Wednesday, July 10, 2013
Based in Southern California, Sugarfina brings a chic aesthetic to all their candy with their minimalist packaging in robin’s egg blue and square formats. The candy is sold in “bulk” that is, it’s repackaged by them and sold in an array of different weights. They have created a superb curated list of candies. Some you’ll recognize, but their biggest selling point is an array of exquisite European candies that I’ve never seen sold anywhere else.
Candy is sold in little boxes of different weights or in mixed boxes (they call Bentos) that make excellent gifts. Their team truly understand that candy should appeal first to the eye and then to the rest of the senses.
I still get plenty of offers for free candy samples, but lately it has to be something pretty special to get me to bite. But when you see this list of candies, you’ll see what got me interested. Today I’m presenting the assortment of gummis (and one jelly candy). All of the gummis are from Germany and most feature natural colors.
Bitty Berries is a mix of three different gummis. There’s a large raspberry looking gummi that has a rather raspberry flavor. Then there are three smaller berries, kind of like petite blueberries that are different colors and flavors. The light amber ones are like a white grape juice flavor, lightly tangy but with a black currant note to them. The pink version is and the purple is like a jammy raspberry. Blueberry, Raspberry, Blackberry, Cranberry and Bilberry.
They’re just exquisitely beautiful. Even when I wasn’t interested in eating them, they were just too cute to look at.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Champagne Bears come in two colors: a soft peachy pink and a lightly yellow clear. The clear is like a clean apple juice flavor with a light peppery note. The peachy one is, well, much the same. I couldn’t really tell them apart except that sometimes the pink one seemed to be a little more raspberry flavored. They’re firm and intense. They’re well formed and held their shape well, even though they were jammed into their little cube.
I liked them, but didn’t think that they were anything better than the new juicy Haribo. But I do like the colors and think that for a special occasion, they’d be a nice favor.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Sugar Peach Sweethearts - I was pretty scared of these. They smelled strongly of peach, not in a bad way but in a strong way. They were so strong that I had to take them out of the bento box and sequester them by themselves so as not to contaminate the chocolate pieces they were co-mingling with. So I was afraid that they’d be overwhelmingly chemical tasting.
Quite the opposite is true. They’re little miracle pieces, on the tongue they actual feel for a moment like a real peach. The texture of the sugar sanding is velvety like the fuzz of the peach. The flavor is at once tangy and fruity and honey-sweet and floral and woodsy, like actual peaches. There’s no weird artificial coloring in there to give it a metallic aftertaste. They’re a bit more tart that I’d probably like if I were to eat them by the handful, but as a little refresher on a hot day when I have a dry mouth, these are unbeatable.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Queen of Hearts were billed on the website as three different flavors: pineapple, grapefruit and black currant. They’re also three different sizes of hearts. So it’s a lovely looking combination, although the largest heard gets folded over a bit inside the little cube.
Pink was indistinct, but reminded me enough of pineapple to make me think that’s what it was. Slightly floral with a tart bite and a crisp flavor to it. It was more like canned pineapple though not as syrupy.
Clear tastes like peach. I’m not sure what flavor it was supposed to be, I was hoping it was the promised grapefruit, but it was tangy and a little peppery. (I did notice that the peach mentioned earlier were very strong, I was wondering if the flavor migrated from the more delicate grapefruit.)
The dark one was definitely black currant. It was strong and had notes of wine and deep boiled cherry.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Cuba Libre is simply amazing. It’s a cola gummi, so far so good, with a little softer bubble of rum within. It’s stunning. The cola flavor is spicy and tart, a mix of nutmeg, cinnamon and perhaps a little warm kick of ginger but nothing overt and then the acidic bite of lemon. The rum is sweet and a little on the caramel side. I’ve never seen these anywhere else, and I can’t believe they aren’t being imported and sold in the US by the cargo container as it is. If there’s a reason to order from Sugarfina, it’s the Cuba Libre gummi.
Rating: 10 out of 10
Minty Polar Bears are downright weird and I’ll go ahead and warn you that they’re not mint. They’re like a bubble gum flavored mentholated chewy cough drop. The first note on the tongue is a little tartness then a huge whiff of what I can only describe as acetone (which I sometimes get confused with banana flavoring). Then there’s a menthol hit, a little more of a sort of mild lime flavor and the bitterness of that zest. It all ends with a slight queasy feeling.
