Monday, August 4, 2014
While in London earlier this year, I made sure to visit some of the finer chocolate shops. One I wanted to go to in particular was one of the Hotel Chocolat locations known as Roast+Conch, where they actually make some bean to bar chocolate. The location in the Borough Market in the Bankside district of London and includes a full restaurant that features cacao as an ingredient in every dish.
After eating a wonderful lunch, my mother and I browsed the store on the ground level. The cacao of the day was Trinidad, with the beans being served before lunch and some pieces of freshly made chocolate served at the end of the meal. So I was sure to pick up a bar of that. Then I also wanted to try another bar from their Rabot 1745 line. Though Hotel Chocolate uses Callebaut chocolate in their other confections, their Rabot line is made in conjunction with Coppeneur in Germany (one of my favorite chocolate makers). I didn’t know that at the time, but now it doesn’t surprise me at all.
I picked out a Venezuela Chuao 70% bar. Chuao cacao has a strong reputation as some of the best beans in the world (here’s a sampling of some bars I tasted a few years ago).
Hotel Chocolat gives extensive information about the handling of the beans and making of the cacao. The bar itself is 70% cacao with just three ingredients: cacao mass, cane sugar and soy lecithin.
The description of this bar from Hotel Chocolat goes something like this: Prima Donna with talent. She’s good and she knows it – an interplay of cream and caramel with malt and raisins, roast nuts and plenty of elegant poise.
Roasting time: 35min @135 C.
Refining & Conching: 72hrs
The bar is wonderfully dark with an interesting texture from the mold. Though it’s rather thick, it’s quite easy to snap.
The scent is woodsy with some green notes like jasmine and olives. The melt is smooth, though it has a bitter note right away, a sort of dryness that gives it an acidic bite. But the buttery texture makes that all quite palatable. I caught a burnt note to it, a sort of smoke but nothing that’s unpleasant. It doesn’t have some of the other nutty notes I enjoy in other Venezuelan chocolate, mostly those from Ocumare. But I’d definitely eat this again, mostly because the texture is so nice, especially since it’s such a high cacao content.
The bar itself just came in the cellophane sleeve with a label, there was no box. The label also didn’t say anything about the conch time or the harvest, just the date the bar was best by. The Hotel Chocolat website says that they use Trinitario beans (which makes sense, since they’re from Trinidad where the varietal originated).
It’s a 75% bar, so it’s only a little bit darker than the Chuao. The texture is far and away different, it’s grittier and sort of rustic in its overall flavors. It’s woodsy with some coffee and black pepper notes, a little toffee and brown sugar as well. It’s kind of bitter, but not overly dry at the finish. The meal we had in the restaurant started with these beans and then later finished with little medallions of chocolate also from Trinidad beans. I like the idea of buying chocolate that’s made right before my eyes, but the reality is that I prefer to eat the chocolate that’s been carefully crafted ... and I don’t have to witness it to enjoy it.
I’ve found that I like a long conch on my chocolate, part of what I like about a good chocolate bar is the texture. In most cases a long conch gives the cacao not only the time it needs to become smooth, but also for the flavors to develop. I did a taste test a few years back with some Coppeneur Chuao that had been conched 70 hours and 100 hours. Much of the mass-market chocolate we consume is conched for less than a day, some for two days ... I found that a 3 day conch is fine for me, anything over that gets kind of muddy in the flavor department but does create an amazingly smooth texture.
The Rabot 1745 line from Hotel Chocolat is a worthwhile way to experience single origin chocolate along with a lot of information about the making of the bar itself, as few chocolate makers include the origin, harvest date, roasting and conch time.
Friday, July 25, 2014
For many years I have chronicled the demise of once-great candies that were cultural touchstones for generations of Americans. The usual trajectory of a candy like this is that the company making it compromises too many times with cheaper ingredients and formulas until consumers lose interest in the product entirely and it is quietly discontinued. No one misses it much, because it broke their heart before it died.
It’s rare to see a reversal. I’m glad to be here to tell you about it. Hershey’s Krackel bar was one of the last candy bars that Milton Hershey personally developed before he passed away. It was introduced in 1938 (and had nuts in as well, for a time). When the Hershey’s Miniatures were developed, it was one of the bars chosen to represent the favorite of the Hershey bar assortment. The single-serving bar always stood out at the candy counter, in a bold red wrapper and large letter with a made-up word for the name.
