Friday, October 2, 2015
This nondescript little bag showed up in the Trader Joe’s new products showcase last week. The simple flat bottomed cellophane bag holds tricolor chocolate morsels called Magic Beans. They’re described as chocolate covered nougat beans.
I’ve come to understand that the word nougat really doesn’t mean much as a description. Here in the United States, depending on the initial inspiration of the confection, nougat can be a hazelnut paste, a nut toffee or a whipped sugar, honey and egg bar. In this case, the nougat is a very dark nut brittle.
These Magic Beans come from France, which also makes some stunning whipped egg nougat as well. So, I can see that some folks might be more confused than bewitched by these.
The beans are about the size of Trader Joe’s chocolate covered almonds, though actually kidney bean shaped. They come in three colors, a mottled white, a mottled green and a stand milk chocolate. The coating is a little bumpy on all of them.
Inside the milk chocolate coating is a nugget of almond toffee, or maybe it’s nut brittle, it’s hard to tell from the ingredients label. (They candies may contain traces of hazelnuts, chestnuts, pistachios and walnuts. They’re made with coconut, almonds, milk, soy and wheat.) The nuts themselves are little bits, not whole nuts, and the sugar crust holding them together is very toasted, almost burnt.
The milk chocolate coating is very milky, it has some decent cocoa notes, but for the most part it’s just creamy and sweet. This is a nice counterpoint to the roasted and slightly bitter note of the crunchy center. They reminded me a little bit of the sesame snaps that I pick up at the health food stores.
If you go into these expecting something more like Nutella bites or Charleston Chews, you’re going to be disappointed. These are quite different from other nutty items, so that unique selling proposition is what got me. They’re not magic, but quite enjoyable.
As a side note, I bought something very similar earlier this year in New York City at Eataly. The food mall has an amazing selection of Italian chocolates and sweets, including one of the largest selections of Venchi I think I’ve ever seen outside of Europe.
This is called Venchi Nougatine and are pretty much the same thing as the Trader Joe’s Magic Beans, except they’re made in Italy and covered in 60% dark chocolate. This package of less than 2 ounces was actually the same price as the Magic Beans (7.2 ounces).
Wednesday, September 30, 2015
In this episode Maria and I host our first guests on the show, the crew from Let’s Talk TJ’s (Nathan, Sonia and Russ, who also run What’s Good at Trader Joe’s). We chat about the wide world of Trader Joe’s house branded candies.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
Brach’s has a few new versions of their classic Candy Corn this year, in addition to the return of Apple Pie, Pumpkin Pie and Caramel Macchiatto. The Brach’s Sea Salt Chocolate Candy Corn says it’s made with real honey and comes from the same factory in Mexico that makes all the other Brach’s candy corn.
The image on the front of the bag shows what looks like chocolate truffles coated with far more salt than anyone should be eating. The good news is that it’s just an artistic representation, it’s there’s not that much salt on them and certainly none that’s visible.
Brach’s classic candy corn has 70 mg of sodium per serving of 19 pieces. The Sea Salt Chocolate version has 95 mg of sodium. The ingredients label lists both regular salt and sea salt as ingredients. The sea salt, which is the defining feature that the product leads with is way down at the end of the list after the first salt, after the palm kernel oil, after the natural and artificial colors and some extra dextrose. The only items lower on the list are gelatin, honey and the artificial colors plus sesame oil and soy lecithin.
So, back to that picture on the front of the bag, it took me a little while of eating the pieces in layers to realize that the picture is actually a code for the candy.
The base layer is sweet, though a little less sweet than a standard candy corn fondant. There’s a light cocoa note, like that feeling that you get when you go into the kitchen and realize that someone left a package of hot cocoa mix open. The next layer, the middle one, is pretty much the same, expect I think I caught some fake butter notes. Then the white top layer is not that “bland white tip of the candy corn flavor”, instead it’s actually salty. There are actually little crunchy bits of salt in there.
The whole thing tastes every so slightly less sweet than standard orange and yellow candy corn, but not actually chocolatey. It’s missing the honey notes and the weird butter flavoring really didn’t belong at all.
Of the recent novelty flavors, I think the Caramel Macchiatto was my favorite, but I’d love them to try an espresso or maybe affogato. This one seemed a little too late for the trend and not well executed.
Thursday, September 24, 2015
Il Morso, which means the bite in Italian, is a new, solid form of coffee. Though the concept of coffee being treated like chocolate is hardly new, it’s very rarely implemented. Il Morso not only attempts to make a solid coffee/chocolate hybrid, by using cocoa butter with coffee beans, but they’re doing it with all natural ingredients and far less sugar than others who have come before them.
