Tuesday, December 01, 2009
These new Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Crisps aren’t exactly a holiday item. They look like an all-year round treat and perhaps more appropriate for an upscale football watching party than a Christmas get together.
The package says: We’ve got a delectable sweet treat. Our Dark Chocolate Crisps are wisps of rich, Belgian chocolate, curved for visual interest, and infused with crunchy bits to add some texture. These Crisps are definitely in! (Honestly, I don’t know what they’re talking about, it’s like the regular Fearless Flyer crew was on vacation and they let some word-mashing robot put this together. Curved for visual interest? Just to make it interesting? That’s one of those politically correct ways of saying “compelling but not attractive”. Infused with crunchy bits? Ever try to infuse something with a crunchy ingredient ... that’s not how infusing works.)
I found the tray odd because it doesn’t sit level very easily. Also, for some reason it reminds me of little amusement park train cars. I want to take a series of them and hook them together and put them on some HO Scale train tracks. Make of that what you will.
Even without wheels, I enjoyed driving the tray around on my desk, it did a great job of protecting the candy in question. All of my chips were in great condition. Not only were they whole, but they were barely scuffed by rubbing against each other in transit. The only issue I had with them was putting them back in the cellophane and then into the box ... which went fine initially, but sometimes when I pulled it out of the box it was upside down or I got it turned around. This known as a chip loss level event in the HO Train Candy Train world.
Each little flick is two inches long and an inch and a half across, so a bit smaller than a Pringles potato snack. They smell fantastic, like deep cocoa, smoke and a little like dried mushrooms. The little crunches of rice cereal make the surface a bit bumpy, not quite as much crisp as I was hoping for, but still of interest. The chocolate itself has a nice snap and melt. It’s quite dry and a little bitter as it’s 57% cocoa solids but the malty and crunchy rice bites add a little mouth interest.
They’re quite rich so even though a full stack was the supposed serving, I found five or six was quite enough for me. (Well, then about an hour later I’d want some more.)
Oddly enough, these Dark Chocolate Crisps aren’t such a bad choice as a snack if you’re going to compare them to actual Pringles.
Pringles Serving Size: 1 oz (approx 14 crisps); Calories: 160, Total Fat: 11g, Carbs: 14g, Protein: 1g
The price difference between Pringles and Dark Chocolate Crisps isn’t even that big. They’re a fun item to snack on, I like how they make a portion seem so large. Dieters may find it helpful when they want a treat and want to make it seem huge. Six chips are just 110 calories. I also thought they were pretty cute and would make excellent garnishes for ice cream, cupcakes or even a creme brulee.
Dark Chocolate Crisps are all natural and appear to be vegan (though made on shared equipment with milk products). However, they’re not Kosher. They also come in a Milk Chocolate Crisps variety.
Monday, November 23, 2009
Last month I reviewed the new Ferrara Milk Chocolate with Almond Nougat, today I have the companion bar without the nuts and nougat bits. The new Ferrera chocolate line is to take the place of the chocolate products from Kraft that the company used to distribute from their Terry’s Chocolate Orange and Toblerone brands. They can be found at drug stores and discount retailers.
The Ferrara Belgian Milk Chocolate Bar is the same format as the faux-Toblerone, a long and domed trapezoidal shape with deep sections. The snap is good, though sometimes I had trouble cracking off just one segment and if I had a double I found it impossible to break that into two pieces. (So I had to eat two sections.)
The texture is quite smooth and creamy. It reminded me a little bit of Dove Milk Chocolate, but slightly sweeter. The silky melt and light caramel notes are pleasant. It’s a little sticky feeling in the mouth, but not overly thick. I prefer a less sugary bar but the fat in this one was a delightful mix of cocoa butter and whole milk.
The ingredients are all natural and the bar is Kosher. The package says the chocolate was made in Belgium but molded & packaged in the United States.
I was hoping for something a little deeper and richer, but for two dollars and the nice packaging I think it’s a good deal. I like the thick pieces compared to the flat tablet chocolate bars that are usually 100 grams, it makes the melt a little more interesting to have a chunky nugget. Since Toblerone doesn’t even make a nougat-less bar, it’s hard to even compare it. It’s not quite as satisfying as a Ritter-Sport which is in the same price category, but might make a prettier stocking stuffer in some instances.