In 2006 Hershey’s discontinued the single-serving, king-size and larger sizes of the Krackel bar. It was still included in the Hershey’s Miniatures ... but with a substantial change to the formula, it was now “made with chocolate” but also adulterated with other vegetable oil fillers. (What they were, I can’t say, because Hershey’s would not disclose the ingredients at the time, though later packaging did list each bar separately.) At the same time Mr. Goodbar continued to be produced in all sizes, though they did move to the mockolate recipe.
With some small fanfare Hershey’s announced the return of the Krackel bar, citing shareholders as part of the reason for the return. The change to real chocolate was made in miniatures early this year and the bars returned in May. The current ingredients are:
I can’t exactly recall the actual Krackel bar any longer. I know I liked it as a kid and I know that I preferred it in the miniature version, because the chocolate was thicker. But other than that, I’ll have to judge the Krackel on its current merits without any comparisons because I don’t have a time machine and if I did, I probably wouldn’t use it to taste old candy recipes.
The bar smells sweet and lightly milky. It’s not like the regular Hershey’s chocolate that has that yogurty tang. Instead it’s just sort of fudgy, like cheap frosting. The crunches are good, they’re spaced out a bit, so it’s not terribly airy, just crunchy. Crisped rice often has malt in it, as this does, which usually gives Krackel a sort of malted-milk-ball-in bar-form vibe. Sadly, there’s not much going on here, though the hint of salt keeps it from being too sweet.
It’s much better than the previous mockolate version, though a far cry from being a good chocolate bar. It’s simply a passable candy bar.
I did pick up a Nestle Crunch bar at the same time, which has gone through a few formula changes over the years as well. The ingredients are similar, they’re both 1.55 ounces, though the Nestle has 10 more calories.
The ingredients on the Nestle Crunch are actually a bit better, with no preservatives or PGPR. When I tried the bar last time, I found it much better than previous versions, but not something I was likely to seek out.
As you can see from the comparison of the bars, the Crunch is on the bottom and has a lot more crisped rice in it. I did prefer the airy texture and crispy rice, but the chocolate flavor was nearly impossible to discern. As a piece of candy, it was passable. As a chocolate bar with crisped rice, it was very disappointing.
The Hershey’s chocolate texture was a bit better, but that could be that there was just a slightly higher chocolate ratio, since there were fewer crisped rice bits.
Neither comes out a huge winner, really. I like both package designs. Both are made in the United States. Neither Nestle or Hershey’s are using ethically source chocolate yet. (Though Nestle does have a “Cocoa Plan”, its little seals are just to direct you to information about its plan, not as a notation that this bar is actually using traceable cacao.)
You can see more examples of classic Krackel wrappers here.
I’m still going to say that the Trader Joe’s Crispy Rice Milk Chocolate is my favorite. Though the ingredients don’t differ that much, there are no preservatives and no PGPR and it has 18% cacao content (about 1.5x the amount of Hershey’s). Still ... even though it’s made with Belgian chocolate, I don’t know the sourcing of it, but would like to see Trader Joe’s give some assurances about the ethical sourcing in the future.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
DeMet’s may have invented the name Pecan Turtle, but they haven’t done much to exemplify the greatness of the combination. They’re mediocre, but at the very least, easy to find at many major drug store chains.
The bags are on the expensive side, mine was $3.79 for only 5 ounces, which is over $12 a pound.
My first bag, purchased at a Walgreen’s not far from my house was bloomed slightly, as you can tell. It didn’t seem to affect the texture, but after I saw heard from a neighbor that stopped by to pick up a prescription a week later that Walgreen’s was shut down by the health department for vermin infestation, I decided to source another bag. (I really wasn’t concerned, it was fully sealed, but figured the candy deserved a chance to shine - but I was pretty miffed about the condition of the chocolate from Walgreen’s, so I’m unlikely to buy chocolate from that location again.) I didn’t re-photograph, though, since it was oppressively hot in my home and just as likely to bloom the new bag.
Even the new bag with its well-tempered pieces was still scuffed, so they didn’t look that dissimilar.
They’re mini turtles, so it’s not a complicated concept. What I was hoping was that each turtle would be a single pecan.
They’re cute and bite sized, a great concept really when it comes to this type of candy, which can get flaky and messy when eating in several bites.
