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.
Tuesday, December 9, 2008
Long ago there were LifeSavers Sweet Story Books. They were just a folded box that looked like a book that had a bunch of LifeSavers rolls inside. They still make them, every few years the graphics and the rolls included inside change with fashion.
Trader Joe’s has their own house-branded version of this, called Trader Joe’s Sweet Story. There are six no-artificial-anything, vegan, kosher and gluten-free hard candy rolls inside.
The package design is pretty straight forward, it’s a box with a front flap that reveals a “story” on the inside, which is a little poem about the candies. (Probably not so fun for kids.)
The box is well constructed (and is even printed on the inside). The rolls aren’t revealed inside the box flap though, you have to open it at the top to reveal them, all sealed together inside a cellophane bag.
Each roll is about the size of a LifeSavers product, 1.1 ounces. The rolls themselves are a bit more demure, a color-coded monochrome array.
Opening them was a disappointment and exercise in frustration.
Though it was not humid on Sunday when I bought these and photographed them, the paper-lined foil was stuck to the candies.
I resorted to picking the bits of foil off the candies before consuming (though still got a fair bit of paper in my mouth). Some rolls were better than others, but all had some degree of issues.
Cherry - Sucrets. Without the throat numbing properties.
Orange - really zesty, to the point of being slightly bitter at times. Sweet and tangy.
Pineapple - mild, more like those “low acid” pineapples these days that have a nice floral and strawberry cotton candy flavor but not that tart.
Raspberry - pretty much tasted like raspberry flavoring. A lot of sweet floral “flavor” and some tangy berry notes.
Pomegranate - a combination of raspberry and those winterberry scented candles. It’s trying too hard.
The package was $1.99, which breaks down to 33 cents a roll. Not really a bad price. And the flavor assortment was better than the current LifeSavers array. For those who need something that’s gluten free or all-natural, yeah, it’s a nice way to go. But I sure hope yours aren’t stuck to the wrapping like mine were, because that completely ruined it for me. And bumped my fiber intake.
Other remembrances of the LifeSavers Storybook: The Joy Of ..., Jason Liebig has an actual photo of an old one with the rolls still in it, Candy Critic, and of course The Imaginary World has some (I like this one).
Monday, December 1, 2008
The Hershey’s & Starbucks marriage has moved quietly out of the honeymoon stage. I see the products around quite a bit, though I haven’t been tempted to buy any again since I tried their launch line of items.
Then I saw their new holiday truffles. They have three new variesties that I spotted at both Rite Aid and Target.
The new truffles are: Peppermint Mocha Truffles, Gingerbread Latte Truffles and Eggnog Latte Flavored Truffles.
I stared and stared at the two packages for Gingerbread and Eggnog and I couldn’t figure out the difference. Gingerbread was going to be a little more on the cinnamon side and eggnog was going to be more on the nutmeg side. Both are milk chocolate.
Even though they were on sale, I opted for just the Eggnog ones. I think nutmeg is a hugely underrated spice and I love the combination of milk chocolate and nutmeg. (Frances bought all of them though.)
First let me say that I’ve never had a Starbucks coffee drink before. I’ve had straight lattes and cappuccinos and tried their Chantico hot chocolate before, but I’ve never had any of their flavored drinks. Like my aversion to sodas, I just don’t care much for sweet drinks. So I can’t compare the experience of this truffle to one of their actual hot Eggnog Lattes.
The narrow domed pieces are very attractive. Nicely molded and aromatic. I got an immediate whiff of chocolate and nutmeg with a little hint of rum flavoring.
The chocolate shell is shiny and nicely tempered. The chocolate is sweet but has a slight pop of coffee flavors. The sugar, cream and palm oil ganache center is creamy with a few little bits of spice in it. There’s a very slight hint of coffee from time to time, but for the most part this is a chocolate piece about the egg nog flavors, not espresso.
Overall, as I’ve found with egg nog in the past, this is pretty sweet stuff. The piece is nice, but as I’ve noticed with the other truffle boxes, I kind of want a variety. I did see a gift box at Target that had a mix of Mocha, Peppermint Mocha and Gingerbread Latte Truffles, but at $10 for less than 6 ounces it was a worse deal ounce for ounce than the stand up boxes. So I think I’m just going to keep my eye on it and hope it’s still there after Christmas. Or go to a real chocolatier and get something that’ll really roll my eyes back in my head.
As drug store chocolates go, they are all natural and Starbucks makes a point of saying that their coffee and chocolate are sourced ethically and grown sustainably (doesn’t say anything about the palm oil though). They’re certainly better than most other mass-produced boxed chocolates in that respect. Kosher.
Tuesday, November 25, 2008
TCHO just announced that they’ve opened a store in San Francisco. They’ve also expanded their “flavor” offerings to include Nutty, Fruity and Citrus along with the initial Chocolatey.
