Thursday, December 15, 2005
Name: Bits ‘n Fits and Bits ‘n Mints
I got a wondeful package last week from a reader, Michal, in Israel. (I sent her some stuff too, but sadly it has not arrived yet.) It was a huge box of all sorts of goodies that will take me about a month to savor properly (and photograph & review, fear not!).
The first grouping I have is from Hachez, which is a German chocolate company that’s been around since 1880. These (except for the dark chocolate one) are from their Cocoa de Maracaibo line. It’s an exceptionally rich milk chocolate that boasts 55% cacao from Venezuela. In the States the government says that you only need to have 10% cocoa solids to call your concoction Milk Chocolate. In Europe that standard is at least 25% cocoa solids. Even most semi-sweet chocolates don’t have 55% cocoa solids in them!
The most amazingly cool things are their “Bits” tins. The tin shape might be a bit familiar to some folks as it seems to be identical to those that hold “Hint Mints” that can be found at places like Cost Plus World Market and coffee shops everwhere. The neat thing about the Hint Mints is that the curved tin makes it easy to keep in a pocket. You don’t really wanna do that with a tin full of chocolate. But it’s a really elegant way to be social with your chocolate when you pull one of these out and offer a little chocolate nibble to a friend or someone you want to impress.
The dense milk chocolate for the Bits ‘n Mints is a little different. I wouldn’t call it waxy, but it doesn’t yield immediately. It sits on the tongue as it warms than then suddenly melts into a consistent puddle. It’s probably because there’s less fat in it than I’m used to in a milk chocolate. It takes a moment for it to come to body temperature, then it’s very smooth. I mean, really smooth. It’s literally like butter with a wonderful rich chocolate taste (very little milk taste to it) and a good cooling mint essence.
The Bits ‘n Fits are unlike anything else I’ve had before and pure little pebbles of delight. The outside is the same milk chocolate but the center is a mix of amazing roasted flavors. Inside is what I can only call a hazelnut toffee with a huge boost of coffee flavor. A warning though, the package says that not only does it have 1% espresso powder, it also contains 1% guarana, which is a cousin of caffeine except more expensive. I don’t know what that makes the “speed” content of this candy but at a little more than 1 ounce, you probably can’t go too wrong. They’re sweet and have a combination of textures that makes me wish they sold them around here.
Name: Longs - Cocoa de Maracaibo Classic & Espresso and Cocoa d’Arriba Orange
Cocoa de Maracaibo Classic - like the Bits ‘n Mints, this bar was incredibly buttery without being oily. The first ingredient for Hachez’s milk chocolate is not sugar, not butter and not milk solids, it’s Cocoa Butter. My favorite butter! The milk solids come in at 18% so there’s very little room for sugar in there. The milk flavors are much more evident in this bar than the Mints or the Espresso bar below. The milky flavor is very European like a much smoother, refined version of a Cadbury.
Cocoa de Maracaibo Espresso - similarly smooth and slick tasting, this bar has an intense burst of espresso flavor. Actually, don’t think of it as flavor as in something that comes out of a bottle, it tastes like freshly ground coffee smells.
Cocoa d’Arriba Orange - This particular Longs falls under the Cocoa d’Arriba line, which is 77% cacao chocolate from Ecuador. The bar smells like a combination of orange rinds and dark cocoa. With all the cocoa solids in this bar, there’s very little room for sugar. The bar is certainly chocolate with a substantial bitter bite but no real acidity or dryness that some bars have. It has woodsy flavors and of course the intense orange essence. I really liked this bar but probably couldn’t eat as much of it as I could with the Cocoa de Maracaibo bars.
I’ve seen some of the Hachez product in stores before and I hope they make a bigger run at the American market. I think this Cocoa de Maracaibo is unlike most other mid-density chocolate available right now. It’s rich without being too dense and retains all the wonderful qualities of the cocoa butter that so many high-end chocolate seem to sacrafice for that high cacao percentage.
I also have to commend Hachez for their website. Though it doesn’t break out info on all their products individually, they do have an English version and the photography and additional pages are really wonderful.