The chocolate is marginal, to the point where I had to re-read the ingredients several times to make sure it was real. It’s sweet and not overly smooth or with much of a chocolate intensity. That said, it’s a good companion to the caramel, which is nicely chewy without being too sticky. The caramel didn’t have much of a salty or toffee flavor pop to it, but held everything together. The biggest disappointment is the shortage of actual pecans in my turtles. It’s like the turtle had only two or three legs, not a full four plus a head and tail.
If given a choice, and no budget, I’d probably seek out See’s Pecan Buds. They’re about twice the price and slightly larger, but so obviously fresher with whole pecans and higher quality chocolate. But, if I were trying to find something a little more on the decadent side for watching a movie or perhaps traveling, these might fit the bill.
Turtles, of course, contain milk, tree nuts and soy ingredients. They’re also processed on equipment with wheat, other tree nuts and peanuts. There’s no information about the sourcing of the chocolate itself.
Monday, July 14, 2014
Ghirardelli has a very large and varied line of chocolate bars and individually wrapped squares. This year they also introduced a new line of Ghirardelli minis in five varieties: Milk & Caramel, Milk Chocolate Sea Salt Almond, Milk Chocolate Toffee Crisp, Dark Chocolate minis and Sweet Dark Chocolate Cookie Bits minis.
The package explains that “minis are the sweet way to share your love of chocolate ... anytime, anywhere.” The bag is rather slight at only 4.1 ounces but is priced comparably (per ounce) to the bars. I chose the Sweet Dark Chocolate Cookie Bits because it was a flavor I’d never seen in the bars or the standard squares before. Unfortunately the package doesn’t detail the cacao percentage.
The packaging is a beautiful matte, medium blue that I found very appealing. The wrappers are also easy to open, which I appreciate when spending a little more on my candy.
I have to say that I don’t understand the point of these. They squares are 7 grams each, while the regular Ghirardelli Squares are 10.75 - so they’re about 2/3 the size of the original version. They’re a little thicker, but not unwrapped like so many Bites and Minis are these days. (Not that I think they would fare well jumbled in a bag, they’d probably break and get scuffed up instead looking incredibly charming.
The little squares are about one inch on each side. The smell is odd for a chocolate product, it reminds me of frosting in a can, overly sweet with more of a cocoa and vanilla extract scent than the complex smell of chocolate.
The bite is easy, and the thickness of the chocolate means that the little cookie bits have space to stack up and provide some texture. The cookie pieces are crunchy and less than sweet overall, which is a welcome change from the chocolate itself. The chocolate is smooth, but like the smell, tastes a bit on the fake side. I know it’s not, that it’s probably the cookies giving off that smell, but it just turned me off from the experience. I was hoping for some sort of deluxe version of the Limited Edition Hershey’s that come out from time to time, but here I found it no better.
I’m still keen to try some of the other flavors, this minis line seems to be a bit more on the comfort candy side of flavor combinations than the regular line, which I think is fun. This one just didn’t work for me.
Monday, June 23, 2014
Target has a variety of house brands on their shelves right now, though not that many in the candy aisle any longer. I did spot this new variety of little fruity chocolate morsels and picked up Simply Balanced Mixed Berry Fruit Juice Pieces Covered in Dark Chocolate. I don’t actually know what these are supposed to be called, since that sounds more like a description than a name. The brand called Simply Balanced is also new to me, the package says that its goodness guarantee takes the guesswork out of eating well.
As far as I can tell, a Canadian confectioner called Brookside invented the concept of a little antioxidant-themed jelly morsel covered in dark chocolate back in late 2010. They grew quickly enough that Hershey’s decided to purchase the company and of course knock-off versions have emerged over the intervening years. This version from Target has some interesting elements to it.
They’re made with Rainforest Alliance certified cacao from Ecuador. Though it’s nice dark chocolate, it’s only 60%. The package also calls them fruit juice pieces, similar to the language used by Brookside for their jelly thingies. In reality they’re jellies. They’re made from glucose, water, fruit juice from concentrate, citric acid, pectin and corn starch. So, it’s less fruit juice and mostly sugar. Honestly, I would mind something called dark chocolate covered fruit jellies (those already exist, and they’re usually raspberry or orange flavored and usually sticks). But this new genre of candy is trying to paint itself with the fine qualities of antioxidant rich berries, when the reality is they’re made from not just blueberry, pomegranate and cranberry juice, but also apple and lemon.
As much as I may make fun of their marketing materials, it is a list of ingredients that I could put together in my kitchen (though the end product wouldn’t look as nice). The pieces are large, like Peanut M&Ms instead of the smaller pieces from Brookside. The coats are not quite as smooth, a little dinged up, I think, from getting jostled around. But still shiny.