I’ve had eucalyptus gummis before and liked them quite a bit, so I was hoping for something like that. I find them curious enough that I continue to sample them from time to time. But I never feel like I want to eat another one, just that I should.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Heavenly Sours are little stars, comets and crescent moons in fruity flavors. They’re sour sanded and come in lovely naturally tinted colors. They’re not actually gummis, they’re jellies. They’re made in the US, not in Germany like most of the other gummis from Sugarfina. They’re tart and have nicely distinguished flavors. Orange is a zesty and tart orange. Lemon is wonderfully sour. Blue is raspberry and a little overdone. Red is cherry and is, well, cherry.
Rating: 7 out of 10
As a thank you gift or something for someone who has everything, this is a great option. It’s not cheap, so it’s not something I’m likely to treat myself to very often. They also have lots of themed boxes and kits, so it’s easy to pick for Coffee Lovers, Licorice Aficionados, or Caramel Fiends. The large bento boxes with 8 x 4 ounce boxes of treats are $50. By the pound, the candy is $17.50.
They do a good job of labeling for allergies as well, even if they won’t tell me who make those Cuba Libre gummis.They’re currently only available via the web, but there’s talk of a store in the future here on the west side of Los Angeles.
Friday, June 7, 2013
I’ve visited the Eclat Chocolate shop in West Chester, PA a couple of times when I’ve been in the area. I’ve tried a wide variety of their truffles and a few of their hot chocolate sticks and other items. However, I’d never picked up their chocolate bars before.
When I placed an order with the PA Country Store back before Easter, I decided to rectify that omission by selecting the Eclat Chocolate Caramelized Hazelnuts 65% bar. The packaging is simple, a slim black paperboard box holding a mylar wrapped bar. Sadly it didn’t protect the bar from getting broken (but I was going to break it anyway).
Eclat Chocolate may be best known as the creator of one of the most expensive bars on the market filled with celebrity names, the Good & Evil Bar made from Peruvian Pure Nacional cocoa beans and retails for about $18 for 2.8 ounces. I’m not terribly interested in things that are notable for being expensive though I enjoy a good origin story. So I’ll stick with the Caramelized Hazelnuts for now. Here’s what the online description said:
The bar is attractive, a nice mold with well portioned segments. I prefer a thicker bar, especially when there are inclusions, but there’s something particularly stunning about such a large field of molded dark chocolate.
The scent is sweet, woodsy and a little buttery. The chocolate has a smooth and rather quick melt and an immediate sweetness. I don’t eat a lot of 65% chocolate, so I forgot how sweet it is. The inclusions are crispy and have a great deep toasted toffee and hazelnut flavor. I don’t know if I got the subtle difference of the Spanish hazelnut, but I liked what I was tasting.
I would have preferred slightly larger pieces, I found the ratios a little off, but then again, I think I would have preferred a bit darker chocolate, too. However, if you’re a milk person, this is a great munchable dark bar that doesn’t feel too dense or difficult. I had no trouble at all eating my way through it, especially because of the excellent melt of the chocolate and lack of overall bitterness.
I mentioned I’d been to the shop before. I’ve picked up bonbons there on two occasions, though they weren’t for review, just for eating. They’re well priced for an artisan confection. The boxes are well put together to highlight the chocolates and it traveled very well (first by car around Central Pennsylvania for several days and then flying back to Los Angeles).
I picked out varieties such as Beer, Star Anise and Single Malt as well as the classic 73% Dark Ganache and Dark Caramel. The flavor infusions were not overwhelming to the chocolate and the piece size, though on the small size, meant that I could eat quite a few pieces for maximum variety.
I believe my box was $25.00 in the store. I’ve also bought their hot chocolate sticks, which I find exceptional though expensive. I like making my own hot chocolate, because then I get to control the milk (lactose free, please) and these sorts of “melt it at home” products make for a far richer experience than the powders. At $4.50 each, it’s more than you’d spend at a Starbucks. But sometimes it’s nice for a splurge.
