Monday, November 25, 2013
Kraft is always keeping up with special versions of marshmallows during different seasons. This year I spotted the Jet-Puffed Peppermint Mini Mallows at Target in the baking section. (I’m sure these have been around before.)
It seems like a pretty simple confection, which is largely the selling point. They’re pink swirled mini marshmallows, small enough for snacking or including in recipes
They vary a little in size, but most are half inch cylinders.
They’re quite fresh, bouncy and light. There’s a dusting of corn starch on them, so they’re not sweet immediately, but a little chalky. The mint is mild, but fresh. There’s a light hint of the red food coloring aftertaste, if you’re one of those folks who can detect it. But for the most part, I liked them very much. I threw a handful in some hot chocolate and liked how creamy they melted and added that little minty touch without too much sweetness.
They’re an exceptionally good value. It was $1.00 for a large 10 ounce bag. That’s less than $2 a pound. They’re pretty spare on calories, 2/3 of a cup is only 100 calories and seems like a lot of candy. It’s a nice ingredient, something to use on cupcakes or in hot chocolate or just throw in a small bowl to keep around for kids to snack on without filling up. (Please watch small children with marshmallows and any small candies, as they are a choking hazard.)
Monday, November 18, 2013
Several times a week I browse eBay’s candy sellers’ section to see what sort of new products are out there. This is usually how I find out about new varieties of Mentos around the world. I spotted the Mentos Tutti Frutti a while back and have been trying to get a hold of them.
Tutti Frutti means “all fruits” in Italian and is a common dessert and ice cream flavor. This variety looks like it’s available in Europe and possibly Asia. This variety of Mentos is part of a new trend in the European releases made with all natural colors and flavorings.
The candies are the palest pink. They don’t smell like anything, but biting into them, there’s a lot of flavor. If you’re familiar with Juicyfruit gum, this will be a familiar flavor. It’s a combination of banana, apple and a touch of pineapple. It’s sweet and soft, like banana, with a sort of creamy note to it. But there’s also a light tangy hint like fresh apples or canned pineapple.
It’s an awful lot like a Skittles version of Juicyfruit gum. I like that it’s natural colors and flavors, there’s no weird bitterness or aftertastes. There’s a clean sweetness and soft of floral finish that’s not quite as breath-freshening as a mint, but still feels like I’ve had some jasmine tea or some other neutral drink.
There are quite a few other varieties of Mentos in Europe that we don’t have here in the United States. Kristian at CandyBrain.de was good enough to seek them out (some are sold only at gas stations):
I’ll have reviews later of the other versions: Mentos Mintensity, Mentos Incognito and Sour Rainbow Mentos. I feel like Mentos are stalled as a brand here in the United States. They’ve been spending more on their gum line than the mints and chews, so we rarely get to see the new flavors, even as limited editions here. As we become more global, it’s nice to experience the cultural crossover flavors at the local stores instead of having to pay the premium for eBay sellers or JBox. (I have some JBox candies on order.)
Of course it’s hard to do a review of a Tutti Frutti item and not include this: Little Richard singing Tutti Frutti.
Monday, October 28, 2013
Their products come from numerous suppliers and in a way remind me of the now discontinued Choxie line from Target. The line includes cookies and trail mixes, but has an exceptionally strong presence in the candy aisle, especially in the larger Walgreen’s stores. They have large chocolate bars featuring Belgian chocolate (like Dark Chocolate, Pear & Almond), individually wrapped and bagged chocolate pieces (like Red Velvet Caramels) and gable boxes of caramels and of course this offering: Good & Delish Milk Chocolate Cornflake Clusters.
The package was on sale for $2.99 for 5 ounces, which seemed pretty fair to me since it was real chocolate. Some of the other products are made in Belgium, but this one is made in the United States.
Each piece is about a third of an ounce and 1.25 to 1.5 inches in diameter. They’re just plops of milk chocolate mixed with corn flakes. They reminded me of the Harry London Mint Cookie Joys that were minted milk chocolate mixed with chocolate cookie bits. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if these were made by Harry London under the Walgreen’s house brand.
The milk chocolate is sweet but quite creamy and sets off the crunchy, malty and slightly salty corn flakes very well. I found them a little on the sweet side at first, but I enjoyed the density of the corn flakes. The crunch made them feel more like a snack, but the sweetness made me set a limit of three in a sitting, otherwise it was just too overwhelming.
My go to treat for corn flakes and chocolate has always been the Ritter Sport Knusperflakes, which is about $2 to $2.50 per 3.5 ounce bar, which is still a better deal. I bought one just for comparison, and found the corn flakes a bit lighter but less malty. But I did like the portioning of the Good & Delish and the fact that a house brand is doing something that the big brands aren’t. I want to explore more of their unique offerings in the future.
