Friday, October 2, 2015
This nondescript little bag showed up in the Trader Joe’s new products showcase last week. The simple flat bottomed cellophane bag holds tricolor chocolate morsels called Magic Beans. They’re described as chocolate covered nougat beans.
I’ve come to understand that the word nougat really doesn’t mean much as a description. Here in the United States, depending on the initial inspiration of the confection, nougat can be a hazelnut paste, a nut toffee or a whipped sugar, honey and egg bar. In this case, the nougat is a very dark nut brittle.
These Magic Beans come from France, which also makes some stunning whipped egg nougat as well. So, I can see that some folks might be more confused than bewitched by these.
The beans are about the size of Trader Joe’s chocolate covered almonds, though actually kidney bean shaped. They come in three colors, a mottled white, a mottled green and a stand milk chocolate. The coating is a little bumpy on all of them.
Inside the milk chocolate coating is a nugget of almond toffee, or maybe it’s nut brittle, it’s hard to tell from the ingredients label. (They candies may contain traces of hazelnuts, chestnuts, pistachios and walnuts. They’re made with coconut, almonds, milk, soy and wheat.) The nuts themselves are little bits, not whole nuts, and the sugar crust holding them together is very toasted, almost burnt.
The milk chocolate coating is very milky, it has some decent cocoa notes, but for the most part it’s just creamy and sweet. This is a nice counterpoint to the roasted and slightly bitter note of the crunchy center. They reminded me a little bit of the sesame snaps that I pick up at the health food stores.
If you go into these expecting something more like Nutella bites or Charleston Chews, you’re going to be disappointed. These are quite different from other nutty items, so that unique selling proposition is what got me. They’re not magic, but quite enjoyable.
As a side note, I bought something very similar earlier this year in New York City at Eataly. The food mall has an amazing selection of Italian chocolates and sweets, including one of the largest selections of Venchi I think I’ve ever seen outside of Europe.
This is called Venchi Nougatine and are pretty much the same thing as the Trader Joe’s Magic Beans, except they’re made in Italy and covered in 60% dark chocolate. This package of less than 2 ounces was actually the same price as the Magic Beans (7.2 ounces).
Monday, June 29, 2015
Summer is citrusy, a time for lemonade and key lime pies. It’s nice to see some creamy citrus candies out there, too. Sconza Candy introduced their Lemoncello Almonds a few years ago, but this is the first year I’ve seen them in stores in their own branded packaging.
Limoncello is a citrus liqueur that’s extremely popular in Italy. It’s made by steeping lemon zest (preferably Sorrento lemons) in a neutral spirit then adding some simple syrup. It’s naturally yellow and very lemony but not at all tart, since there’s no juice in there.
Sconza is known for their beautiful array of Jordan almonds. So, this confection, made in the heart of prime almond growing country, seems like a natural.
The ingredients are almost all natural, just a touch of artificial color in there.
The white chocolate coating is touched with a bit of lemon zest and coloring. It’s delicate, not overpowering or bitter. It’s not too sweet either while the almonds are generously large and crunchy.
There’s sometimes a disconnect for me when reviewing. There are my expectations and there are the realities. The reality is that this candy delivers on its description. The expectation, however, was that they’d be a nutty version of the Citrus Shortbread Bites I had earlier this year ...which had a bit more of a salty/sweet note along with sweet/sour and creamy/crunchy. Those were just my hopes, and I can’t fault Sconza for not meeting that.
Overall, it’s a good candy combination but very mild and safe. They’re a nice alternative to Jordan almonds, especially since there’s no hard shell, but also a delicate pastel color.
The candies contain milk, soy and almonds and are also made on shared equipment with other tree nuts, sesame seeds and wheat.
Monday, June 15, 2015
Russell Stover is probably best known for the inexpensive boxed chocolates sold at drug stores. I happen to like them for their holiday novelty candies, but more recently they’ve tried to get into everyday snacking with their Big Bite pieces. At first these were just larger versions of the seasonal favorites, but more recent items are completely original to the format. The opposite spectrum of this trend is morselization ... and Russell Stover has introduced some teensy versions of their more popular items. I picked up their Russell Stover Pecan Delight Minis, which are nugget-sized pecan turtles.
These candies that have the word pecan as the first word in their name and they need more pecans. A lot more pecans. Currently they’re little pecan bits, where are nice, they’re a good textural element, but they’re not dense enough ... I need some crunch in my chewy caramel and creamy milk chocolate.
The size is good, they’re poppable. The vague sprinkling of pecans does give a woodsy maple note to the whole thing, the tough of salty is just about right. The caramel is a little too flavored and not authentically caramelized sugar and cream.
As a candy, they about as good as other morsel things at the same price. They’re certainly better than Brach’s. I can’t say that I liked these better than the Demet’s Minis, which also suffer from too few pecans, but I do think the chocolate is of better quality here. (And less expensive.)
Wednesday, June 3, 2015
It’s been a while since Mars has done something new with the Snickers bar. Sure, they miniaturized it, and brought back the Snickers Rockin’ Nut Road Bar, but nothing innovative has come along in a few years.
