Wednesday, September 6, 2006
I’ve blogged about regional “vacation” candies before, and here’s yet another example of them: Texas Pralines. I first had Texas Pralines, which are chewy like a soft caramel instead of grainy like a fudge with pecans about three years ago when we got an assortment as a holiday gift. Since my husband was off to San Antonio for a business trip, I told him to keep an eye out for they chewy pralines.
These Texas Chewie Pecan Pralines are by Lamme’s, which has been making candies since 1885! The history of the company is rather interesting, so if you have a sec, go read it on their website. The company uses a lamb as part of their logo to help people remember how to pronounce the name, I’m sure it doesn’t help folks spell it though.
This gift box had six individually wrapped “plops” in it, each weighing about an ounce. They’re darker than the usual caramels you see and have a good woodsy, sweet smell to them. The caramel is chewy and a bit salty but surprisingly not that sweet. The smoky and dark caramelized sugar flavors go well with the fresh pecans. They’re a little messy, as you have to eat them either holding part of in the wrapper or get your fingers sticky. But I wouldn’t want the pieces to be any smaller because that would mean that the pecans couldn’t be whole and crunchy. These are definitely a winner.
The other assortment I was given were these individually wrapped ones from Monterrey Products Company. They were three different versions of a chewy praline, each with different proportions of caramel to pecans.
The first one, the “more caramel to pecan” was pretty and smelled nice, but was very grainy without a good balance of butteryness or crystallization. The pecans were fresh, but of course there were only three of them. I wasn’t wild about it.
The second one was “equal caramel to pecan” - wow, this was gorgeous. The scent was like maple sugar and the nuts were crunchy and infused with the buttery goodness of the caramel. The caramel itself was grainy but in a crystallized way that made it dissolve and support the other caramelized sugar and nut flavors. Fantastic, I wish all three were this variety.
The last one was “more pecans to caramel” and was shaped more spherically than the others. For some reason this one stuck to the cellophane wrapper and I had to pull the candy apart and off the cello in order to eat it. The pecans were large and whole and sweet, but as a candy this one failed. Some nuts were nicely coated in the soft caramel, but others were untouched. I loved the nuts, but the balance was off as a sweet treat. It might be nice pulled apart and thrown in with some salty popcorn though.
I think I prefered the Lammes but the Monterrey had an impressive ingredients list: Pecans, Sugar, Evaporated Milk and Corn Syrup. Lammes had a few more ingredients, including hydrogenated oils (which meant .5 grams of trans fat per plop). But they were both a treat I’m not likely to have again, but I’m happy to recommend them.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:23 am
Monday, September 4, 2006
One of my splurges last month with my ill-gotten-gain (payoff from a production company) was to buy some goodies from Mel & Rose’s and this was the big ticket item of the day (I would have bought more but the heat lately is death to chocolate). I’ve only tried Michel Cluizel once before and I wasn’t that impressed. But people keep telling me how good it is and I always enjoy the variety of a tasting kit.
Michel Cluizel is a French chocolatier who is not at all new to this, his company has been making gourmet chocolate since 1948. It’s one of the few chocolates you’ll find that has no soya lecithin in it. It’s just cocoa beans, sugar and vanilla. His single origin tasting kit showcases his chocolates that are created using beans from only one plantation. Most of the chocolate that we eat is a blend of beans from all over the tropics, or perhaps one region.
It came with a nice little brochure that talked about each of the plantations that the cocoa beans came from, but I thought it would be fun to taste the chocolates first and then see how I did. So my initial tasting notes are followed with the ones from the leaflet.
Los Ancones (green) x4 - What I tasted was ultra smooth. Slightly bitter at first with some very dark smoky notes but as the buttery chocolate gives way, more acidity comes through and gives way to raisin and cherry notes.
The brochure said:
Maralumi (fuscia) x4 - quite a bit more acidic than the first, this one was kind of tart and brought to mind olives and apricots (dang, I shouldn’t have read that brochure!). I was also getting some woodsy notes of cedar and balsam. The acidity gave the whole thing a dry finish with a slight bitter note that lingered far after the cocoa butter was gone.
