Wednesday, July 5, 2006
I first heard about Chuao Chocolatier a couple of months ago but haven’t been able to visit them until this weekend. The main location is in Encinitas and they have other shops in San Diego. But they also have one at the Irvine Spectrum, so on a blazingly hot Sunday afternoon my husband and I stopped by to see what it was all about. Let me just say this, if this is the direction that upscale chocolate is going, I can fully support it.
The shop is spare and simple with lots of dark wood touches and reflects more of a wine connoisseur aesthetic than candy. I greeted the women behind the counter (I’ve never done this before) ... I introduced myself and gave full disclosure that I’m a candy writer and boy did I get the full treatment! But seeing how well Melissa, the manager, did her tour of the company through samples of most of their product lines, I get the sense she does it for anyone who’s interested. She was knowlegable, enthusiastic and completely engaging.
First, a little about Chuao. It’s one of those stories about people who follow their passions. Michael Antonoris (once a biomedical engineer and MBA before he “stopped chasing his ego and started chasing his culinary passion,” and went to Paris for two years to study Pastry and Chocolaterie at the ?cole Lenotre). Born in Venezuela, he brought not only his culinary aesthetic to candymaking, but also the native cacao from the region. His chocolate source is El Rey Chocolate. You can read lots more on their website about the history of the company and other press clippings.
The first sample we tried was their flavor of the month for July, which is a beer (San Diego produced Stout) infused chocolate - with a strong wheat/yeasty flavor to the chocolate ganache, it was intriguing and brought out the best of the beer and the chocolate.
She also let us try last month’s (after all, it was only July 2nd) intriguing little egg which was filled with chocolate, olive oil and sun-dried tomato filling. I really liked the olive essence in there, but I’m not a huge fan of sun-dried tomatoes, but they seem to work in there. I could see those going really well with a wine and cheese assortment.
Other wonderful morsels she gave us to try included:
Chocolate Covered Orange Peel - lovely dark chocolate surrounding soft and intense orange zest. Not too syrupy sweet and not the least bit bitter.
Chocolate Covered Ginger - this is no ordinary candied ginger, the pieces are plump and juicy and have no fibery bits. Sweet and with a gentle burn that lasts long after the chocolate is gone.
Coco Nib Snack - fine little nibs a little smaller than peppercorns and caramelized/tossed with a little salt and chili. Fascinating little morsels, not too sweet but also doesn’t have any of that bitter/acrid flavor that some plain nibs have. No fibery bits either. I’m not sure if I’d eat them straight, but I’d love them tossed on a salad or maybe some ice cream.
Even though it was insanely hot, we still tried a little bit of their hot chocolate. They have two varieties, the traditional Abuela and Spicy Maya. They weren’t as thick and milky as many that I had on my last NY trip, but the flavors were really great. I enjoyed the Maya best, as the spice wasn’t too overwhelming, but supported the floral and wine notes of the chocolate.
But the time eventually came to pick out some things to take home.
I picked out a box of 9 pieces:
Melao - salt butter caramel - this one was quite reminiscent of the Sahgun salt caramel I had earlier this year. Quite soft, almost juicy, with a slight grain to the caramezlied sugar and a round sweet flavor dosed with salt to bring out the flavors.
Candela - spicy macadamia praline - very strange - it’s grainy, but not in an unpleasant way. Salty, crispy and with a soft spicy finish, the center is more like eating a cookie dough than a chocolate. For the record, I love cookie dough.
Cardamom - cardamom infused ganache - fresh and lightly infused with that cardamom note that I love about Indian food. Buttery smooth and rich. I would have liked more cardamom, like the Vosges one I tried in NYC.
Modena - strawberry caramel with balsamic vinegar from Modena - this was just plain strawberry as far as I could tell. Nicely fruity and aromatic, smooth and refreshing with a good balance of notes for the dark chocolate, but I wasn’t really getting the balsamic notes.
Chevre - goat cheese, pear Williams and crushed black buttercream - fascinating and probably addictive. At first the dark chocolate ganache is tangy, like a goat cheese. Then the black pepper infusion coming to the surface. The pear played a minor note, but the black pepper pieces were incredible, as they were softened by the chocolate and more like small, spicy raisins.
Zen - green tea infused ginger ganache - wonderful plump pieces of crystalized ginger in a dark chocolate ganache with only a hint of tea. Not too sweet - a good subtle balance.
Gran Cacao - bittersweet ganache with 73% cocoa - a lovely and rich ganache with a good buttery start and some good floral and berry notes.
Cambur - soft banana and brown sugar caramel - imagine a fried banana, drenched in caramelized sugar and then drizzled with chocolate. Mmmm. Intensely banana, but thoroughly authentic tasting. Rich and sweet. By far my favorite of them all.
