Tuesday, December 6, 2005
Name: Chocolate Covered Cacao Nibs
You’re saying, what the heck is a cacao nib and why cover it in chocolate? (Well, never ask why cover anything in chocolate ... we cover things in chocolate because that’s what sets us apart from animals.)
Cacao (that’s pronounced cuh-COW) nibs are what chocolate are made from. They’re the edible part of the cocoa bean after it’s been harvested, dried, fermented, roasted and hulled (winnowed). Yes, after all those steps (usually invovling at least two continents) you get these unassuming little crumbly brown bits. These are raw chocolate. In order to make a chocolate bar you take a bunch of them and mash them into a paste and then add some more cocoa butter and some sugar and maybe a little lecithin to keep everything smooth and you’ve got a chocolate bar. (The extra cocoa butter is made from taking nibs and expeller pressing them to get out the cocoa butter which leaves behind the cocoa solids which are used to make powdered cocoa.)
You can eat the nibs just as they are. They’re kind of like really roasty tasting nuts. Not quite chocolately, but they have a wonderful butteriness that you don’t find in many nuts. But they’re a little chalkier than a regular nut as well and can be freakishly bitter at times. Apparently using nibs in recipes is all the rage now, especially since Martha Stewart featured them in a recipe recently. By coating the nibs in chocolate they’re a lot more scrumptious.
But enough about the history lesson. This is pure chocolate enjoyment. Seriously. Whew!
The chocolate coating is 62% semi-sweet Scharffen Berger chocolate over the cacao nibs, which are unsweetened. They look kind of like little glossy cocoa krispies. But they taste absolutely divine. There’s an alcoholic aroma to them, an intense bitter start and then this incredible mix of woodsy flavors, acidic elements, astringency and this lingering smoky feeling on the tongue. The vanilla of the chocolate coating also lingers nicely. The nibs, being a rather raw product, are unpredictable. Sometimes they’re crunchy and smooth, sometimes you get one that’s a little fibery or chewy.
What’s also odd is that some of them taste different. I guess they may have been from different trees or harvested a different week or something. Some mouthfuls will be fruity, with intense plum or apricot notes and sometimes it’s oaky or maybe have a touch of maple or even sassafrass to it. What it does is make me want more ... I keep eating them. Which is bad. These are expensive little puppies. (As is all Scharffen Berger.) Of all the Scharffen Berger products I’ve tried (and they’re very well regarded though I’m not particularly fond of them) this is the one that sends me over the moon.
Rating - 10 out of 10
Monday, December 5, 2005
Name: Reese’s Snack Barz
You know this is a cool candy for kidz because there’s that hip Z at the end.
This bar is not really a snack bar in the sense that a power bar or some sort of trail mix bar would be. It’s a candy bar. (I think most bar shaped things that are sweet are considered candy bars whether you stuff some vitamins in there or not.)
This bar is a peanut butter marshmallow crisped rice treat with a base of chocolate. The peanut butter mixed in with the marshmallow cement is smooth and nutty with a good hit of salt. The crisped rice is, well, crispy and it all pulls apart easily without crumbling into bits (as is a problem with some crunchy granola bars). The chocolate base for the whole thing is a really nice sweet complement.
Hershey has a full range of these bars in different flavors including S’mores and Chocolate Cream. They’re apparently fortified with calcium and seven essential vitamins (only 15% of the RDA for them though) and have no saturated fats but 3 grams of protein. There are worse decisions you can make for snack foods and certainly better ones in the candy family, but this is a nice in-between food. It’s certainly satisfying and is a rather large feeling bar. I can see this being a good candy to travel with, a nice little snack on the plane with a watery cup of coffee to wash it down.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Thursday, December 1, 2005
Name: Extra Dark with Cranberries and Macadamias
It took me a long time to actually like Hershey’s milk chocolate. I was never fond of their Special Dark, but I ate it quite a bit when I was younger because it was often the only dark chocolate I could get my hands on easily. Sometimes a girl just needs dark chocolate. Call it medication.
I was curious when I saw this at Target a couple of weeks ago. I know that all the major chocolate companies are into this whole “chocolate as a health food thing” (which by the way, I’ve been saying for about twenty years) so it’s only natural that they start packaging stuff with that sort of market in mind.
