Monday, April 23, 2012
Madre Chocolate is a newer bean to bar chocolate maker based on O’ahu in Hawaii. The logo for Madre Chocolate tells a lot: it’s the Maya glyph for cacao. You can see a larger version in this Archeology magazine article. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be “smiling” on the Madre version, but that’s the way it looks to me.
Madre makes their chocolate in Hawaii, but uses personally sourced beans from Central America, where chocolate was born. The Madre Chocolate Dominican Dark Chocolate bar is made with fair trade beans, and is 70% chocolate using organic sugar and Mexican vanilla. There are no emulsifiers.
The bars are absolutely beautiful. They’re wrapped well, too. The bars come in a tough and really re-usable foil then inside a printed kraft paper sleeve. Many bars come in foil, but the foil tends to protect the bars only in the store, not after they’re opened. Here I was able to open the wrapper and rewrap the bar without any difficulty or mess.
The bar itself has a beautiful mold, with designs inspired by Central America art and iconography. The Dominican Dark Chocolate bar is a deep reddish brown color with an excellent, crisp snap.
The bar has a strong dried cherry note to it and some deep, oaky smoked flavors. It’s on the bitter side with a lot of berry and spice to it, there are notes of hibiscus, black pepper, chipotle and black tea.
The melt is smooth, there’s some slight grit every once in a while, but for a chocolate with no emulsifiers, it’s exceptionally smooth with a crisp and brief dry finish.
I’ve often wondered about the plants that chocolate comes from, like the diversity of citrus fruits. Theobroma is in the same family as the Mallows - which includes things like Kola Nut, Marshmallow, Okra and Cotton. Most chocolate aficinados already know about the three varieties of beans: criollo, forastero, and trinitario. So I was really excited to see that Madre Chocolate uses jaguar cacao, or mocambo which comes from the plant Theobroma bicolor. It’s another species of Theobroma and fruits in a similar fashion, in a large pod. The tree looks remarkably different but the beans can be treated in the same way: fermented, dried, roasted and conched. You can see more about all the Theobroma species on Wikipedia and pictures of the Mocambo on Fruitipedia.
The ingredients are organic cacao beans, organic sugar, organic cocoa butter, jaguar cacao and vanilla. So this is not a pure jaguar bar, but a combination. It is definitely lighter than the Dominican, looking almost like a milk chocolate bar.
The texture is softer, almost lighter on the tongue than the Dominican. The flavors are also rather strange. There’s the standard cocoa notes, it’s woodsy and a smidge grassy. But then there are other flavors like ginger but also something more savory. I want to say leeks, but it’s not as obvious as something like onions, it’s just something faint in the background that isn’t quite “chocolate” in the traditional sense.
The melt is smooth, a little sticky but not sweet. There’s a milky quality to it, but of course there’s no milk in it at all. For folks looking for a dark chocolate or a dairy-less chocolate that’s not so bitter or astringent, this is that bar.
The final bar I have is the Madre Chocolate Rosita de Cacao which features cacahuaxochitl blossoms. The plant, Quararibea funebris, is also in the mallow family so distantly related to cacao. The blossoms were used to flavor the original Mayan chocolate drinks.
This bar also features the Dominican cacao of the first one I tried. The ingredients are the same: organic cacao beans, organic sugar, organic cocoa butter and then rosita de cacao and Mexican whole vanilla.
That’s the Jaguar on top and the Dominican bar on the bottom, to show the difference in the color.
I’d read that rosita de cacao smells like maple sugar and I found it’s absolutely true. The woodsy, sweet notes of maple syrup were front and center when I unwrapped the foil.
This bar was a little grittier than the plain Dominican, but had a very different flavor profile. The dried berry notes were still evident, but the woodsy profile was much stronger. It was very oaky, very vanilla with strong bourbon, leather and pipe tobacco flavors. The texture did have a little fibery grit to it, which I’m guessing is the flower. At times it was like fig seeds and seemed to intensify the soft florals if I chewed them.
As part of a drink, I think I’d enjoy them more than in a bar. It wasn’t just the texture but the strength of the very perfumey vanilla that seemed to overwhelm some of the deep chocolate notes. It really softened the profile overall of the intense Dominican beans.
This exploration into the flavors and influences of modern chocolate was fascinating. It provided a lot more than just the few lines in books and articles that talk about the more savory foamy chocolate drink that was first served to Westerners.
