Monday, November 8, 2010
Cooler temperatures mean more chocolate consumption in my world. I’ve really been enjoying the bars from Equal Exchange, so I decided to branch out from the plain dark chocolate bars to their flavored offerings.
The Equal Exchange Chocolate Caramel Crunch with Sea Salt is a modest bar, sporting only 55% cacao content, it’s not extraordinarily dark and has more of a candy bar flair to it with bits of salty toffee.
The bar is wrapped simply in a burnt orange and brown wrapper that goes with the color coding Equal Exchange has going on for their line.
The bar is inside a thin white plastic sleeve which is easy to open and slip the bar back into. The bar looks great, it has a reddish hue to it and the inclusions of toffee bits are visible within the chocolate mass.
The bar has a distinct and bright snap. Breaking the bar reveals a plethora of big crunchy toffee bits (made with just four ingredients: cream, sugar, vanilla and sea salt). The chocolate itself smells like coffee and has a light acidic bite to it. It’s sweet, but not sticky and has a well rounded woodsy chocolate flavor. The toffee bits are crunchy and buttery with a strong salty note. They go exceptionally well with the chocolate and complement the smooth melt of the chocolate with the hard burnt sugar notes and the dash of sea salt.
This bar straddles the world of easy to eat candy and decadent treat. The chocolate isn’t as nuanced as the darker single origin bars, but it’s also more accessible. It’s one of my favorite toffee chocolate bars now. (It still prefer the slightly more candy-ish Green & Black’s Peanut Bar, but that’s milk chocolate and I’ve had more of those bars than the Equal Exchange.)
It’s fair trade, organic and Kosher. It’s made in a facility that processes tree nuts and peanuts and of course isn’t vegan because of the milk in the toffee.
UPDATE 11/16/2010: I transcribed the ingredients incorrectly in an earlier version of this review. There is no corn syrup in this bar. The only sweetener is organic unrefined and/or raw cane sugar. I’ve revised the review to reflect the accurate ingredients.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
So could a company known for it’s amazingly fresh tasting peanut butter (and other nut butters) make something like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup even better? The new Justin’s Organic Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups and Justin’s Organic Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups have a lot going for them in their lists of specs. They’re all-natural, organic and gluten-free, they use fair-trade chocolate, contain no preservatives and are packaged in compostable wrappers.
They’re also about $2 per package of two cups. Premium has a premium price. But I was on board, I wanted to see if eco-awareness would make the actual candy tastier (and possibly limit my other candy consumption because of the pricetag.) So after I got them home and took a few pictures I turned over the package to see some serious trash talk from Justin himself:
I don’t mind a little puffery in sales copy, but I don’t like it when my preferences are insulted. Why would Justin start out our relationship by exhibiting such contempt for my predilections? (For the record, my problems with Reese’s have never involved the peanut butter, it’s about the lackluster chocolate.) It took me a while to shrug this off, but I think I managed to center myself back to zero on the predisposed opinion scale.
Justin’s Organic Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups
There are two cups in the package, which weighs 1.4 ounces (Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are 1.5 ounces per two cup package). Each cup is exactly 100 calories.
I picked these up at Whole Foods within a week or so of them being placed on store shelves (I frequent the one near my office for lunch and I always cruise by the chocolate shelf). The “best by” date was 5/11, so they’re are definitely fresh. Yet there was a slight bloom on all of the cups. This is the opposite of the issue I usually have with peanut butter cups, which tend to get a greasy sheen as the peanut butter oils migrate into the chocolate.
They smell wonderful, mostly like grassy, fresh peanuts but with a light note of milk and cocoa.
What I noticed first when biting into the cup was how sandy and dry the center was. Most peanut butter cups will bend first, this crumbled and broke into chunks. Not a bad thing, just different. The chocolate is silky smooth and like a silky not-to-sweet chocolate butter. The peanut butter center is salty and sweet with strong roasted peanut notes. The texture is odd, it’s not pasty or buttery, it’s crumbly. It’s not grainy either, it’s a very fine sort of powdery texture. The chocolate really makes up for a lot of that with its silken texture and consistent melt.
The other thing I noticed, as the photo shows is that it’s not a coherent block of peanut butter filling. It has some swirls of milk chocolate in it and a rather thick chocolate reservoir on the top. This was the same with all of the cups that I got (see the dark chocolate one below as well).
