Friday, December 23, 2005
Name: Italian Soft Almond Nougat
When I was a kid we got rather eclectic Christmas stockings filled with candy treats that we never got any other time of the year. Christmas candy was unlike any other in our house or for any other holiday, it was a trip around the world in an oversized sock. English hard candies, Swiss & Belgian chocolates and Italian Torrones. I’ve been having a hard time finding Torrones the past few years here in Los Angeles, I used to get them at Cost Plus World Market, but haven’t seen them for quite a while. This is why I was so excited to see that Trader Joe’s had these when I was there last weekend.
Torrones are soft nougat usually flavored Amaretto, orange, vanilla or
lemon. Most European countries have their own version of the Torrone, the French do nice nougats, in both the soft and hard varieties and the Swiss Toblerone bar has hard honey nougat bits in it and the Spanish are well known for their version, the Turron. The European nougat is rather different than what you find in the American candy bar trade. Trader Joe’s has carried nougat in the past in long bars, but I’d never seen these Christmas classics before. They’re individually wrapped pieces in its own little box and gives a little history:
There are 18 of these little individually wrapped packages, boxed together. The torrone is soft and pliable white nougat that is and is sheathed in an edible, tasteless wafer to keep it from sticking. The slice of nougat has a lot of nuts but is not as “fluffy” as some others, in fact, it looks downright flat. The pieces are ample, like one of those big block pencil erasers. The scent is very nice, sweet and with a good
dose of honey in there. It’s good and soft, so it’s not going to remove any dental work, sweet and it dissolves quickly and mixes with the delicate almonds. The flavoring is a little odd. Most Torrones are one flavor but this one seems to be a mix of lemon and amaretto. But neither is very apparent so it just ends up being a subtle essence.
Overall, they’re not quite satisfying my jones for a good Torrone, but they are fresh and here so they’ll do for now for the stocking stuffers. They’re certainly cheaper than some others I’ve bought but I miss the fanciful pictures of Italian royalty on the individual boxes. The biggest drawback of the overpackaging (plastic wrap, boxes inside bigger box) is that it’s quite obvious how many you’ve eaten when there’s a huge pile of torrone detritus next to you on the couch.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
Dang if these aren’t the cutest candy with a shell to come along in years. Vibrant primary and secondary colors in that familiar Kiss shape only smaller and more “poppable.” When I saw the promo stuff on the internet at first they looked a lot like the tops of crayons and now that I have them in front of me I still think that. The shells aren’t quite as pretty and consistent as an M&M, but the vibrancy of the colors is pretty phenomenal.
Though Hershey’s Kisses are wonderful little candies, Hershey found out long ago that folks only buy them in large bags. Hershey tried for a while to launch smaller bags, but people just don’t buy them that way. Here’s an easier way to take Hershey Kisses to a movie (less unwapping, thankyouverymuch).
But let’s get to the eating, because convenience and color doesn’t mean diddly if it’s not tasty. These are tasty. I bought two bags - one to spill out in front of the unopened package (you actually get more than shown in the photo in the package, I ate or rejected about ten of them). The shell is a lot like the familiar M&M shell, it’s crunchy, sweet and has no flavor of its own like the UK Smarties do. The little fellows are about the size of chocolate chips instead of the large Kisses. The inside is Hershey’s chocolate - very sweet, a little milky and with an overall pleasant smoothness. The biggest issue I have with this is that I can’t eat them quite like M&Ms. When I’m eating a plain M&M, I’ll arrange the candy in my teeth on edge and crack it so that one half of the shell falls away and I get pure crunch, then mostly chocolate. These just don’t cleave that way. But maybe I’ll find some other interesting way of eating them, at the moment biting off the little tips seems pretty fun.
If you like M&Ms, you’ll probably like these. I don’t see Hershey’s coming out with a version with nuts anytime soon, as there’s just no room in there for one (well, maybe a sesame seed). Interesting fact: when M&Ms were first developed they contained Hershey’s chocolate. In fact, one of the Ms in M&M is for Hershey’s sales manager, William Murrie (or his son Bruce who was in business with Forrest Mars during the period they developed the candy-coated chocolate). They were made with Hershey’s up until the late sixties (I can’t find the exact date).
Other Reviews - CandyAddict gives it a positive, Accidental Hedonist’s musings on candy coated chocolates, JunkFood Blog points out that these are made without peanut traces, which M&Ms are not.
Rating - 8 out of 10
UPDATE 8/7/2008: Hershey’s reformulated Kissables sometime in 2008 and they are no longer made with real chocolate. Full review & comparison here.
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Name: Bits ‘n Fits and Bits ‘n Mints
I got a wondeful package last week from a reader, Michal, in Israel. (I sent her some stuff too, but sadly it has not arrived yet.) It was a huge box of all sorts of goodies that will take me about a month to savor properly (and photograph & review, fear not!).
The first grouping I have is from Hachez, which is a German chocolate company that’s been around since 1880. These (except for the dark chocolate one) are from their Cocoa de Maracaibo line. It’s an exceptionally rich milk chocolate that boasts 55% cacao from Venezuela. In the States the government says that you only need to have 10% cocoa solids to call your concoction Milk Chocolate. In Europe that standard is at least 25% cocoa solids. Even most semi-sweet chocolates don’t have 55% cocoa solids in them!
