Tuesday, December 18, 2012
One of the new items at Trader Joe’s candy section is a twist on an old fashioned favorite, a chocolate covered caramel. I’ve always wanted a better Milk Dud and Trader Joe’s as been doing a good job of providing some tantalizing options over the years.
The newest is Trader Joe’s Chocolate Covered Sea Salt Butterscotch Caramels which comes in a 7 ounce gusseted bag with a resealable top. They describe them as Soft and creamy, deeply flavored butterscotch caramels are tinged with sea salt and enrobed in dark, slightly bitter chocolate to offset the sweetness.
I was wondering if these were the same as the Dark Chocolate Tahitian Vanilla Caramels sold in the small, single serving lavender bags. The ingredients are remarkably similar, with one difference: the Butterscotch Caramels use tapioca syrup instead of corn syrup. So these are free of corn (or at least don’t have any stated corn ingredients).
The flavor is very, well, butterscotchy. They taste like a butter flavor, but not an overtly artificial one like some fake popcorn topping can but more like a maple, woodsy flavor with stronger dairy notes. Instead it’s just rich and a little less sweet than the Tahitian Vanilla variety.
The dark chocolate coating is mild, on the semi-sweet side but has a creamy melt with a little smoky and pipe tobacco profile to it, instead of a dried fruit flavor that some darks can have.
I had wondered when the Tahitian Vanilla Caramels came out whether they’d be available in a bulk bag for serving in a bowl (or creating your own snack mix). This is a pretty good value at $3.49 (which is about $8 per pound) and the ingredients are all natural. I hope these stick around after the holidays, they might make a great travel mix with raw almonds, pretzels and milk chocolate drops. For right now they might just be my go-to candy for sneaking into a movie theater.
There is no statement or any info I can find about the sourcing of the ingredients, specifically the ethical sourcing of the chocolate. They also contain palm kernel oil (though very low on the list). They’re made with milk and soy and may contain traces of wheat, peanuts and tree nuts.
Monday, December 10, 2012
Let’s see, if I was going to make my own candy, what would be the most popular ingredients to include? Dark Chocolate. Peanut Butter. Caramel. So it’s not surprising that I bought this gable box of Trader Joe’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Salted Caramel Truffles.
The box holds about 15 individually wrapped bon bons filled with layers of caramel and peanut butter all covered in dark chocolate.
The front of the box says that there are no artificial flavors or colors, but that doesn’t mean that the ingredients are simple. There are things like malto-dextrin, fractionated palm oil (organic) and tocopherol (Vitamin E). But part of what makes the list so long is also how many of the items are preceded by “organic” such as the caramel (organic milk, organic sugar, etc).
The bronzy twisted mylar wrappers hold the bon bons well. They’re glossy and nicely domed, about 1.125 inches in diameter. They’re about 12 grams each, which is approximately the same size as a Lindt Lindor Truffle (though not spherical).
The shell yields easily to the soft interior. The burst of caramel comes first, as it’s more of a syrup than a firm chewy variety. The flavor is good, a little hint of burnt sugar but mostly a salted sweetness. The peanut butter base is very smooth with a smoky flavor for the most part and a light burst of salt as well. There’s a bit of chocolate in the filling as well, it looks like maybe a layer between the caramel and peanut butter - probably to keep them from mingling. The melt of it all is less than stellar, the chocolate is quite firm but the peanut butter is soft but slightly waxy (is that what fractionated palm oil is like?). Overall, it just never came together for me as a decadent whole. I’ll probably finish the package at some point but I’ve passed them over plenty of times when looking in my goody drawer over the past week, which is a rating in and of itself.
I still might consider these as a hostess gift, especially if you know the person is inclined towards the elements of caramel, dark chocolate and peanut butter. Even though they’re not as flashy, I prefer Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups (which I’ve been eating by the tub-full for extra calories).
There is no ethical sourcing statement for the chocolate on the box, though the organic status of many of the ingredients bodes well for the attention the makers pay to sourcing ingredients. The truffles contain soy, peanuts and milk. They’re made in a facility that also processes wheat, eggs and tree nuts.
See also Rosa’s review at ZOMG! Candy.
Friday, November 16, 2012
It’s winter, which means it’s time for hard candies. Nothing is as soothing and easy to carry as individually wrapped hard candies. We live in a wonderful era in human development where not can hard candies be ubiquitous and cheap, they can also be devilishly hard to find and expensive. Something for everyone!