The Justin’s Organic Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are also gluten free, organic, use fair trade chocolate, Kosher and packaged in biodegradable wrappers. They’re also vegan. I consider this a pretty big deal, lots of dark chocolate bars are considered vegan but very few “candy” bars are. (But note that they are processed on shared equipment that has been used for dairy ingredients, so they’re not for folks with dairy allergies.)
Many all natural products have brief ingredients lists, but Justin’s is quite elaborate, mostly because each ingredient needs a qualification:
* denotes Rainforest Alliance Certified products
I don’t know what the status of Palm Fruit Oil is on the list of palm oils these days. Palm plantations displace rainforest, but then again this is organic. Maybe some free range, wild-foraged palm fruit oil would be preferable.
The chocolate is silky smooth, just as the milk chocolate version was, but much more intense. In this case the chocolate flavors overpower the peanut butter flavors in many bites (mostly because of the inconsistent distribution of the chocolate, both of my cups had a full chocolate center). The cocoa flavors are woodsy with a slight acidic burn and tannic, bitter bite. It balanced well with the lightly sweet peanut butter center.
I liked the chocolate but I bought these because I thought they were peanut butter cups. Where’s my peanut butter!
I like that the peanut butter is less sweet than many other peanut butter confections, but I wanted it to be more buttery, it was like they used peanut flour instead of actual ground peanuts with all their glorious native oils. For this price I need a cup that delivers consistent ratios of peanut butter and chocolate. It’s a new product and maybe they don’t have things worked out, but the fact that the same swirling and high chocolate ratio occurred in both versions leads me to believe that this is either intended or permitted. Some folks might prefer it that way, so there’s a unique selling proposition for Justin’s. But it doesn’t rise to the level of Peanut Butter Cup Perfection.
Justin’s Nut Butters makes a variety of nut butters, like Honey Almond (which I love) and also a Hazelnut Chocolate (which I haven’t tried yet) ... so once they get their inconsistencies settled, I think that should be their next product developed. An Organic, Fair Trade Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Butter Cup. Then we’ll talk about chocolate nut cup perfection.
I picked up some new samples of Justin’s Organic Peanut Butter Cups at ExpoWest. They were given to me directly by Justin himself. The packaging is identical, but the cups are greatly improved.
My main complaints about the cups were that the peanut butter was too dry and there was too much chocolate. New versions hitting store shelves addressed this. As you can see from the photo above, the peanut butter is more consistently distributed in the center and appears less crumbly and dry. The chocolate shell still has a crisp, well tempered bite to it, but the peanut butter portion is well defined and flavorful. It tastes like a little darker roast as well and perhaps even a little saltier.
On the milk chocolate version I have to update my rating to 9 out of 10. Justin really did rise up to the challenge he made on the wrapper, this is better than a Reese’s.
The dark chocolate version also gets an upgrade, but only to 8 out of 10. It’s vegan, so that’s a huge thing, but the chocolate is still bitter and has a strong olive and grassy taste to it that overpowers the peanut flavors. The textures were excellent and the ratios dead on perfect.
My last hesitation on this product line is still the price though, but they’re definitely worth it now.
I was a bit overwhelmed when talking to Justin that I forgot to mention my desire for the Hazelnut Cup (though he said he’d read the review). Instead of pitching that I told him I wanted someone to make an all-natural peanut butter that had an additional bit of cocoa butter in it instead of hydrogenated tropical oils to keep it emulsified. The cocoa butter would keep it from separating but also add that inimitable texture, (and if you used un-deodorized) a light malty taste and keep it spreadable.
Friday, June 25, 2010
The Peter Paul Mounds bar is a classic. It’s a simple moist coconut center covered in dark chocolate. The bar was introduced in 1920 by Peter Paul in New Haven, Connecticut and quickly became one of their best sellers. Though Peter Paul made other bars over the years, the only two that remain are Mounds and the sister milk chocolate and nut bar, Almond Joy. In 1978 Peter Paul merged with Cadbury and then in 1988 Cadbury sold it off to Hershey’s, who continues the production today keeping the Peter Paul name on the product.
The candy is rather like a long version of a chocolate you’d find in a mixed box instead of a candy bar. The format of two pieces in a single package goes back to the 40s and remains today even though the wrappers have changed over the years. It’s one of the few bars that still has the little paperboard tray, and I must say that I appreciate it when it comes to getting the candy out and the fact that mine nearly always look pristine.
The dark chocolate coating is simple, with some slight ripples on the top. The pieces are rounded and have a great feel to them - easy to get out of the package, easy to bite and with two pieces it’s easy to share.