Tuesday, October 06, 2009
There’s a lot that goes on before our beloved candy hits the store shelves. The same is true with Candy Blog, though it probably looks like all I do is play with candy, take photos of candy and of course eat candy. I also read about what’s going on in the candy business and of course visit trade shows and talk to candy companies, distributors & retailers.
One of the things I always found curious about the American candy business is how some foreign candies are represented in the United States. One such oddity was that the American distributor for Toblerone and Cote d’Or (owned by Kraft) chocolate for two years was Ferrara Pan. Yes, the Lemonhead & Atomic Fireball makers. Well, that deal ended in December 2008. So that left Ferrara free to move into the chocolate bar field without competing with his own interests ... and he’s come up with something that looks familiar yet has its own distinctiveness.
The chocolate is made in Belgium but the rest of the manufacturing is done at the new Ferrara facility in Forest Park, IL. If you like the behind the scenes stuff, you might love this article (which is one of the most blunt I’ve seen about how the candy business is a business and made up of people).
The new Ferrara Imported Belgian Milk Chocolate with Almond Nougat bar has a distinctive shape and a similar construction. It’s an atypical shape (a trapezoidal bar with deep sections) enclosed in a box shaped just like the bar. Yes, it’s a Faux-blerone.
The ingredients are in fact quite nice: milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, whole milk powder, chocolate, soy lecithin and natural vanilla flavor), almond nougat (sugar, corn syrup, almonds, honey, egg white, natural vanilla flavor) plus wheat starch as a processing aid.
Inside the box the bar is sealed in a heavy mylar wrap with the Ferrara “F” crest reminding consumers that Ferrara has been making candy since 1908 on it.
It does smell quite good, sweet and milky with just a hint of the promised honey in the nougat.
Biting into it the first thing I noticed was how packed with nuts & nougat bits it was. My issue with Toblerone has long been the lack of enough bits to satisfy me.
The chocolate is quite milky but surprisingly smooth. The milky flavors are lightly caramelized, so there’s a malty & honey undertone to it. The chocolate comes across as rich, but also a little sweet.
I liked the little almond slivers and crunches and the Italian-style nougat which had a hint of honey and toasted marshmallow flavors. The bits are a little tough and sometimes sticky ... I’d kind of like to try the milk chocolate without the nougat & nuts. (Ferrara is planning on making sectioned chocolate balls a la Terry’s Chocolate Orange later this year as well.)
I’d say this is a great addition to a rather open segment of the candy shelf - better than a standard Hershey’s with Almonds and rivaling Toblerone without the price tag. I paid $1.99 for this bar ... on the shelf next to it was Toblerone, for $2.79 each. The fact that it’s all natural (no artificial vanilla flavor in there) is a bonus.
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Hard candy has a bad reputation as being cheap and a candy of last resort. Oh sure, a little starlight mint after a garlicky meal is usually gratefully accepted when offered. But really good hard candy is out there.
As a kid I often got them around holidays, just a small handful included in my stocking candy. As I grew up I learned to find them on my own ... and was pretty shocked at the sticker price, especially compared to the more affordable Zotz.
I don’t know when or where I got this tin. I think it was sometime in the late eighties, I’m pretty sure I bought it in Philadelphia or New York and I was probably mortified to pay something like three dollars for a little tin of lemon drops.
They’re made in Belgium and the packaging features the image of Napoleon Bonaparte. I have no idea when the candies originated or their history. The tin simply says: Le Bon Bonbon Napoleon Sour Lemon. The more recent bag that I acquired through a photo shoot for Candy Warehouse says Made by Napoleon-Breskens-Holland.
So even though I can’t tell you much about their background, I can review what I’ve got:
Though I most often see the Lemon, they also come in Cherry, Tangerine, Lime and Pineapple.
The candies are devilishly simple. Hard candy outside, and then a strip of super sour powder in the center. The powder center is often mistaken for a liquid, it’s rather cool on the tongue and so fine that it melts away instantly. It’s only before putting then in the mouth that I could really tell. (Yes, as a kid I sometimes broke them apart to create a big pile of super sour powder.)
