Monday, April 10, 2006
Last year my favorite discovery was Scharffen Berger’s Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs. I think I might be in love all over again with the nibs from sweetriot. For those of you who haven’t been following along, cacao nibs are roasted cocoa beans that are ready to be made into chocolate. Everything that makes chocolate chocolate is inside the bean, the cocoa butter and what becomes cocoa powder. A plain cacao nib is rather sour, kind of grainy and has very little of the buttery crunch we associate with most nuts. It’s more like eating a coffee bean than a peanut. As a solo snack, they’re an acquired taste, but they make a great addition to salads or thrown into muffins or cookies.
Sweetriot sent me this fun little “spring fling” pack, which holds three different little upright tins of chocolate covered cacao nibs - each covered with a different blend of chocolate. 50% cocoa solids, 65% cocoa solids and the masterful 70% cocoa solids (with a hint of coffee).
The little tins are rather small, and to be honest when I first read about these on CandyAddict early this year I thought they were extremely expensive. At $6 each for a tin (regular price), it’s about five times the price of the Scharffen Berger nibs (which I already thought were pricey).
What is especially compelling is the mission of the company and that they’re fair trade (though not certified yet). They’re also Kosher, gluten-free and made with non-genetically modified soy lecithin (also called GMO-free).
What’s also different about these and the Scharffen Berger is that the coating on the nibs is quite a bit thicker. Where the Scharffen Berger nibs were bumpy and craggy, the Sweetriot “peaces” are smooth like little nuggets of tumbled chocolate.
I started with the Flavor 50, and I’m not sure you can make it out in the photo, but they’re more milk-chocolate looking than the rest. They’re actually very sweet and mellow and had a very clean taste to them, that seemed to have more vanilla coming through than most chocolate. Each little tin includes a “fortune” which has a piece of trivia about where the cacao comes from. In this tin it said: “Cacao Country Brazil shares boundaries with every South American country but Chile & Ecuador.”
Next was Flavor 65, which has a very strong acidity and bitterness to it, with notes of cherry and apricot but a very strong scent of rum and cedar shavings. Like a complex wine, these make you want to keep shoveling them into your mouth so you can try to pin down the notes. The trivia snippet here: “The first inhabitants of Cacao Country Peru were nomadic hunter-gatherers who lived in Peruvian caves.”
The last was Flavor 70, a deep rich experience whole. I was expecting them to be as bitter and astringent as Flavor 65, but they were actually more mellow, but equally dark and complex. The coffee note was not overwhelming and this tin was sweeter smelling. There’s a dry finish and the fruity notes blend together without an overpowering single flavor coming through. The chocolate is smooth and of course the nibs provide an interesting nutty crunch. The geography trivia here: “Together, Cacao Countries Ghana, Cote d’Ivorie, Nigeria and Cameroon produce 70% of the world’s cacao.”
By far the balance of chocolate to nibs is better in the Sweetriot over the Scharffen Berger nibs. The only thing I have trouble getting over here is the price. While I support Fair Trade, I also don’t care for overpackaging of items. Yes, they’re cute and the artwork on the tins is certainly original. The only option for purchase here is in the tiny tin, and maybe I just want to buy a pound of them and keep refilling my individual tin. But the company is young and I’m willing to be patient for more options on purchasing. For now they’re fantastic-tasting and hard to beat on that score, but they cost a pretty penny (and when I say penny, I mean that each little morsel is more than a penny!).
If you’re a true chocoholic, now might be the time to give these a try. They’re on sale through April 14th at 25% off on the website. They are sold at a limited number of brick-and-mortar locations, but check their website for the latest updates.
UPDATE: I found them in the wild! I saw them at a health food store in Greenwich Village - and the going price is only $4.99 ... much better than the expected $6.00 (based on their web price). If you think about how much you’re willing to spend for a latte or ice blended whatever (or hot chocolate), it’s really a comparable treat and of course it’s small enough to tuck in a pocket or your bag.
