Thursday, October 3, 2013
Original Beans is a small chocolate company that starts with carefully selected, direct-purchased beans and makes them into single-origin bars. They take special care with all aspects of the sourcing, manufacturing and packaging, as their name might imply. The bars are not easy to find in the United States, but luckily a very good chocolate source has developed walking distance from my office, so you’ll be seeing more of these interesting finds in the coming months and years.
The selection of bars from Original Beans is very small, but quite specific. I chose to review their Original Beans Piura Porcelana 75% as my first. You can read up on the Peruvian Porcelana beans on the Original Beans website and on other chocolate aficionado sites. The history of chocolate is fascinating and many people have become interested in the generic diversity of the trees and their distribution. The Porcelana beans, as a variety of Criollo, are characterized by their white color and distinctive flavor. They’re quite rare and grown in a few small areas in South America, so single origin bars are not common and often limited editions.
The bar features all organic ingredients and is made only exclusively with white Criollo cacao from the Pirua River Valley in the Peruvian Andes. The cacao is 75% and the package says that it’s a 22 hour conch. The ingredients list is simple and short: Direct-trade cacao beans, cacao butter, cane sugar. There’s no soy and it’s vegan and gluten free.
The tasting notes for the bar online are: Vibrant, luscious with kumquat, lime, apricot, raspberry flavours and notes of toasted pecan; wonderfully balanced acidity and lingering finish.
Though the beans are white, the chocolate is brown. The fermenting and roasting of the beans makes them indistinguishable at first glance from any other bean.
The bar is simply and beautifully molded. The segments have a great snap and neutral medium-brown color. The scent is mild, it has some smoky vanilla notes
The flavor is an interesting balance of acid like citrus and tannins, for the most part the flavors I got were black tea and roasted nuts. The texture was smooth and has and excellent melt and lack of grit. It still has a bit of a dry finish that’s sharp from the tannins.
I loved this bar, this is the third one I’ve eaten, I bought the first two over the summer but found they weren’t doing well in the heat so I ate them and waited for it to cool off to do a proper review. The flavor is not too intense but still very satisfying after three or four squares. The cocoa butter balanced out the clean but sweet sugar to make it very munchable for a high cacao bar.
The next bar I picked for review is Original Beans Esmeraldas Milk, which is a 42% cacao bar with a touch of fleur de sel. Like the dark bar, it’s made with organic ingredients. From the photo above you can see that it’s a dark looking bar for milk chocolate, but compared to many commercial milk chocolate bars, I’m inclined to call it a dark milk.
Original Beans is in The Netherlands, and the packaging is largely in Dutch (though the website also in English) while the chocolate is made in Switzerland.
The ingredients list is a little longer than the dark bar, but still short: direct trade cacao, sugar, cocoa butter, milk and sea salt. The tasting notes suggest: Exceptionally velvety with salted caramel, hints of summer red fruits and spice.
The Original Beans website has a feature where you input the batch code from your bar into their website that says:
Unfortunately that feature just takes you to the same page you could browse to based on the name of the chocolate bar. For true transparency and education, I kind of wanted specifics about the harvest that made my bar. What was that year like? Were there special issues that would distinguish that vintage from the previous year or the coming year? Or even just things like how many pounds of beans were harvested, how many bars were made in that batch.
The bar has a roasted, caramelized scent that has a bit of a cheese note to it, something a little more savory. The melt is great, it’s soft and fudgy without feeling too sugary or sticky. The flavor has molasses notes, maybe even a little fennel but a lot of milk. The hint of salt does keep it from tasting too much like sugar, but it doesn’t jump out. There’s a sharpness to the bar, again, that powdered milk cheese-ness that doesn’t quite satisfy me. I’m not a big fan of the powdered milk flavors in some milk chocolates; it’s a personal preference, not an indication of quality.
I also tried the Bolivian Beni Wild Harvest bar, as I was a big fan of Lillie Belle’s Wild Thing, also from wild beans, but found the 66% far too sweet for me.
