Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Poco Dolce is a small confectioner based in San Francisco known mostly for their lovely toffee tiles (really, take a look). A few years ago they started making specialty chocolate bars as well.
The one I picked up in San Francisco was one I was particularly looking forward to. It’s simply called Hazelnut Bar made with bittersweet chocolate. The ingredients are exceptionally simple, chocolate, hazelnut butter and sea salt. Since it’s a dark chocolate, it’s also vegan (though processed where it may have come in contact with milk proteins, other tree nuts or peanuts and there’s no statement about the sourcing of the sugar).
Poco Dolce sources their chocolate from nearby Guittard Chocolate Company, choosing from their Rainforest Alliance certified chocolate. The hazelnut butter comes from Oregon.
The bar is not that large, though the box makes it seem like it would be close to one of those 3 ounce tablets. Instead this one is 1.763 ounces ... or what I’d consider a very generous single portion.
The dark bar is nicely tempered and the smooth hazelnut butter is well integrated. The texture is smooth, no hint of hazelnut bits but a strong hazelnut flavor. The bar is bitter, but in a roasted way. The melt is good, though a little firmer than a regular dark bar at first, but has a lighter feel on the tongue than a straight chocolate. It’s lightly sweet and lightly salty, deeply chocolatey and nutty. It’s also exceptionally filling. About two pieces were a great pick me up. So while the bar was expensive and small, I felt like it lasted a long time.
One of my complaints about hazelnut paste (gianduia) as I’ve gotten older is that it’s too sticky and too sweet. This bar has none of those issues, yet still remains decadent.
Monday, July 9, 2012
During the holidays they do a few just marshmallow pieces, like a large marshmallow heart for Valentine’s. But I’ve found that they’re not the same honey flavor or the same dense texture.
I picked up their new box of See’s Milk and Dark Marshmallow. At the moment they’re sold in the single format, there are six marshmallows in the box, three of the milk chocolate covered variety and three of the dark chocolate covered.
They’re the same size and shape as the Scotchmallow, but instead of a single twirl of chocolate on top, these have three rows of chocolate swirls. Each piece is about 60 calories, so a pair might make a good treat yet still pretty spare on the calorie side.
The first is the Milk Chocolate Marshmallow. The chocolate is a pleasant, rich chocolate color. The Guittard-made chocolate is good, it’s smooth and has a strong dairy and deep roasted cocoa flavor to it.
The marshmallow is bouncy and dense. It’s hard to photograph because it looks like a solid white mass, but it’s actually filled with tiny, tiny bubbles, instead of big ones. The marshmallow is smooth, it has no starchy or chalky flavor like the extruded ones for toasting. The vanilla flavors are subtle and there’s a light note of honey, but it’s very mild.
I’ve usually shied away from the milk chocolate version of the Scotchmallow, but in this case the simple balance of the sweet milk chocolate and the frothy marshmallow is well done.
The Dark Chocolate covered Marshmallow starts off a little, well, underwhelming. It looks great, it’s glossy and because I bought these in a box, they weren’t all scuffed up like the stuff I pick out at the store that they toss in a bag.
But it smells a little, well, sweet and kind of fake.
After cracking the chocolate shell though, that changes. The real vanilla notes come out right away. They’re thick and like dark rum. The honey notes comes to the front, like a floral syrup in my nose. The chocolate is not overwhelmingly dark, but it has enough bitter notes that play against the sweetness of the honey and vanilla. The vanilla is soft and cushy, like the marshmallow texture. The chocolate has a dry finish that’s swept away by the thick honey.
I love the play of this. Mostly I liked eating the sides of chocolate off, and having a more marshmallow and less chocolate. I look forward to seeing these in the candy case so I can just get one or two of them.
One of my favorite of the boxed pieces is the Scotchmallow. It’s a layered piece, a base of chewy caramel then a layer of fluffy yet dense honey marshmallow, all covered in dark chocolate. They’ve even started selling them in “quick to go” packages in the store of half pound bags. I’ve always loved See’s caramel, as it was the first commercial caramel I found that reminded me of my grandmother’s homemade. But for this piece it’s the honey flavors of the marshmallow that really sell it.
See’s chocolate are made on shared equipment that may contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts. It also contains milk, eggs, soy and gelatin.
Monday, June 25, 2012
Candy coated chocolates are so simple, yet so many folks find many of the commercial ingredients objectionable. It seems like it would be easy to make a good chocolate lentil with all natural, wholesome ingredient. Yet, here we are in 2012, and I can’t say that I like any of the alternatives to M&Ms very much.
