Tuesday, November 11, 2014
I’ve reviewed a couple of the new Ghirardelli panned chocolate items, but up until now they’ve been pretty standard items. I was intrigued enough with the description of the new Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate Spiced Almond to pick them up.
The perfect snack to satisfy your craving for crunchy nuts and smooth chocolate ... with a little spice.
I liked the package. It’s very easy to understand, the images on the front and back are appealing, clear and not too fussy. But mostly I appreciated that the nutrition label and ingredients are easy to read. The ingredients list the allergens in bold, as well as noting them at the end of the list and it was all in a typeface that was large enough for me to read without glasses.
The ingredients are pretty clean with no artificial flavors or colors. They even helpfully list out what the spices are: cinnamon, allspice and cayenne. Instead of just mixing the spices into the chocolate to create something slightly gritty, Ghirirdelli instead made a spiced toffee glaze for the almonds before panning them in chocolate.
These remind me of the Lindt Holiday Almonds that come out seasonally, but are also coated with powdered sugar.
The almonds are big and glossy. They don’t smell of spice, just a light sweet dairy note. They have a great crunch if you bite them. The glaze is crispy and the almond are tougher and have a substantial crunch. The chocolate is soft and combines readily with the elements. It’s all a bit sweet, even with the neutral almonds to balance it out. The glaze has a generous touch of the spices, with quite a bit of cayenne that builds up slowly until there’s a light burn after about five or six.
I didn’t care for the how sweet they were, maybe I just wanted a smidge of salt in them or a darker milk chocolate. But they are less sweet than the Lindt sister confection, so I’ll take that as progress. I have to say that if this trend of mixing the textures of a glazed nut with chocolate takes off, there are a lot of variations that could be quite delectable. The best that I’d tried to date would be the Sconza 70% Toffee Almonds.
Ghirardelli is owned by Lindt & Sprungli. They don’t have a lot on their website about the sourcing of their cacao except for a statement that they’re in compliance with the California transparency act and then point you to the Lindt policies. Now that Lindt owns Russell Stover, they’re the third largest chocolate company in the United States, and will probably have a lot more clout when it comes to insisting on transparency and certification within their supply chain for all ingredients.
Friday, November 7, 2014
House brands are often cheap knock-offs of well known brands. But every once in a while a house brand has some sort of wizard-visionary behind the scenes ... I think Walgreen’s found one and put them to work on their Good & deLISH line of candies and snacks.
Many of these new candies are on trend with flavors like Red Velvet and Caramel Apple but also do a better job than some of the major brands like Russell Stover and Ghirardelli at creating well-priced candies you’d prefer to not share.
One of the items I found on the shelves kind of hidden in with the nuts were these new snack containers of candy or chocolate covered nuts and fruits. This one is Good and deLISH Sea Salt and Turbinado Sugar Dark Chocolate Almonds, a name so long it’s a wonder they fit it on the little wrapper.
Those of you’ve been reading for a while or have a Trader Joe’s in your area may recognize these, they’re similar to the Trader Joe’s Dark Chocolate Almonds. They’re an almond, covered in dark chocolate that’s also studded with small sea salt and raw sugar nuggets.
The package is a squat plastic jar that holds 5 ounces. The wide black cap is to be used as a snack cup, perhaps in the car. The jar is wide mouthed, so you can get your fingers in there, if you’re not using the lid as a dish. The overall look of the packaging is utilitarian but not at all appetizing. It looks like something I’d be more likely to find in use to store bolts and fasteners than candy.
They’re kind of homely little nuggets. It’s a crunchy roasted almond covered in semi-sweet chocolate (I’d guess about 50% cacao) with a little dash of salt or sugar sometimes ... then there’s a slight dusting of cocoa on the outside. The chocolate is sweet, not exceptionally smooth and boosted a little bit by some extra butterfat (not a vegan product, sorry). The nuts are crunchy and well roasted, with skins on. This leads to a lingering fiber to the chew. The chocolate has a light bitter note towards the end as well, but the beginning and middle is quite sweet for a dark chocolate item.
The thing is, I didn’t love these the first time I had them at Trader Joe’s, I don’t love them now, though on paper they seem to have all the right qualities. I want to know more about the chocolate in them and I want a little more consistency with the sugar and salt on top. While I found the Trader Joe’s batch I had too salty, these were merely too sweet ... even before the sugar crystals kicked in. I’ll see what else this line has to offer when they’re on sale ... I do like the concept of the package and would probably find this great for car or plane trips. The Walgreen’s site also shows this in an 11 ounce size, which is likely to be a better value.
Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Ritter Sport has been releasing seasonal variations on their popular square bars for the past few years. Only in the past few years have they appeared reliably on US shelves, and usually for the Winter Editions.
The new Ritter Sport Coffee & Hazelnuts is a new bar, though it combines elements from other existing bars. I found my bar at Cost Plus World Market with the Christmas candies, they had all three varieties for this season, including the return of the Caramelized Almond and the also new Vanilla Crescents. It’s nice to see new bars in the mix, but disappointing that they’re all milk chocolate. This bar was $2.99, a smidge higher than the regulars, which sell for $2.49.
The bar looks like all the other Ritter Sport bars ... a 4x4 grid of sections, each with the Ritter Sport logo on top. This is a filled bar, a coffee cream studded with crushed hazelnuts. It’s a simple concept and rather baffling that no one has been doing this all along.
The ingredients, however, were not promising when it comes to cocoa content:
I’m not against fat, I love the stuff. All that fat made this bar pretty high on the calorie count, 172 calories per ounce ... that’s 600 for the whole bar (for reference the whole hazelnut dark bar has 550 calories for the whole bar). Ritter Sport has been pretty good about the sourcing of its cacao, but they’re not forthcoming about their palm oil. For that reason and others mostly of taste preferences, when buying their bars for just eating, I usually stick to the solid chocolate varieties (or marzipan).
It looks great, smells mildly like coffee and cocoa but mostly sweet. The bite is soft, as most of the milk chocolate Ritter Sports are. The cream center has a cool melt and a vague coffee note to it, but it’s not as strong as the Espresso Bar, which is disappointing. The cream center is a little slick and thin, ultimately. The bar is extremely sweet for something that’s supposed to be coffee and hazelnuts. There are some hazelnuts, enough for a crunch and a touch of gianduia in the center. I really wanted a deep roasted experience ... the mix of the hazelnuts and coffee were promising, but ultimately not as deep as I’d hoped. But if you like Ice Cubes, you’ll appreciate the decadence of this bar. Dark chocolate would improve this bar immensely.
It’s not a bad bar, but like many of the bars that Ritter Sport has been making, especially the filled ones, they’re sweet and too oily without enough flavor. I want more dark chocolate options.
Monday, November 3, 2014
At $18 a pound it’s about 2.5 times more expensive than the Brach’s Bridge Mix. It also has all natural chocolate and at least lists a sample of what is probably in the mix: Bite-sized pieces of raisins, coconut, caramel, brittles, almonds, pecans, nougats and more covered in milk and dark chocolate.
The kind folks at See’s actually gave me a little cup of the mix to sample before I made my purchase ... because it just comes in this one pound box. The box has four little sections, which keep the mix from wandering too much. I don’t know if I would necessarily serve it from the box, but the nice thing about Bridge Mix it’s a panned candy, which means that it has a little glaze on each piece to keep it from sticking together and you can put it out in a bowl without worrying that it’ll all melt into a lump.
One of the first things I should mention is that I’m allergic to walnuts. Not deathly allergic, as I’m still alive, but for the most part my reactions to walnut traces lately has been a swollen throat and flushed skin. The See’s Bridge Mix does contain walnuts. One of the items is chocolate covered nougat, which has walnuts in it. It’s hard to tell, in Bridge mix, which pieces are which, so it’s a little difficult for me review these in the normal manner. For any piece that is the right shape to be a nougat, I have to split open first to see what’s in it.
The good part is that most of the pieces are easy to just chomp. The little items that look like raisins or almonds are raisins and almonds. The pillow things that look like molasses chips are molasses chips. The lumpy things that look like pecans are pecans. It was the little cubes I had the trouble with ... which leads to the general complaint with Bridge Mix.
Dark Chocolate covered Caramel Rectangles had a more stringy, chewy caramel than the little cube ones I found a few times. These were quite nice, but maybe a little heavy on the chocolate.
Dark Chocolate Lump is Rum Raisin Nougat This is the piece that has walnuts in it.
Milk Chocolate Cube is Caramel The picture makes this one look like it might be a chocolate caramel, but it tasted rather rich but caramelly overall.
Milk Chocolate Rounded Cube is Butterscotch The See’s Butterscotch is one of my favorite pieces. This version is a little drier and has a different set of ratios for the chocolate and center. I prefer the enrobed piece (not the bar), but the creamy melt of the chocolate and sort of buttery brown sugar fudge do work well, especially with the nuts. This and the caramel looked the same to me, and most of the milk cubes were Butterscotch.
Dark Chocolate Cube is Toasted Coconut These are wholly unexpected for this type of mix. You can see from the cross section, these are packed with coconut, so they’re not too sweet and it is nicely toasted to bring out the tropical flavor.