For the past few months I haven’t been feeling well, including a recent and prolonged medically-induced sore throat. So, some intense hard candies that are also free of allergens might be just what the doctor ordered. (They weren’t actually, I haven’t spoken to my doctor about my Candy Blog, just my dentist.)
Torie and Howard is a new line of organic hard candies that feature interesting flavor combinations as well as carefully sourced ingredients. I tried them back in January at the Fancy Food Show, and though I usually like to find candy on store shelves before writing about it, I was kind of keen on trying them so accepted a full array of samples from the company.
They’re made from complicated yet simple stuff:
No Artificial dyes, nut free, no GMOs, no corn syrup, wheat and gluten free, casein free, soy free and dairy free. (So, yes, vegan.) They currently come in four flavors. The cutest part of their packaging is the two ounce tin, which retails for about five bucks, which is steep. They also have a little “purse” mixed bag which can help you find your favorite because the five pound bulk bags they also sell online are the best value as long as you know you really, really like them.
I was really excited to find a Pink Grapefruit and Tupelo Honey hard candy. The flavor is tart but with a bitter note from the grapefruit oils. I didn’t catch the honey, but did notice that it wasn’t overtly sweet like some citrus candies can be to compensate for the sourness. The oily zest notes lasted for quite a while, not in a bad way, more as a kind of background freshness for about 15 minutes.
The pieces are quite small, about half the weight of a regular Starlight Mint. But they’re exquisite, imprinted with a little raspberry design and the company’s logo.
Pear & Cinnamon is an interesting combination, much like apple pie. The pear flavor is mild, as actual pears are, it’s almost a baked banana flavor with a light tang to it. The cinnamon is like the spice and not the hotness of a Hot Tamale candy or anything like that. It’s pleasant and unassuming, though a little evocative of a holiday candle.
Pomegranate & Nectarine is not a flavor combination I would have expected. It’s strong and deep. The nectarine notes are like a peachy flavor, a little fuzzy and tropical with that woodsy note that stonefruits can have. Then there’s the pomegranate, which is like a raspberry mixed with cranberry, a little tannic and floral.
Blood Orange & Honey was more like a strong tangerine flavor with a lot of zest to it. The honey came out a bit later, as the citrusy parts faded away, there was a malty, honey sweetness that had a bit more staying power than a simple sugar.
Overall, they’re quite tasty with grown up flavors. They don’t do much to soothe my throat, but did give me a flavor boost I was craving after consuming most of my calories for a week in liquid form.
They are really expensive, which is odd for a hard candy. The labor is the same for organic and conventional candies, it’s just the ingredients that differ. In this case the candy, even in the bulk bags, is $11 a pound with a five pound minimum. (The tins come out to $40 a pound.) For that price I’d like to know that it was made right here in America, but these are made in Mexico (which is not that uncommon with organic hard candies these days).
Monday, November 05, 2012
The Clark Bar is one of the oldest still existing combination candy bars in the United States. It was introduced in 1917 and is now made by Necco. (You can read lots more here.) The bar is a simple layered peanut butter crunch center similar to Butterfinger & 5th Avenue (head to head review) or Reese’s Crispy Crunchy and the Chick-o-Stick.
To expand the line, Necco recently introduced Clark Bites, which as the name would imply, are bite sized, unwrapped pieces instead of a full bar. There’s a strange campaign going on to promote them, called Where’s Zipper, which uses a cartoon character called Zipper the Squirrel based on the Squirrel Nut Zippers candy also made by Necco. There’s a website and a poorly attended Facebook page for it. But there’s lots of info there about the new Clark Bites, the fact that they come in stand up snack bags, individual bags plus these theater boxes.
A while back I reviewed the re-introduced Butterfinger Bites, which I thought were terrible. The coating was greasy and waxy and overly sweet with no chocolate notes whatsoever. The center was too stiff or dense and lacked an easy crunch. Since I prefer the new Real Chocolate Clark Bars already, I had high hopes for these.
The box is interesting, it feels masculine and utilitarian. All the info is there. They’re made with real chocolate, the image on the front shows what the candy looks like and they’re made in the United Sates. The box is a bit big for the contents, there are only 3.5 ounces in there, but I’d say it’s a good value for a buck for an all natural product. Inside the box, the candy is inside an unmarked cellophane pouch.
