Thursday, May 26, 2011
Gimbal’s is a Californian candy company that specializes in sugar candies and boasts a low allergen facility. Lately they’ve been introducing a new themed-flavored “Lovers” product every year. The first year it was a heart shaped Cherry Lovers, with nine different cherry flavored heart shaped jelly beans. Last year it was Honey Lovers with sixteen different honey tinted flavors. This year it’s its a bit of a tart twist with Gimbal’s Sour Lovers.
When I first saw the announcement for them, I knew I had to track them down. I had trouble finding Honey Lovers in stores, so I decided to order Sour Lovers online and avoid the store-to-store hassle. I was fortunate to find them featured in a special at CandyDirect.com where they were $7.00 for two 11 ounce bags including shipping. (Little did I realize that the actual shipping, from the San Diego area to Los Angeles would take 12 days, with little communication from the company about the delay.)
The package includes twelve flavors of tart jelly candies with a sour sand coating. The flavors are: Pomegranate, Fuji Apple, Grapefruit, Watermelon, Meyer Lemon, Tangerine, Baja Margarita, Sour Blueberry, Mango, Bing Cherry, Strawberry Daiquiri and Georgia Peach. I’m kind of particular about my sour candy, because I like a lot of intense flavor with the tartness, so these really sounded tantalizing to me.
The heart shapes aren’t as defined or quite as attractive as the Cherry or Honey Lovers, but I thought the size and shape, a sort of thick heart shape, was perfect. The sanding is light to keep them from sticking together, but I found that even in the low humidity of Los Angeles, they did get a bit tacky if they weren’t stored in a sealed bag.
I had trouble telling the colors apart. Since I had two bags, I mixed them up in order to find all of the colors/flavors. I have to say that the guide on the back wasn’t exactly helpful for the colors that had a few flavors associated with them, like the orange/peach, pink/light red/red and yellows.
Pomegranate - I found it difficult to identify this one, so I had to open both bags in order to find the slightly darker red Pomegranate. It has some floral notes that reminded me of raspberry but with more of a tannic bite. It’s missing some of the notes of actual pomegranate juice but still has a distinctive flavor unlike the rest of the pieces in the mix.
Fuji Apple - goes beyond the normal green apple flavor with actual real apple juice and peel flavors in there along with the fake green notes that we come to expect from candy.
Grapefruit - I could eat a bag of these. If they make another Lovers mix, I would pay a premium for it to be a Citrus Lovers. This had an amazing intensity, all of the notes a real grapefruit has from the juicy tartness, zest, sweetness and then that lingering bitterness.
Watermelon - Gimbal’s does a great job with flavors that I often find too artificial from other companies. This watermelon was definitely a little on the “candy” side of things, but really flavorful, floral and of course puckery.
Meyer Lemon - again, get me a bag of these. Meyer Lemons have a bit more of a mandarin flavor to them than the usual Eureka lemons, so they’re the perfect combo of tartness and juicy citrus flavors that do more than burn. (I actually drink Meyer Lemon juice from my back yard tree in a little mineral water - no sugar needed.)
Tangerine - this one sizzles with sour orange, it’s actually a bit more sour than the Meyer Lemon, and also not as zesty.
Baja Margarita - this take on the traditional sour lime really pops, it’s zesty but not all about the sour and I might have even tasted a little hint of salt on it.
Sour Blueberry - this one wasn’t quite blueberry, but I’ve been binging on the real thing. It was more like a sour raspberry, which you know, is also good.
Mango - I had trouble finding this one in the mix as well, and sometimes didn’t know if it was Peach (which is an opaque one). I really can’t say more than I’m not sure I ever ate one.
Bing Cherry - the bing cherry heart isn’t that dark in color, but does have a strong, woodsy flavor like a Life Saver but with far more intensity and tang.
Strawberry Daiquiri this was lovely, though maybe a little too sour, which covers up the great flavors. The floral notes were overshadowed by the citrus, but it’s a daiquiri flavor, so I suppose that’s to be expected.
