Thursday, September 11, 2008
This is the fourth Scharffen Berger Milk Nibby Bar I’ve gotten a hold of. The first one was a sample from a trade show last year. Unfortunately I stored it next to something minty and it was absorbed into the bar. I didn’t think it was fair to review it that way ... but I ate it and it was tasty enough for me to put it on my list. But I couldn’t find another one!
The second one I bought earlier this year when I was in San Francisco. I needed to get my parking validated at the Ferry Terminal so I figured the Scharffen Berger store there was the perfect place to make my $5 minimum and try this bar again.
And I did! I just, well, ate it, without making any notes.
So then I had to find it yet again. Luckily after my dismal experience with the Krackel bar, I went on the prowl at Cost Plus World Market’s high end chocolate shelves to console myself and grabbed one.
And then I ate it. Remember, I was depressed about the Krackel, grief makes you do strange things.
Now I’m feeling better (3 ounces of real chocolate is one of the lesser known 5 Stages of Grief) and thought I should give it another go.
The Milk Chocolate Nibby Bar is much darker than most milk bars. At 41% cacao, it’s almost as dark as the middling Hershey’s Special Dark (which is 45%). So the color is like coffee with only a dash of milk.
It doesn’t smell particularly sweet. More like wood chips and of course chocolate.
Snapping the bar, it’s pretty solid and crisp. Inside there are the little nibs, not as many as a crisped rice bar, but a great many of them dotting the chocolate base. The chocolate is smooth but still a little rustic. The notes are a strong caramelized flavor, the cocoa and lots more woodsy scents. The nibs are crunchy and buttery, almost like they’ve also been caramelized before adding to the chocolate. The texture is like a macadamia nut and perhaps a little of the soy bean’s malty flavors.
It’s a very dark bar for a milk chocolate product. The tangy bite that I didn’t care for in their straight bar is moderated well by the dark and bitter punch of the nibs.
I’m in love with this bar. I can’t say that it’s a replacement for the Krackel, because, well, it was $3.99. But it sure makes me smile when I eat it and it’s pretty rare for me to go out and keep buying the same bar over and over again when I have so many new ones at home.
The package has full nutritional labeling but also helpfully tells me that the whole 3 ounce bar has 410 calories. A quick calculation also tells me that this bar contains 100% of the my saturated fat for the day. Oops, I guess I’m eating pretty wholesome for the rest of the day. (But also 24% of my daily fiber in the whole bar plus 10 grams of protein!)
UPDATE 4/11/2009: I’ve had two more of these since the review, including comparing it to the new 68% Dark Milk and have bumped this up from the original rating of 9 out of 10 to a perfect 10 out of 10.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Last week I wrote about one of the oldest known confections, Jordan Almonds. This week I’ve got a huge array of Lokum, or Turkish Delight in front of me.
Sweet jellies have been know for at least 500 years in the Middle East and Indian subcontinent. Early versions used honey and other fruit juices as a sweet base. Modern Turkish Delight uses sugar for the most part. But the result is similar. Instead of a firm and gelatinous confection like a true jelly (which has pectin as a thickener) or gummi (which uses gelatin as a thickener), Turkish Delight is a fiendishly simple, relying on a touch of starch and careful cooking to create a semi-solid cube of delicate, sweet flavor.
This is from Loukoumi Artisan Confections based in New Zealand since 1970. They use the traditional recipe for the product and it was absolutely fresh when I got it, so this was a real treat.
The first flavor I ever tried of Turkish Delight (which I think I knew as Turkish Paste when I was a kid) was Rose. I find floral flavors to be fresh tasting for the most part, though I know many of us find them a bit soapy.
This rose was a medium pink (kind of alarming, but completely natural). The squares are heavily dusted with powdered sugar, which is the worst thing about Turkish Delight. It’s just not keyboard friendly.
The squares are surprisingly light, not dense and gelatinous, more soft and fleshy like Mochi can be. The texture is more like a soft and smooth paste than a jelly as well. Think of it like a firm honey.