Monday, August 5, 2013
Boiled candies, or hard candies, are considered kind of ordinary in most situations. They’re not most people’s first choice, in fact, in most lists of candies, they’re often down at the bottom along with raisins and toothbrushes (basically, not even qualifying as candy). It’s sad, because there are good hard candies and boiled sugar candies can be some of the most beautiful of all candies out there.
Cut Rock is a tradition of candymaking that goes back at least 150 years. It’s a simple concept, different colors of hard candy are layered together and then pulled or rolled out to shrink the design and then cut into easy to eat pieces. (To make swirled lollipops, the centers are plain but the ropes of candy are wrapped into a disk and a stick is inserted.)
Raley’s Confectionary in Florida is one of the new artisan companies to bring this tradition back, and their twist is to use natural colors, flavors and organic/fair trade sugar. (I’m not sure about the glucose syrup that’s mentioned in the ingredients label, but not on the website.) Since all he makes is hard candies, it’s vegan and gluten free (though he does make some nut items, so check before you order if you have an allergy).
If you want to see more about how it’s made, Raley did an educational video that addresses how scaling is important when creating the designs to make cut rock. And of course here’s a more generalized video that shows the whole process from start to finish:
Wes Raley (seen in action above) offered me some samples and since it’s summer, which I high season for hard candies, I accepted them. It then took a long time to get through the whole set: Emoticon Mix, Root Beer, Cappuccino, Pomegranate,
The SA Emoticon Mix is a good place to start because it demonstrates the array of forms and designs that can be created and also includes a wide variety of flavors. Of course I don’t know what those flavors were supposed to be, since there was no key, so I can only guess. I know one was lime, and another was blueberry. The interesting thing about this version was how the diameter varied.
The center, as you may have seen in the video, is an aerated hard candy. This makes it white and the pulling of the hard candy also allows Raley to incorporate the flavors. It makes it crunchy without any of those annoying sharp voids that some hard candies get.
Each piece is a mere half in across, yet the wire thin brown “steam” coming from the little mugs is perfectly proportioned to the little cups of coffee.
The flavor on this particular candy is a little milder than the vivid and fruity Emoticons.
The coffee flavor is a bit mild and thin for my tastes. It was toasty and less sweet, but more like a brown sugar candy than a true coffee with a bit of foamed milk experience. That said, it was one of the first bags I finished.
Grapefruit is one of several citrus flavors from Raley’s. The pieces are well made, a yellow rind and a pink sectioned interior sell the look. The outside is sweet and mild, but the aerated fruity center is tangy and nicely flavored. It’s a little zesty, only a slight hint of bitterness and quite tart at times.
Here’s the real gem of all the varieties I tried: Lemon. This piece was yellow with a shiny yellow rind, white pith and yellow sections. Unlike the grapefruit, which was flavored on the inside, the outside was also flavored. So the rind was a gentle and sweet lemon, but the inside was extremely tart, zesty and juicy.
These were absolutely adorable. The design is unlike most of the others that cut rock makers create, it has no jacket. Instead the flag’s stripes go right to the edge. It’s a complicated design, enough of the elements, colors and ratios are there for it to say “American Flag” even though it’s round.
The flavor is fun, the blueberry is sweet and has a good berry flavor and the strawberry is light and floral.
Root Beer was one that I was truly looking forward to, mostly because Raley doesn’t use artificial colors and one of my complaints about Root Beer Barrels is the aftertaste from the dye known as Red #40. This definitely did not have any aftertaste, but it didn’t have much of a forward taste either. It was exceptionally mild, like the Cappuccino. There was a hint of wintergreen bite, but not bite of tartness, no earthy ginger rooty flavors either. It was toasty but not like Root Beer.
But the candy was adorable, with the frosty mugs on a crunchy background. So I may have been disappointed that it wasn’t like I wanted it to be, but I still managed to eat the whole bag.
I give the fruity flavors a 9 out of 10 and the drink flavors an 8 out of 10 (they designs on those were especially good). The packages were stand up, zippered gussets. Each came with a little silica gel package inside, so even though I opened them (and resealed) they all stayed pristine. Some hard candies can melt and deform in the humidity or high heat, but these looked as good today as they did about a month ago when I got them.
