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.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
The box sports a modular and moderne design created by someone who liked to show off their typesetting skills. They’re:
On the back it goes on in all caps:
I had a headache from all the shouting and exclamations.
The chocolates are quite pretty to look at, like a selection of gaudy bakelite coat buttons. The five flavors are naturally colored domes with a similar construction. Inside is a ganache with a little dollop of fruit jelly. The top is a shell of chocolate or white chocolate and the base is sealed up with more chocolate of some sort.
They’re one inch high and about one inch and a quarter in diameter. For the most part they’re one bite, but of course I did a lot of biting in half and peeking so perhaps I wasn’t eating them the way those fancy Belgians intended.
Cranberry (white chocolate) - a white chocolate shell with red blush filled with a milk chocolate ganache and a cranberry jelly all sitting on a white chocolate base.
You know what I think about when someone says cranberry jelly? I think tart. I think cheek drawing tartness. What I got here was something a little less startling. The milk chocolate ganache was a rather dairy, which is not a flavor I think goes particularly well with cranberry, I think a dark chocolate would join with the acidity and berry notes better. It was sweet and set off well by the slightly tart cranberry jelly, but the white chocolate shell & base just made to far too sweet in the end.
This was another bland floral jelly with no real note that came through the white chocolate, it was all overshadowed by the dark chocolate base. Not that it was a bad thing, but a pom white ganache truffle sounded pretty good.
Cherry (milk chocolate) - a milk chocolate shell with brownish red hue filled with a white chocolate ganache and a cherry jelly sitting on a milk chocolate base.
The scent on these is an overwhelming woodsy-cherry with some medicinal maraschino thing. It’s quite distracting and swamps the box every time I open it. The jelly itself is rather mild and sweet with an authentic flavor of cherry. The sweet milk chocolate has a little dairy going on, a little creamy party that’s actually rather good. So though I didn’t like the bad influence the cherry had on the box, they were one of the better cherry chocolates I’ve had in a long time.
It seemed like the orange ones got a more liberal heaping of the jelly, so the flavor was more intense right away. The jelly is tangy and zesty, smooth and not a trace of grain. I would buy a whole box of these.
Raspberry (white chocolate) - a white chocolate shell with red/brown stripes filled with a white chocolate ganache and a raspberry jelly all sitting on a dark chocolate base.
The ganache is soft, creamy and sweet, a little fluffy and generally unflavored. The raspberry jelly does nothing, not even a tangy bite or a floral note. The dark chocolate base actually does a lot of heavy lifting here with a bittersweet overtone in an otherwise “cherry infused” piece.
So my ultimate reaction to these was that I was torn. They’re good quality, I appreciate that they’re beautiful and have some uncommon flavors. The ingredients may be all natural (including the colorings) but there’s also canola and palm oil in there (good quality ganache is made with butterfat). In the end each piece wasn’t distinctive enough and the colors weren’t well defined so I couldn’t even tell what I was eating. They just didn’t satisfy any craving within me for either chocolate or creamy.
Belgian Chocolate Fancies are marked gluten free and say that they’re processed on equipment with tree nuts & eggs (and of course contain dairy and soy). So it may be a lovely hostess gift for a chocolate-loving peanut-allergic pal.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
One of the crazier purchases I made in San Francisco last month was this tube of Pralus Chocolatier Creme de Noisette. If you’re thinking that I’ve started reviewing beauty products, it’s okay, this is candy.
The only other tube candy I’ve reviewed before were some Wonka (Nestle) items that simply couldn’t be much more different. (And they probably don’t have a single ingredient in common.)
First, Pralus is known by experts as one of the best chocolate makers in the world, right up there with Amadei, Michel Cluizel, Domori and Guittard (see a rankings list here at SeventyPercent). The company is one of only three remaining French chocolate masters to make chocolate from bean to bar. Their line of single origin bars are highly prized (I’ve tried many of them, but for some reason I’ve never reviewed them) and their Patisseries in France are known for their wide variety of sweet delights including their Pralulines.
