Monday, December 29, 2014
barkTHINS won the Most Innovative New Product award at the Sweets & Snacks Expo for the Dark Chocolate Toasted Coconut variety. I can’t see quite what’s so innovative about that. I picked up a package of the barkTHINS Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Seed because it was on sale. The stand up package holds 4.7 ounces and was on sale for $3.99.
The top of the package says that it’s a serious twist on snacking. Which is a grandiose statement for a bunch of seeds in chocolate, which is one of the oldest forms of chocolate inclusions. Perhaps the twist they’re referring to is the fact that the chocolate and the sugar in the chocolate is Fair Trade certified. And the soy lecithin is non-GMO. There are no dairy ingredients, though it may contain traces of peanuts, tree nuts, milk, wheat or eggs. The FAQ on their website explains that their innovation is the fact that the bark is thin enough to snap into pieces.
All my grumbling aside, I like what I saw on the ingredients label and the concept of simple, ethically sourced dark chocolate with some fresh toasted seeds in it.
I’ve never quite understood the appeal of bark as a product. I understand why I make it, because I have leftover chocolate from a kitchen project and then just mix up some stuff I have sitting around and call it a tasty mess. I can’t imagine selling it. I want my pieces consistent and I want my seeds integrated.
The good news is that the pumpkin seeds (pepitas) are actually integrated into the chocolate. The pieces are pretty consistent in size and thickness and with a good amount of pepitas. The general size of the pieces is what I’d call, “too large.” They’re about 2.5” by 1.5”. This is a nice portion, however, I found them a bit large and wanted more small pieces. Luckily, I could make my own ... while providing lots of small pieces would mean that large piece lovers would have some assembly to do.
The chocolate is nice, a little on the fatty side which means that there’s a nice silky melt, but also that the calories per ounce on this were 164 ...quite high. (Pepitas have between 145 and 160 calories per ounce, depending on the variety.) The cocoa flavors have a lot of toasty toffee notes and a little hint of grassy olives (or maybe that’s the pepitas). There’s a hint of salt, which offsets the sweetness very well. The pumpkin seeds are crunchy and crisp with no really flavor of their own, just a clean chew with maybe a hint of pistachio.
I enjoyed it, though I do find snacking on bark to simply be difficult. The inconsistency of the sizes and the inclination for me to want to pick through and find the right size and density of seeds is problematic. I’m not sure why they can’t be little bars or puddles. The use of pumpkin seeds is different enough, though the price on these is a bit steep. I’ll finish the bag and probably consider the salted almond and coconut version in the future if I see them on sale again.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Theo Chocolate makes organic and fair trade chocolate from bean to bar in their factory in Seattle. They have a selection of seasonal bars in addition to their regular items, this year I picked out their Theo Chocolate Nutcracker Brittle because I liked their Salted Almond bar. It features almonds, hazelnuts and sugary brittle chunks in smooth, rich 70% dark chocolate
The most notable quality of this seasonal bar is that it’s vegan. That’s right, the brittle is not made with any dairy, so the bar is free from any animal-derived products. (Though it is made in a factory that also processes milk, eggs and wheat, so it may contain traces of gluten or dairy as well as peanuts or other tree nuts.)
The wrapping is nice, a simple paper over-wrap with the chocolate bar enclosed in foil underneath. The bar is made with 88% fair trade ingredients and all organic products (except for the baking soda and salt). The corn syrup is also non-GMO and they do not use soy lecithin (or lecithin of any kind).
The bar looked great and smells wonderful. It’s a woodsy cocoa blend, it smells like toffee and fresh brewed coffee and toast. For a 70%, it’s well balanced. The cocoa flavors are a little on the acidic side with some bright sour cherry notes along with the other woodsy components mentioned earlier. It’s sweet, at first, but the baked brownie flavors dominate towards the end. The nuts are kind of separate as a flavor and texture. The almonds and hazelnuts are crunchy and fresh (though hard to tell apart) and the little brittle pieces are crunchy without being tacky or chewy. I missed the little hint of salt from the Salted Almond bar, but that’s not what was promised here.
It’s a nice seasonal bar, but I have to wonder why it’s not a year round offering ... no reason not to have this for Valentine’s.
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.