Monday, December 14, 2015
Trader Joe’s often has the most wonderful seasonal confections. They’re often reasonably priced and unique items that are hard to find anywhere else. Many of the items at Trader Joe’s for 2015 are returning from previous years, including their cordials, passport chocolate stacks and Belgian chocolates. The newest item that caught my eye are the Trader Joe’s Chocolate Marbles.
There’s nothing particularly wintery or holiday about them. They’re just chocolate spheres filled with different pralines. There are six varieties, each sphere is then given a mottled color coating to distinguish it from the others. There are ten marbles in the package. It’s just shy of 5 ounces, so each piece is about 4/10 of an ounce. The flavors are: caramel, coconut, praline & almond, and chocolate mousse. The description on the Trader Joe’s website goes like this:
Almond Praline (Green), Hazelnut Praline (Orange), Chocolate Mousse (Blue), Coconut (White), Caramel (Brown), Crispy Cookie (Yellow)
They’re about the same size as a Lindt Lindor Truffle, but really the similarities end there.
The tray is wonderful for protecting the candies, but makes it devilishly hard to get them out, they’re tucked in there and I couldn’t quite grab a single. All I would end up doing is spinning it around in its little cup. However, once out, the slightly bumpy outside means that they’re not as rolly as some spherical chocolates. (Sixlets probably max out the scale at a 10 and these are probably about a 4 - they can sit on a flat surface but anything raked and they will go with gravity.)
The lovely medium blue marble is filled with Chocolate Mousse. The shell is dark chocolate with a milk chocolate filling. The filling is soft and creamy and definitely sweet. It’s light but I wouldn’t call it a mousse. The dark shell was different enough from the filling, but if I wasn’t told what this flavor was, I’m not sure I’d guess it. However, it’s quite different from the Lindor, it’s much more dense in flavor with less of that thin oily feel on the tongue.
The white marble is filled with a chocolate cream with Coconut. This was rather mainstream tasting, very pleasing for my American palette. This was the only one I was able to pick out by scent. The chocolate was sweet and the little crispy coconut bits did make it all pop a lot more than the more delicate praline pieces.
The brown marble is filled with two half domes of Caramel. It tastes like a lot more chocolate on this one, but the caramel holds its own. The caramel is a bit more of the saucy side than chew. The flavor is quite deep, with scorched and burnt sugar notes particularly strong. There were also a lot of milk flavors, more than the other pieces, so that may have been part of the caramel.
I think this was my favorite of the assortment, because it was so different from most American and British caramels. The only drawback I noticed after the third or fourth piece was that the colorful coating was a little waxy and though it seals in the flavors and keeps them from melting if you hold them in your hand for a few minutes ... it’s a shellac and rather tastes like it.
It’s a milk shell with a milk chocolate paste in the center and little cereal or cookie bits. It was a little malty and a little corny… when I say corny, I actually mean it tasted like corn nuts or polenta or something. It was not as sweet as some of the other milk chocolate pieces and definitely different.
Green - Almond Praline has a darker chocolate shell, though I’m not sure if it’s full dark chocolate. It balanced the almond praline pretty well. It’s not marzipan, it’s more of an almond butter mixed with a touch of cocoa and sugar. It’s sticky and satisfying, but doesn’t have a strong jolt of almond flavor.
The orange marble is filled with Hazelnut Praline. This is quite sweet but has a very good roasted hazelnut flavor. The filling is more paste with a definite crystallized sugar grain to it. It doesn’t have the smooth melt of the mousse, so it’s a bit sticky. I thought the milk chocolate shell made it all too sweet, but the lingering toasted nut flavors really kept it from being cloying afterwards.
I think these are a great hostess gift, excellent for using as an accent to a dessert plate of holiday cookies, or tossing in a little dish with some snacks. The price, for the quality and unique appearance, is quite good.
These are made in France, is suspect by the same confectioner that made the Magic Beans. The ingredients look good, all natural things, even natural colorings They contain milk, wheat, hazelnut, almond, soy, coconut. May also contain traces of chestnut, pistachio, walnut and/or eggs.
Wednesday, December 9, 2015
There’s a lot of candy out there for Christmas, but the seasonal flavor pendulum has swung back from Pumpkin Spice and gingerbread to plain old Peppermint. Listen to this episode of Candyology 101 as Maria and I talk about this year’s crop of Christmas candy.
Monday, December 7, 2015
Target’s newest seasonal edition of M&Ms is a rather nonseasonal but welcome classic: M&Ms Milk Chocolate Cafe Mocha.
They’re far more expensive than regular M&Ms. At Target they were on sale 2 bags for $6, but the regular varieties were larger bags. Milk Chocolate M&Ms come in an 11.4 ounce bags. For Halloween picked up the Pumpkin Spice Latte in a 9.9 ounce bag. The same is true for the returning Peppermint White Chocolate M&Ms, they’re now in an 8 ounce bag.