If I were to create the ideal fruit and nut bar, I would definitely start with dark chocolate and cranberries are a good choice. I think I’d prefer cashews or pecans over macadamias (especially if we’re going healthy - pecans have a load of good stuff in them). Check out the site I link to up there, they talk about the benefit of antioxidants, which can be found in many fruits (especially dried ones), wine, tea and of course chocolate.
The bar itself was nice. A good woodsy flavor, the nuts were barely perceptible for me as a flavor but added good texture. The cranberries were a good tart, chewy snap. The chocolate was crisp, not bitter with a decent creamy melty quality and good flavor. Not the best chocolate I’ve ever had, but if this were as available as a regular Hershey bar, I’d probably pick it up as a less-sweet snack with 60% cocoa solids. The price is just right as well, a good value for less than $2.
Rating - 8 out of 10
Monday, November 28, 2005
Made by the same company that makes Malteasers, I thought this would something like bridge mix. And it is, except it’s all milk chocolate. Inside the package are an assortment of little chocolate coated spheres. The largest ones are Malteasers, which I rather like. There are also some little dense disks of pure milk chocolate and some chocolate covered raisins. After that it gets a little more curious. There are what I have to assume are caramels but they’re so hard, I didn’t dare try to eat them. The package also mentions two other surprise items: coffee and orange. I think I found the coffee one, which was a crumbly center with a light coffee taste to it. I don’t think I got an orange one.
The chocolate is milky but not creamy. Sweet but not chocolatey. The chocolate is good for the malt because it’s such a strong flavor itself, but for the rest of the mix, it’s rather cheap tasting. And the fact that you only get 35 grams (1.2 ounces) is pretty sad, too when you consider that M&Ms come in 1.7 ounce packages.
I will avoid this little packet as much as possible in the future.
Rating - 4 out of 10
Friday, November 25, 2005
Name: Awesome Nut & Chew Bar
If you’ve ever had a box of Nuts & Chews from See’s or gone into the store and selected the Dark Nougat, you’ve pretty much had this bar. It’s a dense, chewy honey nougat with almonds covered in dark chocolate. I was reading the November issue of Los Angeles magazine, where they explain this new candy bar. Apparently the staff at See’s had been making these candy bars for quite some time, for their own enjoyment. I guess the See’s higher-ups decided the rest of us might enjoy them. (They’ve been selling the Scotchmallows in milk chocolate for as long as I can remember and to good success as far as I can tell.) The story should be up on their website next month, I’ll link to it then, as it was a great article.
The Dark Nougat has always been one of my favorite See’s candies and I often picked them up when I was at the mall.
This is a beautiful looking bar. Long and with glossy dark ripples of chocolate enrobement. It smells wonderful, chocolatey with a touch of honey. It’s jam packed with almonds. Crunchy, smooth, chewy and sweet with a good pop of semi-sweet chocolate.
Fabulous. Mmm. I wish I’d bought more. You can buy them singly or in a box of eight of them for $7.50, which brings them into the price range of plain old Nestle, Mars or Hershey bars. I think these might end up in some Christmas stockings this year.
Rating - 10 out of 10
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Name: Roseberry, Lavender and Xocolatl
I know it seems strange that I got this on the same trip as the dismal SunDrops, but it’s true. I tried the Dagoba Chai bar last spring and really enjoyed it. That was a milk chocolate bar and I was very interested in the more botanical and spice flavored bars, but alas, Whole Foods does not seem to carry them. So, the trip to Wild Oats was most fortunate in the end. All the bars contain 59% cocoa mass chocolate. It’s extra smooth and very buttery. The chocolate itself isn’t too sweet and is a nice backdrop for the flavor additions.
Roseberry - Dark Chocolate, Raspberries & Rosehips. 59% cocoa mass chocolate. This was not one of the bars I was most interested in, but the concept of rosehips was rather intriguing. I used to try to eat rose hips when I was a kid because I’d heard they were good for you. Though they didn’t really taste very good. This bar has a wonderful fruity and flowery aroma. The raspberries provide a dash of zesty flavor. However, I found the raspberry seeds incredibly annoying. They’re big and when chewing or dissolving such a smooth bar, a big seed was a rather unpleasant finding.
