Thursday, August 28, 2008
Even though I adore high end chocolate, I have a hard time plunking down $5 to $12 without knowing what I’m going to get. So I’m often quite happy to fork over for tasting square versions even though they’re even more expensive when you figure out the cost per ounce. (And hey, it helps with portion control, too.)
I was happy to find some tasting squares from Amadei, one of the most highly reviewed chocolate makers in the world at Mel & Roses. Even though they were 85 cents each for the 4.5 gram squares, I at least got to sample a broad spectrum of their product line which will help to guide me when I decide to finally buy one of their bars.
As a little bonus I decided to try Amadei’s milk chocolate offering as well:
Overall, I was most pleased with the Madagascar and Porcelana but all were exceptional. I’m still not quite convinced enough to spend $11 for one of their bars, but I’m leaning in that direction. But for now the little selections in this format are enough for me and well worth the pocket change.
Monday, July 28, 2008
I picked up this Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolate bar in San Francisco a few months ago and have been saving it for a time when I need a little sparkle.
Elbow is known for his inventive combinations of spices, fruits and savories with chocolate. His bonbons are distinguished by their bold and bright patterns. His bars, on the other hand are subdued and understated and dare I say lacking any pretension that a bonbon piece named Strawberry-Balsamic Caramel might connote (or my favorite from Elbow right now is the Venezuelan Spices Chocolate Pecan Turtle).
Instead his bars are numbered, currently 1 through 12. I picked up No. 6 Dark Rocks which features 61% dark chocolate blended with popping candy.
The bar is anything but intimidating. The fresh brown & aqua box protects the sizable 3.5 ounce bar well. It’s wrapped inside with a simple silver aluminium foil. (A little thin for me, I like a foil I can wrap and unwrap a few times before it falls to bits.)
The bar is simple looking, just 24 little sections. No logo, no letters, no names.
It’s a glossy dark brown with a good snap to it. The little popping candies are easily seen in a cross section, though don’t look quite as dense as the Pop Rocks Bar.
The chocolate is smooth and on the sweet side but has a wonderful buttery quality that sets this apart from any other pop rocks confection I’ve had to date.
Letting the chocolate melt means that the pops come out as a little background sizzle. Munching the bar means that they crackle and hiss. Either way is certainly a different experience.
They’re expensive at $7 a bar, but of course not your every day fare. A fun bar to share, especially for a special occasion.
There are plenty of other bars that caught my eye on the list though, so I’m more likely to experiment (I’m likely to go for the white chocolate with nibs next) before buying this again. But I have a few friends who adore this bar and still others that I would consider gifting this in the future.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
I got both these bars around the same time, both samples. The Dove Beautiful bar is fortified to help promote beautiful-looking skin. The Beauty-Bar from Bloomsberry & Co is formulated to make you feel gorgeous ... on the inside.
Well, I admit, it’s a beautiful bar to look at.
The full array of additives is: tricalcium phosphate (10% of the RDA of calcium), ascorbic acid (10% of the RDA of Vitamin C), vitamin E acetate (10% of the RDA of Vitamin E), niacinamide (10% of the RDA of Niacin), zinc oxide (10% of the RDA of Zinc) and biotin (10% of the RDA).
The bar looks a bit darker than the standard Dove Smooth Milk Chocolate fare. It has the same slightly soft snap. A sweet scent.
The melt is nice, a bit cool on the tongue, milky and less sticky than its unfortified counterpart.
The flavor has some dairy components to it ... and an odd taste as well. I can’t put my finger on it, but I want to say that it tastes like drinking out of a galvanized bucket. Slightly metallic ... not in a bad way, just in a narrowly noticeable way.
I’ve come to understand that I’m not the kind of person who likes to compromise on my candy. My candy is made for enjoyment and mucking around with the taste in order to pump up its nutritional value means that it simply doesn’t fulfill its primary obligation - make me happy. Instead it makes me furrow my brow ... and that’s not beautiful.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Bloomsberry & Co. has made a name for themselves world-wide with their inventive, imaginative and whimsical box designs (flat pack Easter bunny and eat me have made me chuckle - laugh lines are beautiful right?). I have fully advocated using chocolate bars instead of greeting cards, and their line meets most needs with all the major holidays covered and a line with an ultra-modern take on romance (and chocolate obsession).
All that aside, the funky box is fun the first time, but just like the pretty picture on the greeting card, what does it say inside? Well, to start with, the foil inner wrapping is also lovely. It’s a graphic paper with a foiled paper under that ... plus the box. That’s a lot of protection.
