Saturday, November 18, 2006
Lest you think that my upscale chocolate heart is only in San Francisco, I was recently sent a box of ethel’s chocolate from Chicago by, you know, some of ethel’s peeps.
They sent along the new Holiday Collection, just in time for a Thanksgiving review. The sassy half pound + box includes four each of six flavors, all with a holiday sugar and spice theme.
Cinnamon & Sugar -A dark chocolate shell with a cinnamon and sugar spiced butter cream. Though all the chocolates look a little “manufactured” to me because they were so crisp and regular, the tastes were definitely authentic with all natural ingredients as far as I could tell. The dark shell was silky smooth and mellow. It had a slight bitter bite with offset the supersweet but superbuttery center well.
Cranberry - a milk chocolate shell with a cranberry buttercream center. I was surprised at how “cranberry” the center of this one looked when I bit into it. The buttercream has an immediate and sharp berry bite, but the heavily dairy milk chocolate balances is pretty well. Though the flavors feel realistic, milk chocolate doesn’t feel like a good match for cranberry, maybe it’s because the dairy flavors and the tartness of the cranberry make me think of spoiled milk.
Dreamy White - I don’t know what this one is, I couldn’t quite figure it out from the brochure that came with it. As far as I can tell it’s white chocolate with a milk chocolate center. The center wasn’t up to the sweetness of the shell and felt a little greasy and flavorless.
Egg Nog - dark chocolate with a egg nog flavored white chocolate ganache. I’ve always been a sucker for egg nog, it’s like drinkable spiced butterscotch pudding. It’s usually too sweet as a drink and I used to cut it with milk (or sometimes half and half) but I love the nutmeg on top. The dark chocolate shell here combines wonderfully with the rum and spice of the center.
Pecan Pie - a milk chocolate shell with a pecan and spice filling. This one worked surprisingly well. I was afraid with a milk chocolate outside it would be too sweet, but it’s not. The filling isn’t as sticky sweet as a real pecan pie is, this instead has a great pecan taste to it, with that nutty feel on the tongue and woodsy hit.
Pumpkin Pie - white chocolate with a spiced pumpkin buttercream. As with the other pie chocolate this was surprisingly good. The buttercream wasn’t just those pumpkin spices (nutmeg, clove, cinnamon) but it also had that real pumpkin taste to it (pumkin is on the ingredient label) that gave it more of a custardy feel than a ganache.
Of the whole set it was just the Dreamy White that bugged me, the rest I ate without complaint with the first to be devoured Egg Nog, Pumpkin Pie and Pecan Pie.
ethel’s chocolate is part of the Ethel M company, which in turn is the upscale boxed chocolates company founded by Mars. The new line of shops and chocolate lounges are less fussy and perhaps more fun than the Ethel M company. Their aesthetic is spare but with a great deal of attention to detail and attempt at brand unification. The selection in this box bodes well for my actual visit to one of their Lounges (right now just in the Greater Chicago area and Las Vegas). Their other selections include traditional spherical Truffles, a set called American Pop which appears to take comfort candy to a new level, Cocktail which feature mixed drinks and wine, Fruit which contains chocolate and fruit combinations and Nuts and Caramel which appears to eschew walnuts, much to my pleasure.
If I can make an observation, it seems that many of the new chocolatiers are chefs of one sort of another. Instead of coming out of a candy manufacturing tradition or perhaps baking, I feel like there are more chefs out there dipping their toes into the chocolate pools. I don’t know if this was always so, or if it’s just the publicity machines make more of the culinary curriculum vitae of the creators. ethel’s chocolate creative voice is Jin Caldwell.
The price of ethel’s chocolates is kind of up there, at $27.00 for the assorted box of 24 pieces (8.5
ounces). More than See’s, less than CocoaBella or Vosges. I was pleased enough with this box to want to give the Nuts and Chews a go next time the opportunity presents itself. I also desperately want a chocolate lounge in my neighborhood.
Friday, November 17, 2006
Oh, the Limited Editions ... I’ve been searching for the fabled Elvis Peanut Butter Cups (with banana creme). When I didn’t see those I picked up this new LTD offering called Reese’s Big Cup with Mixed Nuts.