Georgia Peach - I’m not usually fond of peach flavored candies, but this one has it all, actual fuzz flavor, a zing of sour and the sweet juiciness. It’s like a peach that’s not quite ripe. It has the added benefit of going well with the other flavors (except maybe watermelon).
The candies also have vitamin C in them as well as being made in a facility that’s gluten free, dairy free, soy free, peanut & tree nut free. They’re made with natural flavors and apple juice, but there are also artificial flavors and colors, too. As a true jelly product there are no fats or gelatin in them either (so they’re basically a vegan product since there’s no confectioners glaze or beeswax on them like the hard shell jelly bean versions).
I loved this mix. They’re zippy but have more well rounded flavors that will please adults. I can’t eat too many without burning my tongue, but then again, the intensity is really satisfying so I don’t usually want to eat more than five or six at once.
Full Disclosure: It’s come to my attention that I did not mention when I first posted this review that CandyDirect.com was an advertiser on Candy Blog. We no longer have any sort of business relationship. I made no attempts to hide my identity in the ordering process, though I can assure folks that I received no special treatment one way or the other in the price, shipping, handling or communication process. This post is not a review of CandyDirect.com, I only made passing mention of my experience with the company in the procurement of this candy because I always mention where I get my candy from. (I did subsequently get a free sample of the Sour Lovers from the National Confectioners Association after this review was posted and I ended up giving that bag away unopened.)
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Nabisco Oreos were one of my favorite cookies. Most of what I like though is the crispy and crumbly dark chocolate cookie. Their initial form, the Oreo Biscuit, was introduced in 1912 and later became the format we know today with the molded sandwich cookie in 1952. One of the best mashups ever invented using Oreos was Cookies ‘n’ Cream Ice Cream. There are so many things you can do with Oreos, so it seems a little odd that Nabisco never came out with their own Oreo chocolate bar in the United States. Perhaps it’s their complacency that they’re the most popular cookie in the country. In Asia though, Nabisco tries harder. They have Oreo Chocolate Bars.
I picked up the Nabisco Oreo Bitter Bar at the Japanese market. The standard Oreo Bar has a cream filling with bits of chocolate cookies embedded in it, then the whole thing is covered in chocolate. When I looked at the ingredients on this bitter bar, I was pleased to see the intensity of the chocolate ingredients and decided that maybe this could be the ideal marriage of the Oreo Cookie and the candy bar.
The wrapper is in the familiar Oreo Blue color but decorated with a cacao pod and a little gold ribbon that says bitter in the center. The back of the wrapper is in Japanese though my imported one has a little English sticker on it with the ingredients & nutritional panel.
The bar isn’t that big, it’s only 1.35 ounces, so it weighs less than a pair of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (1.5 ounces) but still manages to contain 216 calories. The wrapper is 6.5” long but the actual bar is only 4.5”. I can’t complain since the bars I bought were pretty flawless looking, so it must have done a nice job of protecting the contents.
The bar smells toasty and sweet, like a cup of hot chocolate. The bite is firm, the center isn’t a soft truffle, instead it’s kind of like a firm cream, like the center of a Frango. There are cookie bits mixed into the dark chocolate center, so the melt isn’t quite smooth because of the crumbs. There is a distinct bitter note of charcoal and deep cocoa
The chocolate coating outside is not terribly dark but is really creamy and smooth.
The ingredients impressed me for the most part, no tropical oils, no partially hydrogenated fats. It’s all milk and cocoa butter. Sure there’s sugar in there and even a small amount of high fructose corn syrup (in the cookie part, I believe), but I overlooked that.
I loved this bar. Absolutely loved it. I bought one while shopping with my sister in Little Tokyo with no intention of reviewing it, then after eating it I went back and bought three more. They were $2.19 each, and I’m pretty price conscious, so that alone is an endorsement. However, most other reviews I saw of it online were underwhelming. I can see their point, it is a little dry and kind of single note with the bitter chocolate cookie dominating.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
See’s has really been increasing their seasonal Lollypops over the past few years. I quite like their Root Beer and Cinnamon offerings. The newest is See’s Orange Cream Lollypops for Easter.