Ratings: Bits ‘n Mints and Bits ‘n Fits - 9 out of 10
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Name: Roseberry, Lavender and Xocolatl
I know it seems strange that I got this on the same trip as the dismal SunDrops, but it’s true. I tried the Dagoba Chai bar last spring and really enjoyed it. That was a milk chocolate bar and I was very interested in the more botanical and spice flavored bars, but alas, Whole Foods does not seem to carry them. So, the trip to Wild Oats was most fortunate in the end. All the bars contain 59% cocoa mass chocolate. It’s extra smooth and very buttery. The chocolate itself isn’t too sweet and is a nice backdrop for the flavor additions.
Roseberry - Dark Chocolate, Raspberries & Rosehips. 59% cocoa mass chocolate. This was not one of the bars I was most interested in, but the concept of rosehips was rather intriguing. I used to try to eat rose hips when I was a kid because I’d heard they were good for you. Though they didn’t really taste very good. This bar has a wonderful fruity and flowery aroma. The raspberries provide a dash of zesty flavor. However, I found the raspberry seeds incredibly annoying. They’re big and when chewing or dissolving such a smooth bar, a big seed was a rather unpleasant finding.
Lavender - Dark Chocolate, Lavender & Blueberries. 59% cocoa mass chocolate. I’ve heard of a few lavender infused chocolates and even tried the New Tree Tranquility bar (which was milk chocolate) and still believed that there would be a better lavender chocolate bar out there. Well, this might be it. I was a little leary of the blueberries in the mix as I thought maybe they’d give the chocolate too much of a fruit punch flavor. Of the three I tried, this was by far my favorite. Where the Roseberry has gritty things in it, this bar is smooth through and through, with little chewy bits of blueberries. The lavender gives the bar a soft essence, a lingering top note that doesn’t overpower the smokey and woodsy flavors of the chocolate itself. Not sticky sweet or cloying, it’s just an incredibly pleasant bar with a good, slightly dry finish.
Xocalatl - dark chocolate, chilies & nibs. 74% cocoa mass chocolate. The darkest of the three bars, this one was much more chocolatey. Not quite as buttery, it still melted quickly and had a very nice flowery note at first, like orange blossoms. That quickly gives way to a peppery heat that sizzles on the tongue as the buttery chocolate melts away and brings out some very woodsy, earthy tones. The finish is slightly dry with some lingering plum notes and of course the warm burn in the throat. The most interesting part of this bar is that it contains no cinnamon. Most of the other “spicy” chocolate bars I’ve tried have cinnamon (and sometimes cloves) in them. What’s cool about this one is that it’s all New World spices (okay, maybe that’s not true ... seems there’s some nutmeg in there).
I am completely in love with Dagoba now and I want to try everything of theirs. However, at $2.79 for a 2 ounce bar, it’s freaking pricey stuff and I don’t plan on buying much of it anytime soon. I’m curious about their single origin line and there are still about 20 bars that I haven’t tried yet. Maybe I’ll splurge via mailorder on one of their tasting kits except for the fact that it’s more expensive on their website than in stores. Sigh. I need a corporate sponsor.
Rating - 9 out of 10
Tuesday, November 8, 2005
Name: Ritter Sport Bars
I did a review of the teensy variety pack of Ritter Sport a few weeks ago, and it just so happens that Robin’s been helping me get more international sweets by having her writers traveling abroad pick up some candy for me to review. I have another half a dozen bars from this care package, so you can look forward to some other sweets picked up in Eastern Europe.
When I was taking the photos the first time around (above is my second stab at documenting these), the Rum Trauben Nuts (Rum, Raisins & Hazelnuts) smelled so incredibly good I all but two squares before realizing I had to take another picture.
Unlike other “rum flavored” chocolates, this is really rummy. If my German skills are good enough, I can tell you that this candy bar contains 2% Jamaika-Rum. The milk chocolate isn’t too sweet and the raisins are plump and tart. Combined with the ample crunch of the hazelnuts, I’m in love with this bar. I’m afraid that it’s not imported to the states, as I’ve never seen it before or maybe it is but I doubt it actually has that much rum in it when exported.
The Cappuccino is rather similar to the Jogurt bar. The filling is creamy and has a slight tinge of mocha to it, but also has a slight sour bite to it. Maybe think of it as a cappuccino cheesecake flavor. It’s pleasant, but doesn’t make me yearn for it like the Rum Trauben Nuss.
