Monday, December 29, 2014
barkTHINS won the Most Innovative New Product award at the Sweets & Snacks Expo for the Dark Chocolate Toasted Coconut variety. I can’t see quite what’s so innovative about that. I picked up a package of the barkTHINS Dark Chocolate Pumpkin Seed because it was on sale. The stand up package holds 4.7 ounces and was on sale for $3.99.
The top of the package says that it’s a serious twist on snacking. Which is a grandiose statement for a bunch of seeds in chocolate, which is one of the oldest forms of chocolate inclusions. Perhaps the twist they’re referring to is the fact that the chocolate and the sugar in the chocolate is Fair Trade certified. And the soy lecithin is non-GMO. There are no dairy ingredients, though it may contain traces of peanuts, tree nuts, milk, wheat or eggs. The FAQ on their website explains that their innovation is the fact that the bark is thin enough to snap into pieces.
All my grumbling aside, I like what I saw on the ingredients label and the concept of simple, ethically sourced dark chocolate with some fresh toasted seeds in it.
I’ve never quite understood the appeal of bark as a product. I understand why I make it, because I have leftover chocolate from a kitchen project and then just mix up some stuff I have sitting around and call it a tasty mess. I can’t imagine selling it. I want my pieces consistent and I want my seeds integrated.
The good news is that the pumpkin seeds (pepitas) are actually integrated into the chocolate. The pieces are pretty consistent in size and thickness and with a good amount of pepitas. The general size of the pieces is what I’d call, “too large.” They’re about 2.5” by 1.5”. This is a nice portion, however, I found them a bit large and wanted more small pieces. Luckily, I could make my own ... while providing lots of small pieces would mean that large piece lovers would have some assembly to do.
The chocolate is nice, a little on the fatty side which means that there’s a nice silky melt, but also that the calories per ounce on this were 164 ...quite high. (Pepitas have between 145 and 160 calories per ounce, depending on the variety.) The cocoa flavors have a lot of toasty toffee notes and a little hint of grassy olives (or maybe that’s the pepitas). There’s a hint of salt, which offsets the sweetness very well. The pumpkin seeds are crunchy and crisp with no really flavor of their own, just a clean chew with maybe a hint of pistachio.
I enjoyed it, though I do find snacking on bark to simply be difficult. The inconsistency of the sizes and the inclination for me to want to pick through and find the right size and density of seeds is problematic. I’m not sure why they can’t be little bars or puddles. The use of pumpkin seeds is different enough, though the price on these is a bit steep. I’ll finish the bag and probably consider the salted almond and coconut version in the future if I see them on sale again.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014
Theo Chocolate makes organic and fair trade chocolate from bean to bar in their factory in Seattle. They have a selection of seasonal bars in addition to their regular items, this year I picked out their Theo Chocolate Nutcracker Brittle because I liked their Salted Almond bar. It features almonds, hazelnuts and sugary brittle chunks in smooth, rich 70% dark chocolate
The most notable quality of this seasonal bar is that it’s vegan. That’s right, the brittle is not made with any dairy, so the bar is free from any animal-derived products. (Though it is made in a factory that also processes milk, eggs and wheat, so it may contain traces of gluten or dairy as well as peanuts or other tree nuts.)
The wrapping is nice, a simple paper over-wrap with the chocolate bar enclosed in foil underneath. The bar is made with 88% fair trade ingredients and all organic products (except for the baking soda and salt). The corn syrup is also non-GMO and they do not use soy lecithin (or lecithin of any kind).
The bar looked great and smells wonderful. It’s a woodsy cocoa blend, it smells like toffee and fresh brewed coffee and toast. For a 70%, it’s well balanced. The cocoa flavors are a little on the acidic side with some bright sour cherry notes along with the other woodsy components mentioned earlier. It’s sweet, at first, but the baked brownie flavors dominate towards the end. The nuts are kind of separate as a flavor and texture. The almonds and hazelnuts are crunchy and fresh (though hard to tell apart) and the little brittle pieces are crunchy without being tacky or chewy. I missed the little hint of salt from the Salted Almond bar, but that’s not what was promised here.