The flavor is rather strong for rose - very straight ahead and traditional, like pushing your whole nose into a bouquet of heavily scented tea roses. But it melts easily on the tongue and doesn’t feel too clingy or cloying.
One of the flavors that had me most excited when Ross McKenzie of Loukoumi contacted me was the line of Manuka Honey flavors. Manuka is from blossoms of the Tea Tree bush and has a strong balsam & spicy flavor to it. I tried the Manuka Honey & Rainforest Lemon which has aromatic Australian Lemon Myrtle.
I absolutely loved the design of the box on this one. Inside each of the boxes is an inset tray lined with light paper. They were only 250 grams instead of a full pound (I’m often stymied when I find Turkish Delight in prepacked pound boxes - I can’t eat all that!).
Even though the pieces are a delicate golden yellow color, there are no colorings in there, it’s all from the ingredients.
It smells like freshly baked lemon cake.
And oh, the flavor.
It feels a bit softer and smoother in the mouth than the Rose (if that’s possible). It’s not a sweet and has an aromatic quality that mixes the mellow honey notes with the light lemon, like a lemon essence or lemon balm.
It’s barely sweet, like a bubble of honey with a touch of zest to it.
I can see how Edmund would sell out his family for something like this.
All of the Turkish Delight I’ve had to date has been aromatically flavored, that is, it’s all about the scent of the flavor. Lemon, orange or rose, it’s never been juicy or tangy in any way.
This box even looks different from the others, with an extreme close up of luminous beads of pomegranate. It says: The sharp distinctive flavors of the pomegranate complement our soft, rich delight to create a perfectly balanced sweet that will leave your taste buds spellbound.
The scent is dark and jammy, like a mix of piping-hot blueberry pie and those raspberry filled shortbread cookies.
The flavor is at first sweet but dark and mellow, then the rich berry flavors come more forward. There’s a little tangy bite to it that really reminds me of a berry jam. It’s a much more intense flavor than the other Turkish Delight varieties here.
Loukoumi makes a wide variety of other flavors, I sampled but a few. They include the traditional array: Almond, Hazelnut, Lemon with Peel, Orange with Peel, Berry, Mint, Vanilla and Lime. And a range of gourmet flavors (many incorporating New Zealand & Australian flavors): Honey & Fig, Honey & Ginger, Honey & Hazelnut, Honey & Quince, Liquorice and Manuka Honey & Blackcurrant.
There are some major and minor issues with these confections. Turkish Delight is notoriously hard to eat. One of the things I like about most candies is that they’re usually pretty easy to portion out and are ready to eat out of the package and require little or no cleanup. I got powdered sugar everywhere trying to eat these out of the box. It’s a little easier when put a few pieces into a small dish and just ate it with it under my chin to catch the poof of powder.
The second issue is humidity. Dampness is not their friend. Luckily Southern California is a great climate to eat these, even when it’s visciously hot. But if they do get a little damp they will get a bit of a crust on the outside, just a bit of graininess. It won’t be great for the texture, but doesn’t impede the flavor.
The third issue is getting a hold of it. Their website isn’t up now, but I’m hoping that soon I’ll be able to tell you about a place here in North America that you can order from (and save the international shipping).
Those issues aside, this is the best Turkish Delight I think I’ve ever had. I am really curious to try many more of the flavors, especially the honey based ones.
This is why we keep traditional methods alive, they work.
UPDATE 2/27/2009: Natural Candy Store is having an insanely good sale on Loukoumi right now. If you’ve been curious to try it, now’s the time to grab some. They even had a custom box of Citrus Mix designed, so you can really get an assortment.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Back in May I got a fabulous box of goodies from All Candy Expo that included this package of Darrell Lea Soft Eating Liquorice. I dutifully took photos of it.
And then ate it all. And promptly forgot what it was like so I couldn’t review it.
So today I went out and bought a new bag, just so I could finish up this review. (My office is dangerously close to a Cost Plus World Market now.)
When I opened it up I remember why I didn’t review it.
