Thursday, April 17, 2014
One of the most popular luxury chocolate brands is Valrhona, which is made in France. Though you may not know the name or the label, chances are you’ve had their chocolate because they’re used so widely in the pastry and confectionery trade. Though I rarely buy their bars, I am fond of their feves, which are little oblong chocolate disks which are great for baking or simply eating.
Since it’s Easter, I thought I’d review one of the iconic confections of the season: White Chocolate. Valrhona introduced a new white chocolate bar last year called Valrhona Blond Dulcey 32%. It’s like a dark white chocolate, if such a thing could exist. It’s 32% cocoa butter, which is more cocoa butter than some chocolates have for all of their combined cacao content. The next ingredient by percentage (32%) is then whole milk (in the form of whole milk powder, skim milk powder, butter and whey), then there’s sugar and some vanilla, soy lecithin and salt.
If you think that sounds rich, it is. That’s 50% of your saturated fat in half a bar. When I calculated the calories per ounce, it came out to 195 (that can’t possibly be right). But it’s also 3 grams of protein and a full 15% of your daily RDA of calcium.
The bar is thick, which is nice considering that it’s only 2.46 ounces, smaller than the usual 3.5 or 3 ounce tablet that I’ve become accustomed to as a premium bar. The diagonals score the bar well enough that it can easily be broken into these irregular but perfect bite-sized pieces.
The color is just what you see here, a butterscotch color instead of the creamy yellow-white or most cocoa butter confections. The literature about the Blond Dulcey makes note of the biscuit flavors along with a touch of apricot. They’re not wrong, it does have a rich cereal note to it, along with some toffee and maybe a light hint of lemon.
The bar has a good melt, though I admit that it’s a little fudgy at the start. I’d say that’s more from the milk solids than any sugar-grain. It’s lightly salty at first, there’s over 100 mg of salt. It is like a digestive biscuit flavor, just lightly toasted, sweet but not so much that it hurt my throat. There was no slick or greasy coating in my mouth afterwards as many white confections made with tropical oils can leave.The vanilla note is overpowered by the sort of toffee and burnt sugar flavors, though I would have enjoyed some bourbon or tobacco in there.
I found my bar when I was in London, though they do sell them in the United States. It was about $8, which it’s pretty steep for a smallish bar like this. I’ll probably stick with the Green & Blacks or the Ritter Sport if I can find it.
This may be one of those white chocolate bars that converts people who don’t like white chocolate. Or just something for those who do like white chocolate to munch on. It’s a lot more satisfying than many other white bars that I eat, I didn’t feel the need to eat the whole thing. That may be a function of the high protein content as well.
Monday, April 7, 2014
They’re 3.5 ounces and priced competitively with other premium chocolate bars. Equal Exchange (I reviewed some Easter items on Friday) is a cooperative using fair trade standards to create a whole store filled with chocolate, coffee, tea and other goods.
This bar features organic freeze dried raspberries in organic and fair trade dark chocolate. The cacao is sourced from fair trade cooperatives in The Dominican Republic, Panama, Ecuador and Peru with sugar from Paraguay and vanilla from Madagascar. There’s no soy lecithin and it’s considered gluten free though it may contain traces of milk, hazelnuts, cashews and coconut. Equal Exchange makes their chocolate in Switzerland.
The bar is wrapped simply, in thin foil and then a thicker paper overwrap (the inside had all the sourcing details about the bar).
The bar is glossy and attractive, with some bumps on the bottom from the raspberry bits. The molding is good as is the temper, it’s very consistent and I noticed no voids or swirling in any of the bars (which can happen with inclusions). It smells rich, though barely sweet. Like cherries, coffee and honey. Once snapped in half though, the raspberry scent, with its floral notes becomes much more noticeable. The chocolate is sweet on the tongue and has a good, cool melt with a creamy texture. The raspberry bits are crunchy and tangy, though the seeds in the center can be a bit tougher.
It’s a very easy to eat bar, with a lot more acidic tang than most other 60% bars. I don’t care much for the grassy, woody note of the seeds, but that’s berries for you.
