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.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Just before Christmas I went to Ikea for the first time in years. Our office was adopting a family for the holidays and I opted to get the wholly unsexy but necessary housewares gifts. My ulterior motive (besides getting a whole kitchen setup in a single easily wrapped box) was to get some candy.
I’d heard that Ikea had these strange candy laces a while back via Candy Addict and had to try them for myself. They’re called Godis Gula Sn?ren by Ikea Food.
The package is radically generic, a simple matte white plastic package with san serif black print in English and French and a high-key photo of the candy itself.
While it’s tempting to call them Toffee Laces since the description on the bag says candy laces with toffee flavour I’m going to go with candy spaghetti. And when I say candy spaghetti, I’m going all the way, from the fact that it’s made with wheat to the color and shape of the stuff.
I had 16 laces in my package. Each is 1 meter long. They’re quite thin, like cooked spaghetti. However, unlike cooked spaghetti these are actually hollow. They’re very, very long candy tubes. Perhaps more like bulk surgical tubing for Barbie Dolls.
They smell more like dishwashing liquid than candy, a vaguely sweet and vanilla scent but also a bit artificial. (The package actually lists no artificial ingredients - they’re colored with beta carotene.) The flavor isn’t actually toffee, but thankfully it’s also not butter flavored. It’s just, well, vaguely sweet and chewy.
They’re flexible and pretty useful candies. Tie them in knots and make an edible bracelet. Decorate cupcakes by cutting them like chives. Or when the craze hits a la candy sushi, you can make your own candy Pho.
As something to simply buy and eat, well they were passable. They’re either for people with far too little imagination or far too much.
(I looked up Godis Gula Sn?ren via an online translator and it told me it was Candy Yolk Cord.)
Monday, January 4, 2010
I like wasabi and ginger, and of course cashews and dark chocolate. So Vosges Bombalinas Black Pearl Cashews, which are 62% dark chocolate covered cashews with ginger, wasabi & sesame seeds should be an amazing mix.
I bought this small box of chocolate covered cashews when I was in Las Vegas in November and I’d completely forgotten that I’ve had the Black Pearl bar from Vosges oh, so many years ago. It could be the reason I forgot was that it wasn’t that memorable. (It’s also entirely possible I’ve eaten too much between then and now ... entirely possible.) Something about Vegas made me spend $9 for less than three ounces of nuts, must be the fact that my honor bar in my hotel room made that seem reasonable.
Bonus featured here include the fact these are gluten free and considered vegan (the confectioners glaze is made from gum arabic and corn syrup, not shellac).
They are lovely. They are big, luscious cashews. They are expertly panned. So I had no quarrel with that.
The crunch of the nuts was great and the chocolate was dark and rich. But the other notes, the woodsy ginger, the sizzling wasabi and the toasty sesame were all missing. There was a grassy note to the chocolate and some smoky and woodsy qualities, but I really wanted my sizzle and burn. Good dark chocolate covered cashews aren’t hard to find, and since these pack no special punch, I’d say go for the cheaper plain versions.
Did I eat them all? Eventually. Were they worth nine dollars? No. Would I buy them again? Probably not.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
What I found most interesting about them, as the gooey center has been done quite a bit already, is the flavor array. These aren’t ordinary berries. Though there’s no Snozzberry the flavors are: Raspberry, Blueberry, Goji Berry and Cloud Berry.
Like the other new Wonka gummis, these are made in the Czech Republic and boast no artificial flavors or colors.
Each piece is about the same diameter as a nickel (about 3/4”). They’re high and domed candies. They’re not greasy to the touch, just soft and matte. They have a translucent amber colored gummi top with a dark red fruity goo center and it all sits on an opaque white base.
The texture is soft and chewy, with a good latexy bounce to it. The molding of each of the pieces is great and for filled gummies, I was pleased to see that none of them had oozed in the bag.
The goo reservoir in the center is rather small, just a little dab. It’s also not liquid, more of a jelly so it’s more moist than the rest of the gummi, but not a flowing syrup.
Raspberry (far right) is vivid and jammy. It’s not quite specific enough to be exclusively a raspberry, sometimes I thought it was more like a blackberry with a little black cherry note to it.
Blueberry (middle) is also lightly tangy. The unique flavors come from the goo center. It’s a little more tannic, more like it has notes of black tea mixed with the more vanilla berry flavors.
Cloud Berry - I’ve never eaten a cloud berry so I can’t talk about the authenticity of the flavor. What I can say is that it pretty much tastes like all the other gummis in this assortment. It might have a little note of green apple, but it’s very pleasant and a little more custard-like, probably because of the white kind of marshmallowy base. This was the most prevalent flavor in the bag, so I had quite a few of them.
