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).
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
This was a sample from All Candy Expo that I kind of ate before finishing the photo shoot. (I got the box obviously, but never did the unwrapped version.) I also shared most of it, even though I could have easily eaten it all by myself.
It’s a handsome light milk chocolate bar that lives up to the illustration on the package. It’s thick, each little section in the bar has a creamy peanut butter meltaway center (with crushed nut chunks).
I was dubious. But this won me over. Extremely creamy, so much so that it was like the milk chocolate and peanut butter were one. It didn’t feel greasy at all, even though it was thick and rich.
I have a bunch of other Ghirardelli filled bars (from the last ACE) that I still haven’t tried, this might push me to start opening them (I promise full photography on those though).
Rating: 8 out of 10
I hadn’t had any White Rabbit in a while, so when I saw that it was on sale at Cost Plus World Market, I figured when it’s $1.50 a bag is the time to give it another go. Instead I spotted this Red Bean (Azuki) version and scooped that up instead.
The wrapper has little dark red stripes on it. Inside it still has the same delicate rice paper wrapper that melts in the mouth to form a slick, gelatinous good. The milk taffy inside is a slight & natural looking pink. The red bean flavor is light and woodsy and pleasant. It seems to mellow out the sometimes sweet taffy and mixes really well with the milk flavors.
Rating: 6 out of 10
I picked these up at the Fancy Food Show. They look like just about any other peppermint pattie. The interesting proposition here is that the center is creamed honey with a touch of mint instead of a sugar-based fondant.
The other interesting bit about this is that the dark chocolate shell is completely unsweetened. The sweetness of the center completely balances out the could-be-bitter coating. I tried a few times to just nibble off the chocolate bits, but these are pretty small (about the size of the York Peppermint Pattie minis) and I wasn’t getting a bit enough chunk to really tell. (And as I’ve found, 100% chocolate doesn’t have to be unpalatable.) The center is smooth and a little cool on the tongue, with that beeswax taste & texture added to the mix.
It’s a great little mint. Artisan Sweets is the only place I’ve seen them for sale. But if you do come upon them, especially if you can buy only one or two, it’s an interesting combination of the musky honey tones with the mellow mint and the pop of creamy dark chocolate.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Jungle Chocolate from Yachana Gourmet
I don’t know if this is considered candy. It’s called Jungle Chocolate and I’d probably put it in the trail mix or snack category. It’s just cacao nibs, lightly glazed with sugar cane juice and then mixed with some other jungle-grown edibles. The four varieties I tried were:
While the mixes themselves didn’t wow me, I think I’d like to just try a plain old box of lightly sweetened nibs. (Or maybe lightly caramelized.)
The selling point here is that they don’t melt. I’ve put these through the paces. They’ve sat in the car, they’ve been in my house in the 100 degree heat. It doesn’t melt, instead, like a stew, it just makes all the flavors even better. This is chocolate that goes places that chocolate can’t go. It has all that stuff that you crave, even if it doesn’t quite have the texture.
It’s all fair trade, vegan and all natural. It’s a little expensive, but then again, knowing that the money goes right to a sustainable project in Ecuador may make it taste even sweeter. I wouldn’t call this a replacement for chocolate, but perhaps a replacement for other snack mixes. Retail is about $3.00 to 3.50 for a 2 ounce bag (that’s well packaged - protects the product, but not overpackaged).
Rating: 7 out of 10
I finally found these at Target, hiding on the backside of a display in the Valentine’s area (well, it was the Valentine’s area, but was then the Easter area). The package looks a heckuva lot like the Vanilla Creme Kisses that I might have seen them already and just passed them by.
Cheesecake as a “flavor” seems a little odd, but then again, so does Buttered Popcorn, Apple Pie and Chili & Chocolate, so never judge a flavor by its name.
They’re, I dunno, like the Vanilla Creme, a little more tangy. I think they’re more like yogurt. Or yellow birthday cake.
It doesn’t matter much to me, this Kiss has brought back that limited edition weariness that I experience from time to time. I haven’t been fond of any of the more subtle filled Kisses. While I like subtle and respectful balances in my haut chocolate, I kind of like my mass manufactured stuff loud & proud. I’ve had them sitting in my desk for months and I think that pretty much sums up how I felt about them. I could take them or leave them, but mostly I left them.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Here’s one of those items that I never figured I’d see: Fairhaven Candy has created not only an all-natural flaked peanut butter, but it’s also Kosher, Gluten Free and Vegan. I tried it back in March at ExpoWest and have been waiting to get my hands on a full bag for the detailed review.
They’ve appropriately named them Crumblzsoft, flaky peanut butter treat. It’s pretty much the center of a Butterfinger bar, minus the hydrogenated fats, minus the whey & nonfat milk, and of course minus the preservative TBHQ.
