Friday, February 6, 2009
One of the issues these days with candy bars isn’t the empty calories, it’s the ingredients. There’s a difference between bad for you (sound cue: giggle) and bad for you (sound cue: medical equipment).
I don’t usually feel bad about calories, fat or sugar. But I do feel weird about eating partially hydrogenated oils, artificial colors and flavors.
Enter Q.bel with their line of all-natural candy bars. No artificial colors, no artificial flavors, no hydrogenated oils, no high fructose corn sweetener and no preservatives.
The happy thing to report is that candy bars never needed any of the above to be good ... they just needed them to be cheap. So quality will cost you $1.39-$1.69 (but if you’re buying your candy at Whole Foods, that’s hardly a surprise).
Their inaugural line has six products. I’m going to review three of them today, their Crispy Wafer Bar which come in Dark Chocolate, Milk Chocolate and Peanut Butter.
The Dark Chocolate Crispy Rice Wafer Bar (purple wrapper) is a stack of three crisp, flavorless wafers filled with a chocolate cream, sprinkled with crisped rice and then covered in dark chocolate.
They come in a two pack of fingers. Each is about three inches long and three quarters of an inch wide.
If the photo and description sounds vaguely familiar to you, it might be because this is very similar to the Hershey’s Bar None. (Except there’s no peanuts in this version.)
The crunch is light and crisp, airy and a little like an ice cream cone. The chocolate is slightly bitter, creamy and sweet with a dry finish. The cream center is sweet and a little grainy but rather buttery.
The whole experience is extremely satisfying. It’s not really a chocolate bar, it’s definitely a candy. I am in love with this bar.
Rating: 10 out of 10 (as long as I can find it in stores)
The Milk Chocolate Crispy Rice Wafer Bars are just like the dark version except with 10 more calories.
They’re a lighter taste and seem to have more crunchies to them, but that just could be variations in the manufacture.
The scent is milky sweet with a slight cereal smell. There’s less of a chocolate punch here and more of a creamy, dairy milk chocolate event going on.
I was very pleased with it (and at first though this would be like Bar None, but it didn’t have the same punch).
Rating: 8 out of 10.
The Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Wafer Bars are a little different in that they don’t have the crisped rice. Instead of a chocolate cream filling they have a peanut butter filling between the wafers.
As I’m writing this I’ve been following the RSS feed from the FDA with all the recall warnings about peanut butter & peanut products. I’ve been assured by Q.bel directly and their website that they did not source their peanut butter from Peanut Corporation of America. (And it’s easy to believe them since these bars were manufactured in The Netherlands.
As with most nutty candies, this pair of bars clocked in with the highest calorie count: 190. (Don’t get the impression that these are dainty when it comes to calories, they’re dense in sugar and fat, clocking in on the upper range of the calories per ounce that I track.)
The bars are lovely to look at with their rippled coats of chocolate. They smell like fresh roasted peanuts.
The bite on these is very different. The peanut butter cream filling tastes unsalted and unsugared - so it’s a startling pop of real peanut flavor. But it’s very oily and soft, so when I bite into the bar, sometimes I’ve broken it because it’ll slide around (you can see the kind of crack it makes along the wafer line in the photo).
The peanut butter, while not crumbly or thick really sticks to my ribs. I found just one stick here to be very filling. The milk chocolate holds its own in this battle as well, giving a sweet and milky component to bring it all together.
Rating: 9 out of 10.
I’m so pleased that someone is making a quality product and I hope Q.bel becomes a standard in the confectionery industry. That you can make something with real ingredients and still make people want to overeat it. The packaging is compelling and appropriate. It protects the product inside, doesn’t take up too much space and gave me all the information I wanted to know. The images on the front are tantalizing and the bars actually look like that.
