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.
Thursday, July 14, 2005
Name: Dars Bitter Chocolate
This was one of the purchases from Japan I was most worried about ordering through the mail because of the summer heat. Luckily it made the trip in perfect condition.
Morinaga makes excellent consumer chocolate and for a decent price. I’ve had their Hi-CROWN chocolate and liked it very much. This one is about half the price and still comes in a snazzy package great for sharing. (In fact, I shared about a third of this with others.)
Inside the box is a mylar sealed tray with an array of a dozen chocolate nuggets, each a diminuitive bite of chocolate. Because I ordered this directly from Japan, there is no English wrapper on it and I can only glean a few things from the packaging. One is that it’s 45% cocoa solids and the other is that it’s dark chocolate. I have to say, if they’re not putting a lot of sugar in it, and it’s only 45% cocoa everything else must be cocoa butter and that’s a good thing. This is exceptionally creamy and smooth dark chocolate with a wonderful smokey chocolate flavor with a slight cognac note to it. Not too sweet and not at all grainy.
Bonus to Morinaga for putting a freshness date on there too.
Rating - 9 out of 10 ... if only I could find it easily nearby
Wednesday, July 13, 2005
Name: Take Five
If I were to create the perfect candy bar, a great snack bar that would give me energy and taste good, it would contain the following: chocolate, pretzels, caramel and nuts. It’d be a great mix of simple carbs, fat and protein so as not to overwhelm the bloodstream with too much sugar. In my world it’d be a super turtle with a pretzel base, chewy caramel then pecans all covered in semi-sweet chocolate.
On a visit to the Chocolate Homeworld, er, sorry, Chocolate World in Hershey on New Year’s Day, this was the sample they gave us at the end of the ride. I quickly bargained with the other people in our party for theirs.
Hershey’s is dang close with the Take 5 bar. It’s got a pretzel center covered with peanut butter then a layer of caramel, a few chopped peanuts and then it’s all enrobed in milk chocolate. (Maybe I got that order wrong, it’s hard to tell.) The proportions are solid and the pretzel has got a great salty kick. If anything, the milk chocolate is a little sweet, but the salt on the pretzels and the slight saltiness of the peanut butter (which tastes like the center of a Reese’s ... maybe sweeter) balances well. If it only came in dark chocolate I might be in heaven.
The packaging is good, there are two little pieces in a tray and sealed in a the plastic packaging so they stay intact and are easy to slide out. I really wish they could figure out how to make this without hydrogenated oils, though it’s pretty far down on the list of ingredients and doesn’t show up on the nutrition part. For now I’ll keep buying it when I need a little boost during the day. It’s especially good with a morning cup of coffee, as I’m having the second piece right now.
As far as I’m concerned this bar could have lots of versions. A pecan/maple version, a pecan/dark chocolate turtle one, maybe white chocolate and walnuts or macadamias (not really for me, but a solid combo - I know that a white version of this same bar exists but I haven’t seen it yet) then another version with mint cookies and almonds.
Rating - 9 out of 10 (just make a dark version or a pecan one!)
UPDATE 9/2/2008: Sometime when I wasn’t looking (I photographed it last summer again) the Hershey’s Take 5 left the list of chocolate candy bars and joined the growing list of Hershey’s Real Mockolate.
The package now says: made with chocolate & pretzels & caramel & peanuts & peanut butter. That “made with chocolate” part means that the coating may contain chocolate, but it has other additives such as vegetable oils that mean that it’s not pure chocolate. The actual chocolate as an ingredient comes far down on the list as the number 6 item, after vegetable oils and high fructose corn sweetener and before nonfat milk (you can imagine there’s not that much milk in there).
The bars actually still look quite fetching. Little rather rectangular lumps with a pleasant sweet & peanutty scent.
Mine were exceptionally fresh, the pretzel was good and crunchy, a nice salty complement to the sweet coating. The coating didn’t have much flavor but did add a creamy texture.
This one was passably good, but I’ve had others in the past few months (I picked them out of a mix of snack size in a bowl at the office a couple of times) and I didn’t realize why they were kind of empty tasting for what I remembered. I just thought they were stale ... turns out that they’re just not designed to be good any longer.
Hershey’s still has an opportunity to reverse this and make it real chocolate again.
Saturday, July 9, 2005
Name: Wilbur Buds
I’ve mentioned my favorite chocolate before, it’s Wilbur. Wilbur is made in a small town in Pennsylvania, Lititz, a scant 27 miles from the more famous Hershey. Wilbur, in fact, predates Hershey and even has a version of the kiss, known as the Wilbur Bud (which was also introduced several years earlier than the Hershey Kiss).
