Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Name: Xocoatl Venezuelan 73.5% Dark Chocolate Bar
My sister-in-law brought this for Thanksgiving (she brought a lot of stuff and we didn’t get to this that evening). It’s part of the whole trend in authentically flavored chocolates in the Aztec tradition. This bar is from a company called Xocoatl - A Master Chocolatier (which I still haven’t quite figured out how to pronounce, though I excel at saying Huitzilopochtli ). Here’s a list of Aztec Gods in case you were wondering about their names. Xocoatl was the fire god, which only makes sense that so many folks are naming their spicy chocolate after him. As Chocolate is a New World discovery, it’s natural thatchocolatiers investigate the roots of the food and its original preparation. Though few people drink it as it was originally made as a peppered, salted and spiced drink mixed with milk or water, we can learn a lot from the original preparations about the complex flavors inherent in the beans.
The gold wrapper not only makes this bar look precious, it’s actually really good protection from odors and probably reflects a little hit that might come its way in an ordinary day. It’s a pretty big bar too, rather flat and about the size of a 3x5 card. The bar I got was exceptionally fresh, with a good snap and wonderful aroma. The major smells from the bar are woodsy and with a big pop or rum/vanilla. The bar is smooth, but not terribly buttery. Not at all grainy, the spicy part doesn’t hit until the morsel has melted completely on the tongue. There’s a dry finish that helps to deliver the slight heat from the spice andcinnamon.
I wish it were just a little smoother, a little more buttery, but at 73.5% cocoa solids, they packed a lot in there. It’s not overly sweet and very flavorful. If you are in the area and check out the shop, I actually recommend their Mayan Hot Chocolate, which has a wonderful Mexican style like Ibarra hot chocolate mixed with some spice but most notably almond bits which give it a bit of nuttiness and smooth everything out. I’m also curious to try their fruit and nut bars sometime. They do a violet and rose petal that sounds right up my alley.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Monday, December 12, 2005
Name: Chocolate Malt Balls Assortment
I ate all of these. The last three for breakfast this morning. I picked them up courtesy of my trip to the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, CA back on December 2nd. Nothin’ like fresh from the factory candy. The balls had a beautiful glossy sheen and smelled sweet and toasty upon opening the bag.
I didn’t see these specific candies available on the Jelly Belly site, but they have some fun Christmas color mixed ones (kinda like those Easter ones that we’re all probably familiar with).
If there’s one thing I learned on my trip through the factory, it’s that Jelly Belly knows how to pan candies. You’re wondering what panned candies are? Picture a small cement mixer (one of those little ones, not the truck). They take a nugget of a candy, be it a nut, a jelly center or a sphere or malt crisp and toss it into this tumbling pan. Then they add stuff to it, liquids that coat every surface of the center. Sometimes the coatings are just sanding sugar, sometimes they’re chocolate like these malt balls and sometimes they’re sugars that make a crisp shell like on a Jordan Almond. And they keep doing it, until they’re coated to the proper depth. Then they get a spiffy shine and are packaged up.
The chocolate was nice, sweet without being sticky and milky with a good snap. The centers were crispy and crumbly and melt in your mouth. The malt was nice and strong, providing a toasted taste to the centers which goes nicely with the mild milk chocolate. They’re less “dairy” tasting than the Wilbur Milk Chocolate Malt Balls which I’m also mad for.
I don’t know of many places that carry the full line of Jelly Belly’s “Confections” line, but they’re worth picking up when you do find them. I’ll have lots more reviews when I get my factory tour review up this weekend. They’re about twice the price of the Wilbur balls. But, if you’re ordering from Jelly Belly already, I also recommend their Chocolate Dutch Mints (and their mint lentils, which don’t seem to be on their site).
Rating - 8 out of 10
Friday, December 09, 2005
Name: Plush Puffs Assortment
Yes, artisanal marshmallows. And why not? The stuff we’ve been getting from Kraft are not what marshmallows are capable of. And those things that you find in cereal? Please, let’s not even grace them with the name marshmallow. They’re not even marshy!
