Monday, March 30, 2015
While in London last year, I picked up quite a few chocolate bars. One brand that I noticed had good distribution and prices, was Willie’s Cacao. The company direct sources their cocoa beans and manufacturers their chocolate in England. For a small company they make a wide array of chocolate products, like the bars I picked up in single origin varieties like Madagascar, Peru, Indonesia and two different sourcings from Venezuela. In addition they also have a line of single origin cocoas, chocolate pearls and bars with flavors and inclusions.
I picked up the Venezuela Gold Las Trincheras 72% at Waitrose. The package is two little 40 gram bars that are wrapped separately for £2.99, or about $4.50. A lot of other single origin bars are priced at twice that, so it was a gamble that this was going to be passable stuff. The box is quite elegant, dark brown with orange, creamy yellow and gold foiled lettering. The package states that the single estate cacao comes from Hacienda Las Trincheras in northern Venezuela.
The flavor profile is described as smooth nutty notes, which is exactly why I like Venezuelan origin cacao.
The box helpfully gave me both the bar’s origin date and the best by date. It was produced in November 2013 and good until May 2015. I ate one of the bars after I returned from my trip last year, and saved the other in my climate controlled chocolate fridge until last month.
The bars are lovely, the mold, which says Willie’s Delectable Cacao gives the otherwise ordinary 2.75 inch square a bit more flair. The tempering is very nice, there’s a good snap to the bar and no bubbles or voids. The color is a little on the red side of dark brown.
The melt is easy but not too quick. The ingredients are very simple, no emulsifiers. Just cacao, raw cane sugar and cocoa butter. There’s a little dryness early on, and some bright fruit notes. The overwhelming flavor I get is not nutty but raisins. I usually associate strong raisin flavors with Peruvian chocolate. There are some other notes of rosemary, roses and plums, but I didn’t catch more than a fleeting cashew note. It’s a bit bitter at times as well, but not so much that it distracted from the other flavors, just enough to keep it from getting too sweet.
For the price, I think they’re very well done bars, and I appreciate the packaging style that allows me to actually eat some now and really save some for later, as I did here. However, I didn’t love this particular bar enough that I would import it. I am interested enough in the brand that I would pick it up again, especially some of the other origins.
Friday, March 27, 2015
When I was at the Fancy Food Show in San Francisco in January, I picked up a lot of little chocolate pieces, but not full sized bars for review. So here are a few thoughts on some items that are now in stores:
Perugina Baci are perfect little bites of dark chocolate and hazelnut. Of course they had to twist it up a bit and introduce a white chocolate version ... and now there’s Peugina Milk Chocolate Baci.
The wrappers are light blue instead of silver. They’re pretty and look the same in shape and structure as the standard dark. The milk chocolate does change the confection quite a bit. The hazelnut because more of the star, as well as the dairy notes from the milk chocolate coating and creamy filling. I still liked them, but I ate some classic dark at the same time. I still prefer the bittersweet coating because it brings out the roasted flavors. But these are still nice and probably something kids may enjoy more or supertasters who don’t like bitter things.
I enjoy BT McElrath’s Salty Dog bars (which it turns out I haven’t fully reviewed), which are a great sweet/savory mix of creamy chocolate, salt and crunchy toffee bits. So I was very excited to try the new BT McElrath Buttered Toast. It’s described as Toasted artisan breadcrumbs in our proprietary blend of 40% cacao milk chocolate.
It’s sweet and definitely buttery. There’s a soft bite to this and little bits that crunch like panko. There’s a light salt note along with a little toffee and malt to it as well. Even though it’s a very rich milk chocolate, it might be a little too thick and sticky for me ... maybe I’ll wait for the dark chocolate version to come along.
The BT McElrath Super Red is a 70% bar with little flecks of freeze dried fruit.
The tart notes of the berry bits with the rather dark chocolate combine for a lot more flavor intensity than something like a nut chocolate combo would give. The seeds also give a little bitterness, as does the chocolate and dark berry notes.
Vosges calls these Super Dark bars, though they’re only 72% dark chocolate. That’s because the super part isn’t modifying the chocolate, it’s modifying the inclusions, which are all deemed superfoods. It’s like they went out of their way to put bitter things in there. I picked up two samples (they look pretty much the same). Vosges Super Dark Matcha Green Tea features spirulina, matcha (pulverized green tea) and cocoa nibs. The grassy notes of the matcha are immediately forward. I enjoy a lot of green tea, though I don’t have matcha very often because it’s pulverized leaves, not just steeped tea. Though I understand that there’s more flavanol bang per gram in matcha than the brewed leaves, it’s just too intense for me. This bar brings out a lot of that experience, so if you’re a matcha fan, this is a fun bar, especially because there are some cocoa nibs in there for crunch. The bitterness was just too drying for me. I had to follow it with some Hojicha.