These are insanely expensive. The ones in the top photo I bought at Miette in San Francisco last year for 25 cents each. They’re spherical and a little less yellow, but still the same flavor profile as the disk shaped lemon. The bags that Candy Warehouse sells are $7.10 a pound, and come in 7 pound bags. (Yes, at one time I had 14 pounds of Napoleon Bonbons - one of just lemon and one of the mix. I’ve eaten about three pounds so far.)
I’ve really vacillated between giving these a nine or a ten. The price is a formidable obstacle to perfection, but then again, I know I bought that tin when I was in college and had staggeringly little money so they must be worth it. So there you are, another 10 out of 10.
Wednesday, February 04, 2009
For much of my life the prototype in my mind of Belgian chocolates was Guylian’s assortments shaped like sea shells. It was one of my earliest introductions to hazelnut pralines and though I rarely got the opportunity to indulge in them, they certainly fixed in my mind an image of what European fine chocolates were like.
They epitomize the convergence of flavors and design. Cute seashells and seahorse shapes with different cream fillings.
Now that I’ve had more access to a greater variety of confections, I wanted to revisit them with a fresh perspective.
The Guylian Belgian Chocolate Twists are a good way to try out their style without sinking too much money into the effort. For about $4, it’s a 4.51 ounce box with 18 individually wrapped “twists” in six varieties.
Each little piece is color coded and marked, wrapped in mylar. The pieces, I was surprised, are actually sealed and then twists (many other companies just twist the ends, these are actually sealed little pouches that look like twists). They do open easily though.
The little seahorses are striking. Each one was in great shape, even though I toted these around the floor at the Fancy Food Show and then all the way back to Los Angeles in my luggage.
Original Praline is dark and white chocolate with a hazelnut praline center. It has a soft and sweet hazelnut aroma. The bite of the chocolate is on the soft side. The center is lightly grainy with a strong hazelnut flavor. But it’s also very sweet with a touch of milky chocolate to it.
Now I remember why I don’t buy these. They’re very sweet, though I have to say, they are gorgeous.
But this assortment has other flavors, and they’re not white chocolate, so maybe I’ll find something else in there that I like.
Strawberry - this one looked like the classic marbled seahorse. It smelled like Twizzlers. Upon biting it open I saw the construction of the piece. The white cream center was covered in a white chocolate shell which then had the marbled dark chocolate on top of that in a thin veneer. So it’s a mostly-white chocolate piece. The strawberry flavor is more delicate than it smells, with only a slight tangy note in the cream. It’s rather like a chocolate version of strawberry ice cream.
Caramel Crisp (top of the pyramid) - this one didn’t start out well because it had a fake butter smell like buttered popcorn. But the texture combination upon biting it was fun. It’s a sweet milk chocolate shell with a whipped cream center with a butter flavor to it and some caramelized crisped rice bits in there for crunch.
Orange (bottom left of the pyramid) - dark chocolate with a light cream filling flavored with orange. The cream center is light and not too sweet, no graininess. It’s all about the orange, the only chocolate is from the shell, which isn’t strong enough to contribute much more than itself as a container.
Cappuccino (bottom right of the pyramid) is a dark chocolate truffle-like piece. The filling is light and fluffy, a white cream base with a heavy does of ground espresso beans in there. It’s definitely at the other end of the spectrum from the cloying sweet classic praline. Bitter yet still smooth, strongly flavored. The center isn’t quite truffle-like, it’s cool on the tongue, probably because palm oil is the second ingredient in the centers.
Chocolate Truffle is a milk chocolate shell with a milk chocolate ganache center. It’s slick and creamy, not too sweet but like I experience with the palm oil based Lindor truffles, it ultimately tastes empty.
Like the Lindor truffles as well, these are incredibly caloriffic. I clocked them at 192 calories per ounce. (A serving is 5 pieces, 34 grams and 230 calories.)
The craftsmanship on these is undeniable, but I don’t think this is the best that Belgium has to offer. They’re a fun little sweet for the eye, but less satisfying for those with discriminating palates (and who wish to avoid palm oil). I do have some of their Solitaire chocolate tasting squares which I’ll try soon, just as a touchstone for their main ingredient and they do make their chocolate from bean to bar to bonbon.