My luck was that it contained lots of nuts and none of them were walnuts. The tall peanut butter cup contains peanuts, pecans, almonds and cashews.
It was just like the Big Cup with Nuts, which isn’t bad on its own. This one was actually improved by the variation in the nuts. I don’t think I ever got a cashew in there, but I did have a few almond and pecan bits. The pecans went especially well as they add their own sort of maple/woodsy essence to the toasted peanut butter taste.
The whole thing was a little greasy, the little fluted paper cup was oily as I removed it for consuming. I suppose I should be glad that the fats were in the cup and not my tummy. It could simply have been that the hot light I use for taking the photo made it a little melty (but I don’t really think that).
The big cup products are also a little smaller than buying the double cup pack and even three grams smaller than the regular Big Cup. There’s nothing wrong with that, I guess. They’re throwing in more expensive ingredients (premium nuts) ... even Snickers Almond has resorted to padding their product with peanuts instead of just adjusting the portion.
(Yes, I’m aware that three out of five of the reviews were of Hershey products this week, I don’t know what came over me.)
Thursday, November 16, 2006
If you’re of a certain age you may remember Tang, Astronaut Ice Cream and Space Food Sticks. All of these became famous because of the space craze of the sixties and seventies. As normal mortals we couldn’t go to the moon, but we could eat like an astronaut!
I’m thinking the major attraction to these is nostalgia. I’m not sure anyone who didn’t live through the landings on the moon and Skylab is going to be terribly interested in an early version of an energy bar.
I never had these when they first came out. (I did however, plop down my shekles at the Air & Space Museum in junior high for Astronauts Ice Cream ... you know it said ice cream in the name, not food. It was dang expensive at $1.00 a package and really cut into my gummi bear budget.)
Anyway, one to what I have in hand, which are the present day versions of Peanut Butter and Chocolate Space Food Sticks because the persistent Eric Lefcowitz of RetroFuture.com has brought them back into production after they’d become a quaint memory to many of us.
The format has changed slightly, from a pair of long wand to 10 small pieces. The wand shape was because the snack needed to be inserted into a little hole in the astronaut’s helmet. I actually kind of like the new format, they reminded me of protein-packed Starbursts!
The Chocolate ones smell kind of like Nestle Quik. Not creamy but kind of flat like cardboard or a Tootsie Roll. They’re soft and have an easy bite that might border on crumbly. Kind of like cookie dough and less chewy than a Tootsie Roll. The chocolate flavor is just that, more like flavor, though it does boast real chocolate and cocoa in there. I can easily taste the soy in there, which is a pleasant enough. They’re a bit on the salty side (200mg), which I find a little refreshing and if you’re an athlete probably a good idea. As a candy they’re not really that satisfying. As a snack item, I kind of enjoyed eating some with some mid-day pretzels and almonds.
The Peanut Butter ones were more promising. The peanut smell was pleasant with a touch of honey (though none listed in the ingredients). This had the same crumbly chew which reminded me of eating a slightly raw peanut butter cookie or just the flavor of the old Peanut Butter Cap’n Crunch. The little pieces were great, because I could eat two or three and not have to worry about resealing the package to keep the rest. Just a little twist of the packet and they were safe for later.
As a candy I probably wouldn’t buy them again. As a snack item I appreciate the real ingredients in them. So often the label on a Power Bar or other meal replacement bar can be daunting - this is pretty simple with real ingredients. Of course with only “real” ingredients there’s no fortification with additional vitamins and minerals like you might find in an energy bar.
Cruftbox reviewed the original-style stick-version of them back in ‘04. The SpaceFoodSticks website also has some great old commercials from the Pillsbury product (and one from a competing PET product called Space Energy Sticks).
Old Time Candy sells them in singles (1.99 each) but if you decide you like them and want more, go straight to the source for the best price. It’s possible this will become the hot “stocking stuffer” item this Christmas, as I’m sure there are a lot of 40-50 somethings pining for the good old days.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
The most important part of Candy Season is not the special candies that are available, but the sales after the Candy Holiday is over. Halloween marks the start of Candy Season.
