Tuesday, September 30, 2014
At first I wasn’t sure what these were. The back of the package says real dried cranberries! covered in rich Ghirardelli chocolate!. But the front says that it’s infused with raspberry juice and a touch of freeze-dried cherries.. A quick peek at the ingredients doesn’t show anything else, except that the cranberries have some sunflower oil in them (makes them more pliable). At first I thought they were like the Brookside fruit things, a little jelly center with some dried cranberries thrown in, but instead they’re actually dried cranberries with some other fruits thrown in.
The Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate Cranberry are packaged like the Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Cashews I also picked up at the same time, expect this package is pink instead of light blue. The stand up gusset bag reseals after opening with a zip lock, which is common in these morselized treats these days.
The ingredients and other packaging don’t say how dark the chocolate is, they call it semi-sweet and it has dairy fats in it. I’d guess somewhere around 55-60% cacao.
They smell very fruity, like cooking jam or a baking pie. It’s alluring ... and they are darling little morsels. The sizes are irregular, but each is wonderfully panned with a glossy shine.
The bite is soft, softer than I would expect from a piece of dried fruit. The cranberries are plump (I guess plumped with the other fruit additions and a touch of tapioca syrup). It’s immediately tangy and with that light tannic bitterness that cranberries have. The chocolate is smooth, though not quite silky, it offsets the fruit very well and brings its own dry finish.
I found these very satisfying and preferred the texture of the centers to regular raisins or dried cranberries which can be grainy or overly chewy. Though there’s a lot less fat in here than many chocolate treats, with only 120 calories per ounce, that means there’s also more sugars, though some are obviously from the fruit and not as readily available. There’s also 2 grams of fiber, 10% of your vitamin C and 8% of your RDA of iron.
Thursday, September 18, 2014
One of the fun things about candy is that it makes a great gift. But it’s not terribly special to grab some pick-a-mix at the local candy shop and drop the twist-tie plastic bag on someone’s lap and consider it a present. Churchill’s Confectionery recognizes that half and sticks their candy in decorative tins.
The company offered to send me a sample of their line. I’ve actually had Churchill’s before, I have a little red London bus tin that doubles as a bank on my desk at work. So when they offered, I thought it would be good to have some fresh candy to try.
They sent two tins, one was this classic looking embossed Carousel tin that holds English Toffees and Vanilla Fudge and another tin that held three trays of biscuits (cookies). I don’t review cookies ... but I did eat them. The tin holds 14 ounces, which is separated into two 7 ounce bags of candy. So it’s not quite the lush look of a tin full of candy until you dump the cellophane bags into it, but they do stay fresh.
I’ve never quite understood fudge, and this version does little to help me out. Fudge is basically a mixture of sugar and butter ... though modern versions use more advanced ingredients. Many candies have the same ingredients; it’s the texture of fudge that differentiates it from caramel or toffee. Fudge has a slight grain to it, on purpose, which is reintroduced by carefully heating it to a precise temperature and then allowing it to cool partially before stirring. Stirring too soon will make the sugar crystals too large and not stirring enough just makes the texture incomplete. (More in this excellent and slightly technical explanation.)
The great thing about fudge is that it’s a wonderful blank slate for so many other flavors, including chocolate or pecan penuche. As this is Vanilla, it’s actually a blank slate. You can see that the ingredients are decent enough. The pieces are well formed and the color is of a camel-colored coat. Churchill’s has mastered the smooth texture style of fudge (I actually like mine a little grainy). It smells sweet and buttery but has no browned sugar notes (And has no brown sugar ingredients, either.)
The pieces are nice little rectangles, wrapped in silver mylar. This vanilla fudge is extremely sweet with only a slight note of actual vanilla bean. A little note of the woodsy bourbon would be nice, or some deeper toasted sugar notes would have pleased me. Overall, this is too sweet. And coming from a person who actually eats sugar lumps from time to time, that’s saying a lot.
I could really only eat these with a very strong cup of coffee or some salted nuts. They’re just too sweet straight.
