Friday, October 2, 2015
This nondescript little bag showed up in the Trader Joe’s new products showcase last week. The simple flat bottomed cellophane bag holds tricolor chocolate morsels called Magic Beans. They’re described as chocolate covered nougat beans.
I’ve come to understand that the word nougat really doesn’t mean much as a description. Here in the United States, depending on the initial inspiration of the confection, nougat can be a hazelnut paste, a nut toffee or a whipped sugar, honey and egg bar. In this case, the nougat is a very dark nut brittle.
These Magic Beans come from France, which also makes some stunning whipped egg nougat as well. So, I can see that some folks might be more confused than bewitched by these.
The beans are about the size of Trader Joe’s chocolate covered almonds, though actually kidney bean shaped. They come in three colors, a mottled white, a mottled green and a stand milk chocolate. The coating is a little bumpy on all of them.
Inside the milk chocolate coating is a nugget of almond toffee, or maybe it’s nut brittle, it’s hard to tell from the ingredients label. (They candies may contain traces of hazelnuts, chestnuts, pistachios and walnuts. They’re made with coconut, almonds, milk, soy and wheat.) The nuts themselves are little bits, not whole nuts, and the sugar crust holding them together is very toasted, almost burnt.
The milk chocolate coating is very milky, it has some decent cocoa notes, but for the most part it’s just creamy and sweet. This is a nice counterpoint to the roasted and slightly bitter note of the crunchy center. They reminded me a little bit of the sesame snaps that I pick up at the health food stores.
If you go into these expecting something more like Nutella bites or Charleston Chews, you’re going to be disappointed. These are quite different from other nutty items, so that unique selling proposition is what got me. They’re not magic, but quite enjoyable.
As a side note, I bought something very similar earlier this year in New York City at Eataly. The food mall has an amazing selection of Italian chocolates and sweets, including one of the largest selections of Venchi I think I’ve ever seen outside of Europe.
This is called Venchi Nougatine and are pretty much the same thing as the Trader Joe’s Magic Beans, except they’re made in Italy and covered in 60% dark chocolate. This package of less than 2 ounces was actually the same price as the Magic Beans (7.2 ounces).
Monday, June 1, 2015
Mike and Ike come in a dozen flavor mixes, but every once in a while they put out a variety that is just a single flavor in a box. The new Mike and Ike Root Beer Float is a re-issue of an old flavor that comes back from time to time. Mike and Ike are simple, they’re cheap, they’re a reliable but probably underrated candy.
The box is quaint, though I’m not keen on the “pre-faded” look of packaging meant for food. I want my food to look fresh, at least by design. The other complaint about the box is that there’s a little perforated tab you can push to create a dispensing hole on the side of the box. That hole is on the bottom of the box, right under that Made in the USA logo you see in the lower left corner. There’s no way to close it once you open it. Not a big deal, because Mike and Ike don’t need to be sealed up, unless your environment is particularly humid. However, you can’t stand the box back up like it’s shown here without dumping the candy.
The first thing I noticed is that these are not mousy brown jelly rods. No, these are designed to look like the foamy head on an icy cold Root Beer Float. Well done, Just Born, well done.
The look made me think that these would be more vanilla than root beer, which wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but not quite as appealing. Rest assured, these are Root Beer.
There’s a little tangy note at the top, not quite sour but a little bite. The root beer flavor is pretty good, it has a nice nutmeg note with a little wintergreen and vanilla. The vanilla isn’t strong enough to give me an ice cream vibe, but a mix of both vanilla bean and root beer Mike and Ike might have been a fun idea to play with too.
I liked that the colorings were minimal and didn’t influence the flavors in the slightest. The medicinal note of the root beer did get a little odd after eating what was probably more than a single portion ... it does tend to taste pretty much like wintergreen after a while.
I enjoyed them fully. I like root beer, often soda flavored candies are mixed together and I have to pick through the cherry cola and Dr. Pepper flavors to get to the root beer. So it’s nice to have a box that is exactly the flavor I wanted. Since they make Hot Tamales as a single flavor, I don’t see why they can’t just keep these as a permanent item.