Like many of the new bean to bar artisan chocolate makers, Madre is interested in many of the historical and sociological aspects of chocolate, responsible sourcing as well as exploring and recreating the rich history of chocolate for modern humans. It’s more expensive than buying a history book to try them all, but I guarantee you won’t forget it. I got my bars because I sponsored the group’s initiative to source Mexican cacao on Kickstarter. You can buy them on their website and they list stores that also carry the bars there.
Friday, April 20, 2012
I’m always scouring Trader Joe’s for new candy and was rewarded with this little tub of Trader Joe’s Almondictive Bits. It’s the familiar stackable clear plastic bin, this time with a name and design worthy of the Fearless Flyer.
A compulsively, compelling candy, caramelized almond morsels covered in dark chocolate
I often complain that Trader Joe’s doesn’t take the time to name their products beyond a description of what it actually is. So kudos to them for coming up with something original (so original that all google searches lead back to Trader Joe’s references). But most of all, I appreciate that Trader Joe’s used the slightly more proper addictive as their source instead of addicting. Of course since it’s a made up word, it also reminds me of the vindictive, and I don’t like mean almonds.
The pieces vary in size, some as large as a peanut but most about the size of a garden pea. The 45% dark chocolate coating is quite deep looking and glossy. There’s a slight coating of glaze on it, but it melts very quickly. The chocolate is a bit on the bitter side with lots of brownie batter and coffee notes to it. The centers are crispy caramelized chunks of almonds. Some pieces were pretty much all toffee while others were very nicely roasted almonds with a hint of crunchy toasted sugar.
The nuttiness made these just a little different from their chocolate covered toffee bits they also sell in the small bags by the register. It’s a satisfying combination of sweet, salty and bitter along with a creamy chocolate coating and different textures of crunch in the center. I wish the pieces were just slightly larger or more consistently large. The little bits at the bottom, which were like ball bearings and mostly chocolate weren’t doing much for me. These would be a great ice cream topping or added to a nuts & pretzel trail mix.
As with many of Trader Joe’s products, I don’t know where these were made or the ethical sourcing of the chocolate within. They are Kosher, contain dairy, almonds, soy and might have traces of wheat, peanuts and other tree nuts
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
One of the places that sealed the deal to get me to attend was Lubeck, home to Niederegger Marzipan. If there was a candy that I was introduced to through the blog that changed my mind about a long held prejudice, it was Niederegger’s Cappuccino Marzipan bar.
Lubeck is actually home to many marzipan makers. At one time there were dozens, now there are a handful, but enough of them that there is a strict standard they must follow if they wish to be called Lubecker Marzipan. Kind of like sparkling wine can’t be called Champagne unless it’s from Champagne. How Lubeck became a center of marzipan creation when they don’t actually grow the sugar or almonds necessary for its creation is kind of an odd tale.
Lubeck is a Hanseatic City, which means it was a member Dudesche Hanse, an economic alliance of cities and merchant guilds in Northern Europe starting in 1358 until the 1860s when it was one of the last remaining members. As a center of trade Lubeck had access to the almonds and sugar it needed to make marzipan and the shipping routes to export it.
In 1806 Johann Georg Niederegger purchased Maret Confectioner, where the current Niederegger Cafe stands to this day. The company is still family owned, in its seventh generation.
Niederegger is widely regarded as one of the best marzipans from Germany. It’s characterized by its consistent texture and high quality. The marzipan is made in one facility, just outside of town in the traditional style of open copper pots.
The almonds sourced for Niederegger are from Spanish, mostly Marcona almonds though at times they also source from Italy. To start the almonds are cleaned and then blanched and then the fibrous peels are removed. There’s a lot of hand work involved in the entire process, as workers pick over the almonds after the blanching process to keep the quality high.
The almonds are then mixed with sugar and ground and cooked in open copper pots. The staff were hesitant to give us exact times for how long these processes take, but it’s probably more than an hour and less than a day.
The cooking and mixing is carefully supervised by the cooks. The day we were there it was cold and rainy and it’s pretty much assured that the room was probably not heated and it was quite balmy. I can’t imagine what it’s like in there even with air conditioning in the summer. The pots generate quite a bit of steam and moisture.