They’re not sold individually like the regular flavors, so I had to buy a package of 8 pops for $5.35. The woman at the shop in Sherman Oaks said that they were selling well, and they only had the few packages that were on the counter left.
They’re Kosher though not all natural as they have artificial flavors and even some artificial colors. They are a rather low calorie treat, considering how long it takes to eat one. They’re .71 ounces and 50 calories.
The pops are the same format as the classic versions - a big 1.25 inch tall block on a stick. The hard candy is like a toffee with plenty of cream but uncrunchable. The color is a light, peachy orange. They smell like a milky orange and reminded me immediately of orange sherbet.
They’re smooth and slightly milky. The orange is light and fresh but ultimately just sweet. There was no really intense flavor to it at all. It’s not bad, but perhaps a little disappointing, though I’m sure it will be a great flavor for children who often prefer more mild flavors. Is a big switch from the more intense flavors lately like Cinnamon.
Rating: 5 out of 10.
See’s makes a fair number of classic Easter Eggs. I prefer the smaller versions, mostly because they’re a lot of small bites. But there’s something luxurious and decadent about the huge, decorated chocolate eggs they make. Thankfully they come in a wide variety of sizes. The largest are around 12-14 ounces, the middle are 7-8 and the small one I chose is 4.2 ounces. The Mayfair with Cherries & Pecans comes in a little box, tucked into a fluted paper cup. It’s less decorated than it’s larger pals, just a little sugar frosting rose on top.
Years ago one of my favorite pieces in the box of See’s Nuts & Chews was the Rum Nougat. It featured English walnuts, rum, cherries, and raisins in a chewy nougat, all covered in milk chocolate. I had to give it up about 10 years ago when my walnut allergy became apparent. Oh, how I would love it if they made it with pecans. (But there’s still a dark chocolate covered nougat that has almonds in it, though no rum and is the basis of the Awesome Nut & Chew Bar.) The Mayfair is pretty close to that rum nougat, in that it has that rum note to the buttercream center along with the cherries and for Easter, it comes in a walnut or pecan variety.
The egg is about three inches long and has a thick dark chocolate shell (made by Guittard, which is also based in California).
The Mayfair egg center is thick and moist. I was actually shocked at how pink it was, I thought the coloring would be limited to the cherries, but the fondant is also quite a vibrant shade of pink. The cherries give the center mixture a rum, vanilla and cherry flavor to it with less of a maraschino note than I’d anticipated.
The cherries are firm and moist, but don’t have much character otherwise. They’re not crisp, they’re not tart and they don’t really taste that different from the fondant since they’re more glace at this point than just syrupped. The pecans are crunchy and give a little bit of a woodsy note to the center, though the pieces were generally small and not quite as numerous as I would have preferred.
Generally, I don’t care much for candy that requires utensils. Normal folks can’t just take a bite of this, it’s intended to be sliced and served. The thick chocolate cracks when I cut it, the proportions of chocolate aren’t consistent. It’s sticky when you eat the slices. The small versions are simply better - they’re pretty from beginning to end.
Rating: 7 out of 10.
The Butterscotch Square is not square and isn’t actually what I’d consider butterscotch either ... but that doesn’t stop it from being a fatty, melt in your mouth delight. The center of the square is a crumbly, slightly grainy brown sugar fudge. It has a deep salty and light molasses flavor with some hints of toffee. The milk chocolate gives it a creamy quality that serves as a counterpoint to the quick melting grain of the sugar.
I had no idea there was a See’s Butterscotch Pecan Bar, which is a pre-wrapped 1.6 ounce bar that combines a chocolate base, butterscotch layer and then a healthy heaping of pecan pieces. (I think it might be overshadowed by the Scotchmallow Bar.)