I like the Ritter Bars, they remind me a lot of Hershey’s. Every one of them has been dependably sweet and smooth, but not as complex as I’d want from a more high-end bar. But then again, this is candy and that’s what I want. Here’s their motto from their website, “Ritter Sport. Square. Handy. Good.”
Rating - Rum Trauben Nuss - 9 out of 10
Friday, November 4, 2005
Everyone’s talking about Choxie. Probably half of you reading this right now are here because of a Google search for Choxie. Under a huge marketing blitz, Target is running national commercials that feature go-go dancers extolling “Cha-cha-cha Choxie. Chocolate with Moxie!” They’re having free tastings this weekend (Sunday, November 6th from 1-5 PM at all locations).
A couple of weeks ago my husband picked up some new candy at Trader Joe’s called “Slate of Bliss.” Very cool, I thought. Then I went to Target and saw the SAME thing under their Choxie label called simply “Thin.” As Trader Joe’s is well known for their repackaging of food under its own label, it doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. The Choxie is $2.50 a package, the Trader Joe’s is $1.99 ... a 20% savings. The biggest question is who makes the candy for both Target and Trader Joe’s? Actually, the biggest question is ... is it any good?
Since the packaging is identical (a clear cellophane inner wrapper and a matte cardboard box) and the sizes (2.5 ounces) and flavors are similar (Trader Joe’s carries only two flavors, both are included in the Choxie line, but Target has added selection on top of that) I’m going to treat them all the same.
Slate of Bliss - Espresso and Milk Chocolate: I’m not sure why I’m starting with this one, because I was most disappointed with it. The milk chocolate base is sweet (32% cocoa solids) and has that European milk chocolate taste. On top are crushed Arabica espresso beans. The beans are crunchy and of course taste like coffee. They’re not bitter, but definitely have a lingering taste to them and oodles of caffeine. 7 out of 10.
Choxie - Toffee Ginger Thin: I’m a ginger nut, and I love toffee too, so I had high hopes for this. I was a little leery of the milk chocolate base though from the description, as I thought the sweet toffee and crystallized ginger would be set off better by semi-sweet chocolate. The label does not say how much cocoa solids are in the chocolate, and it’s definitely a different chocolate blend than the espresso Slate of Bliss. The milk chocolate is not as dairy smooth, but very sweet and lacks a chocolate punch. The toffee is nice, but I didn’t think there were enough bits on it and the ginger chunks were few and far between (when breaking the whole thing into 8 pieces, two ended up without ginger). 7 out of 10.
Slate of Bliss - Cacao Nibs and Dark Chocolate: I’ve had a few premium bars this year that have cacao nibs in them, and I really enjoy them. They’re like nuts, only chocolate! This bar has a wonderful cocoa aroma to it. Smoky and roasted with a slightly fruity fragrance. The chocolate here is only 54% cocoa solids, but instead of being overly sweet, it has a wonderful creamy cocoa butter melt. The chocolate is smooth with no hints of grainyness and the nibs give it a punch to highlight the nice apricot and cherry notes to the chocolate. 9 out of 10.
Choxie - Peppermint Marbled Crunch Thin: The sassiest of all the packages, this one is exactly what you’d expect from looking at it. A rich semi-sweet chocolate with a little marbling of white chocolate on top and some crushed peppermint candies. There’s no indication of the cocoa solids on this one, but with Sugar as the first ingredient of the chocolate, I suspect it’s less than 50%. The chocolate is slightly more astringent than the chocolate in the Slate of Bliss Cacao Nib one, but the light bitter/dry finish helps to buoy the lighter note of the mint. Though the bar smells mostly minty, it’s definitely chocolatey on the tongue. 9 out of 10.
Now, there’s been some talk in the comments section of this blog about BruCo being one of the company’s that’s making Choxie (I suspect that Choxie is made by several different candy manufacturers to Target’s standards). I don’t know BruCo well enough to comment on that. The two BruCo bars I’ve tried were not at all similar to anything that I’ve seen as part of the Choxie line. I’ve also heard that Vosges is making some of the candy (specifically the chocolate bars and some of the truffles - especially since the flavor of Vosges’ Red Fire Bar is similar to the Choxie Hot Chocolate Bar), but again, I have no confirmation on that. No matter who makes the stuff and my opinions on the flavor combinations, it’s all good quality with fresh and real ingredients.
