Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Tcho is a bean to bar chocolate maker based in San Francisco. Their early chocolate programs simplified the ideas of single origin distinctions and simply labeled their chocolate bars with the flavor characteristic based on a flavor wheel.
Though their early products were simple dark and milk chocolate bars, they’ve not created some interesting new flavored bars. I picked up two little tasting squares of their Tcho Mokaccino. They’re only .28 ounces, so it really is just a bite or two of chocolate. It’s described as: Serious Milk Chocolate + Blue Bottle Coffee.
Tcho is made with fair trade cocoa beans, organic ingredients and is certified kosher. (They do use soy lecithin in their chocolate and also handle nuts in their facility.)
I happen to enjoy the coffee renaissance that’s been going on for ...oh, the past 30 years. The pre-ground cans of coffee of my childhood are long gone: a time when single origin meant you looked for the Colombian mountain on the can as an indication of flavor.
The little piece has a wonderful Spirograph-style pattern on it. It tastes a little smoky, very milky, with an almost cheesy note. The coffee is intense, but on the sweet side (I don’t take sugar in my coffee, so having it combined with chocolate tends to sweeten it too much for me). The coffee notes blend very well with the chocolate but the most important thing here is the texture. It’s smooth ... there’s now coffee bean grit like so many coffee chocolates end up with (or whole beans) that I don’t care for.
I’ve been watching Tcho since they started up and were in beta. Though I appreciate many of their attributes, I’ve not been impressed with the products themselves, the dark chocolate is gritty and has an odd fat balance to it for me, and often the beans taste burnt. They do some interesting chocolate covered items, like nuts, which are good but not remarkable enough for me to fork over the premium price.
That said, I’m glad I had an open mind and picked up the Mokaccino. The little squares are a bit expensive, but if I bought two of them instead of an actual cappuccino, it’s about the same price.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
I’ve reviewed a couple of the new Ghirardelli panned chocolate items, but up until now they’ve been pretty standard items. I was intrigued enough with the description of the new Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate Spiced Almond to pick them up.
The perfect snack to satisfy your craving for crunchy nuts and smooth chocolate ... with a little spice.
I liked the package. It’s very easy to understand, the images on the front and back are appealing, clear and not too fussy. But mostly I appreciated that the nutrition label and ingredients are easy to read. The ingredients list the allergens in bold, as well as noting them at the end of the list and it was all in a typeface that was large enough for me to read without glasses.
The ingredients are pretty clean with no artificial flavors or colors. They even helpfully list out what the spices are: cinnamon, allspice and cayenne. Instead of just mixing the spices into the chocolate to create something slightly gritty, Ghirirdelli instead made a spiced toffee glaze for the almonds before panning them in chocolate.
These remind me of the Lindt Holiday Almonds that come out seasonally, but are also coated with powdered sugar.
The almonds are big and glossy. They don’t smell of spice, just a light sweet dairy note. They have a great crunch if you bite them. The glaze is crispy and the almond are tougher and have a substantial crunch. The chocolate is soft and combines readily with the elements. It’s all a bit sweet, even with the neutral almonds to balance it out. The glaze has a generous touch of the spices, with quite a bit of cayenne that builds up slowly until there’s a light burn after about five or six.
I didn’t care for the how sweet they were, maybe I just wanted a smidge of salt in them or a darker milk chocolate. But they are less sweet than the Lindt sister confection, so I’ll take that as progress. I have to say that if this trend of mixing the textures of a glazed nut with chocolate takes off, there are a lot of variations that could be quite delectable. The best that I’d tried to date would be the Sconza 70% Toffee Almonds.
Ghirardelli is owned by Lindt & Sprungli. They don’t have a lot on their website about the sourcing of their cacao except for a statement that they’re in compliance with the California transparency act and then point you to the Lindt policies. Now that Lindt owns Russell Stover, they’re the third largest chocolate company in the United States, and will probably have a lot more clout when it comes to insisting on transparency and certification within their supply chain for all ingredients.
Monday, November 3, 2014
At $18 a pound it’s about 2.5 times more expensive than the Brach’s Bridge Mix. It also has all natural chocolate and at least lists a sample of what is probably in the mix: Bite-sized pieces of raisins, coconut, caramel, brittles, almonds, pecans, nougats and more covered in milk and dark chocolate.
The kind folks at See’s actually gave me a little cup of the mix to sample before I made my purchase ... because it just comes in this one pound box. The box has four little sections, which keep the mix from wandering too much. I don’t know if I would necessarily serve it from the box, but the nice thing about Bridge Mix it’s a panned candy, which means that it has a little glaze on each piece to keep it from sticking together and you can put it out in a bowl without worrying that it’ll all melt into a lump.