Friday, October 11, 2013
Lindt has a new line called Hello, but I also noticed this array of single serving bars at several drug stores and Target over the past few months. I picked up a full set (or at least I think it’s all of them - at the time I wrote this, I couldn’t find them on their website).
The packaging is very simple with a color coding that made it easy to check that I had all of them. (I had to go to two stores.) They’re small portions, at 190-230 calories per bar, they’re not too filling.
The Lindt Wafer Bar is described on the package as Milk chocolate with wafer and creamy hazelnut filling.. The little picture shows that the wafer part is like a flattened tube inside the hazelnutty center.
The actual bar I got wasn’t as much like the picture as the others, which were exactly as depicted. In this case, the first section contained only hazelnut paste (so the photo is of the second section). The wafers do not take up nearly as much volume as I’d hoped, so the effect is milk chocolate bar with a lot of hazelnut (nothing wrong with that) and a little bit of wafer.
The wafers are malty and less sweet than the rest of the bar. The milk chocolate is very sweet as is the filling, so it’s kind of throat searing at first. The mix of textures and flavors is quite good though, I like the Lindt milk chocolate in small bites, it’s very creamy and though it has a dairy note to it, it tastes fresh, not like dried milk. Perhaps I’m looking at the wrong brand, but I wanted more hazelnut in there, it seemed more cream than hazelnut. (But maybe I’m just used to the Ferraro style.)
The bar is: Milk chocolate with hazelnut cream filling and pieces of almond brittle.
This bar is bigger than the first one, at 1.3 ounces. It feels hefty as well.
The milk chocolate bar looks the same as the Wafer bar, glossy and light milk chocolate. There’s a whiff of cereal about it and a hint of hazelnut but mostly it smells sweet.
The chocolate is smooth and has a milky melt to it, kind of like pudding. The center is very crunchy, with little bits of almond in the hazelnut cream. It’s not terribly nutty, but very sweet with just a hint of salt to it. Overall, the filling was good, the textures nice and the proportions very well done ... but I wanted it to be less sweet.
The package says that the bar is Dark chocolate with hazelnut filling and whole hazelnuts. And so it is.
It’s the biggest bar of the assortment I picked up, as well, at 1.4 ounces. It’s also the fattiest, at 164 calories per ounce. If I’m going to spend twice as much on the bar, I’d better be getting something high quality in there.
The bar is stunning. Three molded hazelnut sections in glossy dark chocolate. The dark chocolate looks great and smell a lot like roasted hazelnuts and coffee.
The chocolate is buttery and has a good melt, although like many Lindt chocolate, it might be a little too slick on the tongue and not enough chocolate flavor in there.
The hazelnut center is fantastic. The hazelnut paste is soft and has a great fresh flavor and though it’s sweet, it’s not too sticky. The whole hazelnut is crisp and crunchy and I believe blanched to remove the skin, which keeps away some of those bitter notes.
Of the three bars, this was my favorite, though it could benefit from darker chocolate.
I don’t see myself picking them up again, as interesting as I thought they were. They’re overpriced, though my guess is that perhaps in Europe they’re more economical. It’s odd, because the Hello Crunchy Nougat was a very similar bar to the Wafer, but twice the size for the same price. They also don’t use natural vanilla, it’s artificially flavored, which makes me wonder if there may be cut corners elsewhere. I think I’ll stick with Ritter-Sport’s Knusperflakes and Dark Chocolate Whole Hazelnut but if I feel like spending a little more, I’d step up to the Gardini Bitter Chocolate and Gianduia with Sea Salt.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
Original Beans is a small chocolate company that starts with carefully selected, direct-purchased beans and makes them into single-origin bars. They take special care with all aspects of the sourcing, manufacturing and packaging, as their name might imply. The bars are not easy to find in the United States, but luckily a very good chocolate source has developed walking distance from my office, so you’ll be seeing more of these interesting finds in the coming months and years.
The selection of bars from Original Beans is very small, but quite specific. I chose to review their Original Beans Piura Porcelana 75% as my first. You can read up on the Peruvian Porcelana beans on the Original Beans website and on other chocolate aficionado sites. The history of chocolate is fascinating and many people have become interested in the generic diversity of the trees and their distribution. The Porcelana beans, as a variety of Criollo, are characterized by their white color and distinctive flavor. They’re quite rare and grown in a few small areas in South America, so single origin bars are not common and often limited editions.