As Halloween is the first holiday of the Candy Season, the most important part of it is November 1st when the shelves and bins are filled with 50% off signs for merchandise that was coveted just the day before. All those things that you might have been scared to try at retail prices are suddenly not such a gamble.
I’m not usually content with 50% off, I like to gamble and wait a week or more for the 75% off sale. I especially like finding candy corn for 10 cents a bag.
From the poll results it seems I’m not alone in my pursuit of the after holiday bargain, more than half of you said that you grab the Halloween treats ... and part of me wants you all to stay away from the stores I frequent so that the stuff will get marked down further!
You may not have caught the news recently that Ben Meyerson Candy Company was purchased by Jelly Belly. They aren’t known for much in the chocolate realm except for Christopher’s Big Cherry and in the sugar world, the Sunkist Fruit Gems.
I came across the Fruit Gems at Rite Aid and thought I should give them a go again. I used to buy them from Trader Joe’s in little tubs, but then I discovered the chocolate covered nuts and never went back. I figure the Gems are a bit like the West Coast version of Chuckles. But really they’re not. Chuckles are all essence and no juicy tang. When you’re branding something with the Sunkist name, I’m expecting a tangy juice.
What’s really interesting about these is how they differ from other jellies covered with sugar. Instead of having a rough outer coating, these are practically smooth, with the sugar mushed against the jelly center. They don’t sparkle quite as much, but then again there’s no little bits of sugar left in the package or crumbling off when you bite into them like you might get with Spearmint Leaves or Orange Slices.
Orange - it is tangy, nice rounded orange flavor. Not terribly vivid, more like pleasant.
Cherry - very cherry, kind of medicinal tasting. There was a long-lasting aftertaste with severe bitter notes. (Oddly enough, the package makes no mention of Cherry on the package, just a list of the other flavors.)
Lemon - mmm, zesty and tart and smooth. I love lemon.
Grapefruit - not that strong and with a slight bitter note that makes it believable.
Lime - yeah, lime.
Raspberry - floral with only the slightest sour bite. Again, it had a little bitter aftertaste, like the color red.
Jelly Belly will start making these soon, I’m not sure if they’re going to leave them alone or not. Jelly Belly has its own line of fabulous Fruit Pectin Jellies that I was blown away by last year. The Jelly Belly jellies are vegan (they use beet sugar instead of cane sugar), so it’s possible that Sunkist Fruit Gems will also become vegan as well (it’s hard to know whether they are or not right now).
My biggest complaint with these is that like Lifesavers, there is no variation in what you get in the pack. Starbursts and SweeTarts are variable, so you might get a lemon-heavy pack. And with the little see-through package, I might be more likely to pick up a citrus-heavy package. As it is, there are only three flavors I really liked here (orange, lemon and grapefruit), so I’ll probably continue to pass on these. Unless I see them in the tub at Trader Joe’s and it’s all citrus!
UPDATE 9/2/2008: An alert reader let me know that the little “single serve” trays are back on store shelves with the Jelly Belly logo on them, but instead of holding six fruit jellies, they now only have four.
Worst part of this news? The grapefruit one was missing. (What is it about grapefruit disappearing lately? Is it because of the news that grapefruit juice interacts with some prescription drugs?) This is not to say that the Sunkist Fruit Gems don’t come in grapefruit any longer, just not in this particular package.
Seeing how Sunkist is known as a citrus company, the fact that they made an assortment the neglects one of the citrus fruits and includes a berry is beyond me. The package is also similar to the old one and actually includes images of grapefruit (though the text clearly says which flavors are in the package).
The change in manufacturing location and ownership, as far as I’ve been able to tell, has made no difference at all for the actual candy. It’s still a nice, soft and flavorful fruit jelly without too much of a granulated sugar coating.
The only real difference here is that you get only 2/3 as much as you used to. I was hoping when Jelly Belly took over that they’d sell the jellies in individual flavors like they do with their famous jelly beans. No such luck yet. (For now whenever I see the Jelly Belly booth at a trade show I pick a half a dozen grapefruit jellies out of their sample bin and move along.)
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
I think I’ve reached my limit on KitKat varieties. The disorder is called KitKat Variation Fatigue. I think part of it may be because so many Limited Editions are not as good as the original. If I had my druthers, they’d bring back the Dark Chocolate KitKat which predates the invention of Candy Blog.