The tube is quite heavy, clocking in at 8.8 ounces (250 grams). I spent a pretty penny on it, $14.99 at Bi-Rite Market. But I rationalized that it’s over a half a pound, which is a lot of confection for 15 bucks, especially for something imported from France.
The ingredients are dead simple: Grilled Hazelnuts and Almonds, Sugar, Chocolate and Vanilla. It’s basically a decadent Nutella. Now I must admit that I had a long affair with Nutella once. I was introduced to the stuff in Toronto in 1986 and though I had little money, I took home two jars (well, I started with three only two made it to the border). Whenever I was able to find it, I certainly bought it. I didn’t spread it on toast or use it in recipes, I simply ate it by the spoonful.
As years went by Nutella became more accessible in the big city (Los Angeles), but I found I didn’t like it as much. It seemed sweeter and greasier than I remembered. I’m told the stuff in Italy is actually better, but I kind of gave up on it and switched to straight gianduia by then. (The ingredients in Nutella sold in the USA go like this: sugar, palm oil, hazelnuts, cocoa, skim milk, soy lecithin and vanillin.) I’ve actually seen commercials for Nutella on TV now, highlighting its nutritiousness but for something that’s mostly sugar and palm oil, I have trouble believing it’s anything other than nutty frosting.
I can say this, Pralus Creme de Noisette is nutty and it can be used as frosting but it’s oh so much better.
The texture at room temperature is like brownie batter, in fact, it looks rather like brownie batter. It’s much darker out of the tube than in it. It smells like toasted hazelnuts, quite dark and caramelized. The flavor is immediately hazelnut as well, quite deep and slightly bitter. The cocoa notes are rich and on the smoky and coffee side. I’m not getting anything out of the almonds but that’s fine with me if they’re just filler.
The texture is also a little like a batter, it’s mostly smooth but every once in a while there’s a little sugar grain or nutty grain to it. Sometimes the sugar is quite a toasted flavor, like the whole thing was roasted together. It’s decadent and great for just squeezing onto a spoon or finger as a treat.
I also tried it a few other ways:
I fully plan to repeat the last two (with some variations) until the tube is gone. So far it’s been lasting quite a long time. It’s easy to keep in my desk drawer as well and is rather easy to keep neat.
My only other issue, besides price and availability, is spreadability. I can’t really blame the product but in the winter I have a bit of trouble squeezing it out of the tube. My house isn’t completely heated, so at anything below about 70F the tube becomes rather stiff and hard to squeeze the stuff out. (Something to keep in mind if you’re thinking of taking it camping - but the solution is just stick it under your arm for a while.)
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
So far I’ve enjoyed my latest bundle of Aldi confections that my mother sent to me from Ohio. Two of the heftier items in the package are the long boxes of Choceur After Dinner Mints. I quite liked the Choceur items I’ve picked up before, especially since they’re nicely packaged into individual servings. (Each mint is 45 calories.)
The “mints” come in two flavors: Orange and Peppermint with the boxes handily color-coded in orange and green respectively.
I liked the orange box because it captures the holiday vibe without resorting to red and green. It’s just an orange box with brown accents and a variety of white & brown snowflakes around the edges.
Inside the box it’s rather like every other box of after dinner mints I’ve had, such as After Eight and the Divine After Dinner Mints (which was fair trade and also had a nice design). The Orange After Dinner Mnits box weighs a hefty 10.5 ounces, kind of like a narrow brick. Each piece is tucked into an open brown glassine sleeve. Each sleeve reminds me that it is the Finest Quality, as if there could be some little folders that didn’t have that notation that contained sub-standard quality candies.
They’re two inches long and one and a quarter inches wide. They’re have a nicely rippled top and a decent chocolate scent with a touch of orange. However, once I bit into it the orange flavor is overwhelming. The dark chocolate has a thin layer of soft & smooth fondant inside. It’s a “whole orange” flavor with both juice and zest notes and reminds me more of the Jaffa orange candies I’ve had from the United Kingdom. The chocolate texture is creamy has a touch of cocoa bittersweetness, but mostly the flavor here is orange and a pure blast of sugar.