If I’m in the area, it’s a stop I’ll continue to make. It’s a great little pick me up before I get on the Turnpike and is a great place to pick up a few hostess gifts. I posted a few photos of the shop as well.
Monday, June 3, 2013
Dove is again expanding their line of foil wrapped pieces with Dove Mint & Dark Chocolate Swirl Promises.
Dove has done some wonderful things with white chocolate lately, the best thing is that they’re using cocoa butter instead of substitute oils. This is expecially noticeable in products like this one where chocolate and white chocolate are together. Dove did a great job with their Peppermint Bark for the holidays, it’s a great layered combination of chocolate, white chocolate and mint candy pieces.
I assumed that these new Promises would be similar to the Peppermint Bark but without the crunch. These feature a combination of the classic Dove semisweet chocolate swirled together with artificially-colored white chocolate flavored with peppermint.
Other than finding the color of them a bit unappetizing, I think these are great. They’re minty, but it doesn’t overwhelm the chocolate. They have an incredibly silky melt and just two or three are a satisfying treat. I don’t think they needed the coloring, in fact, I think it detracts from them. The foil does enough to denote the flavor inside, a white or off-white would have been just fine for most people.
I prefer them in the pieces, I don’t think I’d be up for eating a whole bar of this. I’m fond of Andes Mints, but these are much better ... better ingredients, better melt on the tongue, real chocolate ... and pretty much the same price.
Mars is moving towards using all ethically and sustainably sourced chocolate through Rainforest Alliance for their Dove line.
Monday, May 6, 2013
Lillie Belle Farms of Oregon has introduced the Lillie Belle Stella Blue Milk Chocolate which is a dark milk chocolate base of 50% cocoa solids mixed with Rogue Creamery’s Powdered Blue Heaven Cheese. Lillie Belle has been making a Smokey Blue Cheese truffle for some years, so the idea of a solid bar should not be a shock to anyone.
The bar’s packaging and name is a full homage to the Grateful Dead. The ingredients include organic chocolate, organic sugar, organic cocoa butter, powdered buttermilk, powdered nonfat milk, blue cheese (made from raw milk, salt and penicillin bacteria).
The bar is beautifully molded. It has an ideal set of ratios, though the bar is not segmented (which I usually prefer) - it’s thick but not difficult to snap apart, but it also has a small footprint so the bar doesn’t take up much space in my bag.
The bar is less smoky smelling than I expected, it really just smells like a chocolate bar with a strong woodsy and less sweet/milky note. The melt is excellent, the texture is smooth with only the slightest grain to the cocoa solids. After the immediate chocolate notes, there is a hit of sharpness ... I can’t quite say that it’s salty so perhaps it’s umami.
There’s no cheesy component to it, it doesn’t have that sort of moldy smell or sort of metallic note that some blue cheese have. Overall, it’s just a less sweet, slightly savory and dark milk chocolate bar.
I enjoyed it, especially since it was both a milk chocolate bar and pretty dark. I don’t know if I would reach for this regularly but I do have to say that it mixes well with nuts but not with other sorts of candy that has more berry notes to it.
Since the ingredients list is so small and it’s all bean to bar, I feel pretty good about the ethical sourcing. The bar is made in a facility that also processes nuts, soy and of course it contains milk.
Friday, April 26, 2013
One of my favorite items I picked up for Candy Blog review early on were some chocolate sticks from Japan. I thought their packaging was so clever and chic, I’ve been hoping to find them again. (Mostly I find they package their chocolate in little squares like the US.)
I was excited to see Meiji Dark Rum Milk Chocolate on eBay, so when my friends Robin & Amy were going to Japan, I put it on my wishlist. I got two boxes, which is good, because I ate the whole first box before even doing this review.
The box has a curious design, featuring a cut crystal goblet with rum as the main element below a medallion with the name of the candy. I’m not that familiar with how to serve rum straight, as I usually mix it, but in a goblet or even a more petite appertif size would still not be the way I’d go. (I’d probably serve it in a snifter or a lowball.)