It’s a nice seasonal bar, but I have to wonder why it’s not a year round offering ... no reason not to have this for Valentine’s.
Monday, December 22, 2014
Think of them like a hearty petit fours. The base is a gingerbread cake, topped with a layer of fruit jelly then a layer or marzipan. For this particular brand of Schulte Dominos, the fruit jelly is apple and the marzipan is actually persipan, which is made from apricot kernels instead of almonds. Although they seem like an ancient sort of confection, according to this page they were invented by Herbert Wendler in Dresden in 1936.
I’ve had dominos quite a few times, Aldi sells a few varieties in both milk and dark chocolate and of course I’ve had them in while traveling in Germany. This particular version has a nice coating of dark chocolate, which keeps the confection from becoming too sweet. They’re pretty shy on calories, only 50 each, probably because part of it is a little bit of cake.
This package has 10 pieces in it, which fared quite well - only one was cracked on the top. The package holds 4.4 ounces, so each piece is just shy of a half an ounce each. The package says that this is an Authentic Traditional European Recipe. I don’t know if there are a lot of modernized versions or departures from the traditional ... or if other non-Europeans have adopted the confection and have created a competing version.
Each piece is not quite a cute. They’re 7/8 of an inch square and about 3/4 of an inch high.
I’ll start from the top down. The persipan is much like a marzipan. It’s soft and has a good texture that’s not too pasty or sweet. The flavor is much more amaretto infused that many marzipans I’ve had, which makes me wonder if it’s a natural flavor profile for persipan. There is a distinct bitter note to it.
The next layer is a jelly, which is pretty bland. I had to read the ingredients to find out that it must be apple at all. It’s a little tart and has a slight mealy quality that real apple pulp can bring to a jam.
They smell rich, a little like cocoa and molasses and maybe a hint of ginger.
The base layer is called gingerbread. It’s made from a mix of wheat flour and rye flour along with brown sugar and molasses. It’s quite dry, which I think is okay because the jelly and persipan provide a bit of moisture and texture to the whole thing as long as you don’t eat the layers separately. However, there’s not real spice note to it, or ginger flavor at all.
They’re hearty and satisfying. It’s a great mix of textures with the cool tartness of the jelly mixing with the dry cake and slightly chewy persipan. I had no trouble finishing the tray of them over two days.
I have to wonder what a premium version of these would be like. Perhaps with some actually flavored jelly like a good grape, a spiced apple or something more in the citrus marmalade family. I did see that Niederegger makes a version, though I probably can’t find those in the United States. The cake part might be better if it was an actual Lebkuchen with ground nuts in it.
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
The company sent me a sample of 14 flavors of their current flavors to try. They came in a simple clear bag with the truffles actually stacked in color order. (But I chose to show you a photo of their Christmas mint assortment, because I don’t actually like photographing clear plastic packaging.)
Earlier I called them “truffles” because they’re really meltaways. The chocolates are little rectangular blocks of chocolate coated meltaway centers. The centers are a combination of chocolate, flavoring and coconut oil mixed with palm oil. This means that they melt at a different temperature than the chocolate itself. The centers are solid, unlike Lindt Lindor Truffles, which have similar ingredients, but more tropical oils.
If this sounds like a Frango, that’s because Seattle Chocolates also makes Frangos for Macy’s, but also sells them under their own name but with more colorful packaging.
The box I got at the top of the review contained three mint flavors: Mint, San Juan Sea Salt and the seasonal Candy Cane. Pictured above I have Dark Chocolate, Mint, San Juan Sea Salt, Cool Mint.
I think the first one I should address is the Mint. It comes in a medium green mylar wrapper and is a milk chocolate confection. It smells deliciously pepperminty and takes me back to my childhood and the seasonal boxes of Mint Frangos I consumed (often surreptitiously). The milk chocolate has a strong dairy note and the minty center has a satisfying cool melt along with the peppermint. There are also teensy little pops of salt every once in a while. Often candies like this can be ridiculously sweet, but I didn’t find it that way at all.