A few weeks ago I reviewed the nicely wrapped but less than stellar KitKat Cappuccino from the South Pacific. I may as well repeat that description here as it certainly applies to the American KitKat Mocha:
It’s a maple chocolate KitKat. Not coffee. Not espresso. Not cappuccino. Not mocha. In fact, I think the only coffee drink you could call this would be Maple Latte ... hold the espresso.
For no reason, I’m marking this one a notch down from the Malaysian variety. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t come in a cool box. Maybe it’s because this one is certified Kosher and not Halal. Maybe it’s because I find PGPR on the ingredients label. Or maybe it’s because my car now smells like pancakes.
So that’s it. I’m not buying anymore Limited Edition KitKats. (Really! Okay, maybe. But it’d have to be really good.)
Here’s the sum of everything I’ve reviewed to date:
KitKat Coffee (USA) - 9 out of 10 - LTD
KitKat Tsubu Ichigo (Strawberry) (Japan) - 9 out of 10 - LTD
American KitKat & UK KitKat - 8 out of 10 - PERM
Orange KitKat (Canada) - 7 out of 10 - LTD
KitKat Matcha (Japan) - 7 out of 10 - LTD
KitKat Mint (USA) - 7 out of 10 - LTD
KitKat Cappuccino (Malaysia) - 6 out of 10 - LTD
White Chocolate KitKat (USA) - 6 out of 10 - PERM
KitKat Bites - 5 out of 10 - PERM
KitKat Orange & Creme (USA) - 5 out of 10 - LTD
KitKat Milkshake (USA) - 2 out of 10 - LDT
For the record, the only ones that I have bought again were the Coffee KitKat and the regular old American variety. I’ve also tried the Extra Crispy and Extra Creamy but was so underwhelmed I didn’t feel like reviewing them.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Hershey’s has been furiously releasing limited edition Kisses. The interesting thing to note is that sometimes these Kisses become permanent additions to the line, such as the Peanut Butter Kisses earlier this year. Other Kisses have been returning as seasonal or limited edition items, such as the reappearance of the Cherry Cordial Creme Kisses.
The Mint Kisses seem like a natural brand extension. They were first introduced in 2002 and are released before the holidays each year. Simply put, it’s mint infused milk chocolate. The wrappers are a racing style green and silver check pattern, which I’ve always found rather cute.
As a candy they’re very strongly minted. They’re very sweet but with that familiar Hershey’s tang to the chocolate. Slightly grainy but overall smooth, they’re a fun change from the normal Kisses. My only caution is that when I put them in a bowl or bag with other Kisses the mint will infect the others.
An interesting thing to note about all the new Kisses. They’re molded. The traditional Kiss that’s been made for the past 100 years are extruded by machine to create a consistent kiss shape. They used to have a rather dependable little bend at the top, like chocolate chips to, but less so these days. It’s easy to tell them apart by looking at the bottom of it, where the traditional Kiss has a little cinch at the bottom instead being completely flat. Any other Kiss you might come across, however, is molded. Basically, they’re made upside down, with the chocolate deposited into a Kiss shaped tray.
The Limited Edition Candy Cane Kisses are new this year, though really just a new format for another Limited Edition product from last year. Last Christmas saw the introduction of a set of Miniatures called Mint Mix Miniatures which included minted dark chocolate, minted milk chocolate and minted white chocolate bars ... with the white one sporting little red and green nonpareils in it.
With the name being Candy Cane I was hoping that the candy bits in there were be actual hard candy like candy canes. But they’re just crunchy nonpareils like the miniatures last year.
I can’t help loving these. I don’t know why I do, but they’re positively addictive. I had a lot of Kisses for some photos I was shooting and I found myself digging through the assortment and eating all of these first. They’re a little grainy but have a good minty feel in the sinuses and the crunchy bits are kind of fun to roll around on your tongue as it melts.
Another production note. After seeing the Orange Creme ones last year that were white with orange stripes on the outside, I figured out how they make these. They create stripes of molten colored white chocolate on the inside of the mold, then deposit the rest of the white chocolate. The strips of colored chocolate spread out and make the stripes.