Rating: 6 out of 10
One of the oddities in the confection world is how the same candy is called different things in different places. What’s even more vexing is when the new word means something else completely. Take toffee. In the United States we know toffee as a hard, crunchy, caramel brittle. But in the United Kingdom, for the most part, toffee is actually what we call caramel. However, I didn’t need anyone to tell me what this was ... I know a caramel when I see one.
They’re nice rounded pieces wrapped in gold mylar, with a soft milky scent. They’re about the size of Coffee Nips, and if Coffee Nips were chewable, that’s what they’d be like. They’re extremely smooth. The chew is stiff but not sticky or tough. The flavor is a bit salty with burnt sugar notes. It dissolves away to nothing with very little left stuck to my teeth.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Both recipes include milk and soy ingredients and may contain traces of nuts. The glucose syrup is also from wheat, so I don’t think it’s gluten free.
There are a wide variety of tin designs available from Churchill’s. They’re very traditional but do feature a few classic tourist items (like the double decker red bus). I don’t think it’s something I’d buy for myself, but with the right contents and design, I could see them as a good quality hostess gift or thank you item.
Monday, June 30, 2014
Though most of the confectioners I was searching for in London were chocolate related, I knew I needed to pick up a package of Percy Pig Soft Gums from Marks & Spencer. It wasn’t hard to find them, as it was hard to walk more than three blocks in central London and not run across one of their food stops.
They’re described as Soft gums made with fruit juice. Made without artificial colors or flavorings. Though they call them gums, they’re actually gummis, as in, they’re made with gelatin. The texture is a hybrid between marshmallow and gummi.
Marks and Spencer came up with the idea for Percy Pig in conjunction with one of their contract manufacturers, Katjes, in Germany. Marks & Spencer wanted something fruity and foamy. The look of the candy was based off of the existing Tappsy panda-faced licorice line from Katjes.
The color is definitely close to what I’d call pig skin pink. It’s a light color that’s more like putty than actual artificial pink common in most candies here in the United States. The scent is rather berry-like, a little floral with a tangy sort of yogurt note.
The texture is soft and easy to bite, they’re not too tacky or stiff. The flavor is much more intense than the similar Haribo foamy gummis I’ve had over the years. They’re wonderfully well done, good tartness, good jammy berry flavors (strawberry and raspberry). The ears are a little more tart and less creamy (marshmallowy) than the face.
It’s a great product and I can see why Brits are so fond of them. There are plenty of similar products on the market now, but for a long time they really occupied a niche that was not well served by the existing candies available. I would love more flavor variations, but since I know that Katjes makes them, they have lots of other yogurt gums and other foamy gummi candies in their repertoire ... some also in amazingly cute shapes.
For some more history on Percy Pig, you can read up at this feature article on The Independent.
Monday, June 23, 2014
Target has a variety of house brands on their shelves right now, though not that many in the candy aisle any longer. I did spot this new variety of little fruity chocolate morsels and picked up Simply Balanced Mixed Berry Fruit Juice Pieces Covered in Dark Chocolate. I don’t actually know what these are supposed to be called, since that sounds more like a description than a name. The brand called Simply Balanced is also new to me, the package says that its goodness guarantee takes the guesswork out of eating well.
As far as I can tell, a Canadian confectioner called Brookside invented the concept of a little antioxidant-themed jelly morsel covered in dark chocolate back in late 2010. They grew quickly enough that Hershey’s decided to purchase the company and of course knock-off versions have emerged over the intervening years. This version from Target has some interesting elements to it.
They’re made with Rainforest Alliance certified cacao from Ecuador. Though it’s nice dark chocolate, it’s only 60%. The package also calls them fruit juice pieces, similar to the language used by Brookside for their jelly thingies. In reality they’re jellies. They’re made from glucose, water, fruit juice from concentrate, citric acid, pectin and corn starch. So, it’s less fruit juice and mostly sugar. Honestly, I would mind something called dark chocolate covered fruit jellies (those already exist, and they’re usually raspberry or orange flavored and usually sticks). But this new genre of candy is trying to paint itself with the fine qualities of antioxidant rich berries, when the reality is they’re made from not just blueberry, pomegranate and cranberry juice, but also apple and lemon.
