Thursday, February 8, 2007
Leonidas is a classic Belgian chocolatier with a Greek name. They make a huge variety of chocolates (their website says 100) and sell at 1,400 shops around the world (many in airports). Their website also has photos and descriptions of all of their chocolates. I wish I’d known that when I got this huge box, I had no clue what was inside here.
No matter, it’s all good!
The Pralines Leonidas assortment has a narrow focus on all things hazelnut with a good balance of dark, milk and white chocolate. There were pralin?s, pastes, truffles, croquants, gianduja and even a marzipan or two. It wasn’t all noisettes, there was also a cherry paste and what I believe is a chocolate covered cherry (that red foil one which is the only thing in the box right now). Some had a nice tickle of rum or coffee tipped into them. There were different textures for the hazelnuts - from a thick paste to a near solid chocolate assembly.
Leonidas runs on the sweet side, but the nut flavors are awesome. The chocolate is smooth and mellow, don’t expect anything strong or vibrant here, just some old fashioned hazelnut goodness. Oh, and the box is pretty cool. It’s a long faux leather box with two lids, the outermost lid locks the box tight with a magnetic strip but when you open it you can still gaze at the chocolate inside through the plastic window on the inner lid.
I haven’t visited a Leonidas store in person (which is odd because there’s one within walking distance of my office), but I imagine they can fix you right up for Valentine’s Day. Personally, now that I’ve tried a wide variety of their product line, I’m going to stick with the dark chocolate items and perhaps try more of the fruit jellies (I actually liked the cherry paste quite a bit and think they’ll do a good job on the others).
This was another birthday gift last month and of the cache of sweet treats, I can say that this one was not a home run. I think it has less to do with the quality and presentation of the product than the simple fact that the flavor combo just isn’t to my liking.
The box of 12 bonbons looks like little pom-poms in brown fluted cups. They’re called Coconut Snowballs which is pretty much what I would call them if asked. The package itself offers no explanation of what it is. The little card on the ribbon simply says, “An astonishing blend of provacative flavors created to arouse and stimulate the palate fo the most demanding client in the world ... you!”
Each little sphere starts with a white chocolate truffle cream, encased in a white chocolate shell and coated with coconut flakes.
They were creamy on the inside and had a good nutty bite and chew of coconut. They weren’t sickeningly sweet but the centers weren’t as smooth as I’d like, kind of grainy. Overall they were nice, but lacked an oomph that I don’t think these ingredients can provide.
I’m still curious about Christopher Norman’s other offerings and will pick them up the next chance I get (after I’ve finished all my other chocolates in my stash, of course). But the remainder of these will probably be given away.
I hinted heavily after Christmas to my husband (well, via the blog anyway) that I was pretty keen on trying some of the sale items from Dean & Deluca. He came through with every one of them. This is the Leonardi Cioccolatini Aceto Balsamico di Modena (Chocolates with a glaze of Balsamic Vinegar from Modena).
Balsamic vinegar seems like a new thing to throw in chocolates and I’ve had a few of them now. Often they’re quite tart or acrid, I don’t think the acidity of the vinegar always goes well with chocolate. These came in a pearly paper tube with a sealed plastic bag inside holding the individually red mylar wrapped pieces. They smell of smoky chocolate and carnations.
These are generous two bite pieces. The outside shell is a nice mild bittersweet chocolate that holds a wonderful dense creamy classic truffle center (there are eggs in here).
The balsamic vinegar is not overwhelming, instead it provides a smooth sherry-like background. A little sweeter but also with a slight almost alcoholic bite.
These are really good.
They were originally $42 but are still on sale at $10.50 for the 8.8 ounce container. (Mine are good until March 13, 2007 ... as if they’ll make it to the end of the week.) This might be the deal of the season for Valentine’s Day.
I got this fabulous box of from CocoaVino as a Christmas gift. Cocovino is one of those companies that sells the story & the experience as much as the product. The pride themselves on their Eco-Forward ideals (organic ingredients, fair trade, wind powered kitchen and environmentally sensitive packaging).