The only disturbing thing I have to report about this pair of candies is that both ingredients list PGPR (Polyglycerol Polyricinoleate - an emulsifier used to replace some of the cocoa butter in lower quality chocolates). Sigh.
If you need more Kisses, check out SugarHog.net, which is running a series of reviews on all the regular and limited edition Kisses. (Including the coconut ones that I haven’t been able to find ... well, I haven’t looked very hard.)
UPDATE 10/28/2007: The Candy Cane Kisses are back for 2007 ... however, they are no longer made with cocoa butter, instead it’s a mix of tropical oils. I do not plan on buying them again.
Saturday, November 11, 2006
Yesterday I told you about the Night of a Thousand Chocolates. Today it’s all about the “World Geatest Box of Chocolates” and the Artisan Picks of 2006 from CocoBella.
The box is interesting. It has a heavy focus on nuts with half of the offerings featuring nuts in them (hazelnuts as the top favorite). Here’s the lowdown:
- Marquise de Sevigne Praline Noisette - France (Hazelnut paste enrobed in Chocolate) - mellow with a sweet and smooth paste center with a healthy dose of hazelnut but really not a sugary sweetness (or so it seemed). It balanced really well with the thin coat of rich chocolate. The nicely toasted nut on top gives this candy my pick as the candy I would most like to wear as a hat.
Marquise de Sivigne Orange Amer - Belgium (Orange ganache in Dark Chocolate) - This one was fascinating. It tasted like orange juice - more like a whole orange than a caramel or ganache. It was kind of like the custardy filling of a lemon meringue pie (only orange) because of the tart bite to it. The mellow dark chocolate with its bitter bite pulled it all together.
Knipschildt Chocolatier Hannah - US (Liquid Caramel with Pink Hawaiian Sea Salt) - this one doesn’t look like much. I’d never had a Knipschlidt chocolate before, so I thought this would be interesting. It truly was. Lately I’ve been eating a lot of salted caramels and this one was interesting. The center was a soft, custardy caramel with a good rounded sugar flavor, maybe with a hint of molasses. The salt was not too much and did actually have a little mineral hint to it.
Michel Cluizel Vesuve - France (Madagascar Dark Chocolate Ganache) - A simple single origin dark chocolate truffle. It was soft and had a good mix of bitterness, acidity, dry finish with smoke and woodsy notes. I realized that my less than stellar experience with the Cluizel nibby bar last year should not dissuade me from trying more of their truffles.
Corne Port Royal Rocher Noir - Belgium (Hazelnut Praline in Dark Chocolate) - another hazelnut chocolate, this one was more like a hazelnut halvah. It had an interesting crystallized texture. The nutty flavors combined really well with the shards of sugar, though I would have preferred a little more toasty caramel flavor to it. The chocolate was nice and mild and set off the sweetness really well. It was a good chocolate, but I don’t know if it’s among the best hazelnut chocolates I’ve ever had. (And I’m the girl who likes Perugina Baci.)
Charles Chocolates Almond Cluster - US (Lightly Salted Roasted Almonds in Milk Chocolate) - it’s not the most elegant looking piece of chocolate, in fact, there’s very little chocolate here at all. Everyone keeps going on about how nicely Chuck Siegel roasts his nuts, and though I agree, the milk chocolate just isn’t doing anything for me here. Too sweet. (Have no fear, I’ll say nice things about Chuck’s nuts in a few days when I get to that review!)
Cary’s Toffee - US (English Toffee topped with Almonds) - I was surprised to see toffee there. I was also pleased. This generous bar has a wonderful caramelized scent with an immediate hit of butter. The toffee itself had a wonderful gentle cleave, breaking into shards when bitten. The dark chocolate really helped to bring out the darker smoke notes of the sugars. The extra nuts on top could stay or go as far as I was concerned, in fact, they kept falling off.
Marcona ones I’ve had at tapas bars, and the different flavor of them and density of oils really set off the slightly salty zing of the cocoa outside.