They smell a little fruity, with some woodsy notes of chocolate. The bite is pretty soft, the jelly center is springy and dissolves quickly. Some had a small hint of grainy sugar to them, but most were smooth. The chocolate is creamy and has a good, quick melt and soft bite. The fruity centers were tangy with a strong blueberry and cranberry flavor to them. There’s a light bitter note towards the end that reminded me of cranberries.
The pieces are easy to eat and a nice change from nut and chocolate combinations. They’re not innovative, but nicely done. The ingredients are pretty clean and the use of Rainforest Alliance cacao and labeling it as being made with non-GMO ingredients is a nice touch.
The candies contain soy and are made in a facility that also processes milk, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and eggs. (Too bad, it would be nice if these were at least free of some of the major allergens.) They’re kind of expensive at $3.59 for only 7 ounces, but comparable to the Trader Joe’s, Brookside and Brach’s versions price wise, but I actually prefer them.
Monday, June 2, 2014
Back in January Target introduced Dove Dark Chocolate Hazelnut Promises for Valentine’s Day. Instead of an actual gianduia product,which would combine hazelnut paste with chocolate, these were just dark chocolate with a hazelnut flavoring.
Dove hasn’t abandoned the idea to Valentine’s Day, instead they’ve released the new Target-Exclusive flavor: Dove Hazelnut Crisp Dark Chocolate Promises. The curious difference here is not actual hazelnut pieces, but little crispy bits.
The bits are made from tapioca starch and rice flour, so for those who avoid wheat, these might seem like a good option (sadly the full allergen disclosure says that they’re made on shared equipment with wheat, so those with extreme sensitivities should be aware).
The flavor of the Promises doesn’t disappoint. The chocolate is soft to bite, quick to melt and has a very dense, brownie batter flavor to it. There are a lot of toasted and woodsy notes to the chocolate and a light sort of chalky dryness towards the end, even though it’s exceptionally fatty.
The cookie bits are interesting, they remind me of the sort of Oreo-like bits found in the Cookies & Cream type chocolate confections. It’s a little sandy, very crunchy but less cereal-like than a corn flake bit or crisped rice.
The addition of the texture is successful. It’s just the sort of boost these needed to make me eat them one after another. It would be ideal if they actually were gluten free, since celiacs have been denied the wonders of cookies and cream for far too long.
A previous Target-exclusive flavor was Sea Salt Caramel, which is now widely available.
Friday, May 30, 2014
I was happy to visit the Artisan du Chocolat boutique within the Selfridge’s Food Hall. Not only did I get to choose from the full array of chocolate bars that they make, they also had one of their most famous chocolates that I’d been eager to try ... Pearls. They’re about the size of a hazelnut in the shell, spherical and come in light colors like silver, peach and creamy white that are dusted with pearlized color. It’s a stunning presentation. The chocolates themselves (I tried two) are decent. I had a caramel, which was covered in milk chocolate, so it was salty enough but still quite sweet and milky. The other was a hazelnut praline, which was also very sweet but also satisfyingly nutty. They’re quite expensive and nothing that I would buy on a regular basis.
So, back to what I did purchase, the Artisan du Chocolat Black Cardamom 70% Cacao
Though the bar is called Black Cardamom, a mix of green and black cardamom is infused into the 70% dark chocolate made from South American cocoa beans. The bar is made from a simple mold with well defined segments that snap easily into portions.
The smell of the bar is woodsy and deep, a bit like burnt brownies. The cardamom notes aren’t really evident until I put it in my mouth. The cardamom is infused smoothly into the chocolate, there are not fibery hulls or little seeds. The flavor of cardamom is interesting, it’s a bit of a cross between nutmeg, jasmine and lavender.
The melt of the chocolate is good, it’s smooth and has a dark flavor and dry finish and a very slight raisin or raspberry note to it. The cardamom flavors are fresh and linger much longer than the chocolate notes.
Overall, it’s one of the best cardamom chocolate bars I’ve had. The portion is good, I found this size bar to be two servings. The price is a bit steep for the size and of course it’s hard to find in the United States. The company is artisan, but not terribly transparent about the sourcing of the ingredients beyond the basics that I’ve listed here.
Made with soy lecithin. May also contain traces of sesame, nuts and milk but is otherwise consider vegan.