Terry has a review of the classic shells recently.
Monday, November 10, 2008
They come in two varieties: 100 Calorie Milk Chocolate Bars and 100 Calorie 70% Dark Chocolate Bars.
There are only five in the box, which I’m guessing means these are weekday treats. Priced at $1.99, on the surface it sounds like a decent deal for 3.17 ounces of chocolate that’s from Belgium. But you know what? Belgium is not a factory, it’s not a company, it’s not a brand. It’s just a country. Just because the country has a great history and a good reputation for producing good chocolate doesn’t mean that just because it’s Belgian that it’s better, or even good.
I have gripes with the packaging. First, the bars themselves are 4.75 inches long and 1 inch wide. But the wrapper is inexplicably 6.5 inches long though the box is just shy of 6 inches, so the little ends have to be tucked over in order to fit. The box is simply too big and useless. It could be half the size. Think of how much more shelf space they’d have.
After I got over the insane box and mylar wrappers, I had a small pile of chocolate bars (that traveled nicely intermingled in a zip lock bag with me).
The Milk Chocolate is made from 34% cocoa solids and 18% milk solids, leaving by my guess about 45% or more “sugar solids.” All my jests aside, the ingredients look impressive: real vanilla and for some reason they mention that they use beet sugar.
I liked the shape of the planks, easy to break into pieces for sharing or bite easily without melty crumbs.
The chocolate is silky and sweet. The chocolate flavor isn’t intense but pleasant. The dairy flavors were limited to an ordinary background complement of caramel notes ... no strong powdered milk element here.
It’s not like this is diet chocolate, it’s no less caloricly dense than any other normal chocolate, just molded into a piece that’s exactly 100 calories ... some sort of magic number for the calorie counters. (It does make the math easier, I’ll give them that.)
The 70% Dark is a true dark chocolate which also uses beet sugar and natural vanilla. So it’s extra safe for vegans (some avoid cane sugar which can be purified using bone char).
This bar looked dark and intense, like Italian roasted coffee beans. It smelled like freshly sawn wood. The melt on the tongue was rather slow and a little chalky (as high cocoa content bars can often be). The flavors were smoky and bitter with some coffee and charcoal notes.
Though it wasn’t as candy-like as the Milk Chocolate variety, the 70% was certainly satisfying in the sense that one was more than enough for me.
I like the portion control element and the flat stick shape. I don’t think I need more than 2/3 of an ounce (well, a bit less in this instance) as a little pick me up or treat with some coffee. The price compared to Trader Joe’s other house-branded chocolate offerings though is ridiculous. Even the little 3 Packs of Belgian Chocolate bars are half the price per ounce. And then the Pound Plus bar that goes for about $3.50 brings it down even more with far less packaging (but not an identical product as those are made in France).
I don’t think I’d buy these again simply because there are better values at Trader Joe’s. The Milk Chocolate was the nicer of the two, if I was going simply by which one I ended up finishing first.
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Here’s another attractive little treat I picked up at Harry & David. Like the Fall Leaves Fruit Gels, these are not found on their website, just in the stores. The Belgian Chocolate Hazelnut Pinecones are simply too adorable to resist.
Actually, I did resist. I saw them on a recent trip to the Bay Area and didn’t buy them, then went back to the store before I left town, even though $12.95 seemed a bit steep for 7 ounces of not-Caffarel gianduia.
They’re little pine cone shaped chocolates, some milk chocolate and some white chocolate with a filling of hazelnut paste.
They’re about the size of a walnut in its shell, a full dozen packed into the tall bag.
They come in three different varieties:
The dark green one has a milk chocolate shell with a smooth hazelnut & chocolate paste filling. They smell like sweet black walnut flavoring. (My hope was that I’m not actually sensitive to walnut flavor, just actual walnuts.)
It’s rather sweet but the nutty flavors blend nicely with the milky smooth shell and filling.
The white chocolate shell with brown speckles has a filling of hazelnut paste with little rice crunchies. The nutty flavors weren’t as apparent, but the crisps gave a nice salty & cereal texture boost.
The orange white chocolate with the reddish airbrushing has a smooth nut paste with a stronger dairy note to it and less of a cocoa flavor.