The bar is an excellent portion, a little lighter than a standard candy bar but the satiety level of the nuts more than makes up for it (210 calories but not as much fat as some other chocolate combo bars). The maple and woodsy notes of the nuts and their crunch combine well with the buttery toffee flavor of the crumbly butterscotch. The chocolate holds it all together, though provides far less of a flavor contribution on this iteration. This may be a new go-to See’s product for me.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Monday, March 7, 2011
Caramels are best when they’re made fresh with only a few ingredients. There are decent caramel simulations found in commercial stores, but the true stuff cannot be readily imitated with the shelf life necessary for large scale business.
These small boxes from Helliemae’s Caramels contain a half a pound each; they’re like little sugar and dairy bricks. The caramels themselves are made from the classic ingredients and nothing else - sugar, butter, cream, vanilla and sea salt.
Each caramel is a large square, about 1.3 inches across and a little less than an inch high. They appear to be molded instead of cut, because they have slightly angled sides, like ice cubes. The Classic Salt Caramels have a generous dusting of flaky sea salt on top.
When I first bit into them I was impressed by the smooth texture, firm chew that wasn’t too tough. They’re a bit sticky but when consumed with some hot tea or coffee that dissolves quickly. But the salt on top was too much for me. The caramel itself was perfectly salted to begin with ... a few grains up there would have done me fine, but it wasn’t a flurry, it was a blizzard with consistent accumulation.
I’m a bit more sensitive to salt than many of my pals, so I handed some off and found the same comment - far too salty. So for the rest of them I found myself scraping the salt off as completely as possible or eating from the bottom and discarding the crusty tops. 7 out of 10
I was also given a single sample of the Cardamom Caramels. Cardamom is a hard spice to use, especially with a confection like caramel which tends to boil away the intensity of flavors. In this case the cardamom is added as a coarse powder of the seeds of the pod itself. The cardamom has flavor notes of pine, bergamot, lemon, vanilla, nutmeg, cola and eucalyptus. In some candies I’ve had the cardamom seeds can be intense and distracting though still imparting an amazing flavor that still manages to make up for it by being so engaging. In this case the grain was smaller than ground espresso so it was virtually unnoticeable. The flavor was citrusy and really brought out the vanilla and toffee notes.
In this case there was no salt on top, so I was quite pleased. 9 out of 10
The final flavor I tried was another half pound sampling of the Coffee Caramels. These were pure perfection. The coffee flavors were intense but smooth, like a fine espresso with the perfect head of creama. They were bitter and had loads of toffee and roasted java notes but also an appealing tangy note of woodsy coffee that rounded it out.
Since there was no salt on top, I found this to be exactly how I like my caramels. 9 out of 10
Fresh caramels need to be consumed immediately. I ate and shared the majority of these within two weeks of getting them, but the few that I saved for review did kind of lose their mojo after about three weeks - getting sticky and grainy around the edges. I liked that the format that was easy to bite and that the wax paper was easy to unwrap. A chocolate coated version might be stupendous, especially if it was a super dark that offset the sweetness and salt.
They’re a bit expensive for me but for an impulse item if I lived in the area and saw one at the cash register at the store of a cafe, I would definitely go for one even at $3 a pop.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
While in Germany a couple of weeks ago I scoured the store candy aisle for products that were either unique or perhaps just like ones we get in the United States. I was excited to find this boxed selection in an Aldi Süd market in Cologne called Die Besten von Ferrero. It’s a dark chocolate mix of the best of Ferrero, makers of the famous Ferrero Rocher. This mix contains a luxurious sampling of their dark chocolate items: Dunkel Kusschen (10x), Mon Cheri (10x) and Rondnoir (6x).
The exciting part for me was twofold. First, I’ve never had the European version of Mon Cheri (more on that later) and second, that I found the Küsschen in the new dark chocolate version.
The box was nicely organized and though it felt like a bit of over-packaging from the viewpoint of someone who had to lug everything back to the States on the train/plane, it did the job very well. Each little compartment held its pieces in place. The whole box was shrink-wrapped, each piece was individually wrapped and the Mon Cheri has an additional sealed, plastic sleeve. All emerged un-scuffed and shiny. The package says that it’s a limited edition item, but it’s just this assortment and format, each of the items are available independently.