The Vosges Super Dark Coconut Ash & Banana features Sri Lankan coconut charcoal coconut ash and Hawaiian Banana. The bar does look much darker, blacker than a usual chocolate bar. It smells like coconut cream. The flavor is bizarre as well. There are the immediate chocolate notes, which are like crispy brownie edges, then the coconut flavors and something, well, umami that I can’t put my finger on. Then there’s the weird banana flavor, which is a little like fingernail polish remover, it’s not an integrated flavor, it’s like it escapes from the chocolate and evaporates immediately into the back of my sinuses - eventually within the chocolate I did come across a few tangy bits of dried banana, which were completely different on the banana taste spectrum. I wouldn’t call this a pleasant bar experience, though I do appreciate the attempt at the unique. The ash notes come out at the end, more as a sort of dry charcoal notes.
I actually love the little sizes of all the bars, and BT McElrath sells theirs in an array of sizes, some with mixed flavors so you can try more of choose to suit your mood. Vosges also sells some of their Super Dark pieces in boxes, but they’re about $80.
Thursday, March 26, 2015
I have very little to say about this product today. On Candyology 101, for our first Easter episode, Maria presented some Dollar Tree candies, as a sort of dare. Of course, once I said I might be interested in one of them, I felt compelled to actually follow through. So, off I went to the Dollar Tree to plunder their aisle filled with R.M. Palmer and Ferrara Candy found nowhere else.
The item I expressed I wanted to try was Melster Marshmallow Fluffies with limited edition Spring Flavors: Vanilla, Lemon, Cherry and Green Apple.
Melster is one of two American companies I know that make Circus Peanuts (Spangler is the other) and I always hope that I will find a version of the Marbits-style candy that I actually like. So, my optimism and one dollar got me this bag. Thankfully it’s only 6 ounces, which means there won’t be much waste after I try them and throw them away.
They’re absolutely ugly. The little cartoons on the package are great, but these just look like hammer-wrecked pastel thumbs.
Since I dreaded them, they were far more likely to impress me than not.
The Lemon Yellow one was pleasant enough. The texture of the marshmallow is firm. There’s a slight grain to the fluff, which is pretty dry but not stale. The sweet lemon flavor is light, giving the whole thing the vague taste and texture of an Italian nougat.
The White Vanilla was also nondescript, it had virtually no flavor aside from sugar, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The fact that it had no coloring also meant that there were no strange aftertastes.
Green Apple was mercifully bland, as I was afraid it would be Jolly Rancher-ish. Instead it had a vague note of “flavor” but nothing I could pin down.
Pink Cherry smelled like a new vinyl showercurtain. It tasted like a cross between an antiseptic spray and a generic fruity candle from the dollar store. There was such a bitter aftertaste that upon eating one while taking their photo, I made a mental note to make this the last of my tastings for review. Which is good, because this leaves a long and lingering bitterness.
So, the three decent flavors weren’t as bad as I thought they’d be, but that’s only because I thought they’d be as bad as bad could be. The Pink Cherry actually exceeds the expected horribleness.
For an Easter candy, these should be more attractive, not look like actual pre-hatched chicks and ducks or a roadkill bunny. Brach’s also makes a version of these for Easter, which are equally unattractive. This really isn’t a candy that’s likely to wow me, but if you’re a Circus Peanut fan, you might enjoy the variation on the standard Banana flavor.
Wednesday, March 25, 2015
When I was very little, as far as I knew, Jelly Beans came in a scant few flavors and they were basically the same as Spice Drops. Later Jelly Belly came along and revolutionized jelly beans by trying to make everything into a flavor at least once.
Brach’s now calls their fruit blend of Jelly Bird Eggs their Classic Flavors, and they call what were, for about 100 years the classic flavors simply Spiced. I guess when a couple of generations grow up with fruity jelly beans, that happens. Now, I might complain that things have changed over the years, and a pound of coffee is no longer a pound of coffee ... but this bag is actually a pound of jelly beans. For only $2.49 ... not a bad deal overall ... if they’re any good.
Nowhere on the bag does it go beyond that name to describe what the flavors actually are. It appears there are six flavors.