The brochure says:
Tamarina (blue) x2 - quite tangy with some powerfully deep smoky notes and a lowgrade bitterness that was offset by some mellow sweetness. The chocolate is slick and smooth with a dry finish.
The brochure says:
Concepcion (orange) x2 - a great start with instant chocolatey roundness, the smoke and woodsy notes come out right away, and perhaps some coffee, followed by some tangy notes that might have some mango essence in it. Then a crisp, dry finish.
The brochure says:
Mangaro Noir (yellow) x4 - instant notes of raisin and fig, sweet and mellow with a pleasant tang. There are also some balsam notes, maybe juniper or sage. It reminded me of the desert, that crisp feeling.
The brochure says:
It’s obvious I’m getting the general vibe of each chocolate, but not the specificity that the brochure reveals about each one. I think part of it might be the small pieces. I liked the slightly larger E. Guittard tablets that I tried earlier this year, which makes it easier to discern the more obscure notes. I was really pleased with the smooth buttery consistency of each of the tablets, they’re all in the 64% - 70% cocoa solids range, so they’re intense without being too dense.
If you’re looking for some extensive reviews and commentary on the range of single origin from Michel Cluizel and how it compares to the rest of the world of chocolate, check out SeventyPercent.com. I was really pleased with the kit, it’s fun to share or just spread out over a week as I did. I’m always disappointed when they don’t do comparable numbers of squares for each variety, but it’s a small kit and really only appropriate for two people at most.
Friday, August 25, 2006
Equal Exchange has been at the forefront of the fair trade chocolate and coffee movement in the United States for twenty years. But I think they understand that it’s great to give people a living wage and all, but the important thing is to sell something of value to the customer to keep everything in motion.
At their launch, the Equal Exchange chocolate products were rather mundane. Don’t get me wrong, they were nice, but the selection wasn’t very exciting. They’ve remedied that with the introduction of three new bars: Mint Chocolate, Espresso Bean Chocolate and Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs.
The Organic Chocolate with Espresso Bean is made with a 55% cocoa solid chocolate (the lightest chocolate of the three new bars) with good reason. Coffee is a powerful flavor and needs a good balance in order for both flavors to shine though.
In general I’m not fond of coffee bars that have coffee grounds (or bits, whatever) in them. The chocolate itself is infused with the coffee flavors, which are dark and pungent, a little smoky and acidic. The beans are crunchy and crisp, which is better than some fibery ones that some companies put in their bars. But still, it’s just not my thing. The chocolate was wonderfully buttery but very sweet so that it can stand up to the espresso beans. Of the three bars, this is the one that I still have some left of. (7 out of 10)
Organic Mint Chocolate. This dark chocolate bar made with 67% cocoa solids was quite a surprise. I fully expected it to be dark, mint flavored chocolate. Instead, it’s a mint crunch bar. It’s not quite like a mint bark that has little pieces or starlight mints in it. Instead it has little sugary grains of mint in it. The grains aren’t large, like big sugar crystals. The chocolate itself is not as sweet as the espresso bar, and has a strong acidic quality to it with a complex chocolate profile. Then as you chew or allow the chocolate to dissolve on your tongue you come across these little crystals of mint. It made the bar much more fun than I expected.
The acidity of the bar still got in the way of the mint, it just wasn’t the ideal match for me. (8 out of 10)
Organic Dark Chocolate with Pure Cocoa Nibs. Now this is the bar for me! 68% cocoa solids make this a pretty dark bar. The acidity here doesn’t bother me a bit, because it goes right along with the blissfully crunchy and rich cocoa nibs. Every nib was great, no fibery ones, no bad ones. The crunch of the nibs isn’t quite like a nut, they’re not quite as fatty tasting, but crisp and of course flavorful, creating a new texture without interrupting the pure chocolate density of the bar.
If you’re a nib fan, you should really seek out this bar. I’ve tried the Endangered Species bar and the Scharffen Berger and this bar really wowed me. At about $3.50 per bar retail for a 3.5 ounce bar they’re a good value for high-end chocolate. Add in the social responsibility and you’re silly not to at least give this bar a try. (9 out of 10)
I’ve been spotting Equal Exchange at Whole Foods, so keep your eyes open. If you have a favorite store that you shop at that doesn’t carry them, ask. (They don’t know what you want unless you tell them!) You can order on the Equal Exchange website, but only in full boxes of 12 for the bars.
