Tuesday, December 9, 2014
During early December, Trader Joe’s becomes a hotspot for decadent hostess gifts. In the store I frequent, there is a table with just gift boxed confections and gift samplers by the dairy case. Many of the items featured are new and quirky treats, but some are tried and true classics.
Since I’m on a cherry cordial kick, I did pick up the Trader Joe’s Chocolate Liqueur Cherries which feature a real boost of alcohol (4.4%). They may not be available in all states, as some areas have stricter alcohol laws. I think you need to be over 21 to purchase these in most places. (Even though you’d need to eat the full 14 ounce box to get the same amount of alcohol as you’d find in a beer.)
The ingredients are quite decent: it’s 49% cacao dark chocolate (with no added dairy fillers) and a filling made of sugar, alcohol, a full cherry, corn syrup and cherry juice. There are no artificial flavors or colors ... and it appears to be vegan. They’re made in a factory that also processed milk, peanuts, almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts. There’s no statement about gluten and it does contain soy.
The box is serviceable, with some sort of faux wood grain design on the front that verges on old west instead of elegant Christmas gift. The tray inside is plastic, but because it’s metallic gold along with the gold foil wrapping, it’s a good presentation at that point.
Once the box is open, though, it’s hard to carry it with one hand without tipping the contents out ... but at least they’re wrapped in foil, so they’re easy to retrieve.
They’re small, at about 12 grams each and about 55 calories.
I found the easiest way to eat these is pretty common. I turn over the little hemisphere and pry the bottom off with my teeth eat the chocolate coin. Then sip the cherry syrup cordial and then eat the soaked cherry with the chocolate in one bite.
In this case the cherry cordial syrup is not quite sweet and has a light acidic note, probably from the cherry juice. The alcohol has no clear attributes of its own, except that it burns a little bit and gives the effect of cough syrup at times. The chocolate is passable - sweet and with some woodsy/brownie notes to it. The cherry at the center was usually small, but crunchy and chewy.
I enjoyed these since they were less sweet than others I’ve been sampling. I don’t know if I’d buy them again, I’d probably stick with the Brandy Beans if I have a hankering for alcohol filled chocolates. I applaud Trader Joe’s for making a reliable product, though, with good quality ingredients with no preservatives (well, sugar and alcohol are preservatives) or artificial colors. It’s certainly more expensive than the others I’ve profiled from Cella’s and Queen Anne, but you’re getting more real ingredients instead of preservatives and colorings ... and pretty gold foil.
I’ve purchased liqueur chocolates before, and I have to stress that you can’t freeze them (don’t leave them in the car overnight if you’re someplace cold) and they will eventually evaporate so they should be eaten within 1 month of purchase, especially if you’ve taken off the plastic overwrap.
Monday, December 8, 2014
Since I tried the an array of Queen Anne chocolate cherries, I though it would only be proper to try the best-known cordial cherries. Luckily they were on sale at Target yesterday for only $1.39 for a box of 10 cherries ... less than I paid for the lowest priced version of Queen Anne.
Cella’s Cherries come in a variety of packages, I’m most familiar with the boxes that feature individually foil wrapped versions. They come in both Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate versions. I chose dark.
This box of Cella’s was minimalist and efficient. The box was about half the size (flatter) than the Queen Anne and still held 10 pieces. (Though the total box only holds 5 ounces, not 6.6 ounces, so they’re smaller.) The tray plastic, but it’s easy to pull the chocolate’s out. They were all flawless, though I heard from a reader who also bought some over the weekend and half were cracked.
They’re well molded, shiny and fresh. Cella’s feature a 100% cordial center, which means no sugary fondant, it’ll all syrup and cherry in there. Cella’s are also made in a peanut free and gluten free facility, so these are appropriate for a wide range of sweet-lovers. Sadly, even though this is a dark chocolate product, there is some dairy in there (and soy). It would have been nice to find a vegan cherry candy. The cherries are treated with sulfur dioxide, sodium benzoate and calcium chloride and they add red dye #40.
They do smell like cherry. So much that it really overpowers the chocolate, but in general I consider the chocolate in a cordial cherry to be only a delivery vessel. The syrupy center is sweet, but certainly less so than the Queen Anne. The cherry is firm and crunchy and has just a slight tart note to it and a wholly maraschino flavor.
I was never really a cordial cherry fan, but I’ve been coming around. For the price, I really can’t complain about this product. The chocolate was creamy and had some toasted notes, though could certainly be darker. It was excellently tempered and these would be a lovely treat to serve with dessert to folks at the holidays. Because there’s a lot of water in the center, these are quite low in calories per ounce, so if you’re looking for a little treat without breaking your diet, this is also a nice change as the flavors are intense and linger. There are better looking packages, though, if you’re looking for a hostess gift.