Once the marzipan is finished multiple pots are dumped into a large one and quickly cooled with dry ice. The last step is the addition of rosewater, which I believe has a touch of alcohol in it. The marzipan is then molded into blocks and sent along to other parts of the factory for different purposes.
Though Valentine’s Day isn’t as big of a deal in Europe as North America, the Niederegger Hearts are extremely popular year round but do show up in American stores for special holidays.
All enrobed chocolates had the Niederegger name embossed on the bottom.
Because the company makes such a huge variety of shapes, sizes, varieties and packaging styles, much of the work is done by humans, who are far more adaptable. This also helps to account for the higher price of Niederegger products.
In addition to the machine made products, some are molded by hand and then hand decorated. Though no photos were provided, we visited one room where they did custom molded pieces, especially for corporate clients as well as favors for weddings that can be personalized for the couple.
Though many of the Niederegger products are expensive when priced out by the pound, there are plenty of items available for less than a buck. They have stick or log versions of their bars which are usually about one Euro and their little loaves are about 35 cents or so. The box above is their Klassiker which featured pistachio, orange, pineapple and espresso. I think this assortment is about 6 Euros. It’s one of the products I see for sale in the United States around Christmas but often for somewhere more in the neighborhood of $9 or $10.
The loaves are enrobed, like the hearts in the factory photos above. I generally prefer enrobed chocolates, I like the way the coating adheres to the fillings better than molded products.
At the end of our tour, the Niederegger folks gave us a sampler tray of their most popular current products. (Later we also went to their cafe and shop where I bought about 40 Euros more of stuff.)
I think the little loaves are my favorite. The chocolate is quite thin and the foil is always cute. They’re barely an inch long, so it’s not even two full bites. Since there’s little chocolate, it’s very much about the marzipan. There’s not as much sugar in the Niederegger marzipan as in some other varieties. Also, it has a more rustic grind to it, it’s not a smooth dough or paste like some. Think of it like peanut butter cookie dough - it holds its shape but has a slight grain. The sugar is completely integrated though. There’s a toasty flavor throughout.
The trick with the little loaves though is that they get dried out quickly. I found that there’s no point in hoarding them, they should be eaten within 3 months if possible, and be sure to keep them in a sealed tin or zippered bag.
The long bars solve that dryness problem with a thicker chocolate coating and a fully sealed plastic wrapper. Those seem to seal the moisture in much better. The Espresso Marzipan is by far my favorite of their standard flavors. So much so that I pick them up whenever I see them at a trade show, gourmet shop or when in Europe.
The marzipan is generally sweet, but the dark toffee flavors of the espresso really balance it out and even give it a little bitter edge that pairs well with some of the bitter note of the almonds.
In that big assortment from the Niederegger folks I got to try something new, their liqueur marzipans:
Rum Truffel - this was the most traditional and perhaps the most boring of the set. The reservoir center had a little slab of rum infused chocolate truffle. It was sweeter than the others, but had a nice little kick to it.
Orangen Liqueur is moister than most of the other Niederegger marzipans I’ve had. It’s hard to tell if there was a liquored up center, which was a little darker than the rest of the marzipan, or that was just where the stuff concentrated itself. The scent has a light touch of orange zest to it. The flavor of the marzipan is delicate, the chocolate creamy and only a very thin shell of it to seal in the marzipan and cut the sweetness. The bite of the liquor isn’t intense or harsh, just a light warming. I liked this one quite a bit, and tasted it compared to the classic Orangen piece as well. The liqueur does add a little more zest and less juice flavor to it, and the alcohol’s ability to make me blush probably gives me the impression that it’s said something flattering.
Armagnac Pflaume - is a plum brandy. The idea didn’t really sound that appealing to me, but I know that I’ve enjoyed many of the things that the Japanese have done with plums and confectionery, so I thought I’d give it a chance. This piece has a little ribbon of plum jam of some sort in the center. The flavor is a little like brandied prunes, tangy and with deep cherry and raisin notes. The alcohol was quite distinctive and hit me high in my chest, between my collar bones.
Williams Christ is a Pear William brandy puree in the center of the marzipan. Though it looked rather like the Armagnac one, it definitely tasted distinctly of pear and a little like ripe bananas.
Eier Liqueur - is made with an egg liqueur. This is one of those drinks that I’ve never actually had except in confections (all German) so it’s hard for me to compare it to anything else. It’s like a creamy vanilla pudding center, with a slight rum buzz to it. I liked it, though the idea of egg cream in a candy is a little strange at first, and then I remember my love of nougat and custards.