I’ve purchased a few Artisan du Chocolat bars in the past, but haven’t featured any reviews to date. Since these bars are still available, here are a few tasting notes I made a couple of years ago:
The package is similar to the Black Cardamom bar, it’s a simple, glossy paperboard box. The bar inside is just wrapped in a clear cellophane bag. It’s easy to open, and because it’s not exactly form-fitted, it’s easy to get any remnants back in the package to seal up for later.
All of the bars I’ve tried from Artisan du Chocolat also use the same mold. It’s rather generic, with no special lettering or embossed designs ... it’s just a series of well-proportioned pieces.
Orange blossom is forward and loud. The soft flavor does well with the strong chocolate. Tangy notes, a little soapy at times and perfumey. Was much more subtle when I first opened the bar, but got stronger as the month went on. Chocolate is less sweet, smooth though has a dry finish and woodsy quality overall. There’s the slightest bitter note towards the end, but it fades to a rather fresh note that lingers.
Rating: 7 out of 10
The Artisan du Chocolat Almond Milk is a bit of a change up. Instead of a fusion bar, as the previous two were, this is from the line called “break the mould” which includes their 100% cacao bar and sugar free bars in both milk and dark chocolate.
The bar is what it sounds like, instead of using dairy milk, Artisan du Chocolate substitutes almond milk ... well, specifically partially defatted almonds (26%), to boost the creamy texture of the bar and even out some of the chocolate’s intensity. The bar contains 40% cacao, but a lot of that is cocoa butter, not cocoa solids (probably because the almonds are defatted and the cocoa butter is necessary to maintain the chocolate texture).
There is no nutritional panel, so I don’t know what the fat, protein or sugar content is here. It would be interesting to find out, as chocolate itself has a fair amount of protein as do almonds.
Very light looking for a 40% bar. Light cinnamon note to the bar. The melt is not quick, but very smooth. Creamy with a cashew-like nut flavor. Cocoa notes are really watered down. Lightly spicy without any actual spice.
Interesting bar, far too sweet than I’d want but at least it doesn’t have that sticky thick melt that dairy milk has. I enjoyed it as a confection, but it in no way replicated the experience of milk chocolate and didn’t have enough of a chocolate boost to satisfy me either. I’d actually throw it closer into the white chocolate category (can someone attempt an almond-cocoa butter white bar or maybe a cashew-cocoa butter white bar?).
Rating: 7 out of 10 (only because it’s dairy free - it’d be 6 out of 10 if it were going head to head with other 40% cacao bars)
I enjoy Artisan du Chocolat’s flavor mixes, there are a lot of herbs and spices and florals that they utilize that I don’t see in other confections here in the United States. But they’re not for everyday consumption, because of the price and difficulty to find.
Tuesday, May 27, 2014
This innovative new product innovatively reduced the size of a regular York Peppermint Pattie to the diameter of a penny. Hershey’s previously used this innovative innovation to shrink the size of their Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, KitKat and Rolo. It’s a stunning development in the world of confections ... duplicated only by the recent innovations by Mars (with their Bites format of Snickers, Milky Way, Simply Caramel, 3 Musketeers and Twix) and Wrigley’s (Starburst Minis). The morselization world is actually quite busy and crowded.
It’s not Hershey’s fault that they were declared innovative (well, they probably entered the product in that category). The point is that there is an new, unwrapped version of York Peppermint Patties.
The package is simple, though it’s King Size bag holding 2.5 ounces, it was still listed as 1 portion on the nutrition panel and had no front of package tally of the calories and serving. Even though it’s a massive amount of candy, because it’s almost all sugar, it’s pretty low in calories: 260.
The pieces are really just tiny peppermint patties, a fraction of the size of the small snack sized versions, which are the preferred size for me. In the case of these, the ratios are particularly nice, as there’s just slightly more consistent distribution of chocolate in each bite ... because each piece is a bite. The chocolate is quite bitter, and though it’s not particularly creamy, it sets off the sweet and soft fondant well.
It’s not innovative, but it is successful. The texture difference from Junior Mints is notable. Junior Mints have a runnier center, a thicker chocolate shell and a light waxy glaze that keeps it from melting right away.
Like the other sizes of York Peppermint Patties, the Minis are made in Mexico. There is no notation on the traceability of the cacao for the coating. York Peppermint Patties contain egg whites, soy and milk. There’s nothing on the package about gluten or nuts/peanuts, but the AskHershey.com website specifically says that York Minis are not gluten free.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.