Equal Exchange bars are not only organic but Fair Trade certified ingredients are used whenever possible, including the sugar. I think the only part that isn’t fair trade is the organic vanilla bean.
William at Chocolate Obsession has a large review. Siel at GreenLAGirl had a tasting party, so you can see lots more opinions on the bars there. If you’re interested in anything that has to do with incorporating fair trade, social responsibility and environmentalism into your everyday life, she’s your girl.
Thursday, August 17, 2006
I was minding my own business, cruising the web back in the spring and I stumbled across another chocolate blog, The Chocolate Nerd. She’s only been around since March, but she’s got some sassy archives of chocolate products she’s tried. The one that drew me in at that moment was a post about a company I’d not heard about called Cocoa Bon.
Their current market niche is this set of little tins filled with wafers of chocolate or panned chocolate candies. When I went to Mel & Rose’s a couple of weekends ago I saw them there and decided to select a rather traditional item to give them a try.
The little tin is cute and seals a little fluted cup of plain, 61% cocoa solids chocolate pieces. Each has the name Cocoa Bon on them. They have a wonderful and sweet chocolate aroma. The back of the tin recommends a wine pairing, in this case a full-bodied Zinfandel.
The little disk is rather mundane looking but perfect for tasting. It melts quickly and fits into the roof of the mouth as it does. This 61% cacao version is buttery smooth and instantly sweet, taking just a few moments to release its chocolate notes. It has a slightly dry component and rather simple flavor that has only vague fruit and smoke notes. What really makes this chocolate appealing is the extra smooth melt. There are many chocolates out there that feel waxy or chalky at this level of solids, but this one is extra fine.
I’m curious to try the darker variety of 72% to see what that 11% will get me. I’m also curious to give the other panned sweets a go, with the Chai Chocolate Caramel and Dark Chocolate Gingersnap on my list at the moment.
At $3.29, these are a little more expensive than a gourmet bar (there’s only 2 ounces in there), but it’s the individual pieces and tin make it easy to share and even easier to keep some for later. They’re more expensive on the Cocoa Bon website, so you’re probably better off finding them in a store. I suspect you’re going to see them in gourmet foods and upscale wine & liquor stores. They also have a line of mixed drink flavored jelly beans. However, one thing I noticed about the website is that they sell larger quantities of the chocolates in half pound tins where the price isn’t bad at all (less than $20 a pound).
Cocoa Bon is having an open house in conjunction with The Mountain Winery at their Los Gatos, CA store location on Friday, August 18th & Saturday, August 19th from 5PM to 8PM. If you’re in the area, the event is free, so maybe you should check it out!
I suspect these little tins of candies would make an excellent wedding favor if you’ve got the money and I bet if you’ve got a large affair they could do special labeling.
Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Come on, half the fun of this candy is the packaging! They’re eensy-weensy liquor bottles made out of chocolate! They’re even smaller than those little bottles you find in the honor bar or on airplanes.
After those awesome martini cordials I had from K Chocolatier that were so freakishly expensive, I was hoping to find something similar at a fraction of the price. While these don’t quite measure up, they’re still pretty good. The unique selling proposition here is that they don’t have that sugar shell inside like the K Chocolatier Martinis did.
I didn’t eat all of them, but I did try quite a few. The first one I started with was the Drambuie. I’m not that fond of Drambuie, I find it a tad sweet and so was this.
The second one I tried was the one I was most curious about - Ricard, which is an anise flavored liquor. I’ve never had straight Ricard, so again, it’s hard to judge. What I found was that it was rather sweet and not at all anisey. It’s definitely alcoholic, but not as strong as I’d expect for a liquer.
Next was the Stoli Oranj, but unfortunately this one ruptured somewhere along the way and there was a little bit of sugary crust at the bottom of the bottle and a smidge of the liquid missing. I ate it anyway. It was okay. The chocolate was fine, but the alcoholic bite was pretty much gone.
The Stoli Vanil was also very nice, without much of a flavorful bite, but the chocolate shines through effectively. The last one I had was Cointreau, which I think was my favorite. A little touch of orange, not quite as sweet as the others and still with a subtle alcoholic bite.