Mars announced last month that they’re releasing a new limited edition bar in November nationwide. It’s called SNICKERS Mixed Nuts Bar. They bill it as a satisfying mix of peanuts, almonds and hazelnuts combined with SNICKERS® Brand caramel and nougat, all coated with creamy milk chocolate.
Mars sent me some samples of their new candy bars, so I thought I’d give a preview. I think it’s an exciting concept to include so many different kinds of nuts in one bar.
This is a strange bar, because of its mixed status there’s not quite enough of any of its elements. It smells a bit like peanuts, but not as peanutty as a regular Snickers. The nougat is salty and the caramel chewy, all the nuts are crunchy ... the almonds are especially bold and I do recall at least two hazelnuts. If I sound disjointed, that’s the bar right there. It’s a stop and a start, I kind of got going with a nice almond and then there were some peanuts. I’m more mellow than Snickers, more bold than Snickers Almond.
In addition to the milk, eggs, soy, hazelnuts, almonds, and peanuts, the bars may also contain traces of other tree nuts. There’s no statement about gluten.
Monday, May 11, 2015
Like most Brach’s products, the package is vague about the product once you get past the name. There’s a list of ingredients, but other than that, I was kind of left to guess what was in my mix.
So, what do we have? Pretty much what the name says. There’s an assortment of two different shapes of chocolate covered nuts ... peanuts and almonds. Then there are some gumdrop looking things that are caramels and some oblong bits that are chocolate covered brittle.
The whole mix smells sweet, a little like peanuts and cocoa. The sweetness has a fake vanilla note to it that isn’t very encouraging, though the appearance of the mix is pretty attractive. The panning is good, everything is shiny and smooth.
Milk Chocolate Peanuts are satisfying. There’s not a lot of chocolate, but far better than Nestle’s Goobers. There’s a little hint of salt to make these much more of a snack than a sweet.
Dark Chocolate Peanuts also have a hint of salt and a noticeable bitterness to the chocolate which again keeps the whole mix from getting to sticky sweet.
Milk Chocolate Caramels were lackluster. The texture was excellent, the caramel was chewy but not too stiff and it had a smooth consistency. However, it lacked actual caramel flavor and didn’t offset the milk chocolate coating much.
Dark Chocolate Covered Peanut Brittle are easy to spot. They’re large and have a thick coating of chocolate. The brittle center may be big, but it crunches easily. The nutty flavor is not front and center, this piece is more about the textures of the crushed nuts, the dark chocolate and the sugary brittle. The nut bits are quite small, so it’s almost like the sesame brittle found in Kosher delis.
Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds are one of the larger pieces, though some are small enough to be mistaken for peanuts. The almonds have a light blanching, they’re not overly roasted. They’re crunchy and hold up well to the rather sweet dark chocolate.
This mix takes a lot of guess work out of what can be candy roulette. I liked all the pieces and didn’t really long for anything else that wasn’t in here. I thought the peanuts were great, and it all looked good in a little bowl. I certainly preferred it to the actual Bridge Mix that Brach’s sells.
The product contains milk, peanuts, almonds and soy and is made on shared equipment with other tree nuts, eggs and wheat.
Friday, March 27, 2015
When I was at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco in January, I picked up a lot of little chocolate pieces, but not full sized bars for review. So here are a few thoughts on some items that are now in stores:
Perugina Baci are perfect little bites of dark chocolate and hazelnut. Of course they had to twist it up a bit and introduce a white chocolate version ... and now there’s Peugina Milk Chocolate Baci.
The wrappers are light blue instead of silver. They’re pretty and look the same in shape and structure as the standard dark. The milk chocolate does change the confection quite a bit. The hazelnut because more of the star, as well as the dairy notes from the milk chocolate coating and creamy filling. I still liked them, but I ate some classic dark at the same time. I still prefer the bittersweet coating because it brings out the roasted flavors. But these are still nice and probably something kids may enjoy more or supertasters who don’t like bitter things.
I enjoy BT McElrath’s Salty Dog bars (which it turns out I haven’t fully reviewed), which are a great sweet/savory mix of creamy chocolate, salt and crunchy toffee bits. So I was very excited to try the new BT McElrath Buttered Toast. It’s described as Toasted artisan breadcrumbs in our proprietary blend of 40% cacao milk chocolate.
It’s sweet and definitely buttery. There’s a soft bite to this and little bits that crunch like panko. There’s a light salt note along with a little toffee and malt to it as well. Even though it’s a very rich milk chocolate, it might be a little too thick and sticky for me ... maybe I’ll wait for the dark chocolate version to come along.
The BT McElrath Super Red is a 70% bar with little flecks of freeze dried fruit.
The tart notes of the berry bits with the rather dark chocolate combine for a lot more flavor intensity than something like a nut chocolate combo would give. The seeds also give a little bitterness, as does the chocolate and dark berry notes.