So while they took out all those crazy additional ingredients, all that’s left in this little candy is this: peanut butter (peanuts & salt), organic sugar, non-GMO corn syrup, peanuts, water, vanilla, baking soda. This particular version also has squiggles of dark chocolate on it.
If that looks like it’s really a lot of dense peanut butter, it’s much lighter than I expected.
The pieces come in little scored quads. Each piece, when broken off is a nice two bite chunk (or a big mouthful). Inside are layers of the nutty flakes plus whole peanuts.
While they don’t look particularly appealing by themselves, I can tell you that they smell mouthwateringly good. Roasted nuts, some toasty sugar notes and a little dash of salt ... like fresh baked peanut butter cookies. It remindes me of Halvah.
They don’t quite have the flaky chew that something like the center of a Fifth Avenue, but then again, they don’t stick to your teeth the way that a Butterfinger can. And no mockolate! (You can even get them without any chocolate at all, if you’re all about the peanut butter.)
Nutritionally, yeah, this stuff is loaded with calories because it has all that peanut fat in there, but the difference between this and plain peanut butter is negligible. It’s also really satisfying, because of, well, all that peanut fat and protein.
The only other bad news about these is probably the price and the ability to find them. You can order online but they’re about $4 a package. I’m sure they’re in shops like Whole Foods & natural product stores. If you’ve spotted them, how are the prices? I’d love it, honestly, if they just made a single serving bar. It gets a little messy pulling the pieces out of the bag.
Saturday, May 24, 2008
Here are a few items I sampled, I’m probably not going to do a full review of them but I wanted to show them to you:
The newest addition to the ChocoPod line. I got this one in a simple little cellophane bag, so I didn’t think it was fair to give it the full tilt boogie review without final packaging.
It’s similar to the classic Spicy Maya ChocoPods, just a little cacao pod shaped disk of 60% dark chocolate, weighing in, I guess, at a little over a third of an ounce, it’s about two bites.
The inclusions make it a little bumpy in spots. The chocolate smells more like chili, but a little sweet and smoky. There are a lot of pop rocks in there, they’re completely unflavored, just lightly sweet little sugar bits ... that just so happen to pop. Some of the little bits, however, are salt crunches.
Some bites are pretty poppy, some bites are really hot, others are salty. It’s a noisy bit of chocolate (and even got a few sneezes out of me).
It’s a fun little diversion. I appreciate that it’s a small piece, not a huge bar, but I don’t think I’d want more.
Rating: 7 out of 10
First, you’ll probably note that I don’t mention PEZ much on Candy Blog. I don’t like it. The candy just isn’t very good and the idea of collecting the little dispensers never thrilled me. But I fully applaud those who get into it.
PEZ has brought out a few other flavors of their candy tablets. Last year it was Cola and they have a Sugar Free version as well. This year they’re highlighting the Chocolate version.
As you can tell from the photo, they’re very light in color, which should give you an indication of the depth of the flavor. It tastes like I’ve inhaled some Cocoa Pebbles. Not actually eat then, just, you know, been near the Cocoa Pebbles dust. They’re sweet but have just a slight cocoa note.
Rating: 3 out of 10
It’s an organic twist on classic tastes.
So just looking at it, with only the name to go off of, I thought, “this is a white chocolate bar with dried raspberry bits in it.” Which sounded pretty good in my head, kind of like the Hershey’s Limited Edition one a couple of years back ... but organic!
Hmm, somewhere I led myself astray. It’s not white chocolate, it’s a non-colored confection made of organic sugar, organic whole milk powder and organic fractionated palm kernel oil. And it’s crunchy. Those presumed raspberry bits are actually crushed raspberry flavored hard candy.
It took me a while to get used to the texture, but it wasn’t creamy enough for me.
Rating: 5 out of 10
These little milk chocolate covered nuggets smell sweet and like a light coffee drink. They’re about the size of a garbanzo bean, though some are twinned (not that it keeps me from eating them). The nugget inside isn’t quite as hard and crunchy as a biscotti, but they’re plenty crunchy. They’re almost like graham cracker nuggets.
The combo is quite nice, easy to eat and keep munching.
Rating: 8 out of 10
It’s not an illusion in the photo, these are very dark, like clumps of tar. The chocolate covered dried cranberries are not as flavorful as I’d hoped. Honestly, I’ve tried a few products over the years and none of them have really satisfied me. The cranberries, while soft and chewy, they’re just not tangy or flavorful. The chocolate is sweet, but not dark and flavorful enough ... though the texture combo of the creamy melt and moist chew is good.