As much as I may make fun of their marketing materials, it is a list of ingredients that I could put together in my kitchen (though the end product wouldn’t look as nice). The pieces are large, like Peanut M&Ms instead of the smaller pieces from Brookside. The coats are not quite as smooth, a little dinged up, I think, from getting jostled around. But still shiny.
They smell a little fruity, with some woodsy notes of chocolate. The bite is pretty soft, the jelly center is springy and dissolves quickly. Some had a small hint of grainy sugar to them, but most were smooth. The chocolate is creamy and has a good, quick melt and soft bite. The fruity centers were tangy with a strong blueberry and cranberry flavor to them. There’s a light bitter note towards the end that reminded me of cranberries.
The pieces are easy to eat and a nice change from nut and chocolate combinations. They’re not innovative, but nicely done. The ingredients are pretty clean and the use of Rainforest Alliance cacao and labeling it as being made with non-GMO ingredients is a nice touch.
The candies contain soy and are made in a facility that also processes milk, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and eggs. (Too bad, it would be nice if these were at least free of some of the major allergens.) They’re kind of expensive at $3.59 for only 7 ounces, but comparable to the Trader Joe’s, Brookside and Brach’s versions price wise, but I actually prefer them.
Monday, June 2, 2014
Back in January Target introduced Dove Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Promises for Valentine’s Day. Instead of an actual gianduia product,which would combine hazelnut paste with chocolate, these were just dark chocolate with a hazelnut flavoring.
Dove hasn’t abandoned the idea to Valentine’s Day, instead they’ve released the new Target-Exclusive flavor: Dove Hazelnut Crisp Dark Chocolate Promises. The curious difference here is not actual hazelnut pieces, but little crispy bits.
The bits are made from tapioca starch and rice flour, so for those who avoid wheat, these might seem like a good option (sadly the full allergen disclosure says that they’re made on shared equipment with wheat, so those with extreme sensitivities should be aware).
The flavor of the Promises doesn’t disappoint. The chocolate is soft to bite, quick to melt and has a very dense, brownie batter flavor to it. There are a lot of toasted and woodsy notes to the chocolate and a light sort of chalky dryness towards the end, even though it’s exceptionally fatty.
The cookie bits are interesting, they remind me of the sort of Oreo-like bits found in the Cookies & Cream type chocolate confections. It’s a little sandy, very crunchy but less cereal-like than a corn flake bit or crisped rice.
The addition of the texture is successful. It’s just the sort of boost these needed to make me eat them one after another. It would be ideal if they actually were gluten free, since celiacs have been denied the wonders of cookies and cream for far too long.
A previous Target-exclusive flavor was Sea Salt Caramel, which is now widely available.
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
This innovative new product innovatively reduced the size of a regular York Peppermint Pattie to the diameter of a penny. Hershey’s previously used this innovative innovation to shrink the size of their Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, KitKat and Rolo. It’s a stunning development in the world of confections ... duplicated only by the recent innovations by Mars (with their Bites format of Snickers, Milky Way, Simply Caramel, 3 Musketeers and Twix) and Wrigley’s (Starburst Minis). The morselization world is actually quite busy and crowded.
It’s not Hershey’s fault that they were declared innovative (well, they probably entered the product in that category). The point is that there is an new, unwrapped version of York Peppermint Patties.
The package is simple, though it’s King Size bag holding 2.5 ounces, it was still listed as 1 portion on the nutrition panel and had no front of package tally of the calories and serving. Even though it’s a massive amount of candy, because it’s almost all sugar, it’s pretty low in calories: 260.