I was sent a generous sample pack from Ann of Plush Puffs, which is based here in Los Angeles (Sherman Oaks, to be exact). The weird thing is that until I started Candy Blog, I didn’t really think much of marshmallows. Besides the See’s Scotchmallows, there were very few marshmallow things that I would even try. Peeps were never on the menu, but I have been known to toast marshmallows, if only because they’re the only grillable dessert I know.
Instead of just plain marshmallows, Plush Puffs are flavored with intense combinations of spice, nuts and/or fruit essences:
Caramel Swirl - I think I’d rename this one to “sticky toffee” because it had a nice carmelized sugar note to it and it was sticky. It was very sweet and had a little bit of caramelly fudge topping on it.
Chocolate Chipetta - this is the only one that doesn’t feel “sweet” to me. It’s rich and toasty tasting with a good chocolate hit. One of my top three flavors.
Maple Pecan - holy moly! These were really good. The maple flavor wasn’t artificial or chemically like some candies can be. It was a good sweet woodsy backdrop to the sweet, chewy foam. It had almost a toffee-like flavor and I even had a few pecans in mine.
Peppi-Mint - it’s like a fluffy candy cane! Seriously minty, like someone’s made a foam Altoid or something. The color and texture looks more like a cake than a marshmallow but the intense flavor made me want to eat both but I settled for doing a mash-up with the Chocolate Chipetta which was really good. One of my top three flavors.
Toasted Coconut - this one smelled divine and tasted just a good. I love coconut and I love the nutty smell that reminds me of the beach and all the kids that could tan wearing that coconut oil suntan lotion. One of my top three flavors.
Sydney’s Cinnamon - this was not my favorite, though I had high hopes for it. It’s definitely cinnamonny, but it also has cinnamon oil, which gives it more of a candy hit than a spiciness (like eating a cinnamon hard candy). But where this puff really showed itself was in the toasting. (see below)
Vanilla Bean - I know, vanilla, kind of bland. It wasn’t really bland, a little salty and it just didn’t wow me. I think this would be good with something else, like maybe over pie or toasted or in s’mores.
Sam’s Sour Lemon - these had a gorgeous zesty lemon smell and pretty creamy and vivid yellow swirls in them. Calling them “sour” lemon doesn’t work at all for me (in fact, I would call them “zesty” lemon instead) but the flavor is really nice and mellow. I also didn’t care much for the mix of textures wtih the crunchy lemon sugar but it’s not a dealbreaker or anything.
There’s one more flavor on their list that for some reason I didn’t get in my grab bag, which is the one that sadly interested me most - Orange Honey. The honey flavor is not that noticeable in the other Plush Puffs but is one of the things that I’ve always found so intense about the See’s Scotchmallows. (I guess I’ll have to place an order.)
Per the recommendation of Ann at Plush Puffs, I tried some in my tea and of course toasted some of Sydney’s cinnamon:
I brewed a cup of Revolution Lavender Earl Grey tea and and dropped in about a quarter of a puff (I didn’t want to overload). As I took the photos I noticed the marshmallow dissolving into a beautiful aromatic foam. I enjoyed the combination of flavors, the creaminess of the marshmallow, the interaction of the botanicals of bergamot, lemon and lavender was really nice. And of course the sweetness of the puff was a nice change from my usually naked tea. Even after I’d slurped off the foamy dissolved puffiness there was still a nice lingering sweetness and lemony flavor. Definitely a cool way to decorate an ordinary after-dinner or afternoon tea. I still prefer my naked tea, because that’s just the way I am.
The drink marshmallows were invented for, of course, is hot chocolate. I got some amazing Mayan Hot Chocolate mix from Xocoatl from my sister-in-law at Thanksgiving which I made here at the office with some milk in the microwave. In went a half of a Sydney’s Cinnamon. Instead of dissolving in a bubbly foam and spreading across the surface like the lemon one in the tea did, this one hung together really well. But once I tried poking it with a spoon it melted completely. I scooped it up like some sort of dessert soup with some of the hot chocolate and enjoyed that until all I had left was my cocoa broth. The spice of the cinnamon went really well with the Mayan chocolate which already had a hit of spices in it.