And all that protection paid off, the bar was pristine.
Instead of a lot of crazy additions, this is simply dark chocolate (sugar, chcoolate liquor, cocoa butter, soy lecithin & vanilla). It doesn’t say what the cacao percentage is.
If I understand it correctly the idea goes like this: if dark chocolate is what you want and if you get what you want, you’ll be happy and happy people are beautiful. Or something like that.
The bar is thick and has a profound snap to it. The flavor is well rounded, if a little bland. It satisfies a craving, but doesn’t really do much else to make me swoon. As the bars usually retail for $4 to $5, unless the box is just so spot on, I’m going to pass. There are some wonderful bars that not only come in nice packages (that say more about the chocolate than my desires, of course) but area also tasty on the inside.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Both bars are Kosher.
Monday, July 7, 2008
Earlier this year I attended ExpoWest, a trade show which highlights natural products. It’s actually a great place to find candy, though most of the time the products were advocating what they put in them. There were candies with added vitamins, minerals others fortified with omega3 fatty acids, exotic gums & algae and still others made from completely raw ingredients or buying carbon offsets. Instead, Zootons are highlighting what they don’t put in them.
Zootons is a line of soft, chewy jelly candies that are organic and vegan. That’s it.
I know that many parents (and adult candy fans) can be frustrated with sweets that say they’re healthy but then fail to match the appeal of the unnatural counterparts that are so ubiquitous (and let’s face it, less expensive).
At first glance Zootons seem to narrow the gap. The packaging is kid friendly - black boxes that each have a different big-mouthed monster icon on them. They also have a little window that lets you see the candy. Inside the box are two sealed packages (50 grams each) which counts as a full serving.
While I hesitate to call them healthy, they’re certainly easy to add to a kids diet as a treat.
Cute little star shapes with a coating of coarse granulated sugar. They come in four flavors: strawberry (pink), pineapple (yellow), blackcurrant (dark red) and lemon (also yellow).
The distinction between the flavors wasn’t that significant. I was able to tell the pineapple and the blackcurrant from the others, but it all kind of blended together. They’re not terribly tangy, just sweet and fruity.
The texture is fun, the sugary coating gives them a little crunch and the smooth jelly center is moist.
Rating: 4 out of 10
I was hoping the Sours would give me the pop that I was looking for in the Jellies.
The Sours come in strawberry, orange, raspberry and lemon. Again, not easy to tell apart visually.
These were much moister than the Jelly stars. The sour started with the sugary coating. Not super-tangy, just a little sizzle of flavor on the tongue.
The lemon was quite nice, not as zesty as I might have liked, but very authentic tasting, like a lemonade jelly. Strawberry was amazingly vivid, both fragrant and tangy, it was like an intense slice of strawberry jam. Raspberry felt very flavored and less like distilled fruits. But it was tingly-tart and satisfying.
These are quite a winner. They’re not too sour for littler kids, I think the only ones who would be disappointed are older kids who are obsessed with the tongue-blistering-super-dare sours.
Rating: 7 out of 10
This was where things went a little strange. I’m kind of a purist when it comes to using the word gummi. Gummis should have a jelling agent in them like gelatin or agar-agar. In this case, they do not have either of those. I was hoping there was some innovation or technique not evident in the ingredients that would give them that inimitable bouncy gummi texture that any child who has had the real thing will expect. Sadly, no. These are just fruit jellies.
The surface is a bit dry, but not covered in the granulated sugar like the other Jellies and Sours. They say they come in four flavors: pineapple, blackcurrant, orange and raspberry. Honestly, I had a hard time telling them apart visually. They were sweet and fruity, but not terribly tangy. Soft and quite moist once I bit into them, they did have a bit of a bounce. Of the set, I think they were my least favorite. Just not enough zip for me.
Rating: 4 out of 10
This was the most exciting concept of the whole line. I’ve had organic jelly candies before (and have written about Surf Sweets). But so few companies - traditional or organic - make anything cola flavored. I just had to try these.
The little stars don’t look like much in the package, but take them out and they’re quite lovely. The dark amber is spot on correct for Cola.
The flavor is absolutely cola - it has that tangy, almost lemon flavor at first, then that ... whatever cola flavor is ... a bit of cinnamon a bit of rum and a bit of caramel. They’re not intense, none of the Zootons are, but they’re pleasant.