I cut the bag open and stuck my nose in there to get a good lung-full of the scent and there it was ... it smells like curry. Not in a bad way, by any means, but that’s why I didn’t review the first bag ... I wasn’t sure if that’s the way it was supposed to be.
So here I am with a second bag and I’m gonna have to say, “hey folks, this stuff really smells like and Indian spice shop!” It makes my mouth water, it’s a mix of curry, coriander, anise and black tea.
The pieces are kind of awkward - they’re long fingers. Thick and soft, they’re about three inches long and a matte black.
The flavor is dark and smoky. The molasses is pronounced but has a great mellow licorice mixed with a little hint of those spices I mentioned earlier. The chew is soft without being too sticky like Dots can be. Not too sweet and really munchable but satisfying.
Pretty good overall and certainly distinctive enough that I think I could tell this apart from most of the other Aussie style licorices I’ve had over the years. And I plan on finishing this package pretty soon as well.
Rating: 8 out of 10
There are a lot of different licorice twist flavors out there, but most of them are fruity. So I was pretty excited to find this Soft Eating Ginger Liquorice at Cost Plus World Market (I bought these a couple of days ago and then realized I should review the black stuff, too, and went back.) If there’s one thing I’ve learned about Australia through candy, it’s that Australians make good licorice and ginger products.
Like the rest of their line, it comes in a kraft paper looking package, mellow and muted and boldly stating that it’s flavored naturally. The ingredients bear that out: Raw sugar, wheat glucose syrup, wheat flour, cane sugar, ginger puree (4%), water, modified food starch, palm oil, natural flavor, mono & di-glycerides, salt, citric acid, malic acid, spinach extract (color), liquorice extract, sodium bicarbonate, beta carotene (color) and sulphur dioxide (preservative).
This one didn’t smell quite as appealing. Like the Buderim Ginger Gummi Bears, I found that this bag smelled a bit like Elmer’s Glue.
But I got over it.
The little fingers in this version are a little shorter at about 2 1/2 inches each but a little bigger around. The texture is different as well, though still soft they’re not as pliable and just a bit drier on the outside. But singly they smell less like wood glue and more like ginger tea.
The bite is a smidge less smooth, but boy howdy is it spicy. Right away there’s the woodsy peppery taste of ginger and then a throat warming burn. It’s not very sweet at all, much less than the other ginger chews that I like so much from Chimes and the Ginger People.
The wheat base of the chew makes it a little starchy in a way, but it also makes them rather filling and I think cuts through what might be a very spicy affair. It would be cool if they actually used molasses in these, they’d be like gingerbread (without the extra spices). But for ginger fans, this is a great new way to enjoy it. It’s a good munching food for movies, especially mixed with something salty like popcorn (I tried it with pretzels and it went well).
Rating: 7 out of 10
Darrell Lea has a pretty big range, I saw the Green Apple and Strawberry versions at Cost Plus as well. There is another version that are chocolate covered smaller nibs but their Australian website shows a much larger range of products (most of which sound fabulous). They’re Kosher and have no artificial colors or flavors.
Thursday, August 28, 2008
Even though I adore high end chocolate, I have a hard time plunking down $5 to $12 without knowing what I’m going to get. So I’m often quite happy to fork over for tasting square versions even though they’re even more expensive when you figure out the cost per ounce. (And hey, it helps with portion control, too.)
I was happy to find some tasting squares from Amadei, one of the most highly reviewed chocolate makers in the world at Mel & Roses. Even though they were 85 cents each for the 4.5 gram squares, I at least got to sample a broad spectrum of their product line which will help to guide me when I decide to finally buy one of their bars.
As a little bonus I decided to try Amadei’s milk chocolate offering as well:
Overall, I was most pleased with the Madagascar and Porcelana but all were exceptional. I’m still not quite convinced enough to spend $11 for one of their bars, but I’m leaning in that direction. But for now the little selections in this format are enough for me and well worth the pocket change.
Monday, July 28, 2008
I picked up this Christopher Elbow Artisanal Chocolate bar in San Francisco a few months ago and have been saving it for a time when I need a little sparkle.