The portions may seem a little small, only 1.1 ounces, but they appear large because of the light wafers inside (maybe a little smaller than a KitKat bar). However, this also lowers the calorie count per portion, all are under 200 calories (which means those 100 calorie folks can just eat one). The price point is a little steep too, but if I were faced with an array of these and something like Nestle’s Crunch Crisp bar (which is a one-bar version of this filled with partially hydrogenated fats and covered with mockolate), I’d pick these at twice/thrice the price.
The other half of their product line is a series of Wafer Rolls in the same flavor array. (I’ll have a review of those soon.)
Q.bel did some liberal mailing of samples, so expect more reviews to pop up on the other food-oriented blogs. They did send me a silly-huge number of “samples” which were a box of each (20 bars) flavor. I’ve been very popular with my co-workers this week.
UPDATE: They should be available at most Whole Foods nationwide and online at Natural Candy Store.
Thursday, February 5, 2009
The idea of a liquid burst inside a gummi candy is nothing new, but seems to have made a bit of a comeback lately. (Starburst GummiBursts & LifeSavers Fruit Splosions.)
Trader Joe’s has a twist on this in their new Trader Joe’s Gummy Tummies Penguins. The flavor array in the package is pretty small: Strawberry, Lime and Cherry. They’re made with natural flavors, have no preservatives and no artificial colors. (They also state that it’s pork gelatin in them ... so they’re safe to eat for non-vegetarian Hindus.)
They’re much larger candy pieces than other versions and are made in such a way that you can actually see the goo inside their tummies.
Oh, I’m sorry, did that scare you?
These things are freaky looking, and what’s worse, they smell. For a couple of days I thought there was an old apple core hiding somewhere in my office (I even crawled under my desk looking for it), turns out that’s what the combination of cherry, strawberry & lime Gummy Tummies smells like.
The shapes are nicely defined, though I wouldn’t call them nicely designed. I didn’t really get the whole “penguin” thing. I asked around and everyone pretty much agrees they look like Grimace from McDonald’s or one of the lesser ghost characters from Casper.
They’re very soft and have a bulbous belly that’s even softer to the touch. They remind me of blisters ... the cherry one (on its side up there) is even worse, because the gummis rather uncolored (like my skin) but has a dark red filling (like a blood blister). I’ll spare you the graphic photo of that and let you just imagine it instead.
Lime is easy to tell from the others, as it’s transparent yellow. The flavor is rather mellow, just a light touch of lemon/lime zest and then a mix of tangy & sweet. The filling is smooth and sticky and just a repeat of the above flavors in a form that needs no chewing.
Strawberry is the pink bellied one. (Though I had to hold them up to the light to tell them apart from the cherry.) The flavor is floral and tangy. The goo doesn’t do much for it and that’s probably a positive.
Cherry has the darkest belly and smells like wild cherry LifeSavers. The liquid center is a lot more flavorful, like a dense syrup of cough suppressant or Cepacol.
This whole tasting has made me realize that I don’t like goo filled gummis.
For those of you who have a Trader Joe’s nearby, you may enjoy this little video.
Friday, January 30, 2009
I check in with Valerie Confections from time to time, they’re about a mile from my house. The crazy little secret is that I go there for their teacakes. Especially in the summer, when I want something with a touch of chocolate but can’t bear a whole piece, the bottoms are dipped in chocolate. The cakes are moist, dense & lightly infused with flavors.
At the Fancy Food Show, however, Stan & Valerie were excited to show me their new Valentine’s collections. There are three:
The set called Pour Homme is for the gentleman. It has 11 pieces and comes in the dark brown box. Visually it’s dominated by large flat dark milk chocolate hearts that have fleur de sel and little almond toffee bits in them. It’s filled in with dark chocolate hearts with flowing caramel centers.
The set called Pour Elle is geared towards the gals and comes in the classic ivory box. This features large flat white chocolate hearts with rose petals and the small bittersweet chocolate hearts filled with rose petal and passionfruit ganache.
Both have 11 pieces and retail for $30.
For folks who want to share or prefer a different assortment there are boxes of various sizes (9, 18 & 36 pieces) that hold the bittersweet ganache hearts, gianduja rocher, and bittersweet chocolate with almond toffee bits.