Some people prefer the fondant style center to the syrup cordial, so it’s good to know what kind of person you are going in. SugarPressure did a comparison of Brach’s, Cella’s and Queen Anne and preferred the Queen Anne.
Friday, December 5, 2014
I have nothing against cherries. In fact, I love fresh cherries. I’m not fond of cherry flavored candies, so it stands to reason that I should actually like chocolate covered cherry cordials since they do have a real glace cherry at the center.
So a few years ago I tried the European version of Ferrero Mon Cheri ... which features a whole cherry in alcohol. That went well. But still, I’ve been hesitant to try some other varieties I see at drug store chains.
Though it seems odd, I thought I’d start at the bottom. I picked up the cheapest, but most widely available line I could find: Queen Anne Cordial Cherries which are made by World’s Finest Chocolate.
The boxes varied in price between $1.50 and $2.49 for a box that holds 10 cordial cherries totaling 6.6 ounces. Queen Anne makes cherries in a few versions: Milk Chocolate and Dark Chocolate as well as newer versions in French Vanilla and Black Cherry Cola. They also make a cordial blueberry, but I’ll save that for another time.
The packaging is far from elegant, but it is serviceable. There are ten candies in the box, each tray has five little plastic cups and the whole thing is sealed with a plastic film on top. The two trays are stacked in the box. The chocolates were in good shape, even though I’m guessing they get tossed around a bit en route.
Queen Anne Dark Chocolate Cordial Cherries were a good place to start. The chocolate can’t be particularly dark, as sugar is the first ingredient and the chocolate itself also contains anhydrous milk fat and PGPR. The cherries are souped up in high fructose corn syrup, citric acid and some extra Red Dye #40. The ingredients also mention another “dark coating” made from partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils and cocoa along with sugar.
They do look quite good and smell like, well, cherries but the cocoa notes of the chocolate do actually come through.
They’re a messy affair if one who likes to bite and not pop. I like to grab the cherry in the first bite to make sure I get it with the least amount of sugar ... leaving the syrup behind in the remaining hemisphere. The cherry is crisp and chewy with only a lightly tart note. But it tastes realistic and not quite as strongly of maraschino as some others.
It’s all overly sweet though, especially if I was going to eat the other half that didn’t have a cherry. The chocolate is passable, not overly sweet but also lacking a good quality creamy smooth note.
Though the nutrition panel says there’s only one more gram of sugar in this version over the dark, it’s astronomically sweeter. It’s pretty much inedible for me, though I’m sure some folks will enjoy the sugary vanilla blast. The cherry flavor is completely lost on me, which is too bad because the texture was spot on.
Oddly enough, this was the version I was looking forward to most. A bit of extra spicy flavor from the cola might help, and it actually did. The textures were the same, the cherries were firm and of good quality. The cola flavor was extremely mild, though. It was a little hint in the smell, and then maybe a whiff of it in the second bite. This one had the most maraschino flavor to it.
None are ever going to pass my lips again, not because they’re necessarily bad candy, but they’re certainly not the candy for me. There are better chocolate covered cordial cherries out there. A starting place will be finding better quality chocolate, as it should not just be treated like a container, but a gateway. So if I’m going to reset my brain to enjoy them, I think I should spend some time finding better ones.
Thursday, December 4, 2014
Their website lays out their attributes succinctly: They are white in color, peanut in shape, peppermint in flavor.
Spangler is already one of the best known makers of Circus Peanuts, the ordinarily orange colored, peanut shaped but banana flavored confection. This new version puts Circus Peanuts in play as a new product line for Holiday theming, especially since they made a Halloween version themed for Candy Corn.
They’re white, so they’re difficult to photograph. They’re about two inches long and don’t smell like much at first.
Upon my first bite, I did find that they’re quite minty. The texture of the marshmallow, when fresh, is light though a bit on the grainy side. They’re not the puffs you’d associate with Campfire or JetPuffed brands. Instead these are dense with a little bit of a sugar grain and get quite chewy and tacky when stale.
The mint is mild but definitely refreshing. It cuts the otherwise too-sweet notes of the marshmallow quite a bit. There’s only a smidge of salt in there (10mg) but what’s actually nice about these is that they’re, as far as I can tell, all natural. No artificial colors, because they’re not colored at all.
Out of curiosity, I added a peanut to my hot chocolate. I pulled it into “marbits” and tossed it on top. They do float, even though they’re a denser fluff than a Peep. The outside does become a little creamy and definitely imparts a minty note. But the center stays a bit grainy and starts to remind me of a wad of toothpaste. Still, it didn’t ruin a perfectly fine cup of hot chocolate. Now I’m wondering if I’d like a classic banana Circus Peanut in my hot chocolate.