Elbow is known for his inventive combinations of spices, fruits and savories with chocolate. His bonbons are distinguished by their bold and bright patterns. His bars, on the other hand are subdued and understated and dare I say lacking any pretension that a bonbon piece named Strawberry-Balsamic Caramel might connote (or my favorite from Elbow right now is the Venezuelan Spices Chocolate Pecan Turtle).
Instead his bars are numbered, currently 1 through 12. I picked up No. 6 Dark Rocks which features 61% dark chocolate blended with popping candy.
The bar is anything but intimidating. The fresh brown & aqua box protects the sizable 3.5 ounce bar well. It’s wrapped inside with a simple silver aluminium foil. (A little thin for me, I like a foil I can wrap and unwrap a few times before it falls to bits.)
The bar is simple looking, just 24 little sections. No logo, no letters, no names.
It’s a glossy dark brown with a good snap to it. The little popping candies are easily seen in a cross section, though don’t look quite as dense as the Pop Rocks Bar.
The chocolate is smooth and on the sweet side but has a wonderful buttery quality that sets this apart from any other pop rocks confection I’ve had to date.
Letting the chocolate melt means that the pops come out as a little background sizzle. Munching the bar means that they crackle and hiss. Either way is certainly a different experience.
They’re expensive at $7 a bar, but of course not your every day fare. A fun bar to share, especially for a special occasion.
There are plenty of other bars that caught my eye on the list though, so I’m more likely to experiment (I’m likely to go for the white chocolate with nibs next) before buying this again. But I have a few friends who adore this bar and still others that I would consider gifting this in the future.
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
I got both these bars around the same time, both samples. The Dove Beautiful bar is fortified to help promote beautiful-looking skin. The Beauty-Bar from Bloomsberry & Co is formulated to make you feel gorgeous ... on the inside.
Well, I admit, it’s a beautiful bar to look at.
The full array of additives is: tricalcium phosphate (10% of the RDA of calcium), ascorbic acid (10% of the RDA of Vitamin C), vitamin E acetate (10% of the RDA of Vitamin E), niacinamide (10% of the RDA of Niacin), zinc oxide (10% of the RDA of Zinc) and biotin (10% of the RDA).
The bar looks a bit darker than the standard Dove Smooth Milk Chocolate fare. It has the same slightly soft snap. A sweet scent.
The melt is nice, a bit cool on the tongue, milky and less sticky than its unfortified counterpart.
The flavor has some dairy components to it ... and an odd taste as well. I can’t put my finger on it, but I want to say that it tastes like drinking out of a galvanized bucket. Slightly metallic ... not in a bad way, just in a narrowly noticeable way.
I’ve come to understand that I’m not the kind of person who likes to compromise on my candy. My candy is made for enjoyment and mucking around with the taste in order to pump up its nutritional value means that it simply doesn’t fulfill its primary obligation - make me happy. Instead it makes me furrow my brow ... and that’s not beautiful.
Rating: 5 out of 10
Bloomsberry & Co. has made a name for themselves world-wide with their inventive, imaginative and whimsical box designs (flat pack Easter bunny and eat me have made me chuckle - laugh lines are beautiful right?). I have fully advocated using chocolate bars instead of greeting cards, and their line meets most needs with all the major holidays covered and a line with an ultra-modern take on romance (and chocolate obsession).
All that aside, the funky box is fun the first time, but just like the pretty picture on the greeting card, what does it say inside? Well, to start with, the foil inner wrapping is also lovely. It’s a graphic paper with a foiled paper under that ... plus the box. That’s a lot of protection.
And all that protection paid off, the bar was pristine.
Instead of a lot of crazy additions, this is simply dark chocolate (sugar, chcoolate liquor, cocoa butter, soy lecithin & vanilla). It doesn’t say what the cacao percentage is.
If I understand it correctly the idea goes like this: if dark chocolate is what you want and if you get what you want, you’ll be happy and happy people are beautiful. Or something like that.