Lavender - Dark Chocolate, Lavender & Blueberries. 59% cocoa mass chocolate. I’ve heard of a few lavender infused chocolates and even tried the New Tree Tranquility bar (which was milk chocolate) and still believed that there would be a better lavender chocolate bar out there. Well, this might be it. I was a little leary of the blueberries in the mix as I thought maybe they’d give the chocolate too much of a fruit punch flavor. Of the three I tried, this was by far my favorite. Where the Roseberry has gritty things in it, this bar is smooth through and through, with little chewy bits of blueberries. The lavender gives the bar a soft essence, a lingering top note that doesn’t overpower the smokey and woodsy flavors of the chocolate itself. Not sticky sweet or cloying, it’s just an incredibly pleasant bar with a good, slightly dry finish.
Xocalatl - dark chocolate, chilies & nibs. 74% cocoa mass chocolate. The darkest of the three bars, this one was much more chocolatey. Not quite as buttery, it still melted quickly and had a very nice flowery note at first, like orange blossoms. That quickly gives way to a peppery heat that sizzles on the tongue as the buttery chocolate melts away and brings out some very woodsy, earthy tones. The finish is slightly dry with some lingering plum notes and of course the warm burn in the throat. The most interesting part of this bar is that it contains no cinnamon. Most of the other “spicy” chocolate bars I’ve tried have cinnamon (and sometimes cloves) in them. What’s cool about this one is that it’s all New World spices (okay, maybe that’s not true ... seems there’s some nutmeg in there).
I am completely in love with Dagoba now and I want to try everything of theirs. However, at $2.79 for a 2 ounce bar, it’s freaking pricey stuff and I don’t plan on buying much of it anytime soon. I’m curious about their single origin line and there are still about 20 bars that I haven’t tried yet. Maybe I’ll splurge via mailorder on one of their tasting kits except for the fact that it’s more expensive on their website than in stores. Sigh. I need a corporate sponsor.
Rating - 9 out of 10
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Name: Ghirardelli Squares - Milk Chocolate with Carmelized Almonds
I couldn’t resist picking up this bag of sweet treats. I was originally plowing through the clearance table at the drug store because they had Hershey’s cookies for 50 cents a package (and it was one of the few times I’d seen the York ones) and I was hoping for some Halloween finds but then I thought, $2 bucks for Ghirardelli? I’ll take it!
I suspect that this flavor is being discontinued because it has no page of its own on the site (well, there’s a link, but the page has a 404 error on it). Anyway, these are cute little 1.75” squares of milk chocolate with little crunchy almond bits in it.
The milk chocolate is smooth and creamy, not too milky tasting but a bit sticky. The almonds are nicely roasted and have a good carmelized bite to them. Mellow and a little bit zippy, there are really nice little sweets to have around.
Rating - 8 out of 10
What a gorgeous site Pergale has, seriously. The photos are fabulous and they document gobs and gobs of candy. It’s really a delight to browse around, it’s well organized and has great brief descriptions of all their products. The UK, Candian and American manufacturers could learn from this Lithuanian company - a lot of the candy sites I’ve seen are oriented towards capturing consumer information and not giving much in return in the way of information. I like a candy site that’s a full catalogue of the company.
These tiny bars were part of a larger cache of candy from Eastern Europe (I already reviewed the full sized Ritter Sport Rum Trauben Nuss and Capuccino bars). I’ll sprinkle more in as the weeks go on. The bars are 30 grams, which is less than an ounce and about the size of a thumb, well maybe your thumb, my thumbs are pretty small.
Dubingiai - Dipped rum-flavoured confection of cocoa and milk paste containing waffle crisps. This tiny little bar was glossy with a beautiful dark sheen even after traveling across the world in a suitcase and then in my candy bag for weeks until I took a photo. Once I snapped it in half the rum scent wafted out and made my mouth water. The filling looks like a fluffy truffle, but it also has a bit of crisp mixed in. It’s an odd sort of combo, the flavors are nice, but the texture of the center is a little odd. The chocolate outside is smooth but the crisp gives the center a little grain. It’s got a nice rum flavor to it and the chocolate is pretty decent. It goes great with my morning coffee.
Veliuona - Dipped confection of cocoa and milk paste containing waffle crisps. This bar seemed quite similar to the Dubingiai but didn’t have the rum flavor to it. It was actually a little weird and tasted a bit burnt. The chocolately taste was more evident and the little cookie bits in the fluffy, buttery center were nice, but I couldn’t get past the feeling that maybe a cigarette butt ended up in the mix that day.
Ratings: Dubingiai - 8 out of 10 (I really like rum and chocolate as a combo)
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.