I kept a few of the Sydney’s Cinnamon aside for toasting. I loaded one up on a carving fork because I know that a single prong really doesn’t do very well with a marshmallow. I put it over the open flame on the gas burner on my stove and it carmelized so beautifully and left the house smelling so good, I think I’ll just start toasting these like incense. Here’s a tip about toasting them. They’re huge. They’re actually too big to toast whole. There’s no way to get a fully molten center (I do not like medium rare toasted marshmallows) with a marshmallow this size. What is so intense about these is that they melt even at moderate heat, which turns them into this molten, intense foamy sauce with a crispy carmelized shell. In the future I think I’ll slice them in half and then have a greater surface area to center ratio.
I’ve been looking for a summer dessert to have after grilling and this just might be the thing. Everyone can choose their own flavor and I think it’d be really cool to make some grown-up s’mores and drinks with them. They don’t quite fit into the “candy” family for me for some reason. They feel more like food, maybe that’s because they’re so satisfying and slightly saltier (more savory) than an ordinary marshmallow.
I should go back and add them to the gift guide, especially since they have baskets where you can choose the selection of flavors. Also, if you’re dubious about them, you can try their “scraps” which are not quite perfect marshmallows. I love factory stores. Overall this is the kind of thing I’d like to offer guests at a party and I can see myself ordering them for a summer grill or maybe part of dessert a holiday cocktail party. I don’t see myself just ordering them to eat, maybe it’s because they feel kind of precious being handmade and all, I just can bring myself to just wolf them down like so many handfuls of M&Ms or Skittles.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Thursday, December 01, 2005
Name: Extra Dark with Cranberries and Macadamias
It took me a long time to actually like Hershey’s milk chocolate. I was never fond of their Special Dark, but I ate it quite a bit when I was younger because it was often the only dark chocolate I could get my hands on easily. Sometimes a girl just needs dark chocolate. Call it medication.
I was curious when I saw this at Target a couple of weeks ago. I know that all the major chocolate companies are into this whole “chocolate as a health food thing” (which by the way, I’ve been saying for about twenty years) so it’s only natural that they start packaging stuff with that sort of market in mind.
If I were to create the ideal fruit and nut bar, I would definitely start with dark chocolate and cranberries are a good choice. I think I’d prefer cashews or pecans over macadamias (especially if we’re going healthy - pecans have a load of good stuff in them). Check out the site I link to up there, they talk about the benefit of antioxidants, which can be found in many fruits (especially dried ones), wine, tea and of course chocolate.
The bar itself was nice. A good woodsy flavor, the nuts were barely perceptible for me as a flavor but added good texture. The cranberries were a good tart, chewy snap. The chocolate was crisp, not bitter with a decent creamy melty quality and good flavor. Not the best chocolate I’ve ever had, but if this were as available as a regular Hershey bar, I’d probably pick it up as a less-sweet snack with 60% cocoa solids. The price is just right as well, a good value for less than $2.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Name: Lemon Lakritsi
One of the best things to come out of doing the candy blog is meeting other folks all over the world and having folks give me candy! Who knew that getting candy from strangers was as easy as spending hundreds of hours documenting your obsession on theinternets ! Last week I got a package from Anne all the way from Sweden. She included some spiced truffle Dala horses, which I promptly ate without photographing, but she also sent some other cool things. The first of which is this lemon licorice:
It’s a tube of soft molasses style licorice with a lemon fondant center. Mmmm.
It’s hard to describe how well the flavors go together. They’re both rather woodsy, aromatic flavors. The bite of the molasses (treacle) in the licorice and the intense sweetness and lingering coolness of the licorice goes well with the zesty, mellow essence of the lemon.
I didn’t understand the little face on the package until I opened it and cut the licorice piece in half ... that’s what it looks like. A glossy black licorice piece with the lighter reddish licorice inside and then the lemon cream. Like an emoticon!
I believe they use real licorice with this stuff, so be sure not to overindulge. This licorice comes from Finland (not Sweden, where Anne and her amazing all-food blog are) from a company called Fazer ... which many folks may know from their ubiquitous Fazermint.
