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.
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Yesterday I reviewed the new All Natural Necco Wafers. Today I have the All Natural Chocolate Necco Wafers and I’m sure some people are thinking, Why review a single flavor from the regular Necco Wafer roll?.
When Necco went all natural, they also tweaked their Chocolate roll to include four flavors instead of just one. Now it contains Milk, Dark, White and Mocha.
I’m was scratching my head, wondering if something so un-chocolately and bland can possibly come in four different flavors when the original is barely flavored.
First, I like the new package. I like the little brown on brown dots on the background. I don’t like the new logo, but hey, the frustrating paper wrapper is usually torn into little strips to get to the candy, so it’s not like I’m saving it and making noisy jewelry out of it.
The first problem I encountered when trying to review them was determining which disk was which flavor. I had to assume the white one was white chocolate, but beyond that I really couldn’t tell. There’s definitely a medium chalky brown that I assumed was milk but then I lost the key, the dark colors were too close for me to call and they weren’t even that much darker.
White Chocolate - this is not chocolate. There is nothing chocolatey about this. It’s not creamy, it’s not milky, it’s certainly not cocoa-ish. It’s an unflavored Necco Wafer. It’s like the test strip for Necco Wafers. You can reset your tasting abilities with this. It’s sweet, maybe it has a hint of vanilla but a toasted marshmallow would have been better. (Or maybe they could have done salted caramel instead of the white chocolate.)
Milk Chocolate - it’s like the old chocolate Necco Wafer, a bit like cardboard in both texture and taste. Not quite musty but not anywhere near chocolate or even chocolate milk.
Mocha - I think this one was the lighter of the dark browns. It was just as sweet as the milk chocolate and did have a hint of coffee flavor. But half the time I didn’t know if I was eating the mocha or the dark, so again I missed the point. It was kind of like eating old frosting from a donut wrapper. By far the most successful in the roll for me.
Dark Chocolate - I can accept chocolate ones in the regular roll because they’re just kind of sweet and different and not trying too hard. But in a roll where I’m supposed to be having a great time with four great flavors I’m greatly disappointed. Maybe it even rises to the level of irritated.
I had two rolls of these. The first roll I photographed and then threw into a little bowl to munch on while I watched TV. After three days of not munching on them, I kept smelling something that was akin to paper grocery bags. (I had no trouble eating the regular rolls though.) So I threw them out. Then I took out the second roll and started on those for the review. They can’t be stale or old, they’re brand new. Just so incredibly bland.
If you want to buy a candy to help you lose weight, this is something to stock up on. You’ll never touch them. For fans of the original Chocolate roll, I think you’re going to be disappointed.
Monday, November 2, 2009
It’s hard to believe that I’ve never reviewed Necco Wafers. In the early years of Candy Blog I tried to concentrate on candies I’d never had before, but it became apparent that in order to discuss things that were new (or new to me) I had to cover the classics as well. So I’m slowly adding those.
Necco Wafers were introduced in 1863 by the Chase and Company candy makers. They were known for their hard candies (boiled sweets), lozenges and “Oriental style” sweets including Turkish Delight. They also innovated machinery and techniques to create confections like the wafers. Chase later merged with Ball and Forbes and Bird, Wright and Company to become the New England Confectionery Company in 1901. By the time they’d been around for almost fifty years they finally settled into their present day name, assortment and packaging style in 1912. Necco Wafers were available in different sizes and were a popular penny candy of the time.
The wafers are lightly flavored and colored disks of sugar. The product is rather unusual for the modern era of confections and is more similar to breath mints than regular candy. They’re not fussy but perhaps a little homely and dated.
To make them, a dough of sugar and corn syrup is mixed up and stabilizers and binders such as gelatin, tragacanth, xanthan and gum Arabic are added. Then after the base is created it’s customized with the flavors and colors. The whole mass is loaded into a roller like it’s some sort of infinitely long pie crust then the disks are cut and stamped with the Necco name. They’re not baked, just air dried.
What’s created is a beguilingly crunchy lozenge. Crisp, thin and sweet.
The classic roll of Necco Wafers contained eight flavors and has always been a random assorted stack sealed in a glassine wrapper. I know most folks who like them also searched the store shelves for one that had just the right mix of colors they preferred.