They’re probably jam packed with antioxidants, but I’ll probably stick with chocolate covered raisins, if only because they’re cheaper and provide pretty much the same experience.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Thursday, May 22, 2008
I know I don’t do many gum reviews, I don’t consider myself a great connoisseur of the stuff. I’m perfectly happy with good old Peppermint Chiklets. But the All Candy Expo box included about 25 packages of gum, here are three that caught my attention:
Glee Gum Bubblegum Flavor: The natural pink coloring here is from beets and I can’t think of a more lovely way for a beet to be displayed. The little chicklets in this case are made with actual chicle, a natural sap from Manilkara trees native to the Americas. Very few gums are made with this natural base these days. Harvesting the gum from the trees is rather like tapping Maple trees for sap or Rubber trees for latex - it doesn’t harm the trees and helps to preserve forest & their inhabitants. (Though they harvest it by making huge gashes in the bark that allow the gum to ooze out for collection unlike the little metal spiked taps that they use for maple harvests, the trees are essentially unharmed.)
I’ve tried Glee before, it’s sold at the checkout at Trader Joe’s and the infectiously cute box tempts me every time. I didn’t care for orange, which seemed grainier and stuck to my fillings, but have had the peppermint a few times since then.
The crunchy sugar shell is lightly flavored, bubblegum flavor is usually fresh tasting, a little like cotton candy with a little dash of root beer. The sugary sweetness doesn’t last that long, then it’s a very mild flavor and a good soft & smooth chew.
I have had some of my amalgam fillings replaced with composite, so I’m not having the sticking problem I used to. I don’t think the bubblegum flavor is for me, probably because it’s not actually bubble gum. (See more about this all natural gum at the Glee Gum website.)
Rating: 7 out of 10
WOWzers Strawberry from Maxim International describes itself on the package as Explosive and Sour Powder Bubble Gum. I wasn’t really sure what it was. At first I thought it was a tube of something like Pixy Stix that you chew until it becomes gum (like a powdered Razzle).
Instead, it’s a long tube of bubble gum (strawberry flavored, in this case) about as big around as a bubble gum cigar. Inside it’s hollow and filled with a white crumbly, crunchy & grainy sour powder (a la Pixy Stix).
It feels overpackaged. It’s inside a long mylar wrapper, which has a little waxed cardstock tray that wraps around three sides of the product. The version I have is 1.2 ounces but the one I teased yesterday are 3.6 ounces (and probably about three times the length). They also come in Fruit Punch, Apple & Grape.
First, the product looks, well, a little odd out of the package. Kind of like a 9 inch long extremely thin hot dog. It’s not made into individual portions, which I’d figure is about 2 inches.
The bite is soft and easy, immediately tangy and grainy. The candy sand dissolves and dissipates pretty quickly. It’s sour and certainly gets the salivary glands working, much in the way the old Quench Gum did. After that wears away with chewing it’s a rather sweet and plain strawberry bubble gum. It’s a very soft chew which takes a while before it’s appropriate for bubble blowing.
These are made in China. I don’t think they’re for me, but it’s a fun new blend of confections and might please some kids.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Okay, I was kind of liberal with the “pink” part of the title. Hubba Bubba Glop Strawberry Gush is actually red when it comes out of the package. It gets pink when you chew it. It also comes in watermelon flavor.
These are already available on stores, I saw them at CVS in Hollywood earlier this week. They come in a hard plastic tube with a flip top. It seems like a bit too much packaging, though I can see a few ways to reuse the tube, which is coded 05 (polypropylene) for recycling. The outer wrap comes off, so it’d just be a plain red tube good for holding extra batteries, more candy, a very small portion of carrot sticks, condiments or some headphones.
While most gumballs are hollow, the glop part of this gum fills that void. The gum has a hard crunchy shell, then the soft and sweet gum then a reservoir of sweet strawberry goo in the center. The goo is tangy and sticky, but pretty flavorful.
It’s a good chewing bubble gum. I don’t think I need the gooey center, but it’s interesting and as long as you know it’s going to be there, adds some more flavor. The bubbles were good, large without being too sticky. A single piece was a good portion for chewing.
(I’m really intrigued by this Cola version available in Australia - regular Hubba Bubba is also available in Cola flavor in other parts of the world.)
Rating: 7 out of 10
I knew the Roca Buttercrunch Thins were coming out, but I still haven’t seen them in stores. There are four varieties, milk chocolate, 60% dark, dark truffle & caramel truffle. Luckily I got this sample box of the 60% Cacao Roca Buttercrunch Thins from All Candy Expo (the one that I was most interested in!).
While I love the toffee center of Almond Roca (and the Mocha Roca), I’m not fond of the greasy mockolate coating and messy crushed almonds. (Yes, I sometimes scrape them off and just eat the center.) Isn’t it nice that Brown & Haley finally recognized that they can use better ingredients.