One of the first things I should mention is that I’m allergic to walnuts. Not deathly allergic, as I’m still alive, but for the most part my reactions to walnut traces lately has been a swollen throat and flushed skin. The See’s Bridge Mix does contain walnuts. One of the items is chocolate covered nougat, which has walnuts in it. It’s hard to tell, in Bridge mix, which pieces are which, so it’s a little difficult for me review these in the normal manner. For any piece that is the right shape to be a nougat, I have to split open first to see what’s in it.
The good part is that most of the pieces are easy to just chomp. The little items that look like raisins or almonds are raisins and almonds. The pillow things that look like molasses chips are molasses chips. The lumpy things that look like pecans are pecans. It was the little cubes I had the trouble with ... which leads to the general complaint with Bridge Mix.
Dark Chocolate covered Caramel Rectangles had a more stringy, chewy caramel than the little cube ones I found a few times. These were quite nice, but maybe a little heavy on the chocolate.
Dark Chocolate Lump is Rum Raisin Nougat This is the piece that has walnuts in it.
Milk Chocolate Cube is Caramel The picture makes this one look like it might be a chocolate caramel, but it tasted rather rich but caramelly overall.
Milk Chocolate Rounded Cube is Butterscotch The See’s Butterscotch is one of my favorite pieces. This version is a little drier and has a different set of ratios for the chocolate and center. I prefer the enrobed piece (not the bar), but the creamy melt of the chocolate and sort of buttery brown sugar fudge do work well, especially with the nuts. This and the caramel looked the same to me, and most of the milk cubes were Butterscotch.
Dark Chocolate Cube is Toasted Coconut These are wholly unexpected for this type of mix. You can see from the cross section, these are packed with coconut, so they’re not too sweet and it is nicely toasted to bring out the tropical flavor.
Flat Milk Chocolate Square is Toffee (not pictured) I like the See’s Toffee, it’s crisp and buttery and easy to bite. The toffee notes are good, but for some reason it’s never had that smooth burnt sugar dissolve that I often crave. It’s a personal preference issue.
Milk Chocolate Pillow is Molasses Crisp. These might have more chocolate on the regular version available by themselves. They’re crisp and crunchy, with just enough aeration to the honey-molasses candy to make them easy to bite. The lingering honey notes of the center goes well with just about everything else in this mix.
Milk Chocolate Pecans & Almonds - the pecans are fantastic. They’re roasted perfectly, they have a great woodsy maple flavor, so you get a sweet crunch combined with the chocolate. The almonds are very small, if I didn’t know any better, I would have assumed that they were peanuts. They’re well toasted and decent, a good crunch and probably a different variety than the nonpareil almonds I’ve been eating, because they’re less fibery.
Dark Chocolate Covered Raisins are quite niece. The raisins are big, though the chocolate isn’t particularly dark, it is generous.
The mix is very strong, it doesn’t have any items that feel like they’re cheap filler. I did find that the almonds were left at the end, I was picking out the big bits. But I think once I figured out the code, it was easier to mix and match without worrying that I was going to get a “bad piece.” I do not recommend playing roulette if you have a food sensitives when it comes to this sort of thing.
I would prefer an actual guide on the package, or at least a real listing the items that are in i. I’d also like to just make my own mix… but that’s not the way mixes work. I would definitely buy this again. But I play Canasta, not Bridge.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Dove Chocolate, a Mars brand, often skirts a line in their marketing and products between being a healthy indulgence and pure decadence. The new line of chocolate covered fruit goes for the former but still accomplishes the latter.
Mars sent me some of their new products, including this amazingly large bag of Dove Whole Dried Cranberries in Dark Chocolate. It’s 26 ounces of chocolate covered sugared dried cranberries.
The package makes it look like these are plump cranberries, but they’re the ordinary dried variety. There’s a little bit of sugar added, which is fine, because I’ve had unsweetened cranberries before and they were too puckery,even with a chocolate coating.
The pieces are quite large, and cutting them in half reveals why. They aren’t strangely large cranberries. Instead they’re covered with a lot of chocolate. Often chocolate covered cranberries are flat, but these are very appealing looking. These a plump and a little chew reveals that they’re pretty moist, not leathery. They’re tangy and have a sort of bitterness to them that cranberries are known for, but it’s offset well by the chocolate.