The bar is thick and has a profound snap to it. The flavor is well rounded, if a little bland. It satisfies a craving, but doesn’t really do much else to make me swoon. As the bars usually retail for $4 to $5, unless the box is just so spot on, I’m going to pass. There are some wonderful bars that not only come in nice packages (that say more about the chocolate than my desires, of course) but area also tasty on the inside.
Rating: 6 out of 10
Both bars are Kosher.
Monday, July 7, 2008
Earlier this year I attended ExpoWest, a trade show which highlights natural products. It’s actually a great place to find candy, though most of the time the products were advocating what they put in them. There were candies with added vitamins, minerals others fortified with omega3 fatty acids, exotic gums & algae and still others made from completely raw ingredients or buying carbon offsets. Instead, Zootons are highlighting what they don’t put in them.
Zootons is a line of soft, chewy jelly candies that are organic and vegan. That’s it.
I know that many parents (and adult candy fans) can be frustrated with sweets that say they’re healthy but then fail to match the appeal of the unnatural counterparts that are so ubiquitous (and let’s face it, less expensive).
At first glance Zootons seem to narrow the gap. The packaging is kid friendly - black boxes that each have a different big-mouthed monster icon on them. They also have a little window that lets you see the candy. Inside the box are two sealed packages (50 grams each) which counts as a full serving.
While I hesitate to call them healthy, they’re certainly easy to add to a kids diet as a treat.
Cute little star shapes with a coating of coarse granulated sugar. They come in four flavors: strawberry (pink), pineapple (yellow), blackcurrant (dark red) and lemon (also yellow).
The distinction between the flavors wasn’t that significant. I was able to tell the pineapple and the blackcurrant from the others, but it all kind of blended together. They’re not terribly tangy, just sweet and fruity.
The texture is fun, the sugary coating gives them a little crunch and the smooth jelly center is moist.
Rating: 4 out of 10
I was hoping the Sours would give me the pop that I was looking for in the Jellies.
The Sours come in strawberry, orange, raspberry and lemon. Again, not easy to tell apart visually.
These were much moister than the Jelly stars. The sour started with the sugary coating. Not super-tangy, just a little sizzle of flavor on the tongue.
The lemon was quite nice, not as zesty as I might have liked, but very authentic tasting, like a lemonade jelly. Strawberry was amazingly vivid, both fragrant and tangy, it was like an intense slice of strawberry jam. Raspberry felt very flavored and less like distilled fruits. But it was tingly-tart and satisfying.
These are quite a winner. They’re not too sour for littler kids, I think the only ones who would be disappointed are older kids who are obsessed with the tongue-blistering-super-dare sours.
Rating: 7 out of 10
This was where things went a little strange. I’m kind of a purist when it comes to using the word gummi. Gummis should have a jelling agent in them like gelatin or agar-agar. In this case, they do not have either of those. I was hoping there was some innovation or technique not evident in the ingredients that would give them that inimitable bouncy gummi texture that any child who has had the real thing will expect. Sadly, no. These are just fruit jellies.
The surface is a bit dry, but not covered in the granulated sugar like the other Jellies and Sours. They say they come in four flavors: pineapple, blackcurrant, orange and raspberry. Honestly, I had a hard time telling them apart visually. They were sweet and fruity, but not terribly tangy. Soft and quite moist once I bit into them, they did have a bit of a bounce. Of the set, I think they were my least favorite. Just not enough zip for me.
Rating: 4 out of 10
This was the most exciting concept of the whole line. I’ve had organic jelly candies before (and have written about Surf Sweets). But so few companies - traditional or organic - make anything cola flavored. I just had to try these.
The little stars don’t look like much in the package, but take them out and they’re quite lovely. The dark amber is spot on correct for Cola.
The flavor is absolutely cola - it has that tangy, almost lemon flavor at first, then that ... whatever cola flavor is ... a bit of cinnamon a bit of rum and a bit of caramel. They’re not intense, none of the Zootons are, but they’re pleasant.