The collection is simply called BonBons. The array features six different flavors arranged in pairs, each with a different chocolate and spirit/wine combination.
Bacchanal - Malbec and dark chocolate - dark and complex, it has a lot of the fruity raisin and plum flavors you’d expect from a wine grape.
Roman Holiday - espresso and Sambuca - a mild chocolate and coffee mix, nice and smooth without bitterness.
Tango Nostalgico - dulce de leche and Spanish Mintilla Moriles wine - interesting, but I don’t think the tang of the wine mixed well with the caramelized milk.
Raspberry Beret - raspberry, as you’d expect. Fragrant and fruity, a classic combo with chocolate. Not much of a tangy bite, but that’s no problem for me.
Baci al Limone - limoncello in white chocolate. I’m a big fan of limoncello (though I find it a bit too sweet and like to add some extra lemon zest to it) and of course the smoothness of a white chocolate is a great base, especially with the balance of the dark shell.
Queen of the Harvest - Sherry and dark chocolate - even darker than the other chocolates. I wasn’t able to get many of the sherry notes as they blend so well with the normal chocolate flavors. Tasty.
The other item on their site that intrigues me is their Fig Caramel. (Please chime in if you’ve tried them.)
As a Valentine’s gift, these are an excellent idea for a foodie or as a sensual gift to share with someone special. The BonBon box comes with each of the flavors in pairs, so it’s a natural idea that you could both have one and discuss the different textures and notes that you sense. They’re a bit on the expensive side (this box retails for $31) but then again everyone is getting paid a living wage and someone had to build those windmills.
Today I’m going to do all boxed chocolates all day long. Perhaps a half a dozen of them. However, there are a few chocolatiers that have entered my radar (mostly from the Fancy Food Show) that I can offer little bites on (to supplement the Chocolate Gift Guide):
Bissinger’s - it appears that this 80-year-old St. Louis, MO, chocolate company has reinvented itself, with a more modern look and updated flavors. The catalog they sent me after the Fancy Food Show was certainly tempting. I tried some of their marshmallows, and Spa Chocolates as well as their tasty Green Tea Gummi Bears. Order online of locate one of their retail stores. Moderate prices and elegant/fun packaging.
Lillie Belle Farms - based in Jacksonville, OR, this chocolatier uses organic (and fair trade when possible) ingredients, many of which are grown on the farm. Innovative flavor combinations, tasty caramels, smooth truffles ... I really liked the black pepper truffle I tasted at the Fancy Food Show. Order online or find in stores in Oregon. Moderate to expensive.
Valerie’s Confections - Los Angeles based toffee-maker and confectioner, they have a great sense of elegance paired with comfort-candies. They have a special Valentine’s confection assortment (free local delivery if you use the code VAL when ordering $40 or more). Order online or pick up at a local store. Expensive. (Full review of other items here.)
B.T. McElrath - a Minneapolis-based chocolatier. I tried a few of their assortment at the Fancy Food Show and was pleased with them. The truffles and seasonal offerings are lovely to look at. They’re sold via their website and I saw many of their smaller mixed chocolate boxes at Whole Foods last weekend. Expensive.
If you’re looking for some other opinions on fine chocolates, check out these stories:
Consumer Reports tries out fine chocolates (from 2006), and a second write up based on the NY Chocolatiers mentioned.
UPDATE: February 12, 2007: Consumer Reports has done another taste test. Though you have to be a full subscriber to see all the results, here’s a brief report of how everyone did.
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
I spend a lot of time looking a photos of candy on Flickr. It’s a good way to stay in touch with what is enchanting other people. The thing that I’ve noticed lately is that people are often attracted to the same thing, over and over again. In general this would be like people taking photos of common landmarks (lots of photos of the Eiffel Tower that are tagged Paris, a lotta Golden Gate Bridge shots in San Francisco and “cute” has more cats than dogs or babies).
One of the things that pops up with startling regularity in the Candy tag is a candy vendor at the Mercat la Boqueria in Barcelona, Spain. So I did a quick search and found more than a smattering of them (well here are 48 at least):
Has anyone ever shopped at this market or bought anything there? How much are those gummis?