Inside the box, each stick of chocolate is in a little individual wrapper. The box is not really full, they’re loosely packed in there and the whole thing weighs barely more than an ounce, so there’s no way to overindulge here.
Most of the package is in Japanese, so I can’t say for sure what the weight actually is but the figure 2.2% is mentioned on the front, I’m guessing that’s the alcohol content ... and there is real alcohol in here.
The sticks are three inches long and an ideal size (about 3.3 grams) for a very light treat.
One of my favorite candy bars is the Ritter Sport Rum Trauben Nuss, which also has real rum in it. This is a bit more pure, as it doesn’t have any fussy nuts or dried fruit in it. The sticks have a soft bite to them, this is not a dense or intense chocolate, though the rum notes are quite apparent when I opened it.
The chocolate has a quick and oily melt, a smooth and slick texture and a strange warm and cold sensation all at once. The oils in the chocolate (I suspect there are some other tropical oils in there) give it a cooling effect on the tongue, but the rum has a sort of warming effect on my throat. The chocolate isn’t very strong, it’s not terribly sweet and has a well rounded woodsy and milky profile.
I like my rum dark, I go for blackstrap because it has more of the smoky and toffee flavors. The rum here was more medicinal, more light, not quite smooth.
It’s not a candy for everyone, I find them pretty indulgent and a little weird, but I also enjoy rum balls.
Monday, April 15, 2013
A couple of years ago Russell Stover came out with the Giant S’Mores Bar. It combined one of the best products Russell Stover makes, the chocolate covered marshmallow. I could only find it via web order at the time.
Here were are, two years later and I spotted them, now named Russell Stover Big Bite S’Mores at CVS. They come in a dark chocolate and milk chocolate version, so I picked up a couple of the Russell Stover Big Bite Dark Chocolate S’Mores.
The package is simple and fits into the Russell Stover design scheme well. I wouldn’t call it enticing or delectable, but mostly informative and easy to spot.
The construction is simple. Two square graham crackers (about 2.5” on each side) hold a dark chocolate covered marshmallow square.
The graham crackers hold together pretty well, though I noticed my other piece (I bought two) had more broken corners on it. Biting into the whole thing, it holds together passably well, so that all of the flavors and textures are included in just about every bite. However, the graham cracker makes a lot of crumbs. The marshmallow is moist and bouncy with a generic vanilla flavor though not overly sweet. The dark chocolate coating is thin but provides a good semi-sweet counterpoint to the fluffed sugar of the marshmallow. The graham cracker is nicely crunchy but still soft and crumbly with a cereal and grain flavor to it.
I feel like Russell Stover could do something to mitigate the crumb creation from the graham cracker, I was thinking a very thin coating of dark chocolate on the marshmallow facing side might do quite a bit to hold everything in place (and add more chocolate). As it is, it’s a rather “lean” confection, even though it’s 2 ounces, it’s only 230 calories. The cracker and the marshmallow keep it from having as high of a fat load as many other chocolate candies. But it still feels very filling.
I liked this version much better than the milk chocolate version and hope that it does make a strong appearance in stores. It is easy to eat and I expect rather easy to pop in the microwave or toaster oven (I didn’t try that). If you don’t have access to the seasonal Trader Joe’s Smashing S’Mores, these might be a good substitute.
Friday, April 5, 2013
In February I went to Hawaii, to the island of Kauai. One of the reasons I chose it for a vacation spot was that Hawaii is the only place in the United States where cacao can be grown. (I’ve seen a few trees here and there in botanical gardens, but I wanted to see them outside, fruiting.)
Kauai does not have a long history of growing cocoa, and it’s not an easy tree to grow. But there are some small farms that have planted cacao in the past 10 years and those trees are now bearing enough pods to make truly Hawaiian chocolate. (In fact, you can grow all three major ingredients on the islands: cacao, sugar and vanilla.)
There are a couple of places on Kauai to see cacao being grown, I chose a tour called Garden Island Chocolate Farm Tour led by Koa Kahili. Koa also runs Nanea Chocolate. What interested me in the tour was not just the chocolate but that fact that the tour would lead us through a small farm where we’d get to see and taste the fruits that grow on Kauai. I was hoping to get to taste some of the exotic tropical fruits we hadn’t seen in the grocery store or at the farmers market since we arrived on the island.