The most amazingly cool things are their “Bits” tins. The tin shape might be a bit familiar to some folks as it seems to be identical to those that hold “Hint Mints” that can be found at places like Cost Plus World Market and coffee shops everwhere. The neat thing about the Hint Mints is that the curved tin makes it easy to keep in a pocket. You don’t really wanna do that with a tin full of chocolate. But it’s a really elegant way to be social with your chocolate when you pull one of these out and offer a little chocolate nibble to a friend or someone you want to impress.
The dense milk chocolate for the Bits ‘n Mints is a little different. I wouldn’t call it waxy, but it doesn’t yield immediately. It sits on the tongue as it warms than then suddenly melts into a consistent puddle. It’s probably because there’s less fat in it than I’m used to in a milk chocolate. It takes a moment for it to come to body temperature, then it’s very smooth. I mean, really smooth. It’s literally like butter with a wonderful rich chocolate taste (very little milk taste to it) and a good cooling mint essence.
The Bits ‘n Fits are unlike anything else I’ve had before and pure little pebbles of delight. The outside is the same milk chocolate but the center is a mix of amazing roasted flavors. Inside is what I can only call a hazelnut toffee with a huge boost of coffee flavor. A warning though, the package says that not only does it have 1% espresso powder, it also contains 1% guarana, which is a cousin of caffeine except more expensive. I don’t know what that makes the “speed” content of this candy but at a little more than 1 ounce, you probably can’t go too wrong. They’re sweet and have a combination of textures that makes me wish they sold them around here.
Name: Longs - Cocoa de Maracaibo Classic & Espresso and Cocoa d’Arriba Orange
Cocoa de Maracaibo Classic - like the Bits ‘n Mints, this bar was incredibly buttery without being oily. The first ingredient for Hachez’s milk chocolate is not sugar, not butter and not milk solids, it’s Cocoa Butter. My favorite butter! The milk solids come in at 18% so there’s very little room for sugar in there. The milk flavors are much more evident in this bar than the Mints or the Espresso bar below. The milky flavor is very European like a much smoother, refined version of a Cadbury.
Cocoa de Maracaibo Espresso - similarly smooth and slick tasting, this bar has an intense burst of espresso flavor. Actually, don’t think of it as flavor as in something that comes out of a bottle, it tastes like freshly ground coffee smells.
Cocoa d’Arriba Orange - This particular Longs falls under the Cocoa d’Arriba line, which is 77% cacao chocolate from Ecuador. The bar smells like a combination of orange rinds and dark cocoa. With all the cocoa solids in this bar, there’s very little room for sugar. The bar is certainly chocolate with a substantial bitter bite but no real acidity or dryness that some bars have. It has woodsy flavors and of course the intense orange essence. I really liked this bar but probably couldn’t eat as much of it as I could with the Cocoa de Maracaibo bars.
I’ve seen some of the Hachez product in stores before and I hope they make a bigger run at the American market. I think this Cocoa de Maracaibo is unlike most other mid-density chocolate available right now. It’s rich without being too dense and retains all the wonderful qualities of the cocoa butter that so many high-end chocolate seem to sacrafice for that high cacao percentage.
I also have to commend Hachez for their website. Though it doesn’t break out info on all their products individually, they do have an English version and the photography and additional pages are really wonderful.
Ratings: Bits ‘n Mints and Bits ‘n Fits - 9 out of 10
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
I bought these at a natural food store. I think the reason people interested in they kinds of food they eat like these is that they have no refined sugar in them. The ingredients list is pretty short (with some variation based on the flavor): molasses, wheat
flour, licorice extract, natural flavor (aniseed oil). Pretty simple. The interesting part is that these are Finnish. Just like the Lemon Lakritsi only without the racially insensitive packaging. Who could be offended by Panda bears? Actually, I’ve passed over these bars for years because I had them confused with Australian licorice I bought in bulk. I mean really, who expects a Panda on a product from Finland of all places? (Okay and I guess it wouldn’t belong on an Australian product either, that should have a Koala or Kangaroo on it.)
The bars are rather simple. A bit thick rope of not quite soft candy.
Licorice: Nice and glossy/dark on the outside. It has a good smokey, woodsy smell that gives off a lot of anise scent. The bit itself is pretty soft and the molasses flavors are pretty evident. Molasses has always been a good base for spicy flavors and licorice is a natural to combine with it as it offsets the very sweet aftertaste true licorice has.
Raspberry: Fragrant without being too perfumy this raspberry bar doesn’t really have much berry flavor to me. The chew isn’t as molassesy, not as woodsy tasting. It’s tart and of course has a nice robust chew but the flavor doesn’t really match the texture and I wanted more berry in there.
Strawberry: Sweet smelling with an immediate tart bite to it, it definitely feels more like a berry bar. No woodsy hints from the molasses here either.
The licorice bar has to be my new favorite. Easy to bite, mellow and with a strong pop of flavor. It’s a bit pricey for licorice and I’ll probably stick with licorice pastels now and in the future, but if I’m in the store and need a little sweet fix, this might do the trick.
Rating - 8 out of 10
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 9, 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 1, 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
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