A few years ago I reviewed the American version of the Mon Cheri. It was a little nugget of milk chocolate filled with crushed hazelnuts and a hazelnut paste. People loved it, but it was confusing because in Europe the Mon Cheri is actually a liquored up cherry in dark chocolate. Slowly the hazelnut Mon Cheri disappeared from American stores. However, I noticed overseas that there was a product that was like the American version, the Küsschen. The Küsschen was introduced in 1968 but this dark chocolate version is a little more recent.
The Küsschen wrapper is a light paper foil with the name clearly marked (though hard to tell from the milk version) and a little image of the candy on the front with some hazelnuts.
The Küsschen is a little piece, about the same size as the Mon Cheri or Pocket Coffee. It’s a hard chocolate shell filled with a thick, nutty chocolate cream filled with crushed hazelnuts and a whole nut at the center. It’s exactly one inch wide at the base and about 2/3 of an inch high.
The piece smells much sweeter than it actually is. The scent is a combination of hot cocoa and dark roasted hazelnuts. The bite is crisp; there are a lot of crunchy nut pieces in the filling. The filling, however, is not like I would have expected. I thought it would be a bit of a Perugina Baci clone. Instead the center isn’t sticky or sweet, just a bit of a firm ganache type filling. The nuts take front and center, and by center I mean the middle of the piece is one large, perfectly roasted hazelnut. It’s crunchy and has wonderful toffee and pecan notes with no fibery chew that I get sometimes with the Oregon variety. The filling is airy, which promotes the hazelnut flavors mixing with the dark chocolate shell. The chocolate is smooth with a light bitter trace to it.
Overall, a not-too-sweet and satisfying little nugget.
The Mon Cheri was a bit of a mystery to me. As far as I knew, it was a cherry centered chocolate candy. There was no need for me to try it, because I knew what it was, something that by its very conception and design was not something I could like.
Each piece is a similar format to the Ferrero Pocket Coffee (in fact, I think they use the same mold). It’s a whole cherry and some liqueur encased in a dark chocolate shell. They’re wrapped in foil and an extra piece of clear cellophane. (I bought them once before last year and was disappointed to find them either oozing a grainy syrup or looking a bit hollow so I never even bothered to photograph them.)
The pieces are messy if you’re the type who likes to bite things open, then place them on a table to shoot with a camera. In fact, I recommend not biting them unless the whole thing is in your mouth.
The cherry is firm and crunchy, with an authentic Bing or Rainier cherry flavor. It’s tart and sweet with some deep raisin or fig notes. But the part that sells it is the liquor. This isn’t just a dash of the stuff or something within a sticky fondant. This liquor syrup is, well, all liquored up. There’s a slight alcoholic burn with some light rum notes to it. (The package and Ferrero website don’t specify the alcohol type.)
I loved the combination, the cherry brings a fruity sweetness, the chocolate has a creamy and slightly dry finish while the liquor syrup give it a decadent appeal of a cocktail. I’m not a big fan of harsh spirits (though I love a really herby Gin and Tonic sometimes) but there’s something about what a liquor does when it infuses a piece of real fruit.
I reviewed the Ferrero Rondnoir when it was first introduced in the United States in 2007.
At its heart is a small dark chocolate pearl floating in a mass of chocolate paste inside a crunchy wafer shell. That is covered in a crispy chocolate sprinkling. They’re wrapped in an elegant, textured brown foil and packaged in a little fluted cup.
I see them sold in the US, unlike the other two components to this box, at drug stores and discount chains like Target or KMart. They come in a little single serve package of three or in full boxes and sometimes in mixes, especially around the holidays.
As I’ve already reviewed them, this is just a little review for myself to confirm that they’re not only a unique product, they’re also quite tasty. In fact, I think my original review pegged them as tasty (8 out of 10) but I’m upgrading them to yummy (9 out of 10). That could just be the liquor talking though.