The Equal Exchange Organic Lemon Ginger Chocolate with Black Pepper is 55% cacao, so it’s the lightest chocolate intensity of the bunch. The package gives the identical sourcing info for the major ingredients but doesn’t say where the lemon, ginger and black pepper is from, though they’re all organic.
It’s nice to see lemon used with chocolate, it’s not as common as orange, but can still combine well, especially with dark chocolate. The addition of ginger and black pepper makes this the most unconventional flavor in the Equal Exchange line. This package looked the same on the outside as the other bars, but instead of a foil inner liner, it’s in some sort of compostable mylar. I also noticed that the nutritional panel listed this one at only 200 calories a portion, not 230 ...which actually sounds more plausible. (But calorie calculations are fraught with error, as the basis for it is over 100 years old, so really they’re just a guide.)
Though the bar contains no milk, it doesn’t look like a particularly dark chocolate bar. It smells woodsy and fresh, with a little note of rosemary and cedar.
The melt of the dark chocolate is very smooth, but I did start to detect a bit of sugar grain ... this was from the crystallized ginger in the bar. The lemon is a bit strong, rather astringent at first, but it dissipates. The chocolate is mild, woodsy and of course creamy. The ginger and black pepper hit come in slowly as a hint of warmth in the throat. The sugar from the crystallized ginger rather disguised the ginger kick at first, then it came forward.
It’s a satisfying bar.
The final bar is the Equal Exchange Organic Dark Chocolate with Coconut 60%. Like the Raspberry bar, this one has a thin silver foil wrapping.
It is also 60% cacao content and contains only one additional ingredient to the chocolate, the organic coconut flakes.
This bar reminded me most of Passover, which I’ve often thought of as Macaroon Season, as coconut macaroons (often dipped in chocolate) are a typical treat since they can be made without only coconut, chocolate, egg whites and sugar to follow the Kosher for Passover rules.
The bar has a lot of coconut in it, and the silky chocolate goes well with it. There are cherry and raisin notes to go with the more tropical scent of the coconut and hints of the Madagascar vanilla bean.
The exciting development this year for Equal Exchange is their new designation of their dark chocolates as Kosher for Passover. Equal Exchange chocolates that are marked pareve (the 3.5 oz or 100 g line and dark chocolate minis) may be purchased before Passover and consumed on Passover according to Rabbi Aaron Alexander, Associate Dean, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University. The specific bars from Equal Exchange that qualify for this designation are: Organic Chocolate Espresso Bean Bar, Organic Dark Chocolate with Almonds Bar, Organic Ecuador Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Mint with a Delicate Crunch Bar, Organic Orange Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Panama Extra Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Very Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Lemon Ginger with Black Pepper, Organic Dark Chocolate Minis.
It’s interesting that before this, there were no certified fair trade chocolates that were designated Kosher for Passover. Which is odd, because Passover is all about the commemoration of Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt. The best news is that these are tasty and come in a pretty wide variety of flavor options.
CNN has been covering modern day slavery, including in the cocoa trade in a series of articles, segments and documentaries.
Friday, April 4, 2014
Equal Exchange is cooperative that sells products with fair trade ingredients and/or labor. Many of these are products where the farmers that grow them live in poverty, lack educational opportunities. Things like coffee, tea, bananas and of course, cocoa. These are all grown in tropical regions and depend on a high degree of manual labor. With the chocolate industry, there’s the added issue of slavery of hundreds of thousands of children on farms, mostly in Western Africa.
Equal Exchange also makes its own chocolate, which uses fair trade certified ingredients, not just ethically sourced cocoa. The result isn’t charity, these are real, sustainable products that you can buy at a fair price that are actually good quality as well.
They’ve been making chocolate for a while, but only more recently has it become more mainstream ... and now they have holiday packaged foil-wrapped eggs.
Equal Exchange Milk Chocolate Foil Eggs are 41% cacao, which is as dark as some semisweet chocolate sold these days. The ingredients sound delicious: cacao butter, whole milk powder, cane sugar, chocolate liquor, unrefined white cane sugar, ground hazelnuts and vanilla. The ingredients are also fair trade (except for the hazelnuts and milk) and all organic. There’s no soy, no lecithin, no other fillers.