I’ll start with Green which is epitome of a Spearmint jelly bean. It’s like a jelly bean version of Spearmint Leaves. The shell is grainy and far too sweet, but the center has a lot of fresh spearmint flavor, with little pops of extra flavor now and then. Very refreshing. I picked these out of the bag and ate them first.
Black is Licorice, which is not surprising to anyone who’s ever had jelly beans. The flavor is strongly anise, crisp and sweet but with a little bitter edge that I think may come from the artificial colors. I liked them, they were good but there were far fewer blacks than any other color in the bag.
White is Peppermint but a rather mild mint. As much as I like peppermint, it simply doesn’t go very well here. It’s weak and watery, kind of like a peppermint tea instead of a peppermint candy. Still, I didn’t avoid them and I enjoyed the fact that they didn’t have any colorings in them.
Orange is Orange Spice. I think it’s spiced orange, because it’s not Orange Slice orange, there’s a note of cinnamon and clove to the shell, but the center is orange. These irritated me, because I wanted a zesty Jelly Bird Egg equivalent of the Orange Slice. However, I applaud them for making an orange that was actually in keeping with the spice theme.
Pink is Wintergreen. I love wintergreen and these were pretty good, aromatic and medicinal but with a bitter finish.
Purple is Clove. I don’t care for clove as a candy flavor or spice, so I’ll pass on this one. It was strong and well rounded, with both aromatic notes and the bitterness that I’m never sure is coming from the flavorings or the colorings.
Red is Cinnamon. I like cinnamon a lot and I eat plenty of Hot Tamales. These were spicy and sweet, a good balance, especially since it seemed to come from the jelly center, not just the sugary shell.
On the whole, they’re an acceptable blend of flavors, just what I expected. I wish the sugar shell wasn’t quite so grainy and sweet, but the jelly center is actually rather smooth. The contain no pectin, they’re only jelled with corn starch.
The beans were made in Mexico. They have a beeswax and confectioners glaze on them, so most vegans would not eat these. Jelly Bird Eggs are made in a facility that also uses milk, eggs, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soy.
Tuesday, March 24, 2015
One of my favorite candies is malted milk balls. Easter brings the pastel version, which is egg shaped and has a candy coating. I rounded up four of the most popular versions in stores today for a little comparison.
I have various sized bags from Jelly Belly, Necco, Brach’s (Ferrara Candy) and Whoppers (Hershey’s).
Though there are some size differences in the eggs, and some other sizes available from these brands, pastel malted eggs are usually larger than malted milk balls and less focused on the milk chocolate coating.
They’re generally an attractive candy, but with a large variation on the look and texture of the shell and color palettes.
From left to right: Necco Mighty Malts, Jelly Belly, Whoppers and then Brach’s.
Name: Mighty Malts Speckled Malted Milk Eggs
Verdict: It’s too messy to eat around the awful coating, so I can’t recommend these at all for eating, only decoration.
Name: Speckled Chocolate Malted Eggs
Verdict: The shells are very thick, probably too much shell for me and the flavor was not a good mix for the other flavors. I still loved the colors and have eaten two full bags so far this season. However, they’re also very expensive ... about 5 times more expensive than the Necco Mighty Malts, though imminently more edible.
Name: Whoppers Robin Eggs
Verdict: The unappealing pink shells and less appealing mockolate layer just make these unbearable. I actually find myself doing the extra work on the Necco Mighty Malts instead of eating these, even though they have an excellent malt center.
Name: Malted Milk Pastel Fiesta Eggs
Verdict: Of the four, I prefer these, though they still don’t quite shine on their own merits, only in comparison. I’ve eaten two bags so far this season and do find them comforting, but I only keep eating them on the naive hope that I’ll find “a good one” as if that’s ever happened or will happen.
The result of this tour only confirms that I love the idea of a great Malted Milk Pastel Egg, but I haven’t found it yet.
Monday, March 23, 2015
Peet’s is another chain here in the West that I go to a bit more often. I was pleased to see their Easter themed items when I was there last week and picked up two bags, since I had a few co-workers with me and they were curious to try them.
The most beautiful of their assortment was the Peet’s Caramel Robin Eggs. They’re pastel blue with some small flecks. The bag was $5.95 for 7 ounces, expensive but not much worse than an extravagant drink.
I believe that these are made by Marich, also a California company. They also make an all natural version of these that are sold at Whole Foods as Quail Eggs.