Thursday, April 23, 2015
There’s a strange new genre of candy, which I can only call the” nuggets of dark berry flavored jelly candy covered in dark chocolate.” It started with Brookside Chocolate, which made several versions with combinations like Blueberry & Acai or Goji & Raspberry and the trendy Pomegranate. The candy went over so well that Hershey’s bought the company, even though they never bothered to name the candy. Trader Joe’s at least called its version Powerberries, which is probably the best name they’ve had so far. Since then other companies have come along with their versions, like Brach’s and Target’s house brand Simply Balanced.
I found this new Aldi version in the earlier this month. They at least have a real name: Choceur Dark Chocolate Covered Superberries Pomegranate. There was also a blueberry acai version on the shelves, in a blue package. At $2.99 for a 7 ounce package, they were certainly better priced that most other candies of this kind.
The style of the candy is an intensely flavored jelly center is covered with chocolate. The early marketing for these candies capitalized on the idea that berries and chocolate were have lots of antioxidants in them. Though certainly not healthy, the idea was that there was at least some value to eating this indulgence.
These particular candies diverge quite a bit from that original mission. The chocolate isn’t particularly dark (though there’s no mention of the percentages) and the “pomegranate juice drop” centers are actually made from corn syrup, sugar, corn starch and then a concentrated blend of pear and pomegranate juice, malic acid and some natural flavors.
The pieces are big and quite attractive. They’re about 3/4 of an inch across and the rounded dome pieces are about 1/2 inch high.
The curious thing about them is that they’re definitely gumdrop style, except that the center is intensely flavored. They’re floral and tangy and do actually have a little note of honey and pear to them. The texture is very smooth, though a little tough. The dissolve of the centers, though, was wonderfully smooth with the bright flavor consistent throughout as the chocolate disappeared faster than the jelly.
The chocolate was okay, it was a little sweet for this type of candy, but smooth and had a well rounded flavor that was mostly overshadowed by the tartness of the fruit.
The centers are uncolored, and actually quite translucent if you take all the chocolate off. So, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that there’s not much in the way of antioxidants here. It’s just good tasting candy.
As long as we admit we’ve left the world of health food, there’s no reason the flavors can’t be expanded to include citrus or raspberry.
Superberries are made in the USA. They contain soy and milk and may have traces of peanuts, tree nuts, wheat and eggs.
Monday, March 30, 2015
While in London last year, I picked up quite a few chocolate bars. One brand that I noticed had good distribution and prices, was Willie’s Cacao. The company direct sources their cocoa beans and manufacturers their chocolate in England. For a small company they make a wide array of chocolate products, like the bars I picked up in single origin varieties like Madagascar, Peru, Indonesia and two different sourcings from Venezuela. In addition they also have a line of single origin cocoas, chocolate pearls and bars with flavors and inclusions.
I picked up the Venezuela Gold Las Trincheras 72% at Waitrose. The package is two little 40 gram bars that are wrapped separately for £2.99, or about $4.50. A lot of other single origin bars are priced at twice that, so it was a gamble that this was going to be passable stuff. The box is quite elegant, dark brown with orange, creamy yellow and gold foiled lettering. The package states that the single estate cacao comes from Hacienda Las Trincheras in northern Venezuela.
The flavor profile is described as smooth nutty notes, which is exactly why I like Venezuelan origin cacao.
The box helpfully gave me both the bar’s origin date and the best by date. It was produced in November 2013 and good until May 2015. I ate one of the bars after I returned from my trip last year, and saved the other in my climate controlled chocolate fridge until last month.
The bars are lovely, the mold, which says Willie’s Delectable Cacao gives the otherwise ordinary 2.75 inch square a bit more flair. The tempering is very nice, there’s a good snap to the bar and no bubbles or voids. The color is a little on the red side of dark brown.
The melt is easy but not too quick. The ingredients are very simple, no emulsifiers. Just cacao, raw cane sugar and cocoa butter. There’s a little dryness early on, and some bright fruit notes. The overwhelming flavor I get is not nutty but raisins. I usually associate strong raisin flavors with Peruvian chocolate. There are some other notes of rosemary, roses and plums, but I didn’t catch more than a fleeting cashew note. It’s a bit bitter at times as well, but not so much that it distracted from the other flavors, just enough to keep it from getting too sweet.