There are no preservatives in the candy, so it’s all natural. It’s a milk chocolate coating and there’s a confectioners glaze on it, so it’s not appropriate for vegans or even strict vegetarians. (There’s also soy, peanuts and milk in it for those with allergies and processed in a plant that also has tree nuts, egg and wheat.)
The nuggets are well proportioned. They vary in size, some are sort of square shapes, other are more rectangular versions. They’re between three quarters to almost an inch long.
The center is light and crispy with lots of layers. The flavor isn’t strongly peanutty and the chocolate coating is rather thick. So the whole thing is pretty sweet though there is a small touch of salt in the center. The flaky crunch has a little bit of rustic peanut butter in it, but mostly notes of molasses.
One the whole, they’re quite poppable. They’re a lot lighter and crunchier than the Butterfinger version and of course the chocolate is real. There’s no partially or fully hydrogenated oils in here, but plenty of real chocolate, milk products, sugar and peanuts. A serving is a half of the package (1.75 ounces) which comes in at 240 calories but does have 4 grams of protein and even 4% of your calcium and 2% of your iron.
I really hope these become more widely available. I was so optimistic after reading the label when I bought them that I picked up three boxes and I’m glad I did.
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
What are you giving out to Trick or Treaters this year?
The kids in my neighborhood seem to like Airheads, so this will be the third year I’m giving those out. As a change this year I’m also giving out Unreal Candy, since it’s sustainably sourced and has no artificial ingredients. I have their peanut nougat bars and the peanut butter cups. We’ll see how that goes over. Judging by the density of Priuses on my block, it should be well received. In all, I have over 80 pieces of candy for what I expect will be about 35 kids ... so maybe I need a little more.
Monday, October 22, 2012
I’m quite fond of Chuao Chocolatier’s bars, which are made in Southern California. The packaging is spare but eye-catching and distinct. I’ve come to know the brand well enough to be able to spot a new bar on the shelf easily because of the color-coding. One that I’d been looking forward to finding is the Chuao Honeycomb 60% Cacao. The bar is a Dark Chocolate Bar with Caramelize Honey.
I was excited about this bar because Chuao used to make a fantastic item for local Whole Foods markets. It was a thick bar with large chunks of sponge candy (here they’re calling it honeycomb). I haven’t seen it in the market for several years, so I was hoping this bar would be a more widely available version.
The back of the package has a more enticing bit of marketing copy: The Honeycomb bar is a sweet bouquet of silky dark chocolate and crunchy, caramelized honey. Its pleasing layers of tropical flavors and contrasting textures seduce chocolate lovers like bees to a flower.
Chuao uses non-GMO ingredients, including the soy lecithin and the corn syrup for the honeycomb. chuao also sourced their chocolate through a project called Aguasanta Growth Initiative in Venezuela.
The bar has a wonderful decorative design for its mold. They’re changing their packaging yet again, so keep an eye out for the newer designs. Here’s a peek at the ChocoPod version. (Here’s what they looked like back in 2006 when I first tried them.) While it’s fun to look at, it is a little more problematic for portioning. The bar doesn’t break evenly around the “pod” pieces and of course it’s harder to tell how much of the bar you have eaten. (Besides all of it. That’s easy no matter the shape.)
There were a few little voids at the bottom where the mold didn’t fill properly and the same on the bottom of the bar where there were bubbles.
The bar is deep and toasty. The chocolate has a coffee note to it but is complemented by the burnt sugar flavors of the sponge candy. It’s a clean toffee note, with no hint of butter, just the scorched honeycomb. There are some hints of minerals and an earthiness to it. The honeycomb provides a little texture, though it has a bit of a crunch, it also dissolves quickly, like shards of cotton candy.
I was hoping for a bit more differentiation between the chocolate and the honeycomb, at least as far as the textures.
It’s funny that I had to go all the way to Pennsylvania to find a bar that’s made right here in California (and that I’ve been looking for in local stores). But it makes sense that Pennsylvania would be the target market, they’re the folks that make such fantastic pretzels and have innovated so much in the sweet and salty combination. I think I found the Chuao Potato Chips in Chocolate 41% Cacao bar at Wegman’s, and it was even on sale.
