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.
Friday, October 23, 2009
I didn’t find this terribly exotic, since there’s already chocolate made with goat’s milk and sheep’s milk on the market. But of course I didn’t realize that camel’s milk is kind of hard to come by at this time.
Al Nassma is the first chocolate company to make camel milk chocolate. And instead of just plopping themselves in the middle of the crowded deluxe chocolate bar market, they’re positioning themselves as fine chocolate with a unique taste and possibly some other splendid properties.
There is only one place in the United States to buy Al Nassma, it’s at a little shop I’ve visited before in San Francisco called Chocolate Covered. Happily a friend was visiting the city and agreed to pick up my chocolate for me (I dare not try to send the stuff as it was a brutally hot late summer ... though camels bear it well, their chocolate does not). Yes, I have chocolate mules.
The chocolate is made with camel’s milk from Dubai but manufactured in Vienna, Austria by a chocolate maker named Manner. Some folks may recognize that company, as they make Chocolina’s Sheep’s Milk Chocolate (photo here) in the same facility. After the basic chocolate is created it’s shipped back to Al Nassma’s facility in Dubai to be combined with the final ingredients and molded into bars & chocolates.
Camel’s milk is reported to have many fabulous attributes. It has more protein, no lactose, a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals ... lots of wonderful things to recommend it. I don’t actually hear much about it being really, really tasty ... but there are studies going on to see if it can treat autism, diabetes, tuberculosis and Crohn’s disease (yeah, big stuff). Still, I see the value of trying different milk products in chocolate in order to maximize its nutritional profile and also improve digestibility for those with allergies.
The milk chocolate comes in four varieties: Whole Milk, Whole Milk with Dates, Macadamia-Orange and Arabia. I went for the bars (mostly because that’s what’s available so far here).
I love the packaging. It’s spare and elegant. A simple deep brown and metallic gold wrapper. The heavy paper overwrap is even printed on the inside with little camel line drawings. The same camel and palm tree logo is embossed on the stiff gold foil wrapper underneath.
The stack as a whole has a comforting scent to it. A bit like unburnt incense and potpourri. I get a vague whiff of orange and spices but also just a comforting clean smell. I don’t know if it’s that my chocolates, which are each different flavors, have commingled to the point that I won’t be able to tell them apart or not.
Once I opened each bar, I was aware that though some flavors may be shared, they’re definitely different.
The Whole Milk Camel Milk Bar is nicely molded and tempered. It’s quite a dark looking milk chocolate bar. It has a distinct, thick snap to it.
The flavor is immediately a bit salty to my tongue. The caramel flavors are noticeable as is the smooth texture but still on the rustic side. It’s not quite fudgy but also not completely slick or oily like some milk chocolates. It’s sweet but also well rounded with toasted notes and maybe a hint of malt and cheese. The ingredients on all bars list honey, though it’s far down on the list and I didn’t really get the honey notes here. The chocolate flavors are mild but more to the malt and woodsy side of things than raisins/berries or coffee.
I rarely eat dates straight, as they’re exceptionally sweet, but I enjoy their grainy texture and deep molasses notes.
This bar didn’t quite capture that. While it was sweeter than the straight Whole Milk, I didn’t get the berry and musky notes of the dates. Instead I got the texture - the kind of papery skins and grainy sweetness. I didn’t get the same salty notes as the Whole Milk either, which might have helped.
I thought the Macadamia-Orange smelled like oranges from the outside, I was certainly surprised at how strong it was once I opened the foil. The scent reminds me of candied orange peels boiling away in sugar syrup on the stove. Warm and steamy.
The orange is present in the whole bar as an essence, but also as little bits of candied orange zest. The pieces aren’t crystallized and grainy like some bars, which means that they don’t distract from the smoothness of the chocolate and also, they don’t add any additional sweetness. Instead, at moments, they can add an orange oil bitterness.
The macadamia chips are quite small, and sometimes barely noticeable. Macadamias, when this small, may as well be coconut as far as I can tell. They’re slightly chewy, a little buttery and have that tropical coconut note to them.