The next to profile is a standard, a basic truffle on which so many other flavors are based, the Dark Chocolate. This one is in a medium blue wrapper.
The bite has a satisfying snap, and though the center doesn’t look creamy, it melts well. The dark chocolate has a mild flavor, like the common chocolate chips you’d use for cookies. It’s a toasty flavor, a little the bitter side but with a smoother melt than baking chips.
San Juan Sea Salt is a newer piece, and features a seafoam green wrapper. It’s a milk chocolate piece with little toffee bits and a little extra sea salt mixed into the chocolate center. The salt is a wonderful combination with the very milky chocolate and the little toffee bits are a great textural crunch. I did get some of these in the mint set, and they were actually infused with the mint flavors from the other truffles. Either way, it’s good.
Cool Mint was the last one in this set, a bit of a change from the previous since it features a light blue wrappers and a white center in dark chocolate. It’s quite minty and could use a little bit of that salt that the others seem to have. I enjoyed it, but prefer the other mint varieties.
Ah, things are getting a little nuttier in the next batch which features Salted Almond, Milk, Peanut Butter, Espresso.
I’ll start with Espresso because, we’ll, I’m in charge. The wrapper is brown, the chocolate is dark. The interior is smooth and has good roasted flavor note. The meltaway itself has little crispy bits ... coffee grounds. The flavor profile is good, I liked the coffee and the grounds or whatever they are aren’t too gritty. Out of the mix, this was the first flavor that disappeared. Not too sweet.
Milk looks just like the mint, so must give that a glance again except imagine the wrapper is gold. Since there are no other flavor elements in this one, it’s a little easier to pick out the profile of the milk chocolate itself. It has a strong dairy flavor, almost like the flavor of cream cheese. It’s sweet gets a little oily towards the end. I skipped these after getting the profile.
Peanut Butter sounded fantastic. The bronzy wrapper holds a milk chocolate piece with a peanut butter meltaway center. The interesting aspect is that there are also crushed peanuts in there too. Again, this one is oily like the milk chocolate, though it didn’t bother me as much.
Salted Almond is a bit more trendy and comes in a goldenrod wrapper with a dark chocolate coat. The center is dark chocolate and features a bit of salt and a few almond chips here and there. The toasty flavors of the almonds and dark chocolate were excellent. I’d buy this as a bar, as well.
The last set is a little fruity and contains some different concepts in the meltaway concept: Peanut Brittle, Strawberry Creme, Raspberry Creme, Blackberry Creme.
Peanut Brittle is similar to the Salted Almond, a little crunchy peanut, maybe with some crispy caramelized sugar in there. Since this is a dark piece, it’s far and away different from the Peanut Butter, though far less peanutty.
The Strawberry is a white center with what I think is bits of freeze dried strawberries in there. It has some authentic strawberry flavors but suffers from the same oily feeling towards the end.
The Raspberry and Blackberry Creme were similar, with some nice berry flavors with a tangy pop here and there.
Coconut Macaroon is in a lighter blue mylar and features a dark chocolate coating and center. This is a pure tropical piece, the coconut oils in the meltaway work their magic here along with a few little bites of toasted coconut. There’s a definite coconut smell to it, so much it overpowers the chocolate flavors.
Extreme Chocolate comes in a magenta wrapper (I mistook it for one of the berries when I was photographing). This is excellent. It tastes darker than its reputed 65% cacao, with good bitter notes but still enough sweetness. The meltway qualities are still there, but none of the oily textures I didn’t like. Also as a bonus, there are crunchy cacao nibs in there. All of the nibs I came across were crisp, not fibery like some origins.
Seattle Chocolates also makes a wide variety of Truffle Bars, many in the same flavor profile as the Truffles ... though the ratios differ quite a bit, with more solid chocolate and less meltaway filling in most cases.
Seattle Chocolates Truffles are made with non GMO ingredients and are gluten free. They do contain soy and dairy ingredients and obviously the ones that don’t have peanuts or tree nuts in them were still processed on shared equipment. They sell most of the flavors singly as well as different flavor assortments, like the Mint, just dark and coffee flavors.