I’ll just run down a few of the items I tasted:
Bittersweet Chocolate with Almond Toffee Bits (the smallest dark chocolate hearts shown above) - a simple pleasure. A mix of smooth bittersweet chocolate that has a glossy and smooth melt with little toffee chips and almonds. Sometimes I felt like I wasn’t getting enough toffee ... but then again, if I wanted chocolate and toffee, I could just order the chocolate covered toffee, so this piece is more about chocolate.
Bittersweet Chocolate Hearts filled with Liquid Caramel - a little taller and wider than the other filled hearts, this one has a wonderfully thick and gooey caramel. Lightly salted, it has all the flavor of a toffee but the smooth texture of a custard. Lightly salted, the dark chocolate lends the perfect container and dark woodsy sweetness.
Bittersweet Chocolate Hearts filled with Rose Petal Passionfruit Ganache - a little petal graces the top of these pieces, but just sniffing it I could tell from the fragrance that it was the rose. The center is a white butter ganache with the tangy and tropical bite of passionfruit. The slightly soapy rose took some of the passionfruit earnestness away. There is a bit of a lingering aftertaste, kind of like jasmine. I suggest eating these last. Your dessert’s dessert.
Large Rose Petal White Chocolate Hearts (shown in a small version in the picture above) - this one was a little bland for me, and I did eat it first in my tasting session because I know that white can be a bit delicate and finicky. The white chocolate was smooth and not overly sweet, with a slight malty taste of cocoa. But the floral infusion didn’t quite hit me, but did leave a fresh aftertaste.
Gianduja Rocher - a sweet milky explosion of salt, buttery toffee chips and creamy sweet chocolate. It’s not a pasty, sticky gianduia. It’s a solid form that gives a soft and silky melt to the chocolate and a punch of roasted hazelnut flavor. It is sweet though, luckily the toffee chips and the salt cut through that.
Darkened Milk Chocolate Hearts with Almond Toffee Bits and Fleur de Sel - I want this in bar form year round. The “darkened milk chocolate” tastes like a cross between bittersweet and a European dairy milk chocolate. The dairy notes are complemented well by the toffee chips and the whole thing is set off by powerful zaps of salt in liberal reservoirs throughout.
Bittersweet Ganache in Bittersweet Shells Finished with 23 Karat Gold (the picture here is of a round version of the same truffle - the uneaten one is above). Delicate mix of flavors, as this is all about the chocolate. The ganache is soft and smooth. There’s an immediate acidic bite that gives way pretty quick to some dark charcoal and alcoholic notes like fine cognac and tobacco. The gold version has a bit more chocolate to it, because of the geometry ... the gold flakes do nothing for me, except distinguish it from the toffee chip dark heart.
The attention to detail in the items, with their perfectly placed decorations and well tempered chocolate is exquisite. No bubbles or voids, everything glossy and gorgeous. On the personal side of things, I go all weak in their knees for their nougat and am a little disappointed they don’t have it again this year for Valentine’s (as that’s what my Man gave me last year). But I like it when they try new things and enjoyed the darkened milk with toffee chips most of all. (So I guess I’d have to opt for the Pour Homme ... luckily the box doesn’t say anything about it being geared for fellas.)
I like supporting a local business and that everything is made fresh ... not last year and has been sitting in a warehouse. If you go to the store you can get the petits fours and the tea cakes by the piece.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
One of the earlier reviews I did when I started Candy Blog was of Dr. Doolilttle’s Grapefruit & Blackcurrant Pastilles. I liked them quite a bit, even though they were expensive and hard to find.
After a few years, though, Trader Joe’s stopped carrying them and the comments for that post filled up with folks trying to figure out how to order them or even import them by the case.
Flash forward to last Friday, I was returning from a failed sock-shopping trip when I stopped in at Cost Plus World Market. Dr. Doolittle’s Pastilles have returned!