You can imagine that I greeted the new UNREAL candy line with a bit of trepidation and suspicion. After all, if it could be done, why isn’t it done? (Try Sundrops.)
The UNREAL line uses all natural ingredients, specifically no artificial colors, no preservatives, no GMOs and no hydrogenated oils. The two elements that are interest in the instance of M&Ms would be artificial colors (which can make some colors taste bad to some consumers and have been linked with hyperactivity and other sensitivities with some kids) and genetically modified organism.
Part of what irritates me is their positioning of this candy on their website. They compare the candy to M&Ms and to a fresh peach. The listing of qualities below the specs for #41 Candy Coated Chocolates is:
Okay, that’s great. But to be fair, M&Ms do not have any partially hydrogenated oils and no preservatives. And a peach also has none of those (though I’d say that somewhere out there, there are GMO peaches, I don’t think they’re commercial at this time.) The comparisons are also a little skewed by the portion sizes. M&Ms are sold in bags of 1.69 ounces (47.9 grams) and UNREAL #41 are 1.5 ounces (42 grams). So the grid is not converted to a one to one comparison.
The little candies are pretty, and I appreciate that they don’t look as unnatural as I ofter regard M&Ms to be (the blue and red ones, especially). However, the colors are a little on the dark and morose side. Honestly, I don’t know why they have to be so dark, why couldn’t it just be a touch of color, instead of some sort of thick slathering of turmeric extract?
The lentils are slightly smaller than M&Ms but consistent for the most part and well made. The package protects them, they weren’t crushed or cracked.
The flavor is interesting and far different from the wide appeal of M&Ms. They’re creamy and smooth, the melt is great and only slightly sticky. The crunchy shell is crisp and has a great dissolve, depending on your eating style. But the chocolate is where these little lentils are completely different from M&Ms or any other chocolate candy lentils.
The chocolate is smoky, rather dark and has a toffee and charcoal note from both the cocoa and milk. I get a lot of bitterness from it, something I noticed in the peanut butter cups, but it was well moderated by the peanut butter center. Here, it’s just the chocolate and the candy shell. I didn’t care for the intensity, however, I recognize that not all people detect bitterness in the same way. So some folks may find these delightful, I found they required a little more effort on my part to appreciate.
Rating: 7 out of 10
The UNREAL #54 Candy Coated Chocolates with Peanuts have a consistent package with the rest of the UNREAL line, this one with a neon or highlighter green and yellow logo and little candies scattered across the front of the package.
This packet also holds 1.5 ounces with the same sticker price as the non-natural M&Ms which are 1.74 ounces.
I’ve often found that Peanut M&Ms, though good, are not my favorite when given a choice. In this case, I preferred the UNREAL #54 to the UNREAL #41. The nuts were fresh, big and not roasted too dark. The bitterness of the chocolate was still there, but moderated by the savory characteristics of the peanuts.
A curious item on the nutrition panel says that the Peanut variety has 45% of your daily value of Calcium and the Milk Chocolate one has 50% of your daily value. The full ingredients list shows that it’s not the milk that’s contributing that (M&Ms have about 4% of your DV), it’s Calcium Carbonate. (No source is given for that, is it oyster shell? Egg shells? Bone meal?) Full ingredients:
So, it still has that inulin stuff in it that I remarked about in the #77 Peanut Butter Cup review. It’s basically a nice, clean candy that has some nutritional fortification. Personally, I’d prefer just clean candy and let me get my nutrition elsewhere.
Rating: 8 out of 10
I like the line. I’m annoyed at the marketing and lack of true information (but they’re new and I’m still waiting for a response to my email on Saturday). But the candy is good, they’re on the right track and I’m excited about it. It would be fun to see where they go with it, if they create a few candies that are vegan as well, or at least dairy free.
UPDATE 9/17/2012: After many months and more than a half a dozen attempts to get answers from UNREAL, I did get a reply. Here is what I can tell you:
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Milka is an old German chocolate candy brand that dates back to 1901. The Milka brand fell under Suchard, a popular chocolate bar maker which also made powdered cocoa. The bar was their milk chocolate and named by combining the German words milch (milk) and kakao (cocoa). The earliest chocolate bars sported the lavender wrapper that is still one of the distinguishing marks of their branding.
Milka is now owned by multinational conglomerate Kraft, which also makes Toblerone, Marabou, Cadbury, Cote d’Or, Freia and here in the United States, Baker’s Chocolate. Milka bars are known for their high milk content, soft and sweet melt and favoring of hazelnuts.