Rating: 6 out of 10
I’m not sure where these are being sold so far, but keep your eyes peeled if you have a picky kid or are trying to get only candies with natural colorings in them. They don’t wow me like some pate de fruits, but they’re not intended to ... it’s just a fun candy treat.
Candy Addict also did a taste test of these last month.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
On my way to San Francisco back in April I took a little detour off of 101 North in San Luis Obispo to gather some little organic and fair trade goodies from Sweet Earth Chocolates. They’re sold on the web and at Splash Cafe, which shares space with Sweet Earth’s confectionery kitchen. The two display cases at the cafe were well organized and kept the chocolate at a consistent temperature. (A little cold for immediate indulgence but perfect for storage.)
What attracted me to them is that they make candy not just fine chocolates. My curiosity was mostly about these candy cups that they feature on their website.
The little cups are about 1.25” at the base and 1.5” at the top. They weigh about .8 ounces with the wrapper on. (Bigger than the standard Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Minis.)
Turtle Cluster (the bronze wrapper - pictured unwrapped in the center)
This is the only milk chocolate cup in the bunch (they have other cups, but they have walnuts in them).
The one has a flowing caramel center with crisped rice in the milk chocolate.
The caramel is sweet but a little salty and rather buttery tasting. It’s a good consistency, not too much like syrup, though not chewy.
The whole thing was rather sweet and not creamy enough for me, but I have to say that the texture combo was great and really filled any craving I had for a fair trade & organic candy.
Dark Chocolate. It’s a solid cup with a little decorative flourish of a piece of candied ginger and a dried cranberry on top.
The chocolate is sweet and just a bit grainy from the inclusion of the crystallized ginger. It has a light spicy bite to it. I felt there was more ginger to it than cranberry. In the bites where it was just one of the other, it was fine too.
It was a tasty little piece, and interesting change from barks because it’s so chunky and the inclusions stay moist & chewy.
Both of the cups that I ate were absolutely gorgeous. The chocolate was shiny and the little flakes of coconut on top told me what was inside.
It smelled only slightly of woodsy, tropical coconut (not like suntan lotion).
The fondant center was both sugary and coconutty. It wasn’t as soft and chewy as a Mounds bar. It was a bit firmer, but not at all gritty. A bit cool on the tongue, it was like a cake of confectioners sugar and coconut bits.
There was a lot of chocolate to it, which kept it from being too sweet, but also drowned out the coconutiness a bit. So consider this a more subtle coconut candy than Bounty or Mounds.
Dark chocolate. This cup has a natural fondant (not bright white) with a light touch of peppermint. The overall effect is fresh and balances well with the semi-sweet chocolate.
There’s a lot of chocolate on top, maybe more than I’m used to as proportions go with these sorts of things, so don’t think of it as a peppermint pattie.
I liked this one a lot, I know it’s not a hard thing to do well, but they did it.
This was probably the most irregular looking of all the cups. The lumpy top hinted at large almond pieces below.
Not only is it loaded with them, they’re not just roasted ... they’re caramelized. Each almond bit has a bit or a crunchy sugar shell and then the chocolate around it.
Crunchy, much less sweet than the others and entirely satisfying.
I also tried a vegan turtle while I was there, made with coconut oil instead of butter. It wasn’t quite a “caramel” in my book as the coconut flavor was detectable ... but it was still very tasty and felt like a no-compromise treat for anyone avoiding dairy. Unfortunately they were out of their peanut butter cups (and they do have a vegan dark chocolate version).
I’m hoping that these candy cups will show up at more cafes and as impulse items at natural stores (heck, any kind of store). With a retail price of about a dollar (they’re much less when you buy a whole box though.), it’s more than most of us spend on a candy bar, but as a fair trade and organic product, this doesn’t have the feel of a charity compromise. All of the dark chocolate offerings are also Vegan. You can buy online (they even do wedding favors) and their website has an up-to-date list of where they’re sold in stores.
UPDATE: Sweet Earth Chocolate changed their name to Mama Ganache.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
As the temps are climbing here in Southern California, I need to eat up all my chocolate before it melts. So instead rolling these little goodies out one at a time, here’s a few bites in brief:
I picked up these cute little cubes at Lucca, an Italian deli/grocer in San Francisco a couple of months ago. The graphic design of the little wrappers with bold FIAT logo and variations was just irresistible. They’re made by Pasticceria Majani, founded in 1796 and one of the first confectioners to make actual solid chocolate in Europe. The Fiat line of chocolates were introduced in 1911 and actually named in honor of the Italian car.