The pieces are really just tiny peppermint patties, a fraction of the size of the small snack sized versions, which are the preferred size for me. In the case of these, the ratios are particularly nice, as there’s just slightly more consistent distribution of chocolate in each bite ... because each piece is a bite. The chocolate is quite bitter, and though it’s not particularly creamy, it sets off the sweet and soft fondant well.
It’s not innovative, but it is successful. The texture difference from Junior Mints is notable. Junior Mints have a runnier center, a thicker chocolate shell and a light waxy glaze that keeps it from melting right away.
Like the other sizes of York Peppermint Patties, the Minis are made in Mexico. There is no notation on the traceability of the cacao for the coating. York Peppermint Patties contain egg whites, soy and milk. There’s nothing on the package about gluten or nuts/peanuts, but the AskHershey.com website specifically says that York Minis are not gluten free.
Thursday, April 17, 2014
One of the most popular luxury chocolate brands is Valrhona, which is made in France. Though you may not know the name or the label, chances are you’ve had their chocolate because they’re used so widely in the pastry and confectionery trade. Though I rarely buy their bars, I am fond of their feves, which are little oblong chocolate disks which are great for baking or simply eating.
Since it’s Easter, I thought I’d review one of the iconic confections of the season: White Chocolate. Valrhona introduced a new white chocolate bar last year called Valrhona Blond Dulcey 32%. It’s like a dark white chocolate, if such a thing could exist. It’s 32% cocoa butter, which is more cocoa butter than some chocolates have for all of their combined cacao content. The next ingredient by percentage (32%) is then whole milk (in the form of whole milk powder, skim milk powder, butter and whey), then there’s sugar and some vanilla, soy lecithin and salt.
If you think that sounds rich, it is. That’s 50% of your saturated fat in half a bar. When I calculated the calories per ounce, it came out to 195 (that can’t possibly be right). But it’s also 3 grams of protein and a full 15% of your daily RDA of calcium.
The bar is thick, which is nice considering that it’s only 2.46 ounces, smaller than the usual 3.5 or 3 ounce tablet that I’ve become accustomed to as a premium bar. The diagonals score the bar well enough that it can easily be broken into these irregular but perfect bite-sized pieces.
The color is just what you see here, a butterscotch color instead of the creamy yellow-white or most cocoa butter confections. The literature about the Blond Dulcey makes note of the biscuit flavors along with a touch of apricot. They’re not wrong, it does have a rich cereal note to it, along with some toffee and maybe a light hint of lemon.
The bar has a good melt, though I admit that it’s a little fudgy at the start. I’d say that’s more from the milk solids than any sugar-grain. It’s lightly salty at first, there’s over 100 mg of salt. It is like a digestive biscuit flavor, just lightly toasted, sweet but not so much that it hurt my throat. There was no slick or greasy coating in my mouth afterwards as many white confections made with tropical oils can leave.The vanilla note is overpowered by the sort of toffee and burnt sugar flavors, though I would have enjoyed some bourbon or tobacco in there.
I found my bar when I was in London, though they do sell them in the United States. It was about $8, which it’s pretty steep for a smallish bar like this. I’ll probably stick with the Green & Blacks or the Ritter Sport if I can find it.
This may be one of those white chocolate bars that converts people who don’t like white chocolate. Or just something for those who do like white chocolate to munch on. It’s a lot more satisfying than many other white bars that I eat, I didn’t feel the need to eat the whole thing. That may be a function of the high protein content as well.
Monday, April 7, 2014
They’re 3.5 ounces and priced competitively with other premium chocolate bars. Equal Exchange (I reviewed some Easter items on Friday) is a cooperative using fair trade standards to create a whole store filled with chocolate, coffee, tea and other goods.
This bar features organic freeze dried raspberries in organic and fair trade dark chocolate. The cacao is sourced from fair trade cooperatives in The Dominican Republic, Panama, Ecuador and Peru with sugar from Paraguay and vanilla from Madagascar. There’s no soy lecithin and it’s considered gluten free though it may contain traces of milk, hazelnuts, cashews and coconut. Equal Exchange makes their chocolate in Switzerland.