They’re very nice and certainly far cheaper (and probably more widely available) than other real alcohol filled chocolates. The filling was a little syrupy, but I’m guessing you can’t put true alcohol without some sugar stabilizer in there or else they’ll dissolve the chocolate.
It’s kind of hard to peel the little bottles sometimes and of course if you hold them in your hand for any length of time you risk softening the chocolate to the point of an accident when unwrapping.
So if the liqueur chocolates are an evening things, maybe the coffee chocolates should be considered a morning one.
These flavored coffees are cloaked in the same dark chocolate and again, have no sugar crust in them. This is a big difference over the Pocket Coffee that I reviewed before.
I tasted a few of the varieties, though I think there are more. You can only buy them in the assortments, so there’s no point in wishing you could buy only one kind.
Cappuccino - a nice sweet coffee inside chocolate, but it didn’t seem to have much of a dairy component to it, no milkiness at all.
Toffee Macchiato - this one confused me, but I have to admit that I’ve never had a macchiato. It tasted like coconut and coffee, which is not a bad thing, but it certainly doesn’t seem at all like toffee.
Espresso - this is the money shot. Very much like the Pocket Coffee, not as sweet as the others. It was a bit tangy and rich.
Vanilla Frappe - that’s the one pictured unwrapped and tipped out ... so you can see I didn’t get to taste it completely. Sometimes I have to sacrifice for the art.
Irish Cream Coffee - this one was sweet as well and had a pretty mellow minty quality, but very little coffee flavor in the mix.
I’ve never seen these at the store, but I’m sure they’ll be more prevalent as the holidays get closer. They’re a pretty nice hostess gift for the right person and if CandyWarehouse’s price is any indication, they’re not even that expensive.
Tuesday, July 11, 2006
Candy Blog reader Karen clued me in to Villars bars. I had no idea these Swiss-style milk chocolate bars had MALT in them! I’ve seen them at the checkout at Trader Joe’s for some time, but the old-fashioned looking packaging just didn’t grab me.
Don’t be misled - they’re not malted milk bars or anything, must sweet, creamy Swiss milk chocolate with a little hint of malt. If I didn’t know better, I would have said it was hazelnut, but it’s definitely a malty quality.
The packaging is quite nice, a decorated box with a flip and tuck top for storing uneaten portions and the bar itself is cloaked in thin aluminum foil. A little thin for my taste, but it’s nicely designed with large and flat with flowers inside each of the squares (I’m going to say they’re edelweiss). This chocolate doesn’t have that cloying dairy flavor that some other Swiss chocolates have but it is creamy and certainly melts easily.
I ate the bar pretty quickly as it was hot this weekend and for most of the time it was the consistency of fudge because it was about 90 degress in my house. Instead of breaking off small pieces (after I’d broken into big ones for the photograph while it was still cool in the morning), the bar pretty much bent or tore. Holding the pieces in the heat was dicey too, as they got very slippery.
I fear that chocolate must be put aside for the rest of the summer or reserved for the early morning cool.
But back to the chocolate bar! It’s a great deal for a Swiss style chocolate with a more interesting malty hit than you might be used to. If you’ve got a Trader Joe’s around you, pick one up. They also have a dark bar (no malt) and a hazelnut bar (which I’ll be trying after it cools off).
Wednesday, July 5, 2006
I first heard about Chuao Chocolatier a couple of months ago but haven’t been able to visit them until this weekend. The main location is in Encinitas and they have other shops in San Diego. But they also have one at the Irvine Spectrum, so on a blazingly hot Sunday afternoon my husband and I stopped by to see what it was all about. Let me just say this, if this is the direction that upscale chocolate is going, I can fully support it.
The shop is spare and simple with lots of dark wood touches and reflects more of a wine connoisseur aesthetic than candy. I greeted the women behind the counter (I’ve never done this before) ... I introduced myself and gave full disclosure that I’m a candy writer and boy did I get the full treatment! But seeing how well Melissa, the manager, did her tour of the company through samples of most of their product lines, I get the sense she does it for anyone who’s interested. She was knowlegable, enthusiastic and completely engaging.