This year marks a new generation of Necco Wafers now with all natural flavorings and colors. Because of the new restrictions Necco placed on itself, they dropped one flavor from the original that could not be replicated adequately: Lime.
The current flavors are chocolate, cinnamon, clove, lemon, licorice, orange and wintergreen. Since no artificial colors are used I was hoping that the flavors would be truer. (I’ve always had a problem with the pink ones having a bad bitter aftertaste.)
I haven’t been able to find the large two ounce rolls in the stores near me, but I did finally find this package of the mini rolls at CVS in the Halloween section. (I visited about a dozen stores in two states in a month looking for them.)
The colors are quite a bit more subdued, as if Necco Wafers weren’t already a bit washed out. They’re so muted that I have trouble telling the pale yellow, lavender and white apart. And for folks that like to preview a roll before they open it, it’s quite hard to tell the light colors apart. The new wrapper also sports an updated logo ... though I find the logo to look more like something from 1998 (when the titled oval was all the rage in logos) than a modern candy, but not quite a reflection of its classic past.
Clove - I always avoided the clove for two reasons. I don’t like clove flavor and I didn’t like the food coloring aftertaste. In this case the clove (faint lavender) is much more mild and less caustic than before. Of course there’s no weird aftertaste either. I still didn’t like it much and was a little irritated that it was so hard to pull them out of the mix in anything other than bright sunlight.
Chocolate - the easiest to spot and one that needs no coloring. I found the cocoa flavors to be overly sweet, but at least true. It was like an old piece of dried chocolate frosting. A little pointless if you really want chocolate, but it has a freshness to it that doesn’t leave me thinking of cardboard.
Wintergreen - I was so happy about these. The color is still a teaberry pink, so they’re easy to spot. It’s exactly like a piece of teaberry gum if it was a crunchy piece of sugar (and a stale piece of gum can be like that). The flavor starts out rather soft and quaint, but builds up to a bit of a Ben Gay burn later. There’s a lingering buzz in the mouth. The best part of the finish is that it’s all flavor and no food coloring mess. My tongue looks like when I started (normal pink) and no metallic aftertaste.
Cinnamon - this white piece lots its mojo in the conversion to all natural. It’s sad how lacking in cinnamon punch it is now, it’s not that it’s bad, but I just don’t feel like picking them out and eating them first any longer.
Licorice - the color is so much lighter on these, it took me a while to realize that they weren’t the clove ones. They’re a light putty color that sometimes has a lavender cast to it. The flavor is quite a strong anise note. It’s sweet and has an aromatic and slightly menthol quality to it. It reminds me a little bit of the Fisherman’s Friend lozenges.
Lemon - the lemon flavored Necco Wafers were never spectacular and they haven’t changed one way or the other. Sweet and with only the slightest hint of lemon flavor, there’s no tartness (thank goodness - if you’ve had the SweetHearts Sour Conversation Hearts you’ll know what I mean), no zest.
Orange - this faint orange colored one has a little orange peel note to it. It didn’t seem as sweet as the lemon one, but that’s not saying much about it. It was mostly inoffensive.
I don’t miss Lime, but I did enjoy the flavor. As an assortment, I’ve found myself munching through the bag of minis without any problems. I’ve picked out most of the clove, but find all the other flavors enjoyable. So I consider the new mix a definite winner. The only issue was the strength of the flavors varies - the clove, licorice and wintergreen were very strong and left a distinct burn in the mouth while the rest were pretty mellow. So after a licorice, I could barely tell that I was eating a lemon.
Each roll of 9 pieces has only 50 calories. They take a while to eat and of course there’s the variety, so it’s a nice snack that’s easy to take anywhere. I do have a problem with the little white powder that seems to get everywhere though. (I tend to wear a lot of dark colors.)
I think this is a great development and I’m actually looking forward to see if the classic SweetHearts Conversation Hearts will also go all natural. They do still have gelatin in them, so sadly no good for vegetarians and they’re not Kosher/Halal. I really like my candies to taste like candy, not artificial colors.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Payard Patisserie was at the top of my list. Started by French pastry chef Fran?ois Payard, he grew up immersed in confectionery and pastry from an early age in his grandfather’s shop. Since the New York City Payard shop closed, the Caesar’s Palace location is the only place to get the full Payard experience in the US. (There are shops in Japan and Korea.)