As a product line, I give it all a 7 out of 10. For the pieces I liked, such as Salted Almond, Extreme Chocolate and San Juan Sea Salt, I go to 8 out of 10.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Tcho is a bean to bar chocolate maker based in San Francisco. Their early chocolate programs simplified the ideas of single origin distinctions and simply labeled their chocolate bars with the flavor characteristic based on a flavor wheel.
Though their early products were simple dark and milk chocolate bars, they’ve not created some interesting new flavored bars. I picked up two little tasting squares of their Tcho Mokaccino. They’re only .28 ounces, so it really is just a bite or two of chocolate. It’s described as: Serious Milk Chocolate + Blue Bottle Coffee.
Tcho is made with fair trade cocoa beans, organic ingredients and is certified kosher. (They do use soy lecithin in their chocolate and also handle nuts in their facility.)
I happen to enjoy the coffee renaissance that’s been going on for ...oh, the past 30 years. The pre-ground cans of coffee of my childhood are long gone: a time when single origin meant you looked for the Colombian mountain on the can as an indication of flavor.
The little piece has a wonderful Spirograph-style pattern on it. It tastes a little smoky, very milky, with an almost cheesy note. The coffee is intense, but on the sweet side (I don’t take sugar in my coffee, so having it combined with chocolate tends to sweeten it too much for me). The coffee notes blend very well with the chocolate but the most important thing here is the texture. It’s smooth ... there’s now coffee bean grit like so many coffee chocolates end up with (or whole beans) that I don’t care for.
I’ve been watching Tcho since they started up and were in beta. Though I appreciate many of their attributes, I’ve not been impressed with the products themselves, the dark chocolate is gritty and has an odd fat balance to it for me, and often the beans taste burnt. They do some interesting chocolate covered items, like nuts, which are good but not remarkable enough for me to fork over the premium price.
That said, I’m glad I had an open mind and picked up the Mokaccino. The little squares are a bit expensive, but if I bought two of them instead of an actual cappuccino, it’s about the same price.
Thursday, December 4, 2014
Their website lays out their attributes succinctly: They are white in color, peanut in shape, peppermint in flavor.
Spangler is already one of the best known makers of Circus Peanuts, the ordinarily orange colored, peanut shaped but banana flavored confection. This new version puts Circus Peanuts in play as a new product line for Holiday theming, especially since they made a Halloween version themed for Candy Corn.
They’re white, so they’re difficult to photograph. They’re about two inches long and don’t smell like much at first.
Upon my first bite, I did find that they’re quite minty. The texture of the marshmallow, when fresh, is light though a bit on the grainy side. They’re not the puffs you’d associate with Campfire or JetPuffed brands. Instead these are dense with a little bit of a sugar grain and get quite chewy and tacky when stale.
The mint is mild but definitely refreshing. It cuts the otherwise too-sweet notes of the marshmallow quite a bit. There’s only a smidge of salt in there (10mg) but what’s actually nice about these is that they’re, as far as I can tell, all natural. No artificial colors, because they’re not colored at all.
Out of curiosity, I added a peanut to my hot chocolate. I pulled it into “marbits” and tossed it on top. They do float, even though they’re a denser fluff than a Peep. The outside does become a little creamy and definitely imparts a minty note. But the center stays a bit grainy and starts to remind me of a wad of toothpaste. Still, it didn’t ruin a perfectly fine cup of hot chocolate. Now I’m wondering if I’d like a classic banana Circus Peanut in my hot chocolate.
Monday, November 17, 2014
I feel like there is a perfect gum out there for me, I just haven’t found it yet. So when I saw Simply Gum at the checkout at Lolli & Pops one afternoon, I bought it on impulse just because of the name of the flavor: Fennel Licorice.
Upon further reading I saw that there was more going on here than just the unusual flavor and enticing package. Simply Gum is made with real chicle instead of synthetic gum base along with organic sugar and glycerine.