First, a little about Chuao. It’s one of those stories about people who follow their passions. Michael Antonoris (once a biomedical engineer and MBA before he “stopped chasing his ego and started chasing his culinary passion,” and went to Paris for two years to study Pastry and Chocolaterie at the ?cole Lenotre). Born in Venezuela, he brought not only his culinary aesthetic to candymaking, but also the native cacao from the region. His chocolate source is El Rey Chocolate. You can read lots more on their website about the history of the company and other press clippings.
The first sample we tried was their flavor of the month for July, which is a beer (San Diego produced Stout) infused chocolate - with a strong wheat/yeasty flavor to the chocolate ganache, it was intriguing and brought out the best of the beer and the chocolate.
She also let us try last month’s (after all, it was only July 2nd) intriguing little egg which was filled with chocolate, olive oil and sun-dried tomato filling. I really liked the olive essence in there, but I’m not a huge fan of sun-dried tomatoes, but they seem to work in there. I could see those going really well with a wine and cheese assortment.
Other wonderful morsels she gave us to try included:
Chocolate Covered Orange Peel - lovely dark chocolate surrounding soft and intense orange zest. Not too syrupy sweet and not the least bit bitter.
Chocolate Covered Ginger - this is no ordinary candied ginger, the pieces are plump and juicy and have no fibery bits. Sweet and with a gentle burn that lasts long after the chocolate is gone.
Coco Nib Snack - fine little nibs a little smaller than peppercorns and caramelized/tossed with a little salt and chili. Fascinating little morsels, not too sweet but also doesn’t have any of that bitter/acrid flavor that some plain nibs have. No fibery bits either. I’m not sure if I’d eat them straight, but I’d love them tossed on a salad or maybe some ice cream.
Even though it was insanely hot, we still tried a little bit of their hot chocolate. They have two varieties, the traditional Abuela and Spicy Maya. They weren’t as thick and milky as many that I had on my last NY trip, but the flavors were really great. I enjoyed the Maya best, as the spice wasn’t too overwhelming, but supported the floral and wine notes of the chocolate.
But the time eventually came to pick out some things to take home.
I picked out a box of 9 pieces:
Melao - salt butter caramel - this one was quite reminiscent of the Sahgun salt caramel I had earlier this year. Quite soft, almost juicy, with a slight grain to the caramezlied sugar and a round sweet flavor dosed with salt to bring out the flavors.
Candela - spicy macadamia praline - very strange - it’s grainy, but not in an unpleasant way. Salty, crispy and with a soft spicy finish, the center is more like eating a cookie dough than a chocolate. For the record, I love cookie dough.
Cardamom - cardamom infused ganache - fresh and lightly infused with that cardamom note that I love about Indian food. Buttery smooth and rich. I would have liked more cardamom, like the Vosges one I tried in NYC.
Modena - strawberry caramel with balsamic vinegar from Modena - this was just plain strawberry as far as I could tell. Nicely fruity and aromatic, smooth and refreshing with a good balance of notes for the dark chocolate, but I wasn’t really getting the balsamic notes.
Chevre - goat cheese, pear Williams and crushed black buttercream - fascinating and probably addictive. At first the dark chocolate ganache is tangy, like a goat cheese. Then the black pepper infusion coming to the surface. The pear played a minor note, but the black pepper pieces were incredible, as they were softened by the chocolate and more like small, spicy raisins.
Zen - green tea infused ginger ganache - wonderful plump pieces of crystalized ginger in a dark chocolate ganache with only a hint of tea. Not too sweet - a good subtle balance.
Gran Cacao - bittersweet ganache with 73% cocoa - a lovely and rich ganache with a good buttery start and some good floral and berry notes.
Cambur - soft banana and brown sugar caramel - imagine a fried banana, drenched in caramelized sugar and then drizzled with chocolate. Mmmm. Intensely banana, but thoroughly authentic tasting. Rich and sweet. By far my favorite of them all.
Picante - California raisin fondue and Napa Valley cabernet caramel, spiced with pasilla chili and cayenne pepper - tart and with fruity/jammy qualities but with an immediate burn in my throat from some fresh tasting chilis. There are some wine notes, but mostly a grape and chili flavor mixed with the dark chocolate but the caramelized sugar is completely lost. I wouldn’t have minded a little hit of molasses or brown sugar in there.