They’re larger than standard M&Ms, basically puffier. If you eat them carefully by cleaving them in half you can tell that the milk chocolate center is created in two layers. It’s like they took a regular M&M and then gave it another chocolate coating and then a candy shell. I’m not sure why the Limited Edition flavors are all this shape, but they are. It’s interesting to note that the Walmart exclusive flavor of Hot Chocolate M&Ms does have a different center. I have to wonder if this is because the manufacturing process is re-purposed from the failed M&Ms Premiums line from 2008.
The shells are green or red. My bag contained mostly green, it was tough to find reds to populate the photos, they’re less than a third of the package. There’s no actual coffee listed in the ingredients.
They don’t smell like much in the bag, a little less like chocolate but not fully like coffee. The bite is not at all soft, the chocolate is a little chalky and fudgy. The melt gives off a lot of sweetness and a little note of bitterness at first as well as a good whiff of coffee. The chocolate is okay, not great but the bitterness of the coffee notes, the roasted and woodsy aspects kind of cover for the milk flavors. It’s not really a latte flavor, its more of a coffee with milk and cocoa. It might have been fun to see them try this with a dark chocolate, but I’m patient. This is their first try at coffee M&Ms since the Premiums line. (And there will be another version of coffee and peanuts next spring.)
Mars does a great job with their coffee flavors, it’s well rounded without too much of a fake flavor note to it (like some other buttery things they’ve done). I’d love to see these come back as a seasonal tradition, but at all stores. I’ll pick up more bags soon, just in case they don’t.
Monday, November 30, 2015
This Winter Edition of the classic square Ritter Sport is a cream filled chocolate bar with 16 little squares. I found mine at Cost Plus World Market, which has been a pretty reliable source for the winter versions (though less often the summer ones). They’re a smidge more expensive than the regular Ritter bars at $2.99, but they’re also placed with the Christmas candy, not the ordinary candy bars.
The bar is described as milk chocolate filled with hazelnut creme and hazelnut cookie pieces. I love the hazelnut bars that Ritter Sport makes, so this was a really enticing idea.
The bar, once broken, looks an awful lot like the chai one, no real perceptible nuts or nut paste or cookie bits, just off white cream.
The bar smells milky but with an actual hazelnut note to it. The cream center is a bit on the greasy side, but does actually have crunches of cookies and some small hazelnut bits. That roasted hazelnut smell, that Nutella scent, takes over the chocolate though. While the coating is milk chocolate, it definitely tastes more like gianduia.
The bar is decent, but not special enough for me. It’s a little on the bland side, and the greasy cream filling doesn’t have enough of the hazelnut punch I’d hoped for. The cookie bits are too few and of course the cream filling is really high in palm fat.
Monday, November 23, 2015
Ritter Sport has introduced seasonal varieties for the past five years or so (or at least that I’ve been able to get a hold of). The newest set for Winter include a new version called Ritter Sport Vanilla Chai Latte.
The description on the English label on the back says that it’s milk chocolate filled with vanilla cream, spices and black tea extract.
The ingredients are actually a little less creamy and a bit more oily:
Like other Ritter Sport cream filled bars, this one clocks in at 164 calories per ounce, which definitely on the high side, especially when it has 9 grams of saturated fat per a 38 gram serving.
It smells a bit like a pumpkin cheesecake. There’s a spice note, which is pleasant but not terribly distinct, just some generic nutmeg, clove and cinnamon. I’ve actually had my fair share of spiced chai over the years, so I know that the spices vary quite a bit. But they’re not that dissimilar to Pumpkin Spice or Gingerbread Spices. What sets it apart here is the black tea extract. Or at least it should.
The milk chocolate bar is very sweet, the chocolate part is milky and creamy but not at all intense, it’s quite overpowered by the spices in the cream. The filling is a little more fudgy and thick, but not at all grainy or oily. The black tea part gives a little tannic note, but mostly the flavors are nutmeg and clove with maybe a little allspice.
It’s an interesting bar because of the warming spices and the cream filling, but I’ve mentioned before that I don’t think that the cream bars that Ritter makes are their strongest item. The flavoring overpowers the chocolate experience, which is usually very good for the price point (much better than Toblerone). I’ll pass on this one if it comes back again next winter.
Wednesday, November 18, 2015
The Lakerol pastille is a simple, soft lozenge made in Sweden. They were first introduced in 1909 as a combination of eucalyptus and menthol in a gum arabic base. The effect is a slightly chewy drop that’s both soothing and takes a long time to dissolve.
Lakerol lozenges are now made by Cloetta, a large Swedish company with a pretty diverse set of confectionery holdings like Kex, Red Band, Malaco (Swedish Fish) and Xilifresh.