The package says that it’s an Ultra Premium Milk Chocolate Bar with Kettle Cooked Potato Chips.
The bar is made from all natural ingredients, the potato chips are made with sunflower/corn and/or canola oil and this wrapper does not say anything about GMO ingredients.
This is an odd bar. I can’t quite put my finger on it. Part of it may be the inclusions. As you can see from the photo, the bits of the potato chips are quite small, I’d call them potato slivers or shards. So the texture doesn’t allow for a full bite of potato chip, but more of the flavor without the crunch. The chocolate smells milky and has a wonderful, silky melt. The chips are at once light and dense. They have a strong crunch, even for their small size. They’re salty and earthy, with a rooty, potato skin flavor to the that’s common to the kettle cooked variety of chips.
In both bars I wanted more of the inclusions ... but it’s hard to fault these bars when the chocolate is so good as well. Chuao never disappoints me with their chocolate. I think my favorite bars are still the Chinita Nibs and their Coffee and Anise bars, which are both rather hard for me to find as well.
Wednesday, October 10, 2012
Taza Chocolate makes their chocolate from bean to bar in Somerville, Mass. What sets them apart from the many other small batch chocolate makers that have sprung up in the last 10 years is that they stone grind their chocolate in the rustic, classic Mexican tradition. Taza sources their cacao through direct trade sources to assure quality and ethical practices.
They make a wide variety of products but the ones of most interest to me are the Mexicano Discs. They make 10 different varieties, but I got samples of two that I thought would represent the style best: Cacao Puro Chocolate Mexicano 70% and Taza Salted Almond Chocolate Mexicano. I also noticed recently that Trader Joe’s has started carrying a strikingly similar set of chocolate discs, so I’ll throw in some notes about that.
The Taza website describes the Taza Discs as Rustic, round dark chocolate discs with a distinctively gritty texture, some sweet, some savory, some spicy. The packages have two discs in them, 2.7 ounces total (1.35 ounces each).
The discs are either for eating straight from the package or making into a drink by mixing with a whisk (or molinillo if you want to be authentic) and some hot milk (or water).
The Cacao Puro Chocolate Mexicano 70% is organic, gluten free, soy free and dairy free plus Kosher and made with only two ingredients: organic cacao beans and organic cane sugar.
The process for making the chocolate is very simple. The roasted cacao is placed in the stone mills and ground, then ground a second time with the sugar added. As noted on their website, it’s not a lot of processing, no conching and no emulsifiers are used. The chocolate is then tempered and molded into the discs.
(My photos for the Puro turned out poorly, so just imagine this Salted Almond is the Puro. It really looks the same, just a smidge darker.)
The look of the bars is a little dusty, less than glossy. The snap is solid, these are tough and dense bars. The melt is, well, not very smooth. It’s described as rustic and rustic is what it is.
The overwhelming flavor note I had was green wood, it’s a little like black tea, with other notes of lemon peel, raisins and a hint of figs and leather.
The texture is grainy, there are grains of sugar, which are interesting because they dissolve quickly. Then the is the grit of the large cacao particles. This gives the overall flavor of the chocolate a sort of variation, there are parts where the flavors might start as citrusy but then after chewing (yes, later because of the grit, there is more chewing than a really smooth dark chocolate might obligate me) some other flavors come out, like the tobacco and tea.
The chocolate here is only 40% cacao, with a larger proportion of sugar plus the almonds and salt taking up the other 60%. I really expected the cross section of this one to look more rustic, with more bits of almond in there, but it’s really well integrated.
It’s quite sweet, the graininess is taken up with the sugary grains with a hint of salt. I didn’t catch much from the almonds, except that they gave it a more creamy and mellow flavor that moderated the bitterness of the cacao better than the sugar. The chocolate flavors were also evened out, so I just got a sort of fudge brownie flavor from the whole thing.
I tried making a hot chocolate with this, since that’s part of the appeal of the Mexican-style of rustic chocolate. I didn’t put a lot of chocolate into it - about half of a disc for about 6 ounces of whole milk, I’ll probably add more next time. It’s best to use a whisk for this, all I had was a fork, so there was a lot of stirring (and a good thing that I didn’t fill up the cup all the way). The flavor is much more nutty and the sugar dissolves completely. The grittiness of the cocoa part goes away (until you get to the sludge at the bottom which is then a mix of almond bits and cacao nibs, which is also great).
