Friday, March 29, 2013
The world of candy bars has changed a lot in the past 100 years, since the first mass-produced combination bars appeared in stores. At first local candy companies made bars that were distributed regionally. Eventually, after World War II, candy bars became national brands. You could find a Hershey’s Milk Chocolate, Snickers bar or a Butterfinger at most candy stores though there were still plenty of local brands.
Today the candy landscape is dominated by just a few international brands, and the new upstarts that are found on the fringes fit into a different niche now. They’re special interest bars. These are the bars that incorporate local ingredients, fit into special manufacturing concerns like allergens, or in the case of the Eli’s Earth Bars from Sjaak’s Chocolates, they’re vegan (made without any animal-derived ingredients).
The new line of bars is interesting, because they’re not quite versions of already-popular candy bars. The Celebrate Bar is A delicious coconut caramel topped with whole almonds surrounded by chocolate. That doesn’t sound like any other candy bar on shelves today.
How did they make it vegan? Well, here’s the pretty short list of ingredients:
I’ve had two of these bars now. The first one I photographed and ate. Then I searched months and months to find them in stores again. Both bars looked the same, a long chewy plank of coconut caramel topped with whole almonds and then covered in a vegan milk chocolate. The milk chocolate is made without any dairy ingredients (but in a shared facility, so not appropriate for those with allergies) but uses real cocoa butter.
The chocolate itself is chalky and has a soft cereal note to it. The cocoa flavor is lacking, but overall it’s a pleasant coating. It’s kind of like how I feel about hot cocoa made with water instead of milk; I’ll drink it but I wouldn’t choose it. The chewy center is quite good, a very dense coconut and caramel combination. The caramelized sugar notes are missing, but the texture is great.
It’s an interesting bar and I had to throw my expectations about the milk chocolate out the window. This is not really a vegan milk chocolate, it’s just a very mild chocolate - the rice milk makes it something different in both intensity (which is what milk does to chocolate) and texture (which is kind of sad). I would probably prefer this bar with a true dark chocolate coating, but I understand the goal here was to make it with a milder chocolate. It still doesn’t match up to the expectations I have for milk chocolate, but if I toss those out and just experience this, I was surprised at how much I liked it. (It’s similar to how much I like Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews, even though they don’t use a real chocolate coating.)
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Easter is the season for foil wrapped chocolate eggs. They can be solid, they can be filled with things. They can be the size of a peanut or a football. The fun part is when they’re actually made with good chocolate.
I was excited to see Ghirardelli Milk & Crisp Chocolate Eggs at Target. Ghirardelli makes very good chocolate for the price, right here in California. I’ve been searching for the ideal crisped rice and milk chocolate combination, so this was the perfect item for me to pick up.
The yellow bag contains about 15 gold foil wrapped eggs. They’re a rich milk chocolate with crisped rice. They also come in a blue foil version that’s solid milk chocolate.
The bag is on the expensive side. The 3.5 ounces is about the same price as a chocolate bar from Ghirardelli, $3.49 ... one dollar an ounce. It’s a bit steep for chocolate that’s not marked as ethically sourced or organic but it is all natural. (The facility also processes tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and eggs. Contains milk and soy.)
The eggs smell dark and smoky, less sweet than many milk chocolates but still with a dairy note to it. The melt is soft and has that same sort of smoky note to it with a strong malt flavor from the crisped rice. There’s a hint of bitterness to it, but not much. Overall, it’s far less sweet than something like a Nestle Crunch chocolate and thought thick, not quite as sticky as Cadbury.
Overall, it was a bit more grown up than a Nestle Crunch NestEgg, but should probably be reserved for adults since the price is so much steeper. I would buy these again, and of course I’d prefer a half pound bag so I could put them out in a dish.
Friday, February 22, 2013
Trader Joe’s rarely takes a breather in their new product introductions. If I don’t go in for a few weeks, I might miss its appearance on the New at Trader Joe’s shelves only to stumble on it in the regular rotation. This was the case with the new Trader Joe’s PB&J Milk Chocolate Bar . The bar is found at the check out stands, in my case, mixed in with the Speculoos Bars.
The bar is simply a milk chocolate bar with creamy peanut butter and tart raspberry jelly.