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Godiva was founded in Belgium as a premium chocolatier. The company is now owned by a Turkish holding coming (Yıldız Holding) but is headquartered in New York and named after an Old English noblewoman.
The chocolate is reliably of good quality, though the prices are on the high side compared to other brands now available. I love their packaging, but I’m usually disappointed by the products as they tend to be bland.
Still, I was tempted enough by a press release about a new collaboration collection that I stopped by the local Godiva shop and picked up a box of the Chef Inspirations Flavors of the World Collection. It was $18 for a box of eight chocolates in six different flavors.
So, six flavors and eight pieces means that I got two duplicates. The box is nice, a rounded rectangle with a plastic formed tray inside. The whole thing was shrink-wrapped and definitely fresh and flawless when I opened it. It included a little brochure that described both the chef and chocolates themselves. Here’s a little bit from the website:
Banana & Caramelized Coconut: Milk and white chocolate enhanced with caramelized coconut flakes, coconut milk and banana essence topped with the crunch of West African cocoa nibs. The banana flavors are sweet and have a bit of a creamy note. The coconut has a little tropical flavor, the whole thing is soft and chewy. The milk chocolate is smooth, but extremely sweet.
Black Tea Mousse & Sichuan Pepper: Chinese Sichuan pepper flavored ganache blended with an aromatic black tea mousse and wrapped in pure Belgian dark chocolate. The mousse has a very light chocolate note but strong tannins from the black tea. I didn’t catch much of the pepper, which is too bad. But I did enjoy the tea and this one was less sweet than the others.
Sirop de Liege with Speculoos: Classic Belgian Sirop de Liege, a pear and apple syrup, and a Speculoos cookie mousse wrapped in pure Belgian dark chocolate. This is a beautiful piece and an interesting combination. It is by far the most innovative and successful in the assortment. The speculoos is soft and creamy with a hint of gingerbread spices. The syrup is more like a fruit jelly, tart and smooth and bright, it’s really a great pairing with the dark chocolate and cookie butter. They should make this in a bar format.
Japanese Dark Sugar Ganache: Dark chocolate layered with Kuromitsu molasses and Valencia almond praliné mixed with diced hazelnuts and Guerande sea salt. Since I started Candy Blog, I’ve been obsessed with Japanese black sugar, so this was the piece was thinking would be a home run. It’s nice, don’t get me wrong, but lacks any sort of black sugar note at all. The almond and hazelnut notes are great and the touch of sea salt does really balance the piece which gets a bit sweet, but the molasses is just so slight, I missed it. And I had three of these ... the two that came in the box and I bought one on the spot and ate it at the mall.
Brazilian Coffee Nut Praliné: Brazilian coffee and Costa Rican chocolate blended with hazelnut praliné enrobed in white chocolate and decorated with crispy chocolate confetti. As you would expect, this one was sweet with the white chocolate coating. The coffee notes a fresh and bright and the hazelnut flavors really mixed well. The little crisps on top gave it the texture it needed as a finish. Dark chocolate enrobing would have made me a bit more satisfied.
Honey Roasted Caramel: Caramel infused with hints of honey, almonds, brown sugar and condensed milk covered in milk chocolate and crunchy almonds. This sounds rather pedestrian and it really is, but that’s no reason not to appreciate it. It was chewy, but not too sticky. The honey and darker toffee notes were good and the milk chocolate brought it together well with some other dairy notes. The almonds were kind of lost, but at least fresh and crunchy.
Overall ... well, it was too sweet and not intense enough. I liked the attempts and part of the fun was just imagining what the combinations would be like. But I think I’ll stick with my local chocolatiers like Compartes or Valerie if I want to get into that price range, or just stop at See’s and be happy with their caramels.
Tuesday, December 2, 2014
Perugina is one of Italy’s best known chocolate brands sold in the United States. Perugina was formed in 1907 and developed their best-known product, the hazelnut Baci (review) in 1922. Perugina was bought out by Nestle in 1988 but production remains in Italy.
The Baci is a whole hazelnut on top of a layer of gianduia (chocolate mixed with hazelnut paste) and chopped hazelnuts all covered in dark chocolate. They’re wrapped in silver foil with blue lettering, inside the wrapper is a little slip of glassine with a love quote in English and Italian.
Perugina is making a bit of a comeback in the United States, after being a bit hard to find for a dozen years or so. Not only are Baci now found at grocery stores and drug chains, they’re also releasing new versions.
Earlier this year Perugina announced the Perugina Baci Double Layer Candy Bar.
The bars are available in both milk chocolate and dark chocolate, I got samples of both from Perugina representatives to try. They’re big bars, at 5.2 ounces (150 grams), while most tablets these days are about 3.5 ounces (100 grams). They’re priced at about $5 or $6 retail.