Flat Milk Chocolate Square is Toffee (not pictured) I like the See’s Toffee, it’s crisp and buttery and easy to bite. The toffee notes are good, but for some reason it’s never had that smooth burnt sugar dissolve that I often crave. It’s a personal preference issue.
Milk Chocolate Pillow is Molasses Crisp. These might have more chocolate on the regular version available by themselves. They’re crisp and crunchy, with just enough aeration to the honey-molasses candy to make them easy to bite. The lingering honey notes of the center goes well with just about everything else in this mix.
Milk Chocolate Pecans & Almonds - the pecans are fantastic. They’re roasted perfectly, they have a great woodsy maple flavor, so you get a sweet crunch combined with the chocolate. The almonds are very small, if I didn’t know any better, I would have assumed that they were peanuts. They’re well toasted and decent, a good crunch and probably a different variety than the nonpareil almonds I’ve been eating, because they’re less fibery.
Dark Chocolate Covered Raisins are quite niece. The raisins are big, though the chocolate isn’t particularly dark, it is generous.
The mix is very strong, it doesn’t have any items that feel like they’re cheap filler. I did find that the almonds were left at the end, I was picking out the big bits. But I think once I figured out the code, it was easier to mix and match without worrying that I was going to get a “bad piece.” I do not recommend playing roulette if you have a food sensitives when it comes to this sort of thing.
I would prefer an actual guide on the package, or at least a real listing the items that are in i. I’d also like to just make my own mix… but that’s not the way mixes work. I would definitely buy this again. But I play Canasta, not Bridge.
Friday, October 31, 2014
You might wonder why my Halloween review is of Bridge Mix. It’s because it’s actually the scariest candy on the market today. Every maker has a different set of what they include in their mix, and because everything is coated in chocolate, it’s a game of Russian Roulette if you’re a picky eater.
If I were to rank candies according to age demographics, most results would land where I expected. Super sour candies are targeted to tweens, dark chocolate to adult women and sweet and savory candies to men who love sports. And the sales data pretty much bears that out. Then there’s Bridge Mix. First of all, Bridge Mix doesn’t seem to have any sort of marketing campaign associated with it. But if you were to find out how old the average buyer is, I’m going to guess somewhere around 73.
I picked up the Brach’s Bridge Mix because the package made it look appealing and compared to some of the other chocolate bag offerings lately, it seemed like a good value. The package is vague, but it mentions that it’s a mix of all natural milk and dark chocolate. However, there was no listing on the back of the package as to what the actual items inside would be. The front just showed the coated pieces ... the ingredients were so long, all I could say for sure is that I could expect raisins, peanuts, sugar and Brazil nuts inside the chocolate.
My first impression upon opening the bag was good. It’s a resealable bag that holds a 8.7 ounces which makes for a full cereal bowl of candy. The pieces look good, they’re shiny and for the most part distinctive. I thought I could tell which were peanuts and raisins, though the larger spheres were a mystery.
The ingredients listed Brazil nuts and the picture on the front shows a piece that really looks like a chocolate covered Brazil nut. No such item appears in the bag. Maybe my mix was missing the Brazil nuts ... it was certainly not sufficiently randomized for my tastes.
Though it’s all natural chocolate, there are a lot of not-so-natural items in there, too. There’s also gelatin, which was hard to find on the list if you’re vegetarian.
Cherry Jelly Ball covered in Dark Chocolate were one of two that I could reliably pick out of the mix. It’s a big, very strongly cherry flavored jelly ball covered in dark chocolate. I was hoping there would be other flavors, but this was it. The jelly center is nice, dense and very floral. However, there’s a grainy sugar layer in there that messed with the texture and sweetness level. I don’t like cherry candies, but I thought this was a refreshing item to have in a mix ... and it was easy for me to avoid.
White Sugar Cream covered in Dark Chocolate - if you’ve ever wanted a York Peppermint Pattie without the mint flavor, this might be your candy. But the fondant in the center is hard and grainy ... so it’s not really a good texture combination at all. The dark chocolate outside is in a much larger ratio than most other mint candies, which is fine because that’s the only flavor you’re going to get out of this thing. I felt like about 1/4 of my bag was filled with these. I would bite them in half to see if it was a large peanut or something else and then toss the other half when I found it was the fondant ball.
Milk Chocolate Malted Milk Ball - I’d like to have a long and wonderful commentary here, but that photo of the one bitten in half is the only one I got in this bag. I’ve been searching for Brach’s Milk Chocolate Milk Balls for a couple of years, and found that this Bridge Mix is the only place I can find them ... and I got one lousy one. I didn’t savor it enough to be able to review it.