The bar is about 5 inches long and 1.25 inches wide. It’s a nicely sized portion, at 1.75 ounces though the calorie count is a bit high since it’s so fatty - 230 calories for the bar or if you’d like to compare it to others I’ve reviewed, it’s 160 calories per ounce.
There’s no statement about the origin or sourcing of the chocolate, but some of the ingredients are organic like the palm oil in the peanut butter filling and some of the sugar.
The bar looks very simple. There are six segments, each filled with a base of peanut butter and topped with a syrupy raspberry jelly.
The milk chocolate is quite dark and has a smoky flavor to it. It’s smooth and has an excellent silky melt and strong flavor of its own, however, the overriding scent of the bar is peanut butter. Once I bit into a segment, though, the raspberry flavors were far more evident. The whole thing really was like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
The peanut butter is smooth, it has a dark roasted flavor with a hint of bitterness to it. There’s also a fair bit of salt, 60 mg for the whole bar, considering how much actual peanut butter is in there, I feel like it’s a lot but not over-salted.The jelly itself is a little runny. The best effect for the bar is to bite the segments, to get the smell of the berries, but that just makes the goo run. The raspberry is smooth, not at all grainy, it’s sweet but has a tartness to it. There are no seeds, but the flavor of the seeds, that woodsy green note is there.
For a buck, it’s a great bar. It’s different from anything else you can get in this price range and the ingredients are top of the line. The profile is less sweet than most other candy bars, which is refreshing.
There are no preservatives or artificial colors/flavors. It contains milk, soy and peanuts and may contain traces of wheat, eggs and/or tree nuts. It’s Kosher and made in Canada.
Thursday, February 7, 2013
A few weeks ago I got a note from a Starbucks rep who let me know that they had some newish chocolate items by the register at the coffee shops. (Launched last Fall.)
I picked out their Starbucks Salted Almond Chocolate Bites since some of the other varieties looked like they were a bit melted. They also have Salted Caramel and Almond, Caramel Brûlé, Creamy Peanut Pretzel, and Berry Medley.
The package describes them as, “Triple chocolate covered almonds with gray sea salt.” They’re made with milk chocolate, though it’s a very dark milk chocolate both in appearance and flavor. The tube is about 3.75 inches tall and 1.5 inches around. So it fit easily in my purse but still holds a hefty 2 ounce single portion.
The thing I noticed is that these are small. In a way, that’s a good thing. They fit well in the tube and they are consistent in size. But they’re barely the size of a Peanut M&M. So I knew that either the chocolate was very thin or the almonds were very small ... or a bit of both.
The chocolate is good quality and has a soft and smooth melt. The salt is in the chocolate, and also may be clinging to the almond. The salt is integrated, not in little flakes or crystals. So the whole thing had a salty note. Honestly, too salty for me. There’s more than 200 mg per package, which is far too much for something that’s supposed to be sweet. Often the salted caramel items that I get have 60 mg or so ... this is just too much.
The almonds are perfectly roasted so they’re crunch and have a toasty flavor (I usually eat my almonds raw) and balance well with the ratio of chocolate. But I can’t buy these again because of the over-salted flavor. I’m still up for giving the other varieties a try. It’s a pretty good value for a premium-styled product sold at a store where this is an average price for a good. The portion is more than fair, especially if you’re in the mood to share.
They’re made on shared equipment with peanuts, other tree nuts, wheat and eggs. There’s no statement about the sourcing of the chocolate, which is disappointing because Starbucks makes such a bit deal about their sourcing of their coffee.
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
I mentioned a while back that Mars was going to convert all of their Dove Chocolate over to Rainforest Alliance certified cocoa this year. I saw the first bars in the store sometime around New Years and picked up this Dove 71% Cacao Silky Smooth Dark Chocolate.
The bar was on sale for $2.49, so it’s a pretty good deal for a 71% bar that’s 3.3 ounces. The nutritional panel lists that half the bar is a single serving. The 42 gram portion is 20 grams of fat. Good fat, of course… it’s made with cocoa butter which is supposed to be pretty good for your heart or at least not bad for it.
The bar looks like all the other Dove items these days. It’s seductively smooth with easy to break off domed pieces. The snap isn’t quite stiff, but not soft either. It’s, well, I can’t describe it any other way except fatty. See the above fat content for confirmation.