It’s a welcome change from the traditional mint and the orange does leave a clean and refreshed feeling. I liked them better in memory, not in practice though. I felt better about them after I was done while the zest was still kind of lingering, not while I was eating them.
Rating: 6 out of 10
The ingredients are pretty clean: Sugar, Chocolate Liquor, Glucose Syrup, Cocoa Butter, Invertase, Soy Lecithin and Peppermint Oil. (However, this is also exactly what the Orange ones say, right down to the peppermint oil.) They’re made in Germany and feature the Aldi “Double Quality Guarantee” which means that if you don’t like it, they’ll give you your money back and another of the item. (You know, just so you can make sure you didn’t like it.) Honestly I had no issues with the quality of any of their items ... it’s often that they’re just not to my tastes.
While I found the Orange ones far too orangey, the mint ones were just right. I felt like I could taste the chocolate, which was dark and roasty as well as the clear peppermint flavor. The texture of the fondant was light and crisp. It was like they were flattened Junior Mints. With more chocolate by proportion than a Junior Mint but packing all the minty power.
Rating: 8 out of 10
Though I liked the design of the box from a graphics standpoint, it wasn’t actually substantial enough for something that holds so much candy. When the package is full and the stabilizing force of the shrink-wrap is gone, it was clear that the paperboard wasn’t built well enough. The single flap of the top and the simple folded over edges meant that the box had to be picked up carefully, best with two hands when full, or else the top would fold open and the candies spill out. Serving from it is good but putting them out in a large quantity inside their little sleeves is kind of problematic as they’re slippery.
Both are great hostess gifts and a really inexpensive item to include in a coffee when having friends over or easy thing to bring to an office to-do. (Note, I say they’re inexpensive but I don’t have the price info, so I can only guess that these are less than $4.00 for a box.)
These are not Kosher but are vegetarian and should be considered vegan (invertase is listed on the ingredients, which is an enzyme produced by bees, but for industrial food purposes is almost always made via yeast for cost savings).
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Back in October the Chocolate Salon came to town, it’s a one day show devoted solely to chocolate and open to the public. It was quite small compared to some chocolate shows held around the world, but one of the best parts was visiting with Art Pollard, his team and Amano Chocolate. They make superb bars with specially selected beans. I’ve been fond of all of their bars, with the Ocumare still topping my list for plain dark chocolate.
I bought some of the other new bars that I haven’t been able to find in stores (Montanya & Jembrana Milk Chocolate) but I also got a preview at the time of the not-yet-released Amano Dos Rios 70%. The beans are from the Dominican Republic and you can read far more about the origin of this bar at Seventy Percent in this article by Martin Christy.
What I’ve found over the years with Amano chocolate and many other small batch brands is that the chocolate changes as it ages, just like cheese and wine. So I ate half of my bar pretty much right away, then wrapped it up tight and put it back in the wine fridge for a couple of months to see what would happen. It is quite startling to see what a difference that makes, but happily both tastings were very nice.
Initial Tasting: Woodsy scent, moss, green sticks and olives. Strong Earl Grey tea flavors, not just the bergamot but also the black tea leaves. Quite acidic and dry yet a smooth and creamy melt overall. Lingering notes of bergamot and a return of the olives and some peppery floral whiffs of carnations.
Later Tasting: The scent is of green olives and lilacs, a little soapy. Strange and compelling - very green, fresh and grassy with a strong astringent quality. As it melts the flavors continue to release including more olives and some black tea/mushroom/cherry notes and mid-tone burnt note like coffee left on the burner a little too long. The aftertaste though is quite unusual as the bergamot emerges and kind of morphs into a fresh orange blossom note towards the end.