Tuesday, May 28, 2013
Small and plentiful is the trend these days. Most of the top candy makers are creating unwrapped bites of your favorite candies if they don’t already exist. This isn’t new, they’ve come and gone as brand extensions through the years, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not a good idea.
The Mars Milky Way Unwrapped Bites are similar to the Snickers Unwrapped Bites I already reviewed. They’re little cubes, super tiny versions of the popular Milky Way bar. The base is a fluffy nougat, topped with caramel and coated in milk chocolate.
The little nuggets are 2/3 of an inch cubed. A serving is eight pieces, which comes to about 1.34 ounces. They clock in a bit lighter on the calories than the Snickers, mostly because they don’t contain peanuts, which are a bit fattier (but also contain 50% more protein).
They’re easy to eat, sweet smelling and have a soft bite and easy, aerated chew. There was a bit of a cereal note to the smell, but overall they were just sweet and tasty.
This is another interesting example of how ratios of different element can change a candy. I know that some die hard Milky Way fans will probably detest this, but I happen to like it much more than the bar. The bar was always too big, too filling and too sweet but also lacking in any distinct flavor element. In this version the malt of the fluffed nougat is the most forward; it also combines well with the slightly salty caramel to create a great balance.
My only complaint with the bites is that the thinner chocolate shell makes them more delicate. There were several clumps in my bag where one spilled its caramel and they got stuck together. I don’t see myself buying these regularly, but I can see them being great for recipes, especially as an ice cream topper perhaps inside cookies.
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
The new trend is reducing packaging. Well, maybe that’s what the food companies want you to believe. The new line of Unwrapped Bites from Mars means you get lots of little miniature minis without all the wrappers that become evidence of how much you’ve eaten.
Hershey’s launched something similar a couple of years ago, so it’s no wonder that Mars is in on it as well.
The package, with a zipper closure, holds a half pound of teensy Snickers cubes. Easy to dump into a bowl, or just eat out of the bag. They’ll also be available in smaller single serving bags.
Mars is utilizing this new icon system on the front of the package for serving size and calorie counts. The serving here is 8 bites or 41 grams, which comes to 190 calories. (3 grams of protein from the peanuts.) Stacked up, the little cubes are cute and hold their shape pretty well. They do get scuffed up in the bag, so they’re not that glossy, swirled perfection found in the individual wrappers.
I can see these being very useful for recipes ... though kind of expensive at 2.99 for 8 ounces, but no worse than premium chocolate chips.
What they got right here is the ratios. Even though they’re not perfect large Snickers ratios, these strike an extremely pleasing balance of nougat, nuts and chocolate. By far the nuts take center stage. Instead of omitting the nuts or putting teensy crushed ones in there, they’re still big peanut pieces. (Though I did get on that had no nuts.) There’s a hint of salt in the nougat which balances the sweet chocolate and caramel. The caramel really doesn’t do much here, maybe it adds a little chew.
What I really enjoy though is the portioning. I like that I can eat only three or four at a time, then maybe three or four later. A full portion is eight pieces, which is less than a regular Snickers, but feels like a lot. Of course the bag is 8 ounces ... nothing keeping you from eating the whole thing in one sitting. These are pretty much the antithesis of the Snickers Slice n’ Share 1 Pound bar ... and actually a better value since a full pound of the Bites retails for $6 instead of $10.
Snickers are made with peanuts, dairy, soy and eggs. They’re also processed in a facility with almonds and I cannot find anything that says that they’re gluten free. Mars has not rolled over to sustainable, ethical sourcing for their ingredients, though they’re on track for 2020.
Friday, April 19, 2013
Theo Chocolate is the first organic and certified ethically source chocolate company in the United States. I first tried them when they launched in 2006 and have been pleased with the diversity of confections. They make solid chocolate bars, smaller “candy bars” with inclusions and flavors as well as a line of bonbons and caramels. It’s a great fusion of classic chocolate making with new flavors and social responsibility.