I’ve seen the little boxes of Lakerol at import shops, delis and drug stores all my life. They have a very diverse array of flavors, with licorice and black currant as their most popular. I saw this version, which is not sugar free, in Yuzu Citrus at Cost Plus World Market. I’ve had a bit of a hoarse throat since getting over a cold a few weeks ago, so this is exactly the sort of lozenge I like to pick up.
The box holds about 2 dozen little disks, which is only .88 ounces. The pieces are a little larger than shirt buttons with a starburst pattern and the letter A at the center (for Adolf Ahlgren, who started the company). The package says they’re sugar free, they’re made with a combination of maltitol, sorbitol and stevia, but no artificial sweeteners. (The licorice variety contains acesulfame-K, so I’ve avoided Lakerol for many years.)
The texture is firm, but bendable. They have a good citrus flavor with a light note of menthol. The yuzu is a little like a mix of grapefruit and tangerine, and in this case the ingredients list quite a few citruses: grapefruit, orange, sanginello and yuzu. The dissolve is very smooth but it makes a thick, glycerine sort-of-syrupy coating. This is great for a dry throat, and the citrus flavor is fresh without being cloying or too minty (which can burn my sinuses if I’ve taken a decongestant).
They’re pretty nice, the box is small and easy to carry and each little piece lasts for quite a while. I always enjoy these firm gum lozenges, like Grethers Pastilles or Pine Bros around this time of year. I’m glad that Lakerol has some that aren’t artificially sweetened.
Monday, November 16, 2015
Of course there should be Christmas gummis! And not just red and green gummi bears, they should be fully conceived holiday gummis. So, I was really intrigued with Vidal Gummi Gingerbread Men.
The package has all the holiday icons: ornaments, holly with berries, red background and of course a little gingerbread house for the gingerbread man. The gingerbread man looks extremely happy to be there, too. Like he wants to run and jump in your mouth.
The gummis are cookies n’ creme flavor, which is not quite what I was hoping for, especially since I’m not sure what that flavor actually is, it’s more of a thing with textures.
They’re cute little guys, actually they’re pretty big for gummis (but small for cookies). They’re about 2 inches tall and an armspan of about 1.25 inches. Unlike real gingerbread cookies, these are “iced” on the bottom. There’s a foamy white layer base on the pieces and then a tan caramel colored gummi layer for the gingerbread. The actual flavor difference between the layers is negligible, it’s really about textures. The bottom is a little lighter, not quite marshmallow but foamy with a slight creamy touch. The top layer is a little smoother, but about the same flavor.
So, the flavor is, well, not cookies and cream. It’s more like honey sweetened yogurt. It’s sweet but there are no cookie or vanilla notes. There are certainly no spice notes, but it was clear that these aren’t gingerbread flavored. Instead they’re lightly tangy and just bland. I found them absolutely unappealing. The only good thing was that they didn’t smell weird, like some gummis can.
I think that there’s a market out there for non-fruity gummis. There are some licorice types around, but it would be fun to expand the flavors to things like mint and butterscotch or caramel or maybe even peanut butter. As far as these go, though, they’re purely for decoration and non-discriminating people. They are not tasty candy.
Vidal gummis are gluten free. They contain gelatin so they’re not vegetarian or kosher. There’s no statement on the label about soy or nuts, but they do contain coconut oil.
Friday, November 13, 2015
I have often desired a better version of the Almond Joy. I love the combination of chocolate and almonds and coconut, but the classic Almond Joy is just a little too sweet and well, has a lot of unnecessary ingredients.
Theo Chocolate of Seattle has been making organic and ethically sourced chocolate for quite a while, and even make one of my favorite bars, their Salted Almond Dark Chocolate. Their newest product expansion has been in the arena of traditional candy bars made with better ingredients (liked their peanut butter cups). The newest is Theo Coconut Salted Almond Bites. They’re part of a full line of coconut bites that come in milk or dark chocolate as well, but the twist here that combined an already well-loved bar was too enticing to resist, even at $2.39 for a scant 1.3 ounce package.
The ingredients are non-GMO, fair trade, palm oil free, soy free and organic. It’s also vegan (but made on shared equipment, so not necessarily for folks with dairy or egg allergies.)
The little squares do not look like Almond Joy. The almonds are actually little slivers and chips within the coconut filling, not a couple of whole almonds on top with the chocolate coating.
The smell is comforting, a clean coconut scent, but not quite as sweet and perfumey as suntan oil. The bite is soft, the filling is chewy but not at all sticky. The coconut is moist and distinct. The best part of the whole thing though is the dark touch of the chocolate shell. It’s deep and has a light sweetness that really isn’t found in the coconut. The salt really isn’t evident as a discrete element, but the whole thing isn’t sweet or cloying. The almond provide a different crunch over the chewy coconut.
It’s a very light treat, with really strong flavors and textures. This could become a regular habit ... actually, it has, this is the third bar I’ve purchased since they came out. It took me a while to control myself long enough to take photos.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.