I don’t know if it was the orange or not, but the honey was more lively here. A kind of musky and low background for the whole bar. I liked the intensity of the orange and thought the macadamias added a little peppy crunch.
After the plain bar, I was most looking forward to the Arabia bar. I like spiced chocolate and thought a blend specific to the culture & food of the Arabian peninsula would be fantastic. Of course I didn’t know what that would be and the wrapper doesn’t say much about what spices specifically are included. I could tease out perhaps coriander or nutmeg or one of the other woodsy spices and black pepper or perhaps a note of saffron. There’s something slightly floral and maybe musk-like in it (but that could be the honey). It’s also a little grainy with the spices. It’s not quite as pungent and chaotic as Indian Chai.
As a whole line, they’re nicely made and well thought out. They’re incredibly expensive, but novelty does that (as does shipping and of course small inventories). For folks looking for something to point to as a source of pride, well, camel fans certainly can. The whole nutritional aspects are probably not going to bear out when put into a product like chocolate, but for lactose intolerant folks this is certainly some of the nicest stuff you’re ever going to get.
I would like to try some of the filled chocolates in their line, but I’m hesitant to shell out close to fifty dollars and fret over whether it will make it to the house in the heat any time soon. (I still have plenty left to eat on these bars as it is.)
Sara has a review on her site of the Whole Milk and Dates bar and Graeme Wood at The Atlantic went all the way to Dubai to look the camels in the face.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
I’ve had a few Hachez chocolate products over the years, though I haven’t written much about them (just this one review). They’re a German chocolate maker (though they have Belgian roots).
My boss was traveling in Europe recently and returned with a stack of candy, and this bar was definitely blog-worthy (all others were tummy-worthy).
The Edel Vollmilch Nuss is a dark milk chocolate bar studded with hazelnuts.
The wrapper is odd in that it doesn’t look like the other Hachez products I’ve seen, which are long narrow bars. However, the classic shield and seal that accompanies the logo is the same. The wrapper here is a heavy and glossy paper wrap with a light drawing of a squirrel holding a nut and some nuts growing on a limb. (And of course the little image of the chocolate bar itself.)
It’s a thick bar, and even so the nuts protrude from the bottom of it in a cobblestone look.
The bar smells smoky and woodsy with a strong grassy hazelnut scent and a slight hint of dairy.
The texture I’ve experience with Hachez before is extremely smooth with no grit and this was no exception. The melt is slick and silky and the twang of the dairy notes were spot on perfect. The notes have a toasted flavor to them that echoes some of the darker notes of the rather dark milk chocolate (37% ... but remember that 24% of the mass of this bar is just hazelnuts).
It’s a wonderful eating bar. The hazelnuts are a little small, but then again there were a lot of them. Every one was roasted to perfection so it was crunchy with just a slight sweet note to it. I enjoyed it simply as a hearty snack and a decadent little treat after dinner. And now it’s gone and I’m going to have to find a way to get them in the United States.
Friday, October 9, 2009
The use of salt in candy is as old as toffee, caramel, & licorice but now it’s popping into chocolates. Lindt just released their newest, an Excellent Dark with a Touch of Sea Salt bar.
The package is quite pretty and elegantly simple. The standard paperboard sleeve with a cool dark blue background for the chocolate square sporting a little sprinkle of salt.
I usually like chocolate bars that come in paperboard sleeves, they protect the chocolate well, and should make it easy to keep the leftovers. Lindt has designed theirs so that once you open it, there’s no tab to tuck back in, instead it falls apart completely without a little piece of tape or a rubber band.
My bar was fresh and has a wonderful sheen. Smelling it, it’s not quite as complex as I’d hoped. The package doesn’t say how chocolatey it is, but it turns out that this simple dark-named bar is only 47%. The ingredients also list butterfat, which I don’t mind in milk chocolate, but feel it tends to make dark chocolate a little less potent.
Smell aside, the texture is quite nice. Silky smooth until, oh, a little pop of salt grains.
The flavors are deeper than the smell. A little coffee & woodsy notes along with a lighter chocolate cake flavor. The salt kind of sends me off into the realm of freshly baked chocolate chips cookies. There’s a bit of a dry finish that keeps it all from feeling like the experience was too sweet or too salty.