Vosges calls these Super Dark bars, though they’re only 72% dark chocolate. That’s because the super part isn’t modifying the chocolate, it’s modifying the inclusions, which are all deemed superfoods. It’s like they went out of their way to put bitter things in there. I picked up two samples (they look pretty much the same). Vosges Super Dark Matcha Green Tea features spirulina, matcha (pulverized green tea) and cocoa nibs. The grassy notes of the matcha are immediately forward. I enjoy a lot of green tea, though I don’t have matcha very often because it’s pulverized leaves, not just steeped tea. Though I understand that there’s more flavanol bang per gram in matcha than the brewed leaves, it’s just too intense for me. This bar brings out a lot of that experience, so if you’re a matcha fan, this is a fun bar, especially because there are some cocoa nibs in there for crunch. The bitterness was just too drying for me. I had to follow it with some Hojicha.
The Vosges Super Dark Coconut Ash & Banana features Sri Lankan coconut charcoal coconut ash and Hawaiian Banana. The bar does look much darker, blacker than a usual chocolate bar. It smells like coconut cream. The flavor is bizarre as well. There are the immediate chocolate notes, which are like crispy brownie edges, then the coconut flavors and something, well, umami that I can’t put my finger on. Then there’s the weird banana flavor, which is a little like fingernail polish remover, it’s not an integrated flavor, it’s like it escapes from the chocolate and evaporates immediately into the back of my sinuses - eventually within the chocolate I did come across a few tangy bits of dried banana, which were completely different on the banana taste spectrum. I wouldn’t call this a pleasant bar experience, though I do appreciate the attempt at the unique. The ash notes come out at the end, more as a sort of dry charcoal notes.
I actually love the little sizes of all the bars, and BT McElrath sells theirs in an array of sizes, some with mixed flavors so you can try more of choose to suit your mood. Vosges also sells some of their Super Dark pieces in boxes, but they’re about $80.
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
At the Fancy Food Show last month I ran across another small-batch caramel maker. This one is called Suss Sweets. They’re based in New Hampshire and have a line of caramels with an interesting package idea - the caramels are sold in long logs, not individual pieces. So a standard roll is 1/4 of a pound. You slice off however much you want.
I found them at an Italian deli at Americana at Brand mall in Glendale. I had to go through the entire basket of caramel logs to find the only Maple Pecan one, since it was the flavor that I sparked the most with at the show.
There’s a lot of packaging for what looks so simple. The outside is a piece of baking parchment, twisted at the ends with a little sleeve with the label on it. Inside is a box, embossed with the logo (kind of a waste, I didn’t notice this touch until I was throwing it out). Then inside the box, the caramel roll is wrapped in wax paper.
The long log was easy to slice into appropriate pieces. The nuts were not as numerous as I’d hoped, so some slices were nutless. However, the maple and pecan flavor was throughout the entire bar. The chew of the caramel was smooth with excellent toasted sugar and fresh butter notes. The salt touch was quite light, enough to balance the sweetness but not so much to make me grab a glass of water. The nuts were fresh and the pecan flavors went very well with the woodsy and vanilla maple notes.
The bar was expensive at $7.50, but of course it was a quarter of a pound. But the fact that they’re not ready to eat meant we couldn’t just try them with our coffee at the store, we had to wait until we got home and got out a knife.
I did get to try the full range of flavors, including Pumpkin Seed and the straight Vanilla with Sea Salt. It’s a good caramel, just like I make at home when I have the time and the weather cooperates. It’s a fun item if you’re putting together a gift basket, especially if it’s a themed with coffee, cheese or other sweets. The fact that you can control the size of the pieces will appeal to some consumers, but I think I just want mine individually wrapped.
Wednesday, February 18, 2015
The description is: crunchy pecans & toasted quinoa with soft & buttery caramel enrobed in chocolate and topped with Himalaya pink sea salt. They’re Kosher and made with mostly organic dairy ingredients as well. Though they use quinoa for the crunchy bits, they’re not a gluten-free candy as they may contain wheat. Also, they’re made in a facility with other tree nuts, eggs and peanuts. Too bad, because a gluten free and peanut free notation would really set these apart.
The patties are about 1.5 inches across, so either one big bite or two small bites. The nutritional listing is a little odd, as it says that 3 pieces are 36 grams and come to 140 calories. That’s just ridiculous for something with so much chocolate and full dairy caramel ingredients. So, my calculations say that it’s 102 calories per ounce, I’m going to say that they’re at least 125.
They smell like a sweet milk chocolate with a hint of earthy cereal notes. The patties are very flat and turning them over reveals that the inclusions are small. So the pecans are really not crunchy pecans but actually crunched pecans along with the quinoa.
The chew of the caramel is good, with some excellent buttery notes and toasted sugar flavors. The quinoa is crunchy, but not overly so. The pecans were barely evident, to the point that some pieces seemed to be lacking pecans entirely. But when I did get them, they had a wonderful woodsy, maple note. I would have preferred much more in the pecan front, even if they were just small pieces, or even just the quinoa and leave out the pecans entirely.
I don’t know if I would pick these up again, but I enjoyed the package I had. If I saw that they had a dark version or mucked around with the proportions, I’d give them another go. But there are other Trader Joe’s items that I much prefer over this, including the Butterscotch Sea Salt Caramels. The price point seemed a bit high, but is far better than DeMet’s Pecan Turtles which are usually about twice the price per pound and use inferior ingredients.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.