The dark chocolate can’t contain the coconut aroma. It’s a fresh and clean smell. The bite of the chocolate is good, it’s thick enough to hold the coconut and there are never any little leaky spots. But it doesn’t flake off or make a mess. The coconut is soft and chewy, moist and rather sweet at first. The dark chocolate keeps that sweetness from feeling too sticky and adds a woodsy and dark cherry note to the whole thing. The coconut has a long chew and usually tastes very fresh, though often not much more than that (no grassy fresh notes).
It’s a great combination and it endures because of its simplicity as far as I’m concerned. It’s one of the few candy bars that I still pick up on top of all the other candy eating that I do. I wish the ingredients were a little “purer” as there are things like hydrolyzed milk protein and PGPR in there that I can’t recall eating as a child.
And of course no discussion of the Mounds bar would be complete without a mention (and inclusion) of the classic jingle “Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut, Sometimes You Don’t.”
Monday, June 7, 2010
I couple of months ago I went on a buying spree in Little Tokyo and bought this Meiji Milk Chocolate bar. I photographed the packaged but then ate it without taking a picture of the contents. After consuming it, I thought, I should really review this.
I don’t know much about Meiji as a company. Everything I know about them is what I have experience interacting (eating) their products that I can get a hold of in the United States. I don’t know their politics, I don’t know how the Japanese regard the products and company and I don’t know anything about their history (except that they’re over 80 years old). It’s kind of a strange approach for me, as I often like to immerse myself with a lot of context when it comes to candy.
Late last year Meiji’s chocolate bar line got a new look. (Here’s what the package used to look with along with Orchid64’s review and some other more professional evaluations of the redesign.) Here’s another view of their classic-style packages.
I loved their old wrapper, but I have to say, I really dig the new one. I like the font but what I really enjoy is the bold simplicity; partly because what’s inside is simple and partly because it stands out so well amongst the very chaotic and colorful candy packaging common in Japan.
The ingredients are great: sugar, cacao mass, whole milk powder, cocoa butter, soy lecithin, artificial flavor.
The bar measures 6.25” long and 2.75” wide. There are 15 segments - five across and three down. They don’t really do much besides provide visual interest - I found the bar broke into pieces wherever it felt like, not along the supposed section dividers. Under the embossed paper sleeve the bar is wrapped in a rather thin and devilish foil. I found it difficult to get the bar out and even worse to get it back in. (Basically I just re-wrapped it the best I could and put it in a zipper plastic bag for later consumption.)
In Japan the bar is about a dollar, so it’s like the Hershey bar in that it’s widely available and cheap. (In the US I paid twice that though, $1.99 in Little Tokyo.) The bar is bigger than a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate which is 1.55 ounces and the Meiji Milk Chocolate is 2.04 ounces.
The flavor is deep and smoky. It’s much darker than ordinary milk chocolates, but also much less milky. It has charcoal and cocoa overtones, it reminds me of chocolate pudding I make at home - which is often very low in sugar and very high in chocolate (usually a mix of chocolate and cocoa). The melt is cool and exceptionally smooth - smoother and more consistent than Dove. It was actually comparable in mouthfeel to Amano’s Milk Chocolate bars. It’s thick but not sticky, silky but not greasy.
The toasty caramel and charcoal notes have a bitter aftertaste that’s quite pronounced. I enjoyed it quite a bit and found no problem eating a whole bar in one sitting. It’s not for everyone, but I applaud the good use of ingredients, fresh and unique flavor profile and decent price. The bar is extremely fatty - it clocks in at 167 calories per ounce, which is much higher than many milk chocolate bars which are known to be very sugary - but there’s also 15% of your calcium in each serving, 6% of your Vitamin C & Iron plus 2 grams of protein.
I’m willing to continue spending $2 for this bar and seeking it out in Japanese markets.
Friday, April 16, 2010
Madelaine Chocolate makes chocolate morsels. They make a wide array of chocolate pieces wrapped in novelty foils, but what they do that’s different from RM Palmer or even Russell Stover is they use really good chocolate.
Their array of foil wrapped treats is dazzling. Butterflies, poker chips, stars, hearts, balls, flowers and coins. They also make panned chocolates like a rainbow of Malted Milk Balls in both classic and specialty flavors. They’re a bit expensive but my real complain has been how hard they are to find.