They’re all layered. They’re a little shy of one inch on the longest side and about 3/4 of an inch tall and wide (so they’re not quite cubes).
FIAT Classico: two medium layers alternate with two light colored hazelnut paste layers. It’s extremely sweet, very hazelnutty. But really too sweet that it burns my throat. The only way to cut this is with a strong cup of coffee or espresso (which may be the way they’re intended to be eaten). I didn’t finish my second one.
FIAT NOIR: this is the one shown here, it’s a dark chocolate layer with a thick medium gianduia center. Even the dark chocolate layer is a hazelnut infused chocolate, but it’s the center that’s packed with a hazelnut punch. The combo is spot on perfect. A little difference in the texture, a little difference in the sweetness and nuttiness and a perfect bite.
FIAT CAFFE: the caffe looks a lot like the Noir, but has a darker center than the top and bottom layers. It’s sweet though, and has a light coffee flavor and a slight bitter tang. What sets this one apart from the other two is that it has almonds in it as well as hazelnuts. At first I thought it was too sweet, but once the bitterness and a dry finish kicks in, I came to appreciate it more, just as I did with unsweetened coffee as a teenager.
I give the line an 8 out of 10.
If I thought the Fiat cubes were a good deal, I guess I didn’t realize what a value my Caffarel find was.
I got these little Caffarel foil hazelnut flower buds at Chocolate Covered in San Francisco. The little package had five pieces for four dollars ... so eighty cents each (and Jack, who runs the store, also gave me one to eat while I was there).
I love Caffarel’s little bites, no matter what shape they are. These are rather small, they’re obvious built in halves and mushed together to create the three dimensional bud, I kind of like pulling them apart with my teeth.
The milk chocolate shell is sweet and milky. The center is creamy and thick, a little fudgy and has tiny crushed hazelnut bits. It’s super smooth otherwise and slightly cool on the tongue. If you’re a fan of Perugina Baci, consider these a tiny milk chocolate version.
They’re just so adorable. I don’t know where to find them for sure, but if you’re a hazelnut fan scoop a few up.
Rating: 9 out of 10
What clued me in that this was a hazelnut bar (since it’s not obvious) was that it was called a Smooth and intense MILK chocolate confection which is a coded way of saying, “there’s something else in this bar.”
The hazelnut paste is pretty far down on the list of ingredients, after the major chocolate ingredients and whey & milkfat but before the soy lecithin.
Like the dark bars I tried last week, the bar is big and thin, with the logo elephant on each segment.
It smells a little malty and very milky. It’s a softer bite than the dark bars (as is usually the case with milk chocolate). The bar has a smooth but fudgy consistency. The hazelnut flavors aren’t readily apparent, but there are some nice smoky and toasted notes to the bar.
It’s not too sweet, has a dash of malt and even a little burnt sugar bitterness to it that I find appealing. I can’t see myself buying one of these (I rarely buy milk chocolate unless it’s for a review) but knowing that Cote d’Or does a very mellow milk does intrigue me ... I may find myself experimenting with more of their product line.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
There are so many mid-range chocolate bars available these days, just going into Target presents a whole aisle of upscale chocolate choices that go far beyond the traditional Hershey’s Milk Chocolate Bar or Nestle’s Crunch.
One European manufacturer that’s becoming ubiquitous is Cote d’Or. It’s Belgian chocolate, which has a certain cache. Cote d’Or was named for the Gold Coast of Africa, which is now Ghana and a prime cocoa growing area. The company was founded by Charles Neuhaus but is now owned by Kraft Foods (which owns many European chocolate companies, including Toblerone, Terry’s Chocolates of Whack-&-Unwrap-Orange fame, Milka & Marabou).
Though they’re made by Kraft, they’re imported and distributed by Ferrara Pan ... you know, the Atomic Fireball and Lemonheads folks. (But it makes a certain amount of sense, they don’t do chocolate candy but have a huge distribution network.)
I’ve never really given Cote d’Or much thought, I always put it in the same category as Ghirardelli or even Lindt - a very nice brand, but just not quite my bag. Or is it? Candy Blog is supposed to make me open my mouth and expand my mind, so I should be trying new things. So when a bunch of bars Cote d’Or 70% Cacao bars showed up in my All Candy Expo samples box, I had to give it another look.
Rating: 7 out of 10
I started with the Intense 70% Cacao. The boxes are smart looking, just a paperboard box, great for protecting an unfinished bar. They’re 100 gram tablets (3.53 ounces), so it’s about 2.5 servings. There are 10 squares, each with the trumpeting Elephant icon of their logo.