The tour was at a small location, something I’d call a demonstration farm, not a full plantation with acres and acres of each tree. About three dozen people gathered early in the morning, full of sunscreen and bug repellant. We walked around the small farm and Koa would pluck fruits from the trees and share them with us. There was a wide variety, some fruiting and others just flowering or dormant. We tried a few different kinds of oranges, grapefruit and limes. There was a large avocado tree, with avocados larger than grapefruits.
The highlight for me, of course, was the cacao. There was a small grove of small cacao trees planted in rows, not more than two dozen of them and not more than seven years old. They were about six feet tall and had full grown pods. Unlike apple or orange trees, which bear their flowers and later their fruits at the ends of the branches, the cacao puts out flower right on the trunk or branches (kind of like a fig tree does). The flowers are small (see above) and are pollinated by tiny flies.
The pods are tested for ripeness by scraping the shell with the back of machete or knife and it’s not green. Since there were not that many trees and the largest one nearby did have some pods, we could see that someone had tested those within grasp several times (the scratches turn black later).
The key experience for me was the fresh cacao. One ripe pod was opened and passed around for each person in the group to take a bean and a little of the flesh. The rind is tough and stiff, kind of like a pumpkin, but more textured. Within that is a softer inner layer, then the pulpy center surrounding the 30-50 seeds. The beans are firm and fibery, about the size of a flattened pecan (in shell). The pulp is white and a cross between musk melon and mango. It’s tangy and watery with a stringy sort of syrupy texture. It has no relationship at all to the flavor of the roasted beans.
The seeds themselves are rather lilac in color, and taste, well, rather boring. A little acidic and lacking creamy oomph of the cocoa butter. Each pod, which weights about 400 grams, yields about 10% of its weight in dried, fermented beans. So one pod is about as much chocolate as is required for a nice, high quality chocolate bar. (If the bar contains 40 grams of cacao, which is then supplemented with another 15 grams of sugar to make a 72% cacao bar.)
After harvest, pods are cracked open, the pulp and beans are scooped out and left to ferment. The fermentation process can be done “naturally”, which basically means they’re just left in a pile with some banana leaves covering them while they naturally ferment. But in some climates they need a little help and are put in wood boxes to keep the heat more regulated to reach the required temperature. The same goes with drying, which happens after the fermentation process is complete and the beans have turned dark red. The pulp is shed naturally as is some of the shell as they dry and are raked around. After that, they’re ready to be roasted and made into chocolate products. (Okay, I’ve really simplified this.)
The next part of the tour was a tasting. Instead of just sitting and eating piece after piece of chocolate, this was a little different. There were fruits as well as chocolate. Some of the chocolate was in bean form, some in bar form, some in truffle form and then fresh pieces of local fruits to mix it up and give us a rest. There were at least twelve tastings, which for me is a lot at once, and gets me pretty wired. (So some I opted out of, especially if they had stuff like, oh, lard in them.)
We tasted garlic chocolate and dark chocolate and nut infused chocolate and some with ginger and other spices. We ate raw beans and toasted beans. We tried soursop and shared an avocado the size of a cantaloup. It was interesting.
One of the most accessible bars Koa makes for his Nanea line is the Nanea Coconut Milk 60%. It’s just cacao, sugar, coconut and vanilla. It’s still a rather high cacao content bar, even for a dairy milk bar, so it’s a very strongly chocolate bar.
I liked the simple packaging. The bar is wrapped in a heavy, paper-backed foil and then has a sleeve over it for the particular bar. Inside the sleeve is a great photo of cacao beans in a cacao pod. A lovely touch.
The bar molding is simple. It’s a two ounce bar with segments across its width. Easy to snap into pieces.
You’ll need to like the flavor of coconut to love this bar. The fun part is that it uses coconut milk, not coconut flakes. So all the flavor is there, but none of the texture. The chocolate is a little chalky and robust. The coconut is sharp, kind of like a cheddar cheese can be sharp. It’s woodsy and nutty with a sort of cutting note towards the end. The cocoa has a lot of the same woodsy characteristics along with a wholesome fudge brownie batter flavor.