They have completely new and distinctive tins (that I might have mistaken for soap if they were on the wrong shelf) and even come in new flavors.
I picked up all three, even though they’re now $2.99 for a tin that holds only 2 ounces (instead of the Trader Joe’s ones that were $1.99 and held 2.5 ounces).
The other difference is also the actual candy pieces. They no longer have the little silhouette of Dr. Doolittle molded into them. Not that I don’t like the smooth surface, it was just a little plainer than I expected.
Soft Fruit Drops Lemon (Tendres Pastilles Aux Fruits Citron) - these sparkling little gummis boast that they have soothing qualities. They are a gummi with gelatin, but have glycerine in addition to vitamin C.
They are firm, like a Haribo (versus a Trolli or Black Forest bear). But the flavor is much more intense than a gummi bear. The lemon is a marmalade or boiled taste - tangy, sweet and a little zesty but more on the jammy side of things than freshly squeezed. They dissolve slowly for the patient among us. But I like to speed it along by kind of chewing them, by folding and pressing them against the roof of my mouth and teeth.
Soft Fruit Drops Pink Grapefruit (Tendres Pastilles Aux Fruits Pamplemousse Rose) - this is the one that I was most interested in, of course, since Pamplemousse is always a huge favorite.
The pastilles are orange, not pink (the ingredients simply say “natural coloring”).
They have a very intense zesty flavor, much moreso than the lemon. Tangy and with that slight bitter flavor of the grapefruit peel. These were definitely the first to disappear. The oily zest essence persists for quite a while after it’s dissolved, too. Not something that goes well with coffee, but I didn’t mind it with afternoon tea.
Soft Fruit Drops Wild Berry (Tendres Pastilles Aux Fruits Baies Sauvages) - this flavor smelled wonderful. A bit like roses, cotton candy and crushed raspberries.
They’re immediately tangy, sweet and jammy. The flavors of the berries are definitely on the blackberry side of things. A bit like a wine gum, there’s a slightly fermented quality to the dark berry tones and maybe a little blackcurrant note.
All the flavors are winners, again, my only complaint here is price. But they are soothing, full of flavor and even have a little dose of vitamin C. The new tins are really pretty and distinctive, though the tops are curved it means I can’t stack them. But I do plan on reusing them as they’re a great shape, easy to open and stay closed in a bag.
Monday, January 26, 2009
The newest version is Bittersweet Chocolate filled with Ginger Marzipan (called Marzipan Ingwer on the package).
Though it wasn’t open and out on the counter for tasting, the fellows at the booth really thought this was a special bar and opened one up for me to try. After I confirmed that it was in fact, pretty darn tasty, they gave me the rest to take home. I had a hard time, even with all my other samples, not continuing to eat it before I got home to photograph it.
It’s a bittersweet chocolate shell filled with a rustic almond marzipan with chunks of candied ginger.
The bar was fresh and glossy, it has a woodsy and spicy scent. A little touch of bitter almond at the start along with the creamy and slightly bitter dark chocolate. This slowly gives way to the mellow almond paste flavors with less of the “amaretto” taste and into a warm ginger burn. It finishes again with the chocolate.
I ate the whole bar.
I am definitely a fan of Niederegger, though I can’t stress this enough: it has to be fresh. They make a wide variety of products, including traditional loaves of plain marzipan, but they’ve found a new convert through their consistent flavor versions.
The chocolate contains milk products, so this is not a vegan product but it is all-natural.
Tuesday, January 6, 2009
It’s also fun to carry around a little candy in your pocket that emulates that feeling.
I’ve been eating Coffee Rio since I can remember developing a taste for coffee sometime around the age of ten or so.
I think the first time I had one, I thought they were coffee flavored Tootsie Rolls and was a little startled to find a hard caramel (much like Pearson’s Coffee Nips).
Coffee Rio are made by Adams & Brooks, which is based right here in my home city, Los Angeles, California. While they may be hard to find elsewhere in the country, I see them just about everywhere around here.