There are three different little bites in their current line: Americano, Coffee & Cream and Mocha. They also make a Matcha version with green tea instead of coffee. They use organic ingredients, no emulsifiers and pure cane sugar.
I tried Il Morso at the Fancy Food Show, before they were selling at retail. Now they’re available in limited stores and on the web. The company sent me this sampler box so that I could try all the flavors.
An Americano is espresso with a little water in it, to create the same consistency as a standard drip coffee. The Americano Coffee Bar is actually quite simple when it comes to ingredients, just three of them: Espresso Beans, Cocoa Butter and Cane Sugar.
Each little bite of the Americano Coffee Bar, the most intense coffee bar they make, has about 18 mg of caffeine. They’re also only 20 calories, partly because they’re so small (4 grams) but don’t be fooled because there’s no milk in there, there’s still plenty of fat from the cocoa butter (not a bad thing).
The bar smells like coffee, like coffee grounds, not quite like brewed coffee or espresso. It’s woodsy and deep with toffee and charcoal notes. The bite is easy, this is very similar in texture to a chocolate bar. The melt is easy and fast, but not too slick. There’s a slight chalky texture, like that sludge at the bottom of a cup of coffee, but this is by far the smoothest coffee item I’ve had. The sweetness is there from the sugar, but it’s very clean and just enough to moderate the more intense bitterness from the coffee.
Though it’s a small square, it’s quite intense and I don’t feel like I would ever want a full bar of this.
The Coffee & Cream Bar comes in at 16 mg of caffeine and 25 calories. This one contains milk powder in addition to the coffee, cocoa butter and sugar. You can see from the picture though, this is not milk chocolate, it is still very intensely coffee, but the milk is there to bring a more mild note to the bar without adding more sugar.
It’s funny that it does not smell as strongly of coffee as the Americano. It tastes, though, really much the same. The bitterness, the sort of acidic note of strong coffee, that’s all there, but it’s just slightly milder. It’s also smoother and has a lighter finish to it.
The Mocha Bar is the same as Coffee & Cream with the addition of some 70% chocolate. Sometimes I feel like chocolate bars with coffee in them are just that, chocolate bars first. Here, this is fully a coffee bar with chocolate in there. This one comes in with only 15 calories and 14 mg of caffeine.
This bar is absolutely the smoothest. It’s also the least sweet, if that’s possible. The coffee notes are most forward and the least bitter of the three bars, but no less rounded with the toffee and roasted notes. The chocolate is a smooth background with a hint of brownies and bananas.
The final bar is not coffee but all, it’s their only Tea Bar, the Matcha Tea Bar. This one has four ingredients: matcha, cocoa butter, milk powder and sugar. It’s also 20 calories but has only 7 mg of caffeine.
It’s quite green and smells like grass clippings, pistachios, jasmine and tea. The texture is smooth, but the whole effect of the tea is a little perfumey and soapy. There’s bit of bitterness that comes out after the cocoa butter and milk has dissipated. The floral notes linger long after the bar is gone, so it’s much fresher feeling than the coffee bars.
Overall, I think these are fantastic. I love the intensity of the bites, though they feel less like candy and more like a snack because there’s so little sugar in them. I’m also glad they’re so satisfying, I never feel the need to eat more than two at a time, because I wouldn’t want to over consume caffeine, especially late in the day. It’s a great option for travelers as well, if you need a little boost. They don’t seem to have the same problems with cocoa butter bloom as chocolate does, or at least the few that I traveled with melted and reformed pretty well.
The packaging is lovely and has a lot of information packed on to the little squares, which I appreciate. I don’t see myself buying these often by the box, but they would make great favors or gifts for those who truly love coffee. If I could find a candy shop that has them by the piece, I’d be willing to pay $1.75 each for them ... based on how big they taste, not how big they are.
There’s no statement about nuts or other allergens on the packaging. These are very pricey, though premium coffee drinks are also pricey and these are just more portable.
Tuesday, September 22, 2015
The candy comes in a tin that’s pretty much the same as the one Altoids come in. The selling point, I’m guessing, of this mint is the fact that it’s made with xylitol, a natural sugar alcohol that is not only “sugarless” but also has been shown in clinical tests that it does not promote tooth decay. Though it does have some calories (about 1/3 fewer than other mints made with sugar), it’s not quickly digested by the body so has a very low glycemic index. The xylitol comes from birch trees, not corn like some xylitol products, so the makers say that it’s GMO free. It’s also vegan, gluten free, soy free and vegan.
Though I picked one of the most pedestrian flavors they offer, the candies also come in cherry, licorice, margarita, pumpkin spice and root beer float flavors.
The chips are, well, chip-like. Think of it like peanut brittle, it’s a thin sheet of a sort of hard candy-like mint that’s been shattered into variously sized bits. Some are as big as a dime but most are more like a small tablet about 1/3 of an inch across.