UPDATE (11/15/05): I got an email from a very helpful reader that pointed me to Veritas Chocolatier who makes something called True Flats which looks EXACTLY like the Trader Joe’s Slate of Bliss packaging shape and of course the flavors.
Monday, October 31, 2005
I’ve mentioned the See’s Scotchmallow a few times as being the epitome of fine marshmallowyness. So I figured I should probably detail it for folks who have never had one.
First, there are two kinds. There’s the one you can buy pre-packaged like a candy bar, pictured above. It’s 1.5 ounces and clocking in at 113 calories per ounce, for a chocolate treat, it’s pretty low on the calories per ounce. I’ll credit the marshmallow for that. The second kind is the little round one that you can get at the counter by the piece or in the mixed boxes (comes in both the standard mix and the nuts & chews). Not only is it smaller, but it is also cloaked in semi-sweet chocolate, not milk chocolate as the bar is.
Second, See’s makes one of the best caramels available in stores. What is it about them? I think it’s that they actually have carmelized sugar in them. Caramels are rather time consuming and though the ingredients are simple (sugar, corn syrup, milk and butter), they need to be boiled slowly and brought up to temperature. If you don’t boil it long enough or to the right temp, you end up with gooey caramel without much flavor. If you go too long, you get toffee (which is good in its own right). Basically, a good caramel is a chewy toffee. The marshmallow though, is what makes this candy special. And the best thing about the marshmallow is that it has a flavor. It’s not just foamy, gelatinized sugar and egg whites. It has a wonderfully rounded flavor of honey in it which sets off the toasty taste of the caramel and sweet creaminess of the chocolate. Often I’ll eat off the chocolate and caramel and just be left with a honey of a marshmallow heap. Ahhhhh! (I wish the just sold the marshmallows, maybe they have a version of a Peep I should look out for at Easter.)
Third, they’re great quality. They use real ingredients (except for vanillin) and they’re not that expensive. I prefer See’s far and away over Godiva as boxed chocolates from the mall go. Though they’re antiseptic stores, which resemble the school nurse’s office more than a candy shop, they’re a plain old hoot. And when you go into the store, whether you buy something or not, they give you a free sample. (I had a raspberry truffle when I was there on Saturday.)
Stores are found only in the West and Midwest, but you can always mail order.
Rating - 9 out of 10
Friday, September 30, 2005
Name: KitKat Coffee
I know Marvo already covered KitKat Coffee this week, but if I don’t review it, I don’t get to eat it. I’d been looking for this bar for a few weeks when I finally saw it at the 7-11 I pass on my way home. There are a few 7-11s that I go to, but this one, on the corner of Santa Monica Blvd. and Virgil seems to stock the best candy. The store is clean and the candy fresh. Though a little pricier than a lot of other places I shop, I’m willing to pay an extra 10 cents for something that I haven’t found elsewhere.
I was so excited by this bar that I bought two, one to eat when I got home and one to review, so by the time I took the photos, I knew that this was a good bar.
Upon opening the bar, the coffee scent is quite powerful and mixed with a sugary sweet smell. Where the Nestle Coffee Crisp bar smells like a creamy coffee concoction with toffee, the KitKat Coffee smells like a fresh brewed cup of black coffee. As with the Nestle KitKat Orange, the coffee flavor is actually in the chocolate (and maybe in the creamy filling of the crisps). It makes me wish that Hershey would release Coffee Kisses.
The bar is very simple and benefits from the addition of the coffee flavoring. It’s pretty amazing how the KitKat can be so good with so many other flavor iterations (Orange, Green Tea, Dark Chocolate, Melon, White Chocolate) but I think that shows that it’s a really well-engineered bar. The blank slate of the crisps and the vaguely vanilla cream can stand on its own or get a boost from another flavor.
I have my doubts that this will be added to the permanent KitKat repertoire (but they did add white chocolate, so who knows) but I’ll enjoy it while it’s around.
Rating - 9 out of 10
Monday, September 12, 2005
Name: Five Star Bar - Caramel
A few weeks ago I did a radio interview and on the show Steve Almond gave the host a Five Star Bar. Steve had also featured the bar in his book Candy Freak, so I was already aware of its virtues. Still, I’d not seen one in person. I did get a gift over the holidays though, of a little package of their milk and dark chocolate squares, which were very nice and smooth.