It looks like they’re making a new push into retail outlets instead of bulk bins and wholesale quantities for party planners they packaging for the shelf. In addition to their new treats (some reviewed by Sugar Pressure) they have a new line of bonbons called Duets which are double filled chocolate spheres in four varieties.
Madelaine sent me a press kit with a sample of three of each of the new chocolates for review.
The chocolates come in stand up bags made of paperboard, ten chocolates to a package and retail for about $6.25 according to their own direct-sell website (but probably less on store shelves). That makes each chocolate about 63 cents, not bad when compared to a Lindt Lindor Truffle which is about where I think they’re aiming in the marketplace.
Milk Chocolate & White Chocolate Duets
The pieces are nicely formed and again, I’m using Lindor truffles for comparison. They’re individually twist wrapped and not only clearly marked, they’re color coded if you should dump them into a bowl with other flavors. They’re about the same size as Lindor, though lacking the little divot that allows it to sit up on its own. Instead of a coconut and palm kernel oil in the center, Madelaine uses a combination of real chocolate, milk products and canola oil for the ganache core.
This is a classic confectionery pairing: milk chocolate and white chocolate. The ganache centers are satisfyingly soft, so much so that they melt readily. The blend of the flavors is quite milky with a bit of a cream cheese tang to them. For the most part it was like eating a version of a chocolate cheesecake.
It’s rich and sticky, a bit cloying but not as sickly sweet as I would have expected for a white and milk pairing like this. The chocolate shell is also good quality though it was the sweetest part of the confection. The flavors are well rounded and wholly authentic, not watered down or thinned out by excess oils.
Caramel & Peanut Butter Duets
I thought, How good could a caramel and peanut butter bonbon be from a commercial company? After all, I was consistently disappointed by gooey caramel from mass manufacturers. It usually had a great texture but little more flavor than Karo.
The sphere smelled like peanut butter and chocolate. So far so good. Biting into it, the peanut butter side wasn’t quite a meltaway, but not quite the crumbly peanut butter of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup. A good roasted taste, a little salty and pretty smooth. The caramel side was a revelation. The texture was ultrasmooth and thick though not chewy. The flavor profile was actually like burnt sugar, like a true caramel. The combination of the two along with the milky chocolate shell was decadent and homey.
Raspberry & White Truffle Duets
This one smells quite milky without a hint of the berry jam inside. After biting into it I recognized the yogurty white ganache side. The great part of this one was the raspberry filling. No seeds but lots and lots of jammy raspberry flavors - boiled sugar, floral berry notes and a gooey sticky jam texture.
Raspberry & Peanut Butter Duets
I saved the best for last. A few weeks ago I posted my favorite piece from an assortment of chocolates from William Dean Chocolatier that my sister gave me for Christmas. It was a peanut butter & jelly bon bon. Yeah, it sounds simple and homey. But what’s wrong with that?
This Duet has a layer of creamy peanut butter and that wonderfully flavorful raspberry filling. I could eat a whole bag of these without any problem.
They are expensive, but if I could buy them individually like Lindor Truffles I’d guarantee I’d pick up one or two of the PB&J on a regular basis. As a box, I’d hesitate a bit but probably go for it anyway - especially if I could snag a bag for about $5. They’re rich but not too decadent, a little more homey and have fresh flavors that fill a hole where I don’t think there are other commercially made products.
They will be released the week of April 19, 2010 and will be available at retailers such as WalMart and Kohl’s. (Check their website for current locations.)
Friday, April 9, 2010
It’s so frustrating when I know that there’s a candy out there I want to try but I just can’t get a hold of it. The Pink Grapefruit Tic Tac have been around for a couple of years, but as far as I knew they were sold only as a “big pack” and only at WalMart.
I’ve been scouring eBay and the discount dollar stores ever since, hoping they’d turn up. Thankfully last weekend I found them at the 99 Cent Only Store - and for only 59 cents a package. I bought two, because I knew I’d love them.
The box holds exactly one ounce, which sounds like a single portion to me, the way I eat Tic Tacs. (I eat them like they’re candy.)
They’re a beautiful shade of pink (carmine but at least the ingredients are all natural). They don’t smell like much, but they sound great in the package when I shake it.
They’re soft and smooth, a little slick on the tongue at first. Then they give up the flavor. The grapefruit is a good zesty blast, especially after the pink outside coating comes off. It’s tangy but I wouldn’t call it sour. I usually chew mine, so I was getting a big dose of grapefruit. It’s pretty intense if you eat a lot of them in a row since they use real dry pink grapefruit juice. In fact, after about half the package it was making my tongue vibrate a little bit from the citrus oils. There’s also a little bit of a mentholated after taste, it doesn’t really make them minty, but it does make my breath feel fresher when I inhale.