One of their new bars is Theo Chocolate Salted Almond Dark Chocolate (with 70% Cacao). It’s a simple blend of dark chocolate beans and almonds with a touch of sea salt.
Note that the bar packaging has changed in the past few weeks, so the new ones won’t be bright pink, look for these. The bar is organic, vegan, soy and gluten free though it’s manufactured on shared equipment with products containing milk, eggs, wheat, peanuts & other nuts. The cacao and sugar is sourced through Fair for Life (which assures the social responsibility of the sourcing).
The bar is simple, just a series of long segments, there’s no splashy custom molded design here. From flipping the bar over, I can see that the almonds in pieces, not whole (which is fine with me).
The scent of the chocolate is deep and woodsy with notes of coffee. The snap is good and the molding is excellent without any bubbles or voids (which can be an issue with inclusions).
The flavor of the chocolate is strong, it’s a little acidic and has strong coffee notes along with some smoke. The sugars are forward (along with a little of the salt note) and the chocolate has a slightly dry and olive finish. The almond bits are well distributed, fresh and crunchy with a nicely roasted flavor.
Overall, an extremely satisfying bar. The cocoa profile was a little dryer than I like, not quite as buttery as I prefer my texture, but the nuts and just the right hint of salt make this exceptionally easy to eat for a 70% bar.
Friday, January 11, 2013
Fralinger’s Salt Water Taffy is a New Jersey favorite, known best for their classic wrapped taffy rods, also makes some excellent peanut chews, fudge and molasses paddle pops. But what I know them for is their Creamy Mint Sticks, which I only seem able to find at trade shows as samples. So, I was pretty pleased to see them, if only seasonally, at Cost Plus World Market this Christmas.
I’m a sucker for butter mints (those soft colored little pillows), and specifically don’t buy them because I will devour them. But in the interest of the blog, I picked up this box of Fralinger’s Creamy Mint Sticks on clearance at Cost Plus World Market after Christmas for review. The mint sticks are similar to the puffy butter mint brethren, except that they’re individually wrapped and less airy.
The ingredients include no artificial colors or flavors. It’s a mix of sugar, invert sugar with a touch of palm oil, emulsifiers, glycerine and cream of tartar along with real peppermint oil.
The sticks are generous for a mint, the same size as Fralinger’s Salt Water Taffy logs. They’re in a clear cellophane wrapper with twisted ends, inside that is the waxed paper with the Fralinger’s logo on it. These also bear a bar code, I don’t know if that’s for internal tracking or if they actually sell these individually. They’re a little over two inches long, are white inside and come out of the wrapping easily.
They’re soft, though I wouldn’t say that they’re damp, they’re not oily either. This is the big difference between these and butter mints, they’re creamier. The texture is like a wad of very smooth, compressed powdered sugar. They dissolve readily and have a powerful amount of mint in them. Though they’re nearly all sugar, they don’t have a throat searing sweetness to them.
The candy is extremely simple and I appreciate that. They’re a little harder to eat than some wrapped candy, it takes two hands to unwrap the ends and then carefully unroll from the waxed paper. But every one of them was in good condition, so it does the job.
I’ve had quite a few other versions of these before: James’ Butter Mint Rolls (photo) which are part of the Fralinger’s family now and Angel Mints. What I’ve noticed is that they’re best when sold in a sealed package. In the case of this box, it was shrink wrapped, and then inside the box the mints were also sealed inside a poly plastic bag. When I’ve bought them as “changemakers” or in a bulk mix they’ve been a bit more chalky and with a bit less of a mint kick. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But in this case I was actually blown away with how fresh these tasted. I can’t imagine paying the full price for these even though I know I would eat them all.
They’re exquisitely simple, and for me they’re quite addictive. Basically, I kept going into Cost Plus World Market all week long, checking to see if they were still on the shelves. I bought one box at 75% off (they were regularly 6.99 a box, but at that discount they came to $1.75) ... but then yesterday they went to 90% off so I bought another two boxes because, well, 70 cents for 12 ounces. They are best before March 2013, but I doubt they’ll last that long.