One of the newer flavors I was really excited to pick up in Germany was their Niederegger Vodka Fig Marzipan. They’re wrapped in bright purple foil and came in a long package like the sticks, but really just a strip of the loaves.
Again, freshness was the key here. The center had a definite grain alcohol blast to it. The figs were well supported by the delicate flavors of the almond paste and the vodka did a good job of helping disperse that flavor throughout.
On the whole, I’m not sure I needed the vodka, just a fig marzipan would be fine with me. And when I say fine, I mean, I wish there were fig marzipans available easily. I might have to make my own.
The last box I bought was called Niederegger Marzipan Weihnachtskofekt and I think I paid 6 Euros for it. It was a combination of three different winter flavors for Christmas. (Remember, I was there in December.)
The box was very simple, as are most of their packages. It was a paperboard box with a metallic gold plastic tray with little sections for each piece of candy. It protected the pieces extremely well (this was early in my trip and had to go on and off the bus every day for nearly 1,000 kilometers plus the flights home). So the inside did well, but the exterior got quite dinged up.
Since it was a seasonal product it was extremely fresh, the centers were soft and moist.
Arabisch-Mocca - toasty flavors of coffee and a little hint of chocolate in the center. The marzipan has more of a toffee and coffee flavor than anything almond. The dark chocolate shell seals it all up and has a nice bittersweet component that also gives it a creamy start.
Dattel-Honig is the only milk chocolate piece of the set. It smells like ripe bananas. In fact, it tastes like ripe bananas. Like actual fermented bananas, with a light alcoholic and tangy note towards the top. The milk chocolate and the dates keep it all rather sweet. I didn’t catch much on the honey side of things.
Ingwer is one of my favorite bars from Niederegger. The little pattie version is a gem as well. The ginger is soft and glace style, the dark chocolate keeps it all from being to sweet or sticky. There’s less chocolate in this version than the bar, and more of an alcoholic bite as well.
I know I have oodles more photos of the store, the cafe and the products I bought. But it’s more of the same. The ingredients are simple and great and I think Niederegger has very high standards for what they’ll produce. They make some other nougat (gianduia) products which I haven’t sampled extensively. They do great marzipan, one of the other marzipans that I’ve ever tried that I truly love, so I’m always eager to try more of those. I’ve noticed that no matter what kind of store I was shopping in, a department store like Kaufhof or a grocery store like Rewe, the prices were always the same. So no sense in going bargain shopping, the trick for me when traveling was finding a store that carried the size and format of the flavors that I liked.
(Disclosure Note: The trip to Germany was sponsored, so I did not pay for my airfare, ground transportation, accommodations or food while I was there. At the factory tours we were given generous samples to consume on site as well as some to bring home. Any reviews of those products will be noted as to that fact. But I also brought a couple hundred Euros with me and spent them liberally and almost exclusively on candy both from the companies we were introduced to as well as many other Germany/European products that I found in my prowlings of grocery stores, department stores and the factory outlets.)
Thursday, April 5, 2012
Though the company is celebrating their 100th year, the Ritter Sport square bar, as we’ve come to know it, is not quite as old as that. The Sport bars were introduced in 1932 ... so in 20 years you can look forward to another centennial.
The bar is a simple one, just milk chocolate with a blend of crushed nuts: almonds, cashews & macadamia nuts.
I picked up my bar in Germany at Kaufhof in December, but they may be available at import shops in North America and airports during the year.
The bar is lovely and really quite tasty. It’s odd, the milk chocolate is sweet and smooth, as usual. The nuts are crunch and plentiful. But the flavor is quite interesting. For a while after munching on the bar I was convinced there was honey in it, it has that same sort of toasted almond and honey flavor that Toblerone has. But there was none in the ingredients, so I can only credit the toasting of the nuts that give it that soft, sweet and nutty flavor.
I would buy this bar regularly. It doesn’t quite dethrone my favorite, the Knusperflakes (Corn Flakes) bar, but it’s terrific in its own right.
When I was at the Ritter Sport factory store I was excited to pick up some of their “not quite ready” test bars. Some of these are out on the market now, or will be later this year. But when I was in the store, they were offering the 100 gram bars in their generic white wrappers for half a Euro.