The candy is pretty simple. A hardened caramel flavored with real coffee. Though it contains quite a bit of milk products, it tastes more like black coffee with a bit of sugar than coffee & cream (which is what Pearson’s Nips are like - but they’re also Kosher and Coffee Rio isn’t).
The little rods are wrapped in a simple twisted mylar. I got this jumbo bag at Trader Joe’s for $2.69 for the bag, which I thought was a pretty good deal. They boast on the package that there are no artificial flavors, colors or preservatives. (But there is some lightly hydrogenated soybean oil rather low on the list of ingredients.)
The texture is very smooth. They dissolve nicely and soften a bit as well (yes, you can chew them at some point, but also risk cementing your teeth together). The flavor is rich and like a mellow mocha java. At the start sometimes there’s a hint or charcoal and bitterness, but that fades away as the other woodsy coffee flavors come in.
Rating: 8 out of 10
I have been to the Island of Hawaii (the Big Island) and toured some of the Kona Coast’s coffee roasters. The stuff was fabulous, but you know drinking a cup of coffee from beans that were just roasted is bound to be better than the stuff you get at home.
One of the things I noticed about Kona coffee was its extreme dark acidic punch, even when not given the Italian roast treatment.
As Kona coffee is extremely expensive, most is sold as a blend. In the case of the Kona Blend Coffee Rio it’s only 10% Kona coffee.
These seems to capture that molasses & tangy bite really well. It’s not as sweet but no more bitter than the original Coffee Rio.
I also noticed that these were a bit softer, so much so that I was able to chew them after warming them. I love that! Even better, I got the bag at the 99 Cent Only store for a buck.
Rating: 9 out of 10
There’s pillowy cloud on the front of the package that reinforces that these are soft.
The ingredients, oddly enough, are identical to the other Coffee Rio, so it must be all in the process to create this softer version.
The package outside looks similar, but once I dumped out the pieces I realized that these are a bit different.
First, they’re bigger. They’re the same length, but have a greater girth than their hard brethren.
Second, they’re wrapped in foiled paper. I’m guessing this is to keep them well sealed from moisture.
They have a wonderful sweet & woodsy scent, less milky than the others.
The chew is very soft, softer than a Tootsie Roll, more like a chewy fudge. It’s a little bit grainy and I realized that this is a “short caramel” instead of being a “wet caramel.” Short caramel is slightly grainy, crystals have been allowed to form. It keeps its shape really well and provides an easy “bite”. A wet caramel is stringy and smooth and lacks the crystallization and can be very sticky and possibly runny.
I’d hoped this was a slightly softer Kona Blend.
The chew is soft and pleasant, but the light grain to it interrupted the creamy notes from the milk products. The coffee flavor was slightly acidic and tangy and lacking the coffee punch of the other hard varieties. I give it a pass.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Now I realize that I’d really like Tootsie to make Coffee Sugar Babies with chewy centers like the Kona Blend Coffee Rio.
I don’t know if these have caffeine in them or how much, but I suspect so, since they used to offer a decaf version. I can’t imagine it’s very much though. I sent an email to Adams-Brooks asking about it and I’ll update if I find out.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
I was converted to the “white side” by Green & Black’s White Chocolate several years ago and now I understand that the mix of milk, cocoa butter and vanilla can be a wonderful thing.
I was more than intrigued when Askinosie, a bean to bar, fair trade chocolate maker right here in the United States came out with their white chocolate, mostly because it’s made with goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk.
But the fascinating aspects don’t end there. It’s single origin, contains no soy lecithin or even any vanilla.
The Askinosie Soconusco White Chocolate Bar isn’t white. It’s the color of butterscotch pudding.
It smells a bit gamier than other white confections - kind of like erasers and marscapone.
I was expecting a texture of pure bliss, after all, this is un-deodorized cocoa butter, so it would have the texture of chocolate, the earthier hint of the cocoa solids that were once there and then the wonderful base of goat’s milk to boost it up and moderate the necessary sugar.