Picante - California raisin fondue and Napa Valley cabernet caramel, spiced with pasilla chili and cayenne pepper - tart and with fruity/jammy qualities but with an immediate burn in my throat from some fresh tasting chilis. There are some wine notes, but mostly a grape and chili flavor mixed with the dark chocolate but the caramelized sugar is completely lost. I wouldn’t have minded a little hit of molasses or brown sugar in there.
On the whole, I’d say that the line of uncommon flavor combinations is much like Vosges and of similar quality. Where Vosges seems to angle itself towards women, Chuao seems incredibly masculine. The flavors are bold and uncommon and assertive. Flavors are borrowed from outside the candy realm with excellent results. But when they’re inside the sweets oveure, they’re really at their best. The spiced flavors are wonderful but I really enjoyed the caramelized items like the Cambur.
I’m definitely planning on stopping there again, it’s exceptionally convenient when I’m down in Orange County visiting with my husband’s family and it looks like they will continue to develop new flavor combinations that will keep my tongue occupied. They also offer classes, which I would love to take (but only at the Carlsbad location), so maybe someday I’ll become a master chocolatier, too. If you’re a wine or beer lover, they also have tips and product lines for serving them together.
Tuesday, July 4, 2006
Canada and the UK have Nestle Aero and Cadbury Bubbly bars. Israel has the Elite and Korea and Japan have Lotte Airs. Everyone else seems to have an aerated chocolate bar except for the United States. It’s not like we’ve been completely denied. Nestle did have a chocolate bar called the Choco’lite back in the 70s, but that didn’t go over well.
Maybe we’re just waiting for the right bar.
I was really looking forward to seeing Bubble Chocolate. Mostly because they’re using higher quality chocolate. The cacao content on their dark bar is 60%. There’s apparently a lot of engineering involved with balancing the viscosity and whatnot when doing different things to chocolate, so I’ll leave that to the industrial engineers. Apparently you can’t just foam up regular chocolate and expect a great result - there are a lot of things to take into account.
Bubble Chocolate comes in three varieties: Milk, Coffee Milk and Dark 60% Cacao.
My Coffee Milk Chocolate bar got a bit banged up in the trip back, so that pile above is just of the dark and milk chocolate. Handsome, aren’t they?
They’re huge looking, twice as thick as a normal 100 gram bar but only 80 grams. It’s kind of odd to pick them up, because it’s so surprising how light they are - 50% air ... that’s some lite chocolate. It’s kind of like pumice!
Dark Chocolate - the bar has a nice aroma that mixes berries and smoke. Despite the high cacao content, it’s very creamy and sweet. There’s a fudgy consistency to it as it melts so distinctly different than a regular un-bubbled chocolate bar. The airiness of the bar seems to make the scent of the bar carry better too, as you eat it. There’s a slight grain to the chocolate as it disintigrates, but no trace of the chalkiness I’ve complained about with other aerated bars.
Milk Chocolate - the bar is much sweeter than the dark, but also melts far quicker on the tongue. It’s a little stickier too, but exceptionally smooth. The milk flavors are not at all like the dairy chocolate I usually have from Cadbury or European Nestle. This is much more American tasting. I don’t know the cacao content on this chocolate, but it’s certainly dark looking. I was a little disappointed that there’s vanillin in here instead of real vanilla. However, if they’re keeping the bar under the $2 price point retail, I can see this as an acceptable compromise.
Coffee Milk Chocolate - this one smells like a coffee house - fresh and warm and roasty. There’s real coffee in there, but happily no coffee grounds (which is kinda a pet peeve of mine). It’s especially creamy and has a really nice melt on the tongue. This bar has no vanillin in it at all, and that may be why I’ve gravitated towards it. It’s a tasty bar, totally satisfying. The coffee isn’t fake tasting like some of the Hershey products, and it’s not grainy or too bitter. It is sweet, as it’s the milk chocolate, not the dark. But on the whole, my favorite of the three.
Overall they’re nice, munchable chocolate bars with an interesting texture that highlights the flavors. It’s not the best chocolate in the world, but it’s very tasty and enjoyable. It will never replace a good, high quality bar but I feel like it’s more than a novelty item.
As a serving suggestion, I do not advise that you let the chocolate get too warm. When it gets warm it gets fudgy and pliable and the airyness doesn’t quite hold.
Bubble Chocolate is still completing their first orders to get them in stores, but right now you can expect to see them at Trader Joe’s in September.
Interesting note from label: made in Belarus.
POSTED BY Cybele AT 6:26 am
Monday, July 3, 2006
Simplicity is a beautiful thing.
Peanuts and chocolate, chocolate and peanuts.