The bar has it all. It’s a hefty little log, about as wide as it is high and twice as long as that. At two ounces, it’s bigger than your normal candy bar, but smaller than a king-size. It’s not quite gourmet, but too good for the regular candy shelf.
Upon biting into it there’s an intense explosion of caramel. The first ingredient on the package is CREAM, so you know how fatty and smooth this bar has got to be. The caramel has a good carmelize sugar taste to it, without going too far into toffee land. It’s very sticky and smooth. Inside there are nuts and a few dark chocolate bits (not enough for me, but you know, who am I to quibble with something so positively reviewed).
One thing’s for sure, I’m going to try all their Five Star Bars. For the record, my husband also picked up the Java Truffle Bar and a Peppermint Bark (I don’t have the package in front of me and their website is down). The Java bar is really nice, with a good smokey coffee flavor to it and it’s not too sweet (and made with dark chocolate). The mint one is really smooth but not quite minty enough for me.
Interesting note - I give high marks to all candies with the word five in their name. Coincidence?
Rating - 9 out of 10 (they’re really expensive)
Thursday, August 25, 2005
This is not a new product to me, however, I’ve gotten a couple of notes (one email and one comment) to review this, so here goes. My husband bought a set of three of the unique origins bars one year before vacation and we took them with us to rocky beaches, windswept dunes and rolling oak-dotted hills of the central Californian coast, so any pleasant past associations with the bars must be taken into account.
The bars in question were from the cocoa crop of 2004. The freshness date said they were best before 04/2007.
First was the Guaranda, which is 71% cocoa solids of forastero arriba cocoa from Ecuador. The tasting notes on the back: “Perfumed aroma with fruity, acid notes and floral tones of acacia honey, with milky and exotic wood nuances. Typical personality of the cocoa bean: smooth dark chocolate taste with floral tones of honeyed character.” The ingredients are simple: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter and soya lecithin.
My tasting notes: the scent is woodsy, smoky and a bit like coffee. The surface is smooth and shiny (better than the photo) with a red hint to it. Upon biting into it, it snaps easily and melts quickly on the tongue. The cocoa mass is very smooth, not at all gritty. It’s very dry yet the cocoa butter gives it a slippery, cool feeling on the tongue. I don’t detect much of the honey notes, but the butteryness gives it a sort of empty feeling, like there’s a top and bottom but no middle flavors.
Next was Ocumare, which is 71% cocoa solids of criollo cocoa from Venuzuela. The tasting notes on the back: “Smooth perfumed aroma with tones of exotic wood, nuts and dried fruit as well as spicy nuances. Refined and lasting taste, balanced and round at the same time. Also, aspects of cedar, tobacco and dried plums are particularly noteworthy.” The ingredients are the same as the first: cocoa mass, sugar, cocoa butter and soya lecithin.
My tasting notes: the smell is woodsy with more of a fruit note to it, perhaps apple. The color is a dark and consistent brown with a good snap to the bite. It immediately starts to melt on the tongue. It has a rounder flavor just as the package suggests with more middle notes of sweet apple or apricot (I’m not catching the plum here). It’s a much fuller flavor from top to bottom with absolutely no grain to it. Towards the end there’s less of a dry finish but a nice lingering woodsy note.
For high end 70%+ bars, I think these are the best I’ve tried to date. Though the single origin means that you may never get these bars again, they’re wonderfully balanced with an excellent smoothness. I do think overall that I prefer a blended chocolate to get the full-bodied taste with a multitude of notes (like a chorus instead of a soloist) but if you hadn’t told me that they were single origins, I could still state unequivocally that these are good bars. Where I find so many upscale bars lacking in the cocoa butter/smoothness factor, these bars excel at the melting and without any graininess at all.
I wouldn’t say that they’re worth more than $3.50 per bar though, like you might be charged some places. So if you can get them at a Trader Joe’s or other similar economical location (maybe Cost Plus carries them), they are the best $2 you can spend on a high-cocoa content bar.
Interesting facts from the package: Chocovic is based in Barcelona, Spain and has been in business since 1872.
Rating - 9 out of 10.
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