Wednesday, January 27, 2016
There’s not much of a description on the package, just that the squares are filled with strawberry filling. The filling appears to be made from sugar, high fructose corn syrup, palm oil and freeze dried strawberries and colored with fruit and vegetable juice (very vague). It also has some added TBHQ as a preservative. There’s no indication of the cacao content of the chocolate itself, but I’d guess it’s somewhere in the low 60% range. Each square is 70 calories.
The squares are elegant and simple. They’re 1.75 inches square and sport the Ghirardelli logo in a beveled field. In my experience the packaging protects the pieces well and they usually look stunningly gorgeous.
If there’s an issue with the filled squares from Ghirardelli is that they temper their chocolate to be very crisp and snappy ... so the filled pieces can be messy to eat when the chocolate breaks apart upon biting and the filling dribbles out. So, make an effort to bite on the diagonal, or pop the whole thing in your mouth at once.
The chocolate is sweet but with a nice dry woodsy note to it, which goes well with the strawberry flavors. The strawberry filling is quite like a finely pureed strawberry sauce. It’s not overly sweet, has a strong tangy note and just a touch of seed flavor to it (and some actual seeds).
Because the edges are so thick and the chocolate in the center is so thin, there’s a large variation in the proportion of filling to chocolate in any given bite.
I liked them quite a bit, it was the best imitation of a chocolate covered strawberry that doesn’t spoil that I think I’ve had. Ghirardelli Strawberry Squares contain soy and milk and may also contain traces of tree nuts. There’s no statement about gluten.
Monday, January 4, 2016
Early last year at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco, I tried a new line of chocolate cups from the confectioners at Vosges. These sets of mini peanut butter cups are from the Wild Ophelia line of chocolates and come in a few varieties. The first one I picked up at the store, when I finally found them last month at Whole Foods are the Wild Ophelia Caramelized Bananas Peanut Butter Cups.
The packages look like a regular twin set of chocolate cups (though they’re actually 2.1 ounces) but inside is actually a try that holds a set of six little cups.
I call them cups, but there’s actually no paper fluting on them, just the cups on a tray inside a wrapper.
The cups are made from 41% cacao milk chocolate, which is from fair trade certified beans (the sugar is also fair trade). The bananas are not the typical Cavendish most of us eat, but a varietal grown on Kauai known as Williams. The bananas are actually caramelized with some cream and sugar and sprinkled on top of the cups. The filling is peanut butter, and as far as I can tell, more chocolate.
They’re almost savory. The milk chocolate has a good dairy flavor without tasting like powdered milk. The melt is smooth and buttery with a little toffee note. Once I bit into the cups the peanut butter is pretty evident as a scent, but the texture of the peanut butter is barely there, it’s quite smooth and mixed in. The banana notes were hard to tease out sometimes, it wasn’t a lot of banana and often just a little fresh caramelized and honey note.
Some cups had more banana bits, and some of the banana bits were a little toothsticky.
I liked the cups better than the bar version that I tired a few years ago. Part of is that I like the format of cups, and the ability to have a teensy but full-featured portion. They’re expensive, but the package holds more than a Justin’s or Theo PB cup, though it’s still more per ounce. I liked the inventive combinations and I welcome more products that play with these formats.
Monday, December 14, 2015
Trader Joe’s often has the most wonderful seasonal confections. They’re often reasonably priced and unique items that are hard to find anywhere else. Many of the items at Trader Joe’s for 2015 are returning from previous years, including their cordials, passport chocolate stacks and Belgian chocolates. The newest item that caught my eye are the Trader Joe’s Chocolate Marbles.
There’s nothing particularly wintery or holiday about them. They’re just chocolate spheres filled with different pralines. There are six varieties, each sphere is then given a mottled color coating to distinguish it from the others. There are ten marbles in the package. It’s just shy of 5 ounces, so each piece is about 4/10 of an ounce. The flavors are: caramel, coconut, praline & almond, and chocolate mousse. The description on the Trader Joe’s website goes like this:
Almond Praline (Green), Hazelnut Praline (Orange), Chocolate Mousse (Blue), Coconut (White), Caramel (Brown), Crispy Cookie (Yellow)
They’re about the same size as a Lindt Lindor Truffle, but really the similarities end there.
The tray is wonderful for protecting the candies, but makes it devilishly hard to get them out, they’re tucked in there and I couldn’t quite grab a single. All I would end up doing is spinning it around in its little cup. However, once out, the slightly bumpy outside means that they’re not as rolly as some spherical chocolates. (Sixlets probably max out the scale at a 10 and these are probably about a 4 - they can sit on a flat surface but anything raked and they will go with gravity.)
The lovely medium blue marble is filled with Chocolate Mousse. The shell is dark chocolate with a milk chocolate filling. The filling is soft and creamy and definitely sweet. It’s light but I wouldn’t call it a mousse. The dark shell was different enough from the filling, but if I wasn’t told what this flavor was, I’m not sure I’d guess it. However, it’s quite different from the Lindor, it’s much more dense in flavor with less of that thin oily feel on the tongue.
The white marble is filled with a chocolate cream with Coconut. This was rather mainstream tasting, very pleasing for my American palette. This was the only one I was able to pick out by scent. The chocolate was sweet and the little crispy coconut bits did make it all pop a lot more than the more delicate praline pieces.
The brown marble is filled with two half domes of Caramel. It tastes like a lot more chocolate on this one, but the caramel holds its own. The caramel is a bit more of the saucy side than chew. The flavor is quite deep, with scorched and burnt sugar notes particularly strong. There were also a lot of milk flavors, more than the other pieces, so that may have been part of the caramel.
