Friday, February 12, 2010
I reckon there are some very excited people out there to find the new Q.Bel 70% Double Dark Wafer Bars. Not because they’re all natural, preservative free and free of hydrogenated oils. Nope, it’s because they’re vegan. No dairy, no honey, no glazes and no colorings.
The package doesn’t herald the vegan-ness (but the Q.bel website does). The package feels, to me, collegiate. I don’t know if it’s the colors that remind me of a library or a winter scarf (no, none of these were colors for the colleges I attended)
The bars are the same format as the Mint Wafer Bars and the Dark Wafer Bars. There are three layers of crispy flavorless wafers (like ice cream cones) with a chocolate creme between then. Then the whole thing is covered in 70% dark chocolate.
These are not a sweet treat, they are dark and a little bitter and all delicious. The chocolate punch is substantial. The bar smells like chocolate and except for the lightly malty crisp wafers, that’s really the only flavor. It has a dry and bitter bite to it, a good silky smooth texture, but probably a little too much on the smoky and bitter side for me to eat as a plain bar. But in this format with airy wafers and grainy sugary chocolate cream centers I found the perfect balance.
Q.bel gave me an insane amount of “samples”, full display boxes, again. And like the last time I put them on my bookshelf in my office and found that even the folks in my office who don’t normally go for dark chocolate liked them, and of course those who do love dark were enthralled by the textures and deep flavor. Now that I’ve found a source in stores (Whole Foods stocks them for $1.39 a bar) I will definitely buy them, now that my inventory is gone.
The only thing I’d like would be for the bars to be slightly bigger, maybe 1.3 ounces. However, the calories per ounce are pretty high, so keeping each finger below 100 calories is probably a good idea. (The package is 180 calories.)
Thursday, February 11, 2010
The packaging is another iteration of their West African iconography in gold and red on a black background. The bars is 3.5 ounces (not available in a single serve size at this time) and is wrapped well inside the paper overwrap with a textured medium grade foil.
Divine bills itself as Heavenly Chocolate with a heart. They use mostly fair trade ingredients (in this case it was the sugar, vanilla and the cacao), are all natural and use non-GMO soy lecithin. Their dark bars do not use any dairy products and are considered vegan though are produced on shared equipment with milk, wheat and tree nuts.
The construction of the bar is simple. Dark chocolate with a layer of freeze dried raspberries sprinkled on the bottom.
Flipped over, the bar is quite beautiful, like all the Divine bars I’ve had. Nice gloss and snap, a rather red hue to it; I wasn’t sure if it was from the raspberry inclusions or just the natural state of the chocolate. It’s a moderately thick bar, thicker than a Lindt Excellence bar, but not as thick as something like Ritter Sport. The sections are 4 by 6 and pretty easy to snap apart.
It absolutely smells like raspberries with some woodsy and seed notes. The dark chocolate is strong, dark and slightly bitter. I was expecting a fruity chocolate, instead it had strong coffee and charcoal notes. The texture is silky with a dry finish and of course the raspberry bits created some texture. The raspberries are freeze dried bits, with lots of seeds. Chewing the seeds gives off grassy and sesame flavors while the pulp part is quite tangy and has great natural raspberry flavors.
Overall I liked the bold combination of flavors - this was not a timid bar. It was not a bar that I could munch on forever though. I had two pieces, then needed to rest for a while until I was interested in having some more. It wasn’t something I was craving at any point though. If they could do the same bar without the seeds, I think I’d prefer it.
Friday, February 5, 2010
Warning: today’s review contains a lot of math.
Whole Foods has been carrying Bissinger’s candies, they even have their own custom display in the bakery area of the Whole Foods I frequent. One of the items that caught my eye was this 100 Calorie Bar of Solid Milk Chocolate 38% Cocoa which sounded intriguing. It was only a dollar, so it’s a very low risk investment, especially at Whole Foods.
I knew going in that 100 calories of chocolate is a very small portion. In this case it’s only .63 ounces (18 grams). What I didn’t expect was how misleading the box would be about the actual size of the contents. The bar inside is in a cellophane sleeve that’s too big for it, so it’s crumpled at the sides - which kind of anchors it inside the box. When I shook it, it felt like the bar was taking up the whole box because it didn’t rattle around.
Here are some facts:
Dimensions of box: 4.25” long - 1.75” wide - .33” high = volume of 2.454375 cubic inches
Yes, 2/3 of that box is empty.
Aside from that, it’s an attractive bar. It’s segmented into four pieces, each marked with the 38, which I’m guessing is to represent the cacao content, not the fullness of the box.