UPDATED UPDATE (12/28/2006): The prices on the website have come down quite a bit, buying a box of 12 means that tins are only $4 each now. The 3 pack flavor set also has a price reduction (the packaging varies by season).
Thursday, April 6, 2006
While on that fateful trip to Pennsylvania in February I picked up some Mallo Cups. How could I not? They’re made right there in Altoona by the Boyer Candy Co. Soon, I will have tasted all the marshmallow cups there are. Boyer is known for cup candies, they also have the Smoothie Peanut Butter Cup, which has a devoted following.
The Mallo Cup is the East Coast version of the Cup-o-Gold which consists of a milk chocolate cup filled with marshmallow (of differing consistencies) and a little coconut on the top.
The coconut smell is quite apparent when raising the cup to the mouth. The chocolate is sweet and very creamy with the coconut bits providing a chewy texture. The marshmallow center is soft and runny, but not too flowing as to make a mess.
Like the Valomilk, the Mallo Cup suffers from some structural integrity issues - in this case the chocolate base is too thin, so I was not able to remove either cup in my package from the paper without leaving some chocolate behind - basically bottoming out. (If you look closely at the photo, which you can click to enlarge, you’ll see that there is no base at all as I wasn’t able to peel it off for the photo. Maybe refrigeration would help.) The marshmallow itself has a nice flavor and consistency - it’s not at all foamy but not viscous or grainy like some others marshmallows. It doesn’t have any perceptible flavor of its own so I came away with more of a chocolate/coconut vibe.
I liked it quite a bit better than the Cup-O-Gold, I liked the sweetness of the chocolate, nutty scent of the coconut and mellow filling and the proportions seem better balanced (the Cup-O-Gold seemed to be too much chocolate and of course was single cup in a package).
The unique selling proposition of the Boyer Candies, though, is the “Play Money Rebate Offer”. The tray in the Mallo Cup package is actually a coupon advertising their rebate program - save up 500 Points and you can get a $1.00 rebate. Each Mallo Cup tray is worth 5 points. Yes, you get a dollar for every 100 Mallo Cups you buy! The points are also good for other merchandise such as candy tins, sweatshirts, mugs and caps. I have no idea how long they’ve been doing this, but the copyright notice on the package says 1983.
Other opinions: Writers/Artists Snacking at Work gave it a 7.5, Candy Wrapper Museum just doesn’t like marshmallow, Taquitos.net thinks it smells like coconut and finally, read about the long road back for the Mallo Cup production line.
Tuesday, April 4, 2006
I’m not an energy drink person and I’m not one to start popping caffeine pills either. So what am I to do when I need a little pick-me-up?
A friend of ours who travels in Italy every year suggested Pocket Coffee! Basically it’s chocolate-covered Italian coffee. Because the sweet coffee center is concentrated, it only takes three chocolates to equal a single shot of espresso. Our friends like to get them for traveling as it’s more portable that hot coffee but has the same side effect. I’ve heard that it’s very popular with students, truck drivers and folks on night shifts.
Ferrero is a well-known Italian chocolate brand even here in the United States, with the elegant little Rochers and Nutella as their best-known products. In fact, I’ve never seen Pocket Coffee anywhere in the US before, but not for lack of trying. They’re not even made in the summer, so as a seasonal item it’s likely that getting one out of season means that it’s no longer fresh. But a no-so-fresh Pocket Coffee is just a different experience.
The candy is composed of a syrupy espresso center, then a light sugar crystal shell and then the chocolate. As the candies age the sugar shell will actually grow, taking sugar from the espresso syrup center to create a bigger shell. The ones I tried were a little old (purchased last fall) so they had the extra crystallized shell.