Ritter Sport Dunkle Pfefferminz is a dark chocolate bar with a peppermint flavored dark chocolate cream center. It also features a dash of alcohol, giving it a creme de menthe sort of blast.
The bar looked great.
The cream center was smooth and had a strong peppermint flavor, but not so strong as to overpower the dark chocolate notes, which were slightly acidic and woodsy. It’s pretty decadent and silky, I didn’t feel the need to eat more than two or three sections at a sitting.
I hope this comes to the United States at some point, it’s a keeper and unlike anything else we have on the market.
One other item I picked up in the back room was a bag of these little bon bons. They were simply called Pfefferminz and in a clear plastic bag. Each individual piece was wrapped in an unmarked aqua wrapper. I have no idea what their purpose was, but the center was not quite the same as the Dunkle bar. They were good, but milk chocolate and a little more fudgy and firm.
The test version of Ritter Sport Kakaosplitter must have gone well, because I saw this one on World in Chocolate as a spring limited edition.
I believe kakaosplitter (kakaokernstuckchen) is the German word for cacao nib. The bar is milk chocolate and features a firm chocolate cream filling studded with crispy cacao nibs.
The bar is quite milky and has a good nutty flavor overall. The nibs are toasted in a way that seems to have caramelized them. So instead of being chewy or dense, they’re quite light and crispy, but with a sort of uneven chocolate flavor, depending on the bite.
I liked the treatment of the nibs, but I didn’t care for the overall sweetness of the bar. It makes me wish I’d found this hazelnut and nib solid bar.
The last bar I picked up looked just like the others on the outside, a generic white with the simple name of Ritter Sport Kokosmakrone. Honestly, I didn’t know what I was picking up because I didn’t know what Kokosmakrone was, I thought it was another cocoa nib confection.
Instead it’s a coconut cream. How fun! Aside from the Mounds and Almond Joy bars, there’s not much in the real coconut realm in candy bars in the United States.
The bar is milk chocolate again with a white cream filling with both toasted coconut and rice flakes for crunch.
It smells an awful lot like coconut, the chocolate is infused with it to the point that the chocolate flavors are lost. I had to sequester the bar in its own ziploc bag before I finished it because I was afraid it was going to make my 100 Jahre bar taste weird. The filling is sweet and milky with a little salty hint. The coconut is more of a flavor than a texture, the crispies add a new dimension of texture that you don’t really get in American coconut candies.
Mostly I like this because it’s not like anything else you can get for less than $2. But, if I want coconut, I’m probably going to go for a Mounds bar.
In all, I love Ritter Sport’s sense of adventure.
The bars are made in a factory that processes a lot of different nuts, soy, dairy and products that may contain gluten. The Ritter Sport company sources much of their cacao from South and Central American and says it’s committed to ethical sourcing.
Monday, April 2, 2012
Gimbal’s Sour Gourmet Jelly Beans were introduced on the heels of Gimbal’s other gourmet panned offerings, their Lovers line of heart shaped jelly candies like Cherry Lovers, Honey Lovers and Sour Lovers.
The jelly bean mix has a gourmet price point, at $4.49 for me at the CVS, but the bag is big and it’s made in the USA.
The mix includes 12 flavors in bold colors.
The beans are absolutely lovely to look at. They’re small and well made, each was quite perfect. The Gimbal’s factory advertises that it’s free of most major allergens, including peanuts, tree nuts, dairy, eggs, gluten, gelatin and soy. As a jelly bean product they’re also fat free and contain no high fructose corn syrup (but I’ve never actually seen a jelly bean made with HFCS). The front of the package says they’re made with real fruit juice, and that’d be apple juice. It also says that it’s a good source of Vitamin C, but that’s only 10% of your RDA in a serving of 37 beans (about 1.4 ounces).
But as much as they tout the freedom from allergens, there are still plenty of other ingredients some folks may avoid, such as artificial flavors and colors.
Most of the beans were opaque, but in the case of beans of similar colors, one was translucent, the other opaque. The structure of the bean is the same as other jelly beans. A jelly center (modified food starch give it its smooth texture) covered in a grainy and flavored shell. In the case of these beans, they jelly center is the sour part, so the sourness goes through and through.
They’re tiny, sized like most other gourmet beans like Jelly Belly.
Sour Lemon was fully formed, a mix of juice and peel but with a more boiled marmalade note than a raw flavor.