They’re hard to photograph, which is why I left them in the tin for this shoot. They’re not colored, not opaque, not quite translucent. Not quite milky, so they don’t qualify as white.
If you’ve had xylitol candies before you know that like most sugar alcohols it’s a little cool on the tongue. This works very well with a flavor like spearmint or peppermint, which already has the cooling effect of the mint oils. The dissolve is interesting, but even more interesting is the fact that it’s crunchy, like a toffee only without the buttery notes.
Overall, the unique texture and excellent flavor profile makes these quite appealing. Personally, I find eating too much xylitol a problem (it can make some people gassy), so it’s not something I would eat as a candy, only reserve it as a breath freshener.
I’m curious about the other flavors, especially Root Beer Float and Cinnamon.
Wednesday, September 16, 2015
The concept is truly simple, a small, spherical pretzel is coated in milk chocolate. (The image on the front shows pretzel twists, but they’re not pieces of pretzels, they’re actual full spheres.)They’re very similar to the Toffee Bites, not that innovative, this product is definitely an American take on a standard confection.
The cheeky text on the front of the package reads: HELLO, I’m a handful [of] Pretzel Bites. You be the sweet, I’ll be the salty. (Nice to Sweet You)
Like the Toffee Bites and the Minty Bites, the chocolate here is excellent. Though it’s very sweet, it’s immediately creamy and smooth with a strong hint of cocoa. The salty pretzel center is crispy and light with enough crunch to offset the sweetness of the coating.
Still ... I wish they were dark chocolate. Or maybe a mix of the two would be fun.
Like Minty Bites and Toffee Bites, these are made in the USA. They’re on the expensive side for chocolate covered pretzels, and I don’t see myself buying them often, but of the three versions, this was my favorite and the one that I finished first.
Friday, September 11, 2015
I’m a big bubble gum fan, though not much of a chewer. I’m a purist, I like my bubble gum to be the traditional bubble gum flavor. I saw this Cotton Candy Bubblicious at the beginning of summer, though, and thought it was a splendid idea for a gum flavor.
The pieces are ridiculously blue, the package design is wonderfully summery, and it all smells like an air freshener designed for a child’s room.
The lightly strawberry sweet scent is strong enough that I new which room I’d left this package in without even looking. It’s not chemically or unappealing, though it doesn’t necessarily smell like food.
The pieces were easy to open from the little paper wrappers and soft. The easy chew was very sweet with less of the strawberry or cotton candy notes and more of just a clean sweeteness.
However, as the sugar in the chew dissipated, I was left with the taste of the gum base, which is rather like some door mats I got at Ikea. It’s just a touch of asphalt with the berry. The longer I chewed, the more that note came out, until I was pretty sure it was a sign that the whole thing had turned into a big tar ball. Nope, when I took it out of my mouth, it was just a piece of blue gum.
So, if you’re looking for some room freshener that looks like blocks of sidewalk chalk that you’re not going to chew, these are great. But even for the type of person who chews the gum until the sugar is gone, the awful aftertaste is too much.
Tuesday, September 8, 2015
Now that I’ve purchased the full set, I’ve noticed the packaging for the line. It’s an odd design style. The HELLO line is a very friendly, with that hipster coffee-house style mix of hand printing and script. The embossed Lindt logo, on the other hand, is old-world elegance. The rest of the package is just an image of the product. In this case it’s a bowl of toffee bites and some pieces of toffee (I know, the photo makes it look like they might be pats of butter). Each of the packages for the HELLO Bites has a different metallic color on the top band. For the toffee, it’s bronze, for the mint it was green and for the pretzel line, it’s a light blue (which is consistent with the M&Ms Pretzel which is also blue).
The pieces a little on the small size, mostly the size of a garden pea. The milk chocolate is very light in appearance, like the Minty Bites, there’s no indication of the cacao content. The coating is very creamy, with no detectable waxy glaze to interrupt the immediately melty chocolate.
The chocolate to toffee ratio is very balanced, so there’s enough of both to give full flavor development and texture. The toffee is crispy and has a good crunch. There’s a hint of butter and a touch of salt with some good toasty flavors to balance it. The milk chocolate has a lot of dairy notes, but not so much of the dried milk flavors that I don’t care for in a lot of Swiss-style milk chocolates.
These are easy to munch but also such high quality that it’s fun to savor them as well ... the chocolate has a delightful melt and the consistency of the toffee is great if you’re a cruncher or a dissolver. The key here is that this is a simple item that can be done poorly with cheap ingredients and no attention to detail ... instead Lindt has delivered an excellent product and actually surpassed my expectations.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.