Rating - 8 out of 10
UPDATE: 2/5/2007 - Fazer has announced that it will phase out the use of the caricatured face of a black person on their licorice wrappings.
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Name: Ghirardelli Squares - Milk Chocolate with Carmelized Almonds
I couldn’t resist picking up this bag of sweet treats. I was originally plowing through the clearance table at the drug store because they had Hershey’s cookies for 50 cents a package (and it was one of the few times I’d seen the York ones) and I was hoping for some Halloween finds but then I thought, $2 bucks for Ghirardelli? I’ll take it!
I suspect that this flavor is being discontinued because it has no page of its own on the site (well, there’s a link, but the page has a 404 error on it). Anyway, these are cute little 1.75” squares of milk chocolate with little crunchy almond bits in it.
The milk chocolate is smooth and creamy, not too milky tasting but a bit sticky. The almonds are nicely roasted and have a good carmelized bite to them. Mellow and a little bit zippy, there are really nice little sweets to have around.
Rating - 8 out of 10
What a gorgeous site Pergale has, seriously. The photos are fabulous and they document gobs and gobs of candy. It’s really a delight to browse around, it’s well organized and has great brief descriptions of all their products. The UK, Candian and American manufacturers could learn from this Lithuanian company - a lot of the candy sites I’ve seen are oriented towards capturing consumer information and not giving much in return in the way of information. I like a candy site that’s a full catalogue of the company.
These tiny bars were part of a larger cache of candy from Eastern Europe (I already reviewed the full sized Ritter Sport Rum Trauben Nuss and Capuccino bars). I’ll sprinkle more in as the weeks go on. The bars are 30 grams, which is less than an ounce and about the size of a thumb, well maybe your thumb, my thumbs are pretty small.
Dubingiai - Dipped rum-flavoured confection of cocoa and milk paste containing waffle crisps. This tiny little bar was glossy with a beautiful dark sheen even after traveling across the world in a suitcase and then in my candy bag for weeks until I took a photo. Once I snapped it in half the rum scent wafted out and made my mouth water. The filling looks like a fluffy truffle, but it also has a bit of crisp mixed in. It’s an odd sort of combo, the flavors are nice, but the texture of the center is a little odd. The chocolate outside is smooth but the crisp gives the center a little grain. It’s got a nice rum flavor to it and the chocolate is pretty decent. It goes great with my morning coffee.
Veliuona - Dipped confection of cocoa and milk paste containing waffle crisps. This bar seemed quite similar to the Dubingiai but didn’t have the rum flavor to it. It was actually a little weird and tasted a bit burnt. The chocolately taste was more evident and the little cookie bits in the fluffy, buttery center were nice, but I couldn’t get past the feeling that maybe a cigarette butt ended up in the mix that day.
Ratings: Dubingiai - 8 out of 10 (I really like rum and chocolate as a combo)
Friday, November 18, 2005
Name: York Chocolate Mint Truffle Pattie
I have no idea how long these limited editions last. But I’m still seeing the Whopper’s bars in the 7-11 (I picked up three on this trip and I’m considering checking out CostCo to buy a whole box of them). York did a limited edition Pink Pattie this year too, but that wasn’t really a taste change, as they only made the center of the patties pink instead of white.
This is a different product.
First, I have to say that the Pattie that I got at the 7-11 was exceptionally fresh. The chocolate on the outside was smooth and glossy, the smell was minty with a hint of chocolately promise to it. The center of a York is usually a bit more crumbly, like fudge than it is like a truffle cream. The chocolate truffle pattie is no different. More mint than chocolate, it was much more mild than the traditional mint pattie center. Not quite chocolately, but a nice mellow taste to it. Almost like a brown sugar instead of a sweet white confectioners feel to it.
If you can get past to the promise of a truffle inside, it’s actually a really nice bar. The calorie count per ounce is pretty low for a chocolate candy, so if you’re on a diet and looking for a little treat, this might be very satisfying.
As for the difference from the regular pattie, well, it’s not substantial. If they stick around for a while, I’ll continue buying them. They’re a little creamier, a little mellower than a regular York.
Rating: 8 out of 10
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