They’re far more available in the United States in the past 5 years than I think any other time in history. I’ve been seeing Milka products reliably at discounters like Target. This particular Milka Chopped Hazelnut bar was purchased at the 99 Cent Only Store. For only a buck, for a 3.5 ounce bar. Not a bad deal.
Now I must state that Milka is not chocolate by current American definitions, because it contains additional dairy whey. But the coolest additive they use is hazelnut paste, which more than makes up for it.
The bar is soft and extremely sweet. The only thing that moderates that sweetness are the crushed hazelnuts. They’re well distributed though I’d probably want more of them (but I understand that this is a bargain bar). The nuts are fresh and crunchy. The dairy flavors are on the toffee and toasted sugar side, instead of tasting like powdered milk Cadbury sometimes can.
Overall, this is one of the more satisfying bars I’ve had from Milka. I prefer the use of palpable nuts in addition to the hazelnut paste and of course the price can’t be beat. Though Kraft and Milka may have sustainability and ethical sourcing plans, they’re not noted on the package or their website.
I’m a fan of good quality white chocolate. I like cocoa butter a lot and this bar does use the real thing. Again, the only reason it’s not considered true white chocolate in the United States is the use of additional dairy whey.
The bar is nicely sized and the little domed pieces are easy to break off.
In the world of white chocolate, this is probably the best deal you’re going to find for a dollar that doesn’t include other fats besides cocoa butter and milk products. The use of whey doesn’t actually bother me that much. I understand it’s a filler but it allows things like chocolate to maintain their texture without becoming overly fatty or too sweet.Of course I would only endorse it for “candy” type applications, not fine chocolates.
It’s a sweet bar, but not very complex. It’s a bit grainy and fudgy, not a lot of vanilla flavors and the even the fresh dairy taste isn’t that distinctive. I found this wasn’t very interesting eaten plain, but went well with other candy. It’s best with a good chocolate cookie (like an Oreo) or a salty item like nuts or pretzels. (Even tortilla chips.)
While in Germany last December I also picked up a few other Milka items, because of their novelty. One of them was this box of Milka Schoko Drops. I know I’ll probably never see these again, which is too bad because they’re certainly a distinctive product. I think they were about one Euro but the little box only has 25 grams (.88 ounces). It’s a rather different price point for a brand that’s usually dirt cheap.
The pieces are large, almost the size of a quarter in diameter and a beautiful purple or pearly white.
The center is Milka’s hazelnut milk chocolate, the outer layer is white chocolate and then a crunchy shell. The box didn’t hold much, but I didn’t need much. I liked them quite a bit. They’re not better than M&Ms, just different. BTW - why doesn’t Mars make Hazelnut M&Ms?
My favorite of the European Milka Bars was this one I picked up at a Kaufland grocery store (on a big sale display that I think was .59 Euro, or about 80 cents American) in Schmalkalden, Germany. It’s the Milka und Oreo which is a natural combination, since Kraft owns both brands.
If there was a disappointment with this bar, it was the use of that cream in the center instead of just more Oreo Cookies. The cream was okay, more on the yogurt side, though less sweet than the actual filling of Oreos. But without the filling, I suppose there’s nothing to distinguish it from regular Chocolate & Cookies bars.
I would buy this again, though I’m not sure if they’re sold in the United States.
I was pretty excited to see these Milka L’il Stars bags at the 99 Cent Only Store on a more recent visit. The reignited my interest in Milka, and spurred me to dig out these photos from earlier this year and finish this write up.
Again, for only a dollar, it’s a great deal for a chocolate hazelnut product. Think of them as giant, shell-less Crispy M&Ms.
The Milka L’il Stars Crispees look completely different than anything else on the American market and fill that hole I often have for a cereal and chocolate combination. The bag is a decent deal for a buck, it holds 3.88 ounces of little spheres of wheat crisps covered in Milka chocolate coating.
The pieces are a bit rugged and uneven. The good part about that is that they don’t roll around as well as a Malted Milk Ball would.
The crispy center is airy and light. It’s a little crunchier and less honeycomb/foamy than a malted milk ball. The flavor is also delicate and cereal-like. It’s a rice puff, made with rice malt and malted barley syrup. It’s not very malty, not like a malted milk, but has the hints like Corn Flakes do.
Of course there’s gluten in there and hazelnuts, dairy and soy. They’re made in Slovakia.
They’re just single, whole roasted hazelnuts covered in the Milka chocolate which has hazelnut paste in it.