The construction is simple: a soft caramel core is coated in chocolate and then given a beautiful matte shell. The shape is like a chocolate covered almond.
They’re just lovely to look at and have a great cool finish on them. If I dissolve them, the matte outside gives way to a slick and cool sugar shell. But I’m mostly a cruncher and found that the shell had a good texture that gave the right balance of crunch and not too much extra sweetness. The inner chocolate was interesting because it had a smoky, coffee flavor to it. The caramel center is chewy but not tacky at all. The flavor was a lot like toffee or maple, which went really well with the chocolate.
They’re just excellent, I couldn’t have enjoyed them more.
As I was ordering my cappuccino I noticed these. I recognized the Robin Eggs and realized these were Marich. This color reminded me of the Curry Cashews I had at the Fancy Food Show, which used real white chocolate, not some weird oily confectionery coating. From the name, Peet’s Citrus Shortbread Bites, they sounded like they might be good.
Like the Robin Eggs, they were also $5.95 for the bag. The bag is simple, the top is sealed but then has a twist tie featuring the little fabric ribbon bow. So, it can be resealed after you’ve taken a handful out.
The lemon flavored white chocolate is made with plenty of cocoa butter and whole milk. The melt is at first a little tentative, because of the confectioners glaze, but then it does give way very nicely to a soft, citrusy flavor. There’s actually a little pop of tartness in there from time time as well. The cookie center is crunchy and less like a shortbread and almost like a biscotti, it’s very firm and not as dense as a shortbread usually is.
They’re quite refreshing and go really well with cup of tea ... not so much with coffee. I would buy these again. I liked the chunky nuggets and unusual flavor combination for a candy but also the fact that it still used decadent ingredients like real butter in the cookie and cocoa butter in the white chocolate.
Thursday, March 19, 2015
There are now dozens of small-batch chocolate makers scattered around North America. One that caught my eye a couple of years ago won the Good Food Award in 2013. Raaka Chocolate is based in Brooklyn, New York and was founded in 2010.
The team at Raaka says,”We make virgin chocolate from unroasted cacao beans. Our unique process preserves each region’s wild flavors, bringing you closer to the bean.”
The unique style of their bars means that they use organic beans that have been naturally fermented and dried but not roasted. The result is a bar that is like the chocolate that we all know, but with some differences ... not necessarily things that make it better or worse, just different. The cacao is direct sourced while the sugar is organic and fair trade certified. Most of their bars are just beans and evaporated cane juice (no vanilla, no emulsifiers) but the bar I picked out for review was the Raaka Virgin Chocolate Bourbon Cask Aged - Belize 82%. This bar also has some maple sugar in it.
As you can guess from the name, the notable thing about this cacao is that it is first aged in oak bourbon casks from Berkshire Mountain Distilling. I’ve had chocolate that’s been aged in barrels before, but never chocolate made from beans that have been aged in barrels. For roasted cacao that wouldn’t work, because the roasting would probably remove the flavors the casks introduce, but remember Raaka is working with unroasted beans, the way the beans are treated before grinding will definitely affect flavor.
The bar mold is dead simple, just a 1.8 ounce plank with no scoring, no design. There’s a great snap to it, and glossy sheen on the outside, but a little rough looking inside.
The bar smells, well, a little like bourbon. There’s a vanilla note and some light peat along with some other more yeasty bread notes. The melt of the chocolate is not quite as creamy as some bars I’ve had, but certainly not gritty. It’s smoother than Taza, which is also stone ground. The yeasty notes are very strong along with an acidic bite and a light coffee and maple note. It’s undeniably chocolate, but with a kick that is a little more unformed, a little less refined. The bar also changed, as I nibbled on it over several weeks. The bitterness dissipated (oxidation can do that) and I found a few more berry jam notes to it.
For an 82% bar, it’s not as dense as you might expect. I’ve certainly had 70% bars that are more intense. This may be because there’s some extra cocoa butter added in, which counts towards the cacao percentage, but does help mellow its severity.
I appreciate the bar, and enjoyed it quite a bit. I kept in my purse for several weeks, but never felt the need for more than a little half inch square at a time. The rustic melt was not as decadent as bars I usually prefer, so sometimes this felt like it demanded more attention to enjoy, like the different between classic sonnets and some free verse.
Their facility and bars are vegan, nut free, soy free, gluten free and made from all organic ingredients.
Wednesday, March 18, 2015
In episode 10 of Candyology 101, Maria and I review our lists of the top Easter candies and talk about the iconic chocolate rabbit.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.