The coffee center is very sweet but smooth with a slightly acidic bite to it. The crystals provide a kind of funky crunch to it, but melt easily if you’re inclined that way. The chocolate is not too sweet and gives a good creamy boost to the whole mix. On the whole the candy is very sweet, a little too sweet for my tastes, but then again, it’s coffee candy. I’m not saying that I won’t eat it again ... though they are messy. If you’re driving, you’re obligated to pop the whole thing in your mouth but if you’re not, feel free to experiment with biting off a corner and sucking out the coffee first.
Finding them in the states may mean ordering online. They’re still being stocked at Capriflavors.com.
If only Cadbury Creme Eggs had a coffee version!
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
I would be remiss in reviewing Easter candies not to include something a little more upscale. Besides the usual drug-store fare such as Russell Stovers, I found quite a few candies at Whole Foods. I got a wonderful birthday basket of Lake Champlain a couple of months ago and have been nibbling away on it, so I thought I’d check out their seasonal items.
These little impluse buys were in a bucket by the checkout stand. At $.79 each, I was willing to give them a try (I didn’t even know what they were except that they were blue and from Lake Champlain). When I got home and bit into one (I know, brave!) I was pleasantly surprised to find a hazelnut praline. The eggs are actually “half-eggs” and about the size of an egg-shaped walnut and probably weigh a little less than a half an ounce.
In fact, if you were wondering where to get those Caffarel Guanduia chocolates in the States, look no further than these for your domestic equivalent.
The outside is rich milky chocolate and the filling is a soft hazelnut and chocolate mixture. It’s thick and clingy, nutty and buttery. Yum. I can’t eat a lot of these at once (I only bought two, so I’m safe). They’re very rich tasting and utterly filling. One with a cup of coffee is quite a treat.
The Lake Champlain Easter eggs come in a variety of flavors (caramel, raspberry & coconut) that you can order from their website and I’m sure some Whole Foods carry them as well.
There’s no way I can possibly keep up with all the Easter candies, but Joanna over at Sugar Savvy has created a roundup of a lot of dark chocolate Easter eggs.
Thursday, March 9, 2006
Our friend Matt (the one who brought back the Olympics candy) also picked up a great assortment of mass-market candy bars and I’m going to try to sprinkle those into the CandyBlog.net repertoire in the next few weeks.
This Milky Way bar is nothing like any Mars product here in the States. Each little stick is a tube ala Pirouline but instead of being hollow, these have a wonderful buttercream filling. Then the whole thing is dipped in chocolate. They smell sweet and milky, like walking into an ice cream parlor.
The chocolate is very sweet, but smooth, with that European milk taste. The cookie shell is crispy and flaky with lots of micro thin layers. It tastes like a fantastic ice cream cone. The cream center is firm but still soft. It’s buttery smooth without any graininess to the sugar. There was no English ingredients list, but my German and my tongue is good enough to recognize hydrogenated oils.
Again, here’s a tasty little morsel that you just can’t get in the States and sometimes I wonder why. The package is a scant 25 grams, so even though it’s very high in calories per ounce, the package only has 130 total calories for the two fingers (about 150 per ounce, much less than a pure chocolate bar). Even though they look delicate, I got them in perfect condition, unbroken and unsmashed.
Note: Milky Way in Europe is actually what we know of as Three Musketeers in the United States - it’s a fluffy nougat covered in milk chocolate.
Wednesday, March 8, 2006
See’s recently moved into the “candy bar” arena with their Awesome collection. They’re candy bars you can buy singly at their stores or in boxes of eight bars. They’re a buck a piece and prepackaged and a pretty good deal for a premium candy bar (unlike Lake Champlain’s 5 Star line).
See’s packaged an old favorite, peanut brittle into a compact bar and covered it with chocolate. It’s less of a nut brittle and more of a toffee though, in my opinion, but the recipe is absolutey for brittle (baking soda being the operative ingredient).