The bar features all organic ingredients and is made only exclusively with white Criollo cacao from the Pirua River Valley in the Peruvian Andes. The cacao is 75% and the package says that it’s a 22 hour conch. The ingredients list is simple and short: Direct-trade cacao beans, cacao butter, cane sugar. There’s no soy and it’s vegan and gluten free.
The tasting notes for the bar online are: Vibrant, luscious with kumquat, lime, apricot, raspberry flavours and notes of toasted pecan; wonderfully balanced acidity and lingering finish.
Though the beans are white, the chocolate is brown. The fermenting and roasting of the beans makes them indistinguishable at first glance from any other bean.
The bar is simply and beautifully molded. The segments have a great snap and neutral medium-brown color. The scent is mild, it has some smoky vanilla notes
The flavor is an interesting balance of acid like citrus and tannins, for the most part the flavors I got were black tea and roasted nuts. The texture was smooth and has and excellent melt and lack of grit. It still has a bit of a dry finish that’s sharp from the tannins.
I loved this bar, this is the third one I’ve eaten, I bought the first two over the summer but found they weren’t doing well in the heat so I ate them and waited for it to cool off to do a proper review. The flavor is not too intense but still very satisfying after three or four squares. The cocoa butter balanced out the clean but sweet sugar to make it very munchable for a high cacao bar.
The next bar I picked for review is Original Beans Esmeraldas Milk, which is a 42% cacao bar with a touch of fleur de sel. Like the dark bar, it’s made with organic ingredients. From the photo above you can see that it’s a dark looking bar for milk chocolate, but compared to many commercial milk chocolate bars, I’m inclined to call it a dark milk.
Original Beans is in The Netherlands, and the packaging is largely in Dutch (though the website also in English) while the chocolate is made in Switzerland.
The ingredients list is a little longer than the dark bar, but still short: direct trade cacao, sugar, cocoa butter, milk and sea salt. The tasting notes suggest: Exceptionally velvety with salted caramel, hints of summer red fruits and spice.
The Original Beans website has a feature where you input the batch code from your bar into their website that says:
Unfortunately that feature just takes you to the same page you could browse to based on the name of the chocolate bar. For true transparency and education, I kind of wanted specifics about the harvest that made my bar. What was that year like? Were there special issues that would distinguish that vintage from the previous year or the coming year? Or even just things like how many pounds of beans were harvested, how many bars were made in that batch.
The bar has a roasted, caramelized scent that has a bit of a cheese note to it, something a little more savory. The melt is great, it’s soft and fudgy without feeling too sugary or sticky. The flavor has molasses notes, maybe even a little fennel but a lot of milk. The hint of salt does keep it from tasting too much like sugar, but it doesn’t jump out. There’s a sharpness to the bar, again, that powdered milk cheese-ness that doesn’t quite satisfy me. I’m not a big fan of the powdered milk flavors in some milk chocolates; it’s a personal preference, not an indication of quality.
I also tried the Bolivian Beni Wild Harvest bar, as I was a big fan of Lillie Belle’s Wild Thing, also from wild beans, but found the 66% far too sweet for me.
Wednesday, September 11, 2013
In the pantheon of candy bars, the simple combination of chocolate and peanuts dominates the most popular candies in the United States. Snickers and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are usually jockeying for the top positions with M&Ms. I’m always eager to see what other candy companies are doing with this duo, especially with premium ingredients. Jer’s Chocolates, here in Southern California, makes a line of peanut butter bars from all natural ingredients.
Jer’s Peanut Butter Bars Original IncrediBar is all natural peanut butter mixed with crunch rice crisps covered in milk chocolate while Jer’s Peanut Butter Bars Pretzo Change-O is all natural, peanut butter with salty pretzel bits covered in milk chocolate.
The Original IncrediBar is rather irregular looking, but for the most part about 4.5 inches long and 1.25 inches wide.
The milk chocolate coating is sweet and milky but with a good cocoa note to it. The filling is soft and crumbly, though not quite fudgy. It’s peanutty, like a peanut butter dough, almost. There are bits of crisped rice in it, which gives it a mild crunch and hint of malt, while there are also bits of crushed peanuts that give a heartier crunch. The salt is a nice touch to keep the whole thing from getting too sweet.
The bar is hearty, at only 1.5 ounces, I found it very substantial, as the 5 grams of protein would indicate. It’s not shy on calories either, at 230. The bars are very soft, and in warm temperatures, they turn to goo, as many peanut butter chocolates tend to. I made sure to keep mine stored properly and was pleased with the fresh taste of the peanut center.