For the price, I think they’re very well done bars, and I appreciate the packaging style that allows me to actually eat some now and really save some for later, as I did here. However, I didn’t love this particular bar enough that I would import it. I am interested enough in the brand that I would pick it up again, especially some of the other origins.
Monday, March 23, 2015
Peet’s is another chain here in the West that I go to a bit more often. I was pleased to see their Easter themed items when I was there last week and picked up two bags, since I had a few co-workers with me and they were curious to try them.
The most beautiful of their assortment was the Peet’s Caramel Robin Eggs. They’re pastel blue with some small flecks. The bag was $5.95 for 7 ounces, expensive but not much worse than an extravagant drink.
I believe that these are made by Marich, also a California company. They also make an all natural version of these that are sold at Whole Foods as Quail Eggs.
The construction is simple: a soft caramel core is coated in chocolate and then given a beautiful matte shell. The shape is like a chocolate covered almond.
They’re just lovely to look at and have a great cool finish on them. If I dissolve them, the matte outside gives way to a slick and cool sugar shell. But I’m mostly a cruncher and found that the shell had a good texture that gave the right balance of crunch and not too much extra sweetness. The inner chocolate was interesting because it had a smoky, coffee flavor to it. The caramel center is chewy but not tacky at all. The flavor was a lot like toffee or maple, which went really well with the chocolate.
They’re just excellent, I couldn’t have enjoyed them more.
As I was ordering my cappuccino I noticed these. I recognized the Robin Eggs and realized these were Marich. This color reminded me of the Curry Cashews I had at the Fancy Food Show, which used real white chocolate, not some weird oily confectionery coating. From the name, Peet’s Citrus Shortbread Bites, they sounded like they might be good.
Like the Robin Eggs, they were also $5.95 for the bag. The bag is simple, the top is sealed but then has a twist tie featuring the little fabric ribbon bow. So, it can be resealed after you’ve taken a handful out.
The lemon flavored white chocolate is made with plenty of cocoa butter and whole milk. The melt is at first a little tentative, because of the confectioners glaze, but then it does give way very nicely to a soft, citrusy flavor. There’s actually a little pop of tartness in there from time time as well. The cookie center is crunchy and less like a shortbread and almost like a biscotti, it’s very firm and not as dense as a shortbread usually is.
They’re quite refreshing and go really well with cup of tea ... not so much with coffee. I would buy these again. I liked the chunky nuggets and unusual flavor combination for a candy but also the fact that it still used decadent ingredients like real butter in the cookie and cocoa butter in the white chocolate.
Thursday, March 12, 2015
Easter is the best candy season. The qualities that make a good holiday candy are hard to pin down, but most of us know it when we see it. One quality that’s unique to Easter is the morselization of treats. Part of Easter is the presentation of candy within a basket. Sure, you can put packaged candy in there, but it sure is appealing when the Easter grass sports read-to-eat morsels. The jelly bean is a perfect example of this, since they started as spice drops but eventually someone gave them a more durable shell so that you can put them out in a candy dish.
I bring this up because today’s candy is a great version of a year-round candy getting a unique holiday treatment. Koppers Chocolate Easter Spring Milk Chocolate Marshmallow Eggs come in a box, but you can easily dump them out into a bowl or nestle them in a basket.
The candy construction is simple, though actually rather unique. It’s a small marshmallow at the center, a thick milk chocolate shell and a thin pastel glaze on top.
These have been around for a few years, I first had them in 2011 and posted a photo. That version was a robin’s egg version with a little thicker shell, but otherwise the same.
The box was on the expensive side at $7.99 for 6.5 ounces. It’s a flat, clear box that holds a single layer of the candies. They come in a variety of pastel colors with speckles: green, white, pink and yellow.
They’re ridiculously sweet, which is not ordinarily an appealing element. But at Easter, all bets are off. I go for white chocolate, I eat the super sweet things and I always give the marshmallow items a try.
The sugar shell is extremely light, so much that it doesn’t really give any crunch to the confection. The marshmallow core is soft and foamy and every once in a while I catch a little bit of vanilla from it. For the most part the morsels are just a lot of milk chocolate. The milk chocolate has a good dairy component to it and a very sweet, cool to the tongue effect. It melts readily but doesn’t have a very strong cocoa note, more like a hot cocoa morsel (with the marshmallow) than an intense milk chocolate.