Christopher Elbow Strawberry Balsamic - US (Strawberry Puree with Caramel and Balsamic Vinegar) - a lovely looking candy with an inventive design that really screams balsamic vinegar. But here goes ... I’m not fond of vinegar and chocolate. I’ve tried a few in the past year and maybe there’s one out there that will make me happy, but this one isn’t it. The center was a little too tart for me and the white chocolate a little too sweet. I think I would have preferred everyone compromising a bit in the middle. Perhaps a milk chocolate and a caramel with more butter to balance the acids.
Christopher Elbow Aztec Spice - US (5 Spice Blend with Ancho and Pasillo Chilis) - this one was lovely, one that I’ve actually had several of now. The spice is mellow and robust at the same time. I could make out the caramelized flavors of the roasted chilis and the cinnamon and allspice gave it a good woodsy boost.
Christopher Elbow Rosemary Caramel - US (Caramel infused with Rosemary) - The caramel in here is the slow flowing kind with a slight grain to it and a strong infusion of rosemary. However, the white chocolate added no vanilla balance but a pure sweetness that just drowned out the balsam qualities. This chocolate with its eighties style gemtone brushstrokes of color gets my pick as the one that I would least like to wear as a hat.
Valentino Framboize - Belgium (Whole Raspberry with Raspberry Buttercream) - I was really looking forward to this one. I have to say that it didn’t look very appealing to me, but the thought of a whole raspberry made me look past its bulging belly like a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. Aside from that, it was nice and floral with a really good raspberry flavor, but again too sweet for my tastes. I wanted more chocolate and less of the buttercream, I guess.
Marquise de Sevigne Creme Brulee - France (Caramelized Butter Ganache) - More like a praline than the custard I was expecting (like the Kee’s one I tried in NYC). Caramelized, a little grainy but rather light. Tastes a bit like coconut but not in a bad way. It kind of grew on my after I got past my expectations. It was more like the sugar crust of a creme brulee than the custard itself.
Amadei Supremo - Italy (Milk Chocolate Espresso Ganache) - simple and divine. I’d leave it at that, but the way I’ve laid out this page I kind of have to go on about each one the same amount. It’s not the prettiest one of the bunch, being from a rather common stock mold, but the milk and mellow ganache go well.
Maglio Stuffed Fig - Italy (Almond and Lemon with Fig) - when Michael Freeman was presenting the box and he got to this one I was just itching to bolt across the room to wolf one down. Billed as a dried fig stuffed with candied lemon and almonds, I was pretty much sold. Upon trying it was I in love with the figs and chocolate (as I’d already been downing the Trader Joe’s ones in my motel room earlier in the day) but didn’t get the lemon and almond notes I was promised. Don’t worry, I didn’t demand my money back. The dark chocolate was absolutely wonderful. I am surprised that I actually shared this with the neighbors (it’s pretty big and easy to cut into pieces) but I felt bad because someone pointed out that Amy spits out a lot of stuff I give her.
Michel Cluizel Champignon Caramel - France (Caramel Mushroom with Almond Praline Cap) - Were you wondering if I was saving the best for last? There actually aren’t in any particular order (I think the order I took the photos in). I didn’t know what it was, I think my mind was still on the fig thing when it was mentioned in the presentation. It looks like a mushroom. The stem is a wonderful firm caramel covered in mellow white chocolate. The cap is a little half-sphere cup of almond praline (like the florentine cookies) filled with a truffle ganache and then coated in chocolate. Genius. Cute and absoutely an incredible combination.
There was another walnut item in the box which I didn’t try.
On the whole, the box isn’t my favorite. However, after sampling the wares at CocoaBella, I know that Michael Freeman has good taste. I find boxed chocolates frustrating on the whole, because there’s usually such an assortment, as in this one, once you hit on a favorite you’ve eaten it and have to move on. The good thing is that it’s a great cross section of a lot of different chocolatiers that I probably never would have recognized before that are now on my “seek out” list.
So, my tip is, if you have the money, dive in and take a chance. If you don’t and you still want to explore, try the CocoaBella “Build a Box” feature on their website (or go into the store). The pre-selected boxes don’t actually tell you what’s in there but do have some good indicators (Dark Chocolate, Exotics, Milk Chocolate, Truffles and Wine Pairings). I think if I had to pick a box out for myself, I’d try either the exotics or the truffles.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.