The Wilbur bud comes in milk or semi-sweet chocolate and is pure simplicity. It’s just a large chocolate chip, with a little curl on top and a molded bottom that says Wilbur. What’s great about the Wilbur buds is that they are incredibly smooth and creamy. Where Hershey and Nestle chocolate has a slight grain to it, Wilbur has none, it’s pure chocolate smoothness. The milk chocolate is European style, so those who are fond of Cadbury will appreciate it’s milkyness. The semi-sweet is bold, with a strong cocoa taste, complex and slightly bitter but melts easily on the tongue. Part of this explained by the cocoa butter content. I know a lot of people are into this movement of 70%+ cocoa solids, but besides the smoky flavor of chocolate, what sets it apart from all other candies is cocoa butter. Cocoa butter is one of those rare fats that is solid at room temperature and liquid at body temp. The more cocoa butter, the more melty the chocolate.
So knowing all that, it should come as no surprise that I would go to such lengths to purchase said chocolate. A few weeks ago I called up the factory order line and got a five pound box. After all, it’s the best deal. And I have a wine fridge to store it in through the hot summer months.
One of the big things about chocolate is that there are two kinds: there are candy chocolates and savoring chocolates. Wilbur, for me, falls into both categories. Because of the high cocoa butter content (only 50% cocoa solids) it’s more snackable but the creamyness makes it wonderfully rich. I love eating these with other foods, too. It’s great in a homemade trail mix for hiking where you mix in some dried fruits (cranberries, apricots or raisins) and nuts (almonds, hazelnuts or cashews) and some pretzels. When I’ve got a stash, I usually keep a small bowl of them around at all times.
Rating: 9 out of 10 (if I could find it easily it’d be pure 10)
Tuesday, June 21, 2005
Name: Starburst Chew Pops (Green Apple, Orange & Strawberry)
I’ve got to hand it to Starburst. They’ve always packed their candies with flavor. When Starburst first came on the market, I loved them. They were much more flavorful than other taffy treats available at the time. Easier on the teeth, too.
Starburst now offers lollypops. In the tradition of Charm’s Blow Pops and Tootsie Pops, there are fruit flavored hard candy with a same-flavored Starburst fruit chew center.
I picked these up at the grocery store at the check out counter (thanks Russ!) for ten cents a pop. The orange is by far my favorite. It’s really orangy, and the flavor goes all the way through with the continuation in the chew. Dirt cheap, I know I’d buy these again. In fact, they’re perfect for Halloween (I like to give away a mix of chocolate and non-chocolate/nut treats for the kids).
I wasn’t as keen on the green apple flavor as it had a very unpleasant chemical taste to it. But then again, green apple usually does. The strawberry is good too, but also a little bit on the artificial side. They’re rather tart, which is something I enjoy in a fruit hard candy.
I hope they come out with more flavors. I bet I’d love lemon.
Rating: 9 out of 10.
Friday, June 17, 2005
Name: Malted Milk Balls
As I’ve stated before, I love malt. I will eat spoonfuls of Ovaltine malted milk powder straight from the jar. Good malt balls are not easy to find. First, they have to be covered with real chocolate. Those egg-shaped ones available around Easter are usually some fake chocolate compound and too sweet. The best bet is usually in the bulk candy aisle at the grocer if they carry Harmony Foods bulk chocolate covered malted milk balls.
Earlier this week I placed a bulk order from Wilbur and one of the items was their Malted Milk Balls. These are not simply malted milk balls covered with a thin layer of chocolate, they’re super thick with high-quality milk chocolate. The malt inside is crisp, large and very malty with a touch of salt.
They are by far the best malted milk balls I’ve had in my life. My big question is if anyone knows if naked malt balls exist, you know, just the malt balls without the chocolate coating.
Rating: 9 out of 10.
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Name: Wha Guru Chew
Reading over the ingredients list, I’m wondering what this has to do with the Yogi Bhajan. But I suppose even the most enlightened among us wants a sweet now and then. While there’s nothing bad about these caramel nut bars, they contain no trans fat and use brown rice syrup and evaporated cane juice instead of corn syrup, I’m struggling with the health food aspects of this. Aw hell, let’s just call it candy and be done with it.
These are fab. I can’t tell you how fab these are. The caramel is flavorful and soft, the nuts are fresh and crunchy and the smell is pure buttery sweetness. The only problem I have with them is that they’re very soft, so you taking them out of the package is nearly impossible and even getting the package open without scissors ended up too much of a challenge for me.
Cashew Vanilla - the right sweet notes of vanilla blended with buttery cashews. There are also sunflower seeds in here, which add an extra crunch and earthy taste to the bar to balance the sweetness of the caramel. A little touch of salt balances it all out.
Almond Ginger - it doesn’t smell quite as inviting as the cashew vanilla bar (I don’t think ginger smells that good inherently, as it has a rooty/earthy smell). But biting into this bar wipes away any hesitation that this bar will be as good as the former. The ginger pops out as a spicy base for the sugary caramel and the mild almonds. A slight trace of lemon zest links all the flavors together well.
Peanut Cashew - this one diverges from the recipe of the above two which are sweetened primarily with brown rice syrup and evaporated cane juice. This is sweetened with clover honey (and barley malt syrup). This honey base makes for a less viscous caramel but really amps up the flavor. The first tone you get upon biting into it is a strong orange essence. In addition to the peanuts and cashews are sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. Of the three this was my least favorite, though still worthy of trying.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.