The shiny and nicely molded milk chocolate has a soft bite with a powdered milk and sugar scent, maybe a little cheese twang to it. The melt is a little fudgy and sweet with a strong sour yogurt bite. The cocoa flavors are woodsy and rather limited. The sweetness burned my throat. The aftertaste is rather familiar, like Hershey’s Milk Chocolate. So if you love Hershey’s and wish you could pay twice as much for it but at least get all natural ingredients, this might be the stuff for you.
At about $25 a pound, I expect better chocolate.
The box also mentioned it has an ORAC value of 46 per gram (828 for the full bar). If you don’t know about Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity, you can read more on Wikipedia. For reference, the ORAC value of 100 calories of red beans is 13,727.
The box says that it’s Gluten Free, but it also says that it’s processed in a facility that uses milk, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat and eggs. (Soy and Milk are present in the milk chocolate, of course.) This package does not say it’s Kosher. (You may recall my run-in with them last year about the Kosher status of their gummis.)
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Marich Confectionery is a California candy maker that specializes in panned items and novelty molded creams and fondants for all holidays. I’ve recently fallen in love with their extra dark chocolate panned items like 72% Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Cashews and Dark Cacao Nib Toffee (which I’ve bought twice with the intention of reviewing but ended up eating).
Their new Black Heart Licorice items are all natural and instead of being wheat-based with molasses, these are more of a gumdrop style dense jelly candy.
I picked up my samples from the Fancy Food Show last month. They were showing off two versions: Black Licorice and Black Cherry Licorice.
The package design is nicely done. The six inch stand up box with the cut out window shows off the candy and is no bigger than it needs to be. The tab on the back folds into a little slot and keeps the candy closed and pretty fresh inside its inner cellophane bag. There’s a little story on it about a candy maker creating the candy to woo a woman, but I skipped right to the candy. (You can see a snapshot of the ad about it here.)
The Black Heart Black Licorice are darling little matte hearts. They feel a little rubbery, like they’re made out of silicone. The scent is only very lightly of anise.
The texture is a smooth and dense chew, a bit firmer than a Dot, but still easy to bite. The flavor is clean and clear - anise with some deeper woodsy licorice. It’s not very sweet, in fact, these have a bit of salt in them (75 mg per serving). Though they are colored, it’s all natural coloring so there are no strange artificial bitter flavors to get in the way of the real stuff.
They do stick in my teeth a little bit, so that’s a distraction. The flavor isn’t too strong to mean that I was constantly munching them without getting that overly full or burnt out feeling.
The surprising item for me was the Black Heart Black Cherry Licorice. I didn’t even want to take the samples, but figured they were red and would photograph well, I should at least try them. When I read the ingredients, it actually sounded pretty good. Again, all natural so no nasty Red #40 to give me a weird aftertaste ... but there’s also licorice root extract in there too. So it’s truly red licorice.
They don’t smell promising to me, like black cherry flavoring. However, the texture is quite dreamy ... it’s silky slick and easy to chew. The flavor is tangy and has a black cherry note to it. It’s woodsy and has an actual cherry pie flavor and then just a hint of the bouncy sweetness of licorice. The whole thin isn’t too sweet either, again, the benefit of the touch of salt in here. Wow, a cherry candy I actually like, because it actually tastes like cherries. For those who don’t like licorice, it’s not a bold anise flavor, just a different kind of sweetness that highlights the woodsy notes of the cherry flavors.
I don’t know if they’re in stores yet, I didn’t see them at Whole Foods, which is usually where I pick up Marich candies (though I also see them at Gelson’s in Southern California as well). I expect the price to be around $3.50 to $4 per package, so a little steep.
Monday, February 1, 2010
Sunflower Butter Cups ... saying it out loud it doesn’t even make sense, is it a flower or is it a candy? Seth Ellis Chocolatier of Boulder, Colorado has come out with a nut free, peanut free, gluten free, fair trade and organic candy. They simply call them Sun Cups.
Sun Cups come in milk chocolate and dark chocolate. Confusing sounding name aside, they’re sunflower butter (like peanut butter only made with sunflower seeds) in a chocolate cup. Just like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, except, well, not like them.
Each cup is .75 ounces and comes in the industry standard dark brown fluted paper cup. The packages I picked up from the Seth Ellis booth at the Winter Fancy Food Show were flawless and perfect. Even the glossy and bold packaging is made from a compostable film.
The Milk Chocolate Sun Cups smells sweet and milky. There’s a touch of sunflower scent, but mostly it’s a fresh note. The organic milk chocolate is silky smooth and has a strong European dairy note. It’s cool on the tongue as it melts. The sunflower center is creamier than a Reese’s, not exactly moist, but not crumbly and not oily. The center is made with sunflower butter mixed with white chocolate, so it’s a little stiff but has an amazing melt with just a hint of sea salt.