The Dove flavor profile is always a bit thin for my tastes, it’s like the chocolate is parallel to the cocoa butter instead of integrated. That may have something to do with Mars’ proprietary Cocoapro flavanol enhancement. Perhaps there’s some sort of process that it goes through that sanitizes it in this manner. The good news is that in this bar, that’s less of an issue. The melt is wonderful, buoyant and soft without a hint of grit. The cocoa flavors are lightly bitter, woodsy with a floral note that I don’t get from their regular dark. The melt is like a pudding, soft and creamy but still quite thick.
I had a few Dove Promises in the regular dark to compare. The regular dark is quite sweet and again, a little thin on intensity though a well rounded brownie batter chocolate flavor. I much preferred the 71% and didn’t feel like the lack of sweetness was a compromise. The deepness of the flavors was much more concentrated. I’ll be curious to see if these show up in the foil-wrapped Dove Promises line.
I know that in many stores this will be one of the few certified sustainably sourced bars, so it’s nice to finally have a choice when you’re at the drug store or a big box retailer.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
The candies, most from Sweden, are made without artificial colors. You can buy from Sockerbit’s website but their best selection is in their store.
The candies are fresh and well marked in their bins. I made three different bags for myself. One was wrapped candies (not pictured), an array of fudge & chocolate items and the third mix was for marshmallow and fruity candies. I purchased about a pound total and as you can see from this posting, sampled a huge variety of candy styles and flavors.
Romrussin Fudge - say it out loud and it’s obvious that this is rum raisin fudge. Even though the pieces seem a bit dry and hard, they’re not at all once I bit into one. The rum note is light, like a butterscotch sort of flavor. The raisins are tangy and sweet and pretty chewy.
Fudge Duo is a stack of vanilla fudge and chocolate fudge. It’s a bit drier than the romrussin. The chocolate is mild, the vanilla is quite sweet and has a light toffee note. The texture is smooth, without the heavy buttered grain of some styles of fudge (which I rather like). This was a bit sweet for me and I think I would have to either limit myself to one piece or eat it with something like dark chocolate, nuts or strong coffee.
Licorice Fudge is quite black and rather formidable. The flavor profile is well done. It’s not as sweet as the other fudges and according to the ingredients list I found online, it has 2.3% licorice powder in it. Like the other candies sold at Sockerbit, there are no artificial colorings, in this case the licorice is made black by the use of carbon black (E153 - which may have animal origins, my vegetarian friends). It’s unusual to find this licorice product here, because E153 is not approved in the US.
Overall, the fudge was dry. I’m not a huge fudge person in the first place, but the thing I like best about it is the buttery, grainy texture of fresh fudge.
Polly are little nougat nuggets covered in milk or dark chocolate. A little larger than a Milk Dud, they’re quite a tasty morsel, something I would want to buy again. They’re a little egg-noggy, maybe a rum flavoring to them. They’re chewy, like a stiff nougat but there’s no sugary grain to them (kind of like a tacky marshmallow). The dark chocolate version has a decent semi-sweet coating on it, it’s not that rich but passable for something that’s more of a family candy. The milk chocolate is actually a bit better, with strong dairy tastes and possibly this is the only one that has the rum notes to it.
Nougat with Almonds - it’s a bit dry, though not at all sticky. They’re airy pieces, kind of a cross between marshmallow and the Italian torrone. There’s no essence to it, no amaretto or orange notes. It’s a clean flavor and easy to eat. I wouldn’t mind them coated in chocolate as well. The nougat works better as a “dry” candy compared to the fudge and I’d be happy to eat more if I found it.
The center is a fudge-like sweet paste with a light rum and possibly raisin flavor. It’s covered in semi-sweet chocolate and some cute little nonpareils for garnish. I didn’t like them quite as much as the Polly, they’re not quite as poppable. They’re a bit sweeter and the rum more pronounced ... maybe it needed a bit more of a creamy butter component for me.
Starting small, there are a few jelly berries in there called Skogsbär. There were three different colors, each a little different. The Swedish berry flavor is mild but smooth. The classic raspberries were jammy but still not very intense. When I first bought them they were smooth but after sitting in the paper bag they got a little harder and grainier.
I always enjoy banana marshmallows. The frothy texture of marshmallow goes well with banana flavoring. In the case of the banana marshmallows from Sweden, don’t get these confused with the American Marbits known as Circus Peanuts. The texture is far smoother and the flavor, though probably artificial is not caustic. There’s even a little tartness to it.