It’s a pretty well balanced bar and a nice example of salt & sugar being used together. It’s not quite as deep and satisfying as the darker offerings from Lindt and of course the fact that they’ve used butterfat means it’s off the list for vegans.
Lindt just relaunched their Excellence Chocolate website and I have to say that they did a nice job as far as I’m concerned. Big images, lots of information about the products, including ingredients & nutrition label. And most importantly it’s not done in all flash so no crazy sounds/music & I can link directly to a product page if I wanted to.
Thursday, October 8, 2009
The most basic ingredients are sugar, corn syrup and baking soda. There’s no butter in it, like toffee and just about any kind of nuts or snack seeds can be added.
The crunch of brittle is provided by both the hardened sugar (which is made airy by the use of baking soda added just as the boiling mixture is removed from the heat) and the use of fresh nuts.
Most nut brittles are served in a rustic fashion. Big sheets of the candy are broken into little bits and planks.
I found Old Dominion brittle at the drug store and was intrigued. First of all, it’s all natural ... no coloring, no preservatives. Second, Old Dominion is a peanut company and they’ve been around for 95 years, so they must be doing something right. Third, the stuff was cheap.
I picked up two boxes. The Cashew Brittle was only 99 cents at Rite Aid and the Peanut Brittle was $1.69 ... but was twice the weight of the cashew.
The box seemed a little big for the amount of candy in it. But it was well packaged inside with an oversized & thick mylar pouch.
Inside the planks, slivers & pieces clank pleasantly, kind of like poker chips.
It definitely smells like toasted peanuts. Glancing at the pieces though they don’t have as many peanuts as I would have hoped, there’s a lot more brittle than peanut.
The candy has a fresh and crunchy bite - there’s a slight foamy lightness to it. It’s just a little salty, a bit buttery tasting. The nuts are small, like those Virginia Red-skinned peanuts. I ate about half the bag and got only one bad nut, and that one was just overtoasted. Yes, I would have preferred more nuts, but considering the price, it was a pretty good deal for a fresh & natural product.
I thought this would be a straight swap of cashews for peanuts but it’s actually not. The ingredients list butter (though rather far down on the list) and the color is just a bit lighter. It smells buttery and a little grassy like cashews often do.
I love cashews and all of these were sweet & crunchy. It’s fun to see someone making an affordable cashew candy.
The pieces were a little light on the cashews, but the candy part was still crunchy & fun without them. It tastes just a little saltier, which seems to offset the sweetness of the cashews themselves. I really can’t complain about it at all ... it’s a quarter pound of good quality candy for only a buck.
I liked the design of the boxes, classic and accurate in their depiction of the product ... well, maybe the pictures make it look like there are more nuts. I might have preferred a zip locked bag inside, but I usually have extras around and just tuck them into those to keep them from getting sticky from ambient moisture. It’s a little hard to see because it’s just emboss/stamped into the end of the box, but they do list a “best by” date.
The calories listed for the peanut brittle are 180 per 30 grams (a little over 1 ounce). This makes no sense to me, even one ounce of peanuts is only 160 calories ... so I think there’s a typo. The cashew package says 130 calories, which seems about right for a product that’s mostly sugar.
Old Dominion, based in Norfolk, Virginia, also makes Butter Toffee Peanuts, Peanut Squares/Bars and a “covered” version of the peanut brittle (which I steered away from because it was mockolate).
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
There’s a lot that goes on before our beloved candy hits the store shelves. The same is true with Candy Blog, though it probably looks like all I do is play with candy, take photos of candy and of course eat candy. I also read about what’s going on in the candy business and of course visit trade shows and talk to candy companies, distributors & retailers.
One of the things I always found curious about the American candy business is how some foreign candies are represented in the United States. One such oddity was that the American distributor for Toblerone and Cote d’Or (owned by Kraft) chocolate for two years was Ferrara Pan. Yes, the Lemonhead & Atomic Fireball makers. Well, that deal ended in December 2008. So that left Ferrara free to move into the chocolate bar field without competing with his own interests ... and he’s come up with something that looks familiar yet has its own distinctiveness.