If you know someone who likes coconut but is also dairy averse, this is a great option.
My prize from this tour though was this small batch bar, Nanea Kauai Chocolate - Wainiha & Kilauea made only with beans from Kauai from two different plantations. The bar was untempered, which explains its chalky appearance and slight bloom. However, the texture is really nothing like you’d expect looking at it.
So I’m just going to describe my impressions, even though they don’t make sense. The texture is smooth and creamy but light, like a mousse on the tongue. That doesn’t mean that it’s actually airy, it just feels that way. It’s a little waxy at first, it takes a moment for the heat of my mother to melt the cocoa butter (remember this is untempered, which means that the cocoa butter has formed into one of its other crystalline forms). There’s a slight grit to it, but overall it’s consistently smooth. The flavors have a lot going on. There’s some orange blossom notes along with peppery carnations. Then there’s the bitter background, which reminded me a bit of beer. There’s also a sort of yeasty quality to it, like egg bread. When I first tried it, it was like eating Challah flavored chocolate. There are some light hints of smoke or maybe lapsang souchong tea. But what’s missing throughout out this is a sense of chocolate. Lots of chocolates, especially bars from single estates have strong flavors in them, but there’s always a sense of chocolate. In this bar I never really got the blatant and expected chocolate flavors.
This bar was tempered, I bought it at a farm-to-table restaurant shop called Common Ground in Kilauea. (I also picked up some cocoa butter soap there, too, which my mother gave rave reviews.) Though it’s a petite bar (only 1.5 ounces) it was $13. Islands, they’re expensive.
The bar traveled well. I always appreciate a really thick foil wrapping. (I also kept it in the fridge once I got to my hotel, which sounds extreme, but the fridge didn’t actually work and only kept our fruit at 70 degrees, which is perfect for chocolate.)
The texture of this bar is exquisite, it’s smooth and has a quick melt with a burst of flavor. Some bars that have this quick melt have a thin flavor density. This is wonderfully nuanced. It’s floral, with jasmine notes along with the same eggy bread flavor that the Nanea Wailuia bar had. The woodsy flavors are green and grassy.
I loved the tour, though everyone who goes to something that like needs to be flexible about what will occur. Orchards, farms and plantations are places where stuff is grown, they’re on their own schedules. They have bugs and you’re outside and it may be hot or damp or smelly. A lot of the success depends on being open to whatever experience is presented. Koa was knowledgeable and affable, the grounds were easy to walk and there was a great variety of stuff to look at and taste. The rest of the group on the tour was also very good, including the children. The weather was cooperative. The price is a bit steep, at $55 each but it was also three hours and involved a lot of chocolate.
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Easter is the season for foil wrapped chocolate eggs. They can be solid, they can be filled with things. They can be the size of a peanut or a football. The fun part is when they’re actually made with good chocolate.
I was excited to see Ghirardelli Milk & Crisp Chocolate Eggs at Target. Ghirardelli makes very good chocolate for the price, right here in California. I’ve been searching for the ideal crisped rice and milk chocolate combination, so this was the perfect item for me to pick up.
The yellow bag contains about 15 gold foil wrapped eggs. They’re a rich milk chocolate with crisped rice. They also come in a blue foil version that’s solid milk chocolate.
The bag is on the expensive side. The 3.5 ounces is about the same price as a chocolate bar from Ghirardelli, $3.49 ... one dollar an ounce. It’s a bit steep for chocolate that’s not marked as ethically sourced or organic but it is all natural. (The facility also processes tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and eggs. Contains milk and soy.)
The eggs smell dark and smoky, less sweet than many milk chocolates but still with a dairy note to it. The melt is soft and has that same sort of smoky note to it with a strong malt flavor from the crisped rice. There’s a hint of bitterness to it, but not much. Overall, it’s far less sweet than something like a Nestle Crunch chocolate and thought thick, not quite as sticky as Cadbury.
Overall, it was a bit more grown up than a Nestle Crunch NestEgg, but should probably be reserved for adults since the price is so much steeper. I would buy these again, and of course I’d prefer a half pound bag so I could put them out in a dish.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.