This bag (also made in Slovakia) also has 3.88 ounces in it, though not as much volume as the Crispees because of the density of the nuts.
They’re crazily simple, but really well done. The nuts are well chosen, good quality and lightly roasted. The coating is soft and sweet, a little on the fudgy side but the dairy flavors come out more than I noticed them in the bar. The roasted hazelnuts are crunchy and satisfying.
Since chocolate covered hazelnuts are so hard to find, I can see myself picking these up again, especially if I wanted to combine them with the Crispees and some other savory items for a little bit of trail mix to create the perfect movie snack.
The touch of hazelnut paste in Milka products distinguished them from other dairy milk chocolate products like Cadbury. Though it’s not great quality chocolate, it is satisfying candy.
Monday, June 4, 2012
One of my favorite candies, especially lately, has been Hot Tamales. They’re incredibly simple, basically just spicy cinnamon jelly rods. They’re cheap and easy to find. I have been buying the five pound bags at places like Smart & Final and at Jack’s Wholesale Candy in downtown Los Angeles. They look great in a candy jar and are an excellent pick-me up in the middle of the day or during long car trips.
Just Born, makers of Hot Tamales, recently introduced a new twist to their standard box. It’s called Hot Tamales 3 Alarm and as you might imagine, has three different spice levels inside:
The Hot level is orange. It’s mild but still a good mix of spicy and sweet.
The Hotter level is red. It’s warming but it’s just in the shell and dissipates pretty quickly. The flavor is well rounded, the woodsy bark flavors of cassia (sometimes sold as cinnamon but with a slightly more floral note to it), the sweetness of the bark and then the burn. There’s some throat tingling, but pretty much the normal Hot Tamale experience.
The Hottest level is maroon. It’s hard to tell these apart from the Hotter level sometimes, unless they’re side by side. But make no mistake, there’s a difference in flavor. The hotness is obvious. It’s more than just cinnamon hot, I could swear there’s some sort of capsaicin (hot peppers) in there. It burned my throat quite a bit. If I ate it with another level of hotness, I could take it, but otherwise I found it unpleasant.
I like the Hot Tamales Fire and I like the Hot Tamales classic. But I’m not so keen on this Hottest level in Hot Tamales 3 Alarm and find the Hot level a little too tame. Seems like Just Born got it right the first time, so that’s what I’ll stick with. This is fun, but nothing that will become a go-to candy for me.
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
My weaknesses are cream filled wafers, peanut butter and dark chocolate. (Well, I have more weaknesses than that.) So it’s only natural that I picked up Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Wafer Cookies last weekend.
The package promises that they’d be Crunchy, Creamy, Salty, Sweet!
The gusseted bag is rather small, but predicts 8 full servings, if each serving is only four pieces. Not so easy. These are also calorie bombs, if I believe the Trader Joe’s Nutrition Facts label. It shows that that serving of four pieces is 26 grams (.92 ounces) and clock in at 160 calories. That’s 174 calories per ounce. I’m not sure that’s possible when the third ingredient is flour. But there you have it, one of the most calorie dense products I’ve ever reviewed.
The pieces are pretty small, a little shy of a quarter of an ounce each and a little under one inch square and half an inch high. They don’t smell like much, I expected roasted peanut scent when I opened the package. I liked that, I liked that the dark chocolate must have sealed it all in.
The dark chocolate is quite dark but has a good, immediate melt. It’s a little on the bitter side but has strong woody and charcoal flavors. The wafers are pretty thick, much thicker and airier than I expected. Their flavor is mild, but has a light malt note to it. The cream between the wafers is part peanut butter with a little milk or coconut oil to make it smoother. The texture combination is fantastic. The size of each piece makes it easy to cleave the layers apart with my teeth, or just eat it whole. (Eating it in two pieces can be messy, as some of the chocolate may fall off.)
I found them filling, but not heavy like some peanut butter products can be. Each element was well balanced. The chocolate filled its role without overwhelming the peanut butter flavors, the peanut butter wasn’t so thick and sticky and the wafers were light and airy without getting gummy or tacky.
Really what I wish they had was a better name that didn’t use 9 words.
The pieces are great for sharing and munching as a snack. (Though be careful of that calorie count.) They look good in a small bowl, but I’d wager it’d be empty pretty soon. I would buy these again and would love to see them in other varieties.
There’s no notice on the package or Trader Joe’s website about the origin or ethical sourcing of the chocolate and other ingredients. It’s all natural with no preservatives. Contains soy, wheat, milk and peanuts.
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
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.