On the whole, I’d say that the line of uncommon flavor combinations is much like Vosges and of similar quality. Where Vosges seems to angle itself towards women, Chuao seems incredibly masculine. The flavors are bold and uncommon and assertive. Flavors are borrowed from outside the candy realm with excellent results. But when they’re inside the sweets oveure, they’re really at their best. The spiced flavors are wonderful but I really enjoyed the caramelized items like the Cambur.
I’m definitely planning on stopping there again, it’s exceptionally convenient when I’m down in Orange County visiting with my husband’s family and it looks like they will continue to develop new flavor combinations that will keep my tongue occupied. They also offer classes, which I would love to take (but only at the Carlsbad location), so maybe someday I’ll become a master chocolatier, too. If you’re a wine or beer lover, they also have tips and product lines for serving them together.
Tuesday, July 4, 2006
Canada and the UK have Nestle Aero and Cadbury Bubbly bars. Israel has the Elite and Korea and Japan have Lotte Airs. Everyone else seems to have an aerated chocolate bar except for the United States. It’s not like we’ve been completely denied. Nestle did have a chocolate bar called the Choco’lite back in the 70s, but that didn’t go over well.
Maybe we’re just waiting for the right bar.
I was really looking forward to seeing Bubble Chocolate. Mostly because they’re using higher quality chocolate. The cacao content on their dark bar is 60%. There’s apparently a lot of engineering involved with balancing the viscosity and whatnot when doing different things to chocolate, so I’ll leave that to the industrial engineers. Apparently you can’t just foam up regular chocolate and expect a great result - there are a lot of things to take into account.
Bubble Chocolate comes in three varieties: Milk, Coffee Milk and Dark 60% Cacao.
My Coffee Milk Chocolate bar got a bit banged up in the trip back, so that pile above is just of the dark and milk chocolate. Handsome, aren’t they?
They’re huge looking, twice as thick as a normal 100 gram bar but only 80 grams. It’s kind of odd to pick them up, because it’s so surprising how light they are - 50% air ... that’s some lite chocolate. It’s kind of like pumice!
Dark Chocolate - the bar has a nice aroma that mixes berries and smoke. Despite the high cacao content, it’s very creamy and sweet. There’s a fudgy consistency to it as it melts so distinctly different than a regular un-bubbled chocolate bar. The airiness of the bar seems to make the scent of the bar carry better too, as you eat it. There’s a slight grain to the chocolate as it disintigrates, but no trace of the chalkiness I’ve complained about with other aerated bars.
Milk Chocolate - the bar is much sweeter than the dark, but also melts far quicker on the tongue. It’s a little stickier too, but exceptionally smooth. The milk flavors are not at all like the dairy chocolate I usually have from Cadbury or European Nestle. This is much more American tasting. I don’t know the cacao content on this chocolate, but it’s certainly dark looking. I was a little disappointed that there’s vanillin in here instead of real vanilla. However, if they’re keeping the bar under the $2 price point retail, I can see this as an acceptable compromise.
Coffee Milk Chocolate - this one smells like a coffee house - fresh and warm and roasty. There’s real coffee in there, but happily no coffee grounds (which is kinda a pet peeve of mine). It’s especially creamy and has a really nice melt on the tongue. This bar has no vanillin in it at all, and that may be why I’ve gravitated towards it. It’s a tasty bar, totally satisfying. The coffee isn’t fake tasting like some of the Hershey products, and it’s not grainy or too bitter. It is sweet, as it’s the milk chocolate, not the dark. But on the whole, my favorite of the three.
Overall they’re nice, munchable chocolate bars with an interesting texture that highlights the flavors. It’s not the best chocolate in the world, but it’s very tasty and enjoyable. It will never replace a good, high quality bar but I feel like it’s more than a novelty item.
As a serving suggestion, I do not advise that you let the chocolate get too warm. When it gets warm it gets fudgy and pliable and the airyness doesn’t quite hold.
Bubble Chocolate is still completing their first orders to get them in stores, but right now you can expect to see them at Trader Joe’s in September.
Interesting note from label: made in Belarus.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:26 am
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.