especially with dark chocolate. The addition of ginger and black pepper makes this the most unconventional flavor in the Equal Exchange line. This package looked the same on the outside as the other bars, but instead of a foil inner liner, it’s in some sort of compostable mylar. I also noticed that the nutritional panel listed this one at only 200 calories a portion, not 230 ...which actually sounds more plausible. (But calorie calculations are fraught with error, as the basis for it is over 100 years old, so really they’re just a guide.)
Though the bar contains no milk, it doesn’t look like a particularly dark chocolate bar. It smells woodsy and fresh, with a little note of rosemary and cedar.
The melt of the dark chocolate is very smooth, but I did start to detect a bit of sugar grain ... this was from the crystallized ginger in the bar. The lemon is a bit strong, rather astringent at first, but it dissipates. The chocolate is mild, woodsy and of course creamy. The ginger and black pepper hit come in slowly as a hint of warmth in the throat. The sugar from the crystallized ginger rather disguised the ginger kick at first, then it came forward.
It’s a satisfying bar.
The final bar is the Equal Exchange Organic Dark Chocolate with Coconut 60%. Like the Raspberry bar, this one has a thin silver foil wrapping.
It is also 60% cacao content and contains only one additional ingredient to the chocolate, the organic coconut flakes.
This bar reminded me most of Passover, which I’ve often thought of as Macaroon Season, as coconut macaroons (often dipped in chocolate) are a typical treat since they can be made without only coconut, chocolate, egg whites and sugar to follow the Kosher for Passover rules.
The bar has a lot of coconut in it, and the silky chocolate goes well with it. There are cherry and raisin notes to go with the more tropical scent of the coconut and hints of the Madagascar vanilla bean.
The exciting development this year for Equal Exchange is their new designation of their dark chocolates as Kosher for Passover. Equal Exchange chocolates that are marked pareve (the 3.5 oz or 100 g line and dark chocolate minis) may be purchased before Passover and consumed on Passover according to Rabbi Aaron Alexander, Associate Dean, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University. The specific bars from Equal Exchange that qualify for this designation are: Organic Chocolate Espresso Bean Bar, Organic Dark Chocolate with Almonds Bar, Organic Ecuador Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Mint with a Delicate Crunch Bar, Organic Orange Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Panama Extra Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Very Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Lemon Ginger with Black Pepper, Organic Dark Chocolate Minis.
It’s interesting that before this, there were no certified fair trade chocolates that were designated Kosher for Passover. Which is odd, because Passover is all about the commemoration of Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt. The best news is that these are tasty and come in a pretty wide variety of flavor options.
CNN has been covering modern day slavery, including in the cocoa trade in a series of articles, segments and documentaries.
Friday, April 4, 2014
Equal Exchange is cooperative that sells products with fair trade ingredients and/or labor. Many of these are products where the farmers that grow them live in poverty, lack educational opportunities. Things like coffee, tea, bananas and of course, cocoa. These are all grown in tropical regions and depend on a high degree of manual labor. With the chocolate industry, there’s the added issue of slavery of hundreds of thousands of children on farms, mostly in Western Africa.
Equal Exchange also makes its own chocolate, which uses fair trade certified ingredients, not just ethically sourced cocoa. The result isn’t charity, these are real, sustainable products that you can buy at a fair price that are actually good quality as well.
They’ve been making chocolate for a while, but only more recently has it become more mainstream ... and now they have holiday packaged foil-wrapped eggs.
Equal Exchange Milk Chocolate Foil Eggs are 41% cacao, which is as dark as some semisweet chocolate sold these days. The ingredients sound delicious: cacao butter, whole milk powder, cane sugar, chocolate liquor, unrefined white cane sugar, ground hazelnuts and vanilla. The ingredients are also fair trade (except for the hazelnuts and milk) and all organic. There’s no soy, no lecithin, no other fillers.
The melt is smooth and creamy. It’s not at all grainy but very fatty and thick on the tongue. The flavor is interesting and not something I initially liked. It’s deep and not terribly sweet. The milk flavors are definitely more on the powdered milk, flirting with the cheesy side. But the roasted flavors of the hazelnuts balances that. The chocolate itself is woodsy with a sort of green banana note to it. It sounds weird.
I can’t stop eating these. I actually did stop, when I ran out. Then I realized they also sent this to me:
Yes, that’s over a pound and a half of mini milk chocolate bars. In a handy dispenser box. I have it on my desk, like it’s dispensing tissues during allergy season.