I feel like Ferrero is preparing to release the Küsschen in the United States, though I have nothing more to go on than the fact that they discontinued the hazelnut Mon Cheri. The big issue would be to find a name for it that doesn’t require an umlaut or resonates more with Americans. The fact that it means little kiss might be a trademark issue because of both the Hershey’s Kiss and possibly the Italian Perugina Baci (also means kiss).
This was the perfect sort of box of chocolates for me. It contained adventure (I tried something new), tried and true comfort and a conclusion to the search for a replacement for a discontinued product. The fact that they’re also all dark chocolate and less sweet than some other Ferrero products was a bonus for me. Some of these assortments can be purchased online as well as in Duty Free shops at airports around the world - the family of Ferrero Rocher products are quite popular in Asia.
Friday, February 11, 2011
A few years back I was introduced to Walkers’ Nonsuch Toffees courtesy of my Candy Blog efforts. It’s a British toffee product that’s more akin to American caramel than the hard toffee we’re accustomed to in the States. They come in a wide variety of flavors and even a few formats (bars that require a smack & unwrap approach to individually wrapped nuggets).
I was really excited to visit the Walkers’ Nonsuch booth at the ISM Cologne candy fair and was gifted this lovely bag of one of my favorites: Walkers’ Nonsuch Treacle Toffee. I’ve tried it before in the bar format and was more than pleased. I haven’t, however, been exposed much to their nuggets. Much of the time, I prefer candies that are well packaged, and twisted wrappers on something that’s vulnerable to moisture like caramels meant that I stuck to the sealed bars. But a trade show is a place where I’m confident that the candy is fresh and well treated.
Treacle is a syrup made from sugar cane and is basically just a bit lighter than Black Strap Molasses.
The pieces are soft and satiny, a thick medallion about 1 inch to 1.25 inches in diameter. The chew is soft and smooth, like a fresh caramel. The buttery notes are evident right away but most notable are the deep toasted sugar notes of molasses. There’s very little bitterness or metallic aftertaste like I notice with some molasses candies. Molasses does have a high mineral content and this can be evident to even untrained palates. It’s a little salty with coffee notes and even a touch of deep cocoa. Other earthy flavors flit in and out, like beets and licorice and ginger. Overall it’s nutty, like pecans or Brazil nuts but has an exceptionally smooth chew.
I love these. I got one full bag at the ISM Show, which are extremely fresh with an expiry date of December 15, 2011. I really hope I can find these somewhere in Los Angeles in the future (but I’ll be content with the bar format) because they’re already gone. For people who love rich caramel chews with the deep flavors of molasses, these are a must.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Chuao is a small village in Venezuela, but to chocolate aficionados is the name for criollo cocoa beans from the area. Casey at The Chocolate Note has some wonderful coverage and photos.
For many years Amadei (Italy) had an exclusive deal for the beans from the region, so the only chocolate made from them was Amadei’s Chuao bars. The bars were hard to find and of course quite expensive (though bars from Chocolat Bonnat existed, that’s kind of another story). And of course there was just the one company’s concept of what was best about the beans (from the fermentation to the roasting & conching). Amadei is no longer the only purveyor of the coveted beans. I picked up three different bars from three different countries to see how they created a chocolate bar from the esteemed cacao: Chocolat Bonnat (France), Amano (USA) and Coppeneur (Germany).
The Chocolat Bonnat Chuao bar is the largest of the group, a generous 100 gram bar (3.5 ounces). It’s 75% cacao and Kosher. There are only three ingredients in the bar: cacao, cocoa butter and sugar. No emulsifiers like soy lecithin and no vanilla.
The packaging is simple and the same as all the other Bonnat bars I’ve had. It’s a large bar with petite but thick rectangular segments. It’s wrapped in a simple paper-backed foil which is then covered in a simple glossy, embossed paper sleeve.
The bar has a beautiful sheen, a light touch of red to the brown color and though the photo makes it look a creamy color, it’s really quite dark.
