Thursday, February 8, 2007
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.
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
I’ve always loved Junior Mints. They’re a lotta mint and not much chocolate, but then again their caloric density isn’t particularly high either.
Instead of just mixing it up for the holiday and making the mints heart shaped, they went one further and filled a random number of them (I’m going to go with half of them) with a red fondant. (I’m not sure if this is because they think that half of us are bleeding heart types or what.)
The candies themselves are quite a bit larger than the regular Junior Mint and are relatively pleasing, if kind of rustic looking. They’re not as polished and glossy looking as their non-holiday counterparts, but the heart shape is nicely executed. About half of mine had the red filling. There was no way of telling what filling I was going to get until I bit into it.
If I popped the whole thing in my mouth, I knew if it was a red one because there’s a bitter aftertaste. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a red food dye (or perhaps more than one) that tastes bitter to me (in this case it’s FD&C Red 40). Because it was a big box I amused myself guessing by taste whether or not the filling was red. (With the help of a mirror ... I didn’t dare have my friends or husband engage in this little experiment). About 70% of the time I was able to “taste” that a candy was red ... I didn’t have any cases where I guessed a plain filling was red.
So there you have it, bleeding hearts leave a bad taste in my mouth. (Yes, it was a long way to go for that joke.)
There’s another Valentines version of Junior Mints floating around called Inside Out which have colored coatings. Based on my opinion of the original limited edition version I’m not going to buy those.
I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this review. Sera, a longtime reader and sweet photographer, suggested when I mentioned the All Valentines Week that I should get a hold of these boxed chocolates from Elmer’s.
I’d never heard of Elmer’s before. But when I went into the store, I found it even more shocking that I didn’t know who they were, because the stores are just filled to the gills with their heart shaped boxes of chocolates.
Most are on the small side, as this four piece box was, which pleased me that I didn’t need to buy a huge box. The design on the boxes is also rather, um, traditional. Some have pictures of puppies or kittens but most have roses or flowers of some sort.
After bringing the box home I was curious what was inside but I didn’t want to dig right in. So I asked the internets. What I found out was rather interesting. Elmer’s Chocolate only makes five chocolates for their mixed boxes: creamy caramel, chocolate truffle, chocolate fudge, strawberry cream and orange cream.
Milk Chocolate Rectangle is Orange Creme which is a tangy cross between Aspergum and a chocolate covered creamsicle.
Round Milk Chocolate is Soft Caramel - kind of milky tasting, a little salty, a bit creamy and offsets the far too sweet and grainy chocolate very well.
Dark Chocolate Rectangle is Orange Creme - okay, maybe this was strawberry, because it was more pink than orange, but it didn’t taste that way.
Milk Chocolate Square is Chocolate Fudge - sweet, not terribly chocolatey but a pretty smooth and pleasing texture.
Overall, I wasn’t pleased enough with the intensity of the flavors or the quality of the chocolate to want to buy these on sale next week after the holiday is over. But I was pleased enough to now want to try the Heavenly Hash and Gold Brick eggs for Easter as those seem to be the items that made the company famous. I guess when you consider that the box of chocolates is less expensive than a greeting card, it’s probably not a bad way to go as a small token.
On a side note, while exploring the internet in search of info about Elmer’s Candy, I noticed that their website had a copyright notice of 2003, the most recent press release (well only one) posted was from 2002. Their motto on the website is “The Freshest Ideas in Seasonal Candy” ... uh, yeah. Of course they also say that they’re the oldest family run candy business in the US (since 1855).
Other Notes: this box contains 1.5 grams of trans fat.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.