I would definitely buy these on a regular basis if I can find them reliably.
I saw that Ebidebby found them and Candy for Dinner also The Candy Enthusiast had the Citrus Punch Limited Edition version that included Pink Grapefruit.
Ferrero has changed the packaging just slightly. The old polystyrene that made such a satisfying rattling sound is gone and now they’re using polypropylene which cuts energy usage and greenhouse gas emissions. Of course it’s also important to reuse and then recycle the packaging when you’re done. The polypropylene is a little softer so the candy boxes don’t crack as easily as they used to. Do you have any tips on what to do with the boxes when you’re done?
Wednesday, January 20, 2010
I’ll have a full wrap up when I get home, but instead of writing this morning I’m hitting the road early as we expect bad weather and I wanted to be extra careful on the drive back from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
So I’ll just have to leave you with this dreamy cross section of a Xan Confections “Big Mouth” which is an organic crisp brown rice and marshmallow base with a layer of caramel and homemade peanut butter covered in milk chocolate.
I’m excited to get my samples back to the photo studio and of course start eating them!
Tuesday, December 8, 2009
My mother sent me a crazy-big box of holiday candies from Aldi that arrived over the weekend. I’ll have lots more on those (photo here) soon.
The first item I wanted to mention was such an incredible deal. It’s rather generic looking box, designed smartly and spare though a rather vague package about what’s inside. It’s called Chocolate Swiss Assorted Chocolate Squares. (They’re not really squares, but the Swiss aren’t known for their precision, oh, wait, they are.)
The box holds 7.05 ounces and cost $2.29. Inside are about 45 tiny little gold-wrapped chocolate bars in four varieties. The bars are tiny, less than 5 grams each and 1.25 inches long and .75 inches wide.
After spreading out the contents, it looked like miniature stacks of gold bullion. I divided them up to get a sense of the distribution of the flavors. It’s obvious just at a glance that the red labeled ones (Gianduja) are the most prevalent. Then there were almost equal amounts of the Milch and Haselnuss. There were only seven Zartbitter.
The utilitarian color-coded labels say Schweizer Schokolade: Swiss Chocolate.
The cute little bars are perfectly formed. The scent is soft and milky with a light malty note.
The texture is silky smooth and sugary. The dairy flavors are most prominent with the malt and some caramelized notes. The cocoa takes a back seat, providing just a subtle woodsy note and of course the inimitable melt. The bite is quite small, so this was one case where I wanted slightly more from these slight pieces.
This bar was the same as the milch but with the addition of some crushed hazelnuts.
The scent is mostly from the hazenut. There’s a light toasted and cereal note in there. The texture of the chocolate is the same as the milch, soft and creamy but with a strong grassy flavor of the hazelnuts and the crispy crunch of the pieces. Wonderfully snackable.
Gianduja, or gianduia, is a paste made from sugar, chocolate and hazelnuts. Depending on proportions of the ingredients, sometimes it’s solid enough to make into bars. This gianduja is still a bit softer than the milch. There’s no snap at all, it just bends (and as you can see from the photo, gets dented easily).
That softness gives it a quick melt. In this case it has a strong roasted hazelnut flavor and a little bit of cocoa in there. It’s quite sweet, but doesn’t have much grain like some other versions like Milka can. It’s a bit sticky and completely filling.
This is quite a nice looking little bar. It has a very bright snap to it and a smoky scent.
The flavors and texture are very different from the milk varieties. It’s thick and chalky after it melts a bit on the tongue and is a lot like a rich chocolate pudding. It has some strong bitter components and some tea and astringency as well. Sometimes it tastes burnt, like the edge of an overdone brownie. It’s not complex, just kind of a comforting and fleeting bitterness and dryness. I can’t say that I loved it, but I found it a decent counterpoint to the very sweet milk chocolates from time to time.
It’s a great value, when you consider how much a mid-brand large chocolate bar would cost about the same. It’s more than Dove Chocolate Promises or Hershey’s Miniatures, but this is also a variety set that’s pretty hard to find. The ingredients are fair - there are no additional oils in there, but they do use PGPR (though it’s listed after soy lecithin so I have to wonder how much is in it and if it’s in all varieties).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.