I prefer this as a hot drink to a bar for eating, but that’s just me. It’s a bit expensive and requires a lot more work than just dumping a powder into some hot water, but I appreciate good ingredients and can take that extra minute for the stirring. (And now that the weather is getting cooler, I need a sort of whisk that’s ideal for one cup of chocolate.)
The final one I have notes on is the Trader Joe’s special version, Organic Salt & Pepper. It has 54% cacao, so it’s a bit darker than the Almond version. The only real difference between this disc set and the Taza branded ones is the fact that there are no little letters T A Z A on the molded sections.
It smells dark and peppery with some rum notes. The salt is much more forward than the Salted Almond. The gritty texture seemed to go well with the rustic flavors of salt and pepper and the grainy sugar. The cocoa flavors were a bit lost though did remind me of brownie batter. Of the three that I tried, this was my least favorite, but mostly because of the overall sandiness. The heat of the black pepper takes a while to warm up, but lends some nice tones.
The style of chocolate is interesting and definitely different from the standard fare and novelty chocolates these days. Really, I think this chocolate will shine as a drinking product, not for straight eating. But that’s a personal preference. If you’re looking for a chocolate that’s easy to portion, made with vegan ingredients, that has no GMO ingredients, emulsifiers or gluten or added vanilla bean then this is a fantastic option.
Update 10/29/2012: Per the suggestions of readers that I should drink this as hot chocolate, I did just that with one tablet of the Salted Almond. I found it a little bland, but very rich. So for the remaining discs, I made chocolate pudding. The recipe was 1/4 cup of corn starch, 3 cups of milk and three discs (about 3.5 ounces) of chopped chocolate. I warmed the mixture on the stove over low heat while I used a whisk to completely incorporate the corn starch, then as the chocolate melted to emulsify it. Then turned it up to medium heat, stirred constantly until it just started to thicken and boil. I added some vanilla extract (optional). It’s very rich, not at all sweet.
For my mix I had one disc of Salted Almond and two of the Cacao Puro. I wasn’t interested in the Salt & Pepper as pudding.
Friday, October 05, 2012
As I mentioned in some recent reviews, I’ve been chewing more gum lately. It’s hard to find gum that’s doesn’t use artificial sweeteners, but the market has expanded in the past few years as consumers have searched for alternatives to aspartame.
I picked up this package of Glee Gum Sugar Free Peppermint before a recent plane trip but then forgot to take it with me. So I’ve been munching on it at the office.
Unlike sugared gums and other sugar free gums, chewing gum made with xylitol has an amazing cool feeling on the tongue. The candy coating on the Glee chiclets only enhances that.Glee is also made with all non genetically modified ingredients (including sunflower lecithin) and a natural gum base made from real chicle.
The flavor is a mild peppermint, it’s clean and not too overpowering but also lasts quite a long time. The chew is smooth, and while I’ve had problems with the chicle sticking to my teeth before, I don’t have that issue with the sugarless version (it could also be that I’ve had some of my fillings replaced since I started Candy Blog).
Sometimes I find sugar free gums have a strange, metallic flavor, but in this case I got no strange notes. It was refreshing and simple. Xylitol is not a no-calorie sweetener, it’s a sugar alcohol that has a fraction of the calories of sugar. But mostly it has either no effect on the bacteria that cause cavities or, in some studies, can effectively combat it (but it takes more than just a couple of pieces of gum a few times a month). Xylitol, like most sugar alcohols, can cause stomach distress when consumed in large quantities by some people. Gum is usually not an issue, unless you’re chewing more than one package a day if you happen to be one of those sensitive people.
This is pretty much my go-to gum now. I still prefer real Chiclets because of the satisfaction of chewing the sugar out and then going for three more pieces. But this is probably better for my oral health, the flavor lasts longer and is made with all natural ingredients. Now I’m hoping they’ll come out with more flavors, like cinnamon.
Glee Gum does come in little single-serving boxes for Halloween treating, however, the sugar free varieties are not available yet. As far as I can tell, this would be the perfect item for folks who are nut-free, gluten-free and sugar-free to give out without seeming like stick-in-the-muds. (But it would help if it also came in the bubble gum flavor, too.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.