The Equal Exchange Dark Chocolate Foil Eggs are also quite rich. They feature the same high fat, though in this case there are no nuts and no dairy at all. The 55% cacao content is rounded out only with sugar and vanilla beans. Like the Milk Chocolate, it’s all organic, but in this case it’s also all fair trade certified. There’s no soy in there, no GMOs though there may be traces of milk, peanuts, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios and/or pecans. Though it doesn’t say on the ingredients, they should be gluten free. Finally, they’re vegan. While there’s not a lot in there, there are a lot of folks these could satisfy. ]
The 55% cacao content makes these quite mild. They smell woodsy, with a light cherry note. The chocolate has a good, silky melt with a light dry finish to it. The flavor profile is all over the map. I taste coffee, cherries, figs and bananas and sometimes even a hint of malt ... though that could have been its storage adjacent to my milk chocolate pieces. There’s a light bitterness in there, nothing too difficult to conquer, but might be enough to keep children away.
You could put these in front of anyone without any information about the origins or disposition and they’d never know that this is more transparently source, ethically accountable stuff. It’s just tasty. As you can tell, I preferred the milk chocolate version, but the dark is a wonderful middle of the road chocolate that’s not too dark for wide appeal.
The only hesitations for most folks will be where to find them and how much you pay. Equal Exchange has them on their website for $6.99 per package, which is pretty steep compared to their very competitively priced bars. (For some reason foil wrapping just amps up the price of any chocolate, good quality or bad.) Some Whole Foods Markets and other natural product stores may carry them as well. The fall back is always the little mini-bars, which are also extremely cute and a bit better deal per ounce, but come in this 23.8 ounce box (yes, a pound a half) for $35.00 plus shipping. It’s hard to compare that to R.M. Palmer (which isn’t even real chocolate, let alone sustainably sourced), but Godiva or Lindt may be a good comparison on both price and ingredients.
On Monday I’ll have a review of Kosher for Passover chocolates, also from Equal Exchange.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Milton S. Hershey is one of great entrepreneur stories of the 20th century. Hershey always wanted to be a confectioner. He was apprenticed to a candy maker as a child and then later tried several times to make it on his own. He focused on caramels and small wrapped sweets, peddling them on a cart pushed around the streets. While working in Denver for another confectioner, he learned a new recipe for boiled sweets, a caramel that was extremely stable as well as delicious because of the use of milk in addition to butter. However, even in Philadelphia, Chicago and New York City ... each of these companies failed. In 1886 he returned home, in debt but still convinced that his new caramel recipe he learned in Denver could succeed. He convinced family members to invest once again and this time was the right time. He created the Lancaster Caramel Company which flourished.
He built this little enterprise into a full factory business by the turn of century, employing over 1,300 people and then sold it off for a million dollars in order to fund his new venture, the Hershey Chocolate Company. Hershey’s is finally introducing their own line of caramels, under the nostalgic name of Lancaster.
The new Lancaster Caramel Soft Cremes’ package looks nostalgic. What’s inside, though, is unlikely to be anything close to what Milton Hershey used to make in copper kettles. The package says “His [Milton Hershey] original caramel recipe is the inspiration for Lancaster Cremes. The ingredients tell the story of a modern confection:
Though I was a little disappointed to see the use of things like palm kernel oil, tocopherols and high fructose corn sweetener, I was more disappointed at the price for such things. Kraft Caramels are usually about $2 a bag on sale and contain similar ingredients but not the premium price. But, I was willing to give these a try.
The little nuggets are glossy and soft. They don’t smell like much, but have a beautifully soft and chewy bite. The chew and dissolve is impossibly smooth and rich, with good flavor notes of caramelized sugar and butter. It’s like a soft version of Pearson’s Nips. (I could imagine these as fantastic in coffee flavor.) It’s not a completely stiff caramel chew, like a Storck Chocolate Riesen, but much smoother than the soft bite of a Kraft Caramel.
As much as I wanted to hate these for their divergence from Hershey’s original simple ingredients, they are quite good. The texture, the consistency and overall not-too-sweet profile is really ideal. I begrudgingly love them. They come in two other varieties: Vanilla and Caramel and Vanilla and Raspberry. Honestly, I plan to quit while I’m ahead. If they come up with chocolate or coffee flavored ones, I’ll give those a go.
Oddly enough, the Lancaster Caramels are made in Canada, not Central Pennsylvania. Also, they’re not Kosher and there are no other notations on the package regarding nuts, wheat or eggs though the ingredients list dairy and soy as ingredients.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.