The chocolate is made in Belgium but the rest of the manufacturing is done at the new Ferrara facility in Forest Park, IL. If you like the behind the scenes stuff, you might love this article (which is one of the most blunt I’ve seen about how the candy business is a business and made up of people).
The new Ferrara Imported Belgian Milk Chocolate with Almond Nougat bar has a distinctive shape and a similar construction. It’s an atypical shape (a trapezoidal bar with deep sections) enclosed in a box shaped just like the bar. Yes, it’s a Faux-blerone.
The ingredients are in fact quite nice: milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, chocolate, soy lecithin and natural vanilla flavor), almond nougat (sugar, corn syrup, almonds, honey, egg white, natural vanilla flavor) plus wheat starch as a processing aid.
Inside the box the bar is sealed in a heavy mylar wrap with the Ferrara “F” crest reminding consumers that Ferrara has been making candy since 1908 on it.
It does smell quite good, sweet and milky with just a hint of the promised honey in the nougat.
Biting into it the first thing I noticed was how packed with nuts & nougat bits it was. My issue with Toblerone has long been the lack of enough bits to satisfy me.
The chocolate is quite milky but surprisingly smooth. The milky flavors are lightly caramelized, so there’s a malty & honey undertone to it. The chocolate comes across as rich, but also a little sweet.
I liked the little almond slivers and crunches and the Italian-style nougat which had a hint of honey and toasted marshmallow flavors. The bits are a little tough and sometimes sticky ... I’d kind of like to try the milk chocolate without the nougat & nuts. (Ferrara is planning on making sectioned chocolate balls a la Terry’s Chocolate Orange later this year as well.)
I’d say this is a great addition to a rather open segment of the candy shelf - better than a standard Hershey’s with Almonds and rivaling Toblerone without the price tag. I paid $1.99 for this bar ... on the shelf next to it was Toblerone, for $2.79 each. The fact that it’s all natural (no artificial vanilla flavor in there) is a bonus.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
Last week I told you that pandas have berry flavored noses. This week I’m telling you that all natural pandas are pink grapefruit flavored.
Bissinger’s Naturals line has an excellent array of exotic flavored & nutritionally enhanced gummy pandas. I was frustrated for many years because the only place I could get them was on their website and you had to order 4 packages of each flavor ... I’m more of a grazer than a consumer. So I would visit their booth at trade shows. I’d always arrive and they’d say “oh, we’re not tasting the gummys today.” Or if they were, I’d be directed to go visit a counter where the staff is dressed in white lab coats like they work for Clinique and I would be given one single gummy to try and no access to the packages & labels.
Finally at the Whole Foods by the coffee counter I found a whole display of Bissinger’s Naturals Gummy Pandas. They come in two package sizes, the little 4 ounce stand up pack shown here and some flavors were available in 100 calorie packages for a smaller taste. They come in Goji Guava, Blueberry Acai, Green Tea, Pomegranate White Tea and Pink Grapefruit with Grapeseed.
I was a little aghast at the price - $3.99 for four ounces, but it’s not like I don’t splurge on candy from time to time. (Yes, $16 a pound for gummi bears.)
These gummies are quite soft and a little greasy (coconut oil & beeswax keeps them from sticking together). They’re darker than I would have expected for a grapefruit flavored candy, but the coloring is all natural, from black carrot juice.
When I opened the package I found they smelled very nice - sweet and with a strong note of grapefruit oils and a little like the powder for Country Time Lemonade. It certainly made my mouth water.
They’re quite gummy & bouncy bears. The chew is stiff but squishy (I think gummi fans know what I mean). The flavor is tart, a slight bitter note of the grapefruit and a not too sweet base. The texture is ultra smooth.
The ingredients are interesting. The product is all natural, gluten/wheat free as well as containing no artificial colors or sweeteners. The main sweetener is tapioca syrup (organic) instead of corn syrup ... so if you shun corn this might be the perfect gummi for you. Later on the list is grapeseed extract. That’s supposed to add some antioxidants, but I don’t much care one way or the other if my candy gives me that sort of stuff.