I had a tough time finding the shop, as it’s tucked in the immense Caesar’s Palace maze of casinos and restaurants. The Payard website is no help, as it doesn’t even say where it is in Las Vegas, and the Caesar’s website is equally vague. So I just wandered, starting at the main entrance and winding my way through the labyrinth. Once I did find it, it pretty much stopped me dead in my tracks. The curving facade in rich brown hues, the ornate light fixtures, the long glass counter filled with pastries & treats and the sheer size of it are quite breathtaking.
It is a full French bistro with soups, sandwiches and crepes but the displays definitely focus on the decadent desserts, confections and chocolates.
Luckily I’d briefed myself on their website before going, so I knew what I wanted to pick up, what I wanted to see in person. Of course I also go to most shops with an open sense of exploration - I’m ready to be enchanted and sucked into it all.
I picked up one dessert and a one half pound ballotin which seemed to highlight most of their chocolates well. (I briefly considered their Bergamot Truffle Perfume as well, but realized, I like to eat chocolate, not smell like it.)
The dessert was a decadent piece, mostly a firm chocolate mousse with a core that featured a hazelnut nougatine. It was much larger than I think one person needs to eat, but for only $8.00 it actually felt like a good value for Las Vegas (and upscale chocolate in general). The chocolate was deep and rich, the heavy cream was evident and the texture, besides the crispies mixed in the center, was velvety smooth. Considering all the walking I did (about three miles just that night), I didn’t feel at all guilty about eating it.
The location is not right off any casino floor, so it’s quite quiet and would likely be a great spot to sit and enjoy a coffee drink and sweet. It’s not quite a sidewalk cafe, as it is actually inside and there’s something about carpeting that can really suck the bustle out of a crowd.
The Half Pound Ballotin features about 25 pieces of chocolate, and from the website sounded like a good variety of items. Also, at $28 for the box I was actually convinced it was a good deal. It’s like a little brick, about 4.5 inches long and 2.5 inches high but of course weighing a little over 8 ounces with packaging.
The box is actually crammed full of chocolate. It’s in three layers, each separated only with a bit of waxed/corrugated paper. There are no goofy preformed trays or fluted paper cups. Just a box of chocolates.
There was also no guide, though when I asked at the counter when I purchased it, I was told there was one in there. So I have to simply guess at a lot of these. The chocolate did pretty well. Though it was in the 80s during the day in Las Vegas, I kept the box in my hotel in an insulated cooler, just in case the air conditioner (set on 76F when I was out) didn’t kick in.
Mendiant Noir - Dark chocolate wheel, topped with dried fruits and nuts
I love mendiants simply because they show their cards. It’s a disk of chocolate with some fruit or nut stuck in it. They’re like elegant chocolate bark in easy to eat pieces.
As you might be able to tell, I got two pieces in my box, one white and one dark. The white one had pistachio, almond and yellow raisin. The white chocolate was smooth but sweet, the nuts set it off well. My dark chocolate piece had hazelnut, almond, yellow raisin and walnut. So I broke off the piece with the walnut in it and ate the rest. The dark chocolate was velvety smooth and the hazelnut took center stage as the predominant flavor and texture with a little chewy raisin with some wine notes towards the end.
Also in the box were two orangettes - generous strips of candied orange peel covered in dark chocolate. They were soft and chewy and not overly sweet.
Each of the chocolates in the box are rather small. They’re one inch square and about 1/3 of an inch high.
Chagall - Milk chocolate wafer with praline covered in dark chocolate
This little piece was delightful. The center is a praline, which is a bit of crispy wafers all smashed into teensy bits (think of the wafer of an ice cream cone or a Pirouline stick). It has it’s own toasted flavor and of course a bright and satisfying crunch. It’s mixed in with a milk chocolate paste with a slight sugary grain to it. The dark chocolate keeps it from being to sickly sweet, as does the minute portion.
I was surprised that the Payard name was on this one in particular, I would have assumed it would be a plain or classic ganache version.
Degas - Dark and milk chocolate ganache with coffee beans covered in dark chocolate
This one was easy to pick out of the mix since it said cafe on the top. The flavor was quite mellow and thankfully the coffee was fully integrated and there was no hint of graininess or chewy fibery bits.