Sour Grapefruit was fantastic. There was a lot of zest and that pine-type bitterness along with a biting tang of juice.
Sour Tangerine was sour and juicy but unlike the other two citruses, the zest notes didn’t come out until the very end.
Sour Mango was also orange, but opaque. The flavor was similar to peach, and if I wasn’t told it was mango, I probably would have guessed that. It was soft and tart but had that fuzzy fruit flavor that mangoes and peaches share.
Sour Watermelon was the darker green bean. It was pretty good, it reminded me a lot of Jolly Ranchers in the best way possible.
Sour Apple was kind of difficult for me to like. At first I though it was watermelon, it was just too vague. There was an authentic note of apple to it, but not much else.
Sour Lime was almost a key lime. There was soft vanilla note to it but it really finished sour.
Sour Blueberry was refreshing, it had a good berry note to it, almost a raspberry. I wouldn’t say it was really blueberry, but still quite fun.
Sour Grape is an unusual flavor for jelly beans. I see it a lot in hard candies but not so much in jelly beans or gummis. This grape is much like a Pixy Stix, tart and with that malic acid tangy bite and vague artificial grape flavor of soda.
Sour Strawberry had a great mix of flavors, it really had a nice floral start, like a fluffy wad of cotton candy. Then the flavor developed with strong tartness and finished with strawberry jam.
Sour Pomegranate had a lot of very dark floral berry notes to it. It never quite rang true as pomegranate, but it was still a very good bean, not as sour as the others.
Sour Cherry was well done. The flavor was bold and less medicinal than some I’ve had, with green notes and of course that sour finish that most of the beans had.
Overall, it was a good bunch of beans. Even those that I didn’t really like that much such as cherry or mango were still quite good enough that I just ate them instead of trying to pick them out. It’s hard to tell some beans apart unless you’re someplace well lit, so sort before going to movies if you really don’t want to get a flavor you dislike. I did like this flavor set better than the Jelly Belly sour variety which only has five flavors, but that’s purely personal preference.
The intensity satisfied me quite quickly, without giving me acidic burns on my tongue. The price is a bit high compared to generic beans but less than half of what you’d pay for Jelly Belly. They do pack quite a punch and I’m unlikely to finish this 13 ounce bag before Easter even with daily grazing.
Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Lately as the artisanal, slow and local food movement has taken hold I’ve been seeing more wholesome candy bars coming to the market. It’s an interesting idea, to take the fantastic flavor and texture combinations made famous and delicious by the mass-manufacture candy companies and tweak them with better ingredients.
But what actually makes a candy bar great. After you get past the concept and the basics of the ratios, what sets a good candy bar apart from a great candy bar? Is it the quality of the ingredients? The freshness? Can the ethical repercussions of your purchase effect your enjoyment?
When I found out that Justin Gold of Justin’s Nut Butter was releasing a version of the classic Snickers bar, I figured if anyone was going to top Mars, it might be a guy who knew and loved peanuts. The new line of bars are called, simply, Milk Chocolate Peanut, Dark Chocolate Peanut and Milk Chocolate Almond.
The press release said “Justin’s All-Natural Candy Bars contain 25% less sugar, 50% more protein and 100% more fiber than the leading conventional candy bar, Snickers.” So I was prompted to take a look at what a Snickers actually had in it and what I’d get out of it nutritionally.
Snickers Stats: 2.07 ounces - 57 grams - 280 calories 130 calories from fat
Justin’s All Natural Milk Chocolate Peanut Bar Stats: 2 ounces - 57 grams - 270 calories - 130 calories from fat
So the ingredient list may look longer on Justin’s, but that’s just because they have to qualify so many of those items with organic. A Snickers bar isn’t really made with horrible things (no high fructose corn sweetener, no palm oil, real milk products and real milk chocolate). But a big selling point is that Justin’s attempts to use sustainable ingredients. But don’t go in thinking that there are fewer calories in Justin’s, just because there’s more protein and fiber, the calories are pretty darn close and the fat is identical.
The bars look great. The wrapper’s not bad either; it doesn’t look like some sort of dog-eared hippie candy bar. So no compromises there. The milk chocolate is quite sweet but the whole bar is about the peanuts and peanut butter. The caramel is chewy and has a nice pull to it, the nougat tastes like roasted peanut butter with a little note of salt. I was missing the crunch of big peanuts though. There were some, but not quite the same thing as a Snickers, which seems to have more distinction between the layers.