Dark Chocolate Covered Peanut - excellent. The peanuts have skins on them, which I enjoy. It highlighted the bitterness of the chocolate. The peanut had a light touch of salt, and though not large, they were crunchy and deeply roasted.
Milk Chocolate Covered Peanut - not as good as the dark one, the milk chocolate hides the peanut notes somehow, but after stumbling across so many of those fondant balls, I was happy to have these.
Milk Chocolate Brown Sugar Ball - I have no idea what this is. The center was not grainy, not smooth, not flavorful, not appealing. It tasted sweet, but also dusty. I just have no idea what the point was, except to fool me into thinking that I was going to get a Malted Milk Ball.
Milk Chocolate Covered Raisins - pretty good. The raisins were soft and chewy, not tough or tacky. The raisins dominated, the chocolate was sweeter than the actual dried fruit but didn’t contribute more than texture to the experience.
The one item that was easy to pick out were the little flattened bullets that came in both milk and dark chocolate.
Milk Chocolate Covered Nut Brittle - the chocolate coating isn’t as thick as the other candies, but that didn’t matter. The center of this little morsel is a nicely made, crispy nut brittle. There may be Brazil nuts in there, but definitely peanuts. It’s salty, it’s barely sweet and I’d like to just buy a bag of these.
Dark Chocolate Covered Nut Brittle - the dark chocolate version was even better, as it enhanced the roasted nut flavors.
I’ve come away with an appreciation for people who simply throw caution to the wind and pop a handful of candy pieces in their mouth. I’m not a Bridge Mix person. In fact, this bag of candy made me angry. There were good things in it, but too many horrible things. There’s no listing anywhere that I can find that says what kind of candy is even in the bag ... it’s as if Brach’s is evasive and doesn’t want to commit to what they might put in there on any given day. I ended up with a pile of half bitten candies on my desk after I determined what I did and didn’t like ... I spit out the other halves in the trash. It was, in the end, a bad value for me, since I ate so little of it, though, technically, I finished the bag.
I really just wanted some Malted Milk Balls.
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
Dove Chocolate, a Mars brand, often skirts a line in their marketing and products between being a healthy indulgence and pure decadence. The new line of chocolate covered fruit goes for the former but still accomplishes the latter.
Mars sent me some of their new products, including this amazingly large bag of Dove Whole Dried Cranberries in Dark Chocolate. It’s 26 ounces of chocolate covered sugared dried cranberries.
The package makes it look like these are plump cranberries, but they’re the ordinary dried variety. There’s a little bit of sugar added, which is fine, because I’ve had unsweetened cranberries before and they were too puckery,even with a chocolate coating.
The pieces are quite large, and cutting them in half reveals why. They aren’t strangely large cranberries. Instead they’re covered with a lot of chocolate. Often chocolate covered cranberries are flat, but these are very appealing looking. These a plump and a little chew reveals that they’re pretty moist, not leathery. They’re tangy and have a sort of bitterness to them that cranberries are known for, but it’s offset well by the chocolate.
I often find Dove’s chocolate a little bland, but dark chocolate here has a lot of flavor. It’s a rich chocolate pudding vibe, a little woodsy. It’s creamy without being too slick, though Dove does use dairy fats in their dark chocolate, so this is not vegan. (There’s 5 mg of cholesterol in here, which serves as an indication of the level of dairy fats.)
They’re expensive. But there aren’t that many higher quality choices at grocery stores for chocolate covered cranberries. I did find Ghirardelli’s new Dark Chocolate Cranberries are just as good as these but are likely to be harder to find. Steer clear of the Nestle version in their Raisinets line as they’re just terrible.
Wednesday, October 22, 2014
What Theo Chocolate is offering in their new line of peanut butter cup are the following qualities: organic ingredients, ethically sourced chocolate, kosher, no palm oil or soy ingredients and free from genetically modified organisms. The new cups come in two varieties, milk and dark chocolate, and the dark chocolate is vegan. Though they’re Theo Chocolate branded, they’re actually made in Canada.
The Theo Chocolate Milk Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups were $2.25 a package, I picked them up at the factory store in Seattle (I’ll have a write up about the factory tour after Halloween) but they should be available at stores that carry Theo Chocolate soon as well. The packages are 1.3 ounces, so they’re only .2 ounces smaller than the usual Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup packages. Theo uses peanut butter from CB’s Nuts, a small batch nut roaster and butterer.
They’re not your ordinary round cups, nope, these are little heart shapes. They’re .65 ounces each, a nice size with a more even proportion of chocolate to peanut butter than some cups with thinner chocolate shells. There’s no oily puddle on the top, but my cups were probably extremely fresh since I bought them at the factory store.