Rating: 6 out of 10
I’m not sure where these are being sold so far, but keep your eyes peeled if you have a picky kid or are trying to get only candies with natural colorings in them. They don’t wow me like some pate de fruits, but they’re not intended to ... it’s just a fun candy treat.
Candy Addict also did a taste test of these last month.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
On my way to San Francisco back in April I took a little detour off of 101 North in San Luis Obispo to gather some little organic and fair trade goodies from Sweet Earth Chocolates. They’re sold on the web and at Splash Cafe, which shares space with Sweet Earth’s confectionery kitchen. The two display cases at the cafe were well organized and kept the chocolate at a consistent temperature. (A little cold for immediate indulgence but perfect for storage.)
What attracted me to them is that they make candy not just fine chocolates. My curiosity was mostly about these candy cups that they feature on their website.
The little cups are about 1.25” at the base and 1.5” at the top. They weigh about .8 ounces with the wrapper on. (Bigger than the standard Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Minis.)
Turtle Cluster (the bronze wrapper - pictured unwrapped in the center)
This is the only milk chocolate cup in the bunch (they have other cups, but they have walnuts in them).
The one has a flowing caramel center with crisped rice in the milk chocolate.
The caramel is sweet but a little salty and rather buttery tasting. It’s a good consistency, not too much like syrup, though not chewy.
The whole thing was rather sweet and not creamy enough for me, but I have to say that the texture combo was great and really filled any craving I had for a fair trade & organic candy.
Dark Chocolate. It’s a solid cup with a little decorative flourish of a piece of candied ginger and a dried cranberry on top.
The chocolate is sweet and just a bit grainy from the inclusion of the crystallized ginger. It has a light spicy bite to it. I felt there was more ginger to it than cranberry. In the bites where it was just one of the other, it was fine too.
It was a tasty little piece, and interesting change from barks because it’s so chunky and the inclusions stay moist & chewy.
Both of the cups that I ate were absolutely gorgeous. The chocolate was shiny and the little flakes of coconut on top told me what was inside.
It smelled only slightly of woodsy, tropical coconut (not like suntan lotion).
The fondant center was both sugary and coconutty. It wasn’t as soft and chewy as a Mounds bar. It was a bit firmer, but not at all gritty. A bit cool on the tongue, it was like a cake of confectioners sugar and coconut bits.
There was a lot of chocolate to it, which kept it from being too sweet, but also drowned out the coconutiness a bit. So consider this a more subtle coconut candy than Bounty or Mounds.
Dark chocolate. This cup has a natural fondant (not bright white) with a light touch of peppermint. The overall effect is fresh and balances well with the semi-sweet chocolate.
There’s a lot of chocolate on top, maybe more than I’m used to as proportions go with these sorts of things, so don’t think of it as a peppermint pattie.
I liked this one a lot, I know it’s not a hard thing to do well, but they did it.
This was probably the most irregular looking of all the cups. The lumpy top hinted at large almond pieces below.
Not only is it loaded with them, they’re not just roasted ... they’re caramelized. Each almond bit has a bit or a crunchy sugar shell and then the chocolate around it.
Crunchy, much less sweet than the others and entirely satisfying.
I also tried a vegan turtle while I was there, made with coconut oil instead of butter. It wasn’t quite a “caramel” in my book as the coconut flavor was detectable ... but it was still very tasty and felt like a no-compromise treat for anyone avoiding dairy. Unfortunately they were out of their peanut butter cups (and they do have a vegan dark chocolate version).
I’m hoping that these candy cups will show up at more cafes and as impulse items at natural stores (heck, any kind of store). With a retail price of about a dollar (they’re much less when you buy a whole box though.), it’s more than most of us spend on a candy bar, but as a fair trade and organic product, this doesn’t have the feel of a charity compromise. All of the dark chocolate offerings are also Vegan. You can buy online (they even do wedding favors) and their website has an up-to-date list of where they’re sold in stores.
UPDATE: Sweet Earth Chocolate changed their name to Mama Ganache.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.