I often find Dove’s chocolate a little bland, but dark chocolate here has a lot of flavor. It’s a rich chocolate pudding vibe, a little woodsy. It’s creamy without being too slick, though Dove does use dairy fats in their dark chocolate, so this is not vegan. (There’s 5 mg of cholesterol in here, which serves as an indication of the level of dairy fats.)
They’re expensive. But there aren’t that many higher quality choices at grocery stores for chocolate covered cranberries. I did find Ghirardelli’s new Dark Chocolate Cranberries are just as good as these but are likely to be harder to find. Steer clear of the Nestle version in their Raisinets line as they’re just terrible.
Wednesday, October 15, 2014
The new bite sized version of the Mint 3 Musketeers is dark chocolate and features a minty nougat center. The Mint 3 Musketeers Bars were introduced in 2007, and though it’s not the powerhouse that Twix or Milky Way represent for Mars, it still fits neatly into the candy bar selection from Mars in a unique way. The regular 3 Musketeers bar only got the mini treatment earlier this year.
The dark chocolate covered mint nougats are about 3/4 of an inch square, a little shorter than that. The sharing size package holds two servings, which seems like a lot, considering the fluffy nature of the pieces. (Even if you went on a binge and ate the whole bag, it would only be 360 calories.)
The pieces are easy to bite. The nougat is soft and airy, the chocolate is thin but doesn’t flake off easily. The nougat is almost marshmallowy, it’s fluffy but doesn’t quite have that latexy bounce. Instead the peppermint flavor and smooth dissolve gives it all a fresh feeling.
I liked them. I didn’t feel the need to overeat or stuff myself. Each piece was nicely sized, the proportion between nougat and chocolate was balanced. I’d probably buy these again ... I’m not sure how they stack up to the York Minis, which are a little denser, but also have their pleasing textural qualities. I’d say I’m just as likely to eat those, although I think the York Minis fare better in transit to the Mint 3 Musketeers Bites.
3 Musketeers items contain dairy, soy and eggs and may also have traces of peanuts. There’s no statement about gluten on the package or about the sourcing of the cocoa.
Tuesday, October 14, 2014
While Trader Joe’s has been pouring on the pumpkin around their stores, they haven’t forgotten about one of their other core flavors: Speculoos. Their newest item is their Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Speculoos Cookie Butter Cups.
There are a few spice mix flavors that are popular right now: Chai Spice, Gingerbread and Pumpkin Spice. Another one would be Speculoos. The odd thing about the Speculoos flavor is that it’s not just the mild cinnamon and nutmeg mix which is similar to Pumpkin Spice and Gingerbread, it includes the actual cookie. The Speculoos cookie is a crispy butter cookie with some brown sugar notes along with the mild spice. I grew up eating Speculoos, though I didn’t know it by that name, they were just called Windmill Spice Cookies.
The tub holds 11 ounces of foil wrapped cups. This quantity doesn’t fill the tub completely, but it’s true to its weight. The cups are wrapped in gold foil, and inside each little piece does not actually have a fluted paper cup like the dark chocolate Peanut Butter Cups which come in a similar format. Each cup is about 11 grams, basically the same size as a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Miniature.
Trader Joe’s also offered up a bar version of the Cookie Butter in dark chocolate a couple of years ago. That bar was made with Belgian chocolate in Belgium. This version is made in Canada (the Peanut Butter Cups that Trader Joe’s sells are made in the USA, which might also explain some of the small cosmetic differences.)
They smell lightly spicy, like cloves and cinnamon. The cups are shiny and nicely formed. The bite is easy, the center is soft and mostly creamy. It’s not as crumbly as a peanut butter cup can be, with a much creamier texture. The chocolate isn’t overpowered by the center, the chocolate flavors are well balanced with a berry/fruit note and a little dry finish to the quite slick melt. The cookie butter center is not overly sweet, not overly grainy. There are a few little bits of cookie, but for the most part it’s more like a batter than a paste.
They’re not completely peanut free, so it’s not like these are a great option for those with allergies. But if you’re a lover of candy cups but don’t actually like Peanut Butter, this might be what you’ve been searching for. I think it’s a unique new product and look forward to more cupification of Trader Joe’s products, such as the new Cookies and Creme Cookie Butter.
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
At first I wasn’t sure what these were. The back of the package says real dried cranberries! covered in rich Ghirardelli chocolate!. But the front says that it’s infused with raspberry juice and a touch of freeze-dried cherries.. A quick peek at the ingredients doesn’t show anything else, except that the cranberries have some sunflower oil in them (makes them more pliable). At first I thought they were like the Brookside fruit things, a little jelly center with some dried cranberries thrown in, but instead they’re actually dried cranberries with some other fruits thrown in.
The Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Cranberry are packaged like the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Cashews I also picked up at the same time, expect this package is pink instead of light blue. The stand up gusset bag reseals after opening with a zip lock, which is common in these morselized treats these days.
The ingredients and other packaging don’t say how dark the chocolate is, they call it semi-sweet and it has dairy fats in it. I’d guess somewhere around 55-60% cacao.
They smell very fruity, like cooking jam or a baking pie. It’s alluring ... and they are darling little morsels. The sizes are irregular, but each is wonderfully panned with a glossy shine.
The bite is soft, softer than I would expect from a piece of dried fruit. The cranberries are plump (I guess plumped with the other fruit additions and a touch of tapioca syrup). It’s immediately tangy and with that light tannic bitterness that cranberries have. The chocolate is smooth, though not quite silky, it offsets the fruit very well and brings its own dry finish.
I found these very satisfying and preferred the texture of the centers to regular raisins or dried cranberries which can be grainy or overly chewy. Though there’s a lot less fat in here than many chocolate treats, with only 120 calories per ounce, that means there’s also more sugars, though some are obviously from the fruit and not as readily available. There’s also 2 grams of fiber, 10% of your vitamin C and 8% of your RDA of iron.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
One of the fun things about candy is that it makes a great gift. But it’s not terribly special to grab some pick-a-mix at the local candy shop and drop the twist-tie plastic bag on someone’s lap and consider it a present. Churchill’s Confectionery recognizes that half and sticks their candy in decorative tins.
The company offered to send me a sample of their line. I’ve actually had Churchill’s before, I have a little red London bus tin that doubles as a bank on my desk at work. So when they offered, I thought it would be good to have some fresh candy to try.
They sent two tins, one was this classic looking embossed Carousel tin that holds English Toffees and Vanilla Fudge and another tin that held three trays of biscuits (cookies). I don’t review cookies ... but I did eat them. The tin holds 14 ounces, which is separated into two 7 ounce bags of candy. So it’s not quite the lush look of a tin full of candy until you dump the cellophane bags into it, but they do stay fresh.
I’ve never quite understood fudge, and this version does little to help me out. Fudge is basically a mixture of sugar and butter ... though modern versions use more advanced ingredients. Many candies have the same ingredients; it’s the texture of fudge that differentiates it from caramel or toffee. Fudge has a slight grain to it, on purpose, which is reintroduced by carefully heating it to a precise temperature and then allowing it to cool partially before stirring. Stirring too soon will make the sugar crystals too large and not stirring enough just makes the texture incomplete. (More in this excellent and slightly technical explanation.)
The great thing about fudge is that it’s a wonderful blank slate for so many other flavors, including chocolate or pecan penuche. As this is Vanilla, it’s actually a blank slate. You can see that the ingredients are decent enough. The pieces are well formed and the color is of a camel-colored coat. Churchill’s has mastered the smooth texture style of fudge (I actually like mine a little grainy). It smells sweet and buttery but has no browned sugar notes (And has no brown sugar ingredients, either.)
The pieces are nice little rectangles, wrapped in silver mylar. This vanilla fudge is extremely sweet with only a slight note of actual vanilla bean. A little note of the woodsy bourbon would be nice, or some deeper toasted sugar notes would have pleased me. Overall, this is too sweet. And coming from a person who actually eats sugar lumps from time to time, that’s saying a lot.
I could really only eat these with a very strong cup of coffee or some salted nuts. They’re just too sweet straight.
Rating: 6 out of 10
One of the oddities in the confection world is how the same candy is called different things in different places. What’s even more vexing is when the new word means something else completely. Take toffee. In the United States we know toffee as a hard, crunchy, caramel brittle. But in the United Kingdom, for the most part, toffee is actually what we call caramel. However, I didn’t need anyone to tell me what this was ... I know a caramel when I see one.
They’re nice rounded pieces wrapped in gold mylar, with a soft milky scent. They’re about the size of Coffee Nips, and if Coffee Nips were chewable, that’s what they’d be like. They’re extremely smooth. The chew is stiff but not sticky or tough. The flavor is a bit salty with burnt sugar notes. It dissolves away to nothing with very little left stuck to my teeth.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Both recipes include milk and soy ingredients and may contain traces of nuts. The glucose syrup is also from wheat, so I don’t think it’s gluten free.
There are a wide variety of tin designs available from Churchill’s. They’re very traditional but do feature a few classic tourist items (like the double decker red bus). I don’t think it’s something I’d buy for myself, but with the right contents and design, I could see them as a good quality hostess gift or thank you item.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.