This kind of candy, of course, could be done for other holiday and year-round treating occasions. It seems that there are other opportunities to mix them up as well with, perhaps, a flavored marshmallow (mint, perhaps) and different colored shells, dark chocolate ... even change the shape a bit.
Tuesday, February 24, 2015
Honey Acres in Wisconsin has been keeping bees since 1852. They sell a variety of honeys as well as some very specific honey-based products. I picked up these samples from the Fancy Food Show last month.
One of the lines Honey Acres makes are honey patties which feature an unsweetened chocolate coating around a creamed honey center. This may sound familiar, as I’ve reviewed the Trader Joe’s Mint Honey Patties before. Honey Acres actually makes three varieties of honey patties: the traditional mint, orange and chocolate.
The creamed honey is just honey, that’s been carefully recrystallized in a way that makes it milky looking, spreadable and thick, instead of clear and viscous. There are no additional ingredients, no dairy associated with the creaming process.
The most intriguing of their three patties is the Honey Kissed Dark Chocolate Cocoa. There are two ingredients: chocolate and honey. It’s a little more complicated than that. The chocolate shell is unsweetened chocolate and then the center is honey creamed with unsweetened chocolate.
The pattie comes in a matte gold foil. Snapped in half, the center is a golden brown, set off nicely by they very crisply tempered chocolate.
It’s a very strong chocolate product. The honey melts at a different rate from the chocolate on the outside, so it’s an uneven mix of the honey flavors, the sweetness, the creaminess and then the bitter pop of the chocolate. It’s quite rich and the recommended serving of 3 pieces is very filling. I enjoyed eating them in different ways, sometimes nibbling the chocolate edges so that I had more of a honey proportion for a big bite of the center. Mostly I bit in half and let it all melt together.
Ultimately, I think I prefer a little flavor with it, the chocolate in the honey center did little more than just make the honey less pronounced.
The Honey Kissed Dark Chocolate Orange patty uses Valencia orange extract in the center instead of the peppermint oil for flavoring. This is an interesting combination, because I think that the citrus flavors go far better with honey than peppermint. The oily beeswax feeling on the tongue is cut but the vibrant orange oil. The bitterness of the unsweetened chocolate really shines through all this, with lots more woodsy notes than I noticed when combined with mint.
The calorie count on the website for Honey Acres listed them as about 11 grams a piece and only 110 calories per 3 piece serving. I don’t think that’s quite right, because it works out to less than 100 calories per ounce, which is not possible for a candy that’s also half fat. So, I’d prefer to go with the accounting for the Trader Joe’s which says 140 calories for 3 patties.
Tuesday, February 17, 2015
The most standout among their confections, for me, is their Money on Honey Wildflower Honey Caramels. They’re a square caramel patty covered in Guittard dark chocolate and sprinkled with fleur de sel. But the big thing to note is that the caramel part is made with California wildflower honey and no corn syrup. So the center is just sugar, honey, cream and butter.
They’re made in a gluten free facility with non-gmo ingredients and are Kosher.
I picked up this box of four half-ounce or so caramels at Lolli & Pops. It’s a bit pricey for 2.4 ounces at $8.25.
There’s a lot of packaging. There’s a tray where the caramels sit in fluted cups, which is then inside a box, which is then covered with a sleeve.
Each little piece, though, is quite perfect looking.
They smell of chocolate, with perhaps a floral note of the heavy beeswax scent.
The caramel itself has a good chew, a gentle pull but is stiff enough to hold itself together with the chocolate. The chocolate is bittersweet, not terribly dark or bitter, more on the fruity and woodsy side of things. The caramel has a long lasting chew with a sort of oily nature to it towards the end that honey can impart. The honey flavors are strong and deep, with notes of malt and beeswax.
The sea salt on the top is concentrated kind of at the center, it could be a little better distributed across the surface. It does provide a nice counterpoint to the sweetness of the chocolate and caramel. But generally the chocolate caramel is not that sweet at all. Honey is sweet, for sure, but not as sweet as plain old sugar, it just has a longer ring to it, a longer finish that has a sort of malt and jasmine tea aftertaste to it.
I would definitely buy these again, but probably only for a special occasion because of the price. If there were a smaller single serving size of just one or two caramel, I think I’d be more inclined to indulge.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.