The tempering is good, they have a great snap, if a little soft. The bar doesn’t look shiny like many others, but this is because of a texture in the mold that makes it matte. I think it makes the bar look a little dull. What sells it though is it smells wonderful - fresh and woodsy and of course chocolatey.
What struck me as odd about these bars is that they’re called Belgian Dark Chocolate Confection ... not just chocolate but they qualify it as a confection. Flipping over the box it shows that even though this is high cacao chocolate, it also has milkfat (though listed on the label right above soy lecithin, so not in very high proportion).
It melts quickly, it’s smooth and not too intense, no matter what the name says. It has a very buttery, nutty tasting base. It’s a little fruity, not acidic but has some raisin notes. For a dark, it’s very approachable.
The bar that pretty much made me squeal with anticipation is the new Cocoa Nibs 70% Cacao. I’m a huge fan of nibs and this one promises caramelized cocoa nibs in DARK chocolate confection. Unlike the other 70% bar, this one has no milkfat, so is suitable for vegans.
It’s easy to see the nibs in the cross section. They’re the perfect proportion of chocolate and nibs. The caramelization is what makes this bar so nice. It’s not like they’re toffee coated, they’re just crips and crunchy, kind of like chocolate infused macadamia nuts.
The flavor is a bit more intense, but the variations in texture and the delivery of so much chocolate in each bite makes this bar a winner. I haven’t tasted it side by side with the Hershey’s Cacao Reserve, but since I expect them to be similar price points, I definitely say give this a try.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Friday, June 6, 2008
I’m not reviewing those. (I will someday, but I’m afraid that trying the best chocolate in the world would be like flying first class, I’d never want to go back to coach.)
Instead of I got a hold of these lovely little 8 gram tasting squares of Domori’s 70% Cru single origin chocolates at the Fancy Food Show back in January. Besides being made from extremely rare beans, Domori also uses no soy lecithin in this line - it’s all cacao and pure cane sugar at work here, a fascinating experiment in flavor.
As I often do with tastings, I did my notes blind and then later looked at the descriptions & origin information. You can read along to see how I did. But I’ll save you the suspense, this is good stuff and lives up to its hype. The consistency of every piece was silky smooth on the tongue - incredible melt & quick release of flavors then a lingering revelation of more notes.
Origin: Venezuela - It is a trinitario-type cacao grown in the Barlovento area of Venezuela.
I say: Mild with some light blueberry notes and peppery carnation. Smooth, as were all others.
They say: It has notes of dried figs, raisins and cashews with great character, smoothness and finish.
Origin: Peru - It is a recent hybrid (trinitario-type cacao).
I say: So buttery smooth. There’s a bit of a bitter high note to it, kind of reminiscent of asparagus. But the texture is so dreamily silky, it’s rather staggering. Cool on the tongue.
They said: It has notes of flowers, caramel and cream. It is very mild with a nice sourness.
Origin: Venezuela - It includes more trinitario-type cacaos with a high content of criollo genotype.
I say: Dark olive notes rise to the top, it’s sweet but has a tangy bite. Silky, caramel.
They say: It has mild notes of almond and coffee, excellent finesse, smoothness and finish.
I say: One of the more mellow pieces. It has some tangy elements and most notably a dry finish.
They say: Notes of nuts, ripe fruit, raisins, tobacco and chlorophyll. It has a nice acidity, a great smoothness and a long finish.
Origin: Ecuador - It is a Nacional-type cacao.
They say: It has notes of hazelnut, banana and citrus. It is very fresh and mild.
I say: This one was a bit more bitter, with coffee notes and flavors of sweet cashews. A weird chalky feeling to it, even though it was actually quite smooth. Dry, acrid.
I say: Strong tangy & raisin notes, lemon and bitter orange.
They say: It is a light-colored cacao with unique notes of berries along with a very pleasant sourness. It has a long finish, great sweetness and smoothness.
Overall, my notes weren’t far off from theirs, though sometimes I think it’s like the astrology column from the newspaper. With some single origin kits I’m not always able to distinguish the different bars blind, but these were quite distinct. Though the chocolates are available as single bars, you can also get assortments of these individually wrapped tasting squares in boxes. They’re still quite expensive, over a dollar a piece from Chocosphere. Though these don’t have nuts in them, they are made in a facility that processes nuts, milk and soy. Domori also does a version of these that are 100% (no sugar).
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.