The bar is wrapped simply, in thin foil and then a thicker paper overwrap (the inside had all the sourcing details about the bar).
The bar is glossy and attractive, with some bumps on the bottom from the raspberry bits. The molding is good as is the temper, it’s very consistent and I noticed no voids or swirling in any of the bars (which can happen with inclusions). It smells rich, though barely sweet. Like cherries, coffee and honey. Once snapped in half though, the raspberry scent, with its floral notes becomes much more noticeable. The chocolate is sweet on the tongue and has a good, cool melt with a creamy texture. The raspberry bits are crunchy and tangy, though the seeds in the center can be a bit tougher.
It’s a very easy to eat bar, with a lot more acidic tang than most other 60% bars. I don’t care much for the grassy, woody note of the seeds, but that’s berries for you.
The Equal Exchange Organic Lemon Ginger Chocolate with Black Pepper is 55% cacao, so it’s the lightest chocolate intensity of the bunch. The package gives the identical sourcing info for the major ingredients but doesn’t say where the lemon, ginger and black pepper is from, though they’re all organic.
It’s nice to see lemon used with chocolate, it’s not as common as orange, but can still combine well, especially with dark chocolate. The addition of ginger and black pepper makes this the most unconventional flavor in the Equal Exchange line. This package looked the same on the outside as the other bars, but instead of a foil inner liner, it’s in some sort of compostable mylar. I also noticed that the nutritional panel listed this one at only 200 calories a portion, not 230 ...which actually sounds more plausible. (But calorie calculations are fraught with error, as the basis for it is over 100 years old, so really they’re just a guide.)
Though the bar contains no milk, it doesn’t look like a particularly dark chocolate bar. It smells woodsy and fresh, with a little note of rosemary and cedar.
The melt of the dark chocolate is very smooth, but I did start to detect a bit of sugar grain ... this was from the crystallized ginger in the bar. The lemon is a bit strong, rather astringent at first, but it dissipates. The chocolate is mild, woodsy and of course creamy. The ginger and black pepper hit come in slowly as a hint of warmth in the throat. The sugar from the crystallized ginger rather disguised the ginger kick at first, then it came forward.
It’s a satisfying bar.
The final bar is the Equal Exchange Organic Dark Chocolate with Coconut 60%. Like the Raspberry bar, this one has a thin silver foil wrapping.
It is also 60% cacao content and contains only one additional ingredient to the chocolate, the organic coconut flakes.
This bar reminded me most of Passover, which I’ve often thought of as Macaroon Season, as coconut macaroons (often dipped in chocolate) are a typical treat since they can be made without only coconut, chocolate, egg whites and sugar to follow the Kosher for Passover rules.
The bar has a lot of coconut in it, and the silky chocolate goes well with it. There are cherry and raisin notes to go with the more tropical scent of the coconut and hints of the Madagascar vanilla bean.
The exciting development this year for Equal Exchange is their new designation of their dark chocolates as Kosher for Passover. Equal Exchange chocolates that are marked pareve (the 3.5 oz or 100 g line and dark chocolate minis) may be purchased before Passover and consumed on Passover according to Rabbi Aaron Alexander, Associate Dean, Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University. The specific bars from Equal Exchange that qualify for this designation are: Organic Chocolate Espresso Bean Bar, Organic Dark Chocolate with Almonds Bar, Organic Ecuador Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Mint with a Delicate Crunch Bar, Organic Orange Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Panama Extra Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Very Dark Chocolate Bar, Organic Lemon Ginger with Black Pepper, Organic Dark Chocolate Minis.
It’s interesting that before this, there were no certified fair trade chocolates that were designated Kosher for Passover. Which is odd, because Passover is all about the commemoration of Jewish liberation from slavery in Egypt. The best news is that these are tasty and come in a pretty wide variety of flavor options.
CNN has been covering modern day slavery, including in the cocoa trade in a series of articles, segments and documentaries.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.