I picked these up at the All Candy Expo. They weren’t sexy, they’re not new ... they’re just milk chocolate peanuts.
The peanuts were fresh and good quality. Not the super huge ones that are all standardized sizes, but I didn’t have a bad peanut in the bag, so I appreciate their ability to screen out the yucky ones. They have a nice, thin coat of milk chocolate, so it’s more peanut flavor than chocolate. They have a glossy sheen, which means that they don’t melt together so easily even on blisteringly hot days like today.
Honestly, I think these are much better than Goobers, they’re not quite as sweet and the peanuttiness shines through. I’ve seen these before in the concession sized boxes at movie theaters and I always passed them by because I thought they were a cheaper version of Goobers (or Peanut M&Ms). But they’re actually really good and fresh tasting.
Because there’s more peanut than chocolate in there, there’s not as much sugar either. So if you’re into a sweet little snack and can handle the fat content of the peanuts this is a good snack with lasting energy because of the protein hit.
Friday, June 30, 2006
This is what they call a novelty item.
I don’t have a real review for it, because I’m a stodgy old fart and I refuse to roll my candy syrup onto my tongue. But it also might be that it really looks like my incredibly unappetizing Ban unscented roll on antiperspirant/deodorant.
However, I did give my nephew this grape Rolly Pop for his opinion. Because he’s almost seven years old, there are a lot of things he’s more willing to try than I am.
First, what is it?
A Rolly Pop is a bottle, not unlike a small bottle of Ban Roll On, that contains a sweet and tangy syrup that you apply directly to your tongue.
We tried it out on my last visit two weeks ago and it went over pretty well. It seems that it might be easier to just suck on the roll top than roll it around on your tongue. He didn’t finish it all in one sitting, so he put the cap back on and when he came down for breakfast the next morning, the roller ball wouldn’t roll. A little time under the tap with some warm water did the trick.
Honestly, I’m worried about the sanitary aspects of this candy. You roll it on your tongue! (It’s kind of like backwash ... maybe it’s back rub ... no, that doesn’t sound right.)
Anyway, the syrup doesn’t change the color of your tongue, which is a big thing with kids these days. It’s probably better that it doesn’t though, since I’m sure that means that it’d stain things, too. At the end of my nephew’s evaluation of this I asked if he would buy it again and he kind of shrugged. He said he wished it was more sour (he’s a sour fan) but I read that they are coming out with a set of sour flavors for Halloween. He did finish it, so that’s a positive sign that means I’ll give this one a five out of ten on his behalf.
Thursday, June 29, 2006
I’ve been a fan of Sprees since they first came out. They’re the more attractive out-of-town cousin of the SweeTart (who is of course your mousy best friend). They’re tasty and drop dead gorgeous when spread out on your desk in neat rows of colors like some sort of stereo equalizer display.
Chewy Sprees happened onto the scene a while back, but I never paid much attention to them. But then I got a hold of these Mini Chewy Spree. They come in these cool little plastic packages that look kind of like popsicles and have a little flip top.
The color array is exactly the same as their larger, harder counterparts. Red is cherry, Yellow is lemon, Purple is grape, Orange is orange and Green is now apple (though it used to be lime back in the day).
Chewy Spree are, well, chewy. The outside of them is lightly flavored and completely sweet. But there’s no candy shell to it, just an inside that’s soft and chewy. They’re actually easily crushed with your fingers, like M&Ms are. But they’re lacking the “Kick in the Mouth” that the package heralds. (It says the same for the rolls of regular hard Spree.)
They’re just not as sour, not as flavorful. They’re not bad, they’re just ... I dunno, shallow.
As cool as the plastic tube they come in (that says “flip your lid!”), I feel a little bad about the overpackaging. But to allay my guilt about that, I looked around on the Nestle website and they have crafts that you can do with the empties (a Rain Gauge). At the moment I’ve got one filled with band-aids and alcohol wipes as a little first aid kit. You could store little things in there too, or refill with bulk candies. I think you also might be able to make your own popsicles with them, too.
But as the price difference goes, I think I’ll stick with the regular roll of Sprees and their minimal packaging and true “kick in the mouth” taste.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Ritter Sport is going over to the dark side.
I picked up three new bars (or newish) while at the All Candy Expo and I have to say that they’re exceptionally good.
First, I found out that Ritter is the #2 imported chocolate brand in the United States. Who knew?
Dark Chocolate with Whole Hazelnuts - this bar is studded generously with hazelnuts. Not quite as many as the wrapper implies, but I’ll tell you there are plenty in there. The dark chocolate is a semisweet with good floral notes and a slightly smoky bite to it. A little dry, it highlights the nuts really well. Not at all sticky or cloying like the milk chocolate can be, this bar is incredibly munchable. Of the three that I brought back, this one was gone first.