The Pretzo Change-O sounds right up my alley, instead of the crispy rice bits of the IncrediBar, this one has pretzel pieces. This was also a milk chocolate bar (Jer’s makes two varieties with dark chocolate, I’ll review those soon) with the same flavorful and smooth coating. I didn’t really notice much of a difference between the two bars, the crunchy bits were a little larger and perhaps the overall effect was less sweet. Both are fine bars. I preferred them over the the Cadbury Wunderbar or Snickers Peanut Butter Squared (which has caramel) which were the closest thing I could think of to these.
One of the thing that vexes me about these is the packaging. The boxes are great at protecting the bars within, but I have a devil of a time opening them. They’re securely glued at both ends, but snug enough that I worry about smashing or poking the bars if I use scissors to open it.
Jer’s Chocolates also makes a mini version called Jer’s Squares of their popular bars. I like these quite a bit, partly because there’s a greater ratio of chocolate and partly because I like smaller pieces of things so I can moderate better. The big issue I have with them is that their list price is twice that of the bars but you don’t get twice the product. The pair of bars is about $4 (3 ounces, so it’s $21.33 a pound) and the gable box of about 10 pieces retails for $8 (4 ounces, so it’s $32 a pound).
Though all the ingredients are natural, there is no statement on the Jer’s Chocolate website about the ethical or sustainability sourcing for the ingredients.
Monday, August 12, 2013
On my short vacation last month, I made on candy related detour on what was otherwise a cookie-fueled holiday. The Man and I swung through Bakersfield, CA to stop at Dewar’s Family Candy and Ice Cream Parlor.
I’ve tried Dewar’s Chews before, while on vacation I’ve picked them up at a candy shop in Cayucos. I was excited to go to their land or origin and try more of them. At the shop the outside temps were about 100, so I was eager to get our candy and stash it in the cooler in the back seat immediately. At the counter in the shop, which is mostly an ice cream parlor at their main location on Eye Street, the gal let me taste any variety I wanted. That was great, because I’d tried the five or six main flavors, but there were some interesting ones like Roasted Pecan and Chocolate Hazelnut that were of particular interest.
The taffy was $14.50 for a pound, which is a bit steep, but considering the fact that they use fresh local nuts and real dairy for the caramels, I thought it was worth it.
I chose: Pistachio Caramel, Peanut Butter, Almond, Pistachio, Roasted Pecan and Chocolate Hazelnut. I also got a 12 ounce box of the classic flavors to take to the office that included Peppermint.
All of the chews that I liked featured nuts. The plain caramel is good, don’t get me wrong, it’s smooth and soft and chewy. It’s not quite as decadent as some of the artisanal versions that are popping up, but they’re rich and dependable.
The Roasted Pecan was one of the few that featured lots of nuts mixed in. It’s a strongly vanilla taffy with pecans in it, that’s it. It’s great, a little salty, less sweet and satisfying with a maple and wood smoke finish.
The Chocolate Hazelnut was a bit sweeter, not terribly chocolatey but with a nice hint of hazelnut. It was one of my least favorite of the bunch, but I still ate all of them.
The Pistachio Caramel was just the caramel with some pieces of pistachio in it. Great.
The Peppermint is soft, it has a bit of a corn starch chalkiness on the outside, but the taffy is soft and chewy with a great, light mint flavor. Very clean, no graininess.
The exclusive or unique item though are their nut filled vanilla chews. They’re a plain vanilla taffy filled with ground nuts. The first one I tried was Peanut Butter, which is quite nice. I’m accustomed to a molasses chew with peanut butter, but this was much lighter, much more appropriate to summer. The vanilla taffy is soft and chewy, the peanut butter center is a bit grainy and quite salty without being sticky. The combination is really fantastic.
The Almond version is also very good, with a deep roasted flavor without the artificial almond extract that some might want to impose on it. The Pistachio was also very fresh tasting with only a hint of the green tea and floral notes of the pistachio nuts.
The most notable set though are the nut filled vanilla chews. There’s something about them that’s extremely enticing. They’re devilishly unsatisfying though, I would eat one, hoping that there’d be more nut filling and then eat another one, thinking that one would be the perfect ratio.
Dewar’s does a far better job of making a special taffy that’s worth taking home from vacation than any other candy shop I’ve seen. It’s good enough that I’ll likely make web orders in the future.
As a side note, the cookie part of my California Central Coast vacation was also great. The two great cookies of the Cayucos area are from the Brown Butter Cookie Company (I like their chocolate cookies, which are like buttery sand, they just fall apart in your mouth) and the Pecan Chews from Linn’s in Cambria which were like the toasty top of a pecan pie.