Monet - Milk chocolate and cinnamon ganache covered in dark chocolate
This piece has a textured top, kind of like the chocolate version of a 70s hologram sticker. The scent is quite cinnamony, so I was able to assign this one to its name rather easily. The ganache center is lighter and sweeter than some of the others without as much chocolate richness.
Palet d’Or - Vanilla rum ganache covered with dark chocolate, finished with gold decoration
If I didn’t know there was a vanilla rum ganache bonbon in this mix, I wouldn’t have been able to peg this one. It tasted like a rich, dark chocolate truffle. I didn’t get the buttery hints of molasses or alcohol from it, but it sure tasted like rich chocolate. One of the pair that I had was a little grainy.
Gauguin - Milk chocolate ganache, flavored with Kirsh and Grand Marnier covered in dark chocolate
I enjoyed the light touch of orange essence in this bonbon, it was a well rounded flavor without overpowering the chocolate notes. I got a slight bit of grain to it around the edges, but also a bit of zest, so I didn’t know if there was actual candied orange peels in it.
Van Gogh - Pistachio almond paste covered in dark chocolate
This one was in the top layer and I was a little scared when I saw that they were a tad bloomed. Luckily they were an isolated incident. The chocolates are a pistachio green innard that tastes distinctly of pistachio - that fragrant and grassy flavor. The texture is marzipan but also a bit of a grain from sugar (or it had crystallized). I wasn’t that fond of these pieces.
Bonnard - Milk chocolate ganache and caramel covered in dark chocolate
I believe this is the piece with the script P on it. The ganache is rich and buttery with a very slight velvety grain and a burnt sugar flavor. There was also a light bitter note towards the end.
Picasso - Dark chocolate ganache infused with Earl Grey Tea
This beautiful piece was spot on perfection. The shell was nicely tempered, the center had an immediate blossom of bergamot when I bit into it. But instead of just being a citrus peel flavor, it was an actual black tea, the whole cup, if you will. The dark chocolate maintained its own flavors of dark berries and had a bitter woodsy note while the black tea flavors and tannins did their part. Silky smooth melt and refreshing dry finish.
Rocher Noir - Dark chocolate mixed with a crispy wafer
I was a bit surprised when I got to the bottom and found these. They look kind of prickly. The chocolate coating looked thin and cheap.
I was very wrong to judge these based on appearances.
The milk version is light and crispy with an insane buttery flavor & fattiness to it. The crispy wafer bits are those same dark toasted bits, but larger here than the other nougatine ganache. It’s a definite cereal taste. The chocolate isn’t really a note here, it’s more like a malty flavor.
In the noir (dark) version it looked like a coconut haystack. Instead it was the malty & crispy wafer bits with a mellow cocoa flavor. The decadence comes from a slick and sweet chocolate that holds it all together. It’s a bit cool on the tongue and is very satisfying.
Finally, at the bottom with the rochers were the classic chocolate truffles. These little handformed spheres are darling.
Upon the first bite these were not plain dark chocolate. They’re boozy, but not stinging with alcohol. The significant notes are vanilla and tobacco with deep oak and cherry in there. They’re supposed to be Vanilla Rum, but they’re like pushing my face into a bag of pipe tobacco. Not unpleasant at all, but quite dense and difficult to tease out all the flavors and complexity.
For those looking for Payard in Caesar’s Palace, I recommend this map (which I found when I was trying to write this up). The bistro is located on the main level, just off Appian Way (where the statue of David is) and across from Rao’s restaurant.
I can’t vouch for the bistro food, but the desserts do look luscious and I was very happy with mine. I wish they offered the chocolates by the piece, but if you’re shopping for a gift, they’re definitely a great place to stop in and get something truly worthy of the Las Vegas prices. There’s obviously a lot of care and thought that goes into the creation of these bonbons. I also tried the Parisian Macarons, which was a little too brightly colored for my tastes (yes, I mean taste) but wonderfully scrumptious single bites. (I recommend eating those immediately, they do not keep more than 3 days.)
I would definitely visit again if I were in Las Vegas, though I don’t know if I would order from them online as I have a lot of options available locally. But it’s nice to know that option is available.