Friday, January 4, 2013
When I was shopping at The Meadow, a quirky store in New York City that sells carefully curated selection of three things (salt, bitters and chocolate), I asked what was the best bar for munching. The gal at the counter suggested Gardini Extra Fondente Gianduia Salata. The bar was pricey at $12 for 3.5 ounces, but I’d come all that way and we’d already talked quite a bit about the glory of Venezuelan beans, so I was ready to trust her. It certainly sounded good: Bitter Chocolate and Gianduia with Sweet Sea Salt.
I’ve become spoiled over the years, though I love hazelnut paste (gianduia), I don’t care for the sticky sweetness of some of the cheaper varieties. This bar boasted a robust 54% cacao chocolate shell with hazelnuts as a the next ingredient after the chocolate (not sugar or oil). There is no listing of the nutritional value on the package, but I’m going to guess that there’s lots of fat in there to make up for the lack of sugar.
The bar is made by Gardini Chocolato in Italy and has won a few awards. If I might tease the end of this review, they’re well earned.
The bar is impressive and feels large and substantial. The segments are domed and shiny and even though the packaging is pretty much just a cellophane wrapper, it’s largely unmarred.
Each domed section is filled with a salted hazelnut paste. The paste, according to the ingredients, is made from ground hazelnuts, whole milk powder and sea salt.
The dark chocolate is in the semi-sweet range, it’s not terrifically dark but still has a lot of oomph to it. The melt is smooth and creamy with its own woodsy profile and a light hint of figs or cherries. The hazelnut center is fascinating. It’s also buttery and very smooth without that sticky feeling that some gianduias can have. The salt provides little sparks of flavor as well. The roasted profile is perfect.
This is an incredible bar, very well made and presented with nothing fussy about it except for the price. I could see eating these regularly as it’s a great combination in the perfect ratios. I would like to try other bars in the Gardini range, but part of me wonders what else could be better than this?
Monday, November 19, 2012
Last year M&Ms introduced the first of their White Chocolate holiday M&Ms for Halloween called Candy Corn. Then earlier this year for Easter came the plain White Chocolate M&Ms in pastel colors. Proving that the Candy Corn was no fluke, the returned again this year. For Christmas this year we have the M&Ms White Chocolate Peppermint which are available exclusively at Target this season. (WalMart has another exclusive flavor, Milk Chocolate Orange M&Ms.)
I don’t know if they come in individual portion bags, the only size I saw at Target, in a large display on an endcap in the seasonal section was this 9 ounce bag. The design prominently features the Red M&M and a mostly red and white design (except for the brown of the M&Ms logo and the nutritional widget).
The pieces are larger than regular Milk Chocolate M&Ms, like all the other special flavor varieties. I’m not sure why they’re beefier, but they’re consistently that way. They’re made with real white chocolate, it’s the first ingredient on the package (made from sugar, cocoa butter, skim milk, milk fat, soy lecithin, salt and natural flavor). In this price range, it’s not easy to find real white chocolate, so that’s a big plus.
I’ve noticed from the comments here that some people are not fond of Mars style of white chocolate. It’s quite fatty, with a lot of cocoa butter in it (and probably a fair bit of milkfat) and has a pretty clean flavor but can be a little greasy. They’re high in calories - a single ounce contains about 157 calories, more than standard chocolate which is usually about 135.
They’re sweet but not sticky or cloying. The mint is strong enough to leave a fresh taste in the mouth, but not so much that it blasts my sinuses. The overall effect is like Guittard Smooth n Melty Mints, those pastel drops with nonpareils on the bottom of them. Except these are made from real white chocolate, even Hershey’s abandoned real white chocolate in their Candy Cane Kisses years ago. I liked that most of mine were white, with only about a third of them red. The red had a little bitterness to the shell from the Red 40 food coloring, so I was able to mostly avoid them. I think it’s a solid product and I’d like to see it return next year. (But I’m still hoping for Egg Nog M&Ms.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.