The second banana is called Banana Bubs, they’re half yellow banana flavor and the other half a mild caramel flavor. They’re foamy and soft, chewy and less tart than the bananas.
The large pink disk says Franssons on it. It’s strawberry flavored, soft and has a great berry flavor to it. The smooth dissolve of the marshmallow gives it a creamy texture without any actual fat. It’s a few bites, so it ends up being a lot of candy in one piece. Refreshing.
Skumsvampar are the little hat shapes came in two different flavors. The pink ones are the lingonberry flavor, they’re more sweet without that round tart note that the disk had. The tan ones are cola, they’re very mild but have a good caramel and light spice note to them.
Elephant Feet Licorice is the only licorice I picked up while I was there, though they had quite a bit. These are a pleasant variety. The base is foamy and has a light caramel flavor to it. The black licorice layer is a gummi with a mild anise note to it. They’re easy to eat with an almost creamy flavor to it, like the crema on an espresso.
The Red Car is Swedish berry flavor, whatever the Swedish Fish flavor is, probably something like the lingonberry version of Jolly Rancher green apple. But it wasn’t exactly a flavor retread, it was different. It was much strong, much more floral, the the point where I noticed an overwhelming note of violet in my candy bag only to find it was this single red car that was causing it. It’s a good flavor, but very ultimately very different from the masculine berry I was expecting.
Cola Car is spicy and bold, with a sharp tartness to it. These got stale more quickly than some of the other pieces I picked out.
The Malaco Gummi Cola Bottles were tangy and sharp, but not quite as spicy or as vibrant as I would have liked. However, the texture was quite nice, a little tougher and less sticky than Swedish Fish. I would eat these ... I might even prefer them over Haribo Gummi Cola Bottles.
The flavor is not straight menthol or mint. It’s more like a berry flavor, maybe lingonberry with a menthol kick to it. There’s a light tartness to it as well. They’re odd. I was expecting them to be a straight sort of gummi mint cough drop (smaller gummi eucalyptus drops are popular in South America), but they’re simply different from that. I can’t decide if I like them. They’re soothing and invigorating ... but I wouldn’t call them tasty. It’s like mixing Sleepytime tea with Red Zinger.
Some other items not shown in the photos:
Dumle are individually wrapped chocolate covered toffee pieces. The toffee style is really a caramel. It’s quite soft, but not oozy like Cadbury’s. It has a light, cereal flavor that reminds me of graham crackers, maybe even with a hint of coconut and cinnamon. I also tried the purple wrapped liquorice variety. Instead of being a goofy over-colored black inside, it looked just the like other toffee version. The licorice flavor is mild and earthy.
Hem-kola are little squares of firm hazelnut caramel. They’re kind of like a rich Now & Later. The hazelnut is more of a flavor, there’s no crushed nuts in there. It’s sweet and becomes a little grainy towards the end. They reminded me a lot of the caramel style of Sugar Babies.
Rollo are like Sugar Daddy, a tough caramel. It’s creamy and has a strong dairy flavor, more than a hint of salt and a smooth texture.
Tom’s Guld Karamel are good, like a Storck Chocolate Riesen. The caramel (toffee) center is smooth, salty but not chocolate flavored on its own. The chocolate coating though is rather dark and bitter.
Whenever I’m in New York, I will definitely make this a stop. I know that the inventory changes as well, so not all of these candies may be available right now. (Here’s a review of my recent New York City candy shopping spree.)
I give the Polly an 8 out of 10, the Banana marshmallows, Cola candies and Elephant Feet a 7 out of 10 and everything else a 6 out of 10.
Friday, January 18, 2013
It’s easy to dismiss this bar as one of the flash-in-the pan intersections of hipsterism. Mast Brothers are bearded bean-to-bar chocolate makers based in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn and part of the trend of micro-producers of formerly mass-marketed products. This bar mixes their carefully sourced (but unnamed) beans with coffee beans from the famed Portland, OR coffee roasters, Stumptown (they also have a Manhattan location).
I admit that I do love very good coffee, though I also drink the mediocre stuff rather happily. (Lately I’ve been indulging in a weekly cappuccino made with Verve beans served up by the excellent baristas at Short Cake at the Farmers Market in Los Angeles.)