UPDATE 10/29/2009: Payard may have a new Manhattan location soon called Francois Chocolate Bar at Mauboussin Jewelers on Madison Avenue. Opening November 4th. (NY Times DinersJournal.)
Monday, October 26, 2009
On my recent trip to Las Vegas I spent zero time in the casinos (except to traverse them to get to the chocolate and of course scanning the slot machines to find a candy-themed one) and all my time either walking or browsing fine chocolate.
Las Vegas actually has some very nice options for chocolate lovers and thankfully they’re liberally scattered around if you’re not into skipping from one casino-hotel-monstrosity to another. I went up to the Forum Shops at Caesar’s Palace to the Vosges Haut-Chocolat Boutique. Since it was barely a week to Halloween, I picked up a selection of their Skulls. (They’re a variation on their Easter Bunnies, which I attempted to review once before.)
There are three variations of the large skull shaped solid chocolates called Day of the Dead Skulls: Red Fire, Barcelona and Blanca. Each is 2.75 inches high, 1.75 inches wide at the widest and about 1 inch thick.
The Barcelona Skull is made of hickory smoked almonds, Maldon sea salt + deep milk chocolate 45% cacao.
The eyes are also filled with coarse Black Hawaiian sea salt to give them a bit more impact. They each weigh 2.2 ounces, so it’s more chocolate than a regular single serve bar, but it’s a hefty lump. They’re not really that easy to share, as biting into it is messy and difficult and once it’s cut up with a knife the allure of the skull shape is ruined.
Barcelona is available as a regular bar from Vosges, so I thought it would be fun to try in the novelty shape anyway. The color is quite deep and rich looking and I could actually make out the little almond bits near the surface.
As a milk chocolate it’s an easier bite than most dark chocolates. The deep milk chocolate is creamy with strong woodsy notes that are amplified by the mineral notes of the sea salt and the buttery crunch of the Marcona almonds.
I enjoyed the deep bites of the chocolate (yes, I just gnawed my way through the whole skull) more than I think I would a flat bar.
The Red Fire Skull is deep and shiny. It smells fruity and also very peppery. Like a bottle of Tabasco sauce, a hardwood smokebox and some other spice notes like cinnamon.
I was a little worried about the spice level. I’m good with horseradish, wasabi and curries, but capsaicin (the active ingredient in chili peppers) is unpleasant for me pretty often. Thankfully I think the chocolate is exceptionally well balanced. It’s hot (at least to me) but not uncomfortably so.
The woodsy notes have a definite tangy bent to them, like smoked peppers that have been re-hydrated there’s a bit of a spicy raisin feel. The cinnamon notes are also quite apparent. The bite of the chocolate is quite firm, there’s a distinct snap, but it is hard to just bite right into this thick skull.
The chocolate flavors aren’t overwhelmed by all of this, which is refreshing compared to some flavored bars. I felt that it was a good blend of flavors and intensity. The spices themselves lent a little grain to the chocolate which reminded me of the traditional stone ground Mexican hot chocolate I’ve had. I found the salt reservoir of the eye sockets to be far to intense and I felt really creepy digging out the salt from the second one.
This Skull was different from the Vosges bar, the Blanca is just high quality white chocolate, featuring 36% cocoa butter. (Catch me on a good day and I’m also about one third cocoa butter.)
The scent is rather odd, a little milky but not as sugary sweet smelling as some others and lacking a vanilla pop that I’ve had from Green & Blacks White.
The texture is a bit softer than the dark chocolate. It’s not quite as silky smooth, but still quite fatty with a good melt. The milky and dairy flavors are rich and thick and a bit on the sticky side. The vanilla has a good presence but not so much that it takes the center stage here. The Black Hawaiian sea salt, in this instance, is a wonderful counterpoint to the sweetness.
Still, it’s hard to just eat straight white chocolate. I found it was a nice way to offset the lingering throat burn of the Red Fire chilies.
They are rather expensive. The set of three is $21 and individuals are sold for $8 each. At 2.2 ounces they’re more expensive than the bars ... which are also on the pricey side (3 ounces for $7.50). If you’re looking for a more upscale and dependably tasty hostess gift for The Day of the Dead, well this will do the trick nicely. Part of me wanted more packaging (the Easter bunnies get little boxes) but then again this is spare and does the job.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.