The packaging is spare and thoughtful. Inside the flip top, there’s a little sleeve that holds “post chew wraps”, so even thought the pieces don’t come in little papers, there are papers to responsibly dispose of your gum when you’re through.
Though the box is square and the nuggets inside fill the package, after I dumped them out for photographing, I found that there was a spacer bit at the bottom. As if they’d either originally specified more gum in the box but later decided for less but didn’t want to change the package, or it’s just intended to mislead the consumer. The box only says 12 pieces (there were actually 18 in my box but they’re not consistently sized), but never says how big each piece is, the weight I came up with in the stats box is from weighing the pieces.
The nuggets are just that, a rope of the brown-sugar hued gum is snipped into pieces. They’re a little smaller than a regular portion of gum, but not by half. When I chewed it, I wanted maybe 1.5 times as much.
The pieces don’t stick together, they have a little rice powder on them (kind of like a corn starch). They smell like fennel, just like sticking your nose in a bottle of fennel seed. The chew releases the sweetness quickly, and instead of becoming more firm, like most gums do, this became thinner. It was too thin really. It’s like riding a bike in the wrong gear, my jaw is going too fast for this gum. I’m just spinning and the gum is squishing around.
Aside from the texture, I love the flavor. It was earthy and substantial. The licorice flavors weren’t overly sweet or metallic. The mineral notes weren’t rusty. Instead it tasted rather of beets. I felt like it freshened my mouth, yet still went well with coffee or tea. The flavor lasted quite long and though the sugar was gone, fennel and licorice have a natural sweetness that lingers. But the gum base was just too squishy.
So, if you’ve been looking for an all natural gum that chews better with a glass of iced tea than hot tea ... well, this is your gum. I might try another flavor, like Maple, just in case the particular batch I got was anomalous. However, it’s pretty expensive, at $3.50 a box.
Tuesday, November 11, 2014
I’ve reviewed a couple of the new Ghirardelli panned chocolate items, but up until now they’ve been pretty standard items. I was intrigued enough with the description of the new Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate Spiced Almond to pick them up.
The perfect snack to satisfy your craving for crunchy nuts and smooth chocolate ... with a little spice.
I liked the package. It’s very easy to understand, the images on the front and back are appealing, clear and not too fussy. But mostly I appreciated that the nutrition label and ingredients are easy to read. The ingredients list the allergens in bold, as well as noting them at the end of the list and it was all in a typeface that was large enough for me to read without glasses.
The ingredients are pretty clean with no artificial flavors or colors. They even helpfully list out what the spices are: cinnamon, allspice and cayenne. Instead of just mixing the spices into the chocolate to create something slightly gritty, Ghirirdelli instead made a spiced toffee glaze for the almonds before panning them in chocolate.
These remind me of the Lindt Holiday Almonds that come out seasonally, but are also coated with powdered sugar.
The almonds are big and glossy. They don’t smell of spice, just a light sweet dairy note. They have a great crunch if you bite them. The glaze is crispy and the almond are tougher and have a substantial crunch. The chocolate is soft and combines readily with the elements. It’s all a bit sweet, even with the neutral almonds to balance it out. The glaze has a generous touch of the spices, with quite a bit of cayenne that builds up slowly until there’s a light burn after about five or six.
I didn’t care for the how sweet they were, maybe I just wanted a smidge of salt in them or a darker milk chocolate. But they are less sweet than the Lindt sister confection, so I’ll take that as progress. I have to say that if this trend of mixing the textures of a glazed nut with chocolate takes off, there are a lot of variations that could be quite delectable. The best that I’d tried to date would be the Sconza 70% Toffee Almonds.
Ghirardelli is owned by Lindt & Sprungli. They don’t have a lot on their website about the sourcing of their cacao except for a statement that they’re in compliance with the California transparency act and then point you to the Lindt policies. Now that Lindt owns Russell Stover, they’re the third largest chocolate company in the United States, and will probably have a lot more clout when it comes to insisting on transparency and certification within their supply chain for all ingredients.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.