The texture was just a little bit chalkier than I’d prefer (but on the scale of chalky things, this was much less so than most other bars that I’d use that word to describe), however I’m used to the super-smooth quality of their Ocumare. But this bar is just too fascinating to not keep eating. If you’ve ever thought that all chocolate was the same, this is a bar to try, because it’s the best demonstration I’ve ever tasted of how varied the flavors within cocoa beans can be. Remember, these aren’t flavors added to the beans, it’s just the inherent flavors within this particular variety, how they were fermented and the way that the Amano team roasted & conched them.
It might be an interesting gift idea for a food-fascinated person in your life - a variety of Amano bars (and maybe a nice bottle of wine or whiskey).
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
These new Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Crisps aren’t exactly a holiday item. They look like an all-year round treat and perhaps more appropriate for an upscale football watching party than a Christmas get together.
The package says: We’ve got a delectable sweet treat. Our Dark Chocolate Crisps are wisps of rich, Belgian chocolate, curved for visual interest, and infused with crunchy bits to add some texture. These Crisps are definitely in! (Honestly, I don’t know what they’re talking about, it’s like the regular Fearless Flyer crew was on vacation and they let some word-mashing robot put this together. Curved for visual interest? Just to make it interesting? That’s one of those politically correct ways of saying “compelling but not attractive”. Infused with crunchy bits? Ever try to infuse something with a crunchy ingredient ... that’s not how infusing works.)
I found the tray odd because it doesn’t sit level very easily. Also, for some reason it reminds me of little amusement park train cars. I want to take a series of them and hook them together and put them on some HO Scale train tracks. Make of that what you will.
Even without wheels, I enjoyed driving the tray around on my desk, it did a great job of protecting the candy in question. All of my chips were in great condition. Not only were they whole, but they were barely scuffed by rubbing against each other in transit. The only issue I had with them was putting them back in the cellophane and then into the box ... which went fine initially, but sometimes when I pulled it out of the box it was upside down or I got it turned around. This known as a chip loss level event in the HO Train Candy Train world.
Each little flick is two inches long and an inch and a half across, so a bit smaller than a Pringles potato snack. They smell fantastic, like deep cocoa, smoke and a little like dried mushrooms. The little crunches of rice cereal make the surface a bit bumpy, not quite as much crisp as I was hoping for, but still of interest. The chocolate itself has a nice snap and melt. It’s quite dry and a little bitter as it’s 57% cocoa solids but the malty and crunchy rice bites add a little mouth interest.
They’re quite rich so even though a full stack was the supposed serving, I found five or six was quite enough for me. (Well, then about an hour later I’d want some more.)
Oddly enough, these Dark Chocolate Crisps aren’t such a bad choice as a snack if you’re going to compare them to actual Pringles.
Pringles Serving Size: 1 oz (approx 14 crisps); Calories: 160, Total Fat: 11g, Carbs: 14g, Protein: 1g
The price difference between Pringles and Dark Chocolate Crisps isn’t even that big. They’re a fun item to snack on, I like how they make a portion seem so large. Dieters may find it helpful when they want a treat and want to make it seem huge. Six chips are just 110 calories. I also thought they were pretty cute and would make excellent garnishes for ice cream, cupcakes or even a creme brulee.
Dark Chocolate Crisps are all natural and appear to be vegan (though made on shared equipment with milk products). However, they’re not Kosher. They also come in a Milk Chocolate Crisps variety.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
I like to cruise the aisles and look at all the great new and returning items. This year my eyes lit on the Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Delights.
The box describes them as a crunchy hazelnut treat surrounded with praline, crispy wafer and milk chocolate. While I assumed that they are like Ferrero Rocher, the image on the box didn’t quite show whether they were flat or round (maybe the wafer is just that, a little disc). The box is also rather deep, and though it holds 7.05 ounces, I wasn’t sure how the items were packaged. Were they individually wrapped and just tossed in there? How many came in a box? Were they in a tray or just stacked up?
When I got the box home and opened it, most of my questions were answered.
Inside the trapezoidal box are two trays. Each tray is sealed in cellophane and has eight sections. (16 candies total in the box.) Each little spot holds a Hazelnut Delight. At this point I confirmed that there were a heck of a lot like a Ferrero Rocher. They’re also made in Germany, which is one of the locations that Ferrero has manufacturing facilities.