I was hoping these would be a little more vibrant, that they’d have a little more pizazz. Wonka candies are usually known for being bold. Candies like Nerds and Runts are very specific. These were kind of tame. I appreciate the risks of making a naturally flavored & colored product and the unusual actual berry flavors instead of made up flavors. On the other side of that coin, all the flavors went together really well so it’s not like I noticed getting a “bad” flavor.
The allergen info on the bag has all the hot targets on it: made on shared equipment with peanuts, nuts, soy, milk, wheat and eggs. Also, it contains gelatin so it’s not vegetarian friendly.
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Marzipan Bites are elegantly simple little marzipan blocks covered in dark chocolate. The ingredients are simple and encouraging: Sugar, almonds, chocolate liquor, water, cocoa butter, soy lecithin and invertase. So it looks like it may be a fun candy for vegans. (The package does say that it’s processed on equipment with other tree nuts, milk and wheat though, so might not be good for those with milk allergies or gluten issues.)
The long box has a gold plastic tray inside with two compartments holding five pieces each.
The gold and red foil wrapper is simple but elegant and thankfully has a clear label that says what’s inside. (I can see buying several of these Choceur items and then taking them out of the package and putting them in a bowl or on a serving plate with cookies.)
L?becker Edel Marzipan means marzipan from L?beck, a city in Northern Germany. The style there has some strict requirements such as the sugar content should not exceed 30% (making the product at least 70% almonds). L?beck is best known for the Niederegger confectionery (whose marzipan is among my favorites).
The pieces are a stylish two bites. They’re long and narrow - about 1.75 inches long, .75 inches wide and .5 inches high. The dark chocolate enrobing is thin but shiny and well tempered. The scent of dark chocolate is most forward upon opening the wrapper. When I bit into it, that’s when the almond flavors emerged, a bit like almond extract. Happily they dissipated quickly and the pure almond paste was left behind.
I liked the texture of it quite a bit, it’s not the smooth and doughy paste the shapes are usually made from, instead it’s a bit grainier than that. It’s moist and has a good authentic nutty almond flavor that includes those sort of toasted notes that are often drowned out by flavorings. It was very fresh and clean tasting and for someone who doesn’t usually enjoy marzipan, especially when it’s not flavored by things like orange, ginger, coffee or lemon this was quite a revelation.
Each piece is about 60 calories and being mostly almonds, it’s not as bad a treat as many others that you can indulge in over the winter holidays and is quite filling. (There are 4 grams of protein per serving of three pieces.)
Rating: 7 out of 10
In this case the tray holds to columns of the little bricks of praline chocolate bites, 14 in all.
I had these all wrong, all wrong. I thought from the description and the kind of vague illustration that they were a little hazelnut praline (toasted nut paste with caramelized sugar) covered in milk chocolate. When I first opened them I thought, these are really light in color. I thought there’s no way they can be chocolatey.
And it’s true. They aren’t chocolate, it’s a single block of just the nougat. The ingredients go like this: Hazelnut paste, sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, nonfat milk powder, chocolate liquor, malt extract and soy lecithin. See, there’s barely any chocolate in there at all.
Then I realized I was thinking these were going to be gianduia, in the sense that they’d be a chocolate and hazelnut block. Instead they’re a hazelnut and milk block. Quite different. Once I adjusted my thinking, once I adjusted my expectations I realized that these are ingenious little cubes.
They’re only 1 inch long and .75 inches square. The color is like a milky coffee. They smell extremely sweet, a little like toasted hazelnuts and milk. It’s quite soft and melts easily (thank goodness we’re at the time of year when the unheated parts of my house hover around 60 degrees).
At first on the tongue it’s milky and melts into a cool and slick puddle. Then the hazelnut flavors emerge. It’s not as intensely hazelnut as many other gianduia candies that I prefer. Instead this is just a much better version of Ice Cubes, using the native hazelnut oils and cocoa butter for the rich fats instead of other tropical oils.
I didn’t find them terribly substantial in the end and found myself preferring the marzipan (which is kind of a shock after all of these years of proclaiming I don’t like marzipan). But the demonstration of a confection with so much cocoa butter that’s not specifically “white chocolate” is charming and worthy. I’d probably prefer it if it accompanied something a bit stronger, maybe had a dark chocolate coating or if I just at it with some salty shortbread or strong coffee.
The calorie count on these is much higher due to the fat. Each is only 55 calories, but they’re smaller than the Marzipan bites so they clock in at 178 calories per ounce.
Rating: 6 out of 10
These are two decent finds from Choceur that would be fun additions to a holiday candy bowl.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.