The bar is a little tiny, at only one ounce, it’s a little less of a candy bar than I’m used to. But the whole peanuts and salty brittle is a really great combination. It tastes really salty, but when I checked the sodium content, it’s not really any different than any other standard nut candy bar like a Reese’s or Snickers. The milk chocolate coating is sweet and smooth. The bar crunches and flakes easily with a slight foamy texture (that’s brittle for you). I liked the bar, but it’s not going to knock the Awesome Nut & Chew bar from that top spot in my mind.
I’m glad See’s created some more portable versions of their best candies. I’m just waiting for a Scotchmallow version in dark chocolate. I read in Los Angeles Magazine that the candy bars were actually created by the workers at the factory, who had been making them with short ends for themselves and as gifts when the corporate folks decided it was a really good idea. I know it sounds odd, but for dieters, these could be a good option. The bars are smaller than standard candy bars (this one is an ounce, the Nut & Chew and Walnut Brittle are 1.5 ounces) so you can feel indulgent without being tempted by a full box of mixed chocolates. I’m a firm believer in giving yourself what you crave, in moderation. Because there are a lot of nuts in all versions they’re very filling (the protein and all).
Friday, February 24, 2006
I’m traveling this week, and when I was at Mitsuwa picking up some things I looked for something to take along that might be considered “traveling Pocky.” I did find some Winter Pocky, which is appropriate because it’s winter here in Pennsylvania. I’m guessing it’s the same as our Limited Editions that Hershey’s and Nestle have been playing around with, they just call it “Seasonal.”
This is a regular milk chocolate Pocky rolled in cocoa. The chocolate seems sweeter than the regular chocolate Pockies and have a slightly more “dairy” flavor to the chocolate than the Men’s or regular Chocolate. It came in four small packets and is a bit more expensive than regular Pocky.
Unlike all the other Pockies I’ve had, this one did not look like the picture on the package. The package made them look textured, but these were just more matte looking and no cocoa came off the sticks (none in the bottom of the little plastic wrapping even). The cocoa adds a nice little bitter and salty hit to the whole thing, which is nice because now that I’ve had Men’s Pocky, I think that regular chocolate Pocky is a little too sweet.
There’s no listing on the ingredients that it contains hydrogenated fish oils, but it does have “shortening” listed on the ingredients, which isn’t prefaced with “vegetable” so it might be in here. It also lists monosodium glutamate.
Tuesday, February 21, 2006
I think it might be marshmallow day here at CandyBlog.net.
Last week I was at the Farmers Market at Third and Fairfax to meet up with some other bloggers and I knew I had to stop at Littlejohn’s Candies because a reader told me they had the best toffee. Of course once I got there my eyes were drawn to these plump caramel kisses - soft caramel drenching a puffy marshmallow. I completely forgot about the toffee.
So, I got two, one in chocolate and one in vanilla. (And a pecan praline which was divine and I ate before I could take a photo of it.) I figured I can always go back for more toffee ... and another pecan praline.
Once I opened the wrapper it was obvious that these caramels were made with lots and lots of butter. They were creamy, very smooth and exceptionally sweet with a slight hit of salt to it. The marshmallow center was smooth and light without being too foamy. The center also wasn’t very sweet, so it gave a nice backdrop to let the caramel dominate the flavor stage. The chocolate caramel wasn’t as tasty to me, there wasn’t enough chocolate to set it apart from the regular caramel and I plan on sticking to the vanilla in the future.
These are messy candies. They stuck to the cellophane wrapper and to my fingers as I held it. They’re too big to put in your mouth all at once (about the size of a squashed golf ball), so eating them posed a challenge. I ended up with sticky fingers. In the future I think I’ll leave them in the cello and scrape them off with my teeth.
Since the Farmers Market and the adjacent Grove shopping center are such a tourist destination in Los Angeles, if you do come to the city be sure to seek this place out for something a little different from the tourist fudge that you find at many places. (Though they certainly have fudge.) It’s a classic, working farmers market and they actually make the candy right there with big plate glass windows so you can learn all of their sugary secrets.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.