The ingredients are impressive at first. The first item on the list is hazelnuts. After that it gets a little less enchanting. Ingredient #2 is sugar, which is absolutely expected in candy. #3 is vegetable oil (palm, rapeeseed and sunflower) and only after that do we get to the cocoa butter, wheat flour, chocolate liquor, whole milk powder, nonfat dry milk and cocoa ... then a bunch more stuff including more oils.
The pieces are slightly larger than one bite. It’s a lumpy, bumpy ball and most had a little drizzle of white chocolate across them. What’s nice is that they’re not individually wrapped in foil, so it smells amazing, like roasted hazelnuts and hot chocolate.
Biting into one, the construction will seem similar. It’s a milk chocolate shell covering crushed hazelnuts stuck to a hollow wafer sphere. Inside is a chocolate and hazelnut paste ... somewhere in there is a whole hazelnut.
The amazing part though is the hazenuttiness. It’s just packed with them. It’s a sweet treat, but there’s both the whole hazelnut at the center plus the crushed hazelnuts then that hazelnut paste in the middle. There must be the equivalent of three or four hazelnuts in there.
The chocolate coating is sweet and melts easily. The paste in the center is, well, pasty. It’s sticky and has a good cocoa flavor but not much on the hazelnut side, not a problem there, because the whole hazelnut pretty much takes care of that at some point. (In the photo cross-section I obviously hadn’t found it yet.) The wafer is crunchy and has a light caramelized sugar note to it, like good ice cream cones do. The crushed hazelnuts steal the show though, so crunchy and with such a distinctive roasted nut flavor I was quite enamored of these little delights.
The price is a bit steeper than Ferrero Rocher (which I’ve seen on sale at drug stores for less than 1/2 the price from time to time). But there are far more hazelnuts here and of course they were extremely fresh. I might buy them again as a hostess gift for someone I was certain is a hazel-nut. I think I’d prefer a dark chocolate version for myself.
Other items returning for 2009:
Monday, November 9, 2009
The problem with Mr. Goodbar was that it was never Mr. Greatbar in the first place. When Hershey’s replaced the cocoa butter in it, I completely lost interest. So, I’ve been looking for Mr. Betterbar because I still believed there could be a simple, satisfying combination of milk chocolate and fresh roasted peanuts. When I was at the Target in Harbor City shortly before Halloween I spotted this new bar: Green & Black’s Peanut. Since Green & Black’s is organic and expensive, I thought for sure it was going to be better.
After I got the bar home and photographed it, I read a little closer to see that it wasn’t just a plain milk chocolate with whole (or half) pieces of peanuts. No, this was something quite different but still equally compelling: Milk chocolate with caramelized peanuts and a hint of sea salt - 37% Cocoa Content.
The bar looks smooth and shiny. It also looks darker than most milk chocolate bars, somewhere between a true dark and a milk chocolate. I like how Green & Black’s bars are just a little thicker than the Lindt Excellence or Scharffen Berger. This is great especially when there are inclusions, because it leaves room for them to stack and still be surrounded by chocolate.
The bar smells incredible. It’s deep and smoky with a great authentic peanut scent along with the faint hint of caramelized sugar and milk. The texture is equally great, there’s a silky smooth melt and a sweet dairy flavor along with some dark bitter notes of both chocolate and toasted nuts. The peanut flavors are quite strong, and the nuts themselves are crunchy but there’s also the wonderful surprise of both little buttery toffee bits and a crisp toffee coating on some of the peanuts. The salt is also a nice complement to the flavors, keeping the rather sweet milk chocolate from becoming too sticky and setting off the woodsy notes.
I ate this bar up in less than two days. Then I went looking for another. I still haven’t found one, but when I see it, I’ll buy it. Oddly enough, it’s still not the Mr. Goodbar substitute I was looking for, but I’m going to just be happy with the serendipity that brought it into my life and be grateful that my mistakes are so tasty.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.