I think this was my favorite of the assortment, because it was so different from most American and British caramels. The only drawback I noticed after the third or fourth piece was that the colorful coating was a little waxy and though it seals in the flavors and keeps them from melting if you hold them in your hand for a few minutes ... it’s a shellac and rather tastes like it.
It’s a milk shell with a milk chocolate paste in the center and little cereal or cookie bits. It was a little malty and a little corny… when I say corny, I actually mean it tasted like corn nuts or polenta or something. It was not as sweet as some of the other milk chocolate pieces and definitely different.
Green - Almond Praline has a darker chocolate shell, though I’m not sure if it’s full dark chocolate. It balanced the almond praline pretty well. It’s not marzipan, it’s more of an almond butter mixed with a touch of cocoa and sugar. It’s sticky and satisfying, but doesn’t have a strong jolt of almond flavor.
The orange marble is filled with Hazelnut Praline. This is quite sweet but has a very good roasted hazelnut flavor. The filling is more paste with a definite crystallized sugar grain to it. It doesn’t have the smooth melt of the mousse, so it’s a bit sticky. I thought the milk chocolate shell made it all too sweet, but the lingering toasted nut flavors really kept it from being cloying afterwards.
I think these are a great hostess gift, excellent for using as an accent to a dessert plate of holiday cookies, or tossing in a little dish with some snacks. The price, for the quality and unique appearance, is quite good.
These are made in France, is suspect by the same confectioner that made the Magic Beans. The ingredients look good, all natural things, even natural colorings They contain milk, wheat, hazelnut, almond, soy, coconut. May also contain traces of chestnut, pistachio, walnut and/or eggs.
Monday, December 7, 2015
Target’s newest seasonal edition of M&Ms is a rather nonseasonal but welcome classic: M&Ms Milk Chocolate Cafe Mocha.
They’re far more expensive than regular M&Ms. At Target they were on sale 2 bags for $6, but the regular varieties were larger bags. Milk Chocolate M&Ms come in an 11.4 ounce bags. For Halloween picked up the Pumpkin Spice Latte in a 9.9 ounce bag. The same is true for the returning Peppermint White Chocolate M&Ms, they’re now in an 8 ounce bag.
They’re larger than standard M&Ms, basically puffier. If you eat them carefully by cleaving them in half you can tell that the milk chocolate center is created in two layers. It’s like they took a regular M&M and then gave it another chocolate coating and then a candy shell. I’m not sure why the Limited Edition flavors are all this shape, but they are. It’s interesting to note that the Walmart exclusive flavor of Hot Chocolate M&Ms does have a different center. I have to wonder if this is because the manufacturing process is re-purposed from the failed M&Ms Premiums line from 2008.
The shells are green or red. My bag contained mostly green, it was tough to find reds to populate the photos, they’re less than a third of the package. There’s no actual coffee listed in the ingredients.
They don’t smell like much in the bag, a little less like chocolate but not fully like coffee. The bite is not at all soft, the chocolate is a little chalky and fudgy. The melt gives off a lot of sweetness and a little note of bitterness at first as well as a good whiff of coffee. The chocolate is okay, not great but the bitterness of the coffee notes, the roasted and woodsy aspects kind of cover for the milk flavors. It’s not really a latte flavor, its more of a coffee with milk and cocoa. It might have been fun to see them try this with a dark chocolate, but I’m patient. This is their first try at coffee M&Ms since the Premiums line. (And there will be another version of coffee and peanuts next spring.)
Mars does a great job with their coffee flavors, it’s well rounded without too much of a fake flavor note to it (like some other buttery things they’ve done). I’d love to see these come back as a seasonal tradition, but at all stores. I’ll pick up more bags soon, just in case they don’t.
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
The Lakerol pastille is a simple, soft lozenge made in Sweden. They were first introduced in 1909 as a combination of eucalyptus and menthol in a gum arabic base. The effect is a slightly chewy drop that’s both soothing and takes a long time to dissolve.
Lakerol lozenges are now made by Cloetta, a large Swedish company with a pretty diverse set of confectionery holdings like Kex, Red Band, Malaco (Swedish Fish) and Xilifresh.
I’ve seen the little boxes of Lakerol at import shops, delis and drug stores all my life. They have a very diverse array of flavors, with licorice and black currant as their most popular. I saw this version, which is not sugar free, in Yuzu Citrus at Cost Plus World Market. I’ve had a bit of a hoarse throat since getting over a cold a few weeks ago, so this is exactly the sort of lozenge I like to pick up.
The box holds about 2 dozen little disks, which is only .88 ounces. The pieces are a little larger than shirt buttons with a starburst pattern and the letter A at the center (for Adolf Ahlgren, who started the company). The package says they’re sugar free, they’re made with a combination of maltitol, sorbitol and stevia, but no artificial sweeteners. (The licorice variety contains acesulfame-K, so I’ve avoided Lakerol for many years.)
The texture is firm, but bendable. They have a good citrus flavor with a light note of menthol. The yuzu is a little like a mix of grapefruit and tangerine, and in this case the ingredients list quite a few citruses: grapefruit, orange, sanginello and yuzu. The dissolve is very smooth but it makes a thick, glycerine sort-of-syrupy coating. This is great for a dry throat, and the citrus flavor is fresh without being cloying or too minty (which can burn my sinuses if I’ve taken a decongestant).
They’re pretty nice, the box is small and easy to carry and each little piece lasts for quite a while. I always enjoy these firm gum lozenges, like Grethers Pastilles or Pine Bros around this time of year. I’m glad that Lakerol has some that aren’t artificially sweetened.
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.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.