I got a hold of a later Beta of their Ghana (Chocolatey) as well as the Fruity through a friend who ordered it but didn’t like it.
The Peru 0.11 M scent isn’t fruity. I expected berry notes or perhaps apples or pears. Instead it smells strongly of coffee and wood shavings. (Kind of like the break room at a sawmill!)
I have to say that I was impressed when I placed a square in my mouth this time. The melt is silky and creamy. The grain size is much smaller and a lot more consistent than the previous version I tried which was more like a variety ground on a stone wheel.
This is immediately tangy. The acidic notes are bright but very high pitched and puckery. I don’t get any real fruit flavors to go with it, just a tingly burst of the sourness and then the creamy background with some powdery green stick flavors. The balance of flavors was all off, like the whole thing was leaning to the left, about ready to tip over.
So while I appreciate the step forward in texture, the flavor was definitely a step back for me. It took several weeks for me to eat half a bar.
The C Ghana D.99D is the Chocolatey variety that I tasted months ago in an earlier version. Now marked with the cacao percentage, this one is 70%.
As I’d hoped from the Fruity beta, this was much creamier and had a much more pleasing mouthfeel than the previous one I tried.
The immediate flavors I got though were absolutely different from the “Chocolatey” Ghana before. This was an overwhelming flavor of honey, cedar and a light tinge of herby balsam like rosemary or lavender.
The notes were confined to a very narrow spectrum. While the Fruity was high pitched with a couple of low resonant notes in the scent, Chocolatey was pure middle notes, like walking down a narrow hallway with the same pictures displayed over and over again on the walls. It felt repetitive and monotonous and had no finish to it ... it just abruptly came to a halt. (Though I admit I loved the initial honey flavor a lot.)
So while both have a much more pleasing texture than the previous test batch, and I can appreciate the differences in the beans without even looking at the labels ... I didn’t like either of these bars. I understand that they’re still in beta mode, I have to say that I’m glad that I didn’t pay for these samples.
Tuesday, November 18, 2008
I think chocolate covered almonds but great and probably don’t need to be mucked around with. However, it’s 2008 and it’s not an innovative product unless it contains evaporated cane juice or sea salt. But wait, Trader Joe’s has it all wrapped up here with Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Almonds made with Belgian chocolate and sprinkled with sea salt and turbinado sugar. Could they be more on top of trends? I think not!
What’s turbinado sugar? That’s the large crystal unfiltered stuff you’ve seen before, often sold as Sugar in the Raw or in the UK, it’s called demerara.
They smell woodsy, a little astringent. I expected them to be messy like the cocoa rolled version of chocolate covered nuts, but these were mercifully neat, only bearing a scuffed appearance but not powdery residue.
Without the waxy glaze on the outside, the flavor and melt of the chocolate was readily accessible - and the chocolate was tasty and smooth.
The deep crunch of the nuts were balanced with the high pitched staccato interruptions of the salt and sugar crystals. Not knowing if that little nugget was going to be sweet or salty was kind of fun. But some nuts were extremely salty, to the point where the neighbors and I made faces from time to time. But it wasn’t so bad that we didn’t keep eating them.
I think I’ll probably stick to the plain ones from now on, the Russian Roulette is just to stressful, or if I need an additional salty pop, I’ll go for Sconza’s Toffee Almonds.
Monday, November 10, 2008
They come in two varieties: 100 Calorie Milk Chocolate Bars and 100 Calorie 70% Dark Chocolate Bars.
There are only five in the box, which I’m guessing means these are weekday treats. Priced at $1.99, on the surface it sounds like a decent deal for 3.17 ounces of chocolate that’s from Belgium. But you know what? Belgium is not a factory, it’s not a company, it’s not a brand. It’s just a country. Just because the country has a great history and a good reputation for producing good chocolate doesn’t mean that just because it’s Belgian that it’s better, or even good.
I have gripes with the packaging. First, the bars themselves are 4.75 inches long and 1 inch wide. But the wrapper is inexplicably 6.5 inches long though the box is just shy of 6 inches, so the little ends have to be tucked over in order to fit. The box is simply too big and useless. It could be half the size. Think of how much more shelf space they’d have.
After I got over the insane box and mylar wrappers, I had a small pile of chocolate bars (that traveled nicely intermingled in a zip lock bag with me).
The Milk Chocolate is made from 34% cocoa solids and 18% milk solids, leaving by my guess about 45% or more “sugar solids.” All my jests aside, the ingredients look impressive: real vanilla and for some reason they mention that they use beet sugar.
I liked the shape of the planks, easy to break into pieces for sharing or bite easily without melty crumbs.
The chocolate is silky and sweet. The chocolate flavor isn’t intense but pleasant. The dairy flavors were limited to an ordinary background complement of caramel notes ... no strong powdered milk element here.
It’s not like this is diet chocolate, it’s no less caloricly dense than any other normal chocolate, just molded into a piece that’s exactly 100 calories ... some sort of magic number for the calorie counters. (It does make the math easier, I’ll give them that.)