The top layer is a solid, chocolate-like gianduia. It’s a milk chocolate with a finely ground hazelnut paste and some added crushed hazelnuts. The base is the 51% dark chocolate and the whole thing has whole hazelnuts mixed in as well.
The gianduia layer has a quick and smooth melt with a rather cool effect on the tongue. The hazelnut bits are crunchy and the flavors are generally roasted and nutty. The Luisa Dark is not terribly complex, but has a fruity note at first, like cherries with a touch of honey and toffee but it’s very slight compared to all the hazelnuttiness. It’s not that sweet, but quite silky overall.
It’s a wonderful mix of textures, the nuts are fresh and crunchy, the layers melt wonderfully and balance each other.
The alternate version of the Double Layer Bar is available in Milk Chocolate. The wrapper doesn’t say anything about the percentages of cacao, but there are 10 more calories per serving in the milk chocolate version (more sugar, less fiber than the dark chocolate).
The interesting thing to note about both bars is that they use sunflower lecithin, instead of soy lecithin. This is something that I learned about while touring confectionery factories in Germany a couple of years ago. European companies are making a switch from soy to sunflower for two reasons: the first is to make their products as low-allergen as possible and the second is to steer clear of any possible genetically modified ingredients. With the price being virtually identical, it seems like a great idea. The allergen statement does list the presence of hazelnuts and milk (of course) as well as the fact that they’re made in a shared facility with wheat and other tree nuts. There’s no statement about the chocolate sourcing. Unlike some other chocolate products that use hazelnut paste, there are no additional vegetable fats in here like palm oil.
This bar has a little more sodium than the dark bar, and it helps. It’s much sweeter, as it doesn’t have the bitterness of the base layer to counterbalance the sweet gianduia. However, if you’re a fiend for sweet, smooth milk chocolate and hazelnuts, then this is definitely a bar to consider.
I haven’t actually seen these in stores, though they’ve been out since June. I’d buy this again, though the fun part of unwrapping the foil is gone, I did like the larger proportion of dark chocolate in the bar versus the kisses.
Monday, December 1, 2014
There are so many kinds of candy canes these days, usually branded with other candies names and flavor varieties. There are: Starburst, Red Hots, Lemonheads, SweeTarts, Warheads, DumDums ... Bacon. They all pretty much look the same, They’re five or six inches long and have a little hook at the end.
In the case of Frankford’s Soda Pop Candy Canes, each candy cane is 1/2 ounce, which is a very generous size for a piece of sugar candy. There are 12 canes in the box, which is a bit of overpackaging ... but did protect my canes and is at least recyclable cardboard. There are three flavors: Orange Crush, Dr Pepper and A&W Root Beer. Yes, they’re soda pop flavors, but there’s no cola in there. This is where I went down the Wikipedia rabbit-hole…. The Dr Pepper Snapple Group also owns Squirt and Wink (both grapefruit sodas), IBC Root Beer and Hires Root Beer in addition to A&W Root Beer. Finally, they have RC Cola, which seems like the flavor they definitely left out here.
I’ve been warming up to the flavor of cherry in candies, so I’m wondering if I can also learn to love the flavor of Dr Pepper as well. The red candy candy certainly looks attractive, and just slightly different from a peppermint candy cane ... so that I didn’t expect mint. I didn’t photograph it, but the center of this candy cane is also red. The flavor is rather like Dr Pepper. It’s sort of black cherry and amaretto, though I’ve heard that it’s also supposed to be plum flavored. There’s no acidic bite, which you get a little with the soda version. Overall, it’s pleasant, it’s not very intense or vibrant, more of a soft flavor like vanilla. I didn’t care for how red it made my tongue, but that’s a personal preference.
Orange Crush is tangy and much more intense that I would have suspected, with a sort of sherbet creamy note. It’s a solid orange flavor, artificial but still well rounded.
A&W Root Beer smells nice right away. The flavor is sweet and soft, not too intense. It doesn’t have the peppery kick that some root beers sometimes show, instead it’s more on the mild and creamy spice side of things. Though there are lots of artificial colors in there, I didn’t notice them giving a bitter taste.
I think the flavor array is interesting, a little off the beaten path without alienating older folks with things that are too sour. There are a lot of other great soda flavors that Dr Pepper owns that would go great ... especially 7 Up and Vernors Ginger Ale. The colors are also a bit atypical, but I enjoy a little change from the standard green and red.
Wednesday, November 26, 2014
The best turkey to serve a vegetarian is not a texturized vegetable protein one ... it’s a chocolate turkey!
I hope you’re having a sweet holiday.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.