Still, a very satisfying experience. Sweet, crunchy, salty and toasty with a light creamy chocolate finish. Is it better than a Snickers? It’s hard to say, I’ve been raised on the ratios of the Snickers (just like I had the same problem with Justin’s Peanut Butter Cups not quite arriving at the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup experience).
The package looks remarkably like the Milk Chocolate Peanut Bar, except the small print that says Dark Chocolate and the coloring of the illustration of the bar is a little darker. If I had one piece of advice about this bar it would be to make it easier to tell them apart.
The dark chocolate that Justin’s uses is quite dark, though has a smooth buttery melt and bitter, slightly astringent finish. Part of the time I actually got a green olive note from it. The peanut and caramel and nougat ratios are otherwise the same but seem a bit brighter by the bitter chocolate counterpoint. Of the two bars, I actually preferred the Milk Chocolate, which is a bit unusual for me. The dark chocolate is just too pronounced.
It features an almond butter nougat, caramel with almonds all covered in milk chocolate. The bar, like the others, is two ounces.
All of the bars are gluten free but contain eggs, soy, dairy and either peanuts or almonds plus may have traces of other nuts.
My experience with the Snickers Almond didn’t prepare me for this bar, but it’s quite different. It tastes like almonds. The roasted flavors of almonds, not amaretto, are throughout the bar. The nougat is lightly salted and chewy as is the caramel. The nougat has fantastic toasted flavors of almonds and the caramel holds the whole almonds and almond pieces. So there’s a great deal of crunch here along with the smoother chewy textures. The milk chocolate is silky smooth, sweet and has a strong powdered dairy note to it that ties the whole thing in a bow. Of the three, this one tastes like it beats the original in texture and flavor.
The only production note I had for all of the bars was that they had voids in them. Not huge, but enough in each one that I had to wonder about what might cause them during production and how they could avoid it. The other small issue I saw was that the bottom chocolate coating was thin. On the almond bar it was thin enough that I could see the nougat through it. This can let the nougat dry out and of course messes with the flavor ratios.
On the whole, these are great bars. They don’t taste like there’s a single compromise in there. Though the press release boasted about the improved nutrition, I’d say an extra gram of protein is not why you’d choose these bars. The bars are priced at about twice what you’d pay for Snickers. But for that you get ethically sourced, organic chocolate and other organic ingredients. Some of the other hand made bars are five times the price, so when compared to that, I was pleased. The preference between them without that would come down to personal taste. I think the Snickers are more consistent, but the Justin’s bars are new and I’ve only eaten four (two of the Milk Chocolate Peanut) plus the samples I had at the ExpoWest trade show so all were extremely fresh.
Update 9/17/2012: Either I misread something earlier this year or something change, but the Justin’s Candy Bars do not use fair-trade certified chocolate. The Peanut Butter Cups in both Dark and Milk do, but the Candy Bars do not at this time. I have edited the above review to reflect that information. I apologize if that was confusing to anyone in the interim (but please, always read the packages and/or websites of the candy companies, as they are more likely to have up-to-date information).
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
I was shopping for candy downtown at Jack’s Wholesale Candy and found these brittle disks. They’re made by a local company named Las Trojes which is based in Anaheim. I’m not quite sure what the name means, as troje is a granary or barn but could also be a storehouse.
The packages are quite simple, and do a fantastic job of showing off the product. They’re all extremely simple: a mix of sugar and seeds and/or nuts. They were also very inexpensive, at only $1 each for a two ounce package.Seed brittles are a beguilingly good snack but they’re also a great way to bind together vexing little seeds into something easier to transport and consume.
I picked up all three varieties they had at the store.
The packaging features a thick piece of cellophane folded over the round disk and held in place by the label sticker on the back (or is it the front?).
Las Trojes Pepitoria Mixed Seeds Brittle is quite a gorgeous little find. There are peanuts, sesame seeds, almonds, coconut and pumpkin seeds (pepitas) with only the addition of sugar to hold it all together. There are no added oils or partially hydrogenated fats or gelatins. It’s a vegan snack.
The disk is easy to snap apart for eating. It’s firm and crisp, but if you live in a humid area, they can become a sticky mess quite quickly. I don’t expect these would do well in parts of Texas or Florida for that reason.