The melt is smooth and creamy. It’s not at all grainy but very fatty and thick on the tongue. The flavor is interesting and not something I initially liked. It’s deep and not terribly sweet. The milk flavors are definitely more on the powdered milk, flirting with the cheesy side. But the roasted flavors of the hazelnuts balances that. The chocolate itself is woodsy with a sort of green banana note to it. It sounds weird.
I can’t stop eating these. I actually did stop, when I ran out. Then I realized they also sent this to me:
Yes, that’s over a pound and a half of mini milk chocolate bars. In a handy dispenser box. I have it on my desk, like it’s dispensing tissues during allergy season.
The Equal Exchange Dark Chocolate Foil Eggs are also quite rich. They feature the same high fat, though in this case there are no nuts and no dairy at all. The 55% cacao content is rounded out only with sugar and vanilla beans. Like the Milk Chocolate, it’s all organic, but in this case it’s also all fair trade certified. There’s no soy in there, no GMOs though there may be traces of milk, peanuts, cashews, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios and/or pecans. Though it doesn’t say on the ingredients, they should be gluten free. Finally, they’re vegan. While there’s not a lot in there, there are a lot of folks these could satisfy. ]
The 55% cacao content makes these quite mild. They smell woodsy, with a light cherry note. The chocolate has a good, silky melt with a light dry finish to it. The flavor profile is all over the map. I taste coffee, cherries, figs and bananas and sometimes even a hint of malt ... though that could have been its storage adjacent to my milk chocolate pieces. There’s a light bitterness in there, nothing too difficult to conquer, but might be enough to keep children away.
You could put these in front of anyone without any information about the origins or disposition and they’d never know that this is more transparently source, ethically accountable stuff. It’s just tasty. As you can tell, I preferred the milk chocolate version, but the dark is a wonderful middle of the road chocolate that’s not too dark for wide appeal.
The only hesitations for most folks will be where to find them and how much you pay. Equal Exchange has them on their website for $6.99 per package, which is pretty steep compared to their very competitively priced bars. (For some reason foil wrapping just amps up the price of any chocolate, good quality or bad.) Some Whole Foods Markets and other natural product stores may carry them as well. The fall back is always the little mini-bars, which are also extremely cute and a bit better deal per ounce, but come in this 23.8 ounce box (yes, a pound a half) for $35.00 plus shipping. It’s hard to compare that to R.M. Palmer (which isn’t even real chocolate, let alone sustainably sourced), but Godiva or Lindt may be a good comparison on both price and ingredients.
On Monday I’ll have a review of Kosher for Passover chocolates, also from Equal Exchange.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Milton S. Hershey is one of great entrepreneur stories of the 20th century. Hershey always wanted to be a confectioner. He was apprenticed to a candy maker as a child and then later tried several times to make it on his own. He focused on caramels and small wrapped sweets, peddling them on a cart pushed around the streets. While working in Denver for another confectioner, he learned a new recipe for boiled sweets, a caramel that was extremely stable as well as delicious because of the use of milk in addition to butter. However, even in Philadelphia, Chicago and New York City ... each of these companies failed. In 1886 he returned home, in debt but still convinced that his new caramel recipe he learned in Denver could succeed. He convinced family members to invest once again and this time was the right time. He created the Lancaster Caramel Company which flourished.
He built this little enterprise into a full factory business by the turn of century, employing over 1,300 people and then sold it off for a million dollars in order to fund his new venture, the Hershey Chocolate Company. Hershey’s is finally introducing their own line of caramels, under the nostalgic name of Lancaster.
The new Lancaster Caramel Soft Cremes’ package looks nostalgic. What’s inside, though, is unlikely to be anything close to what Milton Hershey used to make in copper kettles. The package says “His [Milton Hershey] original caramel recipe is the inspiration for Lancaster Cremes. The ingredients tell the story of a modern confection:
Though I was a little disappointed to see the use of things like palm kernel oil, tocopherols and high fructose corn sweetener, I was more disappointed at the price for such things. Kraft Caramels are usually about $2 a bag on sale and contain similar ingredients but not the premium price. But, I was willing to give these a try.