They smell very toasty, the chocolate is crisp and has a good snap to it. The peanut butter is not fatty or oily, but also not quite crumbly. The overall roasted notes of both the chocolate and peanut butter are very strong. For a milk chocolate product, this is only very barely sweet. If you’re a fan of the more savory elements of peanut butter and chocolate, this is probably a good match for you.
The texture of the peanut butter is similar in particle size to Reese’s ... it’s not whipped smooth, there are little crunchy bits and a dryness to it that keeps it from feeling to slick on the tongue. The chocolate is lightly bitter as well but has a milky note and smooth melt.
There’s no notation as to the percentage of cacao, but this photos shows that the milk chocolate cups are very dark looking compared to the dark ones.
The Theo Chocolate Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are packaged so similarly to the milk chocolate variety, the sales staff at the factory store would let each customer know as they rang up their order that they’d chosen a particular variety ... so I sense that there may be a change in the future to help distinguish them.
The cups are beautiful, again, a little smaller than the Reese’s Peanut Butter version, but lacking the little fluted paper cups. Instead they just sit on a little paperboard tray. The mold detail includes the Theo logo on the bottom of the cups, if you’re so inclined to actually look at them before you gobble them up.
These have the same deep roasted scent as the milk chocolate, but without the light dairy note to it. The dark chocolate is immediately bitter and creamy, with a very silky melt but a strong coffee flavor. The peanut butter balanced the intensity of the chocolate with a lightness, a little hint of salt and a comforting peanut flavor.
Just one cup was exceptionally satisfying.
These are much pricier than the traditionally produced peanut butter cups on store shelves, but have none of the additional ingredients that give many folks pause. However, they’re still made in a facility that processes wheat, tree nuts, egg and soy so they’re not for those sensitive folks.
Though Justin’s Peanut Butter Cups were first to market with ethically sourced ingredients, I think I prefer these for the texture and intensity. (But I’ll probably still hand out Justin’s for Halloween since they’re available in singles.)
Monday, October 20, 2014
This is a pumpkin shaped candy that’s flavored like Apple Pie. This is really nothing new, as Russell Stover has more than half a dozen holiday shaped treats that are flavored like baked treats: Carrot Cake, Birthday Cake, Wedding Cake, Pumpkin Pie, Gingerbread, Cookie Dough and Red Velvet. The packaging looks pretty much like the other Russell Stover one ounce pumpkin shaped candies, so I had to look carefully on the shelves to find it.
The Russell Stover Apple Pie Pumpkin is an apple pie flavored fudgy center covered in milk chocolate. At only one ounce, it’s a small little treat.
Since there are two versions of the Apple Pie on shelves, I thought I’d compare them.
The milk chocolate pumpkin is compact and has a nice enrobed milk chocolate coating. It’s not overly sweet but is milky and creamy. It’s a nice balance to the fudgy, grainy filling. It’s like a spice fudge center. It’s mostly a spice blend of cinnamon and nutmeg maybe with a hint of lemon zest but there’s also an apple flavor that kind of floats above it all. There’s just enough salt to keep it interesting. Some of the other cake flavored pumpkins have actual cake mix in them (uncooked flour) but this is just a sugary, buttery center.
I enjoy these sorts of confections in small quantities and the chocolate kept it all together well, even if it kind of kept it from tasting like actual apple pie.
Russell Stover has started making year-round versions of some of their usual holiday items. The Big Bite line includes the Big Bite S’mores (which aren’t sold in any other format to date) and some Big Bite Caramel Apples. The Big Bite Apple Pie actually accomplishes an Apple Pie experience a bit better than the Pumpkin.
Like the Big Bite S’mores, this confection features a graham cracker base.
The Big Bite Apple Pie is twice the weight of the regular Pumpkin but features a large graham cracker base. The milk chocolate coating seems a little thinner, but the spiced penuche fudge filling is about the same. The addition of the graham cracker really brought home the pie notes, but the lack of actual apples and the anomalous existence of milk chocolate in an otherwise chocolateless pie kept this from being the best emulation ... but taking it for what it is, it’s a fun little candy. It’s different, it works.
In some other news, Russell Stover was purchased this year by Lindt & Sprungli, the same company that already owns Ghirardelli Chocolate. This makes Lindt the third largest chocolate company in the United States (behind Hershey’s and Mars, bumping Nestle out of third). It will be interesting to see what sort of changes Lindt will make, and I’m hoping they’re only improvements but they don’t lose this quirky little seasonal line.
Meticulously photographed and documented reviews of candy from around the world. And the occasional other sweet adventures. Open your mouth, expand your mind.