I preferred the milk chocolate one far and away, the others, while interesting combinations of textures and flavors were just too sweet. Maybe I wouldn’t have minded if the pieces were smaller.
The biggest selling point is that they are so well crafted. The size, shape, molding and airbrushing of the shadows makes these irresistible as a seasonal treat. I can say that because I was unable to resist buying them, but I’ve been able to subsequently resist eating them. Still, if I’m looking for a hit of hazelnut I’d probably prefer Caffarel, Perugina Baci or Ferrero Rocher (in descending order of price) especially since I’ve been able to get Caffarel for about the same price of $1.00 per piece.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
As the temps are climbing here in Southern California, I need to eat up all my chocolate before it melts. So instead rolling these little goodies out one at a time, here’s a few bites in brief:
I picked up these cute little cubes at Lucca, an Italian deli/grocer in San Francisco a couple of months ago. The graphic design of the little wrappers with bold FIAT logo and variations was just irresistible. They’re made by Pasticceria Majani, founded in 1796 and one of the first confectioners to make actual solid chocolate in Europe. The Fiat line of chocolates were introduced in 1911 and actually named in honor of the Italian car.
They’re all layered. They’re a little shy of one inch on the longest side and about 3/4 of an inch tall and wide (so they’re not quite cubes).
FIAT Classico: two medium layers alternate with two light colored hazelnut paste layers. It’s extremely sweet, very hazelnutty. But really too sweet that it burns my throat. The only way to cut this is with a strong cup of coffee or espresso (which may be the way they’re intended to be eaten). I didn’t finish my second one.
FIAT NOIR: this is the one shown here, it’s a dark chocolate layer with a thick medium gianduia center. Even the dark chocolate layer is a hazelnut infused chocolate, but it’s the center that’s packed with a hazelnut punch. The combo is spot on perfect. A little difference in the texture, a little difference in the sweetness and nuttiness and a perfect bite.
FIAT CAFFE: the caffe looks a lot like the Noir, but has a darker center than the top and bottom layers. It’s sweet though, and has a light coffee flavor and a slight bitter tang. What sets this one apart from the other two is that it has almonds in it as well as hazelnuts. At first I thought it was too sweet, but once the bitterness and a dry finish kicks in, I came to appreciate it more, just as I did with unsweetened coffee as a teenager.
I give the line an 8 out of 10.
If I thought the Fiat cubes were a good deal, I guess I didn’t realize what a value my Caffarel find was.
I got these little Caffarel foil hazelnut flower buds at Chocolate Covered in San Francisco. The little package had five pieces for four dollars ... so eighty cents each (and Jack, who runs the store, also gave me one to eat while I was there).
I love Caffarel’s little bites, no matter what shape they are. These are rather small, they’re obvious built in halves and mushed together to create the three dimensional bud, I kind of like pulling them apart with my teeth.
The milk chocolate shell is sweet and milky. The center is creamy and thick, a little fudgy and has tiny crushed hazelnut bits. It’s super smooth otherwise and slightly cool on the tongue. If you’re a fan of Perugina Baci, consider these a tiny milk chocolate version.
They’re just so adorable. I don’t know where to find them for sure, but if you’re a hazelnut fan scoop a few up.
Rating: 9 out of 10
What clued me in that this was a hazelnut bar (since it’s not obvious) was that it was called a Smooth and intense MILK chocolate confection which is a coded way of saying, “there’s something else in this bar.”
The hazelnut paste is pretty far down on the list of ingredients, after the major chocolate ingredients and whey & milkfat but before the soy lecithin.
Like the dark bars I tried last week, the bar is big and thin, with the logo elephant on each segment.
It smells a little malty and very milky. It’s a softer bite than the dark bars (as is usually the case with milk chocolate). The bar has a smooth but fudgy consistency. The hazelnut flavors aren’t readily apparent, but there are some nice smoky and toasted notes to the bar.
It’s not too sweet, has a dash of malt and even a little burnt sugar bitterness to it that I find appealing. I can’t see myself buying one of these (I rarely buy milk chocolate unless it’s for a review) but knowing that Cote d’Or does a very mellow milk does intrigue me ... I may find myself experimenting with more of their product line.
Rating: 7 out of 10
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.