The 2.8 ounce box holds 8 pieces, each in their own little slot in a divided tray. It’s about the size of a VHS box (maybe a little thinner), but it seems like a lot of packaging and protection for what are probably pretty durable little candies.
The initial description of them as Thins was intriguing, I was picturing little toffee tiles like Valerie Confections sells. Instead I saw a post on Chocolate Traveler that showed that these are little sticks, which is fine with me.
The smell like toasted nuts, burnt sugar and dark chocolate. The dark chocolate coating, in my case, was slightly bloomed (and I blame myself for that, as it started to get absurdly hot in Los Angeles and didn’t follow my own precautions). The texture was just fine though. (And the last two got really bloomed, so I know what bloomed chocolate is in this case.)
I love the Roca toffee, it’s crispy and buttery at the same time. It has wonderfully complex burnt sugar flavors and the added nutty bits of almonds. The dark chocolate was also a smooth and creamy, adding a little more dimension with its own dark palate of flavors.
While I consider this a very successful confection, I find the packaging a little overdone. Does it really need to have both the fold over flap (hand purse style) box, plus the tray? The whole thing is then overwrapped in cellophane.
The price point, as far as I can tell from the Brown & Haley website is $3.95 a box, which puts it at over $22 per pound. For that price I’d either go up a notch and have some Carey’s of Oregon, Poco Dolce or Valerie Confections, or go down a notch and have a Heath Bar (why oh, why won’t they make them in dark chocolate?).
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
One of the more timely items I got from the All Candy Expo folks is this box of Crackheads candy. It’s been around for at least a year, but I haven’t seen it in stores.
I first saw them on ThinkGeek and reviewed on CandyAddict. I wasn’t terribly interested in them, after all, they’re just chocolate covered coffee beans, not exactly an innovative new product. The unique selling proposition in this case is that they’re in “single serve” boxes and come as a mix of both white chocolate and dark chocolate coatings.
The boxes look similar to Lemonheads or Boston Baked Beans. Easily portable and resealable.
They’re really nicely panned coffee beans. Though they’re not all consistent in size, the panning is excellent with shiny coats and well-tempered chocolate. The white chocolate is real white chocolate made with cocoa butter. The mellow malty milky flavors go really well with the coffee bean. This was the first time I’d had a white chocolate coated one, and it’s a natural match - the fatty sweetness with the dairy flavors are pretty much a dense version of a latte.
The dark verison are not nearly as sweet, but still provides a nice counterpoint to the dark and lightly bitter beans. The beans are crunchy without being fiberous or too burnt tasting. My box had a bit more white chocolate to it, but I was okay with that.
The “creator” of Crackheads, John Osmanski, was on The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch last night on CNBC. The segment was One Minute to Millions where they featured a panel of three experts: Kevin Nealon (who was there promoting his book and probably provided the consumer point of view), Pam Macharola of Blair Candy and Brian Pipa of Candy Addict!
The product was introduced with a little pretaped segment. It made no mention of the fact that chocolate covered espresso beans have been around for at least 30 years. They’re pretty widely available, at least in specialty stores or at coffee locations like Starbucks (and of course the new Hershey’s Starbucks chocolates). While the back of the box has a breakdown of caffeine content of other beverages (cocoa, cola, tea, coffee & espresso), it doesn’t exactly spell out the caffeine content of the actual product. However, the Crackheads website pegs it at about 120 mgs (about half of a cup of coffee).
Osmanski introduced the product as a solution to those low caffeine moments, especially for students and academics.
The new tagline “because everyone’s addicted to something” works well with the name. The product packaging has been redesigned since my sample (you can see the new one here). But the general consensus from the panel was that the name would never have the wide appeal that would guarantee it placement on the shelves of stores like Walmart (which might be necessary to make millions off a single $2 product). Instead it would probably stay in places like Think Geek and coffee houses (where it’s currently found).
While I think it’s a good quality product, the packaging feels a bit downscale, not rising to the $2 per package price tag - which translates to over $24 per pound (the Starbucks version is about $12 a pound). The name, which tries to co-opt drug culture fails ... there may be other names that might fit the addiction tag better (but I’m not going to come up with it here, Osmanski has a blog if you want to give him feedback directly). Perhaps coming up with two lines, one under this name and another more mainstream version would be a success story worthy of follow up on Donny Deutsch.
(I suspect that Osmanium doesn’t actually manufacturer these, just repacks them, as they package says that they are made in a facility that processes peanuts & tree nuts. The website also says that they’re Kosher. My prime candidate as the maker of these is Koppers Chocolates.)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.