There are quite a few of these puffed plastic hearts filled with candy at the stores. The shelves are packed with them. You can get plastic hearts filled with Skittles, Kissables, Reese’s Pieces ... anything that comes in little morsels.
I decided to go a bit further afield and chose a product that didn’t contain a big brand name candy. This SpongeBob SquarePants embossed heart holds Yogurt Covered Raisins (and stickers). The little saying that you can’t quite make out there next to SpongeBob is “Valentine ... let’s soak up some smiles!” (I’m sure if they could spell it they’d put his creepy laugh in there, too.)
I have to admit that I don’t watch SpongeBob that often, usually when I’m visiting my niece and nephew. (I like to ask them if each of the characters are called Crabby Pattie ... who is this Crabby Pattie? Is that Patrick’s nickname?) And that’s who I’d be tempted to buy these for.
Inside the heart was a little packet of candies and the stickers. I was pleased that the candy was further wrapped to keep it fresh, however it didn’t look that appealing, as the raisins kind of peeked through the yogurt coating, making them look dirty or scuffed. The smelled like absolutely nothing.
Upon biting into them I found that the yogurt coating was not a soft “chocolate-like” experience, but a crunchy shell. The shell itself had no real flavor, but did have a slight cooling effect on the tongue. There was a strange, gamey/musty aftertaste, which I suppose is the yogurt, but was really off. They were, um, unappealing in all respects.
The candies are under the brand label “NickTrition” which I’m guessing makes it look like it’s healthy. However, here are the ingredients: Raisins, Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Palm Kernel Oil, Yogurt Powder, Titanium Dioxide, Soy Lecithin, Salt, Vanilla & Confectioner’s Glaze, Artificial Colors.
I will admit that raisins are plenty healthy. But I think the only reason there’s no listing for trans fats in the nutrition facts is because the serving size is only 20 grams. So I guess they’ve achieved the goal of balanced nutrition, because you’re really paying for a plastic box and some stickers and the nutritional benefit or hit is negligible from these candies ... if your kids eat them. I suspect you’ll find them in the cushions of the couch in a month or so.
Last year I was pleasantly surprised by Russell Stovers Cream Eggs. I still haven’t been eating their mixed boxes of chocolates, but the fact that they were making good quality product at a rather low price really captured my attention.
Now, I’m still not a boxed chocolates fan. See’s is probably the exception because I like just about everything they make, but I’ve been hesitant to try Russell Stover, especially after the middle of the road experience with the Whitman’s Sampler (RS & Whitman’s are now the same company). But this is All Valentines Week and it wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t have at least a little bit. So I picked up the smallest Russell Stover Assorted Chocolates I could find.
I figured the little cup here was a coconut and milk chocolate mix, similar to the Coconut Wreath I had last year for the Christmas season. The coconut is crisp and the milk chocolate is creamy and not-too-sweet. I rather like things that come in little cups like this, they’re more appealing that some plop shaped items and easy to bite off a bit and leave the rest in the cup.
The square chocolate is a firm caramel covered in milk chocolate. It’s nice, it could use more salt, but the texture is just perfect. Smooth, chewy and with a good buttery flavor.
The dark oval is a fudge center. It had a good caramel tone to it, but very little chocolatey taste.
Overall the assortment was fresh and looked very appealing. They were a little too ordinary to capture my tastebuds and compel me to pick up the next one (isn’t it the anticipation in a box of chocolates that’s supposed to be appealing?). If you’re looking for a little something to give as a gift or thank you (like coworkers or classmates, etc.), I don’t think people would be insulted by these. If you catch them on sale (as I did), they’re probably cheaper than a greeting card (and have a little “to & from” label on the bottom). These are definitely preferable to the Elmer’s I had yesterday (so splurge for the Russell Stover if you must buy these little boxes) and the label lists no trans fats.
Russell Stover also has an organic line. I picked up some pecan turtles (not wrapped for any particular holiday) that I’ll get to reviewing soon.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.