Instead it’s a bit grainy but it’s a sugary grain. It still has a wonderful mouthfeel and is rather cool on the tongue. But it wasn’t quite a buttery solid goat’s milk that I was hoping for.
While I say that intellectually, I ate about a third of the bar pondering these few paragraphs.
The other two bars are far more interesting:
White Chocolate Nibble Bar - I thoroughly enjoyed my first Askinosie Nibble bars which were based on the Jose del San Tambo beans. All of the white bars are Soconusco beans of the Trinitario variety from Mexico. (Not my favorite in the dark version either.)
Like the dark nibble bar, the cacao nibs aren’t mixed in with the chocolate. Instead they’re just tossed on the bottom as the bar is molded. Personally, I prefer integrated elements. This whole “topping” thing means that the nibs aren’t completely surrounded.
That said, the nibs are fun. They obviously carry a huge amount of chocolate flavor punch in them. In this case they have a bit of a smokey and woodsy flavor to them and it really balances out the sweetness of the white chocolate. The texture variation is also remarkable. The nibs are crunchy, the white chocolate cool and the graininess I complained about earlier is unnoticeable.
White Chocolate Pistachio Bar
This was the star, the perfect combination of the above texture and flavor profile.
The addition of some lightly toasted & sparingly salted pistachios provided some crunch but mostly a grassy brightness. It balanced out the twang of the goat’s milk without making it sweeter, instead it just made it more flavorful.
Askinosie has also just launched a dark milk chocolate which is 52% cacao of the same Soconusco single origin, fleur de sel and goat’s milk.
Many people who suffer from lactose intolerance can digest goat’s milk without difficulty, so this new line of goat’s milk products from Askinosie, as well as the fact that they don’t use soy may be just the ticket for those with food sensitivities.
My hesitation with them, besides the fact that I haven’t seen them in stores, is that they’re very expensive at $10.50 a bar. (The regular dark chocolate bars are $8.00 to $8.50.)
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
So I greeted these Disney Happy Holiday Chocolate Figurines in milk and white chocolate with a bit of an eye roll. However, I did look over the package pretty carefully before opting to pay the $1.99 and saw a few things that convinced me that these might be worth the premium royalties to the Disney company.
First, the ingredients are all natural. Second, they’re made in the United Kingdom, not China or Brazil. Third, they list the actual cocoa solid content on the back (30% for the milk chocolate). Fourth, the white chocolate is real, there’s no palm oil or coconut oil in here. Fifth, the product is nut free (and also says it’s suitable for vegetarians).
They’re specific about the lengths that they go to and further, they give actual contact information for the company. Not some silly info email address, an actual person with a real email address and phone number (I didn’t try it though).
The box and little molded chocolate shapes reminded me of Advent calendars. When I browsed through the annoying but pretty complete Kinnerton website I found that they do make Advent calendars and most of their products are marketing tie ins with branded characters like The Simpsons, Barbie, Spiderman and Disney.
The chocolate pieces came in three different designs:
Winnie the Pooh sits there looking kind of rolly polly. Eeyore with his little bow-tied tail looped over his leg with one paw up, he seemed kind of happy. And Piglet was holding a jar of huny.
The milk chocolate is smooth and tastes a lot like powdered milk. It’s super sweet but also has almost no grain to it, even though it’s pretty sticky it has an excellent mouthfeel and melt.
The white chocolate tastes like Easter, through and through. A bit on the grainier side, there’s a strong milk and fake vanilla flavor. The cocoa butter background does a good job of allowing the flavors (such as they are) to come through.
Overall, a little on the pricey side. However if you have a kid with food allergies, these have no other compromises. They’re cute, the piece size is excellent for little ones and the design of the tray & pieces is well done. However, the little icons aren’t exactly holiday themed, just the box that they come in.
The packaging also had Walgreen’s information on them, so I’m guessing these are packaged for sale in the US just for their chain. The Kinnerton website mentions Aldi as well as Toys R Us as distributors.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.