The little nuggets are glossy and soft. They don’t smell like much, but have a beautifully soft and chewy bite. The chew and dissolve is impossibly smooth and rich, with good flavor notes of caramelized sugar and butter. It’s like a soft version of Pearson’s Nips. (I could imagine these as fantastic in coffee flavor.) It’s not a completely stiff caramel chew, like a Storck Chocolate Riesen, but much smoother than the soft bite of a Kraft Caramel.
As much as I wanted to hate these for their divergence from Hershey’s original simple ingredients, they are quite good. The texture, the consistency and overall not-too-sweet profile is really ideal. I begrudgingly love them. They come in two other varieties: Vanilla and Caramel and Vanilla and Raspberry. Honestly, I plan to quit while I’m ahead. If they come up with chocolate or coffee flavored ones, I’ll give those a go.
Oddly enough, the Lancaster Caramels are made in Canada, not Central Pennsylvania. Also, they’re not Kosher and there are no other notations on the package regarding nuts, wheat or eggs though the ingredients list dairy and soy as ingredients.
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Mars has been morselizing its candy bar line over the past couple of years. The new Milky Way Simply Caramel Unwrapped Bites are in the latest in the introduction cycle. They’re just little unwrapped cube versions of the Milky Way Simply Caramel bar, served up in a bag for easy dispensing.
I picked mine up at 7-11, which had a sale on their Mars Bites, the Sharing Size were 2 packages for $3.00. (I bought a Powerball for the Wednesday $400M drawing as well, bringing my tally to an exact $5. Yes, I’m aware that my odds are 1 in 175,223,510 of winning.)
The bag holds 15 little cubes. That’s two servings, as this is a Sharing Size. So each serving is 7 or 8 cubes which comes to 190 calories. If you’re trying to moderate yourself, four would be 100 calories but trip up and eat the whole bag by accident, you’re looking at 380.
Mars has always made beautiful candy bars. (See this photo for evidence.) The new bites line, though, suffers from the packaging style. The little candies are not sealed like panned candies so they get scuffed and dented in the bag together.
The pieces are well formed, they’re cubes but most have little “feet” where the chocolate pooled. They’re rather milky smelling, it’s a sort of cereal and milk note. The chew is soft, the caramel is very smooth though it doesn’t have the taffy-like toughness that I enjoy in my caramel, it does have good toffee and toasted sugar notes. The chocolate is passable, it’s sweet and has a lot of dairy flavors, but it’s not exceptionally chocolatey. (A dark version of these someday might be nice, but if I want that, I’ll probably just have some Marich.)
Overall, I was very pleased with these. They’re easily poppable, satisfying in the sense that the textures and flavors were better than I expected. I didn’t want to eat the whole bag in one sitting, but I did finish it in three days. I can imagine that the packaging won’t do well in the summer months, and forget it if these get smashed a bit, because you’d be in for a huge mess inside the bag. They’d be easy to mix in with other things (like a Chex Mix for a really sweet & salty combo) or as an ice cream topper.
Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Pine Bros Softish Throat Drops were introduced in 1870. The simple formula uses glycerine to soothe irritated throats. By 1930 the company was sold to Life Savers, which was a natural fit, as they had wide distribution and the throat drops were a nice complement to the candy roll line. By the late 1990 the brand was sold several times, lost national distribution and fell into obscurity before disappearing entirely.
Of course consumers didn’t forget about them, and soon there was enough of a groundswell on the internet to get the drops back on the market. In 2011 they finally returned with the most fashionable flavors: Wild Cherry and Honey. The return of Pine Bros Softish Throat Drops really couldn’t be considered complete until the Licorice flavor was also revived.
I find them reliably at CVS drug store chains, though others may carry them as well. It’s nice to see them in national distribution and there was even a commercial on at the top of the Golden Globe Awards to build brand awareness.
The Licorice drops are the same shape and size as the Cherry and Honey. They’re about 3/4 of an inch long and at first seem hard. In the mouth they soften quickly. They’re not chewy, but dissolve smoothly to form a coating, soothing syrup in the throat.