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
I often think of chocolate making as a northern activity, though the advent of climate control means it can be done anywhere. Still, it’s rare to hear about chocolate factories, even bean to bar establishments, south of the line of the Missouri Compromise. This is why I was so delighted to hear about Videri Chocolate Factory, based in Raleigh, North Carolina. It’s the kind of story that makes me think that small batch chocolate may become as common as small batch coffee roasting.*
Videri offered me some chocolate bar samples a few months back, and I’ve been munching on them ever since. They make bean to bar chocolate in their factory that also serves as a coffee bar and cafe. They make a small range of bars, about five at any given time, the varieties I got were Classic Dark, Dark Milk Chocolate, Sea Salt and Pink Peppercorn.
All the bars come in a small box that holds two stacked bars. Though the box packaging is color coded, the bars, wrapped only in foil, are not distinguished in any way from each other. (But once you get to know the product line, it’s easy to tell milk from dark from sea salt.)
I’m starting with the Videri Dark Milk Chocolate mostly because that’s the one that I have the best photos of from wrapper to bar. Each box holds two 1.5 ounce bars. This is genius. I don’t want 3 ounces at one time, even 1.5 ounces is a bit much when it comes to fine chocolate, but at least when you’ve eaten half, it wraps up better. The foil is thick, generous and durable.
Videri Dark Milk Chocolate is 50% cacao. They didn’t mention where the beans were sourced, they are organic and Videri does ethical sourcing and wherever possible. They plan to do more direct trade as they grow, but for now they buy through brokers within the Americas (no African beans were mentioned in their materials).
Videri Dark Milk Chocolate has an odd smell to it, more like a fine smoky cheese than chocolate. The flavor is immediately deep, with a pretty good melt, though it has some more fudgy moments that seem grainy but not chalky. The milk flavors are forward, toasted and toffee-like with the woodsy flavors of the actual chocolate rounding it out. It’s a little tangy, like a goat cheese; there’s a sharpness that lingers for quite a while.
Videri Dark Chocolate is a blend of American beans from Central and South America. It’s 70% and has a light red hint to the brown color. Their ingredients are simple, in the case of the dark chocolate, it’s: Roasted Organic Cocoa Nibs, Organic Cane Sugar, Organic Cocoa Butter. There’s no lecithin in their ingredients and everything is organic.
The bar smells lightly fruity, like raisins with a little woodsy note. The taste is immediately sweet on the tongue, which was a little odd for a 70% bar. It’s smooth but has a lightly dry and acidic finish. The overall flavor profile is similar to the smell, some raisin and berry notes with a more rounded oak flavor and a hint of vanilla. The melt is a little thin on the tongue, not at all sticky. It definitely had the notes of Peruvian chocolate for me, which is not a bad thing and I know that these are blends of beans anyway. It was good, but not extraordinary
I threw the pieces of the Videri Dark Milk Chocolate & Dark Chocolate together to show how close in color they are. After all, the milk chocolate is 50% cacao, as dark as a commercial semi-sweet chocolate you might use for chocolate chip cookies.
Both have interesting traits to them and both are pleasing. Yet even after months of sitting with these bars (I ate the first set of the pairs of bars back in March and April and the second set in July and August), I still don’t find myself drawn to these to.
Videri Pink Peppercorn is made with 60% cacao. The back of the bar is sprinkled with the crushed actually pink peppercorns. The scent is immediately forward with the peppercorn brightness - a sort of mix of balsamic pines and pencil shavings.
The woodsy notes of the beans Videri uses are complemented by the pink peppercorns. The small particle size of the peppercorns was appropriate, I didn’t find myself gagging or crunching on one and wondering about my teeth. They’re lightly spicy and warming with an earthy note without lighting up my throat or covering up the cocoa notes.
Videri Sea Salt Dark Chocolate is 60% cacao, so just a little less cacao and more sugar than the Classic Dark. And then it has the addition of a little sea salt mixed into the bar (it’s not sprinkled on, like the Pink Peppercorn). The flavor profile is similar to the Dark. It’s woodsy, though less fruity. The salt actually moderates the sweetness well. The melt is quite good, I preferred this bar of the set and found it the most munchable.
* Regarding small batch chocolate coming as common as small batch coffee ... I see the issues of scale and customer base within that statement. People generally drink one or two or even three cups of coffee a day, but rarely eat more than one chocolate bar a day.
I like where Videri is going, though I could use a bit more distinctiveness and richness in the bar. I don’t know if that’s the beans themselves, they way they’re roasted or the level of cocoa butter. But that’s just a personal preference, what I enjoyed about the bars was the fact that they were blends and tasted very accessible and easy to eat. I would love to visit their shop and watch the chocolate being made, as that sounds like half the fun of the chocolate being made in small batches. (My bars were marked Batch 134.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.