The distribution of nuts and seeds is pretty even, I didn’t find parts that seemed to be all one nut, though peanuts were by far the largest bulk. The plank smells quite toasty, with a little note of toasted sesame and perhaps even a bit of burnt nuts. The sugar has a honey note to it but doesn’t add a whole lot of sweetness to the brittle, as there really isn’t much more than is needed to bind everything together. The pepitas, peanuts and sesame seeds have the strongest flavor, I didn’t catch much of a contribution from the almonds or coconut.
Las Trojes Pepitoria Coconut Brittle is a great looking disk. It’s thick and crisp and doesn’t look like anything you’d make at home with store bought coconut flakes. These look fresh and rustic.
The brittle has a little bit more bend to it, probably because the coconut is more fibrous and makes breaking it a little harder. The toasted coconut scent is incredible, the caramel and creamy tropical notes all swirl together. Though there’s a lot of crunch at first, it turns very chewy after that. The toffee flavor of the burnt sugar is great and again, it’s far from being too sweet, though it is the sweetest of the three products.
Las Trojes Pepitoria Pepita Brittle is a great mix of greens and browns, the pumpkin seeds are glossy and toasty. I love pepitas in trail mixes, but I never eat them on their own. It smells like toasted pumpkin seeds, just like you’d expect. The seeds are crunchy and a little grassy tasting. This is the least sweet of the entire set and for the most part it’s about the pumpkin seeds. Though some of the seeds looked a bit burnt, I didn’t get the same sort of bitter toasted note from this that I did with the mixed brittle.
They’re all beautiful and wholesome snacks that barely qualify as candy. That’s not to say that they’re not laden with calories. The Pepita one is the leanest at 260 calories for the 2 ounce portion, but it also has 7 grams of protein and only 16 grams of sugars. The Mixed Brittle is 300 calories but packs 8 grams of protein and only 15 grams of sugar. The fat in there is from the nuts and seeds, which are generally regarded to be better for you than dairy or animal fats ... though still watch the calorie count. The Coconut one comes in as full on candy, even with only two ingredients with 310 calories, 200 of them from fat and only 3 grams of protein.
All the nutrition aside, I find these sorts of snacks more satisfying than many candies. There’s a great mix of textures and flavors, plus they’re really beautiful to look at. I’d definitely pick these up again, but I’d probably try to share them. They work far better when consumed right after opening and of course I find it hard to keep from eating the whole package anyway.
Monday, March 5, 2012
Mars has introduced White Chocolate M&Ms a couple of times in the past, most notably the M&Ms Pirate Pearls tie in with the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.
This new Easter version of M&Ms White Chocolate is a little different in all the right ways.
The first thing is the appropriateness. White Chocolate is inextricably tied to my memories of Easter. The white confection works so well with pastel colors, it’s milky sweetness just embodies the sugary overload of the season.
I picked up this bag at Target, it’s over a half a pound but still a little pricey at $3.19 for the bag at regular price. Though they’re Easter themed, with the Red M&M wearing a furry white rabbit suit on the package, it’s just the colors. There are no little icons on them like M&Ms has done in the past with the holiday versions.
The morsels are larger than regular M&Ms. I’ve come to expect this with the limited edition M&Ms. The Dark Chocolate Mint M&Ms are also oversized and part of me wonders if they’re just using the former Mega M&Ms production line or the M&Ms Premium.
The large size and thick shell means that there are a lot of textures going on, and each gets to shine. The shell is crunchy and crisp. The light coloring means that there’s no perceptible off flavoring from the colors for me. The centers are smooth and creamy. When I say cream, it’s like it’s real dairy cream. Instead of tasting like frosting, these taste more like vanilla pudding. The white chocolate has both a lot of cocoa butter and milk solids in it. Cocoa butter is the second ingredient, so it’s quite light without being overly sweet or greasy.
While I wasn’t blown away by the earlier Pirate Pearls, this larger size and less sweet flavor is really quite good. Granted, you have to like white chocolate in the first place, but for a mass-marketed white chocolate product, Mars has addressed a lot of the confections shortcomings quite well.
The package lists possible allergens as peanuts, almonds and wheat and it’s definitely made with dairy and soy. Mars has not released any information about going fair trade or ethically sourcing their current American cocoa products, though they’re planning release of ethically trade chocolate products in Europe. (More on that here at Change.org.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.