The Dark Chocolate Sun Cups smell like semi-sweet chocolate - a little bit woodsy and fruity. The chocolate is actually rather dark and bitter and though it’s vegan (no milkfat) the cups overall aren’t because of the dairy in the white chocolate & sunflower center. The sunflower butter isn’t very sweet, so the whole cup has a much more savory appeal to it. There’s a grassy note to the sunflower which reminds me a little of jasmine tea and tahini.
I thought I was going to love the dark chocolate more than the milk chocolate, but I found both compelling for different reasons. In the milk chocolate version the milk flavors and silky textures blend together well for a decadent and rather fatty feeling treat. The dark chocolate version is deep and complex and kind of requires a little bit of attention while eating to appreciate how it all fits together.
The fact that they’re gluten free and nut free (both tree & peanut) will set these cups apart from most others right away. The milk chocolate version will be easily gobbled up by kids with allergies and sensitivities without any feeling of them getting a compromise candy. Grown ups without allergies will still appreciate the social responsibility (organic & fair trade) behind them along with the tasty ingredients. I still prefer peanut butter, as it’s a more rounded flavor, but I can’t ignore how great these are.
They might be a little hard to find, though most Whole Foods will order if they’re in the system and not on the shelves. They should be in Whole Foods (Rocky Mountain, Northwest and Bay Area) chain-wide at Pharmaca, Sunflower Markets, Cost Plus World Markets, Jimbo’s in So Cal. I still haven’t found them in stores yet, but they should retail for less than $2.00 a package. Hopefully they’ll have individually wrapped ones around for Halloween later this year.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Last November Chuao Chocolatier released a new bar and I was very excited. It’s called Panko and it’s a very simple bar. It’s a Dark Chocolate Bar with Toasted Panko Breadcrumbs and Sea Salt. I’ve been searching high and low for it in all the usual places, like Whole Foods, Gelson’s and Cost Plus World Market, but none of them seemed to have it. So I waited until the Fancy Food Show and snagged one there from the kind Chuao folks.
Panko is the name for a specific kind of Japanese-style breadcrumbs. (Panko means breadcrumbs ... well, it means little bits of bread, so calling them breadcrumb breadcrumbs is redundant ... like pizza pie.) Here is a video that probably tells you more than you wanted to know about panko.
It’s been quite a while since I’ve had a full Chuao bar, I’ve been eating the ChocoPods instead because I prefer the variety. I didn’t realize that the bars had changed so much in the past few years. Here’s a peek at the previous iteration. The bars are now packaged in a matte mylar wrapper instead of foil inside a box. The wrapper opens pretty easily and when I tear it at the seams it works pretty well for re-wrapping the uneaten portion (though I still put it into a zip lock bag). The actual bar is stunningly molded. It’s a custom design of cacao pods with the Chuao logo on the top third of the bar.
The dark chocolate is sweet but has an overall berry and woodsy note. It’s creamy with a good buttery melt and silky texture. That texture is interrupted in a satisfying fashion with the light and crispy panko. It reminded me quite a bit of the Theo 3400 Phinney Bread and Chocolate Bar, which was not as sweet and actually more on the savory side.
The panko texture is a cross between bread and pretzel bits (without the “crust” of the pretzel). The addition of the sea salt in the 60% chocolate keeps it from being too sweet and provides just another little bit of texture.
I give it high marks for munchability ... as long as I can find it. The price is a little steep but it is tasty and pretty to look at. The panko is made from non-genetically modified wheat as well as non-gmo soy lecithin for the chocolate. It’s all natural.
Chuao uses all Venezuelan chocolate in their bars and confections. Aguasanta is a growth initiative which is dedicated to preserving the genetic integrity of cacao and helping to build a sustainable future for cacao in Venezuela.
Chuao also debuted a few newer bars at the Fancy Food Show, including Honeycomb (a sponge candy mixed into a chocolate bar - which I’ve been getting as a thick bulk bark from Whole Foods for a couple of years), Coffee & Anise and CoCo (coconut, coriander and chocolate).
(Yes, I recognize that the package photo up there at the top looks blurry, but it’s not. It’s some sort of printing problem but since this was a sample that was meant to be broken into pieces and tasted up to the Fancy Food Show for tasting, not a demonstration of the wrapper, I hope you won’t hold that against it.)
Thursday, January 14, 2010
This year they’re expanding their line with two new bars. Today I have the Mint Wafer Bars. In the compact package are two wafer bars with a mint creme filling sandwiched between crispy light wafers covered in dark chocolate.