The 70% Dark is a true dark chocolate which also uses beet sugar and natural vanilla. So it’s extra safe for vegans (some avoid cane sugar which can be purified using bone char).
This bar looked dark and intense, like Italian roasted coffee beans. It smelled like freshly sawn wood. The melt on the tongue was rather slow and a little chalky (as high cocoa content bars can often be). The flavors were smoky and bitter with some coffee and charcoal notes.
Though it wasn’t as candy-like as the Milk Chocolate variety, the 70% was certainly satisfying in the sense that one was more than enough for me.
I like the portion control element and the flat stick shape. I don’t think I need more than 2/3 of an ounce (well, a bit less in this instance) as a little pick me up or treat with some coffee. The price compared to Trader Joe’s other house-branded chocolate offerings though is ridiculous. Even the little 3 Packs of Belgian Chocolate bars are half the price per ounce. And then the Pound Plus bar that goes for about $3.50 brings it down even more with far less packaging (but not an identical product as those are made in France).
I don’t think I’d buy these again simply because there are better values at Trader Joe’s. The Milk Chocolate was the nicer of the two, if I was going simply by which one I ended up finishing first.
Thursday, November 6, 2008
Hillside Candy has been making sweets for nearly thirty years and are best known for their line of sugar-free candies called GoLightly. GoNaturally is their new line of hard candies made with all organic ingredients. It’s also Kosher, dairy-free, gluten-free and corn-free.
Their initial offerings come in six different flavors:
Quite mellow, there’s no strong pop of either the honey or the lemon flavors.
It’s not really that sweet either, which makes it a rather nice change of pace and more soothing to the throat.
The pieces are rather small, about as big around as a penny. I loved the small size of the pieces and found with this flavor especially, the mild and true honey flavor kept me coming back over and over again until I finished the bag one afternoon. (Though each bag only holds 3.5 ounces, there are a lot of pieces because they’re so small - so I had a large pile of wrappers.)
The funny thing, if you haven’t noticed already, is that none of these candies use any colorings. So while they vary slightly, they’re all a basic light amber color. Since the wrappers are opaque, there’s really no need for them to contain added colors to tell them apart.
Tangy and not terribly strong, it’s the typical cherry flavor. Not too much on the side of cough syrup, it reminded me of cherry popsicles instead.
This was my least favorite flavor, but mostly because I think that the malty dark flavors that the rice syrup gives the candy doesn’t go as well with the bright cherry flavors.
I wasn’t sure which way this flavor was going to go. Was it going to be Jolly Rancher Green Apple or the Japanese Mentos Fuji Apple? Well, it was a little of both. It had a definite acidic pop of the fake variety but also a good sprinkling of the apple peel flavors of real cider. I’ve always found the best thing about apples to be the wonderful crisp texture and crunch, so any candy that misses that aspect really misses with me.
I think kids may appreciate it this though, but it may not convert them from Jolly Ranchers.
The curiously bright pink here belies the subtle flavor of the candy. It’s tangy and fruity like berries. It does a decent job of capturing pomegranate, which isn’t easy because most of the pom candies I’ve tried could have been named black raspberry or cranberry and I wouldn’t argue.
There’s a deep woodsy flavor to this, kind of like some red grapes have or, well, eating pomegranates. The dark molasses hint from the pomegranate or rice syrup does make this different from other pomegranate candies.
This is one of the candies that looked exactly like I’d expect a hard honey candy to look like. A little golden droplet.
The ingredients list has only three items on it: evaporated cane juice, brown rice syrup & honey. It tastes mellow, a little more mellow than a spoonful of honey but still a sweet little treat. Along with the Honey Lemon, this was my favorite.
I’m always looking for good ginger candies because of my tummy upset issues and love of all things ginger.
These have an immediate woodsy taste, a little bit of a burn but mostly a taste of grassy sticks and spice.
I don’t know how well they’ll work with my sea-sickness and I doubt I’ll have them until whale watching season starts in January, I can see myself finishing this bag by next week.
My strangest issue with these was that they got soft and sticky. Los Angeles isn’t that humid, so I don’t think it was some sort of atypically moist condition that caused this. They’re not bad when they get softer around the edges, but they certainly don’t look as good and don’t have that crunch.
With that in mind, I don’t think they’d do well in an open bowl of candy, like a dish on your desk. Maybe a sealed jar or a zip lock bag.
I’m wild about the honey ones but didn’t have much of a feeling about the other flavors one way or the other.
This is an especially good product for those seeking a hard candy made without corn syrup or just something without artificial colors. It’s also made in the USA. The price is a bit steep for hard candy at about $2.50 per 3.5 ounce bag (though it’s certainly cheaper in bulk) but they do have some unique attributes, so there are definitely folks out there who will be thrilled to find the product and pay for it.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.