I want a chocolate bar that evokes all the pleasures of a well made espresso shot in a portable solid - mix the coffee with chocolate instead of hot frothed milk. Both contain strong akaloids and bitter tannins but the cocoa butter might give a slower release to those flavors than hot water.
One of the distinguishing features of Mast Brothers bars is the packaging. They’re wrapped in distinctive papers, this one with an appropriately evocative deep red with black line art of a vintage motorcycle. Inside the thick paper wrapper, which is sealed on the back with a large label, it’s also wrapped in a good quality gold foil.
The bar was nicely tempered. I know that working with other inclusions that also have oils in them can be problematic (sometimes I note a hint of bloom around nuts in dark bars). The look of the bar is interesting, it’s not completely smooth and this is accurate to the actual texture of the chocolate itself. It looks a little lumpy (though that could just be the artisan style of the bar molds), but I found it gritty.
The bar is exceptionally dark looking, and the flavor matches. The coffee notes are bold: smoky with aspects of toffee, molasses and oak. I can’t really tell where the coffee stops and the chocolate starts, but the flavors I thought were from the cacao were a little more green. Some olive and dried cherries (with the accompanying tartness) with another little note of lemon zest. The melt is not quite smooth, I’ve mentioned the grittiness already, I found this in other Mast Brothers bars (I’ve never reviewed them before). The finish is a bit dry, but not chalky.
Overall, it’s not my ideal cup of coffee. I will say that the coffee is bold and stands out from the chocolate without being too sweet nor too bitter. I’ll probably finish the bar (though I can’t eat it late in the day because it is actually caffeinated), but I don’t think I’m going to buy another. I’d say as far as bean to batch bars married with single origin roasters go, I’m still the most fond of the Askinosie and Intelligentsia marriage.
The ingredient list is simple and short: cacao, cane sugar and coffee beans. No emulsifiers and no vanilla. There’s no statement about nuts, gluten or dairy on the wrapper.
Note: Eagranie of The Well Tempered Chocolatier also reviewed this bar last year, but hers was a different iteration, which contained more whole beans. For more about Mast Brothers, check out this 2009 NY Times article about Brooklyn food producers.
Monday, January 14, 2013
Ritter Sport, the German chocolate company, has really stepped up its game in North America. Not only do we get a large array of their inventive and good quality bars, they’re also delivering some of the fun limited editions that were once just for their European consumers.
For winter this year they presented the Limited Edition Ritter Sport Amarena Cherry. The bar features Milk chocolate filled with cherry flavored cream and wafer pieces. The wrapper shows a vanilla and cherry ripple ice cream cone and a couple of ripe cherries next to it.
I’ve recently become more familiar with preserved cherries, as I’ve been introduced to Luxardo Maraschino Cherries. They’re quite good and don’t resemble those strange, translucent pink things that come on top of cheap ice cream Sundaes in the United States. These are tiny little nearly black balls of syrup saturated cherries. They taste like fruit, they taste like sugar and there’s a little alcoholic bite to them (well, that could be because I usually find them at the bottom of a Mahnattan). They’ve changed my mind about preserved cherries and even the origin of the fake cherry flavor.
While that’s all delightful fun, the reality was a bit less than enticing. The first ingredient is sugar (not chocolate) which is okay when there’s a lot of filling. But the second ingredient is palm oil. Somewhere down near the bottom of the list is real morello cherry puree and morello cherry juice concentrate, which is comforting.
The actual construction of the bar is rather like the ice cream on the wrapper - it’s a firm cream center that has a light cherry flavor to it and then some little freeze dried cherry bits (that are a bit tangy) and the wafer bits which are like a crumbled up wafer cone.
The bar smells an awful lot like cherry flavor. Good cherry flavor, but still ... not very chocolatey. The milk chocolate shell is smooth and creamy but very sweet. The cream center is less sweet, less smooth but much more cherry. The high point are the little crunchies, which might be the freeze dried fruit or the wafer. Either one is good.
The entire thing is just not for me. Too sweet, too much fat without feeling like it was creamy. Instead it was too cherry. If you’re looking for a very cherry bar, well, this might be yours. I’ll go back to my Espresso bar, which I also bought on the same trip.
Ritter Sport sources their cacao almost exclusively from Central and South America and has several initiatives regarding sustainability for their ingredients and energy usage in manufacturing. The bar itself may contain traces of peanuts and tree nuts and contains soy, wheat and dairy.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.