The flavor is well rounded and doesn’t have any of that weird aftertaste that some all natural candies that are fortified can have. They’re a cute shape and the ability to buy just one flavor instead of a mix is often a bonus.
The bottom of the label does say that they’re produced in a facility that processes milk, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, wheat and eggs. So I don’t know what to say about that Gluten Free statement. Then there was a strange little K over at the edge of the back of the package. Last year Bissinger’s announced that they were going Kosher ... could this be their Kosher symbol? I couldn’t be sure and their website was no help. So I emailed them. A helpful woman named Jenney replied quite promptly to my question with this: The gummies are definitely certified kosher, and the gelatin is kosher and does come from pork. You are free to make of that what you will, I find those statements in conflict. Unless there’s something new in pigs that I’m not aware of.
Besides the price and the incongruity of their claim of gluten free with their allergen statement and this newfangled pork-is-Kosher I like ‘em a lot.
FOLLOW UP 10/10/2009: I continued my correspondence with Jenney at Bissinger’s. She insisted again that the product was both Kosher and porcine. She presented me with a certificate from the ingredient company, Gelita, that shows its status. With that I contacted Gelita who refused to tell me what’s in their Kosher gelatin, as they were bound by their confidentiality agreements with their clients.
I emailed again, telling Gelita that I was referred to them by Bissinger’s for more information but have heard no reply after a week of waiting. So folks who avoid pig products can take this to mean what they wish. I do not feel confident calling this a pork-free product and am extremely uncomfortable with a company that says their products are Kosher yet insists they contain porcine gelatin with no twinkling of acknowledgment of that incongruity.
Friday, September 18, 2009
And they’re also licorice. Actually, the completely unattractive sticker on the front of the bag informs me in English (the rest of the package is in German) that it’s Licorice Foam Candy.
They’re shaped like panda faces and I have to say that they’re fraktacularlary cute. So cute I just wanted to eat them up. And the name? Tappsy! How could you not like something called Tappsy? (It reminded me of Stampy.)
What was also fun was the fact that they’re a European candy, so they don’t use any artificial colorings and seem to have all natural flavorings. (I don’t know if ammonium chloride is consider natural or not ... I mean, it’s a mineral.)
The light & flexible disk are shaped like cartoon panda faces. They’re about 1.5 inches across at the ears. They come in two varieties - licorice faced and foam faced. (Panda’s don’t actually look like that, they have white faces with black eyes and ears.) The white faced ones had little noses made of a berry flavored jelly. (Real pandas also have berry flavored noses, but couldn’t find any verification of this, so you’ll just have to take my word for it and of course make mention of it in conversation until someone starts sending around emails and Snopes investigates.)
The little faces have a kind of cock-eyed smile that reminded me of Wybie from Coraline.
The licorice parts are quite mellow - a light anise flavor and not overtly sweet and a good caramel & molasses undertone. The texture is more like a chewy licorice than the foamy stuff - not the wheat based chew of the US/Australia and not quite a jelly or gummi. The foam white part is rather like a marshmallow - but smashed, just a bit more dense and not at all sticky.
I loved the licorice parts and ate the licorice-faced ones first (sadly they didn’t make up half the bag). Licorice-eared ones were just a little bland, so towards the end, I just ate their ears and tossed the face ... it’s the candy equivalent of shark finning.
I would definitely buy them again, though I would like to find them in bulk bins so I can pull out a better proportion of licorice. (They also come in a fruity version.) I looked on the Katje’s website and think there may be some other products that are more balanced to my liking like the Domino Delicious (which appears to be the first same-sex-marriage-marketed candy I’ve seen - well, besides the Rainbow Mentos).
Finally, here’s a commercial for Tappsy starring Heidi Klum:
I don’t know what’s going on in that commercial except that it’s a pretty accurate depiction of my Saturday mornings in my breezy white-clad bed, rolling around with my candy.
Finally, just a note about the calories: each piece has only 28 calories. And a whole ounce clocks in at 97 calories. So this is definitely a candy you can use a a little low-calorie treat that looks like a high calorie one.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.