The scent is rather earthy with a few green notes like olives. The melt is exquisite, smooth and thick without being chalky or dry. The chocolate is flavorful, angled mostly towards the deep flavors like smoke, coffee, dried cherries and molasses. There are some slight mineral notes, like iron. While it sounds like this would be heavy and rich, it still comes off a little lighter than that, mostly because of the texture and a lighter acidity. There’s a trace of bitterness towards the end but nothing distracting, more like a finish of a citrus marmalade.
I’m already quite fond of Coppeneur. From the packaging, which is this smart little matte black “wallet” that’s sealed with a dot of wax to the beautiful design of the bar’s mold. I’ve bought several of their Ocumare bars in the past (straight dark chocolate and Mit Chili & Cacao-Nibs) but never wrote about them. They’re difficult to find in the United States, I’ve been buying my bars at Fog City News in San Francisco.
Like the Bonnat bar, the Coppeneur Chuao Dunkle Schokolade is made only with cacao mass and sugar. There is no added soy lecithin or vanilla. This bar is 70% and comes in a 50 gram tablet (about 1.76 ounces).
The bar has a similar red hue. The format of the bar is different from both the Bonnat and Amano, so I photographed them together. It’s quite thin but has an excellent snap to it.
The initial melt is quick and smooth but the thing I noticed first was the raisin flavors and light tangy notes. Though it’s only 70% instead of the 75% of the Bonnat, it’s not sweeter though perhaps a little more acidic and has a dry finish. Though most of the flavor notes were overwhelmingly fruity, like prunes and raisins and dried cherries there were some light roasted notes of pecans. Towards the end, the flavors got deeper with notes of toffee, leather and tobacco.
There were a couple of little gritty bits, this bar is a 70 hour conch. I have another set of bars from Coppeneur that I got in Germany that are paired: a 70 hour conch and a 100 hour conch. I’ll be trying those soon.
This bar comes in the same package style as the other Amanos, a slim and glossy box. The bars are 2 ounces (56 grams) and wrapped in a sturdy gold foil. This bar differs from the other two in the ingredients: cocoa beans, sugar, cocoa butter and vanilla beans. So I was curious what the vanilla beans would contribute to the profile of the Chuao cacao. The cacao content is 70% and is Kosher (note that it’s also made in a facility with nuts, peanuts, dairy & soy present).
I find the size and format of the bar to be ideal for the way that I like to each dark chocolate. The bar is thick, but not so thick that a lot of chewing is necessary. The segments are a great size for a single taste and the foil is of good quality for rewrapping and saving for later.
The first flavors I got were woodsy and green with a little citrus peel twang in there of grapefruit. The melt is smooth but a little more gritty and sugary than the previous two bars ... and when I say gritty, that’s just a comparison. Taken by itself I don’t know if many folks would notice. The vanilla is noticeable in the flavor profile, I definitely got some oak cask and cognac flavors in there and the finish has that vanilla note and the freshness of white tea. There are more floral notes, like orange blossom and jasmine. But there’s also a kind of volatile quality, a sort of burn like orange oil can give after a while.
I’ve been nibbling and formulating my tasting notes for these bars for about two months. I traveled with the bars, taking them all the way to Europe and back. The Venezuelan Chuao beans are extraordinary and very expensive. They create a wonderful chocolate, apparently every chocolate maker is able to do something extraordinary and unique with the beans. The price is prohibitive though and in some ways it makes me question spending that much on a bar ... the Chuao bars are usually priced 20-25% more than the other bars in that company’s line - so my Coppeneur bar was $8, where a regular single origin bar from them would be $6 and these are only 50 grams to begin with.
My final conclusion is that everyone makes a wonderful chocolate bar from these beans. But I’ve also been very impressed with each of these company’s chocolate bars made with other less expensive beans, they’re simply good chocolate makers. I’m not convinced that the chocolate bars are worth the premium for these beans in particular, but fans of chocolate in general should try at least one of the bars made from Chuao beans as a point of reference. Personally, I’m not afraid to go back to blended bean bars, which offer a good balance of consistency of flavor over they years and affordability. But with some folks, once you go Chuao you never go back.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Zingerman’s makes a line of artisan candy bars called Zzang! Candy Bars. I’ve reviewed the Cashew Cow and What the Fudge? bars before. (I’ve also tried the original but never reviewed it) and found them pretty good but not earth shatteringly superior enough to warrant the high price.