Amargo Extrafino - Fine Extra Dark Chocolate - 71% Cocoa - this was a gorgeous bar (and featured in that page in the National Post, if I might gush). The scent is intoxicatingly rich. Smoke, tobacco, tea and dark berries all waft from its dark scored squares. It’s pretty quick to melt for such a dense bar and it’s very smooth. The berry and cherry notes are quite evident as well as a sharp immediate bitter/acidic bite that mellows quickly to its more roasted and alcoholic notes of cognac. For an inexpensive high cacao bar, this one is very good. Complex but still edible. It goes great with something with a salty/crunchy bite like dry roasted & salted almonds or pretzels.
Feinherb a la Mousse au Chocolat - the same dark chocolate that’s found in the hazelnut bar is in this one, except this has a softer filling inside the squares. Not a fluffy mousse, more like a firm, creamier center like a Frango. It’s nice, but after the intense, complex darkness of the 71%, this one tasted very sweet (and I tried it on a completely different day than the 71% day).
After the other not-so-tasty things I was eating earlier this week, the Ritter Sport dark bars were quite a treat. I can recommend all of the, but if you’re a dark fan and can find these inexpensively (less than $3), it’s quite a deal for chocolate of this quality (no wonder they’re #2).
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
I don’t think I’m a fudge fan. I know it sounds a little weird, but I find fudge a little too sweet and not chocolatey enough. Every once in a while I’ll come across a piece of fresh fudge that brings that additional fudge element to it - that crumbly melt in your mouth quality. I don’t know if that’s something that’s supposed to be in fudge or if it’s bad fudge, but that’s the way I like it.
That’s one of the reasons I avoid pre-packaged fudge, it just never has that fresh, light and rich feeling to it. But still, I was pretty interested in the Jim Beam Chocolate Bourbon Fudge from Country Fresh Food & Confections of Tennessee - I figured they knew what they were doing. Their booth at the All Candy Expo seemed constantly mobbed. I tried a few pieces of their liquor flavored fudges and found them a little dry and tasteless, but I figured that was because they were sitting out on plates all day.
But the place was packed in there was a bit of a buzz about the liquor fudge, so maybe I’ve got this whole thing wrong (but know that there’s not actually any alcohol in there, just some natural and artificial flavors). Maybe everyone but me loves the stuff.
Here’s the thing: I don’t know much about find Kentucky Bourbon. So when I tried this fudge, it tasted like bubble gum to me. Chocolate, fudgy bubble gum. That bubble gum flavor is hard to pin down, but now I’m pretty sure it’s bourbon or rum or some liquor flavor that kids aren’t sophisticated enough to like yet. The line of alcohol flavored fudges also come in Kahlua, Malibu, Sauza, Tia Maria & Courvoisier.
The texture is a little gummy as well, the melt in your mouth quality just isn’t there. It’s nicely chocolatey and ultra smooth, but it’s just not that wonderful new crystalline arrangement that fresh fudge usually has.
I’ve gotta give this a pass. However, I’m going to try some fresh fudge on Friday night and local folks are welcome to join me at the Farmers Market in Los Angeles (3rd & Fairfax) from 6PM to 9PM to try some Littlejohn fudge (and perhaps toffee while we’re at it).
Monday, June 26, 2006
“It’s the candy bar that makes Idaho famous,” whispers the barely visible black print on brown at the bottom of the wrapper. If you love those memory foam mattresses, you’ll love the Idaho Spud.
Well, maybe it’s not quite like that, the Idaho Spud has been around since 1918 ... so maybe tempurpedic was inspired by the candy bar!
So really, what is it? It’s a dense, chocolate-flavored marshmallow covered in fake chocolate and then dusted with coconut. Of course it all looks like a potato.
First, I have to say that I didn’t eat the whole bar ... because there are hydrogenated oils in there. Not just a trace like most candies, I’m talking 1.5 grams.
The center of the bar is rather odd, like a cross between a custardy jelly and marshmallow. The chocolately coating doesn’t seem to stick well to this firm foam, so when you bite into it, it kind of flakes off. The dominant flavor is coconut, which I always like.
The fake chocolate isn’t very pleasant - kind of greasy and crumbly. The whole bar has a rather maple flavor to it, which might be the coconut. The firm marshmallow center is actually really interesting and I enjoyed the firm texture and density of it with the light tough of chocolate. But the combo of high trans fats and the mockolate just turned me off. For the last third of the bar I peeled off the chocolate coating and just ate the center. I’m a big potato fan, so I’m not going to let this dissuade me from my actual favorite Idaho export, but I don’t think I’d ever give one of these to someone as a treat when I returned from a vacation in Idaho.
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