The licorice flavor is clean, with a clear anise or fennel note. There’s no molasses in here, so it doesn’t have all that earthy, minerally flavor that a licorice vine might feature. Instead this is just sweet, light and soothing. They’re much softer when they’re fresh, I opened my bag and let them get a little harder, as I will absolutely try to chew them if they’re soft and should know better than that.
The only issue I have with them is that they use artificial colors ... I’m not sure why, I don’t need them to be black. I don’t notice the flavor influenced by it at all, but why am I paying for that? There is no nutrition panel on the package, this is not food, there is instead the Drug Facts panel which has the directions for use (allow to dissolve in the mouth). They’re made on shared equipment with peanuts and tree nuts but contain no soy, dairy or wheat products.
I could eat these all day. I have been eating them all day. I’m glad they’re back.
Wednesday, January 22, 2014
I was surprised that Dove hasn’t done these in the past, as it seems like a ideal flavor infusion for their marketing. They’re a Dark Chocolate piece infused with artificial hazelnut flavor. That doesn’t actually sound that good, but I was willing to give it a go.
The pieces are wrapped in dark brown foil and like all of the other Promises, the foil has a little affirming motto printed inside. At least three of mine said, “hug someone today.”
They’re beautiful to look at and smell alluring. It’s easy for artificially flavored candies to overdo the smell, especially with dark chocolate products, but this started with a good balance. It’s a toasty scent of maple syrup, coffee and hazelnut with a sweetness to it. The melt is very good, smooth but with a little bit of a dry finish to it. The hazelnut is just a flavor, a note of roasted nuts and a trace of toffee sweetness. It’s not overpowering or too fake. It would be great to have real crushed hazelnuts in there, like the Almond version, but I can see that the goal here is really about the texture.
They’re quite rich, in fact, they clock in at 156 calories per ounce, so there’s lots of cocoa butter and dairy butter fats in there. I found that two made an excellent treat, but were still a little on the sweet side for me as a dark chocolate product.
Back in July of 2012, I reviewed the Target exclusive Dove Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramel Promises and was later called by Dove (Mars) representatives to let me know that their Dove line was converting to Rainforest Alliance certified cacao, starting with the Dark Chocolate. To date, I’ve only seen the Dark Chocolate, there have been no subsequent roll outs of the certified sustainable cacao on anything but the plain dark chocolate. The Mars website still says they’re on target for all cacao sourced through traceable channels by 2020 and should hit 35% by the end of 2014.
Dove Dark Chocolate Promises contain soy and dairy and are made in a plant that uses peanuts and tree nuts. (Some Dove chocolates are made in nut free environments, so be sure to check the labels.) There’s no statement about gluten.
Friday, January 17, 2014
I found the bars at Walgreen’s on a dedicated display for Ghirardelli just before Christmas. They also come in Milk & Caramel, but that day I had a craving for something sophisticated and not-too-sweet.
The bar is square, which echos the little pieces, but a little thicker than their usual filled confections. It’s 1.3 ounces, so it’s right there as a single serving (it’s 170 calories) and I picked it up on sale for $1.00.
They’re about 2.75 inches square, and sectioned into four pieces. Each piece is well segmented, meaning that you can snap it apart easily and the reservoir of minty fondant is completely contained.
The bar has a rich cocoa smell, it’s a bit woodsy and herbal with a nice hint of fresh peppermint.
The fondant is creamy and flowing, but quite liquid. It’s very sweet but has a well rounded peppermint flavor that’s more like peppermint tea than straight peppermint oil. The dark chocolate isn’t too intense but has a bittersweet quality that keeps the whole thing from getting too throat-searing sticky. The wrapper doesn’t say what the cacao content is, but I’d put it at about 60%.
It’s not a revolutionary bar, but the convenience of a single serving for just a buck is nice. I like the big 3.5 ounce bars, but I don’t like the monotony of eating a whole one and it’s often hard to get enough consensus in this “too many choices” world for everyone to want that chocolate bar at that moment with me. I’d like to see this line expanded. I like the Ghirardelli style much better than Dove or Hershey’s at this price point, but sometimes I want a milk chocolate and crisped rice bar.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.