I saw the newest addition to the line, the Zzang! Wowza Candy Bar. The description is Creamy raspberry-chocolate ganache, raspberry preserves and fresh raspberry nougat in a crisp dark chocolate shell. Well, that sounds completely original. It’s not an upscale Snickers, it’s something completely different, something fruity, which is sorely lacking in candy bars.
The box is small but protects the bar pretty well. Inside the box the long bar is tucked inside a silvery mylar wrapper. My bar had a little crack all along one side (the side I didn’t photograph) near the top that let the raspberry preserves leak out a little bit. I was worried that this would affect the texture or flavors.
I really went into this with an open mind, because I couldn’t even figure out what the bar was supposed to be like. It blew me away.
The shell is pretty thick on the top and bottom, but thin on the sides, so it cracks a lot. The bar had a strong woody raspberry scent, a little hint of chocolate but mostly that seedy smell of raspberry jam. I had trouble biting the bar, because the nougat center was very soft, so I ended up eating it sideways.
I’ll take this in layers. The bottom layer doesn’t look that big and it really isn’t. It’s a silky smooth and rich raspberry ganache. The chocolate is decadent and fatty with good roasted coffee and toasted sugar flavors. The raspberry notes are purely floral. The next layer is the unique part here. It’s more like a flowing raspberry marshmallow. There is not hint of sugary grain and it’s quite fluffy, but also incredibly sticky. It’s not quite chewy or tacky either. The raspberry flavor is subtle, it’s just a hint of the raspberry essence. Then the top is a little bit of raspberry jam. This part wasn’t so great for me texture wise - it was a tangy raspberry jam (seedless) but had a strong sugary grain to it.
Eaten together, as a single bite, the creamy ganache gives a lot of deep flavors to offset the mostly sweet nougat. The tangy and grainy preserves give a sour pop to it all and the dark chocolate shell keeps it all together, bringing the cocoa flavors back again. But I also tried eating the layers separately. The ganache is on par with truffles I’ve had from some of the best chocolatiers. The nougat was just fascinating because it was so smooth and fluffy and like marshmallow but with flavor. It was a very sticky affair though. The only real issue with it as a whole was the graininess of the preserves and I really think that was because of the little crack in the bar that allowed it to do that. Even with that, the texture difference wasn’t distracting.
The ratios were pretty perfect. I might want more preserves, if they’re not grainy.
The bar has some drawbacks. One of the issues that I had with the previous bars that I tried was the inaccurate labeling. This bar is more of the same. The front of the box says that it’s 3 ounces. The nutrition label says that it’s 82 grams, which is 2.89 ounces. I know that’s less than a 4% difference, but if they know it’s only 2.89, then why does it say it’s bigger on the front. Why not round down to 2.75? Because 3 sounds better.
The second labeling problem is, in my opinion, more substantial. Here’s what the package says:
There is simply no way this bar has only 100 calories per ounce (300 for the whole bar). I wrote to Zingerman’s and corresponded with Charlie Frank, the candy maker. He agreed that something may be off with their calculations (because that’s really how big the bars are - between 2.89 and 3 ounces) and they’re going to re-check them. So I’m going to guess that this comes in at about 130 calories per ounce (there’s not a lot of ganache there and nougat is not very caloricly dense, but there’s also a chocolate coating). So that’d make the bar about 375 calories ... at least.
The labeling aside, I liked the bar and I would definitely buy it again, even at $5 each. I want to see more of these bars using this style of nougat too, something like a Malted Truffle S’More would be nice. How about this: Malted Milk Ganache on a thin Graham Cracker with Toasted Sugar Nougat covered in Milk Chocolate.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.