It’s not a big package, though it has a sharp design that fits with the rest of their candy bars. They seem to have a color coding thing going on; as you’d expect this one is green for mint. Though there are two bars in there, it’s still pretty light, only 1.1 ounces. The ingredients are all natural and have no hydrogenated oils or preservatives (though honestly, few candies do use preservatives).
The bars are about three inches long and a little under one inch wide. The dark chocolate coating is glossy, rippled and rather thin, just enough to seal up the wafers and cream. The dark chocolate coating is made in Belgium, but the candy bars are manufactured in The Netherlands.
The wafers inside are light and mostly flavorless, there’s a slight hint of toasted rice (though they’re made with wheat flour). The cream center is white and slightly cool on the tongue. The mint is very light and fresh with a slight note of real mint leaves instead of just peppermint oil. It’s smooth for the most part with just a little bit of a tiny grain to it. The chocolate coating is deep and rich with a dry and bittersweet bite.
The combination is quite nice, not too sweet and refreshing. The portion size is insufficient though: I know, my Americaness is showing. I’d love the package to have three instead of two. But glancing at the teensy print of the nutrition label it is clear that each finger is about 95 calories. But that means that these are jam packaged with calories - that comes out to 173 per ounce. Mmm, crispy, minty and chocolatey fat.
The earlier Dark Chocolate and Milk Chocolate Wafer Bars featured crisped rice, while these just have the wafer planks and dark chocolate with cream. While this limits the crunch, it does mean that the cream and its flavors are more forward.
On the whole, they’re very tasty. My only hesitations with them are the price (usually $1.50 or so) and how hard they are to find. I’m told that they’re available at Whole Foods, but you know how WF likes to move stuff around to confuse their shoppers so I find it difficult to grab them on a regular basis.
The other new flavor is Double Dark Chocolate Wafer bars which feature 70% cacao chocolate and are actually vegan. I’ll review those in my upcoming Vegan Week.
Monday, January 11, 2010
I love variety, in fact I crave it. I was excited to find this selection of three different kinds turron (torrone) in this box from El Almendro. It includes Turron Duro, Turron Caramelo and Turron Crocanti.
Each piece is about one ounce (there are seven so I got three of the Duro) and individually wrapped. In fact the package was wrapped a lot. The box was wrapped in cellophane. There tray inside was wrapped in cellophane and each of the pieces is wrapped in cellophane. They’re very fresh.
The most remarkable thing about all three varieties is that they’re mostly almonds. Each lists the ingredients as 60% almonds.
Turron Duro is a light and crunchy turron. This version is common in both Italy and the Iberian Peninsula. El Almendro is Spanish and the best thing about it, of course, is that in Spanish you trill the double r ... it’s like extra exercise for your mouth, so you work off more calories.
The finger is three inches long and one inch wide, so it’s a nice bar-like portion. The white nougat is crispy and filled with nuts and has the scent of marshmallow, almonds and honey.
If you’ve always wanted more of those little nougat bits in a Toblerone, this is the stuff. They’re tacky but mostly crunchy, only mildly sweet with oodles of almonds. The honey notes are prominent but never quite dominate because there are just so many nuts. My favorite of the three,
The Turron Crocanti variation has a transparent amber version of the turron instead of the milky white stuff. Here the caramlelized sugar flavors win out over the honey. There’s no egg white in it, so it’s more of an almond brittle. It’s also a little more bitter as candy part is quite dark and burnt tasting (in the best way possible).
The Turron Caramelo was a little confusing to me at first. Every time I looked at it, I though ... oh, it’s a fig turron! And then I’d eat it and it’d be a sesame turron.
The candy looks like something I’d get in a dish at a Chinese restaurant. It smells quite dark and toasted, like sesame oil. Sesame isn’t always a good pick for me. I enjoy Sesame Snaps (those sesame finger cracker things) and Sesame Brittle (those little fingers wrapped in cellophane and sold at health food stores) and of course I’m a nut for Halvah. But sesame has a dark side - a side that reminds me of burnt hair and flaming plastics. The bars were extra hard and crunchy, which was a little disturbing as I’m worried sometimes that I’ll break my teeth on candy I’m reviewing and then where will I be!
The flavor is actually quite pleasant after I smashed the bar around inside the package when I had my second one. The sesame overshadows any honey or almond and definitely ventures into the bitter burnt notes. This was my least favorite.
I’m glad I got a variety that confirms how much I prefer the version that has egg whites in it. Now I just need to find a package that has them in these perfect sized fingers. Often the Spanish turrons come in dinner plate sized wheels, which means messy smacking & breaking.
It’s pretty wholesome and filling stuff